Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dispatches from the Twilight War





The phone started ringing a few minutes after two o'clock in the morning. Jack Harper immediately woke up but just stared at the landline phone silently cursing the old girlfriend whose suggestion it had been to add a 24/7 emergency contact number on both his website and yellow page listing. She had been a blond television reporter working at one of the local Denver stations. Despite being an excellent television journalist most of her colleagues at the station thought her ability to draw viewers came from her piercing green eyes and superbly athletic body. This conspiracy of small-minded and jealous people lead to her being assigned light, human interest stories that did nothing for her career. Jack never admitted to anyone, including himself, but their relationship for him had long moved beyond her obvious physical qualities and talents between the sheets.

It still hurt that they had parted ways after she received a lucrative job offer at a television station down in sunny Miami. She left Jack and cold and snowy Denver behind so fast it caused the windchill factor to drop an extra ten degrees that winter morning.

For the two years after she had driven off to pursue her career while enjoying colorful drinks and tropical breezes the only phone calls Jack got were from cranks trying to be funny and more than a few drunks who for some reason thought the number was for a taxi service. Several times Jack thought about having the line removed but only while busy doing other things, and of course during those idle moments the task completely escaped his mind.

After ten rings the answering machine picked up and played the message Jack had recorded telling the caller to leave their name and number and that he would get back to them shortly. Jack continued to look at the compact device sitting on his nightstand with a combination of indifference and slight irritation waiting for the caller to say something. Even though the line remained open allowing him to hear background noises that suggested a major highway was nearby the caller said nothing. Just before Jack was about to hit the button that would sever the connection the caller spoke.

“Hello...Mr. Harper you don't know me but my name is Carol Briggs and I found your number in the phone book and I desperately need your help.” After years of being a private investigator Jack could tell this Carol was scared and probably alone. After making the first statement she fell silent again creating an eerie state of tension with Jack unconsciously moving closer to the phone. Something inside Jack's mind loudly whispered to him that this woman was indeed in great danger.

“My family,” she began again, “went missing eight days ago and now I know someone is after me. For reasons I can't explain over the phone I don't trust the police so I ran but I need help. Please pick up, I know my life is in danger.”

Without really thinking about it Jack snatched the remote phone off the main answering machine portion of the device. “Yeah, this is Jack Harper. Where are you now?” He asked while creating a mental checklist of things to bring to meet this woman.

“Thank God,” Carol Briggs said breathlessly. “I'm at an abandoned gas station off Interstate 25 near Heritage Hills.” She then went on to tell Jack the number of the exit she took to leave the interstate.

“Please tell me you're talking from a pay phone.” Jack said accepting the woman's statement that she was being followed and that her life was in danger.

“Yes, and I've parked my car behind the station.”

“Great, I'm on the way but it will take me close to an hour to get to your location. Now this is going to sound crazy and I know it's cold but I want you to find another place to hide nearby. I'll be driving a blue Mustang and I'll blink my lights after I pull into the parking area. Don't expose yourself until I get out of the car.”

***

To Carol, the truck stop diner Jack brought her to was like something from the family vacations she and her siblings suffered through as children. Instead of her family going to such places like Disney World or other huge theme parks her father and mother took their three children on long road trips exploring every cheesy roadside attraction and state park they encountered. Likewise, they would invariably stop at seedy little diners to eat while mom and dad sat together plotting some new course towards another bizarre but boring destination. Carol could still feel the childhood resentment at being hauled around hundreds of back roads, but now as an adult she actually missed those times.

Several minutes passed before the waitress showed up to serve some much needed coffee and to take their order. For whatever reason the waitress seemed intent in engaging Carol in small talk despite the fact it should have been clear to a blind person that she clearly didn't want to be bothered with idle conversation. This allowed Jack a moment to ponder the differences between the two women. 

The waitress looked like a true long-time food service warrior. Jack figured she was in her mid-forties and given the ease she poured his coffee without spilling a drop while listening to Carol give her food order she had probably worked here for at least a decade. A wide but lackluster smile totally devoid of feeling along with tired and haunted eyes all but confirmed her life had been a long, weary struggle.

