When I mention that I work for the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, most people don't really know what to say. I don't blame them.
Dealing with sexual abuse of any kind is difficult. With homicides, at least the victim's pain is over. With abuse cases, it never really ends. Many of the victims are so spiritually mutilated that they eventually become monsters themselves and begin the cycle all over again. I sometimes think it would be best for all concerned to simply put them out of their misery, but then, this line of work tends to harden one's heart if it doesn't destroy their mind first.
When the subject of my work comes up in conversation, I usually answer simply that I'm an employee of ICMEC. Most people are content to let it drop.
Sometimes, though, I get some wag who won't leave it at that. They want the details. I often get a foul whiff of an interest that goes much deeper and much darker than mere morbid curiosity from them. These people I resolve to keep an eye on, however distasteful the prospect of further contact with them may be.
The question that comes up most frequently is usually something along the lines of "what's the weirdest case you ever had?". The answer to that, I suppose, all depends on your definition of weird. Disturbing as they may be, I've found that most child abuse cases have a sort of depressing banality to them, boiling down to some adult in position of familiarity and authority to a child misusing that position for their own grotesque ends.
Sometimes it's a parent or other relative, sometimes a teacher, a friend of the family. Despite the coverage they often get in the media, I've only ever had any cases involving priests twice, though I have many co-workers who've had more than that. I think what often happens is that they join the clergy seeking relief, thinking the power of their god can free them from their monstrous urges, only to learn too late that bestial instincts will always triumph over the desire to attain the divine.
Still, there have been a few incidents that stand out in my mind as out of the ordinary. Things that range from the ridiculous to the truly horrific.
For an example of the former, an aquaintance once came to me with a problem. He had an underage daughter who was dating an older boy (who he rather despised) and because of my work he wanted my help getting rid of the young fellow. He'd had a private investigator (a rather cheap one, he was by no means well off) follow his daughter around while she was seeing her boyfriend, trying to gather evidence towards a statutory rape charge, but their physical intimacy never went beyond kissing, so that was out. There was something else, though. Like many couples they often went out together to eat. A background check on the boy soon added a strange new dimension to this common activity, however. He was apparently afflicted with what, I suppose, one would call a fat fetish. My acquaintance's daughter was a rather chubby young lady and her boyfriend apparently derived some perverse satisfaction from seeing her overeat. It was the man's intention to argue that his daughter's frequent lunch and dinner dates with this bizarre person thus constituted a sex act and he could be charged with statutory rape. He wanted my advice before taking him to court.
I simply replied that, though the boy's behavior may be strange and frankly repugnant, there was nothing illegal about it and he had best not waste a judge's time. He ignored me, of course. The judge threw the case out and the whole thing only served to estrange his daughter from him.
The couple got married when the girl came of age. I've actually seen them around a few times, they live in my neighborhood. They're quite a sight. Him, looking appropriately vagrant dressed in shabby, ill-fitting, baggy clothes adorned with rock & roll band logos or stylized marijuana leaves; her boteroesque figure straining the seams of some garish gothic ensemble. Lots of black and purple with cobweb prints everywhere. I find it suits her quite nicely, actually. After all, most arachnids have quite an immense size disparity between the males and females.
Ah, but speaking of arthropods, I'm now reminded of an example of the second kind of strangeness I have encountered in my career.
No, it's more than that. It may be the most awful thing I had ever personally encountered in my life. Something that shook my faith in humanity to its very core.
I saw first-hand not only the utter ruination of an innocent child, but of every other person in her tiny world. I saw the end result of the decline of a once prominent family and was brought face to face with the twisted depths to which a man can sink.
It all began when a couple of hikers in the north woods found the girl. She had crawled into their tent while they slept. Finding her curled up at the foot of their sleeping bags had come as quite a shock. She was shortly turned over to the local authorities. That's when I was notified.
I should mention that it's a rare thing that I get directly involved in cases. The center mainly deals in information. I'm basically just a paper-pusher. I rarely liaise with local law-enforcement in person. The reason I did, let alone why I was asked to work the case at all was because of my familiarity with the territory.
I was born in the small town of Winston, where they took the girl and had lived there until I was 19 years old. It was a fairly pastoral sort of place. Farmland to the south, trees to the north. The townsfolk were all friends, or at least acquaintances. I never felt like I fit in at all. I was never particularly social and I found life there incredibly tedious. Still, while I would never live there again, I do find, in this latter stage of my life, my occasional visits are a welcome respite from the noise, crowds and general anarchic atmosphere of the big city.
The local sheriff was a friend of my father's. Had you seen him without his uniform, you would never guess at his occupation. He was an older gentleman of average height and build, with a grey walrus mustache who spent his free time at the local roadhouse, pint in one hand, pool cue in the other, telling tall tales to anyone who would listen. People loved him. He called me at work one day to inform me of the girl in their custody and asked if I could come take a look myself, since he didn't know quite what to make of her.
When the girl was brought in she was a bit of a mess, but, physically, showed few signs of neglect. Though she had a petite build, she appeared well fed and her coppery-colored hair was surprisingly well-groomed for someone who had spent an indeterminate amount of time in the forest. Her age was estimated to be between nine and twelve years. She had apparently begun to menstruate quite recently and when she was found, there was dried blood caked around her inner thighs and other relevant anatomy. She was wearing nothing but a simple white silk slip at the time. One thing that stood out about her was that her hands and feet, though slender, had apparently grown faster than the rest of her, being close to adult size, wildly out of proportion to her small body.
