What THE FEAR CULT is about
ROMANTIC ADVENTURER, GENE MARTIN, is back! (You may remember him from Wolf Seed and Bigfoot Valley.)
He’s now a private investigator. While checking out what appears, on the surface, to be a haunted-house hoax, Gene discovers something deeper and more sinister than the average ghost. This leads him to the most beautiful and sexy woman he’s ever laid eyes on, and, from her, to a power-seeking cult that’s in the process of upgrading from sacrificial animal victims to human.
Gene Martin, always ready to jump smack-dab into any situation that requires a hero, finds that he’s face to face with his greatest challenge–a secret society of badly warped minds.
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:
THICK DARKNESS was split by the opening of a double door. Against the bright yellow light of the interior, a generally human-looking figure emerged, then stood momentarily motionless in the entrance. The figure was dressed in black from head to foot, rendering a dense silhouette. Now he–or perhaps she, for the loose-hanging apparel did much to disguise the form of the wearer’s body–came forward into the night and closed the double doors. These led out of a cellar under a building. A faint vertical line of light continued to show where the portals met. The somber-clad person moved forward into the night, carrying on through the blackness smoothly as though on wheels or on wings but flying low. Then the moon broke clear of cloud, revealing the dark being’s face.
It was the face of a demon.
The skin was pale, the eyes wild, the mouth fanged. Just once those wild eyes looked up at the moon, and the half-open mouth twisted into an expression of annoyance. The demon-creature altered the course of his progress so that he was soon under cover of bush. But after that he continued in the direction he had been pursuing before the moon came out.
As he moved along among tree trunks and underbrush, his fanged mouth vented strange low sounds. At the same time his right hand stroked the dome of a small human skull that hung from his belt.
* * *
Mrs. Scott, young, blonde, beautiful, and widowed, was in the throes of a night dream about having sex with a man so handsome and glamorous looking that he seemed to have come off the cover of a Harlequin romance novel. As his passionate yet smiling face hovered above her, she felt she was about to go into orgasm–but then she realized that she was not married to this man and shouldn’t be letting him bang her. She tried to say something to that effect but couldn’t make her voice work.
Somewhere nearby someone was screaming–a woman.
Mrs. Scott awoke then, and lay very still in her bed…. She began to tremble. Had the sound of a woman’s scream awakened her?–or had that been a part of her dream?
She sat up slowly. Her bedroom was feebly illuminated by a small nightlight near the floor. In this pale glow the old-fashioned and somewhat shabby second-story chamber looked comfortable and peaceful.
The young blonde woman glanced toward a child’s cot. Six-year-old Jimmy was sleeping quietly; but the mother knew that he was hard to rouse. Mrs. Scott retained her half-sitting posture and tried to relax back into propped-up pillows. Maybe she would turn the lights on…. No, that would be more likely to wake Jimmy than anything else. And he would know at once that she was afraid. Better to wait. Maybe her fear would go away.
But then she became aware of more than the inner pulsing of that fear. There was something in the air … an odor.
Now the scream came again–high-pitched, loud, trembling the whole building. Jimmy sat up wide-eyed, his covers falling to the floor. The scream had issued from somewhere below.
Mrs. Scott swung her feet out of bed without hesitation and ran to the light switch, flicked it on. More slowly she moved through the open doorway of her bedroom and then came to a congealed stop at the head of a stairway that led down into the kitchen.
The stairwell was vivid with rose and orange colors that danced about wildly. From farther below came the crackling of flames.
“I’M SORRY, Mr. Martin, but if I had known you were a private investigator I wouldn’t have allowed you to take a room here in the first place,” said the sweet little old lady. The expression on her face was one of much anxiety as she looked up at the tall man who stood before her.
“But Mrs. Cunningham,” returned Gene Martin with a smile, “I always thought you were on the side of law and order.” Martin’s six-foot-plus frame was well muscled and trim around the middle. He wore jeans and a yellow shirt open at the collar. By contrast the pale yellow accentuated the suntan of his skin and the dark of his prolific hair. He appeared to be in his early thirties, a handsome man, although his face was somewhat of a rugged cast. And he had a smile that always got through–right to the heart.
Mrs. Cunningham said, “But this is a peaceful, quiet place. I don’t want … I don’t want trouble. Some criminals might come around here looking for you, to get even with you for putting them in jail.”
