Monday, April 24, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario â€œDark Harvestâ€ by Kevin A. Ross from The Resurrected III: Out of the Vault Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. with James Brown, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbott.)
Frank Fontaine had continued to return to the Dreamlands after their strange adventure there. He spent a good amount of time dreaming up gems, gold, and other precious items to trade for slaves in Dylath-Leen, choosing to do so all at once in the fear the slavers might grow suspicious if he bought slaves over a period of time with dream gold that later disappeared. He purchased some two-score men and women of various races and took them out of the city and onto the road back towards Ulthar.
They settled on the river in a pleasant spot a dayâ€™s walk or so south of Ulthar. There he declared them free but suggested they settle on the spot to build a small village or a new home. The suggestion was met with some skepticism and worry from most of them. He tried to instill a sense of unity amongst them though many of them were unsure about the dreamer and his intentions.
He also learned that when he went back to sleep, he returned to the Dreamlands through the Cavern of Flame each time, and he didnâ€™t always remember everything that had happened to him when he returned there. Sometimes his trips to the strange land seemed to be nothing but dreams themselves.
* * *
* * *
On August 8, 1928, William Schmidt aka Robert Ingerton received a letter in his P.O. Box postmarked Des Moines, Iowa. There was no return address. When he opened it, he found it contained a letter and two newspaper clippings. The letter read:
August 6, 1928
While on an investigation in Iowa, I stumbled across these two articles. The whole thing
has the stink of Aylesbury or the Putneys and I want nothing to do with anything like that
again. I thought it might interest you, though.
He remembered Raymond Sayers vaguely as one of the â€œno-namesâ€ he had brought along in the investigation of the missing children in Aylesbury, Massachusetts. They had investigated the missing children, which eventually led them to an altar dedicated to some terrible fertility god or goddess. The trees themselves had moved from the woods and attacked them. Sayers had accompanied them earlier, when they dealt with some kind of terrible goat-like things that had attacked them near the nearby Indian reservation. The man had been terribly injured in the fight.
He had no idea who the Putneys were.
The newspaper clippings were marked as being from the Boone News-Republican in Boone, Iowa. The first was dated July 19, 1928. It read:
Oak Valley Hunter sees naked witches
Oak Valleyâ€•A local man who says he was sober claims to have seen witches near
Lonnie Garber of Oak Valley was gallivanting about the county Tuesday night in the
wee morning hours, allegedly hunting and not just drinking, when he claims to have
witnessed the rites of a devil-worshipping cult near Oak Valley.
Garber claims to have seen a number of naked people cavorting and performing
animal sacrifices in â€œthe middle of nowhere.â€
â€œIt was awful!â€ Garber said. â€œAll them naked people doing â€¦ things.â€
Needless to say, Garber stayed around for some time to watch, apparently hoping to
gather some kind of information, or at least to enjoy the show, perhaps?
Garber claims he wasnâ€™t drinking but such claims hold little weight in the face of
such an outrageous tale. One simply has to wonder if the â€˜witchesâ€™ had broomsticks
and cauldrons or if they were simply some couple having a tryst in the woods.
Garber denied the latter though perhaps it wasnâ€™t drink that made him see what he
saw. Perhaps the man, who allegedly lives by himself in a shack in the woods, has
simply gone crazy. Garber denied that as well but who takes the word of a crazy man?
The second was dated August 4, 1928:
Oak Valley Hunter Found Dead in Creek
Oak Valleyâ€•A local man was found crushed to death in Smith Creek in Dodge
Lonnie Garber of Oak Valley was found dead and partially submerged in Smith
Creek north of Boone Rural Route 3 east of Oak Valley. Boone County Sheriff Roy
Creed stated the death was caused by the attack of an unknown wild animal.
The body was found by local Abe Riker, who noticed the corpse stuck on a tree limb
in the creek while hunting Thursday morning.
The Boone News-Republican wishes to apologize for statements made in an earlier
article about Garber.
Ingerton realized he might be able to refer the articles to his associate, Griffin H. McCree, the big game hunter. He could get McCree to pay him something for the hunt and then if he found anything esoteric at the sight, he could claim that for himself and sell it to Frank Fontaine.
On contact with McCree, he found the man willing to pay him $50 for the letter and the newspaper articles. Ingerton told McCree to wait and travel to Iowa the next day, having already found out when the next train west was heading out. He was too busy to go himself, he said, as he was trying to raise money for an orphanage.
