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Delta Green: Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays Part 1: 11-13-2010

Categories: Case Histories

Saturday, November 13, 2010

(After playing the Delta Green scenario “Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays” (with handouts by Graham Kinniburgh [Adam Astonbury]) with Cesar, Yamil, and Melissa from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday.)

On the morning of Friday, August 8, 1997, three special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, met in the FBI Field Office in Phoenix, Arizona, with Special-Agent-In-Chief Patrick Hobbson.

Aside from Hobbson, Arthur Crispy was the oldest of the special agents in the room.  At 57, he was only a year or so from retirement, and looked it.  His sandy brown hair was thin and perpetually messy.  But that was nothing compared to the horrible scarring that covered his face and the back of his hands.  He had been horribly burned, years before, and the scars from the fire marred his face, from a terrible accident when he was 26.  He wore a silk scarf around his neck to help cover the wounds.  He was a psychological crimes specialist.

Sasha Petrova was a tall, very pretty, dark-haired woman with a thick Russian accent.  She was much younger than Crispy but had proven herself as an excellent special agent, a martial arts specialist, and an excellent driver.  She was born in the U.S. of Russian immigrants.

Maude Grant was educated with hostage rescue team maneuvers.  She was about the same age as Petrova but she was plain, with a strong angular face that blended into any crowd.  She had dirty blonde hair that was bland and lay flat on her head.

Special-Agent-In-Charge Hobbson was an exhausted veteran of the FBI, only a year away from retirement himself.  He gestured for the special agents to be seated as he sat behind his desk and ran his hand through his white hair.

“We’ve got some trouble in San Carlos,” Hobbson said.  “At the Indian Reservation.

“Thirteen people in the last month have disappeared off State Road 70 that goes right through that area.  They were seen last in the area of State Road 70 near the southern edge of the San Carlos Indian Reservation west of Phoenix.  The known disappearances include the following:

“July 4, Allen and Karen Curtley:  Allen, white male, 57-year-old, owner of Done and Ready Roofing Company, employing thirty full-time employees in the area of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  A medium-sized contractor doing primarily home repair.  Karen Curtley, white female, 53 years old, employed full-time at her husband’s business as an accountant/bookkeeper.  They had no outstanding debts, the company had no ties to organized crime, and their son, Brian Curtley, 32 years old, living in Phoenix, Arizona, has no financial problems that require his “advancing” his inheritance.  By all accounts, the Curtleys had a good relationship with their family and their business associates.  Their car was found abandoned on Route 70 en route to their son’s house.

“On July 6, Felix Royce, Hispanic male, 20-year-old, high school drop-out who has worked at a number of unskilled labor positions since his 16th birthday.   Several juvenile arrests for Possession of Alcohol by a Minor, Curfew Violations, Criminal Mischief.  No known criminal associations since his 18th birthday.  His older brother, Enrico Royos, 24-year-old, has two convictions for Grand Theft.  They were Armed Robbery plea bargains.  He was a gas station attendant working the night shift on 70.

“July 10, Ed Stoltz and Chris Martin.  They were fishermen at the reservoir near 70.  Their camp was undisturbed.  They were gone.  Ed Stoltz, 32 years old, mechanic for Greyhound Bus Lines, married to Lavern Stoltz, 29, one child, Timothy, three.  Chris Martin was a white male, 30-year-old, assistant manager at True Value Hardware Store, Tempe, Arizona, single.  Both were natives of Phoenix, went to the same high school.  They went fishing on the Coolidge Dam Reservoir at least once a month.  Neither man had a criminal record or any criminal associations.

“July 15, approximately, Rolf Trautner and Freda Ollenburg.  Rolf Trautner, nationality German, white male 22.  Freda Ollenberg, nationality German, white female, 22.  Both had recently finished their three year national service commitment in the Federal Republic of Germany and were taking a short vacation prior to attending university.  Neither had any friends or relatives in the U.S.  They’d been traveling by bus and train and had been in the U.S. for two weeks.  Their car was found abandoned on Route 70.

“Approximately July 15, Dieter and Vera Van Olsen.  They’re Dutch tourists.  Their car was also found abandoned on Route 70.  Dieter was Dutch, white male, 65.  Retired vice-president for Petroleum Exploration, Royal Dutch Shell Corporation, spending his retirement seeing the world.  His wife, Vera, 60, was a homemaker.  They had been touring the U.S. by car for the past three months.  No connections or contacts with anyone in the Southwest, but they did have reservation to stay near the Grand Canyon four days before their car was found.

“Finally, the Begay family of four.  They have a farm near 70 that was abandoned for at least a week.  It was assumed they disappeared on July 27.  Victorio Begay, Apache Indian, 42-year-old, his wife Louisa, 38-year-old, and their sons Luca, 13, and Paco, 15.  Victorio Begay was a well-respected member of the Apache community.  By local standards, he was quite prosperous, owning two hundred sheep, several dozen acres of property, two pickup trucks, and a home big enough to give his children their own rooms.  No enemies to speak of, either personal or business.  His wife Louisa and both his sons worked their ranch full-time.  Their relations in the community were good.  Neither son had a criminal record.”

He handed over a file with the same information within.  There was also a map of the area, noting the location of the Begay farm, as well as a road map of Arizona and New Mexico.  Also in the file was a newspaper article from the National Tattler, a supermarket tabloid, dated Aug. 6, 1997.  The article read:

Curse of the ‘Devil’s Highway’ strikes yet again!!!

Police ‘baffled’ as entire family vanish into thin air

The curse besetting Arizona’s State Road 70 – dubbed the ‘Devil’s Highway’ by the worried populace who live along its length – looks to have claimed yet more victims as State and Tribal Police revealed today that they are ‘very concerned’ about the whereabouts of the Begay family – residents of the San Carlos Indian Reservation. The Begay family (Victorio 42, Louise 38 and teen sons Luco and Paco) have been reported as missing from their ranch by concerned friends and neighbors. Nobody has seen or heard from the family since July 26th

Unlucky 13!!

 Alarmingly, this brings to THIRTEEN the total number of people who have mysteriously disappeared on or around State Road 70 within the last month.  

DIARY OF FEAR

July 4th – Car of Mr & Mrs Allen Curtley, Santa Fe NM found abandoned. No trace of couple!!

July 6th – Pump attendant disappears from gas station on ‘Devil’s Highway!!’

July 10th – Lakeside camp of Ed Stoltz and Chris Martin, Phoenix AZ found deserted!!

July 20th – Rental car of German tourist couple found abandoned on 70!!

July 22nd – Rental car of Dutch couple found abandoned on 70!!

CLUELESS

Perhaps most worrying of all is the news that the police agencies investigating these disappearances appear to have no leads or lines of enquiry which would account for these alarming developments.  Officially, a representative from the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety maintains that police agencies are ‘optimistic of a break’ but sources close to the Tattler reveal that privately, the authorities are ‘baffled’ by the turn of events.

LIVING IN FEAR

 The native-American population in and around the San Carlos Reservation are a close and tight-knit community and few people would be drawn into speculating on the reason for these disappearances. However, one person – who asked to remain anonymous – did speak up to offer the opinion that the authorities must get to the bottom of the situation ‘damn quickly’ before the tourist trade, vital to the local economy was affected. People are getting worried’ he said, adding a chillingly simple truth – ‘Something ain’t right.’

Information in the packet noted that there were no signs of violence in any of the cases, the victims had no known enemies, and no valuables were missing except for whatever each victim might have had on their persons.  There had been no contact from the perpetrator or perpetrators or the victims and there were no suspects in the case.

“As these people have disappeared and no bodies have shown up, these are considered kidnapping and not homicides,” Hobbson went on.  “That’s why the FBI is involved.  Everyone disappeared on State Road 70 between Peridot and Geronimo.”

Grant pulled out a small datebook and marked the dates of the disappearances into it.  The map that Hobbson gave them showed that the entire area was part of the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

“You’ll be working with Major Frank Garrett, liaison with the state patrol,” Hobbson went on.  “You’re also going to be working with Sheriff Mangas Colorados.  He’s the Apache Tribal Police liaison.  We do not have jurisdiction to take over the investigation.”

“What?” Grant asked.

“You’re going in there to aid the investigation,” Hobbson went on.  “It is still under the jurisdiction of the state police and the Apache Police.  You can get their assistance and your best bet is to technically assist.  You’re still going to have the freedom to do your jobs, but you’re not going to be able to order them around.  Neither will they be able to order you around.”

In a voice that sounded like he’d been smoking for a very long time, Crispy asked if they had any crime scene photos.  Hobbson told him that they should be able to get that information from Colorados.

“Privately, the FBI is concerned about tribal relations in the area and the possibility of a radical Native American uprising,” Hobbson went on.  “We want to avoid a situation such as the Leonard Peltier incident in the 70s.  You’re to lend the local police all possible assistance, not take over the case.”

They knew that Leonard Peltier was born on September 12th 1944 on the Anishinabe (Chippewa) Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.  From a large family of 13 brothers and sisters, he grew up in poverty, and his early life was impacted by controversial U.S. government policies aimed to assimilate Native Peoples.  During the sixties and early seventies he became increasingly involved in ‘native-American’ community and political issues and he eventually joined the Denver Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

On February 27, 1973, members of AIM, together with a number of local and traditional Native Americans began their seventy-two day occupation of Wounded Knee (site of the last battle between American Indians and government forces in 1890).  Their goal was to protest alleged injustices against their tribes, violations of the many treaties, and alleged current abuses and repression of their people.  The United States government responded forcefully against the protesters.  In the end, various officials promised hearings on local conditions and treaty violations.  These hearings were never convened.  The use of military style force by the U.S. government was later ruled unlawful.

The following three-year period witnessed a severe deterioration in government/native-American relations and allegations of harassment, aggressive surveillance, the fabrication of trumped up charges, and indifference to and even complicity in politically motivated murders were made against the federal authorities.  Tensions were extremely high.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents, Mr. Jack Coler and Mr. Ron Williams, entered the Jumping Bull Ranch on the Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota.  They allegedly sought to arrest a suspect spotted in a red pick-up which had entered the ranch.  A large number of AIM supporters, including Leonard Peltier, were camping on the property at the time and many non-AIM persons were present as well.  A shoot-out began, causing panic and confusion throughout the camp, and many shots were exchanged.  When the skirmish ended, the two FBI agents were dead.  They had been wounded and someone had shot them at close range through their heads.

