by J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 22 – A Massacre in the Woods
Del Fuller and Wade Craig found the location of the bodies by using satellite tracking on the receivers carried by the three SWAT members. A larger SWAT team had gone before them to make sure the coast was clear and now ranged in teams of four through the forest looking for the killer. A forensic team followed Del and Wade, moving slower due to the equipment they carried. Tom Eastman’s trail had led Henry and his dogs, along with the first SWAT team, up the slope of the hill to the southwest to a deeper area of forest behind the turn-about at the end of Silent Glade Drive. A small hillock rose from the forest at the top of which a large grassy area cleared of trees and shrubs was littered with several small, irregularly-shaped boulders covered in bright green moss. A small stone table had been constructed out of a slab of rock on the north end of the clearing. And there in that idyllic place for a family picnic or maybe a lover’s tryst, the men found the remains of Officers Green, Miller and Kelner, as well as Henry Mitchel, and Henry’s dog, Billie. The fight did not appear to have taken long. In fact, it could not really be called a fight at all; this had been a massacre.
“What in the living hell happened here?” Wade said. The shock of the scene forced his voice into a whisper as if the carnage were a weight that pulled at his words. “How can one man do this?”
“I wish I had an answer to that,” Dell said as he studied the scene.
The movies made a massacre committed by one man look easy. Stallone or Norris could walk into a combat zone with an assault rifle and take out whole platoons. That does not happen in real life. One-man armies are not common, because one extremely powerful man can still be killed with one bullet in the right place. In this situation, three military trained SWAT team members had been killed by an auto mechanic, but even that incongruity was not the strangest thing about the scene before him. The men had not been shot or even blown apart by a bomb – although the state of their remains could easily have been blamed on a bomb. These men had been broken as if they were toys for which some bratty kid had tired of playing.
Green’s head had been torn off and tossed across the clearing where it had somehow landed – or been placed – upright on top of one of the small moss-covered rocks and now faced the rest of the carnage with dead eyes staring above a gaping ‘O’ of a mouth as if the scene before him had shocked him into a gasp.
Kelner appeared to have been drawn and quartered. His arms and legs had not been cut off, but had been torn from their sockets and thrown some distance from the torso. The torso had been left propped against a small tree which leaned against the dead-weight now pushing it down. Del wondered what kind of strength it took to pull off a man’s legs.
Brown’s body was furthest from the others. Del guessed this to mean Brown had been trying to flank this position and had come to the crest of the hill from another angle. It was a good idea. The shells on the ground all around his body showed he fired a lot of rounds and he had not been likely to miss, but it had not mattered. Brown’s body was sliced to ribbons; shredded like he had gone through a wood chipper that was not fully closed, but he had only been chewed up on the outside and none of the cuts were very deep. He had been left propped against a large boulder to bleed out in a nightmare form of the Death of a Thousand Cuts.
Del walked away from the gore and stared off into the distance. Trees blotted everything in all directions. Even though civilization was not more than a quarter of a mile away, he felt isolated as if he were in the deep woods of the Smoky Mountains, where no one would hear him scream should a bear wander into view, hungry and hunting.
God, it would make more sense if there were bears around, he thought. Tom could not have done this, not in so short a time. But then, what did that leave? He sighed and rubbed his forehead and turned back to his examination.
Henry and Billie lay next to each other. From the state of the corpses, it appeared Billie had killed Henry. His throat had been ripped out by what looked like a vicious dog bite. Billie seemed the most likely candidate because she still had ribbons of Henry’s flesh and shirt hanging from her mouth. Why had Billie attacked Henry? Then there was the state of Billie, her body was also covered in bite marks made by a dog. She obviously did not bite herself, so that left Sandy. Wade had told him earlier that he and Nina had seen Sandy running out of the neighborhood with a blood covered snout. Del could see torn-up dirt and grass and weeds around Henry’s body. The dogs had viciously fought based on the droplets of blood covering the area, but why? If Billie had attacked Henry, would Sandy have tried to save him? That seemed most likely based on the evidence. Del kneeled down next to the dead bloodhound to get a closer look. Billie had been shot at least three times. The bites had not killed her; bullets had. Del stood up and looked at the whole scene again, beginning to get a picture in his mind of how things had likely gone down.
