Noble David K. Hulegaard

David K. Hulegaard
Copyright 2011 by David K. Hulegaard. All rights
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are either the product of the author’s
imagination or used fictitiously. No reference to any real
person, living or dead, should be inferred.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by
any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior consent of
the publisher.
Edited by Bethany Learn
Proofed by Aleta Sanstrum
Cover Design by James McDonald
Books by David K. Hulegaard
Noble: Bloodlines
The Jumper
Resistance Front
The Darby Forest: Two Tales of the Arachnolox
Official Website
For Jennie.
I would pluck a star from the sky just to see your smile.
To Bethany Learn, I came to you with an unfathomable
task and you did the impossible. You took a year old
manuscript, stripped out the plagued ramblings of a
first time author, and left me with something coherent
to share with the world. You earned every dollar of your
paycheck on this project. I hope someday that your eyes
will heal. Preferably before the sequel is finished. Hint,
To Aleta Sanstrum, Your unique talents for proofreading
and fact checking were an immense help in the final
scrub of this novel.
To Mom and Dad, There are no better parents in the
world. Thank you for never allowing me to become a
To James McDonald, Your artwork brings my stories to
life long before the first word is ever read. You never
cease to amaze me with your uncanny ability to take
what's in my head and paint it.
To Bernard Schaffer, Someday I will write as well as
you. Of course, by then you will already be on a whole
other level, but that just means that I'll never become
complacent. Thank you.
To Tammy Beck, I owe you a sincere thank you. A year
of listening to my self-serving marketing speeches and
yet you still keep reading and supporting me. That
means more to me than you know.
To the rest of my friends and family, I'm just getting
warmed up. There's plenty more stories ready to flow
from my fingertips. Thank you for your continuous love
and support.
Help support independent authors. Please
consider leaving a review so that others can
find and enjoy this book.
Table of Contents
Chapter One ................................................................................. 1
Chapter Two ............................................................................... 11
Chapter Three ............................................................................ 23
Chapter Four .............................................................................. 35
Chapter Five ............................................................................... 49
Chapter Six ................................................................................. 65
Chapter Seven ............................................................................ 75
Chapter Eight ............................................................................. 89
Chapter Nine ............................................................................ 101
Chapter Ten.............................................................................. 113
Chapter Eleven ......................................................................... 123
Chapter Twelve ........................................................................ 139
Chapter Thirteen ...................................................................... 153
Chapter Fourteen ..................................................................... 169
Chapter Fifteen ........................................................................ 181
Chapter Sixteen ........................................................................ 195
Chapter Seventeen................................................................... 207
Chapter Eighteen ..................................................................... 217
Chapter Nineteen..................................................................... 227
Chapter Twenty........................................................................ 241
Epilogue.................................................................................... 255
Chapter One
“(Heavy breathing) My name is Jane Em—
“ [Crackle] “and if you’re hearing this, please, I beg you,
help us. They brought us, here, but I—I don’t know where
here is. They told us that they were—” [Section
missing] “but they didn’t tell us why. Something about,
oh, I can’t remember how they worded it. It didn’t make
any sense, but we weren't allowed to ask any
questions. We were given just one rule: We had to do as
we were told and everything would be all right. But they
lied. Ph—“ [Crackle] “did exactly what he was told to
and they just—they just let him die in there. Didn’t even
try to help him. Those bastards! They knew all of this was
going to happen!” [Pause] “Mom, for what it’s worth to
you now, I’m so sorry. If I had known that it would have
ever come to this, I—I would’ve—" (Sobbing) "How
could you do this to your own child, mother?”
[Section missing]
“We were brought here in blindfolds and
handcuffs. They didn’t speak at all until we arrived. I
remember being on an airplane before arriving here in a
bus with the others. We were all so scared. Well, almost
everyone. It seems like ages ago when I first met Alyssa.
She was so strong and refused to break down and cry. She
said it would only give them the satisfaction they wanted,
but I couldn’t keep myself from falling
apart.” [Pause] “Alyssa was part of the second group
from our cell sent into that place. I don’t even know how
to describe it other than to say it looks like something left
over from an an—“ [Section missing] “—ion. Despite my
fear, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe when I look at it.
The architecture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. How
could something like this exist un—“ [Crackle] “I told
Alyssa about my suspicions, but she didn't care much
about my theories. She focused only on our escape. The
rest of us never felt like we had a chance, but she refused
to give up." [Pause] "God, I miss her so
much.” [Pause] “When they came for her, I think we all
knew what was about to happen. One-by-one we all lost
hope. Still, there was a part of me that believed she would
come back. I refused to accept that anything could stop
Alyssa. She wasn’t a soldier, but she was, I don’t know,
different somehow from the rest of us. Phillip used to call
her ‘Bitch on Earth’ because he thought that she was
scarier than any kind of hell." (Laughs) "And yet, she
wound up disappearing too. Just like the
rest.” [Pause] “Yesterday I saw a blinding blue glow
coming from that place. What was that? Please be all
right, Alyssa. We need you.”
[Section missing]
“I don’t know how this is legal. Aren't there laws to
prevent this type of treatment? That’s why I took this
recorder. The carelessness of that guard leaving it behind
might be our only hope for rescue. At the very least, it
could be our chance to document our final days. They
would kill me if they knew I took their device, but I don’t
care. Any day now it will be my turn to go inside and then
I’ll be dead anyway. Maybe death would be better than
this. Whoever finds this, just know that we were
here." [Crackle] "I hope this tape is found some day. If we
can’t be saved, then I hope our story can save the others
like us. There’s just so much that I don’t know or
understand. I think that’s what scares me the most. What
is happening to the others when they send us into that—
that thing?" [Pause] "Shhh. Listen. Can you hear it? I
hear them screaming even now." (Crying) "Are they
real? I can't even tell anymore. I hear those cries inside
my head all the time. So much pain.”
[Section missing]
“Shit! Here they come! They’re outside the door, I
need to—“ [Crackle] “What? It can't be! Is that really
you?” [Crackle] “Aly—“ [Crackle] (Screaming)
I will never forget the day that I first heard that
recording, nor will I forget the events that led up to
it. That message was recovered from a government
issued tape recorder at the area formally known as
Location 2208-C on October 16th, 1948. It’s hard to
believe that it was nearly two years ago when I first
heard it. I still remember it all like it was yesterday.
So much has happened over the past three years
and the world has not looked the same to me since. I
don't suppose that it ever will. The unsuspecting people
of this world were carrying on about their everyday
lives, completely clueless to the dangers that had been
lurking under the earth beneath them for centuries. A
great battle was waged and many lives were lost. It was
one of the most tragic events to ever happen in the
history of humanity and the people of the world don’t
even know the story… but they’re about to.
My name is Miller Brinkman and I am, rather,
I was a private detective for the better part of my adult
life. No matter how much on-the-job training you
receive, there is no way to prepare for the horrors that
you will see. I had nothing but respect for the brave men
who fought tirelessly to protect our community, but in
the end, it just wasn’t meant for me.
I had a special place in my heart for helping
other people, and I knew that I was meant to put it to
good use somehow in this crazy world. I suppose you
could say that the desire to protect people was my
calling, if you’re the type of person who believes in that
sort of thing. To me, there was no greater feeling in the
world than the sensation I got from helping others who
couldn’t otherwise help themselves. So, I decided to
become a private investigator. My client base was
limited to folks with what the Sheriff’s boys would
consider minor needs and petty complaints, but I didn’t
mind that at all. To me, there was no case too
insignificant to pursue.
I investigated things like crooked business
partners accused of taking a little extra off the top, or
lowlife con-men trying to scam honest folks out of a few
extra bucks. I was once even called upon to put a
preacher under surveillance by a jealous wife who
thought that her husband had been pursuing interests
outside of their home other than scripture.
I kept an eye on the preacher for about a week,
and was happy to report back to her and tell her that
her suspicions were unfounded. As it turned out, the
good wife did not allow even a drop of alcohol in the
house, and the preacher couldn’t seem to completely
exorcise his internal desire for the occasional glass of
wine in the evening. That was about as exciting as
things ever got around these parts. Murder is a rare
occurrence in a place like Ashley Falls, but it does
happen from time to time.
Most of the families that live in the town have
been there for several generations. The vast majority
of them are either farmers or shop owners that took the
trade that was handed down to them. People from town
don’t dream of growing up and becoming politicians or
lawyers. Especially not since the war ended. No, people
dream of preserving Ashley Falls exactly how they
inherited it, and living in a community of people that are
just as much a family as their own parents.
That's not to say that outsiders weren't
welcomed in Ashley Falls. Visitors from the city drove
for miles to stock up on our fresh produce or to
purchase quality hand-made goods from our shops.
They never stayed long, though. Once they had filled our
cash registers, they were gone just as quickly as they'd
arrived. It’s the life and survival of a small town, and we
embraced it.
Ashley Falls sits on a sprawling piece of land, but
much of it goes unused and the actual town itself only
consists of three main parts. You’ve got the farm lands,
which run along the river, then the residential area
where most people live, and finally the sizeable
unpaved downtown area which houses the shops, the
diner, the church, the bank, the bar, and other things of
the like. Outside of these main sections is a vast wooded
area that encircles the town. It was a strategic location
for the American patriots during the Revolutionary War
because the woods helped to fortify their hideouts.
On the outskirts of town is a place called Sunset
Hill, which is a popular spot for the younger
people. I spent a lot of time there in my youth as
well. It’s located near a sheer cliff where the river that
runs through town drops off into a waterfall and
connects to a sister river at the bottom, many feet
Because of Sunset Hill's elevation, it provides a
beautiful view of the sky and the world below it. It faces
the setting sun at dusk which is as gorgeous as anything
you could ever put on a postcard and that must be how
it got its name.
Most everything in Ashley Falls was named after
one family or another. Either our town did it as a way
of paying respect to the families that made our
community great, or they were just severely lacking
creativity. I once asked the Mayor if the name "Sunset
Hill" had been chosen because they’d finally run out of
family names, but all that seemed to do was illicit a dirty
look. I’ve never been able to prove it, but I feel confident
that my votes haven’t been counted during an election
ever since.
Sunset Hill is a great name, though, and at least it
was awarded its name because of something pleasant
that makes people feel good, unlike our town.
As the story goes, back during the time of the
Revolutionary War, the Carroll family settled out here
amidst the beauty and marvel of the lands. As best
anyone can tell, they were the first family to ever call
this place home. Because of the secluded nature of the
area, it was a popular piece of land for those opposing
the British to seek shelter and plan their next move.
One night, British soldiers were in the area
chasing after an escaped American patriot who had
caused quite a ruckus. The soldiers found the Carroll's
home and were convinced that the patriot must be
seeking refuge inside. They stormed the front door and
questioned the frightened family, but no answer the
Carrolls could give was deemed acceptable to the
Accused of harboring a fugitive, they were told
that they would face certain death if they continued to
defy the crown. Just then, a pale child with curly red
hair made her way down the staircase, with her favorite
doll clutched by its arm in her right hand. Seeing an
opportunity, one of the soldiers violently grabbed the
child and demanded that they give up the fugitive, or
the child would suffer as punishment. The Carrolls
pleaded with the soldiers, and maintained that they
knew nothing of a fugitive. They were just ordinary
farmers living a quiet life out in the woods.
Angered and frustrated, the soldiers finally lost
their patience, and bound the family at the wrists. They
marched them through the woods to a clearing where
they spotted the cliffs. They forced the man and his wife
to their knees and told them they had just one last
chance to surrender the fugitive. Sobbing
uncontrollably, and still without an answer, they could
only plead for the mercy of the British soldiers. In a fit
of rage, one of the soldiers grabbed the little girl and
lifted her up on to his shoulder. He then walked over to
the edge, and dropped the petrified girl over the
waterfall to her death.
Stricken with immense sadness and rage, the
man got to his feet and charged at the soldier in front of
him. With two shots from his pistol, the other soldier
downed the man before he could reach his target. The
two men then cut the woman loose and instructed her
that she was to live, and tell the story of what happens
to those who oppose Britain.
Mrs. Carroll didn't obey. Instead she wrote down
her horrific story in a journal and left it out on a table in
the front room of her home before taking her own life
with a blade from the kitchen.
Two years later, after the war had ended,
colonists looking to establish a township found Mrs.
Carroll's body and her note. In the journal, she
mentioned wanting to find the afterlife so that she
might seek the forgiveness of her daughter Ashley. The
town was named Ashley Falls to honor the memory of
the poor child spoken of in the sad tale left behind.
The Carroll’s home, now treated as a historical
monument by the town’s leaders, still stands to this
day. People are allowed to visit it and pay their respects,
but they are not permitted inside. The old home has sat
uninhabited for over a hundred and fifty years and has
become fodder for many generations of local ghost
stories. I still remember my grandfather spinning yarns
when I was a child that scared me half to death!
The legend of the haunted Carroll home became
a staple of our little community. The stories were used
by parents to scare misbehaving children, and in turn,
those kids would use the stories at sleepovers and play
tricks on the first person to fall asleep. The ghost story
has changed many times over the years, but I remember
the version from when I was a child.
My grandfather said that Lady Carroll would
walk through the town at the stroke of midnight every
night looking for her darling Ashley. She would peek
into the windows of every child’s bedroom and take the
ones that were awake instead of sleeping like they were
supposed to. There was a two year period in my youth
where I was starting to go to bed at around eight o’clock
to ensure that I would be fast asleep long before
midnight came around. My parents always loved to tell
that story whenever I started hanging around with new
friends, or God forbid a girlfriend. It was all in good fun,
but everyone understood the seriousness of the source
So, life in Ashley Falls was pretty quiet most of
the time. It might have even been considered dull by
some standards, but it was a tightly knit community of
mostly honest people just doing their best to get by. It
was a small town where everyone knew everyone else,
which wasn't all that hard to do with a population of
roughly 4,200 people. It wasn't the kind of place that
people from the outside desired to move into, and the
people who were already there rarely had any interest
in moving out.
We have an inside joke about Ashley Falls
that went something like “stick around long enough,
and you’re bound to have something named after
you.” Well, it probably wasn't all that funny of a joke,
but I suppose that depended on your familiarity with
Ashley Falls.
My mother once thought that I was going to
move to the city one day and become a famous writer or
some nonsense like that. I will never forget the day that
she referred to me as a genius while talking to some of
her friends. She loved it when I would bring home my
written stories from school because she thought they
were so creative. She’d ask to read them right away, and
when she was done, she’d pin them up on the kitchen
wall so that she could read them again while preparing
supper. I never did envision myself as a writer, though I
did win an award in school once for my report on
Ashley Carroll. But I’m not trying to boast.
Years later, after my folks had passed, I pretty
much gave up on writing all together, but I never forgot
what they had taught me about finding my own way in
this life. I owed them that. It wasn’t long after they'd
passed that I took up an interest in law enforcement,
which then eventually led to me opening up shop
downtown. The day that I officially opened my very own
practice was the proudest day of my life. It was quite the
accomplishment for me back then, and thinking about it
now takes me back to a very happy time in my life.
Working downtown took a lot of getting used to
for me. Between schooling and doing chores for my
folks at the mill as a child, I didn’t have many occasions
to go downtown. Once in a while, dad would let me go to
the bank with him, or mom would take me shopping for
new school clothes when I grew out of the old ones, but
we pretty much kept to our side of town. I remember
how much smaller the downtown area was when I was
a child. Our little town has done some growing over the
Ashley Falls certainly isn’t the type of life for
everyone, but I’d say that most of its people are very
happy. From time to time, you'd hear rumblings from
people that didn’t quite see things that way, and they
would convince themselves that there was a better life
waiting for them in the big city. One such person comes
to mind, as a matter of fact. Coincidentally enough, it’s
the very person whose story started a chain reaction of
events that came to an end with the discovery of her
recorded message.
Chapter Two
Her name was Jane Emmett, and she was pretty
much just your average seventeen year old girl. At least,
that’s what everyone in town thought about her. She
had grown up in Ashley Falls and came from one of the
most respected families in town. When I say
'respected,' I mean to say incredibly wealthy.
Her family owned the local newspaper company,
and their business was booming. The actual building
was not in town, but Jane's father, Mr. Emmett, had that
poor reporter of his running around town several days
a week to collect stories, and then he’d go back to the
office to do the actual work. The reason why the paper
did so well was because it covered a great deal of the
happenings going on in the towns that bordered Ashley
Falls as well.
Mr. Emmett had also secured distribution in at
least one major nearby city. I always kind of felt like the
small town people bought it to read about current
events within their community, and the city folks
bought it to scoff at what was considered 'news' in small
town life. Of course that could just be my jealousy
Regardless of my personal feelings about their
business, the Emmett’s did reinvest a lot of their wealth
back into the community, and it was hard to argue with
that even if it did make me feel as though I should bow
to them, or kiss their ring finger if I should happen to
bump into them around town.
Jane was definitely not like her parents. Though
she lived in luxury, she never seemed content with the
life that her parent’s money had provided for her. She
always appeared to be listless and unhappy when we
crossed paths.
As Jane got older, it became well known around
town that she was an emotionally troubled kid, but it
wasn’t until she started to put her rebellious nature out
on display that it became a concern. She’d get into an
argument with one of the shop owners, and then not
leave upon being asked. The sheriff would catch word of
the dispute, come down and threaten to give her the
worst belting of her life, and then she’d eventually see
the error of her ways and leave quietly without causing
any harm. Of course it was not without riling up ole’
Sheriff Coleman in the process, which I was convinced
was always her ulterior motive to begin with.
They really had an oil and water sort of
relationship. Sometimes in life, certain people just plain
don’t get along with one another, and then somewhere
beyond "plain not getting along," there’s Jane and
Sheriff Coleman’s relationship. Not that anyone ever
condoned Jane’s blatant disrespect of the sheriff, but
anyone that told you otherwise would be lying if they
said they didn’t chuckle under their breath to see those
two go at it like cats and dogs. It always seemed like
harmless mischief to me, but over time her outbursts
began to escalate.
Jane was the talk of the town the day she got
caught shoplifting down at ole’ Barry’s General
Store. She even spent a night in lock up, from what I
hear. As always though, her father Mr. Emmett would
come along, apologize for the inconvenience, pay for
any damages she had caused, and promise that she
wouldn’t be any further trouble. Little did Mr. Emmett
know that his poor girl was like a ticking time bomb of
mischief just waiting to explode. People around town
would gossip—as people in a small town tend to do—
about how one day Jane would do something
unforgiveable that her father would not be able to buy
her way out of. As time went on, though, it was the exact
opposite that happened. One day it began to occur to
folks that no one had heard a peep out of Jane Emmett
in quite a while.
Although no one seemed to mind the absence of
Jane, the complete lack of her presence was a bit
unusual. For some people, there was a huge sigh of
relief, mentioning how happy they were to get their
peace and quiet back, but I always found it quite odd
that she just stopped showing up. It seemed to have
happened almost overnight. There were whispers about
her diminished presence going around, but most people
seemed to believe that Jane’s parents were keeping her
confined to her room as a form of punishment and
didn’t give her disappearing act much thought beyond
that. I must confess that I also shared a similar
viewpoint, though my perception of Jane Emmett’s life,
and life in Ashley Falls in general would soon change.
I couldn’t even pretend to know what it was that
Jane’s heart desired, but it was clear to me what it did
not. Jane had something in her life that she dreamed of
accomplishing, and because it wasn’t what her parents
wanted for her, she was made to feel ashamed for it. I
believe that was why she had begun to lash out. I don't
think she had intended to outright disrespect the
townspeople, but she wanted them to know she was
alive, and that she mattered. I’m sure she relished in the
opportunity to cause a little humiliation to her family, as
if to say “if you won’t listen to me, then I’m going to
show you why you should.” It was a message that either
wasn't being received, or was simply being ignored.
The Emmetts were good people at heart but the
problem was that they wanted Jane to act more like a
proper lady and embrace the lifestyle that their money
could buy. They never bothered to ask if that’s what she
had wanted.
Growing up, my life was somewhat similar to
Jane's, though our backgrounds were miles apart at face
value. However, if you look beneath the surface, our
upbringing was a lot more alike than it seemed. My
parents had kept up with the family business of
working at the mill, but they didn’t own it. There were
no family ties to it other than tradition. It’s what every
generation before them had done, and it was something
our family had taken great pride in. They named me
Miller, for Christ's sake.
My parents wanted me to embrace tradition like
they had, but I just couldn’t. Jane felt the need to rebel
against her parent’s wishes, causing a commotion to
illustrate her vexation, but my parents were proud of
me for at least trying to work at the mill first before
deciding that it wasn’t the life that I wanted. They were
disappointed in the sense that, as their only child, the
family tradition would end with them, but it also
opened their eyes to the other possibilities for my
future. They recognized that the world was changing,
and that there was a whole new era of opportunity just
on the horizon that had not existed for them when they
were younger.
I sometimes wonder how Jane Emmett would
have turned out if her parents had been as supportive
as mine. Mom and Dad could have been stubborn and
disowned me, but instead they took comfort in letting
me choose my own path in life. As a result, we didn’t
have any conflict in our relationship. They stood behind
me in everything I wanted to try, which meant a great
deal to me. They wanted me to be happy and to have
free will. I knew that all of the ambition in the world
couldn’t help me to escape the limitations of small town
life, but my parents continued to encourage me to
pursue my dreams and to never give up hope.
Christmas was always a joyous occasion in
Ashley Falls. The winter of 1947 was no exception. The
town really came to life during the holidays. The streets
were full of people walking around downtown in their
scarves, gloves, and long coats, trying to protect their
skin from the below freezing temperatures. Everyone
laughed, sang, and played in the snow. All except for
Jessie Fryman, that is.
Jessie was Jane Emmett's closest and, maybe
only, true friend, but that seemed to suit Jane just
fine. The two of them were nearly inseparable both in
and out of school. One could have easily mistaken
them as sisters, but one key difference set them apart.
Unlike Jane, Jessie was a good kid and always
managed to avoid getting into trouble. People around
town were surprised that the two girls were as close as
they were, because at first glance, they didn’t appear as
though they could have been any more different from
one another. In a way though, I always thought that’s
what made their bond so tight. I think each girl
represented for the other an opposite, perhaps
unobtainable, side of their own personality that they
wished they had for themselves.
For Jessie, Jane represented a precocious side
that also came with a sense of danger and excitement
that was missing from her life. For Jane, I truly believe
that Jessie represented the book smart, well-behaved,
and much beloved side that was sorely lacking from
hers. Despite Jane’s rampant desire to cause mischief in
town, I think it was clearly a result of frustration that no
one other than herself could understand. She was tired
of small town life and was in search of something
beyond the town limits, but she didn’t have the selfesteem to believe that she could achieve it. Perhaps
being around Jessie allowed her to live vicariously. It
could have even inspired her to strive for something
better, giving her hope that her dreams were within
I remember standing only a few feet away from
her as I engaged in conversation with a neighbor of
mine. Jessie sat on the edge of the sidewalk in front of
the general store with her knees pressed up against her
chest and her arms wrapped around them.
Everyone enjoyed a great time all around her, but Jessie
just hung her head. Her classmate Betty came over and
tried to include her in the fun, but Jessie didn’t even so
much as crack a smile.
"Aw, come on, Jessie. It's Christmas time! Don't
be such a sour puss," Betty said. She extended her hand
out to help Jessie to her feet.
"No thank you," Jessie said, almost lifeless as she
stared down at her toes.
"Jessie, none of the good-looking boys are going
to ask you to the winter dance if you're going to sit here
by yourself and sulk. Come on, let's have some fun!"
"Please, just leave me alone," Jessie said.
Betty stood silent, watching small flakes of snow
begin to fall and stick to Jessie's long brown hair. "Fine,
but when you realize that you're the only girl in town
that didn't get invited to the dance, don't come crying to
me, because I tried to help you."
Betty stuck her nose up in the air and stomped
off, though Jessie appeared to be unfazed by the
interaction. Even though I didn't know Jessie all that
well at the time, her behavior still seemed a little out of
character. The girls around town had always loved to
celebrate during the holidays, putting on their finest
dresses and ribbons in hopes of capturing the attention
of the boys, but Jessie appeared to prefer the company
of some type of sadness.
A week or so later, shortly after New Year’s Day,
I was surprised to receive a personal letter from Jessie.
January 2nd, 1948
Dear Mr. Brinkman,
I'm not sure how to go about doing this, but I'm
afraid that you have become my last hope. I am in
desperate need of your help. My best friend, Jane Emmett,
has gone missing and I'm so worried about her. She
hasn't been in school, she hasn't come over to see me, and
her parents won't let me into their house. It's not like Jane
to just up and vanish. I know she gets in trouble a lot, but
she's never disappeared for this long before. It's been six
weeks! Do you think it could be the Japanese? Or maybe
Please, Detective, I can pay you. I don't have a lot
of money, but you're welcome to it all. If that's not
enough, we can draw up an agreement that promises you
more money when I get a job. Oh, please, you just have to
help me. If something bad has happened to Jane, I'll just
Jessie Fryman
Upon reading her letter, it suddenly became
clear to me why Jessie had seemed so distant and
troubled the week prior. Her letter was sweet;
brimming with both the unmistakable innocence and
the wild imagination of a teenage girl. Still, her claim
that she had not heard from Jane in six weeks was
disturbing. Could it really have been six weeks?
I wracked my brain trying to think of when I had
last seen Jane stirring up the ire of the townsfolk, but no
matter how hard I tried to recall it, I couldn’t think of an
instance since she had been caught shoplifting at the
general store. I suppose that could have been viewed as
reason for alarm, but I felt it best that I did not become
involved. The hurt behind Jessie's words would have
caused even the most hardened man to feel sympathy
and I am far from being made of stone. Still, I believed
that everything would blow over and that Jane would
soon be right back to her old tricks. If there had been
some sort of suspicious circumstance related to Jane's
disappearance, I thought it best to leave it up to the
sheriff and his men. I sent a return correspondence to
Miss Fryman indicating as such.
January 4th, 1948
Dear Miss Fryman,
Thank you for your letter. Allow me to extend my
deepest sympathies to you during your time of great
concern. I am flattered that you would seek me for help
with your situation, though I’m afraid that it may be a
little above my area of expertise. I typically get hired for
simple jobs like cheating spouses or bookkeeping errors.
They are the type of things that most people don’t feel
comfortable going to the sheriff with, or things that they
don’t feel the sheriff can help them with at all. It’s true
that I have been involved with the occasional missing
person case during my career, but from the sounds of
your letter, I’m not convinced that’s what we’re even
looking at here. It seems to me that if Miss Emmett were
missing, her parents would have already contacted the
sheriff by now, wouldn’t you agree? This is just
speculation on my part, but have you considered that she
may have become bored of this town and ran off to the
city? It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone her age. My
point being, sometimes people can seemingly vanish
without foul play even being involved.
If she really has gone missing as you suspect, then
the first thing I’d do in your situation is take a look
around her room to see if she kept a journal of some kind.
Knowing her as well as you do, you’d have the best chance
of uncovering any clues that may point to her
whereabouts. If you do find something suspicious, I think
you should go to the sheriff and talk more in depth about
it. I realize that Sheriff Coleman and Miss Emmett have a
rocky relationship at best, but the sheriff would never let
that get in the way of doing his job.
Try to keep yourself calm, Miss Fryman. It may
not feel like it right now, but I’m sure everything is going
to turn out just fine. I wish you the best of luck, and I
know Miss Emmett will turn up soon.
Miller Brinkman, P.I.
Even as I wrote the words in my response that
were meant to ease her concern, they only exacerbated
my own. I lost a lot of sleep after sending that letter to
Jessie. I wondered if I had just outright lied to her. It
wasn’t as though I didn’t believe everything I’d said, but
the more I thought about it, something about her
concerns just didn’t come together right. I couldn’t put
my finger on it, but there were parts of Jessie’s letter
that caused me to rethink my conclusions. Damn, I wish
I’d have taken that letter more seriously. It could have
just been fear that prevented me from doing so.
If Jane was being kept in her own home as a form
of punishment, I could understand a lack of her
appearance around town, but Jessie hadn’t seen Jane in
more than six weeks. Since they were in school
together, how could Jessie have not seen her there? It
didn’t make sense to me. If Jane wasn’t being seen
around town, or at school, especially for a period of six
weeks, then Jessie was right to be concerned.
The Emmett’s weren’t the type of people to keep
to themselves. They were known to throw lavish parties
in town, and made no excuses for flaunting their wealth
in that manner. I myself have never had the pleasure of
being invited to one of their parties in all my years of
living in Ashley Falls, but the people that attended them
always spoke of great splendor. Fine food, fine wine,
and dancing were always on the agenda.
I wouldn't have noticed if not for Jessie's letter,
but it caught my attention that the Emmett’s hadn't
hosted a party since Jane's disappearance. They also
had been making themselves scarce around town,
which was somewhat rare and suspicious. I couldn’t
remember the last time I had seen Mr. Emmett,
although his publishing business was flourishing as best
anyone could tell, keeping him busy.
In the days that passed after I sent Jessie my
dismissal letter, a giant snow storm enveloped the town
like a cold thin blanket of white. Most of the
townspeople were down at the shops trying to collect
the necessities needed to shelter their families for the
long haul, and I saw Mrs. Emmett buying some supplies
from ole’ Barry’s General Store. Perhaps the desperation
of Jessie Fryman’s letter was still weighing on my mind,
but when I looked at Mrs. Emmett calmly selecting
goods from the shelves and smiling without a care in the
world, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone could
appear so care-free with their daughter missing. I had
already decided that it would be best to stay out of the
affairs of Ashley Falls’ most wealthy residents, yet I
found myself in a dream-like state, staring at my body
from over my right shoulder as I approached Mrs.
“Evening to you, Mrs. Emmett,” I said, tipping my
cap. I don’t even know what came over me.
“Ah, Mr. Brinkman, sir. Good evening to you as
well. I dare say that it is far too cold this evening for my
liking,” she said as she shivered and rubbed her arms.
“Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more, Ma’am.
Though I suppose it does bring to mind fond memories
of rolling snowballs and playing with the other kids in
town as a child.”
“I suppose it does, Mr. Brinkman. I suppose it
“Mrs. Emmett, I believe most children enjoy
being out in the middle of a storm like this, and playing
games until their fingernails turn blue, but I haven’t
seen Miss Jane out with the other kids tonight. Is it far
too cold for her liking as well?”
I knew as soon as I said it that I shouldn’t
have. Mrs. Emmett’s face turned a pale white as though
she’d just seen a ghost.
“Mrs. Emmett, are you okay?”
“Oh, yes. Yes indeed, Mr. Brinkman. The thought
just occurred to me that I still have dinner to prepare,
and I was only supposed to be here for a short time to
get a few things. My husband does tend to worry
something dreadful. I really should hurry back, but it
was splendid to see you, Mr. Brinkman. Good night.”
Then Mrs. Emmett was gone in a flash. I don’t
think that she even noticed that she’d yet to pay for her
supplies. I had a sinking feeling and wished that I could
travel back in time just ten minutes earlier and prevent
myself from approaching her. I could only hope that my
inquisitive encounter with Mrs. Emmett wouldn’t be
seen as anything more than a friendly gesture towards
her family.
I thought that I would feel better once I was back
within the comfort of my own home, but I kept
envisioning the words of Jessie Fryman’s letter
swimming around in my head. Even more disturbing to
me was that the interaction with Mrs. Emmett made the
letter make even more sense. I still wanted nothing to
do with an investigation into Ashley Fall's richest
family, but much to my chagrin, it wouldn’t be long
before the distraught words of Jessie Fryman would
find their way into my life once again.
Chapter Three
Over the next few nights, I tried my best not to
think about Jessie Fryman’s letter, or the awkward
exchange that I’d had with Mrs. Emmett at the general
store. Yet somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, I
could feel those thoughts fermenting questions
that worked their way to the forefront of my
mind. Sometimes the thoughts were so intense that I
would hear myself speak them out loud. It was a good
thing that I lived alone back then, or someone would
have had me committed.
Try as I might to move on with my
uncompromised daily routine, my part in this grand
performance had not yet ended. Nearly two weeks had
gone by when I noticed another letter had been slipped
under the door of my office during the middle of the
night. It had a familiar lilac scent, which I recognized
from Jessie's last letter. Written on the face of the
envelope was the word “Urgent” in big bold letters with
a series of exclamation points.
I scooped the letter up off the floor with
reluctance, and sat down at my desk to read it.
January 16th, 1948
Dear Mr. Brinkman,
I know that you asked me to go right to the police
if I had found anything of interest at Jane Emmett’s house,
but I’m getting nowhere with them, and I just don’t know
what else to do. They look at me like I’m crazy. I followed
your advice and asked Mrs. Emmett if I could look in
Jane’s bedroom for something I’d left behind. She let me
in, but something didn’t feel right. Her mother didn’t seem
like she even cared about Jane’s disappearance. Why? I
know that they haven’t always gotten along, and that
she made her parents mad a lot over the past few years,
but is it possible that one day your love for your child
could just stop?
Mr. Brinkman, I want to respect your wishes and
leave you alone, but I am begging you for your help. I
didn’t find anything out in the open of Jane’s bedroom,
but I did find her journal hidden in the mattress. I didn’t
even know she kept one! I knew it was wrong, but I
started to flip through it. Most of the entries were about
boys from school and the songs she wanted to dance to
with them, but she also wrote about her dreams. What’s
strange is that within the past couple of months, the
fights with her mom were starting to get worse. She
even wrote that the fight got physical. I can’t believe she
never told me that! She must have been so scared.
There was one more entry in the journal that I’d
love for you to take a look at and tell me what you think.
It was from about a month ago, and she wrote that she
saw her Mom talking to a man in a black suit who flashed
some type of badge, but she couldn’t make out what it
was. She asked her mom about it later, her mom said that
it was an officer going door-to-door searching for a
person who fled the scene of a crime in the area. Mr.
Brinkman, I read the paper every day and I can’t
remember hearing about anything like that. Can you? I
mean, what kind of crime can go unreported in a town
this size? When I sneeze I feel like everyone down at the
diner knows about it!
Something doesn’t add up, Mr. Brinkman, and I’d
really appreciate it if you would reconsider your decision
to help me. I can’t just let my friend disappear off the face
of the earth. I know that if our roles were reversed, she’d
move heaven and earth to find me. She’s out there
somewhere and she needs my help. I just know it! I don’t
know how, I just do. I just have to find her, but I need your
help. Please.
Jessie Fryman
A man in black? Here in Ashley Falls? That was
not a uniform that I’d ever seen around town before,
and I was quite positive that none of the sheriff’s
boys wore anything like that either. I knew that Jessie
had no reason to lie to me, but was this just a way to get
me to try and help her? Could she have conjured up the
whole story about finding Jane’s journal as a means of
deception? There was a risk that I was dealing with an
imaginative teenager that had read one too many
Robert A. Heinlein novels. In my line of work, you have
to trust your gut when there is no evidence to point you
in the right direction, and Jessie’s words of desperation
felt incredibly sincere to me.
There was no escaping this situation now, and I
had to know for sure. I had been thrust into a scenario
that I had no business being a part of, but I knew that
Jessie wasn’t about to let this go. If what she was telling
me was the truth, then I would be going against
everything I believed in by continuing to ignore it and
hope that it would work itself out on its own by magic.
Jane Emmett had been, or at least appeared to
be, missing for at least two months by that point. Not
even the most severe punishment from the strictest
parents in the world would confine a teenage girl to her
home with no access to the outside world for that
long. Whatever was going on over at the Emmett’s
residence was being done under a thick veil of secrecy,
and it wouldn’t be easy to uncover the answers. But
before I could even consider doing a formal
investigation, I needed to meet with Jessie and get her
to tell me everything she knew face to face. I also
needed to get my hands on that journal and see what
else was lurking within the pages.
So, I arranged a meeting with Jessie downtown at
Roxy’s Diner the following Saturday at one o'clock in the
afternoon. It had been just an awful day in Ashley
Falls. Another relentless winter storm felt as though it
would never end. The streets were basted in a thick
layer of water that looked like dozens of miniature
swimming pools spread out across town. Just my luck, I
had needed to go to the post office, so when the rain let
up, I braved the wet pavement and made my way
As I locked up for the day, I turned to take a final
glance at my office. I suppose some might say that
my space was a bit of a hole in the wall, but it was
quaint and I liked it just fine. It needed new wallpaper,
and the surface of my second-hand desk had begun to
peel, but the office still represented my greatest
accomplishment in life. Though it may not have been
the most deluxe space in town, I hadn’t gone into
business for the bells and whistles anyway.
I managed to reach the post office without much
trouble, but on the way over to Roxy's, the clouds
opened up once again, much harder than before. I
couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of my
face. Even with limited vision, I could see the glow of the
Roxy’s Diner neon “Open” sign just across the way.
I arrived at Roxy's about ten 'til one. Jessie
wasn’t there yet. In fact, the place seemed quiet for
lunch time, though I'm sure the weather played a big
part in that. Despite being a short distance from the
post office, I was dripping water all over the entrance
like a mop that was ready to be retired. Roxy took my
jacket, and escorted me to an open booth where I could
sit down. She brought me a dish towel to dry myself off
"Can I get you anything, hun?" She said. "A hot
cup of coffee perhaps?"
I told her no thank you, but then I think she took
pity on me as I began to shiver.
"You've got to warm up or else you're going to
catch a nasty cold," she said. "It's not smart to be out
playin' in the rain at your age, darlin'." She smiled and
gave me a wink. "Well, if I can't convince you to have
some coffee, then I've got to get you the next best thing:
A fresh-from-the-oven slice of my famous apple pie. On
the house."
She was gone in a flash before I could respond. I
stared out the window of the diner and watched as the
rain continued to fall with tremendous force.
Roxy returned as promised with a healthy slice
of pie and a small side of vanilla ice cream. I sank my
fork into the crust of the pie and marveled at the ease of
which I could cut through it. I wasn’t allowed to have
sweets as a child, so I didn’t really have much of a taste
for sweets, but that soon changed. I scooped up a
sizeable portion and took a bite. It was amazing. The
smooth texture, the moist apple filling, and the hint of
what I believed to be cinnamon. It was so delightful
that I couldn’t wait to take the next bite, regardless of
how much pie was still in my mouth. I understood right
away how she could proclaim that pie to be famous. It
was so delicious, that for a moment I actually felt a little
bit of sadness for being deprived of that joy growing up.
"Bit of a slow day, eh Roxy?" I said. I wiped some
crumbs from my mouth with a napkin.
"Didn't you know, hun? Today's the big winter
music recital at the school," she said. "I think you might
be the only one in town not there."
Without any children of my own, even the largest
of community events would glide right past me
undetected. "Well, then that just means more pie for me,
I suppose." Roxy smiled like a proud mother.
At roughly a quarter past one, Jessie entered the
diner. She was carrying a small book bag over her
shoulder, and appeared nervous as she looked around
the restaurant. Once we made eye contact, I smiled and
raised my hand. By the look on her face, I could tell that
she was relieved to actually see me there. She returned
my smile, walked over to the booth and sat down across
from me.
"Hi Jessie," I said. "Can I get you anything to eat?
It's on me." I reached into my pocket for my wallet.
"No thank you, Mr. Brinkman. I'm not hungry."
Jessie turned her head to face the counter. "Can I get a
glass of water please, Roxy?"
"You got it, darlin'," Roxy said.
Jessie wasted little time before reaching into her
book bag, and pulled out a small leather bound book.
In her own words, she had been very adamant
about Jane still being out there somewhere for her to
find, but her eyes drooped as though they had already
grown weary of the task of looking for her best friend. I
pictured her spending many sleepless nights alone with
nothing else under her control than the variable levels
of worry she dedicated to the situation.
Seeing her like this really touched me. It was
clear that she was suffering far more than I had even
imagined, and there would be no going back from
here. In my head, I vowed to bring a conclusion to Jane’s
story one way or another.
"This is it,” Jessie said, taking a deep breath as
she pushed the book with just the tips of her fingers
across the surface of the table.
Even after she had placed it in front me, she
couldn't take her eyes off of the journal. Perhaps in her
mind, this journal was the only key to uncovering the
mystery of Jane Emmett’s sudden disappearance, and
she had already formed a strong emotional attachment
to it that made it difficult to share with someone else.
The journal had no writing or markings of any
kind on the cover, yet it was of superior quality to
anything I had ever owned. It was not something I had
ever seen before around town, but with her father’s
travels, it looked like the sort of thing he might stumble
I began reading each page that Jessie had
earmarked as she stared at me, biting her fingernails. I
first needed to determine whether the entries Jessie
noted were inconsequential or not. You never know
when someone may choose to hide something in plain
sight thinking that the average person would never be
able to decode it, however the journal was just as Jessie
had described in her letter. Most of the entries in the
journal were rather mundane, lacking Jane’s signature
firecracker spirit.
At first glance, the journal revealed that Jane did
have a secret life that no one knew about, only it was
quite the opposite of what I had suspected. Her entries
expounded upon all the things that a normal teenage
girl with a good head on her shoulders would
ponder. She mentioned watching other classmates in
her school, and how she wished her life could be more
normal like theirs. She also mentioned feeling as though
her family’s wealth was more of curse than a blessing,
and she worried that no one would ever see her as
anything more than a spoiled rich kid.
I’d never considered how someone who came
from money could feel alienated in that manner.
Perhaps the grass is always greener on the other side
after all. It all seemed to back up my theory of why Jane
had been acting out so much in recent months. She was
trying to feel alive. I imagine the more her parents
pushed her to act like an Emmett, the more it frustrated
her and made her want to rebel. I see now why she
cherished her friendship with Jessie so much. She wrote
in her journal that Jessie was the only one who never
cared about her money, or who her family was.
