RETURN TO KINGSPORT
(Part 2 of 2)
3. Skullduggery in Kingsport
That evening, not long after sunset, Chief Jamison St. Clair and Kiki Strawberry arrived in Kingsport. St. Clair parked her black Ferrari by Pier 3 and they got out. The cold water and rush of the surf reminded St. Clair of Collinsport. Some referred to the two communities as sister cities.
In truth, St. Clair was glad the twelve-minute drive was over. Kiki had spent the whole time talking about clothes and hairstyles and make-up, as an aspiring model might. Jamison St. Clair looked like a former supermodel, but unlike Kiki it was never an aspiration.
The two women stood at the start of the dock and looked out towards the end. The fishing boats were all moored for the day and even the gulls were quiet. Only the lapping waves of the Atlantic continued endlessly. St. Claire stopped for a moment to look at the statue of a mermaid in the village square.
And little did they know, they were at that moment, themselves being watched through a pair of binoculars.
St. Clair then looked out at the water. "So, the submarine was out there?"
Kiki nodded. “Hmm... well, I think I saw something small in the distance... right out there... but I don’t know if it was a boat... It looked like a stick and it was pointing towards us for a second, but then it made a turn to the left.”
“And these men, did they arrive in a small boat, a launch from that submarine?”
“They seemed to just come from nowhere...”
“So, they left the dock and headed downtown?”
“I guess. I-I'm sorry, Elladora was going crazy then and...” her voice trailed off.
Some witness she'll make, Chief St. Clair thought. So, taking an initiative based on geography and a hunch, she moved back off the docks, over the rocks, and across the parking lot. Kiki tried to keep up.
As they moved along the cobblestoned street St. Claire could not help thinking this would be the perfect place to smuggle something very dangerous into the United States. There appeared to be little or no protection here.
St. Claire spotted a trailhead at the north end of town and it appeared to circle around the base of Kingsport Head. According to Artemis, Andre Carter's cavern would have been around there, albeit, underwater.
And something along that trail just then flashed like a pair of eyes reflecting the lighthouse beacon. More likely, the detective thought, a pair of binoculars.
St. Clair knew she still needed to check on Victoria, but something was going on up ahead. She hurried along the trail, pulling out her flashlight, but not turning it on yet and not waiting for Kiki to catch up. She had spotted her prey.
Kiki followed. “What should I do?”
“Just be observant,” the detective said in a harsh whisper, “Note anything that seems out of place.”
Kiki took out the notepad and pen she always used to log Dr. Artemis's findings. She looked about as she tried to keep up with the detective.
It had grown dark since they arrived in Kingsport and the looming form of the great Head made them both feel small and cut off from the world. This, despite the nearest houses in the town being only a few hundred feet away.
An instant later, Kiki also spotted the lone figure and publicly announced it as she pointed. “Look! Out to the left, by that cliff over there!”
Chief St. Clair muttered something unintelligible. But she had already spotted the tiny figure. It was a woman, a girl, almost a child, maybe five feet tall, and wearing the ill-fitting uniform of the PRK Army. She carried a large backpack and wore thick glasses and she fumbled to raise her heavy rifle—a Communist knockoff of the old Garand rifles of WWII.
“Stop!” the girl cried out, aiming the rifle at St. Clair.
Kiki gasped and froze in her tracks, dropping her notebook and pen. Chief St. Clair, however, smirked even as she drew her 9mm Glock from under her jacket. She turned on the Halogen flashlight, hitting the Asian girl full in the eyes.
The girl, accustomed to the dark by then, was dazed. “Ow! Put light out my eyes!!” Her rifle waved wildly.
“And what do we have here?” Chief St. Clair mused.
“I can not see!”
The tall blonde detective moved closer. "I am Chief St. Clair, CPD. And who are you?"
“Me?” asked the girl.
“Yes, and put that weapon down.”
“No, I do not!” she said with defiance, blinking, trying to aim.
Chief St. Clair raised her pistol, aiming between the girl's eyes, now only about twenty feet away. “I said put the weapon down, NOW.”
The Asian girl screamed and threw down her gun. “No shoot!”