Peltier and two others were subsequently charged with the murder of the two agents.  Peltier fled to Canada and was subsequently extradited, convicted and imprisoned.  Controversy still raged over his conviction; about the legality of his extradition, the quality of the evidence used in his trial and whether his continued imprisonment was motivated by politics and/or “institutional revenge” on the part of the authorities.  Peltier’s case had been championed by advocates of the rights of the native-American community and by organizations like Amnesty International.  His case remained an enduring symbol of the turbulent history of the government’s handling of native-American issues.

The three agents were assigned a sedan from the motor pool and Crispy, as senior agent, was put in charge.  They phoned ahead, arranging to meet with both Colorados and Garrett.  Agent Crispy requisitioned a heavy Kevlar vest and threw it into the trunk with their luggage.  They left for San Carlos only an hour after their received their assignment.  The drive took a little over two hours.

The police station in San Carlos was small and they found both officers there.  Colorados was a solidly-built native American with a crew cut and a ready smile.  Garrett was a good-looking, charming man in his 30s, his brown hair also cut short.  He had a thick, cowboy drawl.  They briefed the agents with the same information that they had already received from Hobbson.  Major Garrett made it clear that he was happy to have the forensic and information-gathering resources of the FBI on hand, but that that Arizona State Patrol and sheriff’s office were running the show.

“I expect to be informed of any developments in the case on a regular basis,” he said.  “I will not tolerate any abuses of my staff or hospitality.  Is that clear?”

Crispy walked close to Major Garrett and bent forward so his raspy voice could be heard.

“Sir,” he said very quickly.  “I need access to all of the crime scene photos, I need access to anything recovered from the scene, and if you could please provide me with this information I would be much obliged and very happy to cooperate in this matter.”

“Talk to Red here,” Garrett said, pointing a thumb at Sheriff Colorados.  “I’ve got to get rolling.  Remember, keep in touch with me.”

Crispy turned to Sheriff Colorados and moved closer to the man.

“Sir,” he said, again very quickly.  “I need access to all of the crime scene photos, I need access to anything recovered from the scene, and if you could please provide me with this information I would be much obliged and very happy to cooperate in this matter.”

Colorados nodded.

“We’ll provide you with everything that we can,” he said.

Crispy turned from the man and headed out the door.

“The Federal Government is no friend to the Apache,” Colorados went on.  “But a dangerous criminal is on the loose and he or she must be brought to justice.”

He handed over a file with the crime scene photographs and locations of the disappearances and the abandoned cars.  The two women looked over the information briefly and saw that the crime scenes were all between San Carlos Lake and Geronimo, all of it on reservation land.  The photos were not very informative, showing vehicles, an empty campsite, a local gas station, and a ranch-style house and outbuildings.

Colorados also mentioned that he would put any vehicles he had at their disposal, including ATVs and a state patrol helicopter.  He noted that the three abandoned automobiles were at the highway patrol impound yard in Phoenix, but all of the fisherman’s gear and the tourists’ personal property was stored in the evidence locker in San Carlos.

He also gave them phone numbers for the San Carlos police office and the state poffice.  He noted that he didn’t carry a cell phone but could be reached by radio through his office.

* * *

Agent Crispy had gotten into the back seat of the sedan.  He took out his cellular phone and opened it up, dialing Phoenix and getting an agent there.  He asked the man to research any new construction in the area of State Road 70.  The agent said he’d call Crispy back when he had the information.

When the women returned to the car, they discussed sending Agent Grant back to Phoenix, but Agent Crispy wanted to see the crime scenes, from the newest to the oldest, immediately.  They headed down State Road 70 to the Begay Farm, about a 30 minute drive.  En Route, Crispy found a police report in the file Colorados had given them.  Begay had complained to his neighbor and tribal police that someone had been stealing his sheep.  This was some two months prior to the family’s disappearance.  The sheep were apparently disappearing without a trace.  The case was still under investigation.  The neighbor’s name was John Rope and his property was to the east of the Begay property.

A dirt road left State Road 70 near Coolidge Dam Road, and ran about a mile back from the highway.   Agent Crispy asked them to stop the car a good hundred yards from the house, barn, and outbuildings.  He climbed out of the back seat of the car and looked over the house from one side to the other but could see nothing out of place.  The windows were open though he saw that the front door was closed.  He saw sheep in the corrals and the fields beside and behind the barn.  Mountains rose beyond that.  He also noticed another farm a half-mile or so the east.  There appeared to be sheep there as well.   He didn’t see any broken fence posts.

He climbed back into the car and signaled Petrova to drive on.  She asked how much livestock disappeared or was stolen in general and Crispy called the office and asked an agent there to look into that as well.

They drove up to the farmhouse and Petrova stopped the car in front of the barn at Crispy’s request.  Aside from the blowing wind, it was very quiet.

Crispy got out, took off his jacket, and got the Kevlar vest out of the trunk, donning it.  He was wearing a short sleeve shirt and the two women could see the scars that covered his arms.  The jacket was hot and uncomfortable but made him feel safer.  As Agent Grant headed for the house, he and Agent Petrova went to the barn.

* * *

Agent Grant walked to the house but insistent knocking got no response.  She toyed with the idea of breaking down the front door but, in the end, walked around the house, peering into the windows instead.

* * *

Crispy opened a small side door to the barn and gestured for Petrova to precede him.  The door opened into a small office with another door across the room that probably led into the barn.  The room held a desk, filing cabinet, clipboards on the wall, and a calendar opened to July.  Both of them could hear movement in the barn beyond.  Agent Crispy told Agent Petrova to identify them.  When the woman reached for her sidearm, he told her it shouldn’t be necessary.

They found only a few sheep in the barn.  The large doors in the back of the building that opened to one of the corrals were open.  They noticed that there were some other stalls in the barn, probably for horses.  Agent Crispy looked over the sheep and noticed that they had probably been sheered in the last month or so.

* * *

Agent Grant had walked around the house and found the back door was unlocked.  Just as she was going to try the door, her cellular phone rang.

The raspy voice on the other end of the line was strange.

“Have you found anybody?” Agent Crispy asked.

“No,” she replied.  “I have not, Agent Crispy.”

“Oh,” he replied.

“Nobody here yet,” she replied.   “Anybody at the barn?”

“It seems like the farmhouse has been abandoned as well, hasn’t it?  There’s nobody out here.”

“I’ll report if I find anybody.  Or anything suspicious.”

“Don’t go into the house yet.”

“The door’s unlocked in the back.”

“The back door’s unlocked?”

“Yes.  The back door is unlocked. No movement in the windows so far.”

“Open the door and tell me what you see.”

She looked at the phone and then complied, opening the door into a large, well-furnished, and clean-looking kitchen.

“A nice kitchen,” she said.

“Is it clean?” he asked.

She looked around but the counter was bare, as was the sink and the kitchen table.

“It’s clean,” she said.

“You can go inside,” he said.

She hung up the phone and entered the house, taking off her jacket and leaving it on the back of one of the kitchen chairs.  Then she started to go through the house.

* * *

Agent Crispy and Agent Petrova searched the barn but found nothing out of place.  There was plenty of feed for the sheep, as well as running water in the barn.  The troughs held fresh water.  They guessed that one of the neighbors was probably taking care of the sheep.

They went to the corral behind the barn and could see a small corral with gates that opened to the property in general.  They noticed, while they were back there, that there was a proliferation of birds circling a mile or two from the barn over several spots.  They guessed that there were over a dozen spots where the birds were circling.

“You want to call the Comanche to come up here,” Agent Crispy told Petrova.

He tried to call Agent Grant but there was no answer on her cellular phone.

* * *

Agent Petrova went back to the car, contacting a deputy on the radio and telling him to patch her through.

“Colorados here,” a voice came over the radio.

“Sheriff,” she said.  “We have a possible crime scene.”

“All right, I’ll get right out there,” he replied.

“We’re going to need some ATVs.”

“How many?”

“Four.”

“Where?”

“The Begay farm.”

“All right.  I’ll be out there with some men shortly.”

* * *

Agent Grant had found nothing out of place in the house.  She found a door that led to a finished basement with a family room and a small home office.  Nothing was out of the ordinary on the ground floor either.  As she was finishing in the basement, she thought she heard someone upstairs.

“Federal Agent, identify yourself!” she called.

Someone stomped their feet in the kitchen.  She drew her weapon and headed up the steps.  A moment later, a figure appeared in the doorway at the top of the steps and she recognized Agent Crispy.

“I was not going to yell,” he hissed.

She holstered her weapon.

“I thought maybe it was you or else a horse that could count,” Agent Grant said.

“Agent Grant, I think you will find that humor is a good thing to have,” he replied.  “But you will find me lacking.”

She told him she had found nothing and he asked if there was anything with a date on it.  She noted there were tax records in the basement but nothing that she saw that was recent.

“I will go and look myself,” he muttered.

He went to the basement and found the office.  He also found a checkbook.  According to the bankbook, a check had been written July 26 to a local supermarket.  He returned to Agent Grant and told her and she pointed out that it was the day before they’d disappeared.

He explored the house as well but found nothing out of the ordinary.

* * *

Sheriff Colorados arrived with a deputy an hour later, followed by two pickup trucks pulling trailers.  Each truck had a three-wheeler ATV in the back and each trailer had two more on it.  Another cruiser with two more deputies followed behind the trucks.  Agent Grant asked why they’d called for them and Agent Crispy pointed out the circling birds behind the farm.  She complained they could simply be dead sheep that no one had been there to care for.  They discussed it, Grant complaining about involving the authorities.

“Agent Grant, in time you will see,” Agent Crispy hissed.  “In time you will see.”

Agent Crispy pointed out the circling birds to Sheriff Colorados as the deputies and the two men driving the pickup trucks unloaded the ATVs.  They learned from Sheriff Colorados that the neighbor, John Rope, was taking care of the animals at the farm.

Agent Grant told Sheriff Colorados that they’d found nothing in the house and he confirmed that they had looked without luck as well.  Agent Crispy entered the sedan, ordering Agent Petrova to investigate what the birds were circling over.  He started to write a letter to Major Garrett.

Agent Petrova asked Sheriff Colorados if the birds had been there before but he said they had not when last he came to the farm.  He noted they had searched the entire property.

“Has somebody spoken to John Rope in the last couple of days?” Agent Crispy called from the car.

“I spoke to him, yeah,” Sheriff Colorados said.  “You can talk to him too.  That’s his farm over there.”

