This is just barely a first draft. Actually, it's pretty much missing a whole midsection. I may expand it and polish it up later.
(Original draft dated March 17, 2012)
The Devil in the Pines
(From the Memoirs of Harry McGavin)
"My girl, my girl, don't you lie to me.."
"Cripes, McGavin, will you quit it with that song? You sing it every time we come down this way."
Carl was my partner, and a damn good one. He didn't like my singing, especially when he was driving. That was just one of his faults. Still, he was a good man to have next to you in a tight spot.
"Beats listening to you wheeze. Allergies acting up? The boogeyman's gonna hear you a mile away."
I'll admit it, the place gives me the creeps. There's stuff down there that has no right to be. I should know, I've nailed some of it. But Lindbergh told us to go to the Pine Barrens, so to the Pine Barrens we went.
Our turn was coming up. It was easy to find, just past the rusting wreck of a Tripod. Nearly forty years on, nobody had bothered to clear it out. Hell, there were dozens of 'em all over New Jersey for the picking. There wouldn't be any more, thanks to those Viking landers. Billions and billions of cold germs, courtesy of the U.S. of A. Rust in peace, Martians.
We were here to investigate something. Not sure what. But it was weird enough that state and local police couldn't handle it. So they turned it over to us. The Monster Squad.
Department M is on the books. We're not some shadowy operation. We just deal with the things people don't want to think about, the stuff they want to pretend isn't real. Until it's in their face and there's no denying it. Then they call us.
We drove past the Midget Village. Most people don't believe in it, and folks who know about it think it's pretty much cut off from society. They have their own midget police force, led by a midget sheriff. But they coordinate with us when things need taking care of. Couple of years before, somebody thought it would be a good idea to dump Jimmy Hoffa in the Midget Village, figuring nobody would ever hear about it. He barely got a mile out of town before a midget posse took him down. Turned him over to us the next day. I don't think he ever wants to see a midget again.
It took another twenty minutes to get to our first stop. Godforsaken shack in the middle of nowhere. Still, this woman got attacked by something. The Jersey Devil, she said. Hell, that's what people think our job is, keeping the world safe from the Jersey Devil. That's crap. I put a cold iron slug between the devil's eyes seven years ago. I keep his skull on my desk as a paperweight. This was something else.
She was the typical sort you get out here. She and her husband were loners. This was her parents' place. They moved in thirty-six years ago. No kids. She lived alone since her husband died last year.
Two nights ago something showed up at her door. Rang the doorbell. Do they think the Jersey Devil would ring a doorbell? Could have been a man, but had a "scary face." Maybe a mask. Whatever it was screamed at her and shot her with something. Ball lightning, she said. She had some burns, nothing too bad. Knocked her down but not out. Then it ransacked her house and took some cash.
The Jersey Devil wouldn't be looking for cash.
It would be a standard police matter if it weren't for the fact that there had been a pattern of these attacks all over this part of the Barrens. And whatever was doing it got away by jumping off like some sort of oversized flea.
We had four more witnesses to track down and talk to. All gave the same basic description. Man-sized, on the tall side, maybe too tall. Crazy face. Bulging eyes, red, glowing. Metal claws, maybe. A jumper that put Fosbury to shame. And some sort of gun that shot electric bubbles. Well, we'd be ready there. I'd plugged our Tesla wands into the car charger before we left, and they were both in the green. We'd be good to take down a herd of yeti.
The sun had already set when we finished with our fifth interview and checked into the motel. I tossed my bag onto the bed, took a whiz, and headed back out to the car. We drove to a diner down the road to go over our notes and get a bite to eat.
After we'd plowed through our burgers and pie Carl sat back and lit one up. "Common criminal," he said. "We shouldn't even be on this. Just a guy in a costume robbing people."
"And the jumping?" I said, taking a swig from my coffee. Black, hot, bitter and strong. Like my women. "And the gun? Not something a common criminal has access to."
"Special shoes, maybe. Or maybe he's some sort of Olympic star down on his luck."
"Great, we're gonna take down the guy on the Wheaties box. And how does this guy get tech like that?"
"Dunno," Carl said, taking a drag on his cigarette. "Nobody should have that."
