The razor wire was meant to cut into the skin of any person trying to escape over the fence. It was doing its job on Darryl's arms, body and legs as he tried to go over the fence to get out from the U.S. military's base 85 miles north of Las Vegas, the infamous Area 51.
Darryl didn't care so much that his body was being shredded by the sharp coils of metal atop the fence; he just wanted to escape from the insanity of what he had witnessed in the restricted area that the government denied existed. He was now being followed by forces, ones who wanted him to stay in the compound, and to be a guinea pig for their experiments. Not something he wanted to be subjected to.
He fell to the ground on the free side of the fence; but was suddenly surrounded by military personnel, holding their high-powered rifles and handguns on him. He laid there frustrated by the men who had no thoughts of what he went through in the secret base, which very few people on earth had any concept of what was actually going on there. He just laid back and let them take him. Screw it, he thought, he now didn't care.
Richards Investigations was gaining a little notoriety from its involvement in the Vigilante murders case. The police commissioner had given me his thanks publicly for my aid in finding the killer, so now I was being sought out to solve all kinds of cases. I didn't mind it, but at sixty-two years, I didn't want to become overworked now. I actually enjoyed the slow pace days back before the press made a big deal out of it. I had enough money in the bank from my book sales and I really didn't need to work hard if I didn't want to. Being a private eye was fun for me, but now it was becoming work.
My beautiful and sometimes odd wife Penny slapped my butt, telling me to get my ass out of bed. I pulled the pillow over my head and tried to ignore her, but she's not one you can ignore. She grabbed on the sheets and gave a good pull, exposing me to the harsh reality of Sunday morning. She left our bedroom and went off into the house to plot her day, followed by Willy, our toy Yorkie.
I pulled myself up and forced myself to the shower where I put on the cold water by mistake and nearly froze my still sleeping body, a definite eye-opener. I toweled off and throwing on a robe, went to the kitchen. Penny was eating her usual morning bowl of oatmeal as I put my two pieces of bread in the toaster.
"What wondrous things are we going to do today?" she asked between spoonfuls of mush.
"I haven't given it a thought," I said as I was trying to coax the toaster to accept the bread, it just kept popping up before it toasted the slices. "Between the two of us, we have enough money to buy a new toaster. You love shopping let's go buy one," I said before realizing what came out of my mouth.
Her eyes lit up on that thought, she finished the last bite of her oatmeal and said, "I'll get ready, the mall is calling." She went off as I regretted initiating a shopping trip. I didn't mind shopping now that I had money to buy silly things, but shopping with Penny was work for me.
The house phone rang and I hoped it would spare me from a trip to the mall. "Hello?" I said.
It was Lacey, my office manager-slash-receptionist. She had recently married Mac, the supervisor for my friend and partner Buck's security guard business. The two of them took in and adopted Jessie, the nine-year-old whose abusive father was murdered by the vigilante and then Penny and I had her for a couple weeks before she went with Lacey and Mac.
"I hope you are calling to say there's a big case needing my attention," I said hopefully.
"Why, does Penny have something for you to do?"
"Shopping," I said.
"Oh, well I could make something up to get you out of it."
"No, that all right. What's up?"
"Mac and I are having a backyard barbeque next weekend and wanted to invite you and Penny."
"I'm sure we can make it. How's married life?"
"We're doing well and Jessie is a joy to have with us. Mac is starting to spoil her; I have to be the bad guy when they start plotting."
"Enjoy every minute of it. My son grew up so fast it was as if it never happened. I'll tell Penny about your BBQ and I'll see you at the office tomorrow morning."
"I'll be there after I get Jessie off to school," She said as we finished our call.
Penny came back in and asked who was on the phone, I thought about telling her it was a case needing my immediate attention, but she always knew when I was fibbing. She had this telepathy that I couldn't avoid, maybe she's an alien from outer space.
"It was Lacey; we're invited to a BBQ next weekend at their home."
"Good, we can see Jessie again. So shall we go attack the mall?"
I was grinning but feeling dread. "Sure, off to buy a new toaster."
We went to the garage to get my car and headed to the huge mall a couple miles from our home on the far western edge of Las Vegas. The view from our house of the Vegas valley and the tall buildings of the Vegas strip, made our home worth living in. We attacked the mall, or I should say Penny attacked the mall; I just kept up with her. We found a big toaster in Macy's that I was sure could make the bread, toast and butter it all at one time, so we bought it. I was fulfilled, but Penny was still raring to go.
Half of our shopping time was usually spent with Penny being recognized for her morning TV talk show and having to stop and talk to her fans. No one recognized me; I was just Penny's husband. After about three hours of shopping and lunch in the food court, we headed back home.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing; Penny swam in the pool most of the day while I was in my home office typing on the keyboard trying to finish my third book about the Dominatrix murders back in Michigan. Willy was lounging by the pool, I guess he had enough of swimming by himself, and I think he missed Jessie.
Buck called me to say he picked up another car dealership for his guards. He mentioned about a body found up by Area 51, everyone was saying he was murdered by aliens.
"Buck, there would be no body if aliens killed the guy, they would disintegrate him with their death rays, leaving only a dust pile," I said.
"Well, the people up there say they saw strange lights and heard loud noises coming from where the body was dumped. That's how they found him; they followed the lights. I tell you it was little green men."
