“Man is not merely the sum of his masks. Behind the shifting face of personality is a hard nugget of self, a genetic gift.” – Camille Paglia
Dr. Ambrel looked out the window of the diner, staring at the junction of highways 290 and 71. To the southeast, his new home waited, deep in the bustle of the capital city of Austin, star of Travis County. While before him, up the heat-hazed northwestern stretch of 71, was a year-old mystery he’d tried to leave behind.
In his old home, the dusty dead-end town of Fuller, Texas, a man had gone missing. The manager of a meat packing business closed down for health code violations, he was supposed to lock up the filthy structure and leave town with the rest of the population. However, he hadn’t shown up on his sister’s doorstep as planned, and the uprooted family had never heard another word from him.
The schooled and refined doctor hadn’t been fond of his rough and uncompassionate uncle, but family was family – and his mother had made him promise to find out what had happened. Busy with his psychiatric practice and growing family, he hadn’t done much to fulfill that promise. Now that his mother was sick and soon to die of cancer, the mystery, and the obligation, beckoned.
Still, on the cusp of finding answers, he hesitated. Dr. Ambrel was only the second person in his family to break out of the blue-collar world. He had often lived with his rich spinster aunt in the city and his reluctance to return to Fuller had led him here, to meet a man who didn’t mind going back.
Deputy Sheriff David Hadley pulled into the parking lot in front of the doctor’s window, the squad car blocking his view. Spotting him as he came through the door, the younger man smiled and headed for his table.
Dr. Ambrel rose to shake his hand when Hadley joined him, and then both men sat and began an earnest conversation – one that made their waitress come by less often to refill their coffee.
~ ~ ~
“So what is this new information you found, David?”
“Well, I told you ‘bout that missin’ girl, Amarie Trambler, kidnapped six months ago from her foster family in Del Valle? Parents said it coulda been some sleazeball biker types who’d been makin’ trouble in the area. Funny, that – me and mine would call them sleaze.”
“Not every parent is among the best examples of humanity, unfortunately.”
“Thing is, I saw a couple o’ these biker boys near our old neck o’ the woods. I stopped one o’ ‘em on my last trip up there, but he gave me the slip and disappeared. I did stop by your uncle’s old place, that Lee Brothers Meat Company, but it was boarded up and locked. I might need a warrant to get in there legally, to say nothin’ o’ a life insurance policy to do it safely.”
“Having survived your tour of Vietnam, I have all the faith in the world in your ability to persevere. The land was to be sold, of course, but there are no records that it was. I believe a man named Blair was interested, however.”
“Yeah, but could he afford it now? Anyway, I coulda sworn I saw a girl that looked like Trambler headin’ for the gas station when I drove by, but whoever it was, she ran when she heard my car. Didn’t see anyone workin’ at the station, but it was probly abandoned with the rest. I did see old Mrs. Hewitt pokin’ ‘round in the store, though. Now if you remember local tales, hers was an odd family even by Fuller standards. If your uncle went missin’ before closin’ up shop, or right after, the Hewitts may know somethin’; after all, one o’ ‘em was workin’ there when it was closed. I’d bet they could say somethin’ ‘bout Trambler, too.”
Nodding, Ambrel tried to hide his distaste. “Excellent. Let’s go ask them.”
“Boy, Doc, you sure been outta town a while!” Answering the questioning look on the psychiatrist’s face, he added, “If I look into things up their way a little more thoroughly, I might could find your uncle and Miss Trambler. Here’s the thing, though – those people are potentially dangerous. I’m not goin’ to just walk up and ring the bell. Folks have whispered ‘bout ‘em all my life, and now they’ve been livin’ in that town for a year after every other soul and way to make a livin’ headed out for greener pastures. My money says they’d have only gotten weirder alone.”
“Surely you’re painting things a bit dark?”
“All due respect, Doc, but you kept bouncin’ between your parents and your aunt all your life – I clocked a lot more time back home than you. If you’d lived ‘round those people like I did, you’d be ready to take every precaution you could, and I intend to.”
“What about tracking down the local sheriff there?”
“Winston Hoyt?” Hadley looked thoughtful and sipped his coffee. “Never found him, but that biker I spoke to told me he’d seen him drivin’ ‘round. He identified the patrol car as a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere, just like mine. Most likely, old Hoyt gave up his badge without botherin’ to tell anyone. He was tired o’ the job, always jokin’ ‘bout leavin’ his car on the side o’ the road and hitchin’ to Vegas. Rumor said he might move to Michigan, too, he had family up there. Hell, whichever way he went, if some yokel’s got his car … all the more reason to step careful, if you ask me – backwoods freaks like the Hewitts need law. Without it, God only knows what sorta tomfoolery they mighta got up to by now.”