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|He stepped through the doorway into pure darkness.||
July 1, 1969
The boys’ father turned back to face his children. Next to the cement slab his two boys were sitting upon, he spied the door of the shack swinging open in the wind. He noticed drag marks in the dirt and weeds that were bent towards him, leading from the doorway to the dead child at his feet. Along the pathway were bits of flesh and torn clothing that had been strewn about by the coyote, as it shook meat loose from the dead child.
He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, smacking the pack repeatedly against his left palm. Extracting a single cigarette, he placed the butt end in between his lips and lit a match cupping the flame from the wind. He brought the flame to the end of cigarette and sucked the fire till the end glowed red. Smoke shot from his nose, which was quickly dashed off by the wind into the woods. The cigarette helped conceal the odor of the rotted carcass and the actions helped him change focus for a moment while he gathered his thoughts.
He looked up and a raindrop stung his eye. The sky was turning dark. He took another drag off his cigarette and walked to the shed, careful not to step on any of the body parts strewn about the area. Grasping the door, he stepped up into the building, grabbed his shirt and covered his nose. The smell was overpowering.
The spaces between the slats let in a trickle of light that allowed him to see contours of the interior of the shack. He no longer felt the sprinkle of rain on his face, and the wind was subdued in the structure, only whistling through the cracks as it past through the building. He again reached into his shirt pocket and grabbed the matches out of his cigarette pack tearing one free from the rest. He lit the match, and it immediately went out in the breeze. For a fleeting moment he saw, in the corner, a trap door in the floor with its lid open.
Stepping lightly in the dark, he crossed the creaking floor and knelt down. He grasped the lid, and looked into the darkness of the hole through the floor.
"Dad?" Robby asked from the doorway.
Startled, the father turned his head to the boy and yelled, "Go back and sit with your brother!"
"I want to leave!" the boy cried.
"Did you hear me boy!" the father barked back. "We’ll go when I say it’s time to go. Now go back and sit with your brother!"
The boy hung his head low and sulked off back to the concrete slab. With the matches still in his hand, he struck up another flame, illuminating the hole, showing a set of steps heading down to a lower level. He sat on the floor and hung his feet down reaching the second step, putting on weight to see if it was in condition to support him. Standing erect, he felt it was safe and took a step down, then another until his head was even with the floor. He placed his hands on the edge of the hole and continued down four more steps till he felt his foot step onto a dirt floor.
Again, a match was lit with a dim yellow dancing flame. Down under the floorboards, the burning match was like the sun. He was able to see clearly with the small flame, the stonework foundation surrounding him, and he was taken aback by its condition. The basement was in much better shape than the building led him to believe. It was also much larger than he suspected from above.
The room was six sided, stone wall construction with a single door centered on each wall. All of the doors were closed with the exception of one to his far-left swung wide open. The doors seemed oddly out of place, as if they were new additions to the structure. The cellar did not show the wear of the years, like the building above had. The match went out. Another took its place, and he walked to the open door noticing right away that there was a padlock dangling from the door left in the open position. The lock looked brand new.
He stepped through the doorway into pure darkness. By now the odor was second nature to him, and he no longer felt nauseous. Another match was lit, illuminating the interior space revealing a long hallway receding far enough back that the match light was unable to penetrate. It reminded him of a mausoleum. He noticed along the sides of the hall, rows and rows of hinged doors, five high, spaced evenly down the length of the underground passage.
The doors were all closed and locked shut with a padlock hanging next to the door pull. The hinges were galvanized steel, gate style, and looked the same age as the other new hardware. The doors were unpainted cedar of simple construction, with a symbol carved in the center, which was unrecognizable to the man holding the match.
He leaned in close to examine the writing and burned his finger. He dropped the match to the floor leaving him standing in the dark digging in his pocket for his matchbook. He was down to his last three and struck up another match, then walked further into the chamber, examining more of the doors as he went. The deeper he moved the cooler the air became, unusually dry for a cellar he thought, and he moved slowly further into the dark passageway.
The hall seemed to go on and on as he walked deeper and deeper. He looked to the ceiling surprised to see the wood beam supports free of spider webs and rot that he would expect in such a place. He finally stopped in his tracks. Thirty feet into the long hallway, he came across one of the doors on the bottom row, seemingly torn open and hanging from its hinges. Teeth marks were visible in the wood and splinters were strewn all around the door. Mixed into the debris was the rest of the body from the little girl in the woods.