On the other hand, Carol Briggs basic appearance, if you discounted the recent turn of events, screamed mindless but ultimately an unremarkable and mundane suburban life. She was in her mid to late thirties and had the soft hands and nails of someone who used various household rubber gloves for working in a flower garden to washing dishes. While the waitress had the look of someone used to long struggles Carol's eyes couldn't contain the look of utter and unbelievable shock at the recent events that had befallen her. Carol's clothes also spoke volumes about her lifestyle. They could have come from any number of slightly upper end department stores nominally catering to white suburban dwellers who wanted to look unique but yet not exceed neighborhood standards of decorum. When you added everything up Carol was one of those decent, pleasant but not highly educated individuals whose exposure to strange and tragic events came strictly from a television drama.

“Now, tell me why I left my warm bed in the middle of the night and raced down a good portion of Colorado and why you drove all the way from Colorado Springs to call me” Jack said smiling as he grabbed the mug of coffee the waitress had just filled.

Carol took a sip of her own coffee savoring its almost Herculean strength letting its warmth invade her body. “Like I said in the car, I was scared. Eight days ago I leave the hospital where I work and return home to find my family missing.”

“You said the house was in perfect order?” Jack asked purposely interrupting her train of thought.

“Yes, at first I just thought that Michael, my husband, must have cleaned up but it was early evening and he and my son would have, should have actually, been long home. When I couldn't reach Michael on his cell, I phoned his work to see if he was on a service call and decided to take our son, Paul, with him. He's a copier technician and occasionally has to go repair some client's equipment after normal business hours. They're usually pretty routine, so once and awhile he'll take Paul for a little father and son outing.”

“And your husband's employer told you he wasn't on a service call.” Jack said repeating the rushed story she had told him as they sped south on Interstate 25.

“Yes, so I called several friends and neighbors searching for them. No one had seen them since Michael left to take Paul to school that morning. By this time I was getting scared, so I called the police but they immediately told me there was nothing they could do until the next day.”

“Now tell me again what made you think you were in danger and that the police couldn't be trusted?”

“The next morning two police detectives show up at my door asking questions about my husband. They were in plain clothes but presented badges and official looking identification so I let them in figuring someone decided to look into his and my son's disappearance early. They asked simple questions about whether my husband might have been having an affair, suffered from mental health issues, or had an enemy who might want to hurt him or our son. A few of the questions irritated me but none of them seemed out of bounds. Things became weird when the one who called himself Barnes received a phone call on his cell. The call was brief but something was said that caused Barnes to tell his partner, Wilson, they had to leave immediately. They didn't ask for my husband or son's picture nor did they leave me a business card, say when they would return, or even give me a phone number so I could call them. As I am opening the front door to let them out Wilson asks his partner if they should go ahead and take me.”

“Take you?” Jack repeats looking at Carol. “Could they have meant to the police station?”

Carol takes a deep breath staring down into her coffee. “I don't think so,” she says, “there was a strange look on this Wilson's face that scared me. More to the point, Barnes was beginning to nod his head yes and was reaching for something under his sports coat when several of my neighbors walk up on my front steps. They were there to see if I needed anything and probably to learn something about Michael and Paul. This Barnes and Wilson then run out the house covering their face with their hands and get in their car and drive away.”

As he listened to her story, Jack begins to feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. “You told me in the car that you then called the cops and reported the incident with them telling you that they hadn't sent anyone to your house?”

“Yes, they said since twenty-four hours hadn't really passed yet they weren't going to send anyone till that evening. By this time I am beyond terrified, so I ask a few of my neighbors to stay with me. After that, three further events begin to suggest that I have fallen into a surreal nightmare. The first being the arrival of Mrs. Carter to my house, she's an old widow woman who lives at the end of my street. The neighborhood grapevine being what it is, she had heard what was going on and came down to tell me she saw Michael talking with a man the day before in the parking lot of the shopping mall close to our house. She then told me this unknown man showed Michael something that flashed and seemed to stun him for a moment. Michael apparently quickly recovered because about a minute of so later Mrs. Carter said my husband and son were willingly leaving with the man in his car. Just seconds after that she sees Michael's car leaving the parking lot but not the person driving it. Mrs. Carter admitted the encounter looked strange but it all happened so fast and no one seemed in distress she didn't think anything of it until she heard neither had returned home.”