The dogs and Henry had come into the clearing first. Green and Kelner had come in at the same time but spaced out about fifteen feet to either side of the trail behind Henry. Brown had topped the rise to the west a minute or two behind the others in an attempt to flank. Del could picture that much in his mind. As the men followed the barking dogs into the clearing, what happened next? Nothing made sense. Henry and his dogs had crossed the clearing ahead of the SWAT, but why? Del had yet to see any tracks that could have been made by Tom. The ground here was rocky though, maybe forensics would find something. Then for some reason that Del could not fathom, Billie the bloodhound attacked Henry her handler and killed him with one bite which tore out his throat. Billie had then been attacked by Sandy. Someone shot at the fighting dogs and killed Billie. This must have been when Sandy ran from the scene. Green and Kelner had been killed next, but Del had no idea how or in what order. Finally, Brown had met his strange end. At some point in that scene, the helicopter arrived and was attacked, subsequently crashing, and killing all onboard. How in God’s name had Tom taken out a helicopter? Del scratched his head and squeezed his temples between a thumb and middle finger. What did it all mean? He could not put it together.
A hand touched Del’s shoulder. He spun around and stepped back, startling easy amidst all the gore, but then relaxed. It was only Wade.
“They’re here,” he said, pointing to the trail-head where several people were stepping into the clearing.
Forensics had arrived. Del took a deep breath and forced his mind to relax. He would not figure this out right now. He needed more data. Let the forensics team do their thing and then assess. Hopefully by that time, someone will have apprehended Tom Eastman and he could get all the answers he needed.
Del explained his findings to the team to orient them. When forensics moved on to their specific tasks, he wandered over to the stone table to get a better look. The ground grew softer as he approached. He spied something that he had not noticed a moment before. Strange holes had been pressed into the ground as if a pole with a strangely shaped end had been pushed several inches into the moss and loam.
“Now this is interesting,” Del whispered to himself. “Whoever blinded Beverly Hernandez also committed this massacre.” A cold chill ran down Del’s spine and for the first time in his long career, he began to question what he perceived as reality. There were things about this case that he could not logically answer. Things for which normal forensic science and the standard case files could not explain. He began to wonder if maybe he was looking in the wrong place – or the wrong way. But if the normal methods did not work, what was next? And where was he to begin?
“Mike, Mike, Mike!” Tom Eastman said, mocking a famous commercial. He rapped the unconscious Mike Blanchart in the forehead with his knuckles to emphasize each word.
Mike moaned. Tom’s initial blow had come so quick that he had no time to fully grasp what happened to him. A cop pushed him in the house, mumbling something, then pain, he was falling, he cracked his head against the stairs or maybe the end table, and then unconsciousness. How long had he been out? Was somebody knocking on the door? He tried to lift his arms, to open his eyes, but he felt so weak. How could he be so weak?
Tom Eastman chuckled as Mike struggled to wake up. “Damn Mary Sue, this one might a done my work for me.” He chuckled again and said, “Mike, Mike, Mike! What day is it, Mike?” His knuckles left red marks on Mike’s forehead with each utterance of ‘Mike’.
Mike coughed once then fell limp.
“Mike, Mike, Mike! Do you know what day it is?” Tom rapped Mike’s head again. This time there was no response save for a bloody bubble which formed on Mike’s mouth as he exhaled. It popped, spraying Tom’s arm with tiny droplets of blood and spit. “Ugh,” he said, wiping his knuckles and arm against the police uniform he wore. “I guess not. What a boring piece of shit you turned out to be.”
He stood and kicked Mike with the toe of his boot in the side. Nothing, no movement. He shrugged. Killing was thirsty work.
“What kind of beer does a man who lives with Kathy Blanchart like, Mike?” He asked as he stepped over Mike’s body and moved deeper into the house. “I’m guessing a lot of beer.” Tom snickered at his own joke and slipped into the kitchen to see.
