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The Harlotville Horror - Part 3 - Further Investigation

Max_Writer

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They stayed awake until dawn. The sunrise was quite spectacular.

 

Those who had slept got up the next morning. At first Stanford thought it might just have been a terrible nightmare. The ruins of his tent and the decapitated body soon put to rest that idea. He stepped around the corpse to get to the tent and retrieved his personal belongings, including his flask and his cigar case.

 

“Should we send someone to take him to the hospital?†Dr. Chambers asked, pointing to Gazolas, when he exited the tent again.

 

“Probably,†Stanford said. “Oh wait, all the workers are gone.â€

 

“As long as they didn’t take our transportation,†Dr. Fry said sleepily.

 

Dr. Silverberg exited another tent. He examined Gazolas’ arm. Dr. Fry went to retrieve stuff from the trucks to make them all coffee. While he was there, he could distinctly smell the stink of gasoline and noticed a large wet spot under the truck. He cursed, but still retrieved the pots and pans before returning to the fire.

 

Gutierrez was searching Fernandez’s pockets for cigarettes and Miss Rice had come out of her tent as well. Stanford took a swig from his flask. Dr. Fry set about making coffee.

 

“Guys, there might be something wrong with the car,†he said, sniffling.

 

“What do you mean there’s something wrong with the car?†Dr. Chambers asked.

 

“Well …â€

 

“Well?â€

 

“Out with it!†Dr. Silverberg said.

 

“I think the gas tank got a puncture in it,†Dr. Fry said.

 

“Aw,†Dr. Silverberg replied.

 

“There’s gas everywhere.â€

 

Dr. Silverberg cursed in Yiddish.

 

“Let’s get the job done and get the Hell out of here,†Dr. Chambers said.

 

He got his gear and headed towards the south side of the town. He figured the others would handle transportation. He just wanted to get his work done and get out of there.

 

Gutierrez walked over to the truck. The ground underneath it was, indeed, soaked in petrol. It only took him a few moments to find that the gas tank had been punctured. The hole was perhaps half an inch across and circular. He also found that all of the petrol cans they had brought extra gasoline in had been emptied and dropped onto the desert floor.

 

“Sabotage!†he muttered. “Oh my God.â€

 

He walked back to the others.

 

“Guys, there’s a hole in the tank,†he told them. “I don’t know if I can fix it. And all of our extra petrol has been dumped into the ground.â€

 

The others fixed some breakfast and ate while Sanford went to check his automobile. There was a stink of gasoline and it looked like there was a small hole in the side of the gas tank near the bottom. He went back to the camp, kicking the dead body as he walked by.

 

“You leave José alone!†Gutierrez said. “He’s been through enough!â€

 

“He wasted our gas!†Stanford said.

 

“You don’t know that.â€

 

“You killed him!†Dr. Silverberg said to Gutierrez. “Decapitated him.â€

 

“But I still respect his body,†Gutierrez said, crossing himself, cigarette in hand.

 

They all ate breakfast. At least whoever had sabotaged the vehicles hadn’t done anything to their food.

 

“We need to see if there’s oil here,†Stanford said as they ate.

 

“We need to find the well, right?†Dr. Fry said.

 

“That is one of our top priorities. We also need to find a way out of here.â€

 

They finished up their breakfast.

 

Dr. Silverberg picked up the butcher knife that Fernandez had wielded the night before. It was rusty and there was a good deal of blood on the blade. It looked old, as if it was made 50 to 100 years before and he realized that Fernandez must have found it in one of the buildings in the town.

 

“Guys,†he said. “I hate to bring up any bad memories, but two things I’ve just noticed here. One: we didn’t bring a butcher knife with us, so where did he get it? And two: this thing looks about as old as the town. So, where did he find it, is the big question.â€

 

“Someone had to stab José,†Gutierrez said. “There must be someone else in this town besides us.â€

 

“The faster we find the oil, the faster we can leave,†Stanford said.

 

“I’m just saying there’s something weird going on here,†Dr. Silverberg said. “Aside from the bats and today’s predicament. I was just going to get a knife to try to keep myself safe with … and try to find the wells. I just want something to protect myself with, okay?â€

 

“I’ve got my shovel,†Gutierrez said.

