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“There’s this place two buildings down,” Dr. Gibson said, “the Toasted Buzz, really good stuff.” I agreed to coffee and we headed down there. “So I looked over your file… you went to school up in New York, eh?”
“The New York Institute of Criminology,” I answered.
“Ooh, big shot! That’s quite a school. What did you study there?”
“Forensic accounting, but this fieldwork is out of this world.”
“Yeah, this guy is, anyway. But see, this is a weird one to wet your beak on. They’re rarely this sensational. Be careful, or you’ll end up like me, taking only the strange and wild cases, throwing your hide in danger every time. I went through four wives who couldn’t handle the pressure, and they all split on me. If you’re married, treat her right. This life is too hard on wives.”
“My wife is deceased,” I said.
“I’m so sorry,” Dr. Gibson said, his eyebrows furrowing in concern. “She must have been so young…you can’t be older than twenty-five.”
“We were married six months. Our wedding date was one month after graduation.”
“May I ask, how did she die?”
I shook my head at the memory, the senselessness. “We were in New York. I was working for NYPD on the FAR intern program, it had just started. I chased this guy from Manhattan to Brooklyn. He was the prime suspect in the Marfan Murders. Over city streets, across highways, through tunnels, even on the subway, this guy wouldn’t give up. I saw him heading toward my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and I remember praying ‘God, please let Melody be inside, safe and sound,’ and we ran by our brownstone and I thought ‘phew.’ Then he turned around and lifted up his arm at me, and he’s got a gun. And of all the times to finally draw his weapon on me, across two boroughs, running after each other, and he tries to turn the tables, right in my neighborhood. The cop who was assisting me had caught up with him, and just as he was about to shoot, the cop pushes his arm away, but the guy still gets a shot off. It goes way wide, and then I hear glass break. My head turns around, to look at where the bullet went. Actually I turned to look at my brownstone to make sure it didn’t have any broken windows. So I forget the guy, thinking to myself ‘the cop’s got him,’ and book it to my house, take the steps up three at a time, fumble with my keys, you know how it is, the faster you try, the slower you go. I finally get in, and go to the living room, and there she is, lying on the floor, just a massive pool of blood.”
As I told the story to Dr. Gibson, I could feel the pain and anger, the sadness and frustration rushing to my head again. “Of course I scream, collapse to my knees beside her, and turn her on her back to examine her. She was shot through the neck, piercing her through the throat and looked like it nicked her spinal cord on the exit. She’s got all this blood pouring out of her nose and mouth…” I could feel the tears burn my eyelids again, a hard lump in my throat making it difficult to breathe, let alone talk. “And I’m wiping her hair from her forehead, and she has this look on her face, of what the hell just happened? But I’m there, at the very end, and she got to mouth “I love you” to me, and I told her that I loved her, and I kissed her forehead, one last time. And she was gone. And at least I was there, holding her, I got to tell her I loved her one last time. And for that, at least, I thank God.”
Dr. Gibson put his hand on my shoulder. “Small miracles. Thank God for them.”
“My wife and I knew each other since we were high school freshmen,” I said with a smile. Dr. Gibson smiled sympathetically. We sat at a table and sipped coffee. Dr. Gibson ate a cinnamon roll and did so slowly, almost as if out of respect. “So why’s this guy doing this?”
“Well the first thing that comes to mind is he’s a goth sort of person that went overboard. Either that or he’s into blood like some people are into soft music and dim lights.”
“A deviant.”
“Right. That’s more than likely the motivation here.”
“So why does he send a letter?”
“Maybe he wants to get caught. Maybe he’s crying for help.”
“I don’t know. He sounds like he’s taunting us.”
“He may be. He may have a kink for that too. Show us he’s so much more superior than we are.”
“Or he may be a vampire that is intent on making the human race his own vegetable garden.” Dr. Gibson laughed at the ridiculousness of my statement.
“We laugh now, but you know, it wouldn’t be the first supernatural case I’ve been involved with.”
“I know. I read with great interest about the Imps, and the Marcquome must have been a horror.”
“The worst of all for me was the Congregation of Arghror, Gulguul, and Inhaalion Souls. Boy, what a crowd.”
“Never heard of that,” I said.
“Few have. It’s never been publicized. When you’re the sane one in the group, and you don’t talk about it, it’s something ill-discussed.”
“Well, I’ve been on a few doozies myself,” I said, trying not to brag.
“Oh yeah? Let’s hear about some.”
“Gosh, ever hear of Dank Fletcher? He was my first real case. That was terrible.”
