“Bees don’t waste time explaining to flies why honey is better than poop.”
“When gods walk among us, we kill them.” Peter Levenda, Sinister Forces books 1-3
“The scariest thing about a serial killer is there’s a person living next door to you, running power tools late at night; you don’t know that person has a fridge full of penises.” David Fincher, Director Seven, Zodiac…
Folks, it pains me more than I can say to report on the terrible events that befell our town. For weeks after AJ’s death, I couldn’t put nothing to pen or computer but police reports and parking tickets. It brought Travis’ death back and a whole lotta sorrow I thought I was done dealing with. But grief’s kinda like an unwanted gift that keeps on giving, an unsavory flavor of the week that keeps repeating You’ll have to excuse me if this next bit seems not up to par. I didn’t take many notes. This part of my recollection’s mostly from memory.
It’s fair to say I had way more time for research when the Feds got involved after AJ’s death. Officially they had no authority to interfere in these local deaths. None of the murders had been committed on Federal property. No suspect had cross state lines, as far as we knew. It could be argued that Leo Wettig, vic #6 was an out of state visitor, however, we learned he’d been shacking up with a gal in a condo north of Phoenix for several months.
The sheriff’s office got a might crowded. There were multiple arrests made during the Tallywhacker Festival, and between mid August and October, when a cold snap swept through the area, there were over a dozen DWIs, assault and battery, and domestic abuse arrests made in our formally (mostly) peaceful county. The Fed’s took over the mayor’s high tech conference room and overflow staff set up camp in our lunchroom. Tables, serving as working desks, were added to the front foyer where Cerrie and I had danced. There were wires everywhere.
As a result of the cold spell, the bees sort of hive-bernated as did the Deborahs—mostly. That reminds me, the box with pin prick holes was duly delivered (by yours truly) to Mrs. Lawstein. Turns out it contained the missing French bee queen. The Deborahs got a permit to maintain their hive in the national park. Someone had made a generous donation; the bees were declared to be endangered.
A sign was erected describing how these were smart bees, sentient beings essential to maintaining area biodiversity. They were loyal, highly trainable, and could count and recognize faces… The location of the hive was cordoned off with yellow hemp ropes and forgot about after the initial jesting stopped. The Deborah’s tore down the funny signs as soon as they were posted: You better bee-lieve these are smart bees—they use a sylla-buzz; only USB’s retain info; smart bees are bee-positive… My personal favorite: these smart bees wrote The Great Gats-bee.
Mrs. Lawstein gave me a mini-lesson on the French and their bees. She said there were 100s of beehives in and around Paris, and Provence is lousy with bees on account of a proliferation of perfumed flowers. The French were the first in Europe to campaign against pesticides and pollution they realized was killing off bees. She and her husband planned to attend the French Fete du Miel held annually in late September at Luxembourg Gardens. Seems their first king Childeric used bees as a symbol of immortality. When he was emperor, Napoleon adorned his robes with 100s of bees dug out of Childeric’s grave in the mid 1600s by some idiot. One of his advisors told him the royal fleur de lis symbol was just a badly drawn bee.
Though bees were associated with queens, Napoleon adopted the bee as a kingly symbol. He forbade anyone else from using this symbol. I kept my opinion to myself about all the fuss made over honeybees. It was best not to argue with Mrs. Lawstein about whether the gold insects discovered in Chileric’s tomb were bees or cicadas, a symbol of death and resurrection—or just pesky, gilded flies.
Locals broke out their winter jackets and mufflers. I spent less time at the office and more time patrolling, researching, and scratching my stubbly chin. Though I was the designated local law enforcement liaison, the FBI and I had little interaction. The one exception was their resident Forensic Psychologist/Profiler, Cynthia Jones (CJ). I hit it off with this 50 something tiny dynamo from the start. She stood barely 5 feet tall and maybe 100 pounds dripping wet. She wore wire rim glasses, and her brownish, greying hair was always pulled back in a neat figure 8 bun held in place with tortoise shell pins and a clip.
She enlightened me in several respects. Profilers and many CSI’s don’t play active roles in murder investigations. They act as consultants. As such, CJ proved to be extremely helpful. It didn’t hurt that she was of Welsh/Scottish heritage and a long-time member of Ancient Artifacts Society. It wasn’t so long ago, she explained, scientists like herself and the police didn’t see eye to eye on the subject of crime. It was also rare for forensic practitioners to collaborate. CJ was an exception and worked equally well with entomologists, anthropologists, toxicologists, and plain ol men & women in blue. Scientific methods and a multidisciplinary approach was critical to advancing crime detection, in her opinion.
