It was the first dead body to show up in Riverbend County in 21 years. Georgia Marie August. At least she had a beautiful name, because other than that, she was shit out of luck.
As fast as homicides go, Ms. Georgia Marie August bit the dust in a typical manner – strangled to death by bare hands. Apparently her murder was far less glamorous than her name. Her looks matched her glamorous name as her soft pale skin, dimpled cheeks, mane of long black hair, and dark eyes made her look like a porcelain doll a little girl had carelessly forgotten by the banks of the Wolfsneck River.
The method was the only typical detail of Miss August’s death.
Let’s start with the least crazy. It was simply pretty shocking to have a murdered body show up in Riverbend County. Tucked into the desolate southeast corner of the state of Washington, Riverbend Co. Had a population that checked in at 4,999 and was literally only known for turkey hunting. It was joked that the population used to be right at 5,000 but the turkeys were able to get revenge on at least one hunter the year of the last census.
It was not a turkey which squeezed Miss August’s neck until she could no longer breath though. It was a man. It was a strong man. It was a man so full of anger he thought it was justified to take the joy and life out of the beautiful young woman who now laid desecrated in the dirty clay next to a discarded Burger King cup which now had just as much life as she did.
The further my investigation took me into Miss August and her death, the stranger things became. It got to the point where I started pinching myself on the arm to remind myself that what was happening was real and not some kind of morbid dream.
I didn’t believe what I saw, but a pinch reminded me it was reality. A six-digit number was scrawled in black ink across the outside of Miss August’s forearm. I had done enough historical research to know exactly what the tattoo was. It was an identification tattoo from The Holocaust. So either this woman survived The Holocaust, but somehow looked like she was in her 30s in 2016, or she was a woman in her 30s who decided to pay homage to something, or someone, by getting a concentration camp ID tattooed onto her arm.
Finding the body, calling in the proper authorities and going back to my office should have been the end of it for me, but that wouldn’t be the case in a place as small as Riverbound County. The local sheriff had a lot more to do than pull over speeders and harass underage kids drinking beer on logging roads, I was dragged full on into a murder investigation which got weirder by the minute.
My department was me and one inexperienced officer named Tray (I thought it was spelled Trey first too, but he kept correcting me that it was in fact “Tray”) who was tragically stupid, but the only person without a record who applied to the junior deputy position we opened up a year before. So, it was up to me, and Tray, to do most of the legwork on the first murder case in Riverbend County in more than 30 years.
Unfortunately, it was Tray who informed of the next bombshell detail in the case of Miss August which forced me to pin some skin between my fingernails and pinch. The smell of nervous sweat which always announced Tray’s presence tickled my nose before he even walked through the door of my office with a clueless look on his face.
“I was down at the coroner’s office getting that report you asked for and they told me to tell you that the woman was born in 1931.”
I ended my pinch. It was real, even the look on Tray’s face which looked like what a dog would give you when you pretended to throw a ball and instead hid it behind your back, was sadly real.
I thought Tray must have been confused, but the coroner confirmed the details he blurted out when I met with her. Miss August was born in 1931 in Poland and it was suspected that Georgia Marie August was a made up name, her real name was likely something much more ethnic and harder to pronounce. That was the end of the information stream.
I didn’t even know where to start other than to self loathe. It had been a long journey to Riverbend County and it was supposed to serve as my semi-retirement, not remind me of the pain which choked the path that took me that desolate patch of dying land in the wheat fields of southeast Washington.
I got into law enforcement because my mother was murdered. A sex worker who raised me by herself in San Francisco before gentrification was even a word, my mother was taken out by a monster of the night not long after I graduated high school and hit the high seas with the U.S. Navy. She had promised me she got out of the line of work before I left, moved down to LA, but that must have been a lie. Regardless, she was left cold and empty the same was Miss August was on the shores of a sad body of cold water.
What should have been the best years of my life were spent on the Southside of Chicago doing everything I possibly could to solve as many violent crimes as I could. I knew I couldn’t bring the victims back to their families, but I at least could do my best to bring them closure and a little bit of the dignity my mother and I were not afforded.
It was 25 years of pain, hard work and sights which still haunt me in the night. I can’t help but laugh when I hear cubicle jockeys talk about the torture of nine to five life whenever the sight of some macabre crime scene I called my office flashed before my eyes. They have no idea.
Living in the city, I hadn’t been able to save the way I wanted to, so I wasn’t able to retire with the speed I had hoped. Instead, I figured I would get a sheriff job in a small county with little to no police action to wind away the last five years or so my career and save up some money where inflation wasn’t the new crack epidemic.
My landing spot ending up being Riverbend County. The least-populated county in the entire state of Washington, Riverbend County was tucked in the corner of the state next to the borders of Idaho and Oregon. Up until Miss August’s body washed ashore, it had been a dream. My most serious case in four years had been a scandal involving local football players being allowed to buy beer for parties at the market.