 

Dr. Silverberg looked around for a better weapon. He spotted the metal pipes by the fire and picked one up to take with him.

 

“Do you care if I take this?†he asked Gutierrez.

 

“Not at all,†the man replied.

 

Dr. Silverberg grabbed his Kodak camera and headed south to what looked like a well. It was a roughly made stone well and quite deep. In the morning light, he could not see the water but could feel the coolness of the well and felt humidity, as if there was water down below. Next to the well was a rotten rope and the broken remains of a bucket. Neither was of any use to him.

 

Just on the other side of the well was a .22 rifle that looked almost new. Next to it was a large patch of sand that was stained reddish-brown. He realized that was where Fernandez must have died. He picked up the rifle and took a photograph of the well and the bloodstain. He made a note in his notebook of the location of the well.

 

He quickly returned to camp for a pot and a rope, finding only Gutierrez there and telling him what he’d seen. He gave the man the rifle as well. Then he returned to the well, tossing the pot down and retrieving a little water. He smelled it and even tasted it but it didn’t seem to have a strong oily taste.

 

He found another well not far away behind the buildings, walking between what appeared to be an old warehouse and the main part of the town. He examined the second well and photographed it, checking the water as well, then went around the south side of the town, noting that one of the building on the south end of the road was leaning towards another. He found a third well behind the buildings across the street. He continued on past a building that was separated from the rest of the buildings and spotted another well. This one had a round metal cover on top of it. It was very large and he guessed that was the covered well.

 

Then he headed back towards the street to his north, where he saw a well near what appeared to be a livery stable.

 

* * *

 

Gutierrez followed Dr. Silverberg to the bloodstain by the well and then looked around. The bloodstain was between the well and the buildings on the west side of the street. He could see the backs of all of them. He went towards the larger of the buildings and saw that there was a door and a window that both opened into a very small room, obviously some kind of back room to the place. There was a cot with bloodstained blankets. Another door led into the main part of the building.

 

He went to the building to the north and peeked into the window into another small room. There was a bed with rotten blankets, and a small table with an animal on it that was not moving. Then he saw several other stuffed or mounted animals about the room. Lying on the floor was a sleeping bag that could not have been more than a few years old. Some camping equipment was there as well. He found the back door unlocked and went in. Another door led into the main part of the building.

 

He examined the room and found that it was obviously living quarters of some kind. The stuffed animals included raccoons, snakes, a coyote, deer heads, and the like. All of them were ratty, dusty, and old.

 

He examined the knapsack that was sitting next to the sleeping bag and found that there was some paperwork within that he read through. The information written down included that the army had been in the village in 1847. He soon found that whomever had camped here had been looking for the remains of Private Thomas Smith. He figured out that the man who had been here and apparently slept in the building for at least one night was a Samuel Smith.

 

He slung the knapsack over his shoulder and opened the door that led into the rest of the building. It opened into a larger room with a wide window in the front. A dentist chair stood in front of the window, along with dental equipment. A secondary back room had a metal table and a great deal of surgical instruments. There were several broken bottles as well.

 

He noticed that all of the sharp implements were gone. There were no scalpels, knives, or the like. Even a place where he guessed a bone saw might have hung was bare. He headed out the front door into the overgrown street.

 

* * *

 

Dr. Fry walked into town after he’d eaten and headed into the Hotel there. There was an engraved sign over the door and he went in through the creaking batwing doors. The saloon of the hotel was quite large with great windows that looked out onto the street, though no glass was within them. A long bar ran along one wall with the remains of a broken mirror behind it. Steps went up to the right and there were a couple corridors that ran back, deeper into the building. A balcony ran along two sides of the wall above and two more dark corridors disappeared behind it.

 

It was dim in the building and very dreary, but all of the windows were broken. He explored the building and found that the few rooms downstairs appeared to be where the residents probably lived. A few of the beds had brownish stains on them and he couldn’t help but notice that there were numerous bullet holes in the walls.

 

He ended up on the second floor and saw that more of the hotel rooms were in disarray. He found one closed door would not budge and so put his shoulder to it. It felt as if stuff was piled on the other side.

