The other two interviews didn't go much better. Though no one broke down and cried and there were no further unpleasant surprises, nothing interesting or of use was yielded. The frustration from all three interviews more or less banished from my mind any thoughts of interviewing other victims and forced me to return home, admitting defeat.
However, this was one time the trip home was longer than the trip to. Not only was the way longer, but the constant self doubt and hopelessness of the case was nagging at me non-stop. There was no reprieve from this failure. Though experience had taught me that dead ends such as this were common, even in solvable cases, I felt like I was completely out of ammunition.
Worse yet, though I was no longer convinced that these were merely unrelated accidents, I had less evidence than ever to prove me right. Though all of the relatives had at least heard of the curse, none provided any tangible connection with the other victims or even the scene of the accident. The word random kept coming up in my mind and it kept irking at my senses.
Nonetheless, I returned home. April was waiting on me in the living room and, after switching off the TV, gave me a tremendous hug and a firm kiss to welcome me back. Though from the look on her face I could tell she knew the answer, she still felt compelled to ask, “So, how'd it go?”
I told her all about it. First about Mr. Carney's breakdown and then the other interviews. I laid out everything, my frustration becoming more and more apparent as I talked, until I'd covered nearly every last detail. She must have listened patiently for a good twenty minutes or so before I finally covered the drive home.
When it was all done, she asked the one question I'd been dreading, “So where do we go from here then?”
“I don't know, I'm running out of options. I could monitor the curve but that could take weeks and I need something now.”
April let out a deep sigh as she shared in my frustration, “Well,” she said, “I did have a productive day of it.”
“Yep,” she said with a smile. She walked over to the kitchen table and picked up an inch-thick stack of photocopies and handed it to me, “I spent the day at the hall of records. Seeing if I could find anything.”
I began to leaf through the pages. The horrible photocopies made the text barely legible but it was pretty obvious much of it was criminal records. “So, what did you find?”
“Well, I originally went there to do criminal background checks on all of the victims. Nothing turned up though. All of them were clean except for one guy who had an assault charge in the seventies, probably protest related. But, what I did find interesting was the stuff I dug up about this Marx guy and his land.”
I slid over to the couch and sat down, “What's the story there?”
“Well, it's a long story, but it actually starts with Jeffery's father, Alan. Alan and his girlfriend had Jeffery in '52, during the Korean war. It was an unwanted pregnancy, but they were still, by all accounts I could find, happy about it. Unfortunately Alan got drafted and shipped to Korea during the war. Since the two of them were never married, he was powerless to stop it.”
I leaned back in the chair and rolled my head causing my neck vertebrae to grind, “Hell of a way to be brought into the world.”
“It gets worse. Alan made it back when the war ended the next year, however, he'd taken a Korean wife during that time and pretty much abandoned Jeffery and his mother. However, when Jeffery's mother died in the early sixties, Alan began to feel guilty and took him in. Unfortunately, the relationship wasn't exactly stellar. Though Alan constantly worked to earn his son's trust, it never played out and Jeffery never forgave him.”
“So how the Hell did he wind up with the land?”
“I'm getting there,” she said motioning for me to be patient, “I told you, it's a long story. Anyway, Jeffery went off to college in the seventies, on his father's dollar I might add, studied psychiatry. Apparently he liked it, he stuck with it and even got his doctorate in it. By the end of it, he was licensed to practice psychiatry.”
My senses jumped at hearing those words and I leaned forward in my chair, “That's odd.”
I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees and my chin on my fingers, “Well, most stage hypnotists, if they have a degree at all, get a certification or just a Masters. For someone who's so interested in hypnosis, getting a psychiatry degree is overkill. Any idea why he did that?”
“Actually, there is,” April chimed in, “Some of his clinical records are in there, he studied hypnosis through drugs and probably needed the degree to administer them legally.”
“That explains why he was a fraud on stage, but not why he went there in the first place.”
“Why don't you ask his son?” April said slyly, “He currently lives on the land. David is his name.”
“I see,” I said trying to listen while letting the gears churn in my head.
“Unfortunately though, it looks like the bad father gene got passed on. Jeffery had David when he was in college in '77 to be exact. However, when David was just five, Jeffery went out on the road, leaving him behind. When his mother got arrested for DUI a few years after that, Jeffery sent David to live with his grandfather, the same one I mentioned earlier. That's where he's lived up to now.”
“Let me guess,” I chimed in, “when Alan died about twelve years ago, Jeffery was left the house,” April nodded her approval, “I bet that irked David.”
