Authors: Christopher Alan Ott
Christopher Alan Ott
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2005 by Christopher Alan Ott
Library of Congress Registration Number:
All rights reserved. No portion of this book in any form can be reproduced without the author’s express permission.
Cover Art by: Mignon L. Wright
For Heather, the light at the beginning of the tunnel.
Table of Contents
Jack Darrow’s soul, (if he ever had one) left him a long time ago, fading into the twilight along with the innocence of his youth. And a soulless man is capable of anything, at least that’s what Jack has come to believe. For the soulless there is no hope, no future, no proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and it is in this eternal darkness where the unthinkable can become reality.
The night the light died for Jack Darrow he was drinking again. Thirteen months of sobriety wiped out in the blink of an eye with one long swallow. The whiskey burned his throat and watered his eyes but tasted like nectar to a thirsty hummingbird. Abbey had been nagging again, an incessant chirping that had tested the limits of his sanity for years now, boring holes into the sides of his skull. Until tonight he had simply ignored it, pushed it to the back edge of his brain with other discarded memories. Until tonight he had simply nodded and muttered a half-hearted agreeable sound whenever she started one of her seemingly endless tirades. Until tonight that is, because tonight he decided to kill her.
His weapon of choice would be simple, almost primitive, a blunt instrument heavy enough to fracture her skull yet slight enough not to draw too much blood. Blood was a pesky little nuisance. It was sticky and difficult to clean, working its way into the tiniest cracks and crevices invisible to the naked eye yet lighting up like the Las Vegas strip under a detective’s black light. And blood did not spill randomly, no not blood. Every drop, every splatter, every little smudge and smear told a story, and this was one story Jack Darrow did not want told.
He would strike quickly while she slept, a couple of quick blows should do it, just enough to make her brain hemorrhage, just enough to get it done. The sheets he would burn out back in the fire pit where he burned leaves every autumn, nothing out of the ordinary, not this time of year.
He would bury her in the hills behind Myers Creek, just off the wooded path they walked every day. It was mid October and the ground would soon be hardened with the first frost of the looming winter. In a small clearing where the shadows of the oaks and the pines blended together he would dig a shallow grave and leave her there to slowly rot among the trees she loved so dearly. There she would lie for eternity, or at least until the coyotes dug her up bit by bit bone by bone and scattered her in a hundred different directions.
They would come of course, the sleuths, mostly middle age white men with receding hairlines and rounded bellies adorned in suits and armed with warrants. They would come to test their knowledge acquired at the academy. They would come with their forensic science, their DNA tests, and a burning desire to set things right in their perverse world of so-called justice. They would collect fibers and lift prints; they would swab his mouth for skin cells and pluck hairs from his comb. They would interrogate and intimidate, and they would lie, claiming to know things that they could not possibly know. They would question him under the intense heat of their interrogation lamps denying him cigarettes and utilizing every technique in the book in an effort to break him, to make him crack, but he would not crack, he would not even bend. They would insist that he take a polygraph knowing full well that they could not force him to do so. He would take their tests willingly and he would pass for his conscience had deserted him long ago. They may even ask for a sample of his blood. Jack Darrow smiled at the irony.
No, there would be no DNA evidence, no blood, at least none from Abby. Blood was for amateurs, left behind in tribute to crimes committed out of lust, out of passion, out of rage and hatred. There would be no rage, no hatred, and any lust and passion that he may have once harbored for Abby had faded from his memory long ago. Her death was simply an event long over due, a deed in need of doing. And Jack Darrow was just the man to get it done.
We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Ye serpents, ye generations of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?
Cletus felt a change in the air. He felt it on his skin, felt it seeping into the porous surface of his aching old bones, chilling the marrow from the inside. It wasn’t a physical change, more of a feeling. The realization startled him. For as long as he could remember the air in Saltar’s Point had always felt the same, heavy and damp yes, but always the same.
Walter Hagstrom was the first to notice it. He and Cletus had sat outside of Bernie’s General Store, as they did most Thursday evenings, making idle chatter and smoking their pipes when something he said caught Cletus in a funny sort of way. “Darned if the crickets ain’t taken the entire summer off this year,” he’d said. And then he’d clacked his dentures against the top of his mouth as was his habit. This simple comment was all it took to send Cletus’s mind reeling.
It hadn’t been an abnormal summer. The sun had made its welcome appearance from a nine-month hiatus. The children, free of school, went running through sprinklers and had water balloon fights. And the people in Saltar’s Point laughed a little louder and were generally in good spirits. But there had been an odd undertone, a strange and unfamiliar feeling that Cletus hadn’t realized until just that very moment.
He strained his brain and tried to recall a single instance when he had heard the melodious little insect cutting notes in the evening air, but he couldn’t. Not a one. And it was more than that. He hadn’t seen bees buzzing from flower to flower, their back legs hanging low, loaded with dusty yellow pollen. He hadn’t scraped a single bird dropping from the porch all summer, something that last year was a daily chore. And the weather, day in and day out had been a constant 75 degrees with just the slightest hint of a breeze. It had all been too, well yes, perfect.
