THE DEVIL’S ROAD Chapter 05: Follow the Lead --- Issue 02: Midnight Mirage
Welcome to Issue #16 of The Devil’s Road, a serial novel following the exploits of Samantha Hart, a Sequoyah County Sheriff, full of vengeance and fury using her badge to hunt down her sister's killer as she uncovers a trail of bloodshed that coats the heartland. If you missed it, you can read last week’s Chapter 05: Follow the Lead —- Issue 01: The Shadow Highway.
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And now, please enjoy Chapter 5 Issue 1 of … The Devil’s Road.
In 2004 an Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations analyst discovered a crime pattern along the Interstate 40 corridor between Oklahoma and Mississippi. Subsequently, The Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.) started the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. They discovered over 500 bodies of women along the interstate highway system with more than 200 potential suspects, a trail of bloodshed that coats the heartland. The Devil’s Road is a serialized novel based on this horrific discovery.
After a certain number of hours without sleep, your body tosses off the heavy blanket of rest and flips all the light switches on at the same time. It’s euphoric, and is clinically proven to cause hallucinations, not that Sheriff Samantha Hart needed to stay up over 36 hours to see her dead sister standing outside her parked cruiser.
The Sequoyah County Sheriff’s vehicle is parked across the street from the Old 64 Truck Stop. For the past month, this has been Sam’s usual perch, the place where she often encounters visions of her sister, Mary. However, this is the first time she’s appeared outside the car. That’s interesting.
Sam holds up the Polaroid she found late yesterday in Mac Gibbons doomsday trailer. In her peripheral vision she notices Mary’s hand press against the glass. Teeth marks curve from her pinky around to the meaty part of her palm. Sam remembers that hand laying in her lap on the side of the road, raindrops filling up the little holes left behind by the teeth of her sister’s perpetrator.
With the Polaroid tucked into the window seal to hold it there, Sam now puts the evidence bag with a receipt next to the photo. The window creaks as Mary’s palm presses harder against the glass. She can’t take it any longer. Sam turns to see her sister’s face, but there’s nothing outside the door. Whatever was there, has left.
The parking lot of the Old 64 Truck Stop is nearly abandoned at this hour in the morning. A single beat down sedan is parked near the back door and a couple of tractor-trailers idle just outside the large cone of light from the overheads.
Sam rolls the cruiser into the overhead lights of the lot, headlights off. She parks in the rear next to the sedan. Her car keys jingle on the steering column as they tap against her bouncing knee. The evidence bag with the receipt and her sister’s photo sit in her lap. The date on the receipt from the Old 64 is from three days prior. The time was 6:54PM. She pulls her log book out and flips the pages back three days. She had been at her perch, watching.
The rhythmic jingle of the keys bouncing on Sam’s knee finally registers in her ear. She has to place a hand on her leg to make it stop. The back wall of the business is clean, no cameras. She pulls out an ankle holster holding a .357 Smith and Wesson snub nose revolver. It goes under the trouser leg of her Sheriff’s uniform.
Opening the trunk, she pulls out this morning’s Jane Doe file and removes the Polaroid affixed to her death certificate. She had asked Bart to take one with the wig on, which was subsquently lost. Hopefully someone local would still recognize her face.
She sticks close to the building as she walks around the side. Peering around to the well-lit front, she spots a camera over the door. It’s pointed at the pumps so she walks under it unseen.
The bell dings as Sam opens the glass door to the store. All this time looking at it through her binoculars and she’s never stepped inside. It’s much larger than it appears from the outside. Three long aisles with all the particulars you would expect at a roadside convince store. You can get a Yoo-hoo and also pick up a replacement push button lighter for your car, and thankfully, no cameras in sight.
Behind the counter sits Big Jim. Jim’s the store’s manager and his nickname is not ironic. Between a half gallon of whiskey every other night and consistent diet of anything that’s not green, Jim is large. Not only large, but in a constant state of congestive heart failure which is evident by his ever present wheeze. He’s out of breath as soon as he wakes up in the morning.
“Help ya?” Jim hollers from his stool behind the counter. One large palm lays on top of a Penthouse magazine he’s just laid on the counter, but the right hand hangs just out of Sam’s view, below the countertop. She knows he’ll likely have a weapon back there.
“I need to see footage from your security cameras, specifically between six and eight in the evening, three days ago,” Sam asks as she approaches the counter. She holds up the receipt inside the clear baggy. “Found at a murder site this morning. Hoping you can assist us in the investigation.”
