Minot: Chapter 1
A Strange Welcome
"WHATEVER THIS IS, I hope it's really important."
Damien turned his head lazily to the side. He'd just started falling asleep when Dino Garris spoke up, waking him abruptly. He stretched his arms and brought his seat back up just as a little dong sounded from above and the captain started to announce their imminent landing. "Don't get your panties in a tangle," he said, ignoring Dino's reproachful gaze. "I really doubt my uncle would be calling us out here for no reason."
"Yeah--but North Dakota? What could possibly interest you in North Dakota? And no one's told me anything about this little sidetrip, anyway. Just what exactly are we here for?"
"We're not exactly 'here' yet until we land, Dino. And don't ask me. I don't know. Uncle left me just as much in the dark as you. But," he said, leaning back, "don't worry, because whatever it is, it must be important."
"Yeah? What about--"
"Please fasten your safety belts," a stewardess said over the speaker.
Dino snorted and did so; Damien had already fastened his before he fell--had started to fall asleep, in case his snooze had been uninterrupted. No such luck. But that didn't bother him at the moment, for now he was sure he wouldn't be able to get to sleep anyway. By now the plane was descending quickly toward the Minot airport, and he knew that his uncle was waiting for him down there, waiting to tell him something which would be, in Dino's words, really important.
His uncle had gone there first, to research the goings on reported in (what Damien had suspected was) some dinky backwater called Minot. Damien had received the call yesterday afternoon. I think you'd better come over here quick, his uncle had said. It seems Minot's got a little problem you're familiar with.
Familiar? He was damn familiar, all right.
For quite a while Father Damien had been writing to and getting letters from someone in North Dakota, a cult researcher of some kind, about that "little problem." Damien had even seen it referred to several times in some book, Raising Hell or something like that; it wasn't in the index but Minot and/or North Dakota was mentioned more than once. According to the letters his uncle had been getting, that "little problem" had been getting worse. How much worse, he was never told. Now he was going there, right into the lion's den, to find out for himself. Father Damien hadn't told him very much. I just believe you should come as soon as you can, he'd said over the phone. There's this man here I think you should meet--his name is Kincaid, and he's seen all of the things you've seen--maybe worse.
Worse? What could get worse than what had happened to his sister, Lilu, so long ago? But he didn't bother asking, and instead followed his uncle's advice and booked seats to North Dakota.
Of course Dino Garris had to come along. What was a trip without him? Just a trip. But with him, now what an adventure that would be. At least, Dino had said so. Before they'd flown two hours. By then he'd lost interest.
He came back to the present as the wheels of the plane touched the landing strip with a gentle bump and the aircraft started taxiing toward its post. When it finally pulled to a stop he unstrapped himself, stood up, and gathered his belongings--he only carried what he had under his seat and the few things he had in the overhead compartment. He didn't believe in traveling heavy. He and Dino stepped out into the aisle, stretching their sore legs as the captain's mellow voice came once again over the speaker, announcing their safe landing in Minot and bidding them a happy farewell and thank you for flying with Midwestern American Airlines. After a few minutes they were out in the open, the sun shining down coldly upon them as a harsh autumn wind whipped their clothes around their bodies; Dino, thin blooded, shivered and clutched his coat around him. Damien simply ignored the weather and strode purposefully toward the main building. Before he could reach it, however, two figures emerged, coming his way. He stopped, recognizing the first. It was his uncle. The second, dressed in plainclothes and with a long gray trench coat with a badge upon it, he didn't recognize, and guessed must be the person--Kincaid--his uncle wanted him to meet. As they neared and stopped in a little group, staring at each other, he wondered just what bad things this guy had seen.
"It's good to see you, Damien," Father Damien greeted, while the cop--Damien assumed he was a cop, with that badge--stood off to the side, looking at them blankly. "I'm sorry I had to call you out here on such short notice--"
"It's all right," Damien said. "About time I had a trip, anyway." He turned to the cop. "And you are--?"