Some people search their whole life for a best
friend. Someone that they can trust and confide in.
Someone that makes them feel like they're not alone
anymore. Someone who makes them feel like they belong.
I am so happy that I didn't have to search long or far to
find Jessie. She's become more like a sister to me than a
friend. I can tell her anything and she never judges me.
Not like my parents do. Jessie allows me to be who I really
am without feeling ashamed. I don't know what I'd do
without her.
"I can't believe she's really gone. I just can't stop
thinking about her. I miss her so much," Jessie said,
causing me to look up from the journal. I had become so
captivated by Jane's words that I had begun reading the
excerpts aloud.
I saw a silent tear begin to roll down Jessie’s face.
I found a napkin without remnants of my earlier apple
pie and handed it to her so she could dry her
eyes. I softened my eyes and grinned, but she wouldn't
raise her head to look at me. I proceeded to read on in
the journal. After several more brief entries about
school, boys and feelings of isolation, I reached the final
entry in the journal. It was the one that Jessie had
written to me about and the most disturbing.
Everything was exactly as Jessie had said. There
was a significant difference in the handwriting for that
journal entry compared to all the previous ones. It was
still Jane’s handwriting, but it seemed to be authored
from a far more agitated state of mind, or perhaps it had
been just scribbled down in a hurry. Whatever the
cause, the deep impressions of her pen against the
paper suggested that she had been in distress at the
time it was written.
The entry was from early December, though the
exact date was too hard to make out due to her cursive
lettering bleeding together.
Today was a horrible day. My mother hit me in the
face! I can hardly believe it, but the sting I feel every time
I touch my cheek reminds me of the reality. She's never
raised a hand to me before! I think she's grown tired of
me. I don't know how to explain it, but the mood in our
house has changed so much over these past few months.
I'm beginning to think that my parents can't find it in
their hearts to love me anymore. Well, if that's the case,
then I'll show them. I'll do something that will really
make me hard to love. Is that what they want? A reason
to no longer feel guilty about wishing I weren't their
child? Don't worry. I don't want to be a burden on your
perfect lives any longer.
It was pure speculation on my part, but that
altercation could have been the catalyst that finally
pushed Jane over the edge on the day that she
attempted to steal from the general store. Perhaps she
even wanted to get caught so that her parents would
have to take her outcries more seriously. At his
advanced age, it’s not as though ole’ Barry had the
vision of an eagle, or the agility of a cat. If Jane had only
wanted to steal something from his shop, I’d have to
imagine it wouldn’t have been all that difficult for her.
All of what I had read was certainly helpful in
opening a window to the workings of Jane’s mind prior
to her disappearance, but the mysterious part was the
mention of a man in black that came knocking at the
door early on a Saturday morning. I found it perplexing
when Jessie mentioned it in her letter, but after reading
it with my very own eyes, I found myself even that much
more bewildered by it. I had lived my entire life in
Ashley Falls and had never seen any men in black suits
in relation to our law enforcement. If he hadn’t been a
part of the sheriff’s team, then I had to wonder who he
was, and why he would be talking to Mrs. Emmett.
I closed the journal, catching Jessie's attention.
She looked at me as though waiting for me to speak
and somehow solve the mystery. "Well, Jessie, I think I
have what I need for now, but would it be possible for
me to borrow the journal for a few days and study it
"I guess so," she said. "I mean, the Emmetts don't
even know it exists, so I doubt they'll be missing it."
"I feel like there's a 'but' coming," I said.
"No, not exactly," Jessie said, tapping her finger
against the table's surface. "I just feel sort of odd about
taking it. She kept it hidden for a reason. Do you know
what I mean?"
"I do. I understand that these are the private
thoughts of your best friend, and I assure you that I will
handle her journal with discretion," I said. "It's what she
"Thank you, Mr. Brinkman."
I could sense Jessie's apprehension to turn the
journal over to me, but I needed more time with it. "If
there are any clues in here that could lead us to her,
then it will have all been worth the violation of her
deepest thoughts." I waited for her to be sure of her
decision before taking it.
Jessie took a deep breath and said, "Please, take
it. I just want her back. She'll understand why we did
I smiled, trying to reassure Jessie that she was
making a good decision. "I'll tell you what. I'm going to
start reading through this tonight just as soon as I get
home. If I find anything at all, or if I have some new
thoughts in regards to her entries, I won't hesitate to get
in touch with you to discuss them. Okay?"
"Okay," Jessie said, and relaxed for the first time
since she'd sat down.
"Now, what do you say we get going before the
weather decides to get even worse?" I said.
We got up from the table and walked out of the
diner so I could see her off. She burst into tears and
threw her arms around me. The poor child was in pain,
and I tried to assure her that everything was going to be
all right. After taking a moment to calm herself, she
thanked me again and left for home.
I gazed up at the sky, noticing all the signs of
another powerful storm brewing. An endless sea of gray
clouds enveloped the town in darkness. The street
lamps had already kicked on, making it feel more like
five o'clock than two in the afternoon. I had planned on
going back to my practice, but the information I had
obtained was a lot to take in all at once, and I wanted a
quiet moment to collect my thoughts before leaving.
Another cup of coffee for the road sure sounded
good, but as I turned to grab the door handle to the
diner, I heard a loud crash in the distance. It sounded as
though it was coming from the side of the diner to my
left. When I turned my head to look, I could see the lid
from a garbage can spinning in a circle like a coin that
had fallen from someone’s pocket and landed on a hard
surface. I stood there for a moment and waited to see
what kind of critter could be making that racket, but I
didn’t see any movement at all aside from the
garbage lid. In the colder winter months, the wild
animals from the woods sometimes journeyed a little
closer into town for a bite to eat, as finding food in the
woods got a bit tougher. To them, the garbage must
have smelled like a grand potluck.
Chapter Four
I was spending a great portion of the nights
following my meeting with Jessie at home alone, sitting
by the fire with a continuous refill of coffee in one hand
and Jane Emmett’s journal in the other. I’d lost count of
how many times I’d read through it. Then at one point
the words started jumping off the pages at me as though
Jane's words contained a hidden message, begging to be
found, but nothing solid was coming to me.
At its heart, the journal offered great insight into
the teenage female psyche, but it wasn’t going to answer
the immediate question I had. Did Jane Emmett really
disappear and why?
I didn’t know if Jessie’s intuition had been right
all along, but I should have taken her more seriously in
the beginning. Jane Emmett shouldn’t have to suffer
because I was afraid to cross paths with Sheriff Coleman
again. That was no excuse for me to turn a blind eye to a
legitimate missing persons case. When Jessie told me
that she had originally taken her claims to the sheriff
and that he had dismissed them as nothing more than
teenage fantasy, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
I had no interest in standing within an arm’s
length of Sheriff Coleman if it could be avoided,
however, that's where my path would have to lead if I
was to get involved. The relationship between the
sheriff and I was very complicated, but I was fine with
that. I kept to myself and saw no reason to draw
unnecessary and unwanted attention. With a few days
to reflect, though, I realized that I had been giving in to
my fear and letting it control me. I knew that I was only
letting it win in order to not disrupt my comfortable
existence. If I wanted to maintain that comfort, then I
was going to have to remain quiet and stay out of the
Emmett’s affairs. It was better for everyone that
way. We all have made mistakes in our past that we
wish we could change, but we can't, so we must accept
our fate and play the hand we were dealt.
The history between Sheriff Coleman and I goes
back about fifteen years. The sheriff had a good ten
years of age on me, so we didn’t grow up within the
same circles. He had already joined the force by the time
I was twelve years old, and had been elected sheriff
before I’d finished school. I had seen him around town
throughout my entire life, but I don’t think we’d spoken
more than initial pleasantries to each other. Still, I
looked up to him. He represented everything that I
wanted to be. With his smile, he could win over even the
surliest of townsfolk, and with his badge,
he commanded respect without even saying a word. He
was a good man and kept the town as safe as it could
be. That’s not to say there wasn’t crime, obviously, but
I’d bet even the most nefarious of characters had to
rethink their intentions knowing that Sheriff Coleman
was standing watch.
Before our relationship took a nasty turn,
there had been days when Sheriff Coleman and I were
on better terms. It was back during my brief
employment on his payroll. I tried my luck at the
Sheriff’s station in hopes of finding a respectable career
in organized law enforcement. You can never be
prepared for the sights you'll see, showcasing the
darkest instances of humanity, but it wasn't for a lack of
stomach that that I had to leave. I wasn’t given a choice
in the matter. It was made quite clear that things were
going to take a bad turn for me if I didn’t make myself
When I became old enough and knew in my
heart that I was ready to stand by the good sheriff’s
side to make a difference, I marched down to the station
and told him so. I remember being completely calm and
confident until the sheriff said, “Son, if you want to work
for me, you’re going to have to learn to put a little bass
in that voice of yours.” The room was immediately
quiet. My once mighty confidence had suffered a
tremendous blow, but I couldn’t let him see it. Then my
nerves turned against me, and a very loud rumble
roared from the pit of my belly. The sound was
deafening and seemed to reverberate off of the walls of
the sheriff’s office. Suddenly the sheriff looked at me,
tipped his cap, and then burst out into laughter. He said,
“Son, that belly of yours just ratted you out, but that’s
good. Confidence is a wonderful attribute for a deputy
to have, but you also need to understand fear. Overconfidence will just get you killed. Fear tells you to
listen to your gut.”
We talked at length for the next hour, and by the
end, I had been made a new deputy for the town. It was
a great honor. Though my parents would’ve been
happier to have seen me become a writer, I’d always felt
like they could never have been as proud of me as they
would have been on that day. I was following my heart,
just like they’d taught me, and I knew they were smiling
down on me every time I put on that badge.
I began my training shortly thereafter and took
to it like a bird takes to flight. Sheriff Coleman had told
me on many occasions that one day I was going to
become the next sheriff. I had never even imagined that
I might be next in line to fill his shoes, but hearing him
say that to me made it sound like something that I had
never wanted more.
That was Sheriff Coleman's most deadly skill
though. He’d win you over with that blue ribbon smile
of his, and then proceed to tell you exactly what you
wanted to hear. I had seen him do it time and time again
to the folks around town, and now even I had fallen
under his spell. I felt as though everything was going to
turn out all right, and that I was exactly where I needed
to be in my life.
A couple of months after I was deputized, I was
awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of knocking
at my door. It was the dead of night, and I was
disoriented. I made my way to the door to find Sheriff
Coleman in full uniform with a very serious look on his
face. It was a far cry from the traditional smile I had
grown accustomed to. He saw my pajamas and told
me to get dressed in my uniform and meet him down by
the river near the edge of town. Before I could even ask
him what was happening, he was gone. I knew there
wasn’t a moment to waste, so I quickly put on my
uniform and raced out the door.
As I approached the river, I could see his light a
little further up ahead. He was walking in circles around
something on the ground. When I finally reached him, I
reacted in horror as I saw the bloodied body of a
woman on her back facing the night sky. I had never
seen anything so horrible before in my life. There hadn’t
been a murder in Ashley Falls in nearly a decade and
certainly not one as violent as what I was seeing right
before me. I recognized the woman as Evelyn Rowe, a
thirty-something widower that had kept pretty much to
Evelyn—or what was left of her—was wearing a
lavender dress with small white dots and dark purple
ruffles around the wrists. The ruffles had been torn,
presumably in the struggle with her attacker. One side
of her face was completely soaked in blood and her hair
had become matted into it. I didn’t want to get close
enough to look, but all the signs pointed to her being
struck on the side of head with some sort of
object. Given the environment around her, it was most
likely a rock.
“Someone will have to pay for what they have
done to this woman, and to the peace of our
town," Sheriff Coleman said, standing over the body of
the poor woman.
"What should we do?" I asked.
"Son, we can’t let the nature of the crime deter us
from doin' our job. The first thing we need to do is try
and locate the murder weapon."
He pointed me in the direction I had come from
and told me to survey the area carefully for anything
that looked suspicious.
As I began to walk away, the thought occurred to
me that the river was lined with hundreds of rocks—
maybe even thousands—and in the dark it would be
very hard to differentiate a wet rock from a bloody
one. I was going to need to borrow his light since I
hadn’t thought to bring one with me. I turned around,
just about to speak, when I noticed the sheriff reaching
into a pocket on his jacket and removing a small object,
which he then dropped on the ground near the body. I
thought maybe it was a handkerchief at first, but it hit
the ground rather quickly, which meant it would’ve
been heavier than cloth. I didn’t think too much of it
until he called me over.
“I think I found somethin'.”
He knelt down and picked up whatever he had
just dropped, unaware that I had seen it fall from his
hand. He extended the object out toward me and said
“What do you make of this, son?” It was an ID card for
Benjamin Lippincott.
“Benny?” I asked.
“Looks like our attacker musta gotten sloppy and
this key piece of evidence got left behind.”
I was stunned. I may have been sleep deprived,
but I was entirely certain that I had just watched Sheriff
Coleman drop that ID card next to the body. If that had
been the case, then why was he acting as though he’d
just cracked the case of the century? I didn’t know what
to say. I couldn’t confront him about it. I had no other
alternative than to follow his orders, which were for the
two of us to go and bring in Benjamin Lippincott for
Benny, as he was more commonly known around
town, was a popular fellow. Everyone liked Benny, and I
couldn’t even begin to imagine a scenario where he
would kill anyone. Especially not Evelyn Rowe, who was
just a sad and lonely woman never able to come to grips
with the loss of her husband.
Benny never made trouble with anyone either.
He just made them laugh. He was absolutely the type of
person to give you the shirt off his back without asking
for anything in return. It didn’t make any sense to me,
but it was hard to question how the sheriff came into
possession of Benny’s ID. Sheriff Coleman seemed
positive that Benny had been the assailant, but I wasn’t
so sure. I figured that the only way to get to the bottom
of it would be to bring Benny in for questioning as the
sheriff wanted, and allow him to speak his side of
things. It had to have been a misunderstanding.
In a moment of indescribable personal difficulty
for me, we awoke Benny from his slumber and asked
him to come down to the station with us. He was as
confused as I was, but willing to come along. After we
arrived at the station, Sheriff Coleman told me that he
could handle the situation from there and that I should
go home and get some shut eye. He seemed eerily calm,
but not knowing what else to do, I complied with his
request. The images of what I had seen played over and
over again in my mind, preventing me from sleep. It
didn’t add up, and in the morning I would go down to
the station and talk to the sheriff.
After a couple hours of rest, daylight came
piercing through my window and shined brightly upon
my face to wake me up. I dressed quickly and skipped
my usual coffee and toast breakfast so that I could hurry
down to the station. When I arrived, I was surprised to
find the building empty. Not only was Sheriff Coleman
absent, but it looked as though no one had been in yet at
all, which was strange. I was about to turn and leave
when I heard the sounds of groaning coming from the
cells in the back of the station.
I walked past the front office to the long narrow
hallway which housed our two holding cells. The
groaning was getting louder. I peeked into the cell to
find Benny lying face down on a bunk. He was breathing
irregularly, and whimpered with every exhale. I asked
him if he was all right, and to my surprise, when he
raised his head he appeared to have been badly
beaten. His right eye was dark purple and swollen to the
point of not even being able to open it. Dried blood ran
from his nose to his upper lip, and then formed a new
trail from his bottom lip down his chin. His cheeks were
puffy, and his pillow was stained with a mixture of both
dried and fresh blood spots. The tremendous amount of
pain he must have been in was clear.
“Benny, what the hell happened? Did the sheriff
do this to you?” I asked him.
When he opened his mouth to speak, I could see
that he was missing two teeth from the upper row. I
began to fear the worst. The sheriff had
apparently already appointed himself judge, jury, and
executioner, presiding over the murder of Evelyn Rowe.
These were not the actions of an honorable man, and
certainly not the actions of a man that I had the highest
level of respect for. I could tell that Benny wanted to
talk to me, but he seemed nervous, and kept looking to
my side to make sure we were alone.
I told him not to worry and that we would work
things out. But in my mind, that wasn’t going to excuse
Sheriff Coleman from taking a vigilante approach to
dealing with the situation. When I told him that I was
going to find the sheriff and talk to him, Benny’s one
remaining good eye opened about as wide as it could,
and he reached out his arm towards me in an effort to
keep me from walking away. It was obvious that Benny
was afraid, and who could blame him after suffering
such a brutal beating?
Once Benny was calm, he began to tell me
detailed events of what had been happening right under
everyone’s noses in Ashley Falls. We all have our secrets
that we conceal from our neighbors, but there is a
threshold that separates garden variety secrets from
something far darker. Benny’s secret was well beyond
that threshold. He confessed to me that he had been
swept up in a torrid affair with Sheriff Coleman’s wife,
Regina, for the better half of two years.
Murders in Ashley Falls were rare, but nowhere
near as rare as adultery. I’m sure many had the
temptation, but being in such a small town made it all
but impossible. Sooner or later, the truth would come
out, and the adulterers would leave town to avoid living
the rest of their lives as pariahs. Somehow, Benny and
Regina had been able to keep theirs a secret. The
planted ID, the false imprisonment, the merciless
beating—all because Sheriff Coleman had unearthed
their dark secret. If that was true, then was there really
a murderer on the loose while Benny was forced to take
the rap?
Benny had begged me not to, but I felt as though
I needed to talk with Sheriff Coleman. In retrospect, it
probably wasn’t the smartest decision, but I wasn’t
about to be involved in any part of a false
incarceration. I had hoped that enough time had passed
so that we could discuss this situation rationally.
So when the sheriff came back to the station later
that morning, I pulled together enough courage to
confront him with what I knew.
"Sheriff, I was wondering if I could take just a
few moments of your time?"
"Oh?" he said. "Somethin' on your mind, son?"
"It's about Benny," I said.
The sheriff adjusted the brim of his hat. "What
about him?"
"I talked to him, Sheriff. I know."
"Do you? And what is it that you think you
know?" he said, hanging up his keys on a hook next to
the door, not giving me eye contact.
"He told me about the affair." I paused, feeling
uncomfortable about having such a conversation with
him. "Sir, I can't even imagine what type of rage that
must send through your body, but there's a better way
to deal with this. I won't pretend that Benny has done
nothing wrong here, but murder? You can't do this to
him, Sheriff. It's, well, it's just plain not right."
The sheriff chuckled, turning to face me. "So, I
see my little prodigy has grown some balls after all."
"Sheriff, please. You know Benny doesn't deserve
this," I said. "Would you rather see him rot in a jail cell
for the rest of his life over this? The three of you need to
talk about this. I believe in communication, sir, and
maybe that's what has been missing from the situation
all along?"
The sheriff stared blankly at me, humoring me as
he listened to my words. “It sounds like you’ve had one
helluva mornin' there, son," he said, smiling in
traditional Sheriff Coleman fashion. This had always
been his way of trying to relax people with his charm.
"It also sounds like we have much to discuss. Walk with
The sheriff opened the front door of the station
to let me out and then followed right behind. “Son, yer a
smart man. As long as I’ve been the sheriff of this great
town, I’ve never once seen you involved with a
woman. Hell, I haven’t even heard whispers of you
datin' anyone in town. Good man. I found love once. It
was love at first sight. The first time I’d ever shared a
dance floor with Reggie, I knew that she was the one for
me. She was a good woman too. She supported me
every step of the way as I worked hard to become
sheriff. It wasn’t perfect all the time though, mind
you. Like most folks, we had our share of problems to
deal with."
He was calm, which surprised me. Our
conversation was going much better than I had played
out in my mind. We walked to the back of the station
and out into the wooded area behind it.
"You see, Miller, the only thing that Reggie loved
more than me in this world was her dream of havin'
children. Boy, were we excited to start havin' a family.
Fate had other plans in mind for us, as fate so often
does. Do you believe in fate, son?" The sheriff gave me
no time to respond. "Well, fate had given me a beautiful
wife, who I loved with every ounce of my bein', and had
given me a job that I loved as a way to make a
livin'. What fate hadn’t given me though, was the ability
to give my wife a child. That's when it all started to go
south. The woman who’d promised to stay with me
through sickness and in health turned on me.
"With each day that she couldn’t become
pregnant, she grew to despise me more and more. It ate
me up inside. I’d have given this woman anythin' in this
world that her heart desired, but the only thing she
wanted was somethin' I couldn't give. Do you have any
idea what that feels like, son?" The sheriff stopped
walking and placed his hand on my shoulder, giving a
light squeeze.
"Can you imagine what kind of damage it does to
your heart, layin' next to the woman you love while she
faces the wall with her back to you, regrettin' the day
she said ‘I do?’ Of course you can’t, but that’s okay. I had
always tried to prepare myself for the day when she’d
tell me that she was leavin' me, but that’s not what
happened. Instead of allowing me to retain my dignity
and watch her wave goodbye, she decided to share a
bed with another man.”
Sheriff Coleman’s voice began to waver. He took
a moment to compose himself and then flashed one of
his trademark smiles at me before putting his arm
around me. Staring at me eye-to-eye, suddenly his smile
faded, and the grip of his arm around my shoulder
began to tighten like a vice. The look in his eyes was one
of the most frightening things I had ever seen. As he
continued to speak, his words were now pure venom,
and felt as though they could have pierced my skin like
a knife.
“So, after havin' to suffer the shame of knowin'
the woman I live and breathe for would rather bed
another man than try to live a happy life together
without children." The sheriff grabbed me with both
hands by the collar on my uniform. "Yer barkin' up the
wrong tree if you think there’s an apology anywhere in
this body right now! Benny deserved everythin' that has
happened to him and more, so whatever you thought
was gonna happen after we talked, you can forget about
it. Benny deserves no mercy, and I’m not done with him
yet. Not by a fuckin' long shot, son!”
Sheriff Coleman threw me down to the ground
with great force, which I can only assume was the result
of the tremendous level of adrenaline flowing through
his veins. I went down hard, but I’d live.
“I think you can head back to the station
now. And, son? Leave your badge on my desk. I don’t
think Ashley Falls will need that new deputy around
town after all. And if yer smart, you’ll go on livin' yer life
as if this day never happened and keep your distance. It
would be a cryin' shame if the rest of yer days weren’t
happy ones, wouldn’t it, son?” The sheriff walked away
leaving me to get up and dust myself off on my own.
His message was crystal clear, and it was very
apparent that I was going to be off the Coleman’s
Christmas card list. I had hoped that it would be a
simple misunderstanding, but it was now painfully
obvious that Sheriff Coleman had indeed planted
Benny’s ID next to Evelyn Rowe’s body in an attempt to
frame him and act out some form of his revenge. These
were the actions of a desperate man that had begun to
lose his sense of justice, and quite possibly his sanity. As
for his threats toward me, I guess I should have seen
that coming. I just hadn’t anticipated how far past the
point of no return he had gone. Despite it all, I could not
judge him. I couldn’t even fathom what it would have
been like to be in his shoes. I wouldn’t have wished it on
my worst enemy.
My pity was not going to bring him comfort, so I
took his words to heart and kept a very low profile
around town. Word had spread quickly through town
that Benny was responsible for the murder of Evelyn
Rowe. He was soon transferred to a maximum security
prison in the city. It broke my heart, but I knew there
was little I could have done.
A short time later, Benny hanged himself in
prison, and I had trouble handling the guilt for a long
time. I still think about him every so often and
remember that what happened to Benny could happen
to anyone as long as Sheriff Coleman was in charge. The
only thing that Benny had been guilty of was poor
judgment, and he got caught up in a situation that was
bigger than he could have known. It was the tragic tale
of Benny Lippincott and my yellow-bellied inability to
confront Sheriff Coleman about who the real killer
might be that gave me the strength I needed to finally
become a private investigator. I vowed to myself that
from that day forward there would never be a repeat of
Benny’s tale.
Chapter Five
Sheriff Coleman was fifty-one years old and still
running the law enforcement of Ashley Falls at the
time. Though I hadn’t spoken to him in nearly fifteen
years, I assumed that he would be none too thrilled to
learn that I was investigating Jane Emmett’s possible
disappearance. However, it was time for me to put my
years of experience to work. There was a case to solve
and I was tired of hiding from it. The hardest part was
trying to decide where to begin, but given that I had so
little evidence, speaking to the Emmetts in person was
going to be my best lead.
I went to visit the Emmett’s luxurious estate
around six o’clock on a Thursday night. As many times
as I’d walked by their place, I’d never actually been that
close to it before. I was a bit awe-struck by the size of it.
The exterior was a clean bright white color, adorned
with a decorative brick arrangement that outlined the
entrance to the home and then extended all the way up
to the roof. After I rang the doorbell, Mr. Emmett
answered the door. I shook his hand as he invited me
inside. He led me down a hallway that opened up into a
beautiful living room. A fire burned in their exquisite
fireplace and added ambience to the dimly lit
room. Mrs. Emmett sat in a leather chair to the right of
the fireplace sipping on a cup of tea, and motioned for
me to sit on the couch next to her. Mr. Emmett made his
way back to a second leather chair that was positioned
to the left of the fireplace.
“Mr. Brinkman, I believe it’s been a while since
the last time we've had the opportunity to become
better acquainted. Would you care for a cup of tea?”
asked Mr. Emmett.
“Oh, no thank you, Mr. Emmett," I said, removing
my notebook from my jacket. "I’m sorry to show up
unannounced and interrupt your evening like this, but
I’m actually here on official business.”
“Official business? Has there been a complaint of
some kind about the paper?”
“No sir, nothing like that. I’ve recently taken on a
new client, and if it’s all right with you and Mrs. Emmett,
I’d like to just ask you a few questions. I won’t take
more than a few moments of your time.”
“Yes, I, uh, I suppose that would be all right,” Mr.
Emmett responded, exchanging glances back and forth
with his wife.
“Great. Since I only have a few questions, I’m
going to just go ahead and jump right into it. Mr. and
Mrs. Emmett, where is your daughter, Jane?”
Mr. Emmett’s pause and his pale white face told
me that I’d caught him off guard, leaving him
unprepared to discuss such a topic of conversation. I
then heard the rattling of Mrs. Emmett's teacup
vibrating against the saucer in her hand as she went to
take a sip. I had ruffled some feathers and could feel the
tension in the air beginning to rise.
“Mr. Brinkman, if you’ll forgive me for being so
blunt, why are you here?” he asked.
“As I mentioned earlier, I’ve taken on a new
client with a vested interest in the whereabouts of your
daughter, Jane," I said. "No one has seen your daughter
in over two months, and frankly, Mr. Emmett, I find it
concerning that no one seems to be doing anything
about it.”
Though I had reason to believe that I was going
to regret swatting at this bee hive, I felt as though my
best chance at uncovering any new information would
be to catch the Emmetts unprepared. If I could fluster
them enough, I might be able to impair their thinking
and get them to disclose something useful.
“I’m sorry Mr. Brinkman, but are you working
with Sheriff Coleman on this?” Mr. Emmett said,
stroking the sides of his clean-shaven face.
“No sir. I am working this case alone and trying
to find some information that may help locate your
daughter. You do want her found, am I correct?”
“Don’t be a damn fool! Of course we want our
daughter found! Exactly what kind of people do you
take us for?” Mr. Emmett said.
“Mr. Brinkman,” said Mrs. Emmett. “I think I can
help clear up some of the confusion you’re feeling right
now. I realize how this all must look from the outside,
but the truth is that Sheriff Coleman had asked us not to
discuss any of the details about this around town. It’s
still an open investigation.”
That was something I wasn’t expecting to hear. I
don't know what I thought I was going to discover that
night, but not for a single second did I think that the
Emmett's would be working with the sheriff in secrecy.
“So am I to understand that you did go to the
sheriff about your daughter’s disappearance, but were
advised to keep quiet? I’m not sure I understand. Why
would the sheriff suggest that you not mention this to
anyone? Surely I’m not the only person that has asked
you about Jane in the past two months.”
“There’s more to this story than you know, Mr.
Brinkman," Mr. Emmett sighed, turning to face his wife.
"We mustn't!" she said.
"It's no use, sweetheart. The detective isn't going
to leave until we come clean. Show him the letter."
With hesitation, Mrs. Emmett leaned forward to
a small table in front of her and picked up a book from
underneath. She opened it up, took out a small crinkled
envelope, and then handed it over to me. The envelope
was blank and unremarkable. The lack of a postmark
told me that it had likely been hand delivered, which if
true, seemed odd that the sheriff wouldn’t have
collected it as evidence. I opened the envelope with
great care, peeling back the fold with a gentle motion as
to not tear it, and took out a tri-folded piece of paper. It
was an ordinary sheet of white paper with the typed
A ransom letter? Someone had kidnapped Jane in
an attempt to extort $25,000 dollars from the
Emmetts? For some reason, that scenario seemed
improbable to me. The Emmett family had been quite
wealthy for as many generations as anyone knew, but
nothing like this had ever happened before—not even
during the depression when even the most righteous of
people were motivated to find alternative methods for
“We received this letter after she disappeared,
and then waited for more instructions just as the
kidnapper wanted, but we’ve heard nothing,” Mr.
Emmett said. “We didn’t want to do anything that would
put her life at risk, but when the kidnappers didn’t send
another letter, we didn’t know what else to do other
than to go to Sheriff Coleman. He told us that we did the
right thing, and that if we wanted to protect her, the
safest thing we could do was keep the whole situation
as quiet as possible around town." Mrs. Emmett began
to cry. Mr. Emmett rushed to the side of his sobbing
wife, wrapping his arm around her to console her.
"I hope now you understand why we’ve chosen
to remain secretive, Mr. Brinkman," Mr. Emmett
said. "Our daughter’s safe return would mean more than
anything to us, and now that we’ve told you what we
know, we must beg you to please not pursue your
investigation any further. Please just drop it and know
that Sheriff Coleman is working tirelessly to bring her
home. Now sir, if you please, it’s been a long and
emotional night, and I think it’s time for my wife and I to
be alone. If you could just see your way out now, we’d
appreciate it.”
Respecting their wishes, I shut my notebook, got
up from the couch and then tipped my cap to Mr. and
Mrs. Emmett before showing myself out. I had much to
think about on the walk back home. I must admit that
this was an unexpected turn of events. It certainly could
have been a reasonable explanation I suppose, but was
it plausible? It twisted my gut in knots to imagine sitting
face-to-face with Jessie Fryman and telling her with a
straight face that Jane had been kidnapped, that Sheriff
Coleman was working on it, and that all we could do
was sit back and wait. Jessie deserved better than that.
Even worse, I don’t think I could have ever forgiven
myself for letting her down like that.
Like I always say, you have to trust your gut
when there isn’t enough evidence to point you in the
right direction. Right now, my gut was telling me that
there was more to the story than what I had just heard
from the Emmetts. I didn’t know what reason they
would have to lie to me, but I found their behavior more
than a little suspicious. Perhaps these poor people
actually had been suffering—forced to live without their
precious daughter each passing day.
I would follow up on the only other lead I had,
and whatever the outcome, I would be satisfied. It was
risky to continue tip-toeing around the sheriff's
playground, and without any substantial evidence
pointing to the contrary, perhaps the Emmett's story
would check out after all.
The day after I met with the Emmetts, I visited
the school right as classes had been dismissed for the
day. I saw Jessie Fryman getting ready to leave, so I
waved my arm to try and attract her attention. It felt
like déjà vu from our first meeting at the diner.
"Mr. Brinkman, what are you doing here?" Jessie
"I spoke with Jane's parents last night."
"Oh," she said, looking around. I could tell she
wanted to keep our conversation out of the earshot of
her classmates, so I led her a few feet away from the
main exit.
"They say she was kidnapped. What do you think
about that?" I said.
"Kidnapped? Kidnapped by whom?"
"I wish I knew, Jessie."
Jessie shook her head and said, "Well, what do
you think about it?"
"Honestly, I don't know what to think right now,"
I said. "If their story is fake, it's a darn good one, that's
for sure."
"So, that's it then?" she said, switching her school
books to her other arm. "We just give up now? Is that
what you're saying?"
"Jessie, calm down," I said. I put my hand on her
shoulder. "I know you're upset, but I need you to believe
me when I tell you that I am not giving up. I just need a
new lead. Maybe you can help me?"
"How so?" she asked, cocking her head to the
"Well, for starters, is there anyone else here at
school that Jane was close to besides you?"
"Not really," she said. "I mean, she doesn't have
many friends. To be honest, sometimes she'd
be downright mean to people. She once told me that she
didn't have any real friends, just people that she hated a
little less than everyone else."
"Wow," I said. "She sure is her own woman, I'll
give her that."
Jessie smiled and said, "There is—"
"What? What is it?"
"Come to think of it, she did tell me recently that
she had been enjoying her new music teacher, Mrs.
Kinsley, which I thought was pretty weird," she said.
"Why weird?"
"Weird, because Jane doesn't take music class."
"Interesting," I said.
"So, did I help at all?"
"You know what, Jessie? I think you just might
have," I said and patted her on the head. "Now, why
don't you go on and get home. I imagine there's some
homework in those books with your name on it. I'm
going to see if I can catch Mrs. Kinsley before she leaves
for the day."
"Okay, see you later, Mr. Brinkman."
The music room was in a small brick building
about 20 feet away from the main building
directly across from the gymnasium. Its large metal
double doors were propped open by thick slabs of
wood. The stale stench of sweat in the breeze that was
emanating from the gym made it quite easy to find. I
peeked in the room and saw a row of chairs set up like a
small auditorium, and a beautiful black piano at the
front of the room next to the chalkboard. It brought
back fond memories. According to the writing on the
board, the lesson of the day was about jazz. I was a little
jealous, frankly. The school didn’t have a large enough
budget to teach us much in the way of music back in my
day, and these kids were getting to learn about Frank
Sinatra. Of course I could never carry a tune myself, but
I had a love for Bessie Smith, the “Empress of Blues”
herself that always made me wish I had been able to
study music. Louis Armstrong was great, but even to
this day, Bessie had spoiled all other music for me.
As I stood there briefly reminiscing about my
days in school, a woman’s voice snapped me back to
“Excuse me sir, can I help you?”
A petite elderly woman of at least sixty-five
years now stood before me, staring at me; completely
dumbfounded by my presence. There was a door in the
back that was now opened, and I could see shelves lined
with thin books and a few scattered instruments.
“Mrs. Kinsley, could I take just a few moments of
your time?”
She nodded her head and began walking toward
the front of the classroom. She may have been an older
woman, but she still had a youthful look to her. Her hair
was mostly brown with several strands of gray mixed in
and she had it pulled back into a bun. She looked just as
lovely as I'm sure she did twenty-five years earlier. She
took a seat behind her desk, and I grabbed a nearby
chair and scooted up across from her.
“Mrs. Kinsley, my name is Miller Brinkman, and
I’m a private investigator. I’m here because I’d like to
ask you a few questions about one of your students.”
“Oh dear! Is this about Homer Bowers?" she
said. "Somehow I always knew that boy was going to
bring about trouble if he didn’t start bringing his grades
“No ma’am. Actually, I’m here to talk to you
about Jane Emmett.”
“Jane? Well, what about her?” Mrs. Kinsley said,
placing her hand over her heart.
“Mrs. Kinsley, I was hired by a client that had a
rather remarkable story to tell. In that story, no one
remembered seeing Jane within the past two months or
so. Not at school, not around town. Not even her best
friend has spoken to her. I find that odd. Don’t you?”
“I see," Mrs. Kinsley said before a brief
pause. "This is most unsettling news, Mr. Brinkman.
Forgive me, but what does this have to do with me?”
“I understand that Jane had
some difficulties fitting in at school, and that she didn’t
have many close friends. I’m told, however, that she had
taken a liking to you and had even spoken very highly of
you in recent months. I’m hoping that she may have
shared some details with you that may help me find
Mrs. Kinsley took a long pause and lowered her
head, staring down at her feet as she tapped her toes
against the floor as though hearing music. She knew
something, but perhaps wasn’t sure if I could be trusted.
I changed my approach to talk to her more as a person
and less like a detective.
“Mrs. Kinsley, I understand how you’re feeling.
Maybe you think that by talking to me you’d be getting
Jane into some kind of trouble, but I assure you, the only
reason I am here talking to you right now is because I
want nothing more than to find her and bring her back
home. If you know anything that could help—anything
at all—I know we can still find her.”
“It’s true, Mr. Brinkman, that Jane had been
coming to see me after class a few days a week. She’d
wait until all the other kids were gone, and then come in
and sit down in the back of the room. At first, she never
even spoke a word to me. She just sat quietly in a chair
and sketched in her little book. I had seen this behavior
before in the past from other students. It was usually an
indication of a troubled child that was trying to avoid
going home. I wanted her to feel comfortable, so I didn’t
talk to her, and just let her be.
"Over time, she’d move up a row, then another
one, and another until she was near me at the front of
the classroom. It was obvious that she was looking to
communicate, but still, I knew I had to be very delicate
with her." Mrs. Kinsley smiled, looking over at an empty
"One day while she was sketching in her book, I
took out a piece of paper from my desk and drew a
flower on it," she said. "It was just a quick little outline,
but I held it up to show her. She looked up at it for a few
seconds, and then went right back to her book. She
paused for a moment, and then held up her book for me
to look at with a sheepish grin on her face. It was
gorgeous! She’d been drawing her view of the woods
from a window in her room at home. It was so detailed
and alive. I could hardly believe that it had been done by
a seventeen-year-old girl. That kind of talent doesn’t
come around too often and I told her so.
"From that moment on, whenever she’d come in
to my classroom after school, she’d come in to talk to
me about all sorts of things, like how she hated her
upbringing and the unfair pressures of being expected
to fit the Emmett mold. I felt as though I’d actually
gotten to know her quite well over time.”
Mrs. Kinsley knew a different Jane that varied
from the restless, infamous teen around town. I
wondered if even Jessie knew about this hidden artistic
talent. Come to think of it, there were sketches that
adorned the pages of Jane's journal as well, but they
were mostly glorified doodles. Could it be that she also
kept a secret sketch book as well?
“Do you know what kind of people her parents
are, Mr. Brinkman? They refused to support her interest
in art because, in their words, it wasn’t fit for an
Emmett. They told her that there was not enough
money to be made by drawing, and that she needed to
quit wasting her time. If parents who beat their children
are monsters, Mr. Brinkman, than what do you call
parents who crush their children’s dreams and break
their hearts? It’s no wonder that she’d rather spend her
time talking with an old woman than go home after
I could see her eyes beginning to well up. "You
really care about her, don't you?"
Mrs. Kinsley looked away as if trying to conceal
her tears from me. "She's a very special girl, but I'm sure
you already knew that. If you didn't, you wouldn't be
here right now, would you?"
"No, I suppose not," I said. "For what it's worth,
I'm sorry. I've apparently touched a nerve."
"That's sweet, Detective, but unnecessary," she
said, wiping the corners of her eyes with a tissue. "Jane
lives a life that you and I could never understand.
Maybe in some ways, she doesn't either."
"Yes, I believe that is true," I said. "I suppose I
should be on my way, Mrs. Kinsley. I appreciate your
“Mr. Brinkman," Mrs. Kinsley called out as I was
about to reach the door. "There is one more thing I
should probably tell you. I don’t know what could have
happened to poor Jane, but she said something to me
about a month before her disappearance that didn’t
make any sense. I remember that day as clear as crystal
because she came into my classroom seeming a bit off.
"Once she began talking to me, she was always
cheerful when she came in. But one day her mood
shifted, and she told me that if one day she stopped
coming to see me, that I should seek out ‘the Carroll’s
cross,’ but I have no idea what that means," she said,
shrugging her shoulders. "I’m just an old school teacher,
Mr. Brinkman, but you… you may be able to do
something with this information. I will pray for her
"Thank you again, Mrs. Kinsley. I will do
whatever I can to get to the bottom of this."
I left the school grounds, thinking about the
conversation I'd just had with Mrs. Kinsley. That last bit
about the Carroll’s cross had piqued my interest. I didn’t
have a clue as to what it meant, but Jane seemed to
believe it was important for Mrs. Kinsley to know as a
safety precaution. Was it possible that Jane had
been expecting that something was about to happen to
her? If so, what was it that she stumbled across? Even
though it wasn’t much to go on, I figured it couldn’t hurt
to look into the Carroll’s cross.
I had been trying to involve Jessie Fryman as
little as possible in my investigation, but given the
situation, her insights would be valuable to me. I
arranged another meeting with her at Roxy’s Diner the
day after I spoke to Mrs. Kinsley. It was unfortunate, but
there was much to discuss, so we would have no time
for apple pie on that visit.
"Jessie, I appreciate you taking the time out to
speak with me again. I find myself, once again, needing
your input about this case."
"Of course, Mr. Brinkman," she said. "Anything I
can do to help."
Roxy walked up to the booth with two giant
sized root beer floats. "Hey, you two! These are on the
house today. It's a new recipe and I need some taste
testers," she said with a smile.
"Thank you, Roxy. They look delicious," I said.
"Don't mention it, sweetheart. I'll let you two get
back to business."
I watched Roxy walk back to the kitchen before
returning my attention to Jessie, who was already
making progress on her float. When she noticed me
looking on, she lifted her lips from the straw and
laughed. "Sorry, but it's so good!"
"No, no, enjoy it. Roxy would be offended if we
didn't. If you don't mind, I'm just going to talk while you
drink your float," I said. "I asked you here today because
I have some new information, but I don't know what it
"What kind of new information?" Jessie asked,
her eyes lighting up like the Fourth of July.
"Before you get too excited, it's not much to work
with. I spoke with Mrs. Kinsley yesterday and she
mentioned something to me that seemed to imply that
Jane knew she might be in trouble."
"Have you ever heard Jane say anything about
the Carroll's cross?"
Jessie looked up at the ceiling, squinting her
eyes. "Not that I can recall. Why? Is it important?"