“You might want to call him now and make sure he’s all right,” Crispy hissed.

“I can do that,” Colorados replied.

He called over a deputy he called Bob and told him to go to Rope’s to make sure that everything was okay.

“I’ll go with Bob,” Agent Grant said.

“Agent Grant, you will not,” Crispy said from within the car.

“There could be―” Grant started to say.

“I need you to be my eyes and ears out there.”

“You have eyes and ears.”

“I can go with you,” Sheriff Colorados said as his deputy headed for the cruiser.  He pointed to the circling birds.  “We can split up and check all of these.  There looks like there’s a lot of spots where the birds are circling.  We have six ATVs.  We can use them all.”

“Very well,” Agent Petrova said to him.

“My handiwork isn’t very handy with bodies!” Agent Grant said to Agent Crispy.  “They’re already dead!”

“You can use a Polaroid, can’t you?” Agent Crispy said.

“Minimally,” she replied.

Bob had gotten into his cruiser and driven back down the road.

“You probably want a forensics expert,” Agent Grant went on.  “You should ask the locals with some help with forensics.  If you confirm you have bodies.”

Colorados and his two remaining deputies mounted three of the ATVs and headed off to towards the west.

There was discussion about Grant going to Rope’s house and when she suggested taking the sedan, Crispy insisted the vehicle stay with him.  Grant gave him some grief, noting she had checked it out of the motor pool and her name was on the paperwork.

“Agent Crispy,” Agent Petrova asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Did you want to come?”

“No.”

“You’re going to just sit in the car?” Agent Grant asked Agent Crispy.

“First off I am going to count the spots, then I’m going to sit in the car, yes,” Agent Crispy said.

Grant suggested he sit in the farmhouse even as Petrova mounted one of the last few ATVs and headed off to the northeast. In the sedan, Agent Crispy started to nervously tap his hand on his leg.  Grant grinned at him.

“You’re wasting my time, Agent Grant,” he said.

“You’re wasting my time!” she replied.

He remained in the car and she climbed into the front seat.

“Are you coming with me?” she asked.

She again suggested he wait in the kitchen.

“Agent Grant,” he hissed.  “I don’t think you understand the situation you’re in and I don’t think you understand the value of going to those bodies right now.  If you want to take the car, you’re welcome.”

“The neighbor may be able to identify bodies, the neighbor may be one of those bodies, the neighbor may be a suspect,” she said.  “So, it’s kind of important that somebody go over there―”

“Somebody’s already going over there,” Agent Crispy rasped.

“―who’s not a local yokel,” Agent Grant finished.

The two Apaches who were loitering near the trucks were talking and grinning.

“Agent Grant, I only have three words for you,” Agent Crispy said.

“I highly doubt it, but continue,” she replied.

“Chain of command,” he said.

She got out of the car, taking the keys, and approached one of the men by the truck.  She asked if one of them could go with her to Rope’s house.  The men looked at each other and then one told her he could show her how to drive one of the ATVs.  He gave the woman a crash course in where the throttle, the clutch, and the brakes were.  It took about a half hour but she had the basics of how to get the thing started and make it move though she had some trouble with the gears.

As she got on her way towards the Rope farm, her radio crackled.

“Agent Grant,” she heard the hiss of Agent Crispy’s voice.

“I’m driving!” she said in the radio.  “I’m busy!”

“Agent Grant, you would do well to avail yourself of your sense of humor right about now,” Crispy’s voice came back.

“I was not employing sarcasm at this time, sir!” she replied, turning the radio off.

She soon arrived at the Rope farmhouse.  The police cruiser was sitting out front and an older Apache was sitting on the porch with the deputy, talking.  As she slowed the ATV and went to turn it off, it jerked forward once and stalled.  The two men watched her dismount from the vehicle and she saw that they each had a beer in their hand.  She looked them over for a moment.

“It is hot out here,” she said.  “You don’t have a Coke do you?  Cola?”

The older man looked at her a moment and then got up and went into the house.

“Did you get anything from him?” she asked the deputy.

“I was just told to come over and see if he was okay,” he replied.  “Somebody said he might be in trouble.  One of you folks did.”

The older man came out with a cold Coca-Cola and handed it to her.  She took out her wallet and held out a dollar but the man just waved her off and sat down.

“You’ve been taking care of your neighbors sheep and horses?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Any severe maladies or anything lately?” she asked.

“No.  Twenty-five are gone and can’t be accounted for.”

“How often have you been over to the Begay farm?”

“I’ve been watching his sheep.”

“Daily?”

“Yeah … can’t go over there once a week and watch them.”

“Is there a problem, lately, over there?”

“I don’t know.  Hadn’t noticed.”

“Any of your sheep gone missing?”

“Nope.”

“No.  Any of your animals dead lately?”

“No.”

“All right.  Well, we’ve got some carrion birds over on your neighbor’s farm.  I’ll let you know if we find anything.”

“All right.”

“All right, we’ll be in contact.”

She popped open the can of soda.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” he replied.  “Have a nice ride.”

“Thanks, I will,” she said with a smile.

She started up the ATV and drove it slowly back towards the Begay farm, the soda in her hand.  She turned the radio back on and heard reports from the deputies that they were finding the missing sheep.

* * *

“In what condition?” Agent Crispy asked over the radio.

“Dug up,” was the reply.

“Dug up?”

“Yeah.  It looks like coyote tracks all over the place.  But coyotes don’t dig up stuff.”

“Sheriff Colorados, I would appreciate if you would process these sheep as if they were victims.  I need full records.”

“All right.  You want … uh … plaster casts of the coyote tracks?”

“Yes.”

* * *

That’s what Agent Petrova had discovered too.  The birds were circling over what appeared to be a sheep carcass that had been buried at least two feet deep.  Some animal had dug into the ground until it had exposed a good deal of the carcass.  It didn’t look like the carcass had been damaged at all.

A short while later, a call came from Colorados that they’d found the Begays.  Crispy radioed Grant, asking her to take him to the gravesite.  She noted there was another ATV on site and he could get there faster if he took it as she was still en route.

“Agent Grant,” Crispy said.

“Yes, Agent Crispy?” she asked.

“Those three little words I mentioned earlier?”

“Those three little words do not preclude my ability to give you some common sense advice, sir.  We are on the same team, correct sir?  Sir?”

“Agent Grant, you will be risking a prosecution of criminal neglect.”

“Criminal neglect?  You say I am impeding your investigation, is that correct, sir?”

She actually stopped her ATV a half mile from the farm and turned it off.  She could see the sedan.

“I’m still en route,” she said over the radio.

Then she took her break.

Crispy radioed Petrova and learned she had found dug up dead sheep.  He asked her to move to the next gravesite.

* * *

Agent Crispy’s cellular phone rang and he found he had a signal.  It was the FBI office in Phoenix.  He learned that there had not been any major construction anywhere in the area for some time.  They had not found much information about livestock theft in the area were still working on it.  He asked them to focus animals attacked by other animals and the man on the other end of the line said he would.

A short time later, Colorados radioed in for more men and some digging equipment.

Agent Crispy exited the sedan and looked down the road where he could see Agent Grant sipping a soda.  He approached the Apaches standing there, walking very slowly and hobbling.  He was trying to appear very old.

“Gentlemen, I find myself impeded but I need to get where the bodies are,” he said, his voice raspy.  “Would one of you be so kind as to drive the ATV for me?”

One of the Apaches said he would and Agent Crispy turned and looked down the road to Agent Grant.  After radioing for the location of the bodies, he climbed onto the ATV and the Apache drove him out into the fields.

* * *

Agent Grant saw Agent Crispy get onto the ATV with an Apache and ride away.  She flung her soda can to the ground.

“How did he do that?” she said to herself.

She started up the ATV but couldn’t catch up with Crispy.  She passed a deputy heading the other way.  She reached the site as Crispy was dismounting from the ATV, her ATV jerking as she inexpertly took it out of gear again.  It stalled and she braked to a stop.  Agent Petrova arrived moments later.

“Glad you could make it, Agent Grant,” Agent Crispy said.

“I arrived precisely when I needed to arrive,” Agent Grant replied.

The mass grave held four bodies: a man, a woman, and two children.  Colorados and a deputy were carefully removing the dirt from the grave while trying not to contaminate the crime scene.

“Sheriff Colorados,” Agent Crispy said.  “I am so very sorry that members of your community have come to this fate.  Are there any next-of-kin?”

“Not in this area,” Colorados replied.

He said he would make sure that the next-of-kin were informed and that permission was gotten for autopsies.  Agent Grant asked if they had a dog team and Colorados said that they could get some hounds but didn’t see the point.  It had been two weeks and the only tracks he saw were coyote tracks.  Agent Grant pointed out if they used the dogs near the abandoned cars, it might lead to something.  Colorados said they already done so but it had turned up no leads.  Agent Crispy suggested Sheriff Colorados have some of his trackers follow the coyote tracks.

“Coyotes don’t act like this,” the sheriff said.  “They don’t dig up bodies that are buried two feet under the ground.  And if they did, they wouldn’t just leave them.”

“Can you bring me the animal once you kill it?” Agent Crispy asked.

“Yeah, if we catch it,” Sheriff Colorados replied.

Agent Grant pointed out that the animal was a side issue and the serial killer who killed the family and buried them was the real issue.  Agent Crispy replied that the animal was trained to dig up things.  Agent Petrova asked if they were wolves but Sheriff Colorados pointed out that they were definitely coyote tracks.  All of the graves had been placed irregularly along the property line without any seeming rhyme or reason.

As they uncovered the bodies and more officers showed up, they found that the bodies were apparently uninjured.

“So, have you worked up a profile yet?” Agent Grant asked Agent Crispy.

“They’re dead,” he said.

“That’s amazing,” she replied sarcastically.  “I will always remember to defer to your expertise.”

Agent Crispy offered the full resources of the FBI and Colorados was glad to take it.  They arranged to have the bodies transported to Phoenix where the county coroner, Dr. Joseph Gutierrez, would examine the Begays and the sheep.  Crispy made a couple of cellular phone calls and arranged it.  He also arranged to use the highway patrol helicopter to allow them to increase their search of that part of State Road 70.  He talked to the Apache who had driven him to the scene and then turned to the other agents.

“I will meet you back at the sedan,” he said.