“No danger of that,” assured Martin. “I’ve never put anyone in jail. You see, I’m just a beginner. I’ve yet to go out on my first case … and unless you have a missing cat for me to find, then it’s very unlikely that you’ll see action of any kind around here.” He smiled again. “Please, Mrs. Cunningham, don’t throw me out. It sure would be inconvenient for me at this point. For one thing, I’m expecting a letter–and besides, I’ll soon be leaving anyhow. You’ve put up with me for a month, now one or two weeks more won’t make any difference, will it?”
The two were standing in the living room of Mrs. Cunningham’s modest bungalow home in the city of Bismarck, North Dakota. From the kitchen came the smell of fresh buns and coffee.
“I didn’t know you were leaving so soon,” said the woman, revealing surprise by the tone of her words.
“I was going to tell you today.”
“Well, now that you’ve assured me that there won’t be any trouble … I don’t want you to leave … and I feel guilty about having brought up the matter in the first place.”
“Don’t let it bother you. You had your reasons for feeling as you did.”
“Come and have coffee with me…. Something has just come to mind, and I want to talk to you about it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, when I first found out that you’re a detective.” She started toward the kitchen and Gene followed.
“Not a detective,” he said, “a private investigator…. Don’t tell me you’re going to give me my first case.”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she said as she reached for the coffee pot, “and it’s not a missing cat, either.”
DAVE LINDSTROM was having a bad day. It had started out well enough; he woke up to a pleasant, sunny day in one of the city’s laid back old residential neighborhoods. After a breakfast of corn flakes and toast, he had spent a little time playing with the welfare children, Jeremy and Jasmine. They were siblings, the girl six years old, the boy five. He couldn’t play with them for long, for they had to be taken to school and kindergarten, and he himself had to get ready to take the bus to his job at the Wartel Brothers Print Shop. Dave’s mother was the only one who didn’t have to leave, for she worked out of her home, sewing for others. The money from his widowed mother’s handiwork, his own meager pay from the second-rate print shop, and the welfare money for keeping the children was all together just barely enough to keep things running. Or at least so they had thought.
But it was in the print shop where the day’s troubles started. Dave had never liked his bosses, Irvin and Wallace Wartel; they were about forty and thirty respectively, both with distinctly unpleasant personalities. They gave the impression that they knew they were crappy but were determined not to let anyone take advantage of them because of it; so they seemed to be at war with the world, handing out as much unpleasantness as they could. They seemed to think that this would keep them from being beaten down themselves. One way they were different one from another was that Irvin always arrived at the shop early, opening it. Wallace usually arrived an hour or two later. Dave was doing his best to like the Wartel brothers, because he was used to liking everyone and it didn’t seem right to make exceptions, but to warm up to these two was Mission Impossible and then some.
Dave was only twenty-one, tall, not yet quite filled out but nevertheless looking athletic and cutting a pleasing figure in the eyes of the opposite sex. His hair was brown and longish, and his handsome face had a ready smile. His normal liking of others covered all ages from babies to crippled old-folks. And he certainly liked the girl that started work on that bad day in his life.
The new secretary was young, petite, dark haired, finely featured behind her black-rimmed glasses, and left the top half of her breasts uncovered. The previous secretary had also dressed that way, but her boobs had been bigger. They had been fairly bouncing as she stomped out of the shop just a few days ago, looking back over her shoulder and calling Irvin Wartel a “gutter rat bloated on the crap from your own dirty mind!” Lena had a poetic streak. This new girl, Sandra, so far had shown only sweetness, innocence, willingness to cooperate, and those smooth little pushed up bulges.
Dave and Sandra hit it off right away, and, wanting to make her feel at home, Dave spent some time with her, asking chit-chat questions, to which she responded nicely and asked Dave things about himself. Their conversation was somewhat interfered with by street work going on close in front of the shop. A crew was using jackhammers to break up the sidewalk, hopefully with intentions of replacing a bad segment with a better. In spite of this hammering, the exchange of words between Dave and Sandra, in the nook where she was settling in, was somehow causing that area of the building to take on a pleasant pink glow–that is, until Irvine pushed his oversized belly into sight. There were sweat-stains under his short-sleeved shirt and his face had a dark, greasy look, with eyebrows pushed together over angry eyes and a pouting mouth. “Lindstrom, what the hell’re you doin’ here?! You’re supposed to be proofreading!”