"It could be. She told Mrs. Kinsley about it, so it
must have meant something to her."
Jessie looked puzzled. "She told Mrs. Kinsley?"
"Yeah, why?" I said.
"Oh, I just kind of assumed that she told me
everything. I guess not," Jessie said, leaning back and
sinking into the vinyl upholstery of her seat.
It donned on me what had just happened. By
confiding something personal to Mrs. Kinsley and not
her, it must have made Jessie feel less important. Maybe
even just a little betrayed. Damn it! I need to think before
I speak.
"Jessie, make no mistake at all. You knew Jane
better than any other person in this town. I think the
reason she opened up to Mrs. Kinsley was because, well,
she probably thought that whatever problems she was
dealing with would require the experience of an adult.
You know, someone older that maybe had already dealt
with something similar and could relate. Do you
understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, Mr. Brinkman, I understand," she said,
sitting up straight and taking a sip of her float. "I mean, I
knew that Jane was spending a lot of time after school in
the music room, but I just assumed it had something to
do with trying to avoid her troubles at home. It makes
sense, though. I mean, I came to you about Jane's
disappearance because you were an adult. She probably
went to Mrs. Kinsley using that same line of thinking."
"There you go, kiddo. You're very bright," I said.
"So, this whole Carroll's cross business. You're sure she
never mentioned it at all?"
"Mr. Brinkman, Jane is a lot deeper of a person
than people give her credit for. She kept the world at an
arm's length on purpose and allowed very few into her
life. I was lucky enough to get to be one of those
precious few," Jessie said, brushing her hair back behind
her ears. "She was misunderstood, which made her feel
alone. That loneliness was amplified by the fact that her
own family made no effort to try and understand her.
They didn't care what Jane wanted, only what they
wanted for her. It drove a wedge between them more
and more each day. She fantasized about living in
another time."
"How so?" I said.
"She was obsessed with the story of the Carrolls.
She read every book about them that she could get her
hands on and told me all about them. I think in a way,
she was jealous of Ashley Carroll."
"Jealous? But Ashley died such a horrible death
at a young age. She was the victim of a foolish war. What
was there to be jealous of?" I asked.
"She romanticized that story. She told me that it
made her sad to think about how much the Carrolls had
loved their daughter and how she wished that her own
family could have loved her in such a way. Ashley's
father took a bullet because of his love for his daughter,
and Ashley's mother took her own life because of hers.
Jane didn't think her parents would even shed a tear
over her own death."
It would have been impossible to hear those
words and not feel them pierce my heart. "That's a
terrible way for a daughter to be made to feel," I said,
clenching my fist in anger.
"She would sometimes go there, you know?"
"Go where?" I asked.
"To the old Carroll house on the other side of the
woods. She didn't mind that she wasn't allowed inside
of it. She was content to sit and relax on the porch steps,
maybe even draw a little," Jessie said, twirling the ends
of her hair around her finger. "She was partial to the
brisk winds that come through those parts from the
north. She told me it was so peaceful and that she would
live there if she could."
"It does sound quite lovely," I said.
"But despite all I know about her, Mr. Brinkman,
she still never said anything about a Carroll's cross. I'm
sorry I can't be of much help."
"You've done just fine, my dear. I think we've
done all we can do for today."
"Should I leave Roxy a quarter?" Jessie asked.
"No, don't be silly. I've got this covered. Why
don't you go ahead and run along home."
"Thank you, Mr. Brinkman."
I was only uncovering bits and pieces of the
picture, but the new information did give me just
enough to move forward in my investigation. Knowing
that Jane had spent a portion of her time at the old
house across the woods, it was clear that I would have
to visit the old murder scene if I was to learn more
about the Carroll’s cross.
Chapter Six
A few days later, I made the long walk through
the woods. It had been many years since the last time I
had visited the Carroll’s house. Much like Jane Emmett, I
too had always felt emotionally attached to the story of
the Carrolls and had visited the old house frequently in
my youth. I suppose it was because the story had taken
place upon the same soil we walked every day, but
somehow the tragedy still felt so real despite taking
place well over a hundred years before we came along. I
remember going out to the cliff where poor Ashley
Carroll had been pitched over by the British soldier and
feeling how surreal it was to be standing on a piece of
history. Being near those cliffs had always made me feel
sad, yet grateful to have been born during a time where
such senseless things no longer happened. Of course
that was years before the war, and it was blissful to be
so naïve.
When I emerged from the woods onto the small
winding dirt path that led to the front steps of the
Carrolls, I took a moment to gaze upon the old house
that still looked as it did when I was a child. The
townspeople took the responsibility of protecting this
place and overseeing its preservation very seriously.
The home had been made a historical landmark
by the town mayor back in the late 1800s, which was
about twenty years before I was born. My parents told
me the story before I wrote my school report on the
Carrolls. The town had held a parade that day and
everyone in town celebrated the occasion. The event
was capped off by a poetry reading and a candlelight
vigil. It was more than just honoring the memory of the
slain family, but rather a reminder to always treat each
other a little bit better.
That day also marked the last time anyone had
seen the actual suicide letter written by Mrs. Carroll. To
maintain its safety, only elected officials knew of its
whereabouts. The mayor once contemplated donating it
to a museum as a means for the story of Ashley Falls to
be shared with the world, but in the end, it just meant
too much to the people of our town to part with. It was
an artifact of our history, even if it was a reminder of a
terrible injustice.
As far as anyone knew, Mr. Carroll had built the
home with his own two hands back in the late 1700s. It
was a gorgeous two-story house with a front porch that
had flower beds on each side of the front steps. There
were four windows on the front of the brick house—
each had elegant white frames and navy blue
shutters. With such an awe-inspiring exterior, I had
always wanted to see what the inside looked like. That
honor was reserved for those who were in charge of the
upkeep of the interior. They were also allowed to plant
new flowers outside each year, which had taken years of
persuasion before the mayor would finally allow it.
Though the home was majestic to look at, I had a
more specific reason for being there. Based on my
conversation with Jessie earlier in the week, I had
learned that Jane Emmett liked to spend time sitting on
the porch steps.
Other than the flowers, there was not much there
to see. The three brick steps that led up to the porch
didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. I shook
a few of the bricks, checking behind them to see if Jane
had hidden any secrets for safe keeping, but to no
avail. I then checked the flower beds for signs
of disturbed soil, but that didn't produce anything
significant either. The house was on a large piece of
property, so my next step was to walk around the
perimeter of the home and keep my eyes peeled for
anything that seemed out of place.
The sun was starting to set off in the
distance. Dusk was my favorite time of day, and from
the Carroll’s house it was beautiful. The sky had turned
to shades of pink and dark purple as the transition to
night was growing nigh, but as much as I was enjoying
the sights, I was also becoming a bit frustrated as my
search of the Carroll’s property had yielded no new
clues for me to work with. I just couldn’t see anything
that looked suspicious. If Jane had indeed been hiding
secrets here, then she had done so in a fashion that was
far too clever for even a private investigator.
I was disappointed and feeling a little silly. What
if this 'Carroll’s cross' hint wasn’t even related to the
Carroll’s property, and I’d wasted precious hours
chasing a lead that was barely even enough information
to be called a lead to begin with. What if it was in
reference to a piece of jewelry from Jane's personal
collection, and was stuffed away in her room
somewhere just waiting to be found? Even worse, what
if it was just altogether nonsense that Mrs. Kinsley
hadn’t heard correctly?
I was angry at myself for giving in to my defeatist
attitude. That certainly wasn’t like me, but I was getting
nowhere, and the feeling that I had gone as far as I could
with the Jane Emmett case was boring a crater sized
hole in my stomach. It would have been fine if I had just
been letting myself down, but knowing that I would be
letting down both girls would have been too much for
me to bear.
After falling victim to my own self-deprecation, I
was about to give up and leave, when I was startled by
the outline of a woman standing in the window that
overlooked the front porch. When I turned to face the
window head on, there was nobody there.
It was getting late. I was tired and overstressed,
but I knew that I had seen something in that
window. Though I didn’t get a solid look, my mind
kept returning to the belief that it been the figure of a
woman. She was wearing a white dress, but nothing like
I’d ever seen the women around town wear. She had
been staring at me.
I walked over to the window where I had seen
the woman, but could make out very little from behind a
frilly shade protecting the inside of the house from
exposure to direct sunlight. If there had been a woman
standing there, it’s unlikely that I would have been able
to see her. Hoping I wasn't going crazy, I walked up the
steps to the front porch and knocked on the door. I
didn’t hear anyone moving around, so I knocked again.
No sounds came from within the house. I figured that
my eyes had been playing tricks on me with the sun
setting low in the distance and dismissed it.
As I turned around to leave the porch, with the
sun at my back, I noticed that it was creating elongated
and eerie-looking shadows on the property. Then to my
left, I noticed a shadow from the sun hitting a beam
above the porch. It intersected with the shadow from an
old flagpole in the back of the property. I couldn’t tell if I
was tired or still a bit unnerved, but from where I was
standing on the porch, the point where the two shadows
intersected created the illusion of a cross.
The shadow's apex was pointing towards a rock
garden approximately twenty yards away from the
front of the house, which had been built near an old
rickety fence made out of wood falling apart from age. I
had overlooked the garden before, but as I pictured her
sitting on those steps, probably around the same time of
day, it occurred to me that she saw those same shadowy
patterns in the yard that I was looking at. The shadows
could have looked like a cross to Jane as well.
It was a bit of a wild theory. Motivated and
determined, I followed the direction of the shadows to
the rock garden. It didn’t appear to have been disturbed.
I knew it was a stretch, but there was no harm in at least
checking it out before I went home.
The center of the rock garden was marked by a
large flat rock. Little Ashley Carroll must have sat upon
it, staring at all the pretty rocks beneath her feet. I sat
down on it and gently brushed away some of the rocks
to expose the ground beneath. Once I could see the dirt,
I pressed two fingers against the soil. As I had
suspected, it was just as hard as the rocks which now
covered it. I tried a couple of different areas and found
the same result. Then I moved some of the rocks and
discovered that the soil appeared to be a little darker
than in the other areas I’d been looking at. I pressed two
fingers into the soil and they sunk in up to the
knuckle. That soil had been disturbed recently and was
still soft.
I had nothing with me but my bare hands to dig
with, so I cupped my hands like tiny shovels and
scooped out the fresh soil. Somewhere around two feet
down, I felt the cold metal of a chain at my fingertips. I
wrapped the chain around my hand and carefully pulled
up, feeling the force of its tether to a heavy object
buried further below.
I reached one hand into the ground as far as I
could and found the bottom of the object that the chain
was connected to. With a firm grip, I was able to
unearth the object after lifting up with all my might. It
was a wooden box, and the chain was connected to both
ends of it like a type of handle. There was a tiny lock on
the front of the box.
If this had been the doing of Jane Emmett, then I
saw no other choice than to use one of the nearby rocks
and break the lock open. If it was not Jane’s, then a
tremendous amount of guilt was going to overcome me
for disturbing a long lost keepsake of the Carrolls.
With just a few hard strikes from the rock, the
lock popped. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and
then flipped open the lid. The inside of the box was
lined with red velvet and was quite beautiful. It was also
quite empty. This had to have been Jane Emmett's
jewelry box. As I inspected the inside of the box, I
noticed a tiny ribbon just barely peeking out from a
crease on the bottom. I grasped it with my fingernails
and tugged, exposing a false bottom compartment
containing a pocket watch and a folded up piece of
What little light the setting sun had been
providing for me was now almost extinguished. As
excited as I was about my discovery, I took a few
minutes to repair the disturbance I had caused to the
rock garden. As I made my way back through the woods
into town, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. It was as
though the woods had come alive, and there were tens
of thousands of eyes bearing down on me as if I had just
stolen the box.
Many small clues had guided my path on the
investigation thus far, but this was the big break I had
been hoping for. One way or another, I knew the
contents of the dirty jewelry box were going to unveil
more information about Jane’s disappearance.
Sometimes I think that if I could have known
then what I know now, I might have tried to stop myself
from ever opening that damn box. Perhaps I felt as
though I deserved to dive right in and claim my prize for
a job well done, so as soon as I got home, I emptied
Jane's jewelry box on a table in my living room and
inspected them.
I started with the pocket watch. It was
breathtaking and immaculate. It was made from silver
and had an image depicting a loving couple driving
down a country road in their car on the cover. I opened
the watch's cover. The gears were still running, though
a couple of minutes fast. I flipped it over and found the
initials “P.E.S.” engraved into the back.
I put the pocket watch back down and picked up
the folded up piece of paper.
September 30th, 1947
Dearest Phillip,
Do you know what today is? It’s the day you made
me the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I received
your pocket watch, and I never want to be without it
every day that I am alive. I am entering my last year of
school, and I know what a lucky woman I will be after it’s
been completed. I can tell my parents about moving to
Maryland and finally be rid of this horrible life I’ve lived.
Horrible until I met you, Phillip. I dream of the day that I
will be able to see you once more. Until then, you have my
complete and undying love.
Yours truly,
Jane Emmett
It would seem that Jane did have a secret love
after all. I didn’t think it was presumptuous to assume
that “P.E.S.” was the initials of this lad Phillip mentioned
in the letter, and I also assumed that he was the owner
of the pocket watch that had been given to Jane as a gift.
What I didn’t know was why Jane believed that these
items would be useful in the event that something might
happen to her. And how did she foresee the need to
bury these keepsakes?
I had anticipated some type of message that
needed to be delivered, or at least a detailed recounting
of her thoughts that explained her belief that she may
be in trouble. I had not expected a love letter and a
pocket watch, and I didn’t understand what I was
supposed to do with them. Still, she must have felt that
this would be enough of a clue to find her, so I felt that
as though I could be overlooking something in the
information that I did have.
Despite my frustration, it occurred to me that
this was the message that needed to be delivered. If she
hadn't felt that she could trust anyone in Ashley Falls
with her secret, then perhaps she needed me to look
beyond our town. I was not aware of any men around
her age named Phillip. In order to get the answers that I
needed, I’d somehow have to find him first. All I really
knew about the mysterious Phillip was his first name,
that he lived in Maryland, and at one time owned an
expensive pocket watch. It wasn’t too likely that I could
simply have an operator patch me through to him based
on that description. If Jane Emmett had been keeping
her love a secret, then there was really no one else I
could ask about it, which I knew was going to make my
job even more difficult.
In the morning I would review everything one
more time and see if there were any additional clues
that I could extrapolate. As much as I did not want to, I
felt that I would have to go back to Jessie Fryman one
more time and see if there was any chance at all that she
might know something about Phillip or the pocket
watch. I was confident that Jessie hadn’t been keeping
anything from me, but I would have welcomed it if she
had been. At least then I would have more leads to
I glanced at the clock. It was well past midnight.
At that hour, what else could I uncover? I packed back
up the jewelry box and placed it under a loose
floorboard near the kitchen to ensure its safety. If she
felt as though it needed to be buried underground, then
I was going to follow suit.
I recall falling fast asleep that night, not knowing
what the next day would bring. I had no way of knowing
back then that I had only just scratched the surface of
this case, and that fate had a much larger role for me to
Chapter Seven
The day after finding the buried treasure in the
Carroll's garden was February 9th, 1948. It started out
just like any other day for me. Consistent with the late
winter weather that Ashley Falls had been experiencing,
it had become so cold that my tattered old blankets
didn’t stand a chance at keeping me warm enough to
sleep. I awoke to the sight of my exhaled breath creating
a white mist escaping from my lips. Confident that I
would be unable to fall back asleep, I put on my robe
and slippers, and decided to get out of bed. Still groggy, I
started a pot of coffee and brought in the newspaper
from the door step. Only that day I wish that I
hadn’t. The story on the front page of the Ashley Falls
Post would change my life forever.
Body of Local Teen Found
By Clancy Scott
Ashley Falls Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 9th
The body of a teenage girl was discovered by
deputies late Sunday night near the base of Sunset Hill
along the outskirts of town. The body was later identified
as local student Jessie Fryman, 17, whom had been
reported as missing.
Preliminary reports suggest that Fryman’s death
was an accident and not a homicide, according to Ashley
Falls Sheriff Douglas Coleman, though an investigation is
still underway to confirm it.
“It would be impossible to rule anything out at this
point, but based on the evidence at the scene, it does not
appear to be a homicide,” said Coleman. “Sunset Hill is a
popular hangout for teenagers, but it can also be quite
dangerous under the right set of circumstances. It’s very
possible that she tripped and fell all the way down, which
would be consistent with the injuries we have observed.”
Coleman noted that an autopsy would not be
necessary, though an external examination of the body
was conducted in order to fully document the extent of
When contacted, Fryman’s parents declined to
speak about the incident. Funeral services will be held on
Friday at the Willow Oak Cemetery beginning at
The words were staring right up at me from the
page, and yet I could hardly believe them. I felt as
though my eyes had betrayed me, or at the very least, it
had been someone’s idea of a sick joke. Many people
knew Jessie far better than I, but after working this case
with her over the past few weeks, I had grown quite
fond of her.
I had made a promise to Jessie that I still needed
to fulfill, even if she would no longer be there when I
found Jane. I knew in my heart that Jessie would be
somewhere, smiling down on me for finishing what I
had started. It would not be an option to let Jessie’s last
wish go unfulfilled—not if I could help it. Her
unpredictable demise was a wakeup call. If there was
still a chance that Jane Emmett could be saved, I was
going to find her for Jessie.
The air was still on the morning of Jessie's
funeral. The usual bustling sounds of people were
noticeably absent. The only sound I could hear were the
church bells ringing off in the distance. Being a small
town, funerals in Ashley Falls are something that
everyone attended as a show of respect to our fallen
neighbor. The local businesses close, and whether you
had known the person or not, the loss was felt as a
community. It was rather heart-warming the way our
town stood together when a loved one was placed in the
ground, though I imagine only a fleeting comfort to a
family that returned to a home forever missing a tone
from its harmony.
I don’t do well at funerals. They always remind
me of my parents. Before they passed years ago, I never
owned a suit. I think most people have the perception
that a private investigator always wears a suit, but I
wasn’t going to be a poster boy for the profession any
time soon. However, when my father passed, I wanted
to look presentable at his service. I knew that it would
have made him happy to see me dressed well. It wasn’t
long after my father that my mother passed. Without
him, her poor heart just couldn’t seem to find meaning
in going on any longer. She was never the same as she
was with him. He had filled her life with so much light
and happiness that I don’t ever recall seeing her smile
after he was gone—not even once. As the time came to
say goodbye to my mother, I reached into my closet and
put on the suit one more time. After that, I returned the
suit to the closet and never wore it again. Even the mere
sight of it hanging in the closet makes me start to choke
up a little bit. For Jessie’s funeral though, I felt reaching
into the closet one more time was the most respectful
thing that I could do.
I was not looking forward to Jessie's funeral, but
I owed it to her to be there and offer my condolences to
the Fryman family. I couldn’t even begin to imagine
what her parents must have been going through. I
figured that it would be best to not try and talk to them
before the funeral, and that just my being at the
cemetery would hopefully let them know that Jessie was
a kind-hearted person that touched the lives of many
I arrived at the cemetery just before the funeral
was about to begin and was too late to find a chair. I
stood in the back, along with other late comers, and
reflected on how I had spoken to Jessie only a little over
a week before her death. Then she was gone. Jessie was
just a kid at seventeen years of age and hadn’t even
been beyond the town limits of Ashley Falls. This wasn’t
supposed to happen to kids. It was a reminder of how
unpredictable life could be, and how easy it was to take
our time for granted.
The pastor’s soothing words as he performed the
eulogy reassured me that I wasn’t the only one dealing
with her loss. After the pastor had finished speaking,
Jessie’s parents took their turn addressing the
attendees, imparting some touching words about their
daughter. The pain on their faces was unbearable for me
to see. Mr. Fryman looked as though he had aged a
decade, his eyes traced with dark circles and fresh
wrinkles. Mrs. Fryman didn't fare any better, her eyes
pink and puffy from endless mourning. I wished that
there was something that I could have said or done that
might have eased their pain. Simply saying I was sorry
wasn't likely to have provided them with much
The ceremony began to wind down and I was
about to leave when I noticed Jane Emmett’s family
sitting near the front row. I was still feeling a little
embarrassed by my behavior the last time I had spoken
to them, but seeing them at the funeral was a reminder
that they were human and probably very worried about
their own daughter.
Perhaps Jessie’s death had made them think
about whether or not Jane was even still alive. I still
didn’t fully understand their odd behavior following
Jane’s disappearance, but it wasn’t my place to pass
judgment on to them. It would be civil of me to make
amends and see if I could assist them more directly in
their search for Jane, so as they were gathering their
belongings and preparing to leave, I walked over to
them. I could tell by their stares shooting daggers into
my soul that they were still none too thrilled to see me
again, but I extended my hand to Mr. Emmett as a peace
“Mr. and Mrs. Emmett? May I have a word?" I
tipped my cap. "I realize that we didn’t end our last
conversation on the best of terms, but I would be
humbled if you would be so kind as to accept my
apology. My hope is that you understood that I was only
working on behalf of your daughter so that I could help
to bring her home.”
“We sincerely appreciate that, Mr. Brinkman," he
said with reluctance. I appreciated his attempt to at
least be cordial. "My wife and I do know that you had
our daughter’s best interest in mind. I think we can just
put this all behind us.”
“Thank you kindly, Mr. Emmett. That does mean
a lot to me," I said. "I hope that I’m not out of line for
asking, but have you received any additional
information about your daughter’s disappearance?”
“Sheriff Coleman has advised us to not speak
about the investigation, Mr. Brinkman. I’m sure you
understand,” said Mrs. Emmett, leaning against her
husband. “He is concerned about his efforts becoming
compromised if other people around town were to find
out about Jane. It’s not that we don’t appreciate you
asking, it’s just that there really is nothing else that you
can do for us.”
Though not her intent, Mrs. Emmett’s words cut
me—not because they were hurtful—because they
were true. As much as I would have liked to believe that
my investigation was helping Jane, I had yet to
accomplish very much. I knew that I was getting a little
closer as each clue was unraveled, but there was still a
long way to go. Mrs. Emmett's gentle words let me
know that my services would not be needed.
“Maybe there is something that you could do for
us,” Mr. Emmett said. “You told us last time that you had
been hired by a client to investigate the disappearance
of our daughter, but you never said who it was. Since it
wasn’t us, I guess we were just a little curious as to who
would be hiring a private detective to investigate
matters of our family?”
“Well, Mr. Emmett, normally I would not be
permitted to reveal the identity of a client, but in this
case, I suppose it doesn’t matter much anymore...” I
pondered for a moment whether or not I was making
the right decision to tell them. “The client who hired me
was Jessie Fryman.”
“Is that a fact?" Mr. Emmett said. He sounded
genuinely touched by the news.
"Did you hear that, honey?" Mrs. Emmett asked,
turning toward her husband. "It was Jessie!"
"Well, God bless Jessie Fryman, and thank you
for being a faithful friend to our dear Jane.”
That was nice to hear. I did feel better after being
able to disclose Jessie’s identity to Jane's family and to
see them genuinely thankful for her efforts.
“I hate to be a bother, Mr. Emmett, but would you
happen to have the time?” I asked.
“Sure. No bother, Detective,” he said. Mr. Emmett
reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled
out a silver pocket watch adorned with the image of a
couple driving down a country road.
Panic coursed through my body as I wondered
how Mr. Emmett could have found the pocket watch
that I’d carefully hidden within my home, but that was
impossible! Of course, that then begged the question: If
it wasn’t the same pocket watch, then how did Mr.
Emmett obtain an identical one?
“Mr. Emmett, that is an absolutely beautiful
timepiece you have there. May I?” I asked, determined
to get a closer look.
Sticking his nose up with pride of his possession,
Mr. Emmett handed me the pocket watch for closer
inspection. The likeness was uncanny. It was the exact
same pocket watch I’d found buried in Jane's jewelry
box; down to every distinguished detail save for one. I
turned it over to view the back, but there was no
engraving on this watch. Jane’s watch had the initials
“P.E.S.” on the back cover, but Mr. Emmett’s was in mint
condition. I imagine it looked the same as it did the day
it was made.
“Not that I could ever afford such a luxury for
myself, but if you don’t mind me asking, how did you
come to acquire something of such elegance?” I said,
handing the watch back to him.
“This pocket watch, my dear sir, was a gift from
the Smith family, who own The Evening Star paper out
in Washington, D.C. They were impressed by the high
profitability of our very own Ashley Falls Post and tried
to persuade me to leave it behind and go into business
with them in Maryland." Mr. Emmett looked down at
the watch with a boastful grin. "I figured that if The
Evening Star wanted me, then I must be on to
something and doing just fine here.”
And just like that, the facts lined up in a way
that allowed me to start piecing together a possible
scenario. If Mr. Emmett’s watch was a gift from the
Smith family in Maryland, then there was good reason
to assume that Jane’s was as well. I still couldn’t be onehundred percent sure, but I felt strongly about the odds
of the initials “P.E.S.” belonging to Phillip Smith.
“Well, Mr. Emmett, Mrs. Emmett, I thank you for
the chat," I said, tipping my cap. "I must be on my
way. Please do take care.”
It was all I could do to contain my feelings of
satisfaction for what I’d just discovered. I was trying not
to get too far ahead of myself on the slight chance that I
was wrong, but the evidence seemed far too
coincidental to not be connected in some fashion. Jane
Emmett had a secret love named Phillip, who had given
her a pocket watch with the initials “P.E.S.” engraved on
the back. She had mentioned being excited to finish
school and move to Maryland to be with Phillip. The
pocket watch was of great sentimental value to her, but
she had felt compelled to hide it and leave it behind as a
clue, should anything happen to her. I had originally
thought that it was nothing more than a wild goose
chase, but after seeing an identical pocket watch in the
possession of her father, I would need to purchase a
train ticket to Washington, D.C.
As I left the front gates the cemetery, I was
thinking about how the existence of the twin pocket
watches in Ashley Falls could not have been a
coincidence. A man dressed all in black was standing
beside a willow oak tree. He was wearing dark
sunglasses, but I got the feeling that he was looking
right at me. Seeing this man brought back the memory
of something I had read in Jane Emmett’s journal. She
too had seen a man dressed all in black who came to her
house and spoke to her mother. I continued to walk, but
took one more glance at the man in black before leaving
the cemetery—he was gone.
I sat in my chair later that night updating my
case notes and planning my upcoming trip to
Maryland. I had never been to Washington, D.C. before. I
was well informed about it, but just never had a reason
to go. The opportunity excited me, though I knew it
wasn’t going to be a sight-seeing occasion. There would
be challenges that I would face upon my arrival, not the
least of which was how I would convince Mr. Smith to
talk to me about pocket watches and love letters. There
were also a few more details that I would need to figure
out before I arrived in Washington, such as how was I
going to convince him that I wasn’t just a random crazy
person. It was an unenviable scenario that I was
beginning to grow accustomed to.
A series of loud knocks at my front door
interrupted my research. I looked at the time and
wondered who on earth could be knocking on my door
so close to midnight. When I answered the door, Sheriff
Coleman stood before me. I hadn’t been face-to-face
with my old nemesis in some fifteen years, and
I couldn’t imagine why he would be there to see me. The
last time we had talked, he had made it clear that he
never wanted to see me again.
“Sheriff?” I said.
“Miller, I’m sorry to bother you at such an hour,
but it’s urgent that we talk,” he said, removing his hat.
“It’s no problem, Sheriff," I said. "Would you like
to come in?”
“No... that won’t be necessary, Miller. Look... I
need to ask you a few questions... if that would be all
The long pauses between his words gave me
chills. He spoke in a serious manner that seemed to
suggest he was there on business.
"Questions?" I said. "What business could you
have with me after all these years, Sheriff?"
“Miller, I’m going to ask you something, and I
need you to answer it for me, okay?”
“Absolutely, Sheriff," I said. I had nothing to hide.
“How well did you know Jessie Fryman?”
“Jessie Fryman?" I said. "What is this about,
“Please, Miller. Just answer the question.”
I had never heard him speak in such a low
grumble before. I wondered if he was really the same
man I had known from before. “Well, I wouldn’t say that
I knew her exceptionally well, sir. I had seen her around
town from time to time.”
I couldn't understand why Sheriff Coleman
would be asking me questions about Jessie Fryman. I
knew that he was starting to get to an advanced age in
his life, but something about his demeanor told me it
wasn’t simply a matter of senility. I didn't like where his
questioning was leading me. Something was going on
that he wasn't telling me.
“The thing is, Miller, Roxy tells me that she’d
been seein' the two of you in her diner being all
chummy the weeks leadin' up to her death.”
“Yes, that’s true. I ran into her one afternoon at
the diner, and we had a casual chat about school and
such. It was nothing meaningful or out of the ordinary.
I’m sorry, but why does that matter, Sheriff?”
“Son, we kept a lot of the details out of the paper
to prevent widespread panic across the city, but the
truth of the matter is that Jessie Fryman’s death was no
accident. Someone murdered that poor girl in cold
I got that sensation again. The one where I’m
removed from my body and watching the events unfold
from over my shoulder. I had suspected that Jessie's
death was no mere accident, but I guess I just didn't
want to believe that someone could have murdered an
innocent kid.
“I don’t suppose you’d know nothin’ about that,
now would you?” he said.
I was furious at the insinuation! I didn't know
how to respond to such an insulting question, but I
feared that my silence would only feed the sheriff's
“Sheriff, I know nothing about the events that led
to Jessie Fryman’s death other than what I read in the
newspaper. It was just a tragic situation. She did not
deserve to have her life cut short.”
“Did you say 'cut short,' Miller?" he said. "I find
that to be an interestin' choice of words since those
details weren’t released to the newspaper, and there
ain't no way you coulda known about it.”
“Sheriff, that is absurd! I wasn’t confessing to any
details of her death. 'Cut short' is just an expression!”
“I’m sorry, Miller, but I think you know a lot
more than you’re tellin' me, so I’m gonna need to bring
you on down to the station and lock you up for a
night. Maybe in the mornin' you’ll feel like talkin'.”
"This is ridiculous! You can't do that to me! I
know my rights, Sheriff, and unless—"
The sheriff casually moved his right arm in a
fashion that pulled his jacket back to reveal his pistol.
His message of "come with me and don't cause any
trouble" was loud and clear. What more could I do? This
was an obvious misunderstanding, but I would not be
able to convince the sheriff of my innocence while
standing in my front doorway.
"Miller Brinkman, you have the right to remain
silent," the Sheriff said, cuffing my hands behind my
"Yeah, save your breath. I know the drill." I
surrendered without a fight and allowed him to take me
to the station for further questioning.
When we arrived at the station, he led me down
the familiar narrow hallway of cells and locked me up
just as he had threatened he would.
I flashed back on the similarities between my
situation and Benny Lippincott’s. Unlike Benny, I was
hopeful that I could prove my innocence and clear up
the whole mess when given the opportunity. Sheriff
Coleman took a couple of steps away from the cell after
locking the door, then stopped and kept his eyes facing
away from me.
“Miller, I hate like hell to have to do this to you,
but it occurs to me that yer not a very good listener, are
you, son?" The Sheriff placed his hands on hips in an
authoritative stance. "When I told you all those years
ago to stay out of my way, I meant it. Then I hear from
the Emmetts that you’ve gone and started puttin' yer
nose into somethin' that doesn’t concern you. Did you
really think that they wouldn’t come to me?"
"Now, they’d told me that they’d convinced you
to back away and leave well enough alone, but
apparently you weren’t as convinced as they
thought. Well, guess what, Miller? I’m gonna to convince
you. I suppose you thought you were bein' clever, but
did you think I didn’t know what you were working on?
Your skills as a private investigator leave much to be
desired, son.”
Suddenly it became clear that there had been no
misunderstanding at all. I was being framed just as
Benny Lippincott had been on the night that Evelyn
Rowe was murdered. I had seen Sheriff Coleman’s
unique brand of justice before, and I had a pretty good
idea of what was in store for me. The next step would be
Sheriff Coleman claiming that he’d found something of
mine at Sunset Hill that tied me to the murder of Jessie
Fryman, and then he’d have me shipped off to a
maximum security prison in the city to keep me away.
“Listen to me, you son of a bitch!" I shouted,
gripping the iron bars of the cell, wishing they hadn't
been preventing me from ripping his heart out.
"Whatever you’ve done to Jessie Fryman, I’m going to
find out. This isn’t over!”
“Don’t be so naïve, son. I didn’t do anythin' to
Jessie. They did.” The sheriff still hadn't looked me in the
eye when walked away and abandoned me in the cold,
dark police station.
“Wait a damn minute, Sheriff! They? Who are
they?" It was no use. The sheriff completely ignored me.
"Just tell me what happened to Jane Emmett!”
But all I heard was the sound of the front door close and
then lock. I was all alone.
Chapter Eight
I must have drifted off because when I opened
my eyes again, the sunlight from outside had lit up the
inside of the station enough for me to see into it
clearly. The station resonated with emptiness, though I
suspected that Sheriff Coleman would arrive shortly to
“question” me. I tried to remain calm, but given my
situation, serenity was difficult.
More than anything, I was just very frustrated
with myself. I got careless and would have to pay for it.
I should have known that if something was going
on in Ashley Falls that wasn’t on the level, Sheriff
Coleman would have a hand in it. He was a changed man
after he discovered his wife had been sleeping with
Benny, but I guess I hadn’t considered just how much
damage had been done to him as a result. The sheriff
had once been a great man. I guess even good people
can go bad under the right set of circumstances.
Even though I had no way of knowing just how
deep the Jane Emmett case had run, I still couldn’t help
but feel responsible for Jessie’s death. If I could have
picked up even the faintest scent of Sheriff Coleman’s
corruption earlier on, I would have stayed far away, and
then maybe Jessie would still be alive today to tell her
part of the story.
Sheriff Coleman came alone to the station that
morning. I suppose he didn’t want his deputies to know
about whatever grand scheme he was involved with. He
didn't get to remain sheriff for all those years by being
careless. I'll give him that much.
“Good mornin', Miller. I trust that you slept
well. At least I hope so, because yer gonna be a very
busy man these next few days and will need to be well
rested,” he said, taking off his heavy jacket and setting it
on the back of a chair.
“If it’s all the same to you, Sheriff, I’d just as soon
skip over the pleasantries," I said. "We both know
what’s coming next.”
“Fair enough, Miller,” he said. There wasn't even
a hint of denial in his voice.
“I just want to know one thing, Sheriff. Where is
Jane Emmett?”
“You know somethin', Miller? Yer a remarkable
gentleman. You must be intelligent since you’ve
determined what the future holds for you, yet despite
that, yer still only interested in findin' that girl. Let me
ask you a question, son. What is so damn special about
Jane Emmett anyway?” he said, dodging my question.
“She’s special because she's just a kid
and deserves to be able to live out her life. She’s special,
Sheriff, because she has hopes and dreams just like any
other human being, and those shouldn’t be taken away
from her.”
“Well, Miller, that’s very touchin'. Of course,
Jessie Fryman had hopes and dreams too, but her story
didn’t work out too well for her, did it, son?” he said
with a half-smile. The Sheriff's callous, icy tone was in
direct contrast to the blood that was boiling under my
I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of
knowing that he had succeeded in riling me up, if that
was his intent, but I could feel the heated words rising
up from within. "Go to hell!" I shouted, unable to hold
them back any longer. The sheriff looked pleased,
thrilled even. He shot me a smile so big that I could have
counted all of his teeth.
“Look son, I admire you stickin' to yer moral
compass on behalf of that little bitch of a girl, but Jane
Emmett is no longer yer concern. You see, in the days to
come, yer gonna become public enemy number one
here in Ashley Falls. No one knows yer here, yet, but
they soon will. Tonight I’ll be conductin' a little
investigation of my own down at Sunset Hill, and guess
what I’m gonna find? Go on, take a guess,” the Sheriff
prodded, tapping the bars of the cell with his baton.
“I’d rather not, Sheriff,” I said, turning away from
him. I was through looking at his arrogant grin.
“Aww, don’t be such a poor sport, son," he
said. "Since yer not gonna play, I’ll just tell you. I’m
gonna find yer revolver that will link you to the crime
scene where poor Jessie Fryman was found dead with
gashes in her head."
“That would take a miracle, Sheriff, being as that
I don’t even own a revolver.”
"You know, Miller," he said, pacing back and
forth in front of the cell. "We first thought Jessie's
wounds were consistent with a fall, but upon closer
inspection, they were gunshot wounds from a
revolver. Yer revolver.”
The sheriff reached into his jacket and removed a
gun from his holster. I had never seen it before, but his
intent was clear. It would be my word against his, and
since people around town had seen me with Jessie
recently, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on for a
defense. The sheriff had me in one hell of a
“I’ll be placin' this here revolver somewhere safe
at Sunset Hill later today," he said, tapping the grip.
"Then I'll go back to retrieve it with one of my deputies
later tonight. Once the information gets out about
findin' a revolver, we’ll let the town know that we’ve
decided to re-examine Jessie Fryman’s accidental death
as a murder. I’ll have the revolver linked back to you,
and then, dear Miller, you'll go to prison and stay out of
my way forever.”
“I’ve got to hand it to you, Sheriff. You’ve put a lot
of thought into this, but I’m curious," I said, scratching
my head. "Why go to all that effort? Why not just kill
“Despite what you seem to think about me,
Miller, I am no murderer. I leave the dirty work up to
them," he said, raising an eyebrow.
"There you go again," I said. "Them. They. Who
are these people you keep mentioning and how are they
connected to this case?"
The sheriff didn't reply. He looked down at his
hands and began to scrape underneath his fingernails. I
assumed that was his way of telling me I wasn't going to
get an answer.
“Sheriff, you used to be a great man," I said. "You
were someone that I looked up to and wanted to be
like. It’s not too late to be that man again. You could just
let Jane go and then live out the rest of your life as the
great man you used to be.”
“The fact that you still seem to believe that I
know where she is tells me that you haven’t learned a
damn thing during your investigation," he said. "In fact,
it’s a shame that I have to go to such great lengths to get
rid of you at all, considerin' that you don’t equate to
being anythin' more than a nuisance. The trouble is, son,
even a nuisance can become a bigger problem if
ignored. So, I’m afraid that I can’t just leave you to your
ordinary life any longer.
"Now," he said, rolling his head in a circular
motion to crack his neck, "as much as I have enjoyed
this last chat with you, son, I have much to do. Why
don’t you try to catch some more shut-eye, or better yet,
why not sing yerself a little jailhouse tune. That seems
to settle some of the regular riff-raff we lock up around
here.” The Sheriff began to whistle a tune as he walked
away from the cell. The whistling, coupled with his
heavy footsteps, were the last sounds I heard before the
station door slammed shut, leaving me in silence.
I suppose I should have been grateful that he at
least answered some of my questions, but I was still left
with more. He continued to guard his secrets, though I
believed that he was merely a pawn in a much larger
game—a game that even he didn’t know all the rules to.
Sheriff Coleman was right about one thing,
though. He would not have been able to simply let me
go. Even knowing what would happen to me for defying
him, there would have been no way that I could have
just walked away with a clear conscience—not when
Jane Emmett might still be out there somewhere.
After the sheriff left, I sat in my jail cell alone,
sorting through our conversation. The one particular
area of interest that still had me baffled was Sheriff
Coleman’s continued mention of a “they.” I had asked
him several times now, yet he refused to so much as
acknowledge my questioning. I found it peculiar that he
humored every other question I’d asked, but as soon as
I began to inquire about who they were, he’d clam
up. Whoever they were, I had a hunch that the sheriff
was afraid of them. I think that scared me more than
anything. It was difficult for me to imagine that
there could be someone else out there that even he was
afraid of. I shuddered to think about what kind of
person that could be.
It was quiet, and over the course of the afternoon
I was able to get a lot of thinking done. Sitting alone in a
jail cell had its advantages. I suppose it would have been
easier to just wallow in self-pity about what was going
to happen to me, but given that I would at least be
coming out of this alive, I couldn't feel too sorry for
myself. Not everyone involved had been afforded that
luxury, and that was the most perplexing part to me. It
made no sense to spare my life, but to take one from an
innocent girl? I no longer believed that Jessie was
murdered because she had been helping me. It seemed
more likely that she had stumbled across something
that they didn’t want to her to know. Was it possible
that Jessie had become closer to cracking the case than I
had? No, she would have come to me if she'd found
something. Unless they'd already gotten to her before
she could.
I spent another night alone, waiting for Sheriff
Coleman’s next move. Though I knew it was selfish, I
began to shed a few tears. Most people never imagine
that their lives might eventually succumb to misfortune,
but I never imagined my life going in the direction it
was headed.
I was mortified at the thought of living out the
rest of my life as an innocent man in prison, but it was
more than just that. I had let my parents down, and that
hurt worse than anything Sheriff Coleman could do to
me. They were so convinced that I would go on to
become a writer for a living, but I only humored them to
make them happy. They wanted me to use my gift of
creativity in life, and I wanted to use my desire to help
people in need. In the end, neither of us would get what
we wanted.
Just as I was beginning to lose myself in my
lament, I heard the sounds of someone jiggling the
handles of the front door. The doors opened, and then
closed quietly. It was dark in the station, and I couldn’t
see who it could be. I assumed it was Sheriff Coleman. It
was strange though that he hadn’t said a word since
coming into the station.
“What’s the matter, Sheriff?" I said. "Did you
decide that a knife would have been a more practical
murder weapon after all?”
There was no response. I could see the outline of
a figure, but no face, which was fine by me. I had seen
the sheriff's face about as much as I could stand to, and
relished in the fact that never seeing it again was one
perk of being sent to a state prison far away from
Ashley Falls.