He saluted Agent Grant and then climbed aboard the ATV, which roared away.  Before they went back, she suggested to Petrova that they needed a serial killer specialist.  She talked about calling in the specialist team and took out her cellular phone but didn’t have a signal.  Petrova pointed out that the forensics teams in Phoenix would probably take care of what they needed.  They drove back to the farm, Grant stalling her ATV and shifting into the wrong gear a few times.  She retrieved her jacket from the house.

They drove to the airport north of San Carlos where they filled out the paperwork and then boarded the state patrol helicopter, Crispy donning his Kevlar vest again.  The pilot took them down State Road 70 almost to the edge of the reservation east of the Begay farm, nearly to Geronimo.

All three of the agents spotted a bright, shiny patch a mile or so away from the road.  The pilot circled over the piece of metal, then set the helicopter down 150 yards from the spot.  He accompanied them to the spot where it looked like some animal had gone to a lot of trouble to dig up the roof of a car.  Agent Grant muttered that they were going to need another excavation team.  The pilot headed back to the helicopter to call it in.

While they waited, they got a radio call from Sheriff Colorados.

“We got the plaster casts of the coyote prints for Agent Cheesy … I mean Crispy,” he said.

Within an hour, police, highway patrol, several dozen volunteers, some tractors, and a backhoe arrived on the site.  The tracks around the site proved to be coyote tracks once again.

It took a couple of more hours to dig out the back of the car so the Texas license plate was exposed, and to clear out the driver’s side door.  While they were working, Crispy got a call from the forensics teams that nothing out of the ordinary had been found in any of the abandoned vehicles.  He also learned that the autopsies would probably not be performed until the next day.  He urged them to try to do them sooner.

Agent Grant volunteered to open the driver’s side door.  The body of the young man in the driver’s seat had its belly sliced open and his guts in his lap.  There didn’t seem to be much blood.  The smell that hit her was horrific and she quickly turned and vomited onto the ground next to the automobile.  Even the other two agents, not very close to the car, could smell the stink of the dead body.  Agent Crispy surreptitiously held out his bottle of his prescription nausea drugs to Agent Grant.  The woman took it and quietly swallowed a couple of the pills.

“Thank you,” she quietly said.

Agent Petrova approached the car, a handkerchief over her mouth.  Despite the precaution, she felt the bile rise in her stomach and she turned aside to vomit on the nearby ground as she retreated.  Finally, Agent Crispy, also covering his mouth with his silk scarf, approached the car but had to retreat and vomit as well.  The smell was terrible.  A couple of the deputies also fell victim to the stink and got sick.  In the end, they sent for some breath masks and the three agents and Sheriff Colorados approached the car after Major Garrett contemptuously reminded them not to contaminate the scene any more.

There didn’t seem to be much blood and Agent Petrova suggested that the man might have been killed outside of the car.  Agent Crispy noted that forensics would tell them more.  Examination of the corpse found a wallet with a Texas driver’s license that identified the man as Kenneth Braverman.  Colorados took the keys and opened up the trunk of the car but it was empty.  The glove box contained a few maps but nothing of importance.

Agent Crispy called Phoenix on his cellular phone and requested the name be run while he waited.  Unfortunately, he lost the signal while he was on hold.

The police took over examining the car and the agents were told that the body would be sent to Phoenix for an autopsy.  It was late in the afternoon but there was still plenty of daylight and the three agents took the highway patrol pilot back to the helicopter and continued their search of the area.  They spent the next two hours searching the area around State Road 70 but spotted nothing else out of the ordinary.  Agent Crispy finished updating his letter to the State Police.

They got two rooms at the Apache Gold Casino Hotel, the women sharing one.  They were all hungry as they had skipped lunch and so Grant ordered plenty of food from room service.  They heard what sounded like a blender in the adjoining room where Agent Crispy was staying.

* * *

While Agent Crispy was blending his food, as even eating was painful, the phone in his room rang.  It proved to be another agent at the Phoenix field office.  He told Crispy that Kenneth Braverman was a prime suspect in a series of prostitute killings in and around Houston.  The man had been a Houston police officer and when his house was searched after his disappearance, police found the partially cannibalized and bloodless remains of his two children.  His wife was presumed kidnapped and the family car, which matched the car just unearthed, had been missing as well.  Houston Police were baffled because he had supposedly acted alone but there was no way he could have killed his wife, disposed of the body, mutilated himself, and then buried the car.  The guess from Houston was that Elaine was in cahoots with her husband.  Crispy was told they were going to get pictures of Elaine Braverman and there were only two sets of fingerprints in the car: Kenneth and Elaine Braverman’s.  What was weird was that the dental records indicated that Kenneth Braverman had been the one who cannibalized his children.   The agent told him there was an FBI fugitive alert available and Crispy asked them to fax it to the hotel and to the sheriff’s office.  The agent also told him that the autopsy was not yet done but that the autopsy of the Begay family was underway and should be done late that night.  Crispy asked to be informed as soon as the results were in.

“Dr. Gutierrez is going to be busy this week,” the man on the other end of the phone said.

Crispy hung up and knocked on the door that separated the rooms.  The women had a spread of food: shrimp, scallops, steak and potatoes.  He looked down at the cup of sludge that he was holding, a wide bendy straw sticking out of it.

He told them he’d identified the victim and related what he’d learned.  Agent Grant suggested they put Elaine Braverman’s photo on the news as soon as possible.

Crispy excused himself and sent the letter he’d been composing to Garrett to “keep him informed.”  He made sure to send it through the regular mail so it would take some time to get to the Major.  He also picked up the faxes of the fugitive alert for Kenneth Braverman and the grainy photograph of Elaine Braverman.

He returned to the room and they all looked over the alert that was dated June 30, 1997, and had originated from the Houston FBI office.  The body of the fax read:

The Houston Police Department have requested that we raise Bureau awareness concerning the recent disappearance of one Kenneth Braverman.

Braverman is wanted in connection with the murder of his two children (Daniel, aged 9 and Hannah, aged 6) and is also the main suspect in connection with a series of recent prostitute murders involving body dismemberment/mutilation in the Houston area. He is also thought to have kidnapped his wife Elaine Braverman, 32).

Braverman was also a serving officer with the Houston PD.

He is aged 33, Caucasian, 6ft 2 inches and of medium build.

From early this month (June 1997) Houston PD began to receive reports that prostitutes in the city were going missing. Eleven disappearances in total were reported. In the following weeks, some of those reported missing turned up dead in disused buildings, drainage pipes and similar locations. In all cases, these bodies showed signs of severe blood loss, mutilation, sexual torture and dismemberment. Other unidentified body parts were also discovered in various locations.

Houston PD investigations eventually centered on Officer Braverman. The same ‘mystery man’ had been spotted with each of the victims and his car and license plates were eventually ‘made’ by a witness. Braverman was also a close fit for composite sketches made of said ‘mystery man.’

Up until this time, Braverman was regarded as a model officer and mandated psychiatric evaluations detected nothing at all to indicate mental imbalance of this magnitude.   

 Braverman may have been tipped off by colleagues in the Houston PD that he was under suspicion. Whatever happened, on June 28th he decided to murder his two children by slashing their throats and is then thought to have absconded to parts unknown. Forensic evidence at his home indicates that his wife was not a willing accomplice to these acts and she is therefore presumed to be now held against her will.

Bureau personnel who obtain any information concerning the whereabouts of Kenneth Braverman should contact this office, who will then liaise with Houston PD.

It was signed Special Agent James W. Defoe.

Agent Grant hypothesized that Elaine Braverman must have gone mad.

“She comes home, she sees him eating the children, she snaps,” she said.  “And she’s gone on some kind of serial rampage.”

Agent Crispy was unsure.

“She’s dead somewhere,” Agent Grant said of Elaine Braverman.  “Either she’s our serial killer or she’s dead somewhere.”

“I believe that Kenneth Braverman was not acting alone,” Agent Crispy gasped.

“He may have been fleeing, and traveling through the area like these other people, and was attacked by whoever or whatever is killing all these people traveling on Highway 70,” Grant went on.

“Why did you say whatever?” Agent Petrova asked.

“Because there are animal tracks,” Agent Grant replied.  “I’m not saying bigfoot here … I’m just saying …”

“I do not believe that Kenneth Braverman was acting alone with all these killings,” Agent Crispy repeated.  “He might have been the point man for―”

“He couldn’t have been!” Agent Grant said.  “He was dead before all of the other killings happened.”

“Yes, I’m talking about the prostitutes that he might have killed back home,” Crispy went on.  “I believe how he was killed and how the car was disposed of is evidence of a much larger group of people.”

“Cult or …?” Agent Grant said.

“Yes.”

“Or something.”

“Yes.”

“Because you have to be sick to do this.”

Agent Crispy called the Phoenix office and asked them to get all of the information on Braverman and then send it via courier to San Carlos.  He hoped that he would be able to work up a profile of Kenneth Braverman.  It would be harder to profile Elaine Braverman.  He also tried to call Dr. Gutierrez but his office didn’t answer and he realized it was after 5 p.m.  He was very concerned that there were no obvious wounds on the bodies and so made a few more phone calls, actually getting someone from the office to go to the morgue and ask Gutierrez to telephone him.

About an hour later, he received a phone call from the man.

“What do you want, Crispy?” Gutierrez asked.  “I’m in the middle of these autopsies.  Can I call you back when I’m done?”

“I would ask you to exercise caution,” Crispy said.  “As I believe the evidence is going to be very delicate in this case.  You know to look for puncture wounds but I want you to focus on puncture wounds before you open up the body.  Try to find puncture wounds and tell me, right away, if you do find them.”

“Well, I’ve already found puncture wounds,” he said.

“Okay, well, that is a relief.’

“All right.  I’ll call you tonight, as soon as I’m done with the Begays.”

He said he’d get on Braverman right after that for them and he could call him when Braverman was done as well.  He assumed he’d be done with the Begays by midnight but Braverman was going to take some time after that.  Crispy told him to call him as soon as he had results in both cases.

* * *

It was 11 p.m. when Crispy was awoken by the ringing phone.  It was Gutierrez, who told the man that forensics revealed multiple needle-like wounds on all of the bodies and the two sheep carcasses that he examined.  The full autopsy revealed that the wounds pierced the hearts and lungs of the people and the sheep.  That would indicate a needle a couple of inches long.  There were traces of a tranquilizer evident all of the carcasses’ central nervous systems.  All of the bodies were lacking in blood and small incisions had been made where the blood was evidently drained from the bodies.  Finally, the tranquilizer that he found didn’t exist in nature and was unknown to medical science.  Some of the elements of its makeup appeared to be identifiable, but perhaps were not native to Earth.

