Authors: Robert Boren
“So you knew what you were looking for,” Howard said.
“He didn’t pick victims from here, though,” Howard said. “From what I’ve read, they were mostly from Cleveland.”
“Yeah, he had this thing about not fouling the nest,” Scott said, laughing. “All kidding aside, it’s probably why he never got caught.”
“Good thing for you to remember, Scotty,” Howard said.
“How many girls have you killed down here?” Bailey asked.
“Only six so far,” Scott said. “I’ve been pretty careful to protect this location, especially since I’ve been working by myself. Doesn’t take much to lose control. One of the young lovelies I had here made me fall down those stairs. She almost got away.”
Howard saw something in the far corner of the room. “Is that a projector?” he asked.
“Yes, as a matter of fact. Nice library down here. It’s probably the most valuable thing I have.”
“Does it still work?” Bailey asked.
“Yes, although it’s getting hard to find those light bulbs now. I have about six left.”
“Looks like 35 mm,” Howard said, walking closer to it. “This thing would be worth money, working or not.”
“Probably,” Scotty said. “The hardware isn’t nearly as interesting as the media.”
“Do we get to see?” Bailey asked, a wicked grin on her face.
“Yeah, Scotty, is that your evidence about Black Dahlia?”
“It’s on the movie that’s loaded in the projector now,” Scott said.
“He didn’t kill her here, obviously,” Howard said.
“Of course not, Howie. It was on a road trip. Guess who went with him?”
“Chet, probably,” he said.
“Your dad was in on the Black Dahlia murder?” Bailey asked, fire in her eyes.
“Yes, and the father of another dear friend,” Scott said. “Prescott Beckler.”
“Never heard of him,” Howard said. “But then most people have never heard of Chet either. Jason wasn’t first generation, then?”
“Few of us are,” Scott said. “You can usually tell the first generation. They’re the ones with the dead families.” He snickered.
“I was first generation, and I didn’t kill my family, Scotty.”
“Perhaps,” Scott said. “How did you meet Chet again?”
“My dad and Chet used to hunt together,” Howard said. “But that doesn’t mean anything. He was no killer. Hell, a few of the people at your RV Park used to hunt with Chet. That’s how they knew about the place.”
“Okay, you have a point,” Scott said. “Shall we take a seat in the screening room?”
“Yes!” Bailey said, running over and sitting on one of the ancient folding chairs in front of a crude screen hanging on the wall. Howard and Scott looked at each other and grinned.
“Ready?” Scott asked.
Howard shook his head yes, looking mesmerized.
“C’mon, guys!” Bailey cried.
“It may terrify you, Bailey,” Scott said, a wild look in his eyes.
“I hope so,” she said.
Howard came over and sat next to Bailey as Scott turned on the projector. After it started, he rushed over to the door and pulled the chain, killing the lights. Then he sat on the other side of Bailey. The sound track from the movie started to snap, crackle, and pop as the picture came into view.
“Where is that?” Howard asked.
“Some crappy bungalow in Leimert Park.” Scott said.
“Isn’t that where the body was found?” Howard asked.
“Yeah, close by, in a vacant lot,” Scott said. “Wish I could find the house.”
“I always figured she was killed closer to the Biltmore, in downtown LA,” Howard said.
“That’s where my dad and his friends picked her up,” Scott said. “Look, there she is.”
They focused on the scratchy film in front of them, flickering in the darkness. The sound was hard to listen to because of the ambient noise on the sound track. The rustling of the clothes, footsteps, noises outside.
“Why aren’t we doing this at the studio?” asked the brown-haired woman in a Boston accent. She looked around nervously as she stood in front of the white screen, squinting in the bright lights.
“They’re overflowed,” said a man, out of view of the camera. “They hired us to scour the area for new starlets. If you interest us, you’ll be given a formal screen test at the studio, so it’s up to you to impress us.”
“I’ve heard that before,” she said. “What do you want me to do?”
“First of all, say your name.”
“Elizabeth Short,” she said, forcing a smile, but still looking around warily.
“How long have you been in the area?”
“Is that a Boston accent I hear?” asked one of the men off-camera.
“You can still hear it?” she asked. “I was from there originally, but spent a lot of my early years in Florida.”
“When did you become an idiot?” asked one of the men.