He also contacted Joseph Johnson, whom he knew from dealing with the dark carnival a few months before. When he telephoned the man, the phone rang three times before it was picked up.
â€œHello, whoâ€™s this?â€ the man on the other end of the line asked.
â€œRobert Ingerton!â€ Ingerton said. â€œLocal philanthropist and child savior.â€
â€œI remember. Child savior. Ran away from the children. Gotcha. Gotcha.â€
â€œRan away from the children?â€
â€œYeah, you were the first one out of that place, if I remember correctly.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t I shoot that zombie in the face with the flare gun?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t see anything like that.â€
â€œWhen everyone else was outside?â€
â€œYeah, but you were still the first one out.â€
â€œOh, you mean I wasnâ€™t able to stay with you all. I got called away on business.â€
â€œWhat are you calling about?â€
â€œThere is another fun-sounding adventure for you!â€
â€œIâ€™ve asked my friend, a local big-game hunter, to help out in finding and stopping these forest murders.â€
â€œAh. How much â€¦ how much are yâ€™all paying?â€
â€œPaying? Youâ€™ll be in the paper!â€
â€œAs the man who helped bring down the beast that killed Lonnie Garber!â€
â€œSo, just more honor? Iâ€™ve already been paid in honor by some other people too.â€
â€œWhat about glory!?!â€
â€œThey paid in that too. Got the medals to show for it.â€
â€œBut this beast didnâ€™t just kill the man, it crushed him with its body.â€
â€œA tankâ€™ll do that. Iâ€™ve seen it happen.â€
â€œTrue â€¦ there were naked people dancing in the forest â€¦ are you interested in that? They could be witches. Thatâ€™s what Garber thought and now heâ€™s flattened.â€
â€œLook, youâ€™re going to have to come up with something much more substantial than naked people in the forest.â€
â€œIt was in the newspaper. About the naked people.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s not that I donâ€™t believe. I mean as a reward. Payment. As â€¦ something to interest me.â€
â€œI have a job. I canâ€™t just run around and help you.â€
â€œHow about if I gave you $50 to go help out my friend, McCree â€¦ with his hunt in the woods?â€
â€œFifty dollars sounds like a good starting fee. Itâ€™ll at least get me out there.â€
â€œHe said heâ€™d be on the train at 10 a.m. in the morning.â€
They rung off. Ingerton rang off to telephone McCree about the man.
* * *
McCree was determined to bring a camera with him this time as he had not gotten any photographs of the terrors that had attacked them in Howard Phillipsâ€™ nightmares. But first he had to get a few more people to join him on his Iowa safari after whatever had killed the man.
He knew a Providence Police Officer from the shooting range who preferred a Thompson sub-machinegun and the two had met at the range several times and hit it off. The young manâ€™s name was Angelo Giovanni but everyone called him â€œZippy.â€ He was a tall, thin, Italian man with slicked back hair. He had a New York City accent.
He telephoned Zippy.
â€œHello,â€ a man answered on the other side.
â€œZippy!â€ McCree said. â€œHow are you, lad?â€
â€œUh, whoâ€™s this?â€
â€œAw, from the range. Yeah, Iâ€™m doinâ€™ just fine, partner.â€
â€œGood. I was wondering if you would like to go on a â€¦ a domestic hunting venture with â€¦ some rather dangerous game.â€
â€œDangerous game? Look, I ainâ€™t lookinâ€™ for any big chickens that youâ€™re interested in. Iâ€™m not a â€¦ Iâ€™m not a huntinâ€™ guy. I think you got me figured wrong.â€
â€œBut Zippy, I actually may need extra fire support because this sounds like something very dangerous. It smashed another hunter in the woods.â€
â€œYo, what kinda goose you chasinâ€™?â€
â€œThatâ€™s the thing. Iâ€™m not sure what kind of â€¦ goose â€¦ Iâ€™m chasing.â€
â€œSo, wait, hold on. Is this â€¦ is this actually a huntinâ€™ trip or are you lookinâ€™ for somethinâ€™ else?â€
â€œHonestly, I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m looking for!â€
â€œBut I want its head.â€
â€œYou gonna have to give me the full story before you can expect me to just go runninâ€™ after you. Whatâ€™s goinâ€™ on here?â€
They arranged to have dinner at a coffee shop they both knew and McCree showed Zippy the articles heâ€™d been given by Ingerton. The police officer looked over them carefully, reading them both with a frown.
â€œHey, McCree â€¦â€ Zippy said after reading them. â€œDid you hear anything about the carnival in town that recently got shut down?â€
â€œI did read about that when I got back from my venture,â€ McCree said.
