It was one of those nights, of the type that Trixie had come to cherish. Erica had reached an age where one of her greatest joys was spending the night at a friend’s house or having a friend stay over. Tonight Trixie had already carefully helped her load up on the essentials from pajamas to clean clothes for the following day to a toothbrush and driven her off to stay with her friend Becky. Seemed like, once summer started, the requests to do so came like clockwork, and whereas they didn’t always green light every request, they indulged her often enough to make her happy. It was also a night where Dell got off early enough for them to have an evening together. Last, but not least, it was a night that marked a break in the weather. The summer had been a humid scorcher, often teasing Sleepyside with clouds, but as the rain started to spatter on the windows, Trixie’s spirits lifted as things mercifully cooled down.
This was not to say there wasn’t joy in her day to day life. Dell had enough seniority in the department to usually work days, and wasn’t really on the beat anymore. Erica was still young, and Dell, being an old fashioned parent, set rules that many parents didn’t bother with much anymore, and one of these rules was a fairly strict bedtime. It was later in the summer, but still early enough to give Trixie and Dell, at the very least, a few hours of quality time.
Many of these nights, these few hours were simply spent watching TV, reading or just hanging out. But Dell still made an effort to insure that some of these nights were date nights of one sort or another.
Trixie was only just starting to really show, and look visibly larger, but there were other changes that had long since taken hold of her body. Naps were becoming critically important parts of her day, and when she got hungry, she often found herself doing her Mart impersonation, becoming a bottomless pit for a rather alarming amount of time before feeling full and satisfied.
Trixie knew that many women lost a lot of their sex drives due to the hormonal effects of carrying a child, but the effect seemed opposite for her. The urge would come without warning, and when Dell was around, he had little choice but to oblige her in what were often very intense and physical sessions in which she seemed almost as hard to satiate as when she was eating.
It was taking more and more creative effort to dress for the kind of attention she wanted, and part of her was living in mortal dread of the day when she was too far along for encounters to be frequent or practical, but thus far, she had managed.
Forcing herself to put those worries out of her head, she took a shower, and after drying off, she inspected herself standing sideways by a floor length mirror before she went about picking out clothes for their date that night. Dell had already agreed to take her to the Dutch Oven, and with any luck, after a good meal, he’d be ready to give her a good night.
“Dan,” Dell said with some consternation as he pulled on a raincoat over his uniform. “Don’t you ever take time off? It’s Friday night for Pete’s sake, and I know you weren’t scheduled this late.”
“No,” he said, “but I’m still expected to get all my paperwork done in a timely fashion. Think I finally got this mess cleaned up from the drive-in movie bust. You have no idea what a fucking hassle it is when we get temporarily deputized and loaned out to the sheriff.”
“Word of warning. Don’t even think about bitching about this to the chief. If you think you’ve had it bad….”
“What problem is this for him?”
“You have no idea how hard he has had to fight to keep Stakeout Squad as a Sleepyside PD asset. If the Sheriff and the County Commission had their way, you’d get permanently transferred to the Sheriff’s Department, and we wouldn’t have enough warm bodies left to fill the schedule.”
“What the fuck do they want us for? Half the bigger departments in Westchester have SWAT teams.”
“You guys are just too good. And more versatile than overpaid room clearing commandos with too many toys.”
“We probably have a quarter of the budget some of those departments have, and we do just fine. If they didn’t spend it like morons, they could have their own. For all they dump into body armor and riot vehicles and submachine guns and assault rifles and toys, they don’t spend enough on training. You know what I buy with what we have? Bullets and range time.”
“Which is probably why they want to steal you. It’s easier to steal good, well trained officers than have to worry about making their own.”
Dan rolled his eyes.
“If I even think there is a snowball’s chance in hell that they will get away with it, I’ll quit. I mean it. And I think a lot of the guys would too.”
“Oh calm down. There is no need for you or anyone to fall on their swords. The chief handled it and handled it well. For all his bitching, he does play the game and play it well. It just hasn’t put him in a very good mood. All I’m saying is, if you have any complaints about your side of the deal, don’t let him hear about it. Paste a smile on your face, get your paperwork done, keep your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed, and this will all blow over. But as for tonight, I’m ordering you, get out of here and enjoy yourself. I worry about you. You always had a reason to go home. Usually one in a C or D cup.”
“Not always,” Dan protested playfully. “Jenny had B cups so well formed it was as if God himself had chiseled them out of marble.”
“Yeah, I remember her. While God was busy with her rack, he didn’t pay much attention to her head full of loose wires. Wasn’t she the one you could never take anywhere, because she was so germophobic, she wouldn’t use the bathroom unless it was declared clean and sterile by the AMA, the CDC, the Surgeon General, the FBI, the CIA, the Pope. . . .?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. She was a little crazy. I got out when I could.”
“My point is, you haven’t hooked up since you dumped Kelly. Makes me wonder if you are feeling okay. No one is expecting you to find your soul mate every Friday night, but it wouldn’t kill you to get out. Have plans once in a while.”
“I do have plans tonight, thank you very much. I’m going home, I’m ordering two pizzas and a box of Buffalo wings, and Hannah and I are going to watch some Bruce Lee and Jet Li. The Chinese Connection and it’s very worthwhile remake, Fist of Legend.”
Dell just rolled his eyes and roamed off muttering something about a ‘crazy cat man’.
“I’m about fifty nine cats short of what I need for that title!” Dan called out after him.
Dell ignored him and headed out the front.
Upon Trixie’s subsequent trip to the mirror, she inspected herself, rather pleased with the results, in terms of the outfit she had picked out. She was in a low cut tunic like top that hid the bump pretty well, but accentuated other assets that were busy getting ready to feed the newcomer, and matched it with a simple, fairly short black skirt she had found in the plus sized rack at Crimper’s.
She was going to head back to her vanity to finish doing her make up when the phone rang.
“Is this the residence of Captain Molinson?”