* * *

It was about 2 a.m. when the phone rang again.  Dr. Gutierrez told Crispy that Kenneth Braverman died about five weeks before of massive abdominal trauma: Someone sliced a large hole in his belly and let his intestines spill out.  His lungs had also been removed, apparently after he died.  The corpse was mostly devoid of blood.  It looked as though the lungs were cut out but the incisions were ragged.  There was no sign of the tranquilizer in Braverman.  When Crispy asked about Braverman’s teeth, he learned they were in fine shape.  Gutierrez told the man he hoped no one had gotten too ill when they unearthed the body.

* * *

It was late morning on Saturday, August 9, 1997, when Agent Petrova stumbled to the shower.  The noise awoke Agent Grant, who was going to slip downstairs to get some continental breakfast when she spotted an envelope that had been slid under the door.  It was marked merely “FBI.”  She tore open the envelope to find a magazine article from Scientific American dated February 1997 and a county map of West Virginia within.

The article read:

‘Spectacular’ meteor shower provides unexpected surprise for West Virginia astronomy enthusiasts

    The month of January has proved to be one both of excitement and puzzlement for astronomers (amateur or otherwise) in the state of West Virginia.

For several evenings, sky-watchers there were treated to an increasingly dazzling display of colour and light which culminated in a ‘spectacular display’ observable on the 18th of that month. Professor Matthew DeVries of the University of West Virginia’s Department of Physics was among the many keen observers of those few days. ‘It’s the kind of thing you hope to see, but all too rarely do.’ he commented. ‘If you can forgive the hyperbole, it literally was like the 4th of July on that last night – although there was a marked tendency for the vapor trails observed to appear to be of a greenish hue, which is quite unusual in meteors.’ He added ‘I have observed the Leonids and other known swarms in action in the past – and they can be quite dramatic given the right conditions – but this fall was of another order entirely. The layperson may not realize, but a lot of meteor activity can be predicted – the fact that this fall was not expected and was so spectacular is what makes this so exciting for us.’    

Professor DeVries and his fellow members of the Association of American Astronomy have been presented with a unique opportunity to categorize their ‘find’. It seems that the majority of the meteor fragments came to earth in Tucumseh County and Professor DeVries and fellow staff at the University hope to examine some small fragments which have apparently been located by residents of that county.

The map had the counties of Tucumseh and Lowery highlighted in yellow.

Agent Petrova came out of the bathroom as Agent Grant looked over the article and the map.

* * *

The phone awoke Agent Crispy from where he slept on one of the chairs in his room.  He picked it up.

“Agent Crispy?” the voice on the other side asked.

“Yes,” Crispy replied.

“It’s Hobbson.”

“Yes sir.”

“Got some NSA spooks showed up at my office this morning.  They’re on their way down there.  They’re going to want to meet with you.  They say the case might involve national security.”

“I would expect it would, yes.”

“Just letting you know.  Cooperate with them.  Yadda yadda.”

“Thank you sir.”

* * *

As Grant and Petrova were looking over the map, their phone rang.

“You gonna get that?” Grant asked the other woman.

Petrova picked up the phone.

“Hello, this is Agent Petrova,” she said.

“Agent Petrova,” Agent Crispy’s voice rasped.  “Can you come next door please?”

“What?”

“Can you come next door please?”

“I’m not dressed for it.”

She only wore a towel.

“Time is of the essence,” his voice answered.

“I’ll be there in a couple of minuates,” she said.

“We don’t have that much time.  The NSA is coming.”

“What?”

“Yes, it appears we have stumbled into a bigger beehive than we thought.  Please, someone must come into my room.”

She went to the door between the rooms and found Agent Crispy in one of the comfortable chairs near the room’s window.  He was wrapped up in a blanket on the chair with the phone held to his head.

Crispy hated beds.  After his accident, he’d been confined to a bed for a year.  He hated lying down.  He slept sitting up but it wreaked havoc with his whole body.

“Yes Agent?” Petrova said.

“I need help standing up,” the man replied.

“Uh … Grant?” she said.

“I’ll be right back,” Grant replied.

She quickly left the room.

Agent Petrova helped Agent Crispy out of the chair.  It was a very slow process and she had to tilt him out of the chair.  All of his muscles seemed to be tightly wound and the man must have been in some pain.

* * *

Grant headed down the hall towards the lobby, where she hoped there would be a continental breakfast.  She was not mistaken.  She loaded two large trays and returned to the hotel room, placing them on the table there.  She and Petrova ate; Crispy came into the room with some of the food blended up in a cup and asked what they were looking at.  He noticed an envelope that he hadn’t recognized from before.  Grant said that what was in the envelope had nothing to do with the case, claiming it was another case.

“You’re making me raise my voice, Agent Grant,” Agent Crispy hissed, barely louder than before.

She described what the article said about the meteor shower in West Virginia; Agent Crispy pointed out that a tranquilizer that was not found on earth was used on the victims that had been buried on the Begay farm.  She said that she didn’t know anything about that.

“Agent Grant, your reticence in providing information to your superior officer will be noted,” he said.

“When you made this pertinent information, I shared it,” Agent Grant replied. “Otherwise it seemed to have no bearing on our case whatsoever.  Why would I bother you with it?”

“Because I asked for it, Agent Grant,” he replied.

They looked over the article.  Agent Grant wondered if there were unsolved serial killings in the area at that time and then telephoned the Phoenix office and asked for information to that effect.  She also put the envelope, article, and map aside in case there would be any fingerprints on any of it.

Agent Crispy reminded them that agents of the National Security Agency were on the way.  The agency, under the Department of Defense, was known, sometimes, as “No Such Agency.”  It was the most secret organization in the U.S. intelligence community and had full responsibility for all U.S. communications security activities and for the collection of foreign communications intelligence.

Agent Crispy shared all of the information he had gotten from Gutierrez the night before.

“So, the theory, correct me if I’m wrong, is that some toxin from meteorites is being used to kill people?” Agent Grant asked.  “So, that means that somebody is grinding up meteors and injecting them into people.”

She believed there was some weird cult activity going on but Agent Crispy disagreed as he sipped coffee through a straw.  Agent Petrova asked how it was connected to cannibalism and Agent Grant was unsure.  Crispy pointed out that the Begays were not killed by the tranquilizer.  When Petrova said that the Begays and the Bravermans might be two unrelated cases, Crispy noted that only the coyote tracks connected them.  It might have just been coincidence that Braverman, while fleeing from Houston, ran afoul of the same person who had killed the Begays.

“If Braverman was dead by the 26th, that would mean he brought whatever was doing the killings over there, by himself, and now the thing is out here,” Crispy said.

Petrova pointed out that the disappearances in the area started in July.

They arranged to use the hotel conference room for their meeting with the NSA agents.  Around 10 a.m., a couple of men in black suits and wearing dark sunglasses entered the conference room.  One of them introduced himself as Agent Jack Simmons, NSA.

“Agent Crispy, FBI,” Agent Crispy said, showing the man his badge.

“I know,” Simmons replied.  “You’re to turn over everything to us as you receive it.  We want copies of everything.”

“Are you halting our investigation?” Crispy asked.

“No, not at all,” Simmons replied.  “But anything you find out goes to us.  Understood?”

“Yes sir.”

“We think there is a national security risk here.”

Crispy asked for credentials and Simmons showed the man his NSA badge and paperwork.  Then he asked what they’d found out and Crispy took an hour to describe what they had learned about the disappearances, the Begay farm, and the buried Braverman automobile.  He didn’t mention the information that had come under the door the night before.  Simmons wanted photocopies of any paperwork they had.

Agent Grant went to the business center in the hotel and made photocopies of the notes she’d been taking.  That also included mention of the envelope that had come under the door that morning.  Agent Simmons took the copies and left with the other NSA man, telling them he’d be in touch.

“It’s best that don’t know about the letter,” Agent Crispy said after they’d left.

“What letter?” Agent Grant asked.

The letter,” he replied.

“The one from this morning,” Petrova told her.

“The one that I didn’t want to show you?” Grant asked Crispy.  “That now you don’t want to show them?  The one in my notes?”

Just then Agent Crispy’s cellular phone rang.  He answered it.

“Agent Crispy,” he said.

“I hope you liked the news clipping I sent,” a black woman’s voice on the other end of the line said.  “Listen up!  I’ve got some more helpful hints.  In case you hadn’t noticed, those spooks in the shades and the dark suits aren’t your friends.  They’re only after the sphere, and if you’re in their way, those badges won’t protect you or the locals.  Let them have it.  What you’re after came in the sphere.  Don’t let it get away.”

The line went dead.

Crispy quietly put his cellular phone back in his pocket.  He told Grant to photocopy everything they’d given the NSA twice more.  He said he was going to go back to Phoenix to do some research there while the women would investigate the killings, particularly the fate of Kenneth Braverman up to his death.  He wanted them to trace him back to Texas and see if there was a link between where his car was found and the other disappearances.  He suggested against traveling State Road 70 on their own.

Crispy got the copies from Grant and then ran everything except the West Virginia article and map through the copy machine five more times, giving himself a large stack of copies.  Only one copy of the information from under the door that morning was in the pile.  Grant kept the original West Virginia information and put it into a baggie.

Petrova asked why they were changing their investigation.  Crispy told her that the attention of the NSA and the new information meant that the case was sprawling, reaching into Texas and West Virginia, and even into Germany due to the victims.  He was certain other bodies would soon appear and advised them to exercise the utmost caution.

“And, if all possible, trust no one,” he said.  “Keep in mind that someone is running around with dangerous materials that they are more than willing to use to kill people.  I can only assume that we can trust the local people as we have found these bodies and they have not hindered us or injected us with the stuff already.”

Crispy got a cab to take him back to Phoenix.

* * *

Grant and Petrova took the letter and envelope to the San Carlos Sheriff’s Office and asked them to examine it for fingerprints and DNA.  Agent Grant called the office in Phoenix and asked them to research any serial killings that might have taken place in West Virginia any time after February.  She asked that any physical paperwork be faxed to the hotel for them.

By that afternoon, several faxes arrived for them.  The cover page noted that they were the articles found that were connected with killings in West Virginia.