“Just welcoming Sandra.” Dave forced himself to smile. “We want her to feel welcome, right?”
Irvin’s greasy head looked as though it might explode. However, he controlled himself enough to say, “I need that stuff by noon. Now get out of here and get to work.”
“Right,” said Dave. He turned and smiled at the girl. “Talk to you later, Sandra.”
“Okay,” she said, trying to return the smile but looking uncomfortable because of Irvin’s negative presence.
Dave left and could hear Irvine following behind him but apparently looking back over his shoulder as he told his new secretary: “If you need anything, let me know.”
“All right,” she said.
Dave got to his own desk with Irvin following close behind.
“We need to talk, Lindstrom,” said Irvin in a low voice.
Dave turned to face him, sat down on the edge of his desk. Irvin stood there looking ready to kill. “We’ve gotta get something straight here,” he said. “I lost one secretary because of you! I don’t want to lose this one!”
For just a moment, Dave was shocked speechless; then he said, “What secretary did you ever lose because of me? You don’t mean Lena, do you?” Dave knew why Irvin and Wallace had lost Lena. Irvin had been molesting her in all kinds of small, sneaky ways–brushing up against her, letting his hand swing onto her behind and trying to make it seem an accident, etc.
Irvin said, “Of course I mean Lena! You think I don’t know what you were telling her when you’d get off alone with her?–pretending to be working!”
“Irvin! I never said anything bad to her about you.” After he had said this, Dave realized that it wasn’t quite true. Once, when Lena had been complaining to him about how Irvin was bugging her, Dave had said something in response–something negative about Irvine, but he couldn’t remember what.
“Bullshit!” said Irvin. “I know you were sayin’ bad things about me! That’s why she started givin’ me those funny looks and shying away from me. Well, I won’t have you messin’ me up with this new girl! And I’ll know if you do. And I promise you!–if she starts reacting to me like Lena did, then you’re fired!”
Dave could smell Irvin. It seemed that the heat of his anger was causing the odor of dirty sweat to radiate out from him. Dave had often felt like quitting this job, but never so much as now. But, as at the other times, he thought of his mother and the welfare kids, and how hard it was to keep things going financially, particularly since some old creditors were clamoring for payment. Dave applied a mighty inner effort at humbling himself–an effort that felt as though he was allowing himself to sink into a tub filled with Irvin’s sweat and piss–and said, softly, “I certainly will refrain from ever saying anything negative about you to Sandra. I–”
“Call her Miss Langley! Don’t you have any sense of respect for the opposite sex?!”
“Sorry. Yes, Miss Langley. And I appreciate that you’re not firing me. As you know, Mom and I have those kids to support.” Dave was beginning to feel physically sick at his own words. What a suck-ass job he had just done!
“Yeah, you wouldn’t want to lose the kids, would you?” said Irvin, and his big-lipped little mouth took on a leer. “And I can guess why. According to what I’ve heard, your favorite pastime is wrestling around with them…. Unless you want me to start spreading that around town, you’d better learn to treat me with respect.”
Dave could just barely believe that he had heard Irvin correctly. Not yet moving his body, Dave took careful aim, in his mind, at Irvin’s face. Then, in a split second, he let the mental become physical and delivered the punch. It went true to aim and knocked Irvin ass over teakettle, flipping him backward over a low stack of print-paper rolls which went rolling to the floor along with him.
Apart from the court case which was almost certain to result, and the loss of his job, the episode might still have involved a fair amount of satisfaction for Dave. The problem was that just then Irvin’s brother, Wallace, walked into the shop. And whereas Irvin was big and round, Wallace was big and muscular. He had long ago decided to take up pumping iron in order to increase his ability to sling his own shit around in all directions. Wallace was dark haired and looked like one of those burly Olympic weight lifters. The lettering on his T-shirt today read: I’M EVEN BIGGER DOWN THERE, with an arrow pointing toward his crotch. Some said Wallace was better looking than his older brother Irvin, but Dave couldn’t agree. True, Irvin’s face looked to be badly carved out of butter, but the face of Wallace seemed to have been twisted into place with one of those cake decorators Dave had seen in the window of the bridal shop next door. And the angrier Wallace got, the more twisted his face became.