“He’s not in. You can reach him at the Sleepyside Police Department.”
“I’d rather not talk to him there.”
“I have rather important information to give him that shouldn’t be compromised by using official channels.”
“The police can and will take an anonymous tip.”
“That won’t stop certain segments of the government from snooping on my call. The Patriot Act made all that kind of sickening spying legal.”
“Look,” Trixie said, “I’m not a police dispatch anymore, and I really have no idea who you are or what you want.”
The voice sighed with impatience.
“You can call me Simon.”
“And what do you want Simon?”
“Do you ever watch the sky?”
“What do you mean?”
“The stars and stuff.”
“Sometimes I guess. Why?”
“If you know the right spot, go to it. Draw the Star of David with the peak pointing at Polaris, the north star, as soon as it’s visible. Bisect the angle the between the peak point and the top right hand point. Use that as a guide to which direction to look. When you are facing that direction, raise your arm about 33 degrees up. You should be looking at another star. With your eyes draw a line between that star and the north star, but then keep following that line along the down angle to the horizon. From the horizon, look straight up another ten degrees. And then you’ll know. Then you’ll see.”
“Know what? See what?”
“Where they are ….”
Just the sight of the Dutch Oven was enough to make Trixie smile.
The Dutch Oven, by design, was made to look like an oversized Dutch colonial house. It was done in yellow clapboard siding with white trim, with big windows all around the spacious dinning room floor. It had a high gambrel roof with a single gable, looking into the manager’s office on the second floor, and on each side between the windows were tall yellow brick chimneys for the gas fireplaces.
Its oversized home look had allowed the Watkins to avoid a lot of zoning battles when they put their restaurants away from strips and malls and into neighborhoods of similar houses as kind of friendly neighborhood pubs and diners that were close by, convenient and inviting to those who lived near them, and away from competing chains on more commercial strips. It was a gamble that was making their existing restaurants wildly successful, and there was talk of more opening very soon.
There was small crowd waiting to be seated. The rain had either convinced people that waiting outside wasn’t an option, or caused them to fold up their umbrellas and squeeze inside.
The manager was on the ball however, and ran the staff ragged getting as many people seated as quickly as possible.
Trixie was grateful for the chance to sit down. Wearing nice shoes with a date night outfit seemed like a good idea at first, until she actually had to walk and stand in the them. Her feet were hurting enough now on their own.
They only had to wait for about ten minutes before they were seated in a very narrow booth in the corner.
Trixie giggled as she slid in.
“In another month or two, I’m not going to fit in this booth. We may have to wait for a bigger table.”
Dell just grinned and carefully squeezed in himself.
“I’ll be right with you,” a harried waitress said, even as a hostess quickly put two tall glasses of water on the table for them.
“No rush,” Dell replied.
Trixie finally sighed and took a long moment to relax.
The place was abuzz as she looked around. The tables were jammed with families enjoying a Friday night out, many enjoying the coveted booths and tables near the fireplaces, that were now going in celebration of how much the rain had cooled things down.
The bar was packed with yuppies, many who had come from as far away as Croton, Tarrytown or White Plains to check out the buzz surrounding the place and to avoid the lines and crowds at other establishments in bigger cities, many of them taking advantage of the deals on the Heineken, Grolsch and Brand Pils on tap.
A muted plasma TV hanging over the bar was showing part of a Yankees double header on ESPN, and another one was showing highlights of UFC battles in the octagon, including Randy “The Natural” Couture’s championship fight against Chuck “The Iceman” Liddel.
The digital juke box was currently cycling through current hits from Beyonce to Justin Timberlake.
Although the music was soft and the TVs were muted, the level of ambient noise was pretty high from the excited talking of a packed house.
This was all part of another business secret the Watkins used to widen the appeal: a change in atmosphere. During weeknights when families would decide to treat themselves to a meal out, the jukebox would be programmed to play wordless Muzak, or some sort of relaxing easy listening or new age, the TVs would be off, the lights would be dimmer while the fires burned, and it would seem like a different place. Saturday nights the music would be more poppy and upbeat, the TVs would still be off, and the lighting would be more date night. Sunday mornings, when the after church crowd would come for family breakfast, the TVs and music would be off, fresh flowers would be on each table as well as fresh dry cleaned white table clothes, and they would be ready to give everyone a Norman Rockwell breakfast. But Friday night was the energetic sports bar/night out for the guys feel that they were currently enjoying.
After giving out a blissful sigh, Trixie reached across the table to grab Dell’s hands and smiled at him.
“So how was your day?”
“It was a day,” Dell responded. “Nothing too exciting. Mostly paperwork, reports and department drama.”
“A bit tired and grumpy. I made him go home. He’s very dedicated, but he needs to relax. I sometimes worry that he pushes himself too hard and stays too busy at work to make up for the fact that he’s been in a dry spell since Kelly.”
“Is Stakeout Squad busy?”
“They’re always busy. When they don’t have work, Dan has them out there shooting. They’re getting scary good. I think the chief was thinking about letting them lay low for a while. Give them some less high profile work, so that the sheriff stops trying to borrow or steal them. We do sign their paychecks and pay for their training, so the chief wants to make sure they stay focused on Sleepyside cases.”
“Any cases on the horizon?”
“No meth labs or anything like that, thank God. I’m hoping we’ve seen the last of that around here for a while. In that respect I’m glad Stakeout Squad is getting high profile. Maybe any would-be cooker who is thinking about setting up around here will think twice. They’ll always be a few rats, cooking in their bathrooms with Sudafed and paint thinner, but I’ll settle for getting all the big fish out of the pond.”
“But surely the chief has something in mind.”
“It’s not much, but he did mention something to me. It wasn’t much, but it was enough of an excuse to keep the Sheriff from borrowing them to clean out the hood in Yonkers.”
“Tell me about it.”
“There’s not much to tell. Just a report of some weirdness at the construction site.”
