The Storytellers Ch. 01byParis Waterman©
In 1947, returning war veteran, Roy Shannon quits his job with the Chicago Tribune to write the great American novel. His premise: to help solve the Black Dahlia Murder. Enroute to Los Angeles, he encounters an Alien near Roswell, New Mexico. As a reward for helping him escape the US Military, the alien provides Roy with what he calls the story of a lifetime.
"It's about a baseball player named, well, he's had several names, but I'll use his original name, Bill Harbidge."
"Who is he?"
"Ah, now that's the story, Roy, that's the story."
And what a story it is. It takes us back to the beginnings of baseball; introduces a man who can merge with whomever he pleases; who plays an unequalled role in baseball history. And who for whatever reason becomes the most terrifying serial killer in history. Can Roy stop the killer from continuing his reign of terror? Or will the body-shifting killer add Roy to his long list of victims? Storytellers weave a thrilling mixture of romance, history, sex, and suspense, expertly juggled by a memorable hero for fans of baseball history and erotic fiction.
The First Storyteller
December 29, 1949
My name is Roy Shannon. I don't expect that any of you have heard of me, especially since I finished writing this document in the fall of 1949 and handed it over to a law firm with instructions to publish it some sixty years hence. I should be long dead by then, having ceased worrying my obsession with a man who could pass from one body to another without the host body being aware of his presence. A man whom I have no doubt has been the greatest serial-killer known to man; a man who causes me to lie awake night after night wondering if I really killed him that night in Los Angeles, or if I murdered only an innocent man with me thinking he was serving as Bill's host of the moment.
I'd better start from the beginning; this tale is complicated and rambles from the summer of '47 back in time to the 1870's. It is wrought with early years of baseball history, told by one who was there; and by an alien who desperately sought to right a wrong; and a serial killer who will never be tried or confined for his sins.
Roughly seventeen years ago I thought I was a hotshot baseball pitcher. Hell, the White Sox thought enough of me to give me $500 to sign with them and took me to their spring-training camp where I promptly ruined my arm trying to strike out everyone I faced. The year was 1933. Need I go into the details of just how bleak a time that was?
I wasn't without a work ethic though, and after returning home, I found two meager jobs, busing tables and cleaning up a speakeasy after closing hours. That was in Columbia, Missouri. I managed to get into the local university and garner a degree in journalism. That was June, 1938; and with no newspaper job waiting for me, or any other job for that matter, I did what many other young men were doing at the time, I joined the Army.
My subsequent war experience involved, among other niceties, some hot times in North Africa, and the invasion of Normandy, where I was wounded, twice. So, with two Purple Hearts, I got to go back home after they healed the wounds in my chest and got most of the shrapnel out of my ass.
Thanks to my journalism degree from the University of Missouri, and my war hero status, I landed a decent job with the Chicago Tribune. In the ensuing year I devoted my spare time to preparing to write what I thought would be the Great American novel. I had no idea that maybe ten million other Americans were attempting the same thing; and like me, failing.
I should have been working on an article about Chicago's Lincoln Park. It was due the following afternoon. Instead, I was sitting behind the ivy covered wall in the bleachers at Wrigley Field watching my beloved Cubs drop the first game of a series with the Pirates, 12 to 8.
It was another game they should have won, but the wind was with the Pirates not my Cubbies, and Thornton Lee got shelled early and often, ultimately losing to Big Jim Bagby. It was almost the end of June, and the Cubs were settled in at a comfortable record of 31 wins and 31 losses. But as I watched Phil Caverretta foul out to the Pittsburgh first baseman for the final out, it was painfully obvious they were not the pennant winning caliber team of just two short years before.
Not being a slacker, I had most of the Lincoln Park article set up in my mind, and during the slower parts of the game I mulled over how I would present it to my editor. Taking a pad from my jacket, I began to jot down more perteninet details about the park. For instance, I knew it bcame into being in 1843 as a Cemetary, and one of the more notable occupants was former Chicago Mayor James Curtiss, whose body was lost when the cemetery was turned into the park.