However, that fateful call about Miss August from our local sport fishing pro Pop Hayden started a stream of unbelievable discoveries and circumstances that may not have been quite as grisly as anything I saw in Chicago, but were every bit as torturous and a million times more mystifying. Just a few days into it, I wished I was back to examining the messes of gang shootings.
I let out a deep exhale when I looked at my office phone and saw the coroner’s office number flashing in the pale green light of the screen.
“Hi, it’s Beverly from the coroner’s office. We have more details about Miss August we would like to share with you, sir.”
Beverly was the opposite of a person who professionally works with dead people cliché when it came to looks. She was under 30 with a well-manicured mane of blonde hair with looked like she had stolen it off of a giant Barbie doll, had a cherubic face with a dimpled smile and perfect teeth. Socially, she was your stereotypical coroner – awkward as hell, perpetually straining to get even the most mundane sentences out of her mouth. She probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s or something growing up if she wasn’t the hottest girl in whatever schools she went to.
“We put Miss August’s information into a DNA database that we have and it pulled up a flag for a missing person’s report from 1961?”
“Yes. It looks like she was filed as a missing person in Valley, California in 1961 and according to the database, she was never found.”
“Well fuck me.”
Beverly responded with a nervous laugh.
“Sorry,” I apologized. “The body looked fresh?”
“I know. I have been running tests the past couple of days though and it does seem she passed away back in 1961.”
“You might want to just come down,” Beverly suggested the last thing I wanted to hear at the moment.
I hated the coroner’s office. Well, I hate almost any kind of doctor’s office. The sterile environment, the prickliness of the women behind the front desks, the prick of needles, something about it all always made me feel as if my spine had turned into a limp noodle as soon as I walked through the door.
It is sad to admit, but the beauty of Beverly at least made the visit feel a little bit better. I am pathetic, but at least her freckled cheeks gave me a slight distraction from the vivisected woman from the 60s sprawled across the steel examination table and the smell of the world’s worst chemicals which floated in the air.
“I discovered something very strange about Miss August’s body this morning,” Beverly started in as soon as I walked in the room almost as if she was just staring at the door, waiting for me to walk in.
Beverly led me over to the body and I fought to keep my stomach when I looked down upon Miss August’s body again and put on some gloves.
Beverly grabbed hold of Miss August’s arm without any hesitation as if she was just some kind of toy doll or stuffed animal. She held up the limp arm in my direction nodded at me in a manner that suggested I touch the arm.
“Go ahead,” Beverly said. “I at first thought the condition was from the cold of the river or frost of the morning, but it didn’t go away in that manner.”
I touched the arm with one index finger there and left it there with my eyes locked on Beverly, not the body.
“It feels as if her body was frozen for an extended period of time,” Beverly explained. “Not just like a few weeks in a freezer either. Like years.”
“Since like 1961?” I asked.
“That’s what would make the most sense.”
It didn’t take the locals long to find out Miss August’s story and to start forming their own theories like a small town conspiracy theory club. The best and most-common theory was that we had a time traveling serial killer on our hands. Why else would a body from 50 years ago show up in town? Another was that Miss August was abducted by aliens all those years ago and they finally dropped her back off after they had their way with her for more than half a century.
As much as I laughed at the theories, I could only giggle so much, I had no clue as to how a woman who disappeared in 1961 in the Bay Area ended up dead 55 years later next to a river in the most secluded corner of Washington. Most sobering, it was my job to figure it out.
My time to solely focus on Miss August would not last. A panicked phone call in the night plunged me deeper into the maddening nightmare.
“Gary. Gary,” I recognized the voice of Will Hoover huffing and puffing into his phone through the speaker of mine which was pressed against my ear at four in the morning. “Leigh and Peter found another one out by Lake Pearygin tonight. It’s another woman.”
The lights set up on the lakeshore made the crime scene look like a nighttime freeway construction project. I shielded my eyes against the searing lights when I walked up to the muddy banks of the swampy lake and tried to figure out who the few people milling about the scene were.
I knew one of the attendees was Tray. I could smell the burning Michael Jordan cologne that he wore before I could even make his face out in the blinding lights.
“High school kids out here fuckin’ found her,” Tray ran up to me and proudly announced.
“Tray, please try not to use the term ‘fuckin’ on a crime scene,” I grumbled back like a hibernating bear that had been rushed from its slumber.
“But they were,” Tray childishly retorted and tore a pink thong out of an evidence bag he had tucked underneath his arm. “We found these.”
I pushed Tray’s panty-filled hand back down as fast as I could.
“Jesus Christ Tray. Put that away. Tell me what happened here.”
I will translate Tray’s ramblings to you… there was a new body, similar to the last one, found on the shores of the lake. Similar age, somewhere around 35, long, straight dark hair, porcelain skin and a thin, but strong frame, the woman also had a tattoo, but this one was of an anchor, similar to the ones sailors got back before everyone in the country had a tattoo.
