Thursday, March 24, 2011

Red Riding Hood and the Snake River Killer, Eagle, Idaho

     Earl Lee was through with killing and on the hunt for a young companion. He saw her at the corner, looking apprehensively up at the darkening sky. She was early teens, hair pulled back in a pony tail, wearing jeans and a white blouse, pulling an odd red cape around her slender body to ward off the March chill. His smell told him she was the one.
     Thinking through his approach, Earl pulled next to the curb and lowered the passenger side window, flashing his most winsome smile. Before he could open his mouth, the young girl hopped into the passenger seat, knocking Earl off his stride. “You need a ride?” He improvised. “Big rain coming and I am going your way.”
     She looked him, a pretty face with freckles and large brown eyes, flecked with an odd shade of gray. “My name is Earl Lee Crowder, but you can call me Earl. What’s your name?”
     The girl smiled. “Red.”
     “Red what?” Earl pursued.
     “Just Red.” The girl replied.
     At that point Earl felt a sense of unease and his instinct was to let her out, but then she smiled again at him, so he pulled away from the curb. She settled in her seat, buckling up and looking through the windshield as the rain began to fall.
     “Where are you going?” He asked.
     “This way.” Red said. “I am looking for someone.”
      Earl nodded, thinking hard. He had been prepared with his sweet inducements and then the chloroform, just in case. But this girl was compliant. Too compliant? They drove in silence for 45 minutes to the north outskirts of Eagle Township. “I have to stop at my place for minute, if that is okay.” Earl said, looking over at her. She nodded, watching as he turned onto a small dirt road that went up an incline to his yellow house trimmed in green. It was set back in the dim woods, isolated and conveniently hidden in a copse of pine and cottonwood trees with no nearby neighbors.
     As they drove up the drive, Earl tensed and checked on his young passenger, but she was unconcerned. Still, he felt for his small towel and bottle of chloroform under the front seat, just in case Red got antsy.
     Earl pulled behind the secluded house and stopped, keeping the doors locked. He turned to Red, telling her to come in for a minute while he did some chores. Instead of getting fidgety or looking worried, she nodded. Earl breathed easier, thinking that the young girl had taken a liking to him. In his mid-forties, Earl was six feet, well built with busy hair and long sideburns. Most women took to him. Unfortunately, Earl Lee had a dark side, carrying the sobriquet of “Snake River Killer”, the Northwest’s most notorious serial killer for twenty years. Earl had left a trail of terror and grief through Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
     “Is this my home? Are you my keeper?” Red asked.
     Earl was nonplussed; never in all his years of rampage. Yet, a yellow light flashed before his eyes. Who was this girl? He led her into the kitchen and showed her the layout, a dining room and an open living room. “My bedroom is down the hall in the back. To begin with, you will stay down here.” Earl said, opening the basement door and pointing down the cellar steps.
     Red came forward and peered into the dark, dank cellar. Then she stepped back and looked up at Earl Lee. “I don’t live in cellars.” She said simply.
     Earl felt that all too familiar rage surging and balled his fists to lash out, his eyes narrowing and his nostrils flaring. Then the madness ebbed and he was still; after a second Earl shook his head in wonder and smiled at Red. “Of course…what was I thinking? There is a guest suite upstairs with its own bath. That is the place for a girl like you.”
     Earl closed the cellar door, shaking himself and looking around the room. He refocused and directed the girl to the living room. “This is my easy chair. Come sit in my lap and I can go over our routine and rules.” Earl said, feeling a surge, dryness in his mouth.
     Red took Earl’s hand. “You’ve had a long day, searching so hard and long. I am happy to sit in your lap, but first you need a bath, a nice hot bath. You smell.”
     Earl snatched his hand back and growled, that fury and fire flaring in his chest. But as she looked at him, he once again caught himself and thought, not a bad idea. “Yes, a bath before we have our chat.”
     She led Earl back to his master bedroom, then went into the bathroom, admiring the large porcelain tub set on iron claws. She then turned on the water, but only the hot water. In a few minutes Earl appeared at the door naked with his hands modestly crossed in front of him.
     Earl’s eyes widened as he saw the steam. “Hey, that’s too hot.” He shouted.
