Howdy folks, one of your friendly narrators here. Hope you are enjoying our little tale so far. I’ve always enjoyed a good “previously on…” segment, so let’s get caught up real quick, shall we?
Deercliff, a Northwest mountain town, has been hit by tragedy. Maggie Nice, a high school senior, was assaulted following a Halloween party, her unconscious body dumped outside a quaint diner. Found the next morning by the diner’s owner and a fellow high school student (the three-fingered, extra tall Todd Sizemore) Maggie was rushed to the nearby city for medical treatment. The last group to see Maggie was her core group of friends, a set of popular boys and girls, lead by Jimmy “Big Mac” Halvert whose open house had been the base for a costume party. At the party, Maggie had been seen kissing Ethan Largo, who was really just trying to get Big Mac’s on-again off-again girlfriend Ann Marie to look at him as a potential romantic entanglement. Ethan is now the primary suspect of the investigation into Maggie’s assault, due to a beer run which coincides with the suspected time of the attack. While the group of friends set out to find out what happen to Maggie and prove Ethan’s innocence, multiple other wheels have begun to spin in Deercliff. Sheriff Essie Boyer is chasing a lead from a distraught young teacher, who claims to have seen Maggie the night of the assault in some sort of BDSM room at an elite party. Todd Sizemore, having found and kept Maggie’s phone, is trying to find his cousin Delia, who has been sending numerous texts to Maggie’s number. Maggie’s brother Trevor is speeding across the flat, snow-covered stretches of North Dakota and Eastern Montana to see his sister and family, a strange hitchhiker in tow. The Largo’s have taken their son to the city, and they all sit awkwardly in the cramped law office of Chas German, a slew of square-jawed football trophies looking down on them from the walls. In the same city, at a little hipster coffee shop, a gaggle of young girls are painting signs and trying to figure out how to split the gas bill to get up to Deercliff, desperate to not let this girl become another faceless victim.
But let’s jump into our story by looking at Chuck Moretti.
Chuck has worked for Northern Passage Energy for three years now. He’s one of several employees on the night shift at the plant which sits between Deercliff and the city, and Chuck’s main responsibility is to make sure things stay on. Somewhere between a repairman and a power station baby sitter. The plant isn’t massive, but it does provide power to all of Deercliff along with parts of the suburbs of the city, and recent events have put Chuck under considerable pressure. For reasons unknown to Chuck, or any of the other Northern Passage Energy employee’s, every day since Halloween the whole plant went dark at 5:13 AM. By 5:14 AM it was back up and running, the instruments reading normal and the output of electricity steady.
Chuck, in his middle management level position, was receiving the blame for these outages. None of the higher ups, the science guys, or real equipment people had any idea why it was happening, but after the fourth day, the company wanted a scapegoat. They had given Chuck till the end of the month, and then he was to be laid off. By November 6th, Chuck has already gone through most of the stages of grief. Like clockwork, the plant powers down for a minute again that morning, and Chuck realizes he has lost his job, his retirement, and his ability to afford to take a week off for that hunting trip with his father.
Lesser people would sit back at that point, start showing up late, maybe have a beer or two on the job, after all, why bother trying at a job you no longer have? But not Chuck Moretti. On November 7th, Chuck decided to take a walk around the edge of the plant at 4:55 AM, slowly patrolling the tall chain link fence with a hefty flashlight. His atomic watch glows a fierce green against the pitch-black winter skies and layers of snow on the pine trees. At 5:12 AM his watch alarm goes off, and Chuck stands at a vantage point on the southern side of the plant, where a small hill gives one a better view of the whole facility. Turning the head of the flashlight so the beam tightens and extends further, he begins scanning. At 5:13 AM all the lights of the plant shut off, leaving Chuck as the sole source of light in the immediate area. He counts out each second, the beam of his flashlight moving meticulously around the facility.
“One, two, three, four…” he focuses on the front door of the plant, “five, six, seven, eight…” moving the beam along the southwest wall, past the large gas tanks, “nine, ten, eleven, twelve…” the beam begins carving through the electrical towers steel rafting, casting long shadows, “thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…” the beam stops.
