Knight Heirrant: Chapter 2

by wfgodbold

The rewrite proceeds more or less apace; Knight Heirrant continues after the jump!

Chapter 2

I left the contract and Emily’s picture on the desk — my first order of business was to see what I could learn from Gramps’ files about Robert O’Malley. If he did help Gramps, then his hunch might be reliable. I glanced at my cellphone as I stood. “I should have made Gramps get a damn phone before he took off,” I said under my breath. If he hadn’t hated the ubiquitous gadgets with such irrational ferocity, I could have just called the old man up to ask him about O’Malley. Instead, I have to go through years of poorly kept records while Gramps tools around the southwest in his Winnebago.

I retrieved the files from the ’70s — thankfully, Gramps had at least been organized enough to keep the decades straight — and set the armful of folders on the desk. I looked up, and my eye caught the sole decoration the office sported: a white flag quartered by a red cross. It hung on the wall behind where I usually sat, so I hadn’t seen it since my arrival at the office that morning.

For some reason, seeing that flag and the Saint George cross it bears hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat in the chair Wyatt had left not five minutes before and stared up at the wall where it hung. I hadn’t lied to the older man — I did help my grandfather on several … investigations, usually over the summers, when classes weren’t in session — but there had been a bit more evidence indicating what we were facing for those cases. We hadn’t gone in totally blind. Emily’s disappearance had nothing at all; now it was up to me to figure out what was behind it, and then deal with it. I hoped I was up to the task.

I swallowed nervously. “No wonder Gramps was such a heavy drinker between jobs,” I said. He’d taken over after the Korean War, and had to work for another twenty years after Dad died. Forty or fifty years of standing as a bulwark between man and myth had worn him out. No point in thinking about that now, though; Emily Dawes needed my help, and the sooner I finished the background research, the sooner I could pack up and head to Bryton.

I flipped open the top folder and started reading. “Son of a …” I said, and closed the folder. I must not have been paying close attention when I went through the cabinet, because the stack of files I’d retrieved were from the 1870s, not the 1970s. I returned them to their drawer, and made sure to get the right bundle of files. The cabinets held all of the St. George family’s business records going back to the 1760s, just after our emigration from England. Since then, we’ve moved steadily, if slowly, westward. My grandfather and his wife moved here to southwestern Missouri after he returned from the Korean War.

The stack of folders I took back to the desk was easily twice as thick as the stack from the previous century. “I wonder if Gramps took advantage of any of the tripped-out hippies to pad his bank account,” I said as I opened the file and began reading.

Tomas Erikson. Feb. 1970. Cattle blood drained nightly, no sign of violence. I closed that one and went to the next. Ernest Jones. Oct. 1970. Toddler acting oddly; possibly replaced by a changeling as a baby. Ninety minutes later I’d skimmed the highlights of all thirty-four cases Gramps (and later, Dad as well) had worked in the ’70s, and not one of them mentioned anyone named Robert O’Malley. I sighed and looked at the tall stack of folders. This was going to take longer than I’d expected.

After another two hours, I’d separated the folders into two stacks — the larger stack held cases not involving disappearances and cases Gramps worked either alone or with Dad’s help. The six cases in the smaller stack were all nasty pieces of work. One had multiple werewolf attacks over the span of a few months, in ’71; one involved a vampire, in ’74; one had several bloody sacrifices performed by a phoenix-worshipping cult, in ’70; one involved some weird Japanese creature with a taste for human stomachs, in ’70; and one involved several children that were thought to have disappeared — their nanny turned out to be a lamia — in ’74. The last case, in ’73, was particularly grisly, but turned out to be a completely mundane serial killing perpetrated by a pair of seriously demented twins. In all six of these cases, Gramps worked with a local cop; in all six of these cases, he hadn’t made a note of the cop’s name.

I returned the larger stack to its place in the file cabinet, and then sat back down at the desk. The clock on my phone read 5 PM, so I still had a little bit of time to contact O’Malley and the sheriff’s department before everyone left for the day. I put the files aside for now and picked up my cell phone. After trying in vain to get Information to understand my pronunciation, I gave up and just looked the numbers up on the internet. I should have trusted Google in the first place, I guess.

Five minutes later I listened to the phone ringing on the other end of the line and scanned through crime statistics for the last ten years for Bryton County.

“Bryton County Sheriff’s Department,” came the cheery greeting from the other end of the connection. “How may I direct your call?”

