“You got a light?”
“It’s the only way.”
“No problem. Least I can do.”
“I’m sorry. Too many beers.”
“Don’t worry about it. I hear it happens to everyone. Men, I mean.”
“Yeah, well. It’s a first for me.”
“And I really wanted to. You’re hot. And you’ve got great tits. Especially for someone your age.” He reached to tweak a nipple and she slapped his hand away.
“You really sweep a girl off her feet,” Janet deadpanned.
“It’s a compliment! Ladies your age usually have droopy tits. Yours are perky. The perfect shape.” He admired Janet’s silhouette in the dark.
“Next you’ll tell me I’ve got about five good years left.”
“Phil, you’re an ass.” Janet pulled her blouse on. The pale silk shimmered in the light from the parking lot’s .
“Thousands of satisfied customers.”
“Well, I am not one of them.”
“It’s the booze. I told you. Getting old sucks. So listen, since the plumbing isn’t working, how ‘bout we quit the small talk and go inside for a nightcap? Maybe try again later.” Phil winked at her. “Er, by the way, where are you staying?”
“I knew something was up with you! That friend of yours gave you the heave ho, didn’t he? Sorry. If you think you’re gonna crash with me, think again.”
“Aww, give me a break. I’ve had a rough day. Thing is, I can’t sleep in my car. I threw my back out last month and the doc says I need to sleep on a hard surface.”
“You’re falling apart, man. If you need a hard surface, try the ground. There’s a lawn not ten feet from here. I’m sure no one will mind another drunk passed out on the grass. In the meantime, I gotta get to work.”
“OK, hang on now. Settle down. Look, how ‘bout we go for a drive then? Let me show you around the place. I’ve been coming here for years, I know all the best spots. Where to see a sunset, though a little late for that. Um, where to watch meteor showers. Have you ever seen the milky way. All kinds of stuff to see around here. I can show you around. I’m at your disposal. I’ll show you the towns. The villages. The bars. I know the back roads too. Off the beaten track. I know the hiking trails. Deer trails even. We could spotlight some deer, you ever done that…”
“Phil, it’s ten o’clock. I have a 2:00 AM deadline. My boss is expecting a big story for tomorrow’s paper, preferably an exclusive. I had it too. At least, I thought I did. But this morning, my source disappeared into thin air. So as of right now, I’ve got no story. No lead. And probably, tomorrow morning, no job. So stargazing and spotlighting are not in the cards tonight.”
“What’s the story?”
“Not gonna tell you that. For al I know, you work for my rival paper.”
“I don’t. But, fair play. How about, who’s your source? Are they from around here? Maybe I know ‘em. I could round ‘em up for you.”
“You don’t know him. He’s an FBI agent. Oh, fuck it. They’re out here somewhere tracking those escaped convicts. They got a lead this morning and took off, drove west, is all I know. I’ve no idea where they are.”
“I know where they are!”
“No, I do. They’re at my friend’s house. They showed up right when I got kicked out…”
“But seriously. You’re not shitting me? The FBI are in this town?”
“Nearby, yes. They showed up in their black SUVs. About five cars, twenty agents. Mostly guys, a couple ladies. They basically took over my buddy’s yard.”
“That sounds right. What’re they doing?”
“Aha, got you interested, didn’t I? You know, I really, really hate sleeping in my car…”
“If you take me on some wild goose chase because you’re making stuff up to seem important and there is no story in it, I will break every bone in your scrawny body.”
“Scout’s honor. They’re there. Let’s go, I’ll show you.” Phil said, making the peace sign with his left hand.
“Alright. Nothing to lose. Except my job.”
“Your carriage, my lady,” he said, in a bad English accent.
“Manners. What a shocker.” Two bar patrons heading to their car watched as Janet moved from the back seat to the front seat. Her hair was in disarray and her skirt was on backward. The man pointed and snickered while his date punched his arm and told him to be quiet.