The shape is slender, dark, its hands clasped tightly around a panel on one of the electric towers. The flashlight beam fully illuminates the naked flesh and thick, curly hair. The girl’s head turned, and two black orbs stared at Chuck. Small sparks jumped from the box to her hands and arms, and as she smiled Chuck saw smoke float out of her parted lips. She held a thin finger to her lips, winked and the plant burst back to life as 5:14 AM rolled around.
The sudden burst of light blinded Chuck, and when he looked back, the girl wasn’t there.
“So, what movies do you like?”
“I’m rather fond of Godard, but that might just be the Marxist in me.”
“Oh… ok. I like Tarantino and like, Batman or whatever.”
“Tarantino is a racist and a misogynist. ”
“Yea, I suppose. All those N-words and stuff.”
“That doesn’t make him a bad film maker Trevor, I believe it’s possible to separate the artist from the art while still acknowledging the artist’s direct intent and message being spread through the art.”
“Fucking Orwellian doublethink stuff, for sure. Like how Kanye is a douche but good at music.”
“And part of what makes his music good is his douchebaggery, and the hubris which oozes into each song, exactly.”
“I’m glad you’re talking finally. I don’t think I could listen to this farm radio any more.”
“I needed to process what exactly I have gotten myself into. It’s been a while since I just hopped in a stranger’s car and drove across the country with them.”
“Haha, when was the last time?”
“Two years ago, three days before high school graduation. Went to Louisiana with an older girl. I thought I loved her, she thought I had what it took to be a good con-lady. Turns out lying to people with guns isn’t my strong suit, she got hurt, I ran, but by myself that time.”
“Jesus. Wait so what were you doing at the Uni in Chicago?”
“Just looking for my cover story. A all black fraternity held a white face party to strike back at all the fucked up “Cinco De Drinko” and blackface shit that happens around the country, but I don’t think it was a big enough scoop.”
“Yea, I think I heard about that. So you’re a journalist?”
“Sort of. I’m trying to start my own publication.”
“That’s cool, I guess. And you want to write a story about what happened to my sister?”
“I just wanted a ride man. Deercliff is only like four hours from where I grew up.”
“Ah, explains the ride share post.”
“Do you think your sister’s attack is worth writing about?”
“I think it’s supremely fucked up.”
“What is she like?”
“Maggie is a dreamer. An idealist, she always sees thing as brighter than they really are. Always finds the good in people.”
“Would you say you’re close to her?”
“Close enough. We always bonded over music, movies, that kind of shit. We try to watch a shitty movie on Netflix once a month and then text each other jokes about it.”
“That’s very sweet.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
“No, but lets not talk about me. I prefer to be a fly on the wall, Trevor. Tell me more about your sister. Also, my offer still stands, I can drive a stick shift so if you want a break just let me know.”
The green Subaru continues its crawl across the flat landscape, small snowflakes tapping the windshield. Trevor Nice glances over at the girl in the passenger seat, watching as she pulls out a worn moleskin notebook from the pocket of her army fatigue jacket. Her bangs dangle over her grey eyes, and Trevor shifts uncomfortably when they lock eyes.
Amanda Sanders ride request post on the app had simply read, “Westward, with haste. Manifest destiny awaits.”
Excerpt from the New York Times bestseller, “Hands of Shadows” by Essie Boyer.
“I couldn’t shake the story of Bridgette Halverson, So on the second, two days after the attack on the girl, I headed up to the Griffen mansion.
The road up the hill was lined by Japanese cherry trees, which always looked out of place to me. During the winter, the trees were always bare, just long black fingers dangling over the sidewalk. Those who live in gated communities get what they want though, and these trees had been planted on the town’s dollar, part of some beautification project. The Griffen house was part of this gated community, “Elkridge”, mostly empty houses with owners who visited in summer for backpacking and river rafting trips. Wealthy folks who liked the idea of nature. If nothing else, they were good for the economy, kept a lot of the Hispanic, Native, and blue-collar folks employed with grounds keeping jobs. The Griffen house was one of the few that remained inhabited year round.
Aiden Griffen had inherited his fortune, and had kept it through stints as a venture capitalist and art dealer. At that time, I had only met him once, at a fundraiser for the High School. An aloof gentleman who seemed to get off on people appealing to his sense of generosity, I couldn’t say I had a positive first impression of him.