     “You like it hot.” Red explained, taking his hand and leading him to the tub. “So nice and steamy to ease your tired body; you’ve had many years, created so much sorrow. A lot to wash away.”
     “Not my fault. If only they had understood, been more like you.” Earl muttered, as he stepped into the scalding water, grimacing, but dutifully sliding down, reddening just as a lobster that goes into the boiling pot. He sank in the tub until only his head was exposed.
     Earl Lee’s eyes darted back and forth, looking at Red in panic and distress. “Help me!” Earl pleaded, unable to move. “Get me out. I’m dying.”
     Her eyes widened when she heard the hot water heater thundering in the cellar below emit a loud whistle, and then a loud bang. Smoke began to drift up into the bathroom. “Name them for me, Earl.” Red whispered to him, as she bent over and stroked his bushy head. “Name them all and you can get out of the tub. I’ll even help get you started. Back to junior high school, Martha Manning was your first. Come on now, think. Earl Lee, who was next?”
     Earl squirmed and tried to rise from the water, but his body was inert, still. His eyes widened as he saw the wisps of smoke from the basement. “Cindy Volk!” He shouted.
     Red stepped back and smiled. She stood at the bathroom door as Earl gasped for breath, his eyes wide as he furiously searched his memories.”Lisa Stevenson, Linda Morse, Betsy Givens.”
     Suddenly flames darted up through the wooden floor, feeding on the cheap linoleum. The fire crackled, muting Earl’s voice as he shouted the roll call. “Marilyn Hall……”now his voice was hoarse and almost drowned out by the popping and whooshes of the fire.
     Red left Earl Lee struggling in the bathtub. She went out the back, pausing and listening by the bathroom window: “Dana Oland, Martina Dawn, Odyssey…” but Earl’s voice faded.
     She walked through the woods, following a path that paralleled the road below. Red made her way down to the blacktop and returned toward the house, which was a mass of flames. Emergency vehicles and a fire engine roared past her.
     A small crowd had already gathered and some men were running back and forth along the drive, pointing and shouting as the first fire truck made its way up the dirt road to Earl’s house.
     “I think he’s in there!” A frantic young man shouted to the firemen. “I heard him shouting for some woman. Nancy something. Maybe she’s in there too.”
     The firemen started forward, but then reared back as the roof collapsed inward with a shower of sparks, flames, and roiling black smoke.
     Red cocked her head, but she could not hear Earl’s voice, no more names. The roll call was over.


     That evening Cannon was listening to the TV news and working at his laptop. He suddenly stopped when he saw the Eagle fire news. An unidentified charred body had been found. What caught Cannon’s eye was the news lady in the foreground interviewing a young girl, identified as one of the first on the scene.
     The little girl with the pony tail and wearing a red cape around her shoulders looked into the camera. “I am looking for someone.” She told the news lady.
     Cannon sat up and felt a chill run down his spine; was that a tapping? He held his breath and listened, but all was quiet. She was not at his door. Not yet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood, Watergate Apartments, Spokane, Washington

     Cannon opened the door and there she was, about twelve years old, red hair pulled back in a pony tail, freckles across her nose, brown eyes flecked with gray. She was holding a straw basket, dressed in a white blouse and jeans with a scarlet cape: Little Red Riding Hood.
     The young girl stepped away, taken aback by Cannon’s scowl. She started a spiel, but was jittery and he could only catch the ending: “… piano lessons.”
     He asked her if she was collecting money for her piano lessons and she nodded. Cannon turned, leaving the door ajar and went into the bedroom, taking five dollars from his wallet. There was something about the girl.
     When he returned she was sitting at the table, across from where Cannon had been eating his salad. A bone-in rib eye was waiting to be seared and Cannon was hungry from a long day.
     “I’m tired and need to rest a minute.” The girl said, looking at him wistfully. “May I have a glass of water?”
     Cannon went to the kitchen and got a small bottle of Fuji Water. He gave it to the girl and then asked if her mother wanted to come in. She told him her mother was a nurse and working nights.
     “She allows you to go out collecting money by yourself? Don’t you know that is dangerous?” Cannon scolded her. “Where do you live?”
