TWENTY-FIVE: MY NAME IS MUD
“I WANT DIANA ON this with you,” Pat said.
We stood before a window surrounded by thick, wire mesh. At the bottom of the window was a counter top and Officer John Singer stood on the other side. Behind him were lockers of various sizes where the Eudora Police Department stored the belongings of anyone in lockup.
“Diana?” I asked.
“Come on, Pat,” I said, signing the paperwork required to get my stuff back. “This will all go much faster if I do it alone.”
“Look, I’m not above just standing back and letting you do your thing, especially when it comes with your kinds of cases. But this was a police matter first, and we’ll see it finished.”
“Fine,” I said. John took my paperwork and grabbed up a large ring of keys, taking them to a locker behind him. “How’s she gonna handle it?”
“She’s a professional.”
“You don’t think she’s gonna freak out a bit when she learns what we’re after? Maybe try and redirect the investigation here and there because she thinks I’m crazy or something?”
“I’ll talk to her,” Pat said. “You sure about this goblin thing?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“You mentioned the red mist. He kept talking about a red mist.”
“Goblins can excrete a chemical through their skin and then blow it into the face of an opponent. It’s a powerful hallucinogen and has even been known to cause temporary blindness.”
“So that’s why Maggie’s fiancé seems crazy,” she said.
“Exactly, he’s not crazy, he’s just tripping.”
Pat and I go back a ways. It was in ‘82 and I’d been hunting a pack of werewolves. They’d been attacking and killing families out in the country for two weeks. It was a bad time.
Pat had been in her mid-twenties, a fresh face on the force, and she’d clued in right away that the attacks were more than a pack of stray dogs like the press had been making it out to be. In fact, I never would have discovered the pack leader had it not been for Pat. And when I say ‘never’ I just mean I would have figured it out eventually, Pat just got to it quicker than I did. Of course, she always did have a leg up on me when it comes to the brains department.
When someone discovers that the world they thought was one way turns out to be something entirely different, they usually don’t handle it well.
Some go through a period of adjustment. They freak out, which is expected, but then they gradually get used to the idea.
Some enter a state of denial so deep that they try and rationalize everything they see that’s not what they would consider normal. That’s not a vampire, they would say to themselves. That’s just some psycho with a blood fetish.
Unicorn? I don’t think so. That’s a horse with a skull deformity, probably caused by global warming.
That can’t be a mermaid. Must have been one of them manatees. I had the sun in my eyes after all.
Pat? She’s not like other people. She had no issue believing in a world outside of our own. She took to it like a battle-hardened professional. I could only hope that this Officer Diana King would be able to do the same.
John returned with a large cardboard box containing all of my belongings. My fedora lay on top of my trench coat which had been folded up to fit in the box.
Under the coat was my gun belt and guns. The Winchester was on one of the shelves behind John. He handed it over to me seperately.
Pat went off to have her talk with Officer King as I strapped on my gun belt. Then I pulled on the coat and placed the hat on my head.
I know I’ve mentioned it already, but I’ve often been told that I look like someone who would have run with Elliot Ness back in the day, what with the suit, the hat, and the coat. That is despite the guns. And I suppose that’s true. I mean, that was when I started dressing the way I dress. I only still do so because nothing new has come along that’s inspired me enough to want to make the change. Other than the shoes, that is.
They’ve come a long way in the tactical shoe area. What we wore back in the ‘30s was like standing on wood compared to what they can do with footwear today.
In the bottom of the box was a plastic bag containing my keys, cigarettes, lighter, and a dollar thirty in change. I dropped all this into a pocket, thanked John for the night’s rest, and headed outside.
I met Officer Diana King out front of the police station. She waited with her arms crossed, leaning back against the driver’s side door of a police cruiser.
Everything had been saturated with rain that must have fallen over night. Puddles threatened to take over the sidewalk at the end of the steps and I stood and looked down on them in disdain. I hated to get wet.
The Police Department in Eudora was located on the Northeast corner of Tenth and Main, and as I made my way down the front steps, cars passed by in both directions, turning left on to Tenth or right on to Main, the tires spraying water as they went. The sounds of the tires running through the thin layer of moisture on the pavement made a distinctive sound that made my eyes twitch.
“I’m Officer Di—” she started as I neared.
I cut her off. “I know who you are. You’re my babysitter on this little adventure.”
“And I know who you are. You’re the guy that believes in fairies and goblins and stuff,” she smiled that crooked smile I’d seen in the interrogation room.
“You’d best believe too, girl. Otherwise you’re just gonna slow me down. Maggie’s depending on the two of us to get her back.”
“If she’s not already dead.”
“She ain’t dead.”
“Sure about that, are ya?”
“Goblins don’t kill people unless they’re backed into a corner. There’s more than a fair chance that she’s alive.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Okay, so let’s say for the moment that there is such a thing as a goblin. Why would they abduct a woman?”
“They wouldn’t,” I said. “Not on their own, anyways. Someone or something must have put them up to it. Goblins are vile little creatures, sure, but they don’t care much for us humans. Except for those that own cats.”
“Goblins eat cats.”
“Nice,” she said. “Okay, so, you’re the expert here. Where do we start?”
“Where would you start?”
“At the scene.”
“You’re driving,” I said.
It took us five minutes to arrive. Officer King parked in the back just behind a row of yellow tape that cordoned the area off and told anyone who approached that this was a crime scene.
We stepped under the tape and I took a quick look around.
“This is where she was taken?” I asked.