“That's putting it modestly, David contested the will in court and tried to get his father thrown out of the house. It was to no avail though, the will was rock solid. The judge ordered the two of them to to share the house. From then on, we don't have any evidence of the two of them as much as speaking, at least until Jeffery's funeral.”
“How did Mr. Marx die anyway?” I asked as I leaned back in the chair.
“Glad you asked,” April said as she pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket, “The cause of death is listed as a hunting accident. But you know well what that means don't you?”
I took the paper from her and looked it over, “Yeah, that's the polite country way of saying 'suicide'. It looks better in the papers.”
I folded my arms and let out a large sigh, “This is one hell of a story, but it doesn't affect this turn one way or another and, unless Dean Koontz is looking for some new characters, I don't see how this is useful.”
“Well, don't you think you should talk to this David. He might have some perspective. You seem to be at a dead end anyway.”
I had no choice but to agree. Though I was no fan of rural drama, the family affair was the only thing I had to go on. I solemnly nodded my approval and told her that there was no way in Hell I was heading out again the next day so I'd go there on Monday.
Satisfied, April looked at me smugly and said, “Anything further questions?”
“Only one,” I began, “Did you get all of that from the hall of records?”
April let out a small chuckle, “Of course not, you're not the only one who can read between the lines though. It's all there, I'm sure you'll find it. But first, get out of those clothes, we need to wash them and you need to call Mike back, he wanted and update on the case.”
I stood up and began taking off my shirt, “I'll call him Monday,” I said, “Maybe by then I'll have something for him.”
The third trip into the country was even more dull than the first two. The only thing worth mentioning was the struggle to find the mysterious house. The erected tree wall effectively hid it from the road and the driveway was on a side street cleverly disguised as a small dirt road. It was painfully obvious that this was a place that didn't want visitors and I took no joy in knowing that I was probably the least welcome of all possible visitors.
Nonetheless, I patiently drove along the bumpy dirt road and eventually the long snaking driveway that more closely resembled an old wagon trail than a passageway for mechanical vehicles. Every rock and every hole made my poor car shake violently, rattling my teeth and making me question the soundness of my shocks.
Eventually, after enough damage to shake even the best dentist, I drove up to the front of the large three story farm house. To put it modestly, it was huge. A blue house with a full wraparound porch, it seemed to tower over even the distant trees and the fact it was situated in the middle of a large clearing didn't make it look any smaller.
However, complete with white shutters and impeccable landscaping, it still felt strangely inviting, almost like one could call it a home as opposed to a castle.
With some trepidation, I rang the doorbell. Though the chimes echoed loudly through the house, so much so I could almost see the windows rattling, there wasn't an immediate answer. I gently pressed my ear to the glass of the storm door and listened for any sign of life. There was none.
I rang the doorbell again and again, hoping to get an answer but to no avail. I turned around and scanned the vast yard and tuned my ears to detect any sign of life. But all I heard was birds chirping and all I saw was the gentle sway of the trees a hundred yards away.
Frustrated, I gave up. I paused only a moment to kick myself for not calling ahead before I began stepping off of the porch. But, as I was about to clear the final steps, I heard the sound of shuffling behind me and, with a swift motion, the door flew open. After a quick spin on my heels, I found myself face to face with a tall, thin wisp of a man.
I paused a second to look him up and down. Though he was clearly younger, almost certainly younger than thirty, he had a receding hairline that was made worse by the fact he still kept his dark black hair very long and tied in a tight ponytail. His face seemed cold and distant, he had ice blue eyes and a very square jaw at the bottom of his long face. Though dressed in only gray jeans and a dark shirt, he looked imposing and, judging from his heaving chest, he was either angry, exhausted, or both.
“Can I help you?” he said gasping for air, his voice slightly bitter.
“Are you David Marx?” I said squinting for a better look.
He looked around him for a split second before settling his gaze back on me, “Yeah, what of it? You know this is private property right?”
I reached into my shirt pocket and produced my badge, “My name is special detective Tony Altru. I'm here to talk to you about your father.”
He paused a second and lowered his eyes from my face to the badge. He studied it for a few moments, as if trying to memorize something, and then looked back up at me, “Very well, come on in,” he said with a slight smirk.
He led me through his entrance way and into his den. Like the rest of the house it was huge, almost overstated. It was filled with plush chairs, a sofa and fireplace. Though a TV was mysteriously absent, it was obvious he was going for more of a wealthy look than a rural one. It was hard to mistake the mixture of dark wood and red furniture for anything else.
David motioned me to sit down on a plush couch and he took a seat in a recliner opposite to me. Though between us sat a large cherry coffee table, the way he leaned forward in his chair made it feel as if he were sitting right on top of me.
