First Aid Badge Proximity Card Employee Company Security Medic by hsd11617

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									W. E. Lopez
HC-66, Box 11014
Pahrump, NV 89060
                                                                  Approx. 115,276 words



                                          DREAD

                                              By

                                       W. E. Lopez



                                           Prologue

        Rats scurried around the perimeter of the room; huge, gray rats. Larry Winscott

thought they resembled furry footballs with small pointed heads, short legs, and long

tails. Rats had never frightened him. He‘d seen plenty of them around the base camp in

Viet Nam. He and lots of the other guys had used them for target practice. Take the

bullet off a .223 cartridge and stick the brass case into a bar of soap. Wiggle it a little

then pull it out with the soap plug in the end of the cartridge. In just a few minutes a guy

could make several of the little varmint gitters the guys had called them. Load them into

a magazine, jam it into the well of the M-16 and just wait for Mister Rat. At close range,

the soap bullets were lethal. They were particularly effective at night, using a starlight

scope to spot the pesky critters. Larry enjoyed killing rats.

        Winscott took another deep slug of raw whiskey and followed it with a swallow

of beer. Damned if he wasn‘t feeling good!

        He was fifty-six years old. Viet Nam had been a long, long time ago. But it

hadn‘t been all bad. He still had dozens of fond, even pleasant memories. He‘d been a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    2


radio-telephone operator in an infantry company of the 101st Airborne Division, the

Screaming Eagles. The PRC-25 had added fifteen pounds to his already heavy rucksack,

but it was weight he didn‘t mind carrying. An RTO was always just a step away from the

platoon leader, and always one of the first to know what was really going on. He got

along real well with his platoon leader, call sign Grizzly 36, or just Grizzly. Everybody

had a nickname, something that could be used over the radio without compromising

secure information to enemy listeners. His own was Badger, after the viscous little

carnivore that was state animal of his Wisconsin home.

        Grizzly was what the men called a retread. He was a tough little guy with a no-

nonsense attitude. He‘d been a cracker-jack sergeant so somebody in this fucked up

Army had made him an officer. He shouldered his load, and stood his watch, just like the

rest of the grunts. He laughed and cried just as easily as his men.

        There had been the time they were leading the company through thick jungle.

Third platoon had been point, fourth was slack, then second, with first being drag. The

old man and his CP group were between the third and fourth. A full-up infantry company

was supposed to number one hundred and eighty officers and men. Company B had just

short of ninety. Companies were never up to full strength, there were always a few guys

off on R&R, a few in hospital and a few in the rear area. Then, too, were the ghosts.

They were people from Division or Corps who were technically assigned to Company B,

but were detached for duty with higher headquarters. The regulations said you were not

eligible to be awarded a Combat Infantryman‘s Badge unless you were assigned as an

infantryman at brigade or lower level. The ghosts were carried on Company B‘s roster,

but pulled all their duty back in some rear area with hot chow and soft bunks.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        3


        As it was, Company B had eighty-eight men in the jungle, and the company

commander, Scorpion, had told Grizzly to take the point. It was afternoon, daylight was

going fast, and they had at least two more klicks to go before they set up for the night.

They humped. That‘s what infantrymen do. Hump. Up hill, down hill, around the hill,

through the mud and across the rivers.

        The point squad signaled for a halt. Grizzly moved up to confer with his squad

leader and learn what the holdup was. Sergeant Rasmussen whispered in his ear.

―There‘s a big snake in the middle of the trail. No way to go around. We need to fire‘em

up.‖

        ―Show me,‖ Grizzly said. The sergeant led him forward another few meters to

where a fallen log, as thick as a man‘s waist, crossed a shallow ditch. The ditch ran at

right angles to the faint trail the men had been following. The log laid the length of the

trail. It was the trail over the small ditch.

        Underneath the log was a huge snake. It was impossible to tell how long it was

for it was tightly curled, resting in the drowsy afternoon. Its forked tongue occasionally

flicked in and out as it tasted the air. Its head was twice the size of a man‘s fist. A large

mans fist. Its body was at least five or six inches thick. Grizzly looked left and right for a

way to go around this obstacle. He saw nothing but thick brush and wait-a-minute vines.

His troops could use their machetes and hack their way through in just a few minutes, but

they were executing a movement-to-contact and silence was the order of the day. He saw

no way to go around the snake but before he allowed his point man to open fire he would

have to first call for permission from the CO.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       4


        Winscott drank more of the cheap whiskey. He remembered handing the radio

handset to the lieutenant who keyed the mike.

        ―Six, this is three-six, over,‖ the lieutenant said softly.

        The reply came back immediately for the company commander had been

expecting it, ―This is six. What‘s the holdup?‖

        ―There‘s a large snake in the middle of the trail here. He‘s nesting under a log.

There‘s thick brush to the left and right of the trail. I don‘t see anyway to bypass the

obstacle. Over.‖

        ―Well, what do you want me to do about it?‖ was the reply.

        ―I‘m requesting permission to open fire and destroy the snake.‖

        ―No, no, keep things as quiet as possible. What‘s the snake doing?‖

        Grizzly threw his hands up in the air and rolled his eyes in exasperation. He

keyed the mike again. ―He‘s just laying there, under a large log. He‘s flicking his tongue

in and out.‖

        ―Okay, have someone keep him covered and see if you can keep moving. But

don‘t open fire unless the snake looks threatening.‖

        Christ, Grizzly thought to himself, how am I supposed to interpret the body

language of a snake? He motioned to Sergeant Rasmussen to follow him and prepared to

step onto the log and move on down the trail. The sergeant grabbed his arm, stopping

him, and asking what to do.

        ―Cover the snake. If he makes a suspicious move, fire‘em up. Follow me when I

get across.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        5


        He looked aghast at the lieutenant. Clearly Rasmussen was no friend of snakes.

But, the lieutenant was the lieutenant. He pointed his rifle at the snake, making sure the

selector switch was in the full-auto position, as the platoon leader led his RTO across the

log. Then he motioned for the man behind him to cover the snake, silly as it seemed.

Then, he was across, then two more men. He caught up to the lieutenant who had

hunkered down to look at his map.

        ―There‘s a river ahead, not far,‖ Grizzly said. ―When you get there, send two men

to the right, two to the left, and hold up. I‘ll catch up to you.‖

        Rasmussen moved off through the jungle, happy to be putting space between

himself and that huge snake.

        Five minutes later the lieutenant was looking across the river into the tree line

twenty yards away. It didn‘t look deep. It wasn‘t running dangerously fast. No problem.

He sent a squad across to secure the tree line while Rasmussen‘s squad secured this side

and gave them cover. When they had made it across and motioned they were okay, the

lieutenant waded into the water. They were halfway across with the river at mid-thigh,

when Badger handed him the handset. ―Sir, the old man wants you.‖

        ―This is three-six,‖ he radioed.

        ―Why didn‟t you tell me that snake was that fuckin‟ big?” came the shouted reply.

        Larry Winscott had to laugh every time he remembered that story. He could hear

the old man‘s words plain as day even though the lieutenant was holding the handset

almost three feet away. It was true that he held an irrational fear of the slithering

creatures, but he would never have let Grizzly know that. Wherever the man led, Badger

would follow.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       6


        Winscott took another pull at his bottle. The liquor was raw and bitter at first, but

the more he drank, the easier it went down. There was a pounding in his ears; a pounding

in his temples. It brought to mind the sights and sounds of an old western movie in black

and white. Dozens of breech-clouted Indians with shuffling feet gathered around a

roaring ceremonial fire with the soundtrack coming up on drums in the background.

Relentless chanting as the camera panned from one wrinkled and toothless face to the

next. ―Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh-hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ Redskins getting

liquored up and making medicine before attacking the wagon train or wiping out the

settler‘s post. Boom-boom-boom-boompity-boom-boom-boom-boompity, went the

drums and tom-toms as the Indians danced.

        Winscott knew he was alone in his shack. Where could the noise be coming

from? It filled him with a grave sense of apprehension. Boom-boom-boom-boompity-

boom-boom-boom-boompity! A feeling of dread invaded his thoughts and soul. ―Hey-

yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh-hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        Christ! Now there was a snake coiled over in the corner. Not a four or five foot

rattle snake so common in the hills nearby. This one was huge, with a bullet shaped

head. It reminded him of the snake that ate John Voight in Anaconda, but that was

stupid. That hadn‘t even been a real snake, just computer animation.

        Winscott ran the fingers of his right hand through his graying hair and then

rubbed and blinked his eyes. That huge snake was still there! It was tightly coiled, its

tongue flicking in and out while the beady little eyes locked on a rat six feet to the right.

With lightening quickness the snake struck and swallowed up the rat and quickly struck

again, swallowing a second rat.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        7


        Oh, God! Winscott screamed to himself. Please let me be dreaming this and let

me wake up. He rolled off the couch where he‘d been watching an old Andy Griffith

rerun on one of the satellite channels. Lurching across the front porch of his trailer he

swept the TV off the table and climbed up there himself. There was a three-legged stool

in front of the table. He‘d been sitting on it while he overhauled the carburetor of his

chain saw this morning. The chain saw was still sitting next to where the TV had been.

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity-boom-boom-boom-boompity! The drums were

beating fiercely, almost painfully, within his head.

        Larry grabbed the stool by its flat seat and swung it at the snake but struck only a

glancing blow. One of the stool‘s legs cracked and splintered while the other two fell off

and slid away on the floor. Larry dropped the stool and it landed at his feet. He grabbed

the chain saw and flipped its ignition switch to run then depressed the choke and

squeezed the trigger type throttle while pulling the starter rope with his left hand.

        The freshly tuned motor caught and roared to life, only to sputter and nearly stop

before Larry lifted the choke lever. He pulled the trigger again and listened to the

motor‘s sharp roar. He waved the saw at the snake and saw its eyes follow the wickedly

spinning chain as a cobra will follow the movement of a snake charmer‘s flute while

being unable to hear the sound of the music.

        ―Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh-hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ the phantom Indians

chanted in Larry‘s head. Louder and louder, the movie was building to a dramatic segue.

In the next scene he expected the director to cut to an interior shot of a settler‘s cabin as

ma, never a frail and worn plains woman, always a pert and attractive starlet in B
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     8


westerns, set her kitchen table with blue tin plates and serving platters of foods unlikely

to be found at that time and place in the west. Such were the dreams of Hollywood.

        Winscott was facing a dream of his own. Nightmare would be a more appropriate

description. The huge snake kept its eyes on the chain saw as Larry waved it over his

head. Roar! Roar! Roar! The noise was deafening within the porch with the doors and

windows closed. Larry wondered what more he could do to frighten this huge monster.

How could he scare it away?

        Then it was too late. The snake struck faster than anything Larry had ever seen.

Its mouth closed over both of Larry‘s legs, nearly up to the knees. Small but deadly teeth

pierced his skin. The pain was white hot. The horror was overwhelming! He was being

consumed alive!

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity-boom-boom-boom-boompity!

        Larry swung the chain saw at the snake‘s skull and struck hard. The deadly teeth

of the chain saw easily bit through the snake‘s thin skin and struck bony plate. The saw

skittered sideways and Larry nearly lost his grasp. He lifted the saw overhead and swung

again with similar, useless results.

        Larry knew there was only one way to keep this creature from eating him alive.

A snake‘s teeth are angled to the rear; there is no way the snake could spit out something

once it had begun to swallow. The snake could not stop eating Larry.

        ―Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh-hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ the Indians sang while

their leather moccasins stirred the dust.

        Unless… He raised the saw again and brought it down once more. This time he

brought it down across both his legs, just above the knee. The pain was unimaginable but
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      9


it was the only way to save his life. He held the trigger tightly pressed in his right hand

while his jaw and teeth were no less tightly clenched. He wanted to scream but if he

opened his mouth let the air rush out he knew he wouldn‘t have the resolve to hold the

saw.

        Blood, flesh and bone squirted from the saw. It struck the floor. It struck the

walls. It spurted to the roof. Finally, Larry‘s legs were severed and the snake‘s head fell

to the floor with them. Greedily it swallowed Larry‘s legs. Winscott found the weight of

the chain saw pulling him forward, threatening to topple him to the floor, onto the

dreadful snake. He let go of the heavy motor and it crashed on top of the huge snake, the

chain still spinning and throwing the saw half way across the room.

        He stretched his arms straight out to the edge of the table and managed to hold

himself upright, just barely. Larry‘s reflexes were trying to hold him self erect with legs

that were no longer there. He fought to hold himself upright in spite of the pain. His

vision was beginning to dim and he felt cold. He knew what was happening to him, he

was suffering the effects of losing a huge quantity of blood. The more he strained to hold

himself upright, the faster his heart pumped the blood from the arteries of his severed

legs. He grew colder, steadily colder.

        His vision began losing color, changing from gray to black, and then an even

deeper black. His ears were ringing, as though he could hear the thump-thump-thumpity-

thump of his heart. Finally, he blacked out. He didn‘t even feel it when his unconscious

body toppled forward, falling from the precarious perch upon the table. His chest hit the

splintered leg of the broken stool. The broken spear jutted straight up from the floor and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   10


it was sharp enough to pierce right through Larry‘s torso. He ended lying flat on the floor

with the bloody splinter protruding from his back.

       When the drunken man‘s brain was no longer functioning, when it was no longer

capable of conjuring up fantasy demons, the huge snake and fat gray rats left the room.

The old man was alone. Larry Winscott died alone.

       The sound track of the B-western rose to a crescendo. ―Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-

yanh-hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ Boom-boom-boom-boompity-boom-boom-boom-

boompity!
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     11




                                              Chapter 1



        Lane Mauler eased off the gas pedal and the two-and-a-half ton rental truck began

slowing in spite of the downhill grade. The green and white sign to the right of the road

read Valley Forks, Pop. 254, Elev. 5466. ―Looks as though this is the big city, Tutu,‖ he

said to the fifteen-year-old girl sitting across from him.

        The girl had earphones over her head, the wire leading to a CD player sitting

between them on the front seat. Her head was bobbing in time with music only she could

hear. Her eyes were nearly shut, pointedly ignoring the last hundred miles of desert they

had driven through. As she felt the truck slow she lifted her head and glanced around.

They were approaching a small town. Correction: a wide spot in the road with a

combination gas station and restaurant, she told herself.

        ―What‘s this?‖ she asked her dad.

        ―Home,‖ he said, ―almost.‖

        ―Ughh, how gross, Dad.‖ She made a face as if to visibly show signs of her

disgust and disappointment. ―This burg is so far out in the sticks they probably don't

even get Monday until Wednesday. I‘ll bet the nearest shopping mall is a hundred miles

behind us in Las Vegas.‖ She scanned both sides of the road getting an idea of the new

town her father had chosen for them to live in. She was dismally depressed.

        ―You‘re half right,‖ her dad said. ―The nearest shopping mall is behind us, in Las

Vegas. But it‘s nearer two hundred miles than one hundred. Fallon is northwest, about a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    12


hundred and forty miles, and Ely (he pronounced it Eelee) is about the same distance to

the east. But Tonopah is only about eighty miles south of us, just past Belmont.‖

        ―Christ Dad! Where do people shop around here?‖

        ―Around here? Mostly they don‘t. You make a list and go into town, two, maybe

three times a month, to pick up what you need. And watch your mouth, Cheryl Ann.

You‘re supposed to be a young lady, you know.‖

        ―Yeah, as if anybody around here would care.‖ With her hand she made a broad

sweep of the view around them. ―They don‘t even have a McDonald‘s or Dairy Queen.

No Taco Bell and no Burger King. What do people eat around here?‖

        ―I guess they make do at Art‘s Exxon and Eats.‖ He pointed to the building just

twenty yards in front of them and pulled onto the gravel, his tires making a crunchy

sound as he stopped the rental truck and shifted into park. ―Let‘s see what kind of

burgers Art makes. It‘s after lunch already, and I‘m beginning to get hungry. I could

also do with a coffee. How about yourself?‖ He killed the ignition and stepped out of

the truck. Tutu lazily slipped out on the passenger's side.

        Cheryl surveyed the gas station/coffee shop and made a face. ―Any port in a

storm, I guess the saying goes. Where do you suppose our house will be, dad?‖

        ―Somewhere close, Tutu.‖ He gave his daughter a smack across her shorts.

―Let‘s get something to eat and ask inside.‖

        ―Daddy!‖ the girl said. ―People might see. I‘m not a six-year-old anymore.‖ A

flush came to her cheeks.

        ―Keep reminding me,‖ he said playfully. ―The way you act sometimes, I have a

tendency to forget.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      13


        ―Okay. So I pout sometimes. You know that I‘m not real happy about moving to

this no-where place. I can‘t hide the fact. You have to see my side of things. I mean,

this is quite a change from Long Beach. I‘m not even sure we‘re still in the same century

up here.‖ They had been walking as they talked, now the girl reached the door of the

coffee shop and held it open for her dad.

        ―Thanks, dear,‖ he said, ―but this time we‘ll let beauty go before age.‖ Inside

they found a small counter with candies, mints, and cigarettes. A cash register set upon

the counter. Next to the cash register was a pasteboard card with small cellophane bags

of Granny Titus‟s Paiute Potpourri for a dollar each. A freckled redhead of about fifteen

stood behind the counter. She wore blue-jeans, a long sleeved knit pull-over and a

nametag which read Ruth. Behind her were digital readouts and on/off switches for the

three gas pumps out front.

        ―Hi,‖ she said, genuinely cheerful. ―Welcome to Valley Forks. Find yourselves a

seat and I‘ll be right with you.‖

        Along the left-hand wall Lane saw a lunch counter with eight or nine stools in

front of it. In the center of the room were eight booths in two rows of four, separated

only by a corrugated fiberglass partition that was easy to see over when you were

standing, but gave privacy when seated. To the right of the booths were six short grocery

aisles. The aisles stuck out into the room with plenty of space for customers to pass

down them or between them and the lunch booths. Above each aisle, a convex mirror

attached to the ceiling allowed the person at the check out counter to keep an eye on what

was happening between the rows.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     14


         Between the grocery shelves and booths, moving toward the rear of the building

was a wide, clear area about twenty feet by forty. The back wall of the building was

made of built-in cold storage boxes. Through their glass fronts, Lane could see milk,

beer, soda, a few lunch-meats, packaged cheese items, eggs, and other odds and ends. It

looked as though Art was providing for some of the needs of the residents of Valley

Forks.

         Father and daughter settled into the nearest booth with Cheryl sitting across from

her dad. Ruth showed up and placed two glasses of water in front of them. The table

was all ready set with service for four and the girl picked up the extra silverware, holding

it in one hand as she set down two menus. ―Can I get you folks something to drink while

you‘re deciding?‖ The girl had a pleasant smile and a cheerful voice. She obviously

didn‘t feel that her job was sheer drudgery, or perhaps Art paid well enough to make it

interesting for her.

         ―Yes, please,‖ Lane said. ―Coffee for me, and Cheryl...?‖ he let the question

hang while motioning to her with his empty right hand. The waitress followed his lead

and turned her attention to the girl in the booth.

         ―A diet Pepsi, please.‖ Cheryl gave the girl a fairly sincere smile. Maybe they

would be friends. They might be the only teenage girls within a hundred miles. Ruth left

to fetch the beverages.

         Surveying the menu Lane muttered, ―I think I‘ll have the chili in a sourdough

bowl.‖

         ―Dad, you always order chili, even when you could have chicken or a steak. Boy!

Our new house is gonna smell tonight!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      15


        ―Cheryl!‖ her dad cautioned in a voice hardly above a whisper.

        ―Well, excuse me,‖ Cheryl said. ―I mean, it‘s not like this place is so crowded I‘d

be shouting it to the world.‖

        ―Behave, Cheryl Ann,‖ her father said firmly. The girl knew he meant business

when he called her Cheryl Ann. Any other time he called her Tutu, a nickname she‘d

picked up when just a small child and still young enough for dad to collect kisses from

his number one girl, his wife, and his number two girl, his daughter. She‘d been Number

Two, or just Tutu, as long as she could remember, except when she displeased him.

        Then his wife died two years ago. Twenty-six months, two weeks, and three

days. But who was keeping track? She‘d been the victim of an unsolved carjacking.

Neither Lane nor his daughter felt any one could ever be the number one girl again. But

Cheryl Ann remained Tutu.

        Lane seldom thought about his wife being dragged from behind the wheel of her

dark blue Nissan. He couldn‘t. He couldn‘t allow the picture to form in his mind of her

laying on the asphalt while a bullet smashed into her uncomprehending face, shattering

her Pepsodent smile into broken chunks of dental material. The three-eighty bullet ripped

past her teeth and left chunks of bone, flesh, and blood on the pavement where it ended as

a crumpled mass of lead and copper. The first bullet hadn‘t been enough to kill her

instantly, but the second one, fired by the young killer, without so much as a second‘s

thought, had penetrated Anne‘s chest, fired at a downward angle as she lay prone on the

street, driving under her left breast and exploding into her heart.

        Lane shook his head and pushed the flash of memory away from his

consciousness. Because of departmental policy, he hadn‘t even been allowed to get close
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       16


to the case, but he heard things. He knew things. He grieved until he could grieve no

more. He cried until his eyes were red and raw, his cheeks covered with the salty warmth

of his tears.

         He wouldn‘t drink, knowing you can‘t find answers at the bottom of a bottle.

Besides, he still had a daughter who needed him. The only thing he could do was to hide

the memory of his dead wife in the deepest and darkest drawers of the filing cabinet that

held his dreams and fears. And he could get Tutu out of the sewer called a city. Lane

Mauler dealt with his loss, with the end of his marriage, the end of his world as it had

been to that day, by hiding from it. He closed the book and tried to pretend that part of

his life had never happened, that it was just an empty void where there should have been

eighteen years of memories. Eighteen years of whispered affection. Eighteen years of

shared responsibilities. Eighteen years of trips to the supermarket, vacations at Tahoe, at

the beach, a cruise to Hawaii on their fifth anniversary. Lane couldn‘t hide from all the

memories, but he could try….

         Ruth returned and set down the drinks. ―Are you ready to order now? Or would

you like more time?‖

         Lane looked at his daughter and nodded that she should order first. She glanced

at the waitress and said, ―I‘ll take the tuna salad and a couple lemon wedges. That‘s all.‖

         Ruth scribbled on her pad and turned to Lane. ―And you, sir?‖

         ―The sourdough chili, please, and a bottle of Tabasco.‖

         The girl scribbled on her pad then looked ‗round the table once more. ―Anything

else?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      17


       ―That‘ll do for now, I guess,‖ Lane said. The waitress collected the menus and

went behind the lunch counter where she stuck her order slip on a wheel in a window to

the kitchen. She slammed her hand down on a bell in the window. Ding! Ding!

―Ordering!‖ she shouted. A hand came up and grabbed the ticket. Lane saw the head

and shoulders of a man with a pudgy face and a toothpick in his mouth. He wore a paper

cap over his graying hair. The man looked at the ticket and said something to Ruth that

Lane couldn‘t hear.

       Ruth turned and grabbed a saucer from behind the lunch counter. She set it in her

work area and reached down into a refrigerated unit and took out a square, stainless steel

pan. She removed four lemon wedges from the pan and put them on the saucer, then put

the pan away. She rummaged beneath the counter and came up with a bottle of Tabasco.

       She came to their table in moments and set the saucer of lemon wedges in front of

Cheryl and the Tabasco in front of Lane. ―I see you‘re driving a U-Haul and towing a

pickup,‖ she said by way of conversation. ―You folks coming up from Vegas? Passing

through?‖

       ―Yeah, up from Vegas,‖ Lane said, ―and L.A. before that. Actually we‘re new in

town here.‖ He stuck out his hand. ―My name‘s Lane Mauler. I‘m gonna be the new

deputy here.‖

       Ruth shook his hand and gave him a wide smile. ―Well, pleased to meet you,

sheriff. Valley Forks ain‘t a big town, and it‘s mostly peaceful. An occasional traffic

ticket or something once in awhile, but no trouble. I think you and your family are gonna

like it here. Sure enough.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     18


        Lane smiled back. ―If all the folks in town are as nice as you, Ruthie, I‘m sure

we will. The one with the long face over there,‖ he pointed at Cheryl Ann, ―is my

daughter. I‘m afraid that she has noticed that this town doesn‘t have a teen hangout.‖

        ―Oh, but we do,‖ Ruth said to Cheryl. "Martin‘s Video is only a block from here,

one street over. He‘s got ‗bout a thousand video tapes and half a dozen video games in a

play room, and a pool table, and a yogurt bar, and soft drinks. Everybody goes there after

school. If anything is happening in town, you‘ll hear about it there.‖

        Cheryl seemed to brighten up. ―You mean there‘s life in these hills?‖

        ―Well, not like Vegas, or L.A., not even like Tonopah,‖ Ruth said, ―but it‘s not

boring either. Give it a week or so. I think the town will grow on you.‖

        ―No offense,‖ Cheryl said, ―but that sounds like it‘d take a miracle.‖

        ―You‘ll see.‖ Ruth smiled back.

        The man in the kitchen rang the bell and shouted, ―Order‘s up!‖ Ruth turned and

bounced away.

        ―Nice kid,‖ Lane said.

        ―Holy barf!‖ Cheryl said, with a look of disgust. ―Video games yet.‖

        Ruth returned shortly, a plate in each hand. She set a salad in front of Cheryl and

a large plate with a sourdough loaf hollowed out in the center and filled with chili in front

of Lane. The cook stepped up behind her and nodded to Lane.

        ―Art Tyson,‖ the chunky man said, wiping both hands on a bar-towel stuck into

the waistband of his apron. He stuck out a hand to Lane. ―Ruthie said you‘re gonna be

the new deppity here in town?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       19


         ―That‘s right,‖ Lane said as he half rose and shook the man‘s hand. The grip was

firm and the hand callused from hard work. ―Lane Mauler. Pleased to meet you.‖ He

pointed across the table. ―My daughter, Cheryl.‖

         Tyson reached over and took Cheryl‘s offered hand. ―Pleased to meet‘cha young

lady.‖ He added to Lane, ―You‘re gonna like it here, deppity. Not much trouble. Not

much work for you. The county provides a house, it‘s over on Borax Street. Just that

way,‖ he hitched his thumb across the street, ―two blocks. You wanna meet anybody or

find out anything in this town, just ask me. Any time. I open at six and close at nine,

except Friday and Saturday, then we stay open until midnight, or until the crowd goes

home.‖

         ―The crowd?‖ Lane asked.

         ―Well, ain‘t much. Maybe fifteen or twenty people unless it‘s really cold. Winter

time, we may get forty or fifty locals when the state plows the road. Couple prospector‘s,

maybe a sheep rancher or two. O‘course we got the school teachers livin‘ in town, and a

few people with a pension from the state or the government. Couple on social security.

Used to be a pretty good crowd when the mine was open. That was the Bellamy Number

Four, but it shut down in eighty-four, or five, when the price of silver dropped. Some

folks moved away, some stayed. Those that were eligible took social security and

retired.‖

         ―Quiet here in the Valley,‖ he went on. ―Toquima Range to the west and Monitor

Range to the east. A man can do a little hunting or a little trapping during the season.

Still a bounty on coyote in this state, if‘n you can outsmart them critters. An‘ we got a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      20


marsh ten or ‗leven miles south. You can shoot ducks there in season. Or if you hanker

for big city action, Vegas is only a hop-skip-and a jump away.‖

         "I guess a fellow could keep pretty active around here," Lane said.

         ―I got the gas station and the coffee shop to keep me busy. The wife has her

garden and her quilting club. She‘s usually in from ten to four minding the kitchen so I

can get a little rest before dinner, but she‘s shopping over in Tonopah today. Couple of

the women folk carpool to the market once a week. Yer wife would be welcome to join

with ‗em I‘m sure. Makes a long drive shorter when you got company and saves on gas

too. They got more‘n a dozen women signed up in sort of a co-op. If you‘re not going to

town this week, you can still turn in your shopping list and they‘ll pick up whatever you

need.‖

         ―My wife died some time ago,‖ Lane said quietly. He didn‘t add that the punk

who had killed Anne had never been caught. He didn‘t add that the dark blue Nissan had

been dumped in Corona less than an hour later. A god-damned joy ride had been the

cause of Anne‘s death. No, not the cause. The cause of her death had been a teen-aged

punk with a three-eighty auto who had needed a car for less than an hour before

abandoning it forty miles away. The senseless death that had obliterated a man‘s family

was the main reason he‘d brought Cheryl Ann to live in this small town. He didn‘t want

her to be exposed to that kind of violence any more, not if he could prevent it. In fact, he

admitted to himself, he was nearly paranoid on the subject. What good was law

enforcement when a sharp lawyer could get a punk kid out on bail in an afternoon, and

the kid would be six states away before midnight? Or, if you were lucky enough to get

the kid to trial and win a conviction, the scum would get sentenced to six years and be
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    21


out in eighteen months on parole and ready to rob or maim innocent people again. Lane

hoped he was getting away from that kind of rut. He wanted to get about as far away

from a big city as one could get while remaining close enough for Tutu to get good

schooling and have medical and dental care nearby.

        ―Oh, sorry to hear that,‖ Art said. He appeared to be at a loss for words. ―Well,

if your daughter will be your housekeeper, I‘m sure the women would love to meet her.‖

        ―Thanks, we‘ll welcome their help. But I‘d like for Cheryl Ann to be able to

spend most of her time just being a teenager. She‘ll only be young once, you know.

There‘ll be time enough for house keeping when she‘s older.‖

        ―Well,‖ Art said again while backing away toward the kitchen, ―You folks enjoy

your lunch. If there‘s any incidentals you need when you get moved into the house,

remember I‘m open ‗til nine. I don‘t carry a large selection, just a few things you might

get caught short of and need before the next shopping day.‖

        ―Thanks, Art. Cheryl will probably send me back with a list this evening before

you close.‖ Lane took his seat again and picked up his spoon. Art and Ruthie went away

to let them eat in peace. ―Friendly people,‖ Lane said as he pushed aside the phantom

thoughts in his mind, thoughts still too painful for him to live with.

        ―So were the Beverly Hillbillies,‖ the young girl observed. She squeezed a lemon

wedge dripping juice onto her salad. An errant drop spurted into her eye. ―Oww,‖ she

said.

        Lane chuckled. He shook salt into his chili and started adding Tabasco. The

smell of vinegar permeated the air. A few minutes later, with his chili half-finished and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      22


Cheryl toying with her salad, Ruth returned with the coffee pot. ―A little more?‖ she

asked. Lane‘s mouth was full but he held his cup out to her.

        When he had finished, Lane dropped a couple singles on the table and walked to

the front door with Cheryl. He stopped at the cash register to pay the bill.

        ―Sure enjoyed the chili, Ruthie. Especially the sourdough bowl.‖

        ―I‘ll tell my dad,‖ she said. ―He bakes the bread fresh every morning. Sure gets

your heart going in winter when there‘s a foot of snow on the ground.‖

        ―You get much snow here?‖ he asked.

        ―Not so‘s you‘d notice. Couple inches in October, couple more in November and

December. But it sticks around on account of the elevation. Might get ten or twelve

inches in a typical winter. If it‘s a real heavy winter, maybe we get as much as two or

two and a half feet. The state plows the main road right away, but the few side roads we

have in town don‘t get the plow. Deputy Foster, the one that retired to San Diego a few

months back, he used to plow the side roads with a blade attached to his sheriff‘s truck.‖

        ―I guess that‘s a chore I‘ll inherit,‖ Lane said. ―It‘s been nice talkin‘ with you,

Ruthie. I hope you and Cheryl will get along well.‖

        ―No problem there, deputy. In Valley Forks you either get along or move along,

as my dad says. Most folks here get along just fine.‖

        ―Thanks again, Ruthie. Be seein‘ you.‖

        ―Take care,‖ she called as he and Tutu went out the door.

        Cheryl had already crawled up in the passenger seat of the U-Haul truck. Lane

climbed up and started the engine. After checking for traffic he put on his signal and

pulled out onto the highway.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    23


        He turned left on Rhyolite and found Borax one block past Pyrite.

       He paused a moment to get his bearings. The house provided by the county was

supposed to be at 106 Borax, but there was no indication of which way the numbers ran

and he couldn‘t see any on the few houses and mobile homes visible from where he sat.

On a hunch he turned left, figuring that street numbers would begin at the edge of town as

folks drove in from Las Vegas to the south.

       He was wrong. When he did spot a few house numbers they were in the four and

five hundreds. ―Figures,‖ he told Cheryl. ―Las Vegas was just dust flats when the

mining boom hit this town. Stands to reason the rail road came in from Fallon and Reno

north of here.‖ He turned left and drove around the block until he was back on Borax

again. This time he turned right and three minutes later he was pulling into the drive of

number 106 Borax.

       The house set on a steep slope about ten yards up from the street. There was no

curb. He set the parking brake and got out. Cheryl climbed down from the passenger

side and they walked to the steps leading up to a covered porch that ran the full width of

the house and continued around the side opposite the carport.

       The Maulers ascended the stairs and Lane dug into his pocket for the key he had

been given three weeks ago in Tonopah when he‘d been interviewed and hired for the

job. He opened the door and Cheryl pushed her way in and raced up the stairs to pick out

her room. Lane heard her racing around upstairs, opening doors and closets as she

explored.

       Lane poked around the ground floor. There was a living room overlooking the

porch and open also down the right side of the house. The furniture was sparse. Well,
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     24


Lane thought, they said it was partially furnished. He and Cheryl had moved from an un-

furnished apartment in Long Beach, and they still had the furniture that Lane and his wife

had picked out years earlier. The sofa and love seat would look nice flanking that coffee

table someone had left. His recliner would go here, he pictured the view in his mind‘s

eye. The TV and entertainment center would sit just along side the fireplace. It would be

a comfortable place to spend an evening.

        Lane backed out of the living room and found a parlor just across the front hall.

The small room had been converted to an office and there was a computer workstation

(minus computer) sitting on one side of the room. The other side held a broad desk made

from an unfinished door laid across two double-drawer filing cabinets. A phone and

florescent lamp topped the table, which was empty except for IN and OUT boxes and a

third marked HOLD. A green, three-ring binder lay next to the phone with Nye County

Sheriff‘s Office, Standing Operating Procedures labeled on the front. Above the table

was a three by four bulletin board with half a dozen notices tacked on it. He‘d have to

take a look at them first thing after getting moved in.

        A second door led from the parlor to the kitchen. In the kitchen he found a

counter top with built-in sink facing a window overlooking the yard at the rear of the

house. Across from the sink was a propane range and conventional refrigerator. One end

of the room had a dinette set and a broad window facing the north side of the property. It

would have been more scenic facing any other direction. East would have made a nice

place for breakfast, with the sun coming over the mountains across the highway. South

would look across a side street to the neighbor‘s house. West would have yielded a

fantastic view at sunset. The back yard sloped gently up to woods behind the property
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      25


and leading to the mountains in the middle distance. Looking north, however, there was

only a narrow strip of lawn and a chain link fence dividing this property from their

neighbor. Lane saw a plastic Big Wheel on the neighbor‘s lawn, along with a child size

two-wheeler and surmised that his new neighbors had at least two children.

        Across the kitchen from the dinette, a sliding door called a ―pocket door‖ led

back into the living room with its formal dining table. At right angles to the pocket door

another door opened into a walk-through pantry that opened in turn on a screened in back

porch. Lane admired the size of the pantry and felt that it could easily store enough food

to last an entire winter. Logical, he admitted, since there would have been no electric

refrigeration when this boomtown had been constructed. In summer, ice had probably

been brought by railroad from Virginia City or Reno.

        Cheryl had come down stairs and was talking a mile a minute about ‗her‘ room

and the size of the master bath upstairs between her room and her dads, the spare

bedroom across from hers, the extensive built in closets, and the half-bath beneath the

stairwell.

        ―And the view out my bedroom window is unbelievable! The ground slopes

gently up to the hills behind us and there are pines everywhere. Dad, I‘ve just got to have

a horse so I can go riding in the mountains. There‘s plenty of land behind us, and you

can build some stalls out back. And there‘s a small greenhouse and a space for a garden

already fenced off, and we can shovel the manure into the garden, and it‘ll be really

fabulous…‖

        ―Whoa, Tutu! Hold on,‖ her father said. ―The closest you‘ve ever been to a

horse is that Mustang coupe the O‘brien kid drove when we lived in Long Beach. And he
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      26


was much too old for you anyway.‖ For the second time today he was reminded that

Cheryl Ann was the reason he had responded to a want ad in Law Enforcement Monthly

and had interviewed for the job of deputy sheriff in this small town in Nevada‘s largest

county, actually the second largest county in the US.

        Cheryl Ann had always been a good girl. She didn‘t smoke, didn‘t drink, and

didn‘t use drugs. She got good grades in school, but people in the city grow up with

different ideas of which things in life are the important ones. Lane wanted his daughter

to learn that family, and the things you accomplish yourself, were the real ideals in life.

        ―Looks like I‘m going to have to get used to a gas stove again,‖ Cheryl said.

―And I had just gotten used to the electric range in Long Beach.‖

        ―Electric might be inconvenient up here in the winter, hon. You get ice on the

power lines, a pole goes down, and you eat cold beans until the power company gets it

fixed. Might be two or three days. That‘s why there‘s a fireplace in the living room and

ceiling registers so the warm air can rise up to the second floor.‖

        ―Are you going to play Paul Bunyan and keep us stocked with firewood for the

winter?‖ she asked.

        ―Me? Not hardly! When I was a kid on grandpa‘s farm in Pennsylvania, that‘s

where the winters are really cold,‖ he gave her a wink, ―we heated our home with coal.

Instead of burning hot and fast, coal starts out slow but burns longer and more evenly.

We could build a fire in the evening and still have plenty of heat come noon the

following day.‖

        ―But coal is smelly!‖ his daughter put in.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      27


        ―Not really,‖ he said. ―We‘ll install an airtight fireplace insert so as to stay warm

inside while all the smell goes up the chimney. In the long run, coal is cheaper too,

compared to buying wood for heating, and you don‘t have to keep the coal out of the

snow and rain to keep it dry.‖

        ―Well, that‘s your business,‖ his teenage daughter admitted. ―The kitchen is

mine. Do you suppose we can get the gas company to turn on the gas this afternoon?‖

she asked.

        ―There is no gas company. We get propane home delivered. There‘s a two-

hundred and forty gallon tank next to the carport. I‘ll go out and turn on the propane then

come back and light the pilots for the stove and the hot water heater. And I‘ll check the

indicator on the tank and see how soon we‘ll have to order propane.‖

        ―I‘ll go with you, dad. I want to begin bringing my things in from the U-Haul.‖

        ―Fine,‖ he said. ―If it happens that your things are packed behind household

things, you might give a hand bringing those in also. Omigosh! I haven‘t checked to see

if the power is on yet.‖

        ―What‘s the big deal, dad? We can pretend like we‘re camping out, just like we

did up at Big Bear last year. I'm sure you can get some candles down at Art's store.‖

        ―What I mean is that we don‘t have city water here. We have a well somewhere

out back. No electricity, no water pump for the well.‖

        ―Oh, how primitive,‖ she said, as her dad flipped on the kitchen lights and she

breathed an audible sigh of relief when the kitchen brightened.

        ―You'll have to see about getting a sample of our well water tested," she said.

"We don‘t want to come down with the creeping-crud or never-get-overs, or something.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       28


        Lane grabbed her shoulders and planted a kiss on her forehead. ―Of course, Tutu.

But, I‘m sure the well is fine. This house has belonged to the country for a couple

decades at least. Still, I‘ll have to look at the equipment and see if we need to stock up on

any kind of spare filters or water conditioning salt, or whatever. I‘ll take care of it.

C‘mon, Tutu, we got a truck to unload. Not to forget about my pickup.‖

        Father and daughter left by the front door. He unlocked the rear door to the U-

Haul for Cheryl before checking the propane tank and turning on the gas. The gas

indicator said sixty percent, so he figured they would have plenty to last them until he

found out who made the deliveries and set up an account with them.

        Cheryl was already half way up the steps with a box labeled ‗kitchen‘ when he

finished with the tank. Lane grabbed a similar box and sprinted after her, opening the

door and propping it open with the box he held. They would leave it open until they

finished with the unloading.

        ―Guess we might have to put up with a few flies or mosquitoes tonight," he said.

"They‘re bound to sneak in anyway with us going in and out all afternoon.‖

        Cheryl deposited her box on the kitchen counter and went outside to fetch

another. Lane took a disposable lighter from his pocket and lit the stove pilots then went

through the pantry to the back porch to light the hot water heater. He didn‘t smoke,

hadn‘t in more than fifteen years, but he considered a lighter to be an important survival

tool. You could never tell when you would need a brief light in the darkness. Or, up here

in the mountains, you could be stranded on a side road some night and have to make a

fire to keep warm or signal for help. He carried the lighter as well as a folding

pocketknife, just in case.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        29


        From the back porch, he surveyed the rear of the house and the slope leading up

to the tall pines and the mountains behind them. It gave him a feeling of space, of

openness. Something he‘d never felt east of the Mississippi. Even in Pennsylvania, at

the home of his father, and grandfather before that, the land was never open. Even on a

four hundred acre farm, you didn‘t have to go far before you came to a fence and the

farm of your next-door neighbor.

        Once he‘d been sitting in his recliner in the apartment in Long Beach, reading a

book, while Anne watched a home decorating show on cable TV. The New York

decorator was trying to describe to his audience how western décor differed from eastern

décor and eastern furnishings. He found weak analogies and ended by falling back upon

a description in words, saying that western décor gave one a feeling of openness and

durability; heavy furnishings, bright open rooms, and a spaciousness that couldn‘t be

found in the east. Looking upon the scene at the rear of his new home, Lane knew what

the man had been trying to convey. It seemed as though the whole world lay at his

doorstep. Immense was too small a word to describe the impressions he felt.

        He unlatched the screen and stepped down two rickety wooden steps, making a

mental note that they should be replaced. There was indeed a small fenced garden that

Tutu had mentioned, with a twelve by sixteen greenhouse on the right hand side. The

pump and captive air tank for the well were inside the greenhouse and Lane admired the

simplicity of the setup. Rather than build an insulated shed and install heating to keep the

water lines from freezing, the builder had known that, in Nevada, even winter days are

usually sunny. The south-facing greenhouse would absorb solar heat and store it in the

soil to be slowly released during the night. It would be rare if the interior temperature
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      30


ever dropped below freezing, and then only for short periods, not long enough to allow

freezing of the exposed pipes or the captive air tank.

        Lane stirred up the soil of the small garden plot with his boot and stooped to grab

a handful, just as he‘d seen his father do so many times back in Pennsylvania. He sniffed

the soil, tasted it. Although he wasn‘t the expert his father was, he judged the soil would

provide a fine garden.

        Tutu had stepped down off the porch and walked across the lawn to join him.

        ―See, dad? Just like I told you. And if we built a small stable just over there,‖

she pointed, ―with a lean-to for feed, we‘d have manure right close to our garden. If I

had a horse, I‘ll bet I‘d really feel at home here.‖

        He had to admire her persistence. Of course she knew he‘d give in, eventually.

―Well, I‘ve always sort of wanted to have a mule, myself. I know they still have wild

horse and burro roundups here in Nevada, but I think that a condition of adoption is that

the animal has to be removed from the state. It‘s a Bureau of Land Management program

to cut down on over grazing or something. Remind me to check into the particulars. I

guess we might be able to work something out.‖

        Tutu smiled. ―And I‘ll really help, dad. I will.‖

        ―Yeah, you‘ll shovel the crap into a wheel barrow and I‘ll haul it to the garden. I

can see it now.‖

        ―Oh, no dad. You‘ll shovel and I‘ll do the hauling.‖

        Lane scratched his chin. ―I dunno, Tutu. A wheel barrow can get pretty heavy

when it‘s fully loaded. Why don‘t I do the hauling?‖

        ―‘Cause, dad, you‘re the boss, and the boss don‘t take shit from nobody!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     31


        Lane feigned a bullet through the heart. He chuckled. ―You got me that time,

Tutu.‖ He mussed her short hair then put an arm around her shoulder. ―At least riding is

something that we can do together, and you know that I wanted to make this move so that

I would have more time for you now that…I mean since we‘re…‖

        ―I know, dad. Alone. On our own. By our selves. I miss her too, and I guess I

always will.‖

        ―Yeah, me too, little one. But, about livestock, I‘d rather have a mule than a

horse,‖ he said.

        ―Why, dad? All the cowboys ride horses. Nobody rides mules, they‘re for

pulling a wagon or a plow, aren‘t they‖

        ―Lots of times, yes. You want to know why most cowboys rode horses?‖

        ―Sure. Tell me, dad.‖

        ―‘Cause a mule won‘t let you ride him less‘en you‘re smarter than he is!‖

        ―You‘re teasing. Aren‘t you?‖ She gave him a questioning look.

        ―Only a little. See, a mule is too smart to drink so much when he‘s heated that

he‘ll founder. And he won‘t eat so much that he‘ll get colicky. And mules just naturally

have more stamina. What a westerner calls bottom. Fact is, back around ‘72 or ‘73, as I

recollect, the American Quarter Horse Association sponsored a cross-country race. Open

to the finest breeds of four-legged animals. Arabians, appaloosas, you name it. If it had

four legs and you could ride it, you were eligible. The race covered twenty-two hundred

miles, starting somewhere back east and ending out here in the west. Would you believe

that race was won by a mule?‖

        ―Nahh, you‘re kidding me?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   32


       He raised his right hand in a boy-scout oath. ―Gospel truth! You can look it up

in old newspaper files. Or maybe find it on the Internet. I kid you not.‖

       ―Well, I still would rather have a horse. Sounds more romantic to me.‖

       ―I know, knights in shining armor and all that. Dashing Spanish caballeros.‖

       The conversation was cut short by the sound of a very loud bell designed to alert

anyone outdoors that the phone was ringing. ―Well,‖ he said to his daughter, ―at least the

phone is working. Guess I better see what‘s going on and we can talk about building a

stable and tack room some other time.‖

       The girl smiled at him. ―But we will, won‘t we, dad? And soon, too.‖

       ―You betcha, Tutu. Come on now.‖ She beat him to the back door and sped

through the house and out the front door to bring in more household things.

       Lane went through the kitchen to the office and answered the phone.

       ―Mauler,‖ he said.

       ―Sheriff? Ruth Tyson here, down at the Exxon. Ed Bromley came in a minute or

so ago. He‘s a local, ya‘ know? He says somethin‘ bad happened over to Larry

Winscott‘s shack. Ed wanted to call the sheriff down in Tonopah, but it would take them

more than an hour to get here. That‘s why they have a deputy here. Well, Ed didn‘t

know that you was here to replace Deputy Foster, so I figured that I better call you. Can

you come down here to the diner and take charge of this? Ed seems pretty upset.‖

       ―Sure, Ruthie. I‘ll be there in five minutes.‖ He hung up and pulled a spiral

notebook and pen from his pocket. He wrote down his home number and headed out the

front door where he found Tutu bringing in another box.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     33


        ―Looks like I‘m going to have to get on the job right away, Short Stuff. I‘ll be

back as soon as I find out what‘s going on. I‘ve got the phone number here written down

so I can call you if I get delayed more‘n an hour or two. I‘ll give you a call if I‘m going

to be gone longer. You won‘t burn the house down or anything while I‘m gone, will

you?‖

        ―Of course not, daddy. Although I might call you in the truck if you‘re gone

longer than I think you should be. Don‘t get in over your head,‖ she cautioned him.

―There‘s no backup just a radio call away. You don‘t even have a radio yet.‖

        ―I have my cell phone, and you know the number. Don‘t worry, Tutu. I‘m

always careful. Bye.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       34


                                              *    *   *

        Groom Lake, known in UFO circles as Area 51, lay one hundred and thirty-five

miles to the south east of Valley Forks. Less than half that distance, but still part of the

same government reservation, was Site 4-Fox. 4-Fox took advantage of the same high

tech security that the government provided for Area 51. It had barbed wire fencing with

small signs every fifty meters that said “US Government Reservation, No Trespassing,

Use of Deadly Force Authorized.”

        At intervals, remote TV cameras with low-light capability were positioned.

Between them were PSID‘s, or Personnel Seismic Intrusion Devices, that would sound an

alarm when a footfall heavier that a fat jackrabbit passed near. There were also Magnetic

Anomaly Detectors that would react to the proximity and motion of ferrous metal. These

were to foil the approach of anyone in a vehicle or carrying anything made of iron or

steel. All the devices were linked by UHF and EHF data links to a central security post

manned by no less than one watch commander and three security technicians twenty-four

hours a day. The watch commander had immediate response teams standing by in

Humvee‘s on call at all times. He also had a hot line to nearby Nellis Air Force Base and

could scramble a fighter strike team with three minutes notice. The strike team, a pair of

armed F-18 Eagles, could be overhead in just twelve minutes.

        Most of this hardware had been installed shortly after World War II to provide a

secure facility for testing prototypes of top-secret aircraft. It was also used as an aid to

security of the Nevada Test Site where hundreds of above and below ground nuclear tests

had been performed before the treaty banning such tests went into effect.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      35


        Site 4-Fox was administered by the US Army and was home to a small

detachment of scientists, technicians, and security personnel under the direction of

Colonel Victor Augustus Manleigh, US Army Chemical Corps. Even though the United

States had widely and publicly denounced the development and stockpiling of chemical

and biological agents of war, the mission of the personnel at Site 4-Fox was to test and

evaluate chemical and biological agents for defense. It was referred to in ultra secret

communications as Test and Evaluation Center, Biological Agent Defense Unit, or

TECBAD-U.

        Col. Manleigh served principally as chief administrator and liaison between his

civilian charges and the Pentagon. He had a doctorate in organic chemistry and

additional training in ORSA, Operational Research and Systems Analysis. He did no

research. His job was to pass information back and forth between the technical

specialists at Site 4-Fox and the non-technical military brass. His principal assistant was

an Army major by the name of Charles Bricker.

        Maj. Bricker, familiarly called ‗Brick‘, was an Infantry officer with paratroop and

ranger training. He exercised direct authority over the security forces at Site 4-Fox.

Mostly he conducted drills, mock breaches in security, and evaluated the response of his

security troops. Where possible, he identified weak points and instituted improvements.

It was a thankless job since there was rarely anything more dangerous than a coyote or

wild burro attempting to crash through the site‘s elaborate defensive measures. He

considered those odd occasions when uninformed rock-hounds, dirt bikers, or picnickers

set off the alarms as amusing diversions. Years ago, before Brick‘s time, the occasional

nuclear activist would attempt to sneak inside the perimeter to protest or disrupt nuclear
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     36


testing. None of them had ever succeeded nor been in any danger of interfering with

scheduled tests. Nowadays, about the most Brick could hope for would be a die-hard

UFO fan trying to gain entry to Area 51. They had never been lucky either.

        At 1638 hours on August 23, Col. Manleigh and Maj. Bricker were seated in a

conference room with a civilian, Dr. Ross Pribotte, a fifty-two year old man with iron

gray hair trimmed in a military crew cut who headed up the research arm of TECBAD-U.

Also attending was Dr. Wayne Fresno, Pribotte‘s deputy, and a very pretty brunette, Dr.

Fawn Enderman. Dr. Enderman stood five-foot even in her bare feet and weighed ninety-

three pounds. She had received her doctoral degree in psychology and her bachelors and

master‘s degrees in organic chemistry. She was twenty-seven years old and had

published three monographs relating to chemical effects of various substances on the

human body. Her job with TECBAD-U was the first one she had accepted after

graduation. The salary was adequate for her needs, but the equipment and funding for

her research was what had attracted her, for it was nearly unlimited. At the present time

she was commenting on a video-tape being shown on the monitor in the conference

room.

        ―As you can see, gentleman, the rats testing 2-PPME exhibit marked increases in

aggressiveness, and enhanced stamina and strength. This is exactly what we‘ve been

attempting to achieve with agent 2-PPME. The adverse effects, you can see now. After

dosing two control groups with 2-PPME, the rats were then put in a single communal

cage. It was anticipated that group one would identify with the other members of its

community and attack the members of group two. The reaction desired from the second
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       37


group was that they would form a group and defend themselves against the attacking

rats.‖

         ―Unfortunately, neither group reacted as planned.‖ The TV scene began with two

wire cages about two-foot square being wheeled in on two separate carts. One cage bore

the letter A on a large white card affixed to it. The other cage was labeled B. The cages

were shielded with opaque Plexiglas so that none of the rats in either cage could see the

others. Disembodied hands lifted one cage and fastened it to one side of a larger cage,

which had removable partitions affixed on two sides. The partitions could be lifted by a

person standing outside the cage and allowed the test animals‘ access to the larger cage in

the center. Next, the other cage of rats was fastened to the opposite side of the cage.

         ―Food and drink have intentionally been withheld from the test subjects for

twenty-four hours. Now, you can see the 2-PPME agent being added by syringe to the

drinking dishes in each cage. After ten minutes, during which time each group drank of

the water and time was allowed for the agent to take effect, the partitions to the cages

were removed allowing both groups to enter the larger cage.‖

         The disembodied hands on the video display lifted the metal dividers separating

the two smaller cages. At first, one or two rats from each group cautiously ventured into

the arena provided by the larger cage. Then bedlam seemed to ensue. Rats within the

smaller cages began attacking each other without entering the test area. The few rats in

the larger cage also began fighting, biting, clawing and scratching each other. But there

were no clear distinctions between the two groups. Rats from group A were just as likely

to attack each other as to attack rats from the B group. In shortly under four minutes
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       38


there were eleven dead rats in the three cages. One rat, the king of the hill, was still

staggering around on all fours, but it soon dropped and died of wounds.

        Dr. Enderman continued her remarks without comment on the gladiator rats that

had died. ―The 2-PPME achieved partial success in that it enhanced the physical and

psychological characters of all rats. It was unsuccessful, however, in fostering any team

cohesiveness in either control group.‖ She used a remote to stop the VCR then got up

from the conference table and moved to a light switch. She flipped it on, flooding the

room with harsh florescent lighting.

        ―Comments?‖ Col. Manleigh asked, surveying the others.

        Dr. Fresno raised his hand and without waiting to be called upon addressed Dr.

Enderman. ―Fawn, can we be sure that these rats identified with each other as a group

before they were allowed to intermingle?‖

        ―As much as possible, Wayne, although there is no way to be absolutely certain

what goes on inside a rats brain. On previous occasions, when a strange rat was

introduced to either group, there was hostility indicated, but not as intense as we have just

observed. If one rat was introduced to another that had been dosed with the 2-PPME, the

drugged rat attacked and killed its opponent every time, and it did so with no additional

encouragement.‖

        ―Then,‖ Col. Manleigh interjected, ―we can say that the 2-PPME test drug does

provide for physical and psychological military enhancement of the individual rat,

enhancements we want to reproduce in combat soldiers, but the rats don‘t exhibit any

tendency toward group identification or group loyalty. They simply attack anything

whether they perceive it as an enemy or not.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         39


        ―Yes, sir,‖ Dr. Enderman replied. ―We may be on the right track as 2-PPME

brings about significant increases in aggressiveness of the rats, but we have yet to

demonstrate group loyalty.‖

        ―In which case,‖ Dr. Pribotte said, ―the agent is totally useless to the Army.

There‘s no benefit in making your soldiers more aggressive if they kill each other as

often as they kill the enemy.‖

        ―More often,‖ Dr. Enderman put in. ―The rats in the smaller cages made no effort

to attack other rats in the large cage until all the rats in the smaller cages were dead. In

other words, they simply wanted to kill the first thing they could sink their teeth into.‖

        Col. Manleigh asked Dr. Pribotte, ―Do you think pursuing this agent could lead to

more promising results?‖

        ―Perhaps if we could move up the evolutionary ladder to test subjects which

already demonstrate increased group identification. Maybe baboons? Or dogs?‖

        ―Okay, give it a try. If we don‘t have any results along these lines in another four

weeks, we‘ll have to abandon 2-PPME and rush the development of 3-PPME. Agreed?‖

        Major Bricker abstained from voting since security was his only area of expertise.

The rest of the group glanced at each other and nodded.

        ―Very well, then,‖ Col. Manleigh said. ―Dr. Enderman, thank you for your

presentation. Please feel free to call another conference as soon as you have anything

additional to report.‖

        She smiled faintly. ―Yes, sir. Thank you.‖

        With a scraping of chairs, each member pushed his chair back on the tile floor

and stood. A few of them worked their legs to restore circulation. The conference had
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    40


been going on for nearly two hours. Major Bricker brought up the rear while they filed

out of the conference room. He stopped at the VCR long enough to eject the tape and

take it with him before he punched the off button on the TV and turned off the overhead

lights. The room was left in darkness with only the soft sigh of the air conditioning

remaining.

                                            *    *   *

       Lane was out the door before she could say more. He unhooked the trailer wiring

between the U-Haul truck and his pickup, then disconnected the tow bar and locked it in

the stow-away position. His weapon and leather were locked in the console between the

bucket seats. He belted on the Browning nine millimeter before sliding behind the wheel

and turning the key.

       The Dodge pickup with the Magnum diesel engine was Lane‘s pride and joy.

While it might be slow in acceleration, as most diesels were, Lane felt certain it would

pull a mini-mall up a twenty percent grade if required. He turned the key and cranked the

engine as soon as the GLOW PLUG light was extinguished.

       The trip back to the diner was a short one. Lane could have walked it if he hadn‘t

felt sure that his ultimate destination would not be the diner. He pulled up in moments

and shut the engine off then went inside.

       When he pushed his way through the front door Ruth stepped out from behind the

counter and led him to a man seated three booths down, drinking hot black coffee while

surrounded by a handful of locals.

       ―Ed,‖ she said, ―this here‘s Deputy Lane Mauler. Just got into town today and

he‘s moving into Foster‘s place. I called up to the house and he came right down.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     41


        Lane pushed his way up to the table and stood over Bromley. The man was in his

late fifties with thinning gray hair on top that would begin balding in another year or so.

His shoulders were wide and his chest deep. That Bromley had been used to heavy labor

for a good part of his life was obvious. Lane stuck out his hand and winced when it

seemed that Bromley was about to crush the bones in his grip.

        ―Lane Mauler, Mr. Bromley. Ruthie said you reported some kind of trouble at a

friends place?‖

        ―Trouble? Yeah, I guess you would say so.‖ He fixed Lane with a piercing gaze

of his light gray eyes. ―Blood ever‘ where, deputy,‖ he said while waving his hands

about. ―An‘ Larry layin‘ there on the floor with a sharp stick pokin‘ out‘n his back.‖

        ―Did you check for a pulse? Do you know if he was dead?‖

        ―Nossir. I never went in the house. I could see him layin‘ there through the front

window. I never saw so much blood in one place afore. I guess he must‘a been dead.

I‘ve dressed a deer here and there; and a hog a time or two, and I ain‘t never seen so

much blood. He must‘a been dead. Lord, it weren‘t no pretty sight.‖

        ―All right, Bromley, what I‘d like you to do now is get in the car with me and

show me how to get there. I‘ll have to check into this, officially, you know.‖

        ―Yessir, I‘ll be right happy to go with you. Ol‘ Larry was always a friend to me

and I‘ll do what I can to catch whoever done this. But please don‘t ask me ta go inside

with ya.‖

        Lane turned to Ruth Tyson. ―I‘m driving my own vehicle tonight, I don‘t have a

county car yet. But I‘ve got a cell phone and the number for the county sheriff in
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     42


Tonopah. If I have to have them send someone out I‘ll tell them to stop in here first.

You‘ll be able to give them directions, won‘t you?‖

       ―Sure ‗nuff, Mr. Mauler. You can depend on me. But it‘s going to be closin‘

time in little more than an hour. If you find you won‘t need me, would you give me a call

and let me know so‘s I can go on home?‖ She thrust a matchbook into his hand. ―The

phone number‗s on the bottom.‖

       Lane looked at the inexpensive advertising. „Tyson‟s Restaurant and Exxon‟ it

said. „Valley Forks, NV.‟ There was a number beneath the advertising with a seven-

seven-five area code.

       ―I‘ll be sure and call, Ruthie. Within the hour.‖ Lane motioned for Bromley to

precede him out the door and followed on his heels. Outside he pointed to the dark blue

pickup and got behind the wheel while Bromley slid into the other side.

       As he turned the key the glow plug light came on again. The short trip to the

restaurant hadn‘t been enough to warm up the engine fully. When the light went out

Lane started the engine and looked at Bromley. ―Which way?‖

       Bromley pointed down the road from which Lane and Cheryl Ann had driven into

town that afternoon. ―That way. South. Winscott‘s place is ‗bout six miles down and

then you turn right just past where a dry wash cuts under the road.‖

       Lane backed out of the diner and faced the car south. He pulled forward with a

spray of gravel from tires. The posted speed limit in town was thirty-five, but Lane

pushed it up to forty-five. Not having an emergency flasher or siren he didn‘t want to go

much faster and risk running into local traffic without warning. Besides, if Winscott was

dead, all the speed in the world would make no difference.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       43


        ―Sheriff?‖ Bromley asked as the trees flashed by in the shadows on either side of

the road. His voice had a humbling tenor to it. ―You going to poke around Larry‘s place

much? I mean looking for evidence and such?‖

        ―Well, of course I am, Ed. That‘s what the county pays me for. I have to make a

preliminary judgment as to the cause of death. If I decide that it‘s death by other than

natural causes, foul play they call it on the television, I‘ll have to investigate. Did

Winscott have any obvious enemies here about?‖

        ―Well, not so‘s you would say so, sheriff. But,‖ he stammered and paused as if

looking for the precise words he wanted. ―…well, you see, Larry grew a few plants in a

greenhouse of sorts. Out behind his shack, I mean.‖

        ―Plants? You mean dope?‖ Lane fixed him in the intense glare of his eyes for a

moment, then gave his attention back to the winding road before him. ―Is there any

reason for me to assume that there are drugs involved in what ever has happened?‖

        ―Nossir! Every one in these parts and nearby knew Larry raised a little weed.

But he only smoked it hisself! He never sold any or gave any to anyone else. Even

Deputy Foster knew about Larry's weed, and he never done nothin‘. You see, he and

Larry was both Viet Nam vets. An‘ I guess the agent orange give Larry cancer or

sumpin‘. Anyway, he was always hurtin‘ fierce like. The VA give him painkillers, and

put him on a disability, but Larry said them pills made him plumb sick most of the time.

So he rolled some weed and after a few puffs, he was right as rain. You know?‖

        ―Okay, Ed. I‘m sure I wouldn‘t hold that against him either. But could it be

reason enough for someone, either local or from out of town, to want to harm him? Steal

his stash?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      44


       ―I ‗spose anythin‘s possible, sheriff. But Larry didn‘t have no visitors that I

knowed of. And I don‘t ‗spose he got to see many out of towners. So I don‘t think

anyone from out of town would have driven up here to do him harm. I might be wrong,

but most folks around here seem to know when someone not local is passin‘ through.

Maybe you‘ll find out something if you ask around, but I couldn‘t say fer a fact.‖

               Lane drove on in silence for a while and began to digest the newest

information provided to him. Could whatever trouble had occurred have anything to do

with a drug deal turned sour? Off hand, it didn‘t seem likely. Marijuana wasn‘t as

fantastically profitable as cocaine, crack, heroin, or the more modern designer drugs. It

was too easily and cheaply obtained to be of much interest to major crime players. Still,

arguments did occur over petty things, and people had been killed for much less than a

few potted plants.

       ―There,‖ Bromley pointed as the headlights picked up the white painted posts and

guard rail marking a short, two lane bridge. ―Just past the bridge. See where the brush

widens out? Drive right through there.‖

       Land braked hard but still over shot the turnoff and had to back up and go at it

again. He hoped the road wasn‘t too rutted. The high ground clearance of the pickup,

combined with four-wheel drive, would handle just about any situation he might expect

to find himself in. But, when repairs, shock absorbers and wheel alignments came out of

his pocket, he didn‘t like to subject his vehicle to any more abuse than necessary.

       He found the house about two hundred yards off the road. It was up a slight rise

just where the dirt track began to enter the woods. Even on high beam his headlights

didn‘t show him much of the surroundings. He decided that „house‟ was much too
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      45


generous a word. Even „shack‟ might have been pretentious. Lane felt that ‗dwelling‘

adequately described the Winscott place.

        Larry Winscott lived in a twenty-four or –five foot trailer, to which a lean-to had

been attached. At some later date sides and a front had been added to the lean-to. There

was a wide picture window and a screen door on the front side of the lean-to. A small

window was let into the side of the lean-to that corresponded with the front of the little

trailer. The lean-to was about ten foot by twenty, running the length of the trailer. A

second, lower roof extended from the far end of the lean-to. It was open on the sides and

seemed to have been added as a roof for a stack of firewood. A pipe chimney stuck up

from the corrugated sheet metal roof of the lean-to indicating that Larry Winscott

probably got the firewood from the nearby woods and used it to heat his home.

        He had to admit, it was simple and logical. If a person bought or leased property

in the area, a travel trailer provided immediate livability. While it would certainly seem

crowded after awhile, the added lean-to would give more living room outside the small

trailer. With walls and a source of heating added, the owner would have an inexpensive

and draft-free addition to his home. Winscott, he surmised, was a bachelor. The trailer

would give him basic sanitation, cooking, and living conveniences, and the lean-to would

give him added room. The additional shed beyond the trailer allowed for storage of tools

and equipment that Winscott didn‘t care to keep in his front room. It would also give him

room to grow a few indoor plants while protecting them from the harsh winter weather.

        Lane stopped the truck with the headlights pointing toward the front door of the

lean-to. He shut off the engine but left the lights on. As he opened the door he cautioned
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       46


Bromley not to walk around behind the trailer, there could be evidence that must not be

disturbed.

        Lane sidestepped a redwood picnic table with two mismatched benches and

approached the picture window cautiously. He peered inside where a florescent shop

light flooded the single room with cold, white light.

        It was just as Bromley had said. There was blood everywhere. On the walls, the

ceiling, the floor. It had pooled heavily where the body lay face down with something

sharp protruding from the back. Lane looked more closely and saw that a stool had been

over turned in front of a kitchen table. Evidently Winscott had been sitting on the table

when he died, probably falling upon the broken stool. The room was a shambles.

Winscott had been sitting on the table when someone had used a chain saw to cut off both

legs above the knee. The mutilated legs were lying on the floor immediately in front of

the table.

        Then Winscott had sat there, bleeding to death. The chain saw, with its grisly

looking teeth lay on the floor not far from the severed legs. When the man had lost

consciousness, his body had either toppled or been pushed forward, impaling him through

the chest on one broken and jagged leg of the upturned stool.

        Lane had been too young for Viet Nam. He had joined the Army in ‘81 and spent

the better part of three years as a military policeman assigned to the 82d Airborne

Division at Fort Bragg, NC. Frequently, in the barracks or over a beer at the division

NCO club he‘d listened to the veterans talk about firefights and ambushes along jungle

trails or in small, outlying villages. A bullet to the head or torso was spotlessly neat

compared to the carnage Lane saw through the front window of Winscott‘s lean-to. The
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     47


sight of dismembered bodies blasted apart by shrapnel wasn‘t as gruesome as the one he

saw now.

        ―See? I tol‘ you how it was, sheriff. Somebody took Larry‘s chain saw and cut

his legs off. Then they pushed the body over and it landed on the broken leg of that stool.

Rotten bastards! Ol‘ Larry was a harmless coot who just liked to yarn away the hours,

drink a little bourbon with a beer chaser and toot on his weed now and then. Why would

somebody do this to him sheriff?‖

        ―I dunno, Ed. Now you wait out here while I go inside. Don‘t go wanderin‘

around messin‘ up my crime scene. You hear?‖

        ―Yessir, sheriff. I‘ll stay right here.‖

        Lane found that the front door was unlocked. He opened the screen and held it

while he pushed the inner door open just enough to stick his head in. The stench was

oppressing. The same smell of death he‘d become sickeningly familiar with at the scene

of gang shoot-outs in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

        You read about „the smell of death‟ in crime novels and adventure stories, but

until you‘ve drawn it deep down into your lungs, you never really understand what

people are talking about. And you never, ever, forget it. When the human animal dies,

the bowels and bladder, controlled by the voluntary nervous system, let loose. It makes

no difference whether you are a doctor or lawyer in a fifteen hundred dollar suit, or a skid

row junky dressed in rags. You end up lying in pools of your own urine and feces, and, if

the wounds are particularly traumatic, blood too. Only a short time later the disgusting

stench permeates everything nearby. The nauseating stench never failed to call up
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      48


unpleasant memories of dying and wounded friends he‘d heard about in muddy battle-

fields half a world away.

        Winscott, he decided, hadn‘t been much of a housekeeper. Even before the

drunken frenzy, or altercation if someone else had been here, the house hadn‘t been very

neat. At the farthest end of the lean-to, a sofa was pushed up against the wall with an end

table and reading lamp at one side. There was a nearly empty tray from a half eaten TV

dinner, three or four empty beer cans and an open bottle of whiskey lay spilled on the

floor. A pillow and blanket lay casually tossed on the sofa. Evidently Winscott had slept

there on occasion.

        A TV remote lay on the floor. A kitchen table with Formica top was pushed

against the side of the little trailer. The TV had sat on top of the table where it was

within easy view from the sofa. Now it lay on the floor between the sofa and table.

Shards of the picture tube glistened under the harsh light, tiny pieces of glass twinkling

like multi-faceted gems.

        To Lane‘s right, the room had been stacked with odds and ends, stuff that

Winscott hadn‘t wanted to leave out in the weather. A coffee table was piled high with

books and magazines heaped upon it in no particular order. More books and magazines

lay on the floor where they had been tossed, or perhaps fallen from the pile on the table.

A bicycle with the front tire flat leaned against the wall behind the door. Two or three

greasy and rusting electric motors, an oscillating fan covered with dust, cobwebs, and

caked on grime were scattered in disarray.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     49


       Above the coffee table a rifle rack held a pump shotgun with a fishing pole in the

rack below it. Lane wondered where a man might go fishing around here? Perhaps the

pole was kept purely for sentimental reasons?