I could hear the sound of footsteps moving along
the tiled floor, but all my eyes could make out in the
darkness were shadows. There was a loud bang on the
floor right outside my cell. I knelt down and stuck my
arm out between the bars, feeling around to see what
had dropped. I felt a small metal object, tracing its
somewhat sharp edges with my fingers. It felt like a set
of keys. I grasped what I thought was a key ring and
yanked the object in through the bars. With just enough
light seeping into my cell from outside, a closer
inspection did reveal a set of keys for the station! There
was no mistaking that they were the keys kept on a
hook near the front door for the deputies to use—one of
which, would open my cell.
I addressed the shadowy figure. “You’re not the
sheriff. Who are you?”
Again he did not respond, though I could still see
the obvious outline of the figure standing in the
hallway about twenty to thirty feet from me. The figure
appeared to be wearing a dark trench coat and a shortbrimmed fedora. According to the sheriff, he had been
the only person that even knew I was there. If it wasn't
him, then exactly who was standing before me?
“I am appreciative, and mean no disrespect, but
why are you helping me?”
I could hear the deep breaths of the mysterious
figure, but the station was otherwise hushed. Whoever
this person was, he wasn’t big on small talk, but I was
grateful for the help nonetheless. There were about ten
keys on the loop in my hand, so it was going to take a
few minutes to find the one that would open my cell.
As I began to try out the different keys, I
contemplated what would be the first task at hand.
Based on what Sheriff Coleman had told me, I knew that
he would be at Sunset Hill putting the finishing touches
on his frame job. He would eventually head back to the
station, and would not be happy to see that I had
escaped. No matter what I did next, I could not return
“Miller Brinkman.” It was a commanding voice,
both deep and unfamiliar, that startled me to the point
that I dropped the key ring back onto the floor.
“Miller Brinkman, the answers to all of your
questions begin in Baltimore.”
“Baltimore?" I said. "Sir, is that where Jane
Emmett is? Who are you?”
The man released an object from his hand, barely
making a sound as it hit the floor. He turned and walked
away. The front door opened and closed again. In what
felt like little more than a flash, my mystery man was
there and gone.
I had many questions about what had just
happened, but I was running out of time to stop Sheriff
Coleman from setting me up. My next move would be to
try and beat him to Sunset Hill. Since he could not
yet know that I was free, he would have no sense of
urgency on his part to get there. I could use that to my
After a few more attempts, I finally found the
right key that would release me from my cell. I was
exhausted and confused, but my night was far from
over. On my way out, I noticed an envelope on the
ground over by where the mystery man had been
standing. This must have been what he dropped right
before he left. I picked it up and moved into the light
beaming in from the moon outside. My name was
written on it, which filled me with an uneasy sense of
paranoia. Exactly who was this person that had been
watching me and knew that I was in that cell? I tore
open the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper
with typed print. It read:
I had seen the work of this typewriter with a
defective letter “e” key before. When I met with the
Emmetts, they told me that Jane had been kidnapped
and showed me a typed letter from the abductor. The
letter “e” had been in lower case all throughout that
ransom note as well.
If the same typewriter had been used to write
both notes, did that imply that I had just come face-toface with Jane Emmett’s abductor? If so, then why did
he free me, knowing full well that I was investigating
her disappearance? Better yet, why tell me that my
questions would be answered in Baltimore? Was I
supposed to go find this Alyssa Noble and would
she help me?
It didn’t add up, but even from the beginning of
this case, nothing had. I was going to assume that my
new mysterious friend went by the name of Puckett. I
was also going to assume that it was an alias. He had
rescued me from certain peril, and for that the man
could have called himself the King of Spain for all I
cared. Though I was beyond appreciative for his help, a
trip to Baltimore would have to wait for a while, as
would my attempt to locate Alyssa Noble. I didn’t know
what side Puckett was on, or whether or not I could
even trust him. For all I knew, an even bigger trap
would be waiting for me in Baltimore.
With nightfall setting in, I was running out of
time and needed to hurry out to Sunset Hill. Before
leaving the station, I took a quick peek around to make
sure no one had seen me. But it was a quiet night in
Ashley Falls, and everyone had already gone home for
the evening.
Sunset Hill was all the way at the outskirts of
town, so I had a very long walk ahead of me. I decided to
stick to the river bank and follow it all the way out of
town. That would allow me to stay out of the light, and
the sound of rushing water would conceal the sound
of my footsteps if the sheriff was around. The hill itself
wasn’t a very big place, so if the revolver Sheriff
Coleman was planning on framing me with was still
there, I should be able to find it fairly easily. If it was
already gone, then I didn’t have much of a plan B to rely
After walking the first couple of miles, my legs
were starting to cramp, but as I exited the tree line I
could see Sunset Hill just a little bit farther ahead. When
I reached it, I searched around the base of the hill first
but found nothing. With what energy I could muster, I
climbed to the top of the hill, finding nothing of
consequence there either. I was afraid that I had arrived
too late.
I sat down at the top of the hill, tired and
frustrated, wondering what I was going to do next. A
breeze swept through the area and caused a forceful
rustling of the tree branches at the bottom of the hill. It
was peaceful to me somehow. It reminded me of the
nights that I had spent there in my younger years. The
days of taking a blanket and an overflowing picnic
basket out to the hill on a lazy Sunday with my family
seemed like an eternity ago. I miss how the times felt so
much simpler back then. I used to stand on the hill as a
child, shirtless and without a care in the world, using
the overhead sunlight to stage elaborate shadow puppet
shows to entertain my parents. Such memories never
fail to bring a smile to my face, no matter how lost all
might seem.
I thought seriously about waiting for Sheriff
Coleman to eventually return, and allow him to take me
back to jail. Then I saw a shimmering at the bottom of
the hill peeking through the swaying tree branches. I
climbed down the hill on rubbery legs to investigate.
The overgrown wild blackberry vines were thick, rising
up as tall as mid-thigh in some patches. The vines were
clingy and difficult to maneuver, making short work of
my trousers as they ripped at my flesh from the holes
they'd poked in the fabric. I took off my jacket and used
it like a glove to shield my hand as I tore the vines away
to clear a path.
Once on the other side of the blackberries, I
reached the safe haven of hard soil and harmless green,
leafy vegetation. I took a moment to catch my breath,
pulling up my pant legs to inspect the damage done to
my skin. With such devastation, I looked as though I
could have just come from lying on a surgeon's table.
The pain was more stinging than unbearable, so I
lowered my pant legs and kept moving toward the
shrubs I had spied from the top of the hill.
I gazed up at the tree canopy above me, watching
the thin branches sway back and forth in the wind and
revealing the top of the hill behind it. Using my
recollection of the viewpoint from the hill, I tried to
align myself with it down below and find the spot where
the shining object had been. It wasn't an exact match,
but it got me close enough to where I could start sifting
through the plant life.
As I searched, I peeled back the limbs of
countless plants, finding an overabundance of multilegged bugs and old cigarette butts. However, my
perseverance was about to pay off. Nestled away under
a dense bush was the sheriff's revolver, hidden out of
sight just as he'd detailed. The gun hadn’t been visible
from the ground level, so climbing to the top of the hill
was the only way I ever would have seen it. I was
beginning to think that I was the luckiest man on the
face of the earth given how my day had gone.
“Tell you what, son. How about you just go ahead
and leave that right there?”
The next sound I heard was the clicking of the
hammer being pulled back on the sheriff’s pistol. I put
my hands up on top of my head and got down on my
knees. There goes my theory about being lucky.
Chapter Nine
If nothing else, the sheriff could always be
credited with impeccable timing. I suppose it had been
foolish of me to believe that I would be able to pull off
some great escape, but I must admit that my encounter
earlier with a man calling himself Puckett had certainly
raised my optimism. Unfortunately, the sheriff now had
me dead to rights. Even worse, he had me subdued
while I was holding the very weapon that he intended to
incriminate me with.
“Miller, I have no idea how in the blue hell you
got outta that cell, but I’m not even gonna ask. Maybe I
should thank you, because you've made my job even
easier. You see, I won’t have to stage a fancy frame job
now. All I’ll have to do is tell the people that there was a
struggle at the station, and in all the chaos, you got the
upper-hand, stole my gun, and then escaped. Yeah, I like
the sound of that, Miller. What do you think?”
“What do I think, Sheriff? I think that you’ll never
know just how close I came to getting back to town with
your planted revolver, and anonymously mailing off one
hell of a news story to Clancy Scott’s desk down at the
Post. A news story that would’ve exposed you for the
fraud you are. That’s what I think, Sheriff.” It felt good to
sound off on the sheriff and show some backbone,
though I suppose it might have held more weight if my
voice hadn't been cracking from fear.
“Ah, Miller, what can I say? You’re an entertainin'
and imaginative fella. You might have even had one hell
of a career as a journalist yerself if the circumstances
had been different. It’s a shame though, son, that the
news story Clancy Scott will have to write for the paper
will have a sad ending," the sheriff said, lowering his
head to mock me.
"I don’t have your writin' talents, but tell me
what you think of this story. I can see it now," he said,
pantomiming reading the headline by sliding his hand in
the air, "Miller Brinkman, private detective, dies at
Sunset Hill after fleein' from police station and
attemptin' to evade capture." His sarcastic smile then
faded, revealing his more common stiff-jawed serious
look. "This old sheriff tried to reason with you, but yer
bloodlust had gotten the better of you. You unburdened
yer guilt by confessin' to the murder of Jessie Fryman.
Then when faced with the option to leap from the cliffs
or be taken back into police custody, you made a last
ditch attempt to survive by runnin' at me with the fires
of hell burning in yer eyes.
"I fired one shot at you in self-defense, hittin' you
right between the eyes," he said, tapping himself just
above the bridge of his nose. "When my backup arrived,
they found you dead at the scene, and me, a God damn
hero. It’s not the ideal scenario for you, I admit, but if
it's any consolation, son, at least people will remember
you for yer tenacity and fearlessness. Wouldn’t you
agree? Now, get to your feet, son.” The sheriff pointed
his pistol at me and squinted one eye as he lined up his
I had no choice but to comply with his
request. He had all the leverage in this situation and he
knew it. I had assumed that he was trying to goad me
into charging at him so that he could indeed shoot me in
clear conscience, but I wasn’t about to give him that
satisfaction. If he truly was going to be my executioner,
then he’d have to do it in cold blood and live with that
fact for the rest of his life.
“Okay Miller, what we’re gonna do now is walk
over to the cliffs nice and slow like. I don’t wanna have
to shoot you in the back of the head, so let’s not try any
funny business.”
Once again, I complied with his request and
walked over to the cliffs. The last sounds that I would
ever hear in this world would be the waterfall crashing
on top of the rocks down in the river below. I wondered
if it was the last sound that poor Ashley Carroll had
heard before falling to her death as well.
I had heard stories of people who encountered
near-death experiences mentioning a sensation of
seeing your whole life flash before your very
eyes. That’s not what happened to me. Instead of
flashing back on my own life, I thought about the lives of
Jane Emmett and Jessie Fryman. Perhaps it was slightly
egotistical on my part, but I hated to believe that my
death would extinguish any chance of Jane ever being
found, or Jessie’s death being avenged.
“All right, son, that’s far enough," the sheriff said,
clapping my shoulder to halt my movement. He turned
me around to look him in the face. "Now, if it makes any
difference to you, I hate like hell that I have to kill you.”
“Thank you, Sheriff. That is a weight off my
shoulders, and if it makes any difference to you, I never
voted for you.”
The sheriff laughed. “I wish I could say that I was
gonna miss you, son, but the truth is that I’ll rest easier
without you around to screw everything up. Now, let’s
end this.”
“Wait, sheriff, before you do, would you kindly
do me the service of at least satisfying my curiosity so
that I mustn’t die with a mind so full of unanswered
The sheriff scratched his forehead with the
barrel of his pistol, staring at me with a puzzled look on
his face. “Sorta like a last request, I suppose. Okay,
Miller, since yer about to die anyway, I don’t see what
harm it could do to answer yer questions. What is it that
you want to know?”
“Jane Emmett, Sheriff," I said. "What really
happened to her?”
“I'm afraid that’s a much more complicated
answer than I can give you," he said. "Oh, it’s true that
she was abducted all right, but it was a wellorchestrated plan with a lot of folks and a lot of movin'
pieces. Their methods are questionable, sure, but
there’s no doubtin' that they get the results they want.”
“Sheriff, you keep referring to ‘they.’ Who are
“I can’t say that I've ever asked, son. They are far
beyond the comprehension of small town folk like you
and me. They left just as quick as they came.”
“But Sheriff, tell me something! What did they
want?” I said, shaking my hands in frustration.
“They wanted Jane Emmett," he said. "Well, not
her in particular, but she had the credentials that they
were lookin' for, and we helped them find her.”
“That’s preposterous, Sheriff! You let these
people take an innocent teenage girl away from her
family? How long do you think you can really keep this
from them?”
“For a private investigator, you really are
worthless, aren’t you? Do you believe that her parents
don’t already know about it? Who do you think referred
Jane to them in the first place?” he said, shrugging his
“What? That can’t be true! Is that why the man in
black visited Mrs. Emmett a couple of months ago?”
Sheriff Coleman’s arrogant smile faded into a
look of genuine concern. I had apparently gotten past
his first class poker face, and broached a sensitive
subject that had him visibly shaken. Now I was getting
“Miller, how could you know about them?”
“Not only do I know about them, Sheriff, I saw
one of them. A man in black was hiding behind a tree in
the cemetery at Jessie’s funeral. I couldn’t be sure, but I
thought he was watching me for some reason.”
“But, they’re not supposed to be here! Dammit! It
had to have been that fake ransom letter that was sent
to the Emmetts. They must have been worried that
someone was on to them and came back to 'clean up.'
Oh Miller," the sheriff said pacing back and forth, "If
you’ve managed to attract their attention somehow,
then I am doing you a huge favor by puttin' you outta
yer misery before they find you.”
“I just have one last question then," I said. "Who
really killed Jessie Fryman?”
“Look, I don’t know as much about them, or how
they operate, as you seem to think I do. All my
conversations were with a man goin' by the name of
Gabriel Rayburn. I ain't never seen him in person. He
contacts me through letters and sends me instructions
to follow. And let me tell you somethin', Miller, he has a
way of lettin' you know that it would be a very bad idea
to not follow his instructions." The sheriff dragged his
thumb across his throat.
"Anyway, this Rayburn fella sent me a letter
about a week ago and told me to stay far away from
Jessie," he said. "It didn’t say why, just to stay away
from her, so that’s what I did. The night she was killed, I
received another letter saying that 'it' was done and
that I needed to prepare my story. That leads us up to
now and how you fit in, but you already know how this
is gonna play out. As much as I have enjoyed our chat, I
don’t see the point in continuin' to discuss this further.”
The tranquility of Sunset Hill was interrupted by
a gunshot that shattered the silence. There was a loud
ringing in my left ear. I dropped down to my knees and
then fell forward. I felt a wetness against my chest as
my blood began to pour out. It was clear that I had been
hit, but I was still alive. For how much longer, I didn't
Though it was difficult to keep calm, I realized
that this was my best chance to escape from the present
situation. Sheriff Coleman didn’t fire another shot,
which led me to believe that he assumed he had killed
me with the first one. I knew that if I continued to lie
still, I could play dead and evaluate the sheriff’s next
move. My plan would require me to take a huge risk by
assuming the sheriff would not fire again, but any sort
of indication I was still alive would alert him and
guarantee my demise.
With my body lying on the ground face first, I
was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t see the
sheriff’s actions. I would have to rely on my hearing,
which was going to be difficult due to the ringing in my
left ear that had rendered it useless. My last option
would be to feel the vibrations of his movement on the
ground, from which I could approximate his distance
from my body. Because the sheriff had not moved since
I dropped to the ground, I began to think that maybe he
had never shot a man before.
After a few moments, I began to hear the subtle
crunch of gravel underneath Sheriff Coleman's feet,
indicating that he was moving closer. I had no doubt
that his gun was still drawn and fixed on me, so
whatever action I was going to take would have to be
precise. The shuffling of the sheriff's feet through the
rocks was getting louder as he continued to draw
close. I had no plan and was running out of
time. Suddenly, the movement stopped. I could sense
the sheriff standing near the midsection of my
body. Using the toe of his shoe, the sheriff gave a couple
of stiff kicks to my side, which were incredibly painful. I
took one last very slow and deep breath through my
nose, which would have to be enough air to get me
through the next few crucial moments.
The sheriff dug his shoe under my body until I
could feel his shin pressed against my side. With great
force, he lifted up his foot and rolled me on to my back.
"Where'd I get ya?" the sheriff mumbled to
himself. He knelt down and leaned in for closer
inspection—his gun no longer aimed at me.
Sensing my best opportunity to counterattack, I
quickly reached out with my left hand and grabbed
control of his wrist, eliminating his ability to raise his
gun at me. With my right hand, I clenched a tight fist
and packed a wallop into one mighty blow, striking the
sheriff in the face. He bellowed a cry of pain and fell
onto his backside. I pounced on top of him right away in
an attempt to incapacitate him. I pinned down his right
arm with my knees, and grabbed his left arm with both
The sheriff displayed greater physical strength
than I had anticipated, and he fought hard for control of
the gun in his left hand.
Sensing that my tactic was not working, I
changed up my strategy and attempted to bring his
hand upward above his head where I could bash it
against the rocks on the ground and cause him to drop
the pistol.
I caught him off guard and used his momentum
to my advantage, getting his left hand up above his head
as I had planned. However, instead of hitting his hand
on the rocks as intended, the force of pulling his arm
upward pried the weapon from his hand. The liberated
pistol flew over to the edge of the cliff, the thought of
obtaining it distracting me just enough for the sheriff to
free his left hand and strike me in the face. It was a
glancing blow, but strong enough to knock me off of
him. He rolled over and began to crawl toward the
Dazed from the blow, I shook my head to clear it.
When I saw what the sheriff was trying to do, I got up
and lumbered after him, but I was too late. Unable to
move fast enough to stop him, the sheriff had reached
the pistol first. He grabbed the gun with both hands and
took aim at me from his belly, but was in no position to
fire at me with any accuracy. The sheriff gripped a large
stone with his right hand for balance as he attempted to
make his way back up to his feet. However, the sheriff
had made a fatal miscalculation regarding the stability
of the rock.
The momentum of the sheriff’s full weight
pressing against the loose slab of rock had dislodged it
from its resting place. I looked on in bewilderment as, in
one fluid motion, the stone gave way and went toppling
over the edge of the cliff, taking the unbalanced sheriff
over the side with it. I ran over to the edge and peered
down at the water below for any sign of the sheriff, but
could see nothing. Knowing that there would have been
no way to survive a fall like that, I didn't need my
powers of deduction to determine that the sheriff was
gone. Still, despite our history—specifically the portion
that involved him trying to kill me—I couldn't help but
feel sorry for him. That was not the end that I would
have chosen for someone who had meant so much to
Ashley Falls. Regardless of the decisions that he had
made late in his life, I could never deny his importance
to the people of our town.
The sheriff’s death did not mean that the path
ahead was going to be any easier. In fact, it only made
things more complicated. I could assume that the sheriff
was telling me the truth about no one being aware of
my incarceration, but that still didn’t give me a solid
alibi. Additionally, given his great stature in our
community, his disappearance alone would surely spark
a thorough investigation even if his body was not
initially recovered. It would be a high enough profile
case that would attract the authorities from the city, and
everyone in town would be asked to account for their
whereabouts. I didn’t have the energy or the mental
faculties to deal with that scenario. Even if I could
concoct a sound alibi, there was no way I’d be able to
explain my injuries. It was clear what I had to do next. It
was time for me to leave Ashley Falls. Maybe even for
Still reeling from what had happened, I made my
way through the woods and back to my house. I
stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the light. My
reflection in the mirror revealed blood stains on the
front of my clothing. With enough light to see clearly, I
removed my jacket and shirt to look at the severity of
my injuries. Based on the discoloration of my skin, the
bullet had hit me high up on the left shoulder. I was not
a doctor, but in looking at the wound, it appeared to
have gone straight through. I was relieved that the
bullet was not still stuck in my body. I would still need
to seek out medical attention eventually, but I knew that
I could patch myself up well enough to stop the bleeding
in the meantime. I only needed to be healthy enough to
board a train and get out of town.
Being that I had survived my encounter with
Sheriff Coleman, the question weighing the heaviest on
my mind was where to go first. In thinking that I was
surely going to die, the sheriff revealed a lot of valuable
information to me. He mentioned the name Gabriel
Rayburn, who I assumed was pulling all the strings from
a safe distance. That would likely make him a difficult
person to find. Something told me that if he was as
sinister as the image Sheriff Coleman had painted of
him, he would have a squeaky clean background that
would serve as a front, and allow him to carry out his
devious schemes as a ghost. I felt as though the road I
was on would lead to him eventually, but I didn’t have
enough information at this point to find him.
The next option was the mysterious tip I
received at the station from Puckett. He wanted me to
go to Baltimore and find Alyssa Noble, though he gave
me no direction as to what I was supposed to say to her
when I arrived. I wasn’t sure if I could even trust
him. After all, it had appeared that he was the author of
the fraudulent ransom note that was sent to the
Emmetts. I wasn’t entirely sure that I could rule him out
of any involvement in Jane’s abduction, but Sheriff
Coleman had told me the ransom note seemed to have
caused an uproar among the people he was working
with. If that was true, then I would have to trust that
Puckett and I were on the same side, or at the very least,
sharing common enemies. As it was, I didn’t have a lot
of allies, so if Puckett was trying to help me, I was
The last option involved the seemingly
clairvoyant clues left behind by Jane Emmett herself
before disappearing. Based on what I had discovered
from my encounter with Mr. Emmett at Jessie’s funeral,
the silver pocket watch Jane had been given by Phillip
Smith—or who I believed to be Phillip Smith—was a gift
of a romantic nature. Mr. Emmett had been given an
identical one by his colleague at The Washington
Evening Star, which connected this colleague and Phillip
Smith. I assumed they were father and son. If my
assumptions were correct, then I might be able to get in
touch with the Smiths to obtain additional
information. If Jane and Phillip were as close as it
seemed, then surely Phillip would have been aware of
Jane’s disappearance. In that situation, he would likely
speak to me and give me any additional details he had.
Since my first two options consisted of too many
unknown variables, I decided that I would first go to
Washington, D.C. and attempt to contact the Smiths. It
was still a long shot, but I felt as though it was my best
opportunity based on what I knew. I would need some
sort of proof of my credentials if the Smiths were going
to take my visit seriously, so it would be crucial that I
took Jane’s pocket watch with me.
That night, I packed for the long journey ahead,
and in the morning I would leave Ashley Falls with no
idea of when, or even if, I would see it again. It was still
hard for me to believe that what had started out as a
missing persons case a few months ago had turned into
the situation at hand—whatever that was. I was
unquestionably in over my head, and had already come
to grips with the fact that I would never be able to go
back to my normal life. If I could find Jane Emmett
though, it would all have been worth it.
In the morning, I arranged for a taxi to pick me
up and take me to the train station. I had managed to
leave early enough so the streets were still vacant and
would ensure that my getaway went unnoticed. Since I
had pretty much kept to myself anyway; I didn't
anticipate that people in town would question my
whereabouts. As the cab was about to enter the main
road leading out of town, I turned around and watched
through the back window as Ashley Falls faded away
behind me. Goodbye, old friend.
Chapter Ten
By leaving town at such an early hour, I had
arrived at the train station with a great deal of time to
kill. I checked my baggage inside the station and
patiently waited for the all aboard. A couple of hours
later when the conductor yelled, I began to experience a
panic attack.
I've lived with anxiety disorders most of my life,
so I was aware of what I was experiencing. My nerves
took control of my legs, and they began to feel like giant
sacks of concrete. After boarding, I took a deep breath,
and assured myself that everything was going to be all
I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving Ashley
Falls for the first time in forty-one years. The good thing
about my decision to go to Washington, D.C. first before
Baltimore was that I would not be completely without
aid. Rather I should say that I wouldn’t be without
a contact, but I had no guarantee that she would be in a
charitable enough mood to accept the olive branch that
I would bear.
Her name was Charissa Burke, and she worked
for the public library in Washington, D.C. I was
appreciative of the lengthy train ride ahead in hopes
that it might give me enough time to figure out the best
way to approach her. It had been many years since the
last time I’d seen her, but I imagined that she had long
since married and started a family by now. If my
memory had served me correctly, she would have been
thirty-nine and she would be my best chance to learn
more about the Smith family.
Charissa had always loved books, and working in
publishing had been a dream of hers since we were kids.
I’m sure being a librarian wasn’t exactly what she'd had
in mind, but somehow I could not envision her
complaining about being surrounded by literary classics
all day for a living. In fact, I remember even in our youth
that she had an intricate filing system for all of her
personal books. I myself could not make heads or tails
of it, but to her credit, she knew exactly where
everything was supposed to be at any given time. I
would have felt sorry for any poor soul who dared
to put one of her books out of order.
The truth of the matter, though I don’t much care
for discussing it, is that once upon a time Charissa was
going to be my wife. Well, she would have been if I had
asked her, but it’s a complicated story.
I was a couple of grades ahead of Charissa, but I
remember that she stood out like a sore thumb to me. I
had been so intrigued by the fact that she had
come from the outside. At that time of my life, I had
never met anyone from outside of town, and I had so
many questions that I wanted to ask in an effort to learn
more about city life. I wanted to talk to her so badly, but
I could never find the courage to. She had always
appeared to be sad, and I never felt right about
disturbing her. Sometimes I would see her crying to
herself on the school playground and it made my
stomach hurt. I could not imagine anything so horrible
as my parents not being together anymore, which made
me that much more empathetic about what she must
have been going through.
One day I just could not take seeing her in such
pain anymore, so I rallied as much courage as I could
and sat down by her on the playground to talk. I didn’t
know what to say, so I led with the only thing that came
to mind.
“My name is Miller. Who’s your favorite baseball
She stopped crying and raised her head up
towards me with a genuinely puzzled look on her face.
“Girls don’t like baseball, stupid head!”
I felt like such an idiot. I could not believe I had
just tried to start up a baseball discussion with a girl. I
laughed so hard that I had tears streaming down my
face. Seeing me crack up caused her to start laughing,
and then we both fell over, clutching our sides, unable
to breathe.
From that moment forward, Charissa and I
became good friends. As we got closer over the years,
she would tell me stories about her life before Ashley
Falls, and in return, I vowed to never again ask her
about baseball. Her family had moved to Ashley Falls
when she was about five years old. Her father was
involved in selling supplies, which caused their family
to move around a lot. Mr. Burke believed that he could
make a few extra bucks by selling his wares in town at
inflated prices to the people that came down from the
city since they were already accustomed to paying
higher city prices. What he hadn’t taken into
consideration was that the city folk came to Ashley Falls
to avoid paying the higher prices in the city, and within
a few short months, Mr. Burke was ruined. Unable to
deal with bankrupting his family, a shamed Mr. Burke
left town unexpectedly one night, forcing Mrs. Burke to
care for Charissa all by herself. Even though they were
outsiders, our town never turns its back on family,
and Mrs. Burke was able to get by with our help. She
was given a job and daycare for Charissa, and over time
she found it in her heart to forgive her husband and
move forward with her life.
Charissa didn't remember much about her life
before coming to Ashley Falls, which I think made her
feel bad because I was so interested, but in all honesty,
it was fascinating just to listen to her talk. I didn't care
about what.
Even though I knew that her father’s
abandonment still gnawed away at her on the inside, I
think she had grown quite fond of her new life in Ashley
Falls. Unfortunately for Charissa, her pain was not yet
over. Mrs. Burke became very ill with tuberculosis
and died when Charissa was just thirteen. She struggled
to make sense of what was happening around her. In
just eight short years her life had turned 180 degrees.
She molded into someone that I didn’t recognize
After her mother’s death, she went through a
very dark time, blaming God for everything bad that had
happened in her life. So, it was somewhat ironic that the
good Reverend and his wife offered to provide care
for Charissa. Despite her emotional and blasphemous
thoughts, she accepted the Reverend’s offer and moved
in with his family. In time her pain healed, and she
eventually rediscovered her faith. It allowed her to look
at life more positively, and even though she would still
have occasional spells of sadness, it was more of
a fleeting sensation that she claimed as a reminder to
never forget all that her mother had meant to her.
Like most childhood boy-girl friendships, as we
got older our friendship began to blossom into
something a little more than we were expecting. Before
we knew it, there was new context behind all of the
familiar feelings we’d had since we were kids. The
feeling of not wanting to see her cry had turned into a
more powerful desire to hold her close and comfort her
when she was sad. The feeling of wanting to engage in
conversation had turned into one of simply wanting to
see a smile on her beautiful face again.
I had no idea what love was back then, but if it
was in any way related to the butterflies that thinking
about Charissa gave me, then I never wanted to feel
anything else in my life again except for love.
It was a common fairy tale in Ashley Falls: The
childhood friends who had stuck together through thick
and thin had grown up and fallen madly in love. It was
the most glorious time of my life. With Charissa’s love, I
felt that nothing could go wrong, until the day when it
Before my parents had died, Charissa and I had
been planning the next stage of our lives together,
which most assuredly would have included marriage.
Even though she was very grateful for her life in Ashley
Falls, there was still an overwhelming desire to go back
to the city. She knew that she could never find a career
in publishing in a small town, and that in order to
realize her dreams she was going to have to leave. I
supported her dreams with every ounce of my being,
and though the thought of moving away from my family
frightened me, I wanted to do it for her. She had it all
planned out too. With my writing skills, I would write
the next great American novel, and she would then use
it as the launch pad for finding work with a book
publisher. My parents were in love with that idea. I have
no doubts that it would have been a great life, but that
was her dream, not mine.
I had spent so much time in my younger years
trying to help her deal with the loss of her parents that I
never spent any time bracing myself for the day when I
would have to say goodbye to my own. Even though I
was a grown man by the time my parents died, I could
not have been any less prepared for it. I guess when
someone in your life is always there, you never think
about what it would be like if they weren’t. It caused me
to distance myself from my loved ones that were still
among the living.
When my father died, I told Charissa that I didn’t
feel right about leaving my mother all alone to live out
her days. I knew that she was disappointed, but she was
supportive of my decision. After my mother passed just
a short time later however, I was so grief-stricken that I
didn’t know how I was going to get along without
them. I was more frightened than ever to be away from
familiar places and people despite my family being
gone. They call it agoraphobia. I should have seized that
opportunity to wed Charissa and embrace the love that
we shared, but sadly, I did not. It could have been my
grief talking, or perhaps just pure selfishness, but I
told her that I could no longer move away with her to
live her dream because it would require me to ignore
what I wanted for myself.
I remember seeing tears stream down her face
for the first time in many years. She begged me to
reconsider, but I was paralyzed with fear at the thought
of leaving behind the life that my parents had created
for me.
Charissa and I didn’t talk again until weeks later
when she dropped by my place to say goodbye for
good. It was an extremely uncomfortable
situation. Hidden beneath every sentence that she
spoke were the words “please change your mind and
come with me,” while hidden beneath every sentence
that I spoke were the words “please don’t leave me.”
It’s a shame that neither of us said what we were
really thinking that day. She asked me what I was going
to do, and for the very first time with confidence, I told
her it was the right time for me to finally pursue my
own dreams. I could see her fighting back tears as my
words sunk in. She took three steps back from my
porch, muttered one last barely audible goodbye, and
then got into the Reverend’s car without a backward
glance. I watched the car disappear into the distance
until she was gone. The pain of losing my parents would
eventually heal, but the pain of never seeing Charissa
again, and realizing the error of my biggest mistake,
would haunt me for many years to come.
Sitting on the train, I realized that I hadn't heard
from Charissa since I watched her leave town some
seventeen years ago. She had kept in touch with the
Reverend and his wife, a fact that they mentioned to me
nearly every time I saw them. It was nice to know that
she was alive and well even if she did not wish to speak
to me. The Reverend's updates were how I found out
about her becoming a librarian in Washington, D.C.
They would always ask me if there was a message that I
wanted them to give to her for me, but I never felt
comfortable with that after the way things were left
between us. No message I could send her would be
enough to make up for the apology that I owed her.
Charissa would not be the type of person to hold
a grudge against an old friend, but the thought of going
to see her at the library certainly did make me
nervous. The discomfort was something that I was
going to have to contend with however, because she
would have access to information that could be of great
value to me. Having lived in the area for so many years,
she would likely know someone that could help me
even if she would not.
I figured she might be harboring some deepseated anger and refuse to talk to me, but once I told her
about the kidnapping of Jane Emmett and the
corruption of Sheriff Coleman, there would be very little
chance of her refusing to speak to me. Charissa would
not know that I had become a private investigator, so
we would have plenty to catch up on if I could just
convince her to talk to me.
A train attendee walked through the coach and
told all of the passengers that we’d be entering the
station in Washington, D.C. within the next ten minutes.
My legs began to feel heavy again, just as they did
before I boarded the train. It was frustrating that I had
little control over my own mental state, but I fought
through the fear and was pleased to discover feeling in
my legs again. If I had known my body would have had
that type of reaction upon leaving Ashley Falls for the
first time, I’d have done it long ago and gotten it over
I could feel the speed of the train beginning to
decline, and within a few moments, we had stopped.
The coach doors opened up, and its passengers stepped
off the train. However, I sat back in my seat and peered
out the train window.
The view was as magnificent as a postcard. I had
never seen anything quite like it. As far as the eye could
see, the streets on the right were lined with buildings
that appeared to touch the sky. On the left were
beautifully preserved sections of lush green grass and
an ornate water fountain strategically outlined by trees.
In the middle of it all was a main paved street that
seemed to act as a divider between man-made creation
and nature. A separate set of railroad tracks stretched
down the long street for a trolley system, though there
were still a great number of people who seemed
to prefer to walk between destinations. For a man who
excelled at writing in his youth, the only word I could
come up with to summarize what I was seeing was a
simple “wow.”
The attendee came through one last time to
make sure the coach was empty, so I made haste
to gather my things and depart from the train. After I
had disembarked, I asked the station agent for hotel
suggestions. He kindly recommended a spot just a block
down the road where I would be able to find modest but
comfortable lodgings. I thanked him for his help and
exited the station, making my way down the street to
the hotel.
It was a quaint little place, painted yellow with
white trim, and had American flags hanging from each
corner of the roof. Inside, it was much smaller than it
looked from the outside, but still very nice and
charming. I laughed to myself thinking that it was
considered modest by Washington, D.C. standards, but
was far nicer than anything back in Ashley Falls.
I had been on the train for the majority of the day
and was exhausted. I felt completely disconnected as to
what was happening back in Ashley Falls. The town
would be aware of Sheriff Coleman’s disappearance, but
finding his body would take some time. I was confident
that I had been thorough in covering my tracks, but I
was not willing to take the risk of announcing my
whereabouts. Still, I wanted to be prepared in case
someone did decide to come looking for me. I didn’t
even know if people from Ashley Falls would be the
only ones looking for me.
For the duration of my time in Washington, D.C.,
I would be taking the assumed name of Albert
Willingham. One of the tools of the trade that comes
along with my line of work is the possession of an alias
for an occasion when you must work undercover. It was
kind of a silly name, but Albert Willingham was the
name of my main character from a novel I had begun
writing during my last couple years of high school. It
was sort of my way of paying homage to my parents. In
a way, I guess it was sort of homage to Charissa as well
since she was the only person I had ever let read it.
After registering as Albert Willingham, I received
the key to my room and walked up a flight of stairs
where at the end of the hall I found door #17. My room
was clean and pleasant, and I knew that these lodgings
would serve me well during my stay. As ambitious
as my agenda was, it would have been impossible to
accomplish any of it without proper rest, so I decided to
change out of my clothes and turn in for the
evening. The next day would be a challenging one, but in
a bizarre sort of way, I was almost eager to face it. I
turned out my light and drifted off to sleep.
Chapter Eleven
The next morning was a bright and beautiful
Saturday. The sun was peeking through the drawn
sheer curtains and illuminated the room with such
majesty. I had seen the sun rise thousands of times back
home, but it had never looked like that. There was a
sense of excitement from being some place new, and I
felt as though I was seeing my first day in the nation's
capital through the eyes of a child. I felt silly thinking
about the trepidation I’d experienced in my life at the
thought of ever leaving town. Washington was already
wonderful and I had been there less than twenty-four
I made my way into the bathroom to wash off the
previous day’s travel. The shower felt amazing. It
occurred to me that it was my first shower in nearly a
week. The hot water was soothing to my battle worn
skin—something I will never take for granted again as
long as I live, I can assure you—but I was beginning to
feel some discomfort from the shoulder wound. It didn’t
look infected, but I was not about to become careless
and let the wound go neglected. After I stepped out of
the shower, I caught a good look at myself in the mirror.
I cleaned my wound and redressed it as best I could. I
had little medical knowledge, but when growing up in a
small town surrounded by woods and the wildlife
within it, one had to know at least basic first aid. With
all the hygiene care addressed, I took a fresh set of
clothes from my suitcase and put them on.
I was looking rather haggard. In addition to
going nearly a week since my last shower, I had gone
equally as long without shaving. My facial hair had
never grown in full like my father’s, and not shaving for
several days usually produced some rather comical
results. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror to see
what I must look like to other people and it was worse
than I thought. I looked like a petty beggar. Even worse,
I looked like a petty beggar whose beard had begun to
resemble something akin to a bird’s nest, which I would
soon rectify.
Looking in the mirror again, I then felt more
confident that I would not scare any children I
happened to encounter. If nothing else, I just wanted to
look presentable in front of Charissa who had last seen
me as a strapping young man of twenty-four years. I
wondered what she would look like after
seventeen years and if I would still recognize her.
I made my way down to the front desk and asked
the owner for directions to the library. As luck would
have it, the library was only a short, walkable
distance from the hotel. After being confined to a train
for several hours the day before, my cramped and
aching muscles welcomed an opportunity to get out and
stretch them. On my way out, I noticed a little bakery
next door to the hotel, so I stopped in to grab a cup of
coffee and a pastry for the walk. Roxy’s was the best
place to go for coffee back in Ashley Falls, but her diner
felt like a thousand miles away. I wondered if I would
ever see it again.
Up the street two blocks was newspaper stand
that the hotel manager had designated as a
landmark. From there I could see the library to my right
about four blocks down the road, obscured by large
trees out in front. I finished my pastry and pressed
on with my coffee in hand. I was still a little nervous
about seeing Charissa but excited at the same time. I
had thought about this day many times over the past
seventeen years, though I never imagined it quite like
this. I had never doubted that she was going to
accomplish her goals and live out her dreams, but in my
gut I had always felt like she’d eventually come back to
Ashley Falls. That had been wishful thinking.
I reached the library while distracted by all the
thoughts racing through my head. The building was
enormous—a long rectangular building with more glass
windows than even the Emmett’s house, and it was at
least four stories tall. Somewhere inside I would find
Charissa, possibly spending her lunch break with her
nose buried deep in a book of poetry. I finished drinking
my coffee and threw the cup away into a nearby trash
can. My time was up. The moment of truth had finally
I entered the mammoth-sized building to
discover its interior to be as breathtaking as the
exterior. There were large support beams all
throughout the main floor, and desks made of real
oak all around them for people to sit at. The desks were
arranged into the shape of a square in the center of the
room, while shelves of literature lined the walls around
them. It had been amazing to me that this was all on
just one floor, and that the library had several others
above it just as big. I could see why Charissa had been
drawn to such a place.
I walked over to the checkout counter and was
greeted by the gentle smile of a middle-aged woman.
"Hello, sir. Can I help you find anything today?"
"Yes, actually. My name is Albert Willingham. I'm
looking to speak with one of your employees. Charissa
"I see," she said. "Can I ask what this is in
reference too?"
"We're old friends. We grew up together in the
same town. This is my first time to the capital and I
thought it would be nice to see her." My words seemed
to find a soft spot in the woman's heart. She smiled at
me in such a way that I began to feel flirted with.
"Oh, heavens! Yes, I'm sorry. I'll go and let her
know that you're here."
"That's okay. I appreciate it, but I'd like for my
visit to be a surprise," I said.
"Well, in that case, Charissa is up on the second
floor. Just take the stairs to the left and you're bound to
find her. As busy as a bee, I'm sure."
I removed my hat and held against my chest.
"Thank you, Ma'am." The woman waved goodbye,
her exhaled sigh probably more audible than she had
intended. I proceeded to the nearby staircase and
climbed up.
On the second floor, I was attracted to a section
of the library dedicated to newspapers and periodicals. I
walked over for a closer look and was enticed by the
collection of newspapers from all over the country. I
could have spent days in that section, sifting through all
the bits of news happening around the country, but my
curiosity would have to wait. I needed to find a copy of
The Evening Star with something useful about the Smith
family. If Phillip really had been related to the Mr. Smith
in charge of publishing The Evening Star, then perhaps
he had used his father’s resources to put out a missing
person bulletin. In that case, providing
updated information about Jane might at least get me an
"in" to a face-to-face discussion with the family. Despite
my fascination with the grand collection of newspapers,
I could not make any sense of the way they were
organized on the racks. It was not alphabetical or
numeric. Honestly, who in their right mind would be
able to navigate their way through this?
“Hey stranger. Who’s your favorite baseball
I heard a woman’s voice coming from directly
behind me as I knelt down to peruse the bottom row of
newspapers on the rack. It had been many years since
I’d last heard it, but that voice was unmistakable. Within
seconds of hearing that softly-spoken voice, every
memory from our past raced through my mind’s eye. I
composed myself, stood up, and then turned to face her.