The woman’s name was Gloria Howser and I could have guessed almost every detail about her background before Beverly gave it to me the afternoon after we found her body. She was 34 when she died, had been missing from Berkeley, California since 1963 and grew up an orphan in Los Angeles. Tray gleefully informed me that this formed what they call a “pattern.”
Like Miss August, we could not find any additional details about Miss Howser other than that a missing person’s report was lazily filed in the summer of 1963. Other than that, she was essentially a ghost that showed up in my little rural heaven to ruin my life.
The conspiracy theories were blowing through the town like a stiff wind on a flat prairie now. You couldn’t go anywhere in the entire town without hearing some old timer gossiping about a time traveling serial killer. The guy even had a nickname that all of the town folk over the age of 60 didn’t understand – Marty McFly.
I saddled up at the only establishment in the county seat which served hot food, the Chevron by the highway, in plain clothes, in hopes of hearing some gossip which could provide some kind of lead. FYI, if you are ever trying to figure out the difference between a town and a city, it’s a town if the gas station serves hot food. The gauge used to be if the gas station rented VHS tapes, but even America’s tiniest burgs have turned their backs on VCRS at this point.
The chicken fried steak sandwich served up by The Hot Corner Café, just 25 feet from cash register, a give-a-penny, take-a-penny jar and a female cashier with a lit cigarette tattooed on her hand, was shockingly good. The bowl of white gravy it came with was the key. I received my first lead via the loud mouth of Bruce Rollins when I was sopping up the last of the savory gravy with toasted bread.
“Y’all know that Carter fellow is going to come up before this is all said and done,” Bruce’s cigarette-marinated rasp trickled a few seats down the bar of the café and into my ears.
I looked down the bar and saw Bruce’s magnificent gut wrapped in a ripped and stained Big Johnson’s Racing t-shirt. He leaned towards the waitress and went on from behind a thick pair of glasses, a bulging head of stringy gray hair and a face as red as a baboon’s ass.
“I’m telling you right here, right now, Harry Carter has something to do with this,” Bruce reiterated.
I knew Bruce was full of shit 95 percent of the time, but that was the problem. Those old bullshiters who peppered the town with homespun yarns about old football glory, run ins with “pussy” and warnings of the cities creeping in on the town always had legit story or tip one out of about every 20 times. So you just had to hear them out and decide for yourself.
Talk of old Harry Carter did interest me. Harry Carter was about the only wealthy or mysterious thing in Riverbend County. He made ungodly amounts of money in California in the 50s in manufacturing, but decided one day to sell out, pack it up and move up to Riverbend County for reasons unknown in the 60s.
Harry Carter kept to himself and had a rotating parade of assistants who did his shopping and errands. The only time anyone ever really saw him was occasionally at the gas station or driving on the highway in or out of town.
“I met him, years ago in the station buying a Coke. Strange fellow. Kind of guy you would see in a Hitchcock film back in the day. Tall, gaunt, soft spoken, but you could tell he meant business. Not sure exactly what kind of business though,” I listened to Bruce start his tale.
“They have that big warehouse up on Adler Hill, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s where the houses are too, supposedly. No one has ever actually been up there. He had a frickin heart attack a few years ago and just drove down to the outside of his gate and called 911. He wouldn’t even let the ambulance up there. The word is there is like five or six houses up there though.”
Bruce took a big swig of his coffee and scanned around the station real quick.
“He has people come in and out to work at that warehouse though. Something goes on up there and if I were you, I’d march up there and ring the doorbell. Poke around a little bit now that we got god damn time-travelin dead girls showing up. Ain’t the time to be reclusive,” Bruce went on.
A black call box greeted me at the end of the winding road which snaked up Adler Hill and the Carter property. I took in a deep breath and hit the red button on the box. I stared up at the thick, black, steel gate which towered above me while the box broadcast a ring tone.
“Yes,” an annoyed male voice finally answered.
“Hi. This is Sheriff Green. Is Mister Carter available?”
“What’s this regarding?” The catty voice shot back.
“We have had some dead bodies show up around the county the past week so we have been just going around talking to everyone to see if they have seen anything, or anyone, strange the past few weeks.”
“Uh, suspicious is a better word, I guess. We’re just trying to check in with everybody overall. Make sure everyone is okay.”
“Everything is okay here. I don’t see how this concerns Mister Carter. Thank you.”
“And who is this may I ask?” I pressed.
“Allen. Thank you.”
The line went dead.
I winced. The annoyed voice was right. I couldn’t even get a search warrant for the property if I wanted to. The only thing Mr. Carter was suspicious of was being a recluse and that’s 100 percent legal.
“We got another one,” Tray proudly announced once I walked back into the office.
I stopped in my tracks. Shook my head at Tray in disgust.
“Jesus Christ Tray. These are dead women, not touchdowns.”