       The place seemed unusually quiet to Lane. Something made the hackles on the

back of his neck stand up. There was an eerie, disquieting feeling in the room that he

couldn‘t account for. It was spooky and terrifyingly unnerving.

       He thought he could feel, rather than hear, vibrations of something pulsing

through the rough laid wooden floor. Drums? Boom-boom-boom-boompity-boom-

boom-boom-boompity! That was ridiculous! He pushed the thought away from him.

       Avoiding blood spatters and broken glass, Lane decided to have a look inside the

trailer. He stepped into the lean-two and was across the room in two strides. Several

concrete blocks had been stacked side by side and covered with a woven rope doormat to

make a step up to the door of the little trailer. Lane poked his head in. Something was

irritating his subconscious. Some danger-signal that he couldn‘t quite put his finger on.

A danger-signal he had felt many times before as he entered darkened alleys or

warehouses. A danger-signal he‘d been trained to recognize but not to fear.

       He looked left and right as he stuck his head in the trailer. He wouldn‘t have

been surprised to discover another body, or worse, some strange demon with claws and

fangs, perhaps dripping with gore. There was something in the air that filled him with a

sense of foreboding. It was some primal feeling of danger that filled him with dread. He

was tempted to pull the 9mm from his holster, but he resisted the impulse. He was a

grown man and he wasn‘t frightened of any bogeyman.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    50


       From the doorway he saw a workbench built of rough two-by-fours at the front of

the trailer. There were several blocks of wood on it and several finished or half finished

animal figures. A brace of wooden ducks hung suspended from wires attached to the

ceiling. A deer paused in mid-stride on the workbench. A raccoon stood on hind-

quarters. A coyote sat beside a carved cactus and raised his open mouth to the sky.

Winscott must have passed much of his time carving the wooden figures. Simple as they

were, there was an element of beauty in the polished grain of raw wood.

       Across from the door the counter top and sink were piled with dirty dishes. An

empty box for a frozen pizza was sticking out of the wastebasket. Lane couldn‘t tell if

the dishes and trash were days old or recently used. Perhaps the crime scene unit would

lift some prints from them.

       An unwashed frying pan sat on the stovetop with grease and something that might

have been scrambled eggs dried on the surface. A single dirty sock lay on the floor in the

middle of a hall leading to what must have been a bathroom with a bedroom beyond. He

went down the short hall, checking to make sure the rest of the trailer was empty.

       Boom-boom-boom-boompity-boom-boom-boom-boompity!

       Lane still could not shake the feeling of dread which set his teeth on edge. The

impulse to pull out the Browning and blow away anything he laid his eyes upon entered

his mind once more. Again he stifled the impulse. It was irrational for a grown man to

be so afraid, but he was genuinely frightened nonetheless.

       There might have been someone here with Winscott earlier. Winscott could have

been tortured and murdered, but he could also have been alone. He could have been high

on booze and pot and just sawed his own legs off and fallen on the jagged leg of the stool.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       51


Delirium tremens can do strange things to a man or woman. Lane had no knowledge of

the man‘s history or background, and it was too dark to conduct much of an investigation

tonight. Lane mentally berated himself for pulling the dumb rookie trick of neglecting to

bring a flashlight to aid in his inspection. He would have to secure the crime scene,

notify headquarters and arrange for a crime scene unit to investigate in the morning. That

meant spending the night with the dead body and leaving Tutu alone in the new house

tonight. Neither thought cheered him.

       Picking his way across the debris littering the floor, he closed the door as he went

outside and spoke to Ed Bromley. ―How‘d you get over here tonight, Mr. Bromley?‖

       ―Well, I walked, naturally. I just live across the road and up about half a mile.

Can‘t afford no car and insurance on social security, you know. Many an evening I walk

down here and shoot the shit with Larry. Talk about the good ol‘ days, afore the

‗publicans screwed the country again.‖

       Lane was by nature a conservative and usually voted Republican unless the

Democrats had a really promising candidate. He always tried to vote for the best man for

the job, no matter which party the candidate was affiliated with, but he agreed more often

than not with the views of the Republican candidate. Still, this was no time for political

arguments.

       ―How‘d you get to town when you left here?‖

       ―Walked again. Junior Swiegert gave me a ride the last mile o‘the way. He‘s

kind a sweet on the Tyson girl, you know. Drops in for a milk shake whenever he has a

buck in his pocket and Big Tom‘ll let him drive the pickup.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       52


        ―Well, it looks as though I‘m going to have to stay the night here and secure the

crime scene until the sheriff‘s office can get some people down here in the morning.‖

Lane looked around and decided that he would sleep in the truck when he got back. No

way was he going back into that blood stained crime scene tonight, and it didn't look as

though the small shed out back would offer much of a place to spend the night. ―But I‘ll

have to head back to my place for a few minutes and get my sleeping bag and a thermos

of coffee. You want I should drop you off at your place?‖

        Bromley smiled. ―Why, that‘d be right neighborly of you sheriff. I‘d really

appreciate it, you know?‖ Lane drove Bromley away with the pounding of Indian drums

still echoing in the furthest recesses of his mind. Try as he might, he couldn‘t put the

sounds out of his thoughts.

        After dropping Bromley off, Lane stopped at the coffee shop to tell Ruthie she

could close up and go on home. He‘d handle the situation now.

        ―Was it really messy Mr. Mauler? Ed said that there was blood all over the walls

and ceiling.‖

        ―It wasn‘t pretty, Ruthie. But it‘s not something you need to go spreading all

over town either. The sheriff‘s department will handle the investigation and you and

everyone else can read about it in the paper.‖ He wasn‘t trying to be curt with the young

girl, but he neither wanted nor needed a few dozen curiosity seekers or souvenir hunters

descending on the Winscott place.

        Pulling up in front of his place, Lane killed the engine and thought over what he‘d

say to his daughter. He knew she wouldn‘t think well of being left alone before they had

even begun moving into the new house, but he couldn‘t see any way to avoid it. It was
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       53


his duty to secure the crime scene until it could be thoroughly investigated. That was his

job and well she knew it. Maybe he could make it up to her during the coming weeks.

He got out of the car and went up the walk.

        He could see Cheryl Ann peering from behind the curtain on the front door before

he started up the steps. The porch light went on and she opened the door for him.

        ―Daddy, you‘ve got that ‗I don‟t want to do this‘ look on your face again. Are

you going back out?‖ She remembered the long nights he‘d been away from home too

well.

        ―Can‘t be helped, Tutu. I‘m the only law in town, you know. I can‘t just call up

the squad room and see if someone else can pull the duty.‖

        The girl stood aside and let him enter. ―I‘ll put the coffee pot on. You‘ll need a

thermos again.‖ Then she smiled at him and encircled his waist with her arm while she

dragged him into the house. ―I‘ll make out all right, and I‘ll be safe ‗cause I know you‘ll

be out there keeping the neighborhood safe and free from perverts.‖

        ―Honey, you know there aren‘t any perverts in Valley Forks.‖ He knuckled her

scalp as they went through the living room and back into the kitchen.

        ―I was just kidding,‖ she said. ―How can there be perverts when there‘s hardly

any people?‖

        In the kitchen Tutu filled a pan with tap water and put it on the stove to heat.

―Sorry, but it‘ll have to be instant. The coffee maker is packed who knows where in the

U-Haul, and I‘m not even sure if there‘s any drip coffee or where the filter papers are. I

did find a jar of instant with some of the groceries we salvaged from the cupboards of our

apartment. Do you know where your thermos is?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      54


        Lane kissed her forehead. ―Where it always is, behind the seat in the pickup. Run

get it for me, will you? I‘ve got to call the sheriff‘s office in Tonopah and arrange to get

a crime scene unit out here first thing in the morning.‖ As Tutu ran out the front door

Lane went to the office and picked up the phone. He was just hanging up when she came

back in.

        ―You know, dad, I‘m going to want you to take me out for a really fantastic

dinner in Vegas to make up for leaving me alone our first night in a strange town. Maybe

even a show too!‖

        ―It‘s a deal,‖ he said, glad that she had made things so easy for him. ―Say, in

those boxes we put up stairs, did you see my sleeping bag?‖

        ―Uh-huh. It‘s on the shelf in your closet.‖ She turned the heat down under the

pan of water so it wouldn‘t boil too quickly. After rinsing out his thermos, she found the

jar of instant in a cupboard above the counter and put four full teaspoons of crystals into

the stainless jug.

        While Tutu was waiting for the water to heat, Lane went up to his room and

donned a sweater. He pulled his parka from the closet and tossed it on the bed. He

rummaged through the several boxes Tutu had deposited on the floor while he was at

Winscott‘s until he found his thirty-five millimeter camera. The indicator showed fifteen

exposures left on the roll so Lane checked the LED on the flash attachment to make sure

the flash would work. Satisfied, he put the camera in the pocket of his parka.

        By the time Lane returned to the kitchen Tutu was putting the top on his thermos.

―This won‘t keep you awake, you know. It‘s decaf.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         55


          ―Fine by me. I‘m going to crawl in the back seat of the cab, pull my sleeping bag

up around my ears and sleep until the sun comes up. NCSO said they‘d have someone

out here first thing, but even if they leave Tonopah at first light, it‘ll still be a two hour

drive.‖

          He tucked the thermos under his arm and picked up the sleeping bag and parka.

Tutu followed him as far as the front door.

          ―Now you remember to keep all the doors and windows locked. You‘ve got my

cell phone number, right?‖

          The girl nodded. ―Sure thing, dad. You can call me if you get lonely.‖

          ―Yeah, right, kid. Where‘s your gun?‖ Since firearms were required in his work,

Lane had decided when Tutu was still a young girl that the best policy was to teach every

member of his family to handle a handgun with respect. His wife hadn‘t carried one in

the car with her when she died, and might not have been able to use it in time even if she

had. Still, Lane had bought a .38 caliber revolver for his daughter and taken her out to

the target range to make sure she was proficient with it. His reasoning was that a lawyers

bill would be cheaper than a doctors bill if his daughter ever found herself in a situation

where using her gun was necessary. The pistol was always kept in her room and always

kept loaded. Lane had reminded her that people are usually hurt or killed with empty

guns rather than loaded ones, so always keep it loaded and always handle it with care.

          ―Upstairs in my room where I expect to be all night. Listening to the radio since

you haven‘t set up the satellite dish yet.‖

          ―Sorry, Tutu. I‘ll get on it tomorrow. If I get home at a decent hour.‖

          ―Call me in the morning, okay?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                               56


        ―Of course. I don‘t want you shooting me if I get home unexpectedly.‖ He

planted a kiss on her forehead and left.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       57




                                              Chapter 2


        When Lane arrived back at Winscott‘s place, he checked first to make sure the

body was still there and that the area had not been disturbed. He noticed power lines

running from the trailer to the shed in back so he left his flashlight in the truck as he went

out back to check out the shed. Inside, just to the right of the door, he felt a light switch

and turned it on.

        Bromley hadn‘t been lying when he‘d said that Winscott grew only a few plants.

Lane counted six five-gallon size terra cotta planters sitting on two by six planks, which

lay across cinder blocks to keep them off the floor. The plants were set in two rows of

three with a pair of florescent Grow lights suspended by chains just above them. The

Grow lights were on a separate circuit from the door switch and weren't turned on just

now. Presumably there was still sufficient daylight during the day to nurture the plants at

this time of the year. Later, during shorter winter days, the Grow lights would be

necessary to keep the plants healthy.

        Winscott sure hadn‘t been supplementing his income with the small amount of

weed he was growing here. If he were a heavy user, he wouldn‘t have enough here to

keep himself stoned. He either didn‘t toot often or not heavily when he did.

        Lane left the shed and went back to his truck. The digital clock on the dash said

seven-fifteen. He decided it was going to be a long night. Turning on the radio he found

an all news station out of Vegas. He poured himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at

Winscott‘s picnic table in the front yard.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     58


        The night was quiet as the inside of a cave. Not a sound except the occasional

passing vehicle on the highway two hundred yards away. Even though it was quieter

than a cemetery, and even though he knew well what sort of a gruesome mess lay just a

few yards away, Lane didn‘t feel the overwhelming sense of dread he‘d felt earlier in the

evening.

        All though he‘d quit smoking nearly fifteen years ago, he wished he could just

lean back against the table and suck on a cigarette. He still had the occasional desire for

a butt, but he‘d learned how to beat it. Instead of telling himself, “I haven‟t had a smoke

in year; just one can‟t hurt,” he told himself, “I‟ve beaten the weed for 15 years and I

can go on beating it!” He found that accentuating the positive made it easier to get rid of

the craving which still nagged at him occasionally. If he‘d have thought to bring a book

with him, he could have moved the table over near the trailer where the florescent

lighting was shining brightly through the front window.

        He listened with half an ear tuned to the radio. The Angels were bound to finish

in the cellar this year. The Jazz were headed to Liverpool to play an exhibition game in

Europe. Maybe the NBA could stir up some interest across the pond? They sure could

use the added revenue after the recent league lockout.

        A priest in Denver was in court charged with multiple sexual assaults against

young boys over a period of several years. In Michigan the parents of a five-year-old girl

missing for six days had broadcast a plea for her safe return. Lane figured she might be

returned in time for the Second Coming of Christ. When he got up to pour another cup of

coffee he was surprised to find it was a quarter ‗til nine.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     59


        After pouring another coffee he decided to call his daughter. He rummaged

through his pockets until he found the scrap of paper with his home phone number on it

and punched that into the cell phone.

        ―Deputy Mauler‘s residence,‖ she answered.

        ―My, aren‘t we the efficient little secretary tonight?‖

        ―Daaadeeee! Oh, I‘m so glad to hear your voice.‖

        ―Got the willies being home alone, Tutu?‖

        ―Well, honestly, just a little. But I‘ve been keeping busy bringing things in from

the truck, and I‘ve tried to put the boxes in the room where they‘ll be used most. How‘s

things with you?‖

        ―Percolatin‘ right along, hon. I‘m just down the road about five or six miles, so

if you need me I can be home quickly. Did you fix yourself something to eat?‖

        ―Nanh, I really haven‘t been hungry. I may heat up a can of soup later if I feel

that I‘ve just got to have a snack. Are you doing okay?‖

        ―I should have brought a cross word magazine. It looks to be a long night. Hope

the crime scene unit gets here early, but I‘m not going to be holding my breath. They‘ve

got a fair drive to make in the morning.‖

        ―You want me to call you later just so we can talk a bit?‖

        ―As much as I like gabbing with you, Tutu, at thirty cents a minute air time I

think I‘ll pass. I‘ll continue to be charged roaming costs until I set up an account with a

local company, but don‘t let that keep you from calling me if anything important comes

up. Right?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       60


        ―Sure thing, dad. I‘ll say good night then and let you get on with whatever it is

you have to do. I love you.‖

        ―But I love you more ‗cause I‘m bigger.‖

        ―Right, dad. See ya.‘‖

        She hung up and Lane pushed end and put the cell phone back in the cradle. A

number one girl that kid. She would make some lucky boy an excellent wife. In maybe

twenty or thirty years if Lane had anything to say in the matter.

        It was shortly after nine when Lane finished his phone call. The moon was in

three-quarter phase and provided sufficient light that he felt inclined to take a walk

around the property, making sure to stay at least fifty yards from the crime scene so as

not to disturb any evidence he might have overlooked so far. He took his flashlight from

the center console just in case.

        Lane headed away from the property toward his left. When he judged he was

about fifty yards from the trailer he cut back to his right and began a clockwise circuit of

the area. The night was still quiet but he no longer felt that oppressing sense of unease

that had disturbed him so much earlier in the evening. He hadn‘t found anything to make

note of until he got back to his truck when he noted it was ten o‘clock.

        He spread his sleeping bag out in the rear seat of the cab and climbed in on top of

it. The weather this August night was fairly warm, in spite of the altitude and he decided

if the mosquitoes would leave him alone he‘d sleep on top of the bag and use his parka

for a pillow. As he tucked it behind his head and lay down he felt something jabbing the

side of his skull. He sat up and fished out the camera he‘d stuck in his pocket before

leaving home then laid back down. Satisfied that he could get comfortable in this
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       61


position he reached up and clicked off the manual switch for the dome light.

Remembering just in time he reached up into the front seat and turned off the radio. No

sense waking up to a dead battery in the morning.

       Sleep came easy but it wasn‘t long before he felt himself being chased by an

unseen creature and was again filled with a sense of terror and dread. He was running

through the wind blasted pines in near pitch darkness, bumping into trees he couldn‘t feel

with his outstretched hands, tripping over tangled underbrush and slipping on matted pine

needles. No matter how fast he stumbled through the night he could hear the creature‘s

labored breathing as it closed the distance between them. ―Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!

Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

       The creature‘s clawed feet pounded the ground as he ran. Boom-boom-boom-

boompity-boom-boom-boom-boompity!

       Every so often Lane would risk a glance behind him but he could see nothing

more than two huge, evil red eyes. The creature‘s breath was heavy and rasping and

Lane could almost feel that hot breath on his neck, almost smell the foul, fetid odor of

rancid flesh caught between the creature‘s pointed teeth. It swiped at Lane‘s back with a

massively clawed paw but missed. It swung again and still it missed. It swung a third

time and this time Lane felt a searing pain low down in his back. He doubled over with

the pain and missed his footing falling to the rocky ground where he struck his head on a

nearby tree. Boom-boom-boom-boompity! Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

       Lane sat up holding his head. The creature was nowhere to be seen. He found

himself on the floor of the truck, wedged between the driver‘s seat and the rear seat.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     62


He‘d fallen and smacked his head on the doorpost. The pain he‘d felt was his bladder

begging to be relieved of used coffee.

        Lane crawled out of the pickup and walked a few yards down hill toward the

highway. He found a tree with a low bush growing beside it and relieved himself.

        When he crawled into the back seat again he found it was eleven forty-five. The

air had turned chillier as the night passed so he threw his parka over his torso and

burrowed deep into its warmth. The next thing he knew a shaft of sunlight struck him in

the face and he awoke with a sneeze. Sitting up he looked at the clock and found it was

five-fifty. It would still be several hours before anyone arrived from the sheriff‘s office

in Tonopah.

        Lane unlimbered his aching legs and stood outside the truck. His breath made

vaporous white puffs in front of his face as he exhaled. Even in August, it could get

chilly at this altitude. Lane forced himself to walk down to the highway and back to

work the kinks out of his muscles. As he came back up the hill he walked around behind

Winscott‘s trailer to the greenhouse where he found a faucet from the gravity feed tank

on the roof. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, wet it and used it to wash the

sleep from his eyes. When he felt awake he turned the water off and walked back to his

truck. He spread the handkerchief over the back of the passenger‘s seat to dry and

poured another cup of coffee, emptying the thermos. It was only lukewarm, but it was

better than nothing. On a hunch he opened the glove compartment and, to his surprise,

found half a granola bar in a plastic baggie. Probably, a left over from the last time he

and Tutu had been camping. It was a welcome treat nonetheless.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        63


        He switched the radio on again but the news was just a rehash of the same old

tripe from last night. He switched it off. It suddenly occurred to him that anyone

arriving from Tonopah would not have Ed Bromley sitting beside them to furnish

directions. Lane rolled up his sleeping bag, tied it, and left it on the floor behind the

driver‘s seat. He got in and started the engine, let it warm for a few minutes, then drove

down to the highway where his truck was sure to be spotted. He left room for other

vehicles to pull off onto the narrow access road and killed the engine.

        It was seven-ten.

        At seven-forty the first blue and white arrived. A short, bull-necked man with

crew cut hair and civilian clothes got out and walked over to him. ―Mauler?‖ he asked.

        ―That‘s me,‖ Lane answered.

        ―Nice to meet you.‖ The man stuck out his hand. Lane grasped it while the man

continued, ―Sorry we haven‘t met before, but either I‘m down in Pahrump or the sheriff

is. Name‘s Noah Denton. Under-Sheriff for Nye County.‖

        ―Guess that makes you my boss, Sheriff. Or one of them.‖

        ―Don‘t let it bother you, Mauler. The sheriff and I have a working arrangement.

He tends to all the politics and gets his name and picture in the paper and stays out of my

way while I take care of business. His job is mostly politicking, making sure the county

commissioners don‘t cut our budget, but the work still has to get done. That‘s what he‘s

got me for. I‘ve read your resume on the application you mailed in. I recommended to

the sheriff that we hire you.

        ―Nye County is the second largest county in the country, you know. Fact is, the

size of this county is more than Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       64


combined. Of course, those states have a total population of more than ten million

people, so they take in a lot more tax dollars than we do with a population of less than

fifty thousand. So here and there we requisition a house from the delinquent tax rolls,

and use it for a substation, sort of. It allows us to keep the widest visibility in the county,

at the least expense. You see what I‘m talking about?‖

          ―Sure. Sounds like a good idea being as how you‘ve got so much ground to

cover.‖

          ―Right as rain about that, Mauler. Course, we‘ll have a rover or two in your

bailiwick when needed. Got to keep the overtime down, you know. You won‘t have any

set hours, or any set patrol. But you‘ve got a lot of square miles where you will be the

law. Understand me?‖

          ―No question about that, sir. When will I get a county vehicle?‖

          ―It‘ll be pulling in shortly. I‘m having one of the deputy‘s drive it down and he‘ll

ride back with me. Saves you a trip into Tonopah. Not that we don‘t want to see you

around the head shed, you know. We have a policy meeting on the second and fourth

Wednesday of each month. You‘ll be required to attend that, if at all possible, and you‘ll

find that kind of works out as the right time for a lube and oil change on your unit.‖

          ―Second and fourth Wednesday. Any time?‖

          ―Zero eight-thirty.‖ Denton felt the pockets of his suit jacket finally coming up

with a badge. ―Almost forgot this. Put up your right hand, Mauler.‖ Lane did so.

―Good. You‘re sworn. Pardon my red tape cutting procedures, but I know you

understand what the job is. First policy meeting you get into town for, we‘ll have a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      65


photographer and the sheriff will do it formally and all that rot. For now, you‘ve got the

badge and you‘ve got the job. You play football, Mauler?‖

        ―No sir. Never went in for sports in college, or high school for that matter. High

school I went to had ROTC. If you took ROTC you didn‘t have to take phys-ed. Since I

wanted to go into the Army I took ROTC. When I got out after three years, I went to

junior college and got an associate degree in police science while I was signed up on the

police reserve. When I got my degree the department hired me full time and it‘s been

like that until I moved here.‖

        ―Oh, I wasn‘t being nosy. Just wondered if that was how you got your nickname,

Mauler.‖

        ―It‘s not a nickname. When my great-great granddad came over from Germany

he got off the boat at Ellis Island, same as several million other immigrants. The

immigration man asked granddad his name and Mahler was the reply. Evidently, the

immigration man didn‘t know much about music or composers, but he did know about

bar brawls, so great granddad‘s name was put down on his papers as Mauler.‖

        ―No foolin‘? Who would a thought that?‖

        A Chevy Blazer painted blue and white with the county seal on the door pulled

off the road. The driver rolled down his window. ―This the place Noah?‖

        ―Sure thing, Harvey. Pull on up the road where the trailer is. Don‘t be drivin‘

over no evidence. We got to wait a little while more until Doc Conried gets here before

we can do much.‖ The Blazer pulled on up to the trailer and stopped. Denton said to

Lane, ―Doc Conried works Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday on the road from

Amargosa up to Valley Forks. Making sure the elderly have got their prescriptions and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     66


occasionally setting a broken bone or administering a flu shot during the season. On

Wednesday and Thursday, or most any other time, the Doc‘s on call in Tonopah. Ahh,

here comes the Doc now,‖ he said as a beige car with the county seal and Rural Medical

Health Service printed on the side pulled to a stop.

        The driver got out and walked over to shake hands with Denton. ―Morning,

sheriff. Nice day for a drive.‖

        Lane hoped his chin hadn‘t dropped to the ground. The doctor was about five-

two and a hundred and five pounds. Maybe more when she stepped out of a shower and

was still dripping wet. Lane pegged her age somewhere around thirty, give or take a few

years, but he could be generous when giving. If he hadn‘t known that she had several

years of college and medical school under her belt, plus required residency, he would

have pegged her at twenty-five or so. She had chestnut hair and a well-tanned

complexion. Her teeth were even and gleaming. She looked at Lane. ―And you are?‖

        ―Deputy Lane Mauler, ma‘am.‖ He stuck out his hand.

        She took it easily and said, ―I‘m Connie Conried, or just Connie or Doc if you

like. I‘m pleased to meet you deputy. Do you mind if I call you Lane? We‘re pretty

informal out here in the boonies.‖

        Lane would have smiled like a collie pup if she called him Shit For Brains. ―No,

ma‘am. Lane‘s just fine by me.‖ In the back of his mind he could hear Anne‘s voice

telling him, “Quit thinking with your gonads, Lane. Behave yourself and you might get

to know this lady better.”

        ―Okay, Lane. How about showing me this body you reported?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     67


         ―Yes, ma‘am. It‘s just up the track here. It‘s about two hundred yards, you want

to bring your car?‖

         ―You bet I do. I‘ve got my evidence kit and a body bag in the back, plus a few

other things I find handy now and then. I don‘t feel lugging that stuff up the hill. Noah,‖

she said to the Under-Sheriff, ―why don‘t you and Lane ride up in my car? That way you

can leave yours down here on the highway so the meat wagon will know where to turn

when they get here.‖

         The Under-Sheriff quickly agreed. He and the doctor got in the front seat of her

car while Lane got in the back. Connie put the car in gear and they drove up the hill.

         The other deputy had strung yellow crime scene tape around the trailer and was

snapping pictures inside with a thirty-five millimeter. He was in a short-sleeve khaki

uniform with a nametag that read Buckhorn.

         ―You already photograph the inside, Harvey?‖ Denton asked.

         ―Yeah, Noah. Got half a roll in there. Wasn‘t nothing in particular to shoot

except the body, so I just photographed the general layout.‖

         ―Right. If you‘re finished we can let the doc in.‖

         ―Well, I‘m done in the living room, if you can call it that. Anyway, I‘m done

with the body and I‘m starting on the trailer from the outside. You can tell Doc to take it

away.‖

         Denton turned to the attractive young lady. ―It‘s all yours, Doc.‖

         ―Thank you too much, Sheriff.‖

         Connie pulled rubber surgical gloves from her pocket, put them on and then knelt

down and began examining the body. Winscott was fully dressed though the stumps of
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    68


his legs poked out from where the chain saw had ripped through his denim Levis. He

wore a short-sleeved flannel shirt with a red plaid design. Connie checked for trauma

wounds other than the obvious but found none, then inserted a rectal thermometer to

estimate the time of death from the body temperature. That done, she stood up and

removed her rubber gloves.

       ―Yep! He‘s dead all right.‖ She chuckled and winked at Lane. ―Don‘t mind me,

deputy. A little humor helps to brighten up a morbid day sometimes. I‘d say time of

death was around 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon. Perhaps I can give you a better answer

after I can examine the stomach contents. You suppose he was on drugs?‖

       ―I found a couple marijuana plants growing in the shed out back,‖ Lane said.

―From the debris scattered around the floor, it‘s obvious he had been drinking too. Could

he have just wigged out with the DT‘s and done this to himself?‖

       ―I don‘t know,‖ she said. ―Maybe I‘ll be able to answer your question after I do

the autopsy. We‘ll scan the blood for toxins and see what comes up, it‘s normal

procedure anyway in a case like this.‖

       ―I don‘t see any obvious sign of company,‖ Denton said. ―Anybody been around

here that you know of, Mauler?‖

       ―Just Ed Bromley, who reported the body. He was here yesterday afternoon and

again last night when he rode with me to give directions. Said he never came inside after

he saw the body through the window. He didn‘t seem to think anyone else had been

around.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        69


        ―Then I guess we can rule out foul play. Looks like Winscott just got high, cut

his own legs off, and bled to death. He was sitting on that table and when he passed out

the body fell to the floor impaling itself on that broken chair leg.‖

        ―That‘s kind of the way I figured it, sheriff. But what would make a man want to

take a chain saw to his own legs?‖

        ―Beats me,‖ Denton said. ―But who knows what he was imagining if he was

hallucinating?‖

        An ambulance pulled into the front yard and turned around so it could back up to

the front door. Two EMS technicians got out. One opened the back of the vehicle while

the other walked to the front door and stuck his head in.

        ―Mornin‘ sheriff,‖ he said to Denton. He nodded at the doctor. ―Doc. I was

going to ask if this was the place, but I see by the blood that I don‘t need to ask.‖ His

eyes roamed the messy interior of the lean-to. ―Lord! What a mess! You done with the

body, doc?‖

        ―Yes, Rick. Bag it and drop it off at the office, will you? There doesn‘t seem to

be much else for me to do around here. Unless you need me for anything more, Noah,

I‘ll head back so I can begin the paperwork and the autopsy.‖

        ―You go ahead, doc. I‘ll stay here with Harvey and complete the forensics.‖

        ―See you, then,‖ she said. She turned to Lane. ―Anything more you need,

deputy?‖

        ―Just a time of death, ma‘am, if you come up with a better estimate. For the

report, you know?‖

        ―Sure. I‘ll give you a call. You using Foster‘s telephone number?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      70


       ―Yes, ma‘am.‖

       ―Okay. I‘ll probably have something for you by tomorrow. I‘ll talk to you then.

Call me if you think of anything else.‖ She gave him a county business card with her

office number as well as her fax and cell phone.

       As she left she said over her shoulder to Denton, ―I‘ll make the call to TECBAD

as soon as I get back.‖ Then she was out the door and the two EMS guys came in and

removed the body, not forgetting the blood-smeared stumps of his legs.

       ―What was that about tech something or other?‖ Lane asked Noah Denton.

       ―Let‘s go out for some fresh air, Mauler,‖ Denton said. Outside he lit up a small,

wooden tipped cigar. ―TECBAD-U is a government thing south of here. They keep an

eye on strange and unusual diseases or other occurrences that could threaten human,

animal, or plant life. You might think of them as part of the Department of Agriculture,

or Department of Health, but mostly you shouldn‘t think about them. Everything they do

is ultra-secret, burn-before-reading kind of stuff. Anything unusual that you can think

about?‖

       ―‘Bout the only thing that comes to mind is a vehicle. The shed out back has a

large water tank on top. It‘s beefed up to support the weight. But there‘s no well on the

property, and no stream nearby, so Winscott must have had to haul his water in. That

would take a vehicle, but there isn‘t one anywhere around. I can ask around in town and

find out where he got his water, but it might answer some questions if you‘d check DMV

and see if anything was registered to him. If he owned a vehicle, where is it now?‖

       ―Yeah. I‘ll call you if I find out anything.‖ He pointed at Lane with the stub of

his cigar. ―Look, you‘ve put in some long hours already. Why don‘t you head for home?
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     71


At least you can grab some breakfast and maybe take a nap. Buckhorn and I will be here

for another couple of hours checking for prints or anything else we can find. You can

drive your truck home and I‘ll drop by with the Blazer when we‘re done. And thanks for

keeping the scene secure last night. Hell of a way to welcome you to Valley Forks.‖

        ―Yeah, sure. Okay, sheriff. You drop by later and I‘ll make sure the coffee is

hot.‖ He made a mental note to go through the U-haul and find the coffee maker and

some ground coffee. Maybe he should stop at Art‘s Exxon to pick some up?

        Lane walked down the rutted track and climbed behind the wheel of his pickup.

He used the cell phone to call Tutu. ―You‘re awake early,‖ he said.

        ―I was up at the crack of dawn. Had some eggs and some toast. Say, would you

stop at the store and pick up some bacon and some potatoes? I‘ll need them to fix you

some breakfast. But I haven‘t got a clue as to what else I can fix today. Soup for lunch?

Dinner at the diner again?‖

        ―Well, at least you‘re thinking, Tutu. Did you find the coffee?‖

        ―Yeah, dad. A two-pound can half-full. But we don‘t have any cream or sugar. I

know you don‘t use it, but I‘d like some. Can you pick up some juice and soft drinks

too?‖

        ―Sure thing, Hon. Maybe you better start making a list and I‘ll drive you into

Tonopah tomorrow. Look, I‘m about finished out here and on my way home. I‘ll stop at

the Exxon and pick up a few things and see you in about half an hour. We‘ll probably

have company in a few hours. My boss will be here for a while. He‘ll stop by the house

later and drop off a county vehicle for me. I told him we‘d have coffee ready.‖

        ―Then make sure you get some cream and sugar in case he uses them. Okay?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        72


        ―Yes, boss. See you soon.‖

        ―Bye, dad.‖

        Lane punched the disconnect button and cranked the engine. When he got to

Art‘s Exxon it was nearly nine-thirty. Doc Conried‘s beige county car was parked out

front. Ruthie was behind the cash register again and he tossed a good morning in her

direction. She flashed him a smile. Connie was seated at a booth with a three-ring binder

and a cup of coffee on the table in front of her. She caught his eye.

        ―Nice seeing you again, deputy. Want to join me for a cup of coffee?‖

        ―I‘d love to, doc, but I‘ve got a fifteen year old daughter at home and I need to

pick up a few groceries for breakfast. We‘re just moving in, you know.‖

        ―Yes, I think Noah did mention that. Well then, I won‘t keep you. Say hello to

your daughter and Mrs. Mauler for me, won‘t you?‖

        Lane‘s face clouded, though he tried not to show it. ―I‘m a widower,‖ he said.

―My wife died nearly two years ago. But Cheryl Ann and I make out all right. Still, we

just pulled into town yesterday, and about the only thing we have in the ‗fridge is a

couple eggs and about a third of a loaf of bread. That and a little coffee doesn‘t make a

very good breakfast for a teen age girl.‖

        ―I agree with you there, Lane. You do your shopping and get home to your

daughter. I‘ll call you when I have any more information on Winscott.‖

        ―Thanks, I‘d appreciate that.‖ He tossed her half a smile and waved as he turned

to search for his groceries.

        Although Art didn‘t provide shopping carts for his customers, he did have

shopping baskets. Lane slung one over his arm and set about his shopping.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      73


        The first thing he grabbed was a jar of powdered creamer, and a two-pound box

of sugar. From the cold storage area at the back of the store he took half a dozen

potatoes, a dozen eggs, and a one-pound package of something the manufacturer swore

was a light ham. He also stuck a half-gallon of milk in his basket along with a half-

gallon of orange juice. In the frozen section he added a can of concentrated apple juice

and one of grapefruit juice to his plunder. Having second thoughts he went back to cold

storage and picked out a package of assorted luncheon meats. Next he added a squeeze

bottle of mustard for himself and a small jar of mayonnaise for Tutu. Satisfied that he

had provided his daughter and himself with the minimum requirements for a day or two,

he took his shopping basket to the cash register to pay. Connie, he noticed, had already

finished her coffee and left the diner.

        ―Find everything you need, deputy,‖ Ruth asked him. ―How about a loaf of bread

to go with this lunch meat?‖

        Lane snapped his fingers. ―Gosh, you‘re right. Be right back.‖ In less than a

minute he set a loaf of whole wheat bread down with the rest of his items. ―Thanks for

reminding me, Ruthie. I guess that about does it.‖

        She rang the items and Lane opened his wallet and paid her. The amount of cash

he had left reminded him that he needed to drive into Tonopah and find an ATM

machine. He should probably open up an account with a local bank also. When Ruth

had finished bagging his groceries he went out to his truck and was home only a few

moments later.

        He held the screen door open with his boot while he opened the inside door and

carried the groceries into the kitchen. He set them down on the counter and went into the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      74


office where he unbuckled his gun belt and hooked it over the back of a chair. Tutu was

just coming down the stairs.

       ―Home is the hunter,‖ she called out to him as she passed into the kitchen. ―I

hope you didn‘t get anything in cans, I haven‘t been able to find a can opener and I‘ve

got all but the heaviest items unloaded.‖

       ―Just a couple cans of frozen juice. But I‘ve got a gizmo on my pocketknife that

will open those when you need them. Have you started a list yet? Better add a can

opener or we‘ll starve for sure.‖ He was only kidding. Lane was an excellent cook,

having lived on his own for several years before he met and married his wife. Anne had

also been an excellent cook though Lane personally thought most of the dishes she

prepared were a little mild. A bottle of Tabasco remedied that shortcoming. Cheryl Ann

was turning out to be a good cook and her taste was more like her dad‘s. Well seasoned

was the way to describe the cuisine in the Mauler household.

       Tutu stuck her head into his office. ―You need a shave, dad. When you get back

downstairs breakfast will be on the table. Toast and eggs suit you? With some fried

potatoes on the side?‖

       ―I can hardly wait,‖ he told her. ―I‘ll be back in a few moments.‖

       In the upstairs bath he found Tutu hadn‘t been kidding when she said she‘d

brought in all but the heaviest items. Towels and washcloths were hung on the rack

screwed to the wall. The medicine cabinet had been stocked with prescriptions as well as

the over the counter remedies which had been in their bathroom in Long Beach.

Toothbrushes stood in a holder on the sink next to the water pik. His electric razor had

found a new home on a shelf just below the mirror above the sink. On the back of the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         75


john sat a box of facial tissues and a couple of the teen magazines Tutu always used for

reference when trying out fresh makeup styles. A pretty pink fabric covered the toilet

tank and seat.

        ―Got to hand it to that girl,‖ Lane muttered to himself. ―She won‘t have to go far

to make a good wife for some lucky boy.‖ He just wished that she could spend more

time as a teen-ager instead of taking on so many of the homemaking chores at such an

early age. He quit grousing and plugged in his razor. Several minutes later he was

satisfied that he was no longer attractive to lady porcupines so he stripped off his shirt

and pants, tossing them into the laundry basket, and stepped into the shower.

        At first the water was icy cold and set his teeth on edge. Soon, however, the hot

water made its way from the tank below and Lane discovered that he was slowly being

parboiled. He adjusted the water to a comfortable temperature then indulged himself in

the brisk spray of water and began to shampoo his hair.

        Fifteen minutes later he was dry, his teeth were clean, and he had put on fresh

Levis, a t-shirt and soft suede hiking shoes. When he went down stairs he took his new

badge and tossed it on the desk in his office.

        ―Thanks for the OJ,‖ Tutu said as he sat down at the kitchen table. She slid a

plate in front of him along with a fresh brewed cup of coffee.

        Lane added Tabasco to his scrambled eggs, and then squeezed mustard over his

potatoes. The coffee he took black. He wanted to ask for bacon but knew there wasn‘t

any because Tutu was making sure his cholesterol numbers stayed as low as possible.

She‘d chopped up a slice or two of the sliced ham luncheon meat and added it to the

eggs. It tasted great.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    76


        ―Tutu,‖ he said, ―if you weren‘t my daughter I‘d marry you. You sure know how

to cook for a guy. These potatoes are perfectly browned on the outside but moist and

tasty on the inside.‖

        ―And what makes you think I‘d have you, Mr. Mauler?‖ She favored him with a

smile and a questioning tilt of her head. ―My husband is going to have to be rich enough

to hire me a maid. I don‘t plan on spending my days over a hot stove and ruining my

hands in dishwater.‖

        ―What if I bought you a dishwasher?‖ he said.

        ―We‘ll have to negotiate a salary first. Besides, dad, if I cooked for anyone else

the way I cook for you, they‘d throw me out. The stuff you put on your food is enough to

make anybody sick.‖

        ―Nonsense, dear. I‘ve never had heartburn in my life, never a case of intestinal

flu, and nary an ulcer. Spices just keep the stomach healthy.‖ It was a favorite theory of

his. It was very true that he‘d never had any stomach trouble, and he‘d developed a real

craving for hot sauce when living on Army chow. It was his firm opinion that no matter

how bad the cook screwed up the recipe, a bottle of Tabasco would make it right. Since

he‘d discovered the taste of habañero peppers at a little mercado on La Brea, he‘d taken

to growing a few pepper plants of his own every year. The habañero pepper is twenty to

one hundred times as hot as the average jalapeño pepper, and much more flavorful. Lane

managed to pick eight to ten quarts each year to process into his own brand of hot sauce,

but long before the coming of spring he was out buying more peppers to make more.

Maybe now that they had a larger area for a garden…?
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        77


        ―Father, dear…‖ Tutu said as she sat down across from him. After a nibble of dry

toast and a sip of orange juice, she said, ―You know that I‘m old enough for a learner‘s

permit now. And I understand that Nevada doesn‘t have those silly laws restricting the

hours kids under eighteen can drive and tying driving privileges to grades like California

has. So, I was thinking that maybe...?‖ She left her statement unfinished.

        ―Well, now that we‘re out of the Southern California congestion, I think we can

get you a learner‘s permit. As long as you promise not to drive like a Californian, of

course. In fact, I was thinking of taking a little drive down to Vegas in a week or two,

and looking at prices for a mini-van a couple years old. I mean, you will be sixteen in

just four more months, and you do act as an adult around the house, taking care of your

poor old dad and so forth. As long you don‘t let your grades slip, I think we‘ll be able to

trust you. How does that sound?‖

        Tutu sprang up and rushed around the table to give her dad a hug. ―You bet, dad!

And I can help out the wives in that co-op Mr. Tyson told us about, driving for groceries,

I mean. And you can bet I won‘t let my grades slip, I‘ll even work harder, honest.‖

        ―Okay, okay,‖ he said trying to disentangle himself from her hug. ―Now let me

finish my breakfast, would you? I‘d like to get our living room furniture, such as it is,

moved into the house before we have any company.‖

        After breakfast, and with his daughter‘s help, Lane used a furniture dolly to

unload their heavier possessions and bring them in the house. Moving things upstairs

reminded Lane of why he had promised himself that he would never live in an upstairs

apartment or two-story home again. Good intentions frequently fall by the way.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       78


        He was up on the roof installing the little dish antenna for their satellite receiver

when Noah Denton pulled up shortly after two in the afternoon. Lane waved a greeting

and shouted, ―Be right down! Go on in and ask my daughter to fix you a cup of coffee,

won‘t you?‖

        Denton waved back and walked up the steps to the front door. When Lane came

down he was seated in the kitchen telling a funny story to Tutu.

        ―…so then the guy passes the teller a note and she reads, ‗I have a gun. Give me

all your money.‘ Well, bank policy is that she‘s supposed to give him the money with no

argument. After all, the money is insured and it‘s easier to replace than an employee‘s

life. So she gives him the money and he takes off. Only after he‘s gone she turns the

holdup note over and finds that the guy wrote it on the back of his parole papers. He‘d

just gotten released down in Arizona two days earlier.‖ Tutu was laughing so hard that

tears were beginning to form in the corner of her eyes.

        ―Hi, Lane. Need any help aligning that dish,‖ Denton asked.

        ―Naww, piece of cake. I was just getting it tightened down when you arrived. I

see you‘ve been entertaining Cheryl Ann.‖

        ―Just filling her in on a little of our local humor, and thanking her for this really

excellent cup of coffee. Oh, before I forget,‖ he slid a manila file folder across the table

to Lane. ―I‘ve got the paperwork here for your county vehicle. If you‘ll follow me

outside, we‘ll verify the VIN number on the blazer and you can do a sight inventory of

the equipment you‘ll be signing for. Of course, if you want to just take my word that

everything is there and go ahead and sign, I can make up some of last quarter‘s property
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        79


losses.‖ He poked Lane in the ribs with an elbow while winking and chuckling at Tutu at

the same time.

          ―Thanks, Noah. Wish I could oblige you, but I learned in the Army to always

compare the receipt with the goods. No offense intended.‖

          ―And none taken, Lane. Come on, let‘s count the band aids in the first aid kit,

and if they‘re all there I can head back to Tonopah.‖ He stood up and grabbed his hat

from where he‘d tossed it on the kitchen table. Pointing it at Cheryl Ann, he said, ―And I

hope to get back soon for another cup of that delicious coffee, little lady. Be seein‘ you.‖

          Tutu waved and said thanks as the Under-Sheriff and her dad went outside.

When Noah got Lane aside out by the new cruiser he said, ―Something I wanted to tell

you about, but I didn‘t think your daughter needed to know. After you left Winscott‘s

this morning, I got a bulletin on the HF radio in your unit. It could be connected with this

thing.‖

          ―How‘s that, sheriff?‖

          ―Call me Noah, won‘t you? We got an all points from up in Idaho. Seems a

prisoner was being extradited from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City. A couple

officers from Salt Lake drove out and picked the man up because a court appointed

psychiatrist convinced a judge the prisoner had a pathological fear of flying that might

trigger a psychotic episode. On the way back they got a little ways south of Boise when

the car blew a tire and went into a skid then cracked up. Both the officers were

unconscious for a few moments. When they were found later, the rear window of the

sedan had been kicked out. The prisoner had gotten hold of the escort‘s keys so we can

assume he got the cuffs off shortly afterwards.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      80


        ―Just what has this got to do with us here in Nevada, or the Winscott case in

particular?‖ Lane asked.

        ―I was just getting to that. The prisoner was one Richard Dumont. Ever hear of

him?‖

        ―Who hasn‘t?‖ Lane said. ―He makes Michael Myers of the Halloween series of

slice and dice movies look like a Sunday school student. Wanted for murder and rape in

Arkansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and picked up in Oregon before he could kill again.

Utah appears to have the strongest evidence against him and will probably be able to get

a conviction soonest, so the other states are willing to let Utah hold the trial. They can

always transfer him to their jurisdiction if Dumont gets off in Utah and they‘ll have that

much more time to make their case.‖

        ―And Dumont is supposed to be something of a mountain man. Done some

trapping, belonged to a couple of those black powder clubs who like to pretend they are

just as good as any fur trapper who ever tread the Rockies in the past hundred and fifty

years. He may be on the loose right here in our back yard.‖

        ―What makes you think that? There haven‘t been any sightings or other leads,

have there?‖

        ―Just a hunch, Lane. A gut feeling I get after nearly thirty years wearing this

uniform. Right now I feel like a need a half bottle of antacid every morning and again at

night. Now, with this Winscott thing… well, you just keep on your toes and watch your

back. Okay?‖

        ―You got it, Noah.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       81


        The sight inventory didn‘t take long. Basically they counted the Band-Aids in the

first aid kit, verified the serial number on the shotgun and radio installed in the cruiser,

and compared the VIN number to the one on the receipt Lane was signing. A few

minutes later Tutu heard a vehicle drive away and her dad came back into the house and

tossed a new set of car keys on the desk in his office.


                                              *    *   *


        Isabella Esposito turned the fire off beneath the machaca she had just finished

preparing. The shredded beef, sautéed with mild white onions and a touch of cumin,

gave off a heavenly aroma that filled the forty-foot trailer. The beef had been cooked as a

roast before she had shredded it; all that was necessary now was to cook the onions and

warm the beef while the flavors married. She transferred the beef to a serving dish and

added a large serving spoon. She had also made a dozen and a half tortillas, rice, and

frijoles refrito. Her husband had returned from tending the flock just before sunset.

While Arturo, her son, was milking the two goats that ran with the sheep. She set dinner

on the table and called Manuel and Maria from the living room where Manuel was

watching the news while five-year-old Maria colored in an activity book.


        Manuel sat down and filled a plate for his daughter then one for himself. He

folded a tortilla and used it to push some of the shredded beef onto his fork. He

swallowed with gusto and then had a bite of the beans and followed that with some of

‗Bellas rice. Satisfied that all was right and proper he complimented his wife.

               ―A fine meal ‗Bella.‖ She nodded her thanks but she was looking out the

kitchen window toward the goat shed. ―Don‘t worry about ‗Turo. He will be in shortly,‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      82


he said. Manuel spooned some of his wife‘s hot salsa onto his plate and stirred it into his

beans. Then he continued his habit of a bite of beef, followed by beans, then rice, and

then a bite of tortilla. Every now and then he would sip water from the glass ‗Bella

placed next to his plate at every meal.

        An old-fashioned iron teakettle simmered on the back of the stove. One of the

things Isabella disliked about her trailer was the lack of cross ventilation, which allowed

household odors, especially when cooking, to build up to an unpleasant level. She had

tried to replace those odors with a fragrant potpourri.

        ―Momma,‖ Maria asked. ―When will we have more cuckoo-bumpers from your

garden?‖ Maria knew that her folks had told her many times that, at the table, children

were to be seen and not heard, allowing the parents time to discuss events of their day.

However, she was the one member of the family who truly enjoyed the salads her mother

fixed and looked forward to them as often as possible.

        “Cucumbers,‖ her mother corrected. ―Not before summer, little one. I‘ll start

some in the cold frame as early as possible, and transfer them to the garden in May, but

they won‘t ripen before late July or early August. Just in time to serve them with fresh

tomatoes from our garden also.‖

        ―Mmm, ‗maters,‖ the little girl said as she licked her lips in an exaggerated

fashion. Isabella served fresh salads from her garden often because she knew they were

nutritionally important to her family, but little Maria actually loved them. Much more

than sweet treats, fortunately.

        Isabella ate her food idly as she thought about the coming spring. She would like

to plant some fruit trees, but they would take years before bearing fruit. She‘d have to
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       83


wait another season or two before ordering them. Her impatience was already getting the

best of her. She was eagerly looking forward to planting her garden in the coming year.

She combed last year‘s seed catalogue because the new one wouldn‘t be out before

January. She always saved the best seeds from each years harvest for planting the next

season, but occasionally there were new varieties she wanted to try if they were not too

expensive.

          Manuel always helped her prepare the first planting of the spring, bringing last

season‘s manure and compost from the goat pen and turning it into the soil as soon as the

land was workable. Here in Nevada, ‗Bella was treated with a few extra weeks mild

weather, compared to when they had lived in Colorado, at each end of the growing

season.

          There, Manuel had worked for a very nice gringo family who ran beef as well as

sheep, and farmed alfalfa for harvest and sale throughout the west. Manuel had worked

hard and the two of them had saved their money until they had a nest egg that would

allow them to move to Nevada where grazing land could be leased for a small fee, and

they could buy a second hand trailer which Manuel fixed up for them. After six years

living in this two bedroom trailer, Manuel was beginning to talk about buying them a lot

in town where Isabella could have a real home and the children could walk to school

instead of tramping two miles out to the county road to catch the bus. In town, they

would have electricity and a telephone. She would like to be able to call her parents once

in awhile. Isabella‘s madre and padre still lived in Colorado, but if she kept the calls

infrequent and didn‘t stay on the line too long, Manuel wouldn‘t object about the expense
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      84


of phoning long distance. They would keep this trailer and Manuel could move it around

to different grazing areas as necessary.

        She hoped they could find a lot in the city of Valley Forks with room enough for

her garden. It was surprising how much a twenty-five by forty foot garden could cut

down on the amount they spent for groceries. The more they saved the sooner they could

make their dream come true. She would order the fruit trees the first season after they

bought their own property.

        Manuel finished his plate and was helping himself to more. He asked for a

second cup of coffee also. She sipped hers, hardly more than half gone, and then got up

to fix a second cup for Manuel. ‗Bella had poured a cup for Maria, but the little one had

only sipped a little. Maybe Maria would like it with a little more honey? She poured

more for Manuel and set it beside his plate when she set down.

        ‗Turo came in from the milking shed with a bucket of fresh goat‘s milk. He took

a gallon jug from the ‗fridge and found it only a third full. He poured a glass for himself

and another for his sister and then poured the fresh milk from the bucket into the jug

using a funnel his mother kept nearby for just that purpose.

        ―Are you sure you wiped your feet before coming in?‖ his father suddenly

snapped. Isabella looked at her husband. His tone had changed and was strangely

menacing now. ―Damn place is beginning to smell like manure. Why do you stare at me,

woman? Can‘t a man hope for his home to smell clean? I work outside with the animals

all day. If I liked their smell, I‘d stay outside.‖

        ‗Bella had nothing to say. Maria had cleaned her plate and was asking if she

could take her milk into the front room and watch Power Rangers. ‗Bella said yes and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       85


shooed her out of the kitchen. If there was going to be a fight, she didn‘t want the little

ones underfoot. She was beginning to feel a little light-headed and there was a pounding

in her ears. Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

          Manuel was beginning to act strange. There was a glazed look in his eyes. If she

hadn‘t known better, she would have said he was getting drunk, but she knew he didn‘t

have a bottle around anywhere. The only time Manuel even touched alcohol was once a

month when they took the pickup and drove to Tonopah for groceries and stopped in at

La Cocina for lunch. Manuel always treated himself to two beers. No, he wasn‘t drunk.

Then why was he so touchy?

          Boom-boom-boom-boompity! Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

          ‗Turo excused himself and said he would go outside and clean his boots. He put

the container of fresh milk into the ‗fridge and went out the front door. Manuel glared

after him.

          ―Picarito,‖ she said to her husband, using the pet name she always called him.

―His boots were clean. I don‘t smell anything. Why are you angry?‖

          ―Damn it woman!‖ he said giving her the back of his hand across her mouth,

something he had never done before. ―If I say the house smells, then it smells and you

have no right to argue with me.‖

          ―Manuel, what has made you so angry? Did something happen with the flock

today?‖

          ―If anything did, it‘s no business of yours! I‘ll take care of the sheep and you are

to take care of this house. It should be clean and sweet smelling when I come home!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        86


        ‗Bella glanced around her. The kitchen was spotless, only the utensils she had

used for dinner were sitting on the sink. She knew her living room was immaculate also.

Her mother had raised her to keep a good home for her man and she deeply loved Manuel

and wanted to please him. Manuel hurriedly got up from the kitchen table, nearly

knocking his chair over. ―A pig-sty!‖ he said, ―and a woman who argues with me. What

have I done to deserve this? Dios!‖ he snorted and stalked off to the living room.

        Isabella finished the few bites left on her plate and carried it to the sink. She

drank the last of her coffee and set the cup in the sink while she ran the dishwater. ‗Turo

hadn‘t had his dinner yet so she dished up a plate for him, covered it with a linen dish

towel, and put it in the oven where the pilot light would keep it warm.

        ―Damned pig,‖ she muttered under her breath. What gave him the right to act

that way with her? She kept his house neat and clean, she kept his children clean, and she

always had meals on the table when it was time to eat. Even when money had been

really short, when they first moved here and Manuel spent most of their savings for the

well and their solar power, she had managed. She raised food in her garden, she tended

the chickens and goats so they always had eggs and milk and a little meat when the does

gave birth. Now that things were finally getting better for them, now that they had

money in the bank and were thinking about buying a place in town, why did he have to

find fault with her?

        Was he seeing someone on the side? Was this his way of dumping her and the

children? Hoping to make her mad enough that maybe she would pack up the children

and head back to Colorado and her parents‘ home?
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    87


       She threw dishes into the steaming water and began washing them while inside

she fumed. She wouldn‘t take this! No she wouldn‘t! In her anger she cut herself on a

small kitchen knife she hadn‘t seen beneath the soapsuds. She jerked her hand out of the

water and stuck her finger in her mouth. It wasn‘t cut bad. She put her other hand under

the water and cautiously felt for the knife. She wouldn‘t let Manuel do this to her. She‘d

use that knife and have his cojones for breakfast! She had almost decided to set the little

paring knife aside and reach for a larger carving knife when she heard a commotion in the

front room.

       ―Oww!‖ Maria screamed.

       ―That‘ll teach you to pay attention to what you‘re doing instead of gluing your

eyes to the television. You stupid burro! Any child as old as you are should be able to

drink a simple glass of milk without spilling it. Not you, you‘re too busy watching TV.

I‘ll shut the damned thing off and give you a reason to shed some real tears!‖

       ‗Bella heard the TV go silent and shortly there was a scream and a sickening

chunk! Forgetting about the knife she ran to the front room in time to catch Manuel

holding a crying Maria by one arm while raising a stout piece of firewood over his head

and preparing to hit their daughter again!

       ―No!‖ she screamed, but it was too late. The length of wood came down and

struck Maria across the forehead, the bridge of her nose, and split both lips. Blood began

flowing from Maria‘s wounds and ‗Bella ran to grab Manuel‘s arm before he could raise

it to strike again. He shrugged her off and swung the piece of wood at her. It hit her on

the side of the head with a solid impact and she saw stars for a moment. She thought she

might pass out but was able to hold onto a thread of consciousness and stagger to the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     88


closet in the corner where Manuel kept the rifle he used to kill the coyotes if they

threatened to hunt down his sheep. Manuel paid her no attention as he slammed the

firewood again and again into Maria‘s head and shoulders.

         There it was, on the high shelf where Maria couldn‘t get hold of it while playing.

With trembling hands she pulled the rifle down and held it in front of her. She worked

the lever action as she turned around and pointed the rifle at Manuel, firing when the gun

was hardly at waist level. She could see him stagger from the impact but his arm was

swinging that awful length of wood at Maria again and it struck with an awful impact.

Maria could actually hear the crunch as her daughter‘s skull cracked with a sickening

sound.

         Boom-boom-boom-boompity! Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

         Manuel bellowed with rage and tossed his once beautiful daughter aside, lurching

across the room to seize the gun and yank it from his wife‘s grasp. Isabella was so

startled to see him still standing that she hadn‘t even thought about cocking the rifle and

firing again.

         Blinded with pain and fury he didn‘t bother to turn the gun around and shoot his

wife. Instead he swung it in a sweeping round house that started low and swept up from

the floor to connect with her cheek. The impact made a grisly thwack! ‗Bella‘s head was

slammed around to her left as blood and teeth flew over her shoulder.

         ―Damn puta! You try to poison me, I know! The same way you poison the

minds of the children against me. You turn them against me and then you shoot me.

Puta! Bitch! You laugh, no? Okay!‖ He brought the rifle down on his wife‘s collapsed

form again and again, screaming and cursing her until the weapon dropped from his
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     89


hands. Standing over her, sweating and panting, he looked down at his handiwork while

holding both hands to his stomach. ―Fucking whore! You don‘ fuck with Manuel no

more! I see to that.‖ He bent down; perhaps to pick up the rifle where it had fallen, but

the loss of blood and his exertions had taken their toll. He collapsed over his dead wife,

still muttering. His legs kicked once or twice and his torso shuddered then he lay still.

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity! Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

        Outside, Arturo watched in shock as his father collapsed upon his mother. He

had come from the goat shed as soon as he heard his sister‘s screaming, and arrived just

in time to see his mother fire the rifle at his father. He saw Manuel stagger from the

impact of the bullet and fling his sister across the room with a curse. Then papa lunged

at mama, jerking the gun away from her and killing her before Arturo could even open

the door to go in and help. As he watched his mother drop to the floor, Arturo became

too afraid to try and help. It was probably too late anyway. He watched while his father

quivered his last gasp and then he cried. He felt no shame. Big boys don‟t cry, he had

heard often enough. He didn‘t feel very big just now. He cried until he could cry no

more.

        Arturo went out to the goat shed. Hanging from a nail was a heavy blanket,

rolled and tied with a short length of nylon rope. Frequently he had spent the night with

the flock of sheep when the weather was warmer, and always carried this blanket with

him. Now he slung it across his shoulders and headed for the hills in the enveloping

darkness. There was nothing more he could do for his family, he knew. If he were found

here now, the only one alive, the authorities might blame him for the murders. If he went

into the mountains, he could live off the land. He would set out for Colorado. His
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                  90


abuela and abuelo would believe his story. They knew he was a good boy. They would

hide him from the authorities until he was old enough to join the Marines. He would

leave Colorado then, and he would never return.

       Boom-boom-boom-boompity!
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       91


                                               Chapter 3



           Miss Cheryl Ann Mauler began the first week of her sophomore year in Valley

Forks five weeks after she and her dad had moved to the little town. The school system

was somewhat confusing to her after the organized chaos of Southern California. Valley

Forks had a total of twenty-three students in grades kindergarten through twelve. The

state provided six teachers, four of whom were two married couples, with a man and a

woman left over for good measure.

           There were no students in the sixth or eighth grades, with one, two, or three

students in the others. Tutu found that she and Ruthie were the only sophomores, Fred

Silverman was the only junior, and Jimmy (Junior) Swiegert the only senior. Since it

wasn‘t practical to have separate classrooms for each grade, the six-room building which

served as a school had two rooms dedicated as offices for the teachers, while four served

as classrooms for a variety of needs, students, and grades. The rooms were flexible and

had often been used for multiple purposes before. Not too many decades back, when

Valley Forks was a mining town in boom, the building had done a brisk business as a

brothel.

           Cheryl Ann enjoyed the arrangements that had been made for her education; she

also enjoyed the teal blue Ford mini-van now parked in the Mauler driveway next to her

dad‘s pickup. Tutu was the only high schooler in town with her own vehicle, but since

the town was so small, she didn‘t drive it often. Shopping trips to Vegas or Tonopah

were always made on the weekend and Tutu had driven twice in the company of older

women as they picked up groceries for the co-op. Her dad preferred not to drive with her
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    92


since she complained he intimidated her. Still, he was pleased with the back-channel

information he received from the older women concerning Tutu‘s driving.

        He hadn‘t learned any more concerning the Winscott murder. The man had not

owned a car. He had learned that an acquaintance brought Winscott his drinking water in

a three hundred gallon water tank on the back of his pickup about once a month, or as

often as necessary. The friend hadn‘t been around for more than two weeks when the

body had been discovered. In fact, the water on hand only half filled the water tank.

Officially, the case was listed as a suicide.

        On the brighter side, if there was one, Lane hadn‘t heard anything about Richard

Dumont either. That was a mixed blessing. On the one hand it was a blessing because no

other crimes or mysterious happenings had taken place in Lane‘s jurisdiction. The flip

side of that coin was that Dumont was still on the run, still hiding out somewhere. There

were reportedly sixty FBI men assigned to the case and working out of Reno. Lane

recalled the FBI had taken an awfully long time rounding up that guy back in North

Carolina. He thought dourly about their chances to wrap this case up quickly.

        On a Saturday in November, Lane had let Tutu drive him into Tonopah to pick up

some incidentals for their home. Arriving two hours before lunch they had quickly

completed their shopping and had pulled into the Station House Casino and Hotel for

lunch. Tutu ordered a salmon patty and a small salad while Lane ordered the chili, as

usual. Halfway through their meal he spotted Connie Conried coming into the restaurant

alone. Lane half rose and motioned her over to join them.

        He was standing when she arrived. ―Dining alone, Dr. Conried? Why don‘t you

join Cheryl Ann and myself?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   93


        ―Well, thank you Lane.‖ She sat down at the table in a chair across from Cheryl

Ann.

        ―Cheryl, allow me to introduce Doctor Connie Conried. You‘ve seen her in

Valley Forks a couple times, haven‘t you?‖

        Cheryl offered her hand and gave the doctor a warm and sincere smile. ―Hello

again, doctor.‖

        Connie took her cue from Cheryl. ―Among my other duties with the Regional

Medical Health Services, I also act as the school nurse. We met at the beginning of the

school year,‖ she said to Lane. ―Nice to see you again, Cheryl.‖

        ―Can we order something for you, Connie?‖ Lane asked.

        A waitress, obviously an acquaintance of Connie‘s, appeared and Connie spoke to

her. ―Hi, Hank,‖ Connie said. ―How‘s the chef‘s salad today?‖

        ―It‘s fresh, and pretty good if you‘re a rabbit,‖ Hank said.

        ―Please bring me one with gobs of blue cheese dressing on the side,‖ Connie said.

        The young girl left and Lane looked at Connie. ―Hank?‖ he remarked with a

perplexed look.

        ―Short for Henrietta. I should have told you, I eat here most days. The prices are

reasonable and it‘s not too far from work. Besides, about the only other choices in town

are fast food joints.‖

        Before she could say anything more, her beeper went off.

        ―Oh, damn!‖ Connie said as she grabbed at the waist of her skirt and glared at the

annoying little instrument. ―I‘ll have to excuse myself for a minute while I answer this.‖

Lane rose and eased Connie‘s chair out as she headed for a pay phone.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      94


           Tutu watched the exchange between the two adults. ―Cool, dad,‖ she smirked.

―Why don‘t you have her over to the house for dinner before the weather makes it

impossible for us to barbecue outside? You might not come up with another excuse

before spring. I didn‘t know you knew any lady doctors? And, a mighty good looking

one at that. You do know that she‘s single, don‘t you?‖

           ―Cheryl Ann, I‘m old enough to handle my social life without advice from you.

The doctor and I met in an official capacity more than six weeks ago. I‘ve only spoken to

her occasionally since then, and only on business.‖

           ―Well, dad, time‘s a wasting. Mom wouldn‘t want you to spend the rest of your

life alone, and I kind of like the lady doctor.‖

           ―Drop it, Tutu. Quiet now, here she comes.‖

           Lane was only half out of his chair when Connie swept in and seated herself.

―I‘ll be darned if I‘m going to pay for another meal I don‘t have time to eat. Besides, the

dead aren‘t going anywhere.‖

           The waitress arrived almost as though she had been waiting for Connie to return

from making her phone call. Hank set down a large plate of salad, topped with sliced

tomatoes, ham, turkey, avocado, and topped with crumbled bacon. Next to that she set a

cup-sized bowl of dressing. ―Will you want anything to drink, Doc?‖

           ―Just a pot of tea, Hank. Thanks for hurrying. My beeper went off and I‘ll just

have time to make a large dent in this salad before I have to fly.‖

           ―Coming right up,‖ the waitress said, spinning on her heel and running to fetch

the tea.

           ―Dead?‖ Lane inquired.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      95


        ―Yeah,‖ Connie said as she spooned the creamy white dressing over her salad.

―Down in your bailiwick. A sheepherder and his family. Three dead and one missing.

I‘ll have to run down there to tag ‗em and bag ‗em.‖ She stuck a forkful of lettuce and

tomato into her mouth.

        ―Guess I better run, too. Deputy Snow is handling things on my day off, but I‘ll

end up doing the follow up so I better find out the details before the trail gets cold.

There‘s only one sheep rancher that I know of in the valley, name of Esposito.‖

        Connie swallowed the mouthful she had been chewing. ―That‘s the one; a man,

his wife, and a five-year-old daughter. Lots of blood. Like the Winscott case. I

understand there‘s a teenage boy missing, but they‘re looking for him.‖

        ―Arturo,‖ Tutu said. ―I know him from school. Small for his age, and quiet. I

don‘t think he would have been involved in anything serious.‖

        ―He‘s not a suspect yet, Tutu,‖ her dad said. ―Let me get there and look the scene

over. Finish your salmon and let‘s get a move on.‖ Lane had already wolfed down the

remaining portion of his chili.

        ―You don‘t have to rush her, Lane. I‘m going to take my time, and Cheryl can

ride back with me,‖ Connie said.

        ―You sure she won‘t be a bother?‖ Lane asked.

        ―Are you planning on being a bother?‖ Connie asked her.

        Wide-eyed, Tutu feigned incredulity. ―Who, me? Why, gosh, no! No trouble at

all.‖

        ―See,‖ Connie said to Lane. ―No trouble at all. You rush off. I‘ll drop her at

your house. I know how to get to the Esposito place.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      96


        ―Okay, doc. If she gives you any trouble, just give her the back of your hand.

That‘s what I always do.‖ He took out his wallet and dropped some bills on the table,

then leaned over and pecked his daughter on the forehead. ―Behave yourself, squirt.‖

        ―Don‘t worry, dad. I know how to behave with a good looking lady doctor, even

if you don‘t,‖ she gave her dad a wink.

        ―Now you do have me worried,‖ Lane said as he nodded to Connie and headed

for the door. As he got into Tutu‘s mini-van he decided not to call the sheriff‘s office and

request a crime scene unit. Technically, Lane was supposed to be off today. If he

appeared to be checking up on Josiah, the man might take offense, and rightly so. But if

he just casually showed up at the crime scene, and let Josiah handle the details, he‘d only

be exhibiting normal curiosity about goings on in his home area. Josiah couldn‘t get

upset over that.

        Lane put the car in gear and began the more than ninety-mile trip back to Valley

Forks. He held down the accelerator until the speedometer read seventy then engaged the

cruise control. Since he was driving Tutu‘s car there was no siren or light, and that was

okay with him. Connie had said the victims were dead so there wasn‘t much point in

hurrying. Seventy miles an hour was more than adequate as far as Lane was concerned.

        The miles sped by and Lane put his mind on cruise control also. There are only

four kinds of scenery in Nevada: rolling, brown desert with sagebrush and creosote

bushes; flat, dry lakes with hard packed surfaces; barren, scrub hills with little vegetation,

a few jackrabbits and the odd coyote or two; and the crowded, neon sprawl of cities like

Reno and Las Vegas. You don‘t even see Burma Shave signs anymore. Putting his mind

on cruise control was a technique he‘d perfected. It made the long featureless drives go
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       97


faster. Rather than listen to the radio, which worked only half the time across the vast

desert distances, he‘d think about what he was going to plant in the garden come spring.

Or what he‘d get for Tutu‘s fast approaching sixteenth birthday. Or what a lady doctor

would be like in bed.

        Damn! From where had that thought sneaked in? Must have been a reaction to

something Tutu had mentioned. Forget it boy, he told himself. She was a lady doctor

with umpteen years of college behind her and a busy practice in front of her. She

certainly wouldn‘t be interested in a thirty-eight year old deputy sheriff with a junior

college degree in Police Science. But, she did have the cutest mouth and eyes attractive

enough to rent out to Maybelline for commercials.

        He banished those thoughts as he began wondering what he would find when he

reached Esposito‘s. He remembered the man; young thirties, bull necked and broad

shouldered. Esposito and his wife had moved from Colorado six years ago and leased

some grazing land from BLM. Isabella made the best burritos, rice, and chili con carne

in the whole state of Nevada in Lane‘s judgment. He had met them while giving a drug

resistance presentation at a PTA meeting just after school began. Nice folks who kept

their children neat and clean and harped on them to keep their grades up. The kind of

people Lane thought of as salt of the earth, like the pioneers who had shaped this land.

        Now they were dead. Lane knew drugs couldn‘t be involved here. What could

have led to such a gruesome end for the young family? Where was Arturo? If the

escaped prisoner, Richard Dumont, had any connection with this case, his hopes for

Arturo might certainly come to naught.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      98


        It was shortly after two in the afternoon when Lane breezed through Valley

Forks. He should have driven straight home to unload three weeks worth of groceries but

he decided to drive six miles north of town where Esposito had his trailer and small herd

of sheep. He spotted the gravel turnoff and drove the last two miles across the valley

floor up to the fringe of the Toiyabe National Forest where the trailer was parked.

Already there were two blue and white county cars there.