“That's better. Now who are you and what are you doing out here, wandering about pointing guns at people?”
“I Zo Lang,” the girl said, raising her hands as high as she could, “I just hunter. I hunt... bear.”
“Bear?” St. Clair almost laughed, but did not. Instead, she showed Zo Lang her badge. “I'm with the police. Have you noticed anything odd out here? Men in uniforms? Sailors, maybe?”
“No,” said Zo Lang, “I see nobody in uniform.”
“No see bears either.”
“Any lions or tigers?”
“Hmm,” Zo Lang pondered, “not yet but I keep looking. Can I have gun back now?”
“In a moment. You live around here?”
“Me? I, umm, I am… Yes.”
Chief St. Clair was fast becoming exasperated. “Okay, I want to see some identification. Your Red Army Card will do.”
“I give only name, rank, serial number,” she said, staring nervously at the gun pointing at her.
“I know this is going to sound odd, but have you seen a submarine around the harbor?”
“Oh no!” Zo Lang said, wide-eyed, “No summerine here! No soldier neither!”
“Wait a moment, Elmer. Why are you in uniform?”
“You got wrong person!!!” Zo Lang said, “Me no Elmer!!”
Unamused, St. Clair grabbed a different paper peeking out of Zo Lang's jacket pocket. She carefully unfolded it and looked it over under the glare of the flashlight.
“This is a rental car agreement, for a Miss Jones. You don't look like a Miss Jones to me.”
“I not Jones and that not escape vehicle.” Her eyes snapped wide, realizing that once again she had said too much.
Meanwhile, a shadowy figure passed behind Kiki. She saw a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye, as she turned around. But there was no one there.
“Wh-What ...? I...”
Nervously, she kept an eye out for any other movement and wished she had a flashlight of her own.
Chief St. Clair, having had her fill of the teenaged Communist's lack of cooperation, took hold of the girl's arm and quickly cuffed her. The girl yelped.
“Okay, we're headed to the sheriff's office. He can sort this out. This is what we call in the US of A, an arrest for brandishing a firearm... for now.”
“Eeep! I am hunter!” Zo Lang protested, “I innocent! I get phone call—I know rights!” Please give gun back and I not sue for false arrest!”
“Look Miss Fudd,” the detective said, beginning to lead the girl carefully back along the trail, “most people do not go hunting bears along the shore of a sea port, nor do they wear a strange People's Army uniform, nor talk in broken English, and not have ID.”
“Not true! Many people speak broken English!”
“And some speak in broken Russian. But this is not the time or the place, so let's head to the sheriff's office if you please. Kiki, can you get that rifle? Be careful with it.”
“I get phone call!!!”
“They got a phone at the Sheriff's office. This way please.”
Chief St. Clair and Zo Lang walked back to the town. Kiki following them, nervously holding a firearm for the first time in her life, and looking around in all directions. At one point she thought she spotted a nearby periscope moving in the water, looking their direction. Being unsure, she decided not to say anything to St. Clair.
A few moments later, St. Clair pushed the uniformed girl into the sheriff's substation. There she found a deputy sitting behind his desk reading Guns & Ammo and drinking a cup of coffee.
“I got capitalistic constitutional rights!” Zo Lang protested.
“Deputy,” Chief St. Clair said, “if you have a moment, it seems you have been invaded by the North Koreans.”
The bleary-eyed deputy said, “W-what? The who?”
“North Koreans. You also got a submarine out in the harbor, so you should get on the phone and call the Coast Guard.” She took the rifle from Kiki and laid it on the counter.
The deputy, slowly coming to his feet, looked at the rifle, then the stylish woman who had spoken, the little foreign girl in an oversized uniform, and the pretty coed. Whether he thought he was dealing with a college prank, a group of lunatics, or an actual invasion, we'll never know. At that moment, a certain very old man walked in then, leaning on his knotted cane. He was dressed as an old-fashioned sea captain, terribly aged, yet seeming to have retained his vitality.
Kiki turned around and noticed the elderly man from a day earlier. “Oh! He...” Then she decided to stay quiet. Zo Lang merely stared with wide eyes, instinctively terrified of this stranger.