Right now it was threatening to screw itself into an unrecognizable mess as he came toward Dave. The big man said nothing, but he had seen Dave clobber his brother, and so no questions needed to be asked. To Dave, the sight of this oversized mass of muscle coming at him was almost enough to make him forget that somewhat over a year ago he, Dave, had completed a six-month course in kick boxing. He had had a better job then and thought he could afford it.
But he remembered this just in time, and when Wallace got through the obstacle course of crisscrossed paper rolls and his brother who was trying to get up, and only five feet separated Wallace from his target, Dave kicked up his foot sharply and connected under the big man’s chin. But he had a neck like a bull and his head didn’t really snap back as might have been expected; however, the kick brought him to a momentary stop.
Dave, not pleased with this result of his best effort, began an attempt to quickly get around the big man and make for the door. He might have made it too, but he stumbled over a roll of paper and a moment later Wallace had caught him by the arm. Wallace swung him around in a half circle and then let go. Dave crashed into a two-sided room-divider shelf and went down with it, printing equipment of various kinds thundering to the floor, some from off the falling shelves and some from being hit by the shelves.
Wondering if all his bones were still intact, Dave scrambled to his feet and therefore assumed they were. Wallace was off to the side, but Dave saw Irvin making it back to his feet, passing wind as he did so, and, just beyond Irvin, Sandra was reaching for a phone–no doubt to call the police.
Dave swung his face toward Wallace–saw the big man bearing down on him. Quickly stooping over, Dave picked up the three-foot-long roll of paper he had tripped over. It was heavy but he knew he could handle it because he had stacked plenty of them. He pitched it at Wallace. Wallace didn’t duck; he simply caught the roll and threw it back at Dave. There was plenty of force to the toss, and it likely would have floored Dave if he hadn’t jumped out of the way to one side.
Dave spun about and headed for the street door. Behind him came the sound of the heavy booted feet of Wallace chasing him, and he could hear Irvin yelling at Sandra: “Put that bloody phone down!”
“I’m calling the police!” insisted the frightened voice of the girl.
“The hell you are!…” There was more from Irvin, but Dave had reached the door and in a moment was out on the sidewalk. Thinking that Wallace was breathing down his neck, he spun about with the intention of delivering a right-handed karate chop; but the big man was not quite close enough for that, so Dave kicked up his foot again, connecting with Wallace’s jaw. This time he staggered from side to side and Dave had a hope that he might pass out and crumple. Dave was glad that the Wartel brothers did not allow anyone working for them to wear tennis shoes. These leather ones with the hard soles that Dave was wearing were more effective for kicking.
Two men working with jackhammers only a few feet away at once eased their fingers off the triggers, and in the sudden quiet stood watching the action along with two other helmeted workers, one holding a pick and the other a shovel. The one with the shovel had been loading broken chunks of concrete into a pickup truck. He said, “Good kick, kid!”
Dave didn’t know any of these men, and they couldn’t know him, but everyone knew the Wartel brothers–and disliked them; so Dave wasn’t surprised that the man was rooting for him.
Wallace had quit staggering from side to side and now began to move forward, but not toward Dave. It seemed that Wallace was beginning to tip over to the front and was trying to negate that by moving his feet forward. This quickly turned into a rapid run that took him directly toward Mack’s Hotdog Stand which was parked on a part of the sidewalk clear of the demolition crew. Seeing Wallace zooming toward the stand, Mack turned toward it to move it out of harm’s way, but there wasn’t enough time. Wallace came nosing in like a transport plane toward an occupied runway. He hit the stand with his down-coming chest and knocked it over. There were splintering sounds as the big man somewhat damaged the stand and rolled over it. He was flat on the sidewalk now with the contents of the stand emptying over him. This included wieners, buns, ketchup, mustard, and relish, the last three issuing from open vats. Mack also sold the Regina Leader Post newspaper and a stack of these had spread out nicely over Wallace’s hip area, looking like a paper skirt.
Dave heard Sandra’s voice behind him. He looked and saw that she and Irvin were out on the sidewalk now, facing each other. Sandra was saying, “… and as for this job, you can keep it.” She marched away from him, moving past Dave as she did so. She gave him a shy smile and said, “I’m in the phone book.”
Dave would have answered in some positive way, but just then Wallace began making inhuman vocal noises. Dave spun in that direction and was in time to see what might have been a monster generated by the city’s sewage rising up out of a manhole. Actually it was only Wallace rising up from behind the upset hotdog stand; but, covered as he was with mustard and ketchup, it was a bit hard to see him as a human being.
