For the Record
When the moon hangs low over Moreno Street and all the bars have shut down, police cruisers patrol the city like great whites patrolling a high tide. It's best not to be out at those hours because there's a serial killer on the loose and he's been going at it since 90's when Sheriff Ashermill got elected. If you go back through the police reports and court records, you can piece together a few details and you can also figure out that it's all been hushed up.
“There's that conspiracy about Jack the Ripper being a nobleman or having some blackmail on royalty, so I'm guessing this is something like that.” The man I was interviewing was into his fifth beer of the six-pack I had brought to his house. We sat in the yard swatting mosquitoes as he told me the rumors he knew.
“This killer, our killer, has been operating pretty much above the law and that means money – big money, old money maybe baby daddy money. There's enough drifters that float through here to take the blame for anything the good old boy system wants to blame them for. Not that we don't have our usual share of usual killings, robbings and assaults. This guy though, our killer has no problem getting away with things. And just so you know, when I say things, I mean horrible things. In fact, you could call him Jack the Nipper because he eats people, yeah, while they're still alive.”
This narrative was interrupted by a belch. I was downwind and held my breath against the fume until he was ready to continue. My recorder had all the memory it needed to get a good story out of someone, I had time to be patient.
“Lemme tell ya what my buddy said. He was going to gig flounder off the beach on Access Road, down by the Industrial Park. He said it was pitch black and not a streetlight was working for a good half mile. It was creepy as hell and he had his high beams on in case a deer was gonna jump out an' bang up the truck but he says there was nuthin'.” Another swig of beer punctuated the man's narrative.
“So there he is wonderin' what in the hell was going on with the street lights when there was this God-awful-come-to-Jesus scream from the side of the road. Before he could blink there was a man in the middle of the road all soaked in blood and holding something big and wet in his hand. Probably a heart or something by my way of thinkin'. Anyway these two other guys come up from out of nowhere and pull this first fella off the road.” Another swig of beer accompanied the shaking of the man's head.
“So he hits the gas and scrambles for his cell phone to call the Sheriff. He had a blunt in the ashtray but he was gonna call anyway because them guys done scared him half to death and he didn't even care about getting busted for weed at that point.” The bleary eyes focused on me for a moment. “Say, you got a blunt on you?”
I had nothing to offer the man except the last beer and a chance to be part of my investigations. It seemed to be enough and though disappointed, he continued with his story. “Anyways, he tries to call 911 on his cell phone but zzzzpt! – no reception.” A shake of the head. “He gave up the idea of fishing and headed right on home. Got through to the police and told them the story. As far as anyone knows, they didn't find nothing…but!” The man held up a conspiratorial finger as he swayed in the lawn chair. “But! I know for a fact that they found a chewed up body that week up near the hobo outpost and that the guy had suffered something terrible.” He nodded in affirmation of this truth.
“I know it because Albion Jesser was working over at the auto parts store just north of the hobo camp when the body was found and his manager was the one who had to call it in when one of the drifters come running up wanting to use the phone.” The man shrugged. “Course, he never saw nothing himself, but the dude that came running in was saying it was bad. The manager knows some guys on the force and he came in next week saying the body had been eaten on, by a human set of teeth. They were worried about some kind of Satanic sacrifice stuff.”
He was out of beer and out of stories, but I had the gist of what I wanted. The idea of a sacrifice was something I'd heard when talking to others. I tracked down the rumors, talked to those who would talk and developed a picture that there was something sinister going on. It had been going on for a long time and I wanted to expose it. I knew it was true. There was a serial killer, there was a web of lies and protection surrounding the events. There was something to prove about the death of my Great-Grandma who was torn to death in the convalescent home on Moreno Street.
It started when I had gone to visit her as usual. She had run low on cookies – they were her favorite way to bribe people into liking her. I was late to see her that Thursday because I dawdled at the store getting ingredients. The tabloids at the check out counter were bursting with gossip about my celebrity crush. I lingered over the details and then got distracted by a magazine with a new recipe for slow cooking deer meat. Then there was the movie rental box by the door and it took me a good twenty minutes to go through the listing of fresh titles. But it was not like Great-Grandma was going anywhere and I figured on watching the movie with her anyway. Plenty of time.