“Ah, me mate, the able-bodied lassie. 'Tis well ta see ye again. What was yr name again? Kiwi? Tiki?”
Kiki giggled a little. “Kiki, sir.”
But then he turned to look at the deputy standing behind the counter.
“There be a problem here, deputy?” the old man asked in a commanding voice. St. Clair raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow.
The deputy swallowed hard. “It, uh, seems we're being invaded, sir. The Sheriff's not going to be happy about that, but I'm fixing to call the Coast Guard.” He then started dialing.
The old man set the tip of his cane on the phone's cradle, cancelling the call.
“We don't be wantin' to bring in more outsiders now do we? In Kingsport, we've always dealt with things quiet-like, eh?”
The deputy froze, the receiver humming in his hand.
Chief St. Clair looked at the old man. “And you would be?”
The old man barely turned his yellow eyes to look at the tall, blonde woman. “I would be someone what lives here, missie. And that be more than I can say about ye. Now let me have a palaver with the Chinee lass and see what she has to says”
Zo Lang trembled and Chief St. Clair suddenly felt protective of the Korean spy. “I don't think she's importing anything that would be of interest to you, sir.”
“Do ye know that? Have ye searched her?
“No-no!” Zo Lang cried, “No search, I got plenty rights!”
“No, I can't allow that,” Chief St. Clair said, “She's my prisoner. This young lady observed a group of North Koreans carrying in weapons for the submarine that’s swimming around in your harbor. She's not off some White Ship, that's for certain."
The old man’ full attention was suddenly locked on Jamison St. Clair. He cocked his head, peering in at her curiously. “Have ye been seeing a White Ship, lass?”
St. Clair replied, “I know the lady who owns the house where the White Ship docks.”
“Ye know the new owner, does ye? Well.”
“Actually, that is why I came to Kingsport, to see her. But looking up at the Head, it seems, there are no lights there.” St. Clair looked piercingly at the old man. “Have you seen her about? I'm a bit worried about her.”
But the old man did not answer. Instead, he turned, seemingly listening for a moment before he said, “Brought their heads out did they? Then have at 'em, mateys.”
All the others stared at the old man. He merely turned back to St. Clair and said, “Pardon? I wasn't listenin' lassie.”
Before the detective could repeat her questions, there came a cry from outside. She instinctively reached for her sidearm.
Then came the distinct, brief staccato of automatic gunfire followed by another scream in the street. Kiki ducked below the window, but little Zo Lang cried out, “Comrades!”
Chief St. Clair looked at the prisoner, even as she moved to the outer door, gun in hand. From outside there came several short screams, but suddenly the street became quiet, save for the distant barking of half the dogs in town. St. Clair lifted an eyebrow, perhaps more disturbed by the silence than by the gunfire and screams.
“Oh no!” Zo Lang cried, tears filling her eyes, “Let me out! I must save them!”
St. Clair looked back at the old man, “Seems the town takes care of itself, as always.”
“Aye, lass. It do seem so,” said the old man, smirking evilly, “Let the wee lass outside.”
St. Clair glanced at the bewildered deputy, then unlocked the handcuffs, “I think I hear a bear, Miss Fudd. Time to go a'hunting.”
Zo Lang ran out the door, crying, “Captain Choi! Officer Xiang! Comrades!” But in the street, Zo Lang discovered two of her comrades, dead, massacred, hacked to bits. She screamed, then fainted.
Inside, St. Clair looked to the old man, “So, I take it they are no longer a threat?”
The old man glanced out the window. “Dead men tell no tales, Missie.” And with that, he walked out.
“That leaves only one question,” she said, then left the sub-station, “What were they doing here in the first place?”
She checked her cell phone for a text from Wren. Nothing.
Kiki raised up and looked out the window, biting her lip. Outside, the old man disappeared into the rolling fog. Zo Lang lay in the middle of the street, surrounded by the corpses of her comrades.
Kiki ran outside, hoping to help the poor girl. She stopped and widened her eyes as she realized she was surrounded by the bloody parts of two dead Korean frogmen.