Shivers ran down his spine now that he realized he was standing in some sort of graveyard. "How many bodies were stored down here?" he thought, while lighting one more match. "How come I have never heard of this place?" It was time to go. He had only been a resident in this town for four years and was not totally familiar with the local customs and traditions. He knew of the city cemetery, but it was entirely possible that this was a private one. Anyway he now felt he was trespassing on the dead and needed to get out.
From the main room, he heard the creaking of footsteps on the staircase. He turned to see a light bouncing about the entrance getting brighter and then dimmer. The light brightened again then dimmed through the doorway in the larger main room.
"Damn kids!" he said aloud and walked back up the hallway to the main room where he was greeted with a bright flashlight beam in the eyes. Squinting in the glare, he raised his hand to block the light and yelled, "Get that damn thing out of my face!"
The beam lowered down enough for him to see there were more than two people standing before him, and he put down his hand. The beam of light moved to the right illuminating his two sons standing together at gunpoint.
"What the hell is going on here?" he exclaimed.
They boys were silent. His eyes began to adjust back to the dark and he could now see a man standing before him wearing camouflage coveralls and a cap. In his hands he was holding a deer rifle. He scrambled for something to say.
"Hey I’m sorry mister, that’s my gun outside but I wasn’t hunting on your land. I don’t hunt out-of-season. That’s not my style."
The man was silent. Only the breathing of the boys penetrated the air.
"What’s your name?" the man asked.
"Johnson. Dennis Johnson," he replied.
"Does anyone else know you are here?"
"No. My wife is at work and my daughter is at home." For a second he hesitated. He knew he should have lied. .
"You live in the trailer park. Don’t you?"
"Yeah, Do I know you?" he asked.
"I don’t know. Do you?" the stranger chuckled, and his companion joined in.
For a moment the Dennis felt better, thinking the situation was more relaxed, more in control.
"Get back in there," the stranger said. He was soft-spoken in his tone, but pointing the rifle back down the hallway letting him know who was in control.
"What?" Dennis replied, curling his brow.
"Turn around and march your behind back in there."
He looked to his sons for a second, then backed into the hall. He kept his face pointing at the man with the gun.
"You too!" the stranger barked at the boys, and the other man gave them a shove. The two boys followed their father into the hallway and the two-armed men stood in the doorway blocking their escape.
"What do you want with us?" the father asked.
"Nothing," he replied. "What are you doing in here?" the stranger asked bringing his rifle to eye level. The captives flushed with heat and fear.
Dennis swallowed hard and tried to think of something to say. "I just saw the shed…and…"
Dennis scratched the back of his neck and looked around at the ground. "Hey, we didn’t mean anything."
"You just like to trespass?" the stranger said
With a squeeze of the trigger, the rifle muzzle lit the room, flashing with a loud bang. The father fell to the ground clutching his neck. Before the boys could move the second man fired four shots from his twelve gauge shotgun, spraying the boys with lead shot, tearing into them, ending their short lives. The man with the rifle handed his weapon to the other man and stepped forward pulling a pistol from his belt. Chambering a round he aimed it at the man on the ground and fired a single shot into his head. A flash and a bang ended his life. "Someone is going to pay for this," the first man said. "Who ever left this place open is gonna get it bad. Real bad."
"Seth isn’t going to like this," the second man said.
"Seth will never know."
Anne Johnson was on the phone when she heard a loud knock at the door. She excused herself from the call and answered the front door of the doublewide trailer. Standing on the landing, draped in plastic rainwear, was the sheriff and a deputy. They stood back lit from the street lamp in the driveway.
By this time the thunderstorm was in full force, the rain sizzling on the ground like bacon in a frying pan and lightning flashing across the sky. Seeing the two officers at this time of night surprised the girl. She was home alone, her mother not back from searching for her father and brothers, missing since before suppertime. Her worries now turned to anxiety as she tried to make out the features of the men in shadow.
"Hi, I’m Sheriff Lester Spade and this is my deputy Leroy Barnes," the taller man stated to the girl. Rain pelted him from above. "Is your mother home?" he asked silhouetted in the darkness.
