Star Siding Road 1

Star Siding Road
Chapter 1 Draft (08-03-12)

“Where do they keep the dwarfs?”

I hesitated for a moment then looked over my bifocals and stared at Renee. I had thought of her as ‘Sweet Renee’ for obvious, at least to me, reasons from the time I hired her two weeks ago; a name based on a fond memory of a receptionist at the place where I once worked, an actuarial services company consulting with various insurance clients. That was long past and ancient history now, but the resemblance to the almost forgotten girl uncanny.

“The dwarfs — Yes I have wondered about the dwarfs myself . . . Tell me, what is your precise concern at this time and what can I do to help ease the pain?”

She looked in my direction, blue eyes open wide, a deer in the headlight kind of look, and that same kind of tone in her voice, as if deer could speak, and said, “I see them in the movies all the time. But I can’t remember ever seeing one up here. Like what’s the problem? They gotta’ be somewhere.” She was breathing hard and the strain showed.

“Well of course they do and they most certainly are. But very discrete. A dwarf would no sooner interfere in most of what we do than — well words fail here Renee. They are around, and I am sure very thankful for your concern. I think most of them moved to California and are doing just fine. Now to change the subject, any word from Jessup on the Franco divorce?”

“Let me look,” she said, brushing away some strands of long blond hair that were falling from under her knit cap and covering her eyes and obscuring her vision— though in a most appealing fashion. Then, as if the conversation was forgotten and had never happened, she went back to typing at her monitor, concentrating so much I began to think she really cared about the job. A minute later she perked up and said. “Got one, he just reported in.”

“I’ll see it in my office.”

My office was the desk opposite of Renee’s, the mat and aisle from the door’s entrance separating us. But the office chair in the 12’ by 12’ room was on my side. After all I was the one paying the bills — for now.

‘The Drake Detective Agency’, that’s what the sign under the large wooden mallard perched over the door said. And the listing in the phone book said the same. I retired from my accountant’s job down state, and moved back north right after the plant closing of our major client, as soon as I could make arrangements. Now on a half a pension with $5000 in the Peoples State Bank and a one year lease on an office in the old ‘Resale Shop’ building, the one that had just gone out of business, I was living a dream. And had ‘Sweet Renee’ and Dave Jessup to help make it come true. How could I fail?

But considering all the practice I was getting I just might find a way.

I hired Renee on a hunch. She hadn’t worked so out well in her last position at the Munising Bakery and Restaurant, but I was going to handle all the counting and money matters and she had something else to offer. Dave Jessup was a different kind of hire. I had been a close friend of his dad’s; he might have been my best friend after George Baily, before I went off to school downstate.

Old Dave, — Old Dave? Hell, he was my age when he died in a logging accident five years ago. Young Dave, his mother making sure he worked at it, finished high school and was doing part time at the paper mill when I came back into town.

The Franco divorce case was the second of our projects. The first, paid $125 after two weeks of work photographs included, was catching Mrs. Gamins’ fair haired son Billy buying substances from an ‘Unidentified’ seller. Dave and Renee both knew who the dealer was but all Mrs. Gamins wanted was some photos to show her son, some that could, if he didn’t change in a hurry, be turned over to the local cop force, the one her husband was a fifteen year veteran thereof.

I chalked that up as a loss leader until Dave said we could sell the other pictures at $50 a pop to the other kids he had on film, if we gave them the negatives and said neither the cops nor their parents would get a look.

“Won’t that make you pretty unpopular?” I asked.
“Naw, they’ll understand. This is just a job and you are gonna’ be the bad guy.”
We didn’t make a profit on that first job—but we didn’t loose much either.

With a population of 2100 Munising has an eight man full time police force. The Michigan State Police Post for this half of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was two miles east just outside the city limits.

The city had been losing population for 30 years. It was a slow process but steady. The big town in the UP was Marquette, pop 32,000 when school was in session. It was 55 miles to the west. Mostly famous for having a Wall Mart Store, Marquette was notable as the one and only location of Northern Michigan University. Home of the fighting something or other, I think but I am probably wrong about that. Must have them confused with another school. But they do have a wooden dome covering their football field.

Ambitious children or those with ambitious parents attend that Athens of the North; those that graduate go off to find jobs—somewhere else. Forty years ago it wasn’t that way. The Copper and Iron industries were still going strong and we did our own lumbering and sawmill work. Now I guess Mexicans do the lumbering in western Canada and they cut the boards in China then send them back. The copper is mined in Chile and the iron and steel get made in India and Russia.

I wonder when we will outsource the prisons. We have a couple of them still in operation. What’s the difference if the guests do their time 5000 miles from home instead of 500? Someone in state government was going to figure how to make a profit doing it that way next time the Republicans got the Governors Office. And the Democrats would complain a bit, and talk about their plans to bring in high tech jobs, and how the system needed reform, and then conclude we needed the money for education and that would be that.