“O-oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!!”
She shivered for a few seconds, holding back the desire to yelp in horror, closing her eyes tightly. She crouched low and hugged herself.
Chief St. Clair stepped outside, clutching her Glock in both hands. Her eyes flitted rapidly left and right, hoping to fathom the thickening fog. A moment later, the astounded deputy followed, a shaking revolver in his hands.
In the uncertain light Kiki stumbled over something. She tripped and fell on her backside, landing next to a severed hand, still clutching a pistol. With horror, she realized the old-fashioned pistol was identical to the one Xiang carried.
Kiki whimpered incoherently, looking at it for a few seconds. “I... No... That c-can't be... It's n-not... It's...”
“Hey!” the deputy yelled, “Don't touch that!”
St. Clair, witnessing this and realizing Kiki was about to touch evidence, began to move over to her and the unconscious Korean girl. Then she heard something behind her.
Police Chief St. Clair turned—she fired twice! The sharp crack of gunfire stung Kiki's ears.
Yet a second later, Kiki swore she heard some unknown male voice chuckling. Something, maybe someone, moved in the fog. Then she heard a thud.
St. Clair cried out and fell.
The deputy fired his revolver. Kiki swore there came a lusty laugh. The terrified deputy then grabbed Kiki by the arm and hoisted her to her feet.
“I told you not to touch that gun! You're under arrest!”
“Wh-what? I...” Kiki babbled, looking up at the Deputy, squirming lightly. “Please, sir! I-If you could just hear my side of the story...”
The deputy pulled her back to the substation door. “You mess with evidence, you go to jail. I warned you once and that's more than enough!”
He opened the door and shoved her inside. “I don't need you interfering!” he said, “I got enough trouble!”
Suddenly, they both jumped at three loud, indistinguishable cracks of gunshots from down the street, followed shortly by a large explosion just outside the sheriff's office.
“What the hell was that?!” said the Deputy, with a panicky voice.
Hearing the noises, Kiki cringed. “Wh-What on earth?”
The deputy picked up the phone, preparing to call someone... if only he could think who.
* * *
Outside, Zo Lang had regained her senses. She rose up on her hands and knees and looked around. She saw that the old sea captain had reappeared, standing just outside the sheriff's office. Before anything else could happen, they both heard a loud 'FUMP'. A small metal canister landed at the old man's feet, beeping loudly.
The old man looked down at it. “Well, we can't have that now can we?”
Instantly, a man dressed like a pirate rushed from the shadows and picked up the device. He hurled it roughly east, the direction it appeared to come from.
Halfway to its new destination, the device made a loud hissing noise, shooting out streams of white smoke. A few seconds later, the entire street was concealed in a thick haze of white phosphorous and tear gas.
A lone figure barreled through the smoke, a gas mask shielding him from its painful effects. This tall man, wearing the uniform of a Chinese officer and carrying an AK-47, stopped at the side of a building across from the sheriff's office.
“Xiang!” Kiki cried, happily, from inside the substation.
The pirate passed through the smoke, heading towards Xiang, a rusty cutlass in his hand.
“Have at 'im, Peters,” said the old man, leering. “That gas stings like a jellyfish, I tells ye.”
The old man then turned and calmly walked to the substation. From the pirate's mouth there issued an inhuman laugh and rushed towards Xiang. Officer Xiang blinked, seeing the man but indistinctly. The curved cutlass in the pirate's hand seemed far more distinct.
Meanwhile, the Chinese officer knew, three his North Korean allies were soldiers maneuvered around to the sheriff's office and were prepared to kick in the door. Zo Lang rolled over, coughing.
In the corner of his eye, Officer Xiang spotted five vague figures in the fog of the tear gas. He knew they were not his allies. Still, reluctant to fire upon a man armed with only a bladed weapon, Xiang prepared to meet him with his fixed bayonet.
The grinning pirate charged with upraised cutlass. Xiang holds his rifle up defensively, as a shield. The pirate hacked, but the AK-47 blocked the deadly blow.
* * *
Inside the substation, a panicky deputy had found the number and dialed it. “Hello? Is this the National Guard? I need help here!”