“You think we’ll get any more urban nickels?” Walter had said.
It was their code for tourist dollars. And Cletus had scratched his head, thought for a moment and replied. “Maybe a few I s’pose, but I think the best of it already past.”
“Been down a little bit this year.”
“Been down a bit for a few years now.”
Walter nodded and returned to smoking his pipe and that had been the extent of their conversation. In reality a lot of things had been down in Saltar’s Point in recent years. Cletus would be the first to admit that, but he liked to think of it as a sleepy little town, one that still had its brightest days ahead of it, but scratching at the inside of his stomach was the feeling that Saltar’s wasn’t sleepy, it was down right tired. It had become a town well past its prime with aging residents and a declining population.
The locals often joked, “round here whenever one girl gets pregnant two guys leave town,” which would almost be funny if it weren’t true. Nestled on the peninsula just across Puget Sound from Seattle Washington it was only a forty minute drive to the ferry and an hour-long boat ride to the big city, but it may as well have been two days. Not close enough to the mountains and too far from the ocean, the tourists never did really come. Oh sure there was always one or two meandering about incessantly snapping pictures. They hadn’t changed much over the years, same old khaki shorts, Polo shirts, and sandals with black socks. The cameras now were digital of course, the intrinsic beauty of film giving way to the conveniences of technology. So they snapped their pictures and ate their ice cream cones. They congregated around Bernie’s General Store and rubbed elbows with the locals, always commenting on how quaint and peaceful the town was and how everyone stopped to say hello even if they were in a hurry. And the locals didn’t mind either, always happy to take their money and make small talk. The smiles too were genuine. People here had a softness about them, not the hard exteriors you find among city folk. Still despite the smiles and the quiet demeanor there was a sadness about Saltar’s Point, a sadness that if you thought about it real hard you could almost put your finger on, almost but not quite. Like a black cloud hanging just overhead it was always there, a cloud you couldn’t see but could feel deep in the pit of your stomach.
Their conversation had been two days ago and Cletus found himself once again sitting on the old cedar bench outside of Bernie’s smoking his pipe and wrestling with the odd feelings that churned in his gut. It was the 21
of August, 1998. Cletus tested his eyes on the horizon and noticed a small dot kicking up dust and growing larger.
A brown Ford Econoline van with vinyl interior and three missing hubcaps rumbled down the dirt road that slowly wound its way into town, not one of those minivans the soccer-moms drove or the Volkswagens the hippies were so fond of, but a big brown gas guzzling monster of the mid eighties. It was the kind of van you could hear coming two miles away slurping down the diesel and making environmentalists cringe. Sitting behind the wheel was Jack Darrow, sipping a Budweiser and drumming his fingers against the steering wheel as he sang along with the AM radio. An acrid plume of diesel exhaust wafted behind, swirling momentarily in the light cool breeze before dissipating into the air, but the emissions that spewed from that V-8 engine were not the only pollution that came to town that day. Trailing just behind as if being towed was that sad black cloud.
Cletus looked up from the classifieds section of his two day old newspaper and watched as the Econoline chugged its way over the final hill and began the quarter mile descent into Saltar’s Point. He took a deep puff from his pipe and peered over the wire-rimmed glasses he needed only for reading. At eighty-four years of age his eyesight was still as keen as a hawk’s, at least from a distance. He wore overalls and a pair of brown leather boots so worn and faded that even the finest saddle soap couldn’t return them to a shadow of their former luster. Weatherworn skin stretched tight over his face radiated out in distinguishing features from the corner of his eyes. His wispy gray hair struggled to remain in place as the breeze threatened to reveal the true nature of his comb-over hairstyle. He took another puff and then with a distrusting look upon his face spat a ball of yellow mucus onto the cedar porch. Something smelled funny to Cletus Pritchard and it wasn’t just the smoke swirling from his pipe.
His father Bernard had come to Saltar’s Point more than three quarters of a century ago when Cletus was just a boy. He’d set up shop and opened Bernie’s General Store, the only store in town where you could get fresh canned peaches and a bar of handmade lilac soap. Cletus’s mother had died two years prior, the cancer eating away at her from the inside until she succumbed with quiet dignity to her own mortality.
Bernie’s hadn’t changed much over the years, Cletus had rebuilt the red cedar porch and the roof had been replaced twice, but it still looked much like it did if you were to peer at an old black and white photograph taken decades ago. Back then people came to Saltar’s Point to take advantage of the financial opportunities present in the booming logging town. But the logging industry had long since dried up and the people began to leave Saltar’s Point in droves. Now the only people that came to Saltar’s Point weren’t running towards something, they were running away from it, and Cletus was sure that the driver of the rustic brown van was no exception.
The Econoline came to an abrupt stop kicking up a whirling dervish of light brown dust, its engine pinging and clanging before silencing itself with one final sputter. The driver’s side door opened with a protesting groan and out stepped Jack Darrow amid the dust and the late morning light. It was then that Cletus J. Pritchard became the first resident of Saltar’s Point to lay eyes on the man behind the wheel of the ominous brown van, a man who would forever change the legacy of his small town.