When I got a chance to speak with the child, however, I saw that something horrible had been done to her. No sexual abuse had occurred, as far as I could tell, but that's virtually the only mercy the unfortunate child was afforded.
Children, to make use of a tired analogy, are like flowers. If they are not nurtured properly from the outset, after a certain point, they can never really grow. This child was a seed that could never sprout, doomed to a life in an institution, at best.
If she had a name, nobody had bothered to tell her. Her grasp of language was rudimentary at best, picked up from a man who wasn't deliberately trying to teach her.
This man, who may or may not have been her father, I gathered from the stunted, disjointed answers she gave to my questions, had kept her in a locked room in a cabin somewhere in the woods. He fed her regularly, gave her silk garments to wear, a washtub to bathe in and periodically changed the old-fashioned chamber pot she had been given to relieve herself in, but apparently did nothing else.
She mentioned escaping once before, but the details were fuzzy. There was another room, she said, full of rooms like hers, but much smaller. There were others in them, prisoners like herself. Tiny prisoners. There were other things in that room as well, things, she recalled, that could go up and "stayed up". These things, whatever they were, scared her and when she screamed, she was discovered and returned to her room, apparently without further reprisal.
I also gathered from her testimony that she had at least one brother, but he apparently had a higher degree of freedom than she did. She did not know much about him, only that he was there.
The turning point that led to her escape had come when she began her period. As she described it "Came out red. It hurt". When her captor discovered this, he left her room for a moment, then returned with restraints and several sharp objects. She had no idea what was going on, but became afraid. In a surge of adrenaline, she reached for the moonsblood-soiled pot, cracked it over the brute's head, then ran through the door he had left open behind him. She left the cabin and didn't stop running until she found the campsite where she was discovered.
That was all I could get out of her. It was a strange, sad experience. When I was done, she turned to some crayons and paper she had been given and went back to what she'd been doing before we started talking: drawing crude pictures of what, I though at the time, were butterflies.
The sheriff had been right to call me. He was completely out of his depth with this one. Then again, so was I. I was familiar with cases of children being raised in near-complete isolation, but what happened before her escape puzzled me. It sounded as if the person holding her captive was attempting to perform surgery on her when she escaped. But for what purpose? And why wait until her menarche? Female circumcision (or Female Genital Mutilation, depending on the degree of cultural relativism being indulged in by the person describing it), perhaps? While it did cross my mind that this may have been the procedure that villain had attempted to perform on the girl, as it is often performed during early puberty, I decided it was unlikely. FGM is usually practiced by peoples from Africa and the Middle East, whereas that milk-complexioned, blue-eyed girl's tormentor was most likely her father. It seemed the only other possibility was that he had kidnapped her from somewhere and there was no record of a missing child that fit her description. The girl had no recollection of her mother. I suspect she didn't even know what a mother is.
Another thing that baffled me was the cryptic reference to the tiny rooms and other prisoners within them. Apparently they weren't human, but the girl had found herself incapable of articulating what they actually were.
Ultimately, I was unable to offer the sheriff much. All I could say was that he should have men comb the woods and try to find the cabin the girl had escaped from so that its sinister inhabitant could be brought to justice (although he likely suspected we were onto him and had probably abandoned the place by now) as well as to get the child into foster care as soon as possible, which was what he was planning to do anyway. Still, he praised me for being able to get the child to open up about her experience, since his men had trouble getting her to talk.
I spent the night at my boyhood home. I had planned to rent a room at a motel, but my parents insisted. My old room had long since been converted into a walk-in display case. My father is an avid collector of military antiques. His most prized possession is the left boot Heinrich Himmler was wearing when he bit down on the cyanide capsule. I stayed in my younger sister's room. She had recently gone off to college and was sharing an apartment with a friend.
My father had recently retired from his job as a security guard. He'd worked at the local bank for the past 15 years, since he was let go when his former employer, the PineCo lumber company was sold off to some multinational conglomerate or other. He was keeping himself busy with various projects, the current one being uploading his entire collection of home movies onto the computer. No easy task, considering the video camera used to create them, which he received as a wedding present, was not exactly a new model when he and my mother were married in the late 1970s.
My father worked on this task late into the night and my attempts to get to sleep were often disturbed by his futile cursing at the newfangled machinery he was struggling with. Between that and my dear little sister's various posters of undead-looking so-called musicians staring down at me from around the room, I slept little my first night in town. Around one in the morning, plagued by insomnia, I headed downstairs to ask my father if he needed any help with the videos. He rebuffed me, saying he had finally figured out how to upload them properly and now had only to feed them all in and do some minor editing. As proof, he began playing one of the videos on the computer screen. The quality of the video left much to be desired, but this was most likely the fault of the original recording, rather than the computer. Something in the video caught my attention.
It was a video of a wedding reception from over a decade ago. It was a rather gala affair, held in the ball room of a luxury hotel in the nearest city. The wedding had been the talk of the town at the time, though I had never paid much attention to such things in my youth and had only a vague idea of what was going on. The groom was Edward Pine, son of Trevor Pine, who was, at the time, the owner of PineCo and my parents' boss. My parents met when they were both working at PineCo, my father in security, my mother as the personal secretary of the lumber mill's manager. Neither of them worked directly for Pine himself, so it struck me as a bit odd they were invited to his son's wedding. My father explained that the Pine family had extended an open invitation to all its employees, most likely as a way to pad out the guest list. The younger Pine was a reclusive character with few, if any friends. It wouldn't do for an event held by such a prominent family to be sparsely attended.