Mack was a bony little man with a constantly sad face. As he watched the pile of ketchup and mustard rising from behind his wrecked stand, he said, sadly and calmly, “You Wartel brothers are bad people.”
Wallace stood up straight. There was a lot of mustard in his hair, on his forehead, and running down over his nose. It was probably stinging his eyes, yet they were wide open, which, along with his yellow, twisted face, gave him a look of total madness.
He kicked at the stand–moved it a little. Then he looked all around, including at Dave, but instead of coming toward him, Wallace got his attention fixed on the sidewalk-demolition crew. The man closest to Wallace was the smallest of that quartet, and he was leaning on a pick that looked a bit too large for him to handle. Wallace seemed to think so too, for he suddenly charged toward that poor man and took the pickaxe from him. The little man offered no resistance, but the other three got excited about this, one of them shouting, “Hey, man!–drop that! What the hell’s wrong with you?!”
There was no doubt that something was wrong with Wallace Wartel. And Dave knew that the situation had suddenly turned from bad to shitty bad. He was not about to tangle with a pickaxe wielding maniac if he could somehow avoid it. He prayed a silent wordless prayer for help.
In instantaneous answer, Dave heard a feminine voice behind him: “Davie boy, you must coming dis vay, kvick!” He knew who it was at once–Hertha Millenstrause, the owner-manager of Bridal Innovations, the store next door to the print shop. She was a tough old German and liked by everyone who knew her–with the exception of the Wartel brothers. Her shop was somewhat unique in that it catered to brides-to-be who wanted to make their own wedding dresses and bake their own cakes and decorate them, etc. She had a couple of good looking girls working in her shop, which along with Hertha’s wide-and-round look, and her outgoing, straight-from-the-shoulder personality, made for a nice balance. She was standing on the sidewalk now, holding the front door open with one hand and beckoning to Dave with the other, and turning the beckoning motion into one that went along with her words: “Gat into mine chop! Kvick!”
Dave took another glance at Wallace who was now wielding the pickaxe like a two-handed medieval weapon and staring at him, and decided that Hertha had the right idea–get behind a locked door as quickly as possible. His fear of the pickaxe at that moment clouded his reasoning, for it didn’t even occur to him that Wallace could easily use the tool to smash his way through the glass door. Wallace started toward him.
Dave sprinted for the bridal shop open doorway. As he ran past Hertha and into the shop, she yelled, “You keep going!–out beck door!” Dave kept running but began to doubt that he was doing the right thing. What if the maniac started attacking other people? Only a bloody coward would run away! Dave stopped running and turned.
He was just in time to see Wallace, pickaxe held in front of him, charging after him toward the open doorway–which Hertha closed just as he got there. The big man and his pickaxe were not stopped by the full-length panel of plate glass. It sprayed in all directions as Wallace did a swan dive to the floor and actually slid about a foot on the glass shards. Still holding his pickaxe, Wallace at once began to get up.
Dave looked around for something to use as a weapon, but weaponry is scarce in a bridal shop. He ran through an aisle with yard goods displayed on either side, then past a desklike table with pattern catalogs on it. He dodged around a high wooden stool, upsetting it. By now he could hear the pickaxe-monster’s feet pounding the floor behind him.
Next to the pattern stand was a large table used for measuring and cutting material. Two women were standing in front of it. One was just finishing cutting yards of white material from a roll, but she dropped her scissors and ran, along with the other lady; for they had suddenly decided that they were in a bad dream and should act accordingly.
Dave looked back over his shoulder and saw what he expected to see–Wallace, with his pickaxe, chasing him. But he also saw that Hertha was following along behind the maniac, apparently hoping to catch and attack him from the rear before he caught up to Dave.
Dave knew he could not let this crazy, heroic woman risk her life for him any further. He came to a stop and in the same motion swept up the large length of white cloth from the cutting table and swirled it through the air toward Wallace. It settled down over him, covering him completely. Dave let go of it and stepped to one side but left one foot out. The big man went thundering by and down to the floor.
At once Wallace began trying to get back to his feet, now looking like a short wobbly ghost, or a bride who had knocked back a few too many.
Hertha picked up the wooden stool that Dave had upset. Holding it by the legs, she stepped in close to the white-covered Wallace and used it to clobber his veiled head–just once; that was enough. Wallace collapsed to the floor and after that was nothing more than a large, slightly moving blob under the white material.