She told me in the late 1800s, police departments were amassing fingerprint records and realized they’d soon be overwhelmed. Enter English biologist Francis Galton who devised a method for classifying fingerprints based on distinct patterns; Scotland Yard adopted his method. In the 1990s, fingerprinting was computerized, and by the end of the 20th century, nearly 2/3 of the entire world had their fingerprints on file electronically. Clarksburg, WV has a database of 100M+ prints. Despite that large number, it takes only 10-12 minutes to match a print. Perhaps our killer had his or her fingerprint in the FBI’s IAFIS. If only the killer would slip up and leave a fingerprint, that is. If only our killer was a secretor and would leave us a sample of his/her saliva, sweat, urine, or semen, we might know the blood type. If only…
CJ and I did discover where Booker Foxgrove had been hiding. He set up camp right inside the wooden entrance to the old, abandoned Double Zed mine. We thought he mighta been our killer. Turns out he saw our killer. It took CJ and his mama a few weeks to calm him down and pry out what he saw that night.
At first he would only point and stare into nothing. If we asked him questions, he’d start hyperventilating. When he could finally talk, it made no sense what he told us except maybe it explained why we couldn’t catch the killer. Booker said the killer was robed and wore a mask—and could float in the air.
Marisol wasn’t of much help either. She and Booker claim a dense fog descended right where they were moon gazing. Well, Booker was moon gazing while toking on a dobby. Marisol and AJ were deeply entangled in each other, progressing to the part where two bodies were about to exchange more than saliva. They started to stretch out atop a big old slab of rock. Suddenly, AJ slumped over. As Marisol bent over him, feeling suddenly groggy herself, a robed figure passed in front of her and a hood was forced over her head. Something smooth and wide was tied round her neck. She thinks she let out a couple of muffled screams before everything went dark, but wasn’t sure.
When he came to, Booker assumed he’d zoned out on some potent weed. He noticed the fog had lifted. Stars were sparkling and the moon cast a spotlight right over the rock. His best friend was spread eagle atop it, chest carved with marks, blood draining down the side of the rock. Marisol was gone. Booker swore he truly tried to venture nearer, but his feet wouldn’t cooperate. He was fairly sure he’d seen a figure in a dark robe and hood float by him right before he passed out. He admitted the first thing he did after seeing his friend’s body was to undo his zipper and conduct a body organ search to ensure his pocket rocket was still in its launch pad.
Later, he said he kinda recalled seeing something all covered in bugs lying on the ground next to the rock before he jumped in his truck. He was sure he was marked for death. He drove to the abandoned mine, at least he thought he did. But his truck wasn’t found anywhere near the mine. He lived for days off the remains of a 12 pack of beer AJ had bought at the convenience store, along with a cellophane package of Peppered Beef Jerky and a bag of cheese curls.
We interviewed Marisol in the hospital. Other than some minor abrasions and a foggy memory, she was unharmed and deeply grieved by AJ’s death. As far as offering an explanation regarding why she was covered in fire ants, allegedly, because only Booker claimed to have seen the red piss ants, she said her magic protected her. His deputies found Marisol and AJ the morning after the killing by driving to where a wake of turkey buzzards were circling.
It also appears that while our local Purple Martin warblers are right fond of fire ants, our buzzards aren’t on account of the fire ants venom’s ability to attack the buzzard’s nervous system. Marisol’s magic, and a swarm of fire ants, also protected her from those hungry ol buzzards. One of the Feds suggested she wasn’t bitten because her blood chemistry wasn’t appealing to fire ants. After I did a bit of reading, I concluded ant colonies weren’t so different from bee colonies. They both were industrious, and had a caste system and a queen. Ants aerate soil and eat pests like termites and ticks. However, while ants love sweet food, especially honey, they don’t produce a product as valued as the bees golden elixir, aka honey.
Sometime in September, over a meal at Mama Ramos’ Cantina, CJ and I got to talking about how unreal these deaths felt. We traded info on the meaning of some of the symbols carved into our lusty men’s chests, and she shared her views on why the killer could be a woman, now we knew there was some sort of drugs or gas being used to knock out the victims. I downed two draft beers while listening to her, and mostly agreed with what she said. It lined right up with the research and theories I’d been tossing around to make sense of the possible reasons for these killings.
