A boiling witch's brew of sex, murder, infidelity and deceit, with Carl Jacobs caught in the undertow, and the safety and well being of a little girl at stake - a burning stake.
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This is the third novel in the Carl Jacobs Mystery series.
Carl's two young daughters, Pam and Julie have a school chum, Jan Cartwright, in for a sleepover. She is a pretty, though quiet little girl, and the kids all get along wonderfully.
But when Carl drives Jan home the next day, her parents are not there, and Jan has lost her house key. Carl takes Jan back home with him, much to Pam and Julie's delight. Carl and his wife, Sherry, call the Cartwright hose throughout the afternoon and evening, but they are not at home.
The Jacobs' have friends Albert and Crystal Sweet over for dinner that evening. Albert Sweet is a police Detective, and when Carl explains the situation they decide to ask a patrol car to meet them at the Cartwright residence to check on their welfare. Entering the house they find indications a party had occurred, but no one is present, alive or dead. The Cartwright's have disappeared.
A day later a woman shows up to pick up little Jan. The woman claims to be Jan's aunt, and Jan knows her and goes with her willingly. Only later does Carl discover that the woman had given them a false name and address. Little Jan has now disappeared also. And Carl is determined to find out why.
His daughters give him a clue. Jan had told the girls she was a witch, and she showed them a birthmark on her neck to prove it. So Carl decides to explore the possibility of witches actually living, and doing whatever witches do, right there in Tulsa, Oklahoma. What he discovers is not only surprising... it proves to be dangerous as well.
Sunday was depressing, to say the least. Jan was frightened, and Pam and Julie were suffering right along with her. Sherry had her hands full just keeping the girls busy, hoping to take their minds off the situation. A little after noon Dorothy Crews, a TPD Detective I had never met, stopped by the house to ask Jan some more questions. Crews did her best to keep the questions vague and casual, but in spite of her efforts Jan was in tears before it was over. Crews assured me they would be doing everything they could to locate the couple, including an
appeal to the press and public for information, but she didn’t seem very hopeful.
Sunday evening, after dinner, Sherry and I played word games with the girls still trying to take their minds off Jan’s parents, but it was a miserable failure. It seemed like every game we played reminded someone of something we were trying to ignore.
It didn’t help that we were interrupted several times by telephone calls from various news media representatives
who wanted to interview and photograph Jan. We refused which irritated the hell out of everyone. As I said before, I affect a lot of people that way.
Monday morning I had to go back to work on my own case, the surveillance that had gone so wrong on Friday. We decided to keep the girls home from school. We didn’t feel right about sending Jan off to school when we still didn’t know what had happened to her parents. It only seemed right to let Pam and Julie stay home to keep her company.
Sherry wasn’t very happy being left alone with the girls under the circumstances, but the girls loved the idea. Of course, I had no choice. The subject of my surveillance, one Leon R. Winters, had filed an insurance claim alleging severe back injury resulting from what otherwise would have been a minor traffic accident. Mr. Winters’ even had medical reports to back up his claims. No one doubted the gentleman had been injured, but the accident occurred more than six months before, and his condition was not improving. My client, Underhill Life and Casualty Insurance Company, had hired me to determine whether Mr. Winters was malingering and exaggerating his disability. He was exaggerating. I knew it because I had seen him perform various physical activities “not consistent with allegations of injury,” as we in the trade put it. The only problem was, so far I had not been able to get any of those activities on video tape, and Mr. Winters was preparing to present his case in Civil Court the following Thursday.
By six o’clock Monday morning I was sitting just half a block down the street from Winters’ residence in my old
Chevy van, which is fitted out as a surveillance vehicle. On the outside the van looks like any other twenty-year-old, beat up commercial vehicle, with a wooden ladder tied down on top and assorted dents and scratches adorning the chassis. The tinted windows make it impossible for anyone
to see me sitting in the back on a special swivel seat, holding my trusty video camera. The van’s amenities also include a police scanner, still cameras, a directional mike and assorted plastic bottles, some full of water, some empty for... well,just empty. And, of course, there is a shotgun handy in case I suddenly find myself surrounded by hostiles.
