New Moon of Kentucky
by Jack LaFountain
The blue truck with Alpha 4 printed on the side came to a stop on the flightline. The lights went out on the cargo plane and a figure in fatigues splashed through the puddles as he ran for the shelter of the truck.
“What’s going on?” He asked, sliding the door closed behind him.
“Oakes there said he could beat my story,” Allen explained. “We’re trying to get him to prove it.”
Hearing the challenge once more was all it took. Oakes finally gave in and agreed to tell his story.
“Okay, then here it is—and this is no shit. It was on television and in all the papers, so lay off me y’all.”
My brother, Dan, is two years older than me. When he was in high school, all he talked about was how he wanted to be a shrink someday. Dad thought listening to people moan about their troubles was a bullshit job, but he was all for his kids going to college. No one in our extended family had ever been to college and he wanted one of us to be the first. Of course, our folks didn’t have the money for college.
However, Dan had a real shot at it. He was a four-year varsity linebacker and was scouted by people from Notre Dame. He was counting on getting a football scholarship to pay the bills. Then he blew out his knee in the district finals his senior year. The doctors said even with rehab it wasn’t likely he’d ever play football at the college level. That killed his scholarship dreams.
Dan ain’t the kind who gives up easy though. He enrolled at the local junior college and took a job at the local nuthouse, Green Mountain State Hospital over in Parkersburg, to pay his tuition. He worked the night shift and managed to study when the loonies slept. The doctor and the nurses knew what he was up to and helped him along.
Anyway, one night, the police brought in this guy named Victor Toms. I remember seeing his picture in the paper later. There had been three young women murdered that spring. The police were going nuts hunting for, what they believed was, a budding serial killer. The papers were having a field day scaring the crap out of every chick in town.
“Any of y’all ever try and get a date while there was a killer on the loose. It sure as hell killed going out or even walking up and saying hello to girls.
The cops were particularly alert for strangers in the area and kept a close eye on known nut cases wandering around town after dark. They picked up this Toms fellow walking along the river naked as a jaybird, so he immediately qualified on both accounts. He was rambling crazy crap and it took them a while to even get a name from him. So, rather than put up with him in jail, they took him to the state hospital.
Dan was working that night and drew the job of sitting with Toms while the nurse tried to get a history from him. Most of what they got was psycho rambling about like how he could fly through the air, control people with his mind, way out there kinds of stuff. The people at the hospital had heard it all before, no big deal, right?
Then, out of the blue, he confesses to killing those women. At first, that got about as much attention as the rest of the stuff—except from Dan. Dan never could say why but he believed him. Confessing to homicidal thoughts is grounds for commitment and they put him in the locked ward on close observation for good measure. Dan got the job and had to keep Toms where he could see him at all times.
Like I said, Dan believed Victor Toms was telling the truth about the murders. It creeped him out, but Dan was also hoping to impress the state people enough to get them to help with college. He decided to see what he could get out of Toms and invited the guy to ramble to his heart’s content. A few days later, Dan got more than he hoped for.
“I’m a lunatic,” Toms told him one night.
“And why do you say that?” Dan asked.
“It’s not what you’re thinking, Toms said. “I don’t hear voices or that kind of crap. Luna is Latin for moon. I’m a lunatic because the moon rules me. Moonlight gives me the power to control my powers. I can get in and out of my body at will while the moon is shining. But when