Suddenly it hit me, and I stopped jotting in my notebook. My novel would be about Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dalhlia. Why the thought occurred just then I will ever know, but it did and I will always wonder if someone or something put it in my head.
What I knew about the Black Dahlia Murder was this: a stunningly beautiful, twenty-two-year-old girl struggling to make a name for herself in the Babylon of Hollywood, never seemed to be able to escape a curse of unbelievably bad fortune.
Having lost two fiancées in the war, it was said that she turned to drinking and promiscuity in a desperate effort to shelter her broken heart from overwhelming grief. Her passion for servicemen and aspiration to be famous made her a different kind of woman for her time. Her nickname evolved from her black hair, and that she always wore black attire. Some said she was named the Black Dahlia before her murder, others said the name was applied by journalists to sensationalize the crime. I figured the latter had a ring of truth to it, having done the same to several murders I'd covered for the Tribune, most notably that of the so-called Lipstick Killer, William Heirens.
At any rate, on January 15, 1947, a passerby spotted Elizabeth Short's nude body in a vacant lot near Hollywood. Her body, cut in half, was bruised and beaten. Grass had reportedly been forced into her vagina and she had been sodomized after death.
Murder stories sold. I knew this from the money the Tribune and other Chicago dailies made with the Heirens trial or more importantly, prior to the trial almost exactly a year earlier when all but convicting the seventeen year old in the press with one outlandish – and more than likely fictional – story after another until the young man confessed rather than face the death sentence.
I was ashamed that I participated in the event, for I was convinced that the kid was railroaded into confessing after he was interrogated around the clock for six consecutive days, beaten by police and not allowed to eat or drink. He was not allowed to see his parents for four days. He was also refused the opportunity to speak to a lawyer for six days.
In the middle of July, the Chicago Tribune published a front page headline story indicating that Heirens had confessed to the crimes. They gave lurid details. This purely fabricated article was picked up by the remaining four daily Chicago papers and the news services. It was apparent to Heirens that a fair trial would be impossible. Urged by his lawyers to accept the plea bargain, he confessed to all three murders to avoid certain death in the State's electric chair.
There was no appeal process. Within weeks, Heirens would have been dead. From that standpoint, his plea bargain was completely understandable. Ten weeks after his arrest, during which the Chicago papers headlined the Heirens case 157 times, Heirens began serving three life sentences.
I can still hear his words as he stood there in the courtroom following his sentencing. "Everyone believed I was guilty...If I weren't alive, I felt I could avoid being adjudged guilty by the law and thereby gain some victory. But I wasn't successful even at that....Before I walked into the courtroom my counsel told me to just enter a plea of guilty and keep my mouth shut afterward. I didn't even have a trial."
Unlike the Lipstick Murders, the Short murder investigation was unresolved, but was still getting the occasional front page column in the Chicago dailies, and I could only imagine what was happening on the West Coast with the Hearst papers that were even more sensational than Chicago's.
I left the ballpark and made it to my bank ten minutes before closing. I drew out my savings, a whopping $733.45, and then headed to the Tribune. My editor was livid when I told him I was going to Los Angeles within the next day or so. He didn't believe my story about taking a vacation to be with my sick aunt. He thought I was going after another job out there with one of the LA dailies. But he honored my request, adding that if I wasn't back at my desk in two weeks time, I was fired.
I didn't actually leave for LA until the fifth of July. My '37 Desoto was a temperamental thing, and the shop kept it much longer than necessary. They didn't do that great a job either, the Desoto broke down on the outskirts of Tulsa, but I was fortunate in finding a mechanic who not only knew his business, but had me up and running in only four hours.
Okay, now hang with me on this... I know it's a stretch, but honest to God it's true, please believe me. I met the Alien - on the 8th of July, 1947, while headed west on Route 247, roughly 12 miles east of Corona, New Mexico.
This was definitely desert country. I remember experiencing a kind of smug, self-satisfied feeling for having filled the gas tank that morning before heading into the desert. I was on my fourth Lucky Strike – I'd been counting them, trying to cut down to one and a half packs a day, when I spotted a kind of shimmering form in the sand off to my left. I brought my 1937 Desoto to a halt on the side of the road and got out to investigate.