"Lieutenant Alan Kincaid," the policeman said, holding out his hand. Damien shook it and noticed for the first time that he held a cane in his other hand and was leaning upon it slightly. "Pleased you could come."
You don't sound too pleased, Damien thought, but chose wisely not to say it. "Damien. Pleased to meet you too. And this is Dino Garris." Dino waved slightly, bored mindless. Damien decided to start right off on why he was there. "Would it be too much to ask just why it is that we're here?"
"Let's get back to the station first before we start talking about that," Lieutenant Kincaid put in, before Father Damien could say anything, and walked briskly away, though with a slight limp. The priest stared after him, then turned back to the other two and smiled apologetically.
"I'm sorry about him," he said. "He's just a little--brusque, if you know what I mean. I don't know. Maybe he just doesn't like to make friends." He sighed. "I wish that making friends was the reason we were here. But I'm afraid it's not so pleasant as that. We'd better be catching up with Lieutenant Kincaid before he wonders where we've gotten to. This way?"
Damien nodded and, taking Dino by the sleeve of his coat so as not to leave him behind, followed his uncle across the tarmac.
By the time they got to Kincaid's office in the city, Damien had realized Minot was not just some dinky backwater--it was actually a pretty big city--and the lieutenant seemed to have loosened up a little. He sat back in his chair and spun around slowly, looking at the ceiling thoughtfully, his fingers splayed, together at the tips. Damien and his uncle were the only visitors there--Dino had gotten a taxi and gone off, looking for some "action," as he'd put it (though Damien was starting to wonder if he'd ever find any), leaving the three of them alone. When they'd come into the police station they had been greeted by an array of stares, all of them from the cops wandering around or working. Everybody stopped what they were doing or saying to look at them. At first Damien thought perhaps they recognized him as the famous singer and were wondering what on Earth he was doing there, then realized, with some puzzlement, that it was mostly Kincaid they were staring at, as the leader of their odd little band. He must have a rep, Damien thought, and made up his mind to find out just what this rep was, then filing that thought away in the back of his mind as they entered Kincaid's office. Right now Kincaid turned his chair to face them, his fingers still splayed, then leaned forward over his desk and, picking up a daggerlike letter opener, started jabbing it up and down into the desktop. Damien noticed the scars already there, and thought this must be some kind of little ritual the lieutenant had taken up. He sniffed and looked back at the cop, keeping his own face bland.
"I'm sure your uncle has already told you about our 'little problem,'" Kincaid said slowly, with each word jabbing the blade into his desk. "By any chance has he mentioned what exactly this 'little problem' concerns?"
"From all of the clues I've been able to gather, it must concern a little cult," Damien replied.
Kincaid stopped jabbing and gaped at him for a moment, then suddenly burst into laughter. The two of them started a bit, caught off guard by this unexpected reaction. Kincaid merely continued laughing, and by the time his laughter had subsided, he was once more jabbing the little letter opener into his desk and shaking his head.
"'Little problem'--'little cult,'" he said, half to himself, and started chuckling again. "Little cult--little cult." He said it as if it were a mantra. "Yes, I suppose you could say we have our very own 'little cult,' if that's how you wish to describe our 'little problem.' However, I wouldn't really say 'little.' Just for the sake of understatement, you know? I'd say more like BIG problem, BIG cult, hm?" He laughed again.
Damien looked at his uncle, who could only shrug and shake his head. He glanced back at Lieutenant Kincaid. This runaround was starting to make him impatient.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant--"
"Call me Kincaid."
"--Kincaid, but my patience is wearing a little thin. Just what is it that you're trying to get at here?"
Kincaid looked at him. "Get at? What I'm trying to get at is that this is our little problem." So saying, he pulled a file out of his top desk drawer and tossed it down in front of them. Damien had to catch it before its contents spilled all over the floor; and it had quite a few of them.
"Read," Kincaid said simply, leaning back in his chair and spinning around, now jabbing at its padded arm.
Damien opened the folder and was greeted by a screaming news headline:
He skimmed through the article, picking out the only words he needed to see--CULT--SATANIC--KILLINGS--BLOOD--DRAWINGS--MUTILATIONS--RITUAL--WITCHCRAFT. He turned the page.