â€œNow, I probably told you about it too. I got myself a nice bounty in that. It was a â€¦ fun adventure. My gun jammed on me in my moment of greatest need.â€
Heâ€™d already told McCree about the Asian man whoâ€™d tried to hack his head off with a pair of swords who he valiantly fought off with his own fists. McCree noted that whatever killed the man might have been something like Zippy saw at the carnival. Though Zippy had not seen anything stranger than crazy carnies himself, he had heard rumors around the department of strange things in the caves and caverns under the carnival itself. Supposedly, some Pawtucket Police officers had encountered something very strange in the place. He had done a little research before he was told not to look into it by his superiors. He later learned orders for no one to talk about the raid came down from the United States Bureau of Investigation, seemingly overreaching its own jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Providence Police Superintendent William F. Oâ€™Neill seemed to be backing them.
â€œAll right, McCree,â€ Zippy said. â€œIâ€™ll help you with this. But I canâ€™t get anybody from the station. I canâ€™t get anybody else. Because Iâ€™ve already told you more than theyâ€™d like me to about the carnival.â€
â€œThat should be fine,â€ McCree said. â€œWe already have an x-military man coming with us as well.â€
â€œOh. All right.â€
â€œMy good friend Robert Ingerton.â€
â€œIâ€™ll load up and Iâ€™ll meet you. Where is this going down?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll be taking the train at 10 oâ€™clock tomorrow.â€
They made arrangements to meet at Union Station the next morning.
* * *
They met the next day, Thursday, August 9, 1928, at the station.
â€œYou must be Joseph Johnson,â€ McCree said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Johnson said. â€œI was told I was going to get fifty dollars for at least coming out here by your good friend Robert Ingerton.â€
â€œHello sir,â€ Zippy said. â€œMy nameâ€™s Angelo Giovanni. Everybody calls me Zippy.â€
â€œGood to meet you, Zippy,â€ Johnson said.
He turned back to McCree.
â€œSo â€¦ uh â€¦ yes,â€ McCree said. â€œI guess, here is the down payment. When we bag our prize though, thatâ€™s when youâ€™ll get the rest.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Joseph said, taking the money from the man. â€œSounds fair.â€
He pocketed the money.
â€œSo, he didnâ€™t really give me any information on this,â€ Johnson said.
They decided to discuss it on the train.
The train left Union Station at 10 a.m. on the dot. They were housed in a sleeper car and took their meals in the dining car, switching trains and railroads on several occasions. The three men had almost two days to get to know each other in their trip cross country. In that time, they filled Johnson in on the strange occurrences near the town of Oak Valley, Iowa. They told him about the naked people in the woods, the man reporting them, his strange death a couple of weeks later.
They arrived in Boone, Iowa, on the evening of August 10, 1928. The city of roughly 12,000 was also the county seat and they saw the courthouse on their taxi ride to the hotel. They also noted the Boone Police Station and the Boone County Sheriffâ€™s Office. They were able to get hold of a county map and located Oak Valley upon it, some miles north of the county seat.
They stayed in a hotel that night, having a good dinner.
* * *
Saturday, August 11, 1928, was overcast and cloudy.
The three men rented an old, rugged, two-door Fort Model T sedan. The trunk was not present on the back of the vehicle and it looked like it had been through some rough handling. It was an older model but seemed to be in adequate shape. It didnâ€™t have an electric starter.
They discussed where they were heading, Zippy pointing out the manâ€™s body was found on Smith Creek. It was noted they needed to talk to Abe Riker, who had found the body. The dateline on the newspaper articles was for Oak Valley. Johnson asked if they should talk to whomever wrote the newspaper articles first.
They stopped by the Boone New-Republican Office. It was a small office and, as they entered, they could hear the thump of a press from the back somewhere. The office was divided into a large front and probably a smaller back room. The man sitting and typing at the desk in the front wore a green eyeshade. He looked up as they entered and wiped sweat from his brow.
â€œCan I help you fellas?â€ he asked.
â€œUh â€¦ Iâ€™d like to inquire you about a Lonnie Garber,â€ McCree said.
â€œWell, well, thatâ€™s right,â€ the man said. â€œWe put some stuff in the paper that was not very kind. I apologize for that. We apologized in the article that we put in reporting his death. So, if youâ€™re a relative and youâ€™re here to complain, Iâ€™m really sorry, but he did come across as â€¦ a little crazy when he first came in here. So â€¦â€
â€œWell, thatâ€™s quite all right. Uh â€¦ I was wondering where was Mr. Garber talking about the ritualistic things that he told yâ€™all?â€
â€œNot sure exactly. He comes from Oak Valley and he said it was near where he lived. I never got information on exactly where it took place because he was obviously â€¦ well, he was obviously â€¦ I donâ€™t know what was going on up there.â€
â€œWell, thank you, kind sir, for your information.â€
â€œWell, who are you folks?â€
â€œUh â€¦ Iâ€™m just a local hunter thatâ€™s wanting to take a crack at the wild animal that killed Garber.â€
â€œOh. Whatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œUh â€¦ my nameâ€™s Griffin McCree.â€
The man took out a notepad and pencil and jotted it down.
â€œWhere are you from, Mr. McCree?â€ he asked.
â€œIâ€™m from Providence, Rhode Island,â€ McCree said.
The man asked how long he would be in the county and McCree guessed about a week as the man took notes. When he asked the names of his companions, Zippy merely stated his nickname. Johnson told him he was called Jojo. As they left, they guessed there would probably be a little article in the small daily newspaper, probably the next day.
They drove north from Boone along the rugged back roads, passing acres and acres of crops, mostly corn. They passed an old rattletrap pickup truck at one point. The road was crossed by other roads every mile or so. They passed a horse-drawn wagon loaded down with hay at another point. They stopped a couple of times to ask for directions but eventually found Oak Valley.
The tiny town had, perhaps, three or four dozen houses. The roads, though dirt, were proudly marked with street signs for such illustrious names as Maple Street and Main Street. The houses were exactly as one would expect to see in a tiny, Midwestern town: small, unspectacular structures which, under some circumstances, might seem â€œcozy.â€ The townspeople carried out their daily affairs almost furtively. Suspicious eyes peeked out at strangers from behind curtained windows. Children played quietly, seldom laughing, shying away from the car as it rattled down the road. Dogs, cats, and other animals also shied away from the vehicle. It was readily apparent the town was in the thrall of some unseen fear.
There was only one commercial structure in the village. A sign read â€œHarvâ€™s General Storeâ€ on the two- story building. The upper floor was gabled and probably not very large. Large, wide glass windows stood in the front of the building while the windows on the side were open in the heat. The front doors were wide open and a narrow porch ran the length of the front of the building. A smaller sign on the building noted the Oak Valley Post Office was within.
McCree parked in front.
â€œMan, so little happens in this town all the streets are named after trees!â€ Zippy said.
â€œUh â€¦ good observation there, Zippy,â€ McCree said. â€œLetâ€™s go ask the general store clerk to see if we canâ€™t find our friend Abe Riker.â€
They entered the general store and saw an older gentleman behind a counter to the left. The room, which ran the width of the building, was packed full of goods ranging from penny candy to dry goods to hardware and foodstuffs. A door in the back near the counter probably led to a back room. The shelves were filled to nearly overflowing with goods. A small area in the back on the right side held numerous P.O. boxes and a small room for mail. An unlit potbellied stove stood near the front door.
The gentleman wore dungarees and a plaid shirt. He looked to be in his mid-40s. He wore a hat and was sweating in the heat, as they all were. He looked at the three as they entered the store.
â€œUh, hello fine sir,â€ McCree said.
â€œWell howdy!â€ the man said. â€œHow are you folks doing?
â€œDoing well this day. I was wondering if you knew of a man named Abe Riker.â€
â€œAyuh, thereâ€™s an Abe Riker, he lives around here. What you looking for him for?â€
â€œI read his name in the paper about him stumbling across olâ€™ Garber.â€
â€œOh yeah yeah. Lonnie Garber. Got himself killed. Some animals tore him up or something. Terrible shame. Terrible shame.â€
â€œYeah. I was just wondering if could speak to him about where he foundâ”€â€
â€œYou wanna speak toâ”€?â€
â€œOh. Oh. Oh. Uh â€¦ well, you can â€¦ heâ€™s got a farm. Itâ€™s kind of run down. Heâ€™s had some sad times since the influenza ran through here a few years ago. Which wayâ€™d you come from?â€
â€œWe came from out yonder.â€
McCree pointed back down the way theyâ€™d driven into town towards the west.
