The police lieutenant opened his eyes and lifted his head, drifting out of a half-dream, to look the younger officer in the eye. The officer, standing before him in his small office and looking rather ill at ease, shifted to the other foot uncomfortably, then said, "Lieutenant, the chief wants you. It's happened again."
Kincaid stared at him a moment; he didn't need an explanation of what "it" was. He'd been over that many times before. He sighed and got up, stretching his stiff arms and legs. He'd been behind his desk too long. At least this would give him a chance to get some much-needed exercise. "Where now?"
The policeman shifted again, avoiding eye contact. "Out back of the Falcon's Nest."
He frowned. "Again? What's so big about it this time?"
"Well...he thinks you should see it for yourself."
Kincaid knew the chief wouldn't want him to see something unless it was important. So he picked up his cane, braced himself for whatever he might see, and went.
Destination, Falcon's Nest, he thought.
It was worse than he'd expected.
As soon as he arrived he saw the dozens of Falcon's patrons wandering around, trying to get a good look at what there was to see. As if they hadn't seen it all before, just like he had. But he had a distinct feeling of unease about this time. There were too many people; this kind of thing was by now so common they'd gotten used to it. So why were they all here now? He not too willingly pushed his way through the throng and stopped, staring, his mouth agape.
The only thing he saw at first was blood. Everywhere. On the ground, the trees, and especially on what was nailed to the tree.
It wasn't a dog, like it usually was. Far from it. Unless dogs had recently grown cloven hooves and horns. A goat was impaled on the tree, tied as well to keep it up, and the blood was all over. Its eyes were still open, bulging, and its tongue lolled out between the teeth in its drooling mouth. He had to turn away to avoid retching. He'd seen it all before, many times, but not this bad.
"Lieutenant Kincaid? What've you got to say?"
He looked up, his hand to his mouth. The police chief was walking toward him, his eyes narrowed, arms crossed. He appeared to be inspecting him. "Seen anything like this before?"
Kincaid shook his head, still not daring enough to remove his hand. He was afraid of what might come out of his mouth if he tried to speak.
The chief snorted, his eyes narrowing even more. He suspected a lie, and Kincaid couldn't help but think to himself that he was at least partially in the right. "So you've never seen this? Come on, Kinnie. You've seen everything this side of North Dakota. And never anything like this?"
"Not a goat," Kincaid replied, finally regaining his control. He stood up straight again, and glanced shakily at the goat; he still felt like throwing up, but years of experience had taught him not to do so. Though he would occasionally slip. "Not a goat," he echoed himself. At least, not anytime recently.
"Dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, and never a goat," the chief mused. "Even a fox once. And never a goat. Are you so sure?"
Kincaid bristled. "Listen, are you going to go dredging up things? I thought we had a deal here--"
"That we do, Kincaid, that we do. But you've got to hold up to your part of the bargain too, you know. You're absolutely certain--"
"Like I told you, I'm certain." He turned to the officer who'd called on him earlier, who was also present, standing nearby, still trying to avoid eye contact--and looking instead at the carcass. "Cordon off the area," he snapped. "Get those people out of here. Call Jenner and clean this damn mess up, will you? I want this all gone by six. You got me?"
"Yes sir," the officer replied, and scooted off.
Kincaid turned back to the tree; the police chief was watching him closely for any reaction but he didn't care. This time, though, no sickness spread through him; a barrier went up and he looked at the goat as if it were merely a dead junebug beneath his shoe. The chief coughed, and when he got no reply, said, "Kinnie."
Kincaid looked at him. His eyes had gone completely blank, as well as the rest of his face. The chief paled a little bit, and stepped back, coughing into his hand again.
"Jenner will have this cleaned up in no time, don't worry," he said; but speaking to that blank face, he felt apprehensive, as if Kincaid were the real enemy here. "Why don't you take the rest of the day off? We've got enough guys on the job already. I'll be sure to call you if we need you. What do you say?"
The lieutenant said nothing. Instead he merely continued staring at the chief for a minute or two, then turned back to the goat; after a moment he turned around and slowly limped away, back to his car. The police chief stood where he was, hearing the gruff roar of the engine and the spattering sound the gravel made as it was kicked up by the car's tires. The growl subsided and the car disappeared, but he wasn't looking. He shivered and turned to see its dust settle back down to the ground, then turned and started to walk away a bit by himself, thinking.
Kincaid had always scared him a bit; they all said the guy was a little cuckoo, especially after the night his dad had blown his brains out; nobody around here ever talked about that, though, since it was such a touchy subject. Instead it was memorialized upon the office wall, in police sergeant Mark Halsey Kincaid's picture; he'd been one of the force's best, and then along came his son, that cuckoo S. O. B. whom more than a few thought was more than a little loony. He should've just flown off to Oregon or Maine or someplace really boring like Rhode Island and taken up painting or fishing or whatever; instead he'd become a cop in Minot, one of the most stressful jobs in the area. Perhaps the most stressful job in the area. Because Minot was not like any other town in North Dakota or anyplace else, for that matter.
Minot had a problem. A serious problem.
It had started around the Seventies. Or maybe before that. But it had gotten worse, and he suspected it would get even worse still.
First it was just people complaining about weird neighbors. Kooky people who stayed up all night listening to that crappy music. And campers, complaining about litter they found outside their campsites--firepits, candles, rocks piled up in crude makeshift altars.
That's what they seemed to be.
Then it was pets missing. A cat here, a dog there. Nothing much; at first they just thought the Humane Society was picking up a few strays, or maybe those weird tourists were on their way out of happy little Minot.
If only that were the case. But these pets showed up again. Most often hanging from trees, much like yon Mr. Goat. And sometimes with their guts missing.
The police chief shivered and turned back, shoving those thoughts out of his head. As if Minot didn't have a bad enough name already, now something like this had to happen. He strode back to the tree, glanced at it briefly, and started off for his car. Then he stopped, turning around slowly in disbelief that he hadn't noticed it before--and gaping at what it said.
He'd just noticed the rough plaque tied around the goat's neck: