CHAPTER THREE - GOT MUD?
-This is a first draft-
-This is a first draft-
It took us five minutes to arrive. The Happy Hamburger was less than a mile from the Police Station. Officer King parked in the back just behind a row of yellow tape that cordoned the area off and told anyone who approached that this was a crime scene.
We stepped under the tape and I took a quick look around.
“This is where she was taken?” I asked.
The lot was like a horseshoe. Customers pulled into the Happy Hamburger from the south and exited from the north. A row of parking stalls with menu boards lined the south and north side. To get from the entrance to the exit, a customer would have to drive around the rear of the building.
At the rear of the Happy Hamburger, the curved end of the horseshoe, was the back entrance for employees, and a cement staircase leading down to the basement. The tape surrounded the area around the back entrance with just enough room for a single car to drive through.
It was dark, but the lights of the lot were still shinning and they drove away most of the early morning shadows.
A wind blew in from the west. It rolled over the expanse of the restaurant and brought the scent of stale grease to my nose. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, and I wrinkled my nose at it.
“This is where we found our naked John Doe,” King said.
There was nothing in the immediate area that screamed out to me that anyone was taken against their will and that goblins were involved. So I did what any good investigator would do. I took a closer look at things.
I scanned the pavement within the taped off area and found nothing out of the ordinary. The rain would have complicated things a bit, but in the end I wasn’t looking for prints or DNA. I was looking for an entrance.
“So?” Officer King said. Like before, she leaned back against the police cruiser, here arms crossed over her chest, and that crooked smile perched on her face.
“We need to find the entry point,” I said.
“Goblins are tunnelers. They live underground. They try not to come up to the surface unless they need to, and when they do, they don’t like to stay up too long.”
“Meaning that there will be a tunnel entrance close,” I said.
Further back behind the Happy Hamburger, beyond the pavement and on the other side of a tall privacy fence, sat a sprawling housing development still under construction.
“That’s the most likely place,” I said, pointing at the fence. “All the construction would provide the best cover.”
“So why didn’t we start there?”
“Because I prefer not to go walking about in pools of mud if I can help it. But,” I sighed, staring at the fence in dread, “I suppose that’s where we should go. If we can find a tunnel, then it’s possible that we can follow it to where they took her to.”
“Let’s go then,” Officer King said. Then she flung that crooked smile at me in a manner so casual that there was no possible way that it could be.
The construction site turned out to be an even bigger mud pile than I’d imagined. Now I’m no duded up priss who worries over the state of his clothes, but that didn’t mean I wanted to spend the rest of the morning caked in mud either. But my comfort wasn’t the point.
It’s just, well, we had a lot of walking to do, and there was a lot of mud. Not a lot of walking, but still, it was all mud out there. I just want to make sure that’s on record.
We drove through a forest of house frames and parked along the curb in a cul-de-sac near the western end. The house being built in the direct center of the cul-de-sac arch would share a property line with the Happy Hamburger, so that’s where we started.
The house, like the others around it, was nothing more than a poured foundation and a frame. No insulation, no wiring, no plumbing. Just wood, concrete, and a yard full of mud.
We slogged around back and made our way slowly to the fence that separated the Happy Hamburger from the construction site. I could still smell the greasy stench that blew off of the Happy Hamburger and suddenly found myself feeling a swift moment of pity for the people that would one day live in one of these houses.
By the time we reached the fence I must have brought the entire front yard with me on my feet. At least it wasn’t raining. Blessings can be found if one just takes the time to look.
We each carried a flashlight. The electricity hadn’t been turned on yet out this way, and while street lights had already been installed, the entire area was covered in darkness. By the beam of the light I found what appeared to be a mound of mud, sitting up a foot higher than the surrounding mud, near the fence.
“That’s it,” I said.
“What’s it?” King replied.
“That mud over there.”
“It’s all mud, Norman. I need you to be more specific.”
I sighed. I’ve been doing that a lot today. “Just follow me.”
I stopped at the mound and let the light shine down on it.
“It’s a pile of mud,” King said.
“This is where they came out,” I said, ignoring her comment.
“It’s a pile of mud,” she repeated.
“It is now,” I let the light play across the ground around the mound until I found what I was looking for. “Crap." It wasn't good.
"What?" She said.
"You see that?”
“See what? More mud?”
“You see how the mud dips lower there leading from the mound for about ten yards or so?”
She was silent for a time as she shined her own light over the ground.
“Yeah,” she said finally. “I think I do.”
“They collapsed the tunnel behind them after they left so no one would follow. Clever, really. Which tells me that the goblins weren’t alone. Being clever isn’t something that goblins even know how to define.”
“Okay, so what does that mean for us? We can’t follow the trail.”
“No, we can’t,” I said. Not unless you got a shovel.”
The wind switched direction and the smell of the burger joint vanished. But only to be replaced by something all the more vile. A scent so putrid that if it were human it would then be described as violent, sadistic, even homicidal.
“Oh crap,” I said, recognizing the stench. "This is bad."
“Ugh,” King said. “What is that smell?”
“We’re in trouble,” I said, and pulled one of my Peacemakers.
“Trouble?” she said. She could sense my sudden tenseness and reacted by pulling her own side arm. She held in out with the flashlight just below, the beam and the barrel both pointing in tandem.
“That smell,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “What is that? Did a sewer line break?”
“No,” I said, scanning back and forth with the light. “It’s much worse than that. We need to get out of here. Like now. Like right now.”
“Okay,” she said. “Calm down. Just tell me what’s going on.”
“There’s an ogre out here with us.”
That’s when it started to rain.
Here ends Chapter Three.
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