She looked at him, the corners of her mouth dropping in anger. “Hey, you sap, what gives?”
“You let three strange men take you to a deserted house on the promise of a screen test. Smart women don’t do that.”
She started walking away, a terrified look on her face. The camera followed her. One of the men got into camera range, hitting her in the head twice with a small club, knocking her out before she could even scream. “Chet, get your lazy ass over here and help me tie her hands and feet.”
“There’s dear old dad,” Scott said proudly.
“Who’s the first guy?” Howard asked.
“Prescott Beckler,” Scott said. “Never met him. He disappeared before I was born.”
“How about the Torso Killer? He ever get into the film?” asked Howard.
“Yeah, later,” Scott said. He got up and pulled the light chain again, then flipped off the projector.
“We don’t get to watch the rest?” Bailey asked.
“Tomorrow. They had her for several days and filmed a lot of it. See that stack of film cans there?” He pointed to a stack of round cans, sitting on the floor in the corner.
“Wow, that’s a lot of footage,” Howard said.
“Yeah, hours and hours,” Scott said. “It’s getting late. We need our beauty sleep.”
“What are all those other film cans?” Bailey asked, pointing to a huge pile about five feet away from the Black Dahlia cans.
“I’ve only watched about five of them so far,” Scott said. “They were all shot in that studio up front, and in here. Grisly stuff. We’ll watch some of those tomorrow, too.”
“Well, I guess I am getting a little tired,” Howard said, standing. He stretched and yawned. “Lot of driving today.”
“I figured,” Scott said. “I’m beat too, and I didn’t drive at all. Let’s go upstairs.”
“Who am I sleeping with tonight?” Bailey asked.
“Whoever you want to,” Scott said. “Or alone.”
“After watching this, it won’t be alone.”
“Route 50 should be down this road and to the left,” Hilda said, making the right turn onto the small street. “Side street. Dammit, it’s dark back here. Makes me nervous.”
“I’ve got my eyes peeled,” Gabe said.
“Me too,” Earl said. “Is that the on-ramp coming up?”
“Yes,” Hilda said, eyes darting around in every direction as she drove. She made the left turn onto the highway and sped up, getting to 65 in short order, calming down.
“That was a creepy road,” Gabe said.
“This road isn’t much better,” Hilda said. “Where is everybody?”
“Oh, we’ll see more people,” Earl said. “This is probably the only safe road through Colorado right now.”
“You don’t think Denver is safe, now that the army has finally kicked the enemy out of there?” Hilda asked.
“I still see all kinds of icons in the Denver area,” Gabe said. “I know the largest clump is captured, but I’ll bet there are still bad guys on the loose.”
“Here comes somebody behind us,” Earl said.
“Van?” Hilda asked, her voice wavering as she looked in the rear view mirror.
“Nah, semi-truck,” Earl said. “There’s a sedan coming alongside them in the left lane, too. We aren’t alone.”
Hilda’s phone rang, startling her. She rooted around in her purse, finally finding it by touch, and answered it.
“Hi, Charlie. You sound like you’re in a car.”
“Yeah, we decided to head in your direction and meet up with you guys, just in case.”
“I’m glad, actually,” Hilda said. “It’s creepy out here.”
“Any sign of that van, sweetie?”
“Not so far. There are other people on this road, but not enough to make me feel comfortable.”
“Well, don’t you worry. We’ll be there soon. We’re in my SUV, and the army Humvee is with us.”
“The privates are coming? Who’s watching the park?”
“Everybody who’s left there. Dobie and Jackson are with me. There’s still plenty of people at the park.”
“Good. Thanks honey.”
“Don’t mention it. Talk to you soon.”
Hilda put her phone back.
“Who’s coming to meet us?” Earl asked.
“Charlie, Jackson, and Dobie,” Hilda said. “Plus the privates, in the Humvee.”
“Good,” Gabe said. “That’ll make things a little easier. Might even allow us to lay over tonight if we can’t finish the drive in one chunk.”
“We’re going to lose cell service on and off,” Earl said. “We might want to contact them every ten or fifteen minutes, to keep track of where they are. Sometimes we can’t see the westbound lanes from this side.”
“Good idea,” Gabe said. “I’ll do that. I’ve got the numbers.”
