Here’s the blurb: “A string of grisly murders and missing persons cases puts a young police officer at risk of becoming food for worms in ‘Lot’s Crawlers’ by Joel V. Kela, the featured story in the Winter 2012 issue of Big Pulp (cover art by Ken Knudtsen). This issue also features Michael Andre-Druissi’s alternative history ‘Hitler’s Hollywood’, in which Rita Hayworth’s career takes a strange turn and alters the course of WWII, and ‘Children of an Angry Sea’, a horror tale set in the aftermath of a major Pacific tsunami, by Michael D. Turner. In all, this issue features more than 25 stories and poems, including work by Patricia La Barbera, David Birch, KJ Hannah Greenberg, L.B. Sedlacek, William Doreski, Gerri Leen, Terrie Leigh Relf, Brian Trent, Walter Giersbach, Emanuele Pettener, DeAnna Knippling, F.J. Bergmann, Sean McGrath, Benjamin Kensey, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Holger Nahm, Catherine Boyle, Tony Haynes, and Frank Skolnik.”
Lot’s Crawlers, by Joel V. Kela
Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. –Isaiah 66:24
The old man had been strangled, that was for sure.
He lay sprawled face down in the dinghy, his fishing pole gone and the dirt from his worm container scattered all over the bottom. The two inches of rain they’d gotten overnight had turned this to muddy water, and it sloshed back and forth like coffee as Josh put one foot on the gunnel for a better look.
Sure enough, the red line of bruise ran all around the old man’s neck just as bright as could be.
A garrote, Josh thought. Gosh darn it.
He stepped off the dock and walked up the boat ramp to their squad car. Willie was leaning on the hood with pad and pencil in hand, talking to the college girl who’d found the boat. “You did good, Ma’am,” he was saying. “I know it’s not easy.”
She glanced up at Josh as he approached. “Yeah.”
Josh tried not to sound self-conscious. “Did you see anyone else out there with him yesterday?”
She lit a cigarette. “Didn’t see. Ed usually goes out there with some guy. His nephew, I think.”
Willie took down the name while Josh turned around and looked again at the water. It was one of half a hundred such inland lakes inMarquetteCounty–lined with pines and summer cottages and saunas. Memorial Day was three weeks away though, and–as he’d learned last spring–in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that meant summer was still wishful thinking.
He sighed. Nobody had probably seen anything.
But it still wouldn’t hurt to check.
He was halfway to the first cabin when he remembered the worms. Maybe the guy at the bait store would know if the victim had been fishing with someone. Josh went back out to the dinghy and felt around under the seats until he found the plastic tub. He turned it over in his hands.
Below a grinning cartoon earthworm it bore two words–Lot’s Crawlers.
When the homicide detective had finished and the ambulance had picked up the dead fisherman, Josh and Willie took the cruiser and began bouncing up the lake road toward M-35. The jack pines pressed in on both sides.
Willie flashed him a grin. “So. Should we arrest the girl yet, or do you want to wait till you can get her alone?”
Josh felt his cheeks flush, but he refused to rise to the bait. Willie was better than the other guys, but not even he would let Josh forget about that debacle last summer. “Looked like a garrote.”
Willie sighed. “The anchor rope was about the right size.” He turned the car out onto the highway. “Must have caught more than the other guy. I can relate.”
Josh stared at the mobile homes as they whipped by. “So that’s the first murder since I’ve been here.”Grand Rapidswas where Josh had been posted when he got out of the state police academy, and whileGrand Rapidswas noDetroit, they’d had enough homicides. But up here it was mostly petty stuff and domestic violence. And one other thing.
“Well, yeah,” Willie said. “We had a handful of missing persons the summer before you got up here. A couple locals and a few college kids right from the Hiawatha festival.” He looked over. “That’s why we’ve still got the FBI office.”
Josh knew all about it. “Gone cold.”
Willie nodded. “Too easy to hide the bodies. Especially if you’ve got a boat. But maybe they just swam toCanada.”
When they reached the Kwik Stop at the light Josh remembered the worms. “Hey, pull in for a second. I need to use the restroom.”
He left Willie with the car running while he went up to the door. Just over the stacked bags of deer corn was a sign in the window forLot’s Crawlers. He went to the back to keep up appearances, picked out a pack of gum, and walked up the middle-aged cashier who looked like she should be wearing a Nascar jacket.
“Excuse me, Ma’am, but did Ed Aho stop in here for bait yesterday?”
She smiled at him. “Sure did, hon.”
“Do you remember if he was alone? Anyone with him?” He put his gum and debit card down on the scanner.
“Don’t think so.” She rang up his gum. “At least I didn’t see. You want a receipt?”
“No thanks.” He took the bag, and his eyes moved to the white refrigerator up against the window. And the prices taped to the front. “Fifteen dollars? For worms?”
She turned and looked. “That’s forLot’s Crawlers. Regular crawlers are three for twelve, earthworms three for thirty-six.”
“Why so expensive forLot’s?”
She grinned at him. “Them’s award-winning worms.” She tapped the sticker on the fridge door that said so. “Bigger, so fish love em. Catch three times as much.”
Josh shook his head. “Well alright. Thanks.”
She nodded, and he left.
“Did she say yes?” Willie asked when he got in.
“The date. You asked her out, right?”
Josh buckled his seatbelt and stared out the window all the way back to Negaunee.
“TV6 said they didn’t know what killed him.” Mark let loose with a lawn dart, and they both watched it arc up and land just outside the circle.
“Nice.” Josh put down his Dr. Thunder and picked up his first dart. “Well, they don’t tell them much at first. He was strangled though.” He gave a toss and his dart went long.
Mark scratched his belly under his shirt–some metal band with a pig and hammers. “You think it’s a serial killer?”
“No. Definitely not.” He threw again.
“What do you think then?”
“I don’t know.” Josh regretted even bringing it up. Mark was a nice kid, but he ran his mouth off too much and hunted ghosts and believed in bigfoot–who knew who he might tell? Josh wasn’t supposed to talk about this stuff anyway. He tossed his last one and it hit a rock or something because it didn’t even stick. They walked over to pick up their darts. “So–you ever go fishing?”
Mark shrugged. “My dad used to take me out on the basin.”
“We should go sometime.”
Mark grinned. “That just sounds creepy. Where were you last night anyway?”
“Oh, you know.” He bent down and collected the darts.
“I’ve got time for another round.”
“No you don’t.”
Mark looked at the time on his cell phone. “Oh shit!”
“Sorry.” Mark grabbed his blue vest and ran for the driveway. “Save more, live better!”
Josh stood there for a while and watched the college kids playing volleyball behind the building. Finally he sighed and went back to his apartment, poured himself a glass of ice-water, and sat down with his Sudoku puzzles.
His neck itched.
The next morning his cell phone went off when he was in the shower. He slipped trying to open the door and picked up just before it went to voicemail.
Willie’s voice sounded tinny and low. “We’ve got another one.”
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