Cletus guessed him to be in his mid fifties, with an expanding waistline and wrinkled features. In reality he was forty-three. The booze had taken its toll over the years, reddening his complexion and darkening his heart, but make no mistake about it, for good or bad there was still a lot of life left in Jack Darrow. The two men eyed each other a few moments longer. Darrow was the first to speak.
“Mornin’ yourself stranger. What can I do ya for?”
“I’m looking for Randall Jackson, you know abouts where I can find ‘im?”
Cletus measured his words carefully before speaking. “Ayuh, reckon I do. Somethin’ in particular he can help you with?”
“Now that’s my business isn’t it?” Darrow smiled smugly revealing a missing front tooth.
To a person with an air of ignorance about them it would have sounded like small conversational banter, but to a person with a more discernable ear such as Cletus his words spoke more bluntly: Don’t fuck with me. Jack Darrow had that air about him, cocky, dangerous, and most troubling downright menacing.
Cletus scratched his head. “Works out of his house, the big green one ‘bout a half mile down Main Street. Got a big sign out front, can’t miss it. You interested in the old Porter place?”
“That’s the rumor. Word travels fast around these parts I guess.”
For a second Cletus thought he caught a glimpse of a passenger sitting motionless in the van’s backseat, but then the light shifted and the tinted windows resumed their desired effect, reflecting the surrounding pines and morning sun.
“No rumor. The Porter place is the only one up for sale, probably the only one worth buyin’ too. I figured that’s why you’re here. ‘Less you got trouble.” Darrow gave a perplexed look. “Aside from sellin’ properties Randall’s also town sheriff.”
Darrow flashed the toothless smile once again. “Well then, I probably would have met him sooner or later anyway.”
Cletus had no doubt about that. Darrow extended his hand as he moved swiftly up the three cedar steps onto Bernie’s front porch. Cletus clasped it warily. The stranger’s grip was firm and sure and he looked right into Cletus’s eyes when he spoke, but his gaze was unfocused and distant almost as if he were looking through a stained-glass window. And more troubling yet was the fact that Darrow’s eyes were gray. Lots of people claim to have gray eyes but they don’t, not really, maybe real pale blue or a dingy hazel but not gray. But shoot and shinola Darrow’s were. A God-fearing man could place one hand on the bible, look you right in the face and tell you: “Yup, they’re gray alright. Dusty granite gray.”
“Name’s Jack Darrow.” When he spoke a slight lisp made the stranger drawl out his esses. A rattlesnake about to strike.
“You know where a man can find himself a good single malt in this town Cletus? All mornin’ on the road and a man can work up quite a thirst.”
“I run the only watering hole in this town, just around back.”
“In that case,” Darrow hissed, “I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”
Of that too Cletus had no doubt.
“Well then, I’m going to call on this Randall character and after a bit I may make my way down here and take you up on that Whiskey. You get it ready for me now.”
Cletus gave the stranger a conciliatory nod.
With that the man who called himself Jack Darrow turned and retraced his steps to the van. Climbing inside he turned the ignition and the big V-8 roared to life, a quick press on the accelerator and the Econoline disappeared in a cloud of dust. Cletus returned to his classifieds shaking his head slightly. Trouble, he thought to himself, nothing but trouble.
“Shit! God Damn it!” Randall Jackson dabbed wildly at his lap with the worn cloth handkerchief he kept safely concealed in his back pocket. The coffee that had only moments before burned his tongue was now scalding his crotch. For a second he saw Cheryl’s face poking around the frame of his office door, mock concern etching her face.
“Randall, you’ve always been such a klutz.”
She laughed playfully and then she was gone, her image wavering briefly before winking out for good. He cursed himself silently for stirring up old memories. Cheryl had left, and she wasn’t coming back. Randall stood up and watched helplessly as coffee dripped from his white Dockers and splattered on the leather of his office chair before pooling into a small brown puddle.
Normally he wore his sheriff uniform but today was Sunday, the one day his badge took a back seat to his realtor’s license. Cheryl had encouraged him to get into real estate, always wanting for a little more than his modest sheriff salary could afford. She wasn’t greedy, far from it; she just couldn’t stop dreaming of a better life, a life without credit card debt and the constant worry over whether or not there was enough money left for groceries after the monthly bills had been paid. It was a life Randall never could give her and deep in his heart he didn’t blame her for leaving. He chuckled to himself in spite of the painful memory, Cheryl certainly wasn’t missing much.
These days houses were selling like candy corn the day after Halloween. The once a week breaks were good for him though he supposed, not that sheriff of a town like Saltar’s Point was a stressful endeavor, about the only crimes that occurred around here were the occasional DUI or the local high school kids letting off a little steam with a game of mailbox baseball. Still, it was nice to get out of the station once in a while. He didn’t worry about leaving his post anymore, confident that Denny could handle his deputy duties, and if anything ever came up he had his radio nearby. Life in Saltar’s Point had become routine, almost too routine, and in the back of his mind Randall Jackson couldn’t help but wish for a little excitement. He had no idea how exciting his life was about to become.