 

* * *

 

Stanford walked down the street of the town to the opposite side from their camp. There was a large building that looked to be a church or a school. The belfry perched on top seemed to still have a bell hanging within. He opened the front doors of the place, and saw that it was dark within. The shutters were closed over all of the windows, some of which actually had glass still in the frames. Even in the dim light, he could see the ladder that led up into the belfry above. Light came down and he could see the bell above.

 

The rest of the building was one large room with several benches, some of which were overturned. He guessed the place had been a church or a meeting house.

 

* * *

 

Miss Rice went back to the building where all of the bats had flown out and into the face of Dr. Silverberg. The foyer was a circular room with steps going up on one side. The archway to the right led to what looked like a dirty bar. The archway to the left led to a parlor, complete with pump organ and a large music box on top. Paintings were on the walls in all three rooms, and there were velvet drapes on the wall.

 

The shutters of the place were all closed, making it very gloomy and dim within. When she looked up, she saw that the foyer went up three stories to the very top of the building, with landings on each floor. The steps wound their way up to the top.

 

She entered the dim parlor and wound up the music box. It made a tinny and discordant tune. She also examined the paintings and found that most of them were of nude or semi-nude woman. She began exploring the building, finding hotel rooms and servants’ rooms, as well as a kitchen on the ground floor, fancier rooms and linen closets on the second floor, and rooms that looked like they had been lived in floor with a few personal items on the third. There were an even dozen rooms with the personal effects. She found a few small things that caught her eye, jewelry and the like, and so took them. She used her lighter to give herself light in the dim building.

 

* * *

 

Stanford exited the church and headed down the street. He spotted Gutierrez exit one of the other buildings and the two walked towards each other, stopping in the center of town, right in front of the largest building.

 

“Oh, you found the other gun?†Stanford asked.

 

“Yeah, Silverberg found this gun,†Gutierrez said.

 

They both noticed that the front door of the large building was open.

 

Gutierrez showed him the knapsack with the Smith papers that he’d found.

 

“I’m not an intelligent man,†Gutierrez said. “Maybe you can make something of them.â€

 

The two men saw Dr. Silverberg crossing the street up by the meeting house. He spotted them as well.

 

“Silverberg!†Gutierrez called.

 

“I found something,†Silverberg said. “Follow me.â€

 

He led them back down the street and then behind the buildings to the east where the covered well was. They saw Dr. Chambers approaching from the southeast.

 

“I think this might be what we’re looking for, but I can’t get it open myself,†Dr. Silverberg said. “You think can help me out?â€

 

“I think I could,†Gutierrez said. “Here, hold this satchel.â€

 

He handed off the knapsack. It was all dusty and dirty.

 

“Did you find something?†Chambers asked as he approached.

 

“Yeah, look,†Dr. Silverberg said. “It’s a covered well.â€

 

“Ah.â€

 

“Also in the building, what looked like a medical table or something, where you would expect a doctor to operate on,†Gutierrez said. “None of the blades were there, which leads me to suspect that whoever was hiding out in that cabin must have stabbed José.â€

 

“That would explain …†Dr. Silverberg said.

 

“It was a butcher knife, though,†Dr. Chambers said.

 

“It was a kitchen knife,†Dr. Silverberg said. “Not a doctor’s knife. But it was still from here, so …â€

 

“In any case, there’s a lot of blades that should be in the doctor’s office that are not,†Gutierrez said.

 

“But if this is where we need to look, I say we get this done with as soon as possible and then get the Hell out of Dodge,†Dr. Silverberg said.

 

Dr. Chambers took out a cigarette, lit it, and tossed the match towards the well. It bounced off the metal plate.

 

The four men all grasped the well cover and shoved it off one side of the well. It was dark within the well and Dr. Silverberg lowered his pot but when he pulled it back up, it was dry. He realized that the well was much deeper than the other ones he’d been looking into.

 

“It did say a particularly deep well,†Silverberg said. “Do we have more rope?â€

 

“Yes, we have some rope at the camp,†Gutierrez said.

 

They headed back and, on the way, noticed wood burnt sign on one building that read “Robert Fine, Undertaker and Editor.†As they continued on, they spotted Dr. Fry coming out of the hotel. They returned to the camp, got the rope, and returned to the well.