“So what can I do for you Mr. Altru?” he asked after making sure we were both comfortable.
“As you probably know Mr. Marx,” I said shifting in my chair, “There's been a lot of accidents on your property over the past two years. Thirteen to be exact.”
David leaned back in his chair, “Yeah, I'd heard about them. All of them hitting that rock wall up the road a bit.”
“I don't need to tell you that this number is exceptionally high. Ten fatalities in two years on the same curve is very odd.”
“Well,” he said with a slight chuckle, “When those jackasses cut the road they snaked around that wall like they didn't know it was there. Truth is they were just too lazy to plan right.”
“But even then,” I said sliding forward, leaning in toward him, “The number is very high and it's the single most deadly curve in the entire state.”
“Listen,” he said rubbing his forehead, “That's tragic and all, but what does it have to do with me or my father?”
I stood up and started pacing the floor in front of the couch. With my palms pressed together in front of me, I began to explain, “Your father was very opposed to that highway being built. He even attacked some of the construction workers that were building it. Is it possible he could have done something to the road to make it, shall we say, less safe?”
David rocked forward and started laughing out loud, “You're talking about that curse aren't you? Don't tell me those bumkins have you city cops scared too.”
I pressed my palms down on the coffee table and leaned over it as far as I could, “I said anything Mr. Marx, anything at all.”
He rocked back in his chair and kept chuckling despite a futile attempt to stifle his laughter, “I'm sorry this is just too much,” he said trying to cover his face with his hands.
“Are you going to help me or are you not?” I asked flatly.
“Well,” he said still giggling to himself, “Let me get out my voodoo kit and I'll see what I can do about this curse. Ok officer?”
I'd had it. Though I was no fan of the curse theory myself, it didn't strike me as this funny. I started looking around the room and, after a few moments, walked over to where a shotgun was mounted on the wall, “You know, I know about your father's death. Tragic wasn't it?”
David sobered up quickly, “Yeah, you know about the accident?”
“Sure,” I said with a scoff, “If that's what you want to call it.”
“What do you mean?” he said, bitterness seeping into his voice.
I put my hands in the air, “Nothing, nothing. Tell me, was this the gun he died with?”
“Yeah it was, when I got it back from the police I put it back where he kept it, kind of like a shrine to him you know?”
“Let me guess, haven't touched it or anything?” I said walking around behind him.
“Not at all. Not since, well, that day,” he said somberly.
I started pacing up and down beside his chair, “Now correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you get a huge insurance settlement out of his death? Something like seven digits wasn't it?”
“Yeah,” he said looking up at me unsure, “Where are you going with this?”
I stepped around behind him and pressed down on the back of his chair causing the recliner to lay out flat, laying him prone beneath me, “The point is that I'm not like these local cops. I investigate deaths for a living. I don't take a look at a shotgun next to a corpse in the woods and say 'hunting accident' because it looks good in the papers. The truth is your father committed suicide and if that ever got out then you'd lose that big fat settlement.”
“I… Well… But…” he stammered.
I reached under the back of the reclined chair and set it up. I leaned over, close to his ear, and said, “So, if I don't get your full cooperation in this investigation. I'm going to send an anonymous tip to your insurance company. Now, is that funny?”
“No sir,” he said meekly. He looked down at the ground for a second and I made my way back over to the couch I was sitting on originally. His chest was heaving from a combination of nerves and anger. It was easy to see that I'd finally gotten underneath his skin.
“You know this is extortion right?” he eventually said, trying to be strong.
“No, this is an exchange, you help me, I help you. You answer my questions honestly and in a serious tone and I'll exit your life without ruining it. Do we have a deal?” I asked.
David, still unable to meet my gaze, nodded his approval.
“Now, the records also show that, when your father inherited the house, you protested it in court. You tried to have the will nullified. The judge, however, decided you two had to share the house. Now, how did that work out?”
David leaned forward in the chair and rested his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands, “At first it was really bad. He kind of took the upstairs and I took the downstairs. The attic and the entrance way pretty much became neutral territory. However, we kind of grew to like each other, even became friends. He offered to pay my way through college if I wanted to go.”
“But you didn't, did you?”
“Nah,” David said shaking his head, “I was never good with books.”
“So what do you do for a living?” I asked, trying not to sound pushy.
“I write some, do some music, but those don't pay the bills. Mostly I get subsidy money from the government for keeping the land barren.”
“So you're one of those farmers that gets paid not to farm?”
David chuckled for a second but caught himself and straightened up, “Yes, sir,” he said, “And, sorry about that.”