“Oh right, I heard of him, out in the backwoods of Virginia?”
“That’s it. Then there was the case where this swamp in Arkansas was brewing up some horrendous stuff. And anyone that would come by would be entranced and go in, drown and disappear. Turns out it was this creature who was emitting the chemical, which was irresistible to anyone, and devour them.”
“Sort of like a swamp mermaid then?”
“Yeah, you could say that. There was this one time in college, this guy was crazy about women’s shoes, and he would make these shoes by hand and sell them in New York, in Manhattan. And everyone was talking about these shoes, he was a big underground sensation, and come to find out, he was kindnapping women and leathering their skin into shoes.”
“Sounds like a real creative type of fellow. I heard of that guy, Clyde Salsbury, right?”
“Yeah that’s him. They put him in Attica. He deserves it. There were a few things that happened to me that had nothing to do with the I3, like the time I ran into automatic writing board that was playing with a group of teenagers. Hey, I’m not boring you with my life story, am I?” I asked Dr. Gibson.
“No, not at all,” he reassured me as the elbow of the arm that supported his head fell off the table. “I was just resting my eyes.”
“Well, I didn’t want to keep you up, you know.”
“Just remember that the cases you work on are not your stories. That should keep your sanity on the up and up.
As we were settling up the bill, a blood-curdling scream shattered the peace, causing us to crane our necks to see what the commotion was all about. A creature that I could only describe as canine, with legs and tail and head attached to a body and little else resembling dog, especially the horse-like size, crashed through the front door of the diner. This creature, with smoldering black skin and deep red eyes, stepped like a jackhammer through the crowded eatery. It made its way to one particular table and proceeded to pick up the pretty young lady sitting there, fling her over its shoulder and turn around to leave the building. The girl’s mother shrieked for help, and of course everyone stood mortified and speechless, as still as stone. The mega-dog leapt around tables, knocking them off their moorings and causing them to act like dominoes, and exited the coffee shop.
“Now you wait a minute, Fido!” Dr. Gibson shouted after the creature. “You better let her go if you know what’s good for you!” The animal paid no mind to Dr. Gibson, and evne though he give it chase, the older doctor could not keep up with the demonic beast. For her part, the girl had fainted, probably for the best because if I were her, I certainly wouldn’t be interested in witnessing what were potentially my last moments.
“Call the CCSS, tell Carpenter what just happened, tell him to send someone over to console her lunch friend, give him a bearing on where the thing is taking that girl,” Dr. Gibson commanded. “Let’s try to follow it.” We hopped into Dr. Gibson’s car and drove as fast as we could, flashing the red light to let everyone know we were on police business. The beast moved like lightning, and we’d be lucky if we could catch up with it. I caught sight of a thin, wispy, inky black smoke trail in the distance, and I suggested to Dr. Gibson that we follow that.
We followed the smoke trail to the edge of the Cooper River, in a high spot secluded from the rest of the busier cities and towns below. Wingate House, as the sign read at the wrought-iron gate, sat decrepit and in disrepair as the house was boarded up, and there wasn’t a neighbor for miles. The smoke trail hovered over the house, then slowly dissipated into the balmy blue sky.
Dr. Gibson and I pushed back the weedy vegetation and opened the gate, a rusty creak emanating from the underused hinges. We walked up the stone path, long overgrown with random grass and flowers, and walked up to the front door. There were two long rectangular panels in the top half of the door; the glass panel on the right was intact, but the left-hand panel was missing. We opened the door hesitantly, again with an aching creak of the hinges, and the gold light of the sun bathed the interior of the house, dark and dank many days from lack of exposure. Dr. Gibson and I explored the building, finding strange artifacts, such as African animist religious items, Creole voodoo dolls, strange, hideous works of art, such as paintings and sculptures depicting human sacrifice. The musty master bedroom looked as though no one had ever slept in the bed. It was perfectly smooth, not a lump in the mattress. The kitchen was Spartan, not having much in the way of creature comforts, albeit opulently presented with marble counters and black-and-white checked tiles. We also checked the bathroom and did not note anything until Dr. Gibson’s eagle eye detected tiny blood spatter behind the clawfoot bath. We took samples of these for research. Other rooms, such as the sitting room, drawing room, and foyers, were appointed with the same disgusting array of hideous décor, from strange, unholy, pagan and satanic creeds.
