Monday, January 20, 2020

To Stop A Predator With Extreme Prejudice

As Priya, Will, and James returned from Martin Creek Lake, their phones suddenly lit up with an Amber Alert - a 10-year-old girl named Dawn Ramirez went missing from a nearby school the previous day. Suddenly, on the side of the road, they spotted a little girl with long brown hair and a sad face standing on the side of the road. As the car drove past, the four heard a faint voice calling, "Help me... help her..."

The students quickly got GlenMac to pull over, and went to find the girl; about the same time, Alistair texted them that he had arrived in town, and they sent their location. 10 minutes later, he arrived; Priya volunteered to watch his car, as GlenMac had rented the boat and needed to return it, and couldn't hang around any longer.

Exploring the wooded area where the girl was last seen, they stumbled onto an old crime scene - tattered yellow crime scene tape was tied around a few trees, and a small funeral wreath was leaned up against a tree. Thinking back, they remembered hearing about another little girl who had gone missing, and was found dead (see: Sophomore Fall, Sanctuary).

A little phone-Googling later, and the public details were uncovered: eleven year old Krista Levens was snatched from her front driveway, assaulted, and eventually murdered. A week after her disappearance, her body was discovered, buried in a shallow grave. The murder was never solved; the article ends with a generic note about kidnappings: "In many cases the victim often knew the assailant," but even so, there weren't even any "people of interest" in the case, and it was still open. One of the articles had the family's address.

After some discussion, the students decided to head to the house, for lack of other clues. The house was vacant, and obviously had been untouched for a while. A beat-up "For Sale" was the only feature in the front yard. Looking around at the houses, they saw a woman peering out at them - the standard nosy old lady, it seemed. They trooped over, and found themselves invited in for a lovely (cheap) cup of coffee and some (dollar store) cookies. They learned that Mrs. Levens had committed suicide, and that Mr. Levens had left shortly afterwards, but unfortunately, the woman (Lillian Smythe) had been out of town with her husband when the kidnapping and murder occurred.

Managing to extricate themselves, the intrepid heroes went back outside; in looking at the house, they saw a curtain move as if someone were standing behind it; unwilling to break in, Alistair called the number on the sign and set up a meeting with a realtor. After borrowing some ghost hunting equipment from GlenMac, and eating a lovely lunch nearby, they met back up with the realtor and headed inside. The woman was flustered and ill-prepared, but willing to cut a deal, as the house had been on the market 7 months; she talked with Priya, while the guys explored. James saw, suddenly, the girl from the roadway; she waved him over, and pointed out the window at the house across the street, shaking her head sadly. Alistair, a room over, caught a burst of activity on his equipment; by the time he got to the room, the girl was gone. James showed he and Will where she had pointed, and realized there was a man entering that house, carrying some groceries... after entering the building, he began playing classical music, very loudly.

Quickly thanking the realtor, the group hurried across the street and knocked on the door. The man answered, said that he wasn't interested, and slammed the door in their faces. That's when Will and Alistair hear the cries for help. Eager to rescue the girl, James slammed into the door; Will ran around the building to look for another way in. On the second strike, James kicked the door off its hinges, smashing the frame. Inside, the man was ready for him, holding a large butcher knife.

James slammed into the man, whacking him with his favorite wrench; the man fought back, but was unable to land a blow. Alistair swung and missed; Will, hearing the noise, charged in, just in time to see James bludgeon the man across the head, then land another heavy blow on him when he crashed to the ground. There wasn't much left of his noggin at that point...

The three spread out through the house, but found no sign of the little girl; finally, they moved a throw rug in the kitchen and found a cellar entrance. Inside was Dawn Ramirez! Will picked the lock on the handcuffs, and Alistair helped her out of the house, away from the rapidly spreading pool of blood.

Reluctantly, James contacted the police, explaining that they had found the girl. The police arrived to find Will and Alistair comforting the poor girl, while James stood confidently on the porch. The lead officer, Officer Jones, asked James what happened; James walked him through the events. "We heard really loud music, so we came over to complain, and heard cries for help. We gained access to the building," at this point walking inside, "and found the trap door over here."

The officer stepped inside, and once his eyes adjusted, he saw the man on the floor, his head caved in, clearly deceased, and yelped, "HOLY CRAP! Uh... uh! Sir, I need you to exit the house, right now!"

He went over his story again. "Tell me what happened to the man inside."

"Oh, well, when we knocked, he slammed the door on us, then we heard the cries, and I opened the door," (the officer couldn't help looking at the shattered door, hanging loosely from its broken frame) "and that guy was inside with a knife. We fought, and he lost, and then we found the trap door and the girl!"

Alistair, too, was interviewed, and put on his best shell-shocked expression; his story matched James' well enough. Will told the officer interviewing him how he had run around the building to look for another way in, and when he heard the sounds of fighting, ran back to the front door, and saw the man dead. The officer blinked. "You found him dead? Can you elaborate?"

Will shrugged. "Welll... He was in the *process* of being dead..."

Another officer interviewed Dawn; after taking the four stories, three officers - with a fourth left to guard the students - quietly conferred. It probably helped that when asked for ID, the three showed their LeTourneau school IDs. Finally, Officer Jones waved them over. "Now, let me get this straight. You three were studying, and upon hearing the loud music, came over to ask the fellow to turn it down. You heard cries for help, and... " - with a glance at the shattered door - "gained access to the house, where the man inside attacked you with a knife." Here the officer paused and flipped a page, giving the three a significant look. "After you defended yourselves against his attack, you found the girl, trapped and chained. Does that sound about right?"