     “The next building in 201. I just visit these apartments and I quit at eight. I need the money for my piano lessons.”
     Cannon shook his head. “I admire your initiative, but there are strange people out there. Surely your mother knows better. Do you have a cell phone?”
     “I don’t need a cell phone. I can take care of myself. Believe me.” She said, looking at him. “You have no idea.”
     Since coming into the apartment and settling at the dinner table, the girl had gained confidence. “You remind me of Little Red Riding Hood; I’ll call you Red, okay?”
     “Of course,” she replied, “I like you.”
     Cannon smiled. “You need to leave as I have to finish dinner and do my homework. You can take your water with you.”
     The little girl hung her head, but got up. “I feel good knowing you are here, just a building away. I do need someone.”
     He told her to go home. “No more knocking on doors tonight. When you get to your apartment, go out on the balcony so I can see you are home safely.”
     She agreed and departed, taking a cookie from her basket and handing it to Cannon. “Something for you, so you remember me.”
     Cannon went into the kitchen and got a glass of wine, then went out on the balcony and looked across to the next building where he saw that apartment 201 was dark. Suddenly there was movement and the little girl with her scarlet cape came out on the balcony. “Do your school work and go to bed.” Cannon called softly to her. She nodded and held up her Fuji bottle, and then vanished inside.
     That night Cannon did not sleep well. The girl was on his mind and he worried. Finally, he made a decision and fell into a troubled slumber.
     The next morning Cannon left early and went north of Spokane where cell phone coverage was spotty. His job was scouting areas in the west for cell phone towers. With all the data now being transmitted to cell phones, there was a soaring demand for more capacity.
     Cannon returned at four and went to the building next to his. He paused at the second floor landing. There were two apartments, 201 and 202. He intended to knock on 201; the mother should be home. He wanted to talk to her mother about what Red was doing, maybe offer to shepherd Red as she door knocked.
     But he got cold feet. What would the mother think? What would she say? Better to leave it alone. He turned away as he heard footsteps plodding up the stairs, accompanied by heavy breathing. He looked and saw a portly, gray-haired woman lumbering up the steps carrying four plastic shopping bags.
     Cannon hurried to help her and took the two heaviest bags, then followed her up to the third floor. She produced a key and opened the door of 301.
     “Thanks. You here to see me? What about?” The woman demanded.
     “I’m looking for the woman who lives below you, the nurse in 201; she has a young daughter. Do you know if she is home?” Cannon queried.
     “Below me?” The woman asked, catching her breath. “That apartment is empty, been empty for almost three years, since the tragedy. Occasionally someone comes, rents it a few days, and then they run away. Me? I don’t know nothing.”
     Cannon stood puzzled, staring at the woman. “Do you know a little girl, wears a red cape? She’s been knocking on doors, asking for money for her piano lessons.”
     “That girl? You’re crazy!” The old woman said, slamming her apartment door.
      Later Cannon was puttering in the kitchen, getting ready to sear Italian sausage to add to his sauce for a spaghetti dinner. He stopped and looked around. There it was… a light, almost timid, tapping at his door. He knew the knock, Little Red Riding Hood.   Cannon went to the door and Red was there, with her straw basket wrapped in her red cape. “Hello again, I just wanted you to know I am quitting for the evening and going home now. I know you worry about me.” With that she walked in, brushing past Cannon, taking a seat at the dining room table.
     Cannon laughed and went to the kitchen and got a small Fuji Water bottle, setting it in front of the young girl. This time he took a seat across from Red. “I was in your building today.” He said. “I met the woman who lives above you, 301. She said she did not know your mother, or you. In fact, she claimed the apartment below her has been empty for three years.”
     The young girl frowned. “That must be Mrs. Rumpke. Used to look after me, but now she hates me.”
     Cannon smiled. “It can’t be that bad. Why would she hate you?”
     “Because I killed her dog, an old, mean hound. He lunged at me, so I cut his throat.”
     She reached in her pocket, pulled out a two inch Swiss Army knife, opened the blade, held it up and made a cross-cutting motion. “Just like that.” Red said.
     Cannon was startled, not sure what to believe.
     “I told you I need someone to look after me. Can you?”