Seeing him in the video, I could understand Edward Pine's lack of social connections. Physically, he was fairly average looking. Nothing exceptionally attractive or hideous about him at all. But there seemed to be something off about the expressions of his pale, slightly long face. His body language seemed nervous and he often scratched at his mop of scruffy brown hair with a large, but slightly feminine hand when he apparently thought nobody was looking. His manner of speaking, too was unusual. When he stood up to give a speech it was clear that it had been prepared in advance, whereas when he was forced to speak candidly with guests, he sounded as if English was not his first language.
I remarked that he seemed an odd fellow and my father agreed. He had heard many stories about the younger Pine and all the trouble he caused the family. There were rumors that the boarding school he had spent most of his teen years in was actually a reformatory or mental health facility of some sort. Most people seemed to agree that his wife had only married him to get at the family fortune.
It was the bride, though, that caught my attention. More specifically, something she said.
There was a scene of the wedding banquet, wherein the happy couple regaled the guests with tales of their courtship. The bride, Winnifred was her name, mentioned that she had always been embarrassed about the size of her hands and feet. She had always been teased about them as a child and had developed quite a complex about it. She said she knew Edward was the man for her when, on their first date, he told her she had beautiful hands. I could see why she would be embarrassed. Her hands were quite large.
That's when it hit me.
That girl at the police station had large hands and feet, as well. And when I looked closer at the bride in the video, I saw other similarities. Her hair was the same color, a sort of shiny golden brown, like freshly minted pennies. Her skin had the same milky complexion. The shape of her face, the narrowness of her shoulders, I believe her eyes were even the same color, though it was hard to tell, given the dubious quality of the footage.
I felt I was looking at the woman that little girl could have grown up to be.
I was not terribly familiar with the Pine clan, so I asked my father if he knew if Edward and Winny had any children. He replied that they didn't. The two of them had only been together two short years before she walked out on him and nobody had heard from her since.
The next day I told the sheriff of my suspicion that our young Jane Doe may be related in some way to the former Mrs. Pine. He said that now that I mentioned it, he did see a resemblance. It would be quite fortuitous if that were the case, he told me, as the woman had been missing for over a decade.
Her sister, a cellist in the Toronto symphony orchestra, had reported her missing in the autumn of 1998. A week before, Winny had phoned her sister, telling her of her intent to leave her husband and come stay with her in the city until she figured out what to do next. When a week went by with no sign of Winny, her sister notified the police. It was suspected that Edward had killed her, of course, but they could prove nothing. No body was ever found and eventually the case went cold.
I decided to go through the files on the case. I started with the victim's background.
Winnifred "Winny" Rockwell was born in Montreal in 1978. The Rockwells (no relation to the repulsively saccharine American painter) were an unremarkable working class family. Her mother was a waitress in a cafe, her father was a mechanic for the local bus service, her older sister had gone west to the U of T on a music scholarship the year after Winny was born. Things changed in the mid-1980s, however. Her father had invested a few hundred dollars in a computer software company started by an old friend of his from school. This company soon became quite successful developing software for the emerging home computer market and Mr. Rockwell's investment grew enormously over the course of a few years. He managed to parlay this boon into a small fortune with the help of a clever stock broker and by 1990 he had bowed out of his job with the public transit service to pursue a career in high finance.
Winny had not adjusted well to her family's change in circumstances, however. At the age of 10 she was pulled out of the public school system and enrolled in a high-end private academy. The girl was quite resentful of this, as she had many friends at her old school and the so-called elite who populated her new one largely thought ill of "New Money" such as her family. She often got into fights and was expelled from several different schools. Winny spent most of her high school years at Greyrock Academy, an isolated English-style boarding school in the northern part of Alberta that had developed a reputation for catering to wealthy families with problem children.
It was here she met her future husband.
The two were married shortly after graduation. By all accounts it was not a happy marriage. With each passing month, Winny spent less time with her husband at the family estate and more driving down to the city, there to purchase extravagant new clothes at the boutiques, then drink and dance the nights away at the hottest clubs with friends, many of them male. All on her husband's (or rather his illustrious family's) dime, of course.
Three months to the day before Winny vanished, she was involved in a brutal three-way brawl in an upscale downtown diner, involving her, her husband and a man called Jamal Simms, a minor rap musician better known by his stage name "Hi-Rof" which, I'm told, is meant to be a contraction of the firearms term "High Rate of Fire".
Mr. Rof was treating Mrs. Pine to lunch on the patio when her husband, who had ventured into town to purchase supplies for his hobby, the breeding of exotic insects, saw the two of them together. A fight broke out which left all three of them bruised, bloody, in need of reconstructive dentistry and in the custody of the local police. No charges were ever filed thanks to the intervention of Pine the Elder, who allegedly paid the rapper an undisclosed sum of money and introduced him to an acquaintance in the recording industry who could help with his career.
After this incident, little was heard of the couple. Winny was no longer seen in the city and her appearances on the grounds of the family estate were brief and furtive. Then came that fateful day in October when she informed her sister of her plan to leave her husband and disappeared. The last person to see her was apparently a taxi driver who had taken her to the nearest bus terminal.
