The alarm pierced the morning haze like a swarm of bumblebee’s protecting their home. What a racket to the in deep sleep dreamer whose alarm had awaken him. Denman Mabon leaned over from his deep slumber and hit the alarm off. Seven in the morning was sometimes too early for Denman. But it kept him on his feet. Kept him moving.
He rolled back over and pushed the radio button next to his alarm. Through a crackling of jarble the newscaster’s voice shined through.
“This is the 7 'o' clock report on your news leader. Tragedy has rocked the small community of Pine Valley early this morning. The bodies of 7 senior football team players of the Pine Valley High School and 2 female cheerleaders were found dead. Police said that all 9 bodies had suffered some sort of major trauma and were hardly identifiable. Names have not been released until all family members were notified. There was no comment on the exact cause of death and autopsies were scheduled for today. Classes have been cancelled today and grief counselors were on hand if any member of the student body seeks help in coping with the losses. In other news…..”
Denman flicked off the radio. Nine dead teenagers, hardly identifiable, major trauma. 'Why does this bad stuff always happen here and why is it that I always have to investigate?' he thought to himself.
After a cold shower and some quick breakfast, it was time to get to work. Not work of his own but what Denman really had to do. Walking to the door he saw the shadow of someone walking up the walk and then knocking on the door.
Denman opened the door and saw Chief Earle standing in front of him. “Chief Earle, how goes it?” asked Denman.
The Chief smiled with his crooked 'I want to help you but I’m really a crook myself' normal smile and replied, “Well it goes about as good as swamp ass on wing night at the bar. May I come in?”
“Actually Chief, I’m on my way out, so if you don’t mind saving this for another time.”
The Chief stepped in front of Denman, pushing the door open and said, “No I don’t think you’d mind a few minutes of your time talking.”
“Well then come in, make yourself at home. Would you like a donut? Have a fresh dozen, just picked 'em up yesterday, can have as many as you like.” said Denman with a bit of wit.
The Chief looked very unamused. “Ya know any other day you might get a rise outta me, but not today.”
Earle opened a file he had in his hand and took out some documents. He never looked up from his papers and said, “I’m sure you heard about the tragedy on the news this morning.”
Denman trying to look surprised asked with fake curiosity, “What tragedy?”
“This morning some bodies were found in the old barn on the lake road. Nine bodies of high school students. Damn things looked like they fell to pieces, like some kind of animal ripped them apart. The point is Denny, I know you’ve been known to involve yourself in ummmm...”
“Strange Matters??” asked Denman.
“Yes, if you call it that. What I’m trying to say is your help is appreciated and all, but this time, just stay outta the professionals’ ways. The town has just suffered a great loss. I mean hell the quarterback star was one of them. Such a young kid with a huge future ahead and he’s dead already. Now what the hell am I supposed to tell his folk when then police are trying to solve his murder and some big city magazine editor is snooping around trying to drive someone into some frenzy that this was done by monsters or devil worshippers.”
Denman paused for a moment, thoughts raging through his head as if he were the head of this investigation. “So it is a murder investigation and not just some random accident?” asked Denman.
“I thought you didn’t know about it,” replied the Chief.
“Just mere questions but I understand your problems Chief. And I won’t get in your way. I won’t even look around.”
“I hardly believe anything you tell me, but I must be going now.”
The Chief closed up his files and moved quickly to the door. He turned around and gave an evil glare to Denman. “Thanks for your time, stay outta trouble Denny.” said the chief as he closed the door and made his way to the squad car.
Denman took to his computer to do research. The Chief had pretty much blurted out what he needed. It was on. A murder investigation. But how and why and what. Was it geeks mad at the football team, a jilted player who wanted revenge? Some sort of sick suicide?
About noon Denman made his way to the local paper. Even though he did mostly stories for a city magazine, sometimes Denman had made contributions to the local paper. They in return would time to time drop some information. This time was also the case. Jeff, the head reporter always did the crime scene investigation photos. It saved money for the small time cops to use a local photographer.
