Archive for the ‘1’ category

Speaking in Minor Keys 3

September 26, 2009

Rusty leaned back into the dusty seat and listened to the rumble of the engine as it echoed off the surrounding hills. A pair of raccoons scampered out of the way as the car rolled down the narrow road. Duane eased down on the brakes and Diana reached for the dashboard to brace against a sudden stop that never came. Duane knew he had to start talking fast before his inquisitive granddaughter hit him with a barrage of questions.
He glanced back at Rusty and Eleanor in the mirror. The shy youngster had his arm around the bulldog as she drooled on his legs. He liked Rusty, but could see the fear of rejection that gripped the thin, pale drifter. How had such a young man been beaten down so much? He knew Rusty would need lots of love patience and prayer. He prayed silently ”Lord show me how to love Rusty like you do,”
Rusty noticed Duane’s glance in the mirror and wondered what the grizzled old preacher was thinking about him. He scratched Eleanor’s wide skull, closed his eyes and drank in a long slow breath. The cool breeze felt good as it streamed through the window and filled his lungs. Rusty smiled at a sudden memory. He was riding with his sister down by the beach on a bright summer day. He remembered feeling the cool ocean breeze as it caressed his skin. A car full of teenage boys pulled up next to them at a stoplight and they all stared at the two fair-skinned redheads in the convertible. One of the boys pointed at Rusty and said something to the others. They all stared at Rusty and started laughing. Rusty remembered feeling like his body was trying to turn itself inside out. He felt small and weird as if he was strange and everyone else was normal. His sister smiled and gently brushed back his hair. “Don’t worry about them, Rusty. If you don’t care what they think about you they can’t hurt you. Besides, if you don’t stop worrying I am just going to tickle you until you stop.” Rachel grabbed him and started tickling his ribcage. The traffic light turned green and she right on kept tickling. Rusty remembered the horns honking behind them as he gasped for air, he was laughing so hard he couldn’t even talk. Finally, Rachel stopped tickling long enough for him to catch his breath and tell her he didn’t care what anyone thought, as long as they were together.
The sound of Diana’s voice jerked him back to the present. “Grandpa, would you please tell us where you were.”
Duane stopped the car looked both ways and turned left onto the main highway. “Okay Diana, just hold your questions and I’ll tell you the whole story. Just let me go back about three weeks to when this whole crazy thing began, that’s when I started seeing dead squirrels and raccoons on my morning walks with Eleanor. They looked like someone had purposely tortured them. I will spare you the gruesome details, just believe me that out there somewhere is a very sadistic and cruel person. Once or twice a week I would come across some new atrocity.”
“Last week the victims started getting larger. First, I found the remains of a fawn, several days later it was a young colt. There was a lot of blood spilled around the bodies, almost like it had been spilled there on purpose. I also noticed the heart had been cut out of each animal.”
The engine revved as Duane pushed in the clutch and moved the column shifter to second gear. “I dragged the two bodies together, intending to bury them when I could get back with a shovel. But both bodies were gone when I returned.”
Diana stated to ask a question but Rusty interrupted her. “Did you find the bodies on that large granite rock that juts out over the stream?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact I did. Does that mean something to you?”
Rusty brushed his hair back with his hand and popped his gum. “Yes, it does. Did you notice anything carved into the skin of the animals?”
“Yeah, I did. Both the fawn and the colt had a pentagram carved into the left side of their bodies. Rusty, you want to tell me what’s going on?”
Duane shifted to third gear and the old station wagon roared up the highway. Rusty spit his gum out of the car and leaned forward. “It looks like someone is doing ritualistic sacrifices down by the stream. The animals are getting larger, that means whoever is doing this wants more power. The fact that they are killing young animals, tells us even more about them. Slaughtering the young seems repulsive to most people, but that only makes it more desirable for them. They hold in contempt anything we believe about mercy or goodness.” Duane gazed through the rear view mirror at the back seat. Rusty’s face was flushed and damp, he held on to Eleanor and stared out into the darkness as he spoke.
Duane had a pretty good idea what the pentagrams meant, but guessed Rusty was an expert on the matter.
“You know what those pentagrams mean don’t you Rusty?”