“I’m not quite sure,” I said, and then explained that I was interested in unexplained disappearances, and I’d like to talk to the person most knowledgeable about why Bryton seemed to have so many of them over the years. The secretary stuttered briefly before transferring me to the sheriff’s line and putting me on hold. I waited while canned elevator music blared over the speaker phone, before the music abruptly stopped and a man’s voice spoke.

“This is Sheriff Joe Cole. I understand you’re interested in the circumstances surrounding some alleged disappearances, Mr. …”

“George Santos,” I replied. While on hold I’d looked more closely at Bryton’s crime statistics and compared them to the national average. “Sheriff Cole, I was hoping I could talk to you about the possible causes for the abnormally high number of unsolved missing persons cases you seem to have.” I paused. “If you’ve got the time, of course …”

“Mr. Santos, I’m not sure where you’ve been getting your information, but I assure you that Bryton County does not have any kind of missing persons problem,” he said, his voice steady. “Our department devotes all of the attention warranted to each case we investigate, and anyone who says otherwise is a damn liar!” His voice sped up as he spoke, and the anger in his voice by the end of his rant was palpable.

“I’d like to believe you, Sheriff,” I said, “but I’m looking at the statistics for the last decade and they don’t compare favorably to the FBI’s national figures.”

“Are you some kind of reporter?” Cole asked.

“Something like that. I actually have several questions I’d like to discuss with you more in-depth,” I said. “I’ll be in town tomorrow afternoon; will you be free? Perhaps you can explain why 40% more disappearances go unsolved in Bryton versus the national average?” I hadn’t looked that closely at the data, but that didn’t keep me from making up statistics that made Cole’s department look bad.

Cole didn’t respond immediately. I could hear faint typing for several seconds before he finally said, “I have a fifteen minute opening in my schedule tomorrow afternoon at two. If you’re here then, I’ll answer your questions.” He didn’t wait for an answer before hanging up.

Of course, I had no idea if the 40% figure I’d quoted at Cole was true — if you sound confident and can quote plausible statistics, people tend to believe whatever you’re claiming. My mother, may she rest in peace, was fond of saying, “Ninety percent of people will believe 75% of statistics, no matter the source.”

I picked up the phone once more — this time I dialed the Bryton County Coroner’s Office. A bored woman answered the phone and quickly transferred me to O’Malley’s extension. After three rings, he picked up.

“Robert O’Malley here,” the gravelly voice said. It sounded like he’d been a smoker for years.

“Mr. O’Malley, my name is George Santos,” I said. “I was retained this afternoon by a Mr. John Wyatt for some consulting work. I understand you referred him based on some work you did with my grandfather many years ago.”

He drew in a sharp breath. “Your grandfather? Would he be Theodore St. George, then?”

“Yes, sir. He recently retired and left me in charge of the family business,” I said, and put extra emphasis on family.

“Of course, of course,” the older man said. He paused briefly. “You’d like to know why I sent John your way.” From his tone, it was clear that he wasn’t asking.

“That’s right, Mr. O’Malley. I’ll be in Bryton tomorrow. If we could meet either in the evening, or Thursday morning, I’d appreciate it.”

“Tomorrow evening, then,” O’Malley said. “Meet me at seven at the Last Chance Diner, near the interstate, just west of Bryton.” He paused and then said, “Theodore retired, you said? That’s a shame. I was hoping we could talk about the old days, and the trouble we got into back in June of ’71.” The way he mentioned that date was deliberate, but before I could ask about it, he said, “I look forward to meeting you, George,” and then hung up.

June, 1971. I looked down at the winnowed stack of files and flipped through them until I got to the werewolf case. In June and July of ’71, Gramps and an unnamed local cop worked on a series of what the cop had thought were feral dog attacks. I collected the other five files and returned them to the cabinet.

I emailed the document with my notes on Emily’s disappearance to myself and shut down the office computer. After collecting the photo and the werewolf case file, I locked up the office and trudged upstairs to the ground floor. The security guard waved as I walked towards the exit, and I waved back before opening the door. I squinted into the sun — the building’s west-facing entrance made everyone stare into the evening sun when they left.

Most of the cars had gone by now, but a few remained, and the glare on the polished import sedans was blinding. The accounting firm that took up the space on the upper floors clearly paid well. My own beat up white pickup truck looked out-of-place amid the gleaming black luxury cars. The Ford had held up well over the years — it was originally my father’s, and Gramps kept it maintained after his death until giving it to me as a college graduation present. It’s not the best vehicle if you’re concerned about gas mileage, but it can haul just about anything without a problem.