Denman walked into the office where Jeff sat at his desk, looking over photos with a disgusted look on his face. Denman walked around to the chair and flopped down.
Jeff sat up quickly, as if he were scared. “Jesus Denny, don’t do that.”
Denman chuckled, “Little jumpy today are we Jeff?”
“I have every right to be, I was at the tragedy scene this morning. What a mess.”
Denman swiped one of the photos from Jeff’s pack and peered at the horrible sight. It was a body, almost turned into Jell-O.
“Wow that’s not something you see every day” exclaimed Denman.
“Disgusting isn’t it?”
Denman shook his head. You could make out the low rider jeans of a normal teenage girl but all over it was slop falling off what was a female body. “What are these bottles all over the floor?” asked Denman.
“Mort’s Malt Liquor.” Replied Jeff. “From what I overheard from the Chief, the players were having some sort of bush party after their practice, to loosen up for the big game. This stuff was all over the place, the police found 2 cases of it.”
“Mort’s. Never heard of it.”
“Yeah neither did Officer Moore, and he’d be the first person I’d ask about any kind of liquor.” Said Jeff as he chuckled aloud.
Denman cracked a smile as he continued to look over the disturbing images presented to him. This was definitely not your normal murder case. This was something more. Something grave and haunting, that must be solved quickly.
Denman stood up from the desk and held his chin. It was his deep thinking look. He thought for a moment and said, “Any word on where this Mort’s Liquor is bottled, distributed, sold, etc. etc?”
“Yeah it’s a local company, they just started selling it at the local shop. I’m sure the police have already been asking around if anyone sold the liquor to the kids. I doubt anyone will cough up the truth.”
“How about this Mort’s. He known to do any sales? And where is he from?”
“He runs a mill up on Mountain Drive, right before you get to Cresentville on the back roads. As far as I know the cops haven’t been out there, but you never know.”
“Thanks Jeff. Any way I can get copies of these photos and the crime scene report?”
Jeff laughed and opened the drawer beside him. He took out a folder and handed it to Denman. “Remember Denny, you didn’t get this from me. The Chief paid me 100 bucks flat out for these photos. The cheap bastard never gives me a dime until weeks later in a check from the boro. He gave me extra he says to assure him that I only make one copy and give him the negatives. Which I did, after I made these.”
Denman shook Jeff's hand and smiled, “Don’t worry Jeff, the secret’s safe with me. Besides, you’re my only link to the police sometimes. The Chief already warned me to stay away.”
Jeff laughed and replied, “And I’m sure you’re gonna do the Chief’s every wish?”
Denman laughed and walked out the door. Jeff knew the answer to that question. Besides why would Denman do what the Chief wanted when it was so much fun pissing him off.
Later that afternoon Denman made a trip out to Mort’s Mill. Morty Maider owned and ran his own beer and liquor company. Mort’s Malt Liquor was made of his own special recipe. Well that’s at least what the ad said.
Denman got out of his car and looked up at the old farmhouse. It was an old rancher style although it looked like no one had lived in it for quite some time. 'Must spend all his time in there mixing his liquor' thought Denman.
Denman made his way up the walk and to the front door. He opened the door and went inside. It was made up almost like an old fashioned distributor with a fridge with fresh brewed cold Morty’s Malt Liquor. An old man stood behind the counter with an apron on. He smiled at Denman and said, “Well hello there young man, welcome to Mort’s, what can I get you?”
“I heard you make the best damn Malt Liquor on the planet, I’ll take a 6’er or how ever you sell them.”
“I got fresh cold 6’ers, cases, kegs, and I also make orders to size. The 6’ers are $8.99 or 2 for 13.”
Denman pondered for a minute seeming to act like he was really interested. “What the hell, I’ll take 2.”
Mort grabbed two 6 packs behind the counter, put them in a carrying box and took Denman’s money.
“Why thank you young man, anything else I can do for ya then?”
“I was just wondering, what’s in the special recipe? Anything really more special than any other beer company?”