"Why are they always little green men, why not chartreuse, an off green color that would give them a little fashion sense. And why little, are they munchkins from over the rainbow?"
"Now you're being silly. They're not munchkins; they're from outer space, not Oz."
"Maybe so, but I'm not going to worry about it. Are you going to be in the office tomorrow?"
"I'll be there early to get the paperwork ready for the new job. I'll probably be there when you get in."
"Okay, see you in the morning, and don't get abducted by little green men."
"Now you're making fun of it. I do believe in them."
"I do too; I just don't think they would murder someone and dump the body."
"Okay you have a point. See you tomorrow," He said and hung up.
I looked out my window and saw Penny was sunbathing by the pool now on her stomach, her bikini top was off and she was looking at me looking at her. I waved and she flashed me her naked breasts and then dropped back down, laughing. For a fifty-nine year-old woman she still had a great body and was still beautiful. Her youthful look helped for her talk show, which was doing well in the ratings since she started here. I did miss the days back in Michigan when she would bring odd things home from her talk show there, and drive me crazy with them. My best memory was when she was made up to look like Marilyn Monroe by the drag queens she had on her show, I got to take Marilyn to bed with me. It was nice.
I went back to my story just as my cell phone rang, the caller ID said it was Deacon.
"Hey big guy, what's up?" I said.
"You read a lot of books don't you?" he said.
"Yes, I have read a good number, why?"
"You ever read science fiction stories?"
"Sure, Ray Bradbury was my favorite author along with H. G. Wells. Again, why?"
"Did you read the Sunday Review-Journal this morning?" He asked as I remembered that I forgot to pick-up the paper.
"No, is there some big crime in it that needs my attention."
"Well, there was a murder out by Area 51 that may need looking into. I got a call from some woman who was married to the victim, she called me because the newspapers said that I knew you, she was looking for you to find her husband's killer."
"She could have called my office," I said.
"She did, but got your answering machine. You aren't listed in the book for your personal numbers and she read in the papers that we worked together on the vigilante case. She called Metro and they got hold of me, I told her to go to your office in the morning and I gave her the directions."
"Buck said it was little green men who killed the guy."
"Little green men wouldn't murder someone and just dump the body," Deacon said smiling through the phone.
"That's just what I said! So this woman is wife to the murdered victim. Why doesn't she let the police handle it?"
"The guy was murdered on federal property, the locals can't touch it and don't want to. The Feds are not moving on it fast enough or so the wife says. She wants her own investigation into it, ergo you."
"Ergo? Are you learning new words now?"
"Lynn bought me one of those word-a-day books, to improve my vocabulary. I guess I'm not refined enough."
"I like you just the way you are, don't go changing a hair on your head."
He laughed and said, "I'll call you later tomorrow to see how it went. Paranormal cases make good books, maybe there's one in this for you."
"True, but its vampires and werewolves that are what's selling now. Maybe he was killed by a vampire."
"Whatever, call me," he said and finished the call.
I looked out to Penny again and she was not in her spot. I turned my head to see her coming in my door, still missing her bikini top.
"You look delicious, what do you have on your mind?"
"Come with me to the bedroom and I'll show you," she said with her evil little smile,
She got no arguments from me.
We came out of the bedroom about an hour later and sat on our favorite place, the couch. I remoted the TV and found a comedy that we watched. During a commercial, I got up to go to the kitchen and nuke a couple of pocket sandwiches and we ate them washing them down with beer.
I told her about Deacon's call. "I hope I get to chase aliens now."
"The only aliens you can chase around here are from south of the border. They aren't green either. I had an alien chaser and a person who claims they were abducted by aliens on my show back in Michigan. I'll fill you in on what I learned later."
"It may help, but I don't think this has anything to do with little green men. So I'm not going to be looking for outer space aliens."
"You are an outer space alien," she said and kissed me on the nose.
I was into my office early the next morning; Lacey was at her desk typing something. She smiled and said good morning. I went to the counter, "I'm expecting a woman coming in this morning to hire me to find her husband's killer. Let me know as soon as she comes in."
"Is this about the aliens?" she said.
I stood just amazed how everyone is one-step ahead of me, "Yes it is; how did you know?
"Buck came in babbling about aliens and some guy who was murdered out in Area 51. I just put that together with your case."
"I may have to start taking you out on cases with me," I said with a smile.
"I'd love that, oh and Trapper wanted to see you as soon as you came in."
"Thanks," I said and went back to his office. He was sitting back in his chair staring at the ceiling. "Don't strain yourself thinking too hard."
He almost fell back in his chair when I said that. He straightened up and asked me to sit. I did.
"I got a call from my lady friend Sam, she has a problem with her brother, he's missing. She asked me if I could find him, so I'll be out for a few days hunting him down. That's not going to mess up any plans you may have."
"Nope, I have nothing but a possible case coming in this morning. A guy was murdered out by Area 51 and his wife is looking for me to find his killer. Now I'm going to try and avoid all the little green men jokes."
"Well, it's a big deal out here; Area 51 attracts tons of strange types who all want to see the Grand Poobah of Pluto. And the towns around Groom Lake, where Area 51 is, all cater to those nut jobs."
"I don' think this guy has anything to do with aliens, I'm sure that we'll find out it was a terrestrial creature who did the deed. What do you know about Area 51?"