We went over the map. We were in the right place. There was no pattern to the attacks, but we were smack dab in the middle of them. Whoever it was was looking for money, jewelry, typical stuff. We'd made a list of unique pieces and we'd be hitting all the pawn shops within fifty miles tomorrow. Way I saw it, we'd have to be stupid lucky to get a lead.
We were stupid lucky.
We should've known something was wrong when we pulled up to the motel. The parking lot was dark. So was the sign in front. So were all the rooms. Nine-thirty and nobody was watching pay-per-view porn? That didn't make sense.
Carl parked by our rooms. Fifteen hours of togetherness was a bit much, and I was ready for some alone time.
I reached down to pull my wand from the charger and realized Carl hadn't taken his.
I looked up at the open door on Carl's side of the car. I could just see Carl in the moonlight. He was standing up, stretching a bit, when a glowing blue bubble hit him in the small of the back.
I rolled out of the car. Dammit, this was my favorite suit, and I was gonna have Pine Barrens dirt all over it. Through the open doors of the car I saw a thing with glowing red eyes just moving into position next to where Carl was sprawled on the other side. The moonlight glinted off the gun it had aimed right at Carl's chest.
I thumbed my wand to maximum and fired it through the open doors of the car at the glowing red eyes.
It screamed. It wasn't a human scream. It must've scared the crap out of those women. I guess it was trying to. This time it had reason to scream. Half a million volts washed over it from my wand. One of its glowing red eyes popped.
It fell over backwards. I was afraid it might react to my shot by leaping away, but it never had a chance. By now my eyes had adjusted to the dark, and by the moonlight and the glow of the dome light I saw wisps of smoke coming from the oversized hooves it had for feet. I figured its jumper wasn't working anymore.
I kept it covered with my wand while I scrambled across the bench seat and out the other door. I did a quick check of Carl. He was breathing. Probably just stunned. None of the women this thing had attacked had even been knocked out, but I had a feeling it hadn't been planning to be so gentle with us.
I turned my attention to the thing on the ground. It also looked like it was breathing. Too bad. The Tesla wand isn't a lethal weapon, but it can be a bitch on electrical circuits. If you happen to be wearing electrical gear, you're gonna feel it in the morning.
The eye that had popped was hanging from the face, attached by some wires. There was a human-looking eye behind the hole that had been left behind. The face was some kind of mask.
Besides the mask and the oversized hooves and the metal-tipped gloves, the guy seemed to be wearing normal clothes. Black turtleneck. Charcoal sport coat. Black slacks. A little shabby. A lot worse for wear. I started patting him down for weapons - other than the bubble gun, which I'd kicked away - and maybe some I.D.
"So who the hell is he?" said Carl, groggily.
"Glad you're still with us," I said, not even turning to him. "As usual, I get to do all the work. You expect a guy like this to carry I.D.?"
I pulled his wallet out of the inside pocket of his sport coat, looked for his driver's license. Guy still had a BankAmericard. They stopped using those two years ago.
"Edison," I said. "Jack Edison. Heard of him?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I have." Carl had gotten up on his elbows now to look at his attacker. "Failed businessman. Great-grandson of the inventor, the guy who fought with Westinghouse. I guess inventing ran in his family."
"Those jumping shoes would be worth something," I said. "The ball lightning gun, too. The mask is probably night vision goggles and some sort of voice scrambler. What the hell's he doing robbing little old ladies in the Pine Barrens?"
"Maybe trying to scrounge up enough money to hire a patent attorney. What happened to the lights?" Carl said, looking around. "Dammit, I should have noticed they were out."
"He probably saw us check in here. Took out the electricity when we left the diner."
"Huh." Carl rubbed his jaw. "And the manager's probably in the basement with a flashlight trying to figure out what's wrong."
The local cops and an ambulance crew showed up after I called them from the diner. Carl checked out fine, but I had a feeling he wouldn't be if Edison had gotten in another shot. We turned Edison over to them, but confiscated his tech. He wouldn't be filing any patent applications where he was going. The ConWest crew showed up an hour later and got the power back on.
Looked like our trip to the Pine Barrens was going to be cut short. That's fine. Newark's not anything special, but it's home, sort of.
I helped Carl to his room. I was ready for a shower and bed. I left him there as he began to undo his tie.
"Hey, McGavin," he said as I swung the door closed. "That's one that I owe you."
"Yeah," I said. I lost track of our tally years ago, but I was pretty sure I was ahead. Maybe. "You can pay me back next time."