Never underestimate local law enforcement.
That’s the first rule you drilled into me when I entered Agency service, and it’s never failed me yet. Today, Sheriff Patton and his deputies cracked the Melmoth kidnapping with nothing but knowledge of their community and good old-fashioned police work.
We owe this break to a bad carburetor. The Sheriff visited his usual garage to have them take a look at his personal vehicle (a jeep he uses for something near and dear to your heart: hunting and fishing expeditions into the deep wilderness). But they told him it might be a while before they got to him. They were short-handed, it seemed, with two mechanics having called out sick for three days running.
The timing raised the Sheriff’s suspicions, as did the men in question: Jase Peterson and Robert “Possum” Reynolds, a couple of local ne’er-do-wells known for periodic outbursts of drunken violence at Pannawau County’s finest dives. “Mean as snakes, the both of ’em,” the Sheriff told me later. “And only about half as smart. Damn good mechanics, though.”
It wasn’t enough to get a search warrant, of course, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t stop by and inquire after their health. Dispatching a couple of deputies to watch the Peterson house, he went to pay a visit to Possum Reynolds. The door was answered by Mrs. Reynolds, a woman not unused to seeing the law at her door. She called Possum out of the back, and he was, as Sheriff Patton had expected, antagonistic.
The Sheriff assured him that, no, it wasn’t a crime to call in sick, but that he just wanted to ask Possum, since he’d been home for the last three days, if he’d seen or heard anything unusual in the neighborhood in that time. There was a missing girl, after all, and he could afford to leave no stone unturned. Possum looked especially panicked at that, and quickly claimed that he hadn’t seen or heard anything because he’d been sick in bed the whole time. The Sheriff thanked him for his time, and returned to his jeep. But he noticed that Possum’s hands were shaking as he closed the door.
“Doesn’t prove anything,” he told me on the phone afterwards. “Possum’s a nervous one, and he’s always up to something. But if he runs to Jase, we’re going in. Thought you might like to join us.”
I did, and so did Possum. The Sheriff was barely out of sight when Reynolds left his house at high speed and made a beeline straight for the Peterson place. I arrived about twenty minutes after he did, and the Sheriff already had his people in place for the raid. We were planning our approach when we heard a scream from inside the house, and any plans went right out the window.
The Sheriff ordered in the boys with the door buster, but before they could even move, a shot rang out. Everything got a bit chaotic at that point. We had been hiding out around the corner, and raced up the block at top speed. As we hit Peterson’s front yard, Possum Reynolds came running out the front door, a gun in his hand and his face covered with blood. Hot on his heels was the slender form of Alexandra Melmoth, also blood-spattered, one hand wrapped in a bandage, and the other wielding a tire iron. Possum screamed as she closed on him, swinging the iron in a clean arc and connecting with the back of his skull.
A haft of Possum’s thinning hair went flying off the end of the tire iron, a chunk of scalp still attached, trailing an arc of blood as it sailed across the yard, its journey ending with a wet splat as it hit the privacy fence Jase Reynolds had erected around his house. Possum went down squealing as Alexandra descended upon him, still swinging the iron. I’m sure I heard a rib crack, and maybe his forearm as well, before Possum screamed again and, inexplicably, lowered his hands long enough for her to land one final crushing blow to his face. There was the sound of splintering bone, and Possum stopped moving.
Alexandra got off him, dropped her weapon, and stared at us, her expression fierce, strange, and lost. She swayed a bit, took three steps forward, and collapsed into my arms. In spite of the blood, I remember thinking that she might be the loveliest woman I’ve ever seen, full lips and raven hair, and brown eyes so deep a man could settle into them and make a home for himself.
“Have we met?” she asked. Then she went unconscious, and the world came crashing back. The Sheriff barked orders, men checked on Possum and Alexandra, and we proceeded, with caution, into the house. There, we we were greeted by a gruesome scene: blood on the walls of the small living room, and Jase Peterson slumped dead against one of those walls, half his head missing.
And that’s where we are now, eight hours later. Possum’s in intensive care, slipping in and out of a coma, his survival not at all a sure thing. Alexandra hasn’t awakened yet, either, having entered a deep sleep that her doctors fear to wake her from. They assure us she’ll be able to speak with us after a night’s rest, however; she doesn’t seem to have suffered any physical harm, other than the removal of her finger. That wound seems to have received expert care already, the doctors say, and is well on its way to healing.
So we’re left with questions til morning. Where has Alexandra Melmoth been? Were Peterson and Reynolds among the men who attacked her boyfriend’s car, or did they enter the picture later? Who tended to her wound? What happened in the Peterson house that lead to a grown man, armed with a loaded pistol, running from a 120-pound young woman carrying nothing but a metal stick? And why did an entire sheriff’s department full of trained lawmen stand by in shocked inaction as that woman bashed in the face of the only other witness to the events inside the house?
That’s the thing I’ve pondered most as the day’s worn on, Chief. Sheriff Patton is a decorated combat veteran, as are several of his deputies. And as you know, I’ve seen my fair share of action, as well. None of us are likely to freeze up in the situation we were in today, and yet all of us did. Why? These are the things that keep us up at night.
One thing more, Chief. Though I didn’t realize it until I sat down to recount the tale to you, I am now certain that the scream we heard from inside Jase Peterson’s house, the one that sent us rushing headlong down the block, was not the scream of Alexandra Melmoth. It was Possum Reynolds.
Agent X-23, signing off.