"Officially, the name Area 51 was dropped by the government in the 70's, but movies and television kept the name alive. The place was originally a base for testing spy planes and other top-secret aircraft such as Lockheed U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 stealth fighter, Northrop's B-2 stealth bomber, the mysterious Aurora Project, and possibly even alien spacecraft. Or so I hear, but I'm not into aliens. The base is not actually fenced, but the entire boundary of the base is patrolled by a private security service, backed by the Lincoln County Sheriffs, equipped with high-tech surveillance gear and a network of sensors that can detect anyone moving on the property. Try to get on the property and get yourself detained by very angry men."
"You sound like a tour guide," I said smiling.
"Back when I was in high school in Vegas, I had a part-time job giving informational speeches for the helicopter tours. I kept the tourists in line happy before they got on the whirly-birds."
"And you remember this all these years later?"
"Hey, when you repeat the same lines over and over hundreds of times a day, you don't forget." He laughed as I heard the bell on the front door tinkle.
"That may be my client now," I said and I went towards the front. I came to the lobby and saw a woman, rather short, plain, dishwater blonde hair, about thirtyish standing at the counter. Lacey smiled to me as I came out.
"Jim, this is Mrs. Huston, she's here to see you."
"Thank you, Lacey. Mrs. Huston, please come to my office." I showed her the way and we went in, I asked her to sit. "Are you the person who called my friend Detective DeAngelo to locate me?" I asked.
"Yes, I had read in the newspapers about the vigilante murders and how you helped find him. I called here but got your answering machine, I had to talk to you as soon as possible before the government buries my husband's case without finding his killer. I know they will sweep it under the rug."
"Just what happened that you know of?"
"I was told my husband, Mark, was found dead on the property the government maintains at Groom Lake installation known as Area 51. The local police can't investigate because it's federal property. The sheriff was apologetic and said his hands were tied because the Air Force took charge of the murder. I'm getting no help from the government people, they say they are investigating and would keep me informed but they won't."
"Why do you say that?"
"They have been very abrupt with me, not friendly at all, and not very open to releasing my husband so I can get an autopsy. They say they are taking care of it. Since it happened the other day, I have heard nothing but excuses. I need someone outside of the system, so I came to you."
"Well, I appreciate the vote of confidence; I'll try and see what I can do to help you." I handed her the pad and pencil and continued, "Write down any names of people you have talked to about this so I can contact them to get my investigation started."
She took a couple minutes writing on the pad and handed it back to me. It had three names, all Air Force people.
"OK, I'll see what I can do for you. Do you live near Groom Lake?"
"Yes, we have a home in Rachel, Nevada, northeast of Groom Lake. Mark would drive everyday almost fifty miles to go to work there. He worked for a private contractor working on the new hangers on the base. He came home last week and said he found out a way to make lots of money, but couldn't say what it was. I was worried he'd try another of his harebrained ideas to make a quick buck. I think it's what got him killed. He probably stuck his nose in where he shouldn't have."
I handed the pad and pencil back and asked her to write down the name of the company he worked for, she did.
"I don't have much money, with Mark working on the base, he was the income maker. I can't work due to a spinal problem I have. I'll try and make payments if that's acceptable."
"No, it's not acceptable. I'm not going to charge you for this; it's the least I can do to find your husband's killer. Besides, I love harassing the government. Is that acceptable to you?"
"Thank you, Mr. Richards. I'm really lost without my Mark. We've been married for twelve good years; it's going to be hard on me and our son."
"How old is your son?"
"He's just eleven, I haven't told him about his father yet, I don't know how to get myself up to doing it."
She started to tear up and I handed her a tissue from my emergency box by the desk. I was trying not to tear up myself thinking about the boy losing his father. I was now determined that I would find the murderer.
"You drove a long ways to get here; I'll do what I can to help you. Where is your son now?"
"He's with my mother, in Rachel. I had to take a bus here, the base has Mark's car and they aren't going to release it yet."
"This is ridiculous, no way for the government to treat its citizens. Wait here," I said and went out of my office to Buck's office.
He was sitting at his desk working on some papers. "Hey guy, you have an extra guard doing nothing?"
"Sure, what do you need watched?"
"Nothing, I need a taxi service. I have a woman in my office who needs a ride back to her home up by Area 51," I said to make him perk up, he did.
"Damn, is this the wife of the guy killed by aliens?"
"Yes, she's the wife and no, he wasn't killed by aliens. Let's get over that. Now can I get someone to take her home? She came all the way down here by bus and I can't see making her go back that way."
"That's about ninety miles one way, three hour trip up and back, I'll be happy to take her myself. I can get to see the places where they cater to alien chasers. I love it."
"Whatever, I appreciate it. Come meet her." I went back to my office, Buck came shortly after and I introduced them.
"Pleasure to meet you ma'am." Buck spoke softly. She smiled up to the big man and shook his hand. Buck turned to me and asked, "Are you taking the case?"
"Yes I am."
"Well, I'd like to be part of it, two heads are always better than one." He gave us his walrus smile.
"That works for me." I turned to Mrs. Huston and said, "Buck is going to drive you home, you shouldn't have to take a bus. Buck may drive you crazy about the aliens in Area 51, just put up with him," I said with a smile.