        Because the land was leased from BLM, Manuel Esposito hadn‘t spent too much

money on improvements. He‘d rented a small drilling rig and drilled a four-inch well to

a depth of ninety feet. A three-bladed windmill turned an air-compressor, which pumped

air down a quarter inch line to the bottom of the well. There it mixed with water in a

one-inch riser pipe. The mixture of air and water, lighter than the water surrounding the

riser, floated up the pipe while drawing more water in behind it. It was called an air-

injection lift and had the advantage that all the moving parts were above the surface,

which meant Manuel didn‘t have to pull the riser pipe whenever maintenance was

required. It was also cheap and fool proof.

        Water from the riser pipe filled a fifteen hundred gallon tank standing on a

reinforced twelve-foot platform. From there it would flow downhill to one of three

watering troughs for his sheep, or to a twelve-volt demand pump for the trailer.

        On top of the trailer, facing south, four solar panels provided one hundred watts

each to a charge controller and a battery pack of ten, six-volt golf cart batteries. Each pair

of batteries was wired in series to provide twelve volts, and the pairs wired in parallel to

provide increased storage. All together, Manuel had a total of ten thousand watts storage

capacity to power the trailer at night or through several cloudy days in a row. A fifteen-
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       99


hundred watt inverter converted twelve volt DC power to one hundred and twenty volts

AC needed for household appliances. The refrigerator was gas-operated and ran on

propane since electric refrigeration was wasteful of the limited AC power available.

Manuel had tied up about three thousand dollars between the well and the solar power

system, but he could take everything with him if he chose to move his flock. Except for

the hole in the ground where he drew his water, of course.

        Lane pulled in and killed the engine. Harvey Buckhorn was coming around from

behind the trailer. He had his thirty-five millimeter camera in one hand and had evidently

been taking photos of the crime scene. A black man in a deputy‘s uniform came out of

the trailer as Lane got out of the car. The deputy wasn‘t quite as tall as a telephone pole,

and only slightly thicker around the middle. He had a complexion that glistened like

oiled ebony.

        ―Snowman!‖ Lane called to his weekend relief. ―I leave you alone for less than

half a day and you‘re stirring up trouble in my back yard.‖ The two men clasped hands

in a warm and comradely grasp. Josiah Snow had also been in the military police before

joining NCSO, although Lane teased him that Air Policemen stationed at Nellis AFB, just

outside of Vegas, could hardly call their duty assignment a hardship tour.

        ―Howdy, Lane. Sorry you had to come home to this. It sure ain‘t pretty.‖ The

man bowed his head and shook it sadly back and forth.

        ―Any idea what went down?‖ Lane asked.

        ―Not for sure. I doubt if we‘ll learn anything until we find the boy, unless the

lady doc comes up with something when she does the autopsies. The little girl has been

viciously beaten, Manuel has been shot with a rifle, you can see the exit wound in his
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    100


back, and Mrs. Esposito appears to have been beaten, but I couldn‘t tell before moving

the body of her dead husband off her. The place is a real mess. I‘ve been looking for the

boy, Arturo is his name, but haven‘t given the inside a thorough search. Didn‘t want to

disturb anything before the Doc got here.‖

         ―She should be here shortly,‖ Lane said. ―My daughter and I were having lunch

with her when she got the call.‖

         ―Oh?‖ Snow asked with a questioning look.

         ―Well, actually, Cheryl Ann and I were having lunch at the Station House when

Connie joined us. It wasn‘t like a date or anything. Why in the hell am I telling you

this?‖

         ―I dunno,‖ Deputy Snow, said with a wide smile and what appeared to be a

roomful of gleaming white teeth. ―Guilty conscience or wishful thinking?‖

         ―Go push a rope!‖ Lane gave him a playful punch in the shoulder. Together he

and Josiah walked to the front door and went in, stepping cautiously so as not to disturb

the disorder. Somebody with more forensic training than himself might be able to

discern a vital clue from the clutter and chaos.

         Lane knew that Isabella kept her home as spotless as she kept her kids. The

disarray surrounding the carnage was mute testimony to the violence of the crime, but

what had happened?

         Five-year-old Maria was an unrecognizable mass of pulp and blood where she lay

on the floor between the sofa and a coffee table. Isabella lay in one corner of the living

room where she must have been thrown after she had taken Manuel‘s deer rifle from the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     101


closet and shot him, or had the boy shot the father after catching him beating his wife and

child? Manuel‘s wound had been fatal but it didn‘t appear he had died quickly.

        ―You checked the other rooms?‖ Lane asked the Snowman.

        ―Briefly. Didn‘t see the boy anywhere. Look, if Manuel just blew his top and

went crazy, he could have killed the boy anywhere within a few thousand acres

surrounding here. Or maybe we‘re reading this wrong and the boy killed the girl, then

shot the old man and killed the mother too. Manuel died as he was trying to get to his

wife. But there‘s no way we‘ll have any idea what really happened until we can find the

boy.‖

        ―Any hint that someone else might be involved? Any tire tracks, foot prints, or

any sign that would indicate a stranger?‖

        ―You‘re thinking about that Dumont character, right?" The Snowman shook his

head. "I haven‘t seen anything that would point the finger at a stranger. But, neither

have I seen anything that says it couldn‘t have been. We‘ve just got to hope we find

Arturo alive, Lane.‖

        Lane felt a sickening tightness in his guts. What a waste this whole scene was; an

attractive wife and mother, a hard working father, a good-looking child, and another kid

missing. He and Josiah were just stepping outdoors as Connie pulled up in her beige

county car. Cheryl was not with her. Connie had dropped her off at home to spare her

the gory scene inside the trailer.

        ―‘Lo, Doc,‖ Josiah said. ―Sorry to have to bother you on a weekend, but there‘s

an awful mess requiring your professional services inside. If you don‘t mind, I‘d like to

wait out here.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      102


       ―You should cut down on those rich dinners, Deputy Snow. You‘ll have an ulcer

before you‘re thirty.‖ Connie quipped back at him.

       ―Aww, Doc, you know how my Shandra cooks. She‘ll give me the dickens if I

don‘t like her cookin‘, and ulcers if I do. What‘s a fellow supposed to do about that?‖

       ―Keep loving her and keep your Blue Cross paid up,‖ Connie said. ―Lane? You

doing the paperwork on this one?‖

       ―Not me, it‘s my day off. The Snowman will take care of all the details. Fact is,

I better get on home and give Tutu a hand putting the groceries away.‖

       ―That‘s a nice girl you have there. We had a long talk during the drive down

here. When do you expect me to move in?‖

       ―What!‖ Lane spluttered while his face turned crimson.

       ―Just kidding. You know she‘s got us paired up, of course. I didn‘t want to rain

on her parade so I just said we‘d see what happens. Was I wrong?‖

       ―I‘ll have a long and serious talk with her when I get home, Connie.‖

       ―You do that, but stay out of the kitchen. She‘s invited me to have dinner with

the two of you tonight and I couldn‘t think of a graceful way to refuse. I gather she‘s

going to fix something special. Hope that it won‘t be an imposition on you.‖

       ―Oh, no, of course not. But do you suppose you‘re going to feel much like dinner

when you finish up here?‖

       ―Run along with you, I am a doctor, remember? I‘ve spent my time in the ER

trauma center. See you about five.‖

       ―Yeah, sure, okay,‖ he said. He was surprised but not disappointed. He got into

Tutu‘s van and backed out of the yard.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      103


        Twenty minutes later he pulled the van into the drive of his house and got out.

He grabbed two arms full of groceries from the back of the van and left the sliding door

open as he took the groceries inside.

        ―Oh, good, you‘re home. I‘ll bring in the rest of the groceries and put them

away,‖ Tutu said. ―Why don‘t you go up stairs and take a shower? And do something

about that five o‘clock shadow, dad.‖

        ―What, no kiss?‖ he asked, blankly.

        Tutu grabbed his shoulders and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. ―That

should hold you. Now let me run and bring the rest of the things in.‖ She headed for the

front door.

        ―Okay, but we‘re going to have to have a long talk after while.‖

        She stopped, turned, and put her hands on her hips. ―Why, dad? Because I

invited company for dinner? I am the lady of the house you know, and I do have a right

to invite a guest home, don‘t I?‖

        ―Of course you do, Sweetheart. But I think you‘re kind of pushing this thing with

Connie and I a little too much. Don‘t you?‖

        ―Of course not. I‘ll admit, she would be quite a catch for most any guy, but I‘m

not shopping around for a mother. You know I‘ll finish school in less than two years and

then I‘ll be off to college and who knows what. It‘s you I‘m thinking of, dad. I won‘t be

around here to wash your dirty underwear and cook your meals for much longer.‖

        ―So? Seems to me I did all right on my own for a number of years before I met

your mother. I expect I‘ll manage.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       104


        ―Don‘t be silly. Your idea of breakfast, lunch or dinner, is to open a can of chili.

If mom hadn‘t bought your clothes you‘d never wear anything other than your uniform.

Granted, you don‘t smoke and only drink occasionally, but other than that, you‘re not

much of a catch, dad. Someone has to give you some help. On the other hand, the lady

doctor is quite some catch. I‘m surprised that she‘s still on the market with the little

competition she has around here.‖ Having said her piece she flounced out. Lane decided

not to argue and went upstairs to shave.

        By the time he got out of the shower the sun was waning. He found Tutu had laid

out charcoal slacks, a powder blue sweater and dark gray socks on his bed. A white

short-sleeved shirt hung from a hanger on his closet door and beige loafers sat next to the

bed. She didn‘t have to hit him over the head with a baseball bat. He could take a hint.

        After dressing, he wandered downstairs and into the kitchen. Tutu was peeling

and slicing vegetables. The peelings went into a five gallon plastic bucket he had set

under the sink. Mondays and Fridays he hauled it out back to his compost heap and

would later work it into his garden soil.

        ―What‘s for dinner, Squirt?‖

        ―Broiled chicken breasts, whipped potatoes, and stir fry vegetables. I‘ve got

snow peas, sliced carrots, celery, mushrooms, a red onion, and half of a green pepper. I

would have liked to add some fried noodles, but I didn‘t plan ahead. It was the best I

could do on the spur of the moment. And don‘t jiggle the ‗fridge. I‘ve got some whipped

Jell-O and mixed fruit setting up.‖

        ―My, my. We should have Connie for dinner more often. Any cashews in the

veggies?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     105


        ―Oh, great! Thanks for reminding me,‖ she said happily. ―There‘s a can in one

of the cupboards over there,‖ she pointed, ―no, I think it‘s in the pantry. Would you be a

dear and fetch it for me?‖

        ―You‘re not starting already, are you?‖

        ―Of course not, I‘m just getting organized. The whole dinner won‘t take twenty

minutes to put together, but I want to have everything collected and ready to go.‖

        ―You wish is my command, fair princess.‖ He salaamed in her direction then

went to fetch the cashews.

        ―I hope you trip over your big feet,‖ she threw at him.

        As he came back with the cashews he retorted. ―Nasty, and after I brought home

that shiny, almost new car for you. Shall I take it back?‖

        ―Oh, daddy, no! I was only teasing.‖

        ―Me too, Sugarplum. And my feet are not large. They are just the right size to

give me balance.‖

        ―Yes, dad. And you‘re incredibly smart and good-looking to boot, the only

problem is, I think you landed on your head once too often when you were jumping out

of airplanes with the paratroops. Why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly

good airplane I‘ll never understand.‖

        ―If you‘d ever flown with some of those reserve pilots who are only getting in

flight time to meet their monthly minimums, you wouldn‘t have to ask.‖

        ―Okay, I surrender.‖ She put the last of her vegetables into a colander and

swished it under the running tap. "I‘ll just put these in the ‗fridge and then we can see if
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         106


there‘s any news on the boob tube. How did things go out at Esposito‘s? Do you think

it‘ll be on the news?‖

          ―It was a mess, and no, I don‘t think it‘ll be on the news. Radio, perhaps, they

keep in touch with the sheriff‘s office, but Vegas won‘t hear about it until tomorrow, and

they‘re not up-linked via satellite so you won‘t hear about it there.‖

          ―Care to talk about it?‖

          Lane didn‘t hold back to spare her feelings. She was old enough to understand

what he did for a living and he preferred that she learn the world wasn‘t always a pretty

place.

          ―Not much to tell, Pumpkin. ‗Bella, Manuel, and Maria are dead. Arturo is

missing. He may be dead or he may be hiding. It doesn‘t appear that he was involved

but we‘re looking for him just the same.‖

          ―How‘d they die?‖ she asked.

          ―Horribly, but we‘re not sure of the details. Little Maria was beaten with a length

of stove wood. It seems Manuel did it and when ‗Bella caught him she shot him but

before he died he killed her too. It wasn‘t very pretty.‖

          ―Oh, my goodness! If poor Arturo saw all that, no wonder he‘s hiding. Maybe

he thinks his dad wants to kill him too, but why?‖

          ―That, as they say, is the sixty-four dollar question. Hey, Connie is pulling in the

drive.‖

          ―Go for it, dad. I‘ll start dinner.‖ She headed for the kitchen and Lane went to

the front door.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      107


        Lane opened the door as Connie stepped onto the front porch. ―Hi!‖ she said.

―You‘re sure I‘m not butting into anything? I can always grab something to eat at Art‘s

before I head on up the road.‖

        ―If I let you get away Tutu won‘t speak to me for a week. She has dinner well in

hand. Come on in and take a load off.‖ He held the door while she entered and showed

her into the living room. Since it was mid-November the evening air was getting quite

chilly and Tutu had already lit a small fire in the airtight stove. Lane opened the firebox

and poked at the coals with a poker, then tossed in a few more lumps of coal and stirred

them around. Connie was just removing her coat when he turned to her. He grabbed the

coat and went to hang it on a hook in the hallway.

        ―Thanks, Lane,‖ she called after him.

        Returning to the living room he asked, ―Can I get you something to drink?

Coffee, a cocktail?‖

        She made herself comfortable pushing the loafers off her feet. ―I could sure go

for something tall, cold, and at least mildly alcoholic.‖

        ―How about a glass of Chablis over ice?‖

        ―With a dash of Seven-Up?‖ she asked.

        ―One wine cooler coming right up.‖ He went to the kitchen to mix the drinks and

returned shortly. ―I don‘t want to get into a lot of shop talk now, but I‘d rather get it over

with before dinner. You want to talk about it?‖

        She took a sip of her wine and smiled. ―I guess it happened pretty much like

Josiah figured. Manuel was beating on the daughter, Mrs. Esposito walked in on them.

She must have tried to stop him and he swung on her. Then she got hold of his hunting
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       108


rifle, and bang! One shot to the abdomen. He grabbed the gun and beat her to death with

it and then collapsed on top of her. I couldn‘t find any sign of smudges or footprints in

the spatter patterns to indicate Arturo or anyone else might have been at the scene. What

little sign I did pick up Josiah assured me belonged either to him or you or the deputy

taking the pictures.‖

        ―I guess that means I‘ll have to get a search started to locate the boy. I‘ll call up

some volunteers and we‘ll start on it first thing tomorrow. We‘ll either find him dead and

not too far from the trailer or we‘ll pick up his tracks if he‘s on the run and bring him in.‖

        Connie took a few more sips of her drink. ―Why would he be on the run? I told

you I don‘t think he was involved in this.‖

        ―He‘s just a kid. If he saw what was going on, he could have panicked and ran

thinking he would be next. Or he could have figured he would be blamed for the whole

tragic mess. You never know with kids.‖

        ―I‘d hate to think of him spending the night out in the dark, huddled beneath a

tree somewhere.‖

        ―He‘s a shepherd‘s boy. Probably done it many times in his life. I just hope he‘s

still alive. What I can‘t figure out is what set Manuel off? Do you suppose it could be

something the Army is messing around with at that CBW place over in Utah? I heard

they had some freak winds there twenty or thirty years back and killed a lot of sheep.‖

        ―Don‘t let that rumor get started, Lane. If you hear anything like that, put a stop

to it quick. Dugway Proving Grounds are more than two hundred miles from here. Even

if the wind had shifted, and anything started to drift this way, the effectiveness and

toxicity would have diminished to the point of nonexistence long before any agent
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     109


reached here. Besides, any chemical or biological warfare agent would have to go

through Wendover and Ely, before it reached here. We would have heard something if

there had been unexplained outbreaks of extreme violence before it reached here.

Anyway, I‘m not even sure if that place is still open after the last round of base closings.‖

         ―Trust me,‖ Lane said, ―the US may have an official policy disavowing the use of

chemical weapons, but the research continues, if only to develop counter measures

against potential threats.‖

         Cheryl stuck her head in from the kitchen. ―If I wouldn‘t be disturbing you two,

you want to move it over to the dining room table? Dinner is ready.‖

         ―Thanks, Hon,‖ Lane called. He escorted Connie the few steps necessary to reach

the table and pulled her chair out for her.

         ―Why, thank you sir,‖ she said as she sat down.

         ―All part of the special Mauler service, ma‘am. No tip required.‖

         Before taking his own chair, Lane stuck his head into the kitchen, nearly colliding

with Tutu just coming out with a hot serving platter in her hands.

         ―Oh, ‗scuse me, Tutu. Anything I can do to help?‖

         ―Yes, dad. Please sit down and stay out of the kitchen. Let me handle this,

okay.‖

         ―Suit yourself, Sugarplum.‖ He sat at Connie‘s left and Tutu set the platter

between them. ―Serve yourself, folks, before it gets cold. There‘s more to come.‖ She

disappeared into the kitchen again, returning shortly with the whipped potatoes and stir-

fried vegetables. There was also a gravy boat with dark, mushroom gravy. Finally Tutu
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   110


brought in a wine goblet identical to the ones Lane and Connie were drinking from and

sat down across from Connie. She caught her dad giving her the eye.

        ―Don‘t worry, dad. Mine is only Seven-Up. By the way, if anyone wants a refill,

I‘ll be happy to mix them for you.‖

        Lane caught Connie‘s eye. ―Don‘t listen to her, Connie. Tutu thinks that the

proper way to mix a wine cooler is to set the mix close to the bottle and hope some will

intermingle with the wine through osmosis. On the other hand, I am a mixicologist par

excellence. If you get thirsty, just say the word.‖

        As he talked he forked a chicken breast from the serving platter onto her plate and

one for Tutu, then two for himself. ―Us growing boys have got to eat more you know,

but don‘t let that stop you. Dig right in if you want more.‖ Tutu spooned whipped

potatoes onto her plate and passed the dish to Connie while she went after the vegetables.

Connie added some to her plate and then passed them to Lane. Tutu passed the

vegetables to Connie who passed them to Lane in turn, then asked Tutu to pass the gravy.

        ―Connie, try the potatoes without gravy first, won‘t you? You might be

surprised.‖ Connie picked up her fork and did so, as did Lane.

        ―Why, these are incredible, Cheryl,‖ Connie said. ―You won‘t mind sharing your

recipe with me, will you?‖

        ―Of course, not. You just add a quarter cup of grated cheddar cheese and half a

cup of low-fat yogurt to the potatoes after draining. Mash, and then whip well, and voila!

It‘s a recipe my mom taught me.‖

        ―And she never made better, Sweetheart,‖ Lane said. ―But then, what‘s the gravy

for?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    111


       ―Well, you can put it on your potatoes if you like, but you really ought to try it on

your chicken. It‘s made from golden mushroom soup.‖

       ―I don‘t remember your mom ever making that,‖ Lane added.

       ―Occasionally I do read magazines, dad,‖ his daughter said with mock

haughtiness. To Connie she said, ―Believe me, I do his taxes, pay the bills, and cook

around here. Do you think I get any appreciation?‖

       ―I seem to remember you were driving a shiny blue mini-van at school last time I

saw you. Did you buy that yourself?‖ Connie smiled sweetly.

       ―See? You sound just like dad! I knew you two would get along great!‖

       ―I‘m only saying what any adult would say, Cheryl. I think your dad does show

his appreciation. It‘s you who take him for granted.‖

       ―Wow, dad! Did you guys rehearse this? She even sounds like a mom already.‖

       Lane was practically blushing. ―Let‘s save this discussion for another time, okay,

Hon? Say, this chicken really is great.‖

       ―Thanks, dad.‖

       For the remainder of dinner they made small talk. Tutu was too polite and too

well trained to ask about the murders. Shortly, she went to the kitchen and brought back

their desserts. Lime gelatin with mixed fruits and topped with frothy whipping cream

and nutmeg. Lane decided to have another glass of wine and offered to mix one for

Connie who accepted.

       While he was in the kitchen Connie whispered to Cheryl. ―I think you‘ve

embarrassed your dad enough for one night, Cheryl. Let‘s not push so hard, okay?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    112


        ―But you do like him, don‘t you? I mean, he‘s such a slow starter, he‘d never ask

you for a date so I‘ve got to push him.‖

        ―Of course, I like him. He‘s attractive, humorous, and he‘s done a great job of

raising you. Maybe, in time, there will develop a relationship between us, but not if you

keep goading him like a horse. You‘ll want to catch a man some day, and you‘ll find it‘s

easier if you lead them like a pig. But maybe I should let you discover that for yourself.‖

        ―Ehh? How‘s that?‖

        ―If you want to lead a pig to the right, you try and make him go left. He‘ll fight

you. If you want him to go, try holding him in one spot. He‘ll try and get away from

you. Why do you think feminists refer to men as pigs?‖

        ―Gosh, you‘re not a feminist, are you Connie?‖

        ―I am whenever a man patronizes me. The rest of the time I prefer to assume my

natural role in the scheme of things and let men adore and pamper me.‖ She punctuated

her remark with a wink and a smile.

        Lane returned with Connie‘s drink and sat down again. Tutu spoke up.

        ―Well, I‘d like to get started on my homework for next week. Mr. Rosen wants

twenty-five hundred words on international trade and economics by Friday, and I‘d like

to get at least half of it done over the weekend. I‘m gonna‘ hit the Internet and see what I

can download. Just leave the dishes; I‘ll take care of them before I go to bed.‖ She

sprang from her seat and headed for the hallway and upstairs. ―Stay cool, you two,‖ she

tossed over her shoulder as she left.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         113


        Lane and Connie sat talking quietly and finishing their wine. When it was gone

Connie said, ―I really don‘t want to leave these for Cheryl after she went to all that

trouble for dinner. Do you want to help me clear the table?‖

        Lane quickly agreed and they carried the dishes into the kitchen. Connie took it

upon herself to open a few cupboards and found plastic tubs with lids to put the leftovers

in. Lane ran hot water in the sink and began washing the dishes. Connie dried. They did

a lot of quiet talking and Lane was disappointed when the last of the dishes were finished

and the soapy water swirled down the drain. Connie looked at her watch and exclaimed,

―It‘s a quarter past nine! I‘d no idea it was so late. I‘ve got to rush, Lane. It‘s a long

drive back.‖

        ―Sure, I understand,‖ he said with quiet disappointment. He walked her into the

hall and began to put her coat over her shoulders. As she turned her back to assist him

she sort of stumbled and fell against him.

        ―Say, are you sure you‘ll be all right to drive? We do have a spare bedroom you

know. Perhaps it would be better for you to spend the night here and drive back in the

morning?‖

        She held her hand to her head, ―Whew! Ordinarily I wouldn‘t expect three

glasses of a wine cooler to do this to me. Perhaps I better take you up on that spare

bedroom.‖

        Lane led her upstairs stopping at Tutu‘s room where she was still pecking away at

her computer. ―Tutu? Connie‘s going to use the spare bedroom tonight and drive home

in the morning. Wouldn‘t want her to get a ticket after three glasses of wine, you know?
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     114


How about lending her a nightdress and a robe and getting her some clean towels so she

can use the tub? I‘m sure she‘ll feel a lot better after a long hot soak.‖

        His daughter could barely contain her happiness. ―Sure, and I‘ve got a wonderful

bath oil that‘ll really put you in the mood, Connie. For sleep, I mean. Relax you so you

can sleep the night away.‖

        ―Thanks, Cheryl. I don‘t mean to be a bother, but the wine sort of sneaked up on

me just as I was about ready to leave.‖

        ―Think nothing of it, Connie.‖ She went to her closet and grabbed a few items

and then led Connie to the spare bedroom while shooing her dad back down stairs. ―Go!

I can give her all the help she needs. Weren‘t you going to make some calls and line up a

search party for in the morning?‖

        ―Oh, yeah. Thanks for reminding me. I don‘t think it‘s too late to call a few

people. I‘ll get right on it.‖

        ―Men!‖ Tutu snorted. ―How would they ever get along without us?‖ she said to

Connie.

        ―I‘m not sure, but I sincerely hope they never try.‖

        Tutu filled a bath for Connie and set out half a dozen candles and some scented

bath oil. She left Connie to fend for herself and went back to her room where she

gathered notes for her essay and put them in a drawer. She shut down her computer and

went down stairs. Her dad was still on the phone so she went to the kitchen and filled

two cups with milk and a powdered chocolate drink and nuked them in the microwave.

She heard her dad finish and went to talk with him before he began another.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     115


         ―Connie‘s in the tub now, dad, and I‘m fixing hot chocolate for both of us. After

I take hers up I‘m going to call it a night. I‘ll be up early and make breakfast for you. By

the way, thanks for clearing the table and doing the dishes.‖

         ―It was her idea,‖ he said.

         ―Well, thanks just the same.‖ Just then the microwave went ding! Tutu put her

hands on her dad‘s shoulders and kissed him on the cheek, ―G‘nite, dad. See you at the

breakfast table.‖

         ―Sleep well, Pumpkin. And thanks for dinner tonight. We both enjoyed it very

much.‖

         ―Anytime, dad,‖ Tutu said with a smile as she went back to the kitchen to fetch

the hot chocolate. Lane went back to his telephone calls and simply waved to her as she

passed through with the chocolate and headed up the stairs.

         He made a total of eleven calls and got fifteen volunteers to agree to meet him at

Art‘s Exxon at seven in the morning. Several of the people he called said they would

bring a nephew or a friend to assist, and three agreed to meet out at Esposito‘s

immediately following church. Lane was pleased with himself. He glanced at the LED

panel on the printer/fax machine and saw that it was close to ten-thirty. Time to call it a

night, he told himself.

         He checked the doors to the back porch and the kitchen and made sure they were

locked. He stirred up the airtight stove again and added half a bucket of coal. Then he

locked the front door and went upstairs to his room.

         The upstairs was quiet. Tutu‘s room was at the end of the hall, across from the

guestroom. The bath was between his room and Tutu‘s. He went to his room and hung
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       116


up his sweater and shirt and then went to the bath to brush his teeth. It was funny the

way three wine coolers had hit Connie so suddenly, but thankfully she hadn‘t insisted on

driving home this late. He would like to see more of her in the future, but not spread out

on the pavement somewhere or on a slab in the morgue. He left a nightlight burning in

the bath and went back to his room, stripped off his pants and hung them up then climbed

in bed. Before going to sleep he set his alarm for six and then pulled the blankets up to

his chin.

        The sheets chilled his body momentarily but they soon warmed up and he drifted

off in to a warm and pleasant void filled with shiny red lips, white teeth, and sensuous

eyes. He had no idea what time it was when he first became aware of something soft and

warm curled up against his backside. At first it was a strange sensation but then he

associated it with memories he had put behind him just two short years ago. He rolled

over and took Connie in his arms. She was naked from head to foot.

        She sighed softly as he began to stroke her back, her buttocks and her thighs.

When his fingers reached that warm, moist spot between her legs she arched her back and

pressed firmly against him.

        ―You‘re wearing shorts,‖ she whispered.

        ―I wasn‘t expecting company,‖ he replied.

        ―Do you want me to leave?‖ she asked.

        ―Just let me get out of these shorts,‖ he said.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      117




                                              Chapter 4



         Later they made spoons and he held her in his arms, cupping her firm breasts in

his hand. They were not large, he wouldn‘t describe them as ample, but they felt

comfortable.

         ―I really wasn‘t the least tipsy, you know,‖ she said.

         ―Just horny, huh?‖

         ―Well, you needn‘t put it so crudely, but yes. I could tell you wanted me, even

though you behaved like a perfect gentleman, and I wanted you too. To me, it was

obvious you would never make the first move, even with Cheryl‘s nudging, so I had to

set my cap for you. I‘m glad you offered the spare bedroom.‖

         ―Maybe I‘m slow, like Tutu says?‖

         ―But you can be sure I‘m not,‖ she grinned.

         ―She didn‘t wake up when you came down the hall, did she?‖

         ―I don‘t think so, but I wouldn‘t worry if I were you. She‘s not a virgin, you

know.‖

         Lane nearly shouted out loud. ―What!‖

         ―Keep your voice down, Lane. She‘s nearly sixteen. She grew up in the

California beach scene where bikinis and less are the norm. Why are you so surprised?‖

         ―I don‘t know. It‘s just that we don‘t have many secrets between us and I sort of

figured that when it happened…‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        118


         ―Well, few teenage girls discuss their sex lives with their parents, but I qualify as

a friend. Isn‘t that nice?‖

         ―What did she tell you?‖

         ―None of your business. What she told me was girl talk, between two friends. If

she thinks I‘ll rat on her for every little thing, she‘ll never be my friend. She‘s not a slut,

she knows how to use protection, and venereal diseases scare her silly. She‘s just a

normal, healthy girl, but brighter than most girls her age. Now just let it drop and you

can still think of her as your little girl, if it‘ll make you feel better.‖ She nudged him with

her elbow. ―Now give me some room and let me up. I can‘t spend the night here. I‘ve

got to go back to my room.‖

         ―So soon?‖ he asked. ―I thought you said not to worry?‖

         She rolled over and felt his hardness with her delicate hand. ―It‘s okay for her to

think that we‘re making love, but not to have proof in glorious living color when she sees

me coming out of your room in the morning. She has a right to expect that her dad will

get married again before he brings another woman into his house; her house too!‖

         ―Don‘t take this wrong,‖ Lane asked, ―but what does a terrific looking,

intelligent, and self-assured lady doctor see in a tired old lawman like myself?‖

         ―You‘re pretty good looking too, Lane,‖ she said while her fingers traced the

curve of his chin, ―and self-assured. Unlike most of the men I meet, you don‘t seem to

go out of your way to prove your masculinity and virility to every woman you take a

fancy to.‖ She pressed her breasts against his chest as she squeezed his scrotum. ―Umm,

you smell good too. Maybe we can squeeze in a quickie but then I have to go back to my

room.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      119


        She purred as his questing fingers played in the downy soft hair between her

thighs. They came together almost frantically as he drove his hardness into her warmth.

He guessed that perhaps it had been nearly as long for her as it had been for him, but their

lovemaking the second time was anything but a quickie. Some time later as he lay spent

and panting, he felt her leave the bed. She planted a chaste kiss on his temple and said,

―Sleep well, Lane.‖

        He had almost expected her to say, ―I love you,‖ but she didn‘t. He had felt like

telling her the same thing but he held back. This isn‘t love; this is two adults of the

opposite sex enjoying each other‘s company for an evening. Perhaps, in time, their

relationship would grow, but it wasn‘t something that required a commitment right this

moment. He was glad she understood that. She was quite a woman. She would be a

good friend, and, with luck, maybe more.

                                             *     *   *

        It was still dark outside when his alarm went off. He quickly shut it off, grabbed

a robe and went downstairs to switch on the coffee machine. Then he went back upstairs

to shave and brush his teeth. Next he dressed in his khakis and took his parka out of his

closet. The temperature hovered right around the freezing mark and it would still be cool

when he met the rest of the search party down at Art‘s Exxon.

        When he next went downstairs to the kitchen, he found Tutu in robe and slippers

busy at the stove. ―Morning, Sleepy head. You managed to wake up yet?‖

        ―But of course, mon pere,‖ she said. ―Pour yourself a cup of coffee and grab a

chair. Breakfast is ready.‖ She slid a bowl of oatmeal in front of him and followed that

with a saucer holding two slices of wheat toast.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      120


        ―When did I go on a diet?‖ he asked.

        ―When Connie decided to spend the night with us. I don‘t want her coming down

and finding me serving you bacon and eggs and fried potatoes. She‘d be sure to lecture

me about the harmful effects of cholesterol. Anyway, you‘ll notice I added sliced

bananas and peaches to your oatmeal. That‘ll perk up your spirits.‖

        ―Speaking of the lady doctor, will she be joining us?‖

        ―I rather doubt it, dad. Let her get her beauty sleep, not that she needs it. It was

after four before she headed back to her room this morning. Are you really that good?‖

        ―No comment,‖ he said, embarrassed to discuss the topic with her. ―Since when

did you become so observant?‖

        ―I wasn‘t checking up on you, or her. I just got up to go pee and saw that her bed

was empty. It was about four then so I figure it must have been later before you two said

goodnight.‖

        ―Well,‖ he said, ―let her sleep as long as she likes. She doesn‘t have to work

today, not that I know of, but she still has a long drive to get back. And don‘t go

embarrassing her when she does get up. Okay?‖

        ―And scare away your best prospect? Not me, dad.‖

        While Lane ate his oatmeal and toast Tutu filled his thermos. When he had

finished he put his dishes and silverware in the sink and went into his office to put on his

weapon and leather. Connie was just coming down the stairs.

        ―Good morning, Lane. Are you and Tutu always such early risers?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     121


          ―Oh, glad to see you before I left. No, Sunday usually finds us both slug-a-bed,

but I‘ve got to coordinate a search party this morning and try and locate Arturo. Or his

body,‖ he added glumly.

          ―Oh, then you‘ve already had breakfast? I was hoping to impress you with my

seldom used talents in the kitchen.‖

          Lane lowered his voice to a whisper. ―If they are half as good as the talents you

demonstrated last night, I won‘t be disappointed.‖ Then, in a tone loud enough for Tutu

to hear, he added, ―Tutu fixed me some oatmeal and wheat toast to go with my coffee.

I‘ve had plenty. But you can ask her for anything you like. I know you‘ll be gone before

I get back; take all the time you like. I‘m sure Tutu would appreciate the company.

Well,‖ he picked up his parka and thermos and headed for the front door, ―I better get

going.‖

          She snaked an arm around his neck before he could get past her. ―Don‘t I even

get a goodbye kiss?‖

          He responded by slipping his thermos under the arm holding his parka and

putting his free hand around her waist. He bent his head to hers and did his best to

deliver a kiss on par with her performance last night. She didn‘t object and used both her

arms to control the length of their kiss. As they pulled apart she whispered, ―Can I call

you?‖

          ―I hope you will,‖ he said. ―Gotta go now.‖ He patted his pocket to make sure he

had his keys and pocketknife then headed out the door and into his county vehicle.

          A light rime of ice covered the windshield of his blue and white so he started the

engine before getting out the deicing spray and spraying the glass. The windshield
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       122


wipers cleared a patch and he turned the defroster up to high even though he knew it

would be awhile before the engine was warm enough to do any good.

        When he arrived at Art‘s he pulled up to the gas island and topped off his tank.

Inside, Ruthie had his fuel ticket ready for him to sign. Later she would add it to the

account they kept for county vehicles. Lane noticed that a few more packets of Granny

Titus‟s Paiute Potpourri had been sold. He asked Ruthie, ―Is Granny Titus a real person,

or is that just a brand name?‖

        ―Oh, she‘s real, all right, a full-blooded Paiute living down the road a couple of

miles. She was married to one of the miners who worked here, but he ran off and left her

when the mine closed. She gets a small retirement check from the mine cause she

worked in their bookkeeping department for years, but they never did pay much for

Indian help. Nowadays she makes a few extra dollars with this herbal tea. Claims it‘s an

old recipe of some Indian medicine man. A couple of the businesses in town let her put

up these displays, then collect the money and give it to her when she comes around every

other month or so. Nice old lady, I‘m sure you‘ll agree when you‘ve had a chance to

meet her.‖

        ―I‘ll look forward to it,‖ he said.

        Lane gathered up the rest of the members of his search party and led them

outside. Several of them were carrying rifles or wearing pistols.

        ―Now look,‖ he told them. ―We‘re going to be looking for Arturo Esposito. I

doubt if he‘s armed, he may not even be alive. I‘d appreciate it if you‘d all leave your

firearms in your vehicles when we get there. I wouldn‘t like to see anyone hurt by an

accidental discharge, and I‘m sure you wouldn‘t either.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     123


        They piled into the several cars they had come in and he led them in a convoy out

to the Esposito ranch. When they arrived he explained that they would begin by

searching the area within twenty-five hundred yards of the trailer, and they should look

for either the boy‘s body, or any signs or tracks, footprints, anything that might indicate

that the boy was still alive but had gone into hiding. He organized a pattern and led them

off.

        Two hours later the sun had warmed the valley considerably and Lane tossed his

parka into his car. They had canvassed the immediate area with negative results. As

Indian trackers, the group had a lot to learn. His three latecomers had arrived from town

and he added them to his group. He had a total of sixteen men which he divided into four

groups, taking one for himself and appointing group leaders for the other three. He

assigned them sectors and sent them out again with instructions to assemble back at the

trailer by four. The sun would set shortly after that and he didn‘t want to have to send a

search party out after lost searchers.

        When they had all returned, results were still negative. He thanked them for their

help and said he‘d contact the sheriff‘s office in Tonopah for volunteers to continue the

search on Monday since many of the locals had jobs and couldn‘t afford to take the day

off.

        It was a quarter past five when he arrived home. By that time he was starving

since he had worked straight through lunch. He had no sooner opened the door than a

heavenly aroma that filled the house greeted his nose. Tutu was sprawled on the living

room sofa watching a movie on the tube.

        ―Hi, babe! What smells so good?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        124


       ―I stuck a pot roast in the slow cooker just after noon. I figured you‘d probably

work up quite an appetite while you were out today. Any luck?‖

       ―Not a bit. I‘m going to have to call Tonopah for additional help tomorrow.‖

       ―That reminds me,‖ Tutu said, ―Mr. Denton called for you a couple of times. I

told him you were out with a search party. He wants you to call him.‖

       ―Okay, I‘ll do it now. You want to dish up dinner? I‘ll be with you as soon as I

get off the phone.‖

       ―Sure, dad.‖ She clicked the remote and the TV went off. While she headed for

the kitchen Lane went into his office and dialed the main station in Tonopah. The duty

officer gave him Denton‘s home number and hinted that he might want to sit down when

he talked to the under-sheriff. Lane was already sitting when he dialed Denton‘s home.

Denton answered on the second ring.

       ―It‘s me, Deputy Mauler. I got a message to call you.‖

       ―You‘re darn right you did. Why couldn‘t I reach you on your radio today? I

called your house twice and your daughter told me you weren‘t at home.‖

       ―I had a search party out at the Esposito place looking for the boy. We were

away from the unit on foot most of the day. No luck.‖

       ―Well, let me tell you, this has got a pretty high priority here in the head shed.

The sheriff is quite disappointed after that thing with Winscott, and now this happens.

They got an FBI task in Reno calling about every twenty minutes to see if we‘ve found

any sign of Dumont. The feds seem to think anything more serious than jay-walking and

he might be involved in it.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         125


       ―But, Winscott was ruled a probable suicide. There was no evidence to follow

up. Doc Conried said he had a history of drugs and alcohol abuse and we chalked it up to

delirium tremens.‖

       ―That may be, but the preliminary reports from the morgue indicate that alcohol

was not a factor in this Esposito thing. Now what have you got?‖

       ―Truthfully, nothing more than the suppositions I‘m sure Josiah Snow already

filled you in on. We spent all day searching within two miles of the Esposito trailer, and

found no sign of the kid. If he‘s dead, we haven‘t found a trace of the body yet, no blood,

and no other signs of foul play. If he‘s still alive, he must be hiding somewhere. Perhaps

he‘s afraid he‘ll get this blamed on him?‖

       ―What have you got planned for tomorrow?‖

       ―I‘d like to have a helicopter for at least part of the day, to scout the area from

above and look for signs of a campfire. Maybe we can get forestry to help us out on that?

And I‘ll need some foot troops on the ground. Most of the men I used today have jobs

and need to work tomorrow.‖

       ―Okay, Mauler. Look, write up a report on what you did today, and where you

searched, so we won‘t have to cover that ground again tomorrow. FAX me a request for

air support and we‘ll borrow something from the state. Look,‖ he went on, ―I‘m sure you

did everything and you touched all the bases, but, the sheriff has an election coming up in

just eleven more months and he doesn‘t want the rest of the county getting the idea that

we‘ve got some crazed psycho running around loose up here.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     126


        ―That‘s preposterous!‖ Lane told him, almost shouting. ―We have no indication

that Dumont or anyone else was involved in either of these occurrences. What does the

old man expect me to do? Invent a suspect?‖

        ―You don‘t have to. The media have already picked up on this and they‘re laying

it all at Dumont‘s doorstep. The Mad Mountain Man, they‘re calling him. I ask you,

have you ever heard such trash?‖

        ―Must be a slow day for news,‖ Lane told him. ―Where‘d they come up with that

one?‖

        ―Seems there have been a couple other unexplained deaths in the past couple

decades. One in eighty-seven just a little north of Belmont, and a young couple camping

in eighty-one, south of Round Mountain. Then there was one in seventy-eight, and a

couple hunters in seventy-four. None of them are connected as far as we know, but all

were recorded in the press. Similar circumstances. Somebody goes wacko and kills

someone and then himself, or just wigs out and kills himself in isolated circumstances.‖

        ―That still doesn‘t mean that there‘s a connection. No footprints, no tire prints,

no fingerprints, and no witnesses. And Dumont was only in grade school that far back.‖

        ―Yeah, about like UFO reports, but we get those all the time too. Look, the

sheriff and I will deal with the press and the TV guys, you just do your best work and

don‘t talk to any of them without clearance from topside. Can do?‖

        ―Yes, sir. You can depend on me.‖

        ―Okay, FAX that paperwork to me and I‘ll have the troops report to you by oh-

eight-hundred tomorrow.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      127


        ―Why not ask them to meet me at Art‘s Exxon? It‘s the easiest place in town to

find and I can take them from there out to Esposito‘s.‖

        ―Done!‖ Denton said. ―Anything more?‖

        ―No, sir. I‘ll be on top of it.‖

        ―Okay, Mauler. Nice talking with you.‖ He hung up.

        Lane set the phone back in the cradle and went into the kitchen to set down at the

table. ―Well, I‘m glad to see you could finally join me,‖ Tutu said. ―I was afraid it was

going to get cold.‖

        Lane looked down at his plate. His mouth watered with anticipation just looking

at the thickly sliced roast beef, boiled potatoes, carrots, peas, and green beans on the side.

All were covered with rich brown gravy. In front of him was the ever-present coffee cup,

filled to the brim with steaming liquid. She had also set out some French bread, sliced

and toasted with butter and Romano cheese on top.

        ―Sorry to take so long, Tutu. Had to get my butt chewed. The brass says that the

media is concocting some story about a Mad Mountain Man and headquarters wants to

get this case closed to put a stop to the rumors.‖

        ―Well, they can‘t expect you to invent a suspect, dad.‖

        ―That‘s what I said.‖ He took a bite of potato on his fork and marveled at the

aroma of the gravy she had made. He wolfed it down and then began digging in with

gusto. Soon he was wiping up the last of the gravy with toast and asking for seconds.

        ―I guess I sort of worked up an appetite hiking in the mountains today,‖ he said.

        ―No matter, dad. The best compliment you can pay a cook is to ask for seconds.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          128


          ―Well, you sure earned the compliments. Say, how did you and Connie get along

today?‖

          ―Do I detect a note of eagerness there, dad?‖

          ―Let‘s just say that I‘m looking forward to seeing her sooner, rather than later."

          ―I saw you smooching just before you left. Connie came in right afterwards. I

fixed her French toast with marmalade and coffee. She left about eight-thirty.‖

          ―So, what did you do today?‖

          ―Believe it or not, I really do have an essay that I have to turn in by Friday. I

spent most of the day working on that until my eyes began turning to a frazzle in front of

the computer, so I came down here to watch the tube and give my mind a break.‖

          ―Cathartic,‖ he said. ―I think that‘s what most of the viewers have in mind when

they turn on the tube. Puts their mind at rest and distracts them from day to day life. I

can‘t really believe they watch that garbage the networks serve up. If it wasn‘t for the

movies on the premium satellite channels, I wouldn‘t be able to find a thing to watch.‖

          ―Most of the rest of the world doesn‘t have your high intellectual standards, dad.‖

          ―Are you patronizing me?‖ he asked.

          ―Mais non, mon Pere. It‘s just that you really do have something between your

ears. Most of the soaps and sitcoms on TV are just a soporific, merchandising showcases

for the sponsors.‖

          ―When did you become such a cynic, Little Girl?‖

          ―Phooey with you,‖ she told him. ―When is the last time you saw me watching a

sitcom or MTV?‖

          ―I‘ll bet you watch them all the time when I‘m not around,‖ he teased.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   129


       ―You‘re looking for a knuckle sandwich, aren‘t you, dad?‖

       He was interrupted in his reply by the ringing of the telephone. Since Tutu had

finished her dinner she jumped up to answer it. Perhaps hoping it would be a boy, he

wondered? Small chance, there weren‘t more than one or two in her age group in Valley

Forks. Suddenly he had a discouraging thought that she might have set her cap for

someone older.

       ‖Dad,‖ he heard her call. ―It‘s for you! Better make sure you‘re shaved and

you‘ve got your shirt tucked in. It‘s Connie.‖ She smiled when he took the phone from

her.

       ―Hi,‖ he answered.

       ―Is your shirt tucked in?‖ Connie teased. ―I heard Cheryl when she called you,‖

she explained.

       ―No, come to think of it, I‘ve been working on my truck, and my shirt is covered

with grease and even has holes in one or two places. It matches my socks.‖

       ―Am I interrupting anything?‖

       ―No, merely rescuing me. Tutu‘s been sticking me with pins ever since I got

home. Claims you are absolutely the worst house guest we‘ve ever had and says she

never wants to see you again.‖

       ―Hmm, that wasn‘t the impression I got before I left this morning.‖

       ―I‘m only kidding. I‘m glad you called. What‘s up?‖

       ―Well, I went to the office today to try and keep caught up on my work. I did a

tox screen on blood samples from the Esposito family. All of them were under the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     130


influence of some hallucinogenic. From the analysis, if I had to guess, I‘d say peyote, or

something like it but about a dozen times as strong.‖

        ―You don‘t say,‖ he commented. ―The little girl too?‖

        ―Trace amounts, but yes, her too. Manuel had the most show up in his blood.‖

        ―We are pretty sure that none of them are dopers, so how would it get in their

blood stream? If their sheep had been grazing on peyote out in the hills somewhere, and

if Manuel were to butcher one that he was culling from the flock, could they have gotten

it that way?‖

        ―Not unless that sheep had eaten half a ton of the stuff. Peyote only stays in the

system a short time before it‘s eliminated. It would take quite a large amount to build up

to the point that it wouldn‘t be oxidized during the cooking process. I think that‘s a

highly unlikely speculation, though I‘m not saying it‘s impossible.‖

        ―Just unlikely.‖ He rolled a few other possibilities around in his mind. ―Did you

do any blood samples on the Winscott case?‖

        ―Only the standard test for blood alcohol. No toxins.‖

        ―Is it too late to run any toxicology tests? Don‘t you coroner‘s keep tissue

samples frozen in questionable cases?‖

        ―As a matter of fact, we do. I‘ll run a screen this afternoon and get back to you.

Anything else?‖

        ―Yeah, a whole lot else, but it wouldn‘t do any good to ask with you all the way

up the road in Tonopah.‖

        ―I‘ll be in Valley Forks Friday. It‘s my regular day for the clinic there.‖

        ―Will you be spending the night?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     131


       ―I usually drive back home, but it seems such a waste since I just have to drive

back again on Saturday.‖

       ―Suppose you let me fix you dinner here instead of going back to Tonopah?‖

       ―I thought you‘d never ask. Shall I bring a bottle of wine?‖

       ―We have some in the pantry. Both red and white.‖

       ―Can I bring something for dinner?‖

       ―Sure, a hefty appetite. When I put a steak on the barbecue it‘s a treat you‘ll

never regret.‖

       ―I‘ll see you at six, okay? If I get away earlier, I‘ll give you a call. Let me run

now so I can check out the Winscott samples.‖

       ―I‘ll look forward to seeing you Friday. Kisses to you.‖

       ―Kiss back,‖ she said as she hung up.

       Lane, old boy, he told himself, you are definitely making the right kind of

progress with this lady. But he wondered if that was what he really wanted. It hadn‘t

been that long since Anne had been taken from him.

       Well, why shouldn‘t he? While he knew he wasn‘t ready to jump into marriage

just yet, he had already decided that he valued Connie as a friend, and as a bed-partner,

and he was happy that she and Tutu were becoming good friends. Maybe things would

work out even better.

       Monday morning arrived too early as far as Lane was concerned. He‘d spent the

evening hours writing up the details of the search they‘d conducted, and made a separate

request for aerial reconnaissance the next day. Both of those he‘d faxed to HQ before

nine in the evening, then he surfed the satellite channels hoping for a movie. He found
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      132


one with John Wayne playing the part of a German sea captain just as World War II was

breaking out. The premise was a highly unlikely one for the Duke so he watched it to the

end and went to bed just after eleven.

       Tutu had fixed oatmeal for breakfast again. Maybe she really was taking his diet

seriously. He enjoyed the sliced peaches she added and ended by asking for seconds.

She grabbed her keys and headed out the door. For the umpteenth time he congratulated

himself on having such a wonderful daughter. Then he grabbed his parka, the thermos

she‘d filled, and his leather and drove his blue and white down to Art‘s.

       Four units were parked in front and twelve deputies from Tonopah having

breakfast and coffee already. He decided to stay long enough for a cup of coffee to allow

any stragglers to show up. He soon regretted his mistake. Five minutes later a TV van

from a Vegas station pulled into Art‘s and stopped for gas. While the driver filled the

tank an eager newswoman came into the restaurant and asked Art who the man in charge

was. Lane could see Art point him out and the young woman headed straight for him.

Lane figured it was too late to make a try for the back door.

       ―Deputy Mauler?‖ the petite blonde asked. ―Pam Demming, KVGS news.‖ She

extended her hand and Lane shook it perfunctorily. She was already reaching her other

hand into her car coat and pulling out a pad and pencil. ―Can you bring us up to date

concerning the killings yesterday?‖

       ―I hate to say ‗no comment‘ Miss Demming, but I have my orders from

headquarters in Tonopah. Why don‘t you try the public information officer there?‖

       ―Because I‘m not interested in the same tired old press releases, deputy. I have

thousands of viewers who want to get the story behind the killings. Is it true that you
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    133


have a suspect in mind? A convict who escaped in Idaho recently? We‘ve heard that

there were drugs involved in the killing back in August? Do you suspect a connection

with that killing and the drug trade in Las Vegas?‖

        ―I wouldn‘t know anything about the drug trade in Las Vegas,‖ Lane said

moodily. ―My jurisdiction ends at the county line. And no, we haven‘t identified a

suspect yet. What you‘ve heard is simply speculation by other news persons who are

trying to flesh out a story where there simply isn‘t one.‖

        She scribbled a note here and there on her pad. ―Then would it be accurate to say

that the NCSO has no leads and are so far stumped in the matter of this string of

killings?‖

        ―You can say anything you like as long as you don‘t refer to me by name, or any

other euphemism such as an informed source or reliable source or whatever your current

tag is. I have no comment, and that‘s official.‖

        She decided to forego the direct and businesslike approach and took another tack.

She put away her pad and her composure softened visibly. ―Well, I can understand the

way you feel, deputy. I‘m sure your job is difficult enough without having every media

snoop in the state looking over your shoulder and trying for the big scoop. I‘m only

trying to do my job, you know. If I could really tie this into something big, I might have

a shot at the networks.‖

        ―Really, Miss Demming, I prefer the professional approach. Sweetness and light

with a hint of something else doesn‘t cut any ice with me. Now, if you‘ll excuse me?‖

He stood up and grabbed his hat. ―Okay, all you deputies, we‘re going to be heading

north about six miles. Then we‘ll turn left to a little place about two miles off the main
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       134


road. I‘m driving unit seven-one-nine and we‘re using tac three for today. Follow me

and if any of you get lost, just holler on the radio. Okay? Let‘s go.‖

          He dropped a bill on the table to pay for his coffee then headed out the door and

jumped into his blue and white. He backed out of the parking area then pulled ahead and

off to the side of the road, waiting to give the rest of the men time to pay their tabs and

get out to their units. At least he had left La Demming behind. Two minutes later he was

heading north.

          The four other cars kept up and were still behind him when he turned into

Esposito‘s place. He drove them up to the trailer then stopped and got out of his car. He

placed a forestry service map on the warm hood of his Blazer and gathered his men

around.

          ―Listen up,‖ he said. ―We searched this area yesterday.‖ He drew a broad circle

around the spot on the map where they were now located. ―We‘re looking for the body

of a fourteen year old boy, or any sign that the boy may have been alive and made it out

of this area on foot. It was cold last night. Look for signs of a campfire. Look for any

place where he may have scraped together some branches or pine needles to make a bed

during the night. Don‘t go climbing rocks and playing mountain goat. If the boy, Arturo

Esposito is his name, is still alive, he‘ll be using a trail to get somewhere. Where, we

don‘t know. But he‘s not going to dig a hole and pull it in after him.‖ He pointed at two

men, ―You‘ll be team Alpha. Take off in this direction here. Work left and right of this

line,‖ he sketched on the map, ―for about three miles. By that time, if we haven‘t found

him, you radio back to me for further instructions. Got that?‖ The men nodded and he

sent them off.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     135


        Swiftly he designated five other two-man teams and gave them a sector to search.

As best as he could tell, he was dividing and searching the most likely routes of egress.

There wasn‘t much more he could do. Call in and request dogs maybe? Too early, he

decided. Wait and see if any of the teams cuts any sign. His radio crackled and he got

behind the wheel to answer it.

        ―This is Nye seven-one-nine responding,‖ he said.

        ―Seven-one-nine, this is Air three. I am circling above Valley Forks at this time.

Do you have instructions for me?‖

        Lane turned to the south and caught sight of the Hughes 500 helicopter at about

fifteen hundred feet above the ground. He keyed his mike. ―Roger, Air three. You are

south of me about six miles. I am at your four o‘clock right now. Come north until

you‘re over my position. Copy?‖

        ―Affirmative, seven-one-nine. I‘ll be there in four minutes.‖

        ―Okay, three. When you reach this spot, begin circling outward in a spiraling

search pattern. We‘re looking for a fourteen year old boy, or any sign of a camp or

campfire where he might have spent the night. I have six search teams out now, Alpha

through Foxtrot. They are all on this frequency. If we spot anything you can drop in for

a closer look.‖

        ―Wilco, seven-one-nine. I have your unit in sight at this time. I can only stay on

station for just under two hours, then I‘ll have to hop over the mountains to refuel.‖

        ―Understand, Air three. Please keep me advised. Out.‖ With that, Lane settled

back and poured a cup of coffee from his thermos. He had deployed his troops to the best

of his ability, now all he could do was wait for results. A glance in his rear view mirror
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     136


showed the KVGS news van coming up the dirt track. Pam Demming stepped down just

as he got out of the blue and white unit.

        ―Perhaps we got off to a bad start, deputy,‖ she said.

        ―I don‘t think so, Miss Demming. I know that you have a job to do, and so do I.

Right now I‘m heading up a search for a missing fourteen-year-old boy. And I‘m

following instructions from my headquarters not to talk to the press, or TV,‖ he said with

a nod toward the cameraman who had also climbed out of the van and was taking aim on

them now, ―without express approval from them. So, like I said before, no comment.

Now why don‘t you see what you can find out from the PIO?‖

        The newswoman turned to her cameraman while making a slashing motion across

her throat. ―Okay, I can live with that. Sorry if I overstepped the line back in the coffee

shop. This is where it happened, isn‘t it? Can we look in the trailer?‖

        ―Yes, this is where it happened. Yes, you can look in the trailer, but don‘t set one

foot inside. I don‘t want you contaminating my crime scene.‖

        ―Fair enough,‖ she said. She grabbed her assistant and they went as far as the

sliding glass doors opening into the front room of the trailer. Even though the bodies had

been removed, the blood and signs of a struggle remained. Evidently she thought that

would be worth putting on the air for she had her cameraman shoot several minutes worth

of tape. She could always edit it with a voice over back in the studio. She left her

cameraman and returned to where Lane was standing and drinking his coffee.

        ―Okay, off the record. Nothing leaves this spot. I just want to get my facts

straight so as not to start, or spread, any of those rumors you alluded to earlier. What can

you tell me?‖ She waited for a response from Lane. Getting none she continued. ―I
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    137


heard it was a man and his wife, early to mid-thirties. And a young girl, Maria was her

name, I think.‖

         ―That much is correct,‖ Lane said. ―Remember, this is strictly off the record, for

background only. Right?‖

         ―Check!‖ she agreed.

         ―The names are Manuel and Isabella Esposito and their young daughter, Maria.

We think Manuel flipped out and bludgeoned his little girl with a piece of firewood. The

wife tried to intervene and he struck her also. She responded with a rifle, blowing a hole

in his guts. Manuel didn‘t die right away. He grabbed the rifle away from his wife,

bludgeoned her to death with it, and collapsed on top of her. There‘s a fourteen-year-old

boy also. We don‘t believe he‘s involved but we haven‘t been able to locate him.

Naturally we‘re hoping that he‘s still alive, perhaps hiding somewhere nearby afraid he

may be blamed for at least a part of this.‖ He decided not to mention that Connie had

found traces of a hallucinogen in all of the deceased.

         ―God! What a mess, deputy. No wonder you don‘t want to talk about it. From

the amount of blood I saw in the trailer, this must not have been a pretty scene to stumble

into.‖

         ―Death never is,‖ he told her. ―But you learn to work around the ugliness while

you aim at solving the crime.‖

         ―So there is no escaped convict?‖

         ―A suspect did escape from custody in Idaho but we have no indication that he is

in this area,‖ he said while draining the last of his coffee.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       138


        She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and offered one to him. He

looked at the pack she held out. It sure would be nice to hold a cigarette in his fingers, to

pull the smoke deep into his lungs and feel the stress melt away from him. But he had

been able to say ―No,‖ for more than fourteen years, he could say ―No,‖ again. He shook

his head and she lit one for herself. ―Mind if we hang around awhile? Perhaps one of the

search teams will come up with something.‖

        ―It‘s a free country,‖ he said. Lane checked his watch. The search teams had

only been out about forty-five minutes but he decided he would call for situation reports

anyway. He went back to his unit and got on the radio again. ―Alpha, this is seven-one-

nine. What is your situation? Over‖

        After a moments pause, a voice crackled over the radio. ―This is Alpha. We‘ve

just cleared the area searched yesterday and are beginning to move up the dry wash into

our own search area. Nothing to report yet. Over‖

        Lane thanked them and contacted each of the remaining units in order. Lastly he

contacted the chopper.

        ―This is Air three. Negative report at this time but we‘re keeping it pretty low

and slow so as not to miss too much. We‘ll be standing by. Over.‖

        Lane signed off and sat back while he studied his map. If the kid headed

northeast he would eventually end up in Eureka and could cross over into Utah. Or he

could head northwest and reach Austin, then continue on into Fallon and up to Reno.

Why didn‘t the poor fool just stay here and let the sheriff‘s department look after him.

Fear, Lane answered himself. The kid‘s scared he‘ll be in a heap of trouble. Or guilt. A

fourteen-year-old is quite capable of pointing a rifle at an adult and pulling the trigger.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       139


But why beat his mother and little sister? Or did Manuel do the beating and Arturo only

try to stop his father? There were too many questions and too few answers. Lane poured

another cup of coffee and sat back for a long wait. If they hadn‘t come up with anything

by this evening, he‘d call off the search and post the boy as missing. Without further

clues there wasn‘t much else which could be done.

        At ten-thirty Air three called to advise him that they were returning to base to

refuel. They would be back following a lunch break. Lane looked at his watch and

realized that he had neglected to bring anything to eat with him. After yesterday, he

should have known better.

        In the goat shed the milk-goats were bleating and stomping. Probably their

udders hurt, he thought. Guess I could milk them and at least have some nourishing milk

to drink. He thought better of it when he imagined how that might look on the six

o‘clock news. He decided to sit tight in his vehicle.

        At eleven-thirty, team Charlie, west of him, called to say they had found the ashes

of a small fire among some rocks. It appeared the boy, or someone at least, had recently

bedded down at that spot, scraping together a heap of pine needles and sleeping between

the fire and the rocks.

        Bright kid, Lane thought. Keep warm with the fire in front, and let the heat

reflected from the rocks keep him warm in back. He suspected the kid had camped out

on many occasions. Neither of the two searchers was proficient enough to hazard a guess

in which direction the unknown camper had left the area, or give an accurate guess as to

how old the ashes could be.

        ―Maybe a day, maybe a week, deputy. Hard to tell.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     140


        ―Okay,‖ Lane said. ―Continue sweeping your area. If none of the other teams

find anything, perhaps I can get us a Paiute tracker tomorrow and see what he can make

of the area.‖ Lane used a grease pencil to make a small ‗X‘ on his map indicating the

reported position of the campfire.

        Air three returned at one o‘clock and remained in the area until nearly three. By

that time low, scudding clouds were moving down from the northwest and Lane decided

he better call in his teams. It would take them nearly two hours to return to base and it

could even be raining by that time. He didn‘t want to have to contend with hypothermia

amongst his search teams. He recalled the old saw attributed to Mark Twain who had

once edited a newspaper in Virginia City. Or was it Carson City? Twain had quipped,

―If you don‘t like the weather in Nevada, stick around for about twenty minutes; it‘ll

change.‖

        Here it was late November. On occasion this area had seen a foot or more of

snow by this time, though mid-to-late February was more common. Lane was sure those

people who warned of global warming had their theories skewed. It seemed like every

year some place in the world was reporting record-breaking winters with temperatures

and snowfall that hadn‘t been seen in more than a hundred years.

        On the other hand, mankind had only been keeping records for a few hundred

years. Hardly the blink of an eye compared to the age of the earth and the sun. Who

could really say? Not a broken down, has been, Long Beach cop, he admitted.

        By four o‘clock the news crew had left him on his own. Shortly after, his search

teams came straggling in. As soon as they had a carload they left the area, anxious to

stop at Art‘s for something hot to eat before making the long trip back to Tonopah. At
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        141


five o‘clock his last team came in. Lane thanked them for their efforts and sent them off

with best wishes. He climbed in his unit and headed for home.

        Tutu‘s car was pulled up under the carport and he pulled in just behind her. She

was watching the news when he went into the house.

        ―What‘s for dinner, Hon? I‘m starved again.‖

        ―I hope so. How about a big helping of scalloped potatoes with cheddar cheese

and ham? Green beans cooked with sliced almonds on the side?‖

        ―I say bring it on, and plenty of it. But I‘d have settled for warming up last

night‘s pot roast.‖

        Tutu was strangely quiet but he let it go as he stripped off his weapon and leather

and hung them over the chair in his office. He called Noah Denton and gave him the

news. ―If you want to send an Indian tracker down tomorrow, Noah, he can start where

we found the remains of that campfire and see where that takes him.‖

        ―No, I think we‘ll let this one be, Lane. The kid is either long gone, or he‘s dead

and buried. Sorry you went to so much trouble for nothing.‖

        ―Well, I wouldn‘t exactly call it nothing, it‘s a job that needed doing. I‘m just

sorry we didn‘t have better results.‖

        ―I know how you feel, Lane. It‘s a fact the world is built on sad endings. Gives

us something to hope for, you know? Maybe the next time we‘ll have reason to smile.‖

        ―Yeah. Next time,‖ Lane said. He hung up the phone and went in to eat dinner.

        Tutu was already seated at the table and feeding herself slowly. ―Why the sour

puss, Tutu?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      142


       ―Oh, nothing, dad. Just hoping that ‗Turo had something to eat today and will

find a warm place to sleep tonight.‖

       ―Commendable that you should be concerned. I hope he‘ll turn up before

something happens. Something worse, I mean.‖

       ―Dad, what could be worse than having your whole family wiped out while you

watched?‖ She set her fork down with a clatter that stunned Lane.

       He chewed another bite and swallowed. ―Is there something you want to talk

about, Cheryl Ann?‖

       A guilty expression crossed her face. ―Yes, there is. I guess I can‘t put it off

much longer.‖

       Oh, Christ, no! Lane thought. She‟s pregnant! How could that happen in this

tiny town without him knowing? Who could the father be?

       Tutu raised her voice and said, ―You better come in now.‖ She turned her head

toward the door that led to the pantry and the back porch beyond. The door creaked

opened slowly. Oddly, Lane caught himself thinking that he‘d better spray that hinge

with a little oil before he went to bed. Suddenly he was looking at a frightened young

boy wearing a long sleeved woolen shirt, blue jeans, and hiking boots.

       ―Arturo! You‘re safe,‖ he said, nearly knocking over his chair as he ran to grab

hold of the boy. Arturo was frightened and looked as though he was about to bolt for the

door and get out of here as fast as his legs could carry him. Well, thank goodness Cheryl

Ann isn‘t pregnant Lane thought.

       ―Shh, shh, shh,‖ Lane tried to calm him. ―You‘re not in any trouble with us boy.

We just want to help you, and to find out what happened out at your place. Here, come
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      143


sit and let‘s get you something to eat and drink.‖ Lane all but forced Arturo into a chair

while yelling at Tutu to get something to feed the boy.

        ―Dad, don‘t worry. Arturo‘s already eaten. And he was very hungry too. He

finished the pot-roast and washed it down with two glasses of milk. He was hiding near

the parking lot at school and waiting for me to come out to my car. When I did, he scared

me half to death before he could make me understand that all he wanted was to come

home with me and turn himself in to you. Oh, that and a little food too. He hadn‘t eaten

since yesterday and it was below freezing in the mountains last night.‖

        ―I‘ll bet he was cold,‖ Lane said. ―Well, get him some coffee or something then.

Can you make hot chocolate for him? He can tell me what happened while I eat because

I‘m still starving.‖

        While Lane ate, Arturo recounted how short tempered his father had been at

dinner two nights earlier, and how his mother had been acting strangely also. When he

had gone out side to wash his boots off the next thing he knew he could hear his little

sister screaming. He ran back to the trailer, reaching it just as he heard a shot and then he

saw his father take the rifle from his mother and beat her to death with it.

        ―You poor boy, it must have frightened you terribly. And then you hid because

you thought my dad would blame you.‖ Tutu was showing her maternal feelings at an

early age.

        ―You don‘t have any thing at all to worry about, Arturo. We had pretty much

guessed what had happened and were only looking for you to confirm the story and fill in

any blank spots. You won‘t be in any trouble with anyone as far as the law is concerned.

Tutu,‖ he said to his daughter, ―isn‘t there some pie left from a few days ago?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       144


        ―Sure, dad, banana crème. Want some ‗Turo?‖ The way the boy smiled was

clearly a yes answer. Tutu got up to fetch plates and silverware while Lane went to

phone headquarters. The phone rang, startling him, just as he reached for it. It was

Connie.

        ―Lane,‖ she said. ―I got some interesting news for you. From the tox screen we

did on Winscott, I can tell you that he definitely had traces of the same compound in his

system as did Manuel and the rest of the Esposito‘s. What I haven‘t been able to figure

out is where he got it? The plants in his greenhouse were ordinary marijuana, relatively

harmless as drugs go. Certainly, not in the hallucinogenic family of drugs that we‘re

interested in.‖

        ―Well, that is news, Connie, but I‘ve got a real flash for you. ‗Turo Esposito is

sitting in my kitchen having dessert right now. No, we didn‘t find him while we were

searching today. He found Cheryl at school and got her to bring him home tonight. I was

just getting the story from him.‖

        ―Well, its not too late tonight. You want I should drive down and take him off

your hands? He‘ll probably need a checkup before I turn him over to social services and

child welfare.‖

        ―I appreciate the offer and I would like to see you, but why don‘t you let him

spend the night here? We have the room, and I think he needs a night feeling safe and

secure before we turn him over to child welfare.‖

        ―I think you‘re right. He surely won‘t feel safe and secure spending the night in a

detention cell, and it‘s too late to arrange for foster care. Tell you what, I‘ll call Margie
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       145


Mecklin at home, her department will handle Arturo. I'll let her know she can pick him

up at your place, say about nine tomorrow morning?‖

        ―That will be fine, Connie. After she leaves, I‘ll head back out to the Esposito

place and see if I can figure out where and how the family got hold of this mysterious

hallucinogen.‖

        ―See if you can collect some clothes for the boy too, Lane. You take care, Big

Man. I‘m looking forward to a barbecue Friday so don‘t let anything happen to you.‖

        ―Don‘t worry, I won‘t. See you then.‖

        ―Kiss, kiss. Bye.‖

        Lane punched the disconnect switch to get a dial tone and punched the speed dial

number for main station in Tonopah. It was after hours but Noah was working late and

the duty sergeant switched him through.

        ―We‘ve got the boy,‖ Lane said.

        ―Alive?‖

        ―I should hope so. He‘s having banana crème pie at my kitchen table with my

daughter right now.‖

        ―Well, thank goodness for small favors,‖ he said. ―I guess we can smile over this

one after all.‖

        ―Maybe a little smile,‖ Lane said. ―His family is still dead.‖

        ―Yeah. What did you get out of him?‖

        ―Pretty much the same story that Deputy Snow doped out. He says he was afraid

that he‘d be in trouble so he hid out in the mountains, but realized that it would be better
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        146


if he turned himself in. He waited for my daughter at school today and she drove him

home with her.‖

        ―So we wasted a day out in the hills looking for him?‖

        ―I wouldn‘t say wasted, Noah. We found him, even if it wasn‘t in the place we

were looking.‖

        ―Yeah, okay. Look, I‘ll call social services and have them take him off your

hands. They probably can‘t pick him up before tomorrow. Can you take care of him

tonight?‖

        ―Already taken care of. Doctor Conried called me just before I called you. A

lady in child welfare is a friend of hers so Connie is going to call her at home tonight.