“It's alright, I'll forgive that one,” I continued, “Is that subsidy one of the reasons your father hated the highway so much?”
“Yeah, he thought it was going to cut the amount we got each year. It did, but not by a lot, maybe five percent or so.” David said.
“Didn't stop him though did it?”
The look on David's face changed suddenly. It was as if he were looking off into the distance and getting lost within himself. After a breathy sigh he began talking, “My father became kind of different as he got older.”
“I don't know. He was kind of a broken man when I first met him, after that whole stage career thing fell dead. He was pretty cool for a while but eventually, I don't know, he just went nuts.”
David leaned back in his chair and started thinking hard, after a few moments he leaned forward so fast he nearly rocked out of the chair and said, “You know that time he attacked the construction workers? Well, he did that a few times actually.”
“Really?” I asked, confused, “Only once is on the record.”
“Because they only reported it once, the first few times they just ignored it because they figured he was just trying to scare them. Well, once he came a little to close to their heads and they called the cops. Luckily the police convinced him to stop.”
“He's lucky he didn't get arrested, or worse.”
“Eh,” he said waving his hand at me, “They still saw him as an old nut and the police here don't arrest anybody anyway. All they do is write tickets.”
“So I've gathered.”
“Anyway, the police just figured that, with the highway set to be opening up soon it was just too much and that he killed himself. Honestly, it made sense to me.”
“So, where were you when it happened?” I asked, trying to keep a level tone.
“I was inside. He had gone hunting for the day, which he did all the time. I heard the shot and didn't think anything of it. I didn't think anything was wrong until he didn't come home after dusk.”
“He went hunting alone a lot?”
“Only way to go hunting out here.”
“Anyway, to get back on track, do you think he did anything that could have made that road less safe?”
David started shaking his head wildly, “My father hated the road. But he wasn't a wizard or anything like that. He put up a bunch of damn trees and tried to forget about it. Obviously it didn't work, but he pretty much failed at everything, his private practice, stage hypnotism, even stopping the road from being built. In the end, he failed at life too, I feel sorry for him you know?”
I stood up and began pacing the floor again. I began to understand how it felt to repeatedly hurl yourself against a brick wall. All of my work and all of my chess playing had gotten me no closer to anything useful. Just a more pathetic picture of a broken man that the whole area was scared of despite being long since dead.
I paced the room silently, reaching into my brain trying to find my next question. In the stillness, I was able to get a sense of the house and I picked up nothing special. It was a home, people lived there and it had their presence, but I didn't get anything out of the ordinary. Nothing that screamed “curse” or bad magic in any way shape or form.
Desperate, I decided to try my last hope, “Is there any way I could see your father's old room, if it's still intact, and perhaps look through a few of his things?”
“Sure, but is there anything in particular that you're looking for?” David asked, getting a little more comfortable.
“A diary if he kept one.”
David stood up and scratched the side of his neck, “Hm, he kept a journal of his studies, but that's all I know about. Would that work?”
“Better than nothing,” I said.
Without another word, David motioned me to follow him and he led me up the stairs and into a small, crowded bedroom on the second floor. It was obvious that the room had been turned into a de facto storage room since his father's death. Though the bed, dresser , end table and mounted deer's head on the wall obviously belonged in the room, the deluge of rickety old chairs and various boxes clearly didn't.
The room itself didn't feel special in any way either, except for a pound of dust covering everything, there was nothing out of the ordinary. It was pretty much what one would expect from a bedroom of a deceased relative, homage slowly giving way to function.
David, without missing a beat, opened up the top drawer of the dresser and pulled out a small leather-bound notebook and handed it to me. “This was his journal. He kept researching right up to his death. Nothing major though. I guess he was hoping to get back into the business.”
I took it from him and opened it up, idly thumbing through a few of the pages, “Do you mind if I keep this for a while?”
“Sure,” David said shrugging his shoulders, “Just make sure I get it back.”
“I will,” I said closing it and sliding it underneath my arm, “I'll return it personally in a few weeks, once I turn in my report.”
I extended my right hand and we met for a firm handshake. Though most of the tension from earlier was gone, I could still feel his hand trembling a bit as it met mine, “Will that be all?” he asked.
“For now,” I said, trying to be calming, “Thank you for your help and I'm sorry I had to be so rough with you. But this is a serious matter and, frankly, I'm not a comedian.”
“No worries, just um, well, keep the deal ok?”
I nodded softly and said, “Alright.” With that being said, I turned around and showed myself the door, heading back down the stairs and eventually back through the endless miles of boring woodland roadway.