The lot was like a horseshoe. Customers pulled into the Happy Hamburger from the south and exited from the north. A row of parking stalls with menu boards lined the south and north side. To get from the entrance to the exit, a customer would have to drive around the rear of the building.
At the rear of the Happy Hamburger, the curved end of the horseshoe, Sat four employee parking spaces, one was currently occupied. Also in the rear of the drive-in was the back entrance for employees, and a cement staircase leading down to the basement. The tape surrounded the area around the back entrance with just enough room for a single car to drive through.
It was dark, but the lights of the lot were still shinning and they drove away most of the early morning shadows.
A wind blew in from the west. It rolled over the expanse of the restaurant and brought the scent of stale grease to my nose. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, and I wrinkled my nose at it.
“This is where we found our naked John Doe,” King said.
“That Maggie’s car?” I said, pointing to the one car in the employee spaces.
“Registered to her,” Officer King said.
“Anything in it worth noting?”
“Unlocked,” she said. “Other than that, it’s clean.”
There was nothing in the immediate area that screamed out to me that anyone was taken against their will and that goblins were involved. So I did what any good investigator would do. I took a closer look at things.
I scanned the pavement within the taped off area and found nothing out of the ordinary. The rain would have complicated things a bit, but in the end I wasn’t looking for prints or DNA. I was looking for an entrance.
“So?” Officer King said. Like before, she leaned back against the police cruiser, her arms crossed over her chest, and that crooked smile perched on her face.
“We need to find the entry point,” I said.
“Goblins are tunnelers. They live underground. They try not to come up to the surface unless they need to, and when they do, they don’t like to stay up too long.”
“Meaning that there will be a tunnel entrance close,” I said.
Further back behind the Happy Hamburger, beyond the employee parking spaces and on the other side of a tall privacy fence, sat a sprawling housing development still under construction.
“That’s the most likely place,” I said, pointing at the fence. “All the construction would provide the best cover.”
“So why didn’t we start there?”
“Because I prefer not to go walking about in pools of mud if I can help it. But,” I sighed, staring at the fence in dread, “I suppose that’s where we should go. If we can find a tunnel, then it’s possible that we can follow it to where they took her.”
“Let’s go then,” Officer King said. Then she flung that crooked smile at me in a manner so casual that there was no possible way that it could be.
The construction site turned out to be an even bigger mud pile than I’d imagined. Now I’m no duded up priss who worries over the state of his clothes, but that didn’t mean I wanted to spend the rest of the morning caked in mud either. But my comfort wasn’t the point.
It’s just, well, we had a lot of walking to do, and there was a lot of mud. Okay, not a lot of walking, but still, it was all mud out there. I just want to make sure that’s on record.
We drove through a forest of house frames and parked along the curb in a cul-de-sac near the western end. The house being built in the direct center of the cul-de-sac arch would share a property line with the Happy Hamburger, so that’s where we started.
The house, like the others around it, was nothing more than a poured foundation and a frame. No insulation, no wiring, no plumbing. Just wood, concrete, and a yard full of mud.
We slogged around back and made our way slowly to the fence that separated the drive-in from the construction site. I could still smell the greasy stench that blew off of the Happy Hamburger and suddenly found myself feeling a swift moment of pity for the people that would one day live in one of these houses.
By the time we reached the fence I must have brought the entire front yard with me on my feet. At least it wasn’t raining. Blessings can be found if one just takes the time to look.
We each carried a flashlight. The electricity hadn’t been turned on yet out this way, and while street lights had already been installed, the entire area was covered in darkness. By the beam of the light I found what appeared to be a mound of mud, sitting up a foot higher than the surrounding mud, near the fence.
“That’s it,” I said.
“What’s it?” King replied.
“That mud over there.”
“It’s all mud, Norman. I need you to be more specific.”
I sighed. “Just follow me.”
I stopped at the mound and let the light shine down on it.
“It’s a pile of mud,” King said.
“This is where they came out,” I said, ignoring her comment.
“It’s a pile of mud,” she repeated.
“It is now,” I let the light play across the ground around the mound until I found what I was looking for. “Crap." It wasn't good.
"What?" She said.
"You see that?”
“See what? More mud?”
“You see how the mud dips lower there leading from the mound for about ten yards or so?”
She was silent for a time as she shined her own light over the ground.
“Yeah,” she said finally. “I think I do.”
“They collapsed the tunnel behind them after they left so no one would follow. Clever, really. Which tells me that the goblins weren’t alone. Being clever isn’t something that goblins even know how to define.”
“Okay, so what does that mean for us? We can’t follow the trail.”
“No, we can’t,” I said. “Not unless you got a shovel.”
The wind switched direction and the smell of the burger joint vanished. But only to be replaced by something all the more vile. A scent so putrid that if it were human it would then be described as violent or sadistic, even homicidal.
“Oh crap,” I said, recognizing the stench. "This is bad."
“Ugh,” King said. “What is that smell?”
“We’re in trouble,” I said, and pulled one of my Peacemakers.
“Trouble?” she said. She could sense my sudden tenseness and reacted by pulling her own side arm. She held in out with the flashlight just below, the beam and the barrel both pointing in tandem.
“That smell,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “What is that? Did a sewer line break?”
“No,” I said, scanning back and forth with the light. “It’s much worse than that. We need to get out of here. Like now. Like right now.”
“Okay,” she said. “Calm down. Just tell me what’s going on.”
“There’s an ogre out here with us.”
That’s when it started to rain.
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