The den was a treasure trove. The shelves were lined with books about the occult, shamanism, witchcraft, voodoo, vampirism most of all. Goat skulls, pentagrams, candles, and chalices all seemed to “decorate” the study. We lifted the rug, and there was a dark brown stain, about three or four feet in diameter, on the hardwood floor underneath. “Let’s get a sample of that stain,” Dr. Gibson commanded. We continued to move through the house, diligently noting the horrors that sat silent for ages. We collected samples of stains, hair, and anything that would possibly offer clues. The backyard was found to have several potential gravesites, and these were appropriately staked for future observation. “We should check out the basement.”
“Are you kidding me? Going down to the basement, in this house? There’s no way.”
“Henry, you don’t know what lies down there, except for three things, excitement, adventure, and uncertainty! Let’s go!”
I followed Dr. Gibson down to the charcoal colored basement, one room encompassing the footprint of the house. The deathly stench of mold wafted toward us from the crumbling walls. “Holy mushrooms, would you look at that!” Before me lay the most ornate, richly decorated coffin I had ever seen, made of gleaming ebony, lined with red satin, and sitting upon a platform draped in red. Aside from the coffin and mildew odor, nothing of note was found in the basement.
“Dear Heavens,” Dr. Gibson barely uttered. He gazed behind me with an unbreakable stare; something had captured his attention, to be sure. I spun around and saw a figure standing at least seven feet tall, shrouded in a black cloak, a horrifying mask of an elongated reddish-browned face; graying hairs sprouting haphazardly from the scalp; hollow, empty eyes; and long, narrow, protruding teeth. I instantly felt sick to my stomach, feeling a compulsion to look at the thing and give in to the despair that was nauseating me. “It’s just an outfit,” Dr. Gibson said calmly, “that they use in demonic rites to make a mockery of the Christian belief system. It’s staring us right in the face, Henry, but it’s just a mask, just a cloak. No one’s in there.” In spite of being armed with this knowledge, the figure seemed to levitate toward me, trying to intimidate me, overpower me. My strength seemed brittle to me, barely able to hold itself up and in danger of collapse at any minute, but the stand I was taking was enough to make the corner figure back away. The knowledge of the figure’s status as nothing more than a cloak and mask was enough to summon barely enough will to break my gaze from the horrid figure.
“Come on, let’s go,” I urged Dr. Gibson, turning around to head back up the stairs. This was enough for him to break his trance and follow me up.
Upstairs, we were idly remarking at the revolting findings within, the macabre décor, the musty smell of faint death, while we headed for the front door. This was as much to gather our thoughts for the benefit of the case as much as it was to bring our nerves back down. Suddenly Dr. Gibson stopped cold. Before us were three massive dogs, just like the one who had kidnapped the girl at the coffee shop, just as big, menacing, and black, and with the same glowing red eyes and same subterranean growl that would rival any earthquake. Slobber dripped from the jowls of the gruesome canines. “Henry, let’s get the hell out of here,” Dr. Gibson said as if he were ordering a donut and deciding whether it was going to be glazed or jelly.
“That might be a little tough,” I countered.
“Well, we could always go through the back door and take our chances with what lurks outside.”
Dr. Gibson gingerly took a step back towards the door. It was enough for the dogs, who leapt simultaneously at him.
I only had seconds to react. I pulled out my .45 and fired six shots, two in each dog. I managed to successfully double-tap every one of the dogs, and their suddenly motionless bodies fell out of the air like stones, one managing to land on Dr. Gibson, but being dead, utterly harmless. “You’re pretty good with that gun.”
“Target practice every day since I was fourteen,” I said nonchalantly.
“Boy, you managed to dispatch all three dogs with a double-tap. No way could you have learned that on the range.”
“I’ll tell you more about it later, but I think we should get out of this house, you know, plan A?”
“Right, right, let’s go!” We hauled out of the house and made it back into Dr. Gibson’s car. As he drove, I got on the phone to sheriff’s station. I found out that the Wingate House was the family estate of Nicholas Buckrest. “What can they find out about him?”
“By the time we get back there, the results should be in,” I suggested. We raced back to the sheriff’s station in hopes that the fruits of their research would be ready for us. Just as I had figured, the results were in, and the blood on the letter matched the DNA of the missing women. Fingerprints were lifted and a scan was run on the database. There was a match, but they were trying to determine the whereabouts of the suspect.
“We sent Deputy Franco to pick up the girl’s lunch mate,” Carpenter said. “Turns out it was her daughter who was kidnapped. She’s in Room Three.” We went inside and visited with the victim’s mother, whose ID said her name was Bridget Morgan and that she was fifty-one years old.