In the next thirty seconds as I half-walked, half-trotted toward a shimmering form lying next to a baby cactus, my life changed forever.
I really thought it a woman at first because it couldn't have been even five feet in height. But on approaching the figure, I saw that the gray shimmer was not clothing, but the creature's skin. See? I was already thinking it a creature.
It spoke to me when I was about seven feet from it. No, let me restate that. It reached into my mind and spoke to me. There wasn't a sound made, except for the light breeze blowing sand against my combat boots.
"Help me, I'm about to expire," it whispered in my head.
To my surprise I responded in kind, not uttering a word, I thought, "How can I help?"
It informed me succinctly and with almost no hesitation, "I require Qvpty."
"I don't understand," I thought.
"Oh, so sorry, of course you don't. I need what you call motor oil."
"I have some in the car," I said aloud, and thought, "I'll be right back."
"Hurry," it said into my head as I trotted back to the Desoto. Seconds later I was gasping from the extreme heat and exertion of moving so quickly. I vowed for the thousandth time to quit smoking entirely; never mind the cutting back stuff. And then I was offering the open can of Esso Oil to the creature, which took it from me with a three fingered claw and poured the entire contents down its throat, and then croaked appreciatively.
I used the moment to study the creature. It was not of this Earth, of that I was sure. Yet I felt no fear. It had not threatened me; rather it had begged for my assistance; and I had provided it. I felt secure that it would not harm me, although why I felt that is still a mystery to me. Perhaps my war experiences had provided me with a certain assurance that when my time was up, it was up. So there was no sense in worrying about it.
As I stated earlier, the creature was gray in color, although as it recovered after absorbing the much needed Qvpty, or motor oil, a pinkish hue seemed to blend in with the gray. His genitals were exposed and I concluded that it was a male and not a female, although why I should form that opinion has me checking my thought processes to this day.
At any rate, he was not quite five foot in height, with two eyes, a mouth, and two smallish holes which I took to be nostrils, although he later explained that he breathed through two orifices where our ears would normally be located. The "nose holes" were sensors that warned of approaching objects or persons.
I "spoke" to it, asking it if felt somewhat better.
"Yes, thank you," it replied, and followed with, "You must be curious about me."
"Um, yes, I am," I replied.
It hiccupped; I would soon learn that this was how it expressed amusement.
"There has been a great tragedy," it told me, as its eyes took on one of the saddest expressions I have ever seen.
"I am from a distant planet. It is called Crytos, and is located in a galaxy still unknown to your people.
"You mentioned a great tragedy," I thought, naturally curious. "Please, what happened?"
"My vessel... you would call it a spaceship, had the misfortune to encounter a sandstorm while hovering in place at a lower than usual level. Some grains of sand must have gotten into... well, call it the engine. We managed to gain some more altitude, and a second vessel came to our rescue. It was maneuvering into position alongside us as we attempted to escape from the sandstorm. We were traveling at warp speed, um, a great speed, when the sand abruptly caused our... um, engines to fail. We crashed into one another.
I expect that it was only some sand, or perhaps just a single grain of sand interacting with the molecular stratus of the, um, engine that caused us to collide and explode. Apparently the other vessel managed to get away without serious damage. I'm not certain, but all I've found thus far are remnants of my own vessel."
I looked around me; saw nothing but the shimmering desert and patches of dry, brown grass rustling in the wind. A scorpion peeked out at us from under a nearby rock and I took a step back.
"Don't be afraid," the Alien said quietly, "He's more frightened of you than you are of him."
"It's just that... in this barren desert anything that moves strikes me as deadly."
"It's just the opposite, Roy. The desert may look like a lifeless and barren landscape, but to the eyes of the Native American, it looked like a cornucopia of valuable plants."
"Plants? There's little to no water... how can any plants flourish?" Of course, I was naive about such things, but that never stopped me from putting my foot in my mouth before, and I did it again.