Trixie didn’t have to ask him which one. It had been the talk of the town for several months now, leading to some very heated exchanges, everywhere from the Letters to the Editor section of the Sleepyside Sun, to several town meetings and county commission hearings.
A developer had decided to sidestep all the protections in Sleepyside that had been in place for years to protect famous local businesses. They had started by getting permission to build a new neighborhood of upscale tract housing, but somewhere along the way, invoked some sort of legal loophole and exploited a technicality in county zoning laws that allowed them to build businesses to support their new community, and thus far, there were only plans and construction of the businesses in progress with the plans to build the homes ‘postponed indefinitely’. Although there was talk of many things going up, currently under construction was a strip mall that was taking bids from chain stores. Rumors were that everything from Game Stop to San Francisco Music Box Company were trying to get in.
“Vandals?” Trixie asked.
“Sort of. Nothing was stolen. Or really broken. They just found some very peculiar graffiti.”
“What was peculiar about it?”
“I’ve seen all kinds. Street art. Gang signs. Profanity based political rants. Skate punks painting anarchy symbols. Dumb shit metalheads putting up upside down crosses, 666, and inverted pentagrams. Neo nazi and skinhead racial slur. But this was just… weird….”
“Have you seen it yourself?”
“Just pictures the chief showed me. I think he sent Barlow to take them.”
“What was it?”
“Very complex diagrams. Like you’d expect to see in 3 or 400 level college math class. Physics. Star Charts.”
“Could just be a fan boy. The amount of detail they’ll put into something like that knows no bounds. Look at how much of a science fiction section in any book store these days will have Star Wars or Star Trek technical manuals. All done up to look like legitimate engineering. But pure fantasy. I think it was Mart who was telling me the other day about something he read online. How some engineers determined that if the starship Enterprise were really configured like that, it would flip cartwheels the minute the engines turned on.”
Dell smiled widely, but then grew serious.
“I acknowledge that’s possible, but there was something about all this that seemed legit.”
“What was it calculating?”
“I’m not sure. If it’s legit math, it’s way over my head. When I went to school, I fought tooth and nail through pre calculus to satisfy my math requirement. Failed it once and had to take it again. There was no way I was going to do more than that. Didn’t need it for my degree. I was just exposed to enough of it through the egg heads that tutored me to make me think that what was in those diagrams was real.”
“Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but did it compute some sort of answer?”
“Not that I could tell. But in stenciled letters, at the end of the mess, it just ‘They’.”
Trixie gave a start.
“Yeah. I don’t mind saying, this weird stuff spooks me. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years. Seen it all. Drug dens. Rapes. Assaults and murders. Domestic violence. I’ve had to rescue battered children from abusive or neglectful parents. But I never ever quite got used to the weird. The occult stuff. That always really bothered me.”
Trixie made a split second decision. Although the topic of her phone call was at the tip of her tongue, seeing Dell’s face cloud with memories it looked like he wished he hadn’t dusted off, she decided to bite it for the moment.
“My money is still on some fanboy living in his own reality to escape the fact that he’s thirty, driving a beat up Pinto, living in his mother’s basement and blows most of his minimum wage income on console video games, comics, DVDs and probably marijuana.”
Dell smiled again.
A very hassled waitress in a knee length yellow dress tied off with a white sash finally made it to the table.
“I’m so sorry it took so long. We’re slammed tonight.”
“Think everyone is happy this rain finally cooled things off,” Trixie said pleasantly.
“I know,” she said with a smile. “Wish I had time to enjoy it. But on that note, can I get your drink order…?”
The date night had a happy ending, just as Trixie had hoped, but early the next morning, Dell got a call from the chief, and quietly got up and dressed to go in to the station.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he went into the chief’s office with a quiet knock and waited. The chief was absorbed in some paperwork, and didn’t look up.
“Have a seat. Have some coffee.”
Molinson did as he was told. The chief waited maddenly for several minutes before talking to him again.
“Dan really has his shit in one sock.”
“I guess so sir.”
“I never have to double check his paperwork. And he’s very smart about getting what he needs for cheap. Factory reloads and overruns. Wholesale suppliers.”
“Just common sense really.”
“His brand of common sense is uncommon these days. He keeps his nose clean, and he’s got a real future in law enforcement. He could be in this office someday.”
“Someday,” Dell said. “But probably not soon. Think at this point, he’s more interested in street experience.”
“He certainly prepares for it. I haven’t seen men shoot as much as they do in all my years in law enforcement. But I hope he realizes that’s not all there is to it.”
“He knows that. You were just gushing about how well he does the paperwork.”
“I know. Just so he realizes I’m going to need him when the homeland security grants come through and we have a real budget. May cut into his range time, but I don’t intend to let any grant money we get, get flushed down the toilet. Last gossip I heard, Croton PD was actually talking about getting a hi-tech bomb disposal truck. We don’t need to be getting garbage like that.”
“I’m sure he’ll be eager to help. And I’m sure if the day ever came when we needed a hi-tech bomb disposal truck, we could probably just throw some gas money at Croton, blow the dust of theirs and borrow it.”
The chief looked up with a smile and cleared his throat.
“So look, I didn’t call you in to talk about Dan. I just wanted to let you know, I’m officially putting Stakeout Squad on the strip mall graffiti case.”
“To officially keep them away from the Sheriff?” Dell joked.
The chief grinned again, but grew serious.
“Our artist struck again last night. The contractor is spitting nails, and the developers are making threats of legal action that will make an expensive mess no one wants or needs. As contentious as this development is, the mayor doesn’t want anyone to fight it this way. Bottom line is, whatever legal trickery they used, they own that land, have all their permits in order and are legally building a legitimate business. And no amount of vandalism or shenanigans is going to change that. This is Sleepyside, and not Iraq. There is no place here for insurgents, like the ones starting to make real trouble in the sandbox. So even if Stakeout Squad seems like overkill at this point, we need to send a message that we can and will shut this down in a hurry.”