That was virtually all we knew about Winny Rockwell. Testimony from her friends had turned up nothing, though it was often guarded, probably because they didn't want too much to be known of her obvious infidelity. Though it may be in poor taste, I couldn't silence a nagging misogynistic voice inside me that said whatever terrible fate befell her, she had brought it upon herself.
A week passed and the police found little in their search of the woods. We received several calls following the press release, but none bore fruit. Then, one day, a woman turned up at the station, saying she had some information.
Her name was Keiko Verdi, a short, matronly woman of 55. She had once been the Pine family's maid, before being dismissed shortly after Trevor Pine's death 14 years previous. Before telling us anything, she insisted on seeing the little girl. The child had since been collected by Child Services, but we showed Mrs. Verdi a video of my interview with her. Seeing the poor girl, the woman broke down crying. She spent over a minute just sitting there in front of the screen in the audiovisual room, painful sobs wracking her plump body. After she had regained her composure, it all came pouring out.
During her time in the Pine family's service, Mrs. Verdi, then Ms. Midorikawa, had always been profoundly disturbed by their son Edward. He was a deeply twisted child, prone to violent outbursts. He had once stabbed another child through the foot with a metal rake, resulting in the loss of at least one toe, at a garden party because he felt the child was making fun of him. He claimed to have visions of strange creatures from beyond the stars and would frighten anyone who cared to listen with hideously vivid descriptions of the apocalypse these beings had assured him was coming any day now. He showed no interest in the well-being of other people, but would become monstrously enraged, screaming hideously and attempting to mutilate anyone within reach with teeth and whatever sharp objects he could get his hands on, when his possessions were threatened.
Despite his mental frailties, however, Edward was not an unintelligent child. He devoured various books of a scientific nature and could recite them all by heart. He was particularily enamoured of entomology. When he was not terrorizing people he could often be found collecting insects in the woods. Mrs. Verdi felt it was quite appropriate. In many ways he was closer to them than to humans. His was a dark, inhuman intellect, more befitting some cold, chitinous monstrosity than a person. If there really was such a thing as a soul, something to set us apart from the beasts that perish beyond mere evolutionary mechanics, Edward Pine had been born without one.
Still, as horrible as he was, she couldn't help feeling some kind of sentimentality towards him. He was just a pathetic human defect. The awful things he did weren't his fault. She understood his family's often underhanded methods of extricating him from the problems he got himself into. As he grew older, his violent tendencies seemed to become less prominent and she felt herself warm up to him, though he was still a very bizarre, unknowable person. And she especially felt bad for him, the way his harlot of a wife treated him.
Winny barely made any effort to conceal her gold-digging. She was only ever the least bit affectionate toward her husband when alcohol was involved. She often abused him verbally, comparing him unfavorably to the title character of Rain Man and other famous mental defectives. She went on outings without ever explaining why, to return home drunk at all hours. It began to have a rather nasty effect on the man...
It seems his wife's vileness began to poison his perceptions of females in general. Edward became increasingly hostile to his mother and to Keiko. This new found misogyny also may have contributed to a particularly troubling incident which made the rounds of local gossip around that time. Edward had taken up bee-keeping during his teen years. There had been an elective class on it at Greyrock that he greatly enjoyed and after graduation his father had purchased a modest apiary for him. One night, in the spring before his wife's disappearance, Edward soaked it in gasoline and burned it to the ground.
His lifelong interest in insects began to focus solely on the order lepidoptera, as they were one of the few types of insects wherein the males are typically more dominant, contrasting with the matriarchal social insects or the well-known misandry of the female mantis. He became particularly fascinated by the Psychidae, or bagworm moth group. The Psychidae are rather bizarre creatures. Nearly everything about them seems repugnant to our modern sensibilities. Voracious pests, they are adept at stripping trees of their leaves and their health. But it is their reproductive practices that are truly horrific.
The male undergoes a perfectly ordinary life-cycle, changing from a caterpillar to a cocoon to a slightly dull-looking moth. The female is something else altogether. She will never know what it is to fly, she will never know freedom of any sort. She will never again move from the spot where she forms her cocoon, surrounded by a bag of silk, with leaves or other materials for camouflage. She simply sits there to wait for a male's seed, nothing more than a piece of reproductive machinery. And as if that wasn't bad enough, many species give birth to live young, the offspring tearing themselves from their mother in a display of arthropod body horror that would make a Giger or a Cronenberg envious.
Perhaps it is wrong to be so repulsed by creatures only doing what their natural instincts compel them to. But for a human to do the opposite, to actually admire such grotesques, is a repugnant thing indeed.
Mr. and Mrs. Pine began what amounted to a brief separation, when Edward was sent off to the city university to pursue an education in medicine, of all things, while his wife remained at the family estate. Much of her time there was spent listlessly wandering the grounds, or in private conversations with her parents-in law. Mrs. Verdi had been too polite to eavesdrop, but she occasionally heard raised voices and could tell the mood was quite tense.
Things came to a head on Edward's first return home. One of the first things he wanted after his long time away was sex. When his wife refused to touch him, he became irate. A fight broke out. Winny made the call to her sister. Edward caught her at it.
Then, Mrs. Verdi dropped the bombshell. Edward had dragged his wife outside, kicking and screaming into his car, while the entire household simply looked on. It was a callous thing to do, but they, too had grown tired of her and could not abide the way she had been using her husband.