Mike Blanchart lay in a growing pool of blood. When Tom had pushed Mike back into the house, he kicked the door closed with his foot and then punched Mike with a right cross to the jaw. It had landed with a sickening crunch. Mike’s eyes rolled up into his head and he toppled backwards. The blow had been a good one, worthy of a professional boxer. And although it had been more luck than fighting prowess, the punch K.O.’ed Mike just as successfully. Mike had fallen with all the grace of a tree and cracked his skull against the corner of the bottom step of the staircase which led up to the second floor. The corner of the step tore a four-inch hole in his scalp which bled as profusely as any major head wound and cracked a vertebra in his neck. The trauma to his head and spine was great, but he was not dead, not yet.
“What do you mean we have a killer on the loose?” Demanded Gerald Lapin. He held Dustin Lapin in his arms, whose pouting mouth and moist cheeks spoke of a recent crying episode. “How long ‘ve you known? Don’t you think you should’ve warned the neighbors weeks ago?”
“Yes sir. We did, sir,” Nina replied, trying to keep her tone even. They had a lot of ground to cover today, and Mr. Lapin’s hostility was not helping.
“Well I didn’t hear about it. I would’ve let that Eastman asshole in had he come to my door. And even if I hadn’t, you tell me he had a key? Jesus Christ, lady, wouldn’t you be mad? I got a house full of kids here, you know!” Gerald’s expression changed at those words. He wasn’t sure all the kids were inside. “Holy crap, hang on a second.”
Gerald closed the storm door but left the inside door open. He called out, “Debra!”
“Yes, Dad, what is it? Are you ok?” Debra called back from the kitchen. The sixteen-year-old stepped into view wiping her hands.
“Find everyone that’s home. Make sure they are in the house and lock all the doors.”
Debra’s expression changed to one of fearful concern and she said, “What’s going on?”
“Don’t ask questions; just do as I say. Get them all in the living room and we’ll have a family meeting in ten minutes. Hey, and take Little D so I can finish up with the police here.”
“The police?” She asked.
“Just do what I say. I’ll tell you all about it shortly.” Gerald motioned his oldest daughter away and turned back to the officers on his porch.
“If something happens to one of my kids… I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something.” He wasn’t even making sense to himself. God, he wished Jennifer and Dee were back from the hospital. Jennifer made him braver somehow. At least those two were safe though; at least there was that.
“I understand you’re frustrated, Mr. Lapin. I assure you that—” Nina started to say.
“You assure nothing. That’s why you’re warning us, because you can’t protect us. I don’t know what’s going on, but this neighborhood is going to Hell in a handbasket. Just this morning, I saw some crazy woman in my backyard and now there is a serial killer on the loose. Jesus, I just… I don’t even own a gun.”
“A crazy woman in your backyard? Did you report it?”
“Well I was going to but I got distracted by the fiasco at the end of the street. And there’s been a murder already? Jesus wept.”
“Do you feel you were in danger from this woman?”
“I’m not sure to be honest. I just saw her watching my kids and it creeped me out. I tried to go talk to her but lost her in the woods.”
“What time was this?” Nina asked.
“Early, maybe 7, I’m not sure.” Gerald said.
“This is Officer Wagner. Be advised, there is possibly an old woman wandering around the woods. She was spotted going north into the woods from the house at 012 at around o’-seven-hundred this morning. Identity unknown. Possible dementia as she appeared unresponsive. Careful with those trigger fingers.”
Gerald had almost forgotten Officer Wagner. He had come onto the porch with Detective Houle, but was so eclipsed by Nina’s immensity that he almost faded to invisibility. Gerald felt chastised. He had not considered the possibility the woman had some sort of mental health issue. He felt stupid which for some reason only added to his frustration and anger. He said, “Look I need to go take care of my kids and you obviously have a lot to do. Thanks for the warning, even if it was most likely too late to worth anything. I’ll call you if we see anything. And by the way, your superiors will hear of your negligence. I can promise you that.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir,” Nina said as Gerald closed the door in her face.
“Yikes, that could have gone better.” Officer Ronald Wagner said. “Did you guys really forget to come to this house?”
“I would have said ‘we absolutely came to this house and warned them almost a week ago’ just this morning, but now, I don’t know. I don’t have a clear memory of coming to this house. I’ll have to talk with Del about it.”
They walked in silence to the next house, happy to see a clear trail through the trees that meant they would not have to walk down the driveway and back up the next. Nina wondered how people even mowed these steep yards. Nina and Ronald kept a careful vigil on the trees as they moved between houses, watching for any movement. Tom Eastman was still out there somewhere. She could feel it in her bones. He had not run this time.
