I would like to believe the General found the severed body in his rose garden sometime before dawn. I fancy the image of a man with a reputation to maintain, of needing to rise early to salute the flag at sunrise and all that. I feel it would fit the Heartbreak Ridged soul of the General.
I would give my next five paychecks to know what was running through that thinning flat-topped dome when he saw the splattered, twisted torso that was once a girl's body between two rows of gnarled, thorny red roses.
The crowd of lawmen was still taking pictures and drinking coffee when I arrived. I put my ear near a brick wall of the General's home to listen to the high points of the investigator's conversation while they squatted around the lumpy black tarp and speculated. I didn't dare get in the way. I have learned to always keep my distance.
The girl was about 15 according to one, with beautiful dark hair and amber skin. There was a note written in Arabic in the remains of her right hand, what appeared to be a list of groceries. Between the shoulders of the girl's back, I overheard one reading the message that was burned into the flesh post-mortem: "sic semper tyrannis". I knew that line. It's what Booth said to Lincoln right before he shot him.
The ballistics expert was getting into a heated argument with one of the investigators: the burns on her body were clearly made by a gigantic bullet, but the investigator wanted to know where it went - an anti-tank round doesn't stop easily, nor does one get shot with a round like that without making a BIG boom. The general and the handful of surrounding neighbors heard nothing that morning. The argument dove into a shouting match over the question of being dumped or shot, both of which were impossible. At one moment, the argument caught my full attention - the next moment, the clean black tarp laying flatly over clean stonework caught everyone's else's.
Not only was the body gone, so were the pools of gore and splatter around the roses. The investigators had to shake the dry tarp ten times to reckon with what had just happened. I laughed. More than anything, I love seeing establishment men in a true crisis; seeing a team of blue-toothed uniformed linebackers lose themselves to the sheer vastness of our arcane universe is amusing beyond all creation for me.
They checked their cameras to see that they had taken a few hundred shots of the General's garden and nothing more. Even the evidence bag that held the girl's shopping list was empty. It took only a few minutes before they began to question each other to confirm that they were not crazy - and that's when it became truly funny. She became black, then Asian, and then a man according to some of the officer's recollections. The General did what he did best and scanned the warscape for anomalies. I was the first thing his eyes stuck on.
The lumbering man approached me like a tank skidding to a stop, his gaze turning down to meet mine like a rusted turret zeroing in on its kill. He asked me who I was. I responded with H. I. Moxley, security consultant for Sentry Federal, a non-federal private bodyguard service that I sought employment in for my own reasons. He asked what the hell kind of last name "Moxley" was, followed immediately by what I saw in his garden. I responded with the obvious - I was far from the crowd, and the body was hidden behind the officer's backs. He then asked me if I had any idea what was going on. I told him I didn't, but that was a lie. I had suspicions.
He saw something in me. Maybe he detected the lie. Maybe he projected. But at the end of the day, the police cruisers, canyoneros and ambulances left empty handed and absolutely puzzled, and I remained.
The old man did not say why he wanted a bodyguard, but his timing could not have been better - I was assigned to this case a week before the body did it's little magic trick in the garden. I could not tell much about the man's character at first; some men hide their fear behind brash disregard and insolence that makes them children more than men, and the general was fitting this stereotype beautifully.
We marched the entire five acres of his perfectly groomed property as he told me what he wanted done while simultaneously quizzing me on what he just said. Four quarterly patrols around outside and inside perimeters. Door and window checks every half hour. Staffing the makeshift security station he made himself out of the canning room of his garage, which fed in the 5 cameras around the property. We reviewed the footage from the garden - we watched a group of men place a tarp and huddle around nothing for half an hour.
He stated several times that he demanded perfection and would not tolerate a slip in standards, but his words had as much impact as a falling leaf. The General was distracted, downright rattled, about what happened. I don't blame him. It's not every day a man sees a corpse in their garden only to have it vanish. Nevertheless, I did what he paid me to do. We were on high alert for an entire week, where the most exciting thing to happen was turning away two Jehovah's witnesses.
We maintained a good client-consultant relationship until the 10th day of my employment, when he invited me up to his "war room". God. What a horror show.
The underground round room was wrapped with a single display case, starting with the oldest known weapon excavated, a fossilized fire-sharpened spear, to arrows, corroded and gleaming swords, cannons, guns, ending in a full-size predator drone hung by its wings like a trophy hill. The room's floor was a mosaic of the American flag, a place for the general to tap his feet while he poured out two tumblers of scotch. He noted my gaze on his panorama of death and pointed with his drink.
"Blessed are the well armed, for they shall inherit the Earth," he mused as he toasted to himself. He drank, grimaced, and looked deeply into the empty air in front of his eyes a few moments before reminiscing.
"I helped us win in Vietnam, but you'll never find my name in the history books. Ain't that a card? You know operation Rolling Thunder? That's where I cut my teeth. I signed orders to win wars, which means hitting them where it hurts... their families. We had to kill a hundred thousand of those bastards in Cambodia before the end. No matter what the outcome was, we learned, I learned, a lot of new ways to deliver maximum firepower in a minimum amount of time...like the Lord in the old Testament. You a prayin' man, Moxley?" I did not answer his question.
"Innocents. You killed innocent civilians. War is meant for machine men. Men like us. Not women. Not children." I replied. The General scoffed.