He read through it as well, finding much the same thing. He turned the page again. And again. And again.
ANIMAL SLAUGHTERS CONTINUE TO ESCALATE
"SATANIC" GRAFFITI PAINTED OUTSIDE FALCON'S NEST
Damien skimmed all of these, then turned back to the first one. He paused and looked at the date scribbled across the top. Then he did the same with all the other papers in the folder; there must have been at least a few dozen. He suddenly stopped and looked up at the lieutenant.
"These reports date back to the Seventies!" he cried.
Kincaid nodded slowly, as if to say, "And?"
"You mean to tell me that this stuff's been going on for over twenty years?"
"Yes. That's exactly what I mean to tell you."
"And you're only now starting to do something about it?"
Kincaid tossed the letter opener onto the desk and leaned on his elbows, looking him in the eye. "Damien--it is Damien, isn't it? I want to make sure we get each others' names right. Damien, this 'stuff' has been going on for over twenty years--and we've been 'doing' things about it ever since then. But do you really expect us to get much done? Tell me now, in all truthfulness--I've heard you have your own 'little problem' back in your own hometown--Shoyga or Shaygan or something like that--"
"--Cheboygan. As for your little problem--has anything been done about it? Anything at all?"
"Of course," Damien retorted. "A lot has been done about it. What, do you think we're just going to sit around and watch it happen?"
"Exactly. And, to answer your question, friend, not at all. So do you expect the same of us?"
Damien felt his ears grow hot. Who did this guy think he was, anyway? "No, I guess not. But how come you suddenly call us into this?"
"Because you've had experience in this sort of thing. If that's what you can call it," and he spun so his back was to them.
Damien suddenly stood up, knocking his chair over. Father Damien put out his hand to steady him but Damien jerked his arm away. "Just who do you think you are, all high and mighty?" he fumed. "For your information, friend, I was born into a cult. Yes, I suppose you could call that experience. Just make sure you don't hurt that swelled-up head of yours using such big words."
"Damien, calm down," his uncle said softly.
During this tirade Kincaid had turned back toward them, and he now watched Damien carefully, as if examining him. He sat forward and picked up the letter opener again, jab-jab-jabbing it into the desk. Damien sat down, confused. Did this guy ever blow his lid? He felt as if he could blow fire into his face and Kincaid wouldn't even scream. As far as he knew he was probably right.
"So much for experience," Kincaid said mildly. "I suppose you believe you could write the book on experience, and perhaps you're partly right about that. Still I don't believe you've seen everything. Find yourself a decent motel--I suggest the Minot Motel 6, it's cheap and it's nearby--and come around the Falcon's Nest in the morning. I'll show you something you've never seen before." With that he spun so his back was to them once more, as if in dismissal, and continued playing with the letter opener.
Damien opened his mouth to speak, but Father Damien touched his arm and shook his head. They both got up, Damien following his uncle, and left the office, shutting the door softly behind them. From their position they couldn't see the utterly blank look in Kincaid's eyes.
"What the heck's this Falcon's Nest everybody keeps talking about?" Dino asked as he, Father Damien, and Damien unpacked in neighboring motel rooms.
"From what I've heard, it's some kind of tavern," Father Damien replied. "What you younger folks would call the local hangout. I guess that's what all the action centers around."
"According to those news articles I read, that's pretty darn right," Damien agreed. He folded a shirt and put it in a bedside drawer, shutting it with a click. "It seems that all of those animals they found killed were either behind or pretty nearby the Falcon's Nest. Which makes it seem like more than just a 'hangout.'"
"Well, whatever it is, we'll get to see it for ourselves tomorrow," Dino said, letting out a huge yawn. "So let's all get some sleep, shall we? I'm bushed."
Damien jerked his thumb at the door. "You sleep over there," he reminded him.
"Oh, yeah," Dino said. "Forgot. Well, good night, everybody." He gathered up his things and left the room, still yawning. The door shut softly behind him.
