Report 4: Three-Biscuit Rule

Sir,

The ransom demand for Alexandra Melmoth’s safe return has thrown my view of this case into turmoil. Why the ritualistic knife wounds on the Phillips boy? Why leave his body in such a remote location? Why the finger? If it was to inspire fear in the family, surely sending them the digit directly would have been more effective. And considering their reputation, who would have attempted to scare them in the first place?

All of this was racing through my mind as I awoke from my disturbing dream to meet Sheriff Patton at Melmoth House. The formerly-tantalizing smells of the Opa Lodge’s Continental Breakfast filled me with dread this morning, and I rushed past the dining room, head down and gorge rising in my throat at the memory of the Horrible Noise. Instead, I stopped for a quick breakfast of coffee and a cheese biscuit at a convenience store called the Stop N Go.

The biscuits are apparently made fresh every morning by a little old woman named Edna, who dutifully rolls out the dough each day and wraps it around handfuls of cubed cheddar. Heart-stoppingly delicious. At least, they were for Edna’s husband Frank, who had two every morning before heading out to tend the fields. After he passed, Edna sold the farm and used the money to open the Stop N Go. Amazing the things people will tell you while you wait for fresh coffee to brew. That coffee wasn’t great, but the biscuits and the company were. I promised Edna that I’d be back for more, and she warned me that she had a strict three-biscuit rule.

“No more than three a week for anybody,” she said. “I won’t have another man’s death on my conscience.”

The Melmoths were not as pleasant to talk to. Sheriff Patton, rather wisely I think, introduced me as an agent of the FBI, and I provided the proper identification to back up his claim. No sense stirring up bad memories until it’s absolutely necessary.

We spoke initially to Andrew Robinson, a distant cousin who has handled the family’s business affairs since the death of Alexandra’s parents. The Sheriff tells me that they didn’t choose a closer relation for fear of inheritances becoming confused. Alexandra’s been groomed to take over the family’s affairs all her life, and much of that instruction has come from Robinson, who’s also served as a mentor and surrogate father.

There is little family resemblance, but his connection to the girl was drawn all over his face. This was a man who hadn’t slept for days, Chief. I would place his age at around 40. A handsome and well-preserved 40 under normal circumstances, I would assume. But today his blue eyes were rimmed with red and sunken into his skull, ringed all around by dark circles. The expensive cut of his blonde hair was marred by inattention. Not askew, exactly, but not paid its proper attention, either. The ransom note had almost come as a relief, he said. “Better than not knowing.”

Not at all what I was expecting.

That came when Alexandra’s grandparents entered the room. Charlotte Melmoth was precisely what I thought she’d be: thin and shrewd, with a predatory air. She moved sinuously despite her advanced age, and handled her husband’s wheelchair with ease. Oscar was also long and thin, but with a sallow, emaciated look and a wild beard. He breathed with the help of an oxygen tank, and attached to him somewhere under his purple robe was an IV drip. Whatever was being pumped into him looked milky and thick. I tried to catch a glimpse at the label, but under Charlotte’s all-encompassing gaze I decided not to stare.

I was surprised that she’d brought him, but the Sheriff tells me that they are never separated. That’s why Robinson was brought in to run the business: Charlotte had long-since dedicated her existence to Oscar’s, and Oscar was far too mad to even sit in on business. I later speculated that the IV may have included a sedative, and the Sheriff didn’t think it unlikely. Oscar’s outbursts are legendary amongst Pannawau housekeeping staff, but he said only one thing for the entirety of our meeting with them.

That meeting went briskly. Charlotte was all business. She obviously wanted her granddaughter back, but if she was worried for the girl’s safety, she didn’t show it. The ransom demand specified a time and place for the money to be dropped off in two days’ time, and she assured us that Robinson would be there to make the drop. We agreed to have men in place to apprehend the kidnappers as soon as Alexandra’s safety is assured. I’d like to request a Somnambulist team for that, sir. I’m sure Sheriff Patton’s deputies are quite capable, but with the potential occult forces at work I’d feel better using Agency men.

But as for that thing Oscar Melmoth said today… It happened when we were leaving. He lashed out and grabbed my arm as I passed by his chair, latching on like a vice. He pulled me toward him until our faces were only inches apart. His breath smelled dry, like old parchment, and his beard seemed to writhe at the edge of my vision. I couldn’t look directly at it, however, because I found that he’d locked my gaze with his eyes. They loomed huge and rheumy in my sight, the pupils contracted down to tiny dots in a sea of pale yellow, red veins mapping spider-continents at the periphery. After what seemed an eternity, he muttered to himself, almost absent-mindedly.

“Three a week. He won’t make it that long…”

– Agent X-23, signing off.

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About Mark Brett

Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at https://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at http://dorkforty.wordpress.com/. View all posts by Mark Brett

One response to “Report 4: Three-Biscuit Rule

  • Mark Brett

    Don’t let the old boy spook you, Clint. He thought you were FBI, and wanted to see if he could get a rise out of you. That’s all. You might want to avoid prolonged eye contact in the future, though.

    I’ll get the Somnambulist team out to you ASAP. They’ll contact your subconscious for instructions upon arrival, and you’ll know them when you see them.