     Before Cannon could respond, the girl looked away. “Mrs. Rumpke is an old hag and I wish she were dead.”“I see I have unfinished business tonight.”
     Shaking his head, Cannon told her to go home. And not to worry about Mrs. Rumpke. Red nodded and reluctantly got up, leaving behind a cookie.
     “I know you worry about me. But I can take care.” She said, her gray-flecked eyes solemn as she left. Cannon waited on his balcony until Red appeared and waved.
     The next morning at daybreak Cannon was awakened by a shrill screaming, then loud voices. He got up and went into the living room. The commotion was coming from the building diagonally across from his.
Cannon went out on his balcony and was horrified to see someone dangling from the third floor in the next building. A small group of morning walkers were gawking at the body which swayed in the morning breeze. Cannon stared, and then looked away. It was Mrs. Rumpke.
     That night Cannon sipped a Willamette Pinot Noir and gazed at the fading twilight over the snow-capped Cascade Mountains. He would relocate tomorrow to Boise, Idaho; spend March and early April in Idaho, then on to Wyoming, and then into the Dakotas. With all the new apps on the market, the demand for cell phone capacity was endless.
     Suddenly Cannon froze, his wine glass in mid-air. He held his breath, but all was quiet. There it was again. He cocked his head and felt a chill, the hairs on his neck standing up.
     There was a light tapping at his apartment door.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Cartel Deschutes Ambush, Great Basin High Desert, Bend, Oregon

     Melinda watched as the Cartel Convoy with their signature black vehicles navigated the serpentine curves on Highway 101 along Oregon’s rugged South Coast. She was lying on top of a sleeping bag on a table in the woman’s rest room, sighting through a narrow rectangular opening in the wall that the crew had cut for her.
     Her heavy-caliber sniper weapon was mounted on a tripod and she took aim at the lead SUV. She fired twice and the vehicle’s engine spouted smoke and jerked to a stop, blocking the road. Melinda then turned her attention on the last vehicle and fired three shots, again disabling the SUV as smoke and flames leaped from the engine.
     Quickly, she looked to the middle of the convoy where a large, black Ram pickup was stopped. In the pickup’s bed, two men were frantically swiveling a large, mounted gun in her direction. She aimed at the man in the seat of the gun who was peering through his finder. She shot him. And then Melinda fired a volley of shots into the engine which caught fire, spread to the back, the pickup exploding in a flash of flame and a pall of black smoke.
     It all happened in a matter of seconds and there was pandemonium on the road as the Cartel members jumped from their vehicles and began to direct small arms fire in her direction, the rounds plunking off the concrete walls of the rest room.
     She grabbed her heavy weapon, folded the tripod, and left her perch, keeping low and working her way down to a parking area that was out of sight of the coastal highway. Melinda made it to the Subaru as something hit the rest room with a loud explosion, most likely a rocket propelled grenade, a favorite of the Cartel’s.
     Melinda threw the weapon in the rear of her Outback and jumped in the driver’s seat, starting the car and roaring out of the viewing area and heading back toward Coos Bay, then on to Eugene. Some of the Cartel in the front of the convoy saw her and fired wildly in her direction. But she rounded a bend and was quickly out of their line of fire.
     She was back at the Best Western in Eugene by late afternoon, where she backed into a space in front of Room 101. The door opened and two men ran out, raised her rear hatch and quickly moved the rifle into the room, then carefully placed a package in the back. There was a tapping on her car door window and Melinda lowered the glass. Jared was standing there and asked her how it went. She told him what had happened; she had blocked the road, blown up the heavy weapon in the pickup, and then put a few shells in most of the other SUVs.
     Jared nodded his approval then said. “The guys put the package in the back. The instructions are there, just be careful when you set the detonators. They can be tricky.”
     Melinda nodded. “I will not leave my cafe to the Cartel.”
     Jared smiled and looked at his watch. “Too late for you to head back. How about dinner? I do have a room here.” And he cocked his head, nodding upstairs.
     “I have to get back. Maria is at the cafe by herself. She has no idea what I am doing, but she knows I am up to something. She’d have a heart attack if I did not return tonight. I can do the drive in four hours.”
     Jared smiled. “Always about Maria.”