Kiki widened her eyes, listening to his call. “What’s going on?!”
“We're under attack!” the deputy cried, perhaps not hearing Kiki, “It’s terrorists! I think they're Japanese!”
Suddenly, the front door burst open and one of the North Korean soldiers immediately opened fire on the deputy. He cried out and fell, the phone clacking to the floor. Kiki screamed, quickly moving to the back of her cell.
But the man had spotted her...
* * *
Xiang muttered a curse as he heard the gunfire from inside—his men should have known better to open fire. This could lead to an international incident!
He blocked another blow intended to hack his legs out from under him. Although still hesitant to pull the trigger just yet, Xiang knew he could not play with this madman any longer. He darted to the side and slashed with the rifle. The bayonet sliced through his foe's throat.
The pirate simply stood, grinned, and laughed insanely.
Xiang backed away, not believing his eyes. Nearby, Zo Lang froze in place. “Oh no!”
* * *
Inside the substation, Kiki recoiled in fear. The North Korean soldier, clad in a gas mask and steel helmet, attempted to tell Kiki something, but all that came out was, "Hrmprmphrmph!”
When she didn't respond, he raised his rifle and aimed at her. She gasped in horror.
Then the old sea captain entered the office. The soldier immediately turned and pointed his weapon at the old man. His finger on the trigger, he froze, looking into the glowing yellow eyes.
The old man continued to stare at the soldier until he fell to his knees and dropped his weapon. Kiki stood against the back wall of my cell, not blinking.
* * *
Outside, Zo Lang wanted to help her brave comrade, Officer Xiang. But before she could help him, she realized that two other pirates had set their sights on her. She froze in place. “Comrade Xiang! Save me!”
Xiang grunted, seeing the North Korean frogmen in the street, butchered, slashed, and dismembered. There was even a severed hand, clutching Shanxi Type-17 pistol like his own. He realized the nature of his situation—the pirate was a ghost. Nothing could kill him because he was already dead! Xiang attempted to slip past the obviously enraged spirit, running towards the substation where that strange old man entered. Earlier he'd seen the old man standing with the pirates and he seemed unconcerned about them.
Before Xiang could make it to the office, the dead pirate slashed at Xiang’s turned back. He winced in pain, but continued, even jumping over a fallen woman with blonde hair. A dedicated soldier of the Revolution does not let a scratch stop him in his mission, Xiang reminded himself. He sprinted towards the sheriff's office—but only then did he stop, yanking off his gas mask.
Standing in front of the substation, dragging one of the Korean soldiers, was the terrible old man, his inhuman eyes seemingly issuing a baleful yellowish light... He harshly shoved the man forward, who stumbled and fell, screaming like a madman. Before Xiang's feet lay Comrade Hyung, a brave man, trembling in fear, babbling incomprehensibly.
Xiang instinctively knew he should kill this frail old man... if only he had a weapon. True there was something heavy in his hands... a thing of metal and wood. But he could not remember it’s purpose. Did one throw it? Use it as a club? And how could he club anyone when he'd fallen to his knees and could not rise?
Xiang immediately sized up the situation—this old man was a sorcerer! Who knew what powers he might have? Even then, the three ghostly pirates slowly approached Xiang and Zo Lang, clutching cutlasses and bludgeons and grinning. Comrade Zo had also fallen to her knees, whimpering.
Xiang, feeling impotent for perhaps the first time in his career, mumbled something unflattering in Mandarin, clearly directed at the terrible old man.
Surprisingly, the old man responded with a Cantonese curse, common until a hundred years ago.
Xiang asked, “How do you speak Cantonese better than English?”
“I spent many a year sailing along the coast of far Cathay in me day. Learnt many a thing too.”
Xiang was given a moment to ponder this...
* * *
In her cell, Kiki thought she heard Xiang outside, as the front door had been left open.
“Xiang?!” she cried, “Miss Police Chief?! Are you out there?” She leaned against the door of her cell to get a better look. The door, which the deputy neglected to lock, rattled loosely. Noticing this, Kiki pushed on the rusted bars, but it would budge only a fraction of an inch.