â€œItâ€™s north,â€ the man said. â€œItâ€™s north of town, is Abe Rikerâ€™s place. If you go north, look for a â€¦ thereâ€™s a farm. Itâ€™s falling apart. Like I said, he hasnâ€™t been doing too well since his wife died a few years ago. Yeah, you should be able to spot it. I donâ€™t know, off the top of my head, the number. But look for the one that looks like itâ€™s been abandoned and itâ€™s probably the right one.â€
â€œAll right. Thank you there â€¦ uh â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œHarv. Harv Taylor.â€
They shook hands. Taylor had a good, firm handshake.
â€œMr. Taylor, what did you think of Lonnie Garber?â€ Zippy asked. â€œWas he just spouting or do you think heâ”€?â€
â€œOh, about that stuff he saw?â€ Taylor said. â€œNo. Lonnie drinks a lot. I think â€¦ I think â€¦ actually, I think Abe does too. So, nothing that he says, you canâ€™t take at face value. Lived out in a shack out in the woods somewhere, all by himself. Maybe he went crazy. I donâ€™t know. Heâ€™s â€¦ I-I read about that in the paper and I just wondered why. Why did Lonnie have to do that to himself? So â€¦ nah. I wouldnâ€™t put a whole lot of stock in anything â€¦ anything Lonnie Garber said.â€
â€œWell, thank you anyway, sir.â€
They purchased some food: beef jerky, dried food, and crackers. Johnson bought a canteen. They left the store and drove north from Oak Valley, looking for the Riker farm.
Driving on the bumpy road, McCree soon spotted a run-down farm on the left. The crops around it were sickly and heavily overgrown with weeds. The roof of the barn was sagging. The house had a few broken windows, some of which had been repaired with cardboard or newspaper. A porch ran the width of the house but appeared to be in poor repair. When he pulled into the overgrown and rutted dirt driveway, he could see a couple dozen scrawny chickens in a yard by a coop. When the engine of the automobile died, it was very quiet.
â€œHe did say it looked abandoned,â€ McCree said, exiting the motorcar.
â€œYou think we should take a look around?â€ Zippy said.
â€œYâ€™all could take a look around if yâ€™allâ€™d like,â€ McCree said. â€œIâ€™m gonna try to find Abe as quickly as possible.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Zippy said.
â€œThis place is rather strange,â€ McCree said.
Zippy went around the side of the single-story house as McCree headed towards the front door. Johnson looked over the fields, trying to see a river but could only see farmland as far as the eye could see. A couple of gnarled trees stood in the yard.
Around the back of the house, Zippy found an outhouse and a water pump.
McCree knocked on the front door. After a few moments, he heard stumbling footsteps from within. The man who opened the door was prematurely gray and had bags under his eyes. His hair was a mess, his cheeks and nose were rosy, and he stank of cheap alcohol.
â€œWha?â€ the man mumbled. â€œWhat? What â€¦ wait â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œMight you be Abe Riker?â€ McCree said.
â€œWho wants to know?â€
â€œHi. I am Griffin McCree. I came to ask you about that there Garber. When you found him?â€
â€œYeah, I knew Lonnie Garber. Yeah. Heâ€™s dead.â€
â€œUh, yeah, I have heard that. I was wondering where you found him in that state?â€
Riker nodded to his right in a generally eastward direction. He looked at McCree suspiciously.
â€œIâ€™m-a lookinâ€™ for whatever monstrosity might have befallen our good friend Garber,â€ McCree said.
â€œYou donâ€™t wanna know,â€ Riker said.
â€œDid you see it?â€
â€œYou just need to go back wherever youâ€™re from. You ainâ€™t from around here. I can tell that. You just need tâ€™ go. No, I didnâ€™t see it. Lonnie saw it. Heâ€™s dead now. Ifâ€™n youâ€™re smart, youâ€™ll just go. Thereâ€™s bad things here. Bad things here.â€
â€œWhat kind of bad things, Abe?â€
Johnson walked over. Riker had pushed the door halfway closed and stood partially behind it. McCree moved his foot forward to try to keep it open if need be.
â€œAbe, would there be a way for me to interest you in â€¦ divulging the information that I am requesting?â€ McCree said.
â€œYou donâ€™t wanna know!â€ Riker said. â€œYou donâ€™t wanna know any of this! Trust me.â€
â€œBut I do, Abe.â€
â€œNo, you donâ€™t. No, you donâ€™t. Itâ€™s bad. No, you donâ€™t.â€
â€œAbe, you donâ€™t leave the house much, do you?â€ Johnson said.
â€œWho the hell is this?â€ Riker said.
â€œNameâ€™s Jojo,â€ Johnson said. â€œIâ€™m an associate of his.â€
â€œHeâ€™s seen some â€¦ rather bad things as well,â€ McCree said.