She laughed and said, "I have some tales to tell him on the way. He may go crazy listening to me."
Buck said, "That's great, shall we go?"
"I have everything I need, for now, we may come to visit you in Rachel, so Buck will get the address and after I make some calls, I'll let you know what to expect."
"Thank you, Mr. Richards. I'll be waiting to hear from you."
Buck escorted the woman to one of the new cars we had for the guard service and they went off. I went to Trapper's office and sat.
"How do I get information about Area 51, and its secrets?" I asked.
"Try Google, you always do."
"I want more detail than that, I need to find out the dirty secrets."
"Why don't you call our buddy Earl Daws back in Michigan, he's got the inside on the dirty secrets when it comes to the government."
"Yeah, that's good; I can ask if he is treating our branch office out there with care. I wonder if Paula is still with him."
"Call and find out."
"I will," I said and went back to my office and picked up the phone. I called Earl.
"It took you long enough to call, I thought you forgot about us back here," Earl said when I identified myself.
"I didn't forget you, much. How's my office doing out there?"
"It's still standing. I redecorated the interior though, it early dark crime noir, lots of blacks and posters from old crime movies. Bogey looks good as Sam Spade. I'll send you some photos."
"Thanks, is Paula still around?"
"My foxy redhead, she sure is. She's out right now getting us some coffee and donuts."
"I hope you aren't using petty cash."
"Nope, I have money. So, what's up?"
"You have been around the block a few times, what do you know about Area 51?"
"I know enough to stay away from it. The government takes their national security seriously. But I have been on the base in the past; I had to fly out with one of their spy planes on a mission to Columbia, but that's not for publication. They drove us onto the base in a mini-van with blocked out windows, drove us up to the plane and took us straight to the thing after warning us not to dawdle and no looking around. I thought Black Ops was tough; these Area 51 troops are dangerous. Does that scare you enough to stay away from the place?"
"Hell no, you know me, I like a challenge."
"Well, seriously, be careful. Those people don't fool around and they turn you over to Homeland Security who don't need a reason to lock you away. I can't bail you out there; I've called in just about all my markers to help you." I could hear him stifle a laugh; I knew he could blackmail and whatever else he needed to get people to help him.
"I have a murder case of a worker on the base and his wife says the government people aren't being very cooperative. His name is Mark Huston if you get a chance to waste a phone call for me."
"Oh, I may have a little time between chasing cheating spouses to check on it for you. I may have a marker or two left."
"Great, I appreciate it."
"How's my other girlfriend doing?"
"Penny? She got a new talk show out here called Vegas Alive and she's happy with it. Buck has started a security guard service for us and it's doing well. We now have almost a hundred employees; I'm glad Buck takes care of the paperwork."
"Can't keep Penny away from the camera can you? She looks good for it; I hope you don't give her worry lines now if you go chasing aliens."
"Don't start with the aliens, I got Buck all fired up on them. See what you can find out and keep in touch."
"Yeah, well don't take another two months to call; I need to know what's going on out there before I decide to move in with you. Do you have enough work to keep an old Black Ops agent busy?"
"Old is the operative word, yes the office is getting busy now with the cases we've had recently. I may need another body out here. I let you know."
"Great, I'll check on your dead guy and get back with you." He disconnected and I sat back thinking about my attack on the secret base that everyone knew about.
Buck came back three and a half hours later with a big smile on his face, wearing a ball cap that had "I was abducted in Area 51" printed on it. He handed me his digital camera and turned on the preview to show me all the sights he saw along the road to Area 51. Most of them were restaurants and tourist traps to sell alien stuff.
"I hope you didn't buy anything else, like genuine alien poop."
"Hey, do I look like a tourist? No, I got genuine pictures of alien saucers hovering over the base. They even have a certificate of authenticity by the man who took the pictures." He was grinning widely and I didn't want to spoil his fun.
"Fine, how did your trip with Mrs. Huston go?"
"We had a real nice ride. She told me stories that her husband told her about the base and the work he was doing there. It should help with our investigation."
Our investigation? Well, if Buck wanted to come along for the ride I was happy with it. He could investigate as well as I could. As he said, two heads are better than one. Besides, he had this thing for Area 51, so he'd be more apt to want to go in to look it over. He wasn't bothered by danger.
"So what's our attack on this?" Buck asked.
"Well, I called Earl back in Michigan and he's going to see what he can find about Mark Huston. We need to go talk to Mark's employer to see what his job entailed and what they may know. Then we investigate." I said with a smile.
"Works for me. On the way up to the quaint little town of Rachel, I'll fill you in on what Mrs. Huston told me about Mark's harebrain ideas to make money and that he had something in mind involving Area 51."
"Good, all we can do now is wait to see if Earl can get us something. It's late so let's call it a day."
"What's Trapper up to?"
"He left a couple hours ago to track down the missing brother of his lady friend, Sam."
"The bookie woman you found during the Black Widow murders?"
"Yep, Trapper has a thing for her. I think she's his first girlfriend he's had since he lived here years ago. The girlfriend who died in an auto accident, one of the reasons he doesn't say good-bye to people. He needed some healing for that and I think Sam fills that need."
"Yeah, I noticed he's been a lot nicer lately. Let's encourage that romance."