She‘ll pick up the kid first thing in the morning.‖

        ―Okay. Have her bring him to the office here. I‘ll have to question him or the

sheriff won‘t think I‘m doing my job.‖

        ―Okay, Noah, but take it easy, will you? The kid has just had his whole family

wiped out.‖

        ―Christ, Mauler! I may be a loud-mouthed son of a bitch, but I‘m not heartless.

Hell, I even have grandchildren, believe it or not.‖

        ―Sorry, I didn‘t mean to get out of line.‖

        ―You weren‘t! If ever one of my deputies isn‘t concerned with the welfare of an

innocent child, then I don‘t want him on my force. Understand me?‖

        ―Yes, sir.‖

        ―Good. I‘ll talk with you again tomorrow.‖

        ―Right, Noah.‖ The line went dead and he hung up.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    147


        He went into the kitchen, pulled out a chair, and set down with Tutu and Arturo.

        ―You‘re going to spend the night here, Arturo,‖ he said. ―In the morning a lady

will come from Tonopah and drive you back there. The sheriff has to ask you more

questions to help us understand what happened out at your place.‖

        The boys brown eyes looked huge against his olive complexion. Eyes that had

seen too much pain and felt too much sadness. ―I don‘t know what more I can say, Mr.

Mauler.‖

        ―Did your father say anything earlier in the afternoon? While the two of you

were out with the sheep?‖ Arturo just stared. His mind was seeking answers, but finding

none. ―Was there anything that your father was angry about?‖

        ―Nothing was unusual. We had brought home the goats and I was milking them

while my father went inside the trailer. He usually liked to watch the news before we ate.

        ―When I finished the milking I went inside and the family was already sitting

down to dinner. I poured a glass of milk each for my sister and I then I was putting the

rest of the milk into the refrigerator. Papa complained of an odor and asked if my boots

were dirty. He sounded very upset, but it was the first time that day. Anyway, I went

back outside to clean my boots. While I was doing that I heard Maria scream. I ran

quickly to the door and saw that papa was beating her. Just about that time, mama turned

from the coat closet where the rifle is kept and she shot him in the stomach. I saw him

stagger when the bullet hit him!

        ―Then he tossed Maria aside and went after mama. Her eyes were wide with

surprise, maybe fright, I‘m not sure. He jerked the rifle from her and began hitting her,

and hitting her, again and again. At last, he fell on top of her.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         148


        ―I didn‘t know what to do. I was afraid that I might be blamed for this awful

thing, so I took a blanket and hid myself in the mountains. In the morning I suppose I

was thinking better. I realized that the best thing for me would be to turn myself in. But

I didn‘t want people shooting at me, or beating me before I could convince them that I

didn‘t do this bad thing. So I stayed in the trees while I made my way to town. I avoided

everyone I could and spent another night in the woods even though I was very close to

town. I hid near the school and waited for Cheryl by her car, and then I asked her to

bring me here to your house.‖

        ―You did the right thing, Arturo. You‘ll get a good night‘s sleep here, with no

locks on the doors. And Cheryl will fix you a good breakfast in the morning before you

leave. Don‘t worry; no one wants to harm you. I guess you‘ve had enough problems for

one lifetime.‖

        ―I wish I knew how to help you, Mr. Mauler, but I don‘t know why papa did this

thing. And mama, her too! It wasn‘t like she was trying only to protect Maria from the

beating. It was as if she had gone mad herself. If only you could have seen the look in

her eyes when she shot him, it was insanity, it must have been. But why? Why would

both of them just go crazy like that? My abuela, my grandmother, used to tell us stories

of when things like this happened in the old times. Her people were of the Anasazi; they

made their homes on the high plateau in New Mexico and Colorado. There came a bad

winter when the men of many kivas went mad and there was much killing. The people

said a demon-spirit was loose upon the land. When the killing kept getting worse and

worse, the people began leaving. First it was only a few families, later it became whole

clans. The wise ones tried to get the people to stay together and fight this thing, but it
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       149


didn‘t work. The people were afraid for their lives. They fled in all directions. Mostly

they fled to the south and to the east, where they joined with the Hopi, Zuni, and other

pueblo tribes. Soon, the Anasazi were no more.

        ―My parents were good people who took us to church regularly. My mother

blessed our home with the crucifix for our protection. How could this demon-spirit come

upon us again?‖

        ―I have no idea, Arturo. We were sort of hoping you could tell us.‖

        ―There was just no reason.‖ The boy hung his head and let it shake back and

forth. ―No reason at all.‖

        Lane glanced at his watch. It was only a little after six. He suggested that Tutu

lend the boy a pair of sweat pants and a shirt and get him to take a bath. Once he was out

of those clothes she could toss them in the washer so he‘d at least have clean clothes in

the morning. ―Do we have any spare toothbrushes?‖ he asked her.

        ―Not that I know of,‖ she said.

        ―Okay, just let me get these dishes in the sink and I‘ll whip over to Art‘s and get

the boy a toothbrush. Can you think of anything else?‖

        Tutu made a quick mental inventory of the ‗fridge and pantry while she thought

about what she would make for breakfast. She decided on waffles and realized she had

everything she need right here at home. ―Nothing that I can think of. If you see Ruthie,

tell her ‗Turo is safe and spending the night with us. She‘ll pass the news on to everyone

in town the minute she sees them.‖

        ―Yeah, I guess most folks in town are concerned. I‘ll be back in a jiffy.‖ He

grabbed his keys and was soon out the door.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     150


          At Art‘s he quickly found the toothbrush he wanted and was about to step up to

the counter any pay when Bruce Talbot caught his attention. Bruce and four or five other

locals were occupying two of Art‘s booths and had already killed at least three six packs

judging from the number of empties on the two tables.

          ―You and the posse catch that Mex kid yet, sheriff?‖ Lane didn‘t like the surly

way Bruce was talking. He avoided the issue by giving a non-response.

          ―We didn‘t have any luck, today, Bruce. I already called my report in to

Tonopah. They seem to think that the kid must be dead somewhere.‖ He tried to head

for the cash register again, but Bruce grabbed his sleeve.

          ―Now, in Texas, where I grew up, we know how to handle greasers. Kid gets

uptight ‗cause his dad won‘t let him take the pickup out on Friday night, or something

like that, so he up and kills the whole family. What you got to do, sheriff, is put up some

roadblocks and search everyone headin‘ out of the valley. Kid won‘t try and get out with

his dad‘s truck. Too conspicuous. Hey! Ain‘t that a laugh? A spic being conspicuous!

Ha! Ha!‖ Talbot thought himself quite a wit but he was only half right.

          ―You take care though ‗cause he‘ll pull a knife on some decent folks and make

‗em drive him out of the valley sheriff. You try stopping all the traffic and you‘ll catch

him.‖

          ―You‘re probably right, Bruce. I figure he already made his getaway. He‘s

plumb gone by this time, I‘ll agree. But he didn‘t take his dad‘s pickup, too conspicuous,

like you said. Say, experienced man like yourself, we could have used you on the posse

today.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     151


        Bruce liked the way Deputy Mauler showed him respect and figured it made him

look good in the eyes of his drinking buddies.

        ―Well, I would have liked to have joined up with you, sheriff, ‗sa fact. But I

pulled the head off my old truck Saturday so I could replace the valves and grind the

seats while I had it off. Didn‘t have time to go out searching for no Mex murderer, but

I‘d a liked to have been with you-all.‖

        ―Maybe next time, Bruce?‖ He nodded to the other half-drunk red necks. ―Well,

I best head for home. Just stopped in for a toothbrush. You folks take it easy now.‖ He

waved a hand at them and continued up to the cash register.

        Ruthie shook her head at him. ―Why don‘t you just arrest them and drag them

out of here sheriff?‖

        ―For what, Ruthie? Being stupid and prejudiced? Ruthie, if stupidity were a

crime, half this country would be behind bars, including the ones we elected. No, I‘ll see

to them later. You just keep quiet and don‘t let them get riled at you.‖

        ―Well, if you say so. But if they get out of line, my daddy‘ll whomp their butts

good.‖ Lane decided not to tell Ruthie at this moment that Arturo was safe at home with

Tutu.

        ―I hope I‘ll be around to give your dad a hand. Now, how much for the brush?‖

        He paid and drove back home. Those red necks would be trouble, but you

couldn‘t reason with a drunk. He‘d settle accounts with them another time.

        Arturo had finished his bath and was watching TV with Tutu. Lane tossed him

the toothbrush and said, ―Don‘t leave it behind. They may not issue you one when you

go to Tonopah.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      152


        ―Thank you, sir,‖ the boy said. Lane just didn‘t know what to do with the kid.

He certainly couldn‘t keep him around here. Tutu was a big enough handful on her own.

He went into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and then took it into his office to fill out

the paperwork on today‘s activity.

        He listed the deputies who had worked for him by name, and the amount of hours

they had spent on the job. They would all turn in expense accounts and claim dinner at

Art‘s, but the sheriff‘s office wouldn‘t pay without Lane‘s paperwork. He faxed his

report to Tonopah and then booted up his computer to find out what he could about the

Anasazi.

        Lane had several encyclopedias on CD-ROM. He tried them, one after the other,

and found the Anasazi had built a remarkable civilization in the four corners area of the

west, where the borders of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado came together. The

oldest evidence dated back as far as 5,500 BC and continued up until just after 1,600 AD.

By the time the Spanish had arrived in the region, the Anasazi were only a memory.

Their name, Anasazi, had its roots in a Navajo word used to describe the ancient ones.

Some archeologists claimed the Anasazi were obliged to migrate from their home

territory by a prolonged drought. Others said it was because they simply out grew their

home territory. When all the available firewood had been utilized for heating and

cooking, they had to abandon their homes and move elsewhere. Today, the most

important relic of their culture is the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, which have been

turned into a national park.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    153


        For whatever reason, and Lane did not subscribe to the theory of evil spirits, they

had left their cliff dwellings and moved elsewhere, only to be swallowed up in the

polyglot of Native American tribes which existed at that time.

        While he had been reading, Tutu came in and said Arturo was tired and going to

bed, and that she was going to her room to continue working on her essay. Lane nodded

perfunctorily and wished her a good night while he continued with his reading.

        When he looked at his watch again he was surprised to find that it was after ten

and he had spent more than two hours conducting his research. A good thing the county

had run a data line over the mountains to link his computer with the Internet. If he had to

pay long distance charges for the time he spent on line, his phone bill would have been

phenomenal!

        He shut down his computer and went out to the living room where he stirred up

the coals in the airtight stove and added a few more chunks of coal to keep the house

warm through the night. Even though it was only mid-December, the nights above 5,500

feet were getting very chilly and he considered himself fortunate that he‘d been able to

purchase good coal by the truckload for less than a hundred dollars a ton. It meant

driving nearly all the way to Reno, but he judged the one truckload would last two or

three months. He felt sure that two trips, three at the most, would last them throughout

the winter.

        Lane checked both the front door and back door before climbing the stairs one

last time for the night. The door to Tutu‘s room was closed and there was no light

showing beneath the door so he assumed she had also decided to call it a night. Arturo‘s

door was open. The faint, silvery glow of moonlight illuminated the room enough for
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    154


Lane to see the boy sleeping comfortably. He was glad that the boy could get some sleep

after the tragedy of losing his family. Of course, spending two very cold nights out in the

forest could have had something to do with how tired he was.

        Lane went to the bathroom to brush his teeth. While he was there he popped two

aspirin for his headache. That had been happening to him more and more lately,

especially when using the computer or reading the paper. He wondered if his eyes were

beginning to go now that he was older? He‘d make a mental note to get an appointment

scheduled for his next trip to Tonopah.

        He crawled between frigid sheets and stretched the muscles of his arms, legs, and

back. He must be getting old, he thought, if only two days of searching in the woods

could make his muscles ache so badly. He pulled the blankets up to his chin and was

soon fast asleep.

        Bright light streaming through his windows woke him. One corner of his

bedroom faced east and the first rays of the sun never failed to rouse him, unless the day

was particularly overcast. Today wasn‘t. He grabbed a robe and headed for the

bathroom where he got rid of a pint or so of used coffee and ran his electric razor over the

morning stubble. When he finished shaving, he jumped into the shower and lathered a

dandruff shampoo into his brush cut, then rinsed and washed with an anti-bacterial soap.

He had found over the years he had very sensitive skin and all deodorants, even baby

powder, made him break out in a rash. His only defense against body odor was to shower

often, which he did.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      155


        He was whistling by the time he reached the kitchen and poured a cup of fresh

coffee. Arturo was digging into a couple waffles topped with strawberries and a dollop

of a non-dairy topping. The boy was evidently pleased with Tutu‘s cooking.

        ―Looks good, Hon, and smells great! I‘ll take three.‖ He planted a noisy kiss on

the top of her head and sat down at the table. ―Sure looks like you‘re enjoying them,

Arturo.‖

        ―Yes, sir. Your daughter is a fine cook. If she could learn to fix chorizo, I think

that I would have to ask your permission to marry her. Even if she is a gringa, and

practically middle aged to boot!‖ he added playfully.

        Tutu swung around from the stove and pointed at him with the fork she was using

to lift the waffles from the waffle iron. ―You ungrateful puppy! See if I cook for you

anymore. You can just starve for all I care.‖ Tutu was not angry with him, any more

than he had been with her, but she felt it was important not to let him get the last word.

Lane ignored the two of them.

        Tutu set a plate in front of him and he began dig in. As usual, Tutu‘s culinary

effort was delicious. She had combined whole-wheat flour with enriched yellow

cornmeal. The combination was both light and filling at the same time. ―You‘ve out

done yourself again, sweetheart. I‘d say that Arturo has good taste.‖

        ―Well, thank you both, too much! I might be persuaded to fix some of that chor-

eet-so if I knew what it was, and how to prepare it.‖

        ―Chorizo is a Mexican sausage, Cheryl‖ Turo said. ―It‘s very spicy, but not hot.

When you fry it, it becomes very mushy so you never serve it alone. Usually it is mixed

with scrambled eggs, or fried with potatoes or stirred into rice. You can try some at La
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      156


Cocina whenever you‘re in Tonopah. They have very good Mexican food there. It is a

favorite of my family.‖ He frowned as an unpleasant memory crossed his mind and he

realized that he would never again eat there with his family.

       ―We‘ll make a point of it, Arturo,‖ Lane said. ―Mexican cooking has always

been one of my favorites. I like mine especially well seasoned with lots of hot salsa.‖

       ―All gringos think that Mexican food is super hot, but it really isn‘t. Salsa is

always served as a side dish. You use it to season your own plate as much as you like.

Otherwise, Mexican food is fairly bland, although it does have its own flavor, mostly

from cilantro or cumin.‖

       ―Well, however you fix it is fine with me.‖ He glanced at Tutu. ―Aren‘t you

joining us?‖ he asked.

       ―I ate long ago,‖ she said. ―If a girl doesn‘t get to the bathroom before you men

do, she can‘t put her face on in the morning. Besides, it‘s time for me to head for school.

You men will just have to dump your dirty dishes in the sink and I‘ll do them when I get

home this afternoon.‖

       ―Don‘t worry, Sweetheart. I have to stay home until Mrs. Mecklin gets here from

Tonopah. I‘ll do them for you.‖

       ―Okay,‖ she said. ―But promise me you‘ll leave them in the dish strainer to dry

and don‘t put them away or I‘ll never be able to find them when I‘m looking for them

again.‖ She pulled the plug on her waffle iron and moved it from the counter to the stove

to cool. Then she put her mixing bowl in the sink and ran warm water in it to soak. She

blew a kiss at her dad. ―Bye now. Got to run. Good luck, Arturo. Keep in touch with
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     157


us, won‘t you?‖ She headed for the living room to collect her coat, books, and car keys.

Lane heard the door close as she went out the door.

        ―She seems like a wonderful daughter, Mr. Mauler. You must be very proud of

her.‖

        ―Oh, I am,‖ he smiled. ―I only wish that she had more time to spend as a young

girl instead of looking after me all the time.‖

        ―I was only joking, you know. What I said about marrying her, I mean.‖

        ―You don‘t have to apologize to me, Arturo. Unlike some people, I don‘t judge a

man by the color of his skin or the spelling of his name. You look like a fine boy to me

and I‘m sure you grow into a fine man.‖

        ―Well, some folks get angry if a Mexicano looks twice at their daughter. I just

wanted you to know that I didn‘t mean anything by it.‖

        ―Like I said, you don‘t have to apologize to me. Save that for the Bruce Talbot‘s

of the world.‖

        ―Yes, him I have run into once or twice. I don‘t think he is a very nice man.‖

        ―You said a mouthful.‖ Lane finished his breakfast and put the dishes in the sink.

―Let‘s see what we can find on the morning news, why don‘t we?‖

        ―Please, you go watch the news. If it‘s all right with you, I‘d like to volunteer to

wash the dishes.‖

        Lane suddenly realized why Turo didn‘t want to watch the news. ―Sure, go

ahead. But remember what Cheryl said, don‘t put them away or she‘ll skin me alive.‖

        ―Yes, sir. I‘ll remember.‖ He took the dishes from the sink and set them on the

counter and then turned on the hot water. Under the sink he found Tutu‘s detergent and a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      158


scrubbing sponge. He grabbed them and got to work. Lane left him and went to the

living room. The news hadn‘t changed much since yesterday, or last year for that matter.

Another car bomb set off in Israel, three dead and eight injured. Another mass grave

found in the former Yugoslavia, twenty-seven bodies. An earthquake measuring six-

point-two in Chile, at least fourteen hundred dead, hundreds more injured, and perhaps as

many as three thousand homeless. In Wisconsin Mr. and Mrs. Joel Turner gave credit to

their pet pig, Anastasia, for waking them up in the middle of the night and possibly

saving their lives. The pig smelled smoke in the basement and it turned out that a broom

had fallen onto a chicken brooder and started a fire. Christ! The people slept with a pig

in the house? Well, whatever floats your boat, he told himself. Fortunately the media

hadn‘t heard that Arturo had been found, or didn‘t care. They were still running the story

and saying that the sheriff‘s office was working to develop leads. Lane chuckled over

that one. The only lead so far concerned an evil spirit who may also have been

responsible for the disappearance of the Anasazi tribe four hundred years earlier. Evil

spirits and Indians inNew Mexico! Lane chortled to himself.

       He heard a car pull into his driveway and clicked the remote turning the TV off.

He went to the front door and saw Connie getting out of her car as another one pulled to

the curb in front of his house. He opened the door just as Connie topped the front steps.

       ―Morning!‖ she said, cheerfully. The driver of the other car had gotten out and

was coming up the front walk. ―Lane,‖ Connie said, half turning to the woman

approaching, ―this is Margie Mecklin from the department of child welfare. She‘s come

to take Arturo up to Tonopah as soon as I examine him.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     159


       Lane opened the screen door and gave a wave to the matronly Mrs. Mecklin.

―Morning to you ma‘am. Come right on in, it‘s still a little chilly out here.‖ Once they

were inside and he had taken their coats and hung them in the hall, Lane seated them in

the living room. ―Can I get anyone coffee? It‘s fresh.‖

       ―Thanks, Lane, but no,‖ Connie said. ―We got into town half an hour ago and

stopped at Art‘s for coffee and a pit stop. Can we see the boy?‖

       Lane shrugged. ―Sure, he‘s in the kitchen doing dishes. I‘ll get him.‖

       ―Do all your prisoner‘s earn their keep that way?‖ Connie asked.

       ―Of course not. He volunteered right after breakfast when I mentioned watching

the news.‖

       ―That‘s understandable,‖ Margie Mecklin said. ―Many of these children are at a

total loss after a tragedy such as this. Some times it takes weeks or even months to get

through to them and get them to face their problem.‖

       ―Oh, I don‘t think that‘s it,‖ Lane told her. ―I think it‘s just his way of thanking

my daughter for the wonderful waffles with strawberries she fed him this morning. I‘ll

get him.‖

       Lane found Arturo just finishing. He had pulled the stoppers from both sinks,

rinsed them, and was hanging the hand towel on the rack on the side of the cupboard.

―Company‘s here,‖ Lane said.

       ―That‘s fine,‖ Arturo said. ―I‘ve just finished.‖ Arturo followed Lane into the

living room. Both women smiled while Lane presented the boy. Connie took his hand

and pulled him down on the sofa next to her.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      160


        ―I‘m Doctor Conried. We‘ve met at school. I really should have you in an

examining room to give you a proper checkup.‖ She felt his head and clucked her

tongue, held his wrist while looking at her watch. ―Any complaints after being out in the

forest for two days?‖

        ―No ma‘am. All I needed was a good night‘s sleep, and the deputy made sure I

got that last night.‖

        ―Okay, then I guess medically you‘re probably all right.‖

        ―I gather you‘ve already breakfasted,‖ Mrs. Mecklin said. ―If you‘re ready, we

can get back on the road. We‘ve got more than an hour‘s drive to get back to Tonopah,

and I don‘t want you to be late for lunch.‖

        ―Yes, ma‘am. I‘ll be right with you. I‘ve left a few things upstairs.‖ Arturo ran

up the stairs leaving the grownups alone.

        ―I‘m sure we won‘t have any trouble finding a foster home for him,‖ Mrs.

Mecklin said. ―It‘s really so much better than the children‘s facility, you know.‖

        ―I‘m sure it is ma‘am,‖ Lane acknowledged.

        ―He seems to be taking it well,‖ Connie said.

        ―I guess his folks raised him not to cry over spilled milk,‖ Lane said.

        ―Or perhaps the reality of his situation hasn‘t yet set in,‖ Mrs. Mecklin said.

―Whatever happens, we have excellent psychologists who can give him the best of care.‖

        Arturo came back downstairs with his blanket roll in one hand and his toothbrush

in the other. ―Didn‘t want to forget this, Mr. Mauler. Thanks again. Will you tell Cheryl

that I said goodbye and for her not to worry? I‘ll write when I have a chance.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       161


        ―Sure thing, boy. Good luck to you.‖ Lane held out his hand and the boy gave

him a firm shake. He had the feeling that this boy could handle just about any trouble life

would throw at him. He‘d had some tough breaks, but he hadn‘t let them break him. He

would certainly grow into a fine man.

        Lane held the door for Arturo and Mrs. Mecklin as they went to her car. She

started the engine and after a final wave, they were off.

        ―He‘s such a fine boy,‖ Connie said watching them drive off. ―It‘s sad to think of

him in a foster home somewhere.‖

        Lane put his arm around her waist and walked her into the kitchen where he

poured fresh coffee for both of them. ―It would be a lot sadder to have found him in a

shallow grave,‖ he said.

        ―What a pessimist you are this morning,‖ she said. ―Are you always this

depressing early in the morning?‖

        ―I don‘t think I‘m being depressing,‖ he commented as he swigged the hot brew.

It was beginning to age since Tutu had made it several hours ago. It tasted bitter and

harsh on his tongue. ―It‘s the alternative that is depressing. I‘m trying to look at the

bright side of the situation.‖

        ―Hmm, you have a lop-sided way of showing your optimism.‖

        ―That‘s your opinion.‖

        ―You haven‘t been out to the Esposito place since I phoned, have you?‖ He

shook his head. ―Well, I don‘t have much on my schedule today, other than a flu clinic

this afternoon. Hopefully that will take care of all the seniors who haven‘t taken
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        162


advantage of the previous clinic we scheduled. Would it be all right if I rode along with

you when you go?‖

        ―I‘d welcome the company. We‘ll head out there as soon as you finish your

coffee. Oh, before it slips my mind, have you notified those Bad-Ass people about the

Esposito family? Do you think there is any kind of connection?‖

        Connie looked surprised for a moment then said, ―TECBAD you mean? Lane, I

don‘t know if I‘m supposed to be talking to you about TECBAD. As deputy coroner, I

am required to touch base with them in certain circumstances, as is the sheriff‘s

department, but I‘m not sure if I‘m allowed to discuss it.‖

        Lane looked as perplexed as anyone could. ―Well, what is this?‖ he asked.

―Some alien conspiracy like you read about in the tabloids? I know TECBAD is located

south of here. Like anybody else, I see the UFO shows on the Discovery channel. I

know where Area 51 is, or approximately where it is. Why do you have to report unusual

deaths to TECBAD?‖

        Connie decided to be stubborn. ―I don‘t mean to exclude you from anything,

Lane. Let me ask my boss first, okay? Then, if there‘s something I‘m free to discuss

with you, I‘ll be happy to tell you. Is that fair?‖

        ―Well, it looks like that‘s all I‘m going to get out of you, so I guess it‘ll have to

do for now. Just remember, I‘m not holding anything out on you. I suspect I‘m going to

need your help before I can close this case. So please return the courtesy and don‘t hold

anything back from me. Okay?‖

        Connie smiled and took his hand. ―When have I ever held out on you, Lane?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       163




                                             Chapter 5



        Dana Wheaton had arranged with Beth Brenner to take her last class of the

afternoon. Dana wanted to get home early because she was preparing a celebration

dinner. After a year and a half teaching in this one-horse town, a year and a half after

meeting Paul Rosen, they had decided to tie the knot and get married. It hadn‘t taken

more than a month after they met for Paul to find his way into her bed, but neither was

sure that they wanted to make the relationship more permanent. Then, after they had

made love last night, lying in bed and basking in the sensual afterglow of their love

making, Paul asked her to marry him.

        ―Of course I will,‖ she replied. ―But are you sure that is what you want, Paul?‖

        He pulled the covers up over their naked bodies. ―I‘m one hundred percent sure

that I‘m sick and tired of sneaking out of your house late at night,‖ he said. ―You may

not have noticed, but lately I‘ve had to scrape the ice off my windshield just so I can

drive a block and a half to get home and into my own bed.‖

        The remark was typical of Paul. She knew that both of them were madly in love

and wanted to get married, but Paul, playing the confirmed bachelor, needed a pretense

before taking the plunge. Dana didn‘t care. He had asked and she had accepted. Tonight

she planned a special dinner and they had invited Thad and Bess, Steve and Rose, and

they would celebrate and drink wine, and Paul could spend every night from now on in

her bed.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        164


          There wasn‘t time for her to go shopping and fix something really fancy, so she

planned a tossed salad, spaghetti, and garlic toast. She was fortunate that Paul had an

unopened half gallon bottle of Chianti, and she had another that was nearly full. Driving

home from school she had stopped at Art‘s and picked up a day-old loaf of French bread.

She made her own spread by mincing fresh garlic into a small tub of margarine and

nuking it in the micro-wave on low power, then setting it aside to cool. Every once in

awhile, as she prepared dinner, she would stick a knife into it and give it a stir. By the

time she had set the table, lit the candles, made the sauce, prepared the pasta and tossed

the salad, the spread was firm enough to spread on thick slices which she placed under

the broiler until they were toasted to perfection.

          Paul arrived first, bringing the full bottle of Chianti with him. He put his arms

around his love and kissed her thoroughly and asked what he could do to help?

          ―Just stay out of the kitchen,‖ she said. ―It isn‘t big enough for the both of us.‖

Paul had to agree with that. Dana‘s rented house comprised two bedrooms, with a

comfortable living room and dining room combination, but the kitchen was only a tiny

alcove.

          ―You‘re right,‖ he said. ―There isn‘t room enough to swing a cat in here. I‘ll stay

in the living room where I can watch the news and greet our guests.‖

          ―Fine,‖ she said. Her orange and yellow patchwork cat brushed against her legs

and nearly tripped her. ―Dammit!‖ she shouted. ―I sure chose the right name for you.

Shoo! Go bother Paul, Dammit, or I‘ll let him swing you around the living room. At

least there‘s room enough in there.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      165


       Paul caught only a snatch of her remark while a commercial was blaring in his

ears. He tuned the receiver down and said, ―What‘s that?‖

       ―Oh, Dammit is getting underfoot as usual. I‘m trying to get him to go where you

can swing him around the room.‖

       ―I doubt he‘d appreciate that much,‖ Paul said.

       ―Well, why do people use that term then?‖

       ―It‘s an old nautical term. In the early days of sail, ship‘s discipline was usually

enforced with a ‗cat-o-nine tails‘. Room enough to swing a cat meant on the open deck,

where punishments were held. Cat got your tongue? implied that a sailor was afraid of

being lashed if he spoke. Letting the cat out of the bag meant to remove it from the

leather bag in which it was usually kept, which could be pretty threatening by itself."

       ―I‘m impressed,‖ she said while peeking around the kitchen corner. ―From where

do you acquire such trivia?‖

       ―From a lot of sleepless nights reading pulp fiction or anything that‘ll tire me

enough so I can get to sleep, as opposed to tossing and turning for hours.‖

       ―I‘ve never known you to toss and turn,‖ she said mischievously.

       ―That‘s because you always wear me out. Wait until we‘ve been married a few

years and you are bored with me.‖

       ―A few years?‖ she teased. ―Don‘t you mean a few decades?‖

       ―Well, one can hope, can‘t one? Say, Steve and Rose are driving up.‖

        The Dunlop‘s drove a mini-van six years old. Twenty years ago it would have

been a station wagon. Any family with two kids and a Saint Bernard dog needs a roomy

vehicle when they travel. Currently, mini-vans were in vogue. Steve got out on the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    166


driver‘s side and came around to open the door for Rose. He gave her his hand and

helped her out. Rose Dunlop was nearly five-ten and thin enough to be mistaken for one

of those New York super models. Tonight she wore short heels, which made her only

four inches taller than her husband.

        Paul opened the door as they came up the walk. They were a striking couple who

had met while in college in Indiana. Even after nine years of marriage and two children,

it was easy to see they were still eminently pleased with life and marriage. Paul pushed

open the screen-door and Steve stood aside to allow Rose to enter. She did so with all the

grace of a princess being presented to royalty at the ball. Steve helped her off with her

cape of royal blue velvet. Beneath it she wore a slinky ankle-length dress of silver lamé

with a bodice cut almost illegally low. Her hair was piled high and held with a pearl

tipped pin. Her face bore just a hint of makeup. A triple strand of simulated pearls

graced her throat, complimenting the simple pearl-drop earrings she wore. She was a

perfect example of understated elegance.

        Paul stepped back to take it all in. ―Yeah,‖ Steve said proudly, ―somebody call

the fire department.‖

        ―Rose,‖ Paul whispered, ―if you ever get tired of a fussy mathematics teacher, I‘ll

take care of you, and your children, and your dog.‖

        Rose giggled. ―You mean, if Dana will let you, don‘t you?‖

        Paul snapped his fingers and feigned a scowl. ―Darn! I knew there was

something I forgot.‖

        ―Besides, she‘s much too hot for you to handle, Paul,‖ Dana said coming from the

kitchen. ―Rose, you look like why the riot started. Absolutely gorgeous!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       167


        ―Yeah, and overdressed too. I know, but Steve just ordered this dress for me

from Frederick‘s and it‘s so seldom we ever go anywhere where I can wear it. You really

don‘t mind, do you?‖

        ―Remind me to ask Paul to buy me one. I sure hope he‘ll look at me the same

way Steve is looking at you after we‘ve been married for nine years.‖

        ―If you ever get tired of the way Steve looks at you, Dana, you can come live

with Rose and me. She‘ll love having another playmate around the house, though we

may have to pack the kid‘s off to the sitter‘s quite a bit more often. Susie Maycliff is

watching them tonight‖

        A horn honked outside as another car pulled up. ―Looks like the Brenner‘s have

arrived,‖ Paul said. ―Now the party can begin in earnest.‖

        ―Paul, get everyone seated and pour them some wine. I‘ve got to set everything

aside so we can gab awhile before dinner.‖

        ―Sure thing, Precious.‖ He went to the front door to greet Thad and Bess.

        ―Please, let me help you, Dana,‖ Rose Dunlop said.

        ―In that wickedly gorgeous dress! Not a chance, you‘ll muss it. Have a seat and

drink some wine. Better yet, stay standing and let Thad get an eyeful. It‘ll drive Bess

bananas!‖ She headed for the kitchen promising to be right back.

        Paul ushered in Thad and Bess, took their coats, and then went to a side table

where the wine and glasses had been set out. He served the ladies and then the men.

Thad Brenner was duly impressed with Rose‘s dress and good naturedly threatened to

steal her away from Steve. ―But you don‘t mind if we wait a few years, do you? Bess

wants me to take time off and go back to UCLA for my masters.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       168


       Bess Brenner was wearing dark brown slacks, a sheer blouse open to the navel,

and with a floral design. When she bent forward to set her glass on the coffee table the

blouse opened permitting an unrestricted view of her charms. She had paid her way

through college as an exotic dancer and liked to show off her well-formed body whenever

the constraints of being a schoolteacher would allow. Her husband had tried to get her to

dress more conservatively but she would have none of it. At school, or shopping around

this dinky town, she promised Thad to dress like Mary Poppins, but when they went to

Vegas, or when they were alone with friends, she would be as risqué as she pleased.

Finding he couldn‘t persuade her otherwise, Thad relaxed to the inevitable and finally

began to enjoy his truly sexual wife.

       Steve, setting across from his wife and next to Bess Brenner could not avoid the

enticing view offered to him. He didn‘t even try and he could see from Bess‘s expression

that she expected him to notice her breasts. She gave him a coy smile.

       Rose Dunlop meanwhile fastened her attention on Paul. ―Paul dear, since my

husband plainly intends to stare at Bess‘s tits as long as she will allow, why don‘t you

come and look at mine?‖ She hooked a ruby tipped fingernail at one side of her plunging

V-neck to pull it over a bit and allow him a more generous view.

       Paul gave no sign that he‘d seen anything at all. All six of the young teachers

were within a few years age of one another and since they all had their vacations at the

same time, they frequently took them together. Last year the three couples had pitched

their tents at a popular clothing optional beach in California, one recommended by Bess

who had gone to college in nearby Santa Cruz. After the Dunlop children were asleep in

their own small tent, the grownups hadn‘t always spent the night in the tent they were
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        169


camping in, or with the partner each had brought. But they were relaxed and friendly

with each other and there was never any hint of jealousy. The friendship and casualness

of the three couples made teaching in this small town more pleasant and less of a job. If

they had been able to find one house large enough for the six of them, plus the two

children of the Dunlop‘s, they probably would have set up communal housekeeping, if

there had been any way to hide the arrangement from the local towns folk.

        In the kitchen Dana drained the pasta into a colander, rinsed it, and poured it back

in the cooking pot. She added a generous amount of olive oil and tossed it just enough to

make sure every bit of pasta received at least a small coating. Idly, she listened to the

chatter in the living room. She envied Bess and Rose. Both ladies seemed to be so alive

and to enjoy sex and loving so very much. Dana looked at sex as a chore, a pleasant one,

but a chore nonetheless. She never felt the lusty exuberance for a sexual romp the other

ladies seemed to possess. Still, if Paul wanted his true love to behave as a slut, she could

do that. She loved him very much and wanted to please him in every way. If sleeping

with his friends while he made love to their wives made him happy, then she would make

the most of it and try to be happy too.

        ―It isn‘t making love,‖ he had told her. ―It‘s simply sharing sex. It‘s a basic

human feeling and desire that nature has made pleasurable to both sexes. In some

cultures, past and present, polygamy and polyandry have been normal and accepted.

Monogamy is a male invention, designed to insure that property and titles were passed

father to first-born son. It is an unnatural way of living fostered by a patriarchal society.

I subscribe to the original Polynesian sexual mores.‖

        ―And what were they?‖ she had innocently asked.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        170


        ―In Polynesia, before the coming of the missionaries, sex was considered a

natural and pleasant expression of friendship and caring. The concept of bastardy was

unknown. Since title and property were handed down through the matriarchal lineage, no

one ever felt concerned with who a child‘s father might have been. Because maternity

could never be questioned, each and every child became a cherished member of the clan.

Each and every coupling of man and woman became a happy event, whether it produced

offspring or not. Any male who treated a woman callously or with disrespect, soon found

he was no longer welcome or invited to the party. He may even have been exiled, or at

the least forced into a life of celibacy, perhaps as a village priest or shaman. His line

soon died out. Brutishness tends to be self correcting if nature is allowed to take its

course.‖

        Dana wasn‘t sure that she accepted Paul‘s view of life and marriage. She had

been raised with the fairy tale notion that a man and woman married and lived happily

ever after. Pragmatically, she knew that view to be the exception more than the rule. In

Paul‘s polyamorous view of life, couples could remain together because they were true

friends who cared for each other, even if their sex life was nonexistent. Sex was always

available anywhere else within the tribe or clan and there was no need for a couple to

break up a relationship that worked, just to find one that was both sexually fulfilling as

well as socially acceptable. She had to admit, Paul‘s idea appeared to give women more

equality in the social structure than in the predominantly male oriented culture she had

grown up with.

        She admitted she was confused. Paul was the one with a degree in sociology and

she could submit to his lead in that area. Since Thad and Bess, Steve and Rose seemed to
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     171


agree with him, maybe she was the one who failed to understand the world, as it could be.

In any event, she could happily allow Paul his trysts while submitting to the grunts and

groans of men who were intimate friends, even if she didn‘t love them. At least, in this

modern day and age, pregnancy was a matter of choice and not the result of accidents.

       She transferred the pasta to a serving dish and carried it to the table. In the living

room she found Paul playing with Bess‘s breasts while she kissed Steve and massaged his

crotch. Rose was involved in some heavy petting with Thad. No one seemed to notice to

Dana‘s presence. She cleared her throat and announced, ―Well, you all seem to be

enjoying the hors d‟ouvres. Bring your wine to the table; dinner is served.‖

       Dana seated herself and began serving tossed salads all around. The five adults

found seats and dug in for what turned out to be an enjoyable meal.

       Into his second helping of spaghetti, Thad Brenner paused to ask Paul. ―I say

Paul, now that you and Dana are tying the knot, does this mean I am no longer welcome

to sleep with her?‖

       ―Of course not!‖ Paul said. ―It merely means we‘re adopting you and Bess into

our family.‖ He raised his wine glass and winked at Bess as he took a sip.

       ―Why, Thad Brenner,‖ Dana exclaimed. ―How dare you sully my reputation by

hinting that you‘ve slept with me.‖

       ―From what Paul and I heard when we were camping at the beach, you and Thad

never slept a wink!‖ Rose said. ―And you‘re such a screamer and moaner, it‘s a miracle

you didn‘t wake the kids!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      172


        ―It‘s no miracle,‖ Bess Brenner said. ―Steve and I couldn‘t hear a thing over the

noise you and Paul were making.‖ The playful badinage continued throughout the meal.

Later, Rose and Bess helped Dana clear the table and do the dishes.

        ―Dana,‖ Rose asked, ―this dress is fine for getting the fellows all stirred up, but I

sure would hate to muss it up doing dishes. Do you mind if I take it off?‖

        ―Of course not, Rose. I expect we‘ll all be naked before the evening gets much

later anyway.‖ She giggled.

        Rose untied the halter-top of her gown, slid it down over her waist and stepped

out of it. Beneath it she wore only a pair of panty hose.

        ―Must get a little drafty,‖ Bess commented.

        ―No problem, Bess, I can always get Thad to keep me warm.‖

        ―If I didn‘t love you so much, you round-heeled slut, I‘d be jealous over a remark

like that. But then, as long as you let me borrow Steve, I guess everything works out

even.‖ She undid the buttons on her slacks and slid them off her shapely legs then

unbuttoned her nearly invisible blouse and took it off also. ―Hand me that dress kiddo,

and I‘ll lay our things out on Dana‘s bed.‖

        ―Oh, not the bed,‖ Dana said. ―I think it will be occupied before much longer.

Give me your things and I‘ll hang them in the closet. I want to get out of these duds too.‖

She gathered her friends‘ clothes in her arms and went to the bedroom to hang

everything. When she returned, she was as naked as were they, save they were all

wearing heels.

        Doing the dishes turned out to be a game with lots of laughing, playful slapping

and tickling, and quite a bit of splashed water.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    173


        ―Are you going to be borrowing my husband later?‖ Bess asked Rose.

        ―I think not, tonight. I‘d like to go down on Paul this time, give him a real good

send off before he and Dana tie the knot.‖

        ―Bess,‖ Dana suggested, ―why don‘t you and Rose both do Paul? I can handle

Thad and Steve at the same time, and it‘ll be lots of fun to watch the three of you, don‘t

you think?‖

        Bess and Rose looked at each other and nodded. They each put an arm around

the other‘s waist and smiled.

        ―We‘ll give him a great time,‖ Rose said.

        ―I‘ll suck him dry if Rose will get me off,‖ Bess said.

        All three of the women giggled. Hand in hand they left the tiny kitchen and went

into the living room where Paul had put some hard-core porno on the VCR and they were

all watching Dana‘s twenty-seven inch TV. As chance would have it, Paul had chosen to

sit on Dana‘s love seat while Thad and Steve occupied the larger sofa. Rose and Bess

went to sit with Paul, one on his lap and one very close beside him. Dana lit a dozen

scented candles placed throughout the room and sprinkled a potpourri she had bought at

Art‘s Exxon on several of them. Then she turned out the lights and sat between Thad and

Steve. While Steve was rolling a joint she began helping Thad out of his shirt and pants.

Bess and Rose had already stripped Paul and Bess was pushing her large breasts into his

face. Rose‘s tits were hardly larger than lemons, but they were beautiful and she showed

them off to good advantage. She was rubbing them on Paul‘s thighs while she took him

in her mouth.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       174


       Dana ignored the antics of a naked threesome on the TV and gave her

concentration to Thad and Steve. She leaned far back on the sofa with her head in

Steve‘s lap while she lifted one nude leg and hooked it behind Brad‘s neck, pulling his

face down between her thighs. His tongue entered her and she felt an electric tingle

pulsing through her body.

       She found her heart was racing and the blood was pounding in her ears. She felt

sure Thad and Steve must hear. Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

       Steve took a deep drag of the marijuana joint. He held it in his lungs

momentarily then pressed his lips to hers and forced the potent vapors deep into her lungs

while lightly caressing the tip of her nipples with his fingertips. She drew the smoke in

deeply and held it while the two men teased and excited her. ―Oh, God! This is

heavenly!‖ she thought to herself. Paul has always been right; it‘s just that I‘m such a

slow starter. She gave herself over to the ministrations of her two lovers and relaxed into

a warm ecstasy. The small house with its windows and doors shut tightly against the

chill outside was filled with the aroma of basil and oregano from their dinner. Slowly the

fragrant herbs and petals of Granny Titus‘s Potpourri pushed them aside and filled the air

with an exotic aroma.

       Dana soon felt she could have been the centerpiece in some tribal ritual with

pounding drums in the background, boom-boom-boom-boompity! Overlaying that

rhythm she imagined a room full of orgiastic revelers chanting to the beat, ―Hey-yanh-

yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ She tried to take the beat deep within her soul and use its pounding

fury to bring herself to an over powering climax.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     175


        Steve lifted Dana‘s head and shoulders enough to be able to ease her head from

his lap so he could more easily remove his shirt and slacks. He loomed over her, pressing

his hips towards her face until she could take him into her mouth, which she did greedily.

She tickled his scrotum with her fingertips and drew them sensuously toward the tip of

his penis while she tickled and teased it with swift darting movements of her tongue. She

inhaled the muskiness of his body, swallowing it as she did the salty sweetness of his

seminal fluids. The taste drove her to new heights of eroticism and she pulled with her

fingers as she sucked ever harder, at the same time arching her hips and pressing Thad‘s

face harder and harder into her pelvis. She wanted to feel his tongue ever deeper and

deeper inside her while he used his lips to gently massage the love button of her clitoris.

She moaned with pleasure and was rewarded as both men strove harder and harder to

please her.

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        From the corner of her eye she could see Bess and Rose had moved Paul onto the

thickly carpeted floor. Rose was straddling Paul‘s hips while Bess straddled his head and

embrace Rose. The girls were facing each other and kissing deeply while grinding their

hips against Paul with their excited lust. Watching them, Dana felt her passion smolder

and churn, as might a long dormant volcano just before a tremendous explosion. Thad

extricated his head from between her thighs and rearranged himself on the sofa until his

throbbing member could plunge deeply within her. She felt herself soaring higher and

higher and sucked harder and harder on Steve until, at last, the three of them

simultaneously exploded in a rushing climax more intense than any she had ever felt

before. Her mouth was suddenly filled as Steve‘s penis spurted the juices of his love into
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    176


her. She put both hands on his buttocks and pulled him harder and harder to her face,

holding him tightly so as not to lose a single drop as she both licked and sucked his rock-

hard shaft. Her legs found their way around Thad‘s hips and she gripped him tightly,

driving his pulsing member deeper and deeper into her. She was in bliss!

        And still the rhythmic orgy continued in her mind. Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        When the two men had spent themselves completely they pulled away from her

and she could set up straight and put an arm around each of them. She held them warmly

as nimble tongues lapped at her nipples.

        ―You guys are all the most wonderful friends in the world,‖ she said.

        ―You‘re a pretty close friend yourself,‖ Thad complimented her.

        Steve whispered into her ear, ―I always thought Rose could give the world‘s

greatest head, but Ill have to admit you and she are tied for first place.‖

        Neither Rose nor Bess paid any attention to the trio on the sofa. Rose was

moving her hips faster and faster while the cheeks of her buttocks slapped against Paul's

thighs. Bess was enjoying her own ecstasy as she pushed her ample breasts against

Rose‘s smaller ones. Their soul kissing grew deeper and longer. Dana and her two

lovers watched the three on the floor with growing arousal. Dana let her hands drop into

their laps and found both men were erect again. She manipulated them up and down,

arousing them more and more until she could bend her neck first to one and then to the

other. They both rose to their feet and arched their hips toward her as she took them both

into her mouth. The unexpected and forbidden feeling of penile contact with each other

excited both men while Dana tickled and teased them with her tongue and the warm
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      177


moistness of her mouth. In a few moments each was ejaculating a second time, though

not with the same intensity of passion as they had before. Dana lustily swallowed their

small offerings of love. Even if she wasn‘t a natural born wanton like her friends Bess

and Rose, she could play the part well enough to drive two men to delirium with her

sexuality. She lay back, satiated and happy with her performance.

        By now Paul and his two girls were satisfied with each other. Bess and Rose

drew their legs beneath them as they kneeled beside the coffee table while Paul rolled

another joint. He lit up and they began passing the joint around. Bess, still kneeling,

crawled to a spot in front of Steve and passed him the joint while she put her mouth over

his now flaccid penis and tried to urge him to erection again. Steve inhaled deeply and

passed the joint to Dana and Thad. Bess smiled up at him.

        ―I guess Dana did a real good job on you fella, Big-Titty-Bess can‘t get a rise out

of you. First time that‘s happened.‖ She drew the back of her right hand across her face

wiping away a little stickiness.

        ―Don‘t tease him, Bess,‖ Rose said. ―He‘ll come around again soon. Steve has

never believed Once a king, always a king, but once a night is enough. Thank goodness

for me.‖

        ―And me!‖ Dana chimed in. ―Hey, would you two she-cats let me get at my man

for a minute? This is supposed to be our party but you guys have been doing all the

celebrating.‖

        ―And you haven‘t?‖ Rose asked. ―Just let me get at Thad, I‘m not nearly finished

yet.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     178


        Dana took the joint from Thad and got down on the floor with Paul while Rose

crawled to the sofa and began pressing her small tits into Thad‘s face, moving them left

and right, first one and then the other. At the same time she let her nimble fingers tickle

his scrotum and the faint beginnings of an erection appeared again.

        Dana surprised herself by how much she was enjoying this evening‘s fun. She

was barely getting started and yet, she was beginning to fear the evening would end too

soon. She wanted to experience sex now with Paul. Later she would encourage a three-

some with Bess and Rose. The guys always loved watching their women do each other.

There was no reason that their evening couldn‘t continue into the small hours of the

morning. She wouldn‘t let it come to an end! Some inner voice told her that the more

she threw herself into this sensual orgy the more Paul would want her and love her. The

more the two of them shared with their four friends, the deeper their love would bind

them. She didn't want anything to end this evening of pleasure!

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        Dana took a final drag on the rapidly diminishing roach and handed it to Paul.

While he pulled a final toke deep into his lungs, she began nibbling his scrotum and

tickling his penis with her slender fingers. She was really beginning to enjoy this evening

of revelry and she wanted to have Paul‘s cock deep inside her; forever. More intensely

than ever, she wanted to feel him deeper and deeper, way up inside of her. She put her

lips over the shaft of his manhood and took him deeply into her mouth. So deeply that

she thought she might gag, but still she took him even deeper and deeper, and finally she

bit down with all her might and severed that member from his body!
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     179


        Paul cried out in fright and terror! He tried to scramble backwards away from

her. At first there was no pain and then it exploded inside his head like a star going nova.

He looked at her smugly grinning face and the blood dripping from her lips and down to

her breasts. As he did so she removed the still pulsing appendage from her mouth and lay

back on her elbows, pulling up both knees until she could insert the penis into her vagina.

It was nearly flaccid now, the blood rapidly draining away, but she managed to get it

between the thickly lubricated folds of her skin and with three fingers she pushed it in as

deep as she could. All the while she smiled with an evil ferocity he had never seen

before, and would never see again.

        When she could push it in no further she grabbed a nearby candle, as thick as her

wrist. With one hand she inserted the base of the candle into her while her other hand

spread the lips of her vagina as wide as possible. The candle was about six inches long

and soon its entire length had disappeared within her. With her fingers she still tried to

push it deeper and deeper.

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        Paul heard a cry from Steve and saw that Bess was furiously biting down on his

penis, as Dana had done to him. But Steve was quicker and not so surprised as Paul. He

swung his left hand in a powerful fist, connecting with her temple and sending her

sprawling until she was knocked into Paul. She quickly rolled over and found her head

almost in Paul‘s bloody lap. With one hand grasped his bloody scrotum beneath the

stump of his penis still pumping out his life‘s blood. She jerked swiftly trying to get her

mouth at his testicles. Paul reached behind him and grasped an ornamental wrought-iron

lamp. He wrapped his fingers around its slender shaft and swung it at Bess‘ head. The
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    180


lampshade crumpled and softened the blow. He reversed his grip and swung again with

all the force he could muster. There was a crunch as the bones of her skull split and she

stiffened with a brief spasm and a shard of bone impaled her brain. Then she went limp

and collapsed across his legs.

        Meanwhile Rose had pulled Thad off the sofa and onto the floor. She was

pressing his face to one tiny breast while Thad‘s teeth gnashed viciously at the pink

rosette surrounding the nipple, and she was smiling! She was enjoying the pain as his

teeth ripped the breast from her torso!

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        Thad was growling like a wolf, his teeth and lips dripping blood. Rose pulled his

mouth from one mutilated breast and fastened it on the other. ―More!‖ she cried. ―More!

Eat me! EAT ME!‖

        Steve finally sprang into action. Now that he had gotten Bess off of him he

jumped on Thad‘s back, pulling him from his wife and sending the two of them rolling

toward the wall. Rose screamed as Thad‘s teeth tore a bite size morsel from her tit.

―Come back here, you fucker!‖ she yelled. ―I want to give you more! All of me!‖ She

tried to crawl after the two men but Dana pushed her on her side and pressed herself full

length on Rose‘s body.

        Dana buried her teeth into the soft, fuzzy flesh between Rose‘s thighs. She

gnashed her teeth and pulled away three-inch strip of hair and flesh. Rose screamed a

high pitched wailing and used her hands to force Dana‘s face against her again as Dana

quickly chewed and swallowed the morsel of flesh. ―Aaagh! Yes!‖ Rose screamed.

―Eat me! Eat me! EAT ME!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     181


       Dana took another bite and another while Rose screamed and screamed with a

mixture of pain and pleasure. The entire room was a madhouse of screaming, cursing,

bleeding bodies. Paul was moaning limply while the life drained from him. Bess lay

dead across his legs, one eye smashed shut, the other glaring obscenely and unblinking at

him. Her mouth was rigidly set with the rictus of pain.

       Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

       Thad and Steve rolled over and over until Steve‘s back fetched up against the

edge of Dana‘s fireplace and one hand landed among the glowing coals. He screamed

and gave a mighty push which drove Thad back and allowed Steve to regain his feet.

Quickly he grabbed a poker from the fireplace tools and swung it at Thad. The first blow

knocked Thad senseless and the second blow left a deep, bleeding gash in his forehead.

Steve swung again and shattered Thad‘s skull.

       He heard his wife scream again and whirled to where Dana was still biting and

tearing and ripping away Rose‘s genitals. With a roar of rage he lifted the bloody poker

and plunged it straight down into Dana‘s back. The force of his blow was so swift and

violent Dana hardly had time to utter a sound as the poker tore through her left lung and

pierced her heart, but there was a scream, long, high-pitched, and drawn out. The poker

had gone completely through Dana and deep into Rose's intestines. She screamed again

and the scream ended with a frothy groan with blood gushing from her mouth. When the

last gasp had left her lungs, Rose‘s eyes glazed over and she died.

       Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

       Steve let go of the poker and settled into the love seat. His eyes could hardly

comprehend the carnage and gore before him. They had been three loving and highly
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     182


sexed couples. They had shared a good dinner and celebrated the coming marriage of

Paul and Dana. Now, of the six, only he remained alive.

        Although he was the only one left alive, Steve was certain he felt a presence in

the room with him. He was not alone. There was something evil and sinister here. What

it was, he hadn‘t a clue. He sensed evil. He sensed death. He felt a loathing and an

impending sense of dread. He got up from the love seat and went to the kitchen. Dana‘s

cutlery was neatly arrayed in a butcher-block stand on the counter. He selected the

largest and tested its sharpness with his thumb. He knew that it would make a poor

weapon with which to face the unknown, but it was better than nothing. He went back to

the living room and sat down on the love seat again. His mind raced like an engine at full

throttle with the clutch in, revving up to a furious pitch. He eased back in the chair with

the butcher knife across his bloody thighs. He closed his eyes and surrendered to the

unknown fear he felt, waiting for whatever would come next.

        Boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      183




                                          Chapter 6



        Lane treated Tutu and Connie to dinner again at Art‘s that evening. After dinner

they drove to Martin‘s video. Tutu picked out a comedy and Connie chose a romance.

Lane couldn‘t remember whether or not there was any microwave popcorn remaining at

home, so he bought a three-pak. It was nearly seven when they got home and hung up

their coats. Tutu turned on the TV and popped her comedy into the VCR, thus settling

which movie would be watched first.

        Lane didn‘t mind. Tutu had quietly accepted the fact that dad had a new woman

in his life and she would probably find Connie seated at the breakfast table in the

morning. Having realized that life would go on, she decided to watch her movie and then

head for bed. If she didn‘t get up by six-thirty to fix breakfast, she‘d be late for school.

        Connie settled herself on the sofa. Lane brought them each a diet Pepsi and then

retreated to the kitchen to make popcorn in the microwave. While he was listening to the

kernels pop he also heard Tutu and Connie laughing in the front room. Connie had

wisely settled into the role of an older friend to Tutu while Tutu had decided that she

could do well in the role of little sister. As such, she would probably have more time for

her own interests and Connie would keep dad out of her hair. Parents could sometimes

put an awful damper on the plans a young woman made.

        Lane poured the popcorn into two bowls, a big one for Connie and himself, and a

slightly smaller one for Tutu. He found Tutu in her favorite spot, sprawled on the floor

perpendicular to the television with a throw pillow under her right arm. He set her bowl
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      184


of popcorn within easy reach and dropped onto one end of the sofa. Connie promptly

snuggled up close and he draped an arm across her shoulder while they munched popcorn

and watched the movie. Lane had missed the early moments of the movie but it seemed

to be about two brothers who had inherited a worthless business and a house even more

worthless. Together they decided they would sell the house and use the money to fix up

the business so they could sell that for a handsome profit.

        There only problem was a small mouse in the house who considered it his by

squatters rights. The two ditzy brothers ended up destroying the house trying to get the

mouse, then decided to take him in as a partner and turned their losing business into a

successful cheese manufacturing firm with the mouse as a technical advisor.

        As a story, it was childishly simple. But the director had achieved some really

spectacular effects using trained mice and putting in some incredible computer animation.

Lane found himself laughing a lot more than he had expected he would. During the

credits of the movie the phone rang and Lane excused himself to answer it.

        Fred Silverman‘s mother Rachel was on the line. Fred was one of the older

students at Tutu‘s school.

        ―Sheriff Mauler? We live over here on Rhyolite, about two blocks down past the

school, you know?‖

        ―Yes, Mrs. Silverman. Remember? I‘m the one who drove Fred home the day he

sprained his ankle at soccer practice after school. Now, what can I do for you?‖

        ―Well, I try and mind my own business in the neighborhood, you know? I‘m not

one to stick my nose in where it‘s not wanted. Now, that young teacher, Dana Wheaton

lives just two doors down and across the street. Early this evening her boyfriend pulled
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      185


up and got out with a bottle of wine. I expected they were having dinner together. And

then those two other couples also drove up, you know, the other teachers, the Brenner‘s

and the Dunlop‘s? It looked as though they were all having dinner at Miss Wheaton‘s.

About an hour and a half ago all the lights went down low, and just a little while ago Fred

and I heard what sounded like screaming over there, and maybe someone kicking up a

ruckus like they were having a fight or something? I wish you‘d come take a look, would

you Sheriff?‖

        Lane didn‘t fancy going out at this time of night for what was essentially just a

loud party. ―Are they still making a lot of noise, Mrs. Silverman?‖

        ―No, not now, it‘s quiet as a cemetery. That‘s what‘s got me spooked. It‘s

unnaturally quiet over there, and the lights are still turned way down low.‖

        ―Okay, okay. It‘ll take me about five minutes to get dressed and another few to

get there. I‘ll see you then.‖ He hung up and went back into the living room. ―Sorry

ladies. Duty calls. I don‘t think it‘s much but I‘ve got to check it out. I‘ll be back in a

few minutes, okay?‖

        ―Fine,‖ Connie said. ―I‘ll fix us more popcorn while Tutu rewinds the video, and

we‘ll have it all ready to start the next movie when you get home.‖

        ―You‘re sure you don‘t mind me leaving?‖ Lane asked.

        ―Go!‖ Tutu said emphatically. ―Connie and I will be all right here at home, and

the sooner you leave, the sooner you‘ll get back, right?‖ She snorted with disgust and

looked to Connie for sympathy. ―Men! Do they seriously think we women can‘t spend a

night at home without their help?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          186


        Connie joked back at her. ―I guess we‘ll just have to show him that over

protection can be just as bad as none at all, right? Go, Lane.‖ She blew a kiss at him.

―We‘ll be right here when you get back.‖

        Lane crossed the room to her and gave her a quick hug and a peck on the cheek.

―Okay. Don‘t let her majesty stay up too late, she has school tomorrow. You hear,

squirt?‖

        ―Salaam, master. To hear is to obey.‖ She got to her feet and put away the tape

which had just finished rewinding. ―If you can stand it here by yourself, Connie, I was

going to run on up to bed as soon as this movie was over anyway. Okay?‖

        ―Sure, dear. Sleep tight. I‘ll wait up for your dad.‖

        Tutu surprised her dad by going over and giving Connie a hug and then heading

up the stairs. Lane looked at Connie and shrugged with an expression of ―Who knows?‖

on his face. He blew her a kiss and grabbed his weapon and leather as he went out the

door. He wasn‘t in uniform but he did have the county blue and white and everybody in

town knew him by sight anyway.

        The short drive over to Rhyolite Street took about three minutes. Mrs. Silverman

was standing near the street in front of her house and waved Lane to a stop. He stepped

out of the car and greeted her with a smile. ―Hi, Mrs. Silverman, which house is it?‖ he

asked and glanced across the street.

        The one with four cars parked in front, deputy. It‘s got a brick front painted

brown and the trim is beige, though I guess it‘s pretty hard to tell in the dark like this.

You know, I was talking to Ralph Martin the last time I was over renting a video, and we

thought maybe we could get some streetlights in this town if we….‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     187


        ―Yes, ma‘am, streetlights would probably be a big help. But they cost quite a bit

to install, then there‘s the yearly upkeep, and it seems kids throwing rocks, or some

yahoo celebrating his latest six-pack frequently bust them. Could get quite expensive, I

guess. Now, which house did you say it was?‖ Lane hated the continual prattle which

seemed to be required to keep on good terms with some people. It was though they had

no communication in their life and were always on the lookout for someone to talk with,

even if they had little or nothing to talk about.

        ―The brown one,‖ this time she pointed.

        As Lane turned his glance in the direction she pointed, he saw a figure detach

itself from the darkness and approach them. He almost reached for his pistol before he

recognized Mrs. Silverman‘s teenage son, Fred. The boy was breathing heavily and ran

to his mother's side.

        ―I think you better call for a doctor, mom. There‘s lots of blood on the floors and

walls over there. I was peeking through the window and I could see a man sitting in a

chair with lots of blood on him. There might have been one or two people on the floor

too, but there are only some candles for light and I couldn‘t see too well.‖

        ―Fred,‖ Lane said, ―go inside and call my house. Dr. Conried was having dinner

with us tonight and is still there. Tell her to grab her bag and jump in her car and get over

here as quickly as possible. Do that for me, will you?‖

        Fred was already half way to his front door. Lane yelled after him, ―And stay

inside after you‘ve called! There could be trouble out here.‖ He looked at Mrs.

Silverman. ―I think you should go inside also. The doctor will see my car and I‘ll leave
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     188


the emergency lights on. The best thing for you to do is wait inside. Will you do that for

me? Now?‖

        She nodded and silently backed away. So much for step one, Lane told himself.

Contain the situation. Well, he had gotten innocent bystanders out of the way, now he

needed to find out what was really happening. He reached through the open driver‘s side

door of his blue and white and switched on the light bar. Connie couldn‘t help but see

the flashing lights and would not drive past. Grabbing his three-cell flashlight he moved

across the street so the headlights of his car weren‘t directly illuminating him and

approached the brown house.

        The inside was only dimly lit as the Silverman kid had said. Hardly a glow could

be seen between the curtains. He recognized the four cars parked in front of the house.

The blue beetle was Paul Rosen‘s. Dana Wheaton‘s silver-gray Nissan was parked

behind the beetle. Next in line was the Dunlop‘s mini-van and last was the Brenner‘s

Camaro. It didn‘t take a rocket scientist to figure that the teacher‘s were having a party,

but what kind? Had it somehow gotten out of hand? He‘d met them all through Tutu‘s

school activities and had thought them quite settled and sensible.

        A hedge barely two feet tall ran from the street back as far as the front wall of the

brick house. Beyond that it grew four feet tall as it ran down the property line separating

Dana Wheaton‘s property from her neighbors. He shined his light towards the rear of the

property.

        There was no one on this side of the hedge.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      189


        He leaned across the hedge and checked as far back as he could. A wire gate

jutted out from the rear of the house. He saw no sign of a dog. Cautiously he stepped

over the hedge where it was shortest and eased up to a window so he could peer inside.

        There was Steve Dunlop, sitting naked in a love seat watching some porno thing

on the television. His eyes seemed glazed as though he wasn‘t really seeing what was

going on. On the floor next to him was Bess Brenner. She was nude and her head lay in

a wide pool of blood. Rose Dunlop, equally nude was sprawled atop Dana Wheaton with

something projecting from her back. The grisly room was heavily splattered with blood

on the walls, the floor, and the furniture.

        Lane could see a naked pair of legs extending from the wall at the front of the

house into his field of vision, but he couldn‘t get an angle that would let him see to whom

the legs belonged. Assuming there were three couples, and Steve Dunlop was still sitting

in the middle of the room, it had to be either Paul Rosen or Thad Brenner. But it could

also be someone else who had come as a passenger in one of the cars out front. He had

no way of knowing just how many people populated this nightmarish scene.

        God! What the hell had gone on here, some kind of orgy? Were Steve‘s eyes

glazed because he was flying high on some kind of dope? He had no backup and decided

to maintain some distance from the front door.

        He went out to the street and stood on the far side of Dana Wheaton‘s car. Just as

he drew his automatic, jacked a round into the chamber and stretched his arms across the

roof of the Nissan, Connie‘s beige sedan pulled around the corner and screeched to a halt

behind his police unit. She got out, her black bag in her right hand, and began to run to

him crouching low.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      190


          ―Jesus, Lane! What‘s going on here? Freddie said there were bodies all over the

place.‖

          ―Yeah, Connie, there are. And I haven‘t a clue as to what‘s going on. Stay low.

Steve Dunlop is sitting naked in the dark in there and I‘m going to try and call him out.

No one has reported any shots so I don‘t think he‘s armed, but you never know.‖ Connie

ducked down until only the crown of her head was peeking above the hood of Rosen‘s

car.

          ―Dunlop!‖ Lane called. ―Steve Dunlop! This is Deputy Mauler out here. I want

you to come to the front door and step outside for me. We need to get medical help to

your friends, but I have to know the doctor will be safe in there.‖

          ―G‘way,‖ came a muffled reply. Then it grew louder as Dunlop stood and

approached the front door. He jerked it open and yelled at Lane and Connie. ―Go away,

deputy, now! There‘s nothing but sin and death here, and it‘s too late for you to help

anyone.‖

          ―No, it‘s not, Steve. Come out and let the doctor look you over.‖

          ―No! There‘s too much death here, and evil too! I can smell it. I can taste it. It‘s

coming for me and it‘s too late for you to help. Don‘t you hear it? Boom-boom-boom-

boom-boompity.‖ Dunlop slammed the door with such force that a glass pane in the

mullioned door cracked and pieces tinkled down to the steps. He went to the kitchen and

rifled through Dana‘s drawers until he found what he wanted, a ten inch carving knife of

gleaming stainless steel.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     191


        Dunlop could feel the evil permeating this house as though it was as real as a

person and as solid as a wall. He couldn‘t surrender to that evil as his friends had. He

would, he must, destroy it!

        But it was hiding, staying just beyond his vision. He could sense the presence but

couldn‘t see the form. He looked around the kitchen and the tiny laundry room leading to

the back door. He saw nothing.

        In the living room he could see only naked and mutilated bodies of friends he had

known. Friends he had worked with, laughed with, made love with. Dana‘s cat came in

from one of the bedrooms and was sniffing at Thad Brenner‘s corpse. Steve grabbed a

candle from a coffee table and hurled it at the cat, missing by scant inches. The cat

scurried across the dim living room and into the kitchen.

        Dunlop jerked open one bedroom door and flicked on a light. He held knives in

each hand ready to strike down the embodiment of death, but the room was empty. He

went to the other bedroom. The door was already open and he pressed his body tight

against the wall as he reached inside and found the light switch. Brilliance flooded the

room but there was no one there. There was no evil creature for him to attack.

        It must have gotten out when he had the door open! That was it, he convinced

himself. It had gotten out through the open door. Or perhaps it had slithered out through

the windowpane he had broken when he closed it so angrily.

        He jerked the door suddenly open again. ―Did you see it, Lane? Can you get a

shot at it? We‘ve got to kill it before we all die!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     192


        Connie turned a questioning gaze toward Lane. Alternating blue and red lights lit

her face as the lights from his cruiser bathed them in the night. ―What‘s he talking

about?‖ she asked. ―See who? Kill what?‖

        Lane just shrugged. ―Beats me.‖ He stared at the front of Dana Wheaton‘s

house. ―Yeah, Steve. I handcuffed it and locked it in my cruiser.‖ He looked at Connie

and shrugged his head. ―Well, I would have, but I haven‘t seen his boogeyman. I think

he‘s tripping out on something.‖

        The screen door burst open and Dunlop ran naked from the house. He was

holding a large kitchen knife in each hand. Lane reacted instinctively and put a nine-

millimeter slug into the man‘s right shoulder. Dunlop staggered under the three hundred

and forty foot pounds of muzzle energy delivered by the hundred and fifteen grain bullet.

He staggered but remained on his feet. He bellowed with rage but couldn‘t lift the knife

into the air with his wounded shoulder. The most he could do was hold it in front of him

at waist level. He kept coming, his voice a snarling growl while he slashed the air with

the knife in his left hand. Lane fired again, a bullet hit Steve in the right kneecap. This

time he went down but not for long. In twelve years as a law enforcement officer, Lane

had never seen a man walk on a shattered knee but Steve Dunlop managed to. The pain

must have been unbelievable, but whatever drugs he was on gave him superhuman

endurance and he staggered toward Connie and Lane again. He continued brandishing

the knife while yelling, ―Kill him! Got to kill him!‖

        Lane fired a third time hitting Dunlop in the left knee. The man went down again

and stayed down. He flailed on the ground striking out with both knives all around him.

Lane ran around the rear of the car and came up on Dunlop from his blind side. He
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    193


swung a heavy boot at the knife in the wounded man‘s left hand and sent it flying. He

pinned the right hand to the ground with his foot and wrested the second knife from

Dunlop‘s grasp. Then he flopped the man over on his stomach and bent the injured right

arm behind him, pinning it at the waist with his knee. He reached for his ‗cuffs with his

left hand and snapped one bracelet around the man‘s left wrist and pulled it tightly behind

his back until he could snap the other bracelet to the right wrist. Dunlop was now

subdued.

       ―Watch it, Connie! This guy could still hurt you. I‘ve got to check the house.‖

       Lane sprinted for the door and glanced inside while holding his weapon at the

ready. Connie moved around the front of the car and approached to where Dunlop laid

writhing and kicking on the ground. She stopped just beyond his reach and set her bag on

the ground, opened it and took out a hypodermic and a vial of liquid.

       Lane cautiously peered into the house. There was no movement he could see.

His free hand found a light switch and he flicked it on. Christ what carnage!

       There were five bodies, three women and two men. He checked the nearest

bedroom briefly and continued to the next. Nothing. He stepped around or over bodies

and checked the kitchen. Nothing. In the laundry room he found a patchwork cat

nibbling dry kibble from a dish. The cat paused and gave Lane the once over.

Apparently it didn‘t like what it saw for it snarled and hissed and ran behind the washing

machine.

       Seeing no danger, Lane holstered his weapon and went back to the living room.

Something was niggling him somewhere just outside his stream of consciousness. Some

danger warning! The same feeling he‘d had when he‘d checked the Winscott place.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    194


        He knelt over the first mutilated corpse. Paul Rosen. Someone had castrated

him. Good heavens, no! It hadn‘t been a quick, neat slice with a knife. Someone had

bitten the man‘s cock off! Lane felt both sick and frightened as the muscles in his own

groin tightened.

        The frozen mask of death on Rosen‘s face told Lane he needn‘t check for a pulse.