"Everyone outside the brass is the enemy, Moxley, even men in your own army. You're an old man, you were in the service, you must know all too well. Cambodia, Vietnam, Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Iraq, the 'Stans...we learned to eliminate the scum better each time, and they're all scum, Moxley, believe me. Flies upon God's Green Earth. Godless savages, shitting in buckets and living in caves, every one. Even the children. Especially the children - I heard they could appear at any moment to cause chaos, with a grenade in their pocket or-"
"Showing up as a corpse in your rose garden." That shut the General up in his tracks. He took another sip of the burning liquid in his glass before muttering:
"Dammit Moxley, there was a body there. I'm not crazy, a dozen men saw it, I SMELLED the goddamn thing..." I said nothing to this. His gaze turned to me. "You got an odd, quiet way about you, you know that? Like you're... waiting for something. Like you know something I DON'T. That doesn't bode well for top brass. So spit it out."
"I AM waiting," I replied after downing the entire double of neat scotch without tasting it, "do you not expect the visions to return?" His piercing icy gaze stuck to mine as the ice moved and clinked in his tumbler.
"Visions...visions don't have weight, Howard. No, she WAS here. It wasn't a vision." The General's eyes narrowed on the small box I removed from my coat. "What is that, a ringbox?" I opened it. "No...it's a compass. Why are there two needles?" I watched the miniature dosing rods float in their bed of liquid mercury and other undefinable metals. The dosing rods spun wildly in my palm.
"This is a Divination chest. Only two were made by a German inventor named Hiendrek Ganes two hundred years ago. It reacts with electromagnetic pulses outside of wavelengths seen in nature or created by man-"
"In English, eggbrain." I saw enough when I watched the rods twirl anticlockwise to each other. I snapped the box shut and pocketed it again. "Well? What did that...thing tell you?"
"Vengeful spirits surround us. They have found their murderer." The General's face hardened as if a winter frost had been sprayed upon it. I held out my empty tumbler for more scotch. The General seemed annoyed by this and commanded that I stand outside of the door and do my job rather than drink. I rose, walked out the curved door, and shut it. As soon as it closed behind me, the General began to shriek.
I tried opening the door to find something impossibly heavy was blocking it. I gave the door a shoulder-dislocating slam to inch it open and peered in to see that the rotunda was piled in rotting, bloody bodies so deep that it buried the General up to his waist. The large man pushed against moldy compound fractures squirming with fat maggots as his West Point-ringed hands pushed and sank into the soft rotting thighs and bellies of the dead, which split and oozed their decaying filth in moist, rancid pops. The General managed to pull himself free from the chair he was sitting in as I rushed to grab an extension cord kept inside the hallway closet, tossing him the female end to drag the General towards me while he struggled over the piles of hands ending in scorched fingerbones and caved-in eyeless skulls. I could tell the General was trying his best to keep his sanity together until we began to hear the dead speak.
The dead under the General began to sing in a deep and empty chorus without tone or pitch. The scorched fingers would begin to open and clasp like rusted gates, yellow rotted orbs in broken craniums began tracking the General, and somewhere deep below the pile of dead Cambodians, Vietnamese, Chechens, Yugoslavians, Iraqis and Afghans began to grasp at the fat man's flailing limbs. The General screamed to me that something was holding onto him. The General kicked with all of his weathered might against the sea of rotting bodies as I gave everything I had to drag him across the room of death, but we did not move fast enough. Behind him, a scorched head rose, the left half of the woman's face peeling from it's singed skull like a rotting over-ripe mango. She reached out with a hand made of broken bones and grasped the General's belt behind his waist, pulling him back towards the sea of death he was personally responsible for. The extension cord slipped in my hand, biting into the flesh of my palm. I was a formidable man back then, but even then I could not keep the cord from stretching to its last wire; when I knew I would loose this grim tug of war, I removed my sidearm loaded with 9 rounds of Dysprosium coated rounds, aimed between the corpse's eye sockets, and fired once. A large dark brown stain splattered the General's display case behind the exit wound, and the corpse fell back with its brethren. The General was now free to crawl towards me as I forced open his door open another door for him to squeeze through and collapse on my side. I slammed the door back shut as soon as he was on this side, but it was already too late. The old man's breath turned to shallow, agonizing wheezes as he grabbed his stiff left arm and then clutched his chest as his eyes bulged and his chest heaved. His last gurgling word was a profanity. He died before I could dial 911. The same police that came to his estate over a week ago returned to find a single dead man. The bodies inside the War Room were gone - the only thing out of place was one Dysprosium coated round shot through the display case, planted inside of the hilt of the true sword of Charlemagne.
Neither my firm nor the police believed the truth. They both had files half a foot thick on Howard Moxley, most of which said he happened to be the center of inexplicable disasters. I took the first true death of a client harshly and buried myself at the bottom of a Gin bottle for a month. The General was an evil man, but he still deserved a fair trial by his peers. At least the living.
One night after finishing off two dozen well drinks, I pushed open the door to my dilapidated estate in the center of the Olympic forest to find a man hanging at the end of a rope in the center of my living room. The corpse was facing away from me, but the long black hair and skeletal features reminded me of my own. On the back of the corpse, someone had carved into my flesh: "And thus always to their allies". I blinked. It was gone.