Penny was all excited about my investigating Area 51. "Can I go too?" she asked.
"I don't think so," I said as I packed a small suitcase with enough clothes to last a few days. I hoped it would only be a few days. "It may not be the safest place for even Buck and me, so I don't want to subject you to another kidnapping. How many has it been now, three?"
"I've lost count, I should write a book on how to handle being kidnapped. Well, if I can't go, then take lots of pictures."
"I will. Did I tell you Trapper is going on a case to find the missing brother of his new lady love?"
"No, why is he missing and where is he?"
"If I knew that, Trapper wouldn't be looking for him, now would he?"
"Oh, right. So, are you going to keep a record of your trip so I can enjoy it?"
"I'll give you all the gory details and maybe I'll see about bringing back an alien for you."
"As long as he is handsome and viral."
"Maybe I'll bring back a female alien."
"You do, then don't come back."
I kissed her on the lips with tongue, so she'd shut up. "I'll call you every day, if you don't hear from me, I've been abducted."
"I'm not paying the ransom."
"I love you too," I said as I closed the suitcase and went out of the bedroom, followed by Penny and Willy. I put my suitcase by the front door and went to the kitchen to get a couple cold beers, one for Penny and one for me. My adorable wife was already sitting on the couch with the TV on. She found a good crime show so we relaxed and watched it enjoying our beer and chips. We were so comfortable together, I was happy that I had found her back when we were chasing the classmate killers. All the years from when we graduated, I didn't know she harbored a crush for me from high school.
Around eight, my cell phone rang, caller ID said it was Earl. I went to the kitchen to take the call. "Isn't it past your bed time out there?" I asked.
"It's only eleven; I'm just getting warmed up. I have a little info on your Huston guy, everyone is very tight lipped about it. I called Harold Kettering again; he's still enjoying the memories from our cruise ship trip to Tahiti. He called a few people he knew, and is getting not much info, but he says that Huston was found just outside the base proper. He was still on the grid for Area 51 but more on the Nellis Air Force Range property. No one seems to know what the other is doing about it, so the body is being shuffled back and forth between the Nellis Air Force and the Area 51 command. Harold said they might release the body to the wife this week, after they do an internal investigation. I doubt they will have anything conclusive to offer, just a lot of double talk. I will say this, Huston wasn't murdered by aliens." I heard him stifle a laugh.
"That's my opinion, even if Buck says otherwise. Thanks for that much. Now what should I do to proceed with my investigation?"
"Keep your head low and cover your ass," he said with a loud laugh. "Otherwise, be nice to the Lincoln County Sheriffs, they may help you with it. Harold said you could throw his name around if it helps."
"Great, I'm heading up to Rachel, Nevada in the morning to see the wife again. I'll see if she knows anyone in the sheriff's department who can help."
"Works for me, be careful and talk later." He disconnected and I sat thinking. Unfortunately, there was nothing to think on, this case would have to proceed step by step, no plotting here for unknown facts.
I went to my computer, brought up the Las Vegas Review-Journal online newspaper, and dug around until I found the article on the death in Area 51. The story told very little, just names and places of the people involved. They stated that due to security, they couldn't get much more information about the murder. It was more of a fluff piece for the paper, using the Area 51 name. I shut it down, went back to the couch and told Penny what little I knew, then we finished up watching television and went to bed.
Early next morning, Penny was rushing around getting ready to go interview her guests and she was taking Willy with her to the studio. I called Lacey to tell her not to pick up the dog and asked if Buck had gotten there yet. She said he had, I told her to tell him I'd be there soon and hung up.
Penny came into the living room to gather her things and said, "I called Lacey earlier and asked if Jessie could come visit with me over the weekend while you're gone, we girls need to shop," she said with an evil grin.
"Fine, just don't spoil her, Aunty Penny. I'll call you with my progress." I kissed her and she went off. I gathered everything I thought I would need for the trip and the investigation, all my spy gadgets and personal things and went out to the car.
The ride to my office was not bad, little traffic today, which was unusual for a Friday. I got to the office and parked in the back waving to our guard at the gate of the secured parking lot. We put the guard on the gate when the owner of the building said he couldn't keep anyone on the job. Since our office is right there, we would protect the lot and the employees of the other businesses in the strip mall. Plus we got a small cut in the rent.
I went in and straight to Buck's office after checking in on Trapper, who wasn't in his office. I presumed he was out chasing errant brothers. Buck was talking to Mac, and they finished when I arrived at the door.
"Morning Mac," I said. He said morning back and then stood.
"Are you and Penny coming to our BBQ this weekend?" he asked.
"Well, Penny will be there, she's having Jessie over to our place for the weekend since I'm going to be away with Buck chasing a killer. Didn't Buck mention it?" I said as I looked to Buck.
"No he didn't," Mac said also looking to Buck.
"Well, it slipped my mind," Buck defended.
"We're going hunting aliens and it slipped your mind?" I said.
"Yes it slipped my mind, I had a lot of things to think about."
"You said you were going to be gone this weekend, and that's why you wanted me to watch the guards, you didn't say you were going ghost hunting." Mac said.
"Alien hunting, no ghosts, at least I hope there are no ghosts," Buck replied.
"Whatever, I hope you can make it another weekend," Mac said to me.
"I'm sure we will, thanks." Mac went out and I sat in the chair he vacated.