“Me too,” Earl said. “In fact, I’m going to call Jackson right now.”
Earl tapped the contact on his phone and put it to his ear.
“Earl! How are you, man?”
“Good, Jackson. Great to hear your voice.”
“We’re thinking we ought to make contact every ten or fifteen minutes, as long as we can. We’re going to run into spotty cell coverage, and we can’t always see the westbound lanes from here. We’re liable to pass each other by.”
“Damn good idea, Earl. Let’s do that.”
“Where are you guys now?”
“We’re still in Kansas, but we’ll be getting to the border pretty soon.”
“Maybe we can meet in Salida. That’s about half way between us.”
“Okay, Earl, I’ll keep that in mind if we get disconnected.”
Earl put his phone back in his pocket and noted the time.
“He good with it?” Gabe asked.
“Yeah,” Earl said. “A few more lights coming behind us.”
“I see them,” Hilda said. “None of them look like the van.”
“Good,” Gabe said.
“You think it was a good idea sending seven men after us?” Hilda said. “What if the park gets hit?”
“We’ve still got a lot of people there,” Earl said. “Kurt, Terry, Frank, Jerry, and the Sheriff.”
“Don’t forget George and Malcolm,” Gabe said.
“Heidi, Jane, and Jasmine, too,” Hilda said. “All of them have proved themselves. I guess we’re all right.”
“More semi-trucks,” Earl said. “Lots of commerce on this road.”
“Well, like you said, it’s the only good way to avoid Denver,” Gabe said.
“Oh, no, look,” Hilda said, a tremor in her voice. “The van. Coming quickly.”
“Crap,” Earl said. “Looks like them alright. Gabe, call Jackson, while I get the rifle ready.”
“Think they’d try anything with all this other traffic around?” Hilda asked.
“Are we really sure it’s them?” Gabe asked. “They sold a million of those old Ford vans.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“It’s hanging back now, about the same distance as it was before,” Hilda said. “This isn’t good.”
“Son of a bitch, I got no bars,” Gabe said.
Charlie was behind the wheel of the SUV.
Jackson was in the passenger seat, and Dobie was in the back seat, petting Duchess, who was sitting up in the back, scanning the road in all directions.
“Here comes the border,” Charlie said.
“Already?” Dobie asked.
“I’ve been doing about 90,” Charlie said, chuckling. “Needed to blow the carbon out of this thing anyway.”
“Welcome to Colorado,” Jackson said as they flew by the border marker.
“Uh oh,” Charlie said.
“What?” Dobie asked.
“Something missing over on the right.”
“Crap, there’s no eastbound roadblock,” Jackson said. “Wonder when that came down?”
“Probably when the bulk of the enemy in Denver got captured or killed,” Dobie said.
“I should call home,” Jackson said.
“Yeah, you do that,” Charlie said. Jackson pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped a contact.
“Yeah, this Jackson?”
“Yeah. We saw something you guys need to know about. Might want to talk to the general about it.”
“The roadblock on the eastbound side of route 40 is gone.”
“Okay, I’ll go chat with him.”
“Thanks, Frank.” Jackson took his phone away from his ear.
“He sound surprised?” Charlie asked.
“Surprised and worried,” Jackson said. “He’s gonna talk to General Hogan.”
“I’ll try Earl again,” Jackson said. He tapped his contact and held the phone to his ear for a few moments. “Earl, we just passed the border. Be advised that there is no longer a border stop on the eastbound side of route 40. Talk to you soon.”
“That sounded like a message,” Charlie said.
“They’re in a dark zone,” Jackson said. “Went straight to voice mail.”
“How come you didn’t leave the time?” he asked.
“I know why,” Dobie said. “When Earl gets the message, he’ll get the timestamp info.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Charlie said. “Chalk that up to being the old guy.”
“Looks pretty flat and straight ahead,” Jackson said.
“Yeah, I’ll keep it up at 90 as long as I can,” Charlie said, eyes bearing down on the road.
Frank put his phone in his pocket, a concerned expression on his face.
“What?” Jerry asked. “Trouble on the road already?”
“Yeah, the roadblock on eastbound 40 is gone,” Frank said. “Let’s go chat with the general.”
“He’s in the lounge, I think,” Jerry said. Jane and Jasmine looked at each other, worried.