Rusty frowned and stared at his boots. “Yeah, I know. They mean trouble. Whoever is doing this is getting more and more hungry, no telling where they will stop. If I was you I would keep Eleanor close at all times.” He gave Eleanor a gentle squeeze and she licked his face.
Rusty wiped his face off with his sleeve and wagged his finger at Eleanor. “Hey you, what did I tell you about slobbering? From now on keep your drool and your tongue to yourself.”
Eleanor responded with a friendly bark and licked his outstretched finger. Duane and Diana smiled at each other and tried to keep from laughing. They both failed.
Duane passed a bottle of water to Rusty without looking back. “You might as well give up on that, Rusty. Licking and slobbering is her way of showing affection and that that dog just loves you.”
Diana was getting impatient. “You still haven’t told us where you were tonight grandpa.”
“Lady, can you restrain yourself for just one minute?” Duane glanced at Rusty and nodded his head toward Diana. “Sheesh, The girl has less patience than a camel at a drinking fountain.” Rusty didn’t know what to say, so he just shook his head and grinned. He opened the bottle of water and drained half of it in one long noisy swallow.
“Grandpa, are you going to tell us or not?”
Duane smiled affectionately at Diana. She reminded him so much of his wife Mavis. She was so smart, so full of questions, so beautiful and always racing to her next conclusion. “Okay Diana I’m getting to it, just hold on.”
Duane slowed the old station wagon down as he approached Sin Gatos city limits “Just for you I’ll jump right to that part.” He paused and scratched the thin white stubble on his chin.
“That would bring us to this afternoon when I decided to find out what was going on down by the creek. I waited for the sun to start setting, made Eleanor stay in the house and crept down to the creek. I found a nice spot where I could see everything and settled in. About eight o’clock two people showed up dressed in brown robes with hoods. There was a tall one and a short one. They looked like some sort of monks.”
“The tall one started chanting something I couldn’t understand.” Duane stopped the car when he heard Rusty gasp. He pulled over and turned to the back seat. “Are you okay Rusty?”
Rusty waved off his questions and told him to continue but Diana couldn’t hold back anymore. “Wait a minute, we were down at the stream and we didn’t see any mysterious hooded figures.”
Duane held his hand up like a traffic cop at a busy intersection. “Hold on Diana, I’ll tell you the whole thing. Just give me a chance to finish.”
Duane sighed dramatically and continued. “Anyway, let’s see where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?” Duane glared at Diana then broke into a grin. Diana responded with a mock glare of her own.
“Oh yeah, then the taller monk lights this large candle inside of some sort of lantern. The faint light allowed me to see a little better. The other shorter monk laid down on the rock and pulled down her brown robe until I could see a pale slim back. I could tell that the shorter monk was definitely a woman, her pale white skin seemed almost translucent.”
“Then, the tall monk pulls out this nasty looking curved knife and squats down next to her on the rock. I had to hold back when the tall monk started carving on her slim back, she grunted and jerked but the other monk just kept carving and chanting. After a few minutes, the tall monk pulls out a small metallic cup and starts collecting blood from her back. You won’t believe what happened next.”
Diana seized the chance to impress her grandpa. “I’ll bet the pale female monk peed in the cup.”
Duane turned to Rusty who just shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, that’s right. Then, she starts drinking out of the cup. Next thing I know the tall monk is raising the curved knife over her bloody back.”
Duane paused and turned to Diana. “That was all I could stand. I jumped up and started yelling”
“Right away, the female monk gets up and tears off into the woods. Then the tall monk blows out the candle and disappears too.”
“I took off after them as fast as I could using the light of the full moon to search through the woods. I had just enough light to see where I was going, but there was no trace of them anywhere. Of course they would have been easy to lose in the dark woods. I was afraid of getting lost myself.”
“I must have searched a good two miles into those woods, it seemed like a lot further as I crept through the shadows. I half expected the tall monk to jump out at me with that wicked knife at any second. When you are by yourself at night in the woods your senses can play tricks on you. If you strain your ears too much you start hearing things off in the darkness that aren’t there. Several times I whirled around just knowing that monk and his knife were right behind me. Of course, there was no one there but that didn’t slow down my pounding heart.”
