Legitimate News Story
This was submitted to the Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th anniversary anthology. Since it didn’t make the cut, you get to enjoy it for free.
As always I do not own the rights to Kolchak: The Night Stalker
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
All my stuff is stored at ff.net and a03 now.
The date was August 24th, 1974. It was one of the hottest days of the year. The baseball season was in full swing, air conditioner repairmen were raking in a fortune, and my boss, Tony Vincenzo, was back in the office. The poor fellow had to miss a day due to his ulcer acting up. I wasn’t the cause, for a change. Rather it was from family members who had come to town to spend some quality time with him.
Personally, I thought it was rude. Holidays are the officially designated times for family to show up and torment you.
I stood in Tony’s office, mopping up a non-stop stream of sweat because the air conditioner had broken down, and Tony refused to add to the air conditioner repairmen’s coffers.
“I don’t believe this!”
There’s no sound in the world quite like the dulcet tones of my esteemed editor shouting at me for no good reason. He’d probably blame me for making his ulcer worse. “What’s the problem now?”
“You know what it is!” He slammed down yesterday’s edition of our paper. “I take one day off, just one day, because my doctor tells me I have to take it easy since I have the mother of all peptic ulcers in my stomach. Do you know what a peptic ulcer does?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“It bleeds, Carl. Did you know if you lose enough blood by any means you could die?”
“Do you mean like the saying, ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’?”
“Yes, exactly like that. According to my doctor I could conceivably die from this. Now let me ask you something: are you deliberately trying to kill me, or is it just reflexive now?!”
Tony was really building up to a shouting session this time and, contrary to outward appearances, I do like the big lug. Even if he has a bellow that could put a fog horn to shame. “If this is about my story--.”
“Of course it’s about your story!” He picked up the paper only to slam it down again. “I have no idea how you talked the printers into running this.” He opened the paper up to my article and began reading it aloud. “’The meatpacking district has long been an integral part of Chicago’s character. Who hasn’t visited the locale and partaken of the unique ambiance that can only be found there?
“’But of late something fishy smells down there, and it isn’t the seafood. Westside Cannery, owned by the self-proclaimed ‘Codfather’ of fish packing, Sean McGrath, has been engaging in what can only be called questionable business practices, ones the authorities seem unaware of’.” He put down the paper and looked at me expectantly.
“It’s great, isn’t it?”
“No, Kolchak. Getting sued is the exact opposite of great!” Tony actually lowered his voice a full decibel, maybe even two. “Sure, everyone knows McGrath is involved in organized crime, but you can’t accuse him of it if you don’t have proof.”
It was time to let the other shoe drop. “I have proof.”
“Pictures and everything. I happened to be in that area of town around one in the morning.”
“What were you doing down there at that time of night?”
“Over the last couple of weeks several bodies turned up around there, torn to pieces and with the blood drained entirely out of them.”
“Relax, Tony. I didn’t find anything about that. Yet. What I did discover was this.” I showed him the photographs I’d already developed from the previous night.
He examined the photos. “What exactly am I looking at here?”
I suppose it wasn’t that obvious at first glance. I led Tony into it. “That delivery truck arrived at the back loading dock in the dead of night. Note the name, ‘American Alliance Trucking.’ I looked into them. There’s only one company by that name. They operate out of New Mexico.”
Tony considered that. “Okay. It is a little odd that a company based out in the middle of the desert is dealing in seafood with a Chicago packing company. But trucks drive wherever the work is.”
“I called a paper out there and told them who I was. They agreed to an information exchange. Apparently American Alliance Trucking is under investigation by the local authorities for shipping less than legal goods.”
“Not bad. But it is circumstantial.”
“Check out this next photo.”
Tony examined it. “They’re loading crates of packed fish onto the truck.”
“Nope. Those are being off loaded. Now let me ask you this: why would a fish packing plant, under suspicion of illegal activities, have already packed fish delivered to them in the dead of night by a company under suspicion of illegal activities?”
Now Tony was totally calm. The set to his jaw and the distracted look to his eye meant he was chewing on every piece of information I had given him. After nearly a minute, he spoke. “I owe you an apology, Carl.”
“You usually come to me with some crackpot story about werewolves on single’s cruises, or Mayan mummies--.”
“It was Aztec.”
“—my point being your articles read like something out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But this time you have a legitimate news story.”
“You make it sound as amazing as the Cubs winning a pennant.”
“Yeah, it kind of is.”
I think it was the sincerity in the admission that bothered me the most. “Very funny. Anyway, I have enough to run another article tomorrow, but I’m going down there tonight to see if I can’t dig up some more.”
“Whoa there, Karl. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. McGrath will have read your story by now, and he’s going to be wound up like a hornet that had his nest kicked.”
I grabbed my hat and jacket as I headed for the door. “I know. I’m hoping the hornet panics and makes a mistake.”
“Don’t forget hornets sting when they’re agitated,” Tony warned as I shut the door behind me. The story had already sent out a summons, and I was answering its clarion call. I’d see it through to the end, no matter where it took me.
Like I always did.