"So are you ready to go?"
"Yep, I got all my gear in the car already," he said.
"We're not taking one of the Vibes are we?"
"Oh hell, no. Trapper was nice enough to let us use his Jeep Cherokee; he took the Vibe. The jeep will be better for desert exploring and alien chasing."
"I'm surprised Trapper let you borrow the car, knowing the times he had chased you in his cop car ten miles through Macomb County and three mall parking lots."
"You're not going to let that drop, that was years ago."
"Hey, if I want a good wheel man you are the one. Shall we go?" I stood and went to the lobby and up to the counter. I stood watching Lacey working on the computer until she saw me and jumped.
"I'm going to put a bell around you; you keep sneaking up and scaring me."
"Well, you are too wrapped up in your own little world to be aware of what is going on around you."
"So is Penny going to pick up Jessie after school?" she said changing the subject.
"Yep, be aware that they are going shopping so make some space in Jessie's room." Buck came up behind me and said he was ready. "Okay Lacey hold down the fort, see you in a couple days, hopefully." She said her good-byes to Buck and me, and then we went out the back lot to Trapper's Jeep.
Buck was in his glory behind the wheel. We drove out highway 15 then over to 93 up to Crystal Springs where we caught the 357 right into Rachel. Along the way, we talked about what we could do once we got there. I said we needed to talk to his employers who had the contract for work on the base, to see what Huston was doing. We can go into visit the Lincoln County Sheriffs and see if they might have any info to help. Otherwise, we just wing it, and try not to get arrested when we invade Area 51. I'm sure they won't welcome us with open arms."
"Shall we stop and get some tin foil?" Buck asked.
"What on earth for?"
"So we can make hats to prevent the aliens from probing our brains," he grinned.
"Tin foil won't do you any good; you need brains for it to work." I smiled looking out at the scenery.
We drove through excruciatingly boring flat lands on the 357 to Rachel. The mountains in the background loomed large and remote. I think we could drive for days before we reached the mountains, but we weren't going there.
We came up on a rise in the road and then saw it, Rachel. Buck had gotten a bit of info from Louise Huston, the widow, as they drove to the town. He said the town at one time had a good number of people who worked in the Union Carbide mines. But the mines closed and the town slowly lost citizens, now the population hovered around 100 people. Most of the town was mobile homes on pads around the desert area; most pads are now empty. A few trailers still stood for those people who hung in.
Entering the town, we passed a Quik Pik gas station and mini-mart, but it was permanently closed now. Buck had stopped back in Ash Springs to top off the gas tank; there were no gas stations for miles around Rachel, the closest was almost sixty miles north. I'd sure hate to have to walk to a gas station out here, you had to be prepared.
Buck pulled into the drive of Louise's modest boxy trailer home on the edge of Rachel. It was worn by the sun and weather, and I'll bet it glowed in the dark. There had been a good number of atomic bomb tests nearby in years past and the area was probably irradiated. We parked and the door to the trailer opened and out walked Louise, followed by her son. She came up to Buck and me while we stretched our bodies from the long trip.
"Mr. Richards, thank you so much for coming. This isn't the most glamorous place in the world, nothing compared to Las Vegas," she said.
Her son was peeking around her and I smiled to him, "Hi, what's your name?"
He shyly came out from behind his mother and said, "Mitch."
"Nice name Mitch. How are you doing today?"
"I'm good, are you the detectives who are going to find my daddy's killer?"
I was taken aback by his comment; yesterday Louise had told me she hadn't told him yet.
She saw my concern and said, "I told him about it last night, we were up very late mourning. He was stronger than I thought."
I looked to the boy and said, "Yes, I'm going to do my best to find out what happened."
He didn't smile, but just ran off around the back of the trailer. "He's been hiding in his tree fort his father built for him most the morning. He took it well, but I think he's holding too much back."
"I understand. Can we go in? It's a bit hot out here in the sun."
"I'm sorry, where are my manners. Yes, come in."
We went into the trailer; it wasn't much cooler in there even with the air conditioner running. There was an older woman sitting in a recliner staring at a TV that wasn't on.
"We don't get television reception out here, tapes and DVD's are our entertainment."
I thought I would scream after living here without television. "Can we sit? I need to ask you a number of questions."
She motioned to the chairs and asked us to sit. "Would you like some lemonade?"
"Yes, that would be nice, if you have it already made."
"Oh we drink it by the gallon here, so it's always handy." She went to the kitchen, pulled out a pitcher from the fridge, and poured two glasses for Buck and me. I thanked her when she returned and sat on the couch.
"Mrs. Huston, may I call you Louise?"
"Sure, you can."
"Good you can call me Jim. Now what did your husband do on the base?"
"He was hired to install wiring in the new hangers. He worked with five other men and they went to the base every weekday. He drove himself to the base but just outside the base, they had to park and a shuttle bus would take them in and to the job site. All very hush-hush. Most of the men in town who work there were warned not to talk about it."
"Did your husband ever break that rule and tell you about his job?"
"Well, he did say that he saw a lot of top secret planes and jets there once in a while. A good number of jets have crashed out here over the years. One came down behind the Quik Pic years back. The base sent men and a huge flatbed truck to haul it away. Just missed a few buildings. One time they wouldn't let us near one of the crashes, they had armed guards and kept us back. All very secretive they are, it's almost silly. Like we'd tell anyone."