“Ted Williams, my lady. He’s still the best there
As I made eye contact, I saw the familiar smile of
a woman whom I had loved once upon a time. Charissa
Burke stood before me after all these years, and her
smile could still cause me to melt inside without much
effort. She was an absolute vision for very tired and
regretful eyes, just as striking as I had remembered
her. She had cut a few inches from the length of her dark
brown hair, but she looked otherwise unchanged. The
years had been very kind to her.
“Ted Williams?" she laughed. "And here I was
nearly certain you were going to say Stan Musial.”
I could not believe my ears. Had
Charissa really just named a baseball player? Judging by
the mischievous grin on her face, I quickly got the
impression that my shock was the reaction she had
intended by her comment. I was grateful for the
opportunity to enjoy the playful banter, and relieved
that she didn’t feel the need to express any ill will
towards me. I had been in a constant state of panic
wondering how our encounter was going to go, and
within seconds, she had taken away any fear that I had
been clinging on to.
“Charissa Burke, as I live and breathe. Is that
really you?”
“Indeed it is. Albert Willingham, I presume? And
how have your globetrotting escapades been panning
out? Oh the stories you must have to share!”
I could not help but laugh. I was flattered that
she had even remembered my attempt at writing a
novel some twenty years prior, let alone my lead
character. Beyond that, I was impressed by her
apparent mastery of sarcasm. She had always had an
enjoyable sense of humor but had been more the type of
person to laugh at your jokes rather than be the one
delivering them.
“It’s just delightful to see you again, Charissa.”
“And likewise, Miller. I must admit, when Janet
called to let me know that she was sending a visitor up
to see me, I would never have guessed in a thousand
tries that it would’ve been you. When she said Albert
Willingham, I don’t know, I guess I—" She placed her
hands at her sides sternly and said, "You just didn’t
leave me much time to prepare for the first words I
would speak to you in seventeen years, you know that?”
“But are you happy to see an old friend?”
“Absolutely I am! Of course, Miller. I wish it
hadn’t taken so long for today to finally come. I won’t lie
to you, I’ve thought about this day for a very long time. I
never truly believed that I had seen the last of you. As
glad as I am to see you, though, I have to ask, what
brings you to see me now after all this time?”
“To be honest, it is a long and complicated story,"
I said. I motioned to an empty table a few feet
away from us. I followed behind Charissa and we each
took a seat. I looked her in the eyes and said, "Some
of what I have to tell you may be hard to believe, but I
assure you that every word of it is true. I would
welcome the opportunity to talk to you all about it, but I
fear that this location is not the optimal setting for us to
do so. Do you have time to join an old friend for a meal
so that we can talk?”
Charissa hesitated for a moment before offering
a reply. “There is a lovely restaurant not far from
here. I’m off at five o’clock. Why don’t you come back
and meet me out in front of the library, and we can walk
there together. Does that sound good?”
I took out my pocket watch and made note of the
time. “It sounds perfect, Charissa. Thank you so much. I
can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“Then it’s a date. For now, however, I need to get
back to work around here so that I will be able to leave
at five.” Charissa stood up from the table and pushed in
her chair.
“Oh, before you do, I was hoping that you may be
able to help me find something," I said. "I’m looking for
past prints of The Evening Star in your archive here, but
I can’t make heads or tails of this organization.”
“Oh Miller, you never could seem to follow my
filing system. Let me help you,” she said. She walked
over to the newspaper-filled aisles and returned
moments later with a stack under each arm. I had
known her long enough to recognize that she was
fighting back her laughter. That was precisely why I
never touched her books as a child either.
“I don’t know how far you want to go back, but
here is every Sunday edition for the past couple of
months. If you need anything more specific, just let me
There must have been at least twenty pounds of
paper on the table in front of me. “Thanks Charissa. This
should be enough to get me started.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what exactly are
you looking for?” she said while brushing some lint off
of her dress that she'd noticed.
“In due time, my dear. In due time.”
“Well then, I'll leave you to dig in. When you’re
done, just put them back into stacks and I will come
back to take care of them later. I will see you tonight.”
I watched Charissa walk back to her post across
the library, thinking about the surreality of the moment.
I shifted my attention back to the newspapers and
laid them out across the table. I was not entirely sure
what I was looking for, so I just skimmed the headlines
in hopes of finding something eye-catching. I was
certain that I could rule out the obituaries, but I would
keep my eyes peeled for anything related to any Jane
Doe discoveries.
A couple of hours passed, and I was not finding
anything of interest by looking through the papers. I
had to imagine that not every story was deemed
newsworthy enough to make it into the papers, and that
would be where Charissa’s local knowledge would
prove most helpful. Since I’d exhausted the usefulness
of the newspapers, I got up from the table and walked
back down to the first floor.
I still had a couple of hours to wait before five
o’clock, so I decided to go for a little walk around the
area and explore the city as a tourist. Despite the
city's immense size, it reminded me a lot of Ashley Falls
in some ways. The similarities were subtle, but they
were there. It had been a good day, and I had a grin
plastered across my face that could not have been
removed even with surgical tools. Going to the big city
had turned out to not be so scary at all. I could have
kicked myself for not making the trip sooner.
With spring yet to embrace the city, the
cool weather was rather unwelcoming. I shielded my
hands from the cold by tucking them into my pockets.
The sightseeing had been fantastic, but I needed to get
back to the library and meet Charissa. She was leaving
through the front door just as I made my way up the
stairs to greet her. Charissa had prepared for the low
temperature by wearing a stunning red coat that made
her look like a movie star. Though I hoped it would not
be construed as staring, I had to take a moment to
observe her appearance. At that moment, she was the
very definition of beauty.
Charissa smiled and said, “Shall we, Mr.
Charissa grabbed my arm and wrapped it around
hers, and we began walking to the restaurant, arm-inarm, as if a sea of years had not separated us. Even
though I knew I was there with her for a very specific
purpose, it was hard not to allow myself that moment in
time to just feel good about life, and be provided the
chance to rewrite her chapter with closure this time
The restaurant was just a brief walk up the road
from the library. When we arrived and stepped in from
the cold, the place looked deserted. I remember
thinking that if it had been Roxy’s Diner, it would have
been standing room only, and I would likely have been
eating my slice of pie underneath the coat rack, or
someplace equally as uncomfortable. The differences
between small town life and big city life started to
become apparent. Even though we had all suffered as a
country during the depression, I suppose that Ashley
Falls was lucky enough to have not had close ties to
Wall Street, which allowed us to recover faster. The
bigger cities had been hit harder and had taken longer
to get back on their feet. As a result, the people in the
city had learned to not spend their money frivolously in
fear of the stock market ever crashing again.
We were seated right away at a cozy little table
in the corner of the restaurant that had windows on
each wall, providing a beautiful view of the setting sun. I
imagined what Sunset Hill may have looked like
through a window. From the time we were seated, it
was obvious that we both had a lot of things that we
wanted to say to each other, but neither of us could
seem to find the right words to start off the
conversation. I nervously kept taking sips from my glass
of water without making eye contact, while Charissa
would tug at her hair, with her eyes lowered from me,
as if enamored with the red and white checkered table
cloth laid out in front of us. I knew that I needed to put
an end to the awkwardness.
“So I have to say, it’s so great to see you again,
Charissa. I love what you’ve done with your hair. It suits
you perfectly. Your husband is a lucky man," I said. I
was fishing for confirmation on what I had already
believed to be true. I didn't want to know, but felt like I
had to.
“You’re very kind, Miller, but I never married.”
“What? All those years and you never found
yourself a good man?" I said.
“As I recall the story, Miller, I did find a good
man, but, you already know how that story plays out,
don’t you?”
I knew there was nothing that I could say in
response to that. She was right. I had anticipated that
she would need to vent some of her anger and I had
been preparing for it. When it finally happened though, I
could not have predicted that she’d score a direct hit
with her opening salvo.
“And what about you, Miller?" She folded a
napkin and placed it across her lap. "You haven’t aged a
bit in seventeen years. Even if I hadn’t known you
were at the library today, I’d have been able to spot you
from across the most crowded room.”
“Really? Well I don’t know about that, but that’s
awfully kind of you to say. When I look in the mirror, I
see a man looking back at me who has indulged in
perhaps one too many slices of apple pie at Roxy’s," I
said, patting my belly.
Charissa laughed and said, “You’re so funny,
Miller! I always knew that one day your neglected sweet
tooth would give in to temptation. But no, you don’t
look any different to me.”
It was great getting to share a few laughs with an
old friend, but the conversation quickly died down
again. I suppose that was because there was really only
one topic of conversation that we both had on our
minds, and it was going to remain the elephant in the
room until we talked about it.
“No, though. I, uh, I never married either. After
my folks passed, I just kind of struggled after that.”
The smile faded from Charissa’s face. I guess now
that we had made it through the small talk, it was time
to up the ante.
“Miller, look, it’s not that I’m not happy to see
you, but what brings you all the way out here? I’d love
to boost my ego and pretend that your visit was strictly
on my behalf, but I know that it isn’t. The way that you
were talking in the library earlier had me
concerned. That was a very serious side of you that I’ve
never seen before, which makes me think that
something really bad must have happened back
home. I’m a big girl now, Miller, I can take it. Why are
you really here?”
I knew that arriving into town one day out of the
blue was going to be difficult to explain. However, I had
promised to explain myself earlier. I wondered if she
would still think of me as sane by the end of my story
and not have me committed on the spot. For all she
knew, I could have become a nutcase in seventeen
“Charissa, there have been a lot of things going
on in Ashley Falls over the past few months and, well,
I’m actually in a lot of trouble." I folded my hands in
front of me on the table. "You see, I became a private
investigator several years ago and have been taking on
cases around town trying my best to help people. A few
months ago a local teenage girl went missing and the
deputies weren’t doing a whole lot to help find her. Her
best friend from school asked me if I would take on her
case instead. I was reluctant to because the sheriff and I
had a rocky past, but this poor girl, she just had a way at
tugging my heart strings."
"Oh, Miller," Charissa said. She wrapped her
hands around mine. The soft skin of her soothing hands
gave me the confidence I needed to continue my story.
I spared no detail and walked her through
everything. The murder of Jessie Fryman, Carroll’s
cross, my time spent in jail, the strange behavior of the
Emmetts, Puckett, and of course, the tale of Sheriff
Coleman’s fateful end. Charissa had adjusted her
position in her seat countless times during the
conversation; as she sat quietly and listened to my tale. I
could tell that my words made her uncomfortable, but I
needed her to believe me. It was the best case scenario
that I could have hoped for.
"I started following up on any lead I could find
around town and eventually I found this," I said. I
reached into my coat and pulled out the pocket watch
and letter that Jane Emmett had buried on the Carroll’s
Charissa picked up the pocket watch and
squinted. “P.E.S.? Who is P.E.S.?” She said as the watch
twirled at the bottom of the chain.
“I'm still not positive, but the letter refers to a
‘Phillip’, who I believe might be part of the Smith family
that runs The Evening Star. The thing is, though, I don’t
know for sure if he even exists at all.”
“Phillip Smith? You think this pocket watch
belonged to Phillip Smith?”
The look of shock on Charissa’s face was one I
had not expected. Not only did she appear to be reacting
with legitimate concern, but she said the name Phillip
Smith without much hesitation.
“Yes," I said. "He’s real then? Do you know him?”
“Miller, unless this is just a coincidence, Mr.
Smith’s son is named Phillip Easton Smith.”
“If it’s not a coincidence, then it fits perfectly
within the leads that I’ve been chasing, Charissa. This is
great news! How can I get in touch with him? I need to
find out if he knows anything about the disappearance
of the girl who wrote this letter!”
“Well, in a roundabout way, Mr. Smith is sort of
my boss. Thanks to a very generous donation on behalf
of The Evening Star several years ago, the library had
enough money to open up and provide our services to
the public. I could contact him if you like and try to set
up a meeting for you. But, what will you say to him?”
“I’m not entirely sure to be quite honest, but I’m
hopeful that he will let me speak with Phillip. If Phillip
and Jane were as in love as her letter seems to indicate,
then surely Mr. Smith would know of her relationship to
his son. Phillip has to know that Jane is missing by now,
so perhaps Mr. Smith has used his network of resources
to seek out information about her?”
Amidst all of our talking, we did find the time to
eventually eat and enjoy each other's company. It had
gotten late, and I walked Charissa home to an
apartment not too far away.
After we reached the steps outside of her
building, Charissa turned to me and said, "Miller, I had a
great time with you tonight. For what it's worth, I
always knew you'd find a use for that powerful brain of
"You did?"
"Yeah, I did. I knew there had to be something
worth protecting under such a thick skull." She laughed,
then took off my fedora and placed it on her head.
"What about me, Miller? You think I could've been your
I stared into her eyes and felt a warmth rush all
through my body. "I think you could have been anything
you ever wanted to be."
Charissa put her hand over her heart. "Miller, I—
"Yes, Charissa? What is it?"
She paused for a few moments. "I just wanted to
say that I'll do it. I'll talk to Mr. Smith in the morning
and try to arrange a meeting for you. He's a good man.
I'm sure he'll be happy to speak to you."
"Thank you. I appreciate what you're doing for
me. Are you sure this won't cause you any problems
though? I don't want you to suffer any repercussions for
sticking your neck out for me."
"No, it will be fine," she said. "I won't lie, I'll just
tell him what I know. You're a private detective that's
new to the area and might have some information about
his son. It's not an outright lie, is it? After all, what good
is being a detective if you can't use just a little deception
to get what you need?" She smiled and turned toward
the entrance of her building.
I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled
her back to me. We stood face-to-face, staring into each
other's eyes.
Charissa smiled and said, "Mr. Willingham,
whatever has gotten into you?"
With every fiber of my being, I wanted to kiss
her, but I didn't. Instead, I took her into my arms and
hugged her close against my body. "Thank you,
"It's okay, Miller. It's nothing much, really."
"I'm not talking about Mr. Smith."
Charissa rubbed her hand up and down my back.
"Oh, Miller. I'd have given anything to see you again and
now here you are. Let's not wait another seventeen
years next time, okay?"
I held her tight for several more minutes, but
never uttered another word.
I was exhausted and ready to rest my head for
the night. A twenty minute walk back to the hotel from
Charissa’s apartment was all that stood in my way. I
must have walked several miles on the hard,
unforgiving pavement of the city that day. Once I had
reached my room, I was too tired to even change my
clothes. I climbed into bed still wearing my nice attire,
and fell asleep.
Chapter Twelve
That night, I had a dream. Sometimes I get
flashes of past dreams in my mind’s eye, but never
anything remotely close to that level of detail.
Something took full control of my subconscious as if it
was something I was supposed to see. I can still
remember that dream so vividly, because it was unlike
anything I had ever experienced before.
I watched the events unfold from a third person
perspective. I couldn't see the face of the person I was
observing, but somehow I knew it was me. I stood in the
middle of nothingness—a giant field of dirt with only a
single tree. I stared at the glow of the setting sun on the
horizon. I could still feel the faint warmth of the sun, but
the earth had already begun to cool. I was alone and
isolated—presumably trapped in a foreign land and
forgotten time. However, I wasn't scared in the slightest.
I was completely solaced. Like I belonged there
The body I possessed was not my own. He was
much younger and chiseled with the features of an
Adonis as though sculpted out of clay by Michelangelo
himself. I saw a hand appear from behind "me" and
gently land upon my shoulder. The pure and sensual
touch caused my knees to buckle. Just as I turned to face
the person whose touch could've moved me in such a
way, I was jolted awake by a knock on my door.
It took me a moment to gather my wits, but once
I snapped out of my dream state and realized where I
was, I got out of bed, put on my robe, and
then answered the door. It was the hotel manager
coming up to my room to inform me that I had a call
waiting for me at the front desk. I told the manager that
I would need a few moments to get dressed and then I
would come straight down.
After putting on my clothes, I grabbed my pocket
watch from the nightstand and the hands
indicated three o’clock in the afternoon! I assumed that
my watch had ceased working sometime in the middle
of the night and needed to be wound.
When I arrived at the front desk, I was delighted
to pick up the phone and hear Charissa’s voice on the
other end.
“It’s all set, Miller. Mr. Smith has agreed to meet
with you tonight at seven o’clock, so you’ve got a few
hours to prepare.”
A few hours? I looked at the clock hanging just
behind the front desk and was aghast to see that it was
indeed just past three o’clock in the afternoon. I didn’t
understand, as I had never slept in that late before. I
was certainly willing to accept that my body had not yet
fully recovered since being held captive by Sheriff
Coleman, but that was quite excessive.
“Miller? You okay?” she said.
“Oh, yes. Sorry, Charissa. The manager was
motioning to me about something and I got
distracted. But any way, I can’t thank you enough. Your
help means a lot to me.”
“Don’t mention it. Maybe you can treat a lady to a
fine meal again sometime as payment. What do you
“Of course. You can count on that.” My heart
skipped a beat at the promise of spending more time
with her.
“Miller, there is one last thing. Take it easy
tonight, okay? Be careful. I trust Mr. Smith as if I was a
part of his family, it’s just that his tone seemed to
change a bit after I mentioned that you had information
about his son. It’s probably nothing. He was likely just
wondering why someone from out of town would be
inquiring about his family, but—”
“Charissa, you have my word. I will handle my
meeting with Mr. Smith very delicately. I’m not here to
interrogate him. I just want to talk to his son. No
matter how much they might know, even the slightest
bit of new information could help me find Jane Emmett.”
“I know. Call me though, okay? Let me know
what you find out. And if there is anything else I can do
for you, don’t even think twice about asking me, you
hear me?”
“Again, you have my many thanks. I could not
have done this without you," I said.
"Remember, Mr. Smith thinks he's meeting
Albert Willingham, so don't forget that."
"Yes, yes, thank you. Now please, don’t spare
another moment on little ole’ me. You have plenty more
to worry about. Important things such as perfecting the
art of filing books like a mad person.”
“Oh, you!" she said. That was something that she
used to say to me all the time whenever I'd tease her
about something, or if she simply didn't know how else
to respond to one of my silly jokes.
“Goodbye, Charissa.” I was just about to hang up
when a thought hit me out of the blue. I had not heard
her disconnect the call yet, so I still had a few seconds.
“Wait. Charissa?”
“Yes, Miller?”
“Come to think of it, there might be one more
thing you could do for me. You know, if your offer still
The hotel manager made a clicking sound with
his mouth and shot me a wink. Dirt bag.
“Of course, Miller. What is it?”
“You have access to all sorts of information from
all over the country, right? Not just the events that
happen here in Washington?”
“Yes, that's right. We have a robust selection of
newspapers and other reference material in our
archives. What are you looking for?”
“It may be nothing, but if you have some time,
can you see if you can find anything pertaining to a
Gabriel Rayburn? Anything at all, really.”
“Gabriel Rayburn? Who’s that?”
“I’m not entirely sure. He could be real, or he
could be a ghost. At this point, I don’t know anything
about him other than a name.”
“Okay, Gabriel Rayburn it is. You got it!” she said.
That time we said goodbye for real, and I
wandered back up the stairs to my room. I was still
stunned by the fact that I had been sleeping all day, but
at least I had a few hours before my meeting with Mr.
Smith to think of how I was going to handle the
conversation. Asking Charissa to find something on
Gabriel Rayburn was a long shot, but I figured it was at
least worth a try.
Over the next few hours, I took a shower and got
ready for my appointment with Mr. Smith. All I had
was the pocket watch to convince him that I was
credible, but I hoped it would be enough. The initials
P.E.S. engraved on the pocket watch could prove to be a
coincidence, but in my gut I felt as though I was on the
right track. Using a man’s son as leverage to gain his
attention was not something that I was particularly
proud of. Though I had no children of my own, I could
only imagine the mental state one could be put in upon
hearing that a complete stranger had information about
someone in their family. He would be very protective,
and quick to call the authorities if I didn’t play my cards
right. I would have to tread lightly so as to not alarm
As the clock inched closer and closer to six
o’clock, I received a knock on the door. It was the hotel
manager, and he had come up to inform me that I had a
car waiting for me downstairs. I was a bit caught offguard. I had not expected Mr. Smith to send a car for me,
but I could only assume that this was the result of
Charissa painting such a fine portrait of me to him.
Either that, or I had overstepped my bounds with this
gamble, and the mysterious car downstairs would have
a trunk full of rope and cement, ready to take me to the
nearest river in an effort to silence me.
While I didn’t ordinarily live my life with such
grim expectations, it was hard to ignore the possibility. I
was a small town private investigator, leaps and bounds
out of my element, and it would have been foolish to not
consider all scenarios. In this particular situation
however, I trusted Charissa implicitly and felt confident
that she would not lead me into a trap.
I grabbed my hat and jacket and proceeded to
follow the manager downstairs to the lobby. Awaiting
me at the door was a driver, dressed in a very nice gray
suit and cap. He was a rather intimidating man, until he
greeted me with a smile from ear to ear. They say you
can tell a lot about a man from his smile. If that's true,
the driver made me feel the safest I’d felt in years.
With a sweeping motion of his arm, the
driver gestured for me to walk out to the car and said,
"After you, sir."
If my eyes did not deceive me, it was the
stunning royal blue Cadillac parked on the street just
outside. I approached the car, afraid to touch the handle
because it was by far the most luxurious thing I’d ever
The driver opened the car door for me and I slid
into the back seat. The car was elegant to say the very
least. The dashboard was made of smooth, polished
wood, shiny and immaculate. The leather interior
provided unbelievable comfort, coupled with the
convenience of their own individual metal
ashtrays. While admiring the stunning vehicle, I realized
what an understatement it would have been to say that
Mr. Smith had done well for himself. As well-known as
Mr. Emmett was for his paper company back home, not
even the size of his wealth had produced an automobile
like that.
The driver got into the car and said, "The name's
Gibbard, sir. We got us a bit of a drive ahead, but I'll get
ya there. Don't you go worryin' 'bout that. You just sit
back and enjoy the ride, ya hear?"
In a vehicle such as Mr. Smith's Cadillac, I could
not imagine a more attractive proposition. I rolled down
the window and marveled at the sights of the city
speeding by as Gibbard pressed on toward our
destination. It had been unusually cold since my arrival,
but the breeze felt good against my face. For some
reason it reminded me of the cold autumns from my
After quite some time in transit, the car pulled up
in front of a large building with a gothic looking metal
gate. A security guard walked from his post to the front
window and greeted Gibbard with a pleasant tone and
smile. The guard conducted a routine check of the
vehicle to verify that everything was in order, then went
back to his post and opened the gate for us to pass
through. As rich as Mr. Smith was, I could understand
his precaution. Gibbard pulled up to a cement walkway
and stopped the car. He got out and walked around to
my door to open it for me.
“This is where I leave you to find your way, Mr.
Willingham. What'cha wanna do is go through this main
door here, walk all the way down to the end of a long
hallway, then turn right. Yer lookin' fo' the last office on
the left. Can't miss'it. When yer ready to leave, I’ll be
right here to take you back into the city.”
Even though I’d only known Gibbard for a matter
of an hour or so, I could tell that he was a genuine, kindhearted man. I imagined him to be the type of man that
would treat me the same if we were to cross paths
outside of his job.
As I entered the building, I was flabbergasted to
find that the Smith publishing world looked no different
than any other place of business at its core. It was just a
normal looking office building. I had expected it to look
like some type of night club on the inside, but I guess
that’s just the way you perceive the life of luxury when
you have never experienced it for yourself.
It was nearly seven o’clock, so I was not
surprised to find the building empty. I made my way
down the long hallway and turned right at the wall as
instructed. I could smell the faint presence of leftover
cigar smoke in the air.
The last room on the left had a light on inside
and the door was slightly ajar. I eased the door open to
look inside, but there was no one in it.
The room was exactly as I had always pictured
the ideal office for my own practice. It was a rather
striking corner office—complete with leather chairs, a
mahogany desk, mahogany bookshelves, and even a
fireplace. It had to be Mr. Smith’s personal office. If it
hadn't been, then perhaps I should have retired as an
investigator and asked him for a job instead.
Hanging above the fireplace was a fine
painting—oil, I believe—that immediately caught my
eye. I walked over to the mantel to see it closer. As I
leaned, I was caught off-guard by a deep, booming male
voice from behind me.
“Van Gough. He was quite talented, wouldn’t you
I had been so entranced by the magnificent piece
of artwork that I had abandoned the reality around
me. I took a step back away from the mantel, and nearly
fell as I rolled my ankle. It hurt like the dickens, and I
reached out for a nearby chair to regain my balance
before I could fall face first on Mr. Smith’s elegant
hardwood floor. I can only imagine how graceful that
must have been to witness. The ankle would heal with a
good night’s rest, but the embarrassment would last a
“Please accept my apologies for startling you,
Mr… Willingham, was it? Please do sit down.”
The man walked across the room and took his
seat behind the mahogany desk. He reached into his
coat pocket and pulled out a jewel encrusted silver case.
He opened the case, removed a cigarette from inside,
and then put it up to his lips.
“Would you care for a cigarette?” His lips pressed
together against the cigarette muffled his voice.
“No thank you, sir. I don't smoke.”
The man picked up a small metal lighter from his
desk and lit the cigarette, then he leaned back in his
leather chair and crossed his legs.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Willingham. Where are my
manners? I am Alexander Smith and I run The
Washington Evening Star here in town.” His voice was
so booming that even the common courtesy of an
introduction sounded threatening.
“Yes, I have heard much about you from Charissa
Burke. I want to thank you for taking the time out to
meet with me and for your hospitality.”
Mr. Smith didn’t respond, but rather continued
to make eye contact with me as he took occasional puffs
from his cigarette. It was awkward to say the least. He
gazed at me as though he was waiting for me to drop a
bomb shell on him. I knew he was a very busy man, and
perhaps this was merely his way of communicating to
me that he wanted me to jump straight to the point.
“Mr. Smith, I must apologize for taking you away
from your unquestionably busy schedule, but I do
“Mr. Willingham," he interrupted. "Please do
pardon me for being so curt, but if I may ask, what is it
exactly that I can do for you? Miss Burke told me that
you had information about my son, which I must
confess, does make me question the motives of a man
that I’ve never met before.”
“I understand, Mr. Smith, and I will get to the
point of my visit. A few months ago, a teenage girl went
missing in Ashley Falls by the name of Jane Emmett. I
believe you know her parents.”
“Yes, I know the Emmetts quite well, but they’ve
never mentioned anything to me about a missing
daughter." He leaned forward in his chair and glared at
me. "Are you sure you have your facts straight?”
“Quite sure, Mr. Smith. I have been investigating
her disappearance since January. The Emmetts have
chosen to keep the details of their daughter’s
disappearance secret for reasons that I am still unclear
of, but regardless of their position, it is still my intent to
find Jane and bring her home.”
“That is unfortunate, but I find it hard to believe
that you would travel all this way just to tell me in
person. What does this have to do with me?”
I felt as though I was losing him. I cleared my
throat and said, “Mr. Smith, it has come to my attention
that your son, Phillip, may have been
romantically involved with the Emmett’s daughter,
“If that is indeed true—which I highly doubt—
then it would be news to me. And since the news is what
I do for a living, I don’t see how something like this
could slip my attention. I am sorry to have wasted your
Mr. Smith stood up from of his chair and started
to walk out. My worst fear had been to portray myself
as a loon by detailing crackpot theories that he would
have little interest in. He made no effort to shake my
hand on his way out, so his message was loud and clear.
I knew that I had to stop him before he left, so I
took the pocket watch from out of my coat and laid it
down on the desk in front of him. “Mr. Smith, does this
pocket watch look familiar to you?”
He looked down at it, and his expression turned
into one of bewilderment. “Of course I recognize this,
but how on earth did you get it?”
“I found this pocket watch buried in the ground
back in Ashley Falls. It was hidden away in a jewelry
box that also included a letter from Jane Emmett, which
appears to have been written to your son Phillip.”
He picked up the pocket watch and flipped it
over to read the engraving on the back. “P.E.S. Yes, this
is Phillip’s, but I don’t understand. Why would he have
given this away to someone? I bought this for him
during our trip to France when he was a child. It was his
most prized possession.”
“If I may be so bold, Mr. Smith, could we ask
Phillip to join us so that we can ask him that very
question? I have a few leads that I’m tracking down, and
Phillip may be able to help shed some light upon them.”
“I’m afraid that's not possible," he said. He
squeezed the pocket watch in his fist and pressed it
against his forehead. "Phillip left a couple of months ago
on a trip for his studies but hasn’t been in touch since.
He cleaned out his entire savings account that I had set
aside to help him live a good life. His mother and I
thought that he’d cashed in and left us.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Smith. Do you have
any idea where he might have been going?”
He shook his head and said, “No, he never said a
word. All that he told us was that he had been accepted
to take part in some type of program to study abroad
through his school. Of course we were excited for him,
but then he was gone. And so was all of his money."
Mr. Smith walked back behind his desk and sat
down. "As you might expect, we took that personally.
We tried to give him the best life that we could, and he
repaid us by taking our money and vanishing? If it was
just about money, he knows that we would simply give
it to him if he’d ask. He didn’t have to run away.”
The once booming voice of Mr. Smith had grown
soft and melancholy. His son’s departure had hurt him.
That much was obvious, but it was probably amplified
by the fact that Phillip had not checked in since his
departure. Mr. and Mrs. Smith must have been assuming
the worst. What kind of child would make his parents
Mr. Smith stood up and reached out to shake my
hand. “I’m sorry Mr. Willingham, but I believe that I
have afforded you as much time as I possibly can. I wish
I could have been more help.”
I shook his hand and said, “Right. Understood,
sir. Well, thank you again for everything. I apologize for
bringing up such a painful subject. I will see myself out.”
"Before you go, I want you to take this back with
you." Mr. Smith laid Phillip's pocket watch down on the
table in front of me. "If it can help you find my son in
some way, then I want you to have it."
"Are you sure, sir?"
"Yeah. I don't ever want to see it again unless it's
in the hands of my boy." He turned around and gazed
out at the moon from a bay window. It was time for me
to go.
Mr. Smith may have thought that he hadn't been
of much help to me, but he had been able to confirm my
suspicion that Jane's pocket watch belonged to Phillip,
which meant that I had been right about some sort of
romantic involvement between the two teenagers.
It was curious though: Jane Emmett went
missing in January, and then Phillip went missing as
well only a couple of months later? Mr. Smith had said
that Phillip would have had no reason to run away
which made me wonder what he could have been
running from? If I could answer that, I would move
yet another step closer to cracking the
case. Tracking Phillip down could only benefit my
investigation. I only hoped that I would be more
successful than his father had been.
I left the building and found Gibbard outside, still
waiting for me as he'd promised. With that big smile of
his, he once again opened the door for me, and I stepped
in to enjoy one last ride in that magnificent car.
During the ride back to the hotel, I tried piecing
together all of the new information that I had obtained. I
wanted to speak to Charissa again and see if she could
make any sense out of what I had learned. Plus, I just
wanted to see her again.
Chapter Thirteen
As much as I had been enjoying my time in
Washington, D.C., I had accomplished about as much as I
could, so I determined that it was time for me to be
moving on to my next destination.
Before I left the city, I wanted to ask Charissa to
join me for one last meal as my way of offering her
thanks for everything. It would also be an ideal time to
review the latest case notes and get her thoughts. I
believed Mr. Smith’s story to be true, but I had been
raised to believe that you should never doubt a
woman’s intuition, so if there was some consistency
between Charissa’s intuition and my gut feeling, then
that would be good enough for me to formulate a
probable theory.
I picked up the phone in the hotel lobby and
called Charissa. "I wanted to thank you again for
sticking your neck out on my behalf with Mr. Smith. I
really appreciate everything you did to get him to agree
to a meeting with me."
"Don't be silly. I was happy to do that for you.
How did it go?"
"Well, that's another reason why I'm calling,
"Oh? That sounds serious. Should I start looking
for a new job?"
I laughed. She had matured into an empowered
and independent woman. I would have expected
nothing less from the very person that had busted my
chops on a daily basis growing up. "No, no. You should
be fine. It's just that, he gave me some new information
and I think I have enough to proceed with my
"But that's great! Right?"
"It is, but, it also means that the time has come
for me to pack up and move one."
Charissa was silent for a few moments on the
other side of the receiver. "Oh, I see. Well, I suppose we
both knew that this wasn't permanent from the
"No, I suppose not," I said. "If it's all right with
you, I'd like to take you up on that dinner I promised
you before I go. And if you'd be up for it, I'd really like to
go over some of my notes and get your perspective."
"Of course. That sounds great. I'm working until
three o'clock. Your presence will be required, Mr.
Brinkman," she giggled.
"Perfect. I'll be there."
"My favorite deli in the city is only a couple of
blocks away from the library. It's quiet and the food is
"That sounds like the best idea I've heard all
"Goodbye for now then, Detective."
I spent the next few hours cleaning myself up,
changing my bandages, getting dressed, and then
reading the paper while waiting. When it was time to go
meet Charissa, I took one last glance at myself in the
mirror, and then made my way downstairs. Before I
reached the entrance, the hotel manager called my
name and waved a large envelope.
“Mr. Willingham, you received some mail today
during rounds."
I found that to be very odd. The only person that
knew where I was, and more importantly, who I was,
was Charissa. I couldn't imagine any reason why she
would have sent something to me in the mail. I thanked
the manager and collected the large envelope. It felt
light and there was no return address or a
postmark. Whoever had sent me the envelope didn't
seem interested in identifying themself.
Still a bit in shock, I exited the hotel, completely
fixated on the envelope. I opened it carefully and
peeked inside to find a flat piece of paper. I reached in
and felt a smooth texture against my fingertips that was
not consistent with traditional paper. I pulled out the
paper and beheld a photograph of a woman with her
hands bound, standing with other people who were
also restrained in a line waiting to board a bus.
My heart sank, as I recognized that the woman in
the photograph was Jane Emmett. Her hair was a mess,
and her clothes were tattered as though she’d been
wearing them for days—maybe weeks. I flipped the
photograph over to find a typed message.
Puckett again? How on earth had he found
me? To find Miller Brinkman would have been one
thing, but to find Albert Willingham? That shouldn't
have been possible. I was becoming unnerved by this
Puckett's uncanny ability to track me down. I could not
tell if we were on the same side or not. Perhaps I was
being a bit naïve, but I didn’t really perceive Puckett to
be a threat. Unfortunately, I didn't know if he could be
trusted. Under any other circumstance, I’d have joked
about his magic abilities, but at that point I was not so
sure that I could rule out that insinuation.
He had mentioned the name Alyssa Noble
again, the same name in the note back at the police
station. Was this photo just another reminder that he
wanted me to go to Baltimore to find her? I could not
imagine how she might help advance my case. Was she
somehow connected to the photograph Puckett had sent
me? At the very least, I felt confident that going to
Baltimore would eventually lead me to Puckett. After all
the trouble he had gone through to find me, I certainly
didn’t want to keep him waiting any longer. Though it
made me wonder what was so special about me.
I carried the photo with me over to the library. I
could not think of anything else besides how Puckett
had obtained it. Was it possible that he too had been a
private investigator following up on another case that
had somehow intersected with mine? On top of all of the
questions that I wanted answered about Puckett, I also
had some very important ones related to Jane
Emmett. If Jane had been taken captive, then had the
other people in the photograph with her shared the
same fate? What type of organization would have that
kind of capability?
When I arrived at the library, I still had about ten
minutes to before Charissa’s shift ended. I waited for
her outside at the bottom of the steps. I wanted to take
another hard look at the photograph of Jane Emmett
and see if there were any other details I could extract
from it. Just from the angle of the shot, I could tell that
the photographer took the photo from a safe distance,
shooting downward as if they had been up in a tree, or
some type of higher ground.
The bus had no distinguishing markings that
would identify it. There was not even a bus number that
I could make out. It looked as though it had been
stripped of any traceable markings such as make or
model. In a study of the other people in the photograph
with Jane, there was an even mixture of boys and girls—
all unquestionably young. I approximated that they
ranged in age somewhere between fourteen and
eighteen. Everyone in the photograph appeared soiled
and downtrodden, so I didn’t believe any of these
people to be affiliated with the captors.
"Miller!" I heard my name being called from the
top of the stairs and saw Charissa walking down the
steps toward me. I put the photograph back into my
coat pocket. I was anxious to get Charissa’s perspective
on this new evidence, but I didn’t want to be
overzealous about it. I also wondered how to broach the
subject of Puckett.
I greeted Charissa with a smile and a hug and
said, "Are you as hungry as I am?"
"I've been looking forward to this place ever
since you told me about it. I sure hope it can live up to
your high praise."
She smiled and said, "Have I ever led you
"Well, then lead the way."
After we arrived at the little corner deli, we sat
down for our early dinner. Because of my gnawing
hunger, everything on the menu sounded so good that I
could taste each item as I read their description.
"Everything on here is delicious," Charissa
assured me, pointing at the menu. "If I had to pick a
favorite though, the house special is a bulletproof
I wasn't going to argue with a frequent
patron. The waitress came over and took our orders. I
had so much to say and no idea where to begin which
resulted in my silence as I stirred the ice cubes in
my glass of water with a straw.
“Everything okay today, Miller? You seem to be a
little out of sorts," Charissa said, patting my hand.
“Yeah, everything is fine.”
“You know Miller, that may work on someone
who hasn’t known you as long as I have, but you’re
going to have to try to be a bit more convincing than
that if you want to fool me. So really, what’s going on?”
She folded her arms and sat back in her chair as if
preparing to scold me. "Did your meeting with Mr.
Smith go all right?"
I didn’t want it to appear as though I was hiding
things from her—that had not been my intention—I
was just waiting for an opportunity to ease into the
conversation. An effort which had been futile against
someone whom I’d spent a great number of my days
with in life. So I just started talking.
“I’ve been thinking about everything, and it
occurred to me this morning that I may have hit a brick
wall here in Washington, D.C. pertaining to my
“What do you mean? What did Mr. Smith tell
“Charissa, when was the last time you saw Mr.
Smith’s son, Phillip?”
“Hmm, well, to be honest, I never saw him all
that much at the library. Just the occasional study
session with some of his school pals. Why do you ask?”
We were interrupted by the waitress bringing us
our food. As soon as she put my plate in front of me, I
swooped down over my French fries like a vulture. I ate
about five or six of them before wiping the grease and
salt off of my fingers with a napkin.
"Amazing," Charissa said. "You managed to not
lose any of your fingers."
With the needs of my grumbling stomach met for
the time being, I continued our conversation in comfort.
“As you know, I wanted to talk to Mr. Smith about the
events in Ashley Falls, and see if I could earn his trust to
let me speak to his son. Predictably, he didn’t believe me
at first. In just our short time talking, I could tell that he
was a hard man. Not a mean or cruel man, just a man
with many impenetrable walls up. But after I showed
him the pocket watch he seemed to transform into a
different man. He crumbled."
"That's a fair assessment. I have never known
Mr. Smith to be outright nasty, but he doesn't let a lot of
people get close to him. So, what did he say after this
"He told me that Phillip had cleared out his bank
account and left town without saying goodbye, or even
mentioning where he was going. I find that odd, don’t
“Phillip is gone? Mr. Smith hadn’t mentioned that
to anyone that I know of.” Charissa leaned forward and
put her elbows on the table. She concealed my hands
under her own. My dear Charissa, it's been too long since
I've felt the soft touch of your hands.
“Normally I would think that type of behavior
was bizarre, but I encountered the same reaction with
the Emmetts when they finally decided to talk to me
about Jane’s disappearance. When I mentioned to Mr.
Smith that Jane was missing, he told me that the
Emmetts hadn’t said a word to him about it, yet they are
supposedly close colleagues. I don’t know, Charissa,
something doesn’t add up.”
She turned my hand over and ran her fingers
across my palm. “So are you thinking that these two
missing children are somehow connected?” Her hands
spread warmth all through my body.
“That’s the part that I cannot seem to make
heads or tails of. While the Emmetts acknowledged that
Jane had been kidnapped, I got the feeling that they
knew more about it than they were letting on. They
even showed me a supposed letter from the
kidnappers. The letter was typed out in all capital
letters, with the exception of the letter ‘e,’ which was in
lower case. They claimed that Sheriff Coleman told them
that their best chance to get Jane back was to keep the
kidnapping a secret from the townspeople."
Charissa furrowed her brow and said, "A secret?
Has keeping a kidnapping a secret helped in the past?"
"I know, it was a bit peculiar, but I left feeling
satisfied for the time being. Of course knowing now
what kind of man the sheriff turned out to be, I can only
assume that the letter was a hoax intended to throw
nosy people like myself off the scent.”
“Then what about Phillip Smith?” she said.
“With Phillip, it’s the complete opposite. Phillip
told his father that he was selected to participate in
studies abroad. But he didn’t give his father any other
details like when he was leaving or where he was
going. He simply took the money and ran. However, Mr.
Smith said that Phillip could have gotten his hands on
money at any point without having to do anything more
than ask. If that had been the case, then why all the
secrecy behind his departure?”
Charissa nibbled at her dinner with her free
hand while continuing to hold my hand with the other.
“And you’ve ruled out the possibility that Phillip and
Jane simply ran away together?”
“If only that were the case. Sadly, Sheriff
Coleman did confirm that Jane’s kidnapping was
real. He kept on mentioning a they and a them. At first,
I considered the possibility that he was lying to
preserve his innocence, but then it occurred to me that
the sheriff was not planning on me surviving the night,
so there would have been no point in keeping up such
an elaborate ruse. With all the bits of information that I
have collected during my investigation, I am
quite certain that Jane Emmett was abducted and
that Sheriff Coleman was involved. Perhaps he was
merely a pawn taking orders, but he played a hand in it
none the less.”
