Picture from Ashmolean Library, weak headed man
“The best way to behave is to misbehave” Mae West
“I was warned as a child of 13 not to act too strong; try to look like you belong, don’t push… Save time and trouble–don’t misbehave.” Woman in the Moon, Streisand
“Don’t stay out late or care to go; home about 8, just me and my radio; ain’t misbehaving…” 1929 jazz song
By the time October’s Hunter Moon was waxing, I’d had my fill of Fed buzz words and their formal way of doing things. Three months in, they hadn’t caught the killer either. They just took up space and poked their noses everywhere. If I could, I’d wash my mind out with lye soap to get rid of their damn catch phrases: Let’s keep it in our back pocket until we seal the deal… We’ll circle back on that point. Are we crystal clear? We’re laser focused. Touch base with us later; loop us in if you find something more than smoke and mirrors. Put that on your radar. . . . Personal favorite ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team—true that, though there’s plenty of ‘I’s’ in individuality and two big ‘U’s’ in FU^% you.
When they announced half their staff was pulling out, or as their head honcho described it, ‘reprioritizing for maximum effectiveness,’ I didn’t know whether to kick up my heels and dance a jig or kick the pompous ass who told me out the door. CJ was being sent to their field office in Denver. The reasoning was, unfortunately, sound. She couldn’t do much profiling of a killer that left nearly no evidence, no DNA, and no inkling of who or what our killer was.
The FBI classified this as serial killings, a term coined in the 70’s to apply to someone that didn’t kill for money or revenge. The motive they ascribed was a lust to kill. I tended to disagree with that motive, just couldn’t quite nail the ultimate reason despite my research, volumes of notes, and stupid venn diagrams. CJ’s profile was vague as a result of lack of clarifying evidence. What she could say was the killer was in his/her mid 20s-30s, likely male but a woman not ruled out, agile, with access to drugs or some sort of knock out gas. Most likely, this was an organized killer with a specific agenda.
CJ refused to add the other typical info that went into a serial killer profile. I suspect that might have been one of the reasons they were transferring her. She wouldn’t commit to saying this killer had a traumatic childhood, was a bed wetter or fire starter. Obviously, there must have been a trigger event to set our killer off. The closest CJ came to ascribing traits to the killer was to venture this evil deed do’er may have some sort of religious or esoteric obsession, and a distorted sense of reality. This was largely based on the enigmatic symbols etched into our victim’s chests.
She and I both were leaning towards a woman as a killer, and not just because of what was being taken monthly as a prize or offering. Neither of us ruled out the revenge aspect either, though what the killer had against men like my brother and Sheriff Rohrer was a confounding mystery. Most of the men killed were upstanding citizens. The worst you could say was they all seemed to be proud of their peckers. What was that joke Travis liked to tell. Yeah, what’s a man’s ultimate embarrassment? It’s walking into a wall with an erection and hurting your nose.
Perhaps some woman’s nose was all bent out of shape because we talk too much about ourselves and not enough about her? CJ said she couldn’t read Campbell’s The Hero with a 1000 Faces and not think there were glaring omissions. Philomela, who spins a tale of her rape into a tapestry, or Arachne, who portrays the misdeeds of the gods, are hardly ever mentioned as heroic. At best, the women in ancient tales are muses or martyrs. Too often they’re pointed out as little more than living incubators of male heroes, or as tricksters, harlots, and evil sorceresses. How often have men written about how women rescued themselves from impossible situations? CJ lent me a mighty interesting read by a lady named Rebecca Solnit, who wrote ‘we enshrine stories about heroes/power and dismiss stories about ordeals requiring resilience, persistence, alliance forging…’
Now I can guess what you’re wondering. What happened on my midnight ride? Did I haul the enigmatic Cerrie in for questioning as a suspect, or a person of interest? Just what was she doing on my ranch in the middle of the night?
It sure didn’t go like it ought of. My flashlight shown right on her, bending over a hedge of Hopseed and Oleander bushes in full fall bloom. Nearby were several spindly Creosote bushes. She didn’t seem surprised to see me, and appeared to be on foot. Cerrie had a small version of what you’d call a scythe in her hand, a half moon shaped steel tool used to cut plants cleanly. She was wearing some sort of embroidered linen shirt topped with a heavier shawl that covered her shoulders. Her hair was loose and wavy and hung down her back. I think the skirt she had on is properly called culottes, which means it’s really loose fitting pants. On her feet was a pair of fringed beige suede boots.
“How lovely to see you Peter Dan. I’ve come to appeal to your sense of fairness; to ask you to use your influence to force the local newspaper print a retraction. They are saying these killings were performed by a mad, out of control hormonal woman with penis envy. You know that’s not true.”