"Your husband's employer, is he in town?"
"Yes, it's not really a company, just Fred Parnell working out of his garage. He's one of the few men in town who work on the power poles and wires that provide power to the town. We depend on the power company for our needs, we are kind of a corporate town, run by the power company. Many of the old timers like to use their generators to power their homes, they don't want to be under the thumb of the corporation."
"Can you call him to ask if we can talk to him?"
"Well, you can just yell over the fence, he lives next door." She smiled for the first time since we got here.
"Great, is he home now?"
"I think I saw him out back, let's go find out." She stood; Buck and I followed her out and around the trailer to a gate in the short fence. We went to the trailer next to hers, about twenty yards off. I could see a man standing behind the trailer watching us. He came forward and said, "Louise, I don't want to be rude, but if these men are here to find out what happened to Mark, I can't talk about it. I'm sorry but I depend on the base for my livelihood."
"Sir, I'm Jim Richards and this man is my associate Buck Carson. We're investigators and we just want to ask a couple questions, and won't ask you anything that may be secret to the base. May we talk?"
"Ask, but I may not answer if it's the wrong questions."
"Thank you, I'm wondering how Mark was left on the base if your crew had to be together on and off?"
"No offense, Louise, but Mark was always a trouble maker. Not in the bad sense, he loved practical jokes and did some stupid things, but he somehow slipped off the back of the bus after being counted on by the base guards. We drove off thinking he was with us, and didn't even realize he was gone when we got to the cars. He rode in that morning with Harley Musken, so there was no extra car to let us know someone was missing. I didn't pay much attention and drove off, Harley later admitted to me that he knew Mark was going to stay on the base. I would have fired him for it but I needed the workers so we all just said we'd keep quiet about it. The base investigators came and talked to us, we just said we didn't know he slipped off. I'm telling you this at risk to our jobs so keep it to yourselves."
"We'll be discrete, thank you for that, do you know what he was up to?"
"None of my men had any real idea what he was doing. Ken Logan said he thought Mark had seen something and he was going to check on it so he could pass it on to the newspapers and maybe get some money for it. Mark was always trying for an extra buck. I think he went into the wrong area and got shot. The base is covering it up for some reason."
"Now, does the government do stupid things like that?" I said.
Fred broke a smile, "Yeah, they are evil when it comes down to it. Okay, I don't know what Mark was up to, but I do know Mark didn't deserve to die for some stupid secrets that don't amount to a hill of beans for people to worry about. That base runs tests on planes and jets and secret spy planes. Like it's so important to hide it all from the world. Maybe if the world knew what we had, it may scare the pants off some of the evil axis as Georgie Bush said. He at least wanted to bomb the hell out of the enemy."
"I'm not going to debate the worthiness of Bush's administration, I'm concerned about the little boy sitting in the tree house behind his late father's home. He is the loser here, and I want to find out for him why his father had to die. I may need your help, can you?"
Fred stood for a short while taking all what I said into his head. He looked to the back of Louise's trailer where he could see the tree house in the only tree on the property, where Mitch was sitting in the doorway, looking down at the ground.
"Mr.Richards, I don't know what I can do to help you. I'm up against the federal government and they are a lot bigger than you. But Mark was a good guy, I'll do what I can, even if it means losing my job out there. What the hell, may as well take a stand against the men who murder innocent people."
"Thank you, Fred. We're only trying to get to the bottom of this crime. I'll be in touch about our investigation. Maybe we won't have to involve you, I'll let you know."
He thanked me, turned back to his trailer, and went inside leaving us alone. I looked to Buck as he was just standing; staring at the trailer that Fred had gone into. He looked to me, "That man is troubled, he's holding something back, I can just feel it."
I knew Buck's instincts were usually on target, I had to wonder if Fred knew more than he was telling. We wouldn't know until it came out in the wash as they say. I was wondering who they were, I heard a lot about they say, but never really knew who they were. Were they experts in every field, they always knew according to everyone else. Oh, well. Now I was confused, so I stopped thinking about it.
I turned to Louise and asked, "This Harley Musken, do you know him?"
"Yes, he's a friend of Marks, was a friend, he hangs out at the bar inside the A'Le'Inn down the road. There's a small motel there also, if you are staying the night. I'd put you up but we really don't have the room."
"That's fine, I like my privacy. Do you think he'd be there now?"
"When isn't he there is what you should ask. I'm sure you can find him sitting at his favorite stool at the end of the bar. He's big, red beard and hair down to his shoulder blades. He looks like a biker."
Buck snorted and said, "One of my people."
We walked back to the trailer and I excused ourselves to go get a room and see if we can talk to Harley. We drove down the road that the sign said was the "Extraterrestrial Highway" and came to the A'Le'Inn. A great play on words. It was a large white building with various signs and pictures about aliens painted around the sides. Off the side was a tow truck with a flying saucer hanging from the crane. There were five cars parked out front, we parked next to them and went into the building. As we came through the door we could hear laughter and music was playing soft and low. To the left were tables for eating and to the right was the bar. There were about ten patrons in different areas of the room, Buck and I went to the bar to a woman who was tending.
"Greetings gents, what can I get you today?" she said rather pleasantly.