Charissa returned both of her hands to me,
intertwining our fingers together. “Miller, if the sheriff
was indeed taking orders, who could it have been from?
It has been many years since I last spent time in Ashley
Falls, but what I do remember of Sheriff Coleman is
that he didn’t seem like the type of man that would be
comfortable being someone's subordinate.”
At that moment I realized something. Charissa
was absolutely correct. How could I have overlooked
this simple little fact that Sheriff Coleman had been a
man far too proud to take orders, especially from the
Emmetts, no matter how rich and powerful they
were. For the sheriff to have willingly followed someone
else's directions, it would have been someone whom he
either deeply respected or outright feared. I was not
thrilled about either of those scenarios. A human being
that Sheriff Coleman respected would mean that I'd be
tracking someone willing to be involved in a plot to
abduct a teenage girl. However, a human being that
Sheriff Coleman outright feared would mean that I'd be
tracking someone that no one in their right mind would
ever want to cross paths with in their lifetime. I would
need to be very careful.
“Charissa, do you remember that first night we
went out to dinner to catch up on old times, and I told
you everything about my case?”
“Of course, Miller. It kept me from getting a good
night sleep.”
“Well, then you’ll recall the part of my story
where I was held captive in the police station, but then
rescued by a man calling himself Puckett?”
Charissa squeezed my hands tight and said, “Yes,
I remember that. Do you think he’s involved in Jane’s
disappearance somehow as well?”
“Truth be told, I didn’t know what to think at
first. It seemed too coincidental to me that this man was
in Ashley Falls right at the time I was beginning to make
cracks in the Jane Emmett case. If he was somehow in
cahoots with the sheriff, then why help me, Charissa?
Even more puzzling was that he seemed to have left me
a clue leading me to where I should go next. Despite all
of that, I still was not convinced that he could be
trusted, that is, until I received this earlier today.”
I reached into my coat pocket and took out the
picture that Puckett had sent me. I laid it down on the
table in front of her, and she picked it up to look at it
more closely. Many expressions flickered across her
face, as though each glance at the picture was providing
her with thoughts that quickly changed before she could
open her mouth and say one of them out loud.
She looked away from the picture. “I don’t
understand, Miller. Who are these people? What does
this have to do with anything?”
“That young woman, in the middle of the line-up,
with the messy long dark hair and tattered dress? That’s
Jane Emmett.”
Charissa’s eyes opened wide, and she gasped
before quickly putting her hand up to cover her
mouth. She had just realized how real all of this was. I
flipped the photo over so that she could read the back
and no longer have to see the image of the abducted
“I’m sorry to have put you through that, Charissa.
The only reason I showed it to you was because this
photo was sent to Albert Willingham, my alias, from
Puckett, and I’m not sure what to make of that. I don’t
know how he found me, and I don’t know how he
discovered my alias, but he is not shy about telling me
what he wants from me. According to this note, I’m
supposed to go to Baltimore next and meet some
woman named Alyssa Noble.”
Charissa turned her head back toward me and
looked down at the note from Puckett. “Who is Alyssa
“That, my dear, is the question of the decade. The
note that Puckett left for me back in the Ashley Falls
police station also had her name on it. He keeps
referring to her as ‘the key.’ I have no idea what that
“The key to what? Can she unlock your case?”
she said.
"Exactly. I suppose she could be, but I won't
know until I find her. If either Puckett, or this Alyssa
Noble woman, is responsible for taking the photograph
of the abducted children, then they have knowledge that
I need.”
“Oh Miller! I'm worried. What if you’ve stumbled
upon something else? If Sheriff Coleman was trying to
kill you just for your silence, then what do you think a
group he was willing to take orders from would do to
“I know, Charissa, but I could never live with
myself, knowing what I know if I do nothing. But who
can I turn to in order to get help for these poor
children? If Sheriff Coleman was involved, who knows
how many other men of law are involved? Right now
the only person that might be able to help me is Puckett,
and I need to get to Baltimore without delay.”
“All right, Miller. It seems as though your mind is
made up, so I won’t waste your time trying to talk you
out of it.”
I patted her hand and said, “You must think I’m
“Yeah. Yeah, I do. But, I’m also very proud of you,
Miller Brinkman. You’ve become the man that you’ve
always wanted to be. A good man who stands behind his
convictions. Jane Emmett is very lucky to have someone
like you out there searching for her. I sincerely hope
that you find her.”
After all these years of feeling like I had made the
worst mistake of my life by not following Charissa to
Boston, for the first time I was glowing inside with
pride. Whether or not I had made the right
decision seventeen years ago is something that I can
never know, but seeing Charissa in front of me, smiling
at me and showing her support, I could take comfort in
the fact that I had at least been able to see her again,
and that all those hard feelings had become water under
the bridge.
We put aside all the talk about the case for the
remainder of our time together. We simply enjoyed the
rest of our dinner and talked as two normal adults with
other topics to discuss. It was a fantastic way to spend
my last day in Washington, D.C.
It was getting late when we left the deli, so I
volunteered to escort her back to her apartment. When
we got to the steps of her building, and were preparing
to go our separate directions, something came over me.
Perhaps it was nostalgia, or perhaps it was just the way
she looked standing there as the gentle breeze played
with her hair. Whatever it was, I felt a familiar feeling
burning from deep within my belly. It was those same
butterflies that used to take up residence in my gut as a
young man. Not knowing when I would ever see her
again, I was overcome with emotion. I put my hands
around her waist and then leaned in to kiss her. To my
delight, she welcomed the kiss and closed her eyes as
our lips touched. The feeling was indescribable. I don’t
know how long the kiss lasted, but in my mind it felt like
forever, and that was not long enough.
When I opened my eyes, I looked at her and
awaited her reaction. Within a few moments, her eyes
opened as well. She took a deep breath and then smiled
at me.
“Woooo, Miller. I… uh… that was just like I
remembered. Thank you," she said as though her breath
had been taken away.
“Look Charissa, I just want to say that this was
not what my trip to Washington, D.C. was about, but I’m
so glad I found you again.”
“Me too, Miller. Listen, you and I both know that
there’s no telling when you might be back through these
parts, but when you are, you’d better come back to me. I
intend for this to be the last time I let you get away, you
hear me?” Charissa smiled and warmed my heart.
“That, my dear Charissa, you can count on. I’ll be
back for you when this is all over. You have my word.” I
stroked the side of her face and touched her bottom lip
with my thumb.
Charissa put her hand on the doorknob and was
about to go inside, so I turned to start the long walk
back to the hotel. I had to pack and prepare for my
departure to Baltimore in the morning.
“Oh, Miller! Wait!” she called out.
I stopped in my tracks and turned back to her.
“I almost forgot to tell you. I did a little research
on that name you gave me—Gabriel Rayburn.”
“Oh, yes that’s right! Did you have any luck?”
“Well, sort of. I couldn’t find an exact match to
that name in our archives, but I did find a ‘G. Rayburn’.”
“That's more than I thought you might find. If he
is who I think he could be, then I don’t expect much of a
paper trail on him.”
“Then you may want to check out this guy,
because I had to really dig deep to find anything, and
even still it was next to nothing. According to all the
documentation I could find, there was a scientist named
G. Rayburn that lived in the Buffalo area. I couldn’t find
any information on family or schooling. His record goes
cold from there until about 1926 where I found notice
of his death. I couldn’t find a cause. Do you think he is
who you are looking for?”
“I’m not sure. When Sheriff Coleman mentioned
the name to me, he made it sound as if he were alive
still. Hmm… I don’t know. Regardless, great work,
Charissa! Thank you for your efforts and the time you
invested into it.”
“Don't be so formal. It was no problem,
Miller. I’m happy to help. I know of a few areas in the
archives that I haven’t checked yet, so maybe I’ll do a
little more digging and I’ll tell you if I find
anything. Make sure you give me a number where I can
reach you while you’re in Baltimore.”
“I will, Charissa. As soon as I am checked in, I will
get you the contact number for the hotel.”
“Okay, Miller. Have a safe trip.”
Charissa entered inside her building and left me
to ponder what, if anything, the G. Rayburn she’d found
had to do with my case. If he had died in 1926, then it
probably would not be the same person Sheriff Coleman
mentioned to me. I thought it could be worth a trip to
Buffalo just to check it out, but that would have to wait
until later. I wanted to see what I could learn in
Baltimore first.
I walked back to my hotel near the train station
and informed the hotel manager that my stay had come
to an end. I settled the bill and walked up the stairs to
my room. I was not quite ready for bed, so I decided to
write in my journal and update my case notes. After
several pages, my eyelids grew heavy. Tomorrow would
be a busy day. I certainly hoped that Puckett was ready
for me, because I was on my way to meet him.
Chapter Fourteen
I laid in bed with my eyes wide open, looking at
the patterns in the ceiling above me. I stared at them for
so long that they began to twist and contort into
various faces and shapes. When I blinked, they’d reset
to the original pattern. I had not played that game since
I was a child. It used to scare me back in my youth, but
as an adult I was mystified by the tricks of the human
I sat up on the corner of the bed and attempted
to rejoin reality. Then I washed up, got dressed
and packed my things. Just as I was about to leave, I
noticed that my case notes were still lying on
the nightstand. It was opened up to the last page I had
written. Out of curiosity, I sat down to take a look and
review where I’d left off.
I noticed a change of penmanship at the bottom
of the last paragraph that caught my eye. I had been
very tired, but my penmanship normally does not bear
the ill effects of my exhaustion. In addition to not
recognizing my own handwriting, I could not recall
writing it at all!
“The sun does not shine on her prison. She is lost,
but do not fear.”
Reading that entry in the journal sent tiny shocks
of lightning from my fingernails up to my shoulders, and
then back again. A chill came over me, prompting an
outbreak of goose bumps all up and down my arms. I
knew I had not written the entry… or had I? I had heard
many tales of people doing outrageous things in their
sleep, but that seemed far-fetched. Had someone
else been in my room? I had no clue what the entry
meant, but would have to ponder it later.
The unscheduled dilly-dallying had cost me
valuable time, but when I arrived at the train station, I
purchased my ticket for Baltimore with about ten
minutes to spare before the final boarding call.
The ticketing agent handed me a boarding pass
and said, "Gonna be a full load today, sir."
I smiled and then quickly took my place in line
behind a velvet rope. The conductor's booming “all
aboard” announcement ricocheted through the
station, and we were rounded up like cattle and led onto
the train car in a single file march. The car was crowded,
just as the agent had warned me, so I thought it best to
leave my journal alone until I could look at it again from
the more relaxed environment of a hotel room.
I didn't care much for the traveling, but I was
fortunate that the trip to Baltimore was only about an
hour long. It gave me just enough time to skim
through the morning paper before the train pulled into
the downtown Baltimore station right on schedule.
Even though the city was so close to Washington, D.C.,
the difference in the skyline was apparent from the
moment I took my first step down off of the train car.
The downtown area was teeming with tall
buildings and the bustling of urban sprawl that I had
always imagined would exist in a big city. Parked cars
lined the sidewalks of the main road in front of the
station. In the distance I could see one of Baltimore’s
many streetcars, which I would later discover were part
of a fantastic public transportation service that would
help me get around the city with ease.
To my delight, downtown Baltimore was also
home to some of the most luxurious looking hotels I had
ever seen, but unfortunately, luxury was not within my
budget. I walked a few blocks down from the main road
to search for a hotel a little more on the modest side. It
didn’t take long to find suitable accommodations. I
stumbled across an affordable hotel that was even nicer
than the one I stayed at in D.C. It was also very, very
Once I had checked in to my room and dropped
off my luggage, I headed back to the lobby and found a
telephone. I tried calling the library to reach Charissa,
but I was informed that she was busy building a new
section for children’s books and could not be
disturbed. I left a message for her with one of her coworkers, including the number of the hotel that I would
be staying at. I didn’t expect that Charissa would have
found any new information since the last time we'd
spoke, but I just wanted to hear her voice regardless.
It was still very early in the day, so I opted to get
to work and waste little of it. For a man that was trying
so desperately to coax me into coming to the city and
finding Alyssa Noble, Puckett didn’t provide me with
any hints as to how. I felt as though this was merely
another part of the game for him, and that all my
interactions with him up to that point had been part of
some sort of master plan. I didn’t know what Puckett
was after, but one thing was clear. Whether I was
willing to be or not, I had become his puppet. He was
the puppet master.
Puckett had only spoken to me in riddles, so
perhaps his attraction to me was simply to test the
abilities of my craft. I felt confident that I had passed all
of his tests thus far, so finding Alyssa Noble was just the
next challenge he had laid out in front of me. I hoped
that she would be able to tell me where to find Puckett.
I wondered if Alyssa would turn out to be some
type of advisor or a handler that acted on Puckett's
behalf, carrying out his instructions while he secluded
himself somewhere off the grid. Puckett, whoever he
was, had intimate knowledge of what had happened to
I didn’t have the advantage of knowing anyone in
Baltimore, but when in doubt, I always rely on good old
fashioned detective work. The police station seemed
like a good place to continue my investigation. Charissa
had theorized that more law enforcement
groups could've been involved in the abductions, but I
wasn't sure how deep the corruption ran. Going to the
station was a risk, but one that I had to take. I got
directions from the hotel manager, and took the next
streetcar all the way to a stop just outside the station.
The police station was an attractive brick
building on the outside with two glass doors leading
in. I took a look around inside and saw an officer
working behind the front counter.
I walked toward him as I talked. “Pardon me,
Officer," I said. "If I might have but a moment of your
time, I was hoping that you might be able to help me
locate someone here in the city.”
The officer didn't even look at me. “Sir, if this is
about a missing person, you’ll need to take a seat and
wait to speak to a deputy.”
“Oh, no, Officer, nothing like that. I’m actually
new in town, and I’m supposed to meet someone, but I
don’t know where she lives.”
“I understand, sir. Look, I can take a quick look
for you, but unless the person you’re looking for is
behind bars, you’ll probably have better luck with an
“Thank you, Officer. I appreciate your help.”
The officer reached up to a shelf above him. He
pulled down a giant book that puffed a small cloud of
dust as it touched down against the counter top. I fought
off the urge to laugh as I could tell that the officer was
not in the best of moods. He started running his finger
down the list of names on the first page he’d opened up
“What’s the name?” he sighed.
“Uh, it’s Alyssa Noble.”
The officer stopped moving his finger on the
page, and looked up at me in a very slow overdramatic
fashion. “Alyssa Noble?” He said her name as though he
was already familiar with it.
“Yes, Officer. Can you help me find her?”
“So let me understand this correctly. You’re new
in town, but you’re here to meet Alyssa Noble. Is that
The officer folded his arms and cocked his head
to the side. I sensed that the officer was setting a trap
for me that I needed to be careful and avoid. I didn’t
know what type of shady business Alyssa was involved
with, and I didn’t want to be connected to an ongoing
“Well, you see, I’m actually a private detective
“A private detective, you say?"
he interrupted. "Oh, I see. Vinny hired you, didn’t he?”
Sensing that I had just inadvertently
stumbled upon an opportunity, I decided to use a little
deception and play along with the officer.
“Uh, yeah… yessir.”
The officer closed the book and put it back on the
shelf. He leaned forward on the counter and crossed his
arms out in front of him.
“Well, you can tell Vinny that his impatience isn’t
going to make us work any faster. We take each case we
receive and prioritize them by severity. We deal with
murders, theft, and some crazy shit he ain't even heard
of yet. If he wants to go out and hire a private detective,
then more power to him.”
I had no idea what had just happened, or who
this Vinny person was that I had just aligned myself
with, but from what I was able to gather from the
officer’s words, he sounded like a source of frustration.
“Yeah Officer, you know Vinny. To be quite
honest, the guy is a major pain in my ass too. Always
running at the mouth—I can barely even get a word in
edgewise. And he’s not paying me a whole lot of money
either for all the trouble it’s been worth. I’ll tell you
what though, perhaps there’s a way that I can get him
off both of our backs?”
The officer stood up straight, took a look to his
immediate left, then to his right, and then leaned back in
toward me. “Hmm… What exactly did you have in
mind?” he said.
“Well, it’s like you said, Officer. You’ve got more
important things to deal with than all the petty
disputes. Since I’m already here in town—I’ll tell you
what, why don’t you let me have a look at the case file,
and I’ll just brush up on the basics and then go deal with
Vinny for both of our sanities. What do you say?”
I was taking a huge risk, but I felt that if Vinny
had this poor man at the end of his tether, he might be
willing to resort to unethical practices for the sake of a
little peace and quiet on the matter. In an effort to gauge
my legitimacy, the officer locked eyes with me in a stare
down. I knew that I could not break his gaze or he
would have seen right through me. I held his stare for as
long as I could. He finally broke away and grinned at me.
“All right, private detective. If you can keep
Vinny off my ass, I’ll give you fifteen minutes to look
over the case files and not a minute longer. Are we in
“Oh, absolutely. Fifteen minutes and we can both
be done with Vinny.” If Vinny's complaints are as petty as
I suspect, fifteen minutes should be more than enough
time, I thought.
“Sounds good to me. Now why don’t you go take
a seat over there at that empty chair in the corner, and
I’ll come around and bring you the files in a few
minutes. When your time is up, just bring it back up to
me and be on your way. Got it?”
“Crystal clear, Officer.”
As he instructed, I walked over to the empty seat
and waited patiently. After a couple of minutes, a pair of
deputies left through the front door together. I noticed
the officer from the front counter watching them as they
entered their squad car and drove off. Once they were
out of sight, the officer walked out from behind the
counter and approached me with an envelope full of
papers. He handed me the file and mumbled, “Fifteen
Just as I had been expecting, the file contained a
laundry list of complaints from Vinny. Each time he
came to the police station to raise a fuss about his
complaint being ignored, the officer at the counter had
to log it in the files. Judging by the amount of additional
entries, it was no wonder that the officer was willing to
bend the rules in order to get help dealing with him.
Vinny owned a piece of property in the suburbs
of Baltimore that he had been renting out to Alyssa
Noble for the past year, but she had not been paying
rent. According to the original complaint, Vinny went
into the house to confront her and demand his past due
rent, but Alyssa was nowhere to be found. He noted that
all of her personal belongings were still there, and that
he was seeking permission from the police to evict her
and sell her possessions to make up for the lost rent.
After digging a little deeper into the case notes,
however, I ran across the personal files on Alyssa
Noble. All of Vinny’s complaining had finally garnered a
reaction from the police, and provoked them into doing
a full scale background check on her.
Alyssa Noble was twenty-one years old and was
presumed to have lived alone. Born in 1927, she was
orphaned at the age of eighteen months old. She was
discovered in the middle of a forest in Maine by a group
of loggers that claimed she had been standing upright
on two legs under her own power—eerily staring at
them from across a lake. They notified the authorities,
who then sent a team into the forest to recover her. In
their report, they noted that she was sickly and weak
from malnourishment, and would not have been able to
stand under her own power. She was wrapped in a
blanket that had her birth certificate pinned to it. Her
birth parents were never identified.
After being nursed back to health in a local
hospital without any family to come forward and claim
her, Alyssa was sent to an orphanage in Albany, New
York where she lived for the next seven years. Alyssa’s
bright red hair, pale complexion, and sky blue eyes
scared the other children, and she was forced to spend
most of her time playing alone. The lack of socialization
with the other kids also impeded her speech, and she
didn’t learn to speak until she was older. Even when she
learned to talk, she chose not to. Her anti-social
behavior and inability to interact with the other
children made prospective adopting parents leery of
her. She exhibited early signs of trouble, disobeyed
house rules, and the staff grew tired of dealing with her.
In 1935, Alyssa was sent to another orphanage in
Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a newer facility that
specialized in helping troubled children. She spent three
years in that house until unexplained events began
happening that seemed connected to her.
One staff member had kept a house cat that had
never been allowed out of her personal quarters and the
room had been kept locked at all times. The staff was
awakened one night by the sound of a child
screaming. In the child’s bed was the staff member’s cat,
lying dead under the covers with its skull crushed. It
was reported that all of the kids were very upset, with
the exception of Alyssa, who was nowhere to be
found. Though no proof was found of Alyssa’s
involvement, the staff immediately began searching for
a new home for her.
In early 1939, at the age of eleven, Alyssa was
transferred to a juvenile detention facility in Northern
California. It was a rehabilitation facility reserved for
the worst of the troubled children and had a reputation
for being extremely violent. There were reports of
murders happening on the grounds, and the facility had
an onsite cemetery. Most of Alyssa’s records from that
time period are either incomplete or missing
altogether. It was noted that Alyssa began a dark
descent into inconsolable rage and was feared by both
staff and her peers.
A report of an older boy, Peter, who was the son
of military man and considered one of the nastiest
children at the facility, cornered Alyssa in the laundry
room downstairs at the main building one day,
and began picking on her because she looked
different from everyone else. By the age of ten, Peter
had already committed his first sexual assault, and at
the age of twelve had attacked a school teacher for
confiscating his math test under suspicion of him
Hours after his encounter with Alyssa, Peter was
found in the laundry room in a pool of his own
blood. There were freshly dislodged teeth resting beside
his head, and a broken piece of lumber cracked over his
twitching body. Peter was alive, but had been literally
beaten within an inch of his life. Alyssa was later
reported as a runaway at the age of fifteen.
Alyssa’s whereabouts between 1943 and 1946
were unknown. She simply showed up in Baltimore at
some point during 1947, where she had lived
without incident until Vinny filed a complaint against
her. Something about that didn’t quite seem to fit her
profile though. She'd had a miserable childhood
growing up in orphanages and detention centers, which
caused her to react in violent outbursts. Merely being a
deadbeat tenant hardly seemed like the kind of action
you’d expect from a “hardened criminal.” I wondered if
she had been on the run those past few years, and
if someone had finally caught up to her in Baltimore,
causing her to skip town.
After reading Alyssa’s file, I could not imagine
Jane Emmett ever running in the same circles as
her. Jane had definitely had her fair share of trouble
back in Ashley Falls, but those were all petty outcries
for attention, nothing to the level of what Alyssa
had done in her lifetime.
In the corner of my eye, I could see the officer at
the front counter getting antsy and making subtle
glances in my direction. My time with the files was up,
but I had learned everything from them that I possibly
“So what do you think, buddy?" the officer
said. "Are you going to be able to help me out?”
I winked and said, “You know what, Officer? I
think I just might."
I tipped my hat to the poor officer that had
obviously been pushed beyond his limits, and made my
way out the front door. I had a streetcar to catch.
I decided that I should go to the former residence
of Alyssa Noble and see if there were any clues
regarding her whereabouts that might still be
lingering. According to the file, she had been renting the
property at 1122 Holland Street, so that was where I
was headed. I neatly put all the files back into the
envelope and returned it to the front counter just as I
had promised.
Chapter Fifteen
I quickly discovered that getting to Holland
Street from the streetcar would be a bit more of a
challenge than I had anticipated. It required taking one
streetcar back to the depot, and then catching a second
streetcar from there out toward Holland Street. Once on
the secondary route, the closest stop to Holland Street
was nearly a mile away, which meant that I would have
to get off the streetcar and backtrack quite a ways.
Ordinarily that would have been fine, but on that
particularly muggy day, I had neglected to wear
something appropriate for a long walk. I had spent
some time observing how uncharacteristically cold it
had felt in Washington, D.C., but unfortunately for me,
Baltimore was plenty warm.
Once I found Holland Street, it was a long walk
down the road before I finally reached 1122. It was not
an inviting neighborhood. I suppose by the way I was
overdressed and dripping with sweat from the heat, I
didn't make the best first impression. I sensed the
eyes on me as I walked down the street. There were
even times when I thought for sure that if I turned
around, someone would be following right behind me.
Alyssa's house was in poor condition, worse than
the surrounding homes. It appeared to even be falling
apart in some places. Some of the bricks were missing
from the front of the house, and the number “2” from
the house number had come loose and was upside
down, hanging on only by the strength of the tiny
remaining nail. The front door had been wired shut with
some type of heavy duty chicken wire. I assumed that
this had been the handy work of an overzealous
landlord locked in a ferocious battle with a tenant. I
wanted to get a look inside, so I walked back to the
driveway area and went around the right side of the
house to the backyard.
I found two large wooden doors leading
underground to perhaps a cellar or bomb shelter,
but they were locked with a rusty chain wrapped
around the handles and a padlock. I found a rock and
gave the lock a couple of forceful whacks. The rust had
done most of the heavy lifting for me, so after a couple
of solid hits, the chain gave way and broke in half. I
removed the chain, opened the large doors, and
then went inside, after I closed the doors behind me.
Just enough light was seeping in from the outside
to give me an outline of the objects in the room around
me. It was mostly empty with the exception of a few
stacks of boxes. In the far corner of the room I could see
a set of stairs. I walked over to them and climbed them
into the kitchen. I didn’t want to startle Alyssa Noble if
she was somehow still inside the house, so I peeked my
head around the corner of the door sill and checked
both directions for signs of someone inside. The silent
home was a huge mess. It appeared as though someone
had come and ransacked the house, leaving piles of
destroyed objects scattered throughout rooms.
The place couldn't have been much larger than
800 square feet. In front of me was the kitchen and
dining area, to my left was a living room and to my right
was a hallway leading to smaller rooms. Satisfied that I
was alone in the house, I stepped in and began sifting
through the clutter.
I wondered what the previous visitors had been
looking for. I couldn't see an inch of untouched
space. I made my way down the hallway of the home,
careful to avoid kicking up the debris. At the end of the
hallway was a large, dark room that I assumed
was Alyssa’s bedroom due its size.
The room was so dark that I could barely see my
hand in front of my face. I could see a square-shaped
outline of light formed around the window frames, but
there was a heavy cloth, or material, that was covering
the panes and preventing the light from spilling into the
room. I walked over to the closest window and put my
hand up to pull the covering down. Before I could
remove the obstruction from the window, I heard a loud
click from behind me. When I turned to look, I could see
a bright light from an illuminated desk lamp shining
into my eyes. I put my hand up to shield them, but could
not see much more than the outlined shape of a person
sitting in a chair next to the light.
“I see you’ve finally managed to find me, Mr.
Brinkman, and ahead of schedule even. Well played.”
I couldn't see a face, but I recognized that voice.
“Puckett, I presume? It’s been a while. You certainly
didn’t make it easy to find you.”
“Making me easy to find wouldn’t have been any
fun. Besides, I had already assessed your abilities, and I
put all the pieces into play specifically to match them. I
told you that Alyssa Noble was the key, which led you
here just as I planned. You found me because I wanted
you to. Know this, Detective, that if I hadn’t wanted to
be found, you wouldn’t have.” He only needed to say it
once for me to believe him.
It had become quite clear to me that Puckett was
a professional on a level that I could not even hope to
comprehend. The question of what type of professional
he was continued to evade me. He had gone to great
lengths to insure I understood that I was a pawn
in his game and he had been toying with me since the
beginning. He wanted me to know that he was in
My entire career as a private investigator must
have seemed like child's play to him. It felt futile to try
and act on my own, because Puckett had made it clear
that he knew my next move before I did. I had never
encountered anyone with talents such as his. He was
Puckett kicked a chair over toward me and said,
"Sit down. Join me."
It was a request that I was eager to oblige. I
was only a matter of feet from the man who seemed
to hold all the answers.
“Mr. Brinkman, I realize that there is probably
much that you’d like to ask me, and in truth, that is the
reason why I have been leading you here to find me. You
are seeking information—information that you think I
must possess—however, there is just one problem that I
I sat down and said, “And what is that?”
“The problem that I foresee, Mr. Brinkman, is
this—once you have the answers that you seek, will you
believe them?” With a flick of his Zippo, Puckett's face
came into partial view from the flame as he lit a
cigarette. The scent of tobacco wafted through the air
right away. A haze of smoke became suspended within
the light from the desk lamp.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not so sure that I understand
what you’re asking.”
“Tell me, are you a skeptical man, Mr.
“Well, I suppose that depends on subject matter,
“Let’s not complicate matters. Who I am is of no
significance. I am simply Puckett. No more, no less. Now,
I ask you again. Are you a skeptical man?”
“I’d like to think that I approach the world with a
healthy dose of skepticism, but I’d also like to think that
I’m open-minded enough to consider things that I don’t
understand if there is compelling enough evidence.”
I was not sure if I had answered the question
correctly, as Puckett had gone silent. There was a thud
on the ground near my feet. When I looked down, I
could see a large brown envelope like the one he had
sent to the hotel in Washington, D.C.
I scooped it up and removed the papers from
within. Like the time before, the papers were not
documents, but instead more photographs. This time,
however, they were not of Jane Emmett. The photos
were of men dressed in black inside of a building as
they talked to a man behind a counter.
“These photos were taken last night. Do you
recognize the building, Mr. Brinkman?"
"Should I?" I said.
"That is the lobby of the hotel you were staying
at in Washington, D.C. That man being interrogated is
the hotel manager. You were very lucky to have not
been there at the time.”
I examined the photo closer and said, “Wait, I do
recognize this hotel. I don't understand though. The
manager never said a word to me about these men.”
“That’s because you were a clever enough man to
cover your tracks. These men were looking for Miller
Brinkman, not Albert Willingham. These are very
dangerous men, and if they had found what they were
looking for, rest assured I’m afraid you would not be
sitting here with me right now.”
“Who are these men, Puckett? I have been seeing
them for several months now, but never up close. They
always seem to be watching from afar.”
“Before I can start to answer your questions,
Detective, I need to know one thing: Are you ready to
believe the unbelievable?”
Puckett’s voice was confident and
unwavering. Whatever it was that he had to tell me, he
believed it to be absolute truth. I would have no reason
to disbelieve whatever he was going to tell me. He had
been straight with me all along, and I saw no reason
why he’d change that now. However, there was
something about the tone of his voice that frightened
me a little. It had that same ominous quality as someone
who knows a dark secret that will change your life. In
Puckett’s case, I didn’t know if I was mentally prepared
to handle something on that level from him, but it was
too late to back out now.
“I… I am," I said with reluctance. I crossed my
legs and leaned back in the chair.
“Mr. Brinkman, I want you to be absolutely
sure. Once you’ve learned the secrets that I possess,
your life will never be the same again. You’ll question
everything that you’ve ever been taught in your
lifetime. You will no longer be able to think that you
understand the world that surrounds you. You will
never be able to forget what you’ve learned. So I ask you
one last time, because you need to be absolutely sure:
Are you ready to believe the unbelievable?”
“Will it help me find Jane Emmett?”
Puckett's chair creaked. “I can tell you all about
her, and so much more than you could have ever
There I was, staring down the barrel of the
moment of truth. I hoped that Puckett could not hear
the sound of my heart pounding. “Then my answer is
yes, Puckett. I am ready to learn what you have to offer.”
“Outstanding, Mr. Brinkman. Outstanding.”
“So then what can you tell me about the
abduction of Jane Emmett?”
“You have been on the right track all along,
detective. Her abduction was real, only it was a part of
something far more sinister than you know. She was
taken by those men in the black suits that you’ve been
seeing, and that are now looking for you. Your crooked
sheriff was following orders, and he turned a blind eye
as those men came into your town and took her without
anyone noticing.”
“What about her parents?" I said. "Jane wrote in
her journal that she saw her mother speaking to a man
in a black suit just days before she vanished. Then
Sheriff Coleman told me that they had been in on it. I
have no children of my own, but I’m afraid I don’t
understand how they could allow that to happen to
their only daughter.”
“The short answer is that these men wield
powerful deception at their fingertips. They can
convince a parent to relinquish their child
willingly. They even promise to return them. They are
becoming more aggressive each day, and their powers
of deception grow stronger." Puckett repositioned the
desk lamp, lowering the bright shine from my face.
"By tracking them, I found you, unknowingly
involving yourself in their affairs. No one before you has
ever been able to pick up their scent. Once I discovered
that you were looking for the Emmett girl, I tried to buy
you some time by sending the Emmetts a fake ransom
note. I knew that it would cause them to panic and
notify the sheriff, which would in turn motivate the men
in black suits to come out of hiding. But I miscalculated,
and the sheriff decided to try and fix the problem
himself without their help, which led to your
capture. You have my sincerest apologies. Somehow, the
sheriff must have been able to inform his contacts,
because they’ve been watching you ever since.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m still not sure I understand," I
said. "I’ve known the Emmetts all my life, and I cannot
imagine why they would simply turn their daughter
over to ordinary men. Even with as challenging as Jane
had been in recent months, I cannot see her parents
letting her go without at least being provided with a
way of contacting her.”
Puckett paused for a moment to inhale from his
cigarette, and then blow the smoke back out in one fluid
motion. “Mr. Brinkman, I’m afraid that these men in
black suits are not simply ordinary men, as you call
them. They are part of a larger organization.”
“What type of organization?” I said.
“The U.S. Government, Detective. These men
represent a special task force of the government known
as Icarus. They are very powerful, very secretive, and
they operate from the shadows. Worse yet, I’m afraid,
they are recruiting. That is what has happened to Jane
Emmett, and countless other children all across the
“Recruiting?" I gasped. "But how would children
be of any use to the government? Are they conducting
some type of experiments on them or something?”
“I only wish that were true, Mr. Brinkman. What
is happening to these children is a fate far worse than
government experimentation. You see, these men are
cold and calculating. They are recruiting children who
are troubled. They are looking for families who have
lost their patience and don’t know what else to
do. Icarus preys upon these families in distress by
offering them a promise of rehabilitation. They promise
to take the children to a place where they can be ‘cured’
of their troubled ways, and come back home in a more
respectable fashion. The reality is, detective, Icarus
takes these children without intention of ever returning
them. They destroy the files on these children and erase
any proof of their existence from the records. The
parents of these children believe they are sending them
away in an attempt to better their lives, when in
actuality, they are sending them out to slaughter.”
I was having difficulty holding back the bile that
had begun creeping up into my throat. “What? Where
are they being taken?”
“Ah, a fantastic question indeed, Mr.
Brinkman. Let me first ask you a question. What do you
know about the origin of human beings?"
“What do you mean?” I said. This line of
questioning seemed to come from out of the blue.
“What I mean is, what were you taught in school
about the first human beings? That we originated from
an Adam and Eve? That we started off as dim-witted
cavemen that lived in a time with dinosaurs?” Puckett
I uncrossed my legs and leaned forward, resting
my elbows on them. “Yeah, I guess you could say it was
something like that.”
“What would you say if I told you that the history
of the human race that we were all taught as children
was not entirely accurate? What if, long before the first
existence of human beings was documented, an
advanced race of humans inhabited the planet first? A
race of highly technological human beings that
somehow disappeared overnight without leaving so
much as a trace of their existence? Now, what if I told
you that after all these years the U.S. Government has
started to find those traces?”
My body froze as I heard the words come from
Puckett’s mouth. The most frightening part to me was
that I didn’t even feel as though I could question him or
his sanity. His conviction was so strong it was as though
he had seen it first hand for himself.
“I realize that this new information may be
unsettling to hear all at once, Mr. Brinkman," he
continued, "but unfortunately we’ve run out of time, and
I need you to be up to speed on what you are now
dealing with. Perhaps you can now see why you
represent such a threat to Icarus. Jane Emmett was just
a grain of sand in the desert, but the question you have
to answer for yourself now is, do you still possess the
desire to save her?”
“Puckett, I just want to know… why me? What is
so special about me?”
“Truthfully, Mr. Brinkman, I thought I would be
fighting this war all alone. I believe that it was fate that
delivered you to me. When I saw how dedicated you
were to finding Jane Emmett, and how logical you
were as you followed the clues that she left behind, I
saw that you and I are the last hope these children
have. I also knew that you were getting too close, and
that if I didn’t intervene, Icarus would most likely have
had you killed in just a matter of time.”
I threw my hands up and said,
“Who are you? How can you possibly know all of this?”
“I know all of this, Detective, because I was once
a part of Icarus. I was involved with the team that
unearthed the first excavation site... and the next couple
after that.”
“You? You were a part of Icarus?" I said. "I
suppose that would explain how you’ve managed to
keep track of me all this time. But then you left the
organization? Why?” Even though Puckett had
answered many of my questions, his responses
continued to generate more.
A puff of smoke rushed in front of the light. “It’s
very complicated, Detective, but in short, I left out of
“What were you afraid of?" I said. "What did you
find in those excavation sites, Puckett?”
“Remember how I said that the U.S. Government
had started to find traces of an advanced race of human
beings? Well, we found those traces underground. It
was an amazing discovery. At first. We found large
masses of unexplored caverns underground with
markings unlike anything we’d ever seen. These
markings predated hieroglyphics by centuries, yet were
so much more advanced. As we explored deeper into
the caverns, each site led us to some type of ancient
structure. These structures resembled pyramids, yet
were so much more sophisticated in every way. It
wasn’t until last year that we were finally able to get
inside one of them." Puckett put out his cigarette
against the desk's surface.
"It was the beginning of the biggest mistake we’d
ever make," he said. "These structures had one hell of a
security system to prevent outsiders from entering. I
don’t know how to describe it any other way than to say
they were cursed. Agents would enter in groups, then
after several minutes, a glow would illuminate from
inside the structure. We’d hear their screams, but after
the glowing light had stopped, there was no sign of the
agents. Days later, we began finding pieces of them in
various areas of the cavern. It was obvious that there
was something of importance inside, otherwise the
penalty for entering wouldn’t have been so severe."
"That's awful," I said. "What did you do?"
"After losing so many agents, a man named
Gabriel Rayburn, who was in charge of Icarus, devised
his master plan of recruiting civilians and sending them
inside of the structures instead. He chose troubled
children because he believed that they’d never be
missed by society. He acted as though he was actually
doing society a favor. Gabriel’s belief was that if we kept
sending in civilians, they’d keep getting closer and
closer to whatever was inside until someone could
eventually collect artifacts and escape. He is a vile and
heartless man, and I knew that he had to be stopped. I
left the team and have been hunted ever since."
"But you can't hide forever, right?" I said. "At
some point they're going to find you. You must have a
plan of some kind."
"That’s why I need you, Mr. Brinkman. I’ve been
removed for too long. I don’t know how to find Gabriel
Rayburn now, but he must be stopped at all cost.”
My head was spinning. “This is not the first time
I’ve heard the name Gabriel Rayburn. Sheriff Coleman
knew of him and was acting on his behalf. But Puckett, if
you cannot find him even with your superior tracking
skills, then how am I supposed to?”
“You won’t, Mr. Brinkman. He will find you.”
It was the most malevolent warning I had ever
been given. Knowing now what kind of man Gabriel
Rayburn was, it gave me little comfort to know that he
was out there somewhere looking for me. Even worse
was Puckett’s proclamation that it was only a matter of
time before he found me.
Puckett lit up another cigarette and said, “I won’t
lie to you, Detective. The path that lies ahead for you
will not be a pleasant one. Gabriel Rayburn is the devil
incarnate and he has access to resources beyond your
imagination. However, if he is allowed to continue his
work, more innocent children will die.”
“I understand Puckett, and I accept this
responsibility. The mistreatment of these children
cannot continue. Just tell me what I need to do.”
If I waited for Rayburn, he would have the
advantage, but if I found him first, then the advantage
would be mine. The only lead I had regarding his
whereabouts was not much of a lead at all. It was pure
speculation at best, but it was all I had to go on. I would
need to go to Buffalo and do some research into the G.
Rayburn who had died back in 1926.
“You are a brave man, Mr. Brinkman," Puckett
said. "I am pleased that I was not wrong about
you. What you do from here is entirely up to you
though. Icarus will find you eventually, and when they
do... Don’t worry. I’ll be watching you every step of the
way and will always be close behind.”
There were still many questions that I wanted to
ask Puckett, but I knew that for every second that I
spent talking to him, more children were being
slaughtered. I got up from my chair and bade Puckett
farewell. As I made my way toward the exit, the desk
lamp went out, and the room went pitch black again.
I stood in the doorway and said, “Before I go,
please just answer me one last thing, Puckett."
"What is it?"
"You were using Alyssa Noble as a clue for me to
find you here in Baltimore, but why? Who is Alyssa
“I pray that you’ll never have to find out.”
I was both alarmed and grateful for the
information that Puckett had shared with me in that
house. I don't know that my heart could have
handled any more of his revelations. I had my orders,
and now it was time to begin carrying them out.
Chapter Sixteen
After arriving back at the hotel, it was late in the
day, and I had missed the only train scheduled for
Buffalo. Another one the following day would come in
the early afternoon, and nothing sounded better to me
in the meantime than many hours of sleep. I didn’t
know if I could though. Puckett’s story had impacted me
in the same way that Edgar Allan Poe’s writing had
when I was a much younger man. Poe had been able to
capture human emotion in a way that would sometimes
stick with me for days—even weeks at
times. However, this tale of government cover-up and
ancient civilizations would stay with me for the rest of
my life.
I laid down on my bed and stared up at the
ceiling. It was silent in the room with the exception of
the muffled voices from the people next door. They
were having an argument, but I could not make out any
of the words they were saying. I am not the type of
person to eavesdrop on personal matters between
strangers, but I needed the distraction from my own
thoughts. Eavesdropping was therapeutic, like counting
sheep, and my eyes began feeling heavy.
A few hours later I was wakened by a knock at
my door. As I staggered toward the door, I looked out
the window to see the moon peeking out from behind
cloud cover. A woman from the front desk was at my
door, letting me know that I had a telephone call waiting
for me in the lobby. I was so relieved to hear Charissa’s
voice on the other end of the phone. My mind was still
fuzzy, but I was ready to get back to work.
“Hey you!" she said. "Sorry to be interrupting
your big Baltimore debut, but I think I’ve uncovered
some information that you might want to hear.”
“Wow, so soon? That’s incredible, Charissa! What
have you got?”