"No," she replied, "My mom and grandma are out looking for my dad and two brothers."
The sheriff turned to his deputy for a moment and then back to the girl saying, "We need to get a hold of her as soon as possible."
"Is this about my dad and brothers? Are they ok?" she asked.
"Yes it is, it is important we get a hold of her. There has been an accident."
She opened her eyes wide and swallowed hard. "Are they alright?" she asked.
The sheriff hesitated, then said; "Your brother was hurt this afternoon in a two car collision. He has been taken to Topeka. Your father and other brother are at the hospital here in town. I have come to offer your mother a ride to Topeka."
Her body relaxed and the tension released its grip on her allowing her to sigh in relief.
"Thank God no one died!" she said smiling back.
"Maybe we can find her at your grandmothers," the officer said, "Can you tell us where she lives?"
"I can call her if you wait a second," she replied, heading back into the living room.
"No, it would save time if we just drove over there. I can take all of you to Topeka at the same time. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?" he asked the girl.
The question struck her odd. She hesitated then answered, "Yeah, sure."
"You grab a coat and we will wait for you in the car," the officer said and the two men turned and walked back into the rain, down the steps to the car idling in the driveway. The men opened the doors and got inside watching all a while through the swishing wiper blades. Minutes later the front door opened and the girl came out turning to lock the door. She ducked her head trying to dodge the rain quickly jumping inside the patrol car in the back seat.
"Ever been in a patrol car before?" the sheriff asked her, looking through the rear view mirror, backing out of the driveway.
"No," she answered nervously. She shivered in the cold looking out the window as they traversed the narrow streets of the trailer park.
The interior of the car was dark. Voices cracked and sputtered from the car radio, and red dots of light zipped back and forth on the scanner mounted under the dash.
"What’s the address?" he asked her, picking up the radio microphone.
"825 west 25th street," she replied.
The officer depressed his microphone button and stated to the dispatcher " Denton, twenty-six in escort, white female, Anne Johnson to 825 west 25th street." The phrase ended with a squawk from the radio.
"10-4 on escort, Denton out," the dispatcher replied.
She sat back and watched the houses pass by. Watching the raindrops fall through the bright lights, she wandered off in a trance as the water past through the street lamps above. Thunder crashed from behind, then again, over and over. She felt uneasy sitting in the back seat of the patrol car feeling like a criminal herself, staring at the back of the two officer’s heads. Their uniforms made her feel secure and nervous at the same time.
The car came to an intersection and dipped in the rut. The car raised, and dipped again as they past through over the bumpy brick streets. The bright lights of downtown were distorted through the rain speckled side window as she was peering through.
Minutes past and they finally reached their destination. Her mother’s car was parked in front of her grandmother’s and lights were on in front of the house.
"Stay here, we’ll be right back," the sheriff said to the girl and they exited the vehicle, walking up the steps to the house. The interior of the car was slowly getting brighter as a car pulled up pulled up from behind. The car turned off its lights and the patrol car was once again dark inside.
From the other direction she watched as a pickup truck, and a van pulled up to the curb across the street and park. This struck her as odd considering the time of night and the fact she knew most of her grandmother’s neighbors. These vehicles did not seem familiar to her.
Looking back out her side window, through the rain smeared glass she saw her mother and grandmother hurrying as fast as they could to the patrol car, with umbrellas held above them for protection. Close behind, followed the two lawmen, which were herding the two women like shepherds. The rear door opened and Anne scooted over allowing the other two women to enter the car.
"It is sure nice of you to offer us a ride," the grandmother said.
"No problem ma’am, that’s what your tax dollars pay for," he said with a chuckle. He put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb driving down the rain covered brick streets.
"What happened?" the mother asked, worried and shivering in the cold. "Was anyone in the other car hurt?" she asked.
"No, the other party was not injured," he replied. "Just a few bumps and bruises."
"Who was it?" she asked.
The officer hesitated and looked to his deputy. "They were from out-of-town," he responded nervously.
"You don’t know their names?"
"We’re not able to release that information."
"Even if no one died?"
"That’s correct, plus the state troopers are handling this. I am not at liberty to discuss the details right now."