Hertha set down the stool, then called out to one of her employees: “Margie, vould you please calling poleetz?—and maybe amoolance too. Tanks.”
* * *
A patrol car arrived quickly, and soon after another and then another. The ambulance arrived right after the second cop car. The last vehicle to get there was a camera van from the main local TV station.
The Wartel brothers had been in trouble with the law so often before, in regard to their business and also their private lives, that Dave’s self defense story was taken pretty much at face value by the law officers. However, he was asked to go to the police station to make a report; then, just before he climbed into a cop car, an officer from another vehicle called out, “Hold it, he’s coming with me.” The uniform who spoke was a graying individual but with a trim build and a straight carriage. “Over here, Mr. Lindstrom.”
“Okay,” said Dave and walked over to the car where the rear door was being opened for him. He ducked in and saw that one officer, a younger man, was already behind the wheel. The older man–a sergeant, it turned out–climbed into the front passenger seat and the car left the curb.
“I’m Sergeant Fuller,” said the older officer, turning to look back with a pleasant smile under his little half-gray mustache. “Well, you and Hertha the Hun sure fixed Wallace the Warthog.” He stuck a hand between the seats. “Congratulations!”
Dave shook his hand. “Thanks. We didn’t have much choice.”
“Yeah. Are you gonna lay charges?”
“I don’t know,” said Dave. He hadn’t even thought of that possibility. “I don’t think so–I won’t have time. I have to find another job.”
“You should think about it. You could nail the warthog really solid, especially with all those witnesses. Put on your seat belt.”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot.”
Dave snapped the belt in place as the sergeant turned to the front. Two short blocks later Dave realized that they were heading in a different direction than he had expected. “I thought we were going to the police station,” he said.
“No,” said Sergeant Fuller. “Actually, we’re taking you home.”
“Home?… Well, that’s nice of you.”
“Not particularly,” said Fuller. “You’re needed at your home because of what’s going on there.”
Dave leaned forward sharply. “What’s going on?! What’s happened?”
“Take it easy,” said Fuller. “Nothing’s happened like you’re thinking.”
The sergeant looked back over his shoulder again. “Well, Dave–can I call you Dave?”
“It’s about the children your mother is keeping–you know, the welfare children. It seems the Social Services Department has decreed that they should be transferred to the new orphanage.”
“They’ll tell you all about it. It has something to do with standard of living.”
“Standard of living?! That’s ridiculous! We give them everything they need and treat them really well!”
“Take it easy. You can discuss the matter with the people in charge.”
Dave was silent for a moment, dealing with the shock, then, more calmly, he asked, “When are they planning to take the kids?”
“Well, actually … ” began Sergeant Fuller hesitantly, “Today’s the day…. You see, they would be out of there already, but Social Services is having a bit of trouble, and so they’ve involved the police. And that’s why they want you there too. They’re hoping maybe you can help.”
“How could I help, even if I’d want to–which I don’t.”
“Well, you see … it’s your mother. She’s refusing to let the children be taken. We’re all hoping you might be able to calm her down.”
Dave laughed a little, but it was an unpleasant sound, even to his own ears. He knew what his mother was like. She had a heart of gold and a protective instinct to fit a mother grizzly. She wasn’t as tough as Hertha the Hun, at least not on the surface; but, once aroused, she could be a terror. Now Dave began to be even more concerned about her welfare than he was about the kids. “Could we go a little faster?” he said.
“Take it easy,” said Fuller. “You know we’re only a couple of blocks away. And they’re not going to make any moves till we get there.”
“This is so ridiculous,” said Dave. “Why didn’t they let us know.”
“Apparently because they anticipated how your mother would react. I guess they just wanted to move in quickly and quietly and get it done. But your mom has put the kids in the bathroom and told them to lock the door…. And … and, well, she’s standing in front of the door wielding a baseball bat and threatening to clobber anyone who comes within reach.”
“Oh, shit!” said Dave.
The cop car pulled onto Dave’s street, which seemed to look different now from the way he had always seen it, even though nothing had changed physically. It was still lined with big old elm trees, and the houses, mostly two-story centurions, still looked as quaint and colorful as always. But now the atmosphere, although sunshiny, seemed polluted with nerve-rasping fumes that could be seen and felt only by the spirit.