The first was an article from the National Tattler, this one dated February 25, 1997.  It read:

Satan worshipping star travellers blamed for West Virginia mayhem!!

‘Lucifer’s servants’ to blame says local seer

West Virginia law enforcement authorities seeking to unravel the mysterious spate of disappearances and cattle mutilations besetting the state need search no further according to a famous ‘wise woman’ and self proclaimed psychic – for the answer lies in the stars above!!

The last few weeks have been deeply troubling ones for the rural communities of Tucumseh and Lowery Counties in West Virginia as herds of sheep and cattle there have been subjected to bizarre and sickening night attacks.  In most cases, authorities have declined to give details of the damage inflicted – but local gossip would have it that the animals have been savaged and partially eaten – and in some cases drained of blood entirely!

Worse still, Lowery County has suffered through a total of nine disappearances – with farmers and other rural employees going missing in strange, worrying and uncharacteristic circumstances. 

Although doubtless vexed, the police can now direct their enquiries to a single source – according to Lowery County mystic Chryssy ‘Crystal’ Vickersen. The self-proclaimed ‘Mistress of the Mind’ declared to our reporter that the police should be calling out the National Guard to set a trap for the perpetrators – evil Satanists from outside our very own Solar System!!

‘I saw them in a vision, as clear to me as the hand in front of my face.  They told me that they were the Devil’s Children, come to terrorize good Christians and they would never be stopped – unless it was through the power of prayer and mind energy’ said Crystal at her home yesterday.  She continued ‘They chose to reveal this to me as they see me as a respected enemy and are fearful of my mind-fu.  I can only urge the people of this County and this State to do their brain-meld exercises and pray to the Almighty – otherwise they could be the next victim to be whisked away and sacrificed to Lucifer on their hellish homeworld’ – a homeworld which is apparently  ‘somewhere near the Horsehead Nebula’ according to ‘Crystal.’

Regular readers may recall some of Crystal’s earlier visions in which she predicted a second Biblical Flood in 1993 and the return of Jimi Hendrix as a Presidential candidate by the end of the millenium.

The Lowery County Sheriff’s Department could not be called upon to comment upon Mrs. Vickerson’s information except to say that they continued to treat recent events in the County ‘with the utmost gravity’ and they implored anyone with any information to come forward.

They declined to comment on whether they had any positive leads to pursue.  

The second article was from the Lowery County Chronicle dated March 5, 1997.  It read:

Suicidal murder suspect may have had ‘cannibalistic tendencies’

The shocking case of Tucumseh County resident Mack Tooley has taken another sinister twist with the revelation that his autopsy is thought to have revealed traces of human blood and tissue in his digestive tract.

Readers will recall that Mr Tooley, a popular local woodsman and guide, shot himself in the head with a Colt .45 automatic when police attempted to arrest him at his cabin in connection with the murder of an unidentified ‘John Doe’ whose corpse was discovered in horrifying circumstances by local teenagers.

As this paper has previously reported, the bloodless and mutilated corpse of the unidentified man, thought to be a vagrant who had been in the area for a matter of days, was found naked (with the exception of a few trash bags wrapped about his person) and hanging from a tree not far from a local beauty spot near to Lowery.  Suspicion quickly fell on Mr Tooley as he was identified as having been the last person to have been observed with the victim.

Unofficial sources close to this paper can now confirm that Mr Tooley’s autopsy has revealed results ‘strongly indicative of cannibalism’, though no substances have been located which could have accounted for Mr Tooley’s totally inexplicable change in behaviour.

Sheriff Ted Robinson and Lowery County Medical Examiner Brenton Clark were said to be unavailable for comment on these developments as of the time of going to press.

The last article was related to the first only in the name of the medical examiner.  Also from the Lowery County Chronicle, it was dated March 18, 1997, and read:

County officials ‘surprised and disappointed’ by sudden departure of ‘respected and valued’ Medical Examiner

The recent resignation of Doctor Brenton Clark who has held the post of Lowery County Medical Examiner for the past fourteen years was ‘completely unexpected’ according to County officials who are now seeking to appoint a replacement.

This paper understands that Dr. Clark did not notify his employers of his intentions in writing, nor serve his contractual notice period,  but instead informed them of his decision verbally – adding that he intended to re-locate to Nashville with immediate effect.

Colleagues of Dr. Clark took the time to express their own surprise at the manner and timing of his departure and also their regret in losing his professional skills, although they made it clear that they wished him well in all future endeavors.

* * *

When Agent Crispy arrived in Phoenix, he turned over the large pile of photocopied paperwork he already had and asked for two more copies to be made of the mass of documents.  He planned to leave one pile with the FBI and one with the NSA.

He started to research anything on a sphere without luck but also found the information on Braverman that was still waiting to be couriered to San Carlos so that he could start to work up a psychological profile of the dead man.   One thing he found of interest was a related article to the cannibal murders.  It was dated May 28, 1997, from the Houston Press.  It read:

New Orleans ‘Cannibal Killer’ found murdered in ‘savage & sustained’
assault

Mr. David Charles, who was last week the toast of New Orleans for his decisive role in ending the reign of a cannibalistic serial killer, was this morning discovered after having succumbed to multiple chest and stomach wounds in his room in a downtown Houston hotel.

Mr. Charles is thought to have come to Houston to escape unwanted publicity following his shooting in self defense of a man subsequently identified as a mass murderer.

Although Houston police authorities are not ruling out a connection with this earlier incident, their enquiries for the moment are centering on the possibility that Mr. Charles interrupted a robber and paid the price with his life. 

He made five copies of the article and shoved them into the files.

* * *

Agent Grant called the Phoenix office again and asked for information on Dr. Brenton Clark of Lowerly County.  She also wanted contact information for Chryssy ‘Crystal’ Vickersen, and information on a cannibal case in Tucumseh County, West Virginia.  She wanted to check with the West Virginia Museum of  National History and see if they had any fragments of the meteors.  The information came back shortly after that Chryssy Vickersen was a nutjob.  When she checked, she found that Vickersen didn’t have a website.

They got another fax from the FBI Phoenix office, this one with Crispy’s name on it.  It included the May 28 article about the killing in Houston.  She called back for information on Mr. David Charles.

By late afternoon, three more articles had been faxed to San Carlos.

The oldest was an article from the March 22, 1997, Nashville Voice.  It read:

Police seek assistance from public after brutal slaying

Law officers were today conducting door to door enquiries in the hope of gaining any leads following a grim discovery yesterday morning in an apartment complex in the Elliston Place area of the city.

Officers and officials are understood to have been called to the scene after the discovery in his newly rented apartment of the body of a man now subsequently identified as a Doctor Brenton Clark, a former resident of Lowery, West Virginia who is thought to have relocated to Nashville in only the last week or so.

Dr. Clark is understood to have suffered a particularly vicious assault and whilst the authorities are officially talking in terms of ‘stab wounds’ it is understood privately that ‘disembowelment’ would perhaps be a more accurate term for the horrific injuries inflicted. 

‘At the moment we are pursuing all lines of enquiry, and we hope to bring the person responsible for this vicious murder to justice as soon as possible’ said a spokesperson for the Nashville PD Homicide Division.  

Grant cursed the fact that everyone involved in the case ended up dead.

The second article was also from the Nashville Voice, this one dated April 25, 1997.  It read:

Shock suspect in Nashville’s ‘Tramp Terror’ commits suicide after police visit

Police officials have confirmed that they are seeking ‘no other persons’ in connection with the recent spate of disappearances amongst Nashville’s indigent community – following the gruesome discovery of the body of Father Willard Franklin of the St Bartholomew’s Shelter for the Homeless yesterday afternoon. 

It is thought that Fr. Franklin killed himself (by ‘gutting himself’ with a kitchen knife, according to one reliable source) after being questioned by police in relation to the disappearance in the space of approximately three weeks of up to twenty-one persons who had been in the habit of using the Shelter’s services on a regular basis.  It was when the same detectives returned with a warrant that the grim find was made.

Although remaining tight lipped about the exact details of this perplexing and worrying case, officials are said to be certain that some sort of ‘foul play’ was involved and have resolved to investigate further  – although they have admitted that they cannot be certain just exactly how many of Nashville’s homeless community they should be concerned about – given the ‘unique lifestyles’ of the individuals in question.

The news of Father Willard’s likely involvement in these disappearances has come a body blow to the remaining residents of the Shelter who held the priest in the highest esteem – and to the community at large. Readers of this newspaper will also be familiar with Father Willard and the very many acts of charity and kindness he has performed over the years for less fortunate inhabitants of the city . 

The last article was from the New Orleans Post, dated May 20, 1997, and related to Dr. David Charles.  It read:

Shy Hero ends French Quarter ‘Reign of Terror!’

‘Cannibal’ prowler shot dead in midnight struggle!

Residents of the famous French Quarter – and indeed of the city at large, can rest easy in their beds safe in the knowledge that ‘rough justice’ has been meted out to the despicable monster responsible for so many of their sleepless nights.

New Orleans PD officials have today confirmed that a man, since identified as one Elijah Jackson, was killed last night while in the process of intruding into the home of David Charles, a local architect and resident of the French Quarter.  It is understood that Mr. Charles shot and killed Jackson with a shotgun at close quarters during a fierce struggle.

A subsequent autopsy (made doubly difficult for the skilled and dedicated medical examiners by the stomach wounds sustained) disclosed the horrifying fact that Jackson had consumed human flesh recently – connecting him beyond question to the recent spate of disappearances and grisly discoveries of dismembered and partially eaten body parts which have gripped the city in a state of anxiety in recent weeks.  Police officials are said to be ‘certain’ that Jackson acted alone and are in the process of winding up their ongoing investigation.  

Elijah Jackson is thought to have been a vagrant recently arrived in the city.  Documentation found on his person, and subsequent enquiries have established that his last known address was the St. Bartholomew’s Shelter for the Homeless in Nashville, Tennesee.

Mr. Charles has humbly declined to give any media interviews about the incident and has asked for his privacy to be respected. Police officials confirmed that he will face no charges and have indicated that he may even be nominated for some form of citizen’s award for his part in closing this hideous chapter in the city’s history.

“Stab wounds, disembowelments, fantastic!” Agent Grant said sarcastically.

She faxed all of the articles back to Phoenix to Agent Crispy.

* * *

Crispy had the intern he was working with, Daniel Smith, make a dozen copies of each article and then place them all in the packet for the NSA.

