Sergeant Hamelin was back in his hover car, skimming above the gravel road that went between Hawley and Scranton. He headed west through the woodland of tall trees with thick trunks, driving under the overhanging tree branches; passing the impenetrable undergrowth on both sides of the road.
It’s finally happened. He thought. It’s been four months since the City Building of Manhattan was unsealed. Since then, a comparatively small number of its citizens have been coming out here to visit the Pocono Mountains, and then they’ve gone back inside its walls. Now some of those citizens have brought a part of their culture with them. A part they know they’re supposed to keep behind those walls.
He’d driven through the woods for about a half hour, passing a few houses. About half a dozen cars had gone by him, coming from the opposite direction. Away from the foggy lake, a strong sun shone in a partly cloudy sky, brightening the yellow, orange and red leaves of autumn.
He’d now driven up to a one story, yellow, rectangular building on the right. The building had a sign out front identifying it as “Luzak’s Motel.”
The office was on the building’s far left, with a line of eight rooms to its right. Each room had a dark green door, with a large window facing the road. The parking lot was empty. No car was parked in front of any door.
Across the road was a small stagnant pond, overgrown with old tree stumps sticking out of the water. A handmade wooden sign beside the pond declared, “No Swimming Allowed.”
He turned off the road here, glided across the parking lot, and set the vehicle down in front of the Motel’s office. Sergeant Hamelin got out of the car. He stood in the chilly breeze for a moment beneath the dazzling sun. Then he stepped inside the comfortably warm office.
The proprietor sat behind the front desk, going over paper work. He looked up. His expression became troubled when he saw the uniformed officer.
His voice was friendly. “Good morning Sergeant Hamelin. So how’s your campaign for Sheriff going?”
“Good morning Mr. Luzak.”
The Sergeant stepped up to the desk. “I don’t see any cars in your parking lot. Tell me. Do you have any guests staying here at this time?”
“No Greg.” The man who was in his mid forties shook his head. “At this time there’s nothing but vacancies. Right now it’s off season,” he smiled, “but once the snow starts falling, every room’ll be full.”
“That’s good to know. Tell me. Have you had any visitors from the CityBuilding staying here recently?”
Mr. Luzak looked uneasy.
“Oh yes.” He told the officer, “We had a few staying here over the weekend. They left yesterday morning.”
Now his voice became uneasy. “Is there trouble Greg?”
Gregory Hamelin nodded. “The trouble we’ve been expecting Henry. It’s finally happened. One or more people had a cannibal barbecue down by LakeWallenpaupak, either last night or the night before.”
“I’ve been afraid of that.” Henry said, “Ever since my brother the Reverend Luzak and my daughter Charlene came back from the CityBuilding. We’ve all known it was only a matter of time.”
The Sergeant said, “I’d like to check the names that your guests registered under.”
“Right. Please go right ahead.”
Henry Luzak picked up a handful of check-in cards.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “of having new check-in cards printed for City Building people to use. There’s not enough room for their addresses to fit on these old ones.”
He handed all the cards to the officer, pointing to the one on top. “Look at this name and address.
“’Mrs. Margarita Ramierez, Apartment 8, Cubicle 27, 10-37 West 61st Street, Level 1375, City of Manhattan Building.’
“We motel owners are gonna be needing much bigger cards Greg, and a lot of them.”
The officer asked, “What do you know about this Ramierez woman?”
“Oh don’t worry about her. She’s been here before. She’s a high school teacher; a responsible woman. She understands that when CityBuilding people come out here among us, they’re expected to obey all our laws. I’m sure she wouldn’t be breaking any of them.”
“You say she left yesterday morning?”
“That’s right, along with everyone who came with her.”
“Then they’re all back inside the CityBuilding by now. That puts them beyond the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania State Police.”
“Right, but like I said, she’s a responsible woman.”
“How responsible are the people who came with her?”
“Who knows? They were all students from her high school. My daughter Charlene met some of them, when she and the Pastor were staying in the CityBuilding. They became friends. Do you think it was some of them?”
Sergeant Hamelin reached inside the pocket of his jacket, and took out an envelope. He reached inside the envelope and pulled out a full color glossy photo.
Then he said, “I’m sorry to do this to you Henry. What I’m about to show you is revolting, but I have to know. Tell me. Do you have any idea who she was?”