“Shit, shit, shit!” He held his left foot as he hopped the remaining distance to the driver’s side.
“You’re so stoic. So brave. I just had an orgasm watching you.”
“It’s not funny! I stepped on glass. I’m bleeding! Look!”
“I’m sure it’s fine.” She grabbed Phil’s foot, yanking it toward her.
“Ouch! Don’t break my ankle too!”
“I can’t see a damn thing. I need better light.” Janet opened the car’s glove compartment. Its internal light revealed car insurance and registration papers, gas receipts, a set of disposable toothbrushes, and, after some rummaging, a flashlight.
“Ow! Ouch! Oooch. Stop, that tickles.” Phil tried to pull his foot away but Janet had a firm grip on the ankle.
“You’re a bad patient. I don’t see any glass. You stubbed your toe. Let me clean you up. Stop squirming. Hold still!”
“I’ve never had my own nurse. I could get used to this.”
“This’ll work.” She held aloft a roll of electrical tape, ripping off a thin piece. This she wrapped around the tissues. Surveying her work, she wiped her hands.
“As good as I can do. You’ll live. Let’s go.” She patted Phil’s foot.
“Check out that cop getting into his car,” Janet said.
“Ha. He must have pulled over to take a leak.”
“Is that legal? We could make a citizen’s arrest!”
“Nah. I don’t mess with cops.”
“Words of experience I’m sure. So when are we gonna get there?”
“So, why does your friend’s wife dislike you?”
“Yeah. Sarah. Why doesn’t Sarah like you?”
“She disapproves of me.”
Janet shifted in her bucket seat and looked sideways at Phil.
“Gee, I wonder why.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you’re not exactly the best influence. You’re single, you drive too fast, you drink too much, you chase women…”
Phil smiled broadly. “Yeah, that’s right. So where’s the problem?”
Janet made a harrumph sound and shifted to look out the window.
“Did she mention what exactly she disapproves of?”
“Sheesh. Sounds like she’s got him on a short leash. Is Max providing to her expectations?”
“Check it out,” Phil said, slowing even further. The does were chewing. One turned and bounded into the cornfield. The other followed.
“This is our exit.”
“Are you going to answer my question?” Janet asked, annoyed.
“I am. What was it again?”
“Is Max providing?”
“I’d say he’s doing all right. They live a pretty nice life.”
“Are they rich?”
“No, not rich. Well off. Sarah wants people to think they are LOADED. She won’t invite friends out here to the house. She wants people to think it’s a huge rolling estate, not a run down little cabin with woodchucks digging holes under the house and water stains on the ceiling tiles. I was describing this place at a party one time and she literally told me to ‘shut the fuck up’.”
“What a bitch.”
“Kinda. She’s a good mom, Max says. It’s all on her. He works a lot.”
“What does he do?”
“Computer stuff. But not geeky IT. But cool stuff. Graphics, video games, that kinda thing. He’s super smart.”
“What on earth do you have in common?” Janet said a mischievous smile.
“Haha. We served together.”
“You’re a real comedienne. Don’t quit your day job. Oh wait, you’re fired.”
“I better not be. You owe me a story.”
“And look! We’re five minutes away!”
“So you served together? What branch?”
“I cannot see that, from what I know of you.”
“You seem to lack, what’s the word…discipline.”
“You’ve no idea. Anyway, Max and I hung out a lot. Time in exotic lands. A girl in every port.”
“I bet. And Sarah put a crimp in that lifestyle.”
“She did indeed.”
“But she lets comes out here to his country house.”
“She picks her battles.”
It’s not right to shoot a man in his back, Kyle thought as he fell to the ground. He could feel the bullet or the damage the bullet had left behind. The pain coursed through his shoulder and torso as he rolled onto his back. Hopefully the bullet went all the way through.
“Is it him?”
“Yes, this is who we’re after. This is why we’re here. Someone get me a first aid kit and blood clot sponge.”
“Look at that wound. It’s gushing.”
