The Fifth Fedora: Weird Noir and Stranger Tales in Honor of Stephen T. Vessels is now published by Borda Books and Wilder Utopia, and is available on Amazon or in our bookstore. "Fallen Angels" helps start off this collection of tales told in Stephen's honor. The following, for your enjoyment, is an excerpt of Max Talley's story.
Fort Ord had closed in 1994. The military base on Monterey Bay stretched from the coastline miles back—halfway east to Salinas. A small university, CSUMB, started up, followed by new housing units and strip malls. All that sprouted near Highway 1 and the bay. Some acreage became a park system with meandering trails, but most of the vast sprawl remained hardscrabble land after twenty years.
Deere scanned the stark surroundings. “It looks haunted.”
“You don’t believe in spirits or monsters,” Sven said.
“No,” Deere replied. “The monsters are all within us.”
Dangerous chemicals lingered in the soil, and fenced-off danger zones with unexploded ordnance remained. Those hazards were whispered from Seaside to Marina—places that bordered the base. Decaying barracks and empty officers’ homes remained in facsimiles of village squares with abandoned outbuildings that once served as canteens or social halls. Ghost towns. The hollow encampments stretched eastward to where paved roads became dirt treads. Amid the scrubby grass and dwarf pine trees, surrounded by dung-colored hills, the Pacific receded into myth.
Fort Ord is where they found themselves, a half-mile back from any traffic or signs of life. And that’s where they found her.
“Looks like she’s been dead awhile,” Deere said to his partner. The young woman was illuminated by their powerful flashlights, a small island of clarity in a foggy soup of darkness.
“Yup.” Sven bent down to examine her. “Keep your beam steady, JoJo.” She appeared to be wearing only a bathrobe.
Deere’s white light took in the corpse but also caught Sven’s western hat, casting a giant ominous shadow.
“No sign of blood,” Sven said, a frown etched into his face.
“She wasn’t stabbed or shot?”
“Not what I meant.” Sven showed a mildly annoyed expression. He removed the outsized hat to rub his brow. “Extremely pale and puncture marks. I’m guessing she’s been drained of much of her blood.”
Deere moved closer and squinted. “Melted candle wax on her too. Is this where you’re going to say a vampire done this?” He picked up bird feathers near the body.
Sven snorted. “I don’t give credence to such movie creatures, at least on this planet.” He stared upward into space as he was wont to do at times of deliberation. “However, there are people who drink blood, for whatever fucked-up reason. They get high off it. Doesn’t make them young or live forever. Probably makes them puke eventually. But they do, for ritualistic reasons.”
“No wonder we got summoned,” Deere said. “Always for the weird shit.”
“And so it goes, JoJo.”
Deere exhaled. “Could you stop calling me JoJo?”
“Remind me, what’s your legal name?”
“John Joseph Deere.”
“No way in hell I’m calling you John Deere.” Sven cough-laughed. “And Joseph? Sorry, no. Anyway, I didn’t come up with JoJo.”
“No, that deaf criminal did,” Deere replied. “Asked me my name and I said, Joe. He said, ‘what?’ and I said Joe again. He said, ‘Okay, JoJo’ and ever since that name’s stuck.”
Sven shook his head. “We never get the nickname we want.”
Deere turned. “Someone’s coming.”
“Oh, Jesus, him again.”
“You know who it is?”
“Same guy with different names.” Sven grunted in disapproval. “The local constabulary.”
A police officer entered their area of light. “Point those things downward,” he said. A small woman followed behind. “I’m Sergeant Jimenez and this is Officer Kim.” He cleared his throat. “Heard you guys were nosing around, stepping on our jurisdiction.”
“And what jurisdiction would that be?” Sven asked.
“The City of Marina,” Jimenez said. “A chunk of this base is our property, within city limits.”
“True,” Sven replied, “but I probably don’t need to remind you that we’re on Bureau of Land Management territory here. Government turf. Washington, DC, called us in.” Sven flashed ID cards at Jimenez’s disgruntled face.
“So you’re going to take this one away from us?”
“Hell, no. We’d love your help. Got information on anyone who’s been draining their victim’s blood?”
Jimenez went pale. “I haven’t encountered that.”
Sven offered a silver flask to soothe the policeman’s tensions. “I bow with one arm extended.”
“We don’t drink on duty.”
“Tragic.” Deere intercepted the flask. “No reason to waste this good stuff.”
“I’ll request an ambulance, bring her to the city morgue,” Jimenez said as if asking permission.
“Yes, you do that.” Sven studied the victim again. “Any theories about her, and why out here?”
“No. An officer from Seaside called this in, being north of their city limits.” Behind Jimenez, Officer Kim looked unsettled. “This is twisted, serial killer stuff.”
Sven frowned. “No, a cult murder.”
“Is that why you two were called in?”
“Yup.” Deere handed the flask back to Sven. “In a filthy world of human garbage preying on innocents, we’re the clean-up crew.”
“You think there’s a connection to that other death?” Officer Kim’s index finger pointed northeast.
Neither Sven nor Deere replied...
Max Talley is a writer and artist who lives in Southern California. Talley’s writing has appeared in Santa Fe Literary Review, Fiction Southeast, Vol.1 Brooklyn, Atticus Review, Litro, and Entropy. His crime thriller, Santa Fe Psychosis, was published in May 2022 and his short story collection, My Secret Place, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Books.