We agreed that though humans have existed on this planet for at least 6M years, it’s only been near about ~26,000 years ago artisans and deity devotees started carving ample breasted, round bellied stone figures: Venuses of Willendorf, Laussel, and Malta’s prone, sleeping goddess. Roughly 17 – 15,000 years ago, wall art appeared depicting a more sensuous naked deity (goddess) and male horned god performing the vertical mambo and assuming 111 other positions straight outta ancient sex manuals they called Suda’s. Helen of Troy’s maid created a grammery on sexual positions, so did the Chinese, combining erotica with philosophy, medicine, and longivity treatices.
By 10,000 or so BCE, masses of orgiastic divine female goddess cults appeared in all sorts of places. Rotund Venus figures morphed into more stately statues of a mother goddess. Her words and spells were recited and written on clay tablets. These early texts show goddess cults promoted equality, intelligent social justice, and sexual freedom, and fiercely defended their rights, more or less. CJ and I disagreed on a few minor points. It was feasible the masses believed the goddess breathed you into life and welcomed you back home at death. Those early manuals were just as much about pleasing one sex as the other, and were explicit in stating sex wasn’t just about procreating.
I walked CJ to the door of the B&B where she was staying. She let me escort her not because she needed protection but because she wanted to hear more about my interpretation of ancient life. She also reminded me she was a trained FBI agent old enough to be my mother. CJ asked if I’d looked into a topic never short on conspiracy theories—cattle and animal mutilations. I had indeed, and promised I’d show her my inch thick folder on animal mutilations tracing back to the 1700s.
We sat in straight back rockers on the porch of the B&B. The waxing gibbous moon wore a chill bluish film. CJ knew a thing or two about the moon. Pointing, she said there was a word for the space between the light and dark areas, the tentative line that causes curious folks to consider that what we can see with the naked eye may not be infinite space. This area was called the terminator. Sometimes, with just a pair of binoculars, you can detect a curved handle on the terminator called the golden, jewelled scimitar. I nodded and added we’d be wrong to assume what we can’t see isn’t there.
“So here’s your bedtime story, CJ,” I said, moving from the rocker to the railing nearest the steps. “Ancient life might have been more like a happy ending fairy tale than a brutal daily fight to survive. Some evidence indicates people lived in relative harmony but…isn’t there always a but. Restless men forged metal weapons and attacked the goddess and her followers. Men invented their own male god, and laws, and punishments. The Hindu developed the Laws of Manu, the Hebrews the Torah, Muslim’s the Koran…These new texts had an omnipotent male god, and kings and priests to speak for an invisible, all knowing figment of man’s imagination.
Of course, most people disagree with this version of how it once was. I found it curious that while 1000s of BCE Venus figurines have been uncovered, there are few male figures. Over the centuries, the brave, noble deeds of women rulers and warriors were erased. Females were enslaved, reduced to the role of servant, whore, property… People who refused to worship male gods and rulers were killed or sacrificed.” CJ rocked and nodded.
“Go on,” she said.
“The Hebrews, allegedly, were among the first (around 400 BCE) to abandon the goddess, their divine Shechinah, after turning her into a demon and mating her with a concocted dark lord they called Satan (adversary), Lucifer (fiend), or the devil (great evil). In the Talmud and some apocryphal sources, she was demoted from createress to destroyer, denounced, labeled child-killer, evil seducer, vampire, serpent lover—it would appear. The pantheon of pagan gods devolved into a monotheistic god who was omnipitant, omnipresent, and phallic. By 400 CE, pagans and goddesses were banned entirely. Their temples were closed or destroyed. Mobs and soldiers killed priests and priestesses, burned scrolls, smashed icons, and outlawed pagan rites and traditions.”
“Now what I wonder is has she been ressurected? Some of those symbols carved into our lusty boys chests can be traced back to fertility cults and magical texts. Has she come seeking revenge? That’s all I got for now.”
“Fair enough,” CJ replied, “except you left out the part about men’s love of war. One of the worst things ancient man did was to separate women, make us compete against one another, and deny our voices. Goodnight Peter. You may be onto something, except it’s so bizarre, no one would believe it unless you found actual proof. Those missing peckers might provide the proof.”
On the way back to my vehicle, I tried to recall something I’d read in one of those high priced esoteric books I’d bought. Centuries ago, somewhere in Italy, there was a tree hung with severed cocks, and testicles too. Around 1265, an artisan painted a series of murals, one of which depicted the cock tree. Folklore associated with the story told of a powerful group of witches who cut off men’s penises and stored or displayed them in bird nests in an old walnut tree. There were alternate stories as well. One legend declared the mural was really about heretics, commonly believed to be sodomites, who were punished for their crimes by having their members removed. Or it was an early political message from the Guelphs, the family that controlled the Tuscan area at the time, taunting the Ghibellines, a family accused of witchcraft and having unsavory perversions?