It was the dead of night. I found myself in the same alleyway I’d been in when taking those damning photos, directly across from the loading dock of Westside Cannery. People say New York is the home of grime, slime, and crime. Well, Chicago could give them a run for the money, and all in my tiny alley. Grime in the form of the garbage all around me, slime from the dumpster three yards away which smelled like it had been sitting there since the last mayoral primary, and crime in the fish packing plant across the street. Given the sanitation department’s work ethic to date, it was probably the last that would be taken care of first.
I watched that back dock like a hawk, which was probably why I was taken by surprise when a deep, baritone voice from behind me cleared its throat to gain my attention.
Now imagine the most stereotypical type of hired muscle working for a crime lord operating out of this kind of neighborhood. The type that was born into this world with the word ‘Goon’ written on their forehead. Now imagine they were twins.
I didn’t have to imagine it since they were standing right behind me.
One of them acted as spokesman. I’m not sure the other one was capable of speech. He had meaty hands though. “So, you’re Kolchak.”
I had to act fast. “No, I’m Tom Anderson with the city sanitation department.” I thought of flashing my press pass so quickly they’d have no idea what it was other than something official, but reconsidered. These didn’t look like the kind of men that reacted well to people going for things in their pocket, and I was pretty sure they had things in their pockets I didn’t want flashing at me. I’d stick with the fast talk.
“We’ve received reports this alley was a mess, and as you can see, they were right. If anything, the complaints were understated. I have to get to my supervisors so we can send a crew down here to clean it up. Or raze it.”
I tried to walk between them, but the meaty handed fellow laid one of those paws on me. It halted me in my tracks.
The spokesman looked me over. “Stupid-looking suit. Really stupid-looking hat. Yeah, you’re Kolchak. Our employer would like a word with you.”
The pair flanked me with a practiced ease that hinted it was a regular thing for them. It was followed up by a pat down, and then a subtle encouragement for me to move my feet in the desired direction. I did so, since I didn’t want to find out what overt encouragement was. I’m not as young as I used to be and don’t heal all that fast any more.
They escorted me to the back dock, unlocked the door, and entered the building. The interior was a fish packing plant in every way, complete with smell. If the fishy odor was strong on the outside, inside it was outright Herculean. Whatever contraband they were moving would smell of seafood when it was sold off. I wondered if the buyers would get a discount because of that.
No one else was present. We had the plant all to ourselves, which did nothing to reassure me. As we made our way further into the structure, we passed a large machine. That was when the spokesman said, “Conor, why don’t we show Mr. Kolchak our pride and joy?”
His pride and joy was a machine with two huge metal rollers with projections on them. A conveyor belt led up to it. On the other side there was a drop off where whatever was ground up between the rollers would be expelled, then contained in a rather large bin. It was already partially filled.
While I had divined its nature on my own, the goon decided to enlighten me anyway. “This is our main grinder. It grinds up the flesh, skin, and bone of any type of marine life. It can handle anything.”
“Anything,” Conor repeated. I was impressed. I thought if he could speak, it would only be in monosyllabic grunts. I decided not to share my thoughts with him.
The spokesman turned the machine on. The rollers started spinning, filling the room with loud noise. He raised his voice. “It now occurs to me that humans are very similar to seafood.”
I couldn’t help myself. “We are?”
“All humans are composed of flesh, skin, and bone. Very similar in the ways that matter.”
“Very.” Conor agreed. Now that was monosyllabic.
His talk had its desired effect. I pictured reporters disappearing into those rollers and mingling with processed seafood. Ending up distributed around the country in cans of tuna was one of the grislier outcomes I could envision. Given the variety of bizarre ways I’d nearly met an unfortunate demise, that was saying something.
“Let’s continue.” The goon led us away from the machine.
“Shouldn’t we turn it off?” I suggested.
“Nah. We might need to do a bit of late-night processing.”
I knew he was trying to intimidate me. It was working.
We went to the rear of the plant and headed towards a door which I assumed connected to an office. Most likely that was where their employer, McGrath himself, would be wanting that word with me. And I would agree to whatever he wanted. Whether I’d keep that word would remain to be seen. Sure, I’m an honest guy, but promises made under duress aren’t enforceable in my book.
We were about fifteen feet away when there was a scream from the office. And not just any scream. It was that unique blend of unholy terror and excruciating pain. I had heard it far too often in my line of work.
Then the scream ended abruptly. Another common occurrence.
My escorts froze up only for a moment, then drew guns from the interior of their jackets and stormed toward the office. They threw open the door, then went inside one after another. I stood there watching, unable to see into the office itself thanks to the angle I was at. Then that hellish scream was repeated, though in baritone this time.
That was when instincts took over, and I bolted back in the direction I had been escorted from. I tore through that plant like the demons of Hell were hot on my tail. I think technically that had happened to me at least once. I didn’t know what was back there that could make men, long inured to violence, produce a sound like that, but I knew I didn’t want to find out.
Except that wasn’t true. Most normal people, heck, even most reporters, would have kept right on going, satisfied living a life in ignorance to what occurred back there. But I long ago accepted I’m not like most normal people. I’m not even like most reporters. Tony gives advice because most reporters accept it; I go against it precisely because I’m not. I think that’s one of the cornerstones of our love/hate relationship.