The two of them drove off and were gone all night. When the car pulled up sometime after noon the next day, only Edward emerged.
He could not be made to explain what he had done with her, no matter how his parents tried. Finally, when asked point blank if he had killed her, he reluctantly answered yes, before returning to his room. His parents were distraught, of course, but they knew it had been a long time coming. They had decided a long time ago, when they realized what their son was, that they would still love and protect him, no matter what. Self-sacrifice is a parent's duty, is it not? Particularly parents of such horrendous psychological deformities.
They found a taxi driver and paid him a princely sum to secure their son's alibi. The police investigation was furiously stonewalled by the Pine family and its associates and was eventually dropped. Winny Rockwell had simply vanished, they said. Perhaps she did not want to be found.
I asked Mrs. Verdi if she had any idea where the body was. She said that Edward had never told. She did, however, have an idea of where it might have been. The Pines didn't have much property left nowadays. Most of it had been sold off, following the parents' deaths. On Edward's second vacation from school, he got into a furious argument with his mother. All Keiko could remember of the incident was that she mentioned seeing something during one of her frequent hikes through the woods. The next day, she was found collapsed in the garden. She was rushed to the nearest hospital, but pronounced dead on arrival. The cause of death was determined to be a cerebral embolism. It can occur naturally, but can also be induced by injecting air into the veins with a hypodermic needle. It was impossible to tell which in this case, as Mrs. Pine was a diabetic and had frequent insulin injections, thus needle marks were commonplace on her body. The coroner ultimately ruled natural causes.
Trevor Pine was hit badly by his wife's passing. He had always been the picture of health, despite his advanced years, but after what happened to his wife, he seemed to age decades overnight. He did not leave the grounds of his mansion after the funeral and conducted the few business meetings he could by phone. Less than three months after his wife's death, he died in his sleep from heart failure. This had not come unexpectedly. It is fairly common for older men in long marriages not to survive their spouses by a great margin.
Edward had no interest in the family business. He sold off almost everything, including the controlling share in the PineCo lumber company he'd just inherited to a multinational conglomerate. They bought out the board of directors, laid off half the staff and replaced the entire middle management with their own people from headquarters. He even sold the sprawling Pine family estate to a developer who promptly turned it into a resort hotel. Practically the only thing he kept was a small hunting lodge his grandfather had built in the forest, which he had even remodeled over the years. Keiko suspected it was here that Winny's corpse was kept, though she could not say for sure. She had been let go when the manor was sold. Though she had moved away, married, started a family, she had still carried the twisted secrecy of the Pine clan with her all these years, until she had heard that an innocent child may be involved. Though she had no idea how, she knew that our Jane Doe was their daughter and could not allow the circumstances that had scarred her to continue.
She seemed so calm when we locked her up as an accessory to kidnapping and murder, like a great yoke had been lifted. I suppose the other investigators and I felt the same. Despite everything, it looked like the end was finally in sight. All that remained was to find Edward Pine. This was easier said than done, however. He had always been reclusive and in the time since his father's passing, he had dropped completely off the radar, shortly after his involvement in another criminal investigation, this time as the victim.
Edward lived in the city for a few months after his father's death. He continued his education at the university, though it was not going at all well, as he often skipped class to indulge in his bizarre hobbies. One afternoon, while on his way home from one of his infrequent appearances in class, a car pulled up alongside Edward as he walked along an empty street. A passenger opened the window and emptied an entire .357 magnum revolver at him. Half the shots missed entirely. Of the other three one hit him in the right leg, another in the right side of his chest, the last in the left side of his face, destroying his eye.
Nobody remembered the sound of the gunshots. The man who called 911, the clerk at a convenience store at the end of the block, was alerted instead by the victim's agonized screaming before he fell unconscious from blood loss.
Edward was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors were able to perform lifesaving surgery. His attempted assassins were determined to be two men by the names of Lester Coffan & Cassidy Huinn. Both in their early 20s, they were a pair of old school chums who had grown up together in Toronto's notorious Regent Park district and had already been involved in a few minor offenses together, mostly drug related. The day after the shooting, a patrol car attempted to pull them over on highway 401. The police had no idea who they were and suspected no wrongdoing at first. One of the bolts that held the car's licence plate on had simply come loose and the plate was hanging off the bumper. However, when the police tried to pull the car over, it sped off and they were forced to give chase. It lasted several hours and finally concluded on a lonely dirt road just outside of Woodstock, when the fleeing suspects' vehicle exhausted its fuel. Huinn then exited the car and fired at his pursuers with a magnum revolver. Most of his shots missed, but he did strike one officer in the chest, breaking several ribs, a shot that would have been fatal if not for the policeman's bulletproof vest. The downed officer's partner responded in kind and dispatched Huinn, who was not wearing a vest, with two shots to the heart. Coffan was taken into custody. Though he lawyered up as soon as he was brought in, ballistics soon matched the bullets taken from Pine to his late friend's revolver and he was brought to trial.