Big Jim doesn’t even look at the receipt before he says, “Gotta warrant?”
“Look,” Sam leans toward Jim, “we found the body this morning. A warrant is going to take a couple of days. Why don’t you just let me take a look. I’ll come back with the official paperwork. Wouldn’t want this guy getting down the road to far, you know?”
“Honestly, I could give a fuck,” Jim says as he leans in as well, “but you could make it worth my while.” He stretches his thin, cracked lips across his nicotine stained teeth and lets out a phlegm-filled laugh. Sam tucks the receipt back in her pocket. Jim’s laughter gets even louder as she turns to leave, but then she sees her.
Mary Hart is walking down a hallway at the end of the aisle. She’s in full view of Sam. Mary reaches a door at the end of the hall and opens it. She gives Sam a quick glance as she disappears behind the door. Sam follows.
Over the back wall is an angled mirror, used to make sure customers aren’t stuffing their pockets with sugary treats. Sam watches as Jim makes an attempt to stand up from his stool. His right hand now tucked behind his back.
Sam runs toward the door that Mary disappeared behind, trying to catch it before it closes. Jim’s laughter dies off.
“Hey! Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Jim shouts in Sam’s direction as she disappears into the hallway out of view. The door slides shut just as she gets her fingers around the handle. It’s locked, but before it closed, she saw monitors sitting on a desk inside. This has to be where he keeps the tapes. She grabs the handle with both hands and torques it with all she’s got.
“Stay the hell outta there! You can’t do that,” Jim’s desperate to catch up to Sam before she can make it into the back room. Loud bangs echo into the store as Sam slams something heavy against the door. He shuffles around the counter. Sam grabs the handle again, but her her hands slip off with the force. She grabs it again. This time she leans with all her weight onto the handle. The metal groans and finally snaps. The door does not open.
“Open the door!” Sam demands as she beats the broken handle against the door.
“Ain’t nobody in there. Who the fuck do you think you are? You think that badge makes me scared of you?” Jim is still trying to make to the back of the store. His slow shuffle rhythmically timing with Sam’s effort to catch her breath from struggling with the door. She looks down at the broken door handle in one hand. On the stained tile floor, she can see a shadow break the light coming from under the door. Someone was in there, but was she the only one who could see that someone? Sam turns to Big Jim who is still hiding something behind his back.
“What’s in your right hand?” Sam asks Jim who now rests against the entrance to the hallway.
“What?” he says as he doubles over into a coughing fit. When he catches his breath again he’s looking down the barrel of a snub nose revolver.
“What’s in your right hand?” Sam asks again, less friendly this time.
Jim apprehensively pulls his right hand from behind him. As a young man, Jim had been in construction. It was cut short when he fed his hand into a table saw. Once the metal blade got a hold of his middle finger, it ate his arm nearly half way to the elbow. He retained his thumb and pinky, but he was never holding a gun with that hand again.
Sleep deprived euphoria melts from Sam’s brain as she takes in her current situation. There was a gun in her hand. The gun wasn’t her service revolver. It was her special gun. The one that no one knows about. The one without a serial number. The one she’s saving for her sister’s killer. Was this the guy? Did he deserve the gift of her bullet?
Jim was calm, as this wasn’t the first time to have a gun in his face, but he wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. However, he’s having a hard time keeping his balance standing on his own two feet with his hands now in the air. Sam pulls out the photo of the Jane Doe and shows it to Jim.
“What about her?” Sam asks as she holds up the Polaroid. Jim looks at the photo, and then back at Sam. He takes note of the name on her badge.
“Sheriff Hart, I didn’t have anything to do with your sister’s death,” Jim says as he puts his hands down and leans again on the wall. Samantha flips the photo around and realizes she showed him a picture of Mary, not her Jane Doe.
Sam glances back at the light coming from under the closed door. The shadows gone, if it was ever there. She lowers her gun and leaves, muttering an, “I’m sorry,” as she walks past Big Jim.
When she opens the box with the files in her trunk she sees the Jane Doe photo still paper clipped to the death certificate. She tosses the receipt and Mary’s photo in the box and gets back in her cruiser.
There’s the faintest glow on the horizon in the east. The Oklahoma prairie is always beautiful at sunrise, but tonight there’s a storm rolling in from the west, and the cloud cover is already getting dense in the humid air. It’ll be raining before noon.
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