Next was Bess Brenner, her head was lying in a still-wet pool of blood with shards of

bone and gray matter oozing from a hideous gash above her left eye. Her eyes were

glazed and sightless, she was obviously dead also.

        Dana Wheaton lay head to foot over Rose Dunlop, a heavy brass and wrought-

iron fireplace poker protruding from her back. Lane felt for the carotid artery in her neck

but could find no pulse.

        A little to the right of Dana‘s right thigh, Rose Dunlop‘s face was visible. Lane

thought he could hear a faint gasping and saw blood at the corner of Rose‘s mouth bubble

and froth. She was still alive!

        Quickly he tried to move Dana from on top of the injured woman and found to his

horror that the fireplace poker had gone completely through the blonde teacher and

impaled the dark haired woman beneath. In his haste to save the dying woman on the

floor he cursed the fingerprints and yanked hard on the poker. It gave an inch or two and

the woman gasped. He was able to pull Dana Wheaton‘s body off of Rose and when he

saw the wounds and teeth marks on her body he was sick. He put a hand on the back of

the love seat and vomited his dinner, several cups of coffee, and a large quantity of

popcorn onto the floor. He wretched again and a vile taste filled his mouth. His ears

were pounding and he could hear the same ominous drumming and chanting he had heard
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       195


weeks before when he spent the night at Larry Winscott‘s shack. Boom-boom-boom-

boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

        When his insides stopped churning he drew his hand across his mouth and bent to

examine the woman. She had stopped breathing and he could find no pulse. Dammit!

He could swear she was smiling!

        Lastly he examined Thad Brenner, but one glance told him it was useless.

Brenner‘s skull was split wide open. Lane could have poked his fist through the broken

bone. Christ, the whole fucking room was worse than anything Dante could ever have

dreamed up!

        Lane felt the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen and he glanced around to see

who was sneaking up on him. Nothing! He had to get out of this palace of blood and

gore before he lost his mind. But he hadn‘t completed a search of the house yet. In each

of the bedrooms he had noticed a closet during his first cursory glance. He needed to

check those closets and the bathroom that served the two adjoining rooms. He didn‘t

want to spend any longer in this house of horror while he searched. He wanted to get out

of this nightmare, but his job wasn‘t over yet.

        He pulled his pistol from his holster again and stepped into the farthest bedroom.

He marched straight up to the closet and stepped a little to the side, reaching forward and

pulling hard on the door. He kept the gun ready for action.

        Empty!

        Nothing but a few dresses and coats on hangars, boxes of odds and ends on a

shelf above, and several pairs of ladies shoes on the floor.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    196


        Although he felt silly doing it, he backed away from the closet and went down on

the floor. He lowered himself with his left hand so he could peer under the bed. He saw

only a pair of slippers and a couple dust bunnies, but suspects had been found hiding

under beds before.

        He got up and checked the bathroom not forgetting to look behind the shower

curtain. Finding nothing he stepped through and into the other bedroom. This one

contained a single twin bed and a bookcase, as well as a desk and computer terminal.

Evidently Dana had used this one as her office. In here she prepared lesson plans and

graded papers. Lane checked the closet before checking under the small bed. Winter

coats were hung up, along with a slinky silver gown and a pair of brown slacks and a

print blouse that was as thin as gauze and concealed even less. He hadn‘t known

schoolteachers to dress that way in his day.

        On the shelf above the clothes were a few schoolbooks, and three ring binders.

Dana‘s files, he guessed.

        Finally he got down on the floor and checked under the twin bed. It too was

empty, but he had already guessed that. Seeing the clothes he assumed had belonged to

the other female guests hung up in the closet, he knew no one had broken in and assaulted

the teachers by force. They had been having a sex party and had taken the time to hang

up the ladies clothes rather than get them wrinkled. The world was full of strange types,

he admitted to himself, but teachers? You didn‘t think a bunch of teachers would be

involved in anything so— he fumbled to put his thoughts into words. It was perverse,

wasn‘t it? It was strange, to say the least.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     197


        He considered the situation a little longer. Hadn‘t he read somewhere that the

more educated a person was the more liberal they tended to be concerning things sexual?

Yeah, he recalled an article which maintained that once a person broke loose from long

held superstitions and ignorance, the more they tended to accept the feelings of their own

bodies. Centuries ago women feared sex because it frequently resulted in pregnancy and

an average of one in four births ended in death for the mother. On the other side of the

coin, men considered sex to be strictly a male right and all women were creatures to be

possessed by them, while the fidelity of a spouse was necessary to preserve the man‘s

lineage.

        Modern medicine had done much to make childbearing safer, if not nearly

painless, in the delivery room. Modern birth control allowed a woman to decide when

she would or would not get pregnant. Sex wasn‘t any more rampant or promiscuous than

it had been centuries ago, it was simply safer and more to be enjoyed. Anyone with an

IQ above room temperature could avoid the pitfalls of venereal disease and other

unpleasant infections.

        He strove to break away from such unnatural concepts and went through the front

room and out into the yard. He found Connie tending to the wounded man.

        ―Christ, Lane, did you have to handcuff him? I can‘t lay him flat while I work on

him.‖

        ―Sorry. I just wanted to keep him from hurting himself or anyone else. How‘s he

doing?‖

        ―He‘s passed out now, and I‘ve sedated him. But we‘ve got to get him off this

cold ground and into a bed somewhere. Can we take him to your house, at least until we
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    198


can get a mercy helicopter in here? It‘ll take too long to get an ambulance down from

Tonopah and then get him back to a hospital.‖

       ―I guess we‘ll have to do that. I sure don‘t want him to die; he‘s the only witness

we have to what happened here tonight. Let me bring the cruiser over here and we‘ll lay

him out in the back seat and drive him home. Will that be okay?‖

       ―It‘ll have to do, but unlock these ‗cuffs first, will you? We‘ve got to be able to

get under his arms to lift him into the car. And bring a blanket, will you?‖

       Lane pulled the car over and turned it around, but he refused to remove the man‘s

handcuffs. He opened the rear seat and helped Connie get the wounded man in and then

covered him with a blanket. By now Mrs. Silverman and her son Fred, along with

several neighbors, had begun to crowd around the scene. Lane cautioned them to stay

away from the crime scene and to return to their homes. None elected to leave the area,

but neither did they approach the murder house. Lane contented himself with that.

       They loaded the unconscious man into the cruiser and were shortly pulling into

Lane‘s driveway. Connie followed him in her car and pulled in immediately behind him.

Together they unloaded Dunlop and managed to maneuver him up the steps and into the

house where they laid him on the sofa and Connie continued her ministrations.

       Tutu came down the stairs and poked her head in. ―Hey, what‘s going on?‖

       ―Police business, Hon, I‘m sorry if we woke you.‖ Lane left Connie to her

business while he went into his office and picked up the phone.

       ―Oh, I wasn‘t asleep yet,‖ Tutu said. ―Connie, can I do anything to help you?‖

       ―I think we could use another blanket, dear. This man is awfully cold.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         199


        ―Why, that‘s Mr. Dunlop, from the school! Wow, sure looks like he got into a

losing argument with a semi. Was it a traffic accident?‖

        ―Not now, Tutu. Would you please get me that extra blanket?‖ Connie didn‘t

want to begin detailing what little she knew of the incident to a fifteen, nearly sixteen-

year-old girl. Let her maintain her innocence for a few more years. Tutu went upstairs

while her dad was talking to his headquarters.

        ―Josiah? Hi, Lane Mauler here. Look, we‘ve got a pretty bad situation down

here. What? Yes, again. Look, can you scare up a mercy flight for us? We need a

helicopter here ASAP to transport a white male, late twenties or early thirties. Possible

shock and possible drug intoxication. Three gunshot wounds, but none life threatening.

He came at me while armed and I had to put him down. One bullet in the shoulder, and

one each in the left and right legs. Dr. Conried is attending to him now but she feels he

needs to be transported immediately.‖

        Tutu came down the stairs with a wool blanket and a pillow and took them to

Connie.

        ―I guess the best landing area would be in the field behind my house. We‘ve got

the man on my living room sofa right now. I‘ll use my cruiser to mark the landing zone.

Tell the pilot to look for the emergency lights on my cruiser and to contact me on our

tactical frequency. Okay?‖

        Josiah Snow read the information back to him quickly to insure he had copied it

correctly. Lane waited a few moments while the deputy was on another line. Soon he

came back and advised Lane to expect an ETA in about one hour.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       200


        ―Look, Lane, that‘s the earliest I can help you. We don‘t have anything available

here right now. I‘ve got a helicopter coming down from Elko. That‘s about an hour

flight time north of here, and it‘s much closer than Vegas.‖

        ―Okay, it‘ll have to be Elko. Now that you‘ve got that taken care of, alert the

sheriff that we‘ll need the coroner to transport five bodies as early as you can tomorrow.

Yeah, I said five. And, I‘m gonna need the crime scene unit again, along with a couple

spare men to handle crowd control. Can you do that for me?‖

        Deputy Snow said he‘d pass the information on and reminded Lane that Noah

Denton would want a full report first thing in the morning.

        ―Don‘t I know it,‖ Lane said. ―Look, Valley Forks is going to be swarming with

press and TV reporters as soon as this leaks out. Can you ask him to send me someone to

give the reporters the official version of what happened here? How the hell should I

know what happened! All I do know is that I‘ve got what looks like six schoolteachers

involved in some kind of kinky sex party. The end result is five dead and the only

witness is going to be air evacced out of here as soon as that helicopter arrives. Okay,

I‘m not taking it out on you. I‘ll write it up and FAX it up to you after I get this patient

transported. I‘ve got to go out and mark the landing zone now.‖

        ―Denton‘s not going to love you for this, Lane,‖ Deputy Snow said. ―He says the

Sheriff is pissed at the unfavorable publicity that Esposito thing has brought down on

him, and the election isn‘t that far away.‖

        ―Well I wasn‘t invited to the party, and I wasn‘t involved in the killings. You tell

him that. And make sure you pass the word that this patient could be dangerous. He
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        201


came after Doc and me with a ten-inch knife in each hand. Make sure they keep him

restrained and don‘t allow him to hurt anyone else, okay?‖

          Josiah Snow said he‘d make sure the aircrew and hospital personnel all were

informed. Lane thanked him and hung up. He glanced at his watch to get an idea of

when to expect the helicopter. It was ten-ten now, which meant the helicopter could

arrive any time after eleven. He went back to the living room to check on Connie.

          She was sitting at the dining room table sipping coffee which Tutu had brewed

fresh for them, rightly assuming they would be busy for much of the night. ―How‘s my

baby,‖ he asked her.

          ―I‘m fine,‖ she said. ―I‘ve been a doctor for four years now, and had several

years of training before that.‖

          ―Well, I‘m glad you‘re fine,‖ he said, ―but you‘re a big girl. I meant how is

Tutu?‖

          ―Oh, sorry. She said if I didn‘t need her help any more she was going back

upstairs. All this blood was making her feel icky.‖

          ―Me too, but I can‘t go upstairs. Look, the helicopter will be here in about an

hour. I‘m going to mark that field out back for a landing zone. Can I move your car up

there?‖

          ―It‘s a county car, and this is county business. Go ahead, the keys are still in the

ignition. But first, tell me what went on inside that house.‖

          Lane reached for the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. He sat down and

stared at the dark brew, avoiding her eyes. ―I don‘t know, Connie. It looks like they

were having some kind of sex party and things got out of hand. I‘ve seen five car smash-
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         202


ups on the freeway that weren‘t as messy as that house, and I have to go back there. I

don‘t want to. There‘s something wrong there, some kind of evil which I can‘t put a

finger on.‖

          ―I felt it before, at Winscott‘s, and again at the Esposito place. It‘s a cold, black

feeling that starts in your gut and spreads out through your bones. It‘s something that

terrifies me. It scares the crap out of me beyond all reason. I can‘t quite explain how I

feel about it.‖

          ―Maybe the Esposito boy‘s evil spirit?‖ she asked. He didn‘t think she was

serious, merely making a comment to help draw him into conversation.

          ―Whatever it is, it certainly is evil. I‘ve never felt anything like this, Connie. It

isn‘t any sort of spirit, I‘m sure of that. It‘s something you can feel. Something you can

almost touch. It gives me the willies.‖

          Connie glanced at her patient lying on the sofa. ―I wonder what he saw?‖ she

said. ―I wonder what he can tell us?‖

          ―You‘ll be going with the helicopter, won‘t you?‖

          ―Not on your shiny badge, I won‘t. Those little aircraft scare the hell out of me,

more than your evil spirit. There will be an emergency medical technician on the mercy

flight and Dunlop will be okay with him. He‘s lucky that none of the bullets hit a major

artery or shattered a bone. He‘s very lucky that your three shots didn‘t kill him, Lane. I

know it‘s necessary for you people to go armed, but why must you always be so quick to

shoot?‖

          ―Don‘t tell me you‘re one of those bleeding heart liberals who want all firearms

outlawed, Connie? I thought you had more sense than that?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       203


        ―Well, wouldn‘t it make your job safer if guns were illegal for everyone but the

police?‖

        ―Outlawing guns only applies to honest citizens, Connie. Any criminal can get a

gun in a strange town within a few hours if he has the money. They don't heed the law,

Connie. That‘s what makes them criminals. In law enforcement, you have to assume

that every dangerous individual in a situation is armed. If you forget that, you run into a

situation where some twelve year old kid is going put a bullet straight into the back of

your head.‖

        ―But don‘t you feel awful having to treat everyone you meet as a potential killer?

How can you live that way?‖

        ―I‘m a pragmatist, that‘s how. Everyone is a potential killer. Whether they get

behind the wheel of a car when they are too drunk to drive, or whether they use a shotgun

in a holdup. Fortunately, most people are honest, law-abiding citizens who would no

more point a gun a stranger than you would. But, given the right circumstances, anyone

can take an innocent life, whether by accident or by design. Even in your own

profession. Don‘t tell me you‘ve never heard of a doctor losing a patient because he was

drunk when he operated? Or because of some little thing that was overlooked?‖

        ―But medicine is a very complicated subject, Lane. Anyone can make a mistake,

and if it‘s because of negligence or incompetence there are actions which can be taken.‖

        ―Of course there are, because we are civilized people and we live by the rule of

law. But that won‘t bring the patient back to life, will it? The point is, outlawing guns

won‘t stop criminals any more that adding ten years to medical school will weed out a

doctor who may become an alcoholic ten or fifteen years down the road. Guns are not
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       204


the problem. It‘s education. It‘s hard enough to teach our kids to read and write.

Teaching them to be morally responsible for their actions is immensely more difficult.‖

         ―But it can be done, Connie. My daughter has her own gun because I frequently

have to be away at night. Just because she has a gun doesn‘t mean next week she‘s going

to rob Art‘s Exxon and kill three or four people. She doesn‘t carry that gun in her car,

and she doesn‘t take it to school in her purse. If some crack head tries to break into this

house when I‘m away, she can at least defend herself. She‘s quite a good shot, you

know.‖

         ―You know it‘s not the same thing, Lane. You‘re a competent law officer and

you‘ve taught her how to properly handle a firearm. You‘ve taught her when it‘s proper

to use a weapon and when it‘s a crime to use one.‖

         ―And I‘m sure you‘re a competent surgeon,‖ he told her. ―You‘ve been trained

how and when to use a knife on a patient. But what makes you different from that

hypothetical doctor who‘s running late at the office when he has a big evening planned

with his wife? So he hurries a little too much and someone is seriously injured or dies.

The only difference, Connie, the real difference between you and that other doctor,

between my daughter and some street punk with a gun, is a personal sense of

responsibility. You can‘t pass a law and say that everyone will now be responsible for

his or her actions. The most you can do is catch them and punish them when they break

the law. That‘s all we can try to do.‖

         Connie stopped to sip her coffee while she digested his words. ―I guess you are

in favor of capital punishment also, aren‘t you?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        205


        ―Actually, no, but not for the reasons you must think. I think that every gardener

must weed his garden if he wants to grow good vegetables. I think a rancher has to cull

certain cattle from his herd, or a shepherd cull sick and diseased sheep. I think it‘s in the

public interest if a rabid dog has to be destroyed, just as I‘m sure you sometime decide

that a limb must be amputated if the patient is going to survive.‖

        ―But our cockeyed legal system has gotten turned upside down. It costs a little

better than twenty-five thousand a year to keep a man in prison. If you sentence him to

life, and you assume that will amount to about forty years, then it‘ll cost you a million

dollars. I mean it‘ll cost you and me and all the other tax payers a million dollars to

protect ourselves from a person convicted of a capital crime.

        ―When you sentence that same criminal to the gas chamber or the electric chair,

there are automatic appeals and lots of other rigmarole which go into effect. The

convicted person may spend ten to twenty years in prison while the legal issues are

examined before an execution is actually carried out. By that time, we the taxpayer‘s,

will have spent about two million dollars to destroy a mad dog that any pet owner could

have told you should be eliminated from our society. That‘s the reason I am not in favor

of capital punishment. It simply costs less to keep a man locked up for the rest of his

days. In the end, I guess that‘s a worse punishment than death.‖

        ―Now that‘s an argument I‘ve never heard before. Capital punishment is a waste

of tax dollars. But if the figures you quoted are accurate, I can see why you feel that

way.‖

        ―Oh, they‘re accurate all right. I‘m in a position to know. I‘m sorry, I guess I‘ve

been sounding off like I‘m on my own personal soapbox.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                           206


        ―Well, this is your home and I did ask. I‘d say you have a right to express your

opinion.‖

        ―Right now I have a duty to move a couple of cars and get that helicopter safely

on the ground here. I better get to it. Will you be all right here?‖

        ―I don‘t see why not. My patient would be snoring soundly if he weren‘t so

doped up. I guess I‘ll be okay a little while longer.‖

        ―Thanks for listening to me,‖ he said. He planted a kiss on her forehead and

headed for the door.

        Connie watched his back as he left the room. What a strange man. She wondered

how many people he had shot in his career. He didn‘t seem to be troubled at all because

he‘d shot Dunlop. Did a person get hardened to killing if that was part of their job? She

certainly hoped not. She liked Lane. She was beginning to like him quite a lot. She

didn‘t think she could love a man who couldn‘t feel remorse after shooting another

human being.

        Lane got into his cruiser and drove it around the corner and about three hundred

yards up the street that ran beside his house. There were no more homes out this way. In

fact, the street itself petered out just a little further on when it started up the hill and into

the trees. He turned off the road and drove cross-country in the direction of his home for

a short distance then turned the car around and got out.

        The land here was high desert, mostly sand, some rock, a little sagebrush,

creosote bushes, and gobernadora. No wires overhead, no trees nearby, and no brush tall

enough to strike the helicopter‘s tail rotor when it touched down. He wet a finger in his

mouth and held it up to judge the wind direction. A very slight breeze, no more than five
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       207


miles per hour, was blowing from the north. He positioned the police cruiser so that it

faced south and killed the lights. He got out and walked back to Connie‘s car and drove

it into the vacant field. He parked it at right angles to the cruiser and about fifteen yards

away. The idea was to let the pilot guide to the landing zone using the high intensity blue

and red lights of the cruiser, and allow the pilot to be able to judge the landing point

using the headlights of Connie‘s car. For the moment, he killed the engine and left the

lights off. Then he went back to his cruiser and set down to wait.

        He had a fine view overlooking the town of Valley Forks. A half moon was high

in the sky and bathed the valley in a cold white light. Valley Forks was such a small

town, there were so few streetlights, light-pollution was at a minimum. In college he‘d

taken astronomy as an elective only because it interested him and he needed the three

credits. Maybe he should spend a few bucks and buy a good reflector telescope and bring

Tutu up here and teach her about the night sky. On second thought, he decided against

that. She spent so much of her time taking care of her old man right now it wouldn‘t be

fair to impose upon her any more. Soon she‘d be out of high school and off to college.

What would he do then? Stay here in this one-horse town and hand out an occasional

speeding ticket? Not much of a future in that.

        He watched a falling star streaking across the sky from southeast to northwest. It

fell from sight but his attention was attracted by the flash of a strobe light in the sky to

the northeast. His radio crackled.

        ―Nye seven-one-nine, this is LifeFlight Zero-three. You copy?‖

        He picked up the handset and keyed the mike. ―This is seven-one-nine, Zero-

three. Affirmative, I have you in sight. Give me two minutes and I‘ll light the LZ for
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       208


you. Standby.‖ He dropped the mike and went to Connie‘s car and turned on the

headlights. Returning to his car he hit the switch for the light bar and set his roof lights

rotating.

        By now he could see the helicopter‘s red running light on the port side. ―Zero-

three, this is seven-one-niner. I should be at your eleven o‘clock low. Look for the red

and blue lights of a patrol car.‖

        ―Roger, seven-one-nine. I see you now. Say winds and hazards please.‖

        ―This is seven-one-nine. Winds light from the north. There are no obstacles

taller than fifty feet within fifty yards of the LZ. Suggest you approach directly over the

lights and touch down when you have headlights at your nine o‘clock. Copy?‖

        ―Roger. We‘ll pass over you at about five hundred above ground level and do a

one-eighty degree turn onto final approach. My EMT wants to know the condition of

your injury.‖

        ―The patient is under a doctor‘s care now, about two hundred yards from the LZ.

We‘ll need a litter for transport. Wounds are not immediately life threatening but still

critical. Patient is comatose but could be dangerous when roused. Suggest you use

restraints.‖

        ―Affirmative seven-one-nine. Thanks for the info. We‘re passing over your

position now.‖

        Above him, the helicopter‘s landing light flicked on. The pilot played the beam

to the left and right while he made his down wind leg and then a hundred and eighty

degree turn, losing altitude and entering his final approach. Lane watched and said

nothing. The pilot‘s aboard had much more experience than he had at this.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       209


        The helicopter came in at a steep angle. It flared nose up about thirty feet in the

air, finally stopping at a ten-foot hover. Two heads popped out of sliding doors on each

side and talked the pilot down the last few feet, reassuring him there were no nearby

obstacles. When the aircraft had touched down and the main rotor slowed to ground idle,

one of the figures jumped out, then reached back in to grab a litter. The man was wearing

an orange flame-retardant flight suit with a white helmet. He ran over to Lane and

pushed up the visor on his helmet.

        ―Where‘s the patient?‖ he panted.

        ―Not too far. Come with me.‖ Lane led the man across the field and through the

gate in the fence at the rear of his property. The porch light came on as they sprinted for

the steps. Connie opened the door and stood aside as they wrestled the litter through the

pantry and into the living room.

        The EMT knelt down and looked Dunlop over. ―What‘s the story?‖ he asked.

        Connie rapidly filled him in on his vital signs and the actions she had taken to

reduce the bleeding and what medications she had given him. Lane and the EMT

strapped the man onto the litter and hustled him through the kitchen and out the back

door. After they had loaded Dunlop aboard the helicopter Lane moved out of the area of

rotor-wash while the aircraft lifted off. By his watch the mercy flight had been on the

ground no more than eleven minutes. He went to his cruiser and picked up the radio

mike.

        ―Zero-three, this is seven-one-niner. Thanks for the service. You folks have a

safe flight.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      210


        ―Roger, sir. You did a good job selecting and marking the LZ. I think you‘ve

done this before.‖

        ―A few times in the Army and while I was a cop in Long Beach,‖ Lane admitted.

―I keep my fingers crossed that I won‘t have to do it very often.‖

        ―Amen, brother,‖ came the reply. The sound of beating rotors soon faded away

and Lane drove Connie‘s car around and parked it in front of his house again. He walked

back and got his cruiser then pulled it into the driveway and went into the house.

        Connie was straightening up the living room and folding his blankets. ―Looks

like we didn‘t get much blood on the sofa, but these blankets need to go in cold water

right now. Let me throw them in the washer and then I‘ll go with you back to the

Wheaton house.‖

        ―Who said I was going anywhere,‖ he asked.

        ―You don‘t have to say anything, Lane. I‘m beginning to know how you think.

You want to look the scene over again in case you missed anything, and you want to lock

the doors and windows so no one will disturb the place tonight. I‘m surprised you don‘t

plan on spending the night there like you did with the Winscott case.‖

        ―Not a chance. At Winscott‘s I slept outside in my pickup. I wouldn‘t spend the

night in the Wheaton place if you promised me a month‘s vacation with pay. But why do

you want to go?‖

        ―I‘m the medical examiner for this county. At least, I‘m one of them. I‘m hoping

I can get a better idea of what‘s happening here if I get a look at the scene of the crime.‖

        ―It‘s not very pretty, Connie,‖ he said glumly.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      211


        ―Lane, it‘s my job, just like you have yours. For the past four years I‘ve scrubbed

in the ER while we worked on the survivors of three car pile-ups. I‘ve done post

mortems on crash victims, fire victims, and two shootings. You know, when you go to

medical school, the first thing they do is assign a cadaver for you to work on. If you‘re

going to be a Nervous Nellie, they want to wash you out without wasting much time. I‘ve

earned my spurs. Actually, I‘m planning on going into forensic pathology as my

specialty.‖

        ―Good Lord! Why would a lovely person like you want to get into such a hideous

job?‖

        ―Economic reasons, actually. The average civilian simply has no comprehension

of the exorbitant prices a doctor must pay for malpractice insurance. Those premiums are

substantially lower when the patient is already dead. Without insurance, you‘re opening

yourself up to a lawsuit that can bankrupt an individual, even if you win, every time a

patient sits down for a consultation.‖

        ―You‘re right, I had no idea. Okay, Doc, let‘s take my car in case something

comes over the radio.‖

        They quickly pulled up in front of the Wheaton house and double-parked in front

of the row of cars. Lane hopped out and went around to open Connie‘s door for her, but

she had already jumped out and was halfway up the walk.

        ―Watch where you step,‖ he cautioned her as they entered the living room. ―This

is still a crime scene.‖

        Connie flipped on the living room lights and walked around making cursory

examinations of the bodies while trying to avoid the heaviest blood spatters.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       212


         ―Is this the way you found them?‖

         ―Pretty much so. I had to move the Wheaton girl off Rose Dunlop. She was

sprawled on top of Rose, head to foot, with a fire place poker all the way through her and

going into Rose. Rose was barely alive, I could hear her gasp and see bubbles in the

blood at the corner of her mouth. She died before I could do anything.‖

         ―Probably would have died anyway,‖ Connie said. She bent over and stuck two

fingers in Dana Wheaton‘s mouth and pulled something out. ―God! Cannibalism! Who

would have thought it here?‖

         ―I would. Don‘t you get a creepy feeling just being here?‖

         ―Now that you mention it, I do. It‘s like molten lead right in the middle of my

stomach, like something awful is about to happen. I guess it‘s what a man on a scaffold

might feel after the hood is lowered over his face. Any moment, you know the trap will

spring and drop you into eternity. It‘s a feeling of absolute—‖ she fumbled for precise

words.

         ―Terror?‖ Lane offered.

         ―I think dread is more like it. You know that it‘s coming, that any moment could

be your last, but there‘s nothing you can do to stop it.‖

         ―Yeah, dread. That‘s just what I felt when I was here earlier. That‘s just what I

felt at Winscott‘s and at the Esposito‘s. It‘s the one thing each of these cases has in

common. At Winscott‘s I could feel something in the room with me and it frightened me.

I wanted to pull my gun and kill it, but there was nothing for me to shoot at, no target. It

was inside me and yet it was all around me.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        213


          Connie looked closer at items on the coffee table, on the end table, and on the

kitchen table. ―Look,‖ she said pointing to a cough drop tin on the coffee table. Lane

followed her lead and spotted the roach clip, the papers, and the dried green leaves in the

tin.

          ―They were doing grass,‖ he said. ―Sure must have been some awful potent

stuff.‖

          ―Maybe that wasn‘t all. I assume there was wine in those glasses, but I need to

try and find an empty bottle in the kitchen. Marijuana, alcohol, I wonder what else?‖

          Several of the large candles Dana had lit for the evening were still burning.

Connie examined the puddle of melted wax on one of them. ―There‘s something in the

wax here. Looks like tea leaves, or something.‖ She puffed on the candle and the flame

went out. ―Snuff out the rest of these candles so nothing catches fire. In the morning,

make sure the crime scene unit collects a sample of this stuff for analysis.‖

          ―Sure thing. Any idea what it might be?‖

          ―Not a hint. But it‘s fragrant, sort of. Maybe it‘s some herb or spice like cloves

or orange zest, something to make a pleasant aroma in the room.‖

          Lane continued around the room making sure all the candles were out. He still

didn‘t like the creepy feeling that was turning his spine to ice water and making the hair

on his neck stand up. He wanted out of here. He wanted Connie to get out of here. Hell,

he could knock her out and carry her out of here!

          Connie went into the kitchen to continue her snooping. The dishes were neatly

arrayed in a strainer on the sink, with moisture still puddled on the rubber mat beneath

them. Several kitchen drawers were standing open as if someone had been searching for
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    214


something. Her eyes fell on a stainless steel meat cleaver with a simulated wood handle.

Her fingers picked it up before she was aware of what she was doing. She heard a

mewing in the laundry room and lifted the cleaver high in her right hand while she went

to investigate.

        It was a cat. It had orange and yellow markings and amber eyes. It cowered

between the wall and the washing machine. It hissed at her and that angered her. She‘d

fix that filthy beast! With her anger and an increase in her pulse rate came a pounding in

her ears. Boom-boom-boom-boompity! From somewhere else she imagined a chorus of

Indian shamans working a spell, calling upon the spirits of their world and the next.

―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ Boom-boom-boom-boompity!

        She flexed her knees and advanced on the animal while in a half crouch. Still

holding the shining cleaver above her she said, ―Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. Come here baby

and I‘ll cut your fucking head off.‖ She said it in a soft and soothing voice and the cat

ventured to stick his head and shoulders out just a little bit. ―Here kitty, come to momma.

C‘mon now, don‘t make me come and get you.‖ Connie was unaware of the way her

eyes seemed to glow as she went after the tiny cat. They glowed an evil red like the eyes

of a wolf or coyote caught in a poacher‘s spotlight at night. A flaming, evil red!

        The cat took a few tentative steps toward her and she prepared to lunge and swing

the cleaver with every ounce of strength she could muster.

        Suddenly powerful arms gripped her from behind and held her tightly. She tried

to whirl around and found she was being held too tight to break the powerful grip.

Someone was dragging her backward, away from the cat. Her heels scraped across the

floor and one shoe caught on the edge of a throw rug. The shoe came off and the rug was
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      215


left twisted and curled on the floor. She struggled harder and harder. Her brain was

seized with a maddening fury. If only she could swing the cleaver at her attacker! The

frenzied rhythm still beat in her ears and she could feel it down in her bones. Boom-

boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖

           She could see bodies around her now. Bloody bodies held in the grip of painful

deaths. She was going to kill someone too, just as soon as she could free herself from

this vise-like grip.

           She felt, as well as saw, herself being dragged through the open front door and

there he paused for a moment. The hand gripping her right arm loosened slightly and she

though maybe he was tiring. Maybe she could break free! Instead, the hand slid up her

arm to grasp her wrist and smash the back of her hand against the doorjamb. Once!

Twice! Three times with enough force she thought the bones in her hand would break.

She lost her grip on the cleaver and it flew from her hand and across the room. Then she

felt herself dragged into the chill of the night air. Someone threw her onto the ground

with enough force to knock the wind out of her and then a heavy weight crashed down on

top of her. She was dazed and lost consciousness. She still heard the rhythm and the

chanting, boom-boom-boom-boompity! ―Hey!-yanh-yanh-yanh-yanh!‖ Gradually it

faded away into nothingness as did her last sight and thoughts of the bodies in the house

of evil.

           When she awoke, Lane was sitting beside her. His knees were drawn up to his

chest and he was panting for breath. He saw her waken and quickly grabbed both her

wrists. ―Easy now, Connie. Everything‘s all right. How do you feel?‖

           ―Oww, my ribs hurt. What did you do to me?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         216


        ―Just tried to keep you from hurting yourself, maybe hurting me, too. You sure

looked like you were getting ready to hurt that cat in there.‖

        ―What cat?‖ she asked. She shook her head, trying to clear the cotton from her

brain. ―Will you let me go now? I want to get up. What‘s the matter with you? Why are

you looking at me like that?‖

        ―I want to make sure you won‘t swing at me. Are you feeling okay?‖

        ―Yes, but like a ton of bricks have fallen on me. I guess this is what the

quarterback feels like after he‘s been sacked?‖

        ―You‘re not going to try and hurt me are you? Or yourself?‖

        ―Hurt you? Whatever are you talking about?‖

        ―Connie, in the kitchen you had a meat cleaver in your hand. You ware about to

swing at the cat when I stopped you. Then you tried to swing at me. Fought like a wild

cat, you did.‖

        ―No! I couldn‘t have!‖

        ―Believe it, kid. You were trying to kill me. It‘s something in the house. Maybe

it‘s something in the air. It gets into you and makes you lose control. Turns you crazy,

even. I think that‘s what happened to those teachers, and I think that‘s what happened at

Esposito‘s and Winscott‘s too. We‘ve got to find out what kind of force is causing this.‖

        ―I‘ll say.‖ She stood up and straightened her skirt. ―I really tried to kill you?‖

she asked.

        ―Well, I can‘t say what you were thinking, but it sure looked like it to me. Just

like when Dunlop came out of the house with that knife tonight. He was spaced out to
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      217


the gills. I don‘t think it was a sex party that got too kinky, I think it had something to do

with what they were smoking. That must have been some powerful stuff.‖

        ―Why did it affect us? We weren‘t smoking any. Any chemical agents contained

in the smoke must surely have settled or dissipated while were transporting Dunlop.‖

        ―You‘d think so, but maybe it‘s just more powerful than we imagined. Look, I

could feel it getting into me also. I won‘t tell you what I wanted to do to you, but when I

found you getting ready to butcher that cat all I could think of was that we had to get out

of there. After I got you out here, you sort of passed out. I guess whatever it was has

gone out of our systems by now.‖

        ―Please, God, I hope so. I haven‘t known you very long, Lane, but I think

attempted murder might put a quick end to any relationship we might have.‖

        ―I wouldn‘t like that,‖ he said.

        ―Me neither. Okay, let‘s lock that place up and go home. We‘ll call Tonopah

and make sure that the crime scene investigators bring gas masks tomorrow, perhaps they

can use haz-mat gear. That‘s all I can think of now.‖

        ―Maybe it‘ll be gone by then. It didn‘t seem to linger overnight at Winscott‘s.‖

        ―Gas masks,‖ she said firmly. ―Whatever it is, we won‘t take any more chances

than necessary.‖

        Lane recalled that the back door to the Wheaton house had been locked when he

was here earlier in the evening. He told Connie to get in the cruiser while he went around

and double-checked just to make sure. It was. Then he came around to the front and

examined the door. He found that he could lock the door from the inside and it would
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   218


stay locked when he pulled it closed. He locked it now figuring anyone could reach in

through the broken glass in the morning to unlock the door.

        It was just past midnight when they returned home. Lane poured himself two

fingers of bourbon and drained it quickly. He held the bottle for Connie‘s inspection and

asked if she wanted a drink.

        ―I sure could use one after tonight. With a little Pepsi and some ice?‖

        ―Sure thing,‖ he promised. He took the bottle to the kitchen and fixed her drink.

Then he poured another two fingers for himself.

        ―Why don‘t you go on up to bed?‖ he asked. ―I still have to write up a report and

FAX it to Tonopah.‖

        ―I‘ll wait for you,‖ she said.

        ―Connie, I‘m not feeling particularly amorous tonight,‖ he pleaded.

        ―Neither am I, Lane, but I definitely want to be held. Would that be all right with

you?‖

        ―Comforting Nervous Nellie‘s is my specialty, ma‘am. Give me twenty minutes

and I‘ll be done here.‖

        ―I‘ll see what‘s on the tube,‖ she said.

        Lane sat down at his desk and booted his computer. He heard the TV come on in

the living room. Connie had tuned into the last fifteen minutes of The Tonight Show. He

opened his word processor application and quickly drafted a nine-paragraph report. He

was actually a fairish typist, having had quite a bit of practice pounding an old manual

typewriter when he was in the military police. Army paperwork was even more

troublesome than police paperwork, if that could be possible. Fortunately, word
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     219


processors made strikeovers a thing of the past. Grammar and spell checkers helped too,

even if they were sometimes frustrating to use.

       He went over the two-page report and changed a few lines to make the wording

more concise and direct. He outlined what he knew to be fact and drew no insupportable

conclusions, though he did mention Connie‘s warning about gas masks. When he

finished his report he printed it to the FAX. After it had been zapped into electronic

limbo he printed a hard copy for his own files. One thing he had learned in the Army,

always save a file copy, C-Y-A, cover your ass.

       Letterman when he went back into the living room. Connie‘s eyelids were

drooping heavily and he considered covering her with a blanket and leaving her on the

sofa. No, she said she needed to be held. Well, dammit, so did he!

       He roused her gently and they went upstairs. They both undressed and fell into

bed making spoons.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      220




                                          Chapter 7



        Tutu was up early and had coffee ready when Lane came downstairs. He pulled

back a chair and sat down. She slid a cup of coffee in front of him.

        ―Looks like you got lucky again,‖ she commented. ―More likely, Connie is just

taking pity on a poor, lonely widower.‖

        ―Lucky? Yes, I guess. I don‘t know what I‘ve done to deserve the company of

such a nice lady, but I hope she never changes her mind. Though I might add, I don‘t

think it‘s any business of yours.‖ He wasn‘t really snapping at her, just politely telling

her to butt out of his affairs.

        ―Whoa, dad. Of course it‘s my business. But, if you want my opinion, I think

she‘s great. Where is she?‖

        ―In the bathroom last time I saw her. Making herself beautiful.‖

        ―That‘s what I call gilding the lily,‖ Tutu said. ―I don‘t have any fresh fruit for

your oatmeal this morning. What do you think about strawberry preserves?‖

        ―What‘s with this oatmeal thing, Tutu? Can‘t I have ham and eggs like a normal

grown man, or bacon and eggs? How about steak and eggs once in awhile?‖

        ―When you and Connie get hitched, dad, you can have whatever she thinks is

good for you. As long as I‘m chief cook and bottle washer in this asylum, you get what I

think is good for you.‖ She slid the bowl of oatmeal in front of him with a jar of

preserves on the side.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         221


        ―When I was in the Army, they‘d call this mutiny, you know?‖ He decided to

pass on the preserves and settled for drowning the glutinous porridge with milk.

        ―Good morning all,‖ Connie said as she breezed into the kitchen. ―Umm, the

aroma of fresh coffee in the morning is something I would gladly kill for, Tutu.‖ She

went to the coffee machine and poured herself a cup.

        ―Better get it now,‖ Lane said. ―Next week it‘ll probably be on her black list and

all you‘ll get is herbal tea. Tutu is going to see that I have a healthy breakfast if it kills

me.‖

        Connie sipped her coffee and savored the morning jolt of caffeine. ―Nonsense,

moderation is the watchword. Stop by my office next time you‘re in Tonopah for a staff

meeting. I‘ll write you a prescription for at least two cups to begin every morning. I‘m

sure Tutu would never go against your doctor‘s advice.‖

        Tutu scowled across the table. ―Connie…! How can I make sure he sticks to a

healthy diet if you‘re going to undermine my admittedly limited influence on him? When

we go out, all he ever orders is chili. At home, I can at least try and get him to eat

something nourishing.‖

        ―And I‘m sure you‘ve done a very good job, darling. Your dad looks like he‘ll be

good for another fifty years, at least.‖

        ―Well, I guess that‘s a compliment, of sorts. Thanks. Say, are you and my dad

getting serious?‖

        Connie glanced at Lane who looked like he was in the beginning stages of

terminal apoplexy. She gave the merest flicker of her hand in his direction and said to
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    222


Tutu, ―Your dad and I are very serious, Tutu,‖ she said with a smile and a wink at Lane.

―We‘re seriously very good friends. Okay?‖

       She said it with an impish twinkle in her eye that made Tutu smile. ―Oh, mind

my own business, is that it? Well, that‘s pretty much what dad said, but a girl can hope,

can‘t she?‖

       Lane reached out and took Connie‘s hand. ―If we‘re about to do anything serious,

Tutu, I promise you‘ll be the first to know.‖ He didn‘t know if he was should say

anything more and was glad when the ringing of the telephone interrupted him. He

excused himself from the table and went into his office carrying his coffee. The voice on

the other end of the line was Noah Denton.

       ―Mauler, the Sheriff has flipped over this! Do you know how many murders we

had in this county last year? Six, that‘s how many, six murders in the second largest

county in the country! And now you put this on his plate. Elections are getting closer all

the time, Mauler. Are you aware of that?‖

       ―Yes, Noah. I know when the elections will be, but I didn‘t murder any of these

people. Nor was I aware that any of the murders were about to occur. You don‘t expect

me to go around peeking in every window on my beat, do you?‖

       ―Cripes, no! But, I want you to know what kind of heat I‘m catching and how

much flack I have to run for you. You‘ve been around the block, Lane. You know that

shit runs downhill. Now what have you got?‖

       Lane filled him in on the few details he hadn‘t put in his report and briefly hinted

at Connie‘s hypothesis that some hallucinogen could be behind the recent spate of

violence.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      223


        ―Okay, that makes sense. Maybe we can leak to the press that we‘re investigating

the possibility that mind-altering drugs were behind last night‘s tragedy. Bunch of young

college kids, kinky sex, drugs; yeah, it‘s a plausible leap. But, you‘re going to have to

dig up some explanation on what kind of drugs and where they might have been obtained.

A drug problem will seriously affect the Sheriff‘s re-election campaign as much as

unchecked violence. You know what the public expects from law enforcement. They

don‘t want drugs or crime in the newspapers, and they don‘t want the law to step on any

toes while they keep it out of the county.‖

        ―But that‘s an impossible task, Noah.‖

        ―You know that, I know that, but the voters don‘t accept impossible. They just

want results.‖

        ―Right. I know the drill. I‘ve got some samples of suspicious material that Dr.

Conried is going to have analyzed. She‘s going to run more than just the usual

toxicology screens on blood samples from the victims. We‘re doing our best, starting this

morning.‖

        ―Not to change the subject,‖ Lane said, ―but what have you heard about the

Dunlop man air-lifted out of here last night? He‘s the best thing to a witness I‘ve got

right now.‖

        ―I checked with Ely this morning before I briefed the old man. Looks like Dr.

Conried did a good job stopping the immediate loss of blood and preventing the patient

from going into shock. Dunlop is off the critical list and we will probably be allowed to

question him tomorrow some time. I‘m sure the Sheriff will personally want to be in on

that. Ely isn‘t any bigger than we are and their hospital doesn‘t have a detention wing, so
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          224


they are making due by handcuffing Dunlop to his bed and posting a guard on his door.

But, they did take blood samples from Dunlop last night, and they‘ve agreed to do a

complete screening. We should have input from them in a few days.‖

        ―I guess that‘s a step in the right direction,‖ Lane said. ―I can‘t explain it, but

when I was in that house last night, I swear I could feel enough evil to make me go off

my rocker, and it wasn‘t because of a lot of dead bodies.‖ He decided not to tell about

Connie‘s reaction and her attempt to decapitate the cat.

        ―Okay, we‘ll develop any lead we can find, no matter what direction it takes us.

I‘m sending Alice Lawton down with the crime scene unit. They‘re on the way as we

speak. You let her deal with the press, okay? She‘s fully briefed on the official story.

She‘s the senior of our two matrons in the department, and public information is her

strong suit. If anyone can put a favorable spin on this for us, Alice can.‖

        Lane recalled meeting the fiftyish matron while he attended one of the

department‘s regular policy meetings. She covered her graying hair with a brunette rinse

that made her look very much like Little Orphan Annie or Shirley Temple. Beneath her

grandmotherly appearance he knew she had a drill sergeant‘s drive and would let nothing

keep her from her duties.

        Noah told Lane that the crime scene unit had left Tonopah at six-thirty. Glancing

at his watch he found that he‘d been on the phone nearly twenty minutes. It was almost

seven-thirty and he could expect them to arrive any time.

        He ended his conversation with Noah and went to the kitchen. Connie and Tutu

were doing the dishes. He grabbed his bowl from the table and quickly swallowed the

last three bites and passed the spoon and bowl to them.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    225


         ―Dad?‖ Tutu asked. ―Connie says there won‘t be any school today on account of

an accident at Miss Wheaton‘s home. Do you know what that‘s all about?‖

         ―All we know, Hon, is that the six teachers were having some sort of party and

something went very wrong. Mr. Dunlop is the only one who survived and he‘s been

airlifted to the hospital in Ely. That brings up another subject; since you won‘t be going

to school today, why don‘t you spend the morning on the phone? I want you to call the

families of every student and say that school has been canceled until further notice. Will

you do that?‖

         ―Sure, dad, but what do I do about the ones who don‘t have a phone? There‘s

Jimmy Foster, and the Dupree twins, and Brenda Scofield.‖

         ―Why don‘t you take your van over to the school and wait in the parking lot and

give them the word as soon as they show up? That way their ride can take them back

home.‖

         ―By the time I finish phoning everyone who has a phone, the rest will be at the

school anyway.‖

         ―Well, take the phone book, and use my cell phone. You can make your calls

from the school. Will that work?‖

         ―Sure, I guess so. What will you and Connie be doing?‖

         ―I have to drive back to Tonopah and get started doing some autopsies,‖ Connie

said.

         ―I have to go over to the Wheaton house, and I better get there quick. The under-

sheriff told me the crime scene unit left Tonopah over an hour ago. So, if you ladies will

excuse me?‖ He planted a kiss on Connie‘s cheek and reminded her to drive carefully.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        226


        Lane was the first one on the scene at the Wheaton house. He parked across the

street and reached through the broken front door window to unlock the place. In the light

of day, the gruesome scene didn‘t fill him with dread nearly as much as it had last night.

Still, it was sickening seeing all those young people and the hideous way they had died.

Come to think of it, there really isn‘t any pleasant way to die, not even dying in bed of

old age. By that time you‘d be lucky if you hadn‘t gone senile and been forced to wear

diapers because you‘d lost control of your bodily functions. How depressing!

        Where had those thoughts come from, Lane wondered? Was it the deathly

atmosphere of this place? Or did he harbor some secret wish to die quickly? Like in a

car crash, or a shoot-out with criminals. His was normally an upbeat kind of personality.

Morbid thoughts like this were out of place in his day-to-day affairs. It had to have

something to do with the crime scene. He went quickly through the house to the back

door and opened it, then opened windows throughout the house as he worked his way

back to the front door and into the yard.

        A dark blue utility van with the county seal on the side was the first to arrive.

Harvey Buckhorn stepped out with his camera in one hand and a small black bag in the

other. The black bag held tools of the trade: finger print kit, Luminol, tweezers,

magnifying glasses of various strengths, plastic baggies and evidence tags. There were a

hundred and one items that law enforcement agents had found useful when conducting

their investigations. Some were highly specialized, like the Luminol, which made the

most minute traces of blood phosphorescent when exposed to ultraviolet illumination.

Others were simply useful like the plastic baggies. Buckhorn took two steps away from

the vehicle then remembered something he had forgotten. He went back, reached in, and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    227


brought out an olive colored canvas bag. He stopped in front of Lane just before going

into the house. ―Almost forgot my gas mask. What‘s this supposed to be about, Lane?‖

       ―Can‘t say for sure, Harvey. I hope the gas mask won‘t be necessary. I went

through the house and opened all the doors and windows a short while ago. Last night

when Dr. Conried and I were here, there was something which affected our thinking.

Caused hallucinations, or something. I felt it again this morning, but not as strongly as

last night. Still, it might be a good idea to keep your gas mask nearby. Whatever it is can

sneak up on you real fast, and I do mean fast. One minute you‘re right as rain, not quite

puking up your guts at the death scene all around you then, pow! Next thing you know

you‘re about to pull your piece and blast holes in the wall. Know what I mean?‖ Harvey

nodded. ―So if you feel anything strange, put your gas mask on. Do it quick! Okay?‖

       ―Sure thing, Lane.‖ The driver of the van came up the walk and Harvey

introduced him. "This is Ron Aldritch, a medical technician from the hospital. He also

assists the sheriff‘s office and the coroner‘s office. Ron, Lane Mauler, deputy in charge

of the Valley Forks area.‖ Lane stuck out his hand and grasped Aldritch‘s outstretched

hand. Aldritch was about his age, mid-thirties, but several inches shorter and quite a few

pounds heavier.

       ―Glad to meet you, Lane. I‘ve seen several of your cases when they came

through the morgue. Sure puzzles me as to what‘s going on in your area.‖

       ―Me too, Ron. I want to point out a couple things that Dr. Conried wants

collected for analysis. Follow me.‖ He led the way into the house. He took the two men

inside and got them started with the investigation. Harvey began snapping pictures of

everything that might vaguely assist in their investigation. Lane pointed out the foreign
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    228


material in the candle wax and marked evidence tags as Aldritch scraped them up with a

pocketknife. He heard a second vehicle pull up outside and left them to carry on while he

went out front.

        The vehicle he saw was a remote camera truck from KVGS. Pam Demming got

out of the passenger seat, showing a well-turned leg and expensive heels as she stepped

down. She held a wireless mike in one hand and gave Lane a familiar smile as she

walked toward him. Her video man, Frank Cotter, got out of the driver‘s seat with his

camera and closely followed her.

        ―Well, Deputy Mauler, we meet again.‖ Her teeth were flawlessly even, most

likely capped. Her smile looked sincere though he knew it went on as easily as lipstick

and she used it like any other cosmetic to enhance her appearance.

        Lane touched the brim of his hat. ―Miss Demming. Pleasure to see you again.‖

        ―Are you going to give me the story on this one, deputy? We‘ve heard rumors

about orgies and multiple homicides.‖ Again the forced smile as if perhaps sex appeal

could drag information from him.

        Lane was saved from answering when another vehicle from the sheriff‘s office

pulled up. ―If you‘ll come with me, ma‘am,‖ Lane said as he took her elbow, ―I‘d like to

introduce you to Mrs. Alice Lawton from the county office. She‘ll have a statement for

you.‖

        Pam Demming didn‘t seem at all happy at being foisted off on an official

spokesperson, but what could she do? She shook hands with Alice with all the

enthusiasm of a boxer touching gloves before a match. Glad to be free of dealing with
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     229


the press, Lane busied himself by stringing yellow crime scene tape around the front and

rear doors of the house.

         Aldritch went out to the coroner‘s van and brought in five body bags. After he

and Lane had taped baggies around the hands of each body, they bagged them and Lane

helped him carry them out to the van. It was a nauseating chore but it kept him away

from the press, and out of trouble.

         Tim Fulton, a rookie deputy with only two months more time with the sheriff‘s

department than Lane, had arrived with Alice Lawton. The three deputies and one

civilian technician worked steadily while Alice mollified the Demming woman and the

video photographer captured his footage. By the time they had finished cleaning up the

crime scene the TV truck had departed, evidently in a hurry to get their video back to Las

Vegas.

         Lane went over and shook hands with the matron from the sheriff‘s office. ―Nice

seeing you again, Alice. Sorry I had to dump La Demming on you, but Noah Denton told

me you would give the press the sanitized version of last nights happenings.‖

         ―Thank nothing of it, Lane. It‘s my job and I enjoy being politely tactful with the

members of the press, almost as much as I would enjoy breaking a chair over their

collective heads. Actually, Pam Demming is not as bad as some I get. The TV reporters

tend to be the pushiest because they work to shorter deadlines. The press and magazine

reporters are more devious. They have days or weeks to get the details of their stories,

and some of the antics they pull can be quite original. Last year we had a young lady

from a Los Angeles weekly magazine who posed as a relative of a mugging victim. I

almost let her sign for the victim‘s personal effects before I thought to ask for her ID.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      230


        ―You‘re too sharp for them, Alice. Your talent is wasted in the sheriff‘s office.

You should move to Vegas and be a high priced investigator for some lawyer.‖

        ―There‘s certainly more money in that, but me and Leonard, my husband, are

country folks. We wouldn‘t fit in with the busy throngs of the big city.‖

        ―Amen to that. Same reason my daughter and I moved here. Are you going in to

look over the crime scene?‖

        ―Me? Heaven‘s no! The mere sight of blood absolutely nauseates me. I‘ll leave

that for you and the crime scene investigators.‖ She stalked off and took a seat in the

cruiser she had arrived in. Lane chuckled and went back to assist the crime scene unit as

they finished up.

        Aldritch and Buckhorn were carrying out the last body. Lane was glad he

wouldn‘t be driving ninety miles down the road with five bodies in the back of the van.

He could only surmise that Aldritch was used to transporting the dead. Highway 95,

from Vegas north to the Humboldt Sink where it joined with I-80 is the main north-south

artery in the state. Since Nye County was so large, its law enforcement officer‘s could

barely cover a small percentage of the speeders on the highway. Rollovers and head-on

collisions were common. Most cars traveled at such high speeds that survivors were few.

It was one of the reasons why the sheriff‘s office had a number of officers living at

widespread locations throughout the county, where they could quickly respond as

situations required but remained under the centralized control and direction of a

headquarters a hundred miles away.

        When Tim Fulton had finished his investigation inside, he came out and told Lane

to go ahead and lockup. Lane did so. ―Looks like they had one hell of a party,‖ Fulton
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      231


said. ―Shame it had to get out of hand. I used to see Dana and Paul in Tonopah

occasionally, shopping, having dinner at the Palace, or maybe just a few drinks and

dancing at one of the local nightspots. Nice looking couple. I‘d have thought they would

be getting married soon. I had no idea they were into anything like this.‖

        ―We can‘t be sure exactly what anyone was into here, Tim. Dr. Conried thinks

they may not have intentionally been using drugs. It could be something they were

accidentally exposed to that drove everybody over the edge and caused the party to end in

a nightmare.‖

        ―Yeah, well, whatever.‖ Fulton gave a wave of his hand and went down the walk

to his cruiser where Alice Lawton was waiting. ―Keep in touch, Lane. See you at the

next staff meeting.‖

        Lane responded with a wave of his own. ―Drive careful. I don‘t want to have to

call Aldritch back to stuff you in a plastic bag.‖ Fulton got into his cruiser and started the

powerful engine. As he pulled out his rear tires spun on the dirt and threw gravel across

the lawn.

        Lane got into his cruiser and decided to drive over to the school and see if Tutu

might still be there. The circular drive in front of the building was empty so he figured

she was probably at home. With nothing pressing on his schedule, Lane decided to show

the colors so to speak. It was a good way to clear his head, organize his thoughts, and let

a police presence be shown along the highway.

        He drove the cruiser north at a steady sixty-five until he linked up with Highway

50, sometimes called The Loneliest Highway in America. It was also the northern limit of
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    232


his home territory. There he turned around and headed south until he reached Belmont.

His watch showed twelve-forty. He decided to head for home and a lunch break.

        It was one-thirty by the time he got back to the city limits. The day had grown

cloudy and the air had a chill bite to it. He passed Art‘s Exxon and was just beginning to

turn onto his own street when the radio crackled.

        ―Seven-one-nine this is base, over.‖

        Lane picked up the mike and gave his response. ―Sounds of a disturbance and

shots fired reported. See the man at mile four on Live Oak Road.‖ Lane answered with a

―Roger,‖ and hung a U. Back on the main road he turned on his lights but left the siren

off. He pushed the cruiser to eighty-five and held it there.

        Live Oak Road was six miles north of the town limits, just past the turn off to the

Esposito place, except Live Oak angled off to the right. Mile four would take him about

to where Russ Kingman lived. Lane pulled off the asphalt as he reached Live Oak Road

and raised a cloud of dust behind his cruiser. For safety, he slowed to just sixty miles per

hour. Russ was the only barber in town. He owned The Bushwhacker and charged eight

dollars for a straight haircut and razor trim around the ears. No styling, please! He

opened at ten in the morning and closed at six in the evening, except that he stayed closed

on Thursday and Sunday. Partly because he knew everyone in town, but mostly because

he was well liked, Russ was also chairman of the Valley Forks Town Advisory Board and

had been for twelve years. This Thursday Russ had been watching a National

Geographic video from Martin‘s. Nature study was a hobby of the sixty-five year old,

and today‘s object of study was the Harp Seal and how it was making a comeback under

strict protective regulations of the Department of the Interior. Russ had been disturbed
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     233


by the sound of shots coming from his nearest neighbor, Joel Yancey, who lived across

the road and a quarter mile further off the highway. Russ had left his television set and

stepped out on his front porch where he could also hear screaming coming from Joel‘s

place. His neighbor had a teenage boy at home who suffered from cerebral palsy and was

confined to a wheel chair. Not wanting to be too inquisitive and risk a chance encounter

with a stray bullet, Russ had decided not to investigate in person but to call 911 and let

Deputy Mauler investigate. He was standing down at the fence where his drive met Live

Oak Road when Lane arrived in a cloud of dust and quickly braked to a stop.

        ―Afternoon, Russ. Got some trouble out this way?‖

        ―Not me, Lane, but somethin‘s goin‘ on over at Joel‘s place. I heard his shotgun

four or five times already. There was some screaming a while ago, but it‘s quieted down

now.‖

        ―Okay, Russ. You did the right thing calling it in. I‘ll go take a look; you stay

here where you‘ll be safe.‖

        ―Okay, Lane. I‘ll head back up to my easy chair and watch my movie. You stop

by for a cup of coffee before you leave, hear now?‖

        ―Thanks, Russ.‖ Lane put the cruiser in gear and sped down the road and turned

in at Yancey‘s drive. He pulled in to the front yard and skidded to a stop.

        Joel Yancey had farmed sixty acres of alfalfa over the years, and had worked as a

maintenance man at the mine until it closed. Since losing that job, the only income he

and his wife had was from farming alfalfa and the disability check the government sent to

help with the cost of taking care of their son, George. An older boy was away in the Air

Force, and a daughter was married to a rancher in Utah.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       234


       The house in front of him was old, it had a few sagging shutters and genuinely

needed a new coat of paint, but was otherwise sound. Joel repaired whatever he could

around the place, making old wood do for new and using screws and nails salvaged from

other projects. Two huge cottonwood trees shaded the house and front yard; several

more grew around the side and in the back. Fifty yards to the side of the house was a

rickety barn where Joel stored his hay until it could be sold. He rented the combine

which baled the hay, and traded his mechanical labor for the use of a tractor in planting

his fields. Joel and Shirley had never been well off when he was still working at the

mine. Things were much worse now.

       Before Lane stepped out of his cruiser he raised headquarters on the high

frequency radio and reported his location and status. Then he got out and went to the

Yancey‘s front door. He knocked, listened, waited, and knocked again. ―Joel!‖ he called

out. ―Shirley! Anybody home?‖

       After waiting a polite length of time he put his hand on the doorknob and turned.

The door opened and he poked his head in. The first thing he noticed was a stale odor.

The smell was reminiscent of burning hemp, but not quite as sweet smelling as

marijuana. He looked around the door and saw a man‘s legs lying in the hallway.

       Lane pulled his Browning and jacked a round into the chamber. He ran to the

body with the intention of checking the throat for a pulse. Instead he found a gaping

hole, ripped flesh and bloody, almost pulverized bone. Joel Yancey had been shot in the

neck with a shotgun at close range. His throat was blown away exposing the severed

cartilage and vertebra of the neck. All that was holding his head to his body was a thin

flap of muscle and skin along the right side of the neck. His head lay in a vast pool of
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         235


blood. He was dead but his body was still warm. Lane didn‘t think George, the palsied

son, could have done this so he decided to look for Shirley. Warily he recalled that Russ

had said he‘d heard several shotgun blasts.

        Lane looked left and right in the hallway before stepping over the body and

checking the bedroom immediately to the right. It was empty.

        Moving in a crouch Lane slid past an empty bathroom to another bedroom. This

one had to be George‘s. There were crayon pictures tacked to the wall, mostly just

scribbles and jumbled lines. There were bottles of prescriptions set on a dresser just

beyond the reach of anyone in the bed. The room had that musty odor of urine and meals

eaten in bed that tells you it is a sickroom, but there was no one here. Lane backed out,

went down the hallway, stepped over Joel‘s body and went through the living room to

check the kitchen. He felt an uncomfortable presence emanating from somewhere in the

house. It was a nameless feeling, something he couldn‘t identify but which, nonetheless,

filled him with a sense of foreboding evil. He had felt it before. It still terrified him.

        A fire was burning in the fireplace and the aroma of fresh pine scented the air, not

quite overpowering the other, strange aroma. Lane began feel that tingle of dread that he

had felt so vividly last night at the Wheaton place. What in hell was going on here?

        He kept the pistol in his hand extended well in front of him until he got to the

kitchen door. Then he pulled the pistol tightly to his body until he could just peer around

the door. Christ, another body! Nailed to the wall this time. Crucified. Lane glanced in

the corners and under the kitchen table. He could see nothing.

        He eased into the room and moved sideways toward the body with his back

pressed to the wall. It was George Yancey, the handicapped son of Joel and Shirley. His
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       236


outstretched arms had been nailed to the wall with kitchen forks driven through the

wrists. Evidently the body had been too heavy for the killer to lift completely off the

floor for the knees were slightly bent and the feet were still touching the linoleum. Blood

trailed down the wall. George‘s throat had been cut and the head lolled forward with the

chin touching the chest.

        The table was set for three and Lane assumed that the Yancey‘s had been eating

lunch. George‘s wheelchair was overturned at one side of the kitchen table. There was

no sign of Shirley. He checked the small pantry and broom closet next to the stove.

Empty also.

        Lane went to the back door and pushed it open slightly so he could get a clear

view into the back yard.

        He felt his cheek stung by flying splinters before his ears registered the bellow of

the shotgun. He dove through the door and rolled down the steps and to the side where

he could take cover behind several trashcans. There was another blast and the side of one

of the trashcans crumpled inward. Lane‘s ears were ringing from the blast and he didn‘t

hear the pellets as they impacted the can. He glimpsed the muzzle flash of the shotgun

coming from an opening in the front wall of the barn where one of the planks had fallen

off. In the shadows behind it he thought he could make out the vague form of a person.

He fired low, three quick shots. If the person were crouched perhaps his shots would

catch them center of mass. If the person were standing, his shots might strike in the hips

or thighs.

        As soon as he fired he rolled to the side, gained his feet and sprinted for shelter

behind the thick trunk of a walnut tree a little further to the right and halfway to the barn.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      237


Another blast of shotgun pellets smashed one of the trashcans against the rear wall of the

house. When Lane reached the protection of the tree he threw himself prone to minimize

the size of target he presented. With great caution he peered around the right side of the

tree until he could see the ugly black snout of the shotgun pointing from the barn. The

barrel appeared to be drooping, pointing at a spot on the ground halfway between the

barn and the rear door of the house.

        Lane rolled twice to his right and bounded to his feet. He covered the remaining

distance to the barn running flat out and pressed his back to it. The rough textured

lumber felt good against the thin khaki covering his shoulder blades. It gave him a small

amount of protection and a sense of security.

        Moving as quietly as he could, he edged his way to his left until he could peer

around the corner of the barn. He was looking for a window or another door but there

was none. He would have to go to the rear of the building and hope to surprise his

attacker from there. He felt pretty sure that the person with the gun was Shirley Yancey.

He hadn‘t found her body in the house so where was she?

        Moving on cat feet he reached the rear of the barn and quietly edged around the

corner. He ducked past a rusting horse-drawn hay rake and edged his way to the rear

door. Peering into the barn he found he couldn‘t see a thing in the shadows. Cloudy as

the weather was, it was still much too bright for him to see anything inside the barn until

his eyes adjusted to the dim light. He crossed the open doorway, almost expecting a blast

from the shotgun to blow him in half, and sought shelter behind a few bales of hay that

had been brought in out of the weather.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      238


        Slowly his eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings and he could see her leaning

against the front wall of the barn. With both hands gripping the pistol he steadied it dead

center in the small of her back as he crept up to her. She was only thirty feet away, then

twenty-five. He approached a vertical post supporting the loft and moved behind it.

Slowly he continued to close the distance until she was only fifteen feet away. She

hadn‘t given any sign that she‘d heard him and seemed to be focusing her attention on

something close to the house. Perhaps she thought she had hit him when he lay behind

the trashcans and hadn‘t seen him dash to the tree?

        He was watching her so intently he failed to see a rake lying across his path. His

right toe caught under the rake and he pitched forward into the dirt and straw that served

as a floor in the barn. When he hit the ground he pushed away with his left hand and

ended up in a crouch with his pistol again leveled at her back. She still hadn‘t moved and

continued to watch the house.

        ―Shirley, I‘ve got a gun pointed at your back,‖ he said. ―I want you to drop the

shotgun and raise your hands.‖ He waited for a response. When none came he

approached her more closely. Now he was standing only five feet from her. If she tried

to turn around and swing the shotgun in his direction he should be able to knock it from

her hands.

        ―Drop the gun, Shirley. Raise your hands.‖ Still she gave no reply. Cautiously

he reached under his gun arm with his left hand until his fingers gripped the butt of the

shotgun. He jerked and it easily came away in his hand. His fingertip grip wasn‘t

enough to hold the weight of the shotgun and it clattered to his feet. At the same time

Shirley was spun clockwise and he found himself staring into her sightless eyes.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                           239


        The front of her dress was covered with blood from the stomach down. At least

one of his shots from the rear steps had caught her in the abdomen and she had bled to

death while leaning against the wall of the barn. The left shoulder of her sweater was

caught on a nail. It was that nail that had kept her upright, leaning against the barn wall

as she died.

        For a moment Lane felt some regret at having killed her, but it passed quickly.

There is no more deadly weapon to go up against at close range than a shotgun. Not even

an Uzi or a Mac-10 favored by some criminals for their rapid-fire power. Those

automatic weapons could pour out two and three thousand rounds per minute, exhausting

a full clip in under two seconds, but the recoil usually pulled the weapons off target as

they fired, unless they were under the control of a highly trained marksman.

        A shotgun, however, delivers its full load of shot in a single charge which

expands in diameter as the distance from muzzle to target increases. A twelve-gauge

shotgun firing three-inch magnum double-ought buckshot will put nine of its twelve

pellets into a thirty-inch target at a range of forty yards. Just one of those one-third inch

pellets can be fatal. Even if the shot fails to strike a vital organ, the impact of three or

four of those pellets can put the body into shock and still be fatal. Lane thanked his lucky

stars Shirley hadn‘t been a better shot.

        He holstered his weapon and grasped Shirley by the shoulders until he could

unhook her sweater and lower her to the ground. This meant more bad news for the

sheriff, three new bodies to add to the mess accumulating in Valley Forks. Lane was

beginning to doubt the wisdom of moving his daughter from the crime-ridden city to the

supposed safety of a rural environment.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       240


       He went around the house instead of going inside and called in his report from the

cruiser. As he expected, Noah Denton was furious but was hampered in his use of

language by the fact that he was talking over an open radio frequency. He reluctantly

advised Lane that even though the crime scene unit had been back less than half an hour,

he would send them back out right away.

       Lane decided to go back down the road and talk to Russ Kingman. Something

was going on here, and he was pretty sure it wasn‘t Arturo‘s evil spirit of the Anasazi.

Something was causing perfectly normal people to suddenly commit violent atrocities

that defied imagination. As head of the Town Advisory Board, Russ should call a town

meeting and get all the local residents together so they could pool their knowledge.

Maybe it was some chemical from the closed mine, slowly seeping into the groundwater

beneath the town? Valley Forks didn‘t have a municipal water supply, everyone had an

individual well. He couldn‘t envision a form of contamination that would strike Larry

Winscott‘s place six miles south of town, as well as the Esposito‘s and the Yancey‘s an

equal distance north of the town. Perhaps they should consult with a hydrologist from the

county or state offices? Perhaps there was some kind of contamination in the

underground aquifer? If so, then why weren‘t more people between these two areas

affected? So far, there had only been the teacher‘s at the Wheaton house.

       It went without saying that something had to be done about these unexplained

outbreaks of violent behavior. Lane felt like a hamster running on an exercise wheel. He

couldn‘t get ahead of the problem. All he could do was react to events. Hell, either he or

Tutu might become the next statistics!
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       241


        Lane got behind the wheel of his cruiser leaving a trail of dust behind him as he

raced over to Russ Kingman‘s house. Seeing the car racing up his half-mile drive Russ

came out the front door and was standing on the lawn when Lane pulled to a stop.

        ―You appear to be in a hurry, deputy,‖ Russ said dryly. ―What did you find out

over at the Yancey‘s?‖

        ―I can‘t figure it, Russ. I know Shirley Yancey. I know that she cared for that

poor boy of hers as much as any mother could. And she cared for Joel just as much.

Together they raised two healthy kids and set them on the road to life. Lord knows they

sure did the best they could with George, but it was like beating a dead horse. There

really wasn‘t much they could do. I never imagined it would come to this.‖

        ―Tell me about it, Lane,‖ Russ said in his fatherly, politician‘s voice.

        ―It looks like Shirley used a shotgun and nearly blew poor Joel‘s head off. Then

she wheeled George into the kitchen and crucified him, pinned him to the wall with a

couple kitchen forks and slit his throat. I didn‘t think any mother could do that to her

own son. When I got there, she ran out to the barn. As I came out the back door she

fired at me. I‘m sorry, but I had to shoot. You don‘t take chances when a person‘s

throwing down on you with a twelve-gauge. She‘s dead too.‖

        ―I don‘t think you would have fired if you‘d had a choice, Lane, but what do you

expect from me?‖

        ―Russ, I think it‘s important we call a town meeting as soon as possible. We‘ve

got to spread the word about what‘s going on here in the valley and let people take

action.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     242


       ―I‘d like to agree with you, Lane,‖ Russ rubbed his chin, ―but what do you

propose we tell them to do? Have you identified whatever it is that‘s causing people to

commit these crimes?‖

       ―Uh, not exactly,‖ Lane stammered.

       ―Then how do you expect to stop what‘s going on? You don‘t know what‘s

going on, any more than I do. It would take a couple days to arrange a meeting. One that

most of the people could get to, you know that much. We‘ve got people working

dayshifts and nightshifts, working up north of here as well as down south of here. It

would take a couple days at least to get the word spread around the town, and then we

couldn‘t be sure how many people could attend. We usually have our monthly meetings

on a Sunday afternoon, and we seldom have more that one fourth of the locals there.‖

       ―But, this is important, Russ!‖ Lane pleaded with him.