He did a little research on meteor showers online, but could not find any other connections with killings so gave up around 4 p.m.  He took a taxi to Joseph Gutierrez’s office at Arizona Heart Hospital and found the doctor there.

“Arthur,” Gutierrez said.  He looked tired.

“Dr. Gutierrez,” Agent Crispy said.

“You didn’t find any more bodies, did you?”

“You don’t have anything new to play with.”

“Good.”

“I’m sure that in time, there will be more.”

“How can I help you?”

Crispy questioned Dr. Gutierrez on the injury that killed Kenneth Braverman and learned it was an incision that ran from his pelvis to his rib cage.  He said it almost looked self-inflicted but there was no way someone could make such an incision to himself.  He wondered if the man was a suicide and noted that the lack of blood was strange as well.  Crispy lied to the man, telling him Braverman’s family wanted the body cremated.  Dr. Gutierrez noted that wasn’t his responsibility.

Crispy  left the hospital and went to a local Federal Express office, where he sent a fax to San Carlos.  He waited for a reply.

* * *

Agent Grant and Agent Petrova were discussing the strange newspaper articles and had come up with a timeline:

January 18 – meteor shower

February 25 – National Tattler

March 5 – Mack Tooley killed vagrant, Mack Tooley killed self, Lowell County, Brenton Clark

March 18 – Brenton Clark moved to Nashville, Tennessee

March 22 – Dr. Clark attacked and killed in Nashville

April 25 – Father Willard Franklin – Homeless Shelter – killed himself, 21 disappearances – homeless

May 20 – Elijah Jackson, vagrant from Nashville, killed May 19, Introduced into Dr. David Charles (architect), Jackson consumed human flesh

May 28 – Stomach wounds, Houston, Texas

One of the employees from the hotel came into the room, telling the women he had another fax for them.  The cover page had Crispy’s name on it and the fax appeared to be a piece of notebook paper upon which someone had scrawled “They eat, they drink, they move on.”  They noticed that the bottom of the fax had a Federal Express office number.

Agent Grant scrawled on the paper “They worship imaginary aliens, they inject foreign materials into victims who in turn go crazy, kill, and cannibalize.”  She faxed that back to the office he’d sent his first fax from.  Within five minutes, another fax came, this one reading “They don’t worship, they gestate in their victims and then they look for others.  Don’t call this number again.”

“Whoa, he’s gone off the deep end,” Agent Grant said when she read it.  “Someone has been watching way too much Scully and Mulder.  So, we’re looking for crazed, psycho, occultist people injected people.  He’s looking for animals.  His theory is there are aliens from the meteorites gestating in people’s bodies …”

“Is he crazy?” Agent Petrova asked.

“That’s what I just said,” Agent Grant replied.  “So, I expect his next move to be for us to be out at night with flashlights, tromping about, looking at the stars.  At that point, we ask for his early retirement.  I think he’s going to be one of those people who sit around Area 51 in an RV once he retires.”

She thought a moment.

“That’s why he didn’t want me to give the letter …” she went on.  “Because he was already …  He’s afraid they’re going to think he’s crazy.  Because he is.”

* * *

After sending his last fax, Agent Crispy called Sheriff Colorados on his cellular phone.  He left a message asking what the Begay family wanted done with the bodies of their family.  He got another cab to take him back to San Carlos, arriving around dinnertime.

The three agents met in the conference room and looked over the information they had gathered.  Agent Petrova went over the timeline she had written up.  She noted that Dr. Clark had been disemboweled when he was killing in Nashville in March.  Agent Grant pointed out that seemed to be a recurring theme in the case.  She further pointed out that the death of the priest occurred in Nashville, where Dr. Clark had been killed.  She noted the connection with the death of the vagrant in New Orleans to the man who’d killed him and then moved to Houston before he’d died.

“It’s basically moving west,” Agent Grant said.

“These are unrelated articles,” Agent Petrova said.  “Even if this is total bullshit, which it probably is …”

“There’s usually some kernel of truth,” Agent Grant said.

She took out the fax they’d received from Crispy and asked to hear him say it on tape.  Then she went back to the room for the tape recorder.  While she was there, she noticed that some things seemed out of place, almost as if someone had searched the room and then returned everything to where it had been.  Either that or the cleaning people had come in.

She returned with the cassette tape recorder.  She asked Agent Crispy if he’d searched the room but he denied it.

“Then your NSA friends have been in our room,” she said.

“I’m not surprised in the least,” he replied.

“We gave them everything, so there wasn’t anything for them to find,” Agent Grant said, pressing the record button on the tape recorder.  “But anyway, let’s start this, shall we?  Okay, so your theory, so far, from our communication: extrapolate.”

Agent Crispy looked at the tape recorder.

“It would appear that you are seeking my early retirement,” he said.

“What?” Agent Grant said.  “No one is going to believe me when I turn in my report, that a decorated agent is leading an investigation in this way.  I’m not going to be the scapegoat when this gets turned in.  I’ll give my theory.  You give yours.  Or I’ll file my reports separately, that’s fine.”

“At this point in time, we have only one task on our hands: We are looking for Elaine Braverman,” he said.  “Who is, as of this moment, a victim of a crime.  Whatever else this case might have had, is focused down to that.”

“If she followed the trend of all the other victims, she’s long since dead, despite your incubation theory.  So we need to find―”

“What incubation theory?”

She picked up the fax sheet.

“Your incubation theory,” she said.  “It is not mine.  You used the word ‘incubation’ on your fax.”

“There is no ‘incubation’ on that fax,” he replied.

She looked at it again.

“‘Gestation period,’ I’m sorry,” she said.  “Gestation period.  All right, so all of our victims are pregnant with aliens.”

“Agent Grant, I am sorry to inform you that gestation is also a term used in psychology to define the process of a psychological issue brewing up in a patient,” he replied.  “You obviously misunderstood.”

She took the cassette tape out of the recorder and then pulled the tape from the cassette itself.

“Wait a minute,” Agent Petrova said.  “The fact that there are these types of stomach wounds, so the killer―”

“So, the crazy theory I thought he has is possible in your theory?” Agent Grant asked.

“No, not at all,” Petrova replied.  “The point is, we have a killer who has consumed human flesh previously.  The victim is somebody who has apparently repeated this process before.  So, the killer moves on, is then killed, disemboweled, the remains of human flesh in the stomachs of the killed people―”

“You just made me realize one thing,” Agent Crispy said.

“Let’s say it’s not a … crazy alien thing, and yet still somehow related to the meteor shower,” Agent Petrova said.

“Maybe it’s related to the toxic substance?” Grant said.

“Yes!” Petrova replied.  “Maybe it affects the mind.”

Grant made a quick drawing of a Gray and held it up, quipping that she’d made a sketch of the killer.  Petrova pointed out that Dr. Brenton Clark had not had any signs of human remains in his stomach, and he broke the chain.  She further said that it was possible that somehow the transfer still took place and the infection still spread.

“So, we’re going with toxic substance spreading psychological chaos?” Agent Grant said.

“Psychosis,” Petrova replied.  “She said that it could have spread to Braverman’s children and I’m willing to put money on the fact that the wife is carrying the disease and will turn up dead.”

“I would hope that is the case,” Agent Crispy said.

“Why?” Agent Grant said.  “That would be terrible.”

“Unfortunately, I think there is a worse possibility,” he went on.

“What?” Petrova asked.

“That it’s coyotes that have found it,” he said.  “And they are infected too.”

That gave them pause for thought.  Grant pointed out that sometimes diseases could transfer from animals to humans and sometimes strange things happened when they did.  Petrova suggested they might have to bring in the CDC but they really didn’t have any evidence to that effect.  They realized they needed toxicology reports for the coyotes.

Agent Crispy wanted a more recent timeline that split the events more finely in the area of San Carlos more carefully.  Agent Grant noted that they had no victims that occurred in August or later.  Crispy pointed out that all of the victims had been traveling on Highway 70.

“The neighbor!” Agent Grant said.

She said they should have him checked.  They discussed formulating a story to get him checked medically to make sure he wasn’t carrying some kind of toxic substance like the Begays and the sheep had been.  She thought that if he was the host that killed the family, they had to get him before it moved onto another host.  When Crispy pointed out that Elaine Braverman was a missing link in the case, Grant said she thought that she was long gone.  She believed that whatever it was had been moving from host to host.  It took a week at the most before it moved on, seemingly, from the newspaper articles.  She was adamant on having Rope medically examined.

Agent Crispy took out his cellular phone and called Colorados again.  It took some time for the man to return his call but he did in less than an hour.

“Sheriff Colorados, we are informed by the medical examiner than he has found a foreign substance in the sheep and in the bodies of the Begay family,” Agent Crispy said.  “He recommended that we continue to search for contaminants in the area.  This might affect the ground water, it might affect farms nearby, and it might affect―”

“Sheep at the next farm over,” Agent Grant muttered to him.

“―the sheep and the people at the next farm over,” Agent Crispy went on.  “They might have to come in for medical observation.”

“And toxicology report,” Agent Grant said.  “And drug test.”

“So, you want Rope to come in and get checked out and check his sheep out?” Colorados said.

“Yes,” Agent Crispy replied.  “I believe that would be the best course of action.”

“I’ll go talk to him and see what I can do,” the other man said.

“Please let us know,” Agent Crispy said.  “We are concerned for Mr. Rope’s health and we would like to follow the situation closely.”

“We would like to quarantine it if it’s a problem,” Agent Grant whispered to Crispy.

“All right, I’ll talk to Mr. Rope and see what I can do,” Sheriff Colorados replied.  “Anything else, Agent Crispy?”

“Have you found anything else related to the animal we were tracking?” Agent Crispy said.

“I’ve got those plaster casts that you wanted.”

“Could you send them over?”

“Sure.  Some of the men tried to track those tracks but they disappeared within a hundred yards.”

“I see.  There has not been any report of any strange people or events in the area?’

“Nope.  Just yourselves.”

“I suspect that we should look for the body of Elaine Braverman in the area as well.”

Sheriff Colorados assured him that they were doing that.

When Crispy returned to his room that evening, it looked as though someone had moved some of the items there.

* * *

Elaine Braverman’s picture had been on the news with reports that she was connected with the murder of her husband and children and wanted for questioning.

They found no new leads the next two days.  Both Ropes and his sheep were examined but nothing unusual was found.  Colorados also had a few of the Begay sheep tested but they all appeared normal.