Coffan plead guilty to one count of attempted murder. However, he refused to say why he and his friend had tried to kill Pine. Though there was nothing unusual in his own financial records, his mother had recently received a $50,000 deposit to her account, in cash, which she used to purchase a cottage in the countryside to retire to. It never was determined where the money had come from. There was no shortage of people with motive to kill Edward Pine. The PineCo workers who had lost their jobs, Winny's friends and family who still blamed Eward for her disappearance, probably her death. Some even suspected Pine's one-time romantic rival, Jamal "Hi-Rof" Simms, now a successful rap star, of ordering the hit, as it was discovered he and Coffan had been neighbors during their youth. It is unlikely it will ever be known now. Coffan died of a drug overdose while out on bail the day before his sentencing hearing was supposed to resume.
Pine had been present at Coffan's sentencing. It was quite a spectacle. The man was obviously doped to the gills on painkillers. I caught a glimpse of a video of the proceedings. It actually would have been quite funny if I hadn't known what a monster he really was. He stumbled around and a few times the cane he used due to his leg injury slipped out from under him, leaving him a pathetic heap on the floor. Despite his trouble walking, he still attempted to rise from his seat at several inappropriate times and had to be forced back down by a bailiff. His testimony was a string of incomprehensible mumbling punctuated by bizarre, non-sequiturial outbursts. The last straw was when he passed out on the stand. His head fell and hit the stand, causing his glass eye to pop out and roll around the floor. He then flopped down out of the chair and wriggled about on the floor looking for it. The judge exasperatedly ordered the court officers to remove this sub-human thing from his courtroom, as it was clear they weren't going to get any useful testimony out of him and suspended the proceedings for the day.
This was Edward Pine's last public appearance. Much was made at the time of how low the Pine family had sunk. Five generations from the lumber company's founder Noah Pine, a self-made man, once a lowly foot soldier in the War of 1812 who had parlayed a bonus he received for courage in the field into a successful lumber mill, to this bizarre, mumbling, incomprehensible degenerate, his every action shattering the common misconception that Darwin's theories predict life will always move towards some anthropomorphic notion of "progress", making a mockery not only of his illustrious ancestors, but humanity as a whole before an entire courtroom and cameras as well. It was no wonder somebody wanted him dead. You had to wonder if it could even be called murder in his case. Seeing him like that, you had to wonder if animal cruelty might have been a more appropriate charge.
They say he would have been even worse without the drugs. Every time he came down off them he began screaming and crying uncontrollably over the loss of his eye. Pathetic.
I suppose you may think I judged the man too harshly. Being so repulsed by him, even though I did not know at the time whether the accusations against him were true or not. The truth is it had nothing to do with the crimes he was accused of. I hated him for the way he lived. The way he lived with his illness. I have no sympathy for the mentally ill when they allow their sickness to control them.
I've had my own struggles with mental health. No, I will not discuss them. People today are so obsessed with talking about things. They tell themselves talking helps, but really it only distracts one from doing. We live in a grotesque, castrated shadow of a civilization, where more people would rather talk than do, would rather feel than think. It's a seductive thing, to share your misery with another. I've seen it enough in my life and in my work. It can be cathartic to open up to somebody, but that catharsis can become like a drug. We become addicted to other people's attention and pity, so we continue to seek it out, rather than making the effort to improve our lives. Sometimes it is better to suffer in silence. There are some things that are nobody else's business.
Do you see now why I hate that man so? He made no effort to control himself. To live like a human being, with human dignity. Perhaps his parents are partly to blame, but my conviction is that if a grown man cannot muster the will to extricate himself from the malign influences in his life, he does not deserve respect, only contempt. I suppose that's why I like working with children. I want to do whatever I can to make sure no more grow up to be "people" like that.
Though Edward Pine had moved away from the city and dropped off the society radar after the trial, we found he still occasionally made appearances at Bob's, a roadside gas station/general store to purchase various necessities. We also located a map showing the whereabouts of the Pine family hunting lodge. It was deep in an isolated part of the woods. No surprise the earlier patrols had missed it. All that was left was for the sheriff and his men to head out and take Pine in for questioning, assuming of course he had not fled. The sheriff asked me to come along. The little girl had mentioned there may still be a young boy there, which, if true made this Center business. I agreed to ride up with them. I had a certain morbid curiosity. Edward Pine seemed to me such a repulsive person. I just had to see him with my own eyes...
There were five of us riding in two police cars. Myself, the sheriff and a police sergeant named Audry in the lead car, two officers in the other. Normally the second car would not be necessary for simply bringing somebody in for questioning, but given Pine's history of mental illness and the likelihood there were still guns in the cabin, the sheriff was taking no chances.
We didn't talk much on the way over. The sheriff handed me a sidearm "just in case", but told me I should head back to the cars and take cover if shots were fired. We confirmed the plan that had been discussed beforehand. An audible bumping and scraping, as well as a feeling smiliar to a very badly made massage chair signified the end of the paved road.
Eventually, we came to the end of the dirt road as well. It was all on foot from here. We saw Pine's car parked at the road's edge. It was a dark blue sedan. It had once been a high-end model, but had clearly fallen into a similar state of decay as the family that owned it. The lower edge of the body, particularily around the wheel-wells had been devoured by rust, the windshield was a spiderweb of chips and cracks, all but one of the hubcaps were absent and the hood was a veritable public restroom for birds. Those white spots and streaks gave the dark indigo hood the look of the starry sky on a clear night in the countryside. It would have been beautiful if it weren't so disgusting.