“No argument from me sir.”
“What’s with all this sir shit? How long have we known each other? For Pete’s sake, stop brown nosing like a nervous cadet.”
“Sorry. This stuff just has me agitated.”
“This seems like one of those messes that can never have a happy ending. With half the town probably cheering this on, and the other half saying, whatever, we’re growing, get over yourselves, it seems like no matter what we do, someone is going to get their feelings hurt and demonize us for taking sides and getting involved.”
“Don’t let that crap bother you. We’re not policy makers. There is no reason for us to get dragged into this mess on a political level. We’re cops. We enforce the law, and right now, some zipperhead is breaking it by using this site as his or her canvas. They have to know that whatever side they are on, they aren’t solving anything by doing this.”
“Yeah, I know, but I never liked the weird shit.”
“With all the stuff you told me about that happened after you moved into the Martin house, you still let it get to you?”
“That’s just it. Now that I’ve seen what I’ve seen, stuff that’s bothered me, bothers me even more. Do you remember that night when we were fresh out of the academy, just starting in patrol, and we busted those frying death metal assholes that had been kidnapping and sacrificing pets and chickens they stole.”
The chief’s expression grew somber.
“The department shrink nearly pulled me off duty for that one. I try not to even think about it.”
“Yeah well, it was no picnic for me either. But even then, I could comfort myself by saying what they were doing was just the sick acts of very stupid, disturbed and troubled teenagers. Casualties of broken homes in an imperfect world and brain damage from drug use. Now everything is different….”
Molinson looked around a bit nervously to make sure no one was listening before he continued, since he had told the chief this story in confidence.
“Now that Erica’s imaginary friend proved to be not so imaginary. Now that we know Jim Frayne’s great uncle decided to take the slow boat to the great hereafter… Takes me to a bad place when I think about it. What are these stupid kids really screwing with? What’s out there? What do we not understand? What undiscovered dark energies are out there to indulge these idiots? Will there ever be a day when someone numb nuts messing with black magic or whatever does more than a very sick and tragic end to a small animal?”
“I hear you Wendell. But don’t dwell on it. In spite of what you may have seen and experienced, I honestly don’t believe any deranged goth or headbanger ever did anything but prove to the world how sick and hurting they are. We’re looking for a dumb fuck. Nothing more and nothing less. And when this dumb fuck has his art project interrupted by the sound of Stakeout Squad drawing down on him, maybe they’ll begin to realize how bad they screwed up.”
Dell sighed and smiled.
“I know. You’re right. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it or be comfortable with it.”
“Never said you had to. But just the same, I’m not saying this to imply that Dan in any way, shape or form can’t handle this. But I’d kind of like you to be involved. Run the investigation. Keep Stakeout Squad out of trouble. You don’t have to micromanage them, but get involved and guide them how you can. It will be good for them, and more importantly, it will be good for you. When you finally run this fanboy in, and you can put a human face on this mess, and see him for the pathetic loser that he is, it will help calm your head.”
“Fair enough. But just so I can leap in with both feet, what did they find this time? Another math and astrology dissertation?”
The chief grinned.
“No. As far as we can tell, it’s just another message, done with the same paint stencils they used for the first one.”
“What did it say?”
The chief just tossed Dell a Polaroid. Dell’s eyes widened as he read it.
It said: They Are Coming.
When Trixie finally managed to get up and get dressed, she totally raided the fridge for breakfast, and when she was finally full, she was feeling sleepy again. She busied herself with a bit of cleaning, and had only intended to lay down for a few minutes when she conked out again.
When she woke up again, she looked at her watch, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was still a couple hours from when Erica needed to be picked up.
Still feeling tired and lazy, she simply reached over and turned on the bedside radio. It was set to WSTH, and one of their popular morning DJs was doing a call in Saturday morning talk show.
So the buzz of the town is some reported vandalism at the new strip mall. Gossip is spreading like wildfire that some sort of cult has taken up residence. Some of the wilder stories say that police are covering up massive rituals that sound straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. All anyone has been able to say for sure is that police have been notified of what has happened at the construction site, and that they have made a statement which will be discussed in a front page story in the midweek edition of the Sleepyside Sun.
Piecing things together based on the clues at hand, I think we can say for sure, whatever sort of vandalism or damage the police found on the construction site was occult themed. What it specifically was, and why it started all these rumors is anyone’s guess.
But enough of my babbling. Let’s go to the phones and see what you all think.
First caller, you’re on the air.
Hi. Long time listener, first time caller. Love the show.
Thanks. What are your thoughts on this?
I’m not sure what is there, or what happened, but what I am starting to resent about this business is how political it has become. I know emotions are running high with all this on both sides, but this doesn’t mean everyone has a dog in this fight or cares about the politics, including these would be vandals. But both sides are already using this to further their cause and agenda by politicizing what they have done. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the vandalism has anything to do with people’s concerns about whether or not this strip mall is getting built.
What do you think this is really all about then?
Maybe, to the so called vandals, it’s just a hidden place of worship for a non mainstream religion. Think about it. One, if this was really about sabotaging the construction site, there were dozens of more efficient ways to do it. If they had time to build some kind of ‘temple of doom’, they had plenty of time to start a fire, or mess with wiring, or sabotage tools or steal critical building supplies. If they weren’t destructive, but wanted to send a message why not something clear and concise. Why all the occult nonsense?
Makes sense. But what do you think this is all about?
I don’t know, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was all a prank. Everyone loves a conspiracy theory, but in this case, why? Everyone wants to assume there is some kind of cover up going on. What about a simpler explanation? Maybe the police haven’t had much to say, because there isn’t much to talk about. Nothing about what happened indicated anything that serious was going on.
It was obviously serious to the contractor, who is threatening to sue.
Well, of course. Vandalism is vandalism. Who wouldn’t be upset if they found occult graffiti in their workspace? I just find the notion that is part of some sort of anti-corporate conspiracy or giant, human sacrificing cult absurd.