Tray apologized all the way to Tarheel Hole. A line of homemade shacks illegally built on the banks of Wolfsneck, the accurately named little riverside village was a place I hated to be summoned. It almost always meant some high school kid was dying of alcohol poisoning, or some kid had drowned cooling off in the river during the summer.
The sight of “Rainier” Ray Gabbert talking to an ambulance crew sank my heart. The county’s only transient who just happened to also be the town’s biggest bullshit gossip other than Bruce, Ray was beyond bad news. Not a huge surprise considering he was named after the Northwest region’s original microbrew, Rainier Beer.
I audibly groaned when I walked up to a poor paramedic who was being fed a line of bull from Ray and jumped into the conversation.
“What happened here guys?”
The paramedic gave me the look of relief most people give me when I tell them I am not giving them a ticket. He darted away as fast as humanly possible without running.
“Some gal is dead over there,” Ray started, his voice sloppy due to numerous missing teeth. “I came down to catch some humpies this morning and I saw her there. I thought she was just some river foam at first.”
I guess this was Ray’s five percent of truth. He led me over to a grey body floating on top of the choppy river, surrounded by a collection of logs which kept it pinned into a little pool of cold water. I could tell from the length of the body’s jet black hair the victim was either that of a woman or a rock star.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch when Tray and a crew pulled the woman’s body into the shore with what looked like the kind of pool hook you would see hanging on the wall around a motel pool. I felt my stomach rumble and bumble while I stood with my back to the scene and pretended to be writing an email on my phone.
“Green,” I heard Tray’s drawl shoot up at me from the muddy banks of the river.
I ignored it. The fake email was much too important.
“What?” I yelled back and turned around, looking and feeling thoroughly annoyed.
Tray’s lip quivered. His eyes were glassy.
“You’re gonna want to see this,” Tray announced.
I felt bad about yelling at Tray when I carefully walked down the steep banks of the river and tried not to slip on my ass. The whole situation had me under too much pressure and I was officially beginning to crack. Plus, I didn’t want to lay eyes upon another dead woman.
Maybe I had a sixth sense about this one which made me hesitate when Tray first summoned me, because this one would hit me harder than anything else I had ever seen in my entire life.
“She looks like you,” Tray whispered to me with boyish wonderment when I reached the flat bank of the river.
I felt vomit rush up to the back of my throat when I laid my eyes upon the face of the dead woman who laid dead and bloated, eyes red and pale arms to her sides on the dirty riverbank. I saw my mom’s body for the first time in almost 40 years.
I needed to talk to someone, even if it was Tray. We sat in my patrol car parked on the side of the quiet road chugging coffee and craving the chewing tobacco I forgot back at the station.
“I’m sorry Green,” Tray consoled me from behind the mesh metal which separated the front and back seats in my car. “That’s beyond fucked up.”
“Thanks Tray,” I replied and fought back tears for the 10th time since we got in the car. “Maybe we really do have a time-traveling killer or some shit. I know for a fact my mom was dead. I still remember flying all the way back to San Francisco to that fucking police station so they could tell me in-person because I didn’t believe it until then.”
“Did she look like she did then?”
My gut reaction was to scold Tray for asking a questions which could have been taken as insensitive, but I didn’t. I thought about what he asked and the last time I had seen my mother. She had been alive. I never actually saw her dead. The officers back in San Francisco never made me identify her and I couldn’t take asking to see her, I didn’t really want to anyway.
The last time I had saw her was before I left for the Navy and we went to dinner on the bay for our favorite meal of crab and clam chowder. That night always stuck in my head when darkness crept into my mind. It always reminded me of the simple miracle of enjoyment in life. My mom had lived the hardest of lives from what I knew, grew up on the street, and stayed there other than for a few brief periods with men who eventually turned unreliable and violent. Even after all that, there we were in a fancy restaurant, eating our luxury for probably only the second or third time in our lives – laughing, smiling and loving. I could tell my mom felt that her life was beyond repair, but if I could make something of myself, live a happy life, then it was enough. For just a night, we were just like everyone else.
Then it was gone and I never truly got that moment back for myself.
The tears finally came. They eventually turned to sobs and fists pounding on my steering wheel. They turned to primitive screams until Tray rapping on the steel mesh which separated us paused my heartbreak.
“Green. Green,” Tray blubbered.
I turned around and saw tears in Tray’s eyes as well. He may not have been Stephen Hawking, but the man had a good heart, and would give you the shirt off his back. Enough for me.
“I’m sorry man. Life’s fucked up,” Tray consoled me with his face right up against the mesh.
I didn’t see it coming, but I started to laugh. It picked up until I couldn’t even control myself and I doubled over in my seat.
“What? What? What?” Tray asked insecurely, probably thinking he had a huge booger hanging out of his nose or something.
I fought back and eventually started to get my grip back.