The two-story house where Dave and his mother lived had weather-scared white walls with green trim, and the lawn was decorated with two round patches of multi-colored flowers. It also had two vehicles parked in front of it–a cop car and a white van with some kind of lettering on it, no doubt the Social Services vehicle that was to haul away Jeremy and Jasmine. Two men, one in uniform, stood on the sidewalk.
Dave was out of the car first, but the sergeant caught up to him and grabbed his arm. “Slow down. We’re going in together, and I want you to remember that the police are in charge here. Keep calm.”
“All right,” said Dave.
Fuller told his driver, “You stay out here unless you’re called.”
“Will do,” mumbled the young cop.
Sergeant Fuller brought himself and Dave to a stop near the two men standing there. A male voice was issuing from a radio in the hand of the plainclothes man. Fuller asked him, “Anything new?”
“No,” said the plainclothes man. “The Social Service people are still in there, along with Sergeant Harrison and Constable Schmidt, and, with the radio open, we can hear what’s going on. She’s still not letting them get to the children.”
“This is her son, Dave Lindstrom,” introduced Fuller. “Dave, Detective Larnard.”
“Glad you’re here, son,” said Larnard, who was old enough to allow that kind of address. “I realize you may not agree with what’s happening here today, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’d be better if your mother would put down the baseball bat. So try to calm her, okay?”
“I’ll do what I can,” said Dave, “but I’m more likely to have success if all of you back off for a bit.”
“Absolutely,” said Larnard. He seemed to be in charge, for he told Sergeant Fuller, “Sergeant, you take Dave in there and bring the others out with you. Leave Dave and his mother alone for a bit so they can talk things over…. Dave, we’ll give you anywhere from ten minutes to a good half hour or more, depending on how it goes. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Dave.
Sergeant Fuller and Dave entered the house. Even from the veranda they could hear Dave’s mom reaming out her enemies–not very loudly, nor in a vulgar way, but with great determination: “How many times do I have to tell you?–the children are staying with me! You’ll have to beat up on me to get to them!”
A man and woman began to reply to her at the same time, but Mrs. Lindstrom at once started in again, so then there were three voices in a jumble. Dave and Sergeant Fuller hove into view, into what was a large, square, space-wasting “hallway” from which several doorways led to other rooms in the building, and Mrs. Lindstrom at once said, “Dave! I’m glad you’re here! You know what these people want to do?”
“Yeah, Mom, I know. Now put down the bat and let’s all have a little talk.”
“They don’t want to talk,” said Dave’s mom. “They want to take away Jeremy and Jasmine!”
A child’s voice called out from behind the closed bathroom door: “Can we come out now?”
Mrs. Lindstrom glanced back over her shoulder. “No! You have to stay in there a little longer! They haven’t left yet.”
The two Social Service people, a middle-aged man and a younger woman, turned partly to look at Dave and Fuller. Off to one side of the room stood a uniformed man, looking tense. Closest to Mrs. Lindstrom and her bat was the plainclothes officer who had been referred to, by Larnard, as Sergeant Harrison, a wide man of about forty years with a graying crew cut. He tried to look nonchalant about partly turning his back to the bat-wielder and said, “Hello, Mr. Lindstrom. Perhaps you could talk to your mother.”
Mrs. Lindstrom was a small woman and pretty in her jeans and multi-colored top, only her hair was askew and her facial expression a bit wild. At the moment she was looking more carefully at Dave. “What’s happened to you?” she said. “Have they roughed you up?”
Dave realized that he must look rumpled from his fight with Wallace. “No,” he said, “I got into a scrap with someone else.”
“Don’t lie to me! They roughed you up, didn’t they?!”
Fuller, the man Dave had come in with, turned to the others. “Larnard wants us to all leave the house for a few minutes, so that Dave can be alone with his mother to talk.”
Harrison thought about it. “Well, in spite of what Larnard may think, as the Head Sergeant I’m in charge here. However, it’s probably a good idea. So you all clear out now and wait out front, and I’ll be along in a moment.”
No one seemed to mind leaving. Then Dave and his mother were alone in the room with the plainclothes officer, Head-Sergeant Harrison.
Harrison said, “How about we go into the living room, sit down, and have a calm talk?”
“I’m staying right in front of this door,” said Dave’s mother.
