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Minot: Chapter 5

The Tip Of The Iceberg

DAMIEN CLOSED HIS eyes and held up his hands, turning his head to the side. "Hold on," he said, waving his hands with a sigh. "Let me get this straight. The cult wants you because you know too much?"

"I believe that's what I just said," Kincaid replied.

"Then how come you never told us this before?" He was dangerously close to screaming in frustration.

"Because it's irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that these--people have to be caught. And immediately."

"Before?" Puck prodded him.

They all knew what the answer would be; however, Kincaid was kind enough to oblige them by stating it out loud. "Before they commit murder," he answered.

The next day was a Saturday; Damien dropped by the police station to visit Chief Bowen for some more information on Kincaid, maybe to be able to read his personal files, if there were any, but Bowen wasn't there. It was only when he ran into Jenner again that he realized Bowen wouldn't be there the rest of the day. He let out a gusty sigh.

"Is everything all right?" Jenner asked, looking concerned.

"We're just chasing our tails in circles," Damien said, irritated. "So far we have no leads whatsoever. I've tried to contact Mitch, but he's never at his address. I wanted to talk with Chief Bowen, but for some strange reason he's never here on the weekends!"

"Mitch? You mean Mitch Barnes?" Jenner echoed. "Why didn't you say so? I could tell you where he hangs out."

Damien's face lit up slightly. At last, maybe this was the lead he was looking for! "Could you?"

"Sure! I know exactly where he and his buddies hang out." Jenner bent forward slightly, lowering his voice. "But it's not really the most pleasant place in the world, let me warn you."

"Crap, I don't care about that. I just wanna talk to him, for God's sake."

Jenner bit his lip. "All right," he said. "Let's just go out to my squad car and I'll take you there. Not that there's much to do here, anyway. Come on." And they left.

The "place" they went to was a tiny run-down house out of town, on the edge of a large field (Prairie, Damien had to remind himself, they call it prairie here). There were a few trees scattered around the house itself, though not many; they were bare and the outside of the house indicated it wasn't kept up very much; the paint was peeling, the windows were boarded over, and junk littered what there was of a yard. A skeletal dog was chained to a tree, and it barked as they came up--or tried to.

Jenner sighed as he bent to unchain the animal, which responded by licking his face. "I should get these guys for animal cruelty. I swear, every time I come out here they've got something chained up."

"Then why don't you?"

"Why don't I? Because we don't have enough time to deal with minor things like that. We've got enough problems dealing with this cult. And what they do to animals isn't exactly pretty."

Damien rubbed his arms, attempting to warm up from the dry, biting cold, and watched as Jenner pulled a piece of jerky from his pocket and offered it to the dog; the dog took it from his hand and wolfed it down in one bite. He smiled faintly. "Do you always carry beef in your pants?"

Jenner smiled back, not missing a beat. "Only when I'm visiting Mitch. Come on. If he's here, he's inside."

They nearly had to break down the door just to get in; it wasn't locked, but the hinges were rusty and it stuck. As they ducked into the small room, they looked around, their eyes barely adjusting to the light.

There was no furniture whatsoever in the room. The walls were completely bare of any decoration, and the floorboards were warped and uneven. Damien glanced around. Nothing here.

Jenner swallowed. "You know, when I was little I used to have this bad dream where I was in the upstairs of my house and the floor was all crooked just like this. And I was always afraid it would either cave in or keep twisting till I fell off."

Damien walked across the tiny room, the gray wood creaking under his weight, causing Jenner to shudder. He didn't care. He was looking for something, anything, that might connect Mitch to the slain goat. But there was nothing whatsoever in the room.

There was a faint scuffling noise from the doorway. The thin dog came in, sniffing around the door, then trotted across the floor and into another room, panting, and disappearing within. Jenner pulled a flashlight from his belt, flicking it on, and they followed the animal inside, peering around. They turned back to the entrance and paused.

"Bingo," Damien said.

This room was much the same as the first--only the wall was covered with graffiti. Graffiti just like that found at the Falcon's Nest.