“Why are you sitting back there?” I finally got words out up from my still-laughing gut.
I saw Tray scan his surroundings in the back seat, looking like an arrested drunk. He slowly started to chuckle.
“I don’t know. I guess I thought you wanted your space.”
Tray went for the door handle to get out of the backseat, but it wouldn’t budge. He was locked in. I laughed harder until for the fleetingest of moments, I forgot about the pain of my past and the ugliness and darkness of what was unfolding in Riverbend County.
The coffee at The Hot Corner was awful. You had to wonder if they intentionally tried to make it that way it was so bad. To me, it tasted like chew spit mixed with milk that was just starting to go rotten. Come to think about it, maybe that’s exactly what it was.
Still, I choked down a mid-afternoon coffee at The Hot Corner and read baseball scores from the night before on my phone in hopes of seeing Bruce walk into the little dusty cafe. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t there already. I had been there during the day without seeing him. It was one of those things in life, I guess. The first time you are actually looking for someone you usually try to avoid, but see all the time, you can’t find them.
I was about to give up halfway into my coffee when I heard that familiar jangle ring out through the station. I looked to the door and saw a probably drunk Bruce walk in wearing a leather jacket covered in biker pins and leather chaps over a pair of faded blue jeans.
“Didn’t hear a Harley out in the parking lot Bruce,” I greeted him with a snide remark.
Bruce took a seat at the bar next to me and smiled with his big, brown push broom mustache and squinted at me through his thick glasses.
“Ah hell, just dropped the thing off at the shop and headed here. Things always breaking down. Had to take the truck.”
Bruce shot a look up at the waitress who had been texting on her phone for every moment since I had been there other than when she took my order and poured my coffee.
“Coffee,” Bruce said and then winked at the waitress before he turned to me. “Coffee’s great here, isn’t it?”
I laughed a little bit, but nodded my head in false agreement.
“But what the hell brings you in here on the middle of a work day? ‘Specially considering I heard they just pulled another old gal out of the river.”
I bit my tongue, literally and figuratively. Cooled it off with a drink of cold coffee.
“Well Bruce. Because I need to talk to you.”
Bruce’s face lit up once that sentence came out of my mouth.
The reason I had to get in touch with Bruce was the same I had to semi-arrest him a few months back. He owned a drone.
Back around Memorial Day I was called out to Bedford Lake because a group of high school girls reported a drone flew over their day at the beach a bunch of times and they were thoroughly creeped out. I knew Bruce was the only guy in town with one of the flying cameras so I went to his house and warned him that I would be taking the drone away the next time it was involved in peeping Tom-related activities.
Now, I was summoning Bruce’s drone, but this time, to do my own dirty work.
Bruce strapped the goggles to my face and I suddenly felt like I was flying. I am the opposite of a tech geek, but even I had to admit Bruce’s drone and face mask were amazing.
With the goggles Bruce gave me, I could see exactly what the drone was seeing as if I was flying on front of the thing, even though we were standing in my living room. I soared above the farm fields of the county, dove down to the Wolfsneck River and strafed the edge of town just a little bit by the high school.
“Here we go,” Bruce announced as I watched the camera point toward Adler Hill and the Carter compound.
“Just go around the perimeter by the warehouse,” I instructed.
“That’s the plan,” Bruce shot back.
The camera took me into the dark woods which surrounded the Carter compound at a breakneck pace until I laid eyes upon a thick steel fence, topped with razor wire which protected a large black steel warehouse. The fence seemed to go on forever without any kind of weakness.
“Shit, I don’t think we have anything there,” I announced.
“Come on, let’s try up by the house,” Bruce suggested.
“I guess we don’t have a choice.”
Bruce guided the drone further up the hill and into the thicker, darker woods, until we were at the top of the black steel fence and I was looking at a cluster of large, but dated stand-alone houses protected by the fence.
“Hold,” I instructed Bruce.
I examined the scene the drone presented me. Just about five yards past the fence and it’s 10-foot height and razor wire was the open second-story window of one of the homes.
“I have an idea,” I announced to Bruce and took off the goggles, handed them to him.
Bruce put on the goggles.
“What if we fly the drone into that window with a rope tied to the back of it which drapes over the fence and lock the drone in somewhere below the window so it holds strong and then I can climb in with the rope? You will just have to keep the drone accelerated to keep the rope tight. I have the equipment down at the station to protect against the razor wire.”
“I guess as long as they don’t have a security system installed up there, it could work,” Bruce said.
“Test it, fly in the perimeter.”
I watched Bruce work the navigation pad.
“Doesn’t seem to set anything off, but why don’t you just get a search warrant?” Bruce asked.
“That’s not going to happen anytime soon and we need to move on this now,” I shot back.
“Well, it’s crazier than my ex-fucking-wife, but I guess that could work.”