     Melinda shifted uncomfortably and told Jared she would take a rain check on the dinner; she put the Subaru in gear and headed east on Route 20. Fortunately, there was no snow and the way was clear, not requiring her to use chains. Once over the Cascades it was an easy drive to “Melinda’s Café”, which was on the Deschutes River. The colorful restaurant was located a few miles west of the small town of Bend, Oregon.
      As Melinda pulled into the dimly lit parking lot, Maria, her hair pulled back from her slender face, ran to the car and asked where she had been. Melinda got out and hugged her, telling Maria they would talk in the morning. But now she needed to get to bed and Melinda took Maria’s hand.
     “No,” Maria said pulling away. “I need to stay in my room tonight.”
     The next morning they had coffee and Melinda avoided talk of yesterday, telling Maria they had to flee as the Cartel was after her. Melinda explained she had made arrangements for them in Idaho, which unlike Oregon, had not declared itself and “open state”.
     Melinda told Maria she would not let the cafe fall into Cartel hands. Instead she would wire the structure to explode after they left, and she nodded to the large package that she had hidden in the pantry. Maria’s eyes went wide. “Blow up the cafe?” She gasped.
     “And I want you to leave first. Take the Subaru and wait for in the town of Brothers. Just go east on Route 20, about twenty miles. I will set the charges and follow on the dirt bike. This morning we’ll load the Subaru, just essentials. I want you to be away by noon. I will follow about an hour later. There is a small dinner in Brothers. Wait for me there. Then we can drive to Idaho together.”
     Maria sat stunned with her mind racing. The beloved Cafe blown up…what could be done to save it? “You can’t.” Maria protested, but Melinda was already sorting out the explosives and detonators in Jared’s package.
      At noon, Maria was ready to go. They hugged and Melinda noticed the tears in Maria’s eyes. “I’ll be there in a couple of hours.” Melinda said.
     Maria sighed and got into the Subaru, heading slowly out of the parking lot toward Route 20, but instead of turning right and heading east, Maria took a sharp left and accelerated rapidly heading west toward Eugene.
     Melinda yelled to Maria and ran after the Subaru waving her hands, thinking Maria must be confused. Suddenly there was a flash and a booming off to her left from the banks of the Deschutes River. The Subaru bucked a few feet off the road and then exploded in a ball of fire as Melinda had loaded extra gas cans in the back, just in case
      The burning Subaru rolled down the two-lane black top, Maria’s funeral pyre. To the left a few hundred yards away, Melinda saw movement in the junipers and without hesitation she ran to the rear of the café, took her back pack and slung her strap case over her shoulder, jumped on the dirt bike and flew east on Route 20.


     Today Melinda’s Cafe stands as a museum, full of Cartel mementos, pictures, and a history of the Oregon Campaign. The Cartel designated Melinda’s Cafe an “historic place”, a memorial to Maria, who was accidentally killed by friendly fire. Maria was a true hero of the Movement.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Prehistoic Gardens DARPA Trial, Highway 101, Port Orford, Oregon

     Margie never picked up hitchhikers, but she could not resist the handsome young man looking lost alongside Route 101, just after she passed the Oregon Rain Forest’s Prehistoric Gardens. Besides, Margie had a plan.
     The young man readily accepted her ride and hopped in the passenger seat. He was tallish, lean with broad shoulders, light brown hair and a beautifully bronze skin. His eyes were a wolfish gray that sent a chill down Margie’s spine.
      She smiled nervously at him, then extended her hand. “I’m Margie Souter.” She offered.
      The young man sat silently and then shook her hand, but said nothing.
      “What’s your name?” Margie asked.
      “R-77.” He said, giving her a slight smile.
      “What does the R stand for?” She asked.
      “Research,” he replied. “
      Margie was taken aback. Was he putting her on? For an instant she considered stopping and letting him out. But something about him, his presence, and his strange scent with its haunting timber-like smell attracted her. She did not want to let him go, not yet anyway.
     “I’ll call you Rick, a nice manly name. You okay with that?” Margie asked.
     “Yes, Rick. I like it.” He replied with his engaging smile.
     They drove on in silence and Margie thought about her losses at the Chinook Casino, where she had once again hit a bad streak. Now she was down at the heel and hungry.
     “Can we stop and eat?” Rick asked, as if reading Margie’s mind.
     Margie explained she did not have any cash. Rick shrugged and directed her to stop at a convenience store. She pulled in and Rick got out, stopping to talk to the young girl at the cash register. The girl smiled, sniffed the air, then went rigid for a few seconds. The cashier recovered and opened the register, took out a wad of bills and handed them to Rick.
      Rick went through the store collecting items and returned to the girl and paid her with some of the money she had handed him. Margie watched this transaction and rather than be horrified, she was thrilled. Rick had mesmerized the cashier; he had the charm. Margie’s brain was abuzz with possibilities.
      As Margie waited for Rick, it struck her that once again the Route 101 Prehistoric Gardens had been closed; it had been shuttered almost a year now. She had heard rumors that an agency of the Government had been using the rain forest venue for experiments. Testing what?
     Rick emerged with his shopping bag and they left the convenience store. Margie drove to her double wide trailer, which was set on a flat area of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Her accommodations were economical, but in a million-dollar setting. She parked and they got out and looked to the ocean, dark waters, white capped waves, jutting rocks along the beach, the rugged Oregon Coast.
     At that moment, Denny C. stepped out of the shadows. “Who is this creep?” He asked, slurring his words, a beer too many; he reached to his belt for the snub nose he always carried. Rick turned as Jimmy advanced in a threatening manner. But Rick stood his ground and suddenly Denny slowed and went rigid, then shook off the feeling and smiled. “You guys okay? Got dinner there, can I help out?” Denny asked.
     Margie was stunned by Denny’s changed demeanor; this was not going to Magrie’s plan. She did not put it past Denny, her ex boyfriend and insanely jealous, to pull his gun on Rick. Instead, Denny was offering to help with dinner.
     The trio went into the trailer, cooked hot dogs and beans and drank beer. Eventually, Denny excused himself, shook Rick’s hand, and kissed Margie, and then departed down the hill. Margie was adding it up. Rick had an extraordinary effect on people, everyone seemed to like him. Rick’s personality disarmed them, set them at ease. What exactly had Margie discovered?
      That night they were in bed together, side by side. There was a full moon and Margie schemed. Her initial plan had been to bring Rick home. Denny C would be there with his snub nose, shoot Rick. Margie would console Denny, then the police would arrive. And Denny would be out of Margie’s life forever. But Rick’s irresistible charm had changed that. Time for plan B; Margie needed to draw Rick into her orbit. He would be golden with the timber widows at the casino, first the slots, then cards, maybe some of her pseudo art. The sky was the limit. But Rick had not made an advance, so Margie would have to encourage him, entangle Rick in her web.
     Margie turned on her side and sat up, bending over to kiss Rick; his eyes flew open and for a second Margie peered into Rick’s soul, seeing wheels and gears meshing, looking into clockworks. Margie gasped.
      Rick put his left hand on Margie’s throat, moving on top of her, and then slowly twisting her head with his right hand. Margie squirmed, but Rick held fast. Held her to the last.


     Margie’s front trailer yard was full of vehicles: the Sheriff, the Oregon State Patrol, an EMS truck, and off to itself, a sinister, black DARPA SUV where two men in suits huddled.
     The tall, thin man lit a cigarette and looked at his partner. “So, Doc, what do you think? Your boy?”
     “Someone with strength, not your everyday Oregon transient. Yes, our boy.” The Doctor responded dryly.
     The tall man nodded. “But why did she pick him up? And why bring him home to her trailer?”
     The Doctor smiled. “The charm gene, the modification."
     The tall man asked. "What 's the big picture with this charm guy?"
     "Let's say we have a despot who wants to build the bomb. We put our man the U.S. Embassy, he charms his way up the ladder, all the way to the top. Tells the despot that African Orphans are a better use of resources. 'Splendid idea,' the despot agrees. One less bomb in the world."
     The tall man puffed on his cigarette and smiled. "Sounds good, but it seems our guy has a fatal charm."
     The Doctor grimaced and looked out to sea. " And where is he? Where has R-77 gone and what will he do next?"