I had been in place about an hour when I observed my subject’s Taurus sedan backing out of his driveway. He turned east, making it easy for me to drop in behind. He drove at moderate speeds until he reached Yale then turned north. Much to my surprise, and delight, he continued north on Yale all the way to Gulliver and eventually ended up at the Tulsa Municipal Golf Course. This guy, with the terribly injured back, was going to play golf.
I parked the van about a hundred feet from his Taurus in time to get a close up shot of him taking his golf clubs from the trunk. I noted he was wearing a bright yellow shirt and a white bill cap which would make it easy for me to locate him on the course even from a distance.
At the clubhouse he was met by three other men. Fortunately, none of them were wearing my subject’s particular color scheme. After a short wait for their tee-time, the foursome teed off from the first tee, a mere twenty-five
yards from where I was parked. I was able to tape every bend, twist, full backswing and rather sloppy follow-through my subject made as he drove his first shot just over two hundred yards down the fairway.
The layout of the course made it excellent for my purpose. The entire course can be seen, and photographed,
from various points around the perimeter. I was able to record almost every shot the poor injured man made for the first nine holes, and most of the back nine.
By noon I was back home reviewing the video tape on a small television Sherry and I sometimes watch in our bedroom. The entire tape was in focus, and sharp enough for the subject to be easily identified, even from a distance. My client was going to be pleased. I was making backup copies when Sherry entered the room.
“Carl, there’s a woman downstairs who says she is here to pick up Jan.”
“Really? Who is she?”
“She’s Jan’s Aunt, Donna Blair, from Fayetteville. She heard about Jan on television.”
“How did she know Jan was here?”
“I don’t know. The television, I guess. Did they mention our address on television?”
“I don’t think so. Let’s go ask her.”
Downstairs Sherry introduced me to Ms. Blair, an attractive woman who appeared to be in her early thirties—a
green-eyed blonde with freckles. She wore a very conservative gray suit, with the skirt falling just below the
knees, and low-heeled sensible shoes. But the drab apparel couldn’t hide her remarkable figure.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Blair. Please excuse me for asking, but how did you know Jan was staying with us?”
“When I called the Tulsa Police Department to ask about Cora and Oliver I spoke with a Detective Crews. She told me you folks were kind enough to look after Jan until... well, until her family could be located. I can’t tell you how grateful my husband and I are to you both. We’re just so glad Jan was with you, instead of at home, when... well, you know.” She swallowed hard, blinked a few times then took a deep breath, “Is Jan still here? I’d like to get started back to ayetteville.”
“She’s out back with our girls,” Sherry answered. “I’ll go get her.”
As Sherry left to call the girls, Ms. Blair reached to shake my hand. “Mr. Jacobs, again I want to thank you for looking after Jan. It was very kind of you,” she said, warmly.
As she moved closer, still holding my hand, I suddenly felt a little awkward and out of my depth. Attractive women
don’t normally intimidate me. After all, I was happily married to one. But for some reason this woman’s nearness,
her scent—undoubtedly a very expensive perfume—made me feel somehow off balance.
“It was our pleasure, Ms. Blair. Jan’s a fine girl. I’m sure her parents are very proud of her.”
“Yes. We all are,” she nodded.
Sherry returned with the three girls and Jackson.
“Aunt Donna! Hi! Do you know where Momma and Daddy are?” Jan was obviously happy to see her.
“No sweetheart, I don’t. But I’m sure they would like for you to stay with me till they get back. Would you like that?”
Before answering Jan turned to look at Pam and Julie, and then to Sherry. She had to think about it for a minute,
but answered, “Sure, I guess so. Do you think they’ll know where I am?”
“I’m sure they will, sweetheart.” She glanced at me before continuing, “They may have called looking for you already. Why don’t we get started back?”
There were hugs all around and we walked them to Ms. Blair’s car, a new Caddy. Before they drove off I asked, “Ms.Blair, perhaps you could give me your address and phone number. That way I could keep you informed about... things.”
“Yes, of course.” She pulled a small pad from her purse and hurriedly scribbled a note.