"I can ask them when we see them if I can release the information."
"Thank you officer."
The car turned and headed down Main Street towards the city hospital.
Back at the grandmothers’ house, a man was directing the van, helping it back up to the side door. A group of people had already entered the house and began gathering up the household items and possessions. It was imperative they remove all traces of its former occupants before dawn. They had to be erased.
Mrs. Johnson sat between her mother and daughter Anne in the back seat. It was a tight and uncomfortable fit for the three of them, bumpy at times, claustrophobic at times. The car stressed and groaned under the heavy load.
"We past the hospital back there," Mrs. Johnson said, craning her neck to see it pass by her window.
"I know," the sheriff said. "I have to make a quick stop first, it’ll just take a minute."
The three ladies became anxious awaiting their stop at the hospital. They did not appreciating the hold up.
"Can’t you just drop us off?" she asked.
"We’re almost there. It won’t take but a second. I promise"
"I’d rather not wait if it’s ok with you?" she asked.
By this time they were blocks past the hospital and heading quickly to the edge of town. The sheriff stopped talking to the women and it became awkwardly quiet in the car.
"I don’t mean to be rude, but I think we should head back," the grandmother said in a stern tone.
"Maybe you should be quiet," the deputy said with a smile. He glanced back and then turned back to face out the front.
"Quiet?" mother asked in shock. "My family is hurt and you want me to be quiet?" She became angry and tried to keep it inside.
"Shut up!" the deputy yelled back while turning around to face her. "You hear me!" He reached out to grab her by the coat and she jerked back out of his reach. Giving her a stern look, he turned back around and shook his head in disgust.
The women were stunned by his words. The car was now a half-mile outside the city limits and starting to slow and turn to the right. The car drove onto a gravel road speeding out into the country, picking up speed as it went along.
The car flew over the hills and valley’s attaining 60 mph scaring the passengers in the backseat, just as the officers wanted to do. Rows of corn and milo sped past the car illuminated by the high beam headlights in a blur, confusing them as to their location.
Ahead in the distance, sprung an outcrop of trees just past Sandy Creek Bridge. The car again slowed and turned into the grove of trees disappearing from the roadway. Fifty yards inside, the car stopped and the men got out leaving the headlights on. They both moved to the rear of the car and opened the back doors simultaneously.
"Get out," the sheriff said calmly trying not to alarm the women. They hesitated. The sheriff pulled his revolver and pointed it at the grandmother, " I said get out," he reiterated. The older woman exited the driver’s side and the other two the passenger’s side.
"What is this?" the grandmother asked, keeping her eye on the sheriff’s gun.
"Shut up and go stand in front of the car," he stated. "About ten feet away." He pointing his free hand in that direction. The women obeyed and walked to the front of the car, standing illuminated in the headlight beams. The raindrops were visible as they past through the bright lights along with the mist from their breaths. They shivered in the cold, scared and shaking.
"Turn and face the car," the sheriff ordered them in a military tone. They obeyed. "On your knee’s."
The women again obeyed and dropped to their knees blinded by the bright light ten feet before them.
"What are you going to do?" the mother asked.
She was answered with a hard pull to her hair and a kick in the ribs. The other women kept their eyes front, afraid of drawing his attention and a repeat of the treatment.
The deputy squatted down behind the mother and grabbed her arms, pulling them back around her and cuffing them. He did the same to the daughter. The sheriff stood behind the grandmother and pointed his pistol at the back of her head. In an execution style, he popped off a shot dropping her flat to the ground. The deputy followed quickly with the mother before she had a chance to scream. The sheriff took care of the daughter. On the ground lie the last remains of the Johnson family.
"Collect the cuffs," the sheriff said to his deputy as he walked to the rear of his patrol car. Popping the trunk, he pulled out a two-gallon gas can and carried to back to the death scene. He waited till the cuffs were confiscated then poured gasoline on the three bodies until the can was empty. He backed up, lit a cigarette and tossed it in the fumes. He backed away from the heat and stood behind the trunk of the car with the deputy. In the dark, the sheriff’s eyes glowed red in the night
|Morning Star chapter 14||Alignment chapter 6|
|Alignment chapter 15||Morning Star chapter 8|
|Morning Star chapter 5||Morning Star chapter 15|