INNOCENCE: Chapter Two



     The short flight from Seattle down to LA was going to be considerably more comfortable than I would have anticipated. No low brow commercial flight for a couple of high profile investigative geniuses like Maggie and me. We were flying private jet, provided by the extraordinarily pricy Russel Air. We were going to be picked up at the airport by chauffeur driven limo, and then straight off to our five star hotel. I had been told my money wasn’t going to be any good in tinsel town. All meals at the hotel dining room would simply be charged to Mr. Holman. Same with room service. On the road, I would carry a Holman American Express platinum card. I was also told that I didn’t need to worry about exceeding the credit limit because it didn’t have one.

I guessed from all of this that low class, potty humor movie producing must pay pretty darned well.

I’m not that much of a movie buff. A wild night for me most often consisted of falling asleep in front of the television set while watching the late news. Occasional rentals from Netflix rounded out my knowledge of electronic media entertainment, and none of them could remotely qualify as a Holman type film. I’m a written word kind of guy. A book reader—and a book writer.

I don’t like to brag (at least not too much) but I am a mystery writer of some repute. Detective yarns to be exact. All of them about just one guy, a private dick by the name of Jack McGuire. He is still, what I used to be—a falling down drunk and a first class stumble-bum. I changed. Jack never did. I couldn’t have afforded to alter him much if I had wanted to. My constant readers had paid me a royal sum over the years. Millions of dollars, truth be told.

It’s like my sainted old momma always used to say—you don’t mess with success—and apparently the fans like old Jack just the way he is.

Despite his shortcomings, Jack gets results. I like to think that I do too. I had fibbed a bit to Mag—I do have a reputation—and I know it.

I was sitting in my downstairs office and study, awaiting Maggie’s return from a short shopping excursion. I liked to use the room just to write, and my office downtown at the Pioneer building strictly for WE business. I always thought it best to keep the two enterprises completely separate, although there was a line for the agency here at home. No sense not being able to take an work call at home once in a while. Truth be told, it didn’t happen very often. The call from Holman’s secretary had been a complete surprise—especially in the middle of the night.

It surprised me now by ringing once again. Odd, I thought. Emily Hatcher, my own secretary, should have been in the office at the moment. She was as regular as clockwork, and if she wasn’t going to be coming in for the day for some reason, I knew she would have called me hours ago. If she was already on the phone with someone else during regular business hours, the second call was set-up to go to voice-mail.

Yet it hadn’t—it had come here.

I decided to take the call, more out of curiosity than any other reason. Had I just let it ring a couple more times, It would have eventually gone to voice-mail anyway. An anomality such as this is just the sort of thing that fascinates me, so I picked up the phone and cheerily gave the official, and extremely long and complicated WE introduction: “Hello.”

Silence greeted me. I tried speaking again, and once again got no response. Just a stony and total silence. I tried a third time, adding, “may I help you?” Once more—nothing. Somehow though, I knew there was a person on the other end. Listening very intently and closely while holding my own breath, I was sure I could detect the cadence of soft, regular breathing from the caller. And something else as well. In the distance, well behind the person that held the phone, as though it were coming from another room, and very softly at that, was the faint sound of music.

I tried to identify what kind of music it might be, but it was just too faint to be able to make a decent guess. Slow, melodic, and with an almost surreal, haunting quality. The image of a snake-charmer flashed into my head. It came from just one instrument I thought, rather than a band. A wind instrument, I guessed. Maybe a flute, but lower pitched—Indian perhaps. Again, the snake-charmer. Rather than hanging up, I decided to wait the mysterious call out, and just see where this most unusual telephone call might eventually go.

It went to Hell—and fast.

Many times a human being in extreme distress will scream, and I’m here to tell you that they are not always women either. I’ve generated a few in my own time. It’s a normal human reaction. Generally speaking though, the screamer, whether in physical pain or just shocked or surprised, will start out kind of slow, and kind of soft as well, the scream building both in volume and intensity as it progresses. Most times—but not by any means always. That’s the way it was now. The high-pitched scream in my ear was not only extremely loud, but instant as well. It came seemingly from nowhere, like a slap in the face, and it just about knocked my eardrum out of my head. I almost dropped the phone.

Somehow hanging on, I held the receiver away from my ear several inches as I listened to what I could only describe as a person being slowly butchered, as the undulating wails poured forth. I had the feeling that whoever held the phone on the other end had placed it near to their victim before inflicting some horrible pain. The screams went on and on, rising and falling in intensity as this macabre audio only scene played out in my ear.

Finally, after nearly a minute, it stopped, although not entirely. Even as relative quiet returned, I could still hear the soft sobs of the person that was apparently being so brutally assaulted. I had no doubt that this was real, and that it was being played out before my ears, so to speak, intentionally and on purpose. Of course, I didn’t have the faintest idea what that purpose might be. This had come from out of nowhere.

I spoke into the phone, demanding to know to whom I was speaking. Once again, only stony silence was returned. And once again, there was something else as well. I could again hear the breathing of my caller—only this time it was slightly altered. This time the breathing was louder, and it came in ragged breaths and gasps. Additionally, I could easily pick out the sound of low moaning. Part that was coming from the individual that had screamed so horribly. And part of the moaning sound was coming from the caller. I knew the sound. It was sexual in nature. The caller was getting off.

I spoke again. “Who are you, you sick bastard? Why are you calling me? Where are you?”

I waited for an answer in vain. I waited for perhaps thirty seconds, trying to concentrate and listen for clues, as the low moans and grunts of the caller grew louder and closer together. He was very close to the inevitable conclusion.

And then the line went dead.

I spoke several more times into the phone, knowing that there would be no response. The show—whatever had been its sick purpose—was over. I debated what to do. I had no idea where the call had originated. I had no way, here at the house, to trace it. I could try the phone company, but having been down that particular dead-end road more than a few times, I held out little hope. Short of a court-order, they almost always refused to give up any useful information.

I carefully replaced the receiver onto its cradle and sat down in my office chair, trying to cut through the effects of the stress inducing call, and sharpen my focus. I knew the victim was in big trouble, but I didn’t know for a fact that a life was at stake. The call had been meant to alarm me, and to perhaps deliver a warning of some type. I just didn’t know what that warning could be about. I was between cases and had been for a while. It made no sense.

Again, I replayed in my mind what I had heard in the call. The screaming voice had been that of a female. Or had it? There was something about the tonal quality of the screamer that made me wonder. And then, the dreamscape of my recent past flashed into my head—along with heavenly Christmas music. Tapping my fingertips on the top of my desk, I mulled it around in my mind. At last I made the connection. The Christmas music I heard in my head came from a famous Viennese choir. And the screaming I heard on the phone did not come from a woman.

The sound that I had heard came from a prepubescent boy.

I held my breath as I slowly let the implications of that sink in.

I jumped visibly in my chair as my front doorbell chimed. I hadn’t realized until that moment just how deeply I had mentally gone back into the dark and foreboding water of my nightmare.

This time I didn’t forget to open the desk drawer and retrieve my revolver. I quickly checked the contents of the cylinder, snapped it shut, and cocked it. I partially concealed my arm and hand holding the gun behind my back.

Nearing the door, I could clearly make out through the frosted glass the shadow of a tall, thin man.

I jerked it open.


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