You make some very valid points. Thanks for calling. Next caller, you’re on the air….
There was something about the next caller’s voice that Trixie found weird and upsetting. The voice was hollow and distant, and speaking as though it was using slight voice distortion. There was almost a non human quality about it. It spoke slowly and deliberately, with effective dramatic pauses. Yet at the same time, there was something about it that was very familiar.
It is both arrogant and petty to tie these events to petty local politics and inconsequential human affairs. The simple fact of the matter is, they are watching. They’ve been watching for a long time. And now they have decided to come. They’ve been here before. They’ve scouted us out and studied us. And now it’s time to make their presence known. And to those of us psychically sensitive enough to feel their presence and intelligent enough to interpret our feelings and deduce from the clues, we are preparing for their arrival. And we know the importance of this and the dangers of not being prepared.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you probably read a lot about aliens crashing at Roswell, before being ferreted off to Hanger 18 at Area 51. Majestic twelve. Have probably memorized the Illuminati trilogy. Think the Templar Knights and the Masons actually run the world. Decided to be the most non mainstream guy in your dorm by joining the Church of the Sub Genius….
I speak of nothing that silly. But I do speak of evidence in plain sight that we have willfully chosen to ignore, misinterpret or trivialize.
So what are these clues in plain sight?
They have visited before, and marked their arrival sites will in advance. The Nazca lines of Peru. Crop circles.
Maybe you can explain something to me. I assume you are talking about markers for otherworldly visitors. Now why would a species capable of rapid interstellar or intergalactic flight need to mark a landing zone with such crude methods?
A marker doesn’t need to be complex to serve its purpose. Even in our modern world of GPS, we still teach boy scouts to read compasses and mark trails with piles of rocks or by cutting marks into the bark of trees. SWAT teams and commandos will mark rooms and halls they’ve cleared by dropping glow sticks like you’d find at a carnival booth.
Okay. I get it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So now we have graffiti in a strip mall. Why do we have to prepare? What is the danger you speak of?
Any landing zone has to be clear. And when we don’t clear out for them, they have taken it upon themselves to do so themselves, often to our peril. They have cleared much out of the Bermuda Triangle. Or more directly, at Tunguska.
Wait. Are you saying the Tunguska blast of 1908 was done by aliens clearing a landing zone?
Is it really any different from how, in the Vietnam Conflict, that US forces would clear landing zones in the jungle for helicopters with the fifteen thousand pound ‘Daisy Cutter’ bombs?
Are you suggesting they are going to flatten Sleepyside with a fifteen megaton air burst worth of comet fragment to have room to land?
I simply say, they are coming. Soon. They have left all the appropriate signs. They have been watching. Hiding in plain sight. And there will be consequences if we do not prepare for their arrival.
The exact moment of their arrival has not been revealed to me. But it could be as soon as tonight.
Well. Okay. Thanks for calling. Okay. We’ve had two very fascinating calls about the strip mall graffiti this morning. And if there is any truth to the latter, we may be in for a very interesting Saturday night to say the very least. We’re going to take a quick break, but we’ll get back to the phones. For now, I’m going to leave you with an oldie but a goodie. This is the Smiths with How Soon is Now? . . . . .
After hearing the radio show, Trixie was wide awake and lost in thought.
Okay. I have to tell Dell about the phone call. This is snowballing, and he should probably know… but in the meantime, I think I’m going to see if Honey is up for looking into this with me a little on our own….
“Dan,” Molinson snapped when he found him in his office. Dan looked up in surprise. From the fact that he his clothes were a bit damp, he smelled of cordite and that he was carefully cleaning his GLOCK 17 at his desk, Dell guessed that he had just gotten in from the range.
“I don’t suppose you were listening to the radio this morning.”
“I actually was, on the way back from the range. How crazy was that caller?” he said with open wonder.
“Crazy enough to spook the chief. So if you have any plans for tonight cancel them.”
“Gee,” Dan joked. “I guess I’ll have to tell those three hot blonde Lufthansa stewardess with big tits that I met at the bar last night that our foursome has been postponed.”
Dell grinned, but then grew serious.
“I was hoping to find you here today regardless, to tell you that Stakeout Squad has been activated and working with me on the strip mall vandalism case. Now that that nut has been on the radio, the case has been given priority.”
“If aliens are going to be pitching comet fragments at us, I think we’re a little undergunned. Maybe you should call Space Command at NORAD or Peterson Air Force Base.”
Dell grinned again, but once again grew stern.
“Look. I don’t think anyone is expecting the developer to need to use his War of the Worlds clause in his insurance, but this dork has thrown down the gauntlet. You know what happens when this kind of seed gets planted with the kooks and space cadets. If they really believe the construction site is going to be an alien landing site, we may have real trouble that has nothing to do with extra terrestrials. So the short version is, tell your boys they are on for tonight, and to be properly rested and in heavy kit.”
“I’m not disagreeing with you, but we need to think this through. If we are hoping to lay our hands on the original crank, we are going to have to keep this low profile. He may not show if he sees a dozen cops lurking around, and even if we are out of the way enough to lure him out, how are we going to make him if he’s broadcast an open call to every space cadet and fruit loop in the tri county area?”
“The chief and I have already had an early strategy session where we discussed some options. But right now, I need to make sure the whole crew is going to be there, be rested and be ready for anything. We’ll have another meeting this afternoon before I make you go home and take a nap.”
Dan nodded and only pausing to carefully put down his GLOCK pieces, he wiped the Hoppes No. 9 solvent off his hands and picked up his desk phone to start calling.
When Trixie and Honey walked into the police station about an hour and a half later, they saw a familiar face working at his desk near Dan. With a wink and a nod they started.
“So,” Trixie began. “Do you know what time it is when an elephant sits on your fence?”
“Time to get a new fence,” Honey answered. “Do you know what you get when you cross a parrot with a gorilla?”