“Well, let’s start with Phillip Smith. I called his
school claiming that he had some overdue library
books, and that I would need the forwarding address of
the students from their studying abroad program. Get
this, Miller. They said that they had no idea what I was
talking about, and that they have never had a 'study
abroad' program at the school. According to their
records, Phillip dropped out of school a couple of
months ago.”
“Interesting. Based on the conversation that I
had with Mr. Smith, that would have been right about
the same time he cleaned out his bank account and
disappeared. So then where does a high school kid in
love go after dropping out of school and acquiring
thousands of dollars?”
“I am so glad you asked, Miller. I’m starting to get
good at this detective stuff because of you.”
Though I couldn't see her face, I knew her well
enough to know that she was quite pleased with herself
and displaying her trademark mischievous smile.
“Indeed you are, Miss Burke.”
“Thank you. Now, I don’t know why Mr.
Smith never did this himself, but using the timeline of
Phillip’s disappearance, I checked in with a couple of
airlines and had them search their records. One of them
had the signature of a ‘Mr. P.E. Smith’ departing
Washington, D.C. back in April of this year with a
destination of Oslo, Norway.”
I scratched my head and said, “Norway?”
“I can’t say that this is him for sure, Miller, but if
it’s not, then maybe that pocket watch you
found belongs to this P.E. Smith.”
Ah, there was that sarcasm of hers that I'd come
to know and love. “Cute," I said.
“I have more. Do you remember how I told you
that I wasn’t able to find out much about a ‘G. Rayburn’
other than a few basic details and a record of his death
back in 1926?"
"Yeah, I remember. Don't tell me you found
"Well, I was able to recover a few
more interesting tidbits from the vault."
"You have a vault at the library?"
"Not a literal vault, you big goof. It’s where we
keep our files that haven’t yet been properly
archived. Even though it was the proverbial needle in a
haystack, I did manage to find out a little bit more about
Rayburn. He was regarded as a top scientist for a
company in Buffalo called Plumetech."
"I wasn't expecting that," I said. "And you said
that you'd found his death certificate, right?"
"Yes. He did die in 1926, but he wasn't all that
I rubbed my chin and said, "What happened to
"This guy went nuts and killed his wife, then
himself, all right in front of their son and daughter."
"Good heavens! Is there any record of what
happened to the children?"
"I thought you might ask, so I checked into it. All
I could find out was that the kids were split up and
placed into foster care."
"And what about Plumetech? Anything on
"I made a few calls, and it seems as though the
company ceased operations back in ’32 after filing for
bankruptcy. According to the records, they were being
investigated for questionable business practices—
whatever that means—but I got you the address for the
old building just in case you want to check it out for
“Charissa, I have no words to describe your
brilliance. You are amazing! Thank you so much for
your help. This information will come in handy. I think
Buffalo may still be worth checking into, but I don't
think that this ‘G. Rayburn’ is the same person I’ve been
looking for. Who knows, I may still be able to turn
something up.”
“Alright Miller, then I will leave you to it. Just…”
Her voice trailed off.
I moved the receiver to my other ear and said,
“What is it, Charissa?”
“The people I spoke with in Buffalo seemed kind
of off, you know? It was like my questions were forcing
them to recall something that they were trying to
forget. It was just weird. I can’t think of a better word.
Just watch your back, okay?”
“I will. Thank you again, Charissa. I’ll be in touch
again soon.”
After taking down the address she’d found, I
hung up the phone, went back to my room, and then
climbed back into bed. The sounds of the arguing
neighbors were long gone, so I tried humming out loud
to drown out the thoughts circling around in my head. It
wasn't so much Puckett’s mind-boggling story that
bothered me, as much as it was his chilling warning
about Gabriel Rayburn. Puckett had been able to track
me so easily, and Rayburn had outranked him, so I
had no way to estimate his true potential.
I finally gave up on sleep and checked out of the
hotel early the next morning. I took a cab to the train
station and read the paper as I waited for my
train. When it arrived, I boarded to find a nearly empty
car and was able to stretch out comfortably. It was a
twelve hour trip from Baltimore to Buffalo. I closed my
eyes and concentrated on the relaxing sensation of
being rocked gently from side-to-side. The next time I
opened my eyes, we were pulling into the station in
I had intended for my trip to Buffalo to be a short
one—possibly even a dead end—then I would focus my
investigation on the new information that Charissa had
uncovered about Phillip Smith. For a young man of his
wealth, he could travel to exotic locations, but despite
being out of touch with the younger generation, I
couldn't imagine the cold winters of Norway being a
vacation hot spot. I had never even met the boy, but his
bold move felt out of character to me based on the way
Charissa talked about him. Mr. Smith had told me that
he knew nothing about Jane Emmett’s disappearance,
but I assumed that Phillip had been aware. I wondered
if he had been able to dig up some evidence that I had
missed. Phillip did have two things that I didn’t have: A
heap of money and his father’s press contacts.
I decided to skip the hotel check-in and go have a
look at the old Plumetech building first. According to
Charissa, it had been abandoned several years ago, and
since it was getting late, I figured the conditions were
perfect for what I would need to accomplish. Even
though there was no malicious intent behind my
actions, it would still be considered trespassing, so
better to do it under the cover of night.
Charissa had told me that the old abandoned
building was somewhere on Parker Street between 6th
and 7th. After hailing a cab, I pretended to be lost, and
had the driver circle the block for me so that I could get
a good look at the surrounding area. It was a fairly large
city block, so I had the driver drop me off at the corner
of 7th and Parker. I pulled my trench coat up over my
head to shield me from the rain that was beginning to
The old building was sandwiched between two
larger buildings that extended all the way to the
sidewalk, which gave it the illusion of being hidden. The
other buildings looked newer, so I imagined that the old
Plumetech building had occupied all that space by itself
once upon a time. There was a large chain link fence
with barbed wire spread across the top beam meant to
keep people off the premises. I could see no way to
climb over it, and buying a pair of wire cutters at this
hour seemed a bit suspicious to me. I approached the
fence for a closer look.
Two of the fasteners along the bottom were
missing, which would allow me to pull up the bottom of
the fence and climb under it. I had to laugh at the
thought of how ridiculous I must have looked to any
passersby. After only a minor struggle, I made it under
the fence—no doubt thanks to a long absence of apple
pie from Roxy’s Diner.
I walked up to the front doors of the building.
They had been welded shut, but when I walked around
the side of the building, I found that several of the
windows had been broken out. One on the main floor
would be low enough for me to climb through, so I took
off my jacket and wrapped the sleeve around my hand
to protect it from the broken glass. Then I reached in to
find the handle to pull the window open. With the sill
now clear, I hopped up and made my way inside the
The building had only been abandoned for a
short time, but it already looked like a dirty
warehouse. It didn't look as vacant as I was
expecting. In fact, instead of all the office furniture
missing, most of it was still there, just turned over on its
sides. The last people to occupy the building must
have left it in a hurry without the intention of ever
coming back to claim their leftover possessions.
To the naked eye, most of the remaining things
were of no consequence. The file cabinets were mostly
cleaned out, save for a few miscellaneous memos and
documents. I glanced over a few, but didn’t find
anything useful. If they had been storing anything of
interest, I suspect it was long gone by that point. Some
of the remaining papers were interesting, but not all
that helpful.
I walked down a long, dark hallway full of
several more sparse rooms. At the end of the hall was a
staircase that led up to the second floor. I decided to go
have a look.
The upstairs portion of the building was similar
to the main floor, though it had more exquisite offices,
presumably serving as the executive wing. I walked by
the first set of offices and noticed that the names of the
employees were still affixed to the doors. In the next set
of offices, I found the name “Gideon Rayburn.” At last,
one mystery was solved!
Gideon’s office had a much different look to it
than the other rooms in the building. It still carried the
same basic characteristics, only his looked like it was
still being used. The file cabinets were neatly pushed up
against a wall. A desk sat in the middle of the room
with an old kerosene lantern resting atop its polished
surface. After inspecting the lantern, I found threefourths of its capacity still filled with fuel. I didn’t see
how an item like that would fit in with the days when
the building was still operational, which left me
wondering just who had been using this old office in an
abandoned building?
I lit the lamp to further illuminate my
surroundings. There were stacks of files organized on
the desk. I grabbed the first manila folder on the pile
and started to comb through it. The papers all appeared
to be Plumetech business documents, but were well
above my comprehension. The document language was
very formal and difficult to translate due to the many
redacted sections. If someone had been trying to protect
the confidentiality of the document, why had it been
stored so haphazardly?
May 14th, 1925
TO: Dr. Gideon Rayburn, Plumetech
RE: The Fallen City
The (undisclosed party) has been investigating
your research pertaining to the fallen city and is very
interested in discussing your proposition. According to
the readings that you have provided, the (undisclosed
party) has verified that there may in fact be validity to
your theory. A team of agents will be dispatched to the
coordinates you’ve provided, and if there is any
substantial evidence gathered, (undisclosed party) will be
in contact with you again to discuss payment.
Additionally, pending the results of any collected
evidence, (undisclosed party) will want to speak to you
again regarding the logistics of your proposed plan to
recover the fallen city. There was some opposition of your
plan, but with a favorable vote in time, there are arms of
(undisclosed party) built for the specific purpose of
carrying out the tasks that make rich men turn and look
the other way.
Good work, Dr. Rayburn. (Undisclosed party) is
grateful that you chose to contact them and your services
will be compensated. Please remember, however, that this
matter is being coded as “Operation: Asgard.” You are not
permitted to discuss the fallen city with anyone other
than (undisclosed party). Failure to adhere to this simple
rule will be looked upon with ill humor and could be
perceived as an act of treason. Men who commit treason
within our ranks are handed over to, well, Dr. Rayburn, I
guess you could say that there are arms of (undisclosed
party) built for the specific purpose of carrying out the
tasks that make rich men turn and look the other
way. The pendulum swings both ways. You will hear from
me again soon.
There was no signature at the bottom of the
letter. This organization and Gideon Rayburn were both
elusive and connected to each other. It had to be
Icarus. The content of the letter sounded to me almost
like some sort of secret society. Without knowing the
context of the letter, it seemed rather obvious to me
that Gideon Rayburn had been involved in unethical
practices, but I couldn't make a guess as to what they
were. I looked for more information within the other
documents on the desk, but to my dismay, nothing made
sense. I did find additional correspondence from who I
believed to be Icarus, but it was all written in the same
vague manner as the first letter, and didn’t reveal any
details that would be useful.
After digging through several more documents, I
ran across what appeared to be ten copies of Plumetech
invoices. All ten were from the same customer signed
“Jon Smith.” According to the invoices, Jon Smith had
been placing supply orders with Plumetech between
August and December of 1925, but it did not specify an
itemized list of what those supplies were, or in what
quantities. Each invoice was totaled at $25,000, which
was an exorbitant amount of money back then.
I wondered how a company with that type of
success could succumb to bankruptcy and shut down
only a few years later—unless of course Plumetech had
not been the actual beneficiary of those payments, in
which case, Gideon Rayburn would have been a very
wealthy man.
I heard a loud crash from downstairs, followed
by the sound of footsteps on the hard uncovered floors,
echoing through the abandoned building. My heart
skipped a beat and I extinguished the flame from the
lamp. I hadn't been expecting a confrontation, but
I wasn't about to sit in the dark office and wait to be
discovered. I had been looking for an answer as to who
had inhabited the space, and this was my opportunity to
find out.
I snuck out of the office, down the stairs and back
to the hall where I had entered. With my back pressed
against the sill, I pulled out my revolver and clutched it
in both hands. I peeked around the doorway to get a
look. I couldn't see anything, nor could I hear any more
footsteps. I took a deep breath and crept down the hall,
examining each corner within my line of sight.
Still unable to get a visual on anyone or anything
moving around inside, I kept sneaking up the hallway
back to the main room at the front of the building. I
stopped at the hallway entrance and looked
around. Even with the left over fixtures and furniture, I
couldn't see any areas that would have made a good
hiding spot. I felt confident that if anyone had been
inside, they had already left before I made my way
down. There was only one way to be sure, so with the
barrel of my gun pointed straight ahead, I walked the
perimeter of the room and searched every nook and
cranny until I was satisfied.
By then, I was no longer sure if my mind had
been playing tricks on me, or if it had been the sounds of
the foundation settling in the big empty building that I
heard. Regardless, I had sustained all of the excitement
that I could handle for one night. Or so I thought.
I climbed back out of the same window that I had
used to make my entrance, and headed back to the
front of the building. While I had been inside, the rain
had started coming down, and I became soaked as I
climbed back under the fence.
I noticed something lying flat on the cement path
leading up to the main doors of the building. I was
positive that it had not been there before when I
arrived. I walked up to it and bent down to pick it up. It
was a brown envelope like the one Puckett had sent to
me in Washington, D.C. My name was written on the
front of the envelope, and the ink was beginning to run
from being exposed out in the rain.
I opened the envelope and reached inside to
discover another photograph. Had Puckett followed me
here to Buffalo just to deliver some additional
information? I pulled out the paper and saw a
photograph that dropped me to my knees.
It was a photo of Charissa. She was wearing a
blindfold, and was down on her knees as two men in
black suits pointed revolvers at her. The photo
appeared to have been taken in her bedroom.
My heart began to pound so heavily that I could
hear it, and each beat caused a vibration so strong that
my vision would blur in tandem. My stomach felt as
though I’d swallowed a pin cushion with all the needles
sticking outward. I turned the photograph over and
found a hand-written message.
“Sometimes when you search for answers, you
cannot turn back the clock once they’ve been found. Did
you find the answers you sought? What did that time cost
I felt helpless. There was no way for me to get
back to Washington, D.C. until morning, and Charissa
needed help right then. I had to get back to the train
station and just spend the night there. A hotel would
have been meaningless. There was no chance that I
would have been able to sleep anyway.
Unfortunately when I arrived at the train station,
it was already closed and locked up for the night. There
was a bench out in front of the building that was under
cover and shielded from the rain, which seemed like just
as good a place as any to wait until morning. I took out
the photo again and studied every inch of the frame.
Charissa looked so frightened. I never once imagined
that she was in any danger. The photograph had not
come from Puckett. Of that much I was certain. And if
Puckett had not been the messenger, then the warning
he'd given me in Baltimore had come to pass. I had not
found Gabriel Rayburn. He had just found me.
Chapter Seventeen
As I had expected, I sat on that bench in front of
the train station all night without a wink of sleep. At
some point in the middle of the night, the rain had
stopped, but I didn’t even seem to notice. I watched the
sky turn from a deep blue into a bright pink, as the sun
began to rise above the skyline. The air still smelled like
a fresh rain, which was calming somehow.
A couple of hours after the sunrise, the train
station opened for business. My body was riddled with
pain from sitting motionless on the bench all night, and
it was difficult to stand up and move. I needed to get the
blood flowing through my extremities, so I walked back
and forth in front of the station, swinging my arms like a
I entered the station and purchased a ticket back
to Washington, D.C. The train was set to begin boarding
within an hour. It would be a long trip, so I was grateful
for an early start. I would not arrive in Washington, D.C.
until later that evening. I didn’t like it, but there was
nothing else I could do about it. I just hoped that the
photograph was a light threat and nothing more—a
message to let me know that I was getting too close and
that it was time for me to back away.
I thought long and hard about my options at that
point. If Gabriel Rayburn was the one sending me the
message, I didn’t feel as though I was in any position to
ignore his warning. I needed to be realistic and strongly
consider the gravity of the situation. Was there any real
reason for me to continue down this path? I wanted to
help Jane Emmett, but this whole mess had grown into
something far greater than a kidnapping, and I was not
prepared for something of that magnitude. Not even
I did not have the training needed to pursue this
any further. Only a fool would oppose the U.S.
government, and I was not interested in playing the role
of the fool any longer. Rayburn had won, and I was
ready to give up. The only thing that mattered to me
was getting back to Washington, being with Charissa,
and putting the entire ordeal behind us so that we could
focus on our future. Fate had given me a second chance
to be with the only woman I’d ever loved, or ever could
love, and I was not about to waste it.
While lost in my thoughts, the line of people
to board the train had started moving. I handed my
ticket to the conductor and found a seat in the back of
the car next to the window so that I could be alone with
my thoughts.
I felt terrible. I had never thought of myself as a
quitter before, but the stakes had become too high. I
knew that I was letting Puckett down because he had
been invested in my ability to help him take down
Icarus, but perhaps he had overestimated my potential.
I was not an agent. I was just an average man
from a small town where we had been shielded from
horrors on that scale. Or at least we had been, until
Sheriff Coleman had brought it into our own
backyard. That bastard.
I had no idea how Sheriff Coleman even became
involved with Icarus in the first place. When I think
back on the affair between his wife and Benny
Lippincott, I don’t even know if that was the beginning
of the sheriff’s dark descent or if he had been troubled
all along. I guess it didn’t matter anyway because what
was done had been done, and I had no way to
ever change it.
Even though I knew that Puckett would be
disappointed with my decision to back away from his
intricate plan, I had made a promise to a special friend. I
promised Jessie Fryman that I would bring Jane home
safe and sound. Sitting alone on that train, I thought
about Jessie looking down on me from wherever she
was and shaking her head at me. She’d have been so
disappointed in me for giving up on something that had
meant so much to her. Forgive me, Jessie. I failed, but it's
time to go home. I’ve done all that I can.
The train sped along the tracks, and we were
only about half way there when I realized that I had
been wallowing in self-pity since the night before. I
hadn't given my detective skills to deciphering what I’d
discovered at the abandoned Plumetech building. I
figured that it didn’t matter much, since I was done
dealing with it anyway, but at the same time, I could not
stop my mind from toying with the possibilities of what
my findings meant to the bigger picture.
The fact remained that someone had tracked me
to Buffalo. They had watched the building and waited
for me to go inside. Icarus was connected to Plumetech
somehow, but the answer evaded me. It was possible
that the building had been selected at random as an
Icarus base of sorts, but I couldn't ignore the
coincidence of the Rayburn name popping up at both
organizations. Gideon Rayburn died in 1926, and then
Gabriel Rayburn started using his old office after the
building was abandoned? That went far beyond
coincidence. I lacked proof, but I had a hunch that
Gabriel had picked up the family business where Gideon
had left off.
I believed that Gabriel Rayburn had
found something within the documents left behind in
the Plumetech building. Perhaps it was an old hidden
message that had never been recovered.
Whatever it was, Icarus did not want me going
near it, and that worried me. If they were protecting a
secret so great that they would stop at nothing to keep
me from it, how much farther did their corruption go
beyond abducting children?
With a couple of hours left to go before reaching
Washington, D.C., I was going to arrive with my
fingernails chewed down to bloody nubs, prattling on
about topics no one could understand. I was on a oneway trip to the nut house if I didn’t pull it
together. That’s when it occurred to me that I could still
help Puckett after all.
I had decided to not physically help him, but I
could still give him my notebook full of details about the
case. I had been detailing every step I’d taken. So I
thought it could have some value for Puckett as he
continued his fight against Icarus. Of course finding
him would be easier said than done. He had told me that
if he didn't want to be found, I wouldn't be able
to, which would complicate getting him the
notebook. However, he had proven himself able to find
me with little effort, so there was reason to believe that
I would see him again.
I took out my notes to check and make sure they
were complete and that they would be easy for
someone other than myself to understand. I found the
page I had written while talking to Charissa just a
couple of days before. It was the last time I had spoken
to her.
She had done so much research on my behalf and
was able to uncover information that had eluded me.
She had turned out to be an amazing private
investigator in her own right, though I doubted that had
been her intention. We made one hell of a team, though.
I continued to reminisce about Charissa until I
ran across the notes she had given me pertaining to
Phillip Smith. That was the part of the puzzle that I still
was not making any sense of. I knew so very little about
Phillip, but something told me that he had been nothing
like his father. Mr. Smith appeared to be a good man
underneath his desire to be rich, but based upon the
actions I had been able to uncover of young Phillip, it
felt to me as though he was striving for a different path
in life. He reminded me a lot of Jane Emmett, actually. If
the two of them really had been in love as I suspected, I
could see the common ground that would have drawn
them together.
When the train arrived at the station in
Washington, D.C. I was exhausted nearly to the point of
collapsing, but I knew that there was no time to be
worrying about that. I had my notebook with me, but all
of my clothes, and more importantly Jane Emmett’s
pocket watch, were still in my bag hundreds of miles
away. I’d forgotten my luggage back in Buffalo, a
fact which I cared very little about right then.
With what strength I had left, I got off the train
and bumbled through the station as fast as I could. The
curb outside where the taxi cab drivers usually waited
for fares was vacant, and there was a line of people
waiting. I didn't have time for that, and with Charissa’s
apartment still a couple of miles away, I knew my only
option was to bear the pain and run for it. I was
breathing hard, and my heart was pounding. In my
mind, nothing was going to stop me from getting to
Charissa. I continued to run. The pain in my side shot all
the way up to my armpit with every stride, and I
thought I was going to keel over right there on the
streets of Washington, but I just didn’t care. I saw the
library just up ahead, and knew that I had pushed
myself as far as my aging body would allow me to go.
My legs turned to rubber, and gave out on me. I
fell forward onto the concrete below and rolled. I looked
at my hands, ripped up and bloody with pieces of gravel
stuck in the wounds. Though I could not gauge the
extent of the damage done to my face, my hands had
shielded me and taken the brunt of the injuries
I sustained. I laid on the sidewalk outside of the library
and rolled over onto my back.
My breathing stayed erratic, but began to
slow. My heart felt like it was preparing to jump out of
my chest, which I would have welcomed at that
point. The shock of the fall was wearing off, and all I was
left with was the sting from the lacerations on my
After several minutes passed, I was able to get to
my feet under my own power, but my legs were still
wobbly. The library was open, so I thought that I would
go inside and look for Charissa. Once I had made my
way inside of the building, two of the library workers
saw me and rushed over to my aid.
They led me to a nearby table and helped me sit
down in a chair. They said little, and could not seem to
make eye contact with me. My face must have looked
worse than I’d thought. One male worker ran off to get
some water, followed closely by a female who said
something about finding the first aid kit.
The woman with the first aid kit returned first
and opened the metal box on the table in front of me.
She doused a piece of cloth with iodine and said,
“Honey, I’m sorry, but this is probably going to sting. I
have to get these wounds cleaned out.” She spoke to me
as one might a child.
As she dabbed at my skin with the soaked cloth
and cleaned the wounds, I distinguished the difference
between the bullet I had taken from Sheriff Coleman
and the burn of antiseptic. I grabbed the collar of my
jacket with my teeth and bit down as hard as I could. It
was the only thing keeping me from screaming out in
pain, causing the building to empty out.
When the gentleman came back with a glass of
water, she was just finishing up. My hands burned as
though they’d been dipped into drums of acid and dried
off with hot coals. As soon as I was able to speak
without screaming, I asked them if Charissa was
The man shook his head no and said, "No one has
seen her in days. In fact, I heard one of the bosses say
that she's probably going to get fired for missing work."
"What!" I said. "Call the police at once!"
"The police? Is she all right?" the woman said.
"I've got to get out of here!" I sprang from the
chair with such force that it fell onto its side. I made it
all the way to the door before I yelled back, "Thank
As quick as I could move my legs without falling
again, I stumbled off toward Charissa's apartment. If the
two library workers had called the police per my
request, the police would beat me there. I was not sure
that I could trust the cops, but I had no
choice. Charissa’s safety was all that mattered to me,
and I would do whatever it took to secure it.
Straining forward with all my energy, I turned
the corner of the block and could see Charissa’s
apartment building.
“Just a little farther now.” I kept saying to myself
as motivation to keep my legs moving.
“Just a little farther now.” I was almost across the
“Just a little farther now.” I made it to the front of
the apartment.
“Just a little farther now.” I climbed the steps and
up to the building’s entrance.
I opened the door to the building and grabbed
the banister along the staircase. Charissa’s apartment
was on the third floor.
“Just a little farther now.”
My bandaged hands pulled my beaten
body up all three flights of stairs to Charissa’s floor. I
had made it at long last and finally stood in front of
apartment 3C. I pounded on the door and shouted for
Charissa to answer, but heard no movement from the
other side. I knocked even harder, but still heard no
response. I clenched my fists and hammered on the
door until it began to splinter from the force, and the
numbers fell off and broke on impact with the floor.
Still, there was no answer from within. I dropped
forward onto my knees which pushed the door opened.
It had been locked, but the busted up frame showed
signs of forced entry prior to my arrival. The
culmination of abuse from what appeared to be two
separate events was just too much for the weakened
frame to take. I crawled into the apartment and over to
a table in her living room that I used to get back up to
my feet.
Charissa's apartment had been turned inside out.
Icarus must have thought she had something that
would've led them to me.
"Charissa?" I called out. I was able to balance
against the walls and grab the furniture for
stability. "Charissa?" I bellowed. Still no response.
I grabbed a hold of the threshold to her bedroom
and pulled myself to the entrance. I looked into the
room from the hallway, and my stomach lurched. My
worst fear had come to pass.
Charissa's body was hanging from a rope around
her neck that was wrapped around a high beam on the
ceiling. Her clothes were stained with blood that had
already dried. Even though I knew what I was looking at
was real, my mind could not process it.
That was not how our relationship was supposed
to have ended. We’d been given a second chance to
make up for lost time, and we could have been together
like we were meant to be all along. I wanted to wail and
open up the dam holding back a river of tears, but shock
prevented me from fully realizing the nightmare before
my eyes.
I hobbled over to Charissa’s lifeless body
and hugged her. Her body was cold and limp. Oh, how I
wanted her to put her arms around me again. I braced
her with my left arm and reached into my coat for my
pocket knife. She fell into my arms after I cut the
rope and I carefully laid her down on the bed.
I sat down on the bed next to her body and held
her cold hand. I was an inconsolable mess and wanted
nothing more than the hands of time to rewind so that
I could go back and save the woman I loved from peril.
I needed to call the police, but I didn’t want to
ever move away from Charissa. I just wanted to
continue to sit with her and feel her hand in mine for as
long as I could.
Seeing the photo of Charissa being held at
gunpoint, while I was stranded in Buffalo, was the
second worst feeling I’d ever experienced in my life. It
was the second worst, because it paled in comparison to
the moment I was living right then. There would never
be anything else in my life that would feel as awful
as that day.
Suddenly four men in black suits entered the
room with their guns drawn.
With a devilish grin, I glared and said, “You’ve
already taken away the only thing left in this world that
meant anything to me. I’ve got nothing left to lose,
which means I am far more dangerous than you can
possibly imagine.”
With my last ounce of strength, I sprang from the
bed and threw a right hook toward the face of the
closest Icarus agent I could reach. I connected with a
solid fist to his right cheek, which knocked him
backward into Charissa’s dresser and shattered the
mirror. I fell to the ground on my knees and calmly
anticipated the last sound I’d ever hear. It’s funny, I had
never thought about how my life would end before, but
being gunned down by government agents was
something that I would have never imagined. However,
instead of hearing the sound of gunfire, I felt the strike
of cold, hard metal against the back of my skull. The
pain was intense, and my ears rang with the sound of a
constant high-pitched frequency. It lasted only a
moment, and then everything became fuzzy. Before
I blacked out, I heard one last thing: “All right, let’s grab
him and get him to Rayburn.”
Chapter Eighteen
The next thing I remember was the sound of
water dripping down somewhere near me. I could
barely open my eyes, and what little I could see
provided little to disclose my whereabouts. It was
completely dark, and a horrible stench floated in the
air. I pulled my undershirt up to cover my nose and
mouth, because the smell made me nauseous.
I was lying on the ground which felt like hard,
damp stone. My head was pounding like I had the worst
hangover ever. I reached into my pocket to try and find
my knife, but they had been picked clean.
Flashes of memory came back to me as I
remembered being in Charissa’s apartment when the
Icarus agents had shown up. I remembered thinking
that my life was about to end, and that I wanted to take
a swing at one of those bastards before they pulled the
trigger. My mind, however, was a complete blank after
that. I wondered if I really was dead after all, but after
checking my wrist for a pulse, I was angered to confirm
that was not the case. I felt very weak.
I had walked right into a trap. Icarus never had
any intention of using Charissa to threaten me. They
were cold and ruthless killers that lacked any shred of
human emotion. To them, there had been little
difference between Charissa and an insect, and they
needed little excuse to snuff out her life without
remorse. They knew that showing me a photo of her
being held captive would lure me to her side, and they
killed her only so that I would be punished for ever
involving myself in their matters.
I had been a fool to believe that Icarus would
have ever left Charissa and I alone, even if I had given
up on the case. There was simply no reasoning with
them. I had already demonstrated my potential threat to
their organization and their agents were dispatched to
deal with me. With Charissa gone, I didn’t see any
reason to prolong the misery. If they were going to take
me out, then I was going to go out fighting.
While regaining my senses, the dripping
water made me wonder if it was raining outside. I
fought through my pain to get into a sitting position and
try to get the blood flowing through my body again. It
took several attempts, but I finally sat up, which was
more comfortable and helped to ease my headache. I
put my hand on the back of my head and felt a giant
lump. One of the agents must have struck me in the back
of the head. I thought I remembered that last detail,
but the encounter was still hazy. The movie reel in my
head had reached its end.
"Hello?" I whispered. I didn’t want to raise my
voice and draw attention to myself, I just
wanted to know if there was anyone else around
me. Silence. I was all alone, locked up in some sort of
prison cell. The way Icarus conducted their business, I
felt confident that I would be convicted without a fair
trial, and likely spend the rest of my life behind bars.
Somehow they would find a way to turn Sheriff
Coleman’s death into a cold blooded murder and it
would be my word against theirs.
My legs were still banged up from the nasty spill
I’d taken in front of the library, but I could move them. I
reached out with the tip of my toes and moved my foot
back and forth to see if I could make contact with
anything. I had no idea how large the room was, so I
pushed myself forward to see if I could find a wall
and approximate the dimensions of the room.
I kept scooting across the ground until I felt
something touch my foot. It was a shelf or maybe a desk,
just a smooth flat surface with a single skinny item. I
picked it up and recognized that I was holding a
flashlight. It seemed like an odd object to have in a
prison cell.
I found the on/off switch on the side of the
flashlight, but it did not power on. I shook it a couple of
times and tried again, but still the light did not turn
on. The room was too quiet, and I started to
feel anxious. The water drips seemed louder than
before and echoed throughout the room. It was almost
deafening, and I wondered if my lack of sight had simply
enhanced my ability to hear it. I knew I needed to get
out of that room somehow.
I shook the flashlight hard and hit it several
times with the palm of my hand in desperation, and a
dim light flickered on and off a couple of times and then
went out. Out of pure frustration, I hauled off and hit the
flashlight as hard as I could and was amazed when a
beam of bright light shone directly onto the ceiling
above me. I could see some type of dark markings or
smears in various places along the ceiling. I followed
them with the flashlight to see how far along they went.
More marks shadowed the wall, only in larger blotches
that appeared to be running down the entire room. I
followed the markings, and where the wall was about to
touch the floor, the light revealed a human face.
It startled me to the point that I almost jumped
out of my own skin. I dropped the flashlight, and the
beam illuminated what was most definitely a human
body on the ground. I reached down to pick up the
flashlight and shined the light across the body. It was a
young female propped up against the wall. Her brown
hair was short, and her bangs had been caught in a
dried patch of blood against her forehead, though I
could see no wound.
Her eyes and mouth were wide open, and there
were bite marks on her lips and tongue,
which protruded from her mouth. She must have been
face-to-face with her attacked her and frightened
beyond normal levels of fear. I walked over to the body
and felt for a radial pulse, but there was none. The poor
young woman was dead. Her suffering was over, so I
reached out and closed her eyelids hoping that the poor
child would be able to rest.
Then I backed away from the body. I tripped
over something on the floor and fell over backwards,
landing hard on the rocky ground beneath me. I sat up
and shined the flashlight in front of me to see what I had
tripped over. It was another body.
This time it was a young male, lying face down in
a pool of blood. His clothes were torn to shreds, and
there were large chunks of skin missing from his back.
I could not believe what I was seeing! The room
had not been a prison cell after all. It was something far
worse. I was not very optimistic about my odds of
survival if I stayed in the room, so I got back to my feet
and tried to find a door.
I pointed the flashlight at various sections of the
room, but every square inch was littered with more
dark markings and smears. There were dozens more
bodies all around me, laid to waste on the ground and
treated in the same fashion as the first two I had
discovered. Along the far wall was a row of bunk beds,
also filled with brutally mistreated remains.
A better view of my surroundings revealed that
what I had thought was the sound of water dripping had
not been water after all. The body of a girl was hanging
over the top bunk of a bed. Her arms hung motionless,
pointed at the ground. Long streams of blood trickled
down her forearms, dropping to the ground and
splashing into a puddle below.
At least thirty young teenagers had been
slaughtered in that room. It was absolutely
hideous. Their bodies had been treated like common
garbage and left to rot in the room.
Who could have done such a thing to defenseless
children? Could a division of the U.S. government, even
a top secret one like Icarus, be capable of carrying out
such a heinous death sentence?
I had finally had enough. I could not take being in
that deep layer of hell any longer, and I began to scream
at the top of my lungs. I pounded on the walls to gain
someone’s attention. I didn’t care if it meant that I
would be walking into my own execution. I couldn't
handle one more second of seeing the looks of agony on
the faces of the dead children. I turned off the flashlight
so that I could go back to the darkness, but I continued
to kick and scream. The walls were made of
an unknown metal, and the sounds of
impact reverberated all throughout the room with
intense vibration.
I continued for another fifteen minutes before I
heard the sound of footsteps shuffling on the other side
of the wall, followed quickly by the sound of rattling
locks. A door opened, and in the light I could see the
outline of two men, armed and dressed in black suits.
“Good. You’re awake. You need to come with us
now.” The agent spoke with a growl.
In truth, I was not afraid. I was prepared to deal
with anything on the other side of that door if it meant
that I could leave that awful room filled with death and
pain. I set the flashlight down and began to walk
towards the open door.
The agent raised his rifle and said, “Slow down,
Mr. Detective. It would be a shame to kill you after
you’ve made it this far."
I could sense him provoking me, but I knew that
he was not joking and that he would feel nothing by
putting a bullet in my head just for looking at him crosseyed.
I squinted my eyes, trying to adjust to the light,
and said, “Agent, where am I?”
“Save your breath, Detective. We’re here to take
you to see Gabriel Rayburn and nothing more. Just stay
close. You won’t have any problems.”
As I took my first steps out the door, the two
agents got into position on both sides of me, and each
handcuffed one of their wrists to mine. I had no
intention of fighting them, but I didn’t suppose they
would have taken my word for it if I had told them as
It took me a moment after stepping out of the
death trap to notice that there was no familiar blue sky
above us. We were standing in a large cave-like
area comprised of rock.
An agent shoved me and said, “Now. Walk.”
I did as instructed and followed their lead. I
turned back to look at the room. It was a storage facility
of some kind. It was a makeshift construction,
assembled cheaply judging by its appearance. To my
surprise, it was not the only one there. There were at
least five other identical structures all lined up
together. After what I had already witnessed, I was not
sure that I wanted to know what was in them.
The Icarus agents led me down a long path that
curved under an archway carved out of rock and
continued through a tunnel. The agents made it clear
that they were not going to answer any of my questions,
so rather than risk agitating them, I examined my
surroundings, searching for clues.
To dig out such an intricate series of tunnels in
an environment like that would have taken decades—
maybe even centuries. Icarus couldn't have had the time
or the man power to do it. I thought back to the
conversation that I'd had with Puckett in Baltimore. A
chill went down my spine as I considered whether or
not the construction had been the work of a civilization
that had lived long before man.
As we emerged on the other side of the long
tunnel, it opened up into an area even larger than where
we had come from. In the distance I could see a building
of modern era construction which I assumed was an
Icarus stronghold. Somewhere in that building, Gabriel
Rayburn, would be waiting for me.
I was beyond tired. My body had sustained many
painful injuries, and I didn’t know how much farther I’d
be able to go. I forgot all about my agony as I noticed
something massive coming into view that had
been obscured by a rock formation protruding from the
It was a breathtaking structure, unlike anything I
had encountered before. It was not quite in the shape of
a traditional pyramid, but it shared some basic
similarities in design. It could have been a temple. The
structure had layers of stone spaced about five feet
apart adorned with painstakingly detailed symbols that
went around the perimeter of the base. I was certainly
not an expert, but they did not look like any
hieroglyphics I had ever seen in text books. The base of
the structure was rectangular shaped and it narrowed
toward the top. Unlike a pyramid though, it didn’t come
to a point at the tip. At the top of the structure, a small,
flat room-sized square area served as its head. A
protective ornate barrier stretched all the way around
it, so even if someone was to find a way to climb the
structure, getting to that room at the top would
represent a whole new challenge altogether.
“What do you think, detective?" the agent
said. "Mind boggling, right?”
“What… is it?” I said.
We were almost at the Icarus building. I’d hardly
noticed because I was so entranced by the sight of the
magnificent structure. The agent just laughed at my
question and kept leading me forward. Could this have
been what Puckett was trying to tell me about? Was this
all a part of his story about an ancient civilization? I
must confess that I had wanted to dismiss much of what
Puckett had told me, but with what I was seeing, I didn’t
know that I could any longer.
We walked up a series of steps to the door of the
Icarus building, and one of the agents swiped a card that
unlocked it. The technology that Icarus possessed made
me wonder what else the U.S. government had kept
from the public.
When we entered the building, I was again met
with disturbing visuals that would haunt me for years to
come. Blood everywhere: On the walls, on the floors,
and even on the ceiling. There were bodies inside of the
building, just as I had seen back in my holding cell, only
these were the bodies of Icarus agents. Whatever had
attacked them had done so with a fiery vengeance that
was far more intense than what had attacked the
children. In some cases, their bodies had been
quite literally ripped from limb-to-limb. It was
reminiscent of how a cheetah in the wild would take
down an unlucky gazelle and tear it apart. A horrible
anger and disrespect appeared to have been behind
the assault on the Icarus agents.
I covered my nose and said, “Good God, what
happened here?”
“This is why you’re here, detective.”
I had no idea what he meant by that remark. I
had known nothing about the slaughter, so I did not
understand how my presence was expected to help. For
all I knew, I was going to be handed a mop and a bucket
from Gabriel Rayburn who would then tell me I was the
new Icarus janitor. That was a bit far-fetched, but after
everything I had seen, I would not have put anything
past them.
The agents led me down a hallway, which did not
look much better than the main room. Horribly
mutilated bodies lined the entire length of the
hallway. The squishing beneath my feet was causing me
to feel sick. I bent over and threw up.
The agent laughed and said, “What’s the matter,
Detective? Don't go getting a weak stomach on us now.
You wanted answers, didn’t you? Well, look all around
you. Here are your answers. You've been drafted into
the war."
"War? What war?" I said. I had to close my eyes
the rest of the way and just let the agents pull me
One of the agents swiped their card opening yet
another door and said, “In here.”
I was hesitant to look, but forced my eyes
open. It was an average run-of-the-mill office. The two
agents dragged me to a chair in front of a desk, sat me
down, and then removed the handcuffs that had been
tethering us. After positioning me in the chair, the
agents then handcuffed my wrists to its arms and locked
me in place.
“All right, Detective," the agent said. "You're in
luck. Gabriel Rayburn wants to meet you. Sit tight. Don't
puke on anything.”
The agents exited the room and locked the door
from the outside. I sat motionless in the chair. The
office was not what I would have expected from the ring
leader of a secret arm of the government.
My eyes began to get heavy. With each blink, the
delay before opening my eyes again got longer and
longer. I had exerted all of my energy and began to doze
off. The lack of rest was driving me to hallucinate. I
could swear that I heard the sound of a girl’s voice, but I
could not make out what it was saying. It just sounded
like chatter or gibberish.
"Everyone..." The word was soft, yet spoken right
into my ear. I tried to hone in on it, but after that first
intelligible word, the door opened behind me.
A man walked behind the desk and sat down in
front of me. “So, this is the elusive Miller Brinkman I've
heard so much about. I'm told that you’ve been looking
for me. Well, at last we finally meet.”
Chapter Nineteen
I was afraid to turn around. I’d spent the past
several months trying to track down Gabriel Rayburn,
but now that he was within feet of me, I could not bear
to turn and see his face. He walked over to the desk
directly in front of me and sat down in a chair, looking
me up and down, but still I did not meet his eyes.
“Now don’t tell me that after all of this you’re not
even going to give me the courtesy of looking me in the
eyes?” he said.
I didn’t know what to expect if I had looked
up. After the horrors that I had witnessed, I half
expected him to have red eyes, horns, and a tail. A few
moments later, I dared to raise my head and face the
man behind the elaborate plan.
Rayburn was a bit younger looking than I had
expected. I would never have guessed that the deranged
leader behind Icarus was no more than thirty years old.
He wore a black fedora hat, pulled down just
slightly above his eyes. He was clean shaven and
neat. His suit was pressed and tidy, as though it had just
been bought from a store.
He reached into his coat pocket to remove a
cigarette case and said, “Would you like one, Mr.
I did not reply. He raised his eyebrows as if to
say “suit yourself.” Then he placed one between his lips.
He lit it, inhaled, and then leaned back in his chair
before exhaling.
“Well, Detective, you must have a lot of
questions, so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do for you.
I’m going to start with the immediate one probably on
your mind. For starters, I’m not going to kill you...”
He paused and trailed off at the end of his
thought. He wanted to gauge my reaction, but I was not
about to give him that satisfaction. I suspected that
anything he would say to me would be a lie anyway, and
me pretending otherwise would just get him off.