The door at 010 opened before Nina could knock. Oscar Jackson had not shaved in several days and his white scruff made him look even older than his years. Just before Nina arrived, he had been reading at his kitchen table, trying to find that elusive answer to the question plaguing him. What was going on in the neighborhood of Silent Glade? He felt close but could not yet put words to what was coming to him. He had been at it too long and his head felt like a vice squeezed him at the temples so he had gotten up to get a glass of water at the kitchen sink. He saw Nina and Ronald stepping out of the trees between the Lapin’s and his properties, so he had met them at the door.
“How do, Officer? Ma’am.” He nodded to both, but he addressed Nina. “I was wondering when you would stop by here. I see you have a different partner today. How can I help you?”
Oscar was the tallest man in the neighborhood by several inches but he was still shy of Nina’s height by about four inches. He did not appear intimidated. Instead, he smiled warmly and indicated the bench next to the window or the chairs next to the small table on his porch.
“Thank you, but no. We don’t have a lot of time. We’re here to deliver an urgent warning about an immediate threat.” Nina looked passed Oscar into his living room and saw stacks of magazines, computer parts, books, clothing, and many other items she could not identify from that distance. She had seen hoarders before and wondered what had brought this kind man to the hoarding lifestyle. “I’m Detective Nina Houle and this is Officer Wagner. Earlier today a man murdered a police officer at one of your neighbor’s houses. We have reason to believe this man is Tom Eastman who lives across the street at 011. This man escaped custody into the woods and is still at large. We believe he is wearing a police uniform stolen from the officer he murdered. Please stay vigilant and keep your doors locked. Did you change your locks since last we spoke?”
“I’m sorry. You must have me confused with someone else. We’ve never spoken, although I assumed we should’ve and was wondering what was taking you so long. Do you think Tom attacked Beverly too? That’s what started all this correct?”
“Yes. We became involved when Beverly Hernandez was assaulted in the forest. But excuse me for just a second, are you saying neither Detective Fuller nor myself ever came to your house to warn you that Mr. Eastman appeared to have a key to every house in Silent Glade?”
“No Ma’am. I of course noticed you when you arrived. One doesn’t see such —”
“A tall woman,” Nina finished for him with a sigh.
“I was going to say statuesque or perhaps stunning, but tall will do,” Oscar said with a wink.
Ronald coughed into his palm and looked away, uncomfortable with Oscar’s forward nature. One did not say such things to a detective on duty.
Nina smiled at Oscar’s flattery though and recognized the flirting for the harmless attentions of a lonely old man and a couple of generations of ethnic and cultural norms. Besides, even though Oscar was ten or fifteen years her senior, he wasn’t a bad looking man and it was always nice to be found attractive. This was not the time for such things though, so she said, “You’re too kind, but I remember coming here. I….” A look of confusion crossed Nina’s features, because now that she put her mind to it, she could not remember coming here. In fact, she would swear this was the first time she and Mr. Jackson had ever met.
Oscar nodded his head slowly as the dawning realization that Nina had experienced something she could not explain while in Silent Glade came over him. This lady detective felt a wrongness here. That confusion on her face told a fantastic story; he just knew it, but he would not figure it out without her cooperation. She believed she had already met him. Why would she believe that? Unless… whatever was going on here had tried to protect itself from her and her partner. What did that even mean? What needed protecting? Was that why he could not figure this out? And why he found thinking about it painful in some indescribable way? He had to convince this lady to come back so they could talk at length, but how?
He said, “Detective, sometimes things like that happen to old folks like me, but you are far too young for such forgetfulness.”
“I’m older than you think.” Nina said.
“Doubtful, I would say you can’t be a day over forty-two.”
Ronald rolled his eyes and moved to the end of the porch so he could watch the forest. He was twenty-seven years old and did not want to listen to two people old enough to be his parents flirt.
Oscar leaned closer when Ronald moved away. “There’s something about this neighborhood, Detective Houle. I don’t know what it is, but something feels off. Do you feel it? Do you know what I’m saying?”