He handed the photo to the man, who glanced at it quickly and looked away from the snapshot of the teenage girl’s head on the stake.
“Yes!” Henry Luzak spoke nervously. “She was one of the kids who stayed here over the weekend. She’s been here before. Her name was Nora…somethng.” He leafed through the papers in front of him. “Her name was Nora Delgado. Mrs. Ramierez was chief chaperone.”
The Sergeant asked, “They killed and ate one of their own classmates?”
“And their teacher, Mrs. Ramierez was chaperone.
“The day before yesterday, Charlene spent the day at LakeWallenpaupak, with the CityBuilding kids and Mrs. Ramierez. I was in the back room when they returned, so I didn’t see them then. I didn’t see any of them again before they left.”
“Your daughter went to Lake Wallenpaupak with them?”
“She’s was on the bus with them, when they drove there and back. She didn’t say anything about any cannibalism.”
Sergeant Hamelin then asked, “Where is your daughter Charlene? I’d like to talk to her about this.”
“Right. Unfortunately,” Henry Luzak told him, “she’s not here in Zabelton right now. Yesterday morning, before I arrived, Mrs. Ramierez and all the City Building kids got up very early, and Charlene got on the bus with them again, and rode with them back to the City Building’s entrance at Weehawken. She hasn’t returned yet.”
“She hasn’t? Do you know if she’s gone inside with them?”
“Yes, and she has a legitimate reason. Charlene was registered to take a college entrance exam today, at a City Building School of Higher Education.”
“A City Building College?”
“That’s right. It’s a Jephthahn Religious Academy of Higher Education. While she’s there this week, she’ll also be applying for a full scholarship, from the Jephthahn Scholarship Board.”
“I suppose that means she’ll be living in a City Building Dormitory, won’t she?”
“She will if she’s accepted.” Mr. Luzak said. “If she is, she’ll be moving there, once she enrolls.”
“Then she’ll be coming back here, after she enrolls?”
“I hope so, but I’m not sure. I know she’s got some feelings for one of those CityBuilding guys. He’s named Jimmy Haskins. I’m really not sure what else I can tell you that’d be helpful Greg; but my brother the Pastor’s been inside the CityBuilding. I’m sure he’ll be able to tell you a lot more.”
Sergeant Hamelin left the office and got back in his patrol hover car. He skimmed out of the parking lot and turned right, following the road that turned left, went up a hill, turned right, and emerged from the woods into the open at a crossroads, beneath a glowing blue sky and bright yellow sun.
He was facing west. A one story tall white Church building stood on the opposite side of the crossroads to the left. The Church had a line of six arched stained glass windows along its side. It had a tall steeple rising high, beside an autumn orange leafed tree, with a thick trunk, growing on the building’s front lawn. A front walk of blue slate went across the lawn from the road to the Church’s entrance.
There was also a driveway behind the Church, where a dark green hovercar was parked. It was the only vehicle in sight.
Beside the front walk, a white wooden sign with black lettering stood. The sign identified the place as,
“First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Domnick Luzak: Pastor
Sunday Morning Worship: 10:30
All Are Welcomed!”
On the opposite side of the gravel road, was a single, two story tall, bluish gray building with a front porch. A sign above the porch identified the building as,
“Zabelton General Store”.
The road between the church and the store went further on to the west, going between recently harvested fields, and continued on, passing a barn with a silo, then disappearing over a low hill, where it continued on to Scranton. The fields were surrounded by tall rounded mountains, bright with the colors of autumn.
Gregory Hamelin skimmed through the crossroads, and stopped at the foot of the Church’s front walk. He got out of his vehicle, went up the walk and entered the Church.
The Church office was behind the Sanctuary. The door was opened. The Reverend Domnick Luzak sat behind the desk, beside a window overlooking the harvested fields to the west. He sat looking over certain documents that he’d received in the mail from the Presbytery of the Poconos. One document was titled, “City Building People Are Human; Not ‘People From Hell’.”
At last! He thought, That’s what I’ve been telling everybody all along. They’ve finally decided to agree with the obvious.
There was a knock on the door. Reverend Luzak looked up, and saw the State Police Sergeant standing in the doorway.
“Hello Gregory.” The Pastor smiled. “It’s good to see you.”
“You might change your mind about that Pastor. I’m here on official Police business.”