When I pulled into the parking lot of the care facility, the Sheriff's cars were there. I could see flashlights and figures moving about the perimeter of the property. I had become used to seeing ambulances and hearses but never before had the police been there. Perhaps a robbery, there were quite a few powerful drugs in use at the facility. There were precautions, but sometimes the desperate would try to get their fix in any way possible.
I was stopped before I got to the door, questioned as to my purpose. I gave my information with the expectation of being allowed to go in. After all, the residential wing was on the other side of the building from walk in safe where they kept the meds. That was not the case. I was escorted to a Sheriff's car, put in the back and asked to wait while a supervisor was brought. Maybe they just wanted to know if I'd seen anything on the drive up. The supervisor turned out to be some higher ranking Sheriff and the Head Nurse. She and I were familiar with each other through my visits and it worried me to see the distress on her face. answered “I've got some bad news for you.” I remember how haunted her eyes were as she said the words. “Your Great-Grandma, well, she had something bad happen to her tonight.” I glanced from Nurse to Sheriff. “She was…assaulted. She didn't make it.”
I'm sure my eyebrows met my hairline as incredulity swept over me. I couldn't comprehend what she meant. Assaulted? In the middle of a care facility? “What happened? Was it another resident?”
The Nurse shook her head and the Sheriff took over. “We're reviewing security footage now, but maybe you can answer a few questions. Do you know of anyone who would want to harm your Great-Grandma? Was her will in order?”
You can guess the evening spiraled downhill from there. The next days were no better as relations were contacted and questions remained unanswered. Turns out her will was in order, with most everything she had to be sold and proceeds given for the upkeep of the old church she used to go to. There wasn't much to sell since she had divested of possessions before coming to live at the facility. The only thing that came to me was a little music box with a few pieces of costume jewelry. The police case ground to a standstill and the care facility closed down. I was told the camera footage from the facility was corrupted, the feed went bad for twenty minutes while the guard walked his rounds and smoked a cigarette at the picnic table outside the facility's kitchen door. Staff on duty that afternoon report a man dressed in a dark brown suit walking past the nurse's station but no one had challenged his presence during visiting hours. Nobody could remember buzzing him through the front door, he did not sign the guest register.
After eight months, there was almost nothing to remind anyone of the brutal fashion of Great-Grandma's murder. It wasn't good enough for me. I began using my job as a reporter to find things out, usually under cover of some different story. I knew there would be no direct approach to the truth, it was well hidden. But why would someone protect a killer?
After my interview, I went to go see my father's cousin who had looked out for me since my folks were killed by a drunk driver. He was now the oldest member of the family, long retired from his job as a school custodian, living on a boat at the Westside Marina and for convenience, everybody but his son called him Uncle Bob. We met, hugged, got settled with some sweet iced tea and watched the sun go down over the water.
“You wanna talk about your Great-Gramma?” He nodded to himself. “You were the favorite out of the younger kids, you know. Because you brought her those cookies. Just like the ones she had at the church on Sunday after services, back when it was still going. I think I still got that old photocopy cookbook the ladies put together.”
I had one too. It's traditional recipes had impressed many of my dinner guests. That was the good part of remembering Great-Grandma, the things she had taught me and the wise quips of yesteryear.
Uncle Bob had lived here his entire life, I could only hope he would see a name, a pattern, something that would be the connection I needed. I laid out my evidence of a cover up, even if the best evidence I had were anecdotal stories told by third-hand listeners. It was odd that every newspaper account of the deaths was downplayed, if there were any at all. There were the similarities with methods of death. There were the hasty arrests of transients. There were tales of one man alone, two men together, three men in a group.
Uncle Bob mulled over my notations and explanations for a bit, soaking up the implications. “I remember when my Granny and Grandpa were both still living in that shotgun house off of Sunset Avenue. You know the one that Jimmy and Susan moved into? Your Great-Gramma used to set us down and make us look at all her old photo albums from when she was young. Most of us were bored to tears when she did it, me and your dad, Jimmy, Ester May, Sally and Roger. Every time we had a family get-together over at Granny and Grandpa's house we would have to look at an album before sitting down to eat. If you didn't indulge Granny, you didn't get dessert and every grown up gave you the evil eye.” The thought put a fleeting smile on Uncle Bob's face.