“Ma’am, I just want to say we’re going to do everything we can to get your daughter back safe and sound,” Dr. Gibson said, trotting out the old cliché. “Can you tell us more about your daughter?”
“Her name is Kendra Morgan,” Bridget explained. Her straight, light blonde hair gave way to bangs at her forehead. “She’s twenty-one years old. She’s a student at Cooper Community College and she works as an intern at the Carolina Library of Classical Works.”
“Ma’am, are you familiar with the events that have taken place in the greater Charleston area over the past several months, a string of murders and kidnappings?” I asked her.
“Yes, of course. It’s all over the news.”
“Do you or your daughter know any of the victims?”
“I don’t know any of them, and I don’t think Kendra knew any of them either, or she would have told me.”
“Does the name Buckrest ring a bell?” I asked
Mrs. Morgan shifted her eyes left and right, as if to scan her memory for that name. “No, no, I’m afraid it doesn’t.”
“So you don’t know anyone who would do this to your daughter, do you, Mrs. Morgan?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“No schoolmates, now or from college?”
“No, sorry.”
“What about her work? You mentioned an internship at the Carolina Library of Classical Works…anyone there who could do such a thing?”
“I really don’t know many people from her work, I’m afraid.’
“Anything you can tell us about that dog that snatched her at the coffeehouse?” Dr. Gibson took over.
“I’m as stunned and shocked as anyone else. I have no idea what that thing was, bigger than a Rottweiler, bigger than a Great Dane.”
“Indeed,” Dr. Gibson said. “Did your daughter dabble in the occult, Mrs. Morgan?”
“The occult?” she said, putting her hand to her chest. “Well, not that I’m aware of. Do you really think that’s a possibility?” Her eyes widened at Dr. Gibson.
“Entirely possible. You did get a good look at that creature, that canine type thing, did you not?”
“Of course.”
“Well, was that like anything, any earthly thing you have seen before in your life.”
“Certainly not.”
“Mrs. Morgan, you had an encounter with a creature not of this world, but of the next: a ‘metacreature’, if you will. Ma’am, again, we will do everything in our power to bring your daughter back safe and sound. Henry? Shall we?” We thanked Mrs. Morgan for her cooperation and saw ourselves out the door.
As I got into the car, my cell phone started to ring. It was the station. “What? You’re kidding me. How could that be? All right. Thanks, bye.”
“The station?”
“Yeah. They ran the guy, his name is Nicholas Buckrest. That matches the prints on the letter.”
“Terrific! Open and shut.”
“Not really. This guy’s dead.”
“Oh? That’s not so bad. At least we know where he is.”
“For five and a half years.”
“What? How does that fit?”
“I haven’t a clue. But the lab said that the blood matches the missing girls.”
“I figured as much. After that display, anyway.”
The next morning, I headed over to the library where Kendra worked and did some research, talking to coworkers, bosses, patrons, etc. There wasn’t much, just that Kendra was a sweet girl, never ran with weird crowds, kept to herself pretty much. That was the extent of that visit. The curator, Dr. Sang Babbitt, raved about what a wonderful girl Kendra was, gushing about her nature and personality, almost to the point of embarrassment. “How closely did you work with her?”
“Not very close, but I sort of watched her from afar, admired her work ethic, and foresaw big, big things in her future.”
“In Library Sciences?” I asked, trying to hide my sarcasm.
“Yes, in Library Sciences.” Dr. Babbitt said, trying to muster sincerity. He didn’t jibe right to me. Something was up with him. I put his name in my mental file cabinet. I told Dr. Gibson about my talk with Dr. Babbitt.
“He sounds like a creepy old man, had a crush on Kendra.”
“It could be, but that thing about big, big things in Library Sciences keeps eating at me.”
“Well, I went to the public library and looked up our late, great Buckrest. Turns out there was an Nicholas Buckrest, a local who lived in North Charleston. He came from a long line of Charlestonians, but he lived alone at the estate since he was in his thirties, for most of his life except for the end. He was old money who got involved in the local occult group and got a little too friendly with the corpses. He was buried alive. When they put the pieces together, suicide note, his affinity for death, and figured out whose grave he was buried in, it was too late. They ended up disinterring the coffin and got two bodies for the price of one. See what happens when you’re young, rich and have too much time on your hands? I count my blessings that I’m old, poor, and have too many hands on my time.”
“He wanted to be buried alive?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “That’s disgusting.”