"Weird sort," Father Damien commented, folding some clothes and putting them away in another drawer.
"You don't have to tell me that. I've known him this long." Damien flicked off his lamp and flopped down on his bed. "Jeez, I'm tired. Must be jet lag. Turn out the lights when you go to sleep, will you?" He rolled over on his side, not even bothering to change his clothes or use the blanket, and promptly fell asleep.
"No problem," Father Damien said, reaching into the top drawer and pulling out an object at which he stared with a sort of strange fascination, as if it were totally out of place in this town. It was a Holy Bible.
In his mind there was a ring of candles, and chants.
He tried to get up. Couldn't. Was being held down. Turned his head to the side. Saw robed figures out of the corner of his eye.
And now one coming closer. Raising something. A knife? He'll cut the ropes.
(cut more than that)
Knife coming down. Not on the rope but his leg. Jabbing.
Stop stop it hurts stop it please
Blood. His blood? All over. More than he could have imagined. All over the place--all over him, all over the robed figure, all over the knife.
Blood blood make it stop it's all over stop
And now being moved--lifted--his arms splayed out, tied by the wrists and ankles, his legs bloody. Tied to something--something wooden.
Stop the blood I'll die I'll die I'll die
I want to die--
They arose early the next morning and went directly to the Falcon's Nest. They didn't know exactly where it was, but as they did already know, just about everybody in Minot did, so all they had to do was ask directions and they were on their way. It actually wasn't too far from the police station. When they got there they saw it was a smallish building with plate-glass windows and neon lights out front:
DROP IN ANYTIME
BRING YOUR FRIENDS!
"Sounds nice," Damien murmured. They pushed open the door and strode inside.
The Falcon's Nest wasn't very busy right now; in fact only about three people were within sight, besides a man standing behind the counter in an apron, rubbing a glass with a towel. He looked up and saw them, and put the glass away, leaning forward on the countertop as if he were expecting them. Which he was.
"Good morning," he greeted as they stepped up and sat down on some vacant stools. He had to look up at them slightly as he was shorter than they. "Welcome to the Falcon's Nest. I'm Phil Falcon. You're the Michigan guys, right?"
Damien looked at his uncle, and his uncle looked back. He cleared his throat. "...Yes, that we are. Did Lieutenant Kincaid tell you we were coming?"
"That he did," Phil said; Damien couldn't tell if he were merely saying what was on his mind or mocking his own words. "But it doesn't really matter. News travels fast around Minot." He glanced around the room. "Especially bad news. You're here about the dead animals?"
"Yes. Tell me, where's Kincaid? We were supposed to meet him here."
"Don't worry. He'll be dropping in soon enough. He always does. Cup of coffee, black, and a cinnamon roll. Every day the same thing. Just like a ritual. Y'know that mental disorder, possessive-compulsive or whatever the hell it is? I believe that's what he's got." He chuckled.
Damien felt like correcting him, telling him it was actually "obsessive-compulsive," but then decided against it; maybe "possessive" was closer to the truth, considering how weird Kincaid acted. "He said he had to show us something we've never seen before," he said instead. "Do you have any idea what he might have been talking about?"
Phil shrugged. "Knowing Kinnie, he could be talking about anything."
Damien raised an eyebrow. "'Kinnie'?"
Phil smiled apologetically. "Yeah. That's what everybody calls him. He gets around, y'know."
"But about your question, I really don't know. He might have been talking about the--" He cut himself off and shook his head, turning away to polish some more glasses. Dino looked over and noticed one of the patrons at the other end of the bar, dark haired and not much younger than himself, looking at them cautiously. He turned away as soon as he saw that Dino had noticed. Damien turned back and called out to Phil.
"Talking about what? What might he have been talking about, Mr. Falcon? Mr.--"
"You'll know that soon enough." They turned to see Kincaid walk in, the door shutting softly behind him. "Good morning, Phil. Coffee and roll, please."
Phil gave the three a "Didn't I tell you?" look and went to the coffeepot. Kincaid sat down in a booth and the others joined him except for Damien, who leaned upon the table and stared at him.