Mort laughed aloud as if he was Santa and a little boy just wished him Merry Christmas. He came from behind the counter and turned Denman around. Up on the wall was a poster of the brewing process. It ran through the steps of gathering the right ingredients and preparing them at just the right temperature and the mixing and bottling process.
“There you go young man, well as much as I can say without giving away my edge,” said Mort.
Denman looked at the process map on the wall and asked, “How many employee’s you got. Must take a wide range of workers to handle this very serious process.”
“It may look that way. Just me and my boy Todd. And ever since he, umm left school, he’s joined his father in the full brewing process. One day he’ll take over for me.”
Denman shook Mort’s hand and made his way out the door. As he walked out the door he noticed a teenage boy standing near the side of the house. He peered at Denman as he made his way into the car. Denman nodded and smiled, but no emotion was given by the odd looking boy.
The local paper read, “Tragedy rocks Pine Valley.” Nine students, including the head quarterback Jack Rays and his girlfriend class president Sheena Clue were among the dead.
Denman laid the paper on his desk alongside the folder and malt liquor he picked up. He grabbed a bottle, lifted the cap and set the bottle down. Denman walked into his kitchen. He really didn’t use it much, the microwave was about the only tool that he really used anymore. His time was limited. He threw in his TV dinner and heated it to his liking.
He walked over to his desk still pondering what could have done that to those kids. It was like they melted away. Something like a mix of the The Blob meets Dracula.
He sat at his desk ready to chow down. He leaned across the desk to grab a napkin and accidentally knocked over his drink. The bottle smashed across the table and spilled onto his pants all over him. “Oh! Son of a bitch!” exclaimed Denman.
He got up, took some paper towels and wiped off his table. He walked into the bedroom to change his pants when suddenly his hand began to burn.
A striking pain shot through his hand as he ran into the bathroom. Denman grabbed the bottle of alcohol and poured it over his hand. 'Holy shit!' he thought, 'it really burns!'
Then the thought popped into his head. He walked back into the study and his Friday night paper was almost gone. Almost being the word. The spilled malt liquor ate right through this paper. It didn’t seem strong enough to eat through the desk, but had sure left its mark.
"Damn!" He said to himself. “It’s the malt liquor. The malt liquor melted the kids. If this stuff was sold to anyone else, they would all die."
Denman raced to the phone and dialed up Jeff.
Ring Ring Ring
Finally a very disoriented Jeff answered. “Hello,” Jeff said on the other side of the phone.
“Jeff get over to the distributor right now, no questions. Don’t let them sell anymore Mort’s Malt Liquor.”
“Wait wait wait, slow down a sec,” Jeff replied as he made some quiet talking noises and made a grunt, and then picked the phone back up. “Now what’s this again?”
“What are you doing?” asked Denman.
“Just tell me what’s going on, you kinda caught me at a bad time.”
Denman laughed hysterically and said, “Are you and your wife screwing?”
“Yes asshole, matter of fact you caught us at a bad time, so I must be getting back to that.”
Denman shook his head and replied, “Well zip your pants up and get over to the liquor store. Do not let them sell anymore Mort’s Malt Liquor.”
“It’s the liquor Jeff. The liquor killed those kids. I just spilled a shitload on my hand it almost took my fingers off. The autopsies aren’t done yet and there’s probably no organs left inside to get a quick reading.”
“I’ll be at the store in about 10 minutes but, Denman, they’re gonna think I’m fucking crazy.”
“I’m going to the police station, I’ll try to get officer dum nuts and the chief over, I’ll meet you there." Denman hung up the phone, grabbed his cell, went out to his car and sped off for the station.
Moments later Denman arrived at the police station. Outside there was a flurry of reporters and people sitting around. Denman tried to break through the crowd to get in but was stopped by Officer Moore.
“Hey, stop there Mabon.” Said Moore.
Denman looked at Moore and said, “I have to get in there Moore, I know what killed these kids and it could kill again.”