“You can reach me at this number days and evenings. We live outside the city so we use this Post Office Box number. And thanks again.”
As they drove off I felt an itch on the back of my neck. I had felt that itch before. I wasn’t particularly superstitious, but on more than one occasion that itch had forewarned of something very bad.
The next day, Tuesday, I delivered my report and a copy of the Winters’ video to my client, J. W. Kellog, President
and CEO of Underhill Life and Casualty. He was appropriately grateful, though his only way of showing gratitude is to pay my fee. Kellog is a bulldog of a man—the only man I know who can lead people and drive them at the same time. He is gruff spoken, near-sighted and sometimes a pain in the butt. He thinks it was my fault that Sherry left
Underhill and he hasn’t forgiven me yet.
Once upon a time I had been the in-house investigator for Underhill. In fact, that’s where Sherry and I had met. She had been hired as a secretary and eventually worked her way up to Claims Adjustor. Somewhere along the way we fell in love. When we decided to get married it seemed prudent that one of us leave Underhill. I decided to strike out on my own and started my own one man agency, leaning heavily on Underhill and Mr. Kellog for business the first few years. Sherry left Underhill after a rather harrowing encounter with a fellow employee who turned out to be the brains behind a multi-million dollar fraud scheme. Sherry and I each had a hand in cracking the case, but only after Sherry
had been kidnapped, our children had been threatened, and I had been sliced and nearly diced by the SOB wielding a butcher knife. But I suppose I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.
When I got back to the house, just after noon, Sherry had a problem.
“Carl, what did you do with that woman’s phone number?”
“What wo…. Oh, you mean Jan’s Aunt? It should be on my desk somewhere. Why?”
“I was going to call her and tell her I would send her Jan’s school book.”
“Jan left one of her school books here yesterday.”
I sorted through scraps of paper—notes, expense receipts, doodles—until I found the number. Sherry took it from me and picked up the phone. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of milk. Among other shortcomings, I have an ulcer that enjoys a cold glass of milk occasionally.
“Carl?” Sherry stood in the office doorway, a puzzled look on her face.
“What’s the matter?”
“The operator says this is not a good number.”
“It’s an Arkansas phone number. You have to dial...”
“Dammit, I know what you have to dial. This is not a good number!”
“Well... ask directory assistance for the... what was it? Blair? Ask for the Blair residence in Fayetteville. There may be several but we could try them all.”
Directory assistance had three Blair’s in Fayetteville. We tried all three but no one knew a Donna Blair. We also tried
Jan’s last name, Cartwright, with no luck. Next, we called the post office and discovered the P.O. Box number she had given us was also phony.
“You said the girl called her Aunt Donna,” Sweet said for the third time.
“I know what I said, and yes, she called her Aunt Donna. But she didn’t call her by her last name, Blair, and no one in Fayetteville ever heard of a Donna Blair! Dammit, Sweet, she lied to us. She gave us a phony name, phone number and a phony address. And she took that little girl away and now no
one knows where the hell she is.”
“I don’t suppose you got the Caddy’s license number?”
“No. What about Crews at TPD? Did she get any information from the woman before she sent her over here to kidnap the girl?”
“I called her from the office. She got an address and phone number. Not the same as what you have but just as phony.”
It was almost 8:00 p.m. I had called Sweet as soon as we realized Jan may be in trouble. He and I were in the den,
trying to get a handle on what the hell was going on. He was there as a friend, not in any official capacity. The Broken
Arrow Police had no reason to become involved in the case. But on several occasions Sweet had been very helpful as a buffer between local authorities and myself. I can be a little abrasive at times, especially when I think I’m being ignored, or simply tolerated. And to tell the truth, most cops don’t care much for private investigators anyway. So when I need information from official sources, I usually have to tiptoe around and stroke egos until someone decides my request isn’t out of bounds. After realizing Jan had been taken right out from under my nose by a woman whose motives remained questionable, I was in no mood to tiptoe around and stroke anybody. Sweet, for some reason, is able to put up with me better than most.
Sherry came in from the kitchen carrying a thermos of coffee and three cups. From the look on her face I got the impression she wasn’t going to let anyone sleep until Jan was found.