“Nnngh! Come.. on...”
Kiki pushed as hard as she could... then she remembered the door was made to slide sideways.
* * *
Out in the street, Zo Lang had backed away from the murderous Eighteenth Century pirates. But now they had stopped their advance and looked to the evil old man with yellow eyes. They awaited his next orders.
She straightened her glasses and saw Xiang, who'd fallen to his knees. “Oh! I must save him!” She stumbled to her feet and rushed to him.
Zo Lang grabbed hold of Xiang by his arm and tried to lift. “Comrade get up!”
Xiang defiantly rose to his feet, first looking at Comrade Hyung, now utterly insane, then glaring at the old man. His desires to the contrary, he was obviously in no condition to offer any sort of resistance.
“Comrade Officer, what we do?” the young Private asked, her voice trembling.
Xiang immediately turned on Zo Lang. “For one, you treasonous, insubordinate dog, you should have bitten down on your cyanide capsule ages ago! The moment you were captured!”
Zo Lang gasped, staring up at him with wide eyes under her thick glasses.
Xiang slung his AK-47 over his shoulder. Almost at once, the unearthly beam subsided, leaving only a yellowish glow in the old man's eyes.
“Ye'd parlay fer quarter, then?”
“...I have no idea what you are saying. English is not my first language and your… 'accent' is peculiar. Are you Czech?”
The old man simply smirked. But then Xiang bowed, his back stinging at the motion. Zo Lang immediately mimicked him.
“We obviously underestimated the forces at work here,” said Xiang, still bowed, “I shall sound retreat and trouble you no more.”
The old man laughed evilly. “Aye, that ye did, lubber. Now be off with ye and return no more. If me mates catch wind of any more of yr kind, none will get away. Savvy?”
Xiang rose and nodded stiffly then pulled out a radio and desperately shouted orders into it in Korean. He released the button and waited for a reply.
There was none.
After a moment he said, “Comrade Zo, pick up Comrade Hyung and take him back to the base camp, then come back with the truck for our fallen comrades. Your insubordination is forgiven.”
Zo Lang actually broke into a smile. “Thank you, Comrade Xiang!” She quickly grabbed hold of her insane countryman and with considerable effort, led him off to the docks. The old man, now surround by his dead mates, only smirked once more.
By then, Kiki Strawberry had escaped from her cell, inched her way past the body of the deputy without throwing up, and stepped outside. There she saw Xiang in the middle of the street, standing at attention and facing to an old man—whom she recognized.
“Captain! You're back!”
The old man may have actually smiled a bit. “Aye, Lass. I'd wager ye have a bit more spunk about ye than these heathens, eh lass? Care ta partake of a bit of grog with me?”
Still a bit shaken up from earlier, Kiki only said, “A... a w-what?”
The old man sidled up to her, grinning. “Just come along and I'll show ye.”
Xiang, who had begun to limp back to the dock where his boat was docked, stopped. “Kiki,” he said, “I can understand only half of what this man says, but I'd stay away from him if I were you. He is evil.”
“A might full of yr sails aren't ye, laddie? Evil? Ye're hardly one ta talk, now are ye, lubber?”
Xiang winced at the jibe that he might ignore had he not been beaten so badly. To Kiki he said, “Don't mention my involvement in this incident to the Doctor. Understood?”
Kiki nodded softly. “B-but what on earth h-happened...?”
“We'll meet up later and talk about it. I'm not sure if you noticed, but this is an evil place, I have a serious wound, and I'd rather not stick around here.”
Xiang turned and hobbled off. He eventually met up with Zo and Hyung. They collected the bodies of their four fallen comrades and rowed out to the rendezvous point, radioing frequently. However, all they would find was an oil spill and a few bits of debris.
Back in town, St. Clair groaned and rolled over, rubbing her head. Kiki helped her sit up and offered to call an ambulance. The detective refused and merely stumbled off to her car.
Kiki looked back at her sadly and sighed. Then the Terrible Old Man of Kingsport sidled up to Kiki once more.
“So, what says ye to that pint of grog?”