“All right,” said Harrison. “Dave, how about bringing us some chairs?–and we can sit down right here.”
“Okay,” said Dave, but instead of immediately leaving to do that, he said, “Mom, you look awful standing there holding that bat. Please drop the bloody thing and return to civilization.”
It was obvious that these words had an effect on her. Her face became calmer. She said, “I won’t drop it, but I’ll lean it up against the door here–that way it’ll be within easy reach. And then we can talk.” She set the bat down but kept her hand within a foot of it.
“Good,” said Dave. “I’ll get some chairs.” He turned away but had taken only two steps when a scuffling noise made him look back over his shoulder.
Harrison was making a one-handed grab for Dave’s mom while his other hand snaked a set of handcuffs out of a pocket. Mrs. Lindstrom hit him in the face and he staggered back, yelling, “Owe!–damn you!”
From here on and for the next few seconds, Dave was controlled by instinct and the natural protective urge that any good son feels toward his mother. As Harrison’s bulk once more closed in on the petite woman, Dave spun and charged, and got one arm around Harrison’s neck, yanked him back.
They fell to the floor, rolled, and came to a stop with Dave on top. He then became aware that Harrison no longer held the handcuffs. With remarkable swiftness he had dropped them and from somewhere on his person had fished out a magazine-type handgun. The barrel was moving up to point at Dave. Thinking that he was about to be shot, Dave knocked the barrel sideways and down, then held it there and tried to pull Harrison’s thick finger off the trigger.
The gun discharged in a deafening roar that seemed to throw Dave into another world–an unreal world where things that shouldn’t happen did, such as the dark red blood that was spraying out of Harrison’s side where the bullet had exited. And the front of his shirt where the bullet had entered was bloody as well.
Harrison shuddered and lay still.
Dave went crazy then. Later he couldn’t remember anything he had done from the moment after the shot until he was outside.
He found himself running down the alley behind the house, so he must have left by the back door. And even though he couldn’t remember leaving, he knew he must have been conscious of what he was doing at the time, for not only had he managed to escape from the other cops who must have come rushing in through the front door, but he had picked up a jacket on his way out–his gray-checked one.
And he was still carrying the gun. It was one of those magazine loaded semi-automatics.
* * *
Thinking about it later, Dave realized that the only reason he had not immediately been caught was that the cops at the house were far more concerned about Sergeant Harrison’s welfare–for he was still alive–than about catching a scared kid who would probably give himself up within the hour.
But Dave was not about to give himself up, for his state of semi-insanity continued, now taking the form of escape mania. He could not be caught! They would kill him or put him away for life!
While he was still near the house he did hear some running footsteps but he outdistanced them. Later, when he came across a phone booth, he could hear a siren but it sounded several blocks away.
Weirdly enough, seeing the phone booth made Dave think of Sandra and her smooth little pushed-up breasts, and the fact that she had said, “I’m in the phone book.”
So he called her, told her everything that had happened, cried stupidly while he was doing so. A part of him could see what a fiasco he was performing. He had known this young woman for a whole five minutes at least, and she was so young and innocent that she just barely knew up from down, and here he was trying to use her as a help-line for fugitives on the run.
After listening quietly to his whole narration, Sandra said, “You’re already on the news. They say the search will be intensified. Are you planning to head south?”
“I hadn’t yet planned on any direction,” said Dave, once more getting his voice under control.
“I just came back from the south side of town–I was picking up a DVD at that place on the highway…. What were you wearing when they last saw you?”
“Same thing I was wearing when you last saw me–this old nondescript shirt and jeans. But I grabbed up my gray-checked jacket as I ran out the back door.”
“All right, that’s good,” she said. “I’ll make a call to the police station right now. I’ll tell them that I saw you heading south on the highway–that you were hitchhiking and that a … a blue sports car picked you up. In the meantime, make sure that you’re heading north.”
After a few seconds of shocked silence, Dave asked, “Why’re you doing this?”
“I like you,” she said.
* * *
He found his way through a rough section of town to Wascana Creek and descended the banks. In his rumpled-up state he looked much like any of the booze-heads who went down there to drink anything they had other than the creek water. He found a clump of willows not presently being occupied and hid among them. Here he stayed, hungry and confused, waiting for darkness to fall before he moved on.
Although bewildered, he was clear on one thing: So far in the slightly more than two decades he had lived, this was distinctly his worst day.
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