* * *

Midmorning on August 12, Sheriff Colorados called the FBI agents, telling them that there were three shamans who had gone up into the wilderness to a sacred cave.  They were supposed to return that morning but had not.  A young acolyte sent to the cave also hadn’t returned.  He asked for the FBI agents to escort himself, Major Garrett, and a couple of deputies to the site.

As they left the hotel, Crispy and Grant noticed a black SUV parked nearby.  When they arrived at the Sheriff’s Office, Agent Crispy suggested a perimeter be set around the cave but Sheriff Colorados noted that they had to find out if anything was even wrong first.

“If either of you finds a ball or sphere of any kind, don’t pick it up, don’t touch it,” Agent Crispy said to the other two agents as they walked back to the car.

Two Sheriff’s SUVs led their sedan down State Road 70 for about 20 minutes before turning onto a dirt road that led northeast up into the mountains.  Another 20 minutes later, the SUVs came to a stop at the end of the road.  Crispy took the Kevlar vest out of the trunk of the sedan and put it on as Grant asked Sheriff Colorados if there was any ritual they needed to do before entering the cave.  He said there wasn’t.

They headed up a path that led them a half mile or so from the road, the police officers leading.  They soon saw a dark crevice 75 yards ahead and, as they walked down the path towards it, the crack of a high-powered rifle echoed through the area.  One of the deputies let out a grunt and fell backward, blood spewing from his right shoulder.  His right arm jerked spastically.

Everyone ducked for whatever cover they could find except for Crispy, who grabbed the wounded deputy and pulled him towards a boulder.  Grant and Petrova had drawn their sidearms as they found cover.  Colorados was struggling with his radio and shouting into it for assistance.

Grant started to make her way around to the left, heading up the incline and trying to keep under cover.  Another shot rang out and the wounded deputy jerked as blood spewed from his chest.  Crispy ducked down and pulled the body almost completely behind the boulder.  A moment later, he heard the death rattle in the man’s throat and, upon examining him, found that the second shot had gone right through the man’s heart.

Grant was still moving from cover to cover as best she could.

“Stay down!” Crispy called to Petrova.

He drew out his radio.

“Agent Grant,” he said.  “Don’t do anything foolish.”

Grant flung herself to one side, trying to make herself a harder target to hit, and then heard another shot from the cave.  The bullet struck the ground where she had just been as she slipped behind another rock.  She started to more carefully creep in the direction of the cave.

“Begin negotiations!” Agent Crispy called to Sheriff Colorados.

“Who’s in there?” the sheriff called out.  “We only want to talk!”

Another shot rang out, this one striking the boot of the fallen deputy and blowing off the entire toe of it.  Colorados shrugged at Crispy and took out his radio again.

* * *

“Wait for backup!” Grant heard Colorados say over the radio.

“Listen to the man, Agent Grant,” Agent Crispy’s voice said.

“Backup is on the way,” Colorados said.  “We’ve got a S.W.A.T. team on the way from San Carlos.”

“You don’t want an ID or a number count?” Grant asked.

“I don’t want any dead bodies,” Colorados replied.

“Trust me, I’m that good,” Grant said before turning her radio off.

I’ll be damned if some local yokel gets to take my glory

, she thought.

She continued to crawl towards the cave and another shot rang out from the entrance, this one striking a tree less than a foot from her head.  She ducked down and fired two quick shots of suppressive fire.  She heard the bullets ricochet off the rocks over the cave.  Then she continued to creep towards the cave.

She didn’t even hear the next shot.

* * *

Agent Crispy could barely make out Agent Grant, but he saw her jerk and stop moving.  He cursed.

It was a half hour before they heard more vehicles arrive.  The Sheriff’s Office men who came up the trail wore body armor and helmets; they carried assault rifles.  After consulting with Sheriff Colorados, they headed up to the cave under cover and reached it without incident, entering the cave carefully.

“There are some dead bodies up here!” one of them radioed back.  “But no one who’s alive.”

Colorados was immediately on his feet and heading up the trail.

“Colorados, pull your men back!” Agent Crispy said.  “This might be connected to the toxin I talked to you about earlier.  At least let me go first.”

“Well, c’mon then!” Colorados said.

The Sheriff sent a deputy to check on Agent Grant.

When Crispy and Colorados arrived at the cave, they found that the other men had secured it.  Colorados motioned for them to move out the cave.

“You don’t want armored men with you?” he asked the FBI agent.

“If I am to die, it wouldn’t be a waste,” Crispy replied, taking a maglite out of his pocket.  “I’ll be fine.”

He moved carefully into the cave, Colorados right behind him.

The cave was an abbatoir.  There was a pile of little more than knife-marked bones covered with blood in one corner.  A third body of an old man had apparently been drained of blood and partially devoured.  Finally, there was the body of a young boy who appeared to be unwounded.  A narrow crack in the back of the cave had a breeze blowing out of it.  It was wide enough for a man to squeeze through.

“The perimeter man!” Agent Crispy turned and said to Colorados.  “The perimeter!”

Colorados barked some orders to the S.W.A.T. team and they headed out of the cave.  Crispy crept into the crack in the wall.  After a long and painful journey through the narrow passage that pressed on his chest and back most of the time, he came out of the ground probably a half mile from the cave entrance.  He saw no sign of anyone.

“God damn it!” he said.

* * *

Petrova examined Grant’s body.  The high-caliber bullet had entered her head about an inch below the eye and blown out the entire back of her skull.  She had a look of profound surprise on her plain face.

It was an expert shot and a clean kill.  She probably hadn’t felt a thing.

* * *

Crispy returned to the cave and examined the area again.  He found an old, beat up, dirty backpack partially buried in some dirt near the back.  He could hear Colorados calling for more men on his radio near the entrance.  Crispy joined him and told him that he thought the man had escaped through the crack in the back of the cave.  He didn’t mention the backpack.

“Go and get him Colorados,” Agent Crispy said.  “I’ll stay here.  I can’t go any further.”

He coughed pathetically.

The Sheriff coordinated his men through the radio but didn’t leave the cave entrance.

* * *

Petrova saw four men in black suits coming up the path.  She recognized Agent Simmons and called into the cave that the NSA was coming.

* * *

Crispy turned and walked to the back of the cave, pulling the backpack out of the dirt.  It was surprisingly light but when he tried to shove it under his Kevlar vest, he found it was far too bulky.  Whatever was within was spherical, hard, and larger than a basketball.  He dropped it back where he’d found it and finished burying it.

* * *

Major Garrett intercepted the NSA agents and demanded identification.  After they showed him their badges, they pushed past the man and reached the cave entrance.  Sheriff Colorados also demanded ID and Simmons argued with him that they’d just showed it to the damn state trooper down below.

Crispy walked up behind Colorados and put his hand on the sheriff’s shoulder.

“Let them through, I know them,” he said.  “We’re supposed to cooperate them in all matters.”

Colorados looked him.

“All right,” he said, turning back to Simmons and jabbing a finger at him.  “Don’t contaminate my crime scene.”

“We’re all on the same side here, buddy,” Simmons said to him.  He turned to Crispy.  “What did you find?”

“Not a damned thing, sir,” Agent Crispy rasped.  “The perp must have left through the crack.  We don’t have the gun.  We can’t assume he left anything here.”

“Damn it,” Simmons said.  “Make sure you do a search of the entire area.  We need to find out who he is.”

“Right,” Crispy said.

“We’re done here for now,” Simmons said to his men, giving Crispy one last look before they left.

“Thorough,” Petrova muttered.

More police officers arrived and started to examine the crime scene.  Crispy played the part of coordinator as they took prints in the area.  There proved to be a great deal of bloody fingerprints on the bones.  Crispy tried to steer the officers away from the area where the backpack was.  However, one deputy noticed the loose dirt and started to work on it, finding the backpack and calling Sheriff Colorados over.  Colorados knelt by the backpack and carefully unzipped it.  Crispy called to him not to, telling him they might be dealing with biohazards and he didn’t want to endanger anyone else.

“We’re going to leave this backpack right where it is and I’ll inform the proper people,” he said.

“This doesn’t look like a biohazard,” Colorados said.

He pulled the backpack open to reveal a semi-transparent sphere made of some kind of dark material.  It was slightly larger than a basketball.

“Colorados, this is not wise,” Agent Crispy said.

Colorados touched it with one rubber-gloved finger.

“What the hell is that?” he said.

“Colorados!” Agent Crispy said.

“What?” the sheriff replied.

“That is not wise,” Crispy said.  “Leave it be.”

“This looks like evidence to me.”

“Let forensics deal with it.”

“Well, we will.  This is evidence in the murder of three tribal shamans and an acolyte.”

“A matter that requires most serious attention.”

“Yeah, it does.”

Colorados zipped the backpack closed again. He picked it up and handed it over to one of his deputies.

“That goes in evidence,” he said.

“I have to make a few calls outside,” Agent Crispy said.  “There’s no reception in this cave.”

He followed the deputy out and out of earshot of Colorados.

“Son, I’ll take care of that,” Crispy said.  “I’ll take it to evidence.  The FBI can process it much better than you can.”

“I got orders from the sheriff,” the young deputy said.

“And your sheriff takes orders from me in this matter, I’m afraid,” Crispy said.

“No, actually, he told us that the FBI is working with us but isn’t in charge of us,” the young man replied.  “So, you talk to him.  You can get it from evidence.  It’ll be in the station at San Carlos.”

He walked down the trail towards the car and Crispy followed him down but didn’t see a black SUV in the area among the other vehicles.  He recognized all of the vehicles as either tribal police or highway patrol, as well as their own sedan.  As the deputy got into a cruiser, a white van marked with a brightly colored logo pulled up.

It was a news van.

A good-looking woman and a man with a camera on his shoulder got out.  She looked around, spotted Crispy, and made a beeline for him.

“Excuse me!” she said, shoving a microphone in his face.  “Excuse me sir!  Are you one of the FBI agents investigating the disappearances?  I understand there’s been some killings and a murder.  Could you please comment?”

“I am sure that somebody will schedule a press conference,” Agent Crispy said, his voice raspy.  “I would suggest that you do not obstruct the investigation.”

“No sir, we’re just trying to get the news to the public,” she said.  “The public has a right to know.”

“You can get the information from one of the deputies around the perimeter.”

“Can you at least give us your name, sir?”

“No!”

“Are you with the FBI?”

He started hobbling back up towards the cave and she followed until a couple of police officers stopped her.

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