Moore laughed and said “Lemme guess Mabon, it’s the malt liquor right?”
“What, how did you know?”
“We ain’t that dumb Mabon. We figured it out. Someone burnt their tongue on the liquor inside a bottle and we just put two and two together and figured it out.”
“Someone burnt their tongue?” asked Denman. “So you mean one of your dumb shit’s were thirsty and wanted to hit the bottle early?”
Moore pushed Denman back and crossed his arms. “You better watch your tongue boy, I don’t take that crap from no one, especially you!”
Denman stepped back a few inches and said, “Whoa, calm down Moore, weren’t you fed yet?”
Moore shook his head and said, “Well no matter what, you didn’t solve this one. Pine Valley’s finest did. We have the killer in there right now, sure the Chief’s getting his whole confession right now.”
“Who did it?”
“Mort Maider’s kid, turns out the little psycho sold them the booze, spiked it with some sort of sulfuric acid compound. Just enough to sit in the bottle and wait until someone consumed it. Looks like you came up short his time.” Said Moore as he turned around to head back inside.
Denman turned around. This was too quick of a solution. It didn’t make all that sense. He looked to the crowd and saw Jeff talking to Ricky Bentz. Ricky was a son of another worker at the paper. Ricky was lucky he didn’t party with the rest of the team considering he played football.
Denman made his way over to the two and just looked out of his game.
Jeff said, “I guess you heard?”
“Yeah, I did.” Said Denman.
Jeff nodded and said, “I guess the police finally got their shit together this time. But in a way it all makes sense.”
“How does it make sense?” asked Denman
Ricky butted in and said, “Todd, he’s a friggin psycho man. He’s dumb as dog shit. Dropped outta school earlier this year. He tried out for football last year, couldn’t cut it. I guess the guys came down hard on him, picked on him a lot. Good reason though.”
“Why’s that?” asked Denman.
“'Cause he’s slow. Plus he had a thing for Jack’s girls. I think he may have even hit on Sheena. I know he used to have some kind of crush on Heidi. Good thing she wasn’t there, she would be dead too.”
“Wait!” said Denman. “Who’s Heidi?”
“Heidi Gallagher, she used to go out with Jack until he was cheating on her with Sheena. They broke up like a week ago. Rumor had flown around that she caught them and got super mad. But I guess in a way its better for her. She’s a sweet girl. Probably gonna be top of the class. Super smart and pretty. Hey ya know, maybe I should ask her out. You think I should ask her out?”
Jeff chuckled and said, “Oh yeah Ricky, go for it. Yeppers, go for it, get it while it’s good.”
Ricky smiled and said, “Thanks, I’m gonna ask her out.”
Jeff looked like he just saw a train wreck. 'What an idiot' he thought. But then he looked at Denman. He looked like he was way deep in thought. That’s when it both hit them. Ex-girlfriend, very smart, very mad. Cheated on by high school love does strange things to someone. It couldn’t be Todd, too easy, too stupid.
Later that night Denman and Jeff made their way up to the Gallagher household. They walked up on the road around the fancy house. It was out by itself. Not far from Mort’s brewery. There seemed to be no lights except for one on the second floor. Denman made his way under the tree and checked out the long old tree next to it. He smiled and looked at Jeff.
“Oh shit Denny, you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking?” whispered Jeff.
Denman just simply nodded and started to climb up the old oak tree. Little by little he made his way up the tree. He didn’t have much trouble which made Jeff think that he’d done this before.
'Oh my god', Jeff thought to himself. 'Two grown men outside a girl’s room, one climbing up a tree to peer in her room, the other being a reporter. This is gonna look just peachy in the front page of the paper.'
Denman made his way to a perch to stare right into the room. Through the window he saw a petite girl writing in her diary. Heidi’s make up was running. She wiped her nose and cried terribly as she paged through the book. On the desk next to her was a workstation of chemicals and different liquids. But this wasn’t good enough. If he was going to have proof on her, he’d have to get a closer look.