"In case you didn't know, Lieutenant--"
"--In case you didn't know, Kincaid, I hate being tugged around and left in the dark. So tell me just what it is that's going on. Please," he said, slightly mocking Kincaid's earlier statement.
Kincaid looked up at him, blank as ever. Damien stared back for as long as he could before wavering and sitting down, sullen. Kincaid turned to Father Damien and forced an unconvincing smile.
"I promised to show you something you've never seen before," he said, "and I will. But first let's dispense of the pleasantries and eat. I know you three have had a long flight here and I'm sorry for any inconveniences brought on by your sudden departure."
He talks like a diplomat, Damien thought to himself with a snort.
Kincaid glanced at him briefly, as if sensing this thought, then back at the others. "I see you've already met Phil. Phil, have my companions introduced themselves?"
Damien noticed how he'd seemed just about ready to say "friends" when he changed his mind, and made a mental note of it, again shoving it to the back of his head.
Behind the counter, Phil shook his head, still polishing a glass. He looked briefly at the few other patrons, notably the one who'd been staring at them earlier. "Met them, haven't had the pleasure."
"Phil, this is Damien, the singer, his uncle Father Damien, and their friend Dino Garris."
"Three-quarters Italiano," Dino put in.
Phil nodded, and went back to his polishing, as if he didn't know them, nor much less care to. Damien felt heartened to realize that Dino and Father Damien were perplexed about the situation as well. That means I'm not losing it, yet, he thought.
"What would you like?" Kincaid asked him suddenly.
Damien turned to him, not quite getting what he meant, until Kincaid nodded his head at the menu in front of him. "What would you like?" he repeated, as if speaking to a small child.
Damien frowned; he knew an attitude when he saw it, and he didn't like attitudes. Nevertheless he decided to be civil and picked up the menu. Dino and Father Damien mechanically followed his example, and he noticed that all eyes were on him. "I dunno.... How about this western omelet thing? What's that taste like?"
"The best western omelet this side of the Missouri," Phil called from his post, suddenly interested in the conversation again. "Bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and my very own Special Spicy Salsa. Would you like American fries with that?"
Damien shrugged and nodded. "Sure, why not. And what about you guys?"
"Something light for me, please," Father Damien said with a thin smile. "I still haven't gotten my land stomach yet."
Damien saw a faint smile twitch on Kincaid's face for a millisecond, and started thinking that perhaps the guy was human after all. Perhaps.
"I'll have something really spicy," Dino said, examining the menu with relish. "But no sugar, please. I'm diabetic. Hey, how about these Falcon's Fried Fajitas? Are they any good?"
"Not 'Fried,'" Phil corrected him, "'Fryin'.' You want hot, there it is."
"Okay! I like that!"
Damien sat back and relaxed while the others started chatting, or trying to chat, with Kincaid, who would only nod occasionally. The truth was the lieutenant just didn't seem to be a very chatty person, and the others soon gave up. After a little while he began to grow impatient; it seemed as if they would never get to see what they'd "never seen" before. He started fidgeting, not wishing to be rude (he felt as if he'd been rude enough already), but finally, unable to take it anymore, gave in.
"Please excuse me, Lieutenant Kincaid," he said as politely as he could. The others looked at him. "But if you don't mind, I'd really enjoy getting on with just why we're here."
Kincaid nodded and put down his napkin. "I agree," he said. "We've taken long enough. But first I'd like you to meet Mandie."
He held up his hand and waved it toward him. The other three turned to see a young woman appear and come up beside them, smiling. She was quite beautiful ("voluptuous" would have been a better word), with blue eyes, a full mouth, and long, soft auburn hair, and her smile wasn't what one would call that of a happy schoolgirl. Way beyond that. Probably a happy something else not worth mentioning. For some reason Damien felt himself growing uncomfortable with the way she looked at him.
"Have a seat," Kincaid said, and she did, beside Damien, flashing him another smile with her eyelids lowered. He smiled back stupidly, pretending not to notice the "Come hither" look in her eyes, and turned back to the group.