â€œYou donâ€™t wanna find out,â€ Riker said again, pushing the door shut. â€œYou donâ€™t wanna know.â€
McCreeâ€™s foot stopped the door.
â€œBut, if we were to eliminate this threat then weâ”€â€ McCree said.
â€œYou canâ€™t!â€ Riker said. â€œThereâ€™s too many of â€˜em! Thereâ€™s too many!â€
â€œToo many of what?â€
â€œGet your foot outta my door! Get your foot outta my door!â€
Zippy came around the side of the house.
â€œSir, what were you even doing at the creek?â€ Johnson said. â€œWhat brought you there?â€
â€œHunting!â€ Riker said desperately. â€œI hunt! Ainâ€™t nothing illegal about that.â€
â€œWell, as a fellow hunter myself â€¦â€ McCree said.
â€œDid you know Garber was down thereâ”€?â€ Johnson asked.
â€œWhat about a fellow hunter yourself!?!â€ Riker said to McCree.
â€œWould you not want to bag this large game?â€ McCree said.
â€œYou ainâ€™t gonna bag it. Itâ€™s gonna bag you.â€
He kicked McCreeâ€™s foot out of the way and slammed the door shut. A little dust came down from the creaking porch roof.
â€œWell, that went just about as well as the in-laws meeting,â€ Zippy said. â€œIâ€™m guessinâ€™ he didnâ€™t give you much.â€
â€œHe was rather shaken up by â€¦ even mentioning Garber,â€ McCree said.
â€œWell, the reports did say something about Smith Creek,â€ Zippy said. â€œMaybe if we ask somebody else, see if we can find that, we wonâ€™t need him.â€
McCree suggested they go ask a neighbor where the creek lay. Johnson suggested that, at the next house, they not mention anything but that they were there for fishing and hunting. McCree thought it a good idea.
They got into the motorcar and drove to one of the neighboring farms. It was a two-story blue and white farmhouse with all of the windows open. It was in much nicer shape than Rikerâ€™s farm with some flowers growing out front. The drive was a circle with a pump in the grassy spot in the middle of it. When they stopped, Johnson got out and looked around for the creek again but saw only farmlands surrounding the farmhouse and barn. He went over to fill his canteen from the pump. McCree and Zippy went to the front door and knocked.
A woman answered the door wearing an apron covered in flour. Her hands were also covered with flour and they could smell something baking in the house.
â€œYeah?â€ she said suspiciously.
â€œUh â€¦ hello there maâ€™am,â€ McCree said.
She looked over the man, who wore khaki hunting clothing and tall boots.
â€œUh â€¦ Iâ€™m looking to find myself a Smith Creek,â€ McCree went on.
â€œSmith Creek?â€ she said. â€œWhatcha lookinâ€™ for Smith Creek for?â€
â€œI hear itâ€™s a rather nice location for fishing and hunting.â€
McCree looked over to where Johnson was working the pump and trying to reach down to the spigot with his canteen. He was sweating profusely as he refused to remove his jacket. A sweat stain had formed on his shirt.
Jackass, McCree thought.
â€œThatâ€™s east of town,â€ she said. â€œOak Valley.â€
She pointed towards the south as she looked at the man suspiciously.
â€œSo, have you heard about that Garber fellow that died in that creek?â€ McCree asked.
â€œNope!â€ she said.
She slammed the door in their face.
â€œWhat did I tell you?â€ Johnson said as they returned to the automobile.
â€œWell, I wasâ”€â€ McCree said.
â€œThatâ€™s another person that knows why weâ€™re here, looking!â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m just looking for a more exact position, but â€¦ we at least had the creek.â€
â€œLast time I was involved in this stuff, everybody found out and everything got real bad!â€
They left the farm and drove back to Oak Valley. They passed through the village again, stopping at the general store. As they pulled up in front of the building, two women standing near the place moved quickly away from the motorcar and up the street. The three men went back into the general store and found Harv Taylor restocking a shelf.
â€œYou find what youâ€™re looking for?â€ the man asked them.
â€œUh â€¦ we did,â€ McCree said. â€œThank you, Harv, for that information.â€
â€œOh, youâ€™re welcome. Abe Riker tell you anything? He know anything?â€
â€œHe didnâ€™t know too much, but â€¦â€
â€œWell, did he help you?â€
â€œHe kind of looked like heâ€™d been sipping from the well, if you know what I mean,â€ Zippy said.