“After about two hours and enough false alarms to send me into cardiac arrest, I finally gave up and decided to call it a night. When I got back to the house and couldn’t find Eleanor I got really worried, she is not one to wander off by herself. When I tell her to stay she always stays put.” Duane smiled, reached over and rubbed Eleanor’s head. “Isn’t that right Eleanor?” The little dog shifted in the seat and nudged Duane’s hand with her nose.
Duane turned to his granddaughter. “That’s when I decided to head to town for the Sheriff’s office.”
Rusty finished his water with another long swallow and Duane paused to consider his next step. He listened to the distant howl of a semi as it thundered up the highway. Diana broke into his thoughts. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
Duane started the car, looked in his mirror and headed into town. He drove past a small white clapboard church with a tall pointy steeple. A worn path of dull red bricks wound through an overgrown brown lawn to a faded brick porch. A heavy wooden door stood between two small windows.
The Chevy rolled past a dirty looking brown brick building. A dull streetlight cast shadows on the seamy façade. An old neon sign flashed ‘rank saloon’ over the front door. Rusty noticed the sign originally had spelled out ‘Franks Saloon’ before the letters “F” and “s” had burned out. Dim light from the flickering sign reflected off two dirty windows. Green paint rose half way up the windows to hide after-work husbands from angry wives. A faded green door swung open and a happy customer stumbled onto the cracked sidewalk.
He slurred through an off-key rendition of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as he ambled by a splintered stairway that ascended into shadows. The two upstairs windows were bare and dark.
A bright streetlight stood next to the old saloon shining down on the only parking lot in town. The small lot was newly paved with clean white lines contrasting the pristine blacktop. One space was taken by a white police car; the other three spots were vacant. A white metal sign read “Parking for Sherriff’s Office only, all others will be towed.”
Rusty picked up Eleanor and set her down in the lot. She sniffed around for the right spot then relieved herself on the black pavement. Rusty could hear her jowls flapping as she shook her head, drool flew in all directions.
Duane reached into the back of the car and pulled out a plastic green saucer. For a second Rusty thought Duane was going to throw the saucer so Eleanor could catch it. Instead he turned the saucer upside down, filled it with water and set it on the black pavement. He called his dog and she waddled over and started lapping water from the makeshift bowl. Eleanor drank her fill then strolled over to a neat flower garden facing the street. A large white sign was planted among even rows of Primrose and Petunias. A picture of a badge rested in the center of the sign between the words Sherriff’s Department in bold blue letters. An empty white flagpole stood next to the sign.
Duane called Eleanor before she started digging up flowers and they all headed towards the Sheriff’s Office.
The small building was covered in rough plaster that looked like cottage cheese. It had two aluminum framed windows and a fresh coat of nondescript beige paint. A clean cement walkway led to the front door. Sherriff’s Office was spelled out in black letters on a large glass door with polished aluminum handle running across the middle.
Duane held the door open as Diana, Rusty and Eleanor walked in. The cool conditioned air carried the smell of fresh paint. Glaring light gleamed down from neon ceiling lamps onto industrial brown carpet. The ceiling looked like it was made from the same lumpy cottage cheese as the outside walls. The whole room was painted the same non-descript beige as the outside of the building. Two steel doors with small barred windows flanked the back of the room. A door on the right side of the room was marked Sheriff in thick black letters. On the left side of the room was a bathroom, a water cooler, a brand new coffee maker and a cheap white cabinet. A cabinet door hung open to reveal brown packets of coffee, a jar of creamer, red plastic stir sticks, artificial sweetener and foam cups.
Next to the cabinet was a glass fronted display case with even rows of wanted posters. An ugly, surly faced glared out from one poster that read “Wanted by the FBI, Terrence Massaroni, aka “The Crusher” for bank robbery.
Everyone headed towards a young woman sitting at a large grey desk in the middle of the room. She stared at a large monitor as she shouted into a small cell phone. A well-tailored tan uniform clung to her trim body; her nappy hair was picked out into a neat afro. She looked up to see who was interrupting her phone call and broke into a wide smile.
“I’ll call you back.” She snapped the cell phone shut and put it in her pocket. “Diana, it’s so good to see you. How have you been?” Bright red lips contrasted smooth brown skin and her eyes were delicately highlighted. Rusty wondered how much time she spent in front of a mirror each day. When she stood up he noticed how tall she was. She had to stoop down to embrace Diana.
Diana reached up for a friendly hug. “Hi Anita, it’s great to see you too. How’s Sherriff Howell been treating you?