"Mandie here's going to show you what you've never seen," Kincaid was explaining as he took a drink of his coffee. "It was she who found it. Isn't that right, Mandie." It wasn't even a question.
"It certainly is," Mandie said in response to the question, staring at Damien, only it sounded as if she were talking about something completely different. Dino cleared his throat uncomfortably and Father Damien looked out the window, suddenly noticing how stunning the view of the traffic-choked street was. Damien growled inwardly at their lack of support. Kincaid was the only one who didn't seem to notice, or if he did he was pretty good at masking it. Just like he does everything else, Damien thought. He's a regular emotionless automaton. And then there's Hum-De-Dum Fajita Man behind the counter, and Mandie the Siren-Temptress right beside me. Isn't anybody normal around here?
"Just what is it that you're going to show us?" Dino asked Kincaid. "Does it have to do with those newspaper reports Dami told me about, about animals bein' killed and stuff?"
"Yes and no," Kincaid replied. "As you probably know those reports go back many years and they're still coming in. But what you're going to see is in no report. I've seen to that."
Damien jerked and gasped suddenly. The others looked at him to see his face grow bright red; Mandie's hands were out of sight beneath the table, and she was smiling at him.
"I think I feel a draft," Damien stammered. "I get colds real easy. I think I'll just sit over here." He scooted over to the other side of the booth, flushed with embarrassment. Mandie in the meantime simply folded her hands in her lap and smiled at the rest of them.
Father Damien raised an eyebrow but said nothing. There was nothing to say. Dino grinned nervously at Mandie and Kincaid snorted lightly and continued drinking his coffee. Damien, over as far away from Mandie as he could get without seeming to be trying to get away from her (not that he cared much about that), wondered if she did that to every guy she'd just met, and decided he'd better steer clear of her from now on if that was just her way of saying hi. He also wondered how she carried on a conversation, then mentally slapped himself for doing so.
"Anyway, we're going to have to go back to Mandie's apartment," Kincaid said as if none of this had taken place, finishing his coffee.
Damien glared at him, half incredulous, half accusing. The others, however, merely stood to follow him out, ignoring the singer's plaintive looks to come back. Mandie was the last one out, and he didn't at all like the look she gave him. With a sigh he stood up to follow. It was certainly a good thing his girlfriend Kat was back home.
Mandie lived downtown in an upper apartment facing the main street through the city. After jogging up several flights of steps, Dino, Father Damien, Kincaid, and Damien stood in the dim, cramped hallway while she fumbled with her keys and let them in.
"I assume you didn't touch anything," Kincaid murmured as they brushed past her. It was hardly a question.
"Nothing at all," Mandie said, only that was a lie as Damien jumped again as soon as he'd gotten past her, and shot her an evil look. She only smiled in return.
As soon as they'd all squeezed their way in, however, they only had eyes for what was before them.
To the right of the door was the side wall to Mandie's apartment, and it was a pale cream color. Or had been. For now gruesome symbols were painted all over it, once in red but now dried to a faded brown. They could see where the blood had dripped before it had fully dried. Just underneath, on a small decorative table, was what appeared to be a makeshift altar--some kind of animal skull, the flesh not fully cleaned from the bone, was sitting in the middle, grinning up at them, surrounded by candles that had also dripped before dying out. Ashes were scattered all over the display, and there was a partly burnt piece of paper in an ashtray just in front of the skull. Damien reached out and numbly picked it up, this whole scene somehow uncomfortably familiar to him. He could only make out part of the message through the soot.
B HE H ND F
H GR A G AT
He frowned at it, unable to understand what it meant. The last two words he was certain of, though. After all, he'd heard them many times before.
"'Great Goat,'" he said. "That's all I can make out."
"'All pigs shall die by the hand of the Great Goat,'" Kincaid said mildly from behind him.
Damien turned to look at him; indeed, all of them did. "How do you know that's what it says?" Damien demanded.
"It's obvious," Kincaid replied, still in that mild, unconcerned voice. "You see, they're talking about police. This was a death threat meant for me."