"How about a room if you have one?" I asked.
"Yep, we have one to let, over night or longer?"
"Not sure, but definitely over night, maybe longer."
"I'll get someone to set it up for you, would you like a drink to cool off from your trip?"
"That would be nice; I'll have a Pepsi if you carry it and a Sprite for my friend."
"Coming up." She went off to get the drinks; I looked down the bar and saw a man fitting the description of Harley. Buck saw him also and went down to him. I let Buck take the lead, since he had the biker look to him, I would probably get a negative reaction from Harley.
"Excuse me, are you Harley Musken?"
"Yeah, who's asking?" he said gruffly.
I came up behind Buck with our drinks and Buck gave the man his wide grin and said, "Louise Huston said we could find you here. Can we talk?"
Harley eyed Buck for a couple seconds, "Why did Louise send you to me?"
Buck sat on the stool next to the man, I sat next to Buck.
"My friend and I are here on a secret mission, can we trust you?"
Now he squinted his eyes at Buck, I thought he might take a swing at him but just said, "There's enough secrets around this damn place, what's one more. Is this about Mark?"
"If you can keep it to yourself, I'd appreciate it. We are private investigators from out of Las Vegas. Louise hired us to find out what really happened to Mark. We were told you may have known what Mark was up to the day he was killed."
Harley sat for about a full minute looking around, rubbing his face and beard before he spoke. "Let's go take a table and talk." He stood and went to a table on the other side of the room. We followed.
Buck spoke, "I'm Buck Carson, this is my associate Jim Richards, he's the brains, I'm the brawn. You ride bike?"
"How do you think I got my name?" he chuckled and then, "I got a Harley Roadmaster, my baby. What you got?"
"Harley 94 Ultra Classic, Shriner Edition," Buck said with pride.
"Nice. Now what can I do for you fellows?"
I spoke, "We're in need of finding out what happened the day Mark jumped the bus and then turned up dead. Do you know what that was about?"
He started looking sad, thinking, "I was called by Mark two nights before that fateful day and he asked if I could drive him home the next day. He was going to leave his car and had a plan to make some quick cash. He didn't tell me what, I asked. He said it was something he didn't want to get me involved in, could be dangerous. On the last morning when he would stay behind, I was to drive him to the base parking and then after work leave without him. I knew there was going to be trouble, you don't mess with those Area 51 people. If I had known he was going to get killed, I would have stopped him then and there. Damn."
"Do you know why he had to leave his car, why not just drive himself in that morning?"
"I don't know, he said something about something happening to his car overnight and he had to leave it there."
"Maybe someone was putting something in the car?"
"I had that thought, but he wouldn't say more, he didn't want me to get in trouble if it fell apart. Mark was like that, he'd fall on a grenade for his friends.
"Anything else you can think of to help?" I asked.
"Nope, not much more to tell. He didn't confide in me about it, so I didn't ask."
I took out my business card and handed it to him. "We're going to be staying here for a day or so, call if you remember or hear anything, please."
"If it will help find out what happened, I'll call right away." I thanked him and he got up and went back to the bar. Buck and I just sat thinking.
A youngish woman came up and said our room was ready. I thanked her and she led us out back where the rooms were. They were small but pleasant, Buck said he'd go get our suitcases and left. I pulled my cell phone and hoped there was reception for it, there was. I called Penny and she came on.
"Alien central. This call is being recorded so we can track you down and probe your brain."
"Funny. We are here and have seen no saucers yet, oh wait, we saw one, hanging from the back of a tow truck. Must have broken down in the desert."
"You're at the A'Le'Inn I presume."
"Yes we are, how did you know?" There's that damn telepathy again.
"I talked to one of the crew at the studio and mentioned you were going alien chasing and he said he goes up there a couple times a year with some tour group here in Vegas. They take you to as close as you can get without being shot to watch the base, hoping to see some saucers flying. He told me about the town and the A'Le'Inn."
"It's good that you are researching; maybe I can use your info for my case."
"I'll keep you posted. Now what's up?"
"I just wanted to hear your voice and make sure that my cell phone works out here. How's it going with Jessie?"
"We're having a good time, Willy is all worked up that Jessie is here. We raided the mall and are now just arranging our purchases. How's it out there?"
"This place is really deserted, they don't even get television."
"My God, how are you going to survive?"
"I'll rent some porn on DVD, and think of you."
"You better think of me while watching porn, buster. Any good clues yet?"
"Nope, we just started, talked to the wife and the victim's boss, and a friend, but nothing popping up. I'll let you know in my reports back to the home planet. Alien agent 3.2 over and out." I laughed and hung up.
Buck came in with the suitcases, followed by a man in a sheriff's uniform. "Look what I picked up out front," Buck said with a grin.
"Sheriff, what can we do for you?" I asked.
"Just a courtesy call, I heard that some big city P.I.'s were in town. Just wanted to be sure you're not going to stir up any trouble."
"Now where might have you heard that? I'm sure Louise Huston wouldn't have called you. We've only been in town about an hour and only talked to Harley and Fred. Maybe one of them is concerned about what we may find," I said.
The sheriff stood quietly, then I said, "Look sheriff, we're not here to step on any toes, Louise Huston hired us to find out what happened to Mark Huston. I'd appreciate it if we can all be friends on this."