“I don’t know either, but when it talks, you’d better listen.”
“Did you hear about the family of carrots crossing the road. The baby carrot got hit by a car, and the doctor said it was going to be vegetable for the rest of his life. . . .”
The detective rolled his eyes, and steeled himself for battle before turning around.
“Hey. Do you know what’s long, hard and full of seamen?”
Trixie promptly slapped him and Honey hit him over the head with a purse before he could even answer.
“A submarine! Get it? Seamen. Semen? Wow. And I thought my mind was in the gutter….”
They promptly hit him again.
Dan looked up laughing.
“Cool it you two before I have to arrest you for assaulting a police officer.”
The two giggled and came up to Dan’s desk.
“So Dan,” Trixie began. “What can you tell us about this strip mall business?”
“Not much that you haven’t already heard I’m sure. Did you listen to the radio this morning?”
“Was spooky as hell.”
“Well, it spooked more than you. So we’re on for tonight.”
“I was just wondering if there was anything Belden-Wheeler could contribute.”
“Trixie,” Dan said sternly. “I’m not sure I like that look you have, or what you are insinuating. You usually had that look when you were planning on getting into a certain kind of trouble that your future husband would often take you to task for.”
“Dan,” Trixie snapped more angrily than she had intended. Sometimes the pregnancy hormones gave even snap emotional reactions a bit more edge than normal. “That is beneath you. If I really were about to sneak off and do something dumb, do you think I’d even be here? As it stands, I wanted to touch base with the armed professionals around here, and I was hoping my husband was around. Something happened, and I need to tell him about it.”
“Sorry,” Dan said. “But what happened, if you don’t mind me asking? Stakeout Squad is on the case.”
“I got a crank call last night. Someone wanting to talk to Dell at home. Thought the NSA would hear it if he called him here.”
“I’m sure if the NSA really wanted to hear him, they could on a home phone just as easily as a police switchboard.”
Trixie giggled, but then continued.
“I got a big spiel about how to locate ‘them’ in the sky.”
“Holy smokes. Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“I wasn’t privy to what was going on at the strip mall until Dell came home, and at that point, wasn’t sure it was related. Now, after that call to WSTH, I’m getting a gut feeling that this is all somehow related. That some space cadet is gearing up to have some fun at everyone’s expense.”
“Did this caller identify themselves?”
“Just as ‘Simon’.”
“Well, that could be bullshit, and even if it isn’t, it’s not much to go on. But I suppose it’s better than nothing.”
“Is my husband around?”
“Think he may have already left. We’re on for a full night stake out. Don’t know if he intended to stay the whole night, but I do think he wanted to be there for a little while. Which means he probably intends on having a nap at some point.”
“I have to go pick up Erica, but thanks. And be careful tonight.”
Trixie didn’t reconnect with Dell until about an hour later when she found him at home. They had a long talk about what had been happening and the talk seemed to really calm Dell down.
“My apologies if I sound like I’m talking down to you, but I’m glad you told me,” he said.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. I’m just remembering conversations we had about how you handled these things back when us hooking up would have made me a felon in forty eight states.”
Trixie giggled and hugged her husband.
“Where is our daughter?” he finally asked.
“She laid down, on her own accord, for a nap. She was yawning and drifting off in the car the whole way home. I suspect she didn’t get a great deal of sleep last night. Becky’s mother let’s them stay up to watch the late show. It’s part of the forbidden fruit she gets to indulge in when she goes there. And even after they get chased off to bed, I think they stay up for another hour or two talking.”
“I should probably be napping too. I at least want to be there for the beginning of this circus.”
“Have you figured out how you are going to handle this?”
“The one good thing about this, from a tactical standpoint, is that for the time being, since no houses have gone up, this is still a lonely street, and there are only so many ways you can get to the strip mall. So the chief and I decided up the road we would put a ‘routine’ DWI roadblock. Down the other way, we are going to set up another roadblock on the pretense of trouble with the new water main under the road. We’re hoping that keeps enough of the space cadets far enough back to let Stakeout Squad watch the joint.”
“That sounds like a plan. What is the weather supposed to be like tonight?”
“High chance of more rain. So I suppose we’re going to find out just how dedicated our artist is. If he views this as an excuse to stay in, or more cover to sneak in.”
“I wish I could be doing something to help,” Trixie said.
“I know, but at this point, it’s a waiting game. We’re just going to have to be patient, see what happens, and hope that if something does happen, Stakeout Squad is on the ball enough to deal with it.”
“Well, I’ve already had a nap, so if you need one, I can stay up.”
Dell nodded and after giving Trixie a kiss, roamed off to the bedroom.
It was early evening and a steady rain was already coming down. Dell was already up from his nap. Trixie never stopped marveling at how he seemed to always subsist on so little sleep. Even on normal nights, he was tossing and turning after about six or seven hours, unable to conk out again.
The family all sat around in the living room. Erica was playing on a used Playstation that Dell had found for her, very cheap at the local pawn shop, and was playing a game that she had borrowed from her friend Blake Mathis.
Trixie was quietly surfing the net on a laptop, investigating references that the caller had made to the radio station. Dell was reading an old Paladin Press book on Jim Cirrillo.
The phone rang, and without thinking about it, Trixie got up quickly to go answer it. A familiar voice intoned.
“They won’t be coming tonight. A kid left a volleyball on the playground and it scared them off.”
‘Simon’ hung up before she could speak.
Dell was instantly at her side.
“What’s wrong? You look like you just took a message from the devil himself.”
“I don’t think our crank is going to be out tonight.”
“That was Simon. Said they won’t be coming tonight, in his own jarringly weird way. . . .”
A certain combination of excited energy and nervous anxiety kept Trixie, awake and alert until Dell got home.
Erica had temporarily gotten herself wired playing Wipeout XL, but pretty soon, her lack of sleep caught up to her, and it was with very little effort that Trixie got her off to bed.