In the tree he saw a rope hanging. They must have used to have a swing here. If just maybe he could swing close enough to her window he could see what she used. Denman put his foot on the wooden plank but the plank cracked and he fell. The rope wrapped around his leg and there high in the air swung Denman.
“Holy fucking shit!” he exclaimed, which of course drew just about every living thing around to his side.
Jeff just stood there in complete amazement.
Denman looked up and saw Heidi staring out the window at him. Her face grew sickly.
“Hey, how’s it going?” said Denman as he hung upside down from the old oak tree. Heidi bolted from the window.
Denman looked down at Jeff, “You gotta stop her, she’s gonna make a run for it.”
Jeff ran around the house. Denman still hung there swinging like he was caught in some kind of animal trap. He tried to reach his leg but to no avail. Suddenly he felt the rope lessen and saw the branch crack. Down he fell. Almost 15 feet at least he dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. It was a brutal hit. Miracle was he didn’t break anything. At least he couldn’t tell. The world swirled around him, it seemed like he just got into a fight. He got to his feet and oriented himself. Then he started running.
He made his way around the house looking for Jeff but couldn’t see him. Then out of nowhere he felt a blow right to the back of the head. Blood flew through the air. The blow left some cuts on him as he hit the ground. Atop of him stood a man around his early 50’s. His eyes filled with hate as he swung the bat around again. This time Denman rolled away. He desperately tried to get up but the man just brought him down again. Again and again he hit him with the Louisville slugger.
The man flipped him over and raised his bat through the air. He said, “Nobodies gonna hurt my little girl again.”
His last swing was stopped. Jeff ran from behind and tackled the man to the ground. The fight didn’t last long. The man was much stronger and bigger than Jeff. He grabbed Jeff by his legs and tossed him like a beanbag. The man wrapped his big hands around his throat and squeezed away. Jeff started pass out. He couldn’t breathe and he didn’t have any strength to get away. And then just as he decided it was over he fell to the ground. Splinters of wood flew past his face.
It was from the bat that the man had dropped. The bat that Denman had just broken over the attackers head. The man dropped to the ground. He was out like a light. Denman helped Jeff to his feet.
“You okay?” asked Denman.
Jeff nodded and replied, “Yeah, who the hell is this sack of shit.”
“It’s my father!” interrupted Heidi, who ran to her dad’s side.
“What have you done to him?” she cried out.
Just at that moment, the glare of flashing lights appeared behind them. The police, state police, had come. Jeff had called them when the attacker decided to try to take Denman’s head off.
Jeff tapped Denman on the arm, “I need a beer, a nice cold beer.”
Denman chuckled and said, “How about we skip the beer for awhile. How 'bout safe homemade iced tea?”
The next morning came and as usual Denman was still in bed when the alarm from hell came on. As normal he rolled over and flipped off the alarm and turned on the radio.
The announcer’s voice chimed through. “In today’s news, the tragedy that rocked the small town of Pine Valley has been solved. Local police say that Trevor Gallagher, a pharmacist at the local drug store, has been arrested on charges of murder. Apparently Mr. Gallagher snuck into the Maider Brewery and spiked the beer with a chemical laced with acid. He knew that the son of the brewer would sell liquor to the kids and had heard a big party was in the works for that night. It was a revenge motive, against Jack Rays, who’d been romantically involved with his daughter in the past. Early this morning local reporters Jeff Yeager and Denman Mabon had sought state police in evidence they had found. State police arrested Gallagher and he later confessed to the poisonings. In other news the bodies of 3 cattle were found alongside the road. The cattle were apparent victims of some sort of rabid animals. The carcass’s were ripped to shreds and left in a circle. No other information was released. This is the 2nd attack to be reported in the last few weeks with the same bite marks reported.”
Denman turned off the radio. That’s all he needed to hear. One thing solved and then another strange and unusual happening. Some days maybe it was just better to stay in bed. But one thing was for sure, the people of Pine Valley would think twice before they crack open another cold one and take a big swig.