“But it explains all the death stuff. And you’ll never guess in whose casket he went headfirst six feet under.”
“I don’t know, who?”
“Crystal Henderson, none other than Kendra’s grandmother. And Mrs. Henderson…get this, was known as the Old Witch on Newton Road.”
“Let’s talk to the mom again,” I recommended.
The next day we arrived bright and early at Bridget Morgan’s home. “I don’t know much about my mother’s life before I was born,” Mrs. Morgan explained to us during our visit. “She was very secretive. She never talked about it. We lived in a big dark house on Newton Road. All the school kids threw rocks at the house. I never told them I lived there so that I wouldn’t get the ridicule. I always made excuses why I couldn’t have anyone over.”
“Do you know if your mother was ever involved with the occult?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
“Did you know about how someone had been found buried in your mother’s grave with her?”
“Yes, of course. They had to disinter her. It was awful.”
“But the name Buckrest doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Like I said, my mother kept her life closely guarded, even from her own family.”
“Nicholas Buckrest committed suicide by burying himself alive in your mother’s casket,” Dr. Gibson explained, trying to jog her memory.
“Oh! That’s right. I had tried to forget that name. It’s been so long.”
“Mrs. Morgan, do you feel your mother’s death was shrouded in suspicious circumstances?” I asked.
“Is this an investigation of my mother’s death six years ago, or my daughter’s kidnapping?”
“Five and a half years ago,” Dr. Gibson corrected. “And yes, this is about your daughter. Any weirdness in Kendra’s life that should be noted?”
“She was a quiet kid. Did her homework. Was a lazy teenager. She was perfectly ordinary.”
“I see.” I proposed a different line of questioning. “Ma’am, does the name Sang Babbitt mean anything to you?”
“We dated for a little bit in high school.”
“What about now? Do you have any contact?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Mrs. Morgan, where is Mr. Morgan?”
“Dr. Morgan, I’m afraid he’s passed on.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” Gibson interjected, impressed.
“It was many years ago.”
“All the same, I do wish to extend my condolences.”
“He was…a good man.”
I looked at Dr. Gibson. We were done. “Well, that should be it for us, eh Dr. Gibson?”
“Most definitely. Thank you for your information. We’ll find your daughter, and we’ll bring her back.”
“Thank you,” she said, walking us out the door.
“Some strange birds in Charleston,” I said, once back in the car.
“You’re telling me…” Dr. Gibson said.
We decided to meet with Dr. Babbitt again. “Dr. Babbitt, do you know a Bridget Henderson?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“She was my girlfriend in high school.”
“Any other contact?”
“No, I’m afraid not. We lost touch after graduation.”
“Do you consider yourself an expert on local history, Dr. Babbitt?” I began my questioning.
“Absolutely. I follow the history of Charleston with great interest. I’m chair of the Local History Committee.”
“Do you recall a case, oh, about five, six years ago, where this loner, something of a weird guy, killed himself by burying himself alive?”
“Rings a bell, I suppose.”
“You suppose? How could that just ring a bell? If that happened in my hometown, I’d remember that for the rest of my life.”
“Well, I was on sabbatical at that point, so I wasn’t here for it.”
“So, out of sight, out of mind, then?”
“I suppose.”
“But seems like something wild, a great bit of Charleston trivia, don’t you think? I bet the tourists would eat that stuff up.”
“Mr. Unger, that is a gruesome story, and I’m sure the high-class visitors of our city would NOT be interested in hearing it.”
“Well, I’m sure that’s debatable, but anyway, the grave in which Mr. Buckrest was buried, do you know whose it was?”
“No, sorry I don’t.” He was starting to answer his questions curtly.
“It belonged to Crystal Henderson, you know, Bridget Henderson’s mom.” Dr. Babbitt gasped a little, but remained speechless. “And you know what else? Bridget Henderson’s daughter is none other than…Kendra Morgan.”
“Sorry, I don’t know that name either,” he said, suddenly pallid.
“Sure you do. It’s the girl you were positively gushing about the other day. You remember, don’t you? Big, big things in Library Sciences.”
“Listen, I have a meeting with our board of regents. But if you have any questions, please feel free to call my secretary and I’ll do my best to get back to you.” He packed up some papers and stumbled out the office. “Good day, gentlemen.”
“Indeed!” I said. In the library’s lobby, Dr. Gibson and I confirmed that we agreed Dr. Babbitt knew more than he let on.

Submitted: September 20, 2010

© Copyright 2022 Peter Amaral. All rights reserved.


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