â€œI know what you mean,â€ Taylor said. â€œHeâ€™s been going downhill, like I said, since his wife died in that influenza epidemic a few years back and one of his kids. Itâ€™s really sad. His oldest died. His youngest survived.â€
â€œUh, you wouldnâ€™t happen to sell any â€¦ uh â€¦ maps would you?â€ McCree said.
â€œYouâ€™d probably have to go down to Boone for a county map,â€ Taylor said. â€œOr something like that. We donâ€™t â€¦ we got state maps. They ainâ€™t got much on â€˜em. Just shows where the railroads are.â€
â€œI see. So, Harv, would you be able to point out where we could find Smith Creek?â€
â€œWell, Smith Creek, if you head â€¦ east. Yeah, straight out of town, here on Main Street, thatâ€™s the main road. Then thatâ€™ll take you â€¦ youâ€™ll go over a bridge. Uh â€¦ about a mile. No, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s quite that far. Yeah. Itâ€™s a mile or two. Iâ€™m sure exactly. Youâ€™ll pass over a little one-lane bridge and â€¦ uh â€¦ thatâ€™s Smith Creek. I think thereâ€™s a sign, actually, that says Smith Creek on it. I think.â€
â€œWell, thank you, Harv.â€
â€œMatter of fact, we got Smith Street here in town â€¦â€
Taylor told him some local history about a man named Gerald Smith who was fairly influential in the town and helped to establish it some years before. He bent their ear for about 10 minutes telling them about the man and noting that both the street in town and Smith Creek were named after him. McCree pretended to be interested.
â€œSo Harv,â€ McCree said when the man finally finished his long, dull story. â€œOut of curiosity, why are all the townsfolk seeming so skittish?â€
â€œDo they?â€ Taylor said.
â€œYeah, just earlier these two ladies outside were â€¦ when they noticed us, they started moving away rather quickly.â€
â€œThey probably got jealous husbands or something. I wouldnâ€™t pay it any mind. Some people are standoffish. You know how people are. Itâ€™s just â€¦ normal folks.â€
â€œHey, McCree,â€ Zippy said. â€œThird time in a row. Maybe â€¦ maybe â€¦ you know â€¦ has something to do with â€¦ maybe itâ€™s you. Maybe itâ€™s just you.â€
â€œWell, you got me there, Zippy,â€ McCree said. â€œBut thank you again, Harv, you have been â€¦ more than helpful.â€
â€œOh, anytime,â€ Taylor said. â€œAnytime.â€
They shook hands again.
â€œGood luck with your â€¦ whatta you here for?â€ Taylor said.
â€œUh â€¦ expedition!â€ McCree said.
â€œGood â€¦ good luck with that,â€ Taylor said.
They left the confused shopkeeper behind and drove east out of Oak Valley. They soon came to a narrow bridge. A small sign on the old stone bridge marked it as Smith Creek. McCree parked the Model T off the side of the road and they made their way down to the creek, which was about 15 feet across mostly, and brown with mud and runoff.
They loaded up with their long arms. Zippy took out his Thompson sub-machinegun and made sure he had a couple of spare 20-round magazines. Johnson loaded his Springfield M1903 rifle and also made sure he had extra magazines. McCree carried his Holland & Holland Royal Double elephant rifle and his Greener F35 Far Killer eight-gauge shotgun. They headed upstream
â€œWe all going the same way?â€ Zippy asked. â€œWe splittinâ€™ it up?â€
â€œI think we should probably all stick together,â€ McCree said. â€œThat way, we donâ€™t â€¦ get ambushed.â€
â€œIf all it is is naked witches, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll need assistance for that.â€
â€œZippy â€¦ I â€¦ donâ€™t even know what to say â€¦â€
They decided to all head north along the muddy creek. The mosquitoes were very bad. McCree looked for tracks of any kind as they walked. Johnson looked at the murky, brown water. There were constant fallen trees from the growth around the river and they could see the woods followed the water on both sides. They headed upstream for a couple of miles before turning back. They returned to the motorcar around 1:30 p.m., dirty and muddy from their hot trek.
â€œI think we need to make a more convincing argument to olâ€™ Abe,â€ Zippy said as he stowed his Thompson.
â€œWe should also probably find out where Garber lived,â€ McCree said. â€œAnd check his estate.â€
â€œSaid he lived in an old shack in the woods. But if you call that an estate â€¦ yeah.â€
â€œThank you, Zippy.â€
They discussed what to do with the rest of their day, Johnson suggesting they linger in the evening in the vicinity to see if they saw people gathering. Zippy thought it important to find Lonnieâ€™s shack or get Abe to show them where the man died. McCree thought it prudent to wait until the next day to talk to Abe Riker but agreed they might need to scout out the town after dark. Zippy thought they should go back to town before it got dark and ask where Lonnieâ€™s shack was.