“Good to see you too, Cerrie. Just how do you know they weren’t?”
Rather than answering me directly, she posed a provocative question. “The first time you said that word—did you flinch or smile Peter Dan? How do you refer to that word in police reports? Do you say ‘the absence of male genitalia, use an aphorism, or call it exactly what it is—a penis? It’s not true what those editors and the pseudo experts say…”
“No, what do they say?”
“That little girls and later grown up women have penis envy. I will admit—some women do have power envy, a strong desire for equality and autonomy. These slayings are ritualistic, are they not? Your killer, or killers, has a particular purpose in mind. Discover what that is and you’ll find your killer.”
“Have you considered that this is the doing of Mithras, Peter Dan?”
“Mithras was a cult, which arose roughly around the first century of the common era, amongst men of the Roman Empire. They discovered this god being worshiped by Persian men living in what you now call Iran. They met in underground temples, Mithraeums, to worship some kind of rock god. To pass initiation they sacrificed an animal to Sol, the sun god, but left its flesh to rot or be eaten by vultures and crows. Such a waste. For seven days, the subsisted on bread and wine. For special ceremonies, they sacrificed a bull, which ascended into the heavens. It seems to have been a sky based fertility cult, but was outlawed for its rather peculiar practices. The Christian church was also jealous of the attention men lavished on this god.
“Fascinating, but let’s talk about something even more interesting, like just what is it you’re doing here on my property, and what is it you’ve been doing all these months, while hiding out from the law?”
“Perhaps, Peter Dan, I’m like the wasp; someone that serves a useful purpose, pollinating and eating pests, while needing a considerable amount of personal space and autonomy. Why am I even a person of interest, as you law enforcement people say? You have no evidence, no fingerprints, no proof I was in Ryder County when the killings began. I’ve been doing the job I was hired to do—restore the health of your bee colonies, remove the offending species. I even recaptured the Deborah’s queen bee. Why are you harassing me Peter Dan? Is it because I’m not an American and it’s easier to blame a foreigner, especially when there is no one else to blame?”
I expected to see a pouting look on her face. Instead, it looked rather smug.
“Kindly direct the glare of your flashlight lower. Is it not true, Peter Dan, that among matriarchal agriculturally based societies like those in Ryder there must be ritual sacrifices to ensure a bountiful harvest? Surely you’ve heard of the killing of the king, death by combat, and the wicker basket burnings of both volunteers and criminals. The king must always be virile, fertile, free of illness. Perhaps you’re not looking for a killer at all, but for a steward of this bountiful land, a person you call executioner who is really a hero?”
It was hard not to snort, but I restrained myself. I replied I’d read books that described ancient annual animal and human sacrifices. Beliefs and remnants of this custom were coded into old tales like the Fisher King, Oedipus, and Beauty and the Beast. But I didn’t want Cerrie to continue down this path or distract me from my goal. And I added that to the best of my knowledge, we had no matriarchal based fertility societies operating in Ryder. I asked her where she was staying and why she’d given me incorrect information as I reached around to reassume myself there was a pair of handcuffs attached to my belt.
Her eyebrows arched. “I did no such thing. You asked for a current address; I gave it to you. My job requires me to change locations frequently to observe hive behavior and the plants and water sources they depend upon. Now I have a question for you. As a female, Peter Dan, what am I to you: foreigner, ancient hag, plaything, virgin or harlot, charlatan, the weaker vessel, femme fatale, pawn, terrible mother, la belle dame sans merci?” Millenniums of men have delighted in discrediting females by turning women rulers and scholars into scarlet women or worse. They’ve promised many things; what have men delivered besides war, denuded forests, polluted waterways, slavery, the destruction of entire cities and populations? Just what are you accusing me of?”
That sounded like fighting words, but were delivered without any raised inflection of voice. I slipped off my horse and positioned the flashlight under my left arm. Cerrie faced me, a hand positioned on the curve of her hip. An etched object, made of wood or stone, bobbed on her chest, attached to a thin length of leather. What did they call that—a double axe—a labrys—the symbol of a bull. “Okay, I suppose, at some point in time, women have been all those things. You’re currently a person of interest. That’s it. And the Feds want to talk to you.”
“What’s that peculiar smell around your person, Peter Dan? It’s most disturbing.”
“I’m not…wait, are you referring to the stuff I slathered on earlier? It eases the aches I sometimes get from an old shoulder injury. I think it’s some sort of menthol or oil of wintergreen mixed with arnica.” As I shortened the distance between Cerrie and myself, she backed up. I wasn’t sure whether she said ‘it frightens the bees or it frightens me.’