I chucked the six-pack of beer Bruce brought out of his truck window as soon as we met up just after midnight and got on the road for the Carter compound. I assured him I would pay him back the six dollars he spent on the six-pack of 16-ounce Busch Lights which were now scattered in the ditch somewhere.
The plan was Bruce would guide the drone from the woods just down the road from the Carter compound and I would follow its path through the woods and up to the top fence and open window at the top of the compound. From there, it was on Bruce’s pilot skills to be able to pull off our Mission Impossible scheme.
I watched the drone fly over the fence with the rope dangling behind, dressed in my sweaty, black protective jumpsuit and black stocking cap looking like some kind of low-rent Batman villain. I took a deep breath and let it out when I saw the rope stop and tighten up.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I checked a text from Bruce which simply read “GO.” I followed my orders.
The climb over the fence was easier than I thought it would be, physically. I was only slightly winded when I landed on the other side of the fence in a soft pile of bushes behind the house where the drone was hovering above in the open window.
I collected my senses in the dark. My eyes had already adjusted to the shallow light which only came from the moonlight which snuck through the canopies above and from some outdoor lighting on the nearby buildings.
Ready to move, I felt like a cop in a movie for the first time in my career. Maybe this thought should have told me I was in over my head. Especially considering I had no real plan once I got through the Carter perimeter.
My only real internal direction was that I should poke around the warehouse down at the bottom of property. I started walking the leafy perimeter of the fence, crouched and ready to strike like a scorpion should anyone approach me.
A buzz from my phone interrupted my operation.
I stopped and slipped my phone out of my pocket. My suspicions were correct, I had a text from Bruce:
I flew the drone around inside the house with the open window. You’re gonna want to check that building out.
I didn’t have the time or cover to start a back and forth with Bruce. I couldn’t believe it, but I was going to blindly follow the directions of Bruce Fox.
Another text from Bruce:
I bet the front door of the place is unlocked. Just head in. See for yourself.
I backtracked along the fence until I was right back behind the first house I came upon. I slipped around the side of the house and found the front door. Tried the handle. Bruce was right. It was unlocked.
I was shocked there was some light inside the house when I stepped in. A classic, standard, rural two-bedroom, the place had the decorative touch of a 60s housewife with doilies, mahogany furniture, pink wallpaper, fine china and family portraits providing the scenery. I couldn’t help but think the place looked how my mom decorated her houses in the brief periods when she had them.
Once a little bit into the room, I saw the source of the lighting was coming from a lit chandelier in the dining room which was adjacent to the living room I was still combing through. It wasn’t much, but the light gave me just enough illumination to take in the portraits stuck all over the wall.
Looking at the framed portraits made the already chilly room grow even a little bit colder. All of the photos were of the same thing – a pale, gaunt man dressed in a fine suit, sitting in a regal chair next to a stiff woman in a white dress stuck into a chair next to him. I pushed my face as close to one of the portraits as I could and lit the fire of familiarity in my mind. I knew the woman; I had seen her before. It was Georgia Marie August.
I scanned as many of the framed portraits as I could in a quick sweep and one eerie thing stuck out most. The man seemed to age from photo to photo and change attire, but Georgia always remained the same. The same face frozen in the dying days of youth, the same stiff posture as if someone had propped her up with an umbrella and that same ageless, porcelain skin.
I was almost done with my research when I felt something brush up against my back. I screamed and whipped around, drew my gun like a movie cop, placed my finger on the trigger.
My gun was pointed directly at Bruce’s drone. It hovered right in front of me. The camera pointed right at my nose. Had my surroundings not put me on edge, I would have laughed at the image Bruce had at the moment of my gun stuffed into his face.
The drone began to behave like a dog which wanted to be let out to go to the bathroom. It wobbled side-to-side and did a littler circle. I assumed this was Bruce’s way of signaling I should follow it.
Right on cue, the drone spun around and took off up some stairs which led up out of the living. I followed it into the darkness of the staircase.
A little sense of security washed over me when I saw the drone’s headlight flick on and illuminate the way up the dark stairs like a tour guide on a haunted cemetery tour. Now palely lit, I scanned the walls which led up to the second story and saw endless photos of Miss August on each side of me. This raised the goosebumps on my arms until we reached the top of the stairs.
Once atop the stairs, I followed the drone through a door and into a bedroom. Completely unfurnished and hollow, the Feng shui of the room immediately gave me a horrible feeling in my stomach. The only thing in the entire room were old newspaper clippings pinned to the wall without an ounce of any kind of organization.
I followed Bruce’s drone over to the clippings. They were all San Francisco area newspaper clippings about the disappearance of Georgia Marie August.
My phone vibrated in my pocket and made me jump as I read a story about Georgia which quoted her parents about how much they missed her.
I checked my text from Bruce:
I’m going to check out the other houses. Follow me.
I followed the drone back out into the dark rustic plaza of the Carter compound. I watched the aircraft whiz ahead of me and move over to another modest-sized house like the one we had just left.