The house was the tawny, square building with random pieces jutting out at strange angles. Not quite adobe, but that seemed to be the general aesthetic. I parked the Bronco with the nose facing the exit, a habit built from years in the squad car. The front door was this opaque glass that stood about ten feet tall, and it took a full minute of searching the rim to find the doorbell since it happened to be the same color as the house itself.
The first two rings didn’t prompt a response, so I began banging on the door. Mrs. Garcia, a middle-aged Latino woman opened the door shortly after I began my barrage. Mrs. Garcia and me were well-acquainted, as her cousin had a regular job as the sole occupant of the drunk tank. She had always been polite in our previous meetings, but upon seeing me there a sour look crossed her face.
“Sheriff Boyer, I will not pick him up anymore. I must work, Mr. Griffen pays well, and I won’t sacrifice my job for that pendejo.”
“This isn’t about Carlos, Mrs. Garcia. I need to speak to Mr. or Mrs. Griffen if they are home.”
“They aren’t home. That’s why I’m here.”
“Then perhaps you can help me. They threw a party here two nights ago?”
“Si. Left garbage all over the house.”
“You didn’t happen to be at the party did you?”
“Would you mind if I came in? I won’t be more than five minutes, just need to check out a tip I received.”
Sometimes, an appeal to empathy is the best route to take in law enforcement. “Did you hear about that young girl who was attacked, Mrs. Garcia?”
“I’m here about that.”
“What do the Griffen’s have to do with that?”
“Hopefully nothing, I just need to clear my head of a strange rumor I heard. Five minutes, you won’t even know I was here, I promise.”
Mrs. Garcia shuffled a lot during our conversation. I think she even knew I had no right to enter the house, but in the end she stepped out of the way, muttering, “five minutes only,” as I walked in.
“Could you show me to the kitchen please?”
The entryway was a maze of garbage bags and cleaning supplies. Mrs. Garcia led me in, moving through several large rooms, each dressed in a Spartan manner and with no visible purpose to the room, except perhaps to display the numerous paintings. Aiden’s collection seemed primarily made up of nudes and strange post-modern affairs, paint carelessly thrown against canvas that I’m sure has some deeper meaning to someone. Hundreds of empty champagne flutes and whiskey tumblers sat laying about on the glass tables and counters in these rooms, and the air had the sweet, sticky smell of sweat and cigar smoke.
The kitchen was massive, a large island in the center covered in the remains of hors-d’oeuvres. I didn’t say anything to Mrs. Garcia about the Ziploc bags full of these leftovers, and she waddled out of the kitchen, again mumbling, “Five minutes, Sheriff, then you must go.” The door Bridgette had told me about was on the southern side of the room. I went to it, and found it unlocked, the stairs going down into darkness.
Flashlight in hand, I descended. I found myself in a small wine cellar and basement, the left hand wall lined with covered paintings and statues. No glowing pyramids, no massive dance floor, no signs of an orchestra or sexual deviant’s playroom. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved, I didn’t want anything like this clouding what seemed like a straightforward case. But, this was no straightforward case, and I did find the first sign of that in the basement. I patrolled the perimeters, peering under some of the white covers at the paintings the basement held. Most of what I found resembled what was upstairs, gaudy nudes and more speckled paints, yet I found myself drawn to a short, stumpy sort of covering that was closest to the stairs as I made my way back out. Lifting the cover, I found a wooden chair with restraints built in. upon further examination, I found dark stains in the wood near the restraints, and draped over the back of the chair was a heavy fur coat. I quickly snapped a few pictures, careful to not touch anything, and was about to recover the chair and leave when my light hit a sparkling object under the chair.
It was a small police badge, missing most of the actual etchings of a real one. Some sort of Halloween prop. Thinking back on the costume Maggie had been wearing, I pocketed the badge, covered the chair, and quickly left the house.
Mrs. Garcia nodded at me as I left, and I managed to control my breathing until I got back into my rig. Pulling the badge back out in the safety of my car, I couldn’t really help myself, I started crying, thinking about the pictures of where the girl was dumped, and the fact that I suddenly didn’t know what was happening in my town.”