“Tell me about the second thing that pushed you over the edge to call me.” Jack said finding himself actually perplexed.

“When the police finally arrive at my house to gather information on Michael and Paul they show up in force. I am interviewed for several hours and asked hundreds of questions with a team combing through my house as if they were searching for drugs. During all this one of the police technicians hooked the digital answering machine up to a laptop and started retrieving deleted messages. One of them was a person who didn't give a name but wanted to meet Michael and me in the shopping mall parking lot the next morning and that we had to bring Paul. Just as soon as the person stopped talking a high pitched noise started blaring from the answering machine speaker that sounded like cats being tortured. It was so bad it gave everyone nearby a headache.”

“And you said this message was addressed to Michael and you?”

“Yes, but there was staffing issues at the hospital and I had to go in early. The answering machine time stamp had the message being recorded thirty minutes after I left the house.”

Jack didn't know what to make of the answering machine but the third item Carol mentioned in the car was the one that worried him. “Tell me about the man who showed up at the hospital.”

“I had walked down to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast when my cell phone rings. It one of my friends on the floor I was working, she said a strange man had just left the nurse's station asking for me. She described him as this amazingly good looking but a hulking and intimidating figure. When asked his name I was told he said Joaquin Weiss. I go back up to meet him and while he is pleasant and friendly claiming to be a long lost friend of my husband's he gave me the creeps. There were a lot of people on the floor then and I could tell it bothered him. He soon left and I largely forgot about the event, a nurse is always busy at work, but I saw him again a couple of days after Michael and Paul disappeared. I was at the grocery store and I caught him staring at me. I dropped everything and ran to my car. When I pulled out into the street I had to stop momentarily because of traffic, it was then I glanced over and saw this figure come running out of one of the grocery store side doors. This person was sprinting towards my car inhumanly fast.”

Carol stops for a moment as the memory of events begin to overwhelm her. “ I didn't know what to do, the police didn't seem trustworthy and this strange man seemed like something from a bad spy movie. So I drove until I believed myself far enough away to be safe for a couple of minutes. It was then I looked for a pay phone. I began searching through the phone book when I stumbled across your listing. Something compelled me to call even though the advertisement seemed cheesy.”

Jack is quiet for several second, so much Carol begins to think she might have offended the man.

“Describe this Joaquin Weiss to me,” Jack said suddenly and looking agitated.

“He looked a little younger than me and was at least six-foot, four inches, with a muscular body, the type an Olympic athlete might have after years of training. He wore his brown hair like someone in the military, short but with style. The face was chiseled and intense, like an evil Brad Pitt.”

Jack just stared out towards the diner entrance for a moment and began slowly reaching for his pistol concealed underneath his jacket. “That man just entered the building,” he said to Carol, “get ready to run.”

End of Part One.

(Author's note: Been playing with this for several weeks after going on a Netflix sponsored X-File binge. As things slowly progressed it took on tones from the Twilight Zone with a just a hint of Star Trek Fan fiction. I bet no one will get that reference though.)  

6 comments:

Rose L said...

You got me and I want more!! So suspenseful!!

Pixel Peeper said...

Yes, me too! When will Part 2 be ready?

This story is certainly the stuff of nightmares, but the sentence She left Jack and cold and snowy Denver behind so fast it caused the windchill factor to drop an extra ten degrees that winter morning. made me laugh out loud.

sage said...

Nice storytelling, you drew me in quickly to where I am curious as to where this is going...

Beach Bum said...

Rose: Thanks, I'll try to keep up the story's pace.

Pixel: I actually started to write this in the first person in the style of Spillane. When I restarted though I kept that line because I also thought it was funny.

Sage: I have a general idea where I going. Got a number of likes on Google+ for this story but no one has guessed the Star Trek reference.

Got a page and a half of Part Two done, the rest should be ready by Wednesday.

The Bug said...

Ooh this story is right up my alley - even though I didn't get the Star Wars reference... :)

MikeP said...

JOAQUIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNN!!

;)