My run slowed to a trot, became a walk, then I just stood there. I found myself turning around and listening intently. I heard nothing other than the loud machine continuing to rumble. No movement. Nothing to indicate I was anything other than alone in this small factory devoted to packing aquatic creatures in containers and shipping them to people far and wide. Although at one point there had been at least three humans, and maybe something else, sharing the building with me.
I pulled my camera out of my pocket. The goons hadn’t bothered taking it. Whatever they had planned for me, even if I could take some, they weren’t planning on giving me the opportunity to develop them.
I slowly made my way toward the office, using whatever I could for cover. From what I had no idea. Eventually the open doorway came into sight. There was neither movement nor sound from that direction. I moved up to the edge of the doorframe. Again nothing. I dared to peek inside.
The only illumination was a table lamp that was now on the floor, knocked over but still on. It provided just enough light for me to make out three forms on the floor, but that was all. Nothing else moved. I felt my heart beat so hard it threatened to come out of my chest as I moved to the lamp and positioned it so the room was lit better.
I was made instantly sorry. The men were bodies now. Torn up very, very badly. It was like they had been ripped apart by a pack of lions.
It wasn’t the first time I had seen bodies, far from it. I steeled myself and shot some photos of the scene. I shot a couple at an angle that we could actually print, since what was there… let’s just say there are some things that most people don’t need to see in graphic detail.
As I finished up, I realized there was something wrong with the bodies. Aside from them being ripped to shreds. Something was very off about the scene, but I couldn’t put my finger on it no matter how I tried. It was one of those things that was going to eat away at me until I figured it out.
I left the room to find a pay phone and call the police-- after I secured the camera in case they became grabby with it. I considered using the office phone, but even if it still worked, I didn’t want to mess up the murder scene. I was pretty sure that, while we have had some very dense police captains in this town, even they wouldn’t try sticking me with this one.
I walked slowly, that odd detail taking up most of my conscious thought. It wasn’t something that was there and out of place: it was something that wasn’t there when it should have been. I was right next to that monstrous grinder when it hit me:
There had been no blood in the room.
It was impossible with that level of evisceration. That interior should have been covered in it, but there hadn’t been a drop.
What that meant hit me at the exact same moment I saw the movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned in its direction. There was a dark blur that leapt from behind a bunch of crates and launched itself at me. It was so fast I never saw it clearly, but I was aware of a large maw full of sharp teeth, and a number of appendages with claws. I think it was covered in black fur, but that was more an impression than a concrete detail.
It was all reflexes as I drew back and put my hands in front of me, camera still in one of them. It was also reflex when I instinctively shot the camera, the flashbulb going off.
I heard a weird intake of breath and high-pitched snarl that sounded part jungle cat, part injured warthog. The thing hit me high and knocked me to the floor, sending the camera flying from my hands. The floor was concrete, never a pleasant surface to strike hard. Luckily my head didn’t connect with it, so I still had my wits about me.
My eyes darted wildly, trying to track the thing. I expected another attack, while also understanding I had no way to either evade or defend myself. But instead of a snarl of anger, I heard a scream like nothing I’d ever heard before, and I’ve heard many types of screams. It was inhuman and in pain, but died off just as quickly. Then I heard something else. A sort of crunching noise. Then there was nothing but the sound of the grinder turning over and over.
It all fell into place. Where I had been standing. The flight path the thing had been on when it launched itself at me. Where it would have continued since it had struck only a glancing blow, perhaps because the flash had blinded it.
I looked into those grinding gears. The goon had known his machinery. That grinder could indeed handle the flesh, skin and bone of anything. There was nothing left behind. Not even blood, which was peculiar considering how much it had drained. I looked into the bin where it had ended up. It was full of every type of seafood imaginable, all of it turned into mulch. Whatever it had been, it blended in perfectly when everything else.
I called the police and told them what had happened. They came down and cordoned off the crime scene. I also told them about the creature attacking me. Naturally they didn’t believe a word of that. They didn’t treat me like I was crazy at least. They knew me well enough that crazy stories were a norm for me. If I didn’t have one, then they might have taken me in for a psychiatric evaluation.
I would have shown them the single picture I took but --my luck running true to form-- it wasn’t to be. My camera had broken when it struck the concrete floor, the film exposed and ruined. The only evidence of the thing’s existence was ground up and part of a batch of scrod.
The police wrote off the trio of deaths as a gangland killing, the torn apart bodies and drained blood was someone ‘sending a message’. They surmised my article might have even triggered it. Having no evidence to back up my claims, other than my eyewitness testimony, which was considered worthless, Tony made me stick to the second part of the expose I had planned. He did allot some additional space for the deaths of McGrath and his henchmen, though I was also forced to regurgitate the official police explanation of gang related homicides. One good thing came of the matter. Whatever had been causing those deaths in that part of town was taken care of. People would have to die from something more conventional from now on.
There is one final detail to mention. Tony decided to frame my expose and hang it up for everyone, but especially me, to see. After all, it had been a ‘legitimate news story’ I’d finally produced.