Monday morning found pictures spread across Chief Bowen's desk--shots of goat's heads, upside-down crosses, 666's, all in red. Bowen just stared at them all as if a dead lizard lay upon his desk instead.

He spread his hands. No explanation for the photographs had been offered so far. "Where did you get these?"

"This little shack outside of town," Damien replied, his arms crossed. Jenner stood nearby, ready to take credit for the photos in case Bowen should ask. Kincaid was in the doorway, staring at the desk; Damien wondered if his eyesight were really that good, or if he was just faking it.

"You mean Mitch Barnes's place?" he murmured, cocking his head. He looked tired, like he hadn't slept very well.

Damien and Jenner nodded.

Bowen peered up at Damien, a scowl beginning to form. "And who said you could go there?"

"There was nobody home, sir," Jenner was quick to put in. Damien felt relieved that at least one of the cops was on his side. "The door wasn't locked. There was this dog outside, and it looked as if--"

"I don't care if he had a rhinoceros in his yard," Bowen said through nearly clenched teeth. "It doesn't give you any right to go breaking into a private residence without a warrant."

Like that was a residence? Damien thought.

"I'm sorry, Chief, I told them to check it out," Kincaid said.

Both Jenner and Damien turned to face him, stunned. Kincaid just gave them his blank look, and Damien found himself clearing his throat.

"Is that true?" Bowen asked Jenner. He seemed slightly confused now.

"Uh--yeah," Jenner said, looking sheepish. "We--didn't--exactly, uh--"

"We didn't want to get Kincaid in any trouble," Damien said, and he sighed, giving Kincaid a dirty look for good measure. "At least, that's what we planned."

This time it was Bowen who sighed, rubbing his eyes. "All right," he said, "I don't know how they operate in Cheboygan but I'm letting you off on this one. But if I ever catch you doing something like that again, believe me, it'll be your ass behind bars. You get me?"

The warning had been meant for Damien; however, both Damien and Jenner replied. "Yes sir."

"Good." He sat down in his chair and bent over the pictures. "So you found this in Barnes's place, huh?" he asked aloud, all former hostility gone.

"Yeah," Damien replied, also leaning over the pictures and pointing out one or two. "All over the inside wall. Facing the back of the house. There wasn't really anything in the first room except some loose papers and leaves and stuff."

"And a dog," Jenner put in. "He had a dog tied out front; it was so thin you could just about see right through it. Chained almost to the neck."

Bowen sighed again. "They've had several citations issued against them for things like that," he explained to Damien. "We seem to get plenty of animal cruelty around here, judging from the back of Falcon's place. Just ask Kinnie."

Damien looked at Kincaid; Kincaid said nothing, indeed did nothing to indicate that he'd noticed his name entering the conversation.

"But they just keep doing it. We can't really go out and bust 'em 'cause we've got our hands full with this crap." He indicated the pictures.

"At least now the two are tied together," Damien offered. "So you should be able to get him on this."

"I don't know about that." Bowen opened a desk drawer and pulled out a folder; it was very much like the one Kincaid had had earlier, only when he tossed it to Damien it felt heavier, and when Damien opened it he saw it contained many more files, all of them different.

"As you can see we've got a problem with cults," he went on. "Most of the stuff in there pertains to Minot. What you've seen out back of Falcon's is just the tip of the iceberg, like Broderick is the tip of your iceberg. We both know it goes way deeper than this."

Damien knew it was true in Luther's case. However, he'd been wishing it wasn't so with Minot. As he glanced through the clippings, he felt a raw dread creeping into his chest. As Bowen had said, most of the articles were about Minot. But some were from other areas of North Dakota...some even from other states.

"New York?" He pulled out a piece of newspaper. "California?" He dropped the folder on the desk and met Bowen's eyes. "What the heck's going on here?"

"I thought you'd recognize it," Bowen said, allowing himself to look just the slightest bit dismayed. "We're not dealing with a group of teenagers out for a good time. We're dealing with a whole national cult."

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