Johnson asked if any of the others had seen a church in Oak Valley. None of them had. There wasnâ€™t even a building that might be used as a church, which also seemed strange. McCree noted the church was usually the first building built in any town.
They drove back to Oak Valley, noticing a schoolhouse with children about it, which seemed odd for a Saturday. All of the children were on the swings and other pieces of equipment outside, however, and they saw no sign of a teacher so guessed the children were simply playing there. One young boy stared at their automobile as they drove by.
The few townsfolk in town seemed nervous and worried, moving away from the automobile as McCree parked in front of the general store again. Johnson suggested they get some camping equipment. They found that the general store had such, including some two-man tents, a tarp with aluminum poles, and some cooking and camp supplies. It also had a few fishing rods and extra lines, hooks, bait, and even hand-tied fishing flies.
They purchased a single tent and some supplies to spend the night, as well as fishing poles, bait, and flies. Johnson also bought a little hatchet.
â€œExcuse me, Mr. Taylor,â€ Zippy said.
â€œYeah?â€ the old man replied.
â€œDo you happen to know where Lonnie was out in the woods? You said he had a little house out there.â€
â€œWhere he was found?â€
â€œNo, where he lived.â€
â€œOh, where he lived. It was north of town somewhere but I couldnâ€™t tell you where, exactly.â€
â€œDo you know anybody who would know? Or is it Abe again?â€
â€œProbably Abe Riker. They hunted together is what I heard. I guess Lonnie was hunting alone those nights he saw whatever it was he saw. But, you know, Lonnie was a drinker. He was a loner and a drinker so â€¦ most likely what he saw was pink elephants and â€¦ I donâ€™t even know what else you see when you drink.â€
â€œJackalopes?â€ Johnson said.
â€œIâ€™d like to bag one of those,â€ McCree said.
Taylor looked at the two men, obviously confused.
Johnson asked about Abe Riker and his son. Taylor told him his son Eugene lived with the man. When he asked, Taylor thought the boy was 11 or 12. McCree wondered if the young boy watching them at the schoolhouse might have been Eugene.
They returned to the motorcar, putting their camping equipment into the back seat.
â€œI donâ€™t know how invasive you want to get but â€¦ we could wait for his son to get home, to his house,â€ Johnson said. â€œWe might be able to get a little bit more out of him than his father.â€
â€œWhat, he sees three strange men walk up to his house, he just starts divulging all his information?â€ Zippy said.
â€œNo no no no. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m saying itâ€™s a little weird to do.â€
â€œIâ€™m not just saying itâ€™s weird, Iâ€™m saying I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s going to be particularly helpful.â€
â€œI say if we were going to do that, we should possibly do that at the school even,â€ McCree said.
â€œI think thatâ€™s a little bit more weird,â€ Johnson said.
Zippy was of the opinion they should talk to Riker the next day. The others agreed and he asked if they should try to find Lonnieâ€™s shack though admitted it was a pretty far shot. Johnson pointed out they could look for it as they had nothing better to do.
They headed north, finding woods that were close enough to the road for them to enter without trespassing. They looked, at random, for Lonnie Garberâ€™s shack, actually finding it north of town around dinnertime out of sheer luck. At least they thought it was his shack. The woods surrounding it was the same belt of trees that followed Smith Creek.
The tiny, two-room shack was on a narrow path from the road. Located only a few yards from the muddy bank of Smith Creek, the shack was nearly ready to fall in. Inside, the place was a shambles: torn clothing, a broken wooden chair and cot, pots, pans, hunting and fishing gear all scattered about. A few broken bottles that probably once held alcohol were in a corner. Someone had obviously and thoroughly searched the place.
They searched the sad little shack but didnâ€™t find anything of value or interest. The tiny, run-down outhouse proved as uninteresting.
Johnson suggested they not camp near the shack that night but rather go a little ways from the shack to the north in the woods and set up camp. They moved the car, taking it north to a rutted road that led into the woods. They set up a cold camp a little ways from Smith Creek. Zippy took the first watch, McCree took the second, and Johnson took the last.
The mosquitoes were terrible that close to the river and each of them spent an uncomfortable few hours on watch. The night otherwise passed uneventfully.
* * *