From a solid distance. I saw the drone fly up towards the second story of the house and slip in through a window. It was inside for about 30 seconds before I reached the front door, tried and handle and headed in.
The interior of the second house was exactly identical to the first one, down to one single lit chandelier providing the lighting. I immediately started examining the framed portraits all over the wall.
The portraits were exactly the same format as the ones in the first house with the same pale, gaunt man, but the woman was different. The woman was my mother.
I quickly turned away from the photos. I didn’t need to see anymore. I knew the drill and I didn’t need to see any more of it.
I took out my phone and texted Bruce:
I’m going to that warehouse.
Without a text back. I watched the drone spin around, give me a human-like dip nod and then fly over to the front door which I had closed behind me. I let the door back open and watched Bruce’s drone take off into the night air and head down the sloped hill of the property, in the direction of the warehouse.
I was no longer worried about concealing myself, I was so enraged by what I had seen in the last house. I ran across the muddy clearing in the middle of the property, followed the same path as Bruce’s drone.
It took me a good minute to make it to the warehouse, but I got a good look at the place for the first time when I got there. About 25-30-feet tall and about 50 feet wide, the warehouse looked a lot like a standard auto shop you would see in a small town. Made of crimped steel, painted black, it was windowless with the only entry point being a rolling door in the middle of the side which rested open.
I made my way through the door and was surprised to find nothing but an empty cement slab floor which seemed to comprise the entire warehouse except for one little door in the back corner which rested open. I made my way across the slick cement and to the back corner, almost blind, the only light which came into the warehouse was from a flood light on a power pole outside and it got fainter the further back I got into the warehouse.
I kept my gun pointed in front of me when I walked through the back door and the world around me went to complete darkness.
Completely blind, I felt my way around the hallway, keeping my hands on the sidewalls the entire time until I felt myself go around a corner.
A flashing light appeared once I rounded the corner. I couldn’t make out what was producing the flashing light yet, but I could see about 20 yards down a tight corridor, it was coming from something on the ground. I moved towards it slowly.
My heart sank when I saw the source of the light. Bruce’s drone, crumpled and destroyed on the ground. A pathetic, little trickle of acrid smoke billowed up from it.
I checked my phone, expecting communication from Bruce, but I had no service, my messages and call logs were blank.
I didn’t have time to conduct a thorough investigation, but I saw the source of the drone’s destruction. Hanging above the crumpled wreck was a thick steel door, the bottom brim of it hung about six inches below the ceiling and looked to be operated by some kind of remote control.
My brain told me to turn back. I was already in too deep, and without Bruce’s drone and no service, I had no form of backup or communication with the outside world. But my heart told me to keep going. Dive deeper into the darkness, the cold steel, get to the bottom of this furious mystery. I thought about that dinner back with my mom the last time I saw her.
I ran past the doorway which caused the end of Bruce’s drone. I felt it start to drop to the ground like a guillotine as soon as I jumped through it. I shot a look backwards and saw it closed now, some of the wreckage of Bruce’s drone laid just inside of it on my side of the door seal now.
The walls around me shuddered. The sound of a heating system firing up. I suddenly felt like I was in an operating building.
I knew it was crazy, but I pressed on towards a blue light I saw up the hallway which seemed to lead into an opening.
The sounds of machinery picked up the further and further I went into the hallway and the closer I got to the blue clearing. It began to feel like I was in a factory or a huge air conditioning unit.
A massive warehouse facility greeted me at the end of the hallway which was more like a tunnel. The hallway spilled out onto a platform which looked about 10 feet down into a sunken floor lined with equipment which made it look like a laboratory. It honestly reminded me of where they kept the aliens in Area 51 in the movie Independence Day. It was a sunken room with blue pods of sorts lining the wall and heavy machinery in the middle.
The sight was an utter mindfuck. I had no idea what to do. I figured I would just continue to explore, but also began to wonder if I was simply wasting my time.
“Excuse me officer,” the voice of Allen, from back at the call box, stopped me in my tracks when I headed towards the stairs which led down into the belly of the warehouse.
I looked in every direction of my horizon and saw no human presence. Scanned again. Nothing.
“What are you doing here, officer?” Allen’s voice went on and I realized it was coming from a speaker system located throughout the room.
Something peculiar caught my eye on the third scan of the room. Down in the corner of the pit were two human figures which rested motionless with one on the ground and another sitting in a chair.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I yelled up into the air, no idea how to communicate with the speaker system.
I figured I was fucked if I did or didn’t do anything at this point, so I started back down the stairs, towards where I saw the figures down in the pit.
“I can’t tell you that,” Allen started in again. “You need to leave.”
I made it to the bottom of the stairs, Allen’s words rang hollow in my ears. I ran on a mission towards the figures in the corner.
“You can’t go down there,” Allen warned.
I ignored him and continued my pursuit of the figures down in the corner of the pit.