“My mom and your dad's father used to tell us kids that looking at the pictures weren't near as bad as actually having to go to the church. They said the preacher was a bit off his rocker, near the end, right before he got killed and they closed the place up. I've always wondered what really happened to him. They said at the time he was killed in a fight with a congregation member, but I wonder. I wonder how many of the people that got….eaten, were something to do with him, or the church itself, maybe.” Uncle Bob gave me a direct look. “How about you go to the old house and see if they got some photos left over? Cross check the names on your list of dead folks against the congregation.”
It was a few days before I could get over to the old house on Sunset at a time convenient to Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Susan. They were glad enough to give me the albums, a decision influenced by the affections and attentions I had given to Great-Grandma. They were the most devout of our still existing family and it was their son who tended the now defunct church and graveyard. The search for the old albums was an endurance event as no one had cracked open a cover since Great-Grandma had moved out to the care facility, but eventually they were discovered in a box among the Christmas decorations out in the small semi-attached shed that held the washing machine and dryer. It was enough to knock the silverfish out of the albums, stuff them in a plastic bag and be on my way back home. I wouldn't stay for dinner knowing that Jimmy and Susan would want to look at the albums with me while I was solely interested in getting information, so I pleaded to a work deadline and postponed the trip down memory lane.
I knew from experience the church albums were red with a gold design stamped on the front. Great-Grandma had kept one at the facility but I never knew what came of it after she died – after her murder. When I got home I decided to look at the albums on my porch, just in case more vermin were hitching a ride. Under the yellow glow of the overhead light I sat ready with pen, paper and sticky notes ready to sort the information. I needed to identify who went to the church, where they ended up and if anyone of them were related to those in a position of power. This city wasn't that big of a place and families like ours had been here since the days when men mined salt from the ocean in big tin vats on the sweltering beaches. These murders had been going on a long time, it could be possible someone from my very own kin could be involved. I shuddered to think it might be possible for several generations of killers might be passing down the urge to kill, to savage, to devour human flesh. Was it a ritual? A rite of passage? Was it revenge for something done in the old days?
When I cracked open the pages of the album, I saw them. The three men. Brothers. I had seen them in the photographs of Great-Grandma's collection. A slip of paper escaped from between the pages, a paper folded into quarters. There was a design on the front, it looked similar to the one on the front of the album. It had words, I was pretty sure they were Latin. I unfolded the paper and began to read something written for a sermon perhaps. It was about asking forgiveness for sins and such, I skimmed the text thinking that Gluttony was a specific sin to target. It was very old and had no names I could add to my data.
There was a sound, a footstep in the grass and a scuff of shoe on the concrete path that led up to my porch. I lifted my head from the paper and felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. There were two men suddenly before me. The same two men who were in those photos for the last 50 years. They were ominous, rather terrible and they came to rest some five feet away from where I sat.
One of them stepped forward, leaned down, reached out and plucked the paper away from me. I sat with open mouth and wide eyes.
“Some memories ought not be stirred up.” His voice was cold and harsh. “Best not be meddling in things beyond your understanding.”
There was a crazy sound in the darkness beyond where they stood. It was a giggle, demented and awful. I suddenly remembered that there was another brother. The two men turned and though the shadows were thick it seemed to me they grabbed hold of someone I couldn't wholly make out. I had an idea though. I had an idea it was the middle brother, the one with the feral gleam in his eye.
I think that was the turning point, the moment when I truly understood that I was in fact, dealing with things beyond my understanding. I began to think about Great-Grandma, about her early life, about her parents. It all led back to the church, the congregation of three generations ago. What had they done?
My gaze fell across the photographs. I gathered them back into the bag and tied it shut. I then went inside, locked the door and got myself a stiff drink. I didn't know what I would do about my situation, I just knew I wouldn't be asking anymore questions tonight.