 

It turned out that the well was between 70 and 80 feet deep. When they pulled up the filthy water, it stank of crude oil.

 

“Gentlemen,†Dr. Silverberg said.

 

“We’ve got it!†Stanford replied.

 

It still needed chemical analysis. Dr. Silverberg handed off the bucket to Dr. Fry and the man thanked him. They headed back for the camp. On the way, Gutierrez told them he was curious about the editor’s building and since he had nothing to do with the chemistry side of the expedition, he wanted to look at it. Stanford didn’t care, his thoughts were on the potential oil.

 

“I took a lot of photos while I was looking at the wells and I want to develop them,†Dr. Silverberg said. “Do you know where there’s a place that’s really dark?â€

 

“The tents at night,†Stanford said.

 

As they passed the largest building, Miss Rice came out of the house. She was dusty and a little dirty.

 

“How dark is it in there?†Stanford asked her.

 

“It’s pretty dark,†she replied. “One or two of the rooms, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.â€

 

“Amanda, you’re filthy!†Dr. Fry said, covering his nose and mouth with his handkerchief.

 

“There’s your room,†Stanford said to Dr. Silverberg.

 

“All right then,†Dr. Silverberg said. Then to Miss Rice: “You didn’t see anything disquieting, did you?â€

 

“Disquieting?†Miss Rice said. “Well, some of the beds are kind of bloodied up. Otherwise, it looked like it might have been a … how would you boys call this … a pleasure house.â€

 

“Oh, a brothel?†Dr. Fry said.

 

“Funny, because the women left to leave that profession,†Dr. Silverberg said. “Why would they build a brothel?â€

 

“Well, it was still called Harlottown,†Miss Rice said.

 

“Because they were all harlots,†Dr. Silverberg said.

 

“I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I want to get this evidence,†Dr. Chambers said.

 

Stanford, Dr. Silverberg, and Dr. Chambers headed back to the camp. Miss Rice accompanied them only a little ways before wandering down the street to the south.

 

* * *

 

Gutierrez entered the small building with the sign for the undertaker and editor over the door. The windows, of course, had no glass, and there were several closed coffins in the main room of the building. The room was L-shaped, with a separate room for living quarters. However, in the back, in the smallest part of the L, was a large printing press. A small box lay on the floor with typeset scattered next to it. When he examined the printing press, it looked like a page had been laid out on the press for printing. Unfortunately, the letters on the typeset were backwards.

 

He realized he would need some ink and something to print on if he really wanted to make heads or tails of the thing. He headed back to camp.

 

Dr. Chambers was sitting by the fire, eating a late breakfast and it took Gutierrez only a few minutes to find Dr. Fry working in one of the tents, analyzing the oil they’d pulled from the well. He was in one of the worker’s tents, which he had moved his chemical equipment into and was using as a lab.

 

“Dr. Fry,†Gutierrez said to the man. “Something is very obviously wrong with this town. But I think I might have a clue! I found a newspaper printing building … but I need your help. I need some ink and something to print on.â€

 

“Hmm,†Dr. Fry said, his nose obviously very stuffed up. “Let me check my supplies.â€

 

He was able to make some ink fairly easily. Meanwhile, Gutierrez went over to Stanford’s wrecked tent and cut two large pieces of canvas off it. He headed back to the printing press with his supplies.

 

Once he left, Stanford shoved the remains of his tent over top of Fernandez’s dead boy. Dr. Chambers took one of the shovels and looked for the snakes in the trucks. He couldn’t find any.

 

Stanford walked over to the man.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be testing the ground?†he said.

 

“Well, I mean, somebody got bitten by a snake,†Dr. Chambers said. “And somebody asked me to help them with the snakes. I had to eat some breakfast. I hadn’t eaten this morning. I’m just trying to get the snakes out of the trucks! He got bitten yesterday, do you want to get bitten if we try to leave?â€

 

“The trucks don’t work,†Stanford said. “We’re walking.â€

 

“All right,†Dr. Chambers said. “Don’t ask me if I’m doing my job, because I am.â€

 

* * *


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