The figures became more clear from my closer vantage point. It was the old man from the portraits back in the houses. His body laid cold and stiff, but horribly decomposed, slumped over in a metal chair. I gagged and took a few steps back, but kept my eyes on the scene.
Lying at the foot of the old man and joining him in his decomposition was the naked body of a woman. Looking exactly like the woman who showed up in the bodies of water around the county, she looked to be somewhere in her 20s or early-30s, but had a classic look, volumptous and porcelain-skinned, like a burlesque dancer.
“Mister Carter has passed, there’s nothing I can do,” Allen announced over the speakers.
I looked around the pit and saw that about half of the blue pods which lined the walls had what looked to be frozen women in them. I started to put the mental idea of a cryogenic freezing facility in my head. I thought I may have seen one on 60 Minutes before and it looked like this.
“Mister Carter wanted them to live forever, so he could have them forever, but he didn’t think about himself,” Allen’s voice rained down again.
I’m not sure why, but I started to feel safe. Allen felt like a harmless alien presence. I started to walk around the pit, until the smell of putrid smell of stagnant water overtook the smell of Mr. Carter and his brides’ rotting corpses.
Around the corner from where Mr. Carter and the woman were thawing and rotting was a pool of dark water which seeped in through a huge, ugly tear in the wall which revealed the outside world of the woods, shining in the moonlight. It appeared a flooded creek had ran into the facility, overtaken the wall and started running through the pit and its contents.
“We are broken,” Allen announced.
The little creek which ran through the facility cut through three of the pods which rested splintered and split open like cracked eggs next to a frying pan. I foolishly waded into the water to get a closer look. It might seem risky, but I saw name plates on the pods and had to see what they said.
The first steel pod of broken glass I saw confirmed my fear. Inscribed in thick steel on the top base of the pod read the name “HELEN,” and confirmed to me that the pod once housed someone I called a different name for endless frozen years of dead torture. I called her “Mom.”
I was out of time to reminisce though. The current in the pool which was now up past my waist and was much more swift than I thought it would be. I tried to fight against it, but couldn’t, it quickly sucked me towards the open hole in the wall. It suddenly seemed I would suffer the same fate as my mother and the other women who were frozen in time. I was going to be sucked into the cold waters of the the Wolfsneck River in a few seconds.
I heard one last thing before I was pulled away in the dark water flushed out into the black woods in the night.
“Good bye, officer,” Allen’s hollow words rang out into the night air before I was sucked out of the facility and pulled under the water.
I could taste the chowder and fresh crab in my stomach whenever an especially steep wave rocked the little boat high upon the tide and then dropped it back down. My captain assured me numerous times it was fine to go out on these choppy waters, the bay was always just a tough piece of water and he had worked in these conditions thousands of times.
I was tempted not to trust a grown man who went by the name Captain Johnny, but I let it go, just clung to the gold vase in my hand which housed my mother.
I had only been retired for a week, but it only took me one day to get the fuck out of Riverbend County.
I left a hero. Had I died, I believe the good people of Riverbend County would have given me a Viking funeral, but I lived. I snagged myself on a dead tree branch in the Wolfsneck River just downstream from the creek which ran through Mr. Carter’s home cryogenic project and eventually pulled myself to shore with three broken ribs. Riverbend County was ecstatic I finally uncovered the privileged mystery of Mr. Carter and his property, but it didn’t really do anything for me.
I came to San Francisco to for two reasons. The first was to talk with another old grizzled cop to find out what the deal will Mr. Carter was in San Francisco in exchange for me informing him of what really happened in Riverbend County.
The officer told me Mr. Carter was fabulously wealthy in San Francisco for playing a huge role in creating those first computers back in the 50s which took up entire rooms. The only problem was he had a terrible dark side which led to him developing a penchant for strangling women around the Bay Area. Once caught, he pulled off the wonderful, old school maneuver of paying off the San Francisco PD to ignore what he did as long as he left town.
What the officers in San Francisco didn’t know was that Mr. Carter used his technical expertise to develop cryogenic technology which he took up to Riverbend County with him, along with the bodies of his victims. They also didn’t know that he spent his life up there, selling his cryogenic technologies for huge amounts of cash while using it for his own personal enjoyment by keeping his victims’ bodies fresh so he could take them out when he wanted to and live a faked married life with them.
Also, it turned out “Allen” was another technology he developed. Sort of like his own personal “Siri” or “HAL” from 2001: A Space Odyssey for you old timers.
The second reason I came to San Francisco was so I could eat dinner at that fancy restaurant on the bay I had my last meal with my mom at and finally give her a proper burial. I felt it was the only way I could get some peace in my life.
And I was right. The past may have been too painful to take, but the present was wonderful. I savored that moment on that boat, rocking in the waves, led by my captain Johnny, watching my mother’s ashes finally reach their proper resting point.
For once in my life, I think I could say things couldn’t really be better.