Unfortunately, once she was completely left to her own devices, she found it even harder to settle down. Nothing on TV really held her attention, she couldn’t calm her mind down to focus on a book, and even when trying to research leads online, she felt like she was spinning her wheels.
Dell finally appeared around ten o’clock.
“I’m not going to ask why you are still up,” he said with a grin, even as he pulled his raincoat off.
“So what happened?” Trixie asked.
“Nothing tonight. My gut says we won’t see our space cadet painter tonight. But just the same, the roadblocks are going to stay up until late, and Stakeout Squad is there for the duration.”
After church the following morning, they actually beat the crowd to the Dutch Oven for a Sunday breakfast. Although the Molinson family had very strict rules on cell phones at the table and other obnoxious times, Trixie didn’t say a word when Dell fielding a call from the police department, and eagerly waited news when he hung up.
“Our artist was a no show.”
“And I’m assuming that ‘They’ were also a no show?” she said quietly, when Erica was focused on her plate of pancakes.
“Yeah. I don’t think we would have slept through a Tunguska replay.”
“So what happens now?”
“Dan and the Chief don’t think this is over. Dan wants to take out Stakeout Squad again. But we may have a change in strategy. There were a few space cadets turned away at the roadblocks last night, but we think since the radio prediction was a bust, and the weather was nasty, and tonight is a Sunday night instead of a Saturday, that we won’t have to be so heavy handed about keeping others away. Dan thinks a low profile stake out may be in order.”
“You might still have a few stragglers and rubberneckers. Or copycats. How will you know?”
Dell fell silent for a long moment.
“Don’t know. Guess we’ll just have to do some old fashioned police work. Work the scene for evidence. Find out where who we catch has been. Will be some work, but it will get done now that this case has priority. I mean, at this point, we don’t really have anyone who could. . . . .”
Dell stopped and a smile slowly grew.
“What?!” Trixie asked.
“You up for a trip out tonight?”
“Let me get this straight,” Chief Gillespie told Molinson that afternoon. “You want to bring your pregnant wife on a stakeout? I realize she’s a grown woman and a licensed detective now, but is this really a good idea?”
“She’s the only one who has heard our crank’s voice undisguised.”
“We don’t know that. We have no hard evidence that the wise ass calling her is the same person that called the radio station or if this has anything to do with the graffiti at the strip mall. And this could get dangerous. For all we know, this could involve a ring of heavily armed eco-terrorists or something. ”
“I’m not denying that there is elements of the unknown and risk involved. But let’s face it. She’s got a hunch, and when have her hunches ever been radically wrong? She seems to think at this point that ‘Simon’ is behind the whole spiel. And if she’s not safe with all of Stakeout Squad there, we’re all in deep shit regardless, and probably need the Marines. I’m not suggesting we arm her, put in her maternity body armor and have her leap in the fray if something happens. I’m just suggesting we have her around in case we catch someone and have a chance to talk to them. This is the safest and most responsible way to have her involved and I think having her involved could be the key to cracking this case.”
“All right, all right. I give up. I put you in charge of this investigation, and if you think this will help, far be it from me to second guess or micro manage you. Just let Dan know soon about this so that he can plan accordingly.”
“I already told him I was going to ask you about this.”
“You would you dickhead. Already planning on my capitulating?”
“Oh, blow me asshole, I was just trying to be prepared to hit the ground running.”
“Fine. Get out of here. It’s Sunday, and I want to watch some baseball.”
Trixie sat in the car that night wedged between Dell and Dan. In the front seat, were Jake and Krupp. In another car, hidden nearby were Paulo, Lightman and ‘Billy the Kid’.
The humid heat was stifling, and Trixie kind wished she had a window seat, but right now, had to make due with the fact that Dell cracked the window for her.
There was still something very exciting about the whole business. Stakeout Squad was now kitted out like veterans of the business, and had a calm professional air about them.
All the cops were in level III ballistic tactical vests with ceramic armored inserts. Their well used pistols all had the ‘clean gun smell’ of Hoppes and gun oil. It was obvious at a glance that they had spent a considerable amount of their personal money on supplemental gear, from better holsters, to magazine pouches, to retractable batons, to even approved back up pistols.
Krupp had gone all out. Sitting in his lap was a personal project gun he had been working on for a while. The base weapon was Bushmaster M4A3 carbine, but he had put a lot of work into it, including a two stage match trigger, an H2 buffer, and it had been rebarreled with a 1:7 twist chrome lined, and a Surefire handguard light. The equipment that had everyone’s attention that night didn’t however, have to do with the weapon itself. It had to do with two different night vision scopes he had brought with him.
Krupp had inherited from a late uncle, an old vintage 1965 AC Shelby Cobra, which he had restored and sold to a collector on Long Island for fifty grand, and then had used a chunk of the money and department letterhead, to order night vision that was usually only available to law enforcement, and usually cost prohibitive regardless.
On a lanyard around his neck was an AN/PVS-14 that was just making waves in Iraq where many troops were using it for the first time. It gave a very clear view of the area around in them at high resolution in shades of green.
On the weapon itself was a Raytheon PAS-13 thermal vision scope, also in widespread use in the military in Iraq. Looking through it at the world was like looking at everything on a black and white TV, and unlike the other night vision, it wasn’t bothered by bright light.
Trixie spent quite a while looking through each at the area around them, fascinated by what they could do, and openly wondered to herself, what her life would have been like if she had gone into actual law enforcement and trained for tactical operations. She knew, she wouldn’t trade her current life for anything, but that didn’t stop her from pondering the road not taken.
When she finally gave the PAS-13 back to Krupp, he carefully put back on the P-rail on top of his carbine and tightened the fasteners on the mount. Once he felt it was secure, he lay the carbine carefully on his lap while the vigil continued.
Trixie wasn’t sure how long they sat there in silence. The stifling heat exhausted her, and before long, without thinking about it, she lay her head on Molinson’s shoulder to cat nap. She had just about drifted off when Dan’s radio came to life.