A shiver ran up her spine. What did this man know? Was she ready for this conversation? She did not think so, not yet. “I think I know what you mean. If I had to guess, I would say it was Mr. Eastman. Murder always puts a community on edge.”
Oscar looked at her hard for a moment, then softened, “I guess so, detective, I guess so. Who was it that said, ‘All things being equal the simplest answer is most often correct?’”
“I believe that was Occam, a philosopher from the 1200s.”
“I believe you’re correct. Good luck detective. If you run out of simple answers and want to bat around some crazy, come on back, and maybe bring that partner of yours too, or not.” Oscar winked and smiled.
The old flirt, Nina thought, but she said, “I’ll keep that in mind. Is there a trail between your house and um….” Nina looked at her pad to find the name of his neighbor.
Before she could speak, Oscar answered for her. “The Blanchart’s, and yes, if you go straight off the edge of the porch and about ten paces down the hill, you can cut through. Be safe out there, detective. I think we may need to chat again before this is all done. Don’t you?”
“You never know, Mr. Jackson.” Nina said with a smile, “You ready, Officer Wagner?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ronald said emphatically.
“Lock your doors, Mr. Jackson and be vigilant. We will inform you when the all clear is called.”
“You got it, and thank you for the warning.”
“Mrs. Blanchart, I’m not going to ask you again. You cannot stay here. It’s not safe. There’s a killer on the loose. You must go home or I’ll have to haul you in for your own safety,” Officer McDaniel said. This woman was going to be the end of his job if he was not careful. He wanted to smack the hell out of her.
“Okay, okay, jeese louise! You would think I was the killer.”
Officer McDaniel’s eyes turned to slits. His demeanor shifted from friendly officer trying to help to the face a perp sees who has become a threat. “Are you? It’s the perfect disguise.” He grabbed her roughly by the arm as if he thought she would run off, careful not to actually hurt her.
Kathy jerked her arm out of his grasp. Her eyes grew wide. Did this stupid cop actually think she was the killer? Her? Kathy Blanchart? “Well I never,” she huffed, waiting for him to apologize.
The apology never came.
“You wait right there. I’ll have one of the team come over and ask you some questions. You’re going to wish you went home when I’m through with you.”
“I’m sorry,” Kathy blurted. “You know I’m not the killer. I’ll just go on home. Okay.”
“I don’t know anything at this point. I think that’s what a killer would say is what I think. All I know is that one of my friends and a couple of your neighbors have been killed, and we haven’t found the killer. And what do you know; here you are confessing to the murder.”
“I didn’t confess. I didn’t say anything. I’m not your stupid killer. If I go home, will you shoot me?” Kathy asked. She suddenly needed to pee. Please God don’t let them arrest me. I would never hear the end of it.
“I’ll come looking for you when this is all over, especially if we don’t catch anyone. Don’t you even think about leaving town or going anywhere but home. Do you understand me?” Officer McDaniel glared at her until she muttered a meek “Yes sir” and hurried away up the hill. He turned around and walked the other way just as quickly. If she had seen the mirth that appeared on his face when she left, she would have known right away that he had been pulling her leg. Good lord, if he had known that all she needed was a threat, he would have sent her packing long ago. The fact that he might be sending her into harm’s way never crossed his mind.
Tom Eastman watched Kathy walk up the hill toward her home from behind blinds tilted to avoid anyone being able to see in.
“Well hell yes,” he said aloud. “I’ve been wanting to kill this bitch for as long as I’ve known her. I’m going to enjoy this. Oh yes, you can take that to the bank.”
Behind Tom and just out of sight of his peripheral vision, Mike Blanchart sat up. His shirt made a soft Velcro like rip as it pulled free from the coagulating blood on the floor. His head hurt bad, worse than he had ever felt before. A sharp pain in his neck attempted to eclipse the pain in his head, but only added to the misery. He could barely hold his head upright. A man in a police uniform stood in his living room looking across the lawn. Why was there a police officer in his living room? Should he know something about that? It felt like his horizontal hold was off and the world seemed to be slipping to the side. His tongue felt like sandpaper on the roof of his mouth. God, he was as thirsty as he had ever been. Without another thought or a single spoken word, Mike stood and turned toward the kitchen to fetch himself a glass of water.