The man stopped smiling.
“A teenage girl was discovered murdered at LakeWallenpaupak a few hours ago.”
“Murdered? You use the word ‘murder’?”
“She was cooked and eaten at Natalino’s Landing, the day or night before yesterday. Cannibalism. Her head was then impaled on a stake, in the woods just beyond the border of the picnic grounds.”
“I see.” The Pastor told him, “What we’ve all known was coming eventually. That’s how things are done inside the CityBuilding. When people get killed they cook and eat them, whether the killing is deliberate or accidental.”
Sergeant Hamelin told him, “There was nothing accidental about her killing Pastor. All that was left of her, that was identifiable, was her head.”
“That is another City Building Custom, whether the death is deliberate or accidental.”
“It wasn’t accidental, Dom! Her name was Nora Delgado. According to your brother Henry, she’d come out here for a few days with some of her classmates. They were accompanied by one of their teachers; a Mrs. Margarita Ramierez. If it was accidental, Mrs. Ramierez and her students would have told your brother Henry about it, but they didn’t.”
“Then you want to arrest them for murder?”
“I want to question them. I understand that they’ve gone back to the CityBuilding, and your niece Charlene went with them. I’d like to ask her what she knows.”
“I see. Well she should have returned by now, so we’ll have her contact you as soon as possible.”
“Thank you Pastor; but that’s a problem. According to your brother Henry, she hasn’t returned yet.”
“No. It seems that she’s signed up to take a college entrance exam, at a Jephthahn Religious Academy of Higher Education. She’ll be taking it some time this week. She’s also applying for a full scholarship.”
The Pastor was startled. “Jephthahn? I knew she was taking an entrance exam. I wasn’t told it was a JephthahnSchool. I knew she’s also applying for a full scholarship.”
“That’s not the only reason she’s going. According to your brother Henry, she’s got some kind of crush on one of the CityBuilding boys.”
Domnick nodded. “Jimmy Haskins. I don’t know if I’d trust that boy, or any CityBuilding boy. When it comes to romance, or ‘whatever they want to call it’, CityBuilding kids don’t have time to waste.”
The Sergeant chuckled for a moment. Then he spoke seriously again.
“Pastor.” He told him, “I am required to find and question your niece Charlene, Mrs. Margarita Ramierez, and every one of those CityBuilding kid about the death of Nora Delgado. In order to do that, I’ll have to enter the City Building of Manhattan.”
“Wouldn’t that be entirely out of your jurisdiction Sergeant Hamelin?”
“All I need is a warrant Pastor Luzak. Then the Legal Authorities inside the City Building of Manhattan will be required to give me all the aid that is necessary.”
“If all you want to do is question them, that shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to arrest any of them, you’re gonna be facing a lot more difficulties than you’d expect.”
“I figured that, that’s why I’ve come to you. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the way things are inside the CityBuilding. I have no idea what’s true and what isn’t, but you do. You’ve been there. You’re the first person from out here, who’s ever gone inside its walls, and come back to tell us about it.”
“That’s right. The City of Manhattan Building has been unsealed, and CityBuilding people, have come into contact with us, who they call ‘Wilderness People’, for the first time in 1,322 years. My niece Charlene and I met a small number of them. I was the one who negotiated the preliminary agreements with their Government Leaders.
“Both our world and theirs are going to be changing each other Greg. The Preliminary Agreement, and the permanent ones, that are now being worked on by our Diplomats and theirs; are intended to make the changes occur as smoothly as possible. Neither they or us want our worlds turned upside down.”
“Neither do I Pastor. But as of now, among us ‘Wilderness People’ murder is still against the law. I am still required to go inside the City Building of Manhattan and question those involved, and arrest whoever I suspect of being the perpetrator or perpetrators, so they can be brought to justice.”
“Then you’ll be trying to do the right thing Greg, but if you can’t, it might actually do harm to your campaign.”
“That’s not the reason I want them brought to Justice Dom.”
“Isn’t it Greg?”
The Sergeant smiled, “Well it would be a big help. These CityBuilding kids may have handed me the office.”
The Pastor told him, “Once you’re inside the CityBuilding, it might not be that easy. Like I said, you’re gonna be facing a lot more difficulties than you’d expect.”
“I know. That’s why I’ve come to you Domnick. I can use your advice.”