    But enough business for now. It occurred to me today that I never finished telling you about my fishing trip up to Waukeega. Now, if you’ll recall, Leroy had been taken over by some sort of eldritch fishing enthusiast, and had hooked this ultimate lunker name of Deep Joe. Then, just at the very crack of dawn, Joe came leaping out of the water, aimed directly at me.

    Well, he landed on me like a ton of bricks. Knocked the wind right out of me, and kept on going. He wasn’t a fish, Clint. Or at least, not entirely. He had legs, for one thing. Legs and arms and a torso, and a great stiff-necked fish head with big flabby fish lips and bulging fish eyes. He was covered in scales down his back, kinda mottled and blackish-green, with a white belly. Arms like tree trunks. Legs like… bigger tree trunks. A real bruiser. He moved with this kind of loping hop, like a gorilla crossed with a frog.

    And this was when I realized that I’m not a young man anymore, Clint. This monstrosity rolled off me and hopped over on top of Leroy, and all I could do was lay there in the mud and try to get my lungs working without my heart stopping at the same time.

    Anyway. Joe hit Leroy just as he was starting to get back up. Put his full weight into it. Pushed old Leroy right back down into the mud. He let go of the fishing rod, grabbed hold of Joe’s arm, and gave a tug. Joe slipped off, but then he balled up one of those ham-hock fists of his and smashed it right down in Leroy’s face.

    Now, Clint, I’m sure you remember how big a man Leroy is. Joe outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, and was a giant scaly fish-man on top of that. Leroy’s my pal, but he’s only human. I figured that was the end of the fight. But I forgot that Joe was really dealing with the Leroy-Thing, and the Leroy-Thing came prepared. His head snapped around with the punch, but it snapped right back. He gave another tug on Joe’s arm, and while the fish-man was off-balance the Leroy-Thing swung his other elbow around and smashed it right upside Joe’s head.

    Joe went down, and the Leroy-Thing used his momentum to turn the tables and get on top. He had Joe face-down, pushing his head down into the muck with one hand while he reached around into his belt with the other and drew Leroy’s buck knife out of the sheath. The blade flashed in the dawn light, and the Leroy-Thing raised it up over his head to bring it down into Joe’s neck. But before he could start the swing, a voice cracked the morning wide open.

    “Ia! Ia! M’gragh plui! M’gragh ktogrh! Qtarq wgah’nagl phlm’ngglra!”

    The Leroy-Thing froze, joints locked up solid. I could see the cords of his neck straining to move, but he was stuck. I looked around, and approaching the scene, calm as could be, was a tall man of slender build. And I swear to God, Clint, he was dressed like a circus ringmaster. He tipped his hat to me and smirked, his big handlebar mustache giving a twitch. In his hands he was carrying a bell jar and a box of matches.

    “Joe!” He had a southern accent. “Joe, you can get up now. I believe he’s hooked.”

    Joe slithered out of the Leroy-Thing’s grasp easy as could be, looking like the fight really hadn’t taken very much out of him. The ringmaster looked him over and shook his head.

    “Umph. You have gone nature boy on me, son! Get on up to the wagon and cover yourself.” Joe nodded as best his neckless fish head could manage and started up the hill. Then the Ringmaster turned to me. “Oh, hold on a minute, Joe! We might have a problem down here.

    “I can hear you wheezing over there, Chief Roberts, but I can only assume that you’re gonna catch your breath pretty soon and remember you have a gun.”

    Sign number two that I’m getting old.

    “I would suggest that you not pull it. Number one, Joe would just take it away from you. And number two, I assure you that I mean you no harm. In fact, I’m about to give you back your good friend Leroy, if you’ll give me the chance. So you just sit tight, and let us go about our business, and everything will be alright.”

    “I didn’t get your name.” The words came out in a halting wheeze.

    The Ringmaster turned away and looked back over his shoulder. “You didn’t. One less piece of information for you to put into your little report.”

    He set the bell jar down in front of the Leroy-Thing and held up the box of matches. The Leroy-Thing’s eyes got big, but the only sound that escaped him was a panicked rumble deep in the throat.

    “That’s right. You know what’s coming next.” The Ringmaster lit a match, tossed it in the bell jar, and quickly covered the opening with one hand. “Alright. You can lean down now, and put your mouth over the jar.”

    The Leroy-Thing did as he was told, his eyes looking imploringly at me. But I didn’t move a muscle. As the match burned out, a thick glowing cloud was sucked out of Leroy’s mouth and filled the jar. As it left Leroy’s body, so did the rictus. The eyes went slack last, and Leroy fell over on the bank. The Ringmaster quickly slapped a cork into the jar, and picked it up. The cloud moved around kind of oily inside.

    The Ringmaster smiled and looked out over the water. “Ah, the fishing really has always been good in these parts. And never moreso than today. Thank you kindly, Chief. Pleasure doing business with you.” He gestured to Leroy. “Joe! Kindly pick this nice man up and put him back in his sleeping bag. No reason to make this thing more confusing for him than it already is.”

    Joe did it, and I let him. The Ringmaster was right. No sense letting Leroy know he’d come out to catch Deep Joe, but got caught by him instead.

    – Chief Bill Roberts, Signing Off.

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