“Sherriff Howell? Didn’t your grandpa tell you? He disappeared three months ago. Bill Williams saw him head out for a hike in the woods and that’s the last we saw of him. We found his car parked out by your grandpa’s house.” She nodded at Duane and continued.
“We got a new Sherriff now. Came here from Texas. His name is Barney Taylor.”
Rusty burst out laughing “You gotta’ be kidding me, Barney Taylor? Why not Andy Fife or Opie Gomer?”
Anita eyed Rusty suspiciously. “Who’s this Diana? He looks like a drug addict and he’s got some kind of slime all over his pants. What is that anyway? On second thought, never mind, I do not want to know.”
Diana moved to stand between Rusty and Anita. “C’mon Anita, you can drop the cop act with me. This is Rusty and he is a good friend. So lighten up.”
Anita frowned at Diana. “Yeah, I know you and your friends. Is this what goes to school with you up there in Davis, or did you drag him out of some crack house?”
Rusty put on the special face he kept for cops. He didn’t smile or frown but slid into a blank expression. He looked Anita in the eyes, and turned away, he didn’t want to challenge her by staring too long.
Anita returned his stare. “Sheriff Taylor doesn’t take it lightly when people make fun of his name. If I was you I would avoid the subject.”
She turned to Duane for help. “You let your granddaughter associate with this kind of trash? Looks like somebody needs to shorten this girls’ leash.”
“Don’t worry about it Anita, I’ll vouch for him. Have I ever bought a problem into our town?”
Anita frowned at the suggestion. “Yes, as a matter of fact you have. I’m thinking about the kid from Long Beach you tried to help last year. The fool got caught tippin’ cows out at the Jenison farm. What was his name, Alan something or other? I thought old man Jenison was going to run him through with that pitchfork. ”
Duane chuckled quietly and grinned at Anita. “Alright, so Alan got into a little trouble, it hardly destroyed the quality of life in Sin Gatos. Besides it gave people something new to talk about for weeks. Don’t you ever get tired of the same old gossip?”
Anita was not convinced. “Mr. Gonzales you can vouch all you want, but I’m keeping my eye on this one.”
Duane realized it was pointless to continue the conversation. “You do that Anita. But you know I did come here for a reason besides bringing in such a hardened criminal. There’s something funny going on up by Aspen Creek.”
Duane spent the next twenty minutes telling Anita about the strange events up by his house. He intentionally left out Rusty’s expertise in the matter.
Anita listened quietly and scribbled a few notes on a small pad. When Duane was finished she studied her notes and looked over at Rusty.
“And where were you when all this was going on?”
Rusty pointed towards Diana and avoided eye contact with Anita. “Diana picked me up in Pahrump at about 9pm tonight. We have been together since then.”
Anita made a quick entry to her notes. “Do you live in Pahrump?”
“Yeah, for the last six months.”
Diana had heard enough. “What is the matter with you Anita? Do you just have something against redheads or what? I’m telling you Rusty had nothing to do with this.”
“I’ll be the one deciding that Diana. You just keep out of the way and let me do my job.”
“Then why don’t you do it and stop harassing Rusty.”
Rusty saw this situation could turn ugly in a heartbeat. The last thing he wanted was to cause trouble for Diana. He decided to act quickly before the fur started flying. He pulled out his driver’s license and stepped forward.
“Here is my license deputy go ahead and check me out.”
Anita took the license from Rusty’s trembling hand. She held it carefully between two well manicured fingers, got a tissue from her desk and wiped it off.
“Um-hmm I think I’ll just do that.”
She sat down at her desk and started keying in his information. It didn’t take long before his picture appeared on the screen.
“Thought so, this fine citizen has more records than an Elvis convention. Let’s see, possession of cocaine, possession, possession, grand theft auto, vagrancy. How do they let people like you on the street cowboy?”
Anita continued scrolling through Rusty’s records. “Uh oh, what’s this? This is bad, real bad. Looks like I just got me a prisoner for my new jail.”
Anita stood up and announced in a stiff formal manner. “Russell Dalrymple you are under arrest.”
Rusty’s whole body seemed to slump, his eyes glazed over as he hung his head and mumbled, “Okay I give up, you win again. Go ahead deputy and do your job.”