Aside from its deplorable condition, nothing about the vehicle appeared amiss, so we struck out into the woods. The two officers from the other car went on ahead. They were to circle around the cabin to make sure everything was secure while the rest of us went to the front door. If we saw any sign of the boy or anything else out of the ordinary, we would arrest Pine and search his cabin due to extenuating circumstances. Otherwise we were simply to bring him back to the station. I had a feeling the sheriff doubted he would come quietly. In fact, I'm sure he was certain of it. How was he planning to explain the second car to a man who was only being brought in to answer a few questions?
The sense of foreboding was palpable as we trudged ever deeper into the forest. In the sky above, a thick bank of clouds rolled in from the south, obscuring the sun and ensuring even less light filtered down to us through the thick forest canopy. It was not long after noon, but in the dark woods it was already night. We made no sound except that of our boots crunching across the uneven ground. I could vaguely hear the other two men off in the distance.
As we walked, I would occasionally look back, to see the opening in the treeline where we came in vanish into the horizon. Though I would not admit it, I was terrified of getting lost. There were no discernable paths on the ground. It was all plants, mosses, stones and roots, not a spot of flat ground in sight. Our ankles were getting extremely sore from the chaotic terrain. We used a GPS-equipped satellite phone to navigate through the thick forest. Several times along the way our hearts sank as the signal was lost to the worsening weather, but then Audry would fiddle aimlessly with the antenna for a bit and that would somehow restore it to life. We were coming close to the cabin, I could vaguely see it behind some far off trees, when things started going to hell.
The tense silence of our journey was broken by a blood-curdling scream and a gunshot. The sheriff picked up his radio to call the other officers. Things had gone very bad very quickly. We rushed to their position to find what was, up to that point, the worst sight I had ever personally seen.
We found one officer, visibly in shock, service weapon still clutched in his trembling hand, standing over two dead bodies. One was his partner, blood from his open jugular artery pooled on the mossy ground in a decidedly un-christmaslike combination of red and green. We tried our best to apply first-aid, but it was hopeless. His head had struck a large rock as he fell. Even if he hadn't bled out, he would still be dead, or worse.
It was the other corpse though, that was truly disturbing. It had been dispatched with a head shot, going in through the left eye and coming out the other end, taking most of the brain with it, some of which had splattered repulsively on a tree behind where the deceased had been standing. Police are trained to aim for the center of mass. Head shots are notoriously difficult with anything less than a precisely aimed sniper rifle. Pure dumb luck, he told us with an unnerving detachment. It had all happened so fast, he didn't even know what he was shooting at. When he bent down to take a look at his erstwhile opponent, he dropped the gun and collapsed in a gibbering heap.
Jane Doe had mentioned having a brother somewhere. We had just located him.
The boy could not have been more than 14 years old. His blood-soaked face, with its remaining eye still open, staring sightlessly at nothing, was soft and androgynous, apart from a few scattered hairs about his chin. He was clothed in grey silk rags and his right hand still held the improvised polearm he had used to kill the policeman, which amounted to a length of broom handle, a buck-knife affixed to the end with duct tape. This all would have been enough of a sight, but the worst came when I took a look at the mouth.
It had been sewn shut.
I think I must have gone a little mad at seeing that. That was the moment I decided Edward Pine, if he was still here, was not leaving this forest alive. It had to end, I was certain of it. It was no longer a question of due process. Things like him have no business existing in this world.
As the dead officer's partner remained with the bodies to await further backup, the rest of us went on ahead to the cabin. We forced the door and were promptly hit by an overpowering odour of mildew. The oppressive atmosphere of decay that hung about the place came as no surprise to me at this point, but was no more pleasant for its predictability. The place was poorly lit, most of the bulbs had burnt out and the windows had been boarded over. We quested about the place, guns drawn, fearing some new horror might jump out at us from one of the narrow corridors that the cabin had more of than a hunting lodge has any right to. Cautiously, I tried one of the doors. The room was pitch black. I fumbled about for a light switch and when I finally located it, I witnessed yet another horror. At the far end of the room, there was a giant, hideous grey mass that moved indescribably in all directions at once.
The shape shifted and billowed, scattering and recombining as it went. My eyes not quite adjusted to the light, I couldn't clearly make it out at first. I thought for a moment in that terrible cloud, I could see some demonic face, grinning at me, mocking me. Angered, I was just about to open fire on it when I began to make out what it really was.
The moths. Hundreds of them.
I hadn't noticed it as first, but there was a screen ten feet away from me that took up where the far wall once was before the place had been remodeled. There was now a dark, musty aviary that stretched a good 20 feet away. The adult moths bashed themselves vainly against the screen, trying to get at the light on the other side. Along the eastern wall of the place were numerous small cubbyholes. It was here that the females, the other prisoners the girl had mentioned, were kept.
That's when it hit me. The women, the surgery...
I knew what Pine had tried to do to his daughter. What he had already done to his wife. I prayed I was wrong, but already a horrible, sinking feeling of certainty had taken hold. When you're in my line of work, you come to despise being right.
I sought out the sheriff to tell him about my hunch. He and Audry were in the basement. It was even more decrepit than the rest of the place, if such a thing were possible. What wallpaper there was had gone blistered and cracked from water damage. It was lined wall to wall with termite-ravaged shelves holding leaky canisters of innumerable household cleaners and other corrosives, some of which looked like they hadn't been touched in decades. Cobwebs decorated every corner. The concrete floor was badly stained and eroded and the only illumination came from a single naked bulb, barely clinging to life, hanging from the center of the ceiling.