“Oh, make no mistake, Mr. Brinkman, you are
most definitely going to die down here," he said. "I just
want you to rest easy knowing that I am not the one
who is going to kill you. I hope you find some comfort in
that.” I didn't doubt the sincerity in his words. It
disturbed me that he acted as though I should be
grateful to not die by his own hands.
“If you were just planning on my death to begin
with, then why go to the trouble of bringing me here at
all?" I said. "Why didn’t you just have your
goons murder me in the apartment where I found
Rayburn grinned from ear to ear. He leaned
forward and tapped the end of his cigarette into an
ashtray on the desk. “Mr. Brinkman, where exactly do
you think here is?”
"I wouldn't even know where to begin to make a
Rayburn laughed. “It’s okay, I won’t make you sit
there and guess. Welcome to what we refer to within
Icarus as Location 2208-C. Mr. Brinkman, you are sitting
in what is left of a forgotten city approximately five
thousand feet underneath Norwegian soil.”
Norwegian soil? Suddenly I remembered that
Phillip Smith had boarded a plane headed for Norway. It
could not have been a coincidence, but I was baffled as
to how Phillip had tracked Icarus here.
“Mr. Brinkman, I’ve just told you that you’re in
the remains of a lost city buried underground, and yet
you don’t even seem the least bit surprised by that. I
find that curious.”
“Yeah, well, let’s just say I’ve got a friend who is
all up to date on the existence of lost civilizations.”
Rayburn took a drag from his cigarette and said,
“Ah, so you’ve met Agent Puckett, I take it. Well,
Detective, Agent Puckett may have abandoned our
cause with a lot of top secret information, but we’ve
learned more since he’s been gone. Even if he did
manage to tell you all that he knows, you’re still missing
much.” Every word that flowed from Gabriel's mouth
felt cold and dogmatic. I detected his animosity at the
mention of Puckett's name.
“And I don’t suppose that you’re going to tell me
any of it, are you, Mr. Rayburn?”
“On the contrary. In order for you to carry out
your mission, you’re going to need to know every
“My mission? And what exactly is it that you’ve
brought me all the way to Norway to do?”
“Simple, Mr. Brinkman," he said. "You are here to
win the war.”
That was not the first time an Icarus agent had
mentioned an ongoing war. Even more disturbing, it
wasn't the first time it had been implied that I would
willingly join forces with Icarus to fight in that war.
“I don’t understand, Mr. Rayburn. You’ve been
kidnapping and terrorizing innocent children for over a
year. You’ve been using them as pawns against forces
that not even you yourself completely understand.
You’ve had your agents stalk me for months and lure me
into a trap. You killed the woman that I loved. I can tell
you right now, unequivocally, that I will never help
you. In fact, if I was not cuffed to this chair right now,
there would be nothing stopping me from wrapping my
hands around your throat, and crushing your windpipe
beneath my fingers.”
Rayburn smiled wide, letting out a low,
grumbling chuckle. I had made the most sincere threat
of bodily harm that had ever escaped from my lips, yet
he was entertained by it. If any doubt had existed in my
mind before, it was now evident that I was dealing with
a very sick man.
“I admire your moxie, Detective," he said. "You’re
going to need that fire.”
“Mr. Rayburn, I’ve had enough of this
charade. Why don’t you just tell me what it is that you
expect me to do?”
“Ah, yes, to the point, Mr. Brinkman. Since I know
that you have spoken to Agent Puckett already, I’ll spare
you the history lesson. I’m sure that he told about what
we found, but did he tell you how we found it?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, since you were in Buffalo, I can assume
that you found out about a company called Plumetech.
They were selling off secrets to the government in an
effort to gain favor, and to secure lucrative
developmental contracts for the military.”
“I found some documents, but I couldn't figure
out what any of it meant. I was there looking for
you. Plumetech had a scientist named Rayburn working
for them, but he was dead. I wanted to see what I could
find out about him.”
“So you want to know about my father, do
you? Yes, detective, Gideon Rayburn was my father, and
he was also the top scientist at Plumetech. Hell, he was
probably one of the top scientists in the world during
his time. He was far too valuable to be working at
Plumetech and he knew it."
I scratched my cheek against my shoulder and
said, "Then why did he stay?"
"Isn't it obvious? For their resources, of course.
When he reached a breakthrough in his research, it was
enough to open up a line of communication with the
government, and he left behind that pathetic shell of a
"Why would the government have been
interested in his research? Plumetech wasn't a top
secret organization or anything. What was your father
working on?"
"My father was a pioneer behind the theory of a
lost civilization," he said. "When I was still just a child,
he had a dream and claimed to have seen a vision from
the past. He didn't hide it. He talked about it with
anyone who would listen."
"What did he see in his vision?"
"Norway. He embarked on an expedition to
Norway and came back with proof. Everyone thought
he’d gone insane. His colleagues mocked him and
ignored his findings."
"What did he expect was going to happen? His
hypothesis defied the history of life that we've been
"They were all simple-minded, Detective. These
Plumetech people, claiming to be men of science,
refused to acknowledge the possibility of an alternate
past even when my father presented proof."
"So, what did he do?" I said.
"My father was too proud to stop his research. If
Plumetech had no interest in his findings, then he was
happy to sell it to the highest bidder. He sent a detailed
report of his work to the government without
Plumetech's knowledge. As you can imagine, he was
paid handsomely for it."
"And what was the asking price for his
"It was never about the money, Detective."
Rayburn puffed on his cigarette and watched the smoke
rise to the ceiling. "Even after his deal with the
government, his whole life became an obsession with
this lost civilization. He was convinced that there were
more significant artifacts left behind, but despite his
best efforts, he never found them."
"I can't imagine his new bosses were too pleased
about that."
"You're right. The government stopped funding
his research."
"But that's not the end of the story, is it?" I said.
"Not exactly. You see, my father was furious that
the government hadn't given him more time to search.
After they cut off his money, he knew that it wouldn't be
long before our family would be poor and forced to
live out in the streets with the filthy beggars. So, he
found another buyer for his research."
I sat up in my chair and said, "What? Who else
could've wanted that information?"
"Unfortunately, Detective, that is the same
question that I have been trying to answer. All I know is
that this shadow organization burned him on the deal
and he never saw a penny of their promised money."
"But they got his research?"
"Yes," he said. "He was livid and not in his right
mind. One night, he took his pistol and shot my mother
in the head. My sister and I were standing right there
when it all happened. I remember how he looked at me,
dead in the eyes, right before pulling the trigger on
himself, as though he wanted me to ignore what people
would say about him and know that he wasn’t crazy.
And you know what, Mr. Brinkman? He wasn’t crazy, he
just hadn’t been looking in the right place."
"What do you mean?"
"My father had hidden a copy of his report under
a floorboard in my bedroom. I found it right before
getting shipped off to foster care and kept it safe. When
I came of age, I took over my father’s research. As you
can see, I have had a bit more success than him. I know
he’d have been proud. I have restored prominence to
the Rayburn name.”
“Prominence?" I laughed. "Is that what you call
collecting children under false pretenses and using
them as lab rats for your own selfish cause? And where
are those children now, Mr. Rayburn? I want to see
them. I want to see Jane Emmett!”
Rayburn raised his head to look me right in the
eyes in a way that sent a chill down my spine. There was
no smile on his face this time.
“Am I mistaken, or have you not already seen
them? They’re all dead, Mr. Brinkman. All of them. I’m
afraid that I didn’t take the time to learn their names,
but if this Jane Emmett you mention was here, then she
too is long gone, Detective.”
The power of his words pressed against my
chest. This was no longer just a twisted fairy
tale. Charissa’s death, the kidnappings, and of course the
brutal butchering of the children I’d seen in my holding
cell. All real.
“You monster!" I yelled, trying to free myself
from the shackles that held me on the chair. "How could
you murder innocent children?”
“Settle down, Mr. Brinkman. I understand your
rage, but Icarus did not kill these children. Did you not
see the remains of my own men torn to pieces all over
the walls and floor of this building when you came in?”
“If you didn’t kill them, then who did?”
Rayburn raised an eyebrow and said, “Detective,
what else did Agent Puckett tell you?”
“He told me about Icarus, and how you’d found
traces of an ancient civilization deep underground. He
described something to me that sounds identical to the
structure outside, and how Icarus had finally found a
way inside one of them, but that they were cursed and
anyone who entered died. He said that was how you
came up with the idea to recruit troubled children; that
you felt the world would never miss them and you used
them to try and get further inside the structure. He kept
telling me that Alyssa Noble was the key.”
“So, he did tell you about Alyssa Noble.” Rayburn
tensed up. The mention of her name seemed to instill
fear within him.
“Yes, several times actually. When I asked him
who she was, all he said to me was ‘I'll pray that you'll
never have to find out.’ What is it about this girl that
makes her so important?”
“When we began recruiting the people to bring
here to Norway, our selection process was
thorough. We carefully examined each person and
looked for unique qualities that would serve our
purpose here. What you may view as cruel and unusual
punishment, we looked at as a sacrifice for the greater
good of understanding the origins of humanity. It’s true
that the subjects who entered the cathedral never
returned, which was unfortunate. We believed that
there was some form of a security system inside
protecting it from intruders… At first.”
I cocked my head to the side and said, “What do
you mean at first?”
“Well, every subject we sent in suffered from the
same fate—until we sent in Alyssa Noble. Alyssa was
placed inside, just as the others before her were.
A bright blue glow from within the structure lit up the
cavern before we heard her screams. We thought that
she had been lost on the inside like all the others, but—”
“What? What happened?” I said, though I
wasn't positive that I wanted to know the answer.
“She came back. They never come back. Only it…”
His hesitation told me that he was frightened by
what he had seen. I found it difficult to believe that
anything could have frightened a man of his character,
which in turn, frightened me all that much more.
“Go on, Mr. Rayburn. What happened?” I said.
“It wasn’t her anymore. It was something much
different.” Rayburn spoke much softer than before.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean 'it' was
something different?”
“It was the girl, only she looked—I don’t know—
not human anymore. Then she went ballistic and
attacked the base. She annihilated anyone and anything
in her path: Icarus agents, harmless teenagers, it didn’t
matter. She tore through any opposition in her path like
a hot knife through butter." Rayburn paused for a
moment and shivered. "Those of us that remained had
made it into the safety bunker underneath this building.
She couldn’t reach us, and she eventually retreated back
inside of the cathedral, where she—it has remained
ever since.”
"I'm still not getting what my role is in all of
this," I said, rattling the cuffs around my wrists.
“Don't you see?" Rayburn sat up in his chair with
renewed vigor. "This is why you’ve been brought here. I
must confess that I find your skills rather impressive,
so I have little doubt that you’d have blown our top235
secret cover anyway. I couldn’t just let you continue to
expose us in the real world, so the decision was made
that we had to eliminate you for self-preservation.
However, rather than just kill you in cold blood, I opted
to bring you here to Norway so that you could die an
honorable death.” Rayburn mashed the remains of his
lit cigarette into an ashtray.
“An honorable death?" I chuckled, staring down
at my restraints. "And how do you propose that is going
to happen?”
“Quite simple, Mr. Brinkman. As you can see,
nearly our entire force has been wiped out, and all of
the subjects we had acquired have been killed. That
means we don’t have anyone left to send into the
structure. We can’t explain what happened to Alyssa
Noble after she entered the structure, but she must be
destroyed. If she’s still in there, you’re going to lure her
out while we lie in wait and prepare to destroy her.”
I raised my voice and said, “So I’m supposed to
be bait?”
“Mr. Brinkman, rather than bait, I’d prefer to
think of it as you being the catalyst for the next phase of
the war. Fear not though, detective, for I am positive
that she will kill you on sight, but your death will be
avenged, and you will go down in history for your
“That’s preposterous! There is no way I’m going
to commit suicide like that!” I tugged at my handcuffs
again, but there was no escape.
“Perhaps you’ve misunderstood me. It was never
a yes or no proposition. We make our move in the
morning, and you will be detained within this
compound in the meantime.”
Rayburn looked up behind me and gave a head
nod. The door opened and more agents entered the
“Now, Detective, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t
enjoy this little chat of ours. It’s a shame that we had to
meet under these circumstances, but you are going to
do a great service for your country. Oh, and I am sorry
for what happened to your beloved in Washington,
D.C. I wish that could have ended another way, but
when she started digging around Plumetech and asking
questions, she became a threat, too. Of course, I made
sure that she was spared the horror that would have
been inflicted upon her down here, and allowed her to
die in a more merciful way.”
"I'll kill you, you son-of-a-bitch!" I lunged
forward, prepared to rip out his Adam's apple with my
bare hands, but I could not get released from the cuffs.
“Now, now, Mr. Brinkman. Save your strength for
tomorrow. Men, take the virtuous detective down to the
bunker and lock him up for the night.”
The two agents unlocked the handcuffs
and grabbed me by the arms, forcing me back out of
Rayburn's office and down the stairs toward the door of
another room. The agents opened the room and threw
me down on the floor. My hands, cut up from my fall in
Washington, D.C., were not able to stop my fall and
absorb the impact, which resulted in my jaw splatting
against the ground. Before I even felt the pain, I heard
the sound of my tooth plinking against the floor.
I crawled over to a bunk bed and climbed into
it. I figured that I might as well get one last night of
sleep before my life was over. I had only seen a handful
of agents when I was brought inside the building, but
Puckett had warned me that Rayburn had access to
more resources than I could possibly imagine. I had no
reason to believe that he had not assembled a small
army of Icarus agents in the area.
It seemed foolish to fight any longer. The whole
situation was a direct result of my humble hero promise
to find Jane Emmett, and now she was dead. I had
failed. Not only had I failed Jessie Fryman and the
Emmetts, but I had also failed the parents of every other
child that was killed in Norway. I didn’t know what had
happened to Phillip Smith once he’d reached Norway,
but wherever he was, I had failed him too. Most of all, I
had failed Charissa. It was because of me that she was
dead. I know that if she could have talked to me right
then and there, she would have told me not to blame
myself because how could I have known what I was
getting into? It didn’t bring me much comfort, but it was
nice to be thinking about her as if she was still with me
in some way.
I must have lost consciousness for a while,
because the next thing I remember is a loud thud that
came from outside the door of my confinement. I sat up
in bed, stared at the door, and was disoriented enough
to wonder if it was morning—absurd because we were
underground where time had lost its meaning.
I heard the handle turn, but I could not see who
was standing in the doorway. “Hello? Is someone
there?” I called out.
It was silent for a moment, but then came a
familiar deep voice that I could not have been happier
to hear.
“Mr. Brinkman, it’s fantastic to meet your
acquaintance again. My apologies for taking so long to
get to you, but descending five thousand feet
underground was a lot trickier than I had remembered.”
“Did you just make a joke, Puckett?” It made my
body ache to chuckle, but with so few opportunities
to laugh in recent days, I was willing to sacrifice my ribs.
“Well, I wouldn’t get used to it," he said. "Now,
what do you say we get you out of here?”
I smiled and said, “I believe that you’ve just
become my closest friend in the world.”
“Glad to hear it, now let’s go.”
Though I could not see him, I sensed Puckett
approaching from across the room. He put my arm
around his shoulder to help lift me up from off the bed. I
had been put through my paces, but I was able to walk
by myself without help somehow. Puckett led the way
as we snuck out of the room.
Chapter Twenty
“Puckett, how did you find me?" I said. "I thought
Rayburn had agents all over this place.”
“I’ve been on your tail since Washington. I am
sorry about your loss. I wish I would have caught wind
of their plan earlier so that I could ha—“
“No." I cut him off before he could say
it. Charissa's death was my guilt to bear, not his. "It’s not
your fault. When this is all over, I plan on having a
proper mourning period, but my grief will have to wait
until then.”
Puckett did not reply. I appreciated him
expressing genuine sorrow for my loss, especially since
he barely knew me.
We cautiously continued on through the lower
level of the Icarus base and made our way to the set of
stairs leading back up to the main floor. When we
arrived at the top, the building was empty. I held out my
arm to stop Puckett. I knew it wasn't the best time to
initiate a conversation, but I needed his side of the story
to confirm what Rayburn said as true. “Puckett, Gabriel
told me all about Alyssa Noble. Did she really do all of
“Well, Mr. Brinkman," he sighed. "I’m afraid it’s a
bit more complicated than that. I suppose the short
answer is yes.”
“Then what is the long answer?”
Puckett surveyed the area to check for any
guards and said, “I narrowly escaped with my life after
Alyssa began her assault on the Icarus agents. Her
vengeance was swift and without mercy. But I
never imagined that she would have gone after the
children. If I had known that, I wouldn't have left."
"Why do you think she killed them all?"
"I wish I knew, Detective. When she arrived, she
acted as their leader. She was a bit older than the usual
crop of kids brought here, but it was more than just her
age. They looked up to her, and I think in a way,
she enjoyed playing the big sister role. She wasn't afraid
and she looked after those kids. They trusted her with
their lives. They believed that she was their only hope of
ever returning to their families. "
"So, what changed?"
"She did," he said. "I saw her after she emerged
from the cathedral, only it wasn’t her any longer. She
was different from before."
"Rayburn said the same thing, but what does that
"It's hard to explain. I remember her
arrival because she carried herself as a legitimate bad
girl. You know the type: Tough as nails and with a
mouth that could make a sailor turn and run. Alyssa
didn't show an ounce of fear when the agents went to
collect her and put her inside the cathedral. She had to
have been terrified, but I imagine that she didn't want
the children to remember her that way."
"You think she knew that she was going to die?" I
"Without a doubt. No one had ever returned
from the cathedral before. Even the youngest among
the children understood that being sent inside was a
death sentence."
"But Rayburn said that Alyssa did. How did she
"That is a fantastic question, Mr. Brinkman. The
only person that can answer that is Alyssa herself, and,
well, you've seen her particular brand of diplomacy," he
chuckled. "All I can tell you is that whoever came back
from the cathedral that day was not Alyssa anymore,
because no matter how brazen and stubborn she was,
she would have never touched those kids."
"Then I suppose we'll never find the answer."
"I don't know that I would say that, Detective."
Puckett reached into his pocket and removed a cassette
tape. He grabbed my hand, put the tape in it, and then
closed my hand securely around it.
“What is it?” I said.
“I think Alyssa's bravery rubbed off on some of
the other children. When you are able, Mr. Brinkman,
listen to this tape. I know that she would’ve
wanted you of all people to hear it.”
I looked at Puckett with a confused look on my
face and said, "She? She who?"
“I cannot tell you what is on this tape. I think it
would be best for you to experience it for yourself. After
you listen to it, I am confident that you will know
The sound of a loud explosion startled us, and
knocked both of us back a few steps into the
wall. Smoke hung in the air, and my ears were ringing.
A familiar deep voice said, “I think this is about
far enough.”
At the top of the stairs stood Gabriel Rayburn
with a smoking gun in his hand. He was surrounded by
a team of agents. I looked over at Puckett, hoping that
he would be able to save us, but instead he was sitting
on the ground with his back against the wall, his
hands clutching a bleeding hole in his leg. He grimaced
in pain.
It was the first time that I had ever caught a clear
look at Puckett's face. He had always kept to the
shadows when interacting with me, but now he lay at
my feet, exposed and vulnerable for the first time. Like
Rayburn, he too was much younger than I had imagined.
“Oh, now don’t you go worrying about Agent
Puckett, Detective," Rayburn said. "We’ll take good care
of him, but this is where you and I must part, I’m afraid.
These agents are here to escort you to the temple. You
have a date with Alyssa Noble, and I would hate to keep
her waiting. The bitch has a bit of a temper.”
The agents all laughed in unison like good little
lackeys. Two of them ran down the stairs and grabbed
me on each side before dragging me up the
stairs. Rayburn stepped aside as the agents passed him,
but he put out his hand. “Goodbye, Mr. Brinkman. From
this day forward, I will see to it personally that history
remembers you as a true patriot for your sacrifice here
today.” He was mocking me.
As the agents continued to drag me, I turned and
watched as the remaining agents descended the stairs
like a pack of wild dogs about to strip the carcass of
their kill. Rayburn stood alone at the top looking down
on his fallen nemesis. I knew that my future was grim,
but I held on to the possibility that Puckett could still
The agents readied their guns as we walked over
toward the cathedral. They stuck close together and
glanced around, as if they were hiding their trepidation
behind a weapon. I must admit that I would have
welcomed a bullet to the head more than being used as
bait for a beast that an entire government organization
feared. Icarus was essentially feeding me to her. I
prayed that death would be quick.
Once at the site of the ancient cathedral, the
agent to my left let go of my arm.
“Wait here,” he said. He didn't even look back at
me as he tiptoed his way around to the side of the
structure and peeked around the corner. After a few
seconds, he looked back toward the other agent and
gave an "all clear" signal to creep forward and join him.
My remaining agent shoved me and told me to
start moving. He was a step or two behind me with a
gun pointed at my back, so I had to comply. Knowing
that I was walking into the belly of the beast, I did
contemplate making a run for it and taking the easy way
out, but the thought of being shot in the back made me
feel like a coward. It was too late to back out now. I had
started my investigation in Ashley Falls almost a year
prior, and it was about to come to an end.
I was driven from behind to an entrance with
strange carvings. The agent in front of me reached out
and touched one of the markings which caused it to sink
into the door and turn ninety degrees—clockwise. With
a loud rumble, the door began to open. The agent
behind me grabbed me by the collar and waist of my
coat, and then threw me into the exposed opening. I
landed on my hands and knees on the hard clay floor. I
stood up and turned just in time to see one agent
sealing the door behind me, while the other ran away as
though they’d just set off the timer on a bomb.
If I had not been so terrified of what was to
come, I might have been able to ponder just how
spectacular it was to be standing on the inside of an
ancient structure—one that existed beneath an
unsuspecting civilization above.
On the outside, the cathedral had looked massive
in design, but on the inside was a series of dimly lit
narrow hallways with more strange carvings all along
the walls. If the walls of the temple held the secrets of a
lost civilization within them, then the only way to find
them was to keep moving forward.
The narrow passage seemed quiet as I made my
way through. But as I turned the corner ahead of me, I
found remnants of what could only be described as a
mass grave. Piles of bodies lined the passage, and the
dusty floor I had been walking upon had turned into a
sea of crunchy red sand.
I swallowed a gulp of air and tried to prepare
myself for the end. I was not sad. I thought about all of
the people that I had lost along the way, and it brought
me peace to think that I may be just seconds away from
seeing them all again. My knees trembled, but
I continued to take steps forward.
A mechanism controlled by hidden gears came to
life around me. Still, I pressed on. The sounds got
louder. I refused to stop moving. I became engulfed by a
blue light that glowed brighter and brighter with each
step I took. I closed my eyes tightly, but still I pressed
on. Sweat poured from my body and my skull tingled.
“I love you, Charissa,” I whispered. I put my hand
over my heart and clung to a vision of her smiling.
Mysteriously then, the cathedral went silent. No
more sounds of gears moving No more blue light
shining down on my face. Thinking that a painless death
had claimed me, and that my life was all but a distant
memory, I opened my eyes.
I was in large room full of electronic equipment,
the likes of which I had never seen before. I was not
dead, but I had no idea where on earth I was.
In the middle of the room, a glowing blue sphere
rested on a pedestal. Cables connected it to various
electronic consoles throughout the room. The glow from
the sphere was tranquil and serene. I have never again
seen such graceful beauty nor such a shade of blue. I
reached my hand out to touch it. It seemed to beckon
me, and I could not take my eyes off of it, nor even blink.
As I approached it, it emanated a coldness that made all
the hairs on my arm stand up. My hand hovered an inch
away from touching the sphere, and I could feel its
energy pulsating through every pore on my body.
The next thing I remember is waking up outside
of the cathedral. I was lying face down on the rocky
terrain of the cavern floor. The cavern was quiet, and I
could see the Icarus stronghold in front of me. With my
freedom, I needed to find Puckett and get him away
from Icarus before they could kill him. I would have the
advantage in a rescue operation, as Icarus believed that
I was already dead, and would not be anticipating my
arrival. I didn’t have any weapons, so I was going to
have to be smart if I was going to succeed. I knew that
attempting to go through the main entrance was a
suicide mission, so I looked around the area in search of
alternatives. The Icarus base had been built into the
wall of the cavern, so it was surrounded entirely by
jagged rock. However, I noticed that on the left hand
side of the base, the rocks were passable if I could find
the strength to climb them. It was my best shot, and I
needed to get Puckett out of there.
I stayed hunched down to avoid any agent’s line
of sight. I grabbed a high rock with my right hand, and
pulled up as I found stable ground for my foot. Then I
grabbed the next rock with my left hand. I repeated the
same motions until I had reached the roof of the
base. Once on top, I found a ventilation duct that I could
use to gain access to the inside of the building. It was a
tight fit, but not being able to eat for several days had
done wonders for my ability to squeeze into new and
interesting places such as these.
As I shimmied my way through the ventilation
shaft, I peeked through each air vent as I crawled
through the duct. The base was empty. I didn’t know
where the Icarus agents could have gone, but I was sure
that I was running out of time. I struggled a little further
down the duct and found another vent, only this time I
was exactly where I needed to be. Down below I could
see Puckett locked inside of a small dark green room. He
was moaning and was very bad off.
The small shape of the vent made it impossible
to get to him, but I was relieved to at least have found
him alive. I needed to hurry and find another way
inside to get to him. I knew Puckett was not going to last
much longer with his leg gushing blood like a sieve.
I backtracked through the ventilation shaft to
the point at which I had entered, but when I reached
out my hand to pull myself out, I instead grabbed what
felt like an ankle. My heart sank.
“Why don’t you just come out, Detective?”
Gabriel Rayburn. It was hard to be surprised by
anything anymore, as both he and Puckett had played
cat and mouse with me since the beginning. He reached
down, grabbed my hand, and pulled me up out of the
duct. Before letting go of me, he caught me off guard and
delivered one hell of a left hook. Then he let me go and
watched me fall flat on my ass.
“I have seen some amazing things in my career,
Mr. Brinkman—unreal things that would mystify even
the most educated man. But you? You, Sir, are a puzzle
that I cannot seem to comprehend. By all accounts you
should be a dead man right now, and yet here you are.
So, I beg of you, how is it that you are here in front of me
right now?” Rayburn said, his hands on his hips. He
shook his head with a mixture of frustration and
“I don’t know, Mr. Rayburn. It must be good
genes,” I smirked.
Rayburn walked over to me and kicked me in the
ribs with the point of his boot. One of my ribs cracked,
and a little bit of blood came up into my mouth.
Rayburn walked in a slow circle around me and
said, “I want you to know, Detective, that I am very
unhappy with you right now. You see, I made you a
promise when we met. Do you remember that? I
promised you that I was not going to kill you. Of course
now that the original plans are out the window, you’ve
forced me to improvise and that will require me to
break my promise. I hate breaking promises, Mr.
“Well, Gabe, I would not judge you if you wanted
to turn over a new leaf right now and let me go free. You
know, for the sake of keeping your promise, I mean.” I
don't know what had come over me, but provoking him
made me feel empowered. He treated me like some kind
of enigma, and whether he would reveal it or not, he
was afraid of me.
“That’s funny. You’re a very entertaining man,
With even greater force, Gabriel kicked me under
the ribs resulting in an even louder pop than before,
causing me to cough, and then spit up more blood.
“So, let me ask you, Mr. Rayburn," I said. "What
exactly are you going to do with the secrets of a lost
civilization anyway?”
“I intend to finish the work that my father
started and see that he receives the credit that he
deserves. With the knowledge of humanity’s origin, a
nation could become a whole lot more powerful and
they will pay top dollar to obtain that power. I'll sell it to
the highest bidder, of course!”
“You’d sell such a significant discovery to a rival
nation of our country? It seems like you could empower
the United States with that knowledge."
"Is that a fact? Then tell me, Detective, what
would you do with the lost secrets of an ancient
"Oh, I don’t know. Maybe turn the story into a
coffee table book or a coloring book for kids. You can
have my idea if you want, but I get fifty percent.”
Rayburn stopped moving and narrowed his eyes
at me. "Well, there will be plenty of time to figure it out.
Before I even get to any of that, I intend to find the
organization that cheated my father out of the money
they promised him and drove him to take his own life.
They will pay, Mr. Brinkman, and they will suffer at my
Rayburn attempted to kick me a third time, but I
was ready for him. I caught his ankle with both hands
and pulled forward with as much force as I could.
Coupled with his own momentum, it caused him to lose
his balance and fall down.
I rolled on top of Gabriel and punched him twice
in the face, but as I reeled back for a third, he jammed
his left fist into my bad ribs. I was too stunned to
prevent him from pushing me off. Then from his knees,
he lunged at me with a powerful right cross that
connected with the side of my face. I watched as he
reached into his pocket and pulled out a large knife. I
got my hands up just as he jumped on top of me
and plunged the knife down at my chest. We became
locked in a battle of strength, and I didn’t know how
long I could hold him back. I managed to push his hands
far enough to the side that the blade of his knife was no
longer above my skin. When I let go of his hands, he
drove the knife down into the concrete, injuring his
wrists. I hit him in the face with my right fist. My
punch was not all that powerful, but it was enough to
get him off of me.
I rolled away and sprang to my feet, keeping my
fists up in a defensive position. This only seemed to
excite Rayburn who jumped up to his feet with a big
smile on his face and put his hands up as well.
“You sure you want to do this, old timer? I’ve had
far more hand-to-hand combat training than you have,”
he said.
I knew he was right, but I also knew that I would
only need one clean shot to knock him out. I took a
couple of steps toward him and put everything I had
into a straight right. Rayburn blocked it and proceeded
to counter with two hard punches that found their mark
and caused me to drop my hands. Like a shark sensing
blood in the water, Rayburn saw my hands drop and
delivered an expert front kick to my bad ribs.
Excruciating pain accompanied a large rush of blood
that expelled from my mouth. I lost my balance and my
legs buckled. I fell on my back and continued to cough
up blood.
Rayburn wiped some blood from his bottom lip
and sauntered over to pick up the knife on the ground. I
had nothing left. The younger and stronger man with
combat training had the upper hand. I lay immobile on
the ground, bleeding profusely from the corners of my
mouth. Rayburn wielded the blade with a look of pure
evil upon his face and came toward me. He turned the
knife so that the blade was pointing downward
and stood over me. He grabbed my shirt and then pulled
back his knife hand for the final blow.
Suddenly a loud whooshing noise echoed
throughout the cavern. Rayburn's eyes met mine with
only a tiny flame of life still burning within them. He
looked petrified. His arms fell to his sides and dangled
in the air. Blood from his chest had been splattered all
over me. His bottom lip began to quiver, and within
seconds, his eyes closed, lifeless. I saw something
protruding from his chest and covered in blood. I saw a
hand grip Rayburn’s left shoulder, bracing him as the
protrusion was yanked with great backward force out of
his body.
Rayburn fell to the ground like a stack of
toppling bricks. Standing behind him was a naked
woman whose skin was as pale as snow. Her hair was a
fiery red. Her eyes were a cold deep black. Her face
without expression. The object that had been
protruding from Gabriel’s chest was this woman’s bare
fist. At that moment, I came to understand the fear that
had enveloped everyone who’d ever set foot in Location
2208-C. I had seen people’s reaction to the mention of
her name, and I had seen the ultimate carnage left in her
wake. Now, at long last, I was seeing Alyssa Noble with
my own eyes. They said that she went into the temple a
twenty-one year old girl, and emerged as something
different. I had not understood what was meant by
those comments at the time, but it became abundantly
clear to me then.
Alyssa stepped toward me. I pushed off the
ground with my arms to scoot away from her, but no
matter how much distance I tried to put between us,
though, she kept coming. Kept staring at me. The back
of my head hit the rocky wall behind me, and I knew
that I could go no further.
Alyssa drew near until she hovered above me. I
lost control of my bladder.
She reached down with one arm, lifted me up,
and propped me against the wall. She looked at me for a
moment and then spoke. “I am letting you live. I let you
live so that you may carry the story of my people. We
were forced into hiding after a great war, but even after
our surrender, we were hunted without mercy and slain
to extinction."
Alyssa's voice was deep and unyielding. She
spoke with a snarl, yet it still retained just a twinge of
femininity. "All that remains are the memories of our
great civilization hidden within the walls of our buried
cathedrals. The bloodline is thin. I am the last remaining
descendant of our people, and I must activate the
remaining memory spheres in order to unlock the lost
knowledge of our people. I am letting you live."
Alyssa let go of me and I dropped to the ground
with a thud. "If we ever cross paths again, you will not
escape with such fortune.”
She backed away from me and then turned and
vanished into thin air. I was frozen to the spot where I
sat. I took a few moments to process what had just
happened. Then I realized that I needed to get to
I climbed down from the roof and entered the
Icarus stronghold. The door had already been opened. I
found Puckett in a room on the first floor, barely
conscious. We were both in desperate need of medical
attention. I was able to get him back to his feet. With my
broken ribs, the aid I could provide him was limited. He
put his arm around my neck and hobbled forward,
careful not to put too much weight on his injured leg. I
turned to take one last look at the old temple as we
exited the building. Standing on the terrace at the top
was Alyssa Noble, staring down at us as she watched us
I was not sure how we were going to travel
over five thousand feet on foot after the injuries we’d
sustained, but it was at that point that Puckett revealed
the final card in his hand. He had a team of people
waiting for us on the other side of the tunnel.
A man in full military dress ran up to assist us
and said, “Agent Puckett? Are you okay?”
“Ugh, I’ll be all right, but we need to get to a
hospital right away. Prepare for evacuation.”
“Affirmative, sir. We’ll get you both out of
here. Oh, and sir… We checked the storage facilities as
you instructed. We found no children left alive. I’m
sorry, sir.”
“At ease, Soldier. It’s unfortunate, but at least
with the Icarus threat behind us we can ensure that it
will never happen again.”
Puckett raised his hand up to salute the soldier,
almost falling over in the process.
The soldier relieved me of Puckett's care and
said, “C'mon, sir, let’s get you both out of here.”
Puckett’s men loaded us up into heavy duty
transport rigs and drove us back to the surface. We
were treated for injuries at a hospital in Olso about
twenty-five miles away and kept overnight for
observation. Then I was put on the next flight back to
the United States.
As I said at the beginning of my tale, it’s hard to
believe that it all came to an end nearly two years ago
now. Well, maybe it didn’t all come to an end. Shortly
after our rescue, I came to find out that Puckett had
never been a part of Icarus. Icarus was a rogue faction,
never an officially recognized arm of the U.S.
government. All of their operations and funding at
Location 2208-C had been done in secrecy through
forged documents.
Unbeknownst to Gabriel Rayburn, the
government had caught on to his treachery, and
dispatched an internal affairs group to investigate
him. Agent Puckett was head of that effort and
volunteered to go deep undercover and pose as one of
their own. All was going according to plan until they
triggered Alyssa Noble. After witnessing her
devastation, Agent Puckett had to pull himself out
before he too was swept up in her path of
destruction. He’d collected enough evidence to take
back to the government, and received the approval to
send in a team of military operatives. He risked his life
to save mine and had his team of operatives ready to
purge the Icarus base if anything had gone wrong.
I had to hand it to Agent Puckett. He is the true
hero of this story. I had not been a part of his original
plan, but as I continued to stumble across his case at
every turn, he made some adjustments based on the
new opportunities he felt I could open for him. I was
someone on the outside that he could trust and that
could not blow his cover. I was honored to be able to
play some part in his investigation, and I suppose in our
own little ways, we wound up helping each other before
we even realized that we needed each other.
After the Icarus situation blew over, and he’d had
time to fully recover, Agent Puckett was promoted
within the ranks of the government. His first official act
was to recommend me for a medal of valor for my
efforts in aiding the U.S. government. He later presented
it to me personally. Unfortunately, I have not spoken to
him since. I like to think that he’s still out there
sometimes, lurking in the shadows, keeping an eye on
me just in case. I owe that man a great deal, and hope to
meet him again someday.
As for me, I returned to Ashley Falls for a time.
The town had changed so little since the last time I’d
seen it, which felt like forever and a day ago. I learned
that the body of Sheriff Coleman had never been found,
so the townsfolk never discovered that he was dead,
and there hadn't been an investigation. Somehow a
rumor had been circulated through town that he had
simply retired to a house on a lake somewhere, relaxing
and enjoying the unlimited fishing for the remainder of
his days. It meant that I was a free man, though in my
heart, I also believe that it meant someone had covered
my tracks for me. I suppose that is one more thing that I
have Agent Puckett to thank for.
Even though I’d lived the first forty years of my
life within the town limits of Ashley Falls, it just didn’t
feel like home to me anymore. I tried to go about my
days like I always had, but it was never the same. The
grass never felt as green as it once had, and the sky
never felt as blue. Though I must say, the apple pie at
Roxy’s Diner was still exactly as had I remembered it.
I had grown up a lot during my time away, and
the quiet life of a sleepy little town would never mean
the same to me again. I would never be the same again.
It was then that I made a decision. If my life was never
going to feel the way that it once had, then it was time
for me to create a new path for myself.
Before I left, there was something I still needed
to do, someone who still needed closure. So, one
afternoon I went down to the Willow Oak Cemetery and
paid a visit to an old friend. Jessie’s grave had fresh
flowers on it, which made me smile. I knew that her
resting place would always be under careful watch.
I sat down next to her grave and I told her
everything. I told her how sorry I was that I had not
been able to keep my promise to her. I told her that I
hoped she’d already reunited with Jane Emmett, and
that she’d forgiven me. I told her that I had done my
best, and that even though I was not able to bring Jane
back home with me, that someday the world would hear
her story and know what an amazing girl she truly
was. I also told her about how happy Jane had been
after finding the true love that had evaded her in life,
and how he had tried valiantly to save her.
I had offered to tell the Emmetts about their
daughter’s fate as well, but Agent Puckett said that it
would be best if the government sought out the victim’s
families and gave them a version of the story that would
be best for everyone. I supposed that also included the
Reverend and his wife, which was of great relief to me. I
don’t think I could have told them of Charissa’s death.
After that crucial closure, I was ready to take my
meager belongings and head out of town. I said my
goodbyes to very few people, because I didn’t want to
make a production out of my departure. We all had a
round of drinks and shared well wishes during my last
night in town. It was the perfect send off. I could not
rule out the possibility of coming back to visit when the
time was right, but at that time, I just could not see
when that day would ever come.
Eight months ago, I moved into my new
apartment here in Boston. It really is an amazing city
with a lot of history and charm. I feel as though I will
never run out of things that I want to experience here.
You see, I had an old special friend that had
wanted to move to Boston with me. She had this crazy
idea that we’d move here together, and that I would
become a famous writer while she found work with a
book publisher. I had been scared when she put those
plans into motion, which caused me to panic and let her
do it alone. Now with a second chance in life, I was not
about to make that mistake again.
Moving to Boston was a very easy decision to
make. I felt like I was honoring the request of a loved
one—twenty years behind schedule. Even though she
was not with me as planned, after all this time I had
finally become a writer just as she’d wanted. My parents
would have also been very proud.
Almost two decades since the last time I had
written anything, I bought a typewriter and one night
I just started banging on the keys. I typed all through
the night, and I filled page after page with my words. I
had an unbelievable story to share, and whether the
world was ready to hear it or not, I had to tell it.
While I was out for a walk one night, I reached
into my pocket to retrieve my handkerchief. I felt
something odd in my pocket, and when I took it out, it
was the tape. I went home immediately and played
it. Tears escaped from my eyes as I listened to it, and
when it was over, I played it over and over again. It was
the last testament of the life of Jane Emmett, but so
much more. Not only did it chronicle the final moments
of Jane’s life, but also confirmed the demise of Phillip
Smith and the transformation of Alyssa Noble. It was the
only piece of evidence that had escaped from Location
2208-C and would provide the final bit of ammunition I
would need to get my story published.
I had experienced so much over the past couple
of years, and I wrote about it all in my book. However, it
was not until I remembered about the little gift that
Agent Puckett had given to me back in Oslo that my
story could be completed. He had bestowed upon me a
cassette tape along with the words “I know that she
would’ve wanted you of all people to have it.” Now I
understand what he meant.
Once I had found a publisher for my story, I
made a secondary copy of the manuscript before it went
into production. It was so special to me that it truly
could have been a trophy. It represented not only the
hard work that went into writing it, but it also provided
a voice for the lives that were extinguished without
ceremony. In my mind, there was only one place
befitting of such a prize.
I went to Washington, D.C. about a month ago
and visited Charissa’s grave. I know that it’s customary
to take flowers, but instead I took the manuscript and
left it at her grave. I know that she would have been so
proud of me for finally going back to my writing after all
these years, so there was nowhere else in the world
that I wanted it to be.
I have lost much of what was important in my
life, but it would not be doing anyone any good for me
to dwell on my broken heart for the rest of my days.
Now that the story of Icarus, and the discovery of a lost
civilization, is soon to be public knowledge, I can take
comfort in knowing that when I die, my story won't
have to die with me. There is still much that we don’t
know about the lost civilization, but that will have to be
someone else’s discovery.
I still think about Alyssa Noble sometimes. I
think about where she is and where she came from. I
think about the things that she said to me and why she
let me live after annihilating everyone else. Above all, I
think about what it might mean for the human race if a
killing machine without remorse, such as her, were
allowed to walk freely in our world. Did the fact that she
spared my life mean that she was capable of showing
mercy, or was she in actuality now the single greatest
threat in the history of mankind?
I think the part of her story that I will never be
able to stop thinking about is when she referred to a
great war, and how her people were slain to extinction
even after surrendering. Was that implying that another
forgotten civilization had existed at the same time, and
were even more heartless and bloodthirsty than what
Alyssa Noble had demonstrated at Location 2208-C? “I
pray that you’ll never have to find out," a wise man back
in Baltimore once said to me.