“Alright buddy, I’m gonna search you for weapons. Don’t move. I’d cuff you, but I see that your shoulder is torn up.”
Kyle knew, though he wasn’t sure how he knew, that that woman was the mother. Why else would that creature be there?
“Mushrooms? Whadaya doing with mushrooms buddy? Gonna make an omelette? Check this out. He’s got mushrooms in his pocket.”
“The convict is dead, sir.”
“OK. Secure the area. This place is gonna be lit up in a few minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” The FBI agent returned to Kyle’s twisted body and strung yellow police tape loosely around the body.
“OK, we gotta check on the mom and her boy. Murphy, Jackson, with me.”
“That thing is gone.”
“I see.” Santos spoke in his radio. “’We have the mom and one son down. The boy looks severely injured.’ Murph, help the kid. Jackson, check the house. The father should be somewhere and there’s another boy. Maybe the daughter came back too.”
“Looks like she hit her head. She’s out cold. Gonna have a hell of a bump on her head when she wakes up. I see a little blood, not too bad. No serious bleeding. That thing went after the boy. How’s he doing?”
“He’s unconscious but alive. Barely. He’s lost a shitload of blood. I see where that thing stabbed him. I’m getting breath sounds on one side only…”
“No one else here. Bedrooms are clear.”
“They say five minutes out.”
“Keep at it. Jackson, tell the team to do a perimeter search. Where in the hell are the father and son?”
“Ma’am. This is special Agent Santos. You’ve hit your head pretty hard. You may have a concussion. I need you to hold still until a paramedic can take a close look at you. Can you do that. Just stay here. OK?”
“We’re looking after your son Jason right now. We’ve got more help on the way. Just stay still and everything will be alright.”
“Hurry the fuck up,” he muttered.
“What his chances?”
“Fifty-fifty, I’d say. Would have been zero without you. You did good work.”
“Where are they taking him?” she asked Santos.
“Rochester. It’s a quick trip. Excellent surgeons. He’s in good hands.”
“How do you feel ma’am?”
“Alright. We’ll get you feeling better soon. You and your son.”
“Pulse 80 bpm. Fast. But steady.” Next, using a slim flash flight, he shone the bright light in Sarah’s eyes, one at a time. Shine in the the eye, then take the light away.
“Pupils reactive to light. That’s good.”
“The father must have slipped out.”
“Nothing from the perimeter search, sir.”
“Why don’t we ask the mom?” Murphy suggested.
“Ma’am, is there anyone else in the house?”
“My son Justin. And my husband.”
“Mrs. Flint, we didn’t find your son or your husband.”
“Where is Max?”
“Max is her husband. He was here earlier. Mrs. Banks, your husband is not in the house. Can you think about anywhere he might have gone?”
“We had a fight. I was so mean…”
“It’s OK. It’s been a rough day. Here, let’s get you off the floor. Can you stand? Let me help you. You’re ok. Just a few steps now, watch the glass.”
“Where is Max?” she asked again.
“Both vehicles are still here sir.”
“You checked the bedrooms?”
“No sign of him.”
“I don’t see anything, Phil. I just smell a lot of cows.”
“All the action is up there. On that hill.” Phil peered into the darkness. Wasn’t there a big street light by the house? It looked darker than he remembered.
“We gotta kind of sneak up. We’re not supposed to be here.”
“So what’s the lead that brought them out here?”
“Those convicts your buddies are chasing? One is lying dead in the field. The other is hiding somewhere in these woods, they think.”
“That’s a real story. It hasn’t broken yet.”
“I told you, when I was leaving, they told me that the road was going to be closed to traffic. Told me to keep my mouth shut. Took my contact details and everything.”
“What about Max? Did the family stick around?”
“You bet. The daughter ran away from home this morning.”
“What? Hang on. I gotta take some notes, this is getting complicated. But in the best way.”
“Janet, what the hell are you doing here?” Murphy stood at the hill’s crest, scowling.