My phone rang after I started the truck — the display read Williams, so I went ahead and put it on speaker phone as I pulled out of the parking lot. “Sorry, Doc, but I won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight.”

“Something come up, George?” Jason Williams asked. He’d bought the house a couple of miles down the road from ours back when I was in junior high. When Gramps dragged me over to meet to our new closest neighbor, we found out he was a doctor — since then, he’s taken care of any medical issues we’ve had, without any of the paperwork or hassle that a visit to the hospital would involve. “Kristen and the kids were looking forward to your visit.”

I laughed and turned onto the highway. “Yeah, I’m real sorry about that, Doc. I leave for Bryton first thing in the morning for a job. I’ve got tonight to finish up some research and get over the first case jitters,” I said. “Tell the twins and Kristen that I’m sorry.”

“Will do. Any idea what you’re going to be dealing with?” Doc Williams knew what Gramps and I did for a living — when Gramps showed up one morning with an eight-inch gash in his leg asking for stitches, Doc withheld treatment until Gramps came clean about what we were involved in.

“Not yet. A big shot farmer’s daughter has gone missing. A local helped Gramps out in the ’70s, and sent the farmer to me. Hopefully I’ll have it taken care of in a week or ten days.”

“Good luck, then,” Williams said. “Have you heard from Theodore lately?”

“He sent me a postcard from Scottsdale, Arizona that arrived a couple days ago,” I said. “It looks like he’s having a great time.”

Williams chuckled. “I’ll apologize to the family. You just concentrate on saving the girl and coming back alive,” he said. “Even doctors can only do so much. The less torn up you are, the easier it’ll be to put you back together.”

“Thanks, Doc,” I said before cutting the connection. I shifted back into the right lane after passing a logging truck. Sure, it might get terrible gas mileage, but the truck made great time on the open road. I’d made it most of the way home while talking to Doc Williams.

The red glow of the setting sun cast the farmland along the side of the highway in a reddish-orange light. I thought about what I knew for sure about the case. Several missing people in a rural farming town – sure, I’d only been hired to find Emily, but I found it hard to believe that they weren’t all connected. What the deputies had told Wyatt, and Cole’s reaction to my questions only made me more suspicious.

O’Malley claimed he worked with Gramps, but he wasn’t listed by name in the file. It didn’t mention anything about a coroner, just a rookie cop. If O’Malley was involved, something about that case must have been called to mind by Emily’s disappearance. I sighed. Or he could just be jumping at shadows. Most people who got involved in our business either pretend nothing happened, or start seeing signs of monster attacks where there aren’t any. I’ll have to read up on the case and talk to O’Malley to be sure he’s on the level.

I pulled the truck off the highway and onto the gravel road that led to the house. It was too early to make any judgements about the case, especially given the lack of evidence surrounding Emily’s disappearance. “That’s not supposed to happen,” I said. Everything leaves some kind of evidence behind. I pulled into the driveway and parked the truck in the barn cum car port Gramps converted before I was born.

I was briefly surprised to see the old Army Jeep gone, until I remembered that Gramps had towed it behind the Winnebago to use as a daily driver. My own trailer was pulled off to the side of the barn, and it cast a shadow over the other half of my father’s vehicular legacy: a restored Harley-Davidson XA, my 16th birthday present. Aside from the white paint job and the larger than standard issue saddlebags, it was a perfect specimen of Harley’s experimental army motorcycle. Gramps said that Dad had saved for years before finding one he could afford, and then he spent even longer restoring and customizing it. I took the file folder and photo out of the truck and crossed the yard to the two-story house the St. Georges had lived in for three generations. It was awful empty now that Gramps had left on his extended vacation, and I hadn’t been as diligent with the cleaning as I’d have been were he still around.

I entered the house through the storeroom. Before continuing into the house proper, I took quick stock of the equipment that littered the floor and shelves. My gladius hung in its scabbard from a post on the wall. I drew it just enough to check its sharpness — satisfied, I slid it back into the sheath. Below it, on the shelf, sat my heater shield. covered in a thin layer of dust. When Gramps left, I lost my only sparring partner. If I’d shown up at the local MMA class in armor and with a shield and sword, they’d have laughed and told me to come back when the Society for Creative Anachronism was meeting. On the floor next to the shelves sat my motorcycle helmet, one of the nice, expensive full-face models. You only get one head, after all — might as well spring for a quality helmet.