“Activity up the street,” Lightman’s voice said after a burst of static.
“Talk to me,” Dan said, instantly alert.
“Single person on foot. Young Caucasian male. About 5’8′. One forty, soaking wet. Late teens, early twenties. In dark cargo pants, hiking boots with the laces undone, dark T-shirt and ski cap. Walking up the street towards you. You should see him momentarily.”
All eyes in the car turned.
“We see him,” Dan said. “Stay cool, but be ready to move.”
Trixie was holding her breath as the figure appeared and walked up the lonely street towards the car.
“Stay cool,” Molinson said. “Probably just a kid. Keep your fingers out of the trigger guards.”
It seemed like an eternity, but the young man finally got up to the car with a wave, and then cautiously approached. Jake carefully rolled down the driver’s side window, and his one of his .45s in his lap.
“What can I do for you tonight?” he said nonchalantly.
The kid just smiled at first in a way which did little to calm anyone’s nerves.
“Soooo,” he said slowly. “Out here tonight in case they show up? Or are you here as part of a cover up. Make sure they don’t talk to anyone. Or that no one finds out they are here. Hiding in plain sight?”
“Just some routine police business. But since this private property, and it’s past curfew for youngsters in this town, I’m going to have to ask you head on home.”
“Oh you’re good,” the kid said. “So casual. So calm. I can see why they chose you for this assignment. It’s going to take someone with a cool head to deal with them when they arrive….”
“Kid, this is all very fascinating, but I don’t want to have to cite you….”
“Right. Okay. I get it. I’ll leave quietly. Have fun.”
Without another word, the young man turned and slowly plodded back down the street the way he came. The group in the car silently watched him until he was nearly out of sight.
“You handled that well Jake,” Dell complimented.
“Wonder if he is going to be our only show tonight,” Jake said.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Dan said.
After another short silence Trixie cleared her throat.
“Take him. It’s him. I’m sure of it.”
“He’s our crank?” Dan asked.
“Yes. I could tell by the way he talked. That’s ‘Simon’.”
“Bring him in for questioning,” Dell said.
Dan nodded and called the other car.
“Pick up the suspect. Bring him in. We want to ask him a few questions.”
“Roger Wilco,” Lightman said, “We’re on our way.”
After the kid was in custody, the group got out of the car, and a few of them wanted to walk over to the strip mall.
Although normally Trixie preferred to avoid any unnecessary walking, after being cooped up in the car, she was grateful for some fresh air and the chance to stretch her legs. She, Dell, Dan and Jake ended up carefully walking into the construction site.
“Where was the original graffiti?” Trixie asked.
“Over here,” Dan said. “I’ll show you.”
When they arrived at the bare cement room, what they found surprised them. At some point, even though all the old graffiti had been cleaned up, there was another message. It said: They Are Here.
“How in the hell did this happen? We’ve been watching it like a hawk for two nights now,” Dan said. “We watched that kid come all the way into the area. He never had a chance to get in here.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Molinson said. “We have him now. We’ll get to the bottom of this soon enough.”
Dell gave Trixie a full report the following day.
“The kid was named Simon Gearity. Twenty two year old kid still living with his mother. You kind of called it. Lives a very fanboy existence. Father left when he was still a tyke. They thought he was autistic at first, but was really just pathologically shy and social phobic. Been seeing counselors of one sort or another, both in and out of school since he could talk. Tested with a 167 IQ, but still needed special needs teachers to deal with his apprehension of learning and doing things in a classroom environment. Everyone that knows him however, seems to think he’s harmless, and wouldn’t hurt a fly. And that’s both their personal and professional opinion.”
“Did he do it?”
“Yes, he confessed to all the vandalism and the phone calls.”
“Do they know why? Who he meant by them
“That’s going to be a little harder to unravel, but after talking to some of his old counselors, they seem to think he views the world as ‘me vs. them.’ They, or them is everything and everyone else outside his personal space. His mother said that when he was little, he used to go the area where the strip mall is being built, back when it was just meadows that weren’t in sight of any sort of building or civilization. That anytime he was feeling overwhelmed with the world, he’d head there with a book or a sketch pad and hang out for hours. She never worried about him, because he never gave her reason to. He’d come back when he was told, often with a ream of new, detailed drawings. And nothing bad. Just stuff he saw. So they think when his space was taken away from him by this project, ‘they’ became the villain in his head that did so.”
“What’s going to happen to him?”
“His mother already agreed to compensate the contractor for the time and materials needed to clean up the graffiti. In exchange they won’t press charges. But at the same time, they are talking about putting up a chain link with barbed wire fence around the site until they can finish. They want to have a grand opening before the snow flies, and hopefully in time for the new school year. And Simon is going to be on probation on the contingency that he goes back to see a counselor.”
“This is all kind of sad. Simon didn’t seem like a bad kid. And given what he could have done and what other rancor this project has caused, his ‘crimes’ seem very tame. Just his way of letting the world know that ‘they’ took something away from him. And to think by the time Erica and this one are his age, they may not even have lonely meadows in Sleepyside to miss.”
“Yeah, I know. But I wouldn’t be so quick to write our town off to developers who want to turn it into another suburb of New York. People here are stubborn and proud, and set in their ways. The bottom line with sprawl to its creators is money, and if they really think they are going to make it by drowning us in Game Stops and Bed, Bath & Beyonds, they may end up with a rude surprise, when they are left holding the bill while everyone still goes to Crimper’s. And as far and meadows and trees, and places to play, I think it will be a cold day in hell before anyone who owns property around Glenn Road or Albany Post sells it off to developers. Think this whole little area of north Sleepyside is going to be this way for quite some time.”
“Suppose that’s true,” Trixie said.
“So cheer up. ‘They’ haven’t taken our home town or it’s home town feel yet, and with any luck, ‘they’ won’t for quite some time.”