"I assure you, the Native Americans found many plants with which provided food, medicine, home construction, cooking, storage containers, clothing, furniture, hunting, recreation and fuel. They also figured prominently in mythology, religion and ritual. In short, plants helped make up the entire social structure of the Indians society."
"You sound more like an archeologist than an alien."
"In a manner of speaking, I am," the Alien said. The Native Americans were strictly hunters and gatherers. They did not even begin practicing agriculture until about 4,000 years ago, and even then, they continued primarily as hunters and gatherers for at least another 2,000 years. They relied heavily on their keen knowledge of natural local resources, especially the plants, to feed, clothe and shelter their families. They located campsites and hamlets and timed their seasonal moves specifically to capitalize on the availability of key economic plants, which were the foundation for their survival.
Seeds of the nut pines or pinyon pines were especially important in the aboriginal diet because they provided an important plant staple that was high in both fats and carbohydrates—a characteristic rare for most other edible seeds, roots, berries and fruits. Pinyon nuts are also one of the easiest plant foods to harvest and store, and they were often abundant stands of these small-statured trees were the focus of rather large-scale activities, which involved entire families and villages in years of abundant harvests.
As interesting as this might seem, I still interrupted him, "And you know this, how?"
"I saw it for myself," he answered, and I shut up and listened.
"Cousins who had not seen each other for months set up camps side by side. Friends met friends and exchanged bits of news as they moved from tree to tree. Word of births and deaths was greeted with laughs or wails that rang through the forests. Jokes were told, girls were courted, and songs were sung. Naked, cream-colored babies tumbled in the pine needles, cutting their teeth on pine sticks. Boys climbed pine trees to shake down the cones, their lithe bodies, black with pitch, became blacker when they rubbed themselves with dust so they would not stick to their rabbit skin blankets at night."
The alien stopped and glanced around; seemingly satisfied that we were safe for the moment, he said, "I love talking about such things, but I'm afraid I have more serious concerns at present."
"Yes, I replied without opening my mouth. But please, tell me how is it that we can speak to one another using only thoughts?"
"This is the best method of communication. Nothing is lost in translation... do you see?"
"Yes, of course, but...."
"If I spoke to you, and I will should you so desire, you would wind up holding your ears as my pitch when 'speaking' is so high and intense it would cause you physical pain. I do not wish this. You have been a benefactor and savior."
Changing the subject, I said, "You mentioned a collision between your vessel and another. Could you elaborate on that?"
"I woke up here in the desert and I've been hiding from your search planes and helicopters ever since. Luckily, you came along and had a supply of Qvpty to help me revive."
"I'm glad I came along."
"You are an unusual person, Roy; most humans would have panicked at the sight of me, and undoubtedly have alerted the authorities to my location."
I was startled as he had called me by my name without my having told him, or even having thought of it.
"How did you?" I began.
"I can see into you. It's just... one of my attributes. By the way, please call me Arthur."
"Yes, I selected it from a list I received from one of you Earthlings some years ago. But I'm wasting precious time. Do you have more Qvpty in your vehicle?"
"No, I think not. I can get some more in the next town. Can you make it to my car, or do you need some help?"
"I'm afraid to go anywhere near what you might call civilization."
"Why? I'll take you into the town, and..." A picture of Army personnel swarming over the terrain nearby suddenly appeared in my mind. "The government is lookin for you!" I blurted.
"Yes, they would want very much to take me prisoner."
"That's bullshit!" I exclaimed. But I knew the military. "Do you know if they have any of your... colleagues?"
"Yes and no," he replied in my head.
"I don't understand."
"They have their shells... and that's all they have."
"They are without life, I'm afraid."
"That's... so sad," I managed, but I wasn't really, having seen thousands of dead and wounded on the beach at Normandy, and other places in Europe.
"Thank you for saying that, but they are far better off that way than having been taken prisoner. That would have been unbearable to them... to any of us."
"What can you do? I mean, if I can't transport you out of the desert, how will you survive?"
"You can be of great service to me."
"Name it, anything I can do," I thought, transmitting my thoughts to Arthur.
"I will stay here. If you would go into the nearest municipality and procure a case of Qvpty, I would be most appreciative."