“Hi Murph. Yeah, nice to see you too. I heard there was some action up here. Wanted to see for myself. Anything good? Have you caught them?”
“Janet. You need to leave. Now.”
“I am a guest. I’m with him. He is staying here.”
“Damn you, Janet. Well, stay out of the way. This is an active crime scene.”
“Good work there, fella.”
Danny sat at the bar. This late, sometime after one, it was quieting down, which disappointed him. No bar fights tonight. No unruly patrons. Just people enjoying a Saturday night out. As the buzz of conversation mixed with country music streaming from the jukebox, Danny downed his fourth Blue Moon.
A nasally voice cut through the background.
“Hey there, Officer Danny-O, heard you found a body today. Was that your first? We gotta celebrate! Hey, everyone, Danny got himself a dead one. Hahaha!”
Danny glanced at the mirror on the wall behind the bar. In addition to reflecting the dozens of liquor bottles and spirits lining the back wall, the mirror now reflected the round and petulant face of the emergency dispatcher Shannon’s loud-mouthed sister Louisa. Louisa was one of those woman whose goal in life was to rub everyone she encountered the wrong way, because she was good at it. It was in fact the only talent she had. She reveled in it. She was a total and complete bitch.
And she was staring at Danny, hands on her hips, waiting for a fight.
Danny stared back. Louisa’s long straggly hair was pulled away from her face by a neon orange headband. She was smiling, but with her squinty eyes and thin, pale lips, the smile looked more like a leer. As ever, she had picked an outfit to shock and awe, but not in a good way. With Louisa, nothing was ever in a good way. She wore a tight green tube top and cutoff jean shorts. Rolls of white skin protruded in every unrestricted direction over the tube top’s edges and over the waistband of the shorts, which sat dangerously low on Louisa’s waist.
Danny ground his teeth together. Louisa’s comment meant that her sister Shannon was blabbing about the convict. Shannon knew better than to share that information, especially with the FBI on scene. The Captain would surely find out and would be pissed, but he would do nothing about it. Shannon and Louisa were family by marriage. And family meant everything in these parts.
Danny liked the people in this part of the country. Honest, hard working folks. Made a police officer proud to keep them safe.
But then there were the Louisa’s in the county. Living on welfare plus generous child support payments from an ex-husband who Danny assumed was insane, Louisa had plenty of time to regularly troll the local bars. As far as Danny could tell, she made a wide circuit, moving from one small town bar to the next, in a two-week rotation, always looking for someone new. Also from his observations, Louisa hit on every man in her radius. Danny’s own movements followed a similar though somewhat wider pattern, placing Danny regularly in Louisa’s path. When he first arrived in town, he had been subject to Louisa’s drunken and amorous overtures, which he declined. Then several times thereafter across the next few months. At first Danny thought Louisa had poor vision, since every time was like the first time she’d ever seen him: Same patter, same compliments, same grabbing his hand and sticking it between her legs. On the fifth time that he had declined to take her home and “rub her down like naughty horse”, she had let loose a string of expletives laced with references to her past efforts – gave you so many chances, you’re gonna regret it.
After that, Danny asked around and was told, that’s how she was. She badmouthed anyone who disagreed with her, displeased her, or stirred up feelings of any kind, which for Louisa usually consisted of envy, fear, or anger…or a toxic combination of the three. But she was mostly harmless.
Clearly, tonight, she had decided Danny was her whipping boy.
Wrong, Danny thought. So wrong.
“No, Louisa, not my first body. And I doubt it will be my last.”
Louisa swayed back and forth, blocking the narrow aisle between the kitchen and the restaurant. A waitress trying to deliver several plates of food stacked along her arms stood behind her, waiting.
“Whoa, big talking, badge-wearing man. One dead body and now he’s the shit. Hey Danny-boy, I heard those FBI agents told you to get lost. Is that true sugar muffin? Haha. Shannon’s got the goods on you, oh yes, she does. Did the FBI Agents tell you to run home to your mommy and let them handle the big bad criminals?”