“So, what’s the plan?” she asked.
“We don’t have one yet,” I said.
“You two have been at it for over an hour. And you still don’t know what the hell we’re going to do to find that poor
girl?” She was fuming and I couldn’t blame her.
“Momma, can Julie and me have some cookies?” Pam and Julie were standing in the doorway of the den. We hadn’t heard them come in. We had tried not to alarm them about Jan, keeping discussions to a minimum when they were in the room. But I suppose it was inevitable they would realize what was going on eventually. Their reaction,
however, was not at all what I expected.
“You can have two apiece. I’ll get them for you,” Sherry said, glancing at me.
Before leaving, Pam said, “Daddy, you really don’t need to worry about Jan. She can take care of herself, you know.”
“Yes, I’m sure she can, sweetheart. We’re not really worried. We just want to find her so we can send her school
book to her.”
“She’ll probably just zap a new one,” Julie said.
“Yes, I suppose... What?”
“If she needs a new book she’ll just zap one. She’s got magic. She’s a witch.”
“A... a witch?”
“What do you mean, a witch?” Sherry said, kneeling down in front of the girls.
“Yeah, she is,” said Julie, “and if anybody tries to hurt her she’ll just zap them into a frog or something.”
“Honey,” Sherry said, “witches are just make believe. There are no real witches. I mean, not like in the stories. But even if there were, they couldn’t zap people into frogs.”
“They can if they get mad enough,” Julie responded with round-eyed conviction.
Sherry led the girls out of the room, on their way to the kitchen and the cookie jar. Sweet looked at me and grinned.
“A witch. Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about her anymore.”
“Go ahead and laugh. I guess your sons don’t believe in fairytales.”
“The youngest still has me check under his bed every night for monsters before he’ll let me turn out the light. The
oldest believes a strong passing game will always beat a strong running game, which is all right, but he also believes
boys are smarter than girls. They all have a lot to learn.”
Sherry came back, alone. She sat on the couch, next to Sweet, a concerned look on her face.
“What is it, Sherry?”
“Jan showed the girls her birthmark. It’s on the back of her neck. She told them it was the sign of a witch.”
“What sort of mark?”
She handed me a piece of paper. “Pam drew it for me.”
On the paper was a drawing of what looked like an abstract capitol letter A. “What the hell is the big deal? It’s
the letter A.”
“You’ve got it upside down. Turn it over,” she said.
I turned the paper upside down and looked again, and still didn’t get it.
“So? An upside down A. Maybe it’s Russian, or even Greek, You know, like a fraternity symbol or something. They use funny letters like this.”
Sherry shook her head. “To me it looks like a goat.”
“Let’s see,” Sweet said with a chuckle.
I handed him the drawing. After a brief glance at the strange shape it was
obvious he was no longer amused.
“What is it, Sweet?”
“I, uh... I’ve seen this before.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Last month there was a flyer sent out statewide to police departments. If I remember, it was from the Payne County
Sheriff’s Office. The flyer was asking for information about a mark. A mark in this shape or something very close to it.”
“What about it? I mean, why were they asking about it?” Sherry asked.
Sweet hesitated. It was obvious he didn’t really want to tell us but finally said, “Well, they found this mark on some animals. A couple of cows, a horse and maybe a dog, I don’t remember. At first they were painted on with spray paint. Like a kid’s prank, you know? But later... things got more
“Serious how?” I wanted to know.
“They found three dead steers, killed and butchered in the fields over there. Different farms, different owners, but
the animals were obviously killed in some sort of ritualistic manner. And this mark was... was carved into each one of them.”
“That’s horrible! But what does it mean?” Sherry asked.
“Probably just a bunch of doped up college kids getting their kicks,” I said, hopefully.
“There’s more,” Sweet continued. “After a lull in the animal killings there was another body found—a young woman. A couple of kids went fishing and found her on a creek bank. The medical examiner reported that she had been tortured over a long period of time and raped numerous times.” He hesitated, then, “And this mark was carved into her stomach. It’s not Greek, or Russian or anything like that. It’s a Devil’s Head.”