The stairs creaked worryingly under my feet as I made my way down to meet with the sheriff. He and Audry were inspecting a pile of cardboard boxes being used to hold various odds and ends. The insignia on the boxes was strangely out of place in this rustic pit. They were from a medical supply company. I was just about to tell the sheriff my suspicions when he shushed me. Though he was getting on in years, his hearing was sharp as any man's and he was certain he'd heard something moving down there.
Cautiously, guns at the ready, we crept around in the dingy half-light, looking for the source. There was a small closet underneath the stairs. Audry tried the door and found it locked or otherwise obstructed, but it was no match for her boot. There was the sound of splintering wood, a yelp of shock and there he was.
Edward Pine. He looked more or less like he did in the videos I had seen of him. He had a few grey hairs now, the texture of his skin was not as smooth as it had once been and he had grown a rather unkempt beard, but there was no mistaking him.
It all happened so fast I barely remember it. For a moment I stared into his good eye, but he quickly looked away, unable to bear my gaze. Perhaps it was shame for his hideous actions, perhaps his mental illness simply made him averse to eye contact. There was a tense few moments he just stood there, looking nervously at the floor while the sheriff shouted at him to put his hands up and come out. Pine said nothing. As we moved towards him, he reached into his pocket. Somebody yelled "Gun!" and there was another loud crack.
Head shot. Brains on the wall. This time it was his right eye. What are the odds?
On later inspection we found the safety on Pine's pistol was still on. He might have simply forgot, but I doubt it. I think in the end, even he understood how wrong he was for this world.
Oh how I wish that had been the end of it. But the worst was still yet to come. Even after that vile carcass had stopped twitching, there was still something moving around in there. We looked around and found a curious silken duffel, a little over a meter long hidden away under a shelf in the closet. Something inside was writhing about.
We all just stood there for a moment. We were horrified, especially me, for I had already deduced what lay inside. Eventually our duty overcame our apprehension and we opened the bag. Almost immediately we were overcome by a stench so foul as to be indescribable to anyone who has never smelt its like before. Living things should not smell like that. If you can call what Mrs. Pine had been reduced to living.
In the absence of limbs, the IV drip had been connected to a large vein in her neck. In fact, nearly all the moving parts, aside from the vertebrae had been removed. Even the lower jaw. I don't know how he managed it, how a medical school dropout could accomplish such surgical feats. I couldn't help being somewhat impressed in the midst of my revulsion.
The sheriff made a valiant effort to run for the bathroom before his disgust won out and the already unsanitary floor of the basement became even more so. The rest of us just stood there in shock while Mrs. Pine writhed about in agony. Her limbs, eyes, ears, nose, even her tongue were long gone. She could only perceive the world now through her pale, sallow skin. She had no idea she'd even been rescued.
No, that's not the right word. There was no rescuing her. He'd fixed it so no matter where she went, she would always be his prisoner.
But perhaps worst of all was seeing her belly, swollen with yet another of that thing's children...
It's been a few years since then. The girl was placed in the custody of her grandparents, who named her Christine. They sent her to a home that specializes in caring for feral children and those raised in extreme isolation. Her mother is also in institutional care. They think she understands she's safe now, but it's difficult to tell. Winny's third child was born two months premature and perished soon after. Christine is now all that remains of the Pine family and it is likely it shall die with her.
I was offered an extended vacation after my ordeal but I turned it down. I just wanted to get on with my life. Looking back, that may not have been the wisest thing to do. Perhaps the scars I carry would not have set so deep if I'd taken the time to heal. Perhaps I would not have done what I did...
Two months ago I had occasion to work with an autistic child displaying similar symptoms to the young Edward Pine. He terrified me. Images of Pine's mutilated family raced through my head and I could not dispel the conviction that this boy would grow up to be the same. God help me, he even had the same face.
I won't go into detail about how I spirited him away from the foster home without being noticed. Wouldn't want to give anybody ideas. It's bad enough that I know.
He was so scared, confused and angry. For a moment I thought about letting him go, but damn it, the memories of what I saw in that cabin in the woods, of those poor, ruined people just would not let me be!
Cries and screams turned to gurgles that faded into nothing as I choked the life out of him. I placed the body in a garbage bag, filled it with rocks to weigh it down, then tossed it into the lake. Nobody suspected a thing, as far as I can tell.
I think I understand now, why Edward Pine chose to end his own life the way he did. When I was told the child had gone missing, I wanted to scream out that I had killed him. I wanted to be free from that awful burden. But of course, I didn't. I acted shocked and concerned, I told the police I'd do anything I could to help. Somehow everybody swallowed it hook, line and sinker. I just couldn't bring myself to admit it.
Every day the guilt gets worse and worse. I bought a length of rope at the hardware store and tied it into a noose, but of course I never used it. Every time I think I'm ready to answer for what I've done, my sense of self preservation kicks in and I go back to business as usual.
I find myself thinking about the moths again. About animals in general, really. Instinct. It compels us, but unlike them we do not follow our compulsions heedlessly. Either we resist and wonder what could have been, or we relent and then regret it. Do the moths feel anything for their women? Do they shed tears when their lovers are torn apart from within by the seeds they planted? Perhaps that is why they sometimes stray too close to a flame.
Now that I think about it, maybe that's what it was for Pine all along. He admired them not for their perceived misogyny, but for being able to do what he never could.
To soar into the flame and be done with it.