       ―Granted, I agree with you, it‘s important, but we have no idea what we‘re

dealing with, and no idea what to do about it. We can‘t do more than tell people to be

sure and lock their doors and windows, and even then we can‘t be sure that the danger

won‘t come from within their own family. You can‘t expect me to warn people to look

out for their husbands and wives, or their children as potential killers, can you? How

could you expect people to live that way? Now, you come back to me when you‘ve got

something that we can act on, and I‘ll do my best to accommodate you. But you haven‘t

shown me anything but a lot of bodies so far.‖

       ―If we don‘t do something, there‘s going to be a lot more bodies, Russ.‖

       ―I‘m sorry about that, Lane. Be reasonable, you haven‘t given me a course of

action that I can act on. Have you?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      243


        ―No, you‘re right. I‘ve been acting like Chicken Little shouting ‗the sky is

falling!‘ Maybe I‘ll have something for you when Dr. Conried finishes the latest

autopsies. When we finish up over at Yancey‘s, I‘ll give her a call and see if she‘s found

out anything.‖

        ―Now that‘s the right attitude, son. You take care of the things that you can take

care of, then let the rest of the chips fall where they may. That‘s all you or I can do for

now, much as we‘d like to be putting a stop to all this.‖

        ―You‘re right, Russ. I‘m so used to being able to take some kind of action that

not being able to do anything is starting to get to me. I‘ll watch it from now on.‖

        ―Nobody in town is faulting you for anything, Lane. You‘ve only been with our

little community a little over three months now. You‘ve met pert near everybody, and

everybody likes you and your daughter. What‘s more, we all know that you have our

best interests at heart. Now get back over to the Yancey‘s and finish your work.‖

        ―Yeah,‖ Lane hung his head and slowly walked back to his cruiser. He opened

the door then turned to Russ, ―Look, I‘m sorry if I was out of line. I just felt we needed

to do something.‖

        ―If I had my hands tied with uncertainty like you, Lane, I would probably be

screaming for action too. There just isn‘t anything we can do now. Take it slow, one day

at a time. We‘ll get a handle on this.‖

        ―Yeah, thanks.‖ Lane got behind the wheel and started backing down the

driveway. He didn‘t want to take it slow; one body at a time. He wondered how many

more would have to die before he ‗got a handle on this?‘
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   244


        When he pulled up at Yancey‘s the second time he got out of the car and went

around opening every window in the house. He still didn‘t know what it was that drove

these people to madness, but it seemed to diminish or go away when the place was

cleared out. When he had done that he went back to his car to wait. While he was sitting

there, the first snowflakes began to fall.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        245




                                          Chapter 8



        The first flakes of snow hit the hood of his cruiser while the engine was still

warm and quickly melted. In a few minutes the sky had grown much darker and snow

was beginning to accumulate on the ground. Lane pulled his jacket around him and

zipped it tight. The wind wasn‘t strong, but there was still a bite to the air and it chilled

him to the bone. Being only a few yards away from the three bodies didn‘t help much.

        It was nearly four when the first police car arrived with lights flashing. It was

followed by the coroner‘s van, the same van which had carried away five bodies just this

morning.

        Noah Denton came stomping out of the first car. ―God dammit, Mauler! This is

getting to be too much. Can‘t you do anything about this wave of violence?‖

        ―Like what?‖ Lane asked. He‘d already made a fool of himself once today; he

wasn‘t going to do it again.

        ―Like what, he asks.‖ Noah tossed his hands in the air in exasperation while his

body spun around in a little circle. ―Like stopping suspicious persons for questioning.

Like pulling in everyone who has ever had anything to do with drugs for a start. Like…‖

        ―Yes?‖

        Noah took a deep breath, held it while he counted ten and let it out slowly while

he recovered his composure. ―I‘m sorry, Lane,‖ Denton said with sincerity. ―I guess you

don‘t have many suspicious persons in Valley Forks. I know there‘s very little that a

peace officer can do to prevent a crime from happening. It just galls me that people are
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      246


killing each other all around us and we‘re left standing with egg on our face. Has that

Demming bitch been back yet?‖

         ―Not that I know of. Do you expect her?‖

         ―She didn‘t do us any favors on today‘s news. Her current rumor is that one or

more gangs, who may or may not be involved in the sale and manufacture of drugs, may

be operating in the county. Hell, everybody knows that. It‘s like saying the ocean may

be wet, or the desert may be sandy. No hard leads to point to anything, and no way to

disprove what she has said, but it does get attention and make headlines.‖ He changed

the subject. ―Sorry I‘ve been ragging on you. Now, tell me, what do you think happened

here?‖

         Lane walked him through the crime scene being careful not to disturb potential

evidence. He recited what he thought to be the probable sequence of events and, lacking

any evidence to the contrary, they logged the incident as a probable murder/suicide.

         ―No candles like at the Wheaton place?‖ Denton asked.

         ―None that I‘ve seen. What‘s your idea?‖

         ―Dr. Conried said she‘s found minute traces of cyanide and mercury in all the

victims, but not concentrated enough to be hazardous. That‘s to be expected anywhere in

mining country. Run off from the mill gets into everything, but usually not in high

enough concentrations to cause any danger.‖

         ―And these were?‖ Lane asked.

         ―That‘s the strange part. No they weren‘t. Just trace amounts like you‘d find

anywhere in the valley.‖

         ―Then she hasn‘t found anything for us to go on yet either.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      247


        ―Not yet, but she‘s not finished. She‘s running some kind of tests, chromatic

spectrographs or something like that. I have no idea what she hopes to find, but she‘ll

keep us informed. That‘s a smart lady, not to mention good looking.‖

        ―Yes, real smart,‖ Lane said, hoping his expression wouldn‘t give away anything

more. ―Did you have to bring this snow down off the hill with you?‖ he teased.

        ―Share the wealth, I always say. It‘s been colder than a witch‘s tit all morning in

Tonopah. Looks as though we‘ll have a few inches accumulated by the time I get home

tonight. I just hope the snow plows are out and doing their job.‖

        ―You afraid your cruiser won‘t make it home, Noah?‖

        ―Hell no! I just hate to see anybody sittin‘ on their fat ass when I have to be out

in this shit.‖ They both chuckled. They had been talking long enough for Harvey to get

all the pictures he needed, and Ron Aldritch had plenty of time to get the bodies tagged

and bagged. Now they all pitched in and loaded the cadavers into Aldritch‘s van, then

the small procession drove back into Valley Forks where Lane dropped off and went

home.

        Before the under-sheriff pulled away, Lane broached a painful subject with him.

Painful to him because he hated to admit defeat.

        ―Look, Noah, perhaps I‘m not cut out for this Barney Fife role and not such quite

the hot-shot copy I used to think I was. If I‘m not pulling my weight here, you can have

my badge—no gripes from me.‖

        ―I can see why you might feel that way, Lane, but don‘t get ready to toss in the

towel just because you‘ve had a tough one dumped in your lap.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     248


          Lane tried to put into words what was really bothering him. ―When I was on the

force in Long Beach, Noah, I always rode with a partner, someone I could bounce ideas

off and we could see how they would fit. If we were both stumped, there was always the

captain of the watch. I guess what I‘m trying to say is that I‘m smart enough to realize I

don‘t know everything. Once in awhile it‘s good to have someone to exchange

information with.‖

          ―You‘re worried that twelve people are dead and you haven‘t a clue, is that

right?‖

          ―I feel responsible that I haven‘t been able to do anything to protect them, Noah.

These are not just people on the street, they are my friends and neighbors.‖

          ―We feel just as badly up in the head shed, Lane. All of the victims are taxpayers

who depend on the Sheriff‘s department to provide them with law and order, and yet we

don‘t have any more ideas than you do. If it will make you feel any better, you can call

me at home anytime you want to test one of your pet theories. Even with all my years

wearing a badge, Mauler, I‘m not much smarter than you. Perhaps I have a little more

experience, but there is no such thing as a lone-wolf police officer like they have on TV.

We‘re a team and it takes teamwork to protect the public. Don‘t think the job is getting

too big for you to handle by yourself; we‘ve got a lot of other team players just waiting to

help you and work with you.‖

          ―Then you‘re not upset with me?‖

          ―Christ, no, Mauler! I may blow smoke and breathe fire on occasion, but it‘s

mostly my way of letting off steam when the god-damned politicians are on my back and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      249


expecting me to work miracles. You just keep up doing the best you can, and when you

need help don‘t be afraid to ask for some. You got that?‖

       ―Sure, Noah. You couldn‘t have made that any clearer.‖

       Denton clapped Lane on the back as he put on his Smokey-Bear hat and slid

behind the wheel of his cruiser. ―I meant what I said about calling me at home if

necessary, Lane. You may be a hundred miles away from head quarters, but you‘re not

alone.‖ He pulled the door shut and turned the engine over. Lane touched his fingers to

his hat as the under-sheriff drove away.

       It was going on six when Lane strode into his home and dropped his leather and

weapon on the desk in his office. He went into the living room where Tutu was watching

TV and drinking hot cocoa.

       ―Hey, dad! Isn‘t it neat? The snow, I mean. If it‘s still there in the morning I

think I‘ll build a snowman if I can find my gloves.‖

       ―I think it will still be there, honey. It‘s really starting to build up out there. Any

messages?‖ Tutu was very practiced at taking down her dad‘s messages. When she

wasn‘t home, the answering machine was a poor substitute.

       ―I‘ve been home all day, after I got back from the school. The only call was from

Connie. Do you think we‘re going to have school tomorrow?‖

       ―I doubt it. I guess it‘s still early enough for me to call Tonopah and get an

answer from the superintendent of schools, though I might have to call her at home.‖

       ―You don‘t have to do anything on my account, dad. I was just curious.‖

       ―Well, I‘m curious too, so I‘ll call on my account, all right? Did Connie say what

she wanted?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     250


        ―Probably just a hot date, dad. Why don‘t you invite her for dinner again? I‘ve

got this really neat recipe for Chicken a la Cheryl I can fix.‖

        ―As long as it‘s not battered in oatmeal I promise I‘ll like it. What‘s for dinner

tonight?‖

        ―Will you settle for meat loaf? With mashed potatoes and gravy? I left a plate

for you in the microwave. Want me to heat it up?‖

        ―Thanks, Tutu. I‘ll eat as soon as I call Connie and the superintendent of

schools.‖

        He tried Connie at home first but got only her answering machine. Next he called

her at work and asked for her extension in the morgue. ―It‘s me,‖ he said. ―Cheryl said

you called?‖

        ―Lane! Hi, yes, I wanted to let you know we‘ve got some results back on some of

the lab tests of evidence from the Wheaton house. You remember the foreign material

we scraped from the candles? Well, we got the usual paraffin residue, but we‘ve also got

some readings that tend to indicate peyote, that loco weed American Indians used in a lot

of their religious ceremonies. The only curious part is that the levels indicated are about

one hundred times as strong as anything listed in the books. It‘s like someone took a

hundred grams of the stuff and condensed its narcotic effect into just one gram.‖

        ―So you think it‘s artificial? Something they might have bought from someone

else?‖ Lane‘s mind was coming up with more questions. Could there be a drug lab

somewhere in the vicinity? If so, could he locate it?

        ―That‘s possible, but I‘ve never come across anything like this in the literature.

Peyote, you know, is frequently the cause of hallucinations and may contribute to violent
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          251


behavior. I can understand why someone would want to get high and experience mind

altering hallucinations, but why would they want the violent side effects?‖

         ―Maybe it was the high they wanted and didn‘t know about the side effects. But

would everybody suffer the same side effects?‖

         ―I wouldn‘t think so. Peyote doesn‘t always engender violent side effects.‖

         ―Then it‘s unlikely that this is peyote, merely something that looks like it.‖

         ―Yes, looks like it in lab tests,‖ she said, ―but it is light-years ahead in other

properties. I‘m not sure if it is a manufactured drug either. You know, plants and

animals, even bacterial and microbial life all experience spontaneous mutations from time

to time. Mutations can be caused by accidental or intentional combinations with other

chemicals, or by cosmic radiation like sunspots, cross pollination of plants by wind or

insects, or simply by a genetic throw of the dice. Mother Nature occasionally throws a

curve. If the new species is strong and healthy, if it can survive better than what it was

before, it may breed true and a new species is born. This could be a mutation of an

everyday peyote plant.‖

         ―God, I hope not. Can you imagine something like this getting loose in a major

city?‖

         ―I‘d rather not. By the way, someone else is looking into the Wheaton incident. I

had two investigators from the government here today. They took all my specimens from

the Wheaton house and Esposito‘s place too. The additional blood screens we did on the

Esposito‘s turned up the same variety of compounds we found at the Wheaton‘s. But

none of the samples from Winscott‘s are a match. It looks like he may have been an

isolated incident. That incident occurred quite some time before the others you‘ll recall.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        252


You may see those government folks down in your neighborhood, a Dr. Fresno and a real

good looking woman, Dr. Enderman.‖

          ―What would they come down here for? You‘ve got as much information as I

do? Except, that we got another one today. There are three bodies on the road as we

speak.‖

          ―What kind of circumstances?‖ Connie asked.

          ―Unexplainable, just like the others. You know the Yancey‘s? Son George is in

a wheel chair?‖

          ―Um-hum,‖ was her cautious reply.

          ―Well, it looks like Shirley took Joel‘s head off with a twelve-gauge, and then

crucified George in the kitchen. Nailed his arms and hands to the wall with kitchen forks.

While I was searching for her she opened up on me with the shotgun. I didn‘t have much

of a choice."

          ―She‘s dead?‖

          ―I‘m sorry, but I had no way out.‖

          ―Sometimes I think you men think with your guns as much as your balls. That‘s

what scares me, Lane. Not just you, it‘s all cops I‘m concerned about.‖

          ―I‘m sorry you feel that way, Connie. But she didn‘t give me a whole lot of

options. She fired three shots at me from less than twenty yards. I‘m lucky she didn‘t

put me under.‖

          ―That‘s the other thing that scares me about cops,‖ she said. ―Just when I find

one I think maybe I could love, I have to accept the fact that he might not come home
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     253


tonight, or tomorrow, or ever. I‘m not sure I‘m cut out for that kind of relationship,

Lane.‖

         ―Is that a hint that maybe we should call off our relationship?‖ he asked. He was

just beginning to feel comfortable with this woman. Feeling that maybe he could open up

with her.

         ―No, I‘m not saying that. It‘s just that I‘m— well, I‘m scared, Lane.‖

         ―Aren‘t we all? Life can be scary, Connie. The trick is not to let it scare you so

much that you avoid living.‖

         ―I won‘t do that, Lane.‖

         ―By the way, Tutu wants me to invite you for dinner. She says she wants to test a

new recipe. How about Friday if you‘re up to it?‖

         ―Friday sounds good. Seven o‘clock?‖

         ―Perfect. I‘ll tell her to set another plate.‖

         ―Thanks, I‘ll look forward to it. And if those government people come to talk

with you, lay off that Enderman woman. Tell her she can go find her own man.‖

         ―I thought you were afraid of cops?‖ he joked.

         ―Maybe I just need to get to know this cop a little better. See you Friday.

Kisses!‖

         ―Kiss back. See you then, bye.‖ He hung up.

         Lane wandered into the kitchen and found that Tutu had heated his plate and set it

on the table with a glass of water and a cup of coffee. Besides the meat loaf and potatoes,

she‘d also prepared some carrots and broccoli. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps

she might take this healthy eating too far. For that matter, he was wondering how much
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        254


of this good for you stuff she was eating? Before he sat down he poked his head into the

living room. She was catching the last of the day‘s news. Lane recognized Pam

Demming and heard her speculating about teachers and drugs. Lane was speculating too.

Only now he had to include some secret government business in his equations. So far he

hadn‘t enough data to make an educated guess.

        ―Connie says she‘ll be here for dinner, Friday at seven,‖ he called through the

open door.

        ―Great! I really like her, dad.‖

        ―You haven‘t seen me punching her in the nose, have you?‖

        ―No, but you might try being a little more charming. How about sending her

some flowers? You could do it by phone, you know.‖

        ―Flowers, hmm, I‘ll think about that tomorrow.‖

        ―No school? What did you find out?‖

        ―To tell the truth, I forgot. Let me finish dinner before it gets cold, then I‘ll call.‖

He squirted mustard from a squeeze bottle onto his meat loaf.

        ―No hurry, dad. Next month will be fine with me, how about February thirtieth?‖

        ―You‘re dreaming, kid. Don‘t you want to graduate and go on to college? I

thought you were anxious to get out of this little spot on the road of life?‖

        ―Just kidding, dad. Go ahead and eat.‖

        ―Hey, this is pretty good. Whatever I‘m paying you, it‘s doubled.‖

        ―Sounds about right. Two times zero is still zero.‖

        ―I‘ll throw in tons of love and affection.‖

        ―You got a deal!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      255


       After Lane finished his dinner and washed the dishes he did call the

superintendent of schools. Mrs. Kearney told him that she was sorry she hadn‘t had

enough notice to find any replacements to fill in today, but there would be four

substitutes available for Thursday and school would resume as normal. Lane thanked her

and rang off.

       In the living room he told Tutu, ―Looks like today is your only day of grace,

honey. Tomorrow will be back to normal.‖

       ―Thanks, dad. You‘re tops.‖

       ―You almost sound as if you mean that,‖ he teased.

       ―You know I mean it, dad. But I had plans to build a snowman tomorrow. Now

you tell me we‘ll be back to school as usual.‖

       ―Yeah, life goes on. Now that I‘ve had a nice hot meal, I better go out and put the

snowplow blade on my county vehicle. Looks as though we‘ll need it come morning. I‘d

rather get the chore done now when I‘ve got the time, rather than have to tackle it when

it‘s cold and dark before the sun comes up.‖

       He went upstairs for his parka and when he came down he took Tutu‘s keys from

the nail in the kitchen so that he could move her car out of the carport and move his

Blazer in out of the weather. His diesel pickup had been relegated to a corner of the back

yard where it was covered with a canvas and vinyl car cover. Once each month he

uncovered it and cranked it up to let the engine run for about half an hour. Maybe it was

his Boy Scout „be prepared‟ training, or something that stuck with him after he got out of

the Army, but he felt the vehicle should always be ready to crank and take to the road.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    256


       He strung a trouble light and a drop cord from the kitchen window and set to

work attaching the plow and wheel weights. Fortunately the instructions were in a plastic

bag in the same tool closet where the plow was stored. After he had the plow in place

and had tested the mechanism to raise and lower it he put the wheel weights in place. It

was nearly ten when he finished and he was thoroughly chilled.

       He went in the kitchen and poured a hot cup of coffee, unplugging the pot when

he emptied it. Tutu came in on her way upstairs.

       ―Forgive me for pooping out on you, dad, but I don‘t think I‘ll be staying up for

Leno tonight. Got to get up for school in the morning, you know.‖

       Lane planted a kiss on her forehead. ―Thanks for dinner, squirt. Sorry I didn‘t

get to spend more time with you tonight.‖

       ―S‘all right, dad. I know you‘ve got things you‘d rather be doing too. G‘night.

See you in the morning.‖

       ―Sleep tight, pun‘kin.‖ Lane watched her head down the hall and up the stairs.

He was mighty proud of what a fine young woman she was becoming.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     257




                                          Chapter 9



         Just after eight the next morning, the government people knocked on his door.

Tutu had left for school after fixing her dad ham and eggs for breakfast. What a pleasure!

Lane poured what was left of the coffee into a thermos he planned to take with him while

he plowed the side roads and was just finishing the dishes. He grabbed a towel to wipe

his hands and carried it to the front door.

         ―Deputy Lane Mauler?‖ the thin man asked. He was in his early or mid-forties.

He had shoulder length brown hair. The woman with him was a real lightweight. Short

and thin, even when heavily wrapped in a long coat.

         ―Yes?‖ he said.

         ―I‘m Dr. Wayne Fresno from US TECBAD. We‘re located south of here a

ways.‖

         ―I‘ve heard of your agency,‖ Lane said.

         ―This is Dr. Enderman,‖ Fresno continued. ―She works with me.‖

         Connie was right. This Enderman woman was good looking, in spite of the

heavy, black-framed glasses she wore. Lane had never thought that glasses marred a

woman‘s appearance. ―Hi,‖ she said, holding out her gloved hand.

         ―Pleased to meet you,‖ Lane said. ―Why don‘t you come on in out of the cold? I

was just about to head out and plow the side roads here in town.‖

         ―We were pretty sure you would have other duties,‖ Dr. Fresno said. ―That‘s

why Dr. Enderman and I left Tonopah early this morning.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     258


           He led them into the front room and found chairs for them. ―Can I get you some

coffee? I‘m sure you can use some on a morning like this. I‘ve some fresh made in the

kitchen,‖ he lied.

           ―That would be nice,‖ Dr. Enderman said. ―Black for me, please.‖

           ―Same here,‖ Fresno added.

           Lane left the kitchen door open so they could talk while he found cups and

poured the coffee from his thermos. ―I talked with Dr. Conried last night,‖ he called

through the open door. ―She said that I might be hearing from you. What can I do to

help you?‖ He placed their cups on saucers and stuck napkins under his left arm. He

served Dr. Enderman and handed her a napkin, then he served Dr. Fresno.

           As he sat down Dr. Enderman opened the conversation. ―Our principal duty at

TECBAD is to find ways to protect this nation from a chemical or biological attack by a

foreign power, or by terrorists for that matter. It‘s unfortunate, but CB weapons are

relatively simple to manufacture and transport. I‘m sure you‘ll recall the Serin agent

released by terrorists in the Japanese subways? We can‘t prevent such an attack; that is

not within our mission. Our task is to find ways of combating such an attack, if one has

been delivered.‖

           ―Yes,‖ said Dr. Fresno. ―Over the past few weeks you‘ve had several unfortunate

incidents here in Valley Forks. We‘d like to assist you in determining what may have

happened. Chiefly we want to find out if it could possibly be some kind of terrorist

attack.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    259


         ―Wouldn‘t a terrorist attack be committed somewhere with a larger population

density? You mentioned Japan, why not Las Vegas, or better yet, Los Angeles? Who

would bother with a whistle stop like Valley Forks?‖

         ―Exactly, Deputy Mauler. That‘s why Dr. Enderman and I have yet to be

convinced that what you are experiencing is an attack of some sort. In any event, our

expertise may help you in arriving at a solution to this problem.‖

         ―I would certainly glad to accept help on this. Right now, we don‘t have much to

go on. I gather you‘ve already seen the lab results Dr. Conried came up with. She

mentioned that you had relieved her of some samples.‖

         ―Yes,‖ Dr. Enderman said. ―The equipment we have available to us is much

more delicate and sensitive than the equipment available to her. We also have the

resources of large computer databases to assist in our search for answers. You

understand, we haven‘t relieved her of any responsibility in her duties, we just want to

give whatever help we can.‖

         Lane tried to absorb what he had just heard. Long ago he had heard a joke about

the biggest lie told by the government: A man comes up and shakes your hand and says,

‗Hello, I‘m from the government. I‘m here to help you.‘

         Lane had an inborn suspicion of people who freely offered assistance. They

nearly always had an ulterior motive. The problem was he had no way to refuse their

offer.

         ―Where would you like to start?‖ he asked.

         Dr. Fresno pulled a spiral notebook from inside his coat. ―Let‘s see, you‘ve had

two other similar events, right?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    260


        ―Three,‖ he corrected. ―There was another yesterday afternoon. The bodies

should have reached the morgue by last night.‖

        ―Three,‖ Dr. Fresno commented and made a notation in his book. ―We already

have some background on a family named Espinoza and…‖

        ―Esposito,‖ Lane corrected.

        ―Hmm? Oh, yes, Esposito. And there was another event at the home of a Dana

Wheaton? I believe six people were involved there.‖

        ―That‘s correct. Steve Dunlop survived that horror and was air lifted to the

hospital in Ely.‖

        Fresno made another note to follow up by questioning Dunlop at the hospital.

This could turn out to be a break in their research. The only questioning they could do

with rats was by way of an autopsy. ―Okay, we‘ll speak to him, perhaps this afternoon.

Could we see where the third event took place?‖

        ―I don‘t see why not, the initial investigation has been completed. Do you want

me to take you there or would you rather I draw you a map?‖

        ―I think a map will do,‖ Dr. Enderman said. ―We wouldn‘t want to interfere with

your other duties.‖

        ―Fine,‖ Lane said. ―Let me get a paper and pencil from the office and I‘ll draw

you a sketch so you can find the Yancey‘s. The Esposito place is out that way also. I‘ll

mark it on the sketch; you may want to check it out too.‖

        ―That would be a big help, deputy,‖ Dr. Fresno said. Lane suspected that they

would be very happy to be able to look the two places over without him being along.

That suited him, he was pretty sure he‘d already learned as much as he could.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      261


          ―When you get back to town, I‘d be happy to take you over to the Wheaton

place.‖

          ―Thank you very much, deputy. We‘ll be sure and look you up when we‘ve

finished our inspections.‖ Lane held the sketch over Fresno‘s lap and explained the

landmarks to look for. When he finished, Fresno rose and Enderman followed suit. Lane

showed them to the front door and watched them drive away. It struck him as strange

that they hadn‘t asked for a report on what had happened at the Yancey‘s. It was almost

as if they already knew what had gone on there. Lane wondered if they knew more than

they were telling. He thought of an answer to that one right away; of course they knew

more than they were telling. He‘d never heard of a government employee yet who hadn‘t

withheld information. For that matter, most law enforcement personnel could be pretty

close mouthed too. It did not necessarily mean that they were guilty of anything.

                                         *   *   *

          When they reached the Yancey‘s farmhouse, Fresno and Enderman made a quick

once over inside. They found no obvious causes for the violence that had taken place

here. Enderman brought a sample kit from their car and now they went over the place a

second time, paying particular attention to anything that might be considered out of the

ordinary.

          Both of the scientists were wearing sweaters and overcoats. There had been no

heat in the Yancey home since yesterday. The place was thoroughly chilled and could

easily have served as a meat locker, a place to hang beef for chilling. Dr. Fresno went to

the fireplace and used a poker to sift through the ashes. He was considering lighting a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       262


fire to make their search more comfortable. There was kindling, and firewood stacked in

a box. Why not? At least they could be comfortable while they did their work.

        He began by laying two short logs lengthwise on the hearth. Then he laid

kindling across the gap between the logs, with more kindling atop that. Slowly he built

up a mixture of kindling and small chunks of firewood. To the right of the fireplace was

a magazine rack which held several old newspapers. Dr. Fresno grabbed a few of those

when something fell onto the hearth. It was a small piece of thin cardboard or heavy

paper. He picked it up and looked at it closer. He saw heavy red paper. It had white

printing on it. A staple held it folded over and bits of cellophane clung to the staple.

Once it had been folded over a small cellophane envelope and stapled shut. Where had

he seen it before? He new he had seen something like this, and very recently. He pulled

a small plastic sample envelope from his pocket and put the red and white paper inside.

On the outside he wrote the date, time, and location where he had found the specimen.

Unconsciously he shoved it into his pocket. There were matches on the mantle above the

fireplace. Fresno selected one, struck it on a brick and touched it to the crumpled

newspaper. Shortly he had a fire blazing in the hearth. He adjusted the damper and

continued his search of the home.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      263




                                        Chapter 10



        Late Friday afternoon, Lane Mauler was watching the TV news and drinking a

tepid cup of coffee. Wednesday and Thursday had been quiet. No more violent murders;

all he‘d done for the past few days was write an occasional speeding ticket, usually out of

state drivers from California, in a hurry to get to their next accident. There had been that

silent alarm to respond to over at Martin‘s Video last night, but it hadn‘t been anything

serious. Some kid had thrown a snowball that cracked a front window and triggered the

alarm. The kid had never been identified, probably having run straight home terrified the

sheriff would catch him, using fingerprints or something, and lock him up. Lane

chuckled over that one. Fingerprints, on a snowball?

        Heavenly aromas were drifting from Tutu‘s kitchen as she put together ―a killer

dinner‖ as she called it. The living room table was set with their best dishes and silver

and adorned with candles not yet lit. Having no fresh flowers, Tutu had put together an

attractive display of dried flowers. The overall effect was one of warmth, charm, and a

homey atmosphere.

        ―You‘ve done an incredible job,‖ Lane told her before he settled down to watch

the news. ―I‘m sure Connie will know she‘s welcome here and that you‘ve fixed a

special dinner for someone we consider a very special person. Thanks, Hon.‖

        ―Well, someone has to take the initiative, dad. When I go off to college you‘ll

have to cook for yourself, you know. I‘ll feel better if I can get you and Connie together

before I go.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   264


        ―You‘ve got nearly two years to work on it, dear, so don‘t be in a rush. Let me

know if I can help with dinner.‖

        ―Why don‘t you invite her to Mexico for a vacation? That would be nice this

time of year. Say, Cabo or Mazatlan?‖

        ―And leave you alone? All by yourself? In this big house? With a nearly new

car to boot? I wasn‘t born yesterday, Tutu.‖

        ―Neither was I, dad. Besides, it‘s really ridiculous to imagine me throwing a wild

party in this town. Who would I invite?‖

        ―Well, okay. So I don‘t have to worry about you. Connie and I still have a lot of

work to finish up concerning recent events. We can‘t just up and go. Besides, what

makes you think she‘d want to?‖

        ―Trust me, dad. Connie has done nothing but work, work and work in the years

she has been in Tonopah, and the years she spent in school before that. She‘d jump at the

chance to spend a week in the sun with a good looking guy like you.‖

        ―You make her sound like a frog. I can‘t picture Connie jumping just because I

asked her to hop.‖

        ―Try it, dad. You may be surprised.‖ With that remark Tutu buried herself in the

kitchen once more leaving Lane to wonder where his relationship with Connie might be

headed. It was true, he found her immensely attractive and looked forward to the times

they could spend together, but he wasn‘t sure if either of them felt like wanting to make

their relationship more permanent. There were still a few differences between them,

possibly, irreconcilable differences.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       265


        Over the past few days the snow continued to fall intermittently. It was now

drifted to a depth of nearly two feet on the leeward side of trees and buildings. Where he

had cleared the few side roads with the attachment to his Blazer it was pushed up in

heaps three feet deep. It was nearly seven now, the sun had been down for more than an

hour and Lane had a respectable bed of coals glowing in the airtight stove in the living

room. A cast iron teakettle bubbled on the back of the stove, adding humidity to the dry

air in the house.

        Lane began to wonder what Drs. Fresno and Enderman were studying at this

time, and what they knew but weren‘t telling him. He decided to change the subject, to

get his mind completely off the murders and relax and enjoy this evening with Connie.

        ―Tutu? You feel like some target practice tomorrow?‖

        ―Sure, dad,‖ her voice came drifting from the kitchen. ―It‘s been several weeks.

Do you think Connie would like to go with us?‖

        ―That‘s kind of what I was thinking. Although she hasn‘t come right out and said

anything, I think guns frighten her. Perhaps if she saw how safe a weapon can be when

handled by someone like you, maybe she‘d get over it.‖

        ―I‘ll ask her after dinner. When she‘s comfortably full and feeling satisfied,

she‘ll be in a pleasant mood. I think.‖

        ―Here she comes now,‖ he said as Connie‘s beige county car pulled up in front.

Connie shut off the engine and lights and got out, not forgetting to lock the car behind

her. She realized the odds of anyone attempting to steal the car in this small town, parked

right in front of the local deputy‘s home were slight, but good habits are hard to break.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      266


        Lane met her at the door and helped her off with her coat. He put his arms

around her and held her for a moment. ―It‘s good to see you again,‖ he said.

        ―Getting to be a regular habit, isn‘t it?‖

        ―I don‘t mind.‖

        He showed her to the front room, deposited her on the couch and brought her a

glass of white wine. ―Tutu says she‘s almost done with the chicken.‖

        Connie took a sip of her wine. ―God, that‘s good! My nerves are frazzled driving

on that icy highway, plus I‘m suffering hunger pangs. I had only coffee and a roll at the

Palace this morning and worked straight through lunch. It‘s a good thing you don‘t have

a strong breeze in your living room. I feel as though I might simply blow away.‖ She

giggled and Lane felt a warm glow just hearing her and seeing her feel happy. It was

quite a change from the night he had held her close after they had cleaned up the mess at

the Wheaton‘s and patched up Steve Dunlop right here on the couch.

        ―Say, Tutu and I thought we might drive out of town tomorrow morning and kill

a few cans. You feel like going with us?‖

        ―I‘m not sure, Lane. I‘ve never felt very comfortable around guns, not after

seeing the awful damage they cause to some of my patients. But I guess it‘s something

I‘ll just have to get used to if I plan on seeing very much of you. You‘ll break me in

gently won‘t you? Shooting, I mean,‖ she said with a wink.

        ―Of course, I have a sweet little twenty-two automatic that I sometimes use just

for target practice. Almost no recoil and you can shoot all day for a dollar or two. It

promotes hand and eye coordination, an important part of marksmanship.‖

        ―Okay, I‘ll give it a try, but no promises. Understood?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     267


        ―Right.‖ He took a sip of his wine, feeling that he‘d won a minor victory at least.

        Tutu came in from the kitchen with a casserole dish, which she set on a trivet in

the center of the table. ―Gather round, folks. The salad will be right out.‖ She dashed

back to the kitchen and returned with a large bowl of tossed salad. A moment later she

brought in side dishes of cauliflower and broccoli in cheese sauce, candied carrot slices,

and finally a fresh pot of coffee.

        Connie seated herself at the chair Lane had pulled out for her. Tutu came in with

a selection of salad dressings and he seated her also. ―Go ahead and dig in,‖ she said. I‘ll

confess to having nibbled a little while in the kitchen so I probably won‘t eat much.‖

        ―All the more for us,‖ Lane said with a huge smile.

        ―It all looks wonderful, Tutu. You‘ll make some fellow a wonderful wife some

day,‖ Connie said. ―I don‘t take much pleasure in the kitchen. Coffee and frozen dinners

is about my speed.‖

        ―Then I‘ll teach you,‖ she smiled. ―There‘s no real secret to good cooking,

anyone can follow a recipe, certainly someone who has finished college and medical

school. The real trick is to have everything ready at the same time. With a little

forethought, there really isn‘t much to it.‖

        ―A regular cordon bleu, isn‘t she?‖ Lane jibed. The dinner was excellent, Connie

had to admit. The creamy chicken casserole had just the right hint of rosemary and savory

to give it body and aroma. The vegetables were tender but not mushy. For dessert, Tutu

had made a chilled rice pudding with slices of fresh fruit and a touch of cinnamon and

nutmeg. Connie soon felt she would burst if she took another mouthful.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       268


        Afterwards they settled in front of the TV. Tutu had gone to Martin‘s Video in

the afternoon and brought home Sigourney Weaver in Alien Resurrection and Cuba

Gooding in A Murder of Crows. Connie found that she could easily turn off the stress of

her day and settle into this comfortable tableau as she sat next to Lane. He had his arm

around her and she stretched her legs out on the sofa. Tutu settled herself on the floor

near the airtight stove and sipped sparingly of the single glass of wine her father

permitted her. Connie began to marvel at how easily she fitted into this family and how

much she enjoyed being a part of it.

        Lane had similar feelings. Although both movies had interesting plots and twists,

particularly the Cuba Gooding one, he‘d seen them before and was able to let his

thoughts fill with images of Connie and himself, much as his arms were filled with her

warmth and his nostrils with her sweet scent.

        He found himself wondering if it was too soon after Ann‘s death to be harboring

such feelings?

                                         *   *    *

        Sixty-five miles away, in a well equipped lab buried beneath the desert, Dr. Fawn

Enderman snapped her three-ring binder closed and set it on the desk in front of her.

Across from her were Dr. Fresno and Dr. Pribotte.

        ―I‘d say our tests on the specimens brought from Tonopah prove conclusively that

none of the agents, or combination of agents, we‘re testing here at TECBAD are in any

way involved with the unfortunate incidents over in Valley Forks.‖

        ―I agree,‖ Dr. Fresno said. ―It appears as though the occurrences there are the

result of some unusual mutation of a previously documented plant species, or
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       269


combination of species. We clearly are not at fault for anything which has happened and

none of our ongoing work has been in anyway compromised.

        ―I do feel,‖ he continued, ―that we have a responsibility to assist these

townspeople in finding a solution to their problems. Actually, that is what we are here

for, isn‘t it? To find ways to defend the public from chemical or biological attack?

While we have no indication that these events have been brought about by any biological

means, we do have indications of chemical agents. So far, however, there is no data

which indicates that any of these agents are the result of deliberate attempts to harm the

population.‖

        ―No evidence of deliberate attempts,‖ Dr. Pribotte repeated. ―However, if we

wanted to test the results of a newly developed agent, and if we had passed the point

where laboratory tests were satisfactory, wouldn‘t we be inclined to test the agent in a

real-life, yet controlled, environment? Could it be that someone is getting ready to

release this agent in a major population area?‖

        ―Anything is possible,‖ the attractive researcher said in a sultry contralto. ―I

guess we should continue checking to determine that none of these events were anything

other than a freak occurrence of nature. But continuing is the important factor. You‘ll

note many of the symptoms and circumstances of the incidents in Valley Forks have been

similar to what we‘ve recorded in lab tests of II-PPE. By investigating what happened in

Valley Forks we may find a protocol for eliminating the undesirable effects of an agent

we are presently testing.‖ II-PPE was one of Dr. Enderman‘s personal projects. It

represented the second phase of their investigation to find a drug to enhance the physical

and psychological abilities of a fighting soldier. So far they had succeeded in making the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       270


soldier a smarter and stronger fighting man, the physical and psychological

enhancements, but they hadn‘t been able to get him to focus his aggressions solely on the

enemy.

         ―Is that your recommendation, Dr. Enderman?‖ Pribotte asked in an official

voice.

         ―I don‘t see how we can do anything else. Yes, sir, that is my official

recommendation,‖ she said.

         ―I agree,‖ Dr. Fresno added.

         Pribotte indicated that he had reached a decision by clearing his throat. ―Very

well, then. I‘ll have personnel cut orders placing you two, plus Major Bricker and one or

two enlisted men on TDY status. I want you to drive down to Las Vegas and rent a

couple automobiles. You‘ll wear civilian clothes so there won‘t be anything tying this

investigation to the military. Use a couple of our blind credit cards for your needs. Take

a portable scrambler with you. Begin tomorrow morning and submit status reports to me

at least once every afternoon. I want you to stay on this until you have isolated the

probable source of contamination and neutralized it. Do you have any questions?‖

         Fresno shook his head. Dr. Enderman said, ―No, sir.‖

         ―Then, this meeting is adjourned, thank you both.‖ He rose to his feet and left the

lab.

         ―Looks like we‘ll be booking a motel in Tonopah, Fawn,‖ Dr. Fresno said.

―There isn‘t anyplace for us to stay in Valley Forks.‖

         ―Tonopah isn‘t too bad. At least we‘ll be able to get out and see a movie at night,

or order a good dinner, maybe even take a shot at the blackjack tables.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      271


       ―Sure, loads of fun, searching for an unknown agent that drives people

murderously off their rocker. Sounds like a ball.‖

       ―You‘re an optimist, Dr. Fresno. I don‘t feel this will in any way be a picnic.‖

       ―That doesn‘t mean I‘m not right,‖ he said.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     272




                                         Chapter 11



        Connie was the first to awaken on Saturday morning. She slipped from Lane‘s

bed and put on a robe, then tiptoed downstairs where she stirred up the coals in the

airtight stove and added a few good-sized chunks of coal. She peered out the window

and saw that a few more inches of snow had fallen during the night. This year should

prove to be close to a record amount for this part of Nevada.

        In the kitchen she rummaged around until she was able to put together the

ingredients for making French toast. Tutu had maple syrup, honey, and molasses in her

cupboard. Connie put all three into the microwave and set it to gently warm them while

she prepared a pot of coffee. By the time it had finished brewing Tutu had come down

stairs and headed straight for the coffee maker.

        ―Morning, Connie. Looks like you‘re finding your way around in the kitchen. I

thought you said you couldn‘t cook?‖

        ―Well, I wouldn‘t call French toast cooking. Not much, anyway. But it‘s one of

the few things I can throw together. Do you have a whisk for beating the eggs?‖

        ―Left of the sink, second drawer down,‖ she said after a sip of coffee.

        Connie pulled out the drawer and quickly found the whisk. Hanging from a hook

to the right of the stove, she found an old-fashioned cast iron griddle and set it atop two

burners to heat. She smeared it with a dollop of butter and it soon began to sizzle. By

that time she was ready to toss on four pieces of soggy bread. They hissed and sizzled

and gave off a wonderful aroma.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      273


          ―How many for you?‖ Connie asked.

          ―Judging from that aroma, I‘d like six, but my waist line says three. How about

fixing me two and I can make another if I‘m still hungry?‖

          ―Fine. Two for you, two for me, and six for your dad,‖ she said.

          ―Six?‖

          ―He‘s still a growing boy, dear. Besides, since French toast is one of my few

accomplishments, maybe I can impress him.‖ She gave Tutu a wink.

          Upstairs they heard Lane in the bathroom shaving. Shortly he came down and

poured himself a cup of coffee. Connie and Tutu were half finished with their breakfast.

Lane saw the huge stack on his plate and said, ―Tutu, you‘ve outdone yourself this time.

A tall stack with butter on top is just what I need this morning.‖ He added a pat of butter,

smeared it around, and drowned the stack with dark, black molasses.

          ―That‘s what Connie said. She fixed your breakfast, dad.‖

          Lane sliced off a forkful and stuffed it in his mouth. ―Umm, this is great, Connie.

Feel like replacing Tutu on a more permanent basis?‖

          ―Only if you think you‘d be happy with French Toast three times a day, Lane.‖

          ―We could give it a try. Maybe in time you‘d learn to fix something good…, like

chili.‖

          Tutu gave her dad a playful punch in the shoulder. ―Dad, you‘re impossible! But

you‘re also a good cook, when you want to be, why don‘t you teach her. What could be

better than teaching a woman to fix your favorite dishes just the way you like them?‖

          ―Probably take too long,‖ he said around a mouthful of toast. ―Look how long it

has taken me to teach you. But then, you always were a slow learner,‖ he teased.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          274


        ―Dad!‖ she said in exasperation as she punched him again. Connie laughed so

heard she nearly spilled the coffee she had been about to drink.

        When breakfast was finished the girls stuck Lane with the dishes while Tutu got

out the guns.

        ―See, Connie, you always treat a gun as if it‘s loaded until you have personally

unloaded it and are certain there are no rounds left in it. We never keep an unloaded gun

around the house. Dad says unloaded guns have a habit of unexpectedly going off.

Besides, what use is a gun that‘s empty?‖ She proceeded to open the cylinder of her

thirty-eight and empty the shells into her hand. Then she flipped the cylinder closed with

a twist of her wrist and handed it to Connie.

        In her nervousness, Connie nearly dropped it as she took hold. ―I didn‘t know

they were so heavy,‖ she remarked.

        ―It‘s no heavier than a hammer, Connie. That‘s exactly what a gun is when you

think about it. It‘s just like any other tool. It has its uses, but it can hurt you too, just like

a saw, a drill, or a chisel. Dad says keep your tools clean and handle them with care and

you won‘t have to worry.‖

        ―I know it‘s a tool in your dad‘s job, but why should I need one?‖

        ―Look, Connie. You‘re a doctor. Suppose some dope-head breaks into your

house thinking you have drugs, or can at least get them for him? What do you do? Call a

cop? You think the dope-head will give you that opportunity?"

        ―Okay, it could happen, but I can‘t see myself shooting a person dead.‖

        ―Who says you have to kill him? Shoot him in the knees and he‘ll go down. If

he‘s crawling, at least you‘ll have a chance to get away.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         275


           ―That sounds more like it. But the knees aren‘t a very large target.‖

           Tutu opened a box and handed Connie a bright silver cartridge with a blue plastic

tip. ―Then you use one of these. They‘re only good for close range, ten or fifteen feet,

but you can hardly miss.‖

           ―What is it?‖ Connie asked.

           ―Snake shot,‖ Tutu said. ―Or some people call them bird shot. Basically it‘s like

a miniature shotgun shell. It has dozens of tiny little pellets inside. When you pull the

trigger they explode from the barrel with tremendous force, and they continue to spread

out as they travel. Like I said, you can hardly miss, it‘s not very sporting.‖

           ―Well, I don‘t care whether I‘m a good sport or not if someone breaks into my

home,‖ Connie said firmly.

           ―That‘s the spirit. Shot shells are seldom fatal, unless fired at very close range,

but they can do a lot of damage, and they have much less recoil than a conventional

bullet.‖

           ―You sound as though you‘ve done a lot of shooting, Tutu.‖

           ―Dad started to take me out when I was only four.‖

           ―Four!‖ Connie expostulated. ―Isn‘t that a little young?‖

           ―You‘re never too young to learn safety with firearms. Actually, he started me

with a Red-Rider BB gun. I didn‘t even have the strength to cock it at first, but it was

useful in teaching me how to hold a good sight picture, and how to hold a rifle steady

whether lying prone, kneeling, or standing. I was eight before he took me to a range to

shoot a real rifle or pistol.‖

           ―Well I should think so,‖ Connie said.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     276


         Lane came into his office and joined them. ―Looks you two ladies have just

about got things ready,‖ he said.

         ―Tutu is showing me how not to shoot my foot off,‖ Connie said.

         ―A good thing,‖ Lane smiled. ―You‘d look silly walking lopsided.‖ He reached

into the left-hand drawer of his desk and pulled out a flat box. He opened it and removed

a twenty-two automatic wrapped in rust-colored muslin. Pushing a button on the side, the

magazine was ejected into the palm of his hand. He put the magazine on the desk and

pulled back the slide of the automatic while glancing into the chamber to make sure it

was empty. When the slide went forward, slamming home, he handed it to Connie. ―I

think we‘ll start you out with this one. How does it feel?‖

         Connie wrapped her hands around the pistol grip and tried to emulate the police-

shooting stance she‘d seen in the movies. ―Not too heavy. I think I can handle this one.‖

         ―Fine,‖ he said as he took it back from her. ―When we get to the range we‘ll see

if you can hit anything with it.‖ He took his leather belt and holster from where it hung

on the back of his chair and belted it on. There was no need for him to check the pistol.

He knew it was loaded. He opened another drawer in the desk and removed three boxes

of different caliber ammunition. ―Tutu, will you carry these for us?‖ he said as he handed

the shells to her.

         He went back to the kitchen and returned seconds later with a plastic grocery bag

containing empty aluminum cans. ―We can recycle these just as easily with a few holes

in them. I prefer shooting at cans because they‘re easier to pick up than broken bottles,

would you mind carrying these, Connie? Okay, coats everyone, let‘s get this show on the

road.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     277


        They went out the front door and got into Tutu‘s van. Since the van was nearly as

new as her driver‘s license, Lane let Tutu drive. He put Connie in the passenger seat and

then leaned into the van. ―Be right back,‖ he said. ―I want to check in before we get the

Snowman upset over nothing.‖ He went to his police cruiser and switched on the radio.

It took only a moment to raise Josiah Snow who was taking his turn on the weekend shift.

He told Snow they would be about a mile east of the town on Carbon Road shooting

some cans. Snow thanked Lane for the call. Now he wouldn‘t have to chase down

reports of shots being fired.

        Lane went back to the mini-van, which Tutu had already started. She was sitting

behind the wheel and fiddling with the heater controls as if she could make the heater

warm up faster. He climbed into the back-seat behind Connie. ―Okay, Tutu, I think you

know where we‘re headed.‖

        ―Right, dad.‖ She backed out of the drive then put the car in drive and turned left.

They crossed the main highway through town and Tutu drove two blocks then made a

right, driving two more blocks until she finally turned left on Carbon Road.

        Lane had scraped the snow from this road yesterday, but a few more inches had

fallen overnight. The little van with front wheel drive handled the snow easily as it was

still early in the morning and the mud beneath was frozen solid. They continued along

the road until Tutu pulled off to the right where Lane had quit plowing and turned his

cruiser around.

        ―There is nothing beyond this point, Connie, except some trees, rocks, and maybe

a jack rabbit or two. We can get out now. Tutu, go set up some targets for us.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      278


        The girl grabbed the grocery bag and walked thirty feet away in the light snow.

On the other side of the clearing someone had dug two short lengths of telephone pole

into the ground so they were two and a half feet tall and set about twelve feet apart.

Another pole had been pinned atop them with large spikes. The crosspiece provided a

place to set up targets. Evidently quite a few people used this place on the edge of town

for target practice. Broken glass and empty cartridge casings were plentiful where the

snow had been cleared off. Tutu set up five empty soft drink cans and returned to where

her dad and Connie were standing.

        ―That enough, dad?‖

        ―Looks fine to me. Show Connie what you can do.‖

        Tutu opened the glove compartment and passed out yellow foam earplugs for

shooting. She found a pair of safety goggles and put them on. Lane handed her the box

of thirty-eight-caliber ammunition, which she placed on top of the mini-van where it was

slightly more than shoulder height. Flipping open the cylinder of her pistol she loaded

the chambers. Then she stepped two paces out in front of the van and took up her

shooters stance. Blam! Blam! Blam! She fired six evenly spaced shots missing only

once, and then she opened the cylinder and ejected the empty cartridges. She set the

weapon on the car seat and went forward to set up more targets.

        ―Four out of five isn‘t bad,‖ she said when she returned. ―You have to keep in

mind that a soft drink can at ten yards is a lot smaller than a man‘s torso at the same

distance, and thirty-feet is a lot further away than the target would be if we were

indoors.‖

        ―Right,‖ Connie agreed. ―I had no idea they were so noisy.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                           279


        ―Tutu‘s pistol is quite loud because it has only a two inch barrel. For that reason

it‘s also a lot less accurate than a similar pistol with a four or six inch barrel. She shot

very well.‖

        ―And how well do you shoot, Lane?‖

        ―Watch,‖ he said.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   280




                                       Chapter 12



       Dr. Fresno pulled off Highway 95 and stopped under the portico of The Lariat, a

two-story motel with fifty-six rooms and a restaurant. Unlike most motels in Nevada,

The Lariat had no swimming pool. At an elevation of 6,030 feet, the weather in Tonopah

was usually too cool for swimming even in mid-summer. Fresno and Enderman had

ridden in the same car from Las Vegas but he rented separate rooms using one of the

Army‘s credit cards registered to a dummy real estate corporation. Fawn Enderman had

experienced a few unpleasant relationships while in high school and in college, and

would have little or nothing to do with members of the opposite sex, outside of what was

required during the normal course of her job.

       A husky bull, however, with pubic hair under her arms and whiskey on her breath

could make Fawn weak in the knees and wet between the thighs. The restrictions of life

at TECBAD precluded the young scientist from enjoying her preferred sexual

relationship, which took the form of Norma Ciznowski, a thirty-two year old loan officer

at a major bank in Las Vegas. Twice each month, Fawn would sign out for a weekend in

Las Vegas where she would stay at Norma‘s apartment. To avoid exposing her friend

Norma to the scrutiny of the Army, Fawn always gave her own cell-phone number when

she filled in the sign-out sheet with the number where she could be reached.

       After arriving in Vegas she would park her car in the multi-story parking lot at

the Union Plaza Hotel, then take a local bus until she reached Norma‘s apartment out past

the intersection of Fremont and Charleston. For the remainder of the weekend she would
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       281


experience sexual bliss as Norma tied her up, spanked her, urinated on her, and degraded

her in the most beautiful and erotic manner Fawn could ask for. When her weekend was

over, Fawn would take another bus back to her car and return to TECBAD, her batteries

recharged, so to speak, and ready to put in another two weeks working for the Army until

she could sign out for another weekend with Norma.

        Dr. Fresno came out of the motel office and walked around the dark blue Ford

sedan to slide in behind the wheel and next to Fawn. ―Two rooms,‖ he said, ―second

floor, Building C. I think we drive down this aisle and make a left. Our rooms should be

toward the rear of the next building.‖ He cranked the engine and put the car in gear.

When they had pulled next to the stairs leading to their rooms he got out and opened the

trunk. He removed the two bags belonging to Dr. Enderman and set them on the ground

while he removed the single bag he had packed for himself. He handed her the key to her

room along with the smaller of her two bags.

        ―I‘ll carry this one upstairs for you.‖ He glanced at his watch. ―We‘ve killed

most of the day just getting here, and I‘m a little bushed from all that driving. I think I‘ll

take a nap and have a shower after I get up. Want to meet in the restaurant about six-

thirty for dinner?‖

        ―Sure, Wayne,‖ she said as she preceded him up the steps. ―If you like, I can

share the driving when we go to Valley Forks tomorrow,‖ she offered.

        ―I‘d like that, Fawn, but I don‘t think the rental agency put any pillows in the car.

I‘m not quite sure you could reach the pedals and see over the wheel at the same time,‖

he joked.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       282


        Fawn was used to being teased about her diminutive size. In college one

instructor, noticing her pierced ears, had mentioned putting her on his key chain so he

could take her home. She hadn‘t found it funny.

        She forced a smile, ―Well, at least I offered.‖ Sticking the key in the lock and

opening the door to her room she said, ―I think I‘ll have a nap too. See you at six-thirty.‖

        Her room was decorated with Navajo prints on the walls and matching

southwestern style furniture coverings. There were two Queen-size beds on one wall

while a wide dressing table and drawers took up most of the wall opposite the beds,

leaving room only for a circular coffee table with reading lamp and a pair of comfortably

stuffed chairs pushed under the table. A twenty-five inch color TV was fastened to one

side of the dressing table. Beside the TV was a brochure advertising various porno

movies available in addition to the regular cable channels. All you had to do was call the

desk and give your credit card number. She briefly glanced at some of the titles and

found two with lesbian themes. Fawn wondered how the Army would feel if they

received a bill for several hours‘ worth of triple-X-rated videos?

        Choosing to sleep in the bed nearest the windows she tossed her bags on the other

bed and opened the smaller of her two traveling cases and dug through it until she found

her travel alarm clock. She set clock to wake her at six in the afternoon and went into the

bathroom to run a tub. When the taps were flowing she hung the blouse and slacks she

had worn for traveling on hangars in the alcove which served as a closet for this room,

and hung up her remaining clothes. She stripped off her bra and panties and tossed them

into a mesh laundry bag.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    283


        After testing the water with her hand she added a capful of bath oil and swished it

around, then climbed in, shut off the taps, and settled back for a luxurious soak. She let

her thoughts wander to subjects more pleasant than Valley Forks and a mysterious gas,

microbe, or narcotic, or whatever the hell it might be. Her mind was hundreds of miles

away, thinking of Norma‘s very masculine apartment. Thinking of Norma‘s strong hands

and sensuous fingers roaming the soft curves of her naked body infected Fawn with

desires of lust and passion. Unconsciously her fingers strayed to the downy soft hair

between her thighs. She should have been in Vegas this weekend, not in this nowhere

town. She should have been caring for her lover, striving to please Norma while she did

the same for her. Fawn was oblivious to her surroundings as her passion grew to a small

but satisfactory climax which flowed through her body like storm swept breakers

crashing on a rocky shore. Spent, she let the water drain from the tub, toweled off and

dropped nude into bed. It was dark when her alarm roused her.

        Tonopah isn‘t a large town, even though it is the county seat. The population had

been a little over ten thousand a few years back when production at the mine was in full

swing and before the Air Force had closed the nearby training base. Now it supported a

reduced force of miners, some county government workers, real estate entrepreneurs and

developers, and a few small casinos catering to the tourists coming and going along

Highway 95. The town was large enough that Major Bricker and the two enlisted men

with him were able to find rooms at another hotel not too far away. ‗Brick‘ and his

security men went to the Palace Station to eat. After dinner he found a phone and called

Dr. Fresno. They agreed to meet at the Palace at six-thirty in the morning for breakfast

and then make the drive to Valley Forks, one car leading the other. Brick glanced at his
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       284


watch and found that it was a few minutes before six in the evening. He asked Sergeant

Evans and Specialist Thomas if they wanted to play a little twenty-one to kill time. They

decided to join him and the three of them settled on a table just being opened by a pretty

young dealer. The three players pretty much kept to the two-dollar minimum bet for

most of the evening.

        Brick‘s luck was consistent, neither good nor bad. After three hours he was

probably five dollars ahead of the game. It could have been more except that he and the

two enlisted men each tipped the dealer a dollar every forty minutes as they took their

breaks and rotated through the pit. If the game was monotonous for the three players, he

could imagine how much more boring it must be for the dealers. How could anyone

work in this kind of job day in and day out, week after week? He knew it would drive

him bananas in only a short while.

        At nine o‘clock they decided to call it a night and turn in so as to get an early start

in the morning. They walked across the street and down the block to their hotel. The

night was bitter cold and a stiff breeze was blowing across the mountain peaks.

Fortunately for them, the snow had been plowed from the road and swept from the walks.

It lay in drifts three and four feet deep along both sides of the road. Brick stopped at a

convenience store along the route and bought a pint of rum. It was the one beverage he

knew he wouldn‘t have trouble finding a mixer for in the soda machine at the motel.

After a couple stiff belts he settled down to a comfortable night‘s sleep.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     285




                                         Chapter 13



        Lane stepped away from the girls and pulled his Browning from his holster. He

worked the slide, feeding a shiny brass cartridge into the chamber of the pistol. He pulled

the trigger while he eased the hammer down with his thumb then holstered the weapon.

Standing with his feet slightly apart and his knees slightly bent he pulled the pistol and

extended it in front of him while he brought his left palm up to support the weapon. As

he pushed the pistol straight out in front of him his thumb pulled the hammer back.

When both arms were straight, but without locking his elbows, he fired off six shots in

rapid succession. He fired so fast all six shell-casings were hanging in the air before the

first one landed in the snow.

        One by one, each can flew from the log as he swept the targets from left to right.

When they all lay in the snow, Lane eased the hammer forward slowly and ejected the

magazine from the pistol. He turned back to the girls and walked to the van to replace

the expended shells.

        ―Show off,‖ Tutu said. ―I could do that good if my arms were stronger so that I

could keep the gun from jumping so far off target between shots.‖

        ―Very impressive,‖ Connie said. ―The other night I thought you had hit Dunlop

in the shoulder and legs while aiming for the center of the body. I see now that you put

every shot exactly where you wanted it to go.‖

        ―Well, between the Army and my years on the force, I‘ve had quite a bit of

practice. I‘ll be the first to admit that this Browning is a lot more accurate than a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      286


regulation Army forty-five. I didn‘t want to kill him, Connie. Only to disable him and

prevent injury to anyone else.‖

        ―Okay, okay, let‘s not get into that again. Show me what I‘m supposed to do.‖

While Tutu set up more cans Lane took the twenty-two automatic Connie would use from

the console of the van.

        He held the pistol up so Connie could see it. ―This is a semi-automatic pistol,

Connie. The magazine holds thirteen rounds and will fire one every time you pull the

trigger until you either stop shooting or the magazine runs empty. To fire the first shot,

you pull back the slide,‖ he demonstrated, ―and you‘ll see a cartridge pushed up by the

magazine follower. When you let the slide go forward, the round is fed into the chamber

and the pistol will fire as soon as you pull the trigger.‖

        He eased the hammer forward and waited for Tutu to return from down range.

When she was standing behind them he put the pistol into Connie‘s right hand and

showed her how to stand and point the weapon.

        ―The weapon won‘t fire just now, because the hammer is forward. Go ahead, pull

the trigger.‖ Connie did so. He could see the muscles in her hand tighten and watched as

she characteristically let the sights move to the left and off the target. He pointed out her

mistake.

        ―Now, try again. This time squeeze your trigger finger slowly, very slowly, to the

rear. While you do that, keep the front sight centered over your target and centered in the

notch of the rear sight.‖ She pulled again. This time the pistol stayed on target, almost.

        ―Okay, I guess we‘re ready to try it for real. Now, a twenty-two isn‘t especially

loud, and it won‘t kick much. Don‘t jerk the trigger; just squeeze it slowly. Don‘t try
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         287


and guess when the hammer will fall or you‘ll unconsciously flinch or close your eyes.

Let it come as a surprise. Ready?‖

        She nodded.

        ―Okay, pull the hammer back with your thumb.‖ Her movements were awkward

the first time she tried this, but he knew she would improve with practice. Right now she

was still afraid of the little popgun. It was good that she was afraid; guns are not toys.

―Now take a breath, let part of it out, hold and squeeze.‖

        Standing behind her he saw her shoulders come up as she inhaled. He heard the

whoosh as she exhaled. Suddenly there was a loud pop! A can jumped off the log and

landed in the snow.

        Connie practically jumped for joy! ―I hit it! I hit it! Did you see?‖ She turned

and suddenly the pistol was pointed at Lane‘s stomach. He quickly brushed it aside,

spinning her around until she had the weapon pointed down range while he held her arm

keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, even if it drooped slightly toward the ground.

        ―You did good, Connie. But you forgot you were holding a gun in your hands

when you turned around. Never, repeat, never forget what you‘re doing when you have a

loaded weapon in your hands. We know you don‘t intend to shoot anyone, but that‘s how

accidents happen. Always think about what you are going to do before you do it. Now,

try it again.‖

        ―No, I don‘t want to. Take the gun, I‘ve had enough.‖

        ―Don‘t let your feelings get hurt, Connie. You did well and I want you to shoot

again. There are five more targets down range and you have twelve more shots. I want
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     288


you to keep shooting until either the targets go down or the magazine is empty. Don‘t be

afraid, use what you‘ve learned and try again.‖

        To her credit, Connie kept shooting. She fired all twelve shots but left one can

standing. ―Not bad for a beginner,‖ he said. When the slide locked itself back after

ejecting the last shell he took the gun from her. He pointed out the magazine release and

she watched as the magazine popped from the grip of the pistol. ―Now, reload. Count

out thirteen shells and put each one into the magazine. Don‘t put the magazine back in

the pistol until Tutu comes back from down range. Always think safety first. Okay?‖

        ―Yes, Lane, a gun is just a tool,‖ she repeated. ―It can‘t shoot anyone by itself,

but I can if I‘m careless. I understand.‖ While Tutu set up another six cans, Connie fed

shells into the pistol‘s magazine. When Tutu had set up the cans and returned to the

firing line, Lane had Connie shoot again. This time she knocked all six down with just

eight shots.

        ―I‘m getting better,‖ she said, proudly.

        ―You certainly are. Okay, Tutu, it‘s your turn.‖

        The three of them killed the rest of the morning taking turns, reloading, and

setting up targets. By noon they were thoroughly chilled but Lane was pleased with the

progress Connie had made. He locked the pistols in the console, except for his own,

which he wore, and drove them to Art‘s for lunch.

        ―You all did so well, I thought we would have a treat and eat out so you won‘t

have dishes to wash. Dinner‘s on me, order whatever pleases you!‖

        ―Big spender,‖ Tutu said to Connie in a stage whisper. She added a wink. ―You

sure we can fit that into the budget, dad?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       289


        ―Pooh on the budget! This is a celebration. We‘ll have wine and dancing girls.

We‘ll eat, drink, and make merry.‖

        ―You pretend you have dancing girls, dad, and I‘ll pretend to drink wine. We

don‘t want to get Art in trouble with the law, do we?‖

        ―Well, I could use my influence, if I have any. But, I guess we better not.

Wouldn‘t want to set a bad example for the rest of the town.‖ He pulled the van into a

space in front of Art‘s and killed the engine. The three went inside where the air felt like

a hot wind off the desert after they had spent the morning in the chill air. Lane helped

them each with their coats and hung them on the row of hooks Art provided just inside

the door. Without the insulation of their heavy coats the warmth of the restaurant soon

penetrated their bodies and warmed them thoroughly.

        They took a booth and Ruth quickly appeared to take their orders. Connie settled

for a grilled cheese sandwich and hot coffee. Tutu decided that she needed something to

warm her inside and ordered hot pastrami. Lane chose his usual order of chili in a

sourdough bowl. Ruthie knew his likes by now and brought a bottle of Tabasco sauce

without waiting to be asked. When they had finished eating, the three of them again

donned their coats for the short trip home. Outside, a chill wind was whipping through

the trees and it wouldn‘t take much to chill them again.

        As Lane slid the check onto the counter Tutu selected one of the cellophane

packages of Granny Titus‟s Herbal Potpourri. ―In this cold weather, the house is closed

up so much of the time, I thought we could use a little something to freshen the air.

Okay, dad?‖ Lane agreed while noticing that the pasteboard card was nearly empty.

When he and Tutu had first seen it several weeks ago, there had been two-dozen or more
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                           290


packets attached to it. Evidently Tutu wasn‘t the only resident of Valley Forks who

found that being indoors could get a little stuffy during the cold winter months. Ruthie

added a dollar to their bill and Tutu slid the packet into her coat pocket as they ventured

out into the chill wind.

         When they arrived home Tutu filled the coffee maker and switched it on. Lane

went upstairs for a moment and returned with a plastic toolbox. He set the red box on the

kitchen table. ―This is one of the more interesting lessons,‖ he told Connie. ―Now we

get to clean our weapons.‖

         He put all three pistols on the table and showed Connie how to disassemble the

twenty-two for cleaning. ―The first thing we always do is eject the magazine and pull the

slide to the rear to make sure the pistol is empty.‖ He demonstrated for her while Tutu

took her thirty-eight and opened the cylinder. All the empty cartridges had been removed

before they left the practice range so she was merely following her dad‘s advice. She

removed the cylinder and set it aside then she went out onto the back porch and returned

with a one-gallon fuel can and an oil changing pan made of black plastic.

         ―It won‘t take but a minute, Connie. A little trick dad brought home from the

Army is to pour diesel fuel into this pan, then put all the parts in. We use a wire brush on

all the metal parts and a plastic brush on the wood or plastic parts. Run a bore brush

down the barrel a couple of times; then wipe everything with an old T-shirt. The diesel

fuel leaves a light coating of oil on all the metal parts, especially the itty-bitty ones in

places we don‘t disassemble.‖ She demonstrated each step while talking.

         ―Of course, there are more parts with your automatic, but the procedure is the

same.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          291


         When Lane had put all the parts of Connie‘s twenty-two into the pan, Connie

took the cleaning rod from Tutu and attached the bore brush for her smaller twenty-two.

After cleaning the bore she wiped down the barrel and set it aside then took a soft brass

brush and cleaned the slide and receiver group. In just a few moments she was done and

was waiting for Lane to finish doing the same to his nine-millimeter, then show her how

to reassemble the little pistol.

         ―When you see it in pieces like this, it certainly doesn‘t look very dangerous,‖ she

commented.

         ―That‘s because a gun is just a collection of metal parts. Even when you put it

back together and load it, it‘s still harmless. It takes a person behind the gun to use it for

good or evil,‖ Lane told her.

         ―I‘m going to take mine back upstairs, dad, then see what I can find on the boob

tube.‖

         ―On a Saturday afternoon?‖ he asked. ―Good luck.‖

         When she had left, Connie said to Lane, ―I want to thank you for this morning.

That is the first time in my life I‘ve ever held a real gun, let alone shoot one. It didn‘t

make me feel like Bonnie and Clyde just to be knocking down empty soda cans. I‘ve

really been afraid it would bring out the beast in me, so to speak.‖

         ―We‘ll do it again soon,‖ Lane said. ―I want to show you rifle and shotgun also.‖

         ―What‘s the difference?‖ Connie asked.

         ―A rifle fires a bullet at high velocity and with tremendous force. It has grooves

in the barrel to make the bullet spin and gives it greater accuracy. A shotgun, on the

other hand, has a smooth bore with no rifling. It fires a charge of pellets. Because the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      292


pattern of the pellets gets wider as the charge leaves the barrel, it‘s especially good for

shooting birds on the wing, although it‘s also very effective against targets on the ground.

Shotgun shells are available with a wide variety in the types of shot they carry. The

largest is triple-ought. Usually there are no more than six to nine pellets in a load of that

size. At the other end of the scale is number six, seven, or eight shot. A shell like that

may have two or three hundred tiny pellets.‖

        ―Why so many?‖ Connie wanted to know.

        ―Well, the bullet from a rifle inflicts damage through trauma and shattering of

bones and organs. Often a pistol or rifle bullet will go completely through a target. A

shotgun kills by causing a large number of small wounds, without tearing up the target.

Usually the bird dies from the shock of a number of wounds, so the meat is still usable

for dinner. Some game birds tend to be quite small, and it would take a really good shot

to hit one with a rifle.

        ―Shot-gunning originated centuries ago in Europe. Whether hunting for rabbits or

fowl, there was always the danger that a rifle bullet would carry far beyond the target if

the hunter missed, perhaps a mile or more, and injure someone else. Hunting areas in

Europe tend to be small and privately owned while the population density is quite high.

The shot charge from a shotgun tends to lose velocity fairly quickly and it can be

relatively harmless at ranges over fifty or sixty yards. For close range, though, it‘s

difficult to miss with a shotgun and a one-ounce charge can stop a predator with a

devastating impact.‖

        ―I know quite a bit about rifle and pistol wounds from time spent in the ER. But

I‘ve never seen a shotgun wound.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       293


        ―That‘s because few people use one out here in the desert. In terrain like this,

most shooting is done at ranges over a hundred yards, maybe as much as four or five

hundred yards. A shotgun would be useless. In this part of the country, about the only

people using shotguns are security guards and law enforcement personnel protecting

private property. They don‘t want to hurt somebody a block down the street if they miss

the target.‖

        ―Right, I can see the logic behind that,‖ she said.

        When Lane finished assembling the weapons and answering Connie‘s questions

he took them into his office where he hung his Browning and leather over the chair and

put the twenty-two back in its case in the desk. He was surprised when the phone rang.