Distracted by the smell of food, she glanced over her shoulder at the waitress, who smiled at her. Louisa stepped to the side. It wasn’t courtesy, Danny saw, but rather a desire for a better view of the hamburgers and fries on each plate.
Danny shrugged of her comment. He would not be baited today.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, nooooo. Of course you don’t.” She lowered her voice as she stumbled closer.
“Didja catch any speeders today? There was a report from a concerned citizen of an empty police vehicle parked out on Route 86, curiously close to the Banks’ farm. Did you have to make a weewee and got lost in the woods? Do you still have your patrol car?”
“Louisa, step away from me.”
“Or what?” she asked shoving her face so close to Danny’s he could see the line of soft gold hairs along her upper lip.
A loud bell sounded, letting the patrons know that the bartender had just been given a generous tip. Surprised, Louisa stepped away from Danny who seized the moment to down the last of his beer. He placed a ten dollar bill on the wooden bar.
“Thanks for the beers, Lou Ann. See you ‘round.”
The bartender nodded. On her shifts, cops drank free. But tips were always appreciated.
He slid off the bar stool and without looking at Louisa again, slid by her bulk. He expected her to call out to him with more of her vile nastiness. She was a bottomless pit of ugly.
But he didn’t hear her say a word.
Once outside in the cool night air, he walked slowly to his car parked some way down the street. He had needed to unwind after this day. The beers felt good coursing through his system. He felt looser and more at ease.
So what if it was his first body? Every cop had a first. A little white lie. He sure as hell didn’t need that cow running around town saying that Officer Danny shit his pants when he saw a dead body for the first time or some bullshit like that.
Yeah, the new guy always gets some ribbing, Danny knew, but he was getting shit just for doing his job. Had he taken matters into his own hands? Sure, but it was just a childish prank. Lights out. Uh huh. The FBI would probably think it was funny if they knew. Besides, no one was the wiser. And no one was the worse.
Except that second convict, Danny thought, but what kind of idiot goes back to the scene.
Either way, that Louisa better shut the fuck up. Or else.
“Santos, you gotta see this.” Jackson leaned out of the porch door.
“He’d been stabbed through. Didn’t stand a chance…”
“Santos!!” Jackson yelled, waving frantically.
“What?!” Santos barked. Having to relay that agent was lost was the worst part of this job. Destroyed him every time. He’d seen what that monster had done to his man. He’d consoled his team and told them to get some sleep. Two convicts. They’d work out the rest in the morning.
“That thing, that creature. It’s on the news!”
“What channel?” Santos said.
“Every channel. The evening news is running it right now. They interrupted all the late night TV. That is down at the County Fair, tearing shit up.”
“I don’t think so. Just pissed, from the looks of it”
Santis flipped on the TV, looking for a breaking news chiron. He found one and turned up the volume.
“If you are just now joining us, this next video clip might be upsetting. If you have children in the room, you should put them to bed or change the channel. This is a developing story.”
“What are we looking at Melody?”
“Well, Jim, it appears to be some kind of wild animal that is roaming around the County Fair.”
“The video isn’t great, but we can see it…”
“Can you get a close up of that thing?”
“Pretty scary stuff.”
“Folks, the authorities are suggesting you lock your doors this evening and secure your animals. We’re not exactly sure that that is. But it is large and until it is caught it needs to be treated with extreme caution.”
“That’s right, it might have rabies or other communicable diseases.”
“Let’s take a look at that clip one more time, so everyone knows what we are talking about.”
“Creepy. Almost looked like it glanced up at the camera there for a second.”
“After the break, we’ll talk about how the Buffalo Bills are getting ready for pre-season. Gonna be a good start.”
“What, I am getting a report. We have more breaking news. We’re going live to the County Fair.”
“There are two, I repeat, two of those creatures on the fair grounds now. They are very dangerous. We don’t know what they are. Billy, get a wide shot if you would…”