When the mural was rediscovered (and restored) in recent times, they called the artwork the tree of fucundity. Women are shown below the tree, poking its strange fruit with sticks, as if it were some perverse pinanta. Two of the women appear to be fighting, while ravens swoop round the tree. The 15th century Malleus Maleficarum has multiple stories regarding witches keeping cocks alive—walking it as a pet, or feeding it straw and oats. It wasn’t hard to figure out those writers were fearful of their own sexuality and the forbidden pleasure their love rocket could give them. If you want to read some real smut, spend a few hours perusing a dozen or so witchcraft trial documents.
I glanced up at the bluff, illuminated by that damn, waxing moon. I could make out the outline of fir trees and boulders, and what might have been a coyote. Then I noticed something dark moving along the edge of the bluff. Should I have alerted the Feds it could be our robed killer? Nah, by the time anyone drove up there, the dark figure would be gone.
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September was the month the town stopped joking about its plight. It got a might sadder. A few families, whether they could afford it or not, sent their sons and intact peckers to out of state colleges. They warned them to stay gone, warned them not to come back for holiday celebrations until the killer was caught. Maybe the mood had something to do with the ominous presence of the FBI. Maybe folks were just hurting. Nearly everyone in Ryder knew someone that had died in the most unsavory way.
One thing you could say, the killer didn’t discriminate. Sherrif Rohrer, victim #4, had a German father. Vic #6, Leo Wettig, was Jewish. September’s victim #9 was black. Darius Trey helped run the family business, a paint and wallpaper store. He also sponsored local paint ball events at our dude ranches and what had become the annual Halloween Paintball Zap a Vamp Jamboree. This year there’d be no jamboree.
It might also have been that after the Tallywhacker Festival, people finally took time to grieve for the dead. That grief sometimes turned to anger. Folks staged protests and demanded law enforcement do whatever it took to apprehend the killer of our lusty men. I was half grateful there was someone else in town to be mad at besides yours truly and our folks in blue. No one wanted to know more than me what was it about Ryder County that attracted our killer?
Even the Deborah’s were quiet, relatively speaking. Their efforts were focused on dealing with another enemy that appeared in Ryder County, Galleria Mellonella—the Wax Moth. It was a formidable pest that liked bee hive honey as much as ants did, and was also eating away at the wax combs that stored their sweet nectar and held the beehive together. These pesky grey moths were luckily discovered early, before larvae deposited had hatched. The mayor’s wife, Mellie Pauling, had spotted some odd tunnels at the mouth of one of the hive houses, and accessed the problem.
There weren’t any known treatments that would kill the pests without killing the bees, who were doing their damn’est to expel the moths. The Deborah’s hung bait traps to lure the adult moths, but fretted it wasn’t enough. Then the mayor’s office got a delivery addressed to Mellie, which caused quite a stir amongst the reactive mayoral staff and pro-active Feds. As soon as it was determined it wasn’t a bomb, Mellie was allowed to examine the tall glass bottle filled with a pungent spray, and read the simple typewritten instructions. Whatever was in the spray did the trick. It killed the moths but left the bees unharmed.
Was it Cerrie that provided the cure? There’d been no recent sightings of the elusive bee charming business woman. She was taking no chances in making an appearance, but I knew she wasn’t far away. To take my mind off my predicament and temporarily escape a never ending line of questions, I made the unfortunate mistake of slipping into our movie house to catch a matinee. I didn’t much care what it was, though I should of. It was a double billing; I arrived just in time for the second feature, Invasion of the Bee Girls. The script coulda been written by a Deborah, one with a deviant sense of humor. A coven of women injected themselves with radio-active bee serum and began morphing into or acquiring bee physical features. It was a bit like The Fly but without the transportation pods. More fodder for bad dreams. Not that I needed any more material.
As a result of multiple nights of ensuing insomnia, I thought I’d saddle up my favorite gelding and take a midnight ride round La Fonda. Several ranch hands were still up, playing cards, and I waved to them as I cantered away. No one got up; the moon was waning, not waxing. The body of September’s vic, Darius Trey, had been lying in our makeshift morgue for several days. About a mile and a half from the stables, not far from where those cannibal bees had taken up residence in one of my cattle’s carcasses, I found Cerrie. Now I think back, it’s more likely she found me.
Next: Chapter 7: Mis-beehaving (buzz off)