        ―Deputy Mauler? This is Major Bricker from the TECBAD test site. I‘m here in

town with some of our scientists and a couple of my own security people. We came to let

you know that our tests have shown there is no relationship between any of the chemicals

and agents we are working with and the incidents you‘ve reported here, but, we‘ve turned

up a couple more bodies for you.‖

        ―What? Where? Have you informed anyone else?‖

        ―Not yet, I called you first. We‘re out here north of town, checking out the

Yancey and Esposito sites for any other leads. There was a Mr. Kingman across the road

from the Yancey‘s. He was going to take us over to another neighbor who might be able

to give us more information. That‘s when we found the bodies. The Talbot place Mr.

Kingman says. There‘s a man and a woman, and two teen-age boys.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      294


        ―I know where it is. I‘ll be there in fifteen minutes.‖ Lane tossed the phone

down and asked Connie if she felt up to visiting another crime scene. ―It‘s the Talbot

place. We can be there in just a few minutes.‖

        ―Okay. Let me get my coat, and my bag is out in the car. Damn, Lane! What the

hell is going on in this town?‖

        ―I don‘t know, Connie, but if we don‘t put a stop to whatever is responsible for

this outbreak, I‘m afraid Valley Forks will soon be as deserted as Arturo‘s Anasazi cliff

dwellings.‖

                                         *    *   *

        Major Bricker was waiting out in front when Lane and Connie arrived in his blue

and white Blazer. There were two other men in Army green uniforms standing near the

front door of the doublewide mobile home. Lane and the Major exchanged greetings and

a handshake. Lane introduced Connie as ―our Rural Medical Health Service doctor, and

an assistant to the coroner.‖ Major Bricker touched two fingers to the brim of his hat.

        ―Very glad to meet you, ma‘am. Sorry to have pulled you away from home on a

day like this.‖

        ―No inconvenience, Major, I‘ve been doing this sort of thing for several years and

I‘m quite adjusted to it, but thanks just the same.‖

        ―Deputy, I‘m here in town with Dr. Enderman and Dr. Fresno. I believe you met

them a few days ago. We began this morning at the Esposito place. Then we went on to

the Yancey place. While we were there, your Mr. Kingman came over and introduced

himself. I gather he pulls some political weight in this town.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    295


       ―He‘s chairman of the town advisory council, such as it is. Valley Forks doesn‘t

have the budget of a larger town and the council only acts a liason to the County

Commissioners who actually administer the town, but Russ likes to think he has the same

clout as the Mayor of Las Vegas or Los Angeles.‖

       ―Nice enough fellow though. He saw us poking around the Yancey‘s and I guess

he came over to check us out. When he saw that we were continuing the investigation

into the cause of this trouble, he mentioned perhaps the Talbot‘s might have some

information since they lived right next door, much closer than he does.‖

       ―He accompanied us over here but left as soon as he saw the trouble. I went

inside to use the phone, but took special care to make sure I didn‘t contaminate your

crime scene.‖

       ―I appreciate your caution, Major. We still don‘t have much to go on in these

cases. We have to be very careful not to overlook any clue, no matter how small or

inconsequential.‖ Lane was still speaking when Josiah Snow pulled in behind them in a

cruiser of his own.

       ―This is my weekend relief, Deputy Josiah Snow,‖ Lane told the major. ―I‘m

supposed to be off on weekends, but you know how it is when you are the only law

enforcement in town. I called the Snowman on the radio while Dr. Conried and I were on

the way over here.‖

       ―Nice to meet you, Deputy Snow,‖ the Major said extending his hand.

       ―Same here,‖ Josiah said. ―What do we have, Lane?‖

       ―Haven‘t a clue, Snowman, I just got here myself. The Major says he only went

inside to use the phone and call us. Shall we go in and have a look?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          296


          ―Sure enough. I‘ve got a photo kit in the trunk of my cruiser. Give me a second

to get hold of it, will you?‖

          When Deputy Snow returned with the photo kit, Lane led off, followed by Major

Bricker, Connie, and with the deputy bringing up the rear. They mounted the steps of

Talbot‘s homebuilt but spacious front porch and pushed their way inside the screen door.

The two soldiers saluted the Major and Lane almost returned their salute before he

reminded himself that he had been out of the Army for many years. He went inside

where the nauseating smell of death assaulted his nose as it had so many times in the past

few weeks.

          The first body Lane saw was Bruce Talbot. His throat was sliced from one ear to

the other. Someone had used a sharp knife to eviscerate him and dried blood was pooled

on the carpet where he lay. Connie knelt and touched a finger to the bloodstain. Her

finger came away dry.

          ―At least eighteen hours, Lane, maybe longer. The carpet and the underpad are

pretty thick and would have retarded drying, but the surface is congealed and dry to the

touch.‖

          Lane nodded. ―Could it have happened at the same time as the Yancey killings?‖

he asked.

          ―It‘s possible,‖ she acknowledged, ―but I‘d put the time of this event at least a

day later. This body still shows signs of rigor mortis, which probably means he‘s been

dead less than forty-eight hours. When I get these bodies to the morgue, I may be able to

give you a better estimate. This one is obviously too old to get an estimate from the body

temperature, but I may get something from the stomach contents.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   297


       With a feeling of disgust Lane observed that a large portion of Bruce‘s left

shoulder had been cut away. It lay skewered with a wrought iron poker on the fireplace

hearth. Lane stepped over to the fireplace and brushed a space clear with a piece of wood

and laid his palm on the bricks in the hearth. They were stone cold. He stood, brushing

ashes and dust from his hands.

       ―Out here, Lane,‖ Josiah called from the kitchen.

       Lane found another mess in the kitchen. Carol Talbot must have been murdered

in the kitchen. There was a huge quantity of blood on the floor and spattered on the

walls. She had also been gutted, as if someone were cleaning a fish or small game. The

door to the oven was open and her body lay on the sagging door with her head jammed in

as far as possible. Even though the oven was cold now it had once been very hot. The

smell of burnt hair and charred flesh was over powering. The Snowman snapped half a

dozen pictures from various angles then went outside and tossed his cookies. When he

had finished vomiting into the snow he turned on a freeze proof faucet used to water the

back yard and let the cold water flow for a moment. He cupped his hand under it and

rinsed the taste of bile from his mouth before he went back in to the kitchen.

       ―Gawd, Lane, I‘ve helped carry burnt bodies from homes before, but there‘s

something about cooking her in the oven that just sickens me.‖

       ―I know, Snowman. It sure don‘t set easy with me, either. But, think how much

worse it must have been when the body was still fresh and the oven was lit and singeing

the hair off her head. That must have been terrible.‖

       ―You think about it,‖ Josiah said. ―I‘d rather not.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    298


        Connie came in from the front room and looked at this body too. ―They just seem

to get worse and worse, Lane. The evisceration of both bodies tends to indicate the

killers began butchering them like they would wild game. That shoulder haunch of

Bruce‘s near the fireplace has teeth marks on it. Where are Frank and Bruce Jr.?‖

        ―Out back, ma‘am,‖ Josiah said. ―Looks like they may have gone at one another.

Bruce Jr. is the oldest and largest. He most likely killed Frank, striking him with an ax.

The head and one leg are both severed from the body. Frank must have gotten in a

mortal wound with the knife before Bruce finished him; I guess the one used to cut up his

dad in the living room.‖

        ―Must have been a helluva fight,‖ Lane said. ―There are defensive wounds on the

hands and arms of Bruce and Carol both. The whole family must have gone off their

collective rockers. I‘d guess it started with the boys. I wonder who turned off the gas to

the stove?‖

        ―I wondered the same thing,‖ Major Bricker said. I sent Sergeant Evans out to

check the propane tank. The indicator reads zero. Evidently the tank must have been

low, and after the oven was turned on it just burned until the tank went dry.‖

        Lane pulled a spiral notebook from his shirt pocket and made a note to check with

the propane supplier and find out when the tank had last been filled and what the average

consumption of the Talbot household had been for the past few months. Maybe that

would give him an idea of how much propane had been in the tank, and when the oven

had been left on while this scene was being played out.

        ―Let‘s go outside and check on the boys,‖ Lane said. Connie, you want to call

your office and get Aldritch to drive down with the van? Come to think of it, are you
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       299


going to have any space left in your cold room? We‘re getting a shit load of bodies

lately.‖

           ―If I have to,‖ she said, ―I‘ll beg some room in Ely or Fallon. The bodies from

Wheaton‘s place should be ready to release to the various mortuaries by now. I‘ll check

on that too, unless you think we should hold them longer for your investigation?‖

           ―I don‘t see why. You‘ve already taken your lab samples, and TECBAD has got

theirs too. If you can‘t tell me what we‘re looking for between the two of you, then I‘m

sure I‘ll never find out anything.‖ He turned to Major Bricker.

           ―Speaking of TECBAD, didn‘t you say Dr. Fresno and Dr. Enderman were here

also? I‘d like to ask them what they‘ve learned‖

           ―Okay. When you‘re done here, let‘s go back to Yancey‘s. They were still there

when I came over here with Kingman.‖

           Lane took his party into the back yard where they examined the bodies of Frank

Talbot and Bruce junior. From appearances, Lane judged that the Snowman had been

right in his initial estimate. It looked like Bruce Jr. had gone after Frank with an ax.

He‘d managed to decapitate the smaller boy as well as hack off the right leg below the

knee, but not before Frank got in a killing blow. The body of Bruce Jr. lay in the snow,

his back against a plum tree. The ax lay nearby where he had dropped it. Both hands

were in his lap trying to keep his intestines from falling out the wide slash in his

abdomen. His face looked surprisingly serene but with all the blood he had lost, it was

nearly as white as the new fallen snow.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                          300


         ―Josiah, I guess you draw the duty tonight. You‘ll have to stay here at the scene

until Aldritch comes to pick up the bodies. It‘s still fairly early, I‘m sure he‘ll be here

before dark. Be sure you get more pictures of the outside here.‖

         ―Major, you and your boys were here first. Were there any tracks in that new

snow out front?‖

         ―Come to think of it, no, none at all.‖

         Lane swept his arm around them. ―The only tracks I see here in the back yard

were made by us. These bodies have been here at least overnight. I guess we‘re lucky

the scavengers didn‘t get to them before we did. So that would tend to rule out an assault

by someone other than members of the family. I guess this is going to get listed as

another murder/homicide by a person or persons under the influence of drugs. I‘ll have

to wait until I get the final word from Dr. Conried, but that‘s my first guess.‖

         ―We‘ll see if the rest of my crew has found anything over at the Yancey‘s,‖ Major

Bricker said. ―Look, I‘d like to leave my sergeant and his man with Deputy Snow. They

can finish taking notes for their report, and working together the three of them may find

something new. If it‘s all right with you, I‘ll leave them my rental car and ride with you

and the doctor. Okay?‖

         ―Fine by me,‖ Lane said. ―You done here, Doctor?‖ he asked Connie.

         ―These bodies are frozen solid,‖ she said. ―I can‘t do anything more until we get

them to the morgue. I‘ll have to thaw them out before I can run any tests. I guess I‘m

done.‖

         ―Okay, let‘s drive over to the Yancey‘s and you can compare notes with the two

doctors from TECBAD.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      301


       The three of them got into Lane‘s cruiser and he drove them to the Yancey‘s

farm. Lane stopped his car beside the rental car the two scientists from TECBAD had

arrived in. He could see smoke above the roof of the place. It looked like something at

the rear of the house was on fire. He quickly jumped from the car and yelled to Major

Bricker, ―Check inside. If anyone is in there, get them out quickly.‖ Without waiting for

a reply he ran around the side of the house and out to the back. Smoke and flame were

billowing from one of the smashed windows to the kitchen.

       Lane grabbed a garden hose and twisted the faucet handle to turn it on.

Fortunately, there was still power to the house, the well still provided pressure. Lane

used his thumb over the end of the hose and sprayed it in front of him as he kicked in the

back door. The kitchen was in flames but the solid timbers of the home hadn‘t caught

yet. Lane kept the spray from the hose in front of him as he hosed down the walls around

the sink and quickly doused them. He turned the hose to the pantry, which was barely

alight, and soon had it out. There was still smoke coming from beneath the sink. He

used the toe of his shoe to open a partially closed cupboard door and found a smoldering

wastebasket. He soaked it thoroughly and sprayed the walls above the sink again to be

sure they were out.

       When it appeared the fire was out he tossed the hose out the back door and

hurried to the living room where he saw the major struggling with the tiny form of Dr.

Enderman. She was screaming and kicking but her struggles couldn‘t win out over the

more powerful male. He stood behind her with his arms wrapped around her, gripping

her wrists tightly to keep her from clawing at him.

       ―Get her outside,‖ Lane yelled. ―Drag her if you have to!‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        302


           Lying on the living room floor was Dr. Fresno. Lane bent over him and found a

strong pulse. He was only dazed. Lane rolled him over and saw the bleeding wound on

the man‘s forehead. He stooped to his knees and pulled Dr. Fresno‘s arm over his

shoulder then hoisted him into a fireman‘s carry. Fresno wasn‘t a lightweight but Lane

staggered to his feet and carried the man out the front door and deposited him on a picnic

table in the front yard.

           ―Got a patient for you, Connie. Head wound. Doesn‘t look too serious but I‘m

no doctor.‖ Connie grabbed her bag and moved to the picnic table while Lane went to

assist the major. Dr. Enderman was still struggling and ranting, but the major held her

tightly.

           ―I think she‘ll be all right in a few minutes,‖ he said to the major. ―She just needs

some fresh air. I hope. Meanwhile, let me put the cuffs on her and we‘ll put her in the

back of the Blazer.‖ He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his belt and grabbed the girl‘s

left arm snapping the bracelet around the wrist. He bent the arm behind her while the

major did the same with her right arm and they swiftly had the doctor subdued. She still

kicked and shouted but there wasn‘t much else she could do. They eased her into the

back of the police cruiser and shut the door.

           ―What happened?‖ Connie asked as she swabbed Dr. Fresno‘s forehead with

hydrogen peroxide.

           ―Who can tell?‖ Lane answered. ―Maybe when Enderman settles down, we can

ask her. I‘d say she hit Fresno with something, and then started the fire in the kitchen.

Or maybe she started the fire first; then hit Fresno when he tried to stop her. Maybe he

can tell us when he comes around. How is he?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   303


        ―His breathing is okay and his pupils are responsive,‖ Connie said. ―There‘s no

obvious sign of a concussion, but I can‘t be sure with out an X-ray. Let‘s hope he‘s only

dazed and will snap out of it shortly. What do you think could have set off Dr.

Enderman?‖

        ―Your guess is as good as mine,‖ Lane said. ―Major, has there been any friction

between these two before? Perhaps something trite that may have been building up?‖

        ―Not that I know of, Deputy. As far as I know, Dr. Fresno wouldn‘t put any

moves on Dr. Enderman. He‘s aware she‘s a lesbian and that would probably upset her,

but Fresno has always acted as a gentleman as far as I know. Dr. Enderman thinks I

don‘t know about her girlfriend down in Vegas, but it‘s my job to know where my people

go and what they are doing. She‘s very good at her job and as long as her sexual

preference doesn‘t interfere, I‘m not supposed to interfere either. You know the new

Army, don‘t you? ‗Don‘t ask; don‘t tell?‘ That applies even more to civilian employees.

Perhaps much more since they are specialists and much harder to replace than common

soldiers.‖

        ―Okay,‖ Lane said. ―Just one more puzzle that will have to wait for answers. I‘m

going to check that fire again. We don‘t want that flaring up if we can help it.‖ He went

back into the house.

        ―Anything I can do to help, doctor?‖ Major Bricker asked Connie.

        ―I think you can help me get him sitting up, major. He seems to be coming

around.‖ Connie had crushed an ammonia capsule and was waving it under Dr. Fresno‘s

nose. He gasped and coughed and spluttered. Between her and the major they got the

man upright where he could breathe easier.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       304


        ―Get that damn thing out of my face!‖ were the first words he shouted. ―Where‘s

Dr. Enderman? That little bitch beaned me with something. Why, dammit?‖

        ―Take it easy, Dr. Fresno,‖ the major said. ―She‘s here but she‘s under restraint.

How are you feeling?‖

        ―Like I‘ve been kicked by a goddamned mule, major! How do you think I feel?‖

        ―Look at me,‖ Connie said. ―How many fingers?‖ She held up three.

        ―Three, okay? I‘m fine, just one hell of a headache. Where‘s Dr. Enderman?‖

        ―No double vision? No ringing in the ears?‖ Connie asked.

        ―No. Look, I want to know what‘s going on. We were checking for clues to what

might have happened here. Dr. Enderman was taking samples of the food which had

been left on the table and the stove. It was cold as all hell so I was building a fire in the

fireplace to warm things up. I just had it going well when she came in from the kitchen

and clubbed me.‖

        ―She‘s in the deputy‘s car,‖ Connie said. ―If you think you‘ll be all right, I‘d like

to go and check on her.‖

        ―Yeah, yeah, go! I‘m fine, I guess.‖ He waved her away with vague motions of

his hands.

        Connie went over to Lane‘s Blazer. Dr. Enderman was lying face down on the

rear seat, with her head pointed away from Connie. Her wrists were manacled behind her

back and looked red and chafed from where she must have struggled. She seemed to be

quiet now. Connie opened the door and reached over to take her by the shoulder.

        ―Dr. Enderman?‖ she asked. ―I‘m a physician, Dr. Conried. How are you feeling

now?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    305


         The woman mumbled groggily and Connie helped her to sit up. ―Can you tell me

anything about what happened?‖ Connie asked.

         ―About what? Where? I can‘t move my hands.‖ She looked down past her hip

and could see the handcuffs on her wrist. ―Why am I handcuffed?‖

         ―You‘ve had a seizure of sorts. You were in the house gathering specimens. Dr.

Fresno lit a fire in the fireplace. He says you clubbed him. Do you remember doing

that?‖

         ―Why, no, of course not! Dr. Fresno and I have worked together for more than a

year. We‘re friends. Why would I do anything like that? Do I have to be kept

handcuffed?‖

         ―We‘ll take care of that as soon as we can,‖ Connie assured her. ―You don‘t

remember striking Dr. Fresno? You don‘t remember lighting a fire in the kitchen?‖

         ―Don‘t be silly. That‘s ridiculous.‖

         Lane came around the side of the house and walked over to Connie at the cruiser.

―How is she, Connie?‖

         ―I guess she‘s just experienced what I did the other night at Dana Wheaton‘s

house. She says she doesn‘t remember a thing. Do you suppose we can take the

handcuffs off of her now?‖

         Lane reached across the front seat and removed his keys from the ignition. He

fumbled on the ring for a moment until he found the right one, and unlocked Dr.

Enderman‘s wrists. She rubbed them furiously trying to restore circulation. In a moment

she was able to get out of the car and stand up.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       306


        ―I remember being in the kitchen,‖ she said when she had regained her

composure. ―I was taking little samples of food items and putting them into sample bags.

I was feeling pretty good, very good in fact. After that it‘s a blank, until I woke up in the

back seat of this car.‖

        ―Euphoria,‖ Connie mumbled.

        ―What‘s that?‖ Lane asked.

        ―She was experiencing a euphoric high from something. It couldn‘t have been

from the food, she didn‘t eat anything. And it happened after Dr. Fresno lit the fire. It

has to be something being burned in the fire place, that‘s all I can think of.‖

        ―Hmm,‖ Lane said. ―There had been a fire at the Talbot‘s, and there was a fire in

the fireplace at Wheaton‘s. Arturo said there was a fire burning at his home also. That

seems to be a common thread in all these cases. I think there was a fire at Winscott‘s

place also, but that‘s not unusual this high in the mountains at this time of the year.‖

        ―We‘ve got to get samples of the ashes in all those places, Lane. Something

being burned might just be behind all these outbreaks. Remember the high incidence of

hallucinogens I reported from our lab tests? Maybe it wasn‘t anything these people took

intentionally. Perhaps it was something being burned in the fireplace and inhaling the

vapors which brought on the attacks.‖

        ―It‘s certainly worth checking out. That‘s about the only lead we have to go on at

this time.‖

        ―Deputy,‖ Dr. Fresno called from a few feet away. ―I‘m sorry if I was

eavesdropping, but you mentioned something being burned in the fireplace. When I was

here the other day, I was poking around and I stuck something in my pocket then. I‘d
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    307


completely forgotten until you mentioned the fireplace just now.‖ He reached into a

pocket of his parka and pulled out a small transparent plastic envelope. He passed it over

to Lane.

       ―Yes, I‘ve seen this before. And you‘d naturally expect to find it in the fireplace.

Do you recognize this, Connie?‖

       She looked closely at it. ―No, I don‘t think I do. What is it?‖

       ―It‘s the label from a package of Granny Titus‟s Paiute Potpourri, that‘s what it

is. And my daughter just bought one this morning. I‘ve got to call home immediately!‖

He broke away from them and ran into the Yancey‘s home looking for a phone. He

found one in the living room. He grabbed the handset and held it to his ear. It was dead.

No dial tone. Evidently the Yancey‘s hadn‘t been able to afford to pay their phone bill

and it had been shut off. He raced back out into the yard.

       ―I‘ve got to get home immediately. Major! You stay with Fresno and Enderman.

You can drive into town with them. We‘ll all meet at my place later. Jump in, Connie,

we‘ve got to hurry!‖

       Connie quickly slammed the rear door where Enderman had gotten out; then

slipped into the passenger seat. Lane got in and cranked up the engine. He slammed the

car into reverse and made a sliding, two point turn-around, shifting from reverse to drive

almost before the car stopped and went roaring down the drive and out to the highway.

He flipped on his lights and siren just before he hit the asphalt where he made a skidding

turn that nearly set the Blazer up on two wheels.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     308




                                        Chapter 14



        It was late afternoon and the sun would be going down very soon. Tutu had

cleaned the ashes out of the airtight stove in the living room and added fresh coal to the

burning embers remaining. She shut the door quickly. Dad was right, the coal was not

smelly when burned in the airtight stove, but if she left the door open it would soon smell

up the house. The house was already musty from cooking odors, and from cleaning the

weapons earlier. She tried to recall where she had put that cellophane package of

potpourri and remembered it was in her coat pocket. The coat was hanging in the front

hall.

        She went to the hall and found the package and brought it back into the living

room. She and her dad kept a water filled cast-iron kettle on top of the airtight maintain

humidity in their home. If she added the potpourri to that kettle the fragrance should

soon fill the house while she fixed dinner. She hadn‘t asked earlier, but she assumed that

Connie would stay to eat with them. It was beginning to look as though her dad and

Connie were developing a very close relationship. Tutu hoped that maybe there would be

a wedding by spring. That would be nice.

        She recalled that she‘d never asked about Connie‘s parents. Didn‘t the father of

the bride usually pay for the wedding? Would dad and Connie have a big fancy

wedding? (Not in Valley Forks she told herself. A wedding party, even if it included

living soul in this dinky town, could hardly be called big or fancy.) Maybe they would
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      309


drive down to Vegas to one of those little wedding chapels. But Connie hadn‘t been

married before. Shouldn‘t a woman have a fancy wedding to remember always?

        Tutu found the water level in the kettle quite low so she took it to the kitchen to

add more.

                                         *    *    *

        Even though there was no traffic on the main road, Lane slowed when they

entered the town. He slowed because he knew he should for safety reasons and because

the roads were still icy. But, he kept his foot on the pedal and drove as fast as he dared.

He had to get home before Tutu opened that package of potpourri. He‘d never forgive

himself if something happened to his little girl! They were only doing forty when they

whipped past Art‘s Exxon. At Rhyolite, Lane took the corner too fast and the rear wheels

skidded around the corner. He corrected by turning the wheels into the skid and giving

the engine more gas until the wheels dug in and pulled the car out of the slide.

        ―Lane! I know we‘ve got to hurry, but we won‘t get there at all if you crack us up

on the way!‖ Connie screamed into his ear. He realized he was going too fast and slowed

as they whipped past Pyrite. When they reached Borax he didn‘t even turn so he could

pull into his own drive. Instead he drove the car straight across the street and pulled to a

stop at the side of the road. He slammed the transmission into park and killed the engine

while leaping out the door at nearly the same time. He raced up the front steps and burst

through the front door just in time to see Tutu putting the kettle on top of the stove in the

front room.

        ―Tutu! Where‘s the potpourri we got at the diner?‖ he yelled at her.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        310


        She wilted visibly under his blast. ―It‘s in the kettle, dad. I was just putting it on

the stove. I wanted to freshen this place up while I cooked dinner. Where‘s Connie?‖

        With brisk steps he walked over to her and took the kettle from the stove.

―Connie‘s just outside, which is where this is going right now.‖

        ―But dad…‖

        ―I‘ll tell you in a minute, Hon, I‘ve got to put this outside first.‖ He set the kettle

down on the front porch and said to Connie just coming up the steps, ―We made it in

time. She was just putting it on the stove. Come on in. I‘ve got to call Art‘s and tell

them not to sell any more of that stuff. I‘ll also ask them to call anyone else who sells the

stuff, and then we better get out and see this Granny Titus.‖

        Lane called Art‘s Exxon and Ruthie answered. ―Take all that Paiute potpourri

and put it under the counter. Don‘t let anyone buy any. Got that?‖

        ―Well, sure, Mr. Mauler. But why?‖

        ―No time to explain now, Ruthie. Just do it. Okay?‖

        ―Sure.‖

        ―As soon as I get off the phone, call everyone you know who sells that stuff, and

tell them not to sell anymore. Keep a list of everyone you talk to. I‘ll have to go around

and collect it all. That stuff can be very dangerous, Ruthie, believe me.‖

        ―Okay, I‘ll call right away.‖

        ―Thanks, dear. It‘s very important, and don‘t forget the list.‖

        He hung up and turned to Connie. ―I‘ll get us an extra flashlight. It‘s going to be

dark before we get there.‖

        ―Where?‖ she asked.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      311


        ―Why, Granny Titus‘s, of course. We‘ve got to collect all her product and find

out what she puts into the mixture. I hate to say it, but it‘s possible she could be guilty of

manslaughter or negligent homicide at the least.‖

        ―I‘m sure she wasn‘t aware that there was anything dangerous in her potpourri,

Lane. In the wilds, nature constantly experiments with mutations. Bees can cross-

pollinate unusual combinations of plants. Once in awhile a new species is developed.

It‘s been going on for billions of years, you know.‖

        ―Act of nature or not, Connie, a producer is liable for their product. Look at what

the courts have done to the tobacco industry and what they‘re trying to do to gun

manufacturers.‖

        ―She won‘t go to jail, will she Lane? She‘s just a harmless old woman trying to

supplement her pension check.‖

        ―That‘s not for me to decide, Connie. I only collect evidence and leave decisions

like that to the DA. That‘s his job.‖

        ―All right, let‘s get going before it gets any darker.‖

        It was dark, nonetheless, when Lane got the Blazer turned around and headed

south on the main road. They drove past Ed Bromley‘s and past Winscott‘s. Two miles

later Lane found the mailbox he was searching for, perched atop a post on the left side of

the highway. It was easy to spot because someone had fastened alternating red and

yellow reflector disks to the post. Lane slowed and pulled onto the rutted track that led

off into the trees a couple hundred yards away.

        He kept his headlights on hi-beam and flipped a switch on the dash. High-

powered road lamps mounted on the roof with the red and blue beacons illuminated the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     312


terrain ahead and slightly to each side. The light caught the eyes of a coyote bounding

into the darkness giving Lane and Connie a glimpse of blood-red eyes before the canine

disappeared. ‗Must have spoiled the coyote‘s dinner tonight,‘ Lane thought.

        They drove for nearly half a mile before they found the log shack under the pines.

The front of the two-room cabin had a badly sagging porch and cordwood stacked out of

the weather. There was a plywood-patched outhouse about twenty yards off to the left

rear. To the right was a ten by twelve shed with a door barely held up by one hinge. The

other had pulled from the frame and flapped ineffectually from the door-frame. No light

shone from within.

        Lane pulled to a stop directly in front of the shack. There were no vehicles about

but he knew that Granny Titus didn‘t own one. Lane knew people who dwelt far off the

beaten path were cautious and wary of strangers, especially on a dark night. Many of

them owned shotguns and were not afraid to use them. He honked the horn three short

blasts and then grabbed his radio mike from the dash as he flipped a switch.

        ―Granny? This is Deputy Mauler and Dr. Conried. We‘d like to talk with you a

moment. Can we come in?‖ His voice came out of a loud speaker behind the radiator

grill. It had a booming and commanding tone and he had no doubt she heard him if she

was home. Where else would she be at night? Valley Forks didn‘t run a bingo game.

        ―Granny Titus? I‘m going to get out of the car and come up to the porch now.

Don‘t shoot.‖ He told Connie to wait in the car and got out with his flashlight in his left

hand.

        He was silhouetted fully by the high intensity driving lights shining on his back.

He held his arms wide, away from his sides, and advanced purposely to the porch.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     313


Although the night was cold, in the mid-thirties and dead calm, beads of perspiration

formed on his forehead and upper lip. His armpits felt clammy. He reminded himself

that he wasn‘t back in Long Beach. There were no drug pushers here. It wasn‘t a

domestic dispute where a female calls because her boyfriend is beating her and then

attacks the officer who tries to help her. Lane had always hated domestic calls. They

were at the bottom of his all time least-favorite-crap-list.

        He tentatively put one foot onto the sagging porch but no crashing blast of gunfire

greeted him. ―Granny?‖ he called as he took another step. One more step and he was

knocking on the door.

        No answer. He knocked louder. Still there was no answer. He tried the door and

it opened on squeaky hinges. He flicked on his flash and held it at shoulder height while

he pushed the door open and stepped half into the cabin.

        It was a shambles. There was a table and two chairs, all over turned and flung

about. Broken dishes were scattered on the kitchen sink and floor. That awful smell that

he was too familiar with assaulted his nostrils. He knew he would find a body here. He

shone the light to his right, behind the door and along the wall.

        A bookshelf hung by one end from the wall. Books and magazines littered the

floor. There had been an Indian blanket and some feathered ornaments on the wall also.

They were now torn and smashed on the floor. Aside from the general disarray, there

was nothing more to find here. He advanced across the room to the sink and kitchen

counter and the door leading to the bedroom beyond. Inside he steeled his nerves for

what he knew must be in there.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      314


        At first it was just a black opening in the interior wall of the cabin. Then his light

shined into the far corner and he could see a chest of drawers with the drawers pulled

open or smashed on the floor. An oil lamp must have been on the chest for the floor was

littered with broken glass and the smell of kerosene was added to that other awful odor.

        Lane stepped into the room and swung the flashlight rapidly to his left. The old

woman‘s nude body was hanging in the air. Each wrist had been tied and then she was

hoisted, spread-eagled, by a rope thrown over a rafter. Long slices of the muscles over

each breast left them sagging, inside out, down to her waist. Her belly had been sliced

open and intestines hung down to the blood soaked bed. As if that hadn‘t been bad

enough, the killer had used his knife to gouge the eyes from her face. Her head lolled

forward on her naked chest. The nipples had been cut from her breasts leaving oblong

holes you could see through. Lane looked for them on the bed and on the floor but didn‘t

see them.

        It was obvious Granny Titus couldn‘t have done this to herself. Someone else

had to have done it. Could that person still be nearby?

        Lane spun and ran from the cabin as he heard the Blazer start up. When he ran

from the porch all he could see was taillights winking at him. There was some one in the

driver‘s seat; and it wasn‘t Connie! She was being kidnapped! Lane couldn‘t risk a shot

so he started running. Not too fast, he told himself, just a quick jog, difficult in the snow.

The vehicle was getting farther and farther away. First it was fifty yards, then a hundred,

then two! Suddenly the taillights flared brightly and the Blazer pitched forward.

Evidently the driver, probably the killer of Granny Titus, had run into a ditch covered by

the recent snow.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   315


        Lane saw the dome light go on as the man opened the door, left the car and

continued running on foot. Lane pressed on as fast as he could, but the altitude and the

snow combined to slow him down. The running man had only a short distance before he

would make it to the plowed road and be off from there. By the time Lane reached the

Blazer the man was nowhere in sight.

        Lane quickly checked Connie for injuries but he found none other than a cut lip

and a bloody nose where the man must have hit her. He grabbed a handful of snow and

rubbed her cheeks and forehead and she responded quickly.

        ―Where is he now?‖ she asked.

        ―Gone. Headed into the night, running down the road. Let me get us unstuck and

we‘ll take off after him if you feel up to chasing him.‖

        ―I‘ll be fine. What did you find at the cabin?‖

        ―Granny Titus is dead. I‘m assuming the guy who stole the Blazer is the one who

killed her. Did you get a good look at him? Can you provide a description?‖

        ―Not much of a look, it all happened so fast. I was watching you, concentrating

on the cabin and I guess he circled around and approached from behind. With the bright

lights in front of me, there was no way I could see anything behind me, and with the door

closed I didn‘t hear him either. First thing I knew was when the driver‘s door was jerked

open and the dome light came on. I got a glimpse of a man‘s face, about thirty I guess,

with dark hair and hazel eyes. Then something smashed me in the face and I went out.‖

        ―Okay, sit tight and I‘ll get us out of here.‖ The Blazer had manual locking hubs

on the front axle. Lane hadn‘t been in four-wheel drive when he drove to Granny Titus‘

cabin because the snow hadn‘t been very thick. The entrance to her cabin had been
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    316


cleared by someone, an acquaintance, perhaps, who picked her up and dropped her off as

needed.

          Lane got out and locked both front hubs then got in and engaged the four-wheel

drive. A moment later he was rocking the Blazer from forward to reverse and then

backing out of the rut the front end had dropped into and steering his way around it to the

highway beyond.

          ―From your hazy description, Connie, the man could have been Dumont, the

escapee from Idaho. What I can‘t figure is how he could have made it all the way here to

Valley Forks without anyone spotting him. He must have seen the tracks in the snow

where a vehicle had driven in and out of Granny‘s place, and thought he might be able to

steal a car. Finding none he killed Granny instead and stole the Blazer when we drove in.

I‘m sorry to say that I goofed and didn‘t spot his tracks in the snow.‖ Lane felt slightly

embarrassed.

          ―I didn‘t see any tracks either. Maybe he avoided the dirt road to Granny‘s and

circled around through the woods. He must have done something to take her by surprise.

Ohmygosh, Lane! I just realized it must have been the butt of a rifle or shotgun that he

struck me with. I guess that means he‘s armed and dangerous now.‖

          ―Which means we‘ll have to be twice as cautious when we find him, but twice as

thorough looking for him. He‘s a killer, whether he has a weapon or not, and it doesn‘t

seem to bother him who he kills. Let me put out a broadcast on this right away.‖ They

had just reached the highway and Lane stopped the car while he used the radio.

          It suddenly occurred to Lane that he was damn lucky Dumont hadn‘t hidden in

the trees and killed him as he came out of the cabin, and then taken care of Connie at his
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       317


leisure. Perhaps Dumont had been part way out to the highway by then and returned only

when he saw Lane and Connie driving to the cabin? That would explain how he came to

approach Connie from the rear.

        Lane easily reached the night duty sergeant at headquarters and advised them of

the murder of Granny Titus and the possible sighting of Dumont in the area. Later, when

Lane drove Connie back to his place, he could show her a fax image of the man for more

positive identification. Because of the extreme isolation of the cabin, Lane did not feel

obliged to stand guard over Granny Titus throughout the night. It was highly unlikely

anyone would disturb his crime scene. Besides, now that he had reason to suspect that

Dumont was in the area, he wanted to spend the night at home where he could make sure

Tutu and Connie would be safe.

        First things first, he reminded himself. He had to make an attempt to locate

Dumont before heading home. Lane put the Blazer in gear and turned left, away from

town. His plan was to search the roadside for at least a mile before turning back and

trying the other direction. He asked Connie to keep a sharp watch out her side of the

window, especially for footprints in the snow.

        ―If he‘s smart, he‘ll stay in the center of the plowed road where his prints won‘t

show. But if traffic came along, he‘d have to either flag it down or get off the road to

hide. I‘m betting he‘ll hide to avoid being spotted and an alarm put out for him.‖

        ―But surely he‘ll know that you‘d put out an alert, wouldn‘t he? Wouldn‘t it be

more likely that he‘ll try and flag down the first vehicle coming along so he could make a

getaway? He could always make up a story about car trouble or something?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     318


         ―I guess you‘re right, but we can hope he‘s not that smart. Besides, would you

stop after dark for a stranger carrying a rifle?‖

         ―Of course I wouldn‘t, but maybe he‘ll toss the gun off the road where it won‘t be

seen.‖

         Lane kept one eye on the snow on his shoulder of the road, while keeping the

other on the car‘s odometer, and carrying on a conversation with only a portion of his

brain. By the time they had driven most of a mile he had convinced himself that Dumont

must have headed in the other direction. He radioed that information to headquarters also

and was told his earlier report had been relayed to Reno and an FBI team was on its way

to Tonopah already. They would arrive by morning and additional deputies were being

requisitioned from neighboring jurisdictions. Roadblocks would be established as soon

as possible in an effort to keep Dumont contained within the area where he had been

spotted.

         ―Let‘s hope that really was Dumont you saw, Connie, or else the FBI is going to a

lot of trouble for nothing.‖

         ―I wouldn‘t say that, Lane. It seems reasonable to assume that whoever the guy

may be, he‘s the one who killed Granny. If it‘s someone other than Dumont, the more

men you have looking for him the sooner he‘ll be caught.‖

         ―The only thing that worries me, Connie, is the FBI. They can only exercise

jurisdiction when the suspect has crossed a state line or committed a crime on federal

property. If this guy is the killer, but isn‘t Dumont, it‘s possible a lawyer could get him

off by claiming the FBI had no legal jurisdiction here.‖

         ―You really are a pessimist, Lane. Don‘t you want this guy caught?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    319


        ―Sure I do, but I‘d rather see him dead. That would save the government a hell of

a lot of money by avoiding the cost of a trial.‖

        ―You don‘t think he deserves a trial?‖

        ―Whoever he is, if he‘s carrying a gun he took from Granny‘s house, then he‘s

guilty as far as I‘m concerned. I don‘t think he might be an innocent passerby who just

happened upon her dead body and then took the gun for protection. If this stranger is

Dumont, I hope he tries to use that weapon if I'm lucky enough to be the one who nabs

him.‖

        ―My, my! Are we feeling our Wheaties tonight? Or has Tutu been feeding you

raw meat?‖

        ―You didn‘t see what he did to her, Connie.‖

        ―Maybe not yet, but I‘m sure I will,‖ she said solemnly.

        When they passed the turnoff to Granny‘s place, Lane slowed again to allow them

to keep an eye out for footprints. He was aware that at any moment, gunfire could strike

out at them from the darkness and he wished he could persuade Connie to let him take

her home where she would be safe with Tutu. He didn‘t try because he knew she would

object, claiming that he couldn‘t watch for prints as on both sides of the road at the same

time. Besides, if he took time out to drive her home, Dumont might get away, they had to

keep pushing him and not allow him time to stop and develop a plan to escape. Since

Lane could not think of a valid argument to use against Connie‘s certain objections, he

didn‘t bring the matter up.

        ―Lane, stop!‖ she said. ―Look there.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    320


        Lane got out and used his flashlight to examine the tracks she had seen. They

were more than a mile from where they had begun their search. Someone had leaped

from the road right here, landing about nine feet away and towards the trees. Lane could

tell from the sharpness of the tracks that they were recent. If they had been made during

the day when it was warmer, or any of the previous days, the sun would have melted the

edges of the footprints leaving them rounded. These were sharp clear and had to have

been made tonight. By the length of the stride, the man had been traveling as fast as he

could run. Lane glanced down the road behind the Blazer. In the moonlight he could see

it ran for more than a quarter of a mile before making a curve to the east. Dumont could

have heard their engine much further away than that in the still night air, but he waited

until he saw their lights before heading for the trees.

        He might be taking a bead on Lane right now. The thought made Lane shudder.

Lane took a triangular reflective safety marker from the Blazer and set it beside the road

opposite the killer‘s tracks so he could find them when he came back. He was definitely

going to drive Connie home now. As a law enforcement officer he had no right to expose

her to danger while he tracked this killer. He got into the car and headed for home

without asking whether she wanted to go or not.

        As bad as he wanted to get Connie home and drop her where she and Tutu would

be safe, Lane held his speed down to just twenty-five miles an hour. The water on the

highway from melting snow during the day was beginning to freeze again, and the road

was slick with ice. They hadn‘t gone half a mile from where he‘d left the reflective

marker when he could see the loom of approaching headlights coming around a curve in

front of them. Lane eased over toward the shoulder as far as he could without losing
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         321


traction and blinked his headlights from low to high and back again several times in an

effort to alert the approaching driver.

        All of a sudden the headlights appeared from around the bend. The driver saw

Lane‘s vehicle and stepped on his brakes, but too hard. The rear wheels lost traction and

the car began a clockwise spin as the rear wheels tried to pass the front. The other car

hadn‘t been traveling too fast, barely thirty-five miles an hour, but the skid careened it

directly towards Lane and Connie. Lane turned to the right trying to move further off the

road but it was no good. The back end of the car, a sporty red Cherokee, struck Lane‘s

Blazer just to the rear of the driver‘s door and the impact drove them off the road and

over the embankment.

        The drop wasn‘t far, less than ten feet, but the tires were pushing up snow as the

car slid to the right and when it went over and down it first lay on its side and then rolled

until the tires were pointing at the snow laden clouds. The Cherokee had been checked in

its spinning slide and began to spin in the other direction until the rear wheels dropped

into a drainage ditch little more than a foot and a half deep. It stopped with a sudden halt

while the rear axle sunk off the highway and the headlights angled up toward the low

clouds and gently drifting snow.

        Lane‘s first impulse was to shut off the ignition and then to check on Connie.

When the Blazer stopped upside down they were both suspended by their seat belts.

Lane put a hand over his head to support him as he released his seat belt and eased down

to the roof of the Blazer beneath him. He pushed his door open and crawled out, then

around to open Connie‘s door where he began to extricate her from the vehicle.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    322


         The door wouldn‘t budge and he saw Connie had automatically locked the door

when they had been driving earlier. He pounded on the door to get her attention but she

was dazed and out. He went back around to the driver‘s side and thumbed the door-lock

switch until he heard the locks pop open, then returned to her side of the car. He pulled it

open, pushing snow aside as he did so. Connie was in an awkward and un-ladylike

position with her knees against the underside of the dash and her skirt showing more skin

than she would have liked if she had been conscious. Lane got an arm under her

shoulders and behind her neck and released her seat belt.

         She dropped from the seat into his arms in an awkward upside down position. He

began sliding her out of the vehicle hoping that he wasn‘t making any hidden injuries

worse. In moments he had her lying flat in the snow and then lifted her to a sitting

position and rubbed snow on her cheeks and neck.

         She regained consciousness quickly and tried to push his hands away. ―Stop it,‖

she said. ―That‘s cold.‖

         ―How are you feeling?‖ he asked. ―Can you wiggle your toes and move your

legs?‖

         She hesitated for a moment as she tried out her appendages. ―Yes, and my hands

and arms seem okay too. But I‘m getting cold fast, help me up please.‖

         Land helped her to her feet. ―If you can, we need to climb up the bank and check

on the driver of the other car.‖

         ―I can make it,‖ she said. ―Let‘s go.‖

         The bank wasn‘t steep but their shoes packed the snow solid and made it slippery.

Lane found he could make progress by climbing sideways and digging the edges of his
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         323


boots into the snow and frozen earth. He held Connie‘s hand tightly and helped her up

the slope. Back on the highway they found the red Cherokee hadn‘t gone far and they

quickly crossed to it. Lane pulled the driver‘s door open.

        The driver was a chubby fellow of about forty with a shiny bald spot on the top of

his head. The jacket of his suit lay on the front seat beside him. In the back were a

briefcase and an overnight bag. Several empty twelve-ounce beer cans lay on the floor

behind the front seat. In front there were two full cans still wearing their plastic six-pack

necklace and an opened can spilled on the floor.

        ―Christ,‖ Lane said to Connie, ―driving at night, in snow and ice, isn‘t dangerous

enough for this clown, he has to make it worse by chugging down a few brews. Does he

look hurt to you?‖

        Connie reached over and grabbed the man‘s left wrist. ―Pulse seems okay.

Looks like he‘s breathing all right. My guess is he just passed out after the car stopped.

Doesn‘t seem to be hurt at all.‖

        ―Yeah. The Lord looks out for fools and little children.‖ Lane wondered how

many times he had seen this same tableau before. Drunk driver smashes into another car

or pushes them off the road, maybe kills several people. And the drunk sleeps through it

all. ‗There just ain‘t no justice in this world,‘ he told himself.

        ―I‘m stymied, Connie. I don‘t know what to do. This guy‘s car isn‘t going

anywhere without a tow truck. It‘s not a four-wheel drive model. The way the rear-end

has slid off the road and into that ditch means it‘s going to be stuck here for a while. I

guess I ought to handcuff this guy and leave him in his car while I see what I can do

about the Blazer. If I can get it on its feet, we might be able to drive it out of here.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      324


        ―We can‘t just sit here, not with a killer roaming around out there somewhere in

the dark. Even if we get the Blazer on its wheels, it looks as though the light bar and

radio antenna have been smashed. I doubt if I can radio for help now.‖

        Connie whipped her arms around her and began to stamp her feet to keep the

circulation going. ―Well, whatever you decide, Lane, I‘ll help. I don‘t plan on freezing

to death out here.‖

        ―I don‘t either, Connie. Let‘s handcuff this guy and put a blanket over him. I‘ve

got some rescue equipment in the Blazer. Maybe we can get ourselves out. At least

we‘ll work up a sweat trying.‖

        ―That suits me,‖ Connie said.

        Lane put both of the man‘s arms through the lower half of the steering wheel,

then cuffed them together on top of the steering column. He went back to the Blazer and

found a wool blanket and a foil sheet called a space blanket which was designed for use

in survival situations. Wrapped around the body, it would keep out the wind while

reflecting body heat back toward the wearer. He took those items back to the Cherokee

and wrapped the space blanket around the man‘s shoulders and torso, and then covered

him with the wool blanket. That should keep him from dying for a few hours at least. He

turned off the Cherokee‘s headlights but turned on the hazard flashers and then closed the

door. Satisfied the man wouldn‘t go anywhere, nor be a road hazard to other motorists,

Lane helped Connie down the embankment to where the Blazer lay.

        He opened up the back and surveyed the jumble of rescue equipment lying on the

roof-cum-floor of the Blazer. He actually had quite a bit to work with. He selected a

come-along, a fifteen-foot tow chain, and a fifty-foot length of half-inch nylon line. He
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        325


tied the rope to the trunk of a ten-inch pine just twenty feet away and led it toward the

Blazer. Then he took the chain and carried it around to the uphill side of the cruiser.

Since the vehicle was upside down he was on the passenger side. He reached in through

Connie‘s open door and turned on the ignition to lower her window as well as the one for

the rear seat. As soon each window had been lowered completely he shut off the ignition

key again and closed the passenger door.

         Next he wrapped one end of the tow chain twice around the doorpost a made it

secure by passing the running end under the turns he had taken. He tossed the bitter end

over the upside down chassis where it hung down toward the ground. Gravity held it in

place.

         He went around the vehicle and used a chain knot to fasten the chain to the bill of

one hook on the come-along, then he pushed down the ratchet release and drew out the

full twelve feet of quarter inch steel cable on the drum. When he got to the end he picked

up the nylon line and passed it through the other hook on the come-along and pulled it

tight going around the tree and back to the come-along again. He had enough line to run

it four times around the tree and back to the come-along each time. Connie had been

watching this all along.

         ―Well, thanks for letting me help,‖ she said.

         ―Sorry, Connie. There really wasn‘t much that I needed help with.‖

         ―Then why am I freezing my feet standing in this snow when I could be up on the

road flagging down a passing motorist?‖

         ―Did someone pass?‖ he grunted as he strained on the ratchet bar of the come-

along.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      326


        ―Well, no, but someone might have.‖

        ―Hold your horses and we‘ll drive up there in just a moment.‖ He strained again

and again as the steel cable was rewound on the small drum. The nylon rope gave and

stretched as nylon does, but there were sufficient turns that it soon quit stretching and the

pull of the come-along was transferred to the tow chain and the overturned Blazer.

Suddenly what he feared most happened. The damn car began sliding on its roof,

tobogganing over the snow. He leapt from the path of the approaching mass and landed a

few feet away in the snow.

        The Blazer wound up against the tree where he had tied the nylon line and he

knew he couldn‘t move it again. He untied the nylon rope and the chain as well. He

gathered all the retrieval gear in his arms and started up the bank.

        ―Done so soon?‖ Connie asked. ―I thought we were going to drive up the bank?‖

        Land didn‘t answer immediately. He was trying to keep his footing on the

slippery snow. At last he reached the top and paused to catch his breath. ―I thought it

would be fairly easy to roll the Blazer back upright using the come-along. It increases

our mechanical advantage and gives us a two thousand pound pull. I didn‘t count on the

car sliding across the snow on its top. I guess it wasn‘t such a good idea, so now we try

plan B.‖

        ―And what‘s plan B,‖ Connie puffed as she climbed up the bank.

        ―We pull the Cherokee out of the ditch and drive home in it.‖

        ―But I thought you said it would take a tow truck to pull it out,‖ Connie said.

        ―Maybe we can do it, and maybe we can‘t,‖ Lane said as he crossed the road and

moved over to the Cherokee. ―We won‘t know until we try.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      327


        ―And what it that doesn‘t work either?‖ she asked.

        ―Then we move to plan C.‖

        ―Of course! Plan C! I had forgotten about that one. And it is…?‖

        ―We walk. But I‘m not in a hurry to try that one, so let‘s start with plan B. Grab

the car keys and let‘s open up the back, please. I need to get at the spare tire.‖

        ―I didn‘t know any of the tires were flat,‖ she said.

        ―As far as I know, they aren‘t. But there isn‘t anything near enough to the car for

me to tie the tow chain to. I want to use the spare as a deadman.‖

        ―I hope you‘re speaking rhetorically,‖ Connie murmured. ―I think we‘ve had

enough dead bodies for one day.‖

        ―Not that kind of a deadman. I mean an anchor. If you‘ll go down to the Blazer

and bring back that D-handle shovel, I‘ll get out the spare tire and dig a hole to bury it in.

But first I‘ll tie on the tow chain, and then we can attach the come-along and hopefully

pull out the Cherokee.‖

        ―Oh, that kind of a deadman! Okay, I‘m with you now. I‘ll be right back.‖ She

headed off the road once more to bring Lane the shovel. Lane judged her thin leather

shoes must be quite wet by now and her feet would be freezing, but there wasn‘t much he

could do for her until he got the Cherokee out of the ditch.

        He considered putting her in the passenger seat, starting the engine and letting the

heater warm her, but he didn‘t want to add more weight to the vehicle, nor did he want

that drunk to regain consciousness and make trouble with Connie in the car and the

engine running. He could just dump the drunk out in the snow. No he couldn‘t, damn it!

As a deputy he was responsible for the prisoner and he wouldn‘t sanction cruel treatment.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       328


Even if it meant more of a hardship on Connie and himself, his sense of duty required

him to take proper care of the prisoner.

        He wrestled the spare tire out of the back and rolled it along the highway to a spot

about thirty feet in front of the Cherokee. Connie had just returned with the shovel and

he took it from her and began to dig. Fortunately the ground wasn‘t frozen solid and

today‘s melt had softened it appreciably. He dug a hole slightly larger than the tire when

it was laying flat on the ground.

        ―Can‘t I do anything to help,‖ Connie asked. ―I‘m sure that if I were doing

something active I wouldn‘t be so damn cold. That breeze is starting to get pretty stiff.‖

        ―Well, look on the bright side…‖

        ―If there is one, I have yet to see it.‖ Connie‘s morale was definitely getting

lower, not that he blamed her.

        ―…if the wind is blowing more than five miles an hour, that means no fog so

there‘s not much chance someone else might come along and run into us. On the other

hand, if the wind is blowing less than fifty miles an hour, it doesn‘t stand a chance of

knocking us to the ground.‖ He grinned at her and wiped perspiration from his forehead.

He took off his parka and handed it to her. ―Here, I‘m working up a sweat digging in the

mud and that‘s not healthy in winter weather. You wear this and maybe it‘ll help.‖

        ―Thanks, Lane.‖ She put it on and quickly zipped it up to her chin. His warmth

and masculine aroma certainly comforted her. ―Would it help if I stood guard or

something? That Dumont guy might try and sneak up on us while you‘re busy digging.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      329


        Lane didn‘t pause. He continued digging as he talked. ―I want Dumont to ignore

you, Connie. I don‘t want him to think of you as a threat. If you‘re no threat to him,

he‘ll probably leave you alone. At least until he‘s dealt with me.‖

        ―That‘s what I‘m worried about.‖

        ―If I could, Connie, I‘d have you climb up higher, about thirty yards away where

you‘d stand a chance of hearing him if he tried to sneak up on us. But I don‘t want us to

split up either. If he were to take you prisoner then I‘d be in a very vulnerable position.‖

        ―Would it help if I took your gun with me?‖

        ―No, that would make it worse. Then you‘d be a threat to him. I know you want

to help, Connie, but there isn‘t anything I can think of that won‘t put you at greater risk.

Please stay here with me. I‘m nearly finished.‖

        He had dug the hole two and a half feet, maybe even three. He wrapped one end

of the chain around the spare tire and through the hub in the center securing it with two

half hitches. Then he dropped it into the hole where it lay flat. He pulled the chain in the

direction of the Cherokee and used the blade of the shovel to cut a narrow slit to lower

the angle of pull on the tire. When he had it as low as he could make it, he began back

filling the hole.

        With that done he let out the cable on the come-along and affixed it to the

underside of the Cherokee. Then he took four turns of the nylon rope from the hook of

the come-along to the hook of the tow chain and gave several tugs on the ratchet arm of

the come-along until the cable was tight.

        ―Okay, Connie, now we unlock our slumbering friend and put him in the back

seat with his arms cuffed behind him. Then you get in the driver‘s seat with the engine
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       330


running. You can drive a standard shift, can‘t you?‖ She nodded that she could. ―Okay,

don‘t gun the engine, you‘ll only spin the tires. I just want you to ease the clutch out

until you load the engine a little. I‘ll be pulling with the come along and hopefully when

we move this thing two or three feet you‘ll have traction and we can get out of here.‖

        ―Okay, I understand, Lane.‖ She waited until Lane had unlocked the prisoner and

put him in the back seat. The drunk was still passed out and was quite a load for Lane

but he managed just the same. She got behind the wheel and started the engine and let it

idle in neutral for the moment.

        ―Might as well turn the heater on,‖ Lane said. ―It won‘t do any good until the

engine warms up but maybe it‘ll make you feel better.‖

        Connie smiled at him. ―A hot buttered rum and clean sheets would make me feel

a whole lot better, Lane. I‘ll settle for just getting warm. Ready when you are.‖

        Lane took his position at the come-along and began cranking on the ratchet. It

was slow going at first. The ratchet only took in about an inch of cable with each throw.

He had pulled in nearly two feet before the nylon rope stopped stretching and took up the

strain. Slowly the Cherokee began to inch forward. Even with the tremendous

mechanical advantage Lane had, it was still tough going. The right rear tire of the

Cherokee had to roll forward and lift the vehicle a vertical distance of at least twelve

inches to get it out of the ditch. It was a real strain with each throw of the ratchet lever

and Lane was panting with the exertion. But the car was moving, maybe only slightly,

but moving nonetheless.

        Connie did well too. She gave the engine a little gas and eased the clutch out

until the tire began to spin and then she eased off again. Over and over she gave power
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     331


while Lane kept ratcheting. One inch. Two. Three inches and then the wheel found

traction and the car spurted ahead. Connie turned the wheel sharply to the left to avoid

hitting Lane who was kneeling just a short distance in front of the Cherokee.

        They had done it! Lane was smiling as he retrieved the come-along and the nylon

rope. The chain and spare tire could wait for another time as far as he was concerned.

Connie found she had been devoting one hundred per cent of her attention to the engine,

clutch and gas pedal, and hadn‘t even noticed as the engine temperature gauge climbed to

the normal mark and the heater began blowing warm air over her cold feet. Now they felt

like they were on fire, burning up! As a doctor she knew that she had come perilously

close to a case of frostbite and the burning sensation was circulation returning to her wet

feet. She‘d be all right when she could get them warm and dry.

        Lane opened the rear door and tossed the rope and come-along to the floor.

Connie moved aside and he crawled in behind the wheel. ―Better now?‖ he asked her.

        ―Definitely! I would have given up long before if it weren‘t for you, Lane. I

would have just sat beside the road and waited for someone to come along.‖

        ―I was tempted, Connie. But I learned a long time ago, when I was in the Army

in fact, you can‘t be beaten until you give up. As long as you keep trying there is always

some chance, no matter how slight. Ready for home?‖

        ―As fast as you can get us there, Lane.‖

        ―Which won‘t be too fast because I don‘t want to slide off the road again,‖ he

said.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     332




                                          Chapter 15



        When Dumont heard the vehicle coming up the road he looked quickly for cover.

There was none close by. He ran a few steps and leaped off the right side of the road.

With his momentum and the slight drop off, he landed nearly fifteen feet from the road,

but there still wasn‘t much cover. He headed for the trees forty yards away. His wet

boots scuffed the fresh snow and left glaring tracks that would be easy to spot when the

moon came out. It couldn‘t be helped. He had to get into the trees where he could hide.

Besides, it was colder than the hinges of hell out and the exercise was the only thing

keeping him from freezing. He‘d tried to find something warm to wear at the Indian

broads‘ house, but how was he to know she lived alone? The only coat she had was a

surplus Army field jacket about four sizes too small for him. To make up for his

disappointment he‘d carved her up good, and enjoyed doing it too. He‘d stolen the

shotgun and six shells for it, but it would be no good in the open here. That deputy could

easily out shoot him since his automatic could be deadly as far as a hundred yards if the

guy was any kind of a marksman. But, Richard Dumont wasn‘t ready to give up yet. Not

when the only thing waiting for him was a trial and a hangman‘s noose. No, that wasn‘t

right; Utah still favored the firing squad he seemed to remember. In any case, fighting

for his life gave him few alternatives.

        He‘d been driving a stolen pickup earlier this morning. When he heard the

reports of roadblocks and the manhunt searching from him, he doubled back. Originally

he‘d been headed for Vegas where he felt sure he could lose himself in the throng of
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     333


more than a million residents and the hundreds of thousands of tourists. When he heard

the radio reports he knew the cops would establish roadblocks, it was the easiest thing in

the world.

        Las Vegas is like an island in a wide sea of desert. You can get in and out on I-15

if you‘re traveling east or west, and on US 95 if you‘re heading north or south. When

you‘re near Vegas there are numerous feeder roads, like veins and arteries serving the

city‘s heart as it sprawls in the desert. In order to cross the desert and move into another

state there are only four roads. When the law has blocked them and put surveillance at

the bus and railroad terminals, when McCarran airport and the smaller North Las Vegas

Airport are watched, nobody gets in or out of Vegas unnoticed.

        So Dumont elected to turn north before he reached Tonopah. They wouldn‘t

expect him to be heading for Reno when he‘d last been seen moving south from Reno.

He turned off the heavily traveled US 95 onto SR 377. Through Belmont and Valley

Forks while he headed for Ely. Maybe he could cross into Utah then head south for

Arizona. He might be able to hop a freight heading east. If nothing else, he could always

hole up in the mountains. His heavy knife would cut thatch and saplings to build him a

snug shelter. With a small fire inside he could keep warm against the deepest cold and

the stiffest winds. Food would not be plentiful in the high desert mountains, but he could

survive. He‘d have to find somewhere to ditch the pickup though, and he‘d have to do it

in such a way that his tracks in the snow wouldn‘t give away his trail into the high

country.

        Out of necessity he‘d pulled the stolen pickup off the highway when it was nearly

out of gas. He drove through powdered snow a few inches deep and parked beneath a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     334


cluster of Arizona pines fifty yards off the highway. Using his knife to cut several

branches he camouflaged the pickup. It probably wouldn‘t be spotted before spring

melted the snow and dried the branches. He cut another small sapling and brushed away

his tracks as he walked back to the highway. His efforts wouldn‘t fool a seasoned tracker

because the snow would still show brush marks and a determined cop or an inquisitive

hunter might decide to see what was up. He knew too well that most cops today are not

experienced in hunting for a man on the run. Unless a criminal does something stupid

like checking into a motel or buying liquor at a convenience market, the cops would

chase their tails for quite some time. They might give themselves airs and puff out their

chests as a modern day Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett while drinking in a bar, but many

had never been in the woods and couldn‘t tell the track of a deer from a cow or a rabbit

from a coyote.

       When he was back on the asphalt he continued north. A road sign told him it was

twelve miles to the town of Valley Forks. He could walk twelve miles before dinner.

The air was still and traffic light on this seldom traveled back road. On three occasions

he heard the sound of an approaching car long before it could be seen. He‘d take shelter

lying prone behind a clump of brush or anything that would break up his outline. A

driver is looking at the road and looking for other cars. He will seldom spot anything

within a few feet of the road unless it is moving or stands out because of color or by

virtue of being in the open. He easily avoided detection until he spotted the mailbox

beside the highway. He circled wide of the mailbox and spotted the cabin a few hundred

yards off the road. He was thoroughly chilled since he lacked warm clothing but he

figured he could find something to wear in the cabin. Smoke from a chimney told him he
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     335


could at least get warm and perhaps find some food. He approached the cabin from a

blind side and surprised the old Indian woman when he broke in.

                                        *   *     *

       It was nearing ten when Lane pulled into his own drive. He got out and assisted

Connie into the living room. Tutu was still up and watching some nonsense movie about

a man and his wife traveling in their station wagon to a distant planet where they helped

innocent locals over throw an oppressive ruler. Mom and Dad Save the World, or

something like that.

       ―Hey, Squirt!‖ he told her, ―how about a hot pot of coffee for Connie and me?

And we have a guest out in the car that I will bring in shortly. Can do?‖

       ―Can do, dad. Who‘s the guest? FBI?‖

       ―No, what makes you ask?‖

       ―Sheriff Denton called about an hour ago. He said he couldn‘t raise you on the

radio and wanted you to know the feds were in Tonopah already, but owing to the storm

they wouldn‘t be driving down until morning. I wasn‘t worried about you until he said

he couldn‘t reach you, and then I got worried.‖

       ―Tell you about it when I bring our mystery guest in. Be right back.‖ Tutu

excused herself and headed to the kitchen to put on fresh coffee while Connie took off

Lane‘s parka and slid a hassock over near the airtight stove. She took her shoes off and

held her feet up in front of her to warm up. They were feeling quite fine now and she

didn‘t notice any suspicious discoloration of the flesh. She‘d probably be fine by

morning.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      336


        Lane returned with the drunk in a few moments. The drunk could stand now,

providing Lane helped him. Lane took him into his office and emptied the man‘s

pockets. He also relieved him of his belt, wallet, rings, and watch. There was no need to

confiscate his shoelaces because he was wearing loafers. Lane took him down to the

basement where the county had installed two cells with iron bars and a bathroom in

between the cells. The bathroom had block walls on each side which helped to further

separate two prisoners if they were inclined to fight, but it had bars on the front side to

permit continued observation of the prisoner.

        Lane helped the drunk to a bunk in the left-hand cell, made sure he had a pillow

and two blankets, then locked the door and went upstairs to finish his paper work. There

was an intercom in the basement so the deputy could keep an ear open for his prisoner.

Lane thought of it as a ‗baby-monitor‘ for prisoners. As he went upstairs he turned off

the fluorescent light overhead, leaving only a twenty-five watt lamp burning. If the

prisoner was afraid of the dark, that was too bad as far as Lane was concerned.

        Back at his desk Lane took a police inventory envelope from a drawer and began

listing the man‘s belongings for safekeeping. His driver‘s license identified him as Dale

Northcutt of Las Vegas. He was forty-three, and judging from the photos in the wallet,

Mr. Northcutt had a wife and two boys in their early teens. Lane itemized three credit

cards, two gasoline cards, an ATM card, a Clark County library card, a discount office

supply ID card, an AT&T credit card and a VIP card to a major casino. There was also

one hundred and eighty-four dollars in cash. Lane listed it all on the envelope, tossed in

the car keys and called Connie in from the living room to verify the inventory and sign

the envelope.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       337


        ―What would you do if I weren‘t here?‖ she asked.

        ―Have Tutu sign it, I guess. This is the first time I‘ve booked someone who

wasn‘t in condition to sign for himself. Things are a little different here in Valley Forks

than in Long Beach. Maybe I should mention it to Noah Denton the next time I drive up

to Tonopah for one of his policy meetings?‖

        ―Probably wouldn‘t be a bad idea. You and I know Tutu is a young adult and

trustworthy, but if a prisoner claimed money was missing, or a credit card stolen, an

attorney might see it another way.‖

        ―Better safe than sorry. I agree with you.‖

        Tutu called from the living room. ―Hey, do you guys want coffee in there or will

you have it in the front room with the grownups?‖

        ―What grownups?‖ her dad asked as he walked into the living room with his arm

around Connie.

        ―Why, Connie and I, of course. The two who don‘t track mud into the house and

all over my nice clean floors.‖

        Lane looked and saw that it was true. He hadn‘t noticed how muddy he had

gotten while burying the deadman and winching Northcutt‘s car out of the ditch. ―Okay,

warden. I confess, but I plead matters of mitigation and extenuation. Right, Connie?

You tell her.‖

        ―Your dad had a busy night, Tutu. We would probably still be stuck by the side

of the road if he hadn‘t dug the prisoner‘s car out of a ditch. As of matter of fact, we

wouldn‘t have been stuck at all if it wasn‘t for our prisoner, but that‘s another story. So

you might be inclined to take it easy on him.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      338


        ―Oh, I was just teasing, Connie. I just wanted to let him know that I do earn my

keep around here, even if he doesn‘t notice.‖ She handed her dad a fresh cup of coffee.

―See? All is forgiven.‖

        ―Same here, Sweet,‖ her dad told her. ―I really do appreciate all the little things

you do for me and I‘m sorry if I don‘t always have time to itemize each and every one.‖

        ―Now,‖ she scolded him, ―you‘re pulling my leg. I don‘t expect roses every time

I mop a floor or wash your tans. Besides, I‘d call it an even trade for all the good things

you‘ve done for me since mom, died.‖

        ―Did you hear that, Connie? You‘re a witness! She actually admitted that I‘ve

done some good for her in the past few years.‖

        ―Don‘t make a federal case out of it Lane. Why don‘t you just sit down and drink

your coffee? I already know you two love each other, in spite of the fact that you have

different goals in life. You too, Tutu, take a seat and I‘ll pour for you. I‘ve never been so

glad to get warm again. For awhile there I thought my feet were never going to defrost.‖

        ―Thanks, Connie, but I‘m going to have to take a rain check. In case you haven‘t

noticed, it‘s going on eleven o‘clock and I‘ve been up since early this morning. I‘m

going to call it a night and head for bed. I‘ll see you both in the morning.‖

        Tutu surprised her dad by giving Connie a hug before giving him his usual good

night hug and heading up the stairs. ―G‘night, Pun‘kin,‖ he called after her. ―Well, what

now doctor? Any ideas?‖ he grinned at her.

        ―Quit grinning, you lecherous old goat. I‘m still a little shaken up from being

kidnapped at gunpoint and then rolled off the side of the road in an accident. I‘m all for a
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                         339


hot bath, a long soak with lots of sweet smelling bath oil, and then I want to go to bed

too, but I want to sleep.‖

        Lane feigned a hurt and innocent look. ―Not even a little cuddling?‖

        ―I think I‘d prescribe a lot of cuddling, but don‘t over do it. I suspect I‘ll find a

dozen fresh bruises from that accident before I get out of the tub, but I still want to be

held. It makes me feel good to know that you‘re here taking care of me.‖

        ―I think you feel good any way you look at it,‖ he teased.‖

        She gave him a playful punch in the shoulder and headed upstairs for the tub.

        Lane sat down on the sofa in the living room and found the remote for the VCR.

He shut off the tape Tutu had been watching and punched rewind. Then, he punched for

the late news on the tube. Since Las Vegas wasn‘t uplinked via satellite, he chose the

Los Angeles news. The weather in Palm Springs and the Inland Empire wasn‘t much

different from the desert, and occasionally they extended their forecast all the way to

Vegas, though it didn‘t mean much since they were a few hundred miles north and nearly

a mile higher in elevation. After a few moments he decided he wasn‘t all that interested

in the news. It had been a long day for him also. He clicked off the tube and headed

upstairs.

        In the hall leading to his bedroom he could hear Connie humming in the bath. It

was a loose and disconnected tune, perhaps something she had made up. It made him

feel good to have a woman in the house again. Maybe when this mess with the violent

and unexplained deaths, and with Dumont, maybe when all this died down he would talk

to Connie about a more formal arrangement. He still couldn‘t believe she found him

attractive and wanted to share his bed but who needs to know why? The fact she was
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     340


here was enough for him. Tutu seemed to enjoy her company also. They were already

good friends and Tutu evidently had not found it difficult to confide girl things to Connie.

       Lane unpinned his badge and nametag and tossed his muddy uniform in the

hamper. Tomorrow being Sunday he didn‘t bother to set out a clean uniform. He

rummaged in a drawer until he found a comfortable pair of sweat pants and an equally

comfortable T-shirt and put them on the dresser. He heard Connie coming out of the bath

and he padded down the hall in his underwear and bare feet. She came out of the bath

with her hair in a towel and another around her torso in that mysterious way only women

can manage. Lane felt it a major accomplishment if he could get a towel fastened around

his slightly thickening waist, yet women somehow had the talent for getting a towel to

almost cover them from bust to mid-thigh.

       The bathroom was warmly moist and vaguely fragrant with her scent. He stepped

under the shower and massaged his scalp with a tingling dandruff shampoo. He applied

soap generously and worked up a rich lather as he washed away the mud and

perspiration. In a few moments he felt as though he were clean, without body odor

Connie would find objectionable. He rinsed and toweled off in the shower before

stepping out onto Tutu‘s floral bath mat. He brushed his teeth and rinsed with a mint-

flavored mouthwash. Wrapping a towel around his waist he held it with one hand as he

snapped off the light and headed for the bedroom.