Michigan, the entire Midwest, was suffering the lack of manufacturing jobs. The rest of the country is in for a rude awakening when everyone in the service industries find out they can’t keep selling insurance policies to advertisers who spend the profits from advertising things made outside the country on buying insurance. Now if we could outsource politicians and then ignore them; that is something I could go along with. I read some corporate law work is getting done in India. It’s a start.

Munising had two major summer attractions: one was the Pictured Rocks Cruise Ships; the other a tour of some of the local wrecks where you could look through a glass panel in a box hanging off the side of the boat and with difficulty see a hundred feet down and almost make out something on the bottom.

There was one other tourist magnet that I will get to later—but hey! There were probably some negative people ‘Away down South in Dixie’ say ’bout 1860 talking down the local economy like this and saying, “This whole ’Civil War’ thing might not be such a great idea.”

“How do you catch a Bigfoot, Boss?”

“Renee . . . There are no Bigfoots, no Flying saucers, no Easter bunnies and no Honest politicians. And you can forget about the contest to find one, cause it ain’t a gonna’ happen.”

“But if there was one, how would you go about finding it. I mean if a detective can’t find something that big, who could?”

“Well yes, you do have a point there. Go back to your clipping and I’ll think about it.” The trouble was, once she’d gotten me thinking about it I couldn’t stop.

Some hours later I told her, “Ok Renee. I figured how to do it.”

“Do what?”

“Catch a Bigfoot. It was your question after all. Pay attention. First you need to find the perfect bait. And logically that’s something no one has ever done before. After all, if someone found the perfect bait, and used it, we would have cages full of the things, not phony movies showing people running around in gorilla suits. Anyone can run around in a gorilla suit.”

“Not anyone! I don’t even have a gorilla suit!”

“Back to your clippings Renee.” I had her cutting out crime related stories from the local papers and filing them away for possible use some other time. Empty filing cabinets and too much spare time was the problem.

Just before lunch the next day Renee asked for the afternoon off. Slow was too fast a word to describe business just now. I had no problem in letting her leave early. She gathered her things, and the paper bag her lunch was in, and going out the door said. “Wish me luck; I’m off to find the Bigfoot.”

“Good luck,” I said. “And be careful, I hear they bite.” I had a good laugh over that as the door swung shut.

She beat me into work next morning. I was glad to see her key still worked, first time she needed to use it in a month. Before I had my coat off she started talking.

“You were right Boss, I found one. I found a whole family of them, out by Melstrand.”
“Photo’s, fur, plaster casts of foot prints, what kind of proof do you have?”

“Nothing, the money for first place just isn’t that important. They don’t belong in cages! You shudda’ seen how happy they were, and friendly too. They must have never tasted anything so good in their lives. That idea about bait, that’s what did it.”

“No photo, no fur, no proof. Will you at least tell me what you used for bait?”
“Only if you promise not to use it yourself or tell anyone else. No cages ever!”
“My word on it.”
“It was a cheese sandwich.”
“A Cheese Sandwich?”

“Yes! When you said I needed the perfect bait, well, I tried to think of something better than perfect.”

“Nothing’s better than perfect Renee.”

“Exactly, that’s how I figured it too. Nothing is better than Perfect, but, if you’re hungry, a Cheese Sandwich is better than Nothing!”

That’s the way the story would have started, all from memory, if I had written it then. You will be able to tell I was toying a bit with the truth in the above for dramatic effect. But so much has changed in the last year that I need a do-over. Let’s go back almost forty years and then I can start from the beginning all over again.

Munising — Before the Fall
The batteries for the 26 inch Schwinn’s headlights were dead. Didn’t matter. I had a 24 inch Evans Velocipedia made down state at a factory in Plymouth, forty miles outside of Detroit. I don’t suppose they make that size anymore and the Evans plant closed years ago, and it didn’t even have a headlight, but I digress.

A sliver of a moon was sinking in front of us and the road from Fox River to Munising was straight as an arrow. Thirty-five miles straight, through Seney with just the jog at Wetmore by the Benjamin UP Hardware and Motel. We were only two miles out of town and George Baily and I were peddling for all of what’s worth, like the ground was caving in behind us. We were supposed to be in by dark but we were going to be late no matter what anyway.

No moon now but the light from the stars above and silvery band of the Milky Way were more than enough to keep us on the road, even at speed, so long as we stayed near the middle, not an easy job before center-lines were painted on the two lane asphalt of M-28. One of my wheels was knocked a bit sideways and it brushed the fork at each revolution. Gave an easy way for George to locate me even in the dark.