“You might also want to look into the cult of Great Mother Cybele, which is far older than Mithra. Cybele is mistress of nature in its most wild state. Her followers would drink a heady brew and work themselves into a frenzy, self-mutilating their bodies. Her priests castrated themselves. They became geldings, just like your horse, Peter Dan. Alas, Cybele was a spurn goddess. Her lover, Attis, shattered her heart into pieces. Isn’t that what men do? There’s nothing worse than …”
What happened next was entirely my fault. As I unsnapped the band of leather securing my pistol in its holster and reached for the handcuffs, the flashlight slipped from under my arm. It clanged as it hit a hard shale bedrock floor. The glass shattered and the light sputtered out. My horse bolted, but didn’t go far. By the time I’d chased him across the field and fished the spare flashlight out of my saddlebag, Cerrie had vanished and a damp, smoky mist was rising from the ground. How do you capture smoke? If I knew that, I could capture the ever elusive Cerrie.
*** ### *** ### ***
Little did I know October was about to get a bunch worse. I had to let the Feds know Cerrie’d been spotted on my property and I was unable to apprehend this lady to bring her in for questioning. The FBI had been itching for an excuse to inspect La Fonda with a fine tooth comb and I’d just given them a reason. They were most curious about the cattle corpses and the tale the Deborah’s told of the biblical cannibal bees that had moved into the cattle carcass on my ranch and then mysteriously disappeared.
Typically cattle mutilations are written off as the actions of crazy cults, alleged Satanist groups, cannibals, werewolves, resurrected prehistoric pterodactyls, rabid animals, or ETs. This group of Feds were having a good laugh floating some ridiculous theory about a group of sex crazed members of an offshoot of some Masonic group as being the instigators. Sure, why not blame a centuries old secretive boys club.
By having access to my ranch and several others, they were able to uncover an illegal mail order business that sold pizzle sticks, that is, they sold beef jerky they passed off as genuine pizzle sticks. It’s a term that originated in Germany, some version of the word for sinew, if memory serves. The word is used frequently on the other side of the world, in New Zealand and Aussieland. Basically, a pizzle is supposed to be the part of the bull and surrounding areas that produces bull semen. They’re sold as dog chew toys if you can believe it, and it ain’t cheap. I’m not saying which ranch got caught and fined, only that it wasn’t La Fonda.
As for our local newspaper’s tabloid speculation that a hormonally unbalanced women was harvesting man parts and killing our lusty men, there was no retraction, just more outrageous suppositions. Headlines screamed there was a new Lorena Bobbitt on the loose. Apparently, there were a bunch of other women who’d performed the same heinous act. The papers mentioned a lady or two in the UK, in India, Thailand, and a bunch more in the good ol USA. Talk about gird your loins men! The latest joke making the rounds was that the killer was a women who knew the difference between divorce and circumcism—a divorce gets rid of the entire prick.
October’s victim #10 was another punch to my gut. Lamar, my 2nd favorite bartender (next to Hal) was found splayed across the hood of his truck, which was parked amid some scraggly pines a couple hundred feet off the road leading to the state park, aka the Deborah’s bee sanctuary. This seldom used utility road led to the mayor’s back door, or at least to the gully next to the mayor’s barn. In fact it was the mayor’s wife that discovered Lamar’s body. She told us she’d gone looking for her missing Siamese cat around 3 am. Lamar had been dead for less than an hour.
Despite a 14 man local tag team and 7 Feds, the killer had vanished again. This time, all fingers pointed towards me. I’d been the last person to talk to Lamar. Some dutiful citizens at The Easy Ryder Saloon reported he and I had a bit of a disagreement. That wasn’t exactly true. Lamar decided I’d had too much to drink and insisted on driving me home.
We’d argued that two beers and a shot of tequila wasn’t too much for my 6 foot, 210 pound frame to handle over two hours. I explained to him I was plumb wore out from patrolling the last two nights. We knew the killer didn’t always strike the night of the official full moon necessarily. Sometimes it happened a night or two before or after. A few folks were ready to say the killing spree was over when October’s full moon came and went. I knew better.
We finally agreed he would drive me back to La Fonda and I’d get a ranch hand to act as chauffeur and patrol with me until dawn. I even promised I’d get some shut eye once the sun came up. He dropped me off and I headed over to the bunkhouse. Lamar had mentioned something about going to a late night poker game over at the Dude Drop Inn. A half dozen or so of our bawdy boys figured there was safety in numbers.
I became an official suspect since the keys to my truck were found in Lamar’s back pocket. Yours truly was now intimately linked to five or more of the dead men—my brother Travis, best buddy Jon Mack, Sheriff Rohrer, (whose position I assumed), La Fonda’s A J Strand, and now Lamar. Was I being framed?
Chapter 8: Bee-cause of You…