       Connie had already turned down the bed and crawled beneath the covers. A

reading lamp was burning on the nightstand on his side of the bed. Hanging his towel on

the closet doorknob Lane slid between the sheets. Connie had her back to him but she

had said she wanted to be held so he stretched his arm over her waist until he could cup
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    341


one of her tiny breasts in his hand. She was pleasantly warm and smelled wonderful. In

a moment she rolled over and put an arm around him while she slid one leg between his.

        ―Weren‘t you were the one who wanted only to cuddle tonight?‖ he asked.

        ―Can‘t a lady change her mind?‖ she purred.

                                         *   *    *

        The sky had cleared and bright moonlight was streaming in Lane‘s east facing

bedroom window. Some vagrant noise pulled him from a very comfortable sleep. He

cocked an ear and listened for a moment and was about to lay his head back down when

he heard it again. It wasn‘t coming from Northcutt in the cell in the basement. The

intercom was right beside the lamp on the nightstand and Lane could hear his muted

snoring. It sounded like…, there, he heard it again. A scraping sound in the kitchen, as if

someone had bumped into a chair in the dark.

        He sat up suddenly. It couldn‘t be Dumont? Even if he had made his way up the

road and into town, what were the odds of him breaking into this house? There were at

least sixty occupied homes in the small community of Valley Forks, and several vacant

homes or other buildings where the escaped killer could seek shelter and find a place to

hide.

        Lane shook Connie awake but quieted her with a finger to her lips. ―I think

someone is in the house,‖ he told her. ―Go wake Tutu, but keep her quiet. She has her

thirty-eight in her room. Both of you stay there, and don‘t come downstairs.‖

        ―She has a phone too. Do you want us to call the sheriff?‖

        ―Don‘t be silly. I‘m the sheriff here; after the heavy snowfall, backup couldn‘t

get here for nearly two hours if they could get through at all. Just stay in her room and
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       342


don‘t let anyone through the door. When I come back upstairs I‘ll call out so you won‘t

have to worry about shooting me accidentally. If anyone else tries to get through the

door, don‘t ask questions, just shoot. Got it?‖

          Connie nodded. She had taken to keeping a robe in Lane‘s closet weeks before

and she slipped that over her shoulders now. Lane pulled on his sweat pants and stepped

to the hallway. The hall was clear and all sounded quiet down stairs. He pushed Connie

towards Tutu‘s room. When she was inside and the door was closed he headed down the

stairs.

          Moonlight shone through the wide windows in the living room but not as brightly

as in Lane‘s room because of the partially closed drapes. He eased his way down the

stairs, almost stepping on that squeaky one near the bottom before he caught himself in

time and stepped over it to the next one below. He crouched and paused to listen; still

quiet. Just a few more steps into the anteroom he used for an office. His belt and holster

were hanging over the back of the chair near his desk, just a few more feet.

          He peered over the banister into the downstairs hall but could only glimpse a foot

or so into the gloom of the darkened kitchen. He tried craning his neck to get a better

view into his office but there were too many shadows. Quickly he stepped across the hall

and slid his back up against the wall while he searched the inner recesses of his office

with a swift glance. There was a pale rectangle on the floor where moonlight from the

living room filtered through the door but he couldn‘t see anything else. He knew exactly

where his chair was, exactly where his gun was hanging. He could visualize every inch

in his mind‘s eye. He could picture the leather strap snapped across the grip of his pistol.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     343


         Lane swallowed hard and wiped perspiration from his forehead then wiped his

damp hand on his sweatpants. ‗Ain‘t nothing to do but to do it!‘ he told himself. In two

swift strides he had crossed the pale square on the floor and put his left hand on the back

of the chair while his right hand reached down to undo the snap.

         His holster was empty!

         There was a loud “Snick!” from the wall switch as the lights were turned on.

Lane blinked in the blinding brilliance. It took a moment before his eyes adjusted and he

could see the man leaning against the doorjamb.

         His reflexes were trained to make a lightning evaluation of the suspect. Lane saw

a white male, about thirty-five. He had shaggy brown hair, a beard of several days

growth, and brown eyes. He stood about five-ten, maybe five-eleven and weighed one

eighty-five or so. And Lane‘s nine-millimeter Browning was aimed squarely at his own

chest.

         ―Looking for this?‖ Richard Dumont asked. ―How fortunate of me to find the

home of the local deputy. I saw the mini-van in the driveway, and the county car with

health services on the door. Figured I might find the local doctor and maybe heist a few

drugs. Instead, I get lucky. I stumble right into the local law, and for a change I‘ve got

the gun. How does it feel, Deputy Dawg?‖

         Land straightened from where he had been leaning over the chair. Instinctively

he raised his hands. Slowly and quietly he spoke.

         ―Well, to tell you the truth, I‘ve never been real fond of anyone pointing a gun at

me. Particularly my own gun, since I always keep it loaded.‖ Lane wondered if Dumont

had fed a round into the chamber? A person familiar with a revolver but not an automatic
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     344


normally assumed all you had to do was pull the trigger. Squeaky Frome, one of the so-

called family of Charlie Manson, had made that mistake when she came close to

assassinating President Ford. If Dumont hadn‘t worked the slide on the nine-millimeter

the chamber would be empty and the gun would be useless. Did Lane dare challenge

him? If he guessed wrong he‘d be deader than last week‘s news, Dumont couldn‘t miss

from six feet.

        ―Two cars in the driveway, deputy. Since you‘re certainly not a doctor or public

health nurse, who does the other car belong to? Your wife? Girlfriend? Where is she; in

the bedroom upstairs?‖

        ―If you‘d been here earlier, you‘d have seen Sarah Draper, the county nurse, drop

her car off,‖ Lane quickly invented. ―She lives two blocks away but I promised that I‘d

change her oil and filter for her tomorrow,‖ he quickly improvised. ―I‘m a widower. I

live here alone. This is a county house, it goes with the job.‖

        ―I‘d almost believe you, deputy, except that I can see two cups on the kitchen

counter from here. You‘re sure this nurse dropped her car off with you and that she‘s not

upstairs? You know, I‘ve been incarcerated for several months while you law boys was

takin‘ care of the paperwork to ship me to Salt Lake City. A piece of tail would really

suit my appetite just about now, you know?‖ The wild-eyed man was practically

salivating as he envisioned sexual release.

        ―Go see for yourself,‖ Lane said, trying to keep up the pretext and bluffing

boldly. By now Connie and Tutu would be pointing a thirty-eight at the bedroom door

waiting for him to call out. ―Sarah can‘t stay away from home long. She has a

developmentally challenged six-year-old boy. He‘s in a wheel chair and needs constant
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      345


attention.‖ Lane was still spinning the tale. Maybe he could distract Dumont, perhaps

lull him into being careless?

           ―And no loving husband to take care of the boy while she works?‖ Dumont

taunted.

           ―The louse left her when the kid was still small. He couldn‘t handle the thought

of being tied to a wheel chair as long as the kid lived.‖

           ―Y‘er right; a twenty-four carat louse. Any decent man would‘a killed the kid so

the broad wouldn‘t be tied to the same wheel chair for the rest of her life.‖ He smiled, an

eerie kind of smile with no mirth or humor in its dark depths. ―Now, I could sort of trot

on over there and take care of that little problem for her. She might even be real grateful

to me, you know what I mean?‖

           Maybe this scum would buy Lane‘s invented health nurse. What now? Would he

kill Lane and head for the imaginary nurse‘s home? How would he know where to go?

Would he search the rest of the house before leaving? How much longer did Lane have

to live?

           ―You know what, deputy? It‘s warm here, and I‘ve been powerful cold outside in

the snow and wind. I think I‘d just like to set here a spell and get warm. Maybe get

some food inside me. You got anything to drink? I could sure go for a tall, cold beer.

It‘s been ages.‖ Dumont chuckled showing nicotine-stained teeth and a chipped incisor.

―Here I am telling you how cold it is outside and the first thing I want to drink is a cold

beer, don‘t that beat all?‖

           ―Yeah,‖ Lane said, ―a real side-splitter. Say, do you mind it I put my hands down

now? My arms are getting kind of tired and you do have the gun.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   346


        ―Yeah, I do, and don‘t you forget it. If you got handcuffs around here, you can

put your arms down and I‘ll cuff‘em behind your back. I don‘t want to have no trouble

with you, but I won‘t hesitate to kill you. You know that, don‘t you?‖

        ―Of course I do, Dumont. There‘s been an APB out on you for weeks. They‘ve

even got a FBI task force working out of Reno while they search for you. I won‘t give

you any trouble. The handcuffs are on my belt. Right there.‖ Lane motioned with his

chin.

        ―Yeah, right, now where‘s the key? I don‘t want you slippin‘ out of them if I‘m

not looking.‖

        ―The key is on my key ring, next to the phone.‖

        Dumont motioned with the gun that Lane should back away from the chair while

he reached for the handcuffs. He pulled them from the leather holder and motioned Lane

to turn around. ―Do it slowly, and be careful. Put your hands behind your back and lean

forward, you know the way it‘s done.‖ With the Browning centered on his spine, Lane

had no choice. He felt the cold steel of the bracelets as they snapped around his wrists

and winced as Dumont fastened them extra tight. He heard Dumont slide the key ring

across the desk and assumed he had pocketed the keys.

        ―Okay, you can turn around now. Let‘s go into the kitchen, I need something to

eat and we‘ll see what you‘ve got in the refrigerator. No sudden moves now, I‘m

warning you.‖

        Lane moved with caution as he squeezed passed the killer and into the kitchen.

He purposely walked to the far end of the kitchen table and eased a chair out with his foot

so he could set down. Sitting in this chair he would be facing the door into the hallway.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      347


If Tutu or Connie tried sneaking down the stairs and Dumont were sitting across from

him, Lane could see them and try and keep Dumont distracted.

                                         *   *    *

        To Tutu is seemed she had only dropped off to sleep a few moments earlier

before Connie quietly entered her room and slipped over to the bed. Connie lightly

pressed her hand to Tutu‘s lips as she whispered into her ear.

        ―Tutu! Wake up! Shhh! There‘s someone in the house. Your dad has gone

downstairs to investigate.‖

        At first Tutu was startled by the fingers pressed to her lips and the whispering in

her ear. As the fog of sleep began to fade she realized Connie was trying to tell her

something important. She shook her head to clear away the cobwebs. Intruder! Yes, she

understood that. Dad is down stairs; yes, she understood that. She flipped back the

covers and stepped gently to the floor, sliding her bare feet into a pair of pink bunny

slippers, then quietly moved to her dresser where she knelt and opened the bottom

drawer. From under several folded pairs of corduroy slacks she withdrew a fleece lined

naugahyde pouch and quietly unzipped it‘s zipper. Inside was her thirty-eight revolver.

Grabbing Connie‘s hand she thrust the pistol into her palm and whispered, ―You keep an

eye on the door. I‘m going to call nine-one-one.‖

        ―But your dad said it would take hours for help to reach us from Tonopah. Why

call them?‖

        ―Because dad sometimes forgets that he isn‘t all alone in this neck of the woods.

Josiah Snow is dad‘s weekend relief. He‘s probably pulled into the volunteer fire

department where he can plug in a little electric heater to keep his cruiser warm while he
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      348


grabs forty winks. If we call Tonopah they can probably raise the Snowman on his radio.

He‘s usually a pretty light sleeper.‖

        Connie felt the unaccustomed weight of cold steel in her hand. ―Tutu, you‘re

more used to this gun than I am. You take it and I‘ll call the police.‖

        Tutu had already tried the phone next to her computer. ―No dice. The line is

dead. Could be the weather or it could be our intruder cut the line. I‘m going to boot up

the computer and e-mail them a request for help. The computer has it‘s own line, a

microwave relay over the mountains the county put in for official traffic.‖ Tutu had the

presence of mind to unplug the tiny transformer which powered the computer‘s twin

speakers before she flipped the line switch on her multiple outlet surge protector. She

certainly didn‘t want the sound effects of her computer loading Windows to alert

whoever was down stairs.

        The video monitor provided a soft glow in the room while Windows was loading.

She glanced at Connie, kneeling and holding the revolver with both hands as she pointed

it at the bedroom door. When the computer was ready she clicked on her Internet icon

and waited for the opening screen. As soon as it appeared she opened her address book

and selected the Nye County Sheriff‘s Office in Tonopah. She clicked on that and typed

out a brief message. She attached a certain sound effects file she had recorded one day

on a whim, and then clicked send. In a second a small window appeared confirming her

message had been sent.

        ―Okay,‖ she whispered to Connie. ―The message has been sent, what now?‖

        ―I don‘t know, Tutu. Your dad said to stay here and wait for him to come back.

He said he would call out when he came upstairs so we wouldn‘t shoot him by accident.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   349


        ―I‘m not going to shoot anybody, Connie. You‘re the adult; I‘m the kid. You do

the shooting, okay? That‘s the way they always do it in the movies.‖

        ―But this isn‘t a movie, honey. I‘m no movie heroine and there are no

scriptwriters inventing dialog for me. I don‘t know what to do but I guess we should wait

like your dad said.‖

        ―I‘m beginning to think it‘s been quite a long time, Connie. Have you heard

anything?‖

        ―No more than you have. Maybe he went down to the basement to check on

Northcutt?‖

        ―Who?‖

        ―Northcutt. He‘s the drunk who ran us off the road and practically killed us

earlier tonight. It was his car we came home in. Your dad put him in the basement.

Could he have gotten out? Is that who we‘re hiding from?‖

        ―Trust me, Connie, not even David Copperfield could get out of the cells down

there. The doors can only be activated by a keypad located twelve feet across the room,

and you can‘t activate it unless you know dad‘s password.‖

        ―Then who…?‖ she left her question unasked. She had a hunch she knew the

answer and she didn‘t like it. ―I think I ought to go down stairs, Tutu. Your dad might

be in trouble.‖

        ―Well, if you go, I‘m not staying here alone. I‘m going with you.‖

        ―Let‘s be quiet. Stay behind me.‖ She led the way to the door and opened it

cautiously as if she expected to come face to face with Sigourney Weaver‘s Alien. The

empty hallway was anti-climactic. Connie felt she was over acting as she moved down
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     350


the hallway with Tutu‘s gun stiffly held in her outstretched arms. She lowered her hands,

almost to her waist, and gripped the pistol in her right hand while she felt along the wall

with her left.

        When they reached the top of the stairs Connie could see dim light in the living

room. It wasn‘t bright enough for one of the living room lights so she figured the light

must be from Lane‘s office, or perhaps the kitchen, maybe both. Slowly she placed her

bare foot on the top step and started down the staircase.

                                          *   *    *

        Dumont found a plastic wrapped package of deli-sliced ham in the refrigerator.

He pulled it out along with a loaf of wheat bread and a jar of mayonnaise and set them on

the kitchen table. ―Who the hell eats wheat bread now days?‖ he asked with disdain.

―You some kind of health nut, Deputy Dawg?‖ Lane ignored him as he continued

rummaging around and came out with half a bottle of Chablis he and Connie had been

sharing a few nights earlier.

        ―Well, looky, looky here. Deputy Dawg is too high class to drink beer, but we

got a little fancy wine to go with our sandwich. Is that it, Deputy Dawg? You got too

much class to drink beer like the rest of us guys? Maybe you got so much class that you

don‘t even like girls, hunh? Is that why you live here alone, Deputy Dawg?‖ When Lane

didn‘t answer Dumont pulled a large Bowie knife from a sheath on his hip. Lane almost

laughed but managed to stifle it before he irritated this crazed killer.

        When he had been on field maneuvers with the 82d Airborne Division, lots of

guys carried Bowie knives. Lane had always thought the practice was silly. If you need

a knife while bivouacked in the boonies, most likely you need a three or four inch knife
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     351


to make a sandwich, or eat dinner with. If you need to hack your way through jungle or

woods, you need a machete. A Bowie knife was for guys who imagined themselves as

tough, macho hombres. Not big enough for hacking a trail through the brush, and too big

for making a sandwich. Nonetheless, it was a helluva potent weapon for a fight, if the

wielder were skilled enough to use it. Few people were, and usually left themself open to

an easy, one-handed disarm. Lane recalled a knife was Dumont‘s weapon of choice and

grudgingly admitted Dumont might be skilled in using a Bowie. He certainly didn‘t want

to find out while his hands were cuffed behind him.

        Dumont set the Browning on the table and turned a chair around, straddling it as

he sat down to build his sandwich. First he used an inordinate amount of mayo on a slice

of bread, covering that with a slice of ham, more mayo, more ham, and finally more

mayo on the opposing slice of bread. He laid the Bowie aside, but never far from reach.

When he pressed the last slice of bread down on top of the mess he had created,

mayonnaise oozed out in globs upon the table. He picked up his creation with both hands

and crammed two huge bites into his mouth. His mouth was smeared with mayonnaise

on both sides and he wiped at it with the back of his hand.

        ―Mmm, that‘s good. You don‘t get real ham in the joint, bologna, most of the

time, but sometimes salami. And they sure do scrimp on the mayo. You‘d think the head

screw had to pay for it out of his own paycheck. I haven‘t had a sandwich this good

since… well, hell, it plumb escapes me. Must‘a been quite awhile I guess.‖ Not wanting

to let go of his messy sandwich, Dumont stuck the bottle of chablis between his legs and

worked the cork out. He tilted it to his lips and took three or four swallows.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       352


        ―Tastes like piss, deputy. Damn faggot water! You sure you don‘t got no beer

around here?‖

        Lane thought quickly. Maybe he could get Dumont out of the kitchen. He might

be able to get Dumont out onto the back porch to look for beer. Even with his hands

cuffed he could turn the latch on the dead bolt of the pantry door. That would give him

several seconds to get upstairs and have Connie unlock his cuffs with his spare key, then

he could grab Tutu‘s pistol… His hopes died when he saw the condition of the pantry

door and he learned how Dumont had gained access to the house. His big Bowie knife

had made swift and silent work of the doorjamb where the striker plate for the dead bolt

was attached. Scratch that plan.

        Damn! Through the doorway behind Dumont Lane could see Connie‘s feet, then

her legs, as she crept down the stairs. He had to keep Dumont distracted, keep his

attention centered on himself no matter what it took!

        ―Sorry, Dumont. I‘m fresh out of beer. I was putting on a little weight, perhaps

you noticed. At my last physical the doctor said I‘d better ease up on the drinking if I

wanted to keep my weight down. You know they can force you to lose weight, and if

you don‘t they can fire you.‖ Double-damn, Tutu‘s bunny slippers were coming down

the stairs behind Connie! Long pink ears quivered with each step while plastic eyes

rolled, forcing Lane to stifle an involuntary laugh.

        ―It‘s kind of like the Army that way, you know? You‘ve heard the term: shape up

or ship out? That‘s what they mean. If you can‘t make the physical, you‘re out on your

ear. But the doc did say a small glass of wine before dinner would help to dull the

appetite and even help to keep my blood pressure down, and every once in awhile, I do
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     353


have a lady over for the evening, Dumont.‖ He stressed the word lady if only to irritate

the man. ―Nothing goes better with soft music and soft skin than a glass of smooth, dry

wine.‖

         Lane heard that squeaky step near the bottom of the stairs and worried that

Dumont may have heard it also. He stomped both feet and pushed his chair noisily back

from the table. Dumont reacted swiftly, holding his sandwich in one hand and grabbing

at the Browning with the other.

         ―Don‘t get excited!‖ Lane shouted at him. I‘m just trying to work up a little

circulation. You fastened these cuffs pretty tight, you know?‖

         ―What‘s that to me?‖ the killer asked. ―I don‘t care if your hands turn black and

fall off, Deputy Dawg. You just sit tight there while I finish my sandwich.‖ He set the

gun down once more as he continued talking, working his tongue around another bite of

ham sandwich. ―I might let you move into the front room and sit by the fire. I saw you

got a satellite dish on the roof when I was outside. Maybe I‘ll kick my feet up and watch

a couple of them sex-rated movies on HBO? What do you think of that, Deputy Dawg?”

         Lane stared at the man with the twisted smile and crazed eyes. ―I‘ll tell you what

I think, Dumont. I think you‘re one sick son of a bitch who gets his rocks of watching

sex movies. You probably flog your meat while you‘re watching. An ugly asshole like

you probably can‘t get lovin‘ from a decent woman. I saw the way you carved up

Granny Titus, you sick pervert. Is that the way you get your kicks? I‘ve seen the wanted

notices on you too! Rape and murder, rape and murder; what‘s the matter, Dumont?

Don‘t you know how to love a woman?‖ Lane was practically shouting. He knew
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   354


Connie and Tutu were in the living room now and he didn‘t want to take a chance

Dumont would hear the smallest sound and turn around to spot them.

        Dumont picked up the Browning again and pointed it at him. ―You talk real big

for a man with his hands cuffed behind him and a nine millimeter aimed at his heart,

Deputy. I killed that old Indian cunt because I was cold and wet and she didn‘t have no

clothes I could wear. I killed that cunt because I was hungry and she didn‘t have nothing

worth eating in that shack of hers. I killed that cunt because she was old and useless and

wasn‘t even worth a fuck! That‘s why I killed her! And I enjoyed every minute of it

too.‖

        ―Did you see the way I cut off her nipples, Deputy Dawg? Cut ‗em right off and

ate ‗em I did. Just a little snack, you understand. You should‘a heard her scream when I

ripped off her rags and tossed her on that filthy old mattress. She screamed like the worst

thing I might do was rape her. I wouldn‘t have touched that old cunt with your dick,

deputy. But I sliced her good didn‘t I?‖

        ―Then I sliced them tits until they hung down to her waist and I… unh!‖

        A shot sounded in the living room and the right side of Dumont‘s chest exploded

with a fountain of blood. He coughed and chewed meat traveled across the kitchen. The

bullet, after passing through Dumont, just missed Lane as it shattered the window over

the sink behind him.

        Dumont sat there a moment with a dumbfounded expression on his face while

blood spread down his shirt. He still held the sandwich in his right hand and he pressed it

absently to the wound. The heavy Browning sagged toward the floor and discharged

before dropping from his fingers. His mouth opened, spilling blood and half-chewed
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     355


food onto his chest. He toppled forward and lay with arms spread on the kitchen table,

his body flattening the loaf of wheat bread and his outstretched arm knocked the

mayonnaise and Bowie knife to the floor. The glass jar broke with a hollow sounding

thunk and crumpled into a greasy mess.

         Lane collected his wits and moved around the table until he could kick the

Browning beyond Dumont‘s reach. Connie rushed in and threw her arms around him.

         ―Oh, Lane, I‘m so sorry. I had to shoot him. I thought he was going to kill you.

And then when I heard him bragging about those awful things he did to Granny Titus;

you didn‘t tell me she was dead. Why?‖

         ―Uh, could you put the gun down, Honey? You‘ve got to be careful with it you

know.‖

         ―…and I think you‘ve got a patient, Doctor,‖ Tutu said. ―It looks like he‘s still

breathing.‖

         Connie dropped her arms and whirled around. She felt for a carotid pulse and

found one. ―Quick, turn him over and put him on the table! Tutu, get my bag. It‘s next

to the TV.‖

         ―You‘re not going to try and save him, are you?‖ Tutu asked with incredulity.

―Why?‖

         ―Because I‘m a doctor and that‘s the only reason required.‖ She was already

trying to turn Dumont over. Lane was surprised to see how much strength his little

woman had as she lifted the heavy man with the same arms that had been wrapped

around him just moments before.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     356


        ―Connie, check his pockets. I think he has the keys to my cuffs. If you can get

these off me, I can help you.‖

        She found the keys in the first pocket she checked and tried to open Lane‘s cuffs

but her hands were slippery and smeared with blood. Tutu returned with Connie‘s kit and

took the keys from her. ―I can do this; you wash your hands, Connie.‖

        Connie went to the sink and ran water over her hands while she scrubbed the

blood off. She grabbed a towel and dried quickly. Tutu had gotten the cuffs off her dad

who was positioning Dumont so Connie could work on him.

        With practiced ease Connie slipped on a pair of latex gloves from her bag. She

ripped open the man‘s shirt and found the exit wound. ―God, this is awful big for such a

small bullet,‖ she said. ―It‘s passed through the lung. The most important thing to do

now is slap something over the wound to prevent it from sucking air or he‘ll drown in his

own blood. Lane, have you got some plastic wrap?‖

        Lane thought a moment. ―No, but I‘ve got some freezer bags. Will that do?‖

        ―Perfect, I think.‖

        Land pulled open a drawer and started to hand the box to her then thought better

of it and pulled out a baggie and put it in her hand.

        ―Thanks,‖ she said. She slapped it over the wound and held it in place. ―Tutu,

there‘s a roll of two inch adhesive tape in my bag. Cut me four strips eight or nine inches

long and hand them to me one at a time. Lane, put your hand here and press firmly while

I stretch the plastic smooth and tape the edges.‖

        Lane held the baggie in place while Tutu passed Connie strips of tape. Quickly

she taped the edges of the baggie. She bent to the floor and picked up Dumont‘s Bowie
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       357


knife. ―Never thought I‘d be using one of these things, but all I want to do is cut his shirt

off. Then we have to turn him over so I can tape a baggie to the other side where the

bullet went in.

        Dumont‘s knife was razor sharp as she cut the shirt with swift strokes from the

neck down to each cuff. While Lane rolled her patient over she slid the shirt from the

table and dropped it to the floor. Lane got another baggie ready for her but she asked

Tutu to hand her a pair of forceps so she could remove some threads from the wound

before she taped it shut.

        After removing the threads she used the forceps to hold a gauze swatch while she

soaked it in disinfectant and swabbed the wound. In a few minutes they were done.

        ―We‘ve got to roll him on his back again, Lane. He may begin choking on his

own blood and I might have to intubate him. There‘s a hundred other things I should be

doing for him, but we don‘t have the equipment. About all we can do is protect the

wound and treat him for shock. Tutu, will you bring me a couple blankets and a pillow?‖

        ―Shouldn‘t we put him in one of the cells, Connie?‖ Lane asked.

        ―I don‘t think he‘s going to be hurting anyone in his condition, Lane. I‘ll give

him an antibiotic to reduce infection and morphine for the pain, but I need to keep him

here where I can watch him.‖

        ―Well, if you say so, but I don‘t like it. This guy could still be dangerous,

Connie?‖

        ―Would you be happy if I let you put those cuffs on his ankles?‖ she asked.

        ―I guess it would be better than nothing.‖ He took the cuffs and slid the pants

legs of Dumont‘s trousers high enough to get the bracelets around the man‘s ankles. He
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        358


still wished he could do something about the man‘s hands, a straight-jacket would have

suited him fine.

        Tutu brought a pillow from the sofa and two blankets from the basement. ―Dad,

you‘ve got one really pissed prisoner down there. And he‘s hungry too.‖

        ―I‘m not surprised,‖ Lane said. ―But somehow I don‘t really care. It‘ll be awhile

before he gets his breakfast, it‘s not my fault he drank his dinner last night instead of

eating.‖

        ―Tutu,‖ Connie asked. ―Do you suppose you could e-mail the sheriff‘s station

and get them to send a helicopter ambulance for the prisoner? He really needs to be in an

emergency room as soon as possible.‖

        Tutu looked at her dad. He shrugged and waved her away with a flip of his hand.

        ―You don‘t look as though you approve, Lane.‖ Connie had done all she could

for her patient so now she busied herself at the coffee maker. She put in a clean filter and

measured in the coffee grounds.

        ―I know it‘s your job to keep this maniac alive, Connie. And I know it‘s my duty

to see that he‘s properly locked up and turned over for trial. It‘s just that sometimes I

can‘t see why we go to so much trouble to make sure some guilty bastard like this gets a

fair trial before we execute him.‖

        ―If you can‘t answer that one for yourself, Lane, then maybe you don‘t have any

business being a deputy.‖ She slid the coffee holder into the machine and filled the pot

with cold water.

        ―You‘re right, Connie. Nobody appointed me judge, jury, and executioner, but it

would certainly save the taxpayers a large chunk of change.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      359


        She poured the water into the machine, set the pot on the warming plate and

flipped the switch to on. ―Would you want that responsibility, Lane.‖

        ―Of course not! But sometimes it gets a man to wondering.‖

        ―That‘s why you‘re going to keep on doing your job, Lane. There are a lot of

guys who wouldn‘t care about Dumont. Especially if what he said about Granny Titus is

true. But that‘s not why I shot him. I shot him because I truly thought he was about to

shoot you, Lane. I‘m certain he would have killed you before he left this house. So

you‘ll go on catching the bad guys as long as you‘re able, and when I have to, I‘ll keep

patching them up until we can let the law do the job it has to do so we can all hope we

still live in a civilized society.‖

        ―Amen to that,‖ Lane said.

        ―Amen to what?‖ Tutu asked as she returned from upstairs.

        ―To civilized society,‖ Connie chuckled. ―Did you get a response from the

sheriff‘s office.‖

        ―Sure did. The air ambulance from Tonopah will be here in about forty minutes.

They‘ll fly this guy down to Vegas because there are better facilities there.‖

        ―Good,‖ Connie said. ―So all we have to do is keep this guy alive for forty

minutes and then he‘ll be out of our hands. I‘m glad of that.‖

        ―Uh, dad? I think you better get dressed. Headquarters still can‘t raise the

Snowman. You‘ll have to go over to the fire house and wake him.‖

        ―See, Connie? No rest for the weary. The more you do in this job, the more they

expect you to do.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     360


        ―Go on,‖ she said. ―By the time you get back the coffee will be ready. I‘m sure

you and Josiah can both use some.‖

        Lane put on his weapon and leather and gathered up his parka. It was only three

blocks to the Volunteer Fire Department and he was there after a short walk. The

Snowman was sitting behind the wheel of his cruiser; his head back and his mouth wide

open as he snored. Sitting on the floor of the cruiser on the passenger side was a small

metallic cube, a ceramic heater, with its cord snaked out through the window and plugged

in to the wall.

        Lane rapped his knuckles against the driver‘s side glass. When there was no

response he rapped again, harder. Josiah woke suddenly and glanced around to take in

his situation.

        ―Oh, it‘s you, Lane. Man you sure cut me off in the middle of what must have

been the world‘s hottest wet dream. I‘m gonna be mad at you for at least a month. I

promise.‖

        ―Does Shandra know what you dream about, Snowman?‖

        ―Does she know? Man, Shandra was the dream. That‘s why I‘m so pissed at

you. So what‘s shakin‘?‖

        ―We caught Dumont. Broke into my house a short while back. Connie had to

shoot him. He‘s spread out on my kitchen table right now where she patched him up, and

the Lifeflight helicopter is on its way to take him off our hands. I need you to drive up to

the vacant field behind my place and use your lights and radio to guide him in.‖

        ―Sure ‗nuff, Lane. How about unpluggin‘ my heater and jumping in? I‘ll drop

you off at home.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   361


       Lane walked around the blue and white cruiser and pulled the plug on the electric

heater then opened the car door and got in. He pushed the heater aside with his foot and

unzipped his parka. The car was almost unpleasantly warm.

       When Josiah pulled up in front of Lane‘s home, Lane invited him in. ―We can at

least put a cup of hot coffee in your hand before you have to take your post. Connie said

she‘d have some fresh made by the time I got home.‖

       ―I could sure go for that,‖ he said as he got out of the cruiser. ―Hey, where‘d you

get the Jeep?‖ he asked when he noticed Northcutt‘s vehicle.

       ―Belongs to a guest of the county locked in my basement.‖

       ―Sounds like you‘ve had a busy day,‖ Josiah commented.

       ―That was yesterday. Today I hope will be much quieter.‖ Lane and Josiah

topped the steps and Lane opened the front door for his partner. The aroma of fresh

coffee greeted them as soon as the door was open and they both headed straight for the

kitchen.

       The Snowman saw the patient on the kitchen table and noted the wound. ―Too

bad, Doc, a few inches to the left and you could have saved the county a pretty expensive

trial. But I understand you‘re just learning how to shoot.‖

       Connie was leaning against the sink as she sipped a cup of coffee. ―I hope that‘s

the first and only time I‘ll ever have to shoot a man. I wouldn‘t have done it then except

I thought he was going to kill Lane. He was pointing a gun at him.‖

       Josiah looked around the room. ―What gun?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                  362


        Lane looked embarrassed and answered, ―Mine, the one in my holster. He got it

while I was sleeping upstairs. I awoke when I heard a noise and when I came down to

check he got the drop on me. I was in handcuffs when Connie shot him.‖

        ―Okay, your secret‘s safe with me. You said something about coffee?‖

        Lane took two mugs from the cupboard to the left of the sink and poured for

Josiah and himself. Josiah thanked him as he handed a steaming cup to him.

        ―So that‘s the infamous Richard Dumont. He don‘t look so dangerous now, does

he?‖

        ―He‘s an animal,‖ Connie said. ―He killed Granny Titus tonight. We were out at

her place earlier. He used his knife and butchered her.‖

        ―Why‘d you go out there?‖ Josiah asked.

        ―We found out what‘s been causing all these violent deaths. At least we think we

have. That Paiute potpourri Granny Titus sells seems to contain some weird kind of

drug. Connie has identified it at each crime scene, and tox scans show traces in the blood

of all the victims.‖

        ―Is that right, Doc?‖

        Connie nodded. ―As near as we can figure, its‘ a plant species related to

lophophora williamsii, you know it as peyote. Science has identified as many as fifty-six

alkaloid compounds contained in the cactus, the most potent of which is mescaline. I‘m

sure you know peyote can lead to violent seizures among people who use it regularly.‖

        ―Yes‘m. We‘re given a rudimentary knowledge of most street drugs in training.

But, I thought peyote was native to New Mexico and Texas. Where would Granny Titus

collect some?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      363


        ―That‘s what we need to find out. We‘re not positive it is peyote, particularly

because it is so much more concentrated and its‘ effects are so homicidal. Unfortunately,

the one person who can answer those questions is dead.‖

        ―Maybe those Army scientists can help you? They went back to Tonopah before

the heaviest part of the storm hit this evening. If they‘re back tomorrow, maybe you can

ask them.‖

        Lane said, ―I‘ll send a message to headquarters and have the sheriff make a point

of asking them to see me. Perhaps they can be of some help.‖

        ―Well, I better get my butt up the hill if I‘m going to get a chopper to put down

here. You want me to send a medic down here with a stretcher?‖

        ―Yeah, Snowman. Show him the way through the fence so he doesn‘t have to go

around to the front of the house. And, you can help him carry the stretcher back to the

helicopter.‖

        ―You‘re too good to me, Lane. Thanks for the coffee,‖ he said with a smile to

Connie. He left the room and a moment later they heard him going out the front door.

        ―I knew it was awful quiet around here,‖ Lane said. ―Where‘s Tutu?‖

        ―Upstairs, on her computer, she‘s e-mailing an account of this whole adventure to

that Demming woman. Remember? The TV reporter from Las Vegas, the one with the

big…‖ Connie pantomimed a woman‘s figure with exaggerated curves.

        ―Oh, that one. What does she want to e-mail her the story for? A TV reporter

doesn‘t use print. If they haven‘t got video they haven‘t got a story.‖

        ―Evidently Tutu ran into the TV crew a few days ago down at Art‘s Exxon. They

struck up a conversation and Tutu mentioned she might like to major in journalism when
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     364


she goes to college. Miss Demming said if she ever had a story to shoot it to her, her

words, not mine, and she‘d try and help Tutu.‖

        Tutu could be heard coming down the stairs two and three at a time. ―Hey, hey!

Look what I‘ve got.‖ She waved a sheet of paper at them. ―Pam Demming forwarded

my e-mail to a senior editor on the night desk at the Sun. He said if I allowed him to edit

the story he‘d run it and pay me a stringer‘s rate. Isn‘t that fantastic? My story is going

to be in the paper!‖

        ―Congratulations,‖ Connie said, ―another Brenda Starr!‖

        ―Who‘s that?‖ Tutu asked.

        ―Don‘t worry,‖ her father told her. ―She was way before your time. So you‘re

headed for a career in journalism now? Does that mean we have to start calling you

„Scoop‟ Mauler?‖

        ―Oh, daddy,‖ Tutu said with a blush. ―It‘s only one story, and I just happened to

be here to report it. I‘ll probably never be this lucky again.‖

        ―But it‘s a start. A career in journalism would look glamorous and exciting to a

lot of young girls,‖ Connie said.

        ―And so would a career in medicine, like you, Connie. I‘m still at an age where I

don‘t have to make a decision one way or the other, yet. Anyway, I‘ve got another year

and a half of high school to finish, and then I think I‘ll join the Army like my dad.‖

        Lane‘s jaw dropped. ―You never said anything about that before, Tutu.‖

        ―Well, it‘s about time I started thinking about my future, dad. The way I see it, a

girl my age isn‘t truly ready for college at seventeen. There are too many opportunities

to party and slough off on cracking the books. If I join the Army, I‘ll have three years to
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       365


gain in maturity and I‘ll learn the value of good study habits and self-motivation too. Of

course, the Army‘s college bonus program isn‘t half bad either. That way I wouldn‘t

need to work a couple part time jobs to support myself and try to keep up my grades at

the same time.‖

       ―But, you know I‘ll always be there to help, Tutu. Granted, I‘m not worth a

fortune, but a couple hundred a month won‘t break me. With your grades, you‘re a cinch

to pick up a scholarship too.‖

       ―Dad, I love you. But sometimes you‘re pretty slow on the uptake, you know?‖

She gave him a steady glare that left him without a clue. ―Dad, Connie‘s not going to

hang around here forever waiting for you to ask her to get married and move in with you.

You two are crazy about each other, and if one of you doesn‘t make a move, you just

might let the other one slip away. So, as soon as I finish high school, I‘m out‘ta here and

you‘ll have to beg Connie to fix your breakfast, pay your bills, keep the house straight

and do the grocery shopping.‖

       Lane looked long and hard at Connie. ―Are you two women ganging up on me

about this?‖ he asked.

       ―She never said a thing to me,‖ Connie said, proclaiming her innocence.

―Besides, I have way too much work to take on a full time relationship.‖ Her features

mellowed and her voice became more subdued. ―I just wouldn‘t be able to devote the

time needed to a serious relationship.‖

       ―What time, Connie? You‘re here in town three or four days a week doing your

job,‖ Tutu said. ―You‘re supposed to be specializing in rural health medicine anyway.

Why do you want to spend more time than necessary in Tonopah, carving up dead
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      366


bodies? And dad‘s got this big house, courtesy of the county, you know I‘d love to have

you here. Even if I have to go back to being dad‘s number two girl, it‘d be worth it to

me.‖

        Lane had been watching his daughter as she made her speech. A lot of what she

said made sense. He felt ready to develop a relationship with another woman, especially

a woman like Connie. In the last four or five months he had come to value her company,

her warmth, her intelligence, and her laughter a lot more than he realized.

        He moved toward her and took her in his arms while unobtrusively waving Tutu

off to another room. Tutu got the message and made herself scarce.

        ―You know, what Tutu said has a lot of merit, Connie, but, I‘d like you to move

in with me not for the sensible and practical reasons she gave.‖ He cupped her chin in

the fingers of his right hand and tilted her face up until he could look deep into her eyes.

He reveled in the sensation of her body melting and the curves seeming to flow into

contact with his body.

        ―I‘d like you to move in, Connie, just because I love you. If you‘ll let me, I‘ll do

everything I can to make you happy.‖

        Connie stared back at him; her eyes trying to plumb the depths of his soul to

divine the true meaning behind his words. Did she love him enough to risk making a

commitment to him and his daughter? A commitment like that would surely detract from

her work, work that was tremendously important to her.

        Or did she truly value her career more than her relationship with this man, and her

friendship and attachment to his daughter?
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      367


        For a heart stopping moment Lane was afraid he‘d pushed Connie too hard and

too quickly. He‘d only been dreaming while imagining a woman this educated and self-

assured could ever need anything he had to offer.

        She put her cheek next to his and Lane felt sure he could feel hot tears searing his

skin. He‘d blown it for sure! He‘d be lucky if she ever saw him again, other than

professionally.

        At last she spoke. ―Lane? When we get this situation all sorted out, when

Dumont is out of this house, and when the Army has explained to us what has been going

on for these past few months… when all that is behind us, will you take me to Las Vegas

for a week or so? I think we could both use a little time to ourselves. If you still feel the

way you do now, perhaps we could stop at one of those little wedding chapels. Nothing

big or fancy, you know, but I‘d like you to know that I‘m serious about making a

commitment to both you and Tutu.‖

        ―Does that mean…‖ Lane almost choked on the words, ―does that mean you‘ll

marry me?‖

        Connie pushed him away and held him at arms length while she scolded him.

―Well you certainly have a strange way of proposing to a girl, Lane Mauler, but I won‘t

let that stop me. I accept!‖ She kissed him with more fervor and passion than she had

ever shown him before. Suddenly he wondered if maybe she wasn‘t the one who feared

he wouldn‘t want to take an old maid of thirty-two years for his wife? He began to

wonder if maybe he missed something in the translation. Did he propose to her?

        Who cared? She‘d accepted and he was happy she did. He hugged her tightly

and did his best to kiss her back.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      368


          Tutu had evidently been listening just beyond the door in the living room. She

came in and put her arms around both of them. ―Well, all right! When‘s the wedding

gonna be folks? Can I be your bride‘s maid, Connie? Huh, can I?‖

          Connie put an arm around Tutu and kissed her lightly on the forehead. ―Of

course you can, Tutu, and when we do this thing, you‘re going to help me get dressed for

the wedding too. Oh, and we‘ll put you in a lovely sky blue silk with a bouquet of

Baby‘s Breath…‖

          ―You cheated!‖ Tutu playfully accused her. ―How did you know my favorite

color?‖

          Lane began to feel as though he were being ignored in this little family tableau.

―Hey, you guys, am I going to be invited to this wedding too?‖

          ―Only if you promise to behave,‖ Tutu said. ―And even if you promise, you

won‘t, but we love you, so I guess that means you‘re invited also.‖

          Lane shook his head in confusion while he tried to unscramble what he‘d just

heard. Had he been insulted?

          The whup-whup-whup of a helicopter‘s rotor grew louder until the old wooden

house began vibrating furiously. Evidently the wind was from the west tonight and

Josiah was bringing the chopper in just above the roof.

          ―Okay, both of you. Clear the hell out of the kitchen, will you? Go be female

some place else. Josiah will be bringing in the stretcher any moment. Now, scoot!‖

          ―Just ignore him, Connie. All men need to have their way once in awhile and

constantly complain we women are always underfoot. Don‘t feed him too much red

meat; fish or fowl is better. And, if you wait until he‘s had his second cup of coffee in
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     369


the morning he won‘t care if you‘ve dented the fender of the car.‖ They giggled like the

conspirators he suspected they were and headed for the front room.

         Lane went through the pantry and turned on the light for the back porch. Up the

slope he could see the running lights of the helicopter and the revolving red anti-collision

beacon on the underside. Any moment the Snowman would be approaching with the

MedTech and a stretcher.

         They came through the gate Lane had installed when he thought he and Tutu

might want to lead horses in and out some day. Josiah led the way and brought them up

the steps into the kitchen where Dumont still lay on the table. While Lane and Josiah

lifted the body and the MedTech slipped a litter underneath, Tutu came in. Standing

behind Josiah she slipped her arms around him and squealed in his ear. ―Snowman! Did

you here the news? Connie and Dad are gonna get married and I‘m gonna be the bride‘s

maid.‖

         Snowman struggled to keep from dropping his share of the load. ―‘S‘ great, Tutu,

but can you let me go a moment? I don‘t want to drop this patient.‖

         She pulled away quickly. ―Oh, sorry! I wasn‘t thinking,‖ she apologized.

         Lane and Josiah got their patient properly positioned and began strapping him

down as the MedTech studied the tag Connie had put on Dumont noting the time and

amount of each medication. The Snowman looked up at Lane with a questioning glance.

―In the midst of all this, you found time to propose to the Doc?‖

         ―Umm, yes, I guess. Somehow it just happened. You and Shandra are invited to

the wedding, of course.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        370


        ―Man, if this is the way you propose, I wouldn‘t miss your wedding for six

months paid vacation.‖ He finished buckling Dumont to the stretcher and asked the

MedTech, ―Are we ready here, Morton?‖

        ―Let‘s take him away, Snowman. He‘s lost quite a bit of blood and we better get

him to the chopper so I can give him some plasma. We‘ll have him in Vegas pronto.

Right, now… one, two, three; lift!‖ Together they lifted their burden while Lane led the

way, to hold door to the back porch. They went through the gate and up the slope to

where the chopper was waiting.

        Lane stood aside while they slid the stretcher into the open clamshell doors at the

rear of the aircraft. The MedTech jumped inside and checked to make sure the stretcher

was firmly clamped into the floor-dogs then slipped on a helmet and spoke with the pilot.

Just as Lane and Josiah were closing the clamshell doors, Lane saw him begin an IV and

then the pilot increased rotor speed and pitch; the two deputies moved away from the

helicopter as it lifted off the ground and turned into the wind. Soon it was gone and the

two men could make themselves heard in a normal tone of voice.

        Josiah clapped Lane on the back. ―Well, congratulations you sly dog, you‘re

getting one hell of a woman, you know? How‘d you manage it?‖

        ―The damnedest thing, Snowman, I think the asked me. Or maybe she accepted

and then I asked her. Hell if I can figure it out, but I‘m happy anyway.‖

        ―When‘s the wedding?‖ he said as the two men headed for his cruiser. They both

slid into the front seat and Josiah drove them out to the street and around the corner to

park in front of Lane‘s home.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     371


        ―I haven‘t the foggiest. Connie mentioned something about when all this mess

got settled. We‘re pretty sure we found the cause of those too frequent outbreaks of

violence and the reason behind the killings, but before we could confirm anything

Dumont killed our only source of information, Granny Titus.‖

        ―Oh, damn! That sweet old lady? I used to see her around Art‘s Exxon once in

awhile. Never thought she‘d hurt a flea.‖

        ―We don‘t think she did, not intentionally. But, it‘s possible she got some peyote

or a similar plant mixed into her potpourri and that‘s what drove everybody crazy.‖

        Josiah Snow checked his watch. ―Hot damn! Look at the time, will you? It‘s

nearly two in the morning and my shift was over at two. I better get on the road and

make tracks for home.‖ He turned and was nearly out of the kitchen when he leaned back

in and waved to Connie. ―Thanks for the coffee, Doc. I hope you and Lane will be very

happy. You can count on Shandra and I making it to the wedding, too. Gotta run now.

Just wait until I tell Shandra.‖ He waved again and left.

        Lane called after him, ―Don‘t forget to have those Army people down here first

thing in the morning, will you?‖

        Although they couldn‘t see him, his voice carried into the kitchen. ―I‘ll leave a

note for Noah Denton!‖ The last they heard was the front door closing behind him.

        ―Alone, at last,‖ Lane told Connie. ―And all I want to do now is go upstairs and

put my head down for the next few hours."

        ―Me, too,‖ she said. ―Want to flip for first crack at the bathroom?‖

        ―Nah, you go on ahead. I should see if I can repair our phone line, then I‘ll lock

up and turn off the lights and use the john under the stairs.‖ As soon as she left the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    372


kitchen Lane checked the broken hasp on the back door and figured that putting a chair

under the doorknob would be sufficient for the moment. Tomorrow would be soon

enough to repair the doorjamb and lock.

       He took a flashlight outside and found where Dumont had cut the phone line. A

makeshift repair took only a few moments and he went inside and tested the phone to see

if it was working. When he got a dial tone, he was satisfied.

       After locking the front door he killed the lights and went up stairs. He found

Connie fast asleep so he hung up his clothes and slid in beside her. Sharing his bed with

her was something he found uncommonly pleasant.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                   373




                                         Chapter 16



        Bright sunlight streaming through the bedroom window woke him. He didn‘t

move for several moments until the fog cleared from his still drowsy mind and he noticed

the clock on his nightstand. Eight-thirty! He should have been up long ago.

        Connie wasn‘t in bed and the aroma of breakfast wafting up through the

ventilators told him she was probably down in the kitchen. Quickly he pulled on his

clothes and went to the bathroom where he got rid of several cups of used coffee. He ran

cold water into the sink and splashed his face. The shock of it brought him fully awake.

He decided he could eat breakfast before shaving, so he toweled dry and went downstairs.

        Connie was at the stove making pancakes and humming happily. He saw bacon

draining on a plate covered with paper towels. Deciding to snitch a piece he slipped up

behind her and planted a kiss on the right side of her neck and snagged a piece with his

left hand while she was distracted. ―Morning, Hon,‖ she said. ―You better go to the

basement and check on your prisoner. He‘s been making such a racket I thought you‘d

have been up long ago.‖

        Lane munched on his bacon and mumbled around it. ―He can damn well wait

until I‘ve had my breakfast, then I‘ll see to him.‖

        ―My, aren‘t we grumpy this morning?‖

        ―Not grumpy, I just don‘t want to be disturbed while I‘m admiring the most

gorgeous backside in this galaxy.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      374


         ―Liar! I know I‘m five pounds overweight and all of it is in my backside. Wish I

could distribute it up top where I could use a few extra inches.‖

         Lane reached his arms around her until he was cupping a breast in each hand.

―You seem just about right to me, ma‘am.‖

         She gasped in surprise and slapped at his leg with the spatula she held. ―Cut that

out, Lane. Tutu might come down and see. Go check on Mr. What‘s-his-name, I‘ll still

be here when you get back. And you can tell him his breakfast will be down shortly.‖

         ―Lucky guy!‖ Lane remarked. ―Whatever happened to the good old days of bread

and water?‖ He headed for the basement where he could already hear the prisoner

hollering.

         When he opened the basement door he found Northcutt standing and holding onto

the cell bars. ―Well, it‘s about time somebody checked to see what was going on. Am I

in jail? On what charge? When do I get to call a lawyer? When do we get something to

eat around here?‖

         ―I‘ll answer your questions one at a time Mr. Northcutt. Yes, you are in jail. At

the moment, there is no charge. I brought you in last evening when you ran your car into

a ditch. You appeared highly intoxicated so I locked you up under civil protective

custody. You can call a lawyer anytime you like. As to eating, is now too soon? My

fiancé will have your breakfast ready in a few minutes.‖

         Northcutt may have been ready to sue the pants off of everyone he could think of

but he had second thoughts and grew calm. ―Sorry if I sort of jumped down your throat,

sheriff..."

         ―It‘s deputy, Mauler, Lane Mauler. Is it safe for me to let you out of that cell?‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      375


        ―Would you please?‖ the man answered. ―I‘ve got to piss so bad my teeth are

floating. I‘ll behave myself, honest.‖

        His contrite expression satisfied Lane and he turned to the keypad and punched

OPEN #1 then entered his password when prompted. There was a buzzing and the door

swung open. True to his word, Northcutt headed for the john and emptied his bladder of

what seemed like a six-pack of beer. Lane considered himself lucky the bed in the cell

hadn‘t fallen victim to an unfortunate accident. When he finished, Northcutt washed his

hands in the basin and wiped on a couple paper towels. He turned to Lane.

        ―Did I wreck the Jeep?‖

        ―I don‘t think it‘s hurt bad. We drove you home in it last night. But I‘m sure the

county will expect you to make restitution for the damage done to my vehicle when you

forced us off the road.

        Come upstairs with me and I‘ll return your wallet and other valuables.‖ They

clumped upstairs into Lane‘s office where he took out the envelope with Northcutt‘s

things and gave it to him.

        ―You better check the inventory. Then you need to sign this receipt. And, the

county has a nine dollar charge for bed and meals.‖

        ―But I haven‘t eaten anything yet,‖ Northcutt said as he opened the envelope and

checked the contents against the inventory written on the back. ―Okay, I guess

everything‘s here. I didn‘t give you too much trouble did I? If I did, I‘m awful sorry.‖

        ―No trouble at all. You were passed out when we found you and we simply put

you to bed, for your own protection. You realize, don‘t you, I found you with open

containers in the vehicle. That, by itself, is a serious charge. But I didn‘t want to take the
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        376


time or fill out the paperwork required to charge you with driving under the influence, I

was pretty busy with other events last night, so I elected to lock you up under the Nevada

provisions we call civil protective custody. I have a witness, so I don‘t think I‘ll have

any trouble clearing myself if you elect to bring charges.‖

        ―Oh, no charges, deputy, no charges. I guess I should thank my lucky stars that I

didn‘t kill myself. And thank you too.‖

        ―Don‘t mention it,‖ Lane said. ―Just remember, driving on icy roads is a tough

job as it is. Drinking and driving doesn‘t make it any easier.‖

        ―I‘ll be more careful in the future, deputy.‖

        ―I should hope so. Now, let‘s go into the kitchen and get something to eat. I‘d

recommend a good cup of coffee also.‖

        In the kitchen Connie had set four plates with silverware and a clean tablecloth on

the kitchen table. ―Very fancy,‖ Lane commented. ―I like it.‖

        ―Just don‘t get used to it, cowboy. The table was pretty messy after last night,

and it didn‘t want to come very clean when I washed it. The table cloth is camouflage.‖

        ―Oh, sorry I asked.‖

        ―Don‘t worry, why don‘t you and your guest have a seat and you can dig right in.

Tutu hasn‘t come down yet so I imagine she‘s sleeping late today.‖

        ―Oh, I‘m sorry, honey, this is Mr. Dale Northcutt. Mr. Northcutt, my fiancé, Dr.

Connie Conried.‖

        Northcutt stepped past Lane in order to shake Connie‘s hand. ―Very pleased to

meet you, doctor. I understand I gave you all some trouble last night. Please don‘t hold

it against me.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        377


          ―All is forgiven, Mr. Northcutt. We were a little busy ourselves last night. Won‘t

you sit down?‖ She pointed him to a chair. After he had settled himself she asked, ―How

many pancakes do you think you can eat this morning?‖

          ―Could I start with three? I‘m not usually big on breakfast, but I‘m pretty hungry

today.‖

          ―How about you?‖ she asked Lane.

          ―At least six for starters, I‘m still a growing boy.‖

          Connie served them with four slices of bacon each. She put two on a plate and

sat down with them. Just then Tutu came into the room.

          ―Just as I was getting ready to finish your share, daughter,‖ Lane said. ―Why

don‘t you set that coffee pot over here before you sit down?‖

          ―I put three pancakes in the oven to keep warm for you,‖ Connie told her.

          Tutu took a potholder from a drawer and put the pot on top as she set it on the

table. Then she opened the oven and took out the plate Connie had set aside. When she

sat down her father introduced their breakfast guest.

          ―Mr. Northcutt, this is my daughter, Cheryl Ann. We generally refer to her as

Tutu.‖

          ―Good morning, Tutu. How are you this morning?‖

          ―Fine, thank you. Just a little sleepy, I think. We were up quite late last night.‖

          ―So I‘ve heard people mention. What was all the excitement, if you don‘t mind

my asking?‖

          ―Have you read about that escaped killer from Idaho?‖ Tutu asked. ―My dad

caught him. But Connie had to shoot him. A good thing for him she‘s also a doctor. She
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                     378


kept him alive until the LifeFlight helicopter could get here to take him to Las Vegas. I

wrote up the story and it‘s going to be in the paper,‖ she finished with a smirk.

        ―Well, it sounds like you did have a little excitement. And you‘re going to be in

the paper too? Congratulations.‖

        ―Don‘t praise her too much, Mr. Northcutt, or I‘ll have to buy her some new

hats,‖ Lane said.

        ―Miss… or should I call you doctor? These pancakes are wonderful. Thank you.

And the coffee is excellent too. I want to thank you very much for everything.‖

        The doorbell rang and Tutu left the table. She was back in a few seconds. ―Dad,

it‘s the FBI and those Army people also.‖ She sat down while Northcutt looked pale.

        ―I‘ll take them into the living room,‖ Lane said as he wolfed the last bites of his

pancakes. Don‘t worry, Mr. Northcutt, they aren‘t here for you.‖ He left the table.

        ―Thank goodness,‖ Northcutt said. ―I don‘t usually drink and drive,‖ he said to

Connie and Tutu, ―and, you can be darn sure I won‘t do it again. I‘m sure glad your dad

didn‘t lock me up for driving under the influence,‖ he told Tutu. ―I have two teen-age

boys who will be driving soon. It would be a very bad example for them.‖

        In the living room Lane met Special Agents Sandusky and Gallegos. He filled

them in on the shooting and capture of Dumont and they asked about the murder of

Granny Titus. He answered their questions and gave them directions to the old lady‘s

shack warning them not to disturb possible evidence, and reminded them her murder

didn‘t fall under FBI jurisdiction. After they left he spoke with Major Bricker, Dr.

Fresno and Dr. Enderman.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                        379


        ―We‘d appreciate any assistance you can give us in learning about the herb‘s

Granny Titus put in her potpourri. Dr. Conried‘s tests indicate something related to

mescaline only much more powerful.‖

        ―Yes,‖ Dr. Fresno replied. ―We‘ve analyzed some of her specimens and found

that the narcotic levels go off the chart. But, there still isn‘t any connection with the

work we do at TECBAD. Primarily, our job is to find ways to protect our military forces

should they come under attack by chemical agents while in combat.‖

        ―I know a little about your work from my boss, Noah Denton. From my own

time in the Army, I know that you guys, excuse me Dr. Enderman, you people have to

experiment with a lot of possible agents in order to accomplish your mission. My

concern is that some of those agents might have somehow gotten away from your lab.‖

        ―Impossible,‖ Major Bricker interjected. ―No one would dare try and smuggle

anything out. There is no street value for the drugs or chemicals we work with.‖

        ―I‘m not talking about someone selling your stuff on the streets, Major Bricker.

It‘s always possible someone could try to make some easy money by selling a sample of

some of your material to a foreign power. Or terrorists, perhaps?‖

        ―That‘s the wildest sort of speculation,‖ the major said. ―Nevertheless, it‘s my

duty to check these things out and I‘ll run a very thorough investigation.‖

        ―That‘s all we can ask, major. I‘m not accusing anyone, I‘m simply trying to find

out what apparently drove a lot of otherwise normal people crazy here, tragically

resulting in multiple deaths.‖

        ―Of course, of course,‖ Dr. Fresno cut in, trying to ease the tension between Lane

and the major. ―There won‘t be any cover-up here deputy. Still, you must realize that
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    380


you won‘t be informed of any thing we find out. This is all highly classified, of course,

in the interest of national security.‖

        ―Of course,‖ Lane said wryly.

        ―In that case, deputy, we‘ll find our way to the residence of this Titus woman and

start our investigation there. If she did gather some kind of herbs, or plants, which

caused all this, I suspect that‘s where we‘ll find them. At least those she gathered. After

that it‘s simply a matter of identifying them and sending out personnel to gather up all we

can find.‖

        ―You make everything sound simple, doctor. Alright, I guess you heard the

directions I gave to the FBI. I hope you also heard what I said about messing up the

scene of a crime not yet investigated by the Nye County Sheriff‘s Office. Please keep

that in mind.‖

        ―We will, deputy, we will.‖ The three of them rose and Lane showed them to the

front door and watched while they drove away. Northcutt was just coming out of the

kitchen when Lane turned away from the front door.

        ―Excuse me, deputy. You said something about a fee for my staying the night as

your guest? I‘d like to pay that now and be on my way if it‘s all right with you.‖

        ―Okay, Mr. Northcutt. Step into my office, won‘t you?‖

        After Lane changed a twenty-dollar bill and gave Northcutt a receipt, he showed

him the way out also. It had certainly been a busy morning. He still had to make

arrangements to get his cruiser retrieved from where it had run off the road and flipped in

the snow. Not to mention getting his phone line repaired by a competent technician.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    381


       He went back to the kitchen and sat down at the table while pouring himself a

second cup of coffee.

       ―What now, dear?‖ Connie asked him.

       ―Not a thing, Connie, not a damn thing. All the company is out of the house and I

was just thinking what a beautiful day it has turned out to be. I‘m off for the day and the

Snowman will be back to do battle with the forces of evil in Valley Forks while I spend

the rest of the day with my two favorite girls.‖ He grabbed Connie and Tutu each by the

hand and smiled.

       ―Do you suppose I could have about four more of those pancakes and a couple

more strips of bacon? Tutu has been feeding me nothing but health food junk and I‘ve

been dying for some good home cooking.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    382




                                         Epilogue



        On an afternoon in late August, Deputy Lane Mauler, his still new wife, Connie,

and Cheryl Ann, were riding along a mountain trail in the Toquima Range west of the

small community of Valley Forks. Mrs. Mauler rode a steady four-year-old mare.

Cheryl Ann sat astride a three-year-old gelding. Cheryl Ann, who was on the verge of

giving up the nickname Tutu now that she was rapidly maturing, rode her horse in short

bursts up and down the slopes and to both sides of the trail. The horse was young, only

two years ago he had been a free ranging mustang, and both he and rider had a yearning

to explore, run, and gallop.

        Plodding along behind, bringing up the rear at a more sedate pace, Lane Mauler

rode just behind his wife. He was both proud and content in his enjoyment at being

outdoors with his family. Cheryl would not be returning to the class room in Valley

Forks this fall. In three more weeks she would leave for Vermont where she would begin

her first year at The Iroquois Academy, a college preparatory school for young gentlemen

and ladies. While her father had been willing to see her go into the service for three years

and then going on to college with her GI benefits, the new Mrs. Mauler would not hear of

such a thing.

        Connie, Lane and Tutu found out after the March wedding, was quite an

independent woman, financially. Her wealthy father had set up a substantial trust fund

for her before he died in a hotel fire in Central America where he had been negotiating

real estate ventures on behalf of the New England Heritage Bank and Trust where he had
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      383


been a senior partner. Connie had been in medical school when he died and because it

was finals week of her third year, she had not even attended the funeral, choosing instead

to pay her respects weeks later when she wasn‘t up to her neck in exams. Her mother had

waited a respectable six months before she traveled to Europe where she took up with an

Italian skier who showed promise of making his country‘s Olympic team one day.

Connie didn‘t miss her, they had never been really close and that was something she

intended to change in her relationship with Cheryl Ann.

        At Connie‘s insistence, and with the promise of a new four-wheel drive Lincoln

Navigator as a going away present, Cheryl Ann agreed to attend the eastern school at the

end of the school year, and Connie would use some family contacts to win her an

appointment to West Point, providing her grades were up to snuff. Lane was allowed to

participate in the discussions leading up to this decision, but Connie permitted it only so

long as he remained on his best behavior. Occasionally he still brought up the subject.

        ―I still don‘t see why she has to have such an expensive car, Connie.‖

        ―Lane, darling, Tutu will be mingling with children of the finest families from all

over the country. We don‘t want her to feel embarrassed in front of them. Nor do we

want them to hold her in low esteem simply because she‘s from out west. Some

easterners actually think of the Catskill Mountains as the end of civilization.‖

        ―I understand what you‘re saying, Connie, but I don‘t want her to pick up a lot of

high society nonsense thinking we‘re all hicks out here in the sticks.‖

        ―Don‘t worry about Tutu, dear. You‘re done a much better job of raising her than

you give yourself credit for. At her age, she won‘t acquire any upper crust prejudices.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       384


She already knows what real family values are and which ones are important. You

wouldn‘t say The Iroquois Academy gave me any snobbish notions, would you?‖

        ―No fooling? You went there too?‖

        ―I guess I never mentioned it, but yes, I did. And since I had been brought up

among eastern blue-bloods, it took quite some doing for me to unlearn some of my

attitudes, but I managed.‖

        ―Ah, yes, but you can manage most anything you set your mind to.‖

        ―Flattery will get you anywhere, love, but criticism will get you a night in the

shed with the horses,‖ she quipped.

        ―We wouldn‘t mind, would we Sophocles?‖ he said as he stroked his mule‘s

neck. ―We‘re not too stuck up to spend the night with a couple lowly horses, even if

we‘ve a right to be.‖

        Connie laughed at his teasing. It was one of the things she enjoyed about him.

―Hey, look!‖ she said pointing down the slope to the vacant field behind their house. ―It

looks as though we‘re being invaded by the Army again.‘

        Lane glanced back just in time to see the twin rotor CH-47 as it touched down on

the parched summer grass. ―Sure enough. Why don‘t we go see what they‘re up to?

Hey, Tutu!‖ he yelled at his daughter. The teen-ager had been exploring a side trail two

hundred yards ahead of Lane and Connie. When she saw the chopper, she turned and

galloped in their direction. Now she was racing along with her long blonde curls flying,

as was her horse‘s tail.

        ―Race you, dad!‖ she shouted as she passed them at a run.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                    385


       ―Take it easy and watch your horse‘s footing,‖ he called after her. ―If you want

to join the procession, Connie, I‘ll bring up the rear. If you don‘t mind, Sophocles and I

aren‘t in as much of a hurry as Tutu.‖

       ―I think I‘ll take it easy also, Lane. If the Army came all the way up here to talk

with us, they won‘t leave before we get there.‖

       It took most of half an hour, wending their way down the mountain trail, before

they arrived in the open field where the helicopter had landed. By the time they arrived

the rotors had stopped and the twin engines were shut down. Thank goodness, Lane

thought. All that noise would probably frighten the animals into breaking and running.

       He pulled his mule to a stop twenty yards from the aircraft and dismounted then

helped Connie as she swung down. Tutu came around from the other side of the big

helicopter leading her gelding. Major Bricker and Dr. Fresno were with her. The three

walked to where Lane and Connie were standing and Dr. Fresno stuck out his hand,

which Lane grasped firmly. ―Nice to see you again, Deputy, you too, ma‘am. I

understand congratulations are in order for you both...‖

       ―Just me,‖ Lane said. ―I‘m the lucky one. You might offer your commiseration

to Mrs. Mauler.‖

       ―Oh, Lane! You‘re the biggest tease. Honestly, Dr. Fresno, I‘ve never been

happier. What brings you and the Major up here today?‖

       ―Well, you probably know,‖ Major Bricker said, ―after analyzing the plant

samples from the Indian woman‘s home, we identified a hybrid species of peyote. Using

our computer resources we linked it to archeological finds along the Mesa Verde in New

Mexico. That‘s where the Anasazi tribes were once prominent.
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      386


        ―Peyote grows wild, mainly in New Mexico and regions of Texas, but this

particular variety has been unknown for more than four hundred years. Once we knew

what we were looking for, we sent out teams of searchers to gather and destroy all the

plants we could find.‖

        ―I think we heard something about Army personnel on desert and mountain

training maneuvers,‖ Lane said.

        ―Yes, that was the cover story we handed out for the media. It has been a huge

undertaking, you understand, but the Department of Defense agreed with our

recommendations that it was a task which had to be accomplished. After intensive

searches over the past months, we feel we‘ve located and destroyed most of the weed out

in the wild. Even if we‘ve been one hundred percent successful, which we doubt, there is

always the chance this hybrid could surface again in the future.‖

        ―What I think you‘re saying, Major, is that it‘s over, for now, but it might never

be over. Am I right?‖ Connie asked.

        It was Dr. Fresno‘s turn to speak. ―You understand, ma‘am, we‘ve done just

about everything we‘re capable of doing. This is a plant which has been around for

generations, and there‘s no way we can be positive it will ever be extinct. It has,

however, led us to the development of prophylactic measures that can be used in

combating certain types of hallucinogenic agents which might be employed against US

troops or civilians. Unfortunate as your experience with this narcotic has been, it has

been of immense benefit in our research.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                       387


        ―Well, at least it‘s over,‖ Lane said. ―Major, if you‘ll give us a few moments to

put the animals away, you can bring your men in for a cup of coffee. I guess that‘s about

the least we can do,‖ Lane offered.

        ―Thanks for the offer, deputy, but I‘ve got twenty men taking a break in the grass

on the other side of the aircraft. Plus a four man crew, Dr. Fresno and myself. We were

just bringing in the last of our search teams and since we were nearby I thought we‘d

drop in, if you‘ll pardon the pun. I think it‘s best if we get cranked up and headed back to

TECBAD. I appreciate the offer, very much. Thanks.‖ He stuck out his hand again and

Lane gave it a quick shake. ―Congratulations again, Mrs. Mauler,‖ he said touching the

brim of his fatigue cap.

        ―Thank you, Major, for stopping by and giving us the information you have. I

hope we can all forget this whole terrible mess now.‖ Connie also shook hands with Dr.

Fresno while the Major went to the chopper. From where they stood, she and Lane heard

him give a loud whistle and make a circling motion with one hand in the air. The men he

had spoken of began to assemble and file into the helicopter.

        ―We better get these animals into the shed before that thing starts up,‖ Lane said.

―I‘m sure the racket will disturb them but they should feel more comfortable once they

are in familiar surroundings.‖

        They walked hand in hand as they led their mounts down to the gate in the fence.

―You know,‖ Connie said, ―I really hope this is the last anyone will see of that strange

brand of plant. It‘s too terrible to have out on the streets where anyone could get hold of

it.‖
DREAD by W. E. Lopez                                                                      388


        ―Amen to that,‖ Lane said. ―It‘s nice also to think that, bad as our experience has

been, the Army was able to get some sort of dividend out of it.‖

        ―The Army wasn‘t the only one to get a dividend, Lane.‖

        ―I know that, Honey. I got a brand new wife out of everything.‖

        Mrs. Mauler kept her silence, but the knowing smirk on her face, as they slowly

walked down hill, made him wonder.

        ―There‘s more?‖ he asked.

        ―There will be,‖ she said. ―In about seven months the way I figure it. Late in

February, I think.‖

        ―You mean…? How? When?‖

        ―Lane Mauler! I‘m sure you know exactly how, and you can probably figure out

when. Lane!‖ she said as his hands groped for her. ―Lane? Stop that! You‘re scaring

the animals.‖ Lane took her firmly in his arms and kissed her while his hands explored

her body. Fortunately they were both still holding tightly to the reins of their mounts for

the CH-47 chose that moment to pass loudly overhead. Its huge rotors whipped the air

violently past them while the burning hot odor of kerosene exhaust filled their nostrils.

        The mare snorted and whinnied with fright while Sophocles the mule stood

placidly waiting for this silly pair of humans to lead him back to his stall. There would

be cool water and shelter from the hot winds and the even hotter sun overhead. He

pulled, impatiently, against his reins. It was only a little distance further until he would

be home.

                                              The End

								
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