We pedaled past the two story Reich house a half a mile beyond the hardware and the light coming from the front windows made going easy for another hundred yards. Old man Reich had run the German POW camp out by the lumber mill during the war. Took a lot of ribbing for it but by all accounts did a good job. Only window lights, the one on the pole by the dog pen near the road was out.

That was strange, it must have just died. Adolf Reich loved those dogs as much as he loved his wife and daughters. The Reich’s had three daughters, Anna, Gertrude, and Lois. I was kinda’ sweet on Lois and thought of her as the third Reich. Mentioned it once . . . never again.

I wanted to stop and tell them about the post light being out but darn we were running late. I’d call after I got home. Even so, as the lights from town became brighter I was thinking we should have stopped.

Only a minute later while nearing Putvin road the whole world got lit up by the light in the sky. It came from the West, from just about the place where the moon had set. First a dull reddish yellow dot and then a lengthening streak momentarily white and as bright as the noontime sun, but ever so much closer. It passed a few hundred feet overhead, crossing the road at a thirty degree angle and plunged into the trees. At the same time came a boom, and a crack like summer thunder or I can say now the like the shockwave from a supersonic aircraft, though we didn’t know anything about sonic booms, that would have all been new to us at the time, two years before the airbase out at Marquette got built.

“A Meteor,” George cried, as we turned north on Putvin Rd, both of us drawn like bears to honey; there was a yellow green glow a hundred yards ahead. In retrospect I suppose with all the alien invasion and horror movies popular at the time we should have been afraid and run away. But I can’t remember thinking that way even for a moment, and I had just gotten over the Blob and could again stand to see wadded up clothing or my football helmet on the floor in the dark without pulling the covers up.

There was no traffic on Putvin, it was dirt, graded a couple of times a year in the summer and ignored after the snow started falling. It continued for a half a mile then turned into two-track leading to a couple of hunting camps then ending before reaching the Lake.

The light was already fading when we coasted to a stop and got off our bikes. There was a shallow drainage ditch on this side of the road, mostly dry, but the stagnant water soaked through the sides of my canvas shoes when we crossed it. The sky-glow from town was hidden by towering trees lining both sides of the road and the only sound was a faint hiss that could have been wind or something else—as it seemed strongest in the same direction the light was coming from but ever dimmer even as we pushed into the forest.

The objects’ path downward had cut through the tops and then the middle of a few dozen trees. We had to go around the downed trunks and branches and they kept us from seeing anything but the glow until we were on the other side of the pile. And there it was!

Half way buried, four or five feet of glowing surface above ground, smooth and egg shaped with some extra bumps scattered at random on its sides and something under twenty feet long on the horizontal. We could tell at once this was no meteor and then the Blob came roaring back from my subconscious and I froze, unable to do anything but stare at the thing, hypnotized by its eerie light. George for some reason seemed unaffected. He continued forward but at a slower pace than before.

I couldn’t let him go on alone and so—the hardest thing I had ever done—then or since, I forced first one leg to move, and then the other, and I followed him in. The last fifty feet, a step at a time, took almost a minute.

“It should be hotter here,” George said, only a foot away from the things side. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

Summoning up the part of my brain that normally controlled my voice, and using all the power of deductive reasoning at my command I said, “Huh?”

“It should be hot Paul. Speed . . . Atmosphere . . . Friction. The woods should be on fire.”

Then we heard a whine and a thump on the other side of the thing and even George froze for an instant before dropping to the ground. He wasn’t still for long. He turned and saw me starting to back away and waved me to a halt, then placed an upright finger across his pursed lips indicating silence. He swung his arm to a horizontal and pointed to himself then at the near end of the egg, next he pointed at me and the far end. I nodded understanding and he turned back then we both started moving, slow and staying low all the while.

The wind sound was by now almost inaudible, the glow from the egg, even with fully night adjusted vision, almost gone. I heard George yell out, “Hey You! Stop!” and finished sliding under the ovoid’s unburied pointy end on my side.

I looked for George and could make him out twenty feet away; he was standing and facing towards the woods, the nearest tree barely ten feet away opposite the eggs long side. I could now easily see the dark of an opening in the things side with a five foot tongue like extension angled to the ground. My eyes didn’t linger on the view but looked in the direction the tongue pointed. It was possible, though I couldn’t swear to it, that I saw something, perhaps bear size, and darker then its surroundings, for just an instant before it vanished into the trees.

By the time I looked again at George the tongue and dark spot on the eggs side were gone, the formerly dim surface turned a uniform black. As dark, darker even than our surroundings.

“Did you see anything Paul?”
“Maybe. But what do we do now?” I asked.

“I guess we get some help,” George said. “Let’s go back to the road. I’ll follow you.”

To be Continued.