I opened the large toolbox next to the helmet and quickly ran through its contents as well. Like the one Gramps keeps in his jeep, it held two one-pint glass bottles of holy water, a bundle of wooden stakes, two silver-bladed knives, two blessed crosses, a set of lockpicks, and a bundle of zip-ties of varying lengths. It wasn’t enough to handle every conceivable situation, but it was a good base kit for adapting to fight more than a few of mankind’s nightmares. Gramps said that Dad had been trying to figure out how to fit it all on a utility belt, but I liked the tool box approach better.

I left the kit open, since I had a few more additions for it from the safe upstairs before it would be ready to go in the truck. I left the photo and file on the kitchen table next to my laptop. Once I got everything ready to go, then I could sit down and get involved in reading the file and about Bryton.

The safe was upstairs in the master bedroom. With Gramps gone, I wasted no time in claiming the larger bed. After unlocking the safe, I took two holsters and an ammo pouch out and tossed them onto the bed. On the top shelf sat rows of loaded magazines. Most were loaded with full metal jacketed ammunition, but a third of them were loaded with custom silver-point ammo Gramps and I came up with a few years back.

We modified traditional hollow-point bullets by fixing a silver ball in the hollow. I’d gotten the idea from an ad in Guns & Ammo for a line of hollow points with a plastic ball in the hollow; they were supposed to feed more reliably in finicky handguns. These modified silver-points were just as effective as the solid silver bullets Gramps had been casting until then, but we could make more silver-points with the same weight of metal versus standard bullets.

I took five of the silver-point magazines and tossed them onto the bed. They were followed by ten of the FMJ magazines. After I checked that my Glock 17C was unloaded and cleared, I loaded a FMJ magazine and racked the slide, chambering a round. I walked back over to the bed and picked up the inside-the-waistband holster, and carefully holstered the pistol. I slipped the gun and holster into my waistband on my right hip, and made sure the clips held firmly on the belt. That done, I loaded one of each type of magazine into the mag pouch, and clipped it onto my left side, where it helped balance out the weight of the holstered gun on my right side. I left the shoulder holster on the bed next to the loaded magazines and walked back over to the safe.

“Looks like that’s it,” I said. I closed the safe and spun the dial, then gathered up the shoulder holster and the rest of the magazines. I managed not to drop any of them on the trip down to the storeroom, where I stacked them in the tool chest opposite the bottles of holy water. It wouldn’t do for the bottles to get broken by magazines sliding around, so I stuck the shoulder holster in the box in between them to help pad the bottles. That filled up most of the tool kit. It looked like nothing would be able to shift enough to break anything else, so I closed and latched it.

The only gear I had left to pack, aside from clothes, was my armor. After pushing through the clothes in my closet, I finally withdrew my heavily modified motorcycle armor. The impact plates had been replaced by ballistic armor, and a layer of heat-resistant KEVLAR had been added to the outside for extra protection. It was black, it was bulky, and it was heavy as hell, but it should be able to stop anything short of getting hit by an exploding gasoline tanker. I snatched the matching boots up from the floor and carried my armor downstairs and to the barn, where I set them on top of the Harley.

It took another ten minutes to get the rest of the gear from the storeroom to the trailer and get it all tied down with enough room left for the motorcycle. My backpack would go in the truck, but all of the business equipment would be safer, and less suspicious, in the trailer.

Fifteen minutes later I had my backpack filled with a week’s worth of clothes and loaded in the truck. I pulled it around and backed it up to the trailer; after hooking it up to the truck, I pulled out of the barn and parked in front of the house. The motorcycle was as much of a pain to load in the trailer as it usually is, but a few minutes wrangling got it tied down tightly enough that it shouldn’t move. I locked the trailer and headed back inside. That research wasn’t going to do itself, and it was already after eight.

I made a ham sandwich and carried it over to the table. In between bites, I called up the document on the laptop and read through my notes on the case. It didn’t take long. With Wyatt’s story fresh in my mind, I opened the folder marked June, 1971 and began to read.

10 June. Arrived in St. Louis. Full moon last night and for three more nights. Hired by Philip Baxter this morning to find the creature that mauled his wife, Sandra, to death last night. Police say last month there were four similar attacks, all blamed on a wild animal. Checked almanac; dates of last month’s deaths match up with the full moon.