The three nodded hurriedly, realizing the officer was giving them a way out. "Good, good. Well, I know where to find you if I need to ask any more questions. Oh, by the way, why don't you go ahead and call this number" - he handed James a slip of paper - "and give 'em your name. Now, you get on home, and get some rest, watch some TV - it's been a rough day for y'all. I'm sure some reporters will be around to ask you questions about this later."

As it turned out, the number was for Crimestoppers - Dawn's rescue lead to a $2,500 Crimestoppers reward! The next day, they picked up a newspaper, with a picture of the three of them:

James, Will, and Alistair, all Juniors at LeTourneau University, rescued a kidnapped girl and solved a year-old murder case. "We heard cries for help, and we knew we had to do something," said James. His friend Alistair added, "We felt lead to the place where she was held hostage."
Niles Henry, a soft-spoken civil engineer at a small Longview firm, lived across the street from the home of Krista Levens, found dead last year after a six day search. According to Lakeport PD, Henry was pronounced dead en route to the hospital from injuries sustained in fighting the heroic students.
Dawn Ramirez has been reunited with her family; Matthew Levens, Krista Levens' father and only surviving relative, wept openly when he learned of the death of his daughter's killer. "It won't bring her back, but I can sleep better knowing that monster is dead."

Just below the fold was a headline from another familiar story:

Investigations into the November Cult Murder has stagnated, says Agent Peregrine Cycle; until new information on the whereabouts of Xulián Bruxo and Raoul Tolemo can be uncovered, the case is in limbo...

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Little Fishing Trip

GlenMac had the students early Saturday before school started; Alistair couldn't make it, but Will, James, and Priya were present. As they helped him load equipment, he reminded them of the history of the "Lantern of the Deep", and how it came to be located - as far as he knew - in Martin Creek Lake. He described the artifact as a simple bulls-eye lantern made from blue-tinted glass. Feeling bad for bringing them back to school early, he offered some "directed study" credit - worth a +1 Academics on the next exam.

The January air was cool, but the lake was quite warm, almost bathtub temperature, due to the nearby power station. As they arrived in GlennMac's car (pulling a small boat behind it), the park ranger on duty gave a word of caution - a gator or two had been spotted in the lake, and he hadn't gotten a chance to haul the beasties off. "Just keep your eyes peeled."

Once the boat was launched, GlenMac steered it near the power station and began dropping buoys in a grid. Maybe it was the fog, maybe it was the threat of gators, maybe it was the harshly-lit power station, or maybe it was the overcast skies and the strangely calm lake, but something puts everyone on edge. After a few tips on underwater safety and how to do a grid search, the students drop into the water. Priya and Will make it look easy, but James got a bit of water in his mask. No big deal, just annoying...

The water was dark and murky; visibility is barely a yard. Near the bottom, very little light filters down. Slowly, the trio searched the silty lake. After several minutes of searching, Will caught sight of something - an alligator! He fended off its first attack, but the next bite ripped up his arm! Priya, hearing the disturbance through the water, quickly surfaced, located the fight, and swam quickly to assist. James eventually heard the commotion and joined as well. Together, the three managed to spear the gator to death.

That threat dealt with, the three returned to searching for the lantern. Priya received a vision of a slimy, silt-covered creature, locked in watery combat, the lantern in its grasp, and something silvery around its neck. Not long afterward, James saw a feeble blue glow, hidden in silt; reaching for it, he was startled by a hand reaching up out of the mud! A creature, man-shaped, its clothes and features covered in silt and mud. James immediately grappled the creature's arm, pulling on the lantern and keeping his foot in the thing's face. The two battled back and forth, the creature trying to shake him off, and James hanging on with dogged determination, trying to whack the creature hard enough to make it let go of the lantern. Will and Priya found the two, and joined in, slashing at the creature with their spears. Every blow they landed seemed to heal itself almost immediately, until Priya managed to land a blow on the creature's arm. Its grip weakened on the lantern, and James pulled free. Priya, remembering her vision, grabbed for the locket as the creature fell back to the lake floor, nothing but silt and sludge.

The lantern suddenly freed, James felt a sudden gust of wind, and found himself staring out across the lake, a young man sitting in a boat nearby. He recognized the man from the photo the group found - Rodya, the third man in the photo!

Rodya was holding a lantern - The lantern, in fact. Another man stands on the shore, holding a gun. He called out; for some reason, James knew it was Russian, yet could understand it: "Rodya! What are you doing? You are throwing away your life for these... Americanski! These capitalist idiots! Don't you understand, the Motherland needs power like what you are holding!"
Over the deadly calm, Rodya calls back, "Maksim, the power you chase ends only in death! USSR, Communism, me, you... everyone. This I have seen! And so, I will protect the Lantern - from you, and anyone else who wishes to use it for power!"
With that, he spread his arms; the Lantern began glowing brightly, and Rodya leaned back, falling off the boat and sinking beneath the waves. Maksim tried to run forward, but was stopped by an invisible barrier. Cursing, he slammed his hands against it, causing it to flash blue momentarily, then with a scream of anger, spun on his heel and fled. Rodya, protected and enhanced by the Lantern, sank into the lake, deep into the dark silt at the bottom.

A heartbeat later, James watched the revenant turn to muddy silt and slip back into the water. Even its tattered clothes faded to mud and vanished. Together, the three swam back to the boat, handing the lantern to GlenMac, who placed it in a padded case.

The locket Priya found contained a single photograph - somehow protected from the water - of Rodya kneeling beside a young, smiling Monica Dragic.

Though GlenMac asked a few questions on the way back, he saw the students were rather pensive, and the conversation eventually died out. Just as they were nearing town, everyone's phones suddenly began beeping, buzzing, and vibrating - an Amber alert. Glancing down to turn it off, the intrepid heroes realized it was actually in Longview, TX! A 10-year-old girl named Dawn Ramirez had gone missing from a nearby school...