Baxter heard his wife’s screams, saw a hulking, man-shaped creature lope away from her broken and bleeding body; until he saw her wounds, he thought it was a large man. Given his description of the wounds, they were caused by fang and claw; with the timing of the attacks, odds are the creature is a werewolf. He was unclear on how he’d heard of St. George; a friend of a friend had mentioned it in passing, and Baxter originally thought it was a joke.

The rookie cop assigned to the case was at Baxter’s when I arrived. He looked nervous. Told him I was in the pest control business, and was going to find what did this and last month’s attacks and put it down. That reassured him. Accepted his offer of assistance. Had him show me where all of the attacks had taken place; all five were less than two miles from each other.

Had the cop drive me to the other victims’ families; none saw or heard anything the nights of the attacks. In each case, the mutilated body was found in the front yard the morning after they were killed. Told rookie to meet me at Baxter’s that night before sundown. Going to patrol the area and see if another attack occurs in the same general area.

11 June. Another attack. Victim was Christopher Howard. Found dead in front yard, a bag of groceries scattered beside the body. Rookie noticed the smell of blood around midnight as we walked nearby. The wolf is definitely someone in this area. No further incidents last night.

12 June. No bodies found while patrolling. Call from Baxter in the morning; his neighbor was attacked. Ichiro Yamada, widower. No family to interview. If no progress is made tonight, will have to return next month.

13 June. Another dead body; the victim was a nameless vagrant found on the school grounds by Baxter when he dropped his son off at school. Leaving St. Louis this afternoon. Last night was last full moon until July. Told rookie to expect me back then. He said that if there were no deaths until then, he would join me when I returned to St. Louis. Apologized to Baxter. Assured him that after some research, next month the creature would be exterminated.

8 July. Did some checking that showed Baxter was in Germany for business in April during the full moon. His doctor said he had been treated for a savage animal bite on his forearm while there. Bought a wolf corpse from a poacher buddy before heading to St. Louis. Full moon tonight. Told rookie to meet me at Baxter’s house before sundown.

9 July. Baxter was the wolf. Silver bullets didn’t quite finish the job, but nearly decapitating him with the silver-edged Bowie knife did. Rookie held up fine, but was more surprised when the wolf’s body turned back into Baxter’s than by the sight of a human-sized wolf. Used the dead wolf as a patsy, made Baxter look like he’d been the final victim. Told rookie to call if he came across weird shit again. Cashed Baxter’s check before leaving, just to be safe. It cleared.

I closed the folder and set it on the table. Baxter had tried and failed to control the werewolf, and couldn’t even stop himself from killing his own wife while in the grip of the beast. In the end, he’d had to hire Gramps to stop him. If that rookie cop was O’Malley, then he’d know what could be behind a string of disappearances. Unfortunately, too many google hits came back for Robert O’Malley’s name for me to learn anything meaningful about Bryton’s medical examiner.

I gave up on the O’Malley angle and looked for more information on Bryton itself. The town’s site made it look like a stereotypical farming town. By the time I’d finished clicking around, I knew more about corn and soybean markets and rural crime rates that I’d ever cared to. I sighed and closed all browser tabs but the Bryton County homepage. Even the online edition of The Bryton County Tribune had been duller than expected — it was all small town news and Associated Press stories.

I called up a satellite view of the area. While looking at the aerial maps of Bryton, I noticed that the south side of town bordered an abandoned quarry. Everywhere else around town was farmland. I did some digging, so to speak, and learned that the ground south of town was harder and rockier than the rest of the land, so the owner had turned it into a quarry and sold gravel for a few years back in the 50s. He got shut down when a group of citizens banded together and made their case to the local government that the quarry was hurting Bryton’s rustic aesthetic and driving away investment and tourism. “Got to love small town politics,” I said. A little more research showed that the quarry’s owner was Stephen Wyatt. “Any relation?” I wondered. I’d have to ask Mr. Wyatt when I next saw him. After the quarry shut down, it didn’t look like tourism or investment picked up, but at least they still had their rustic aesthetic. “You’d think they’d be in favor of anything that brought more business to town …”

The clock on the oven read 10:30, so I shut down the laptop and put it and the file folder into the laptop case — it was time to call it a night. I was going to have to hit the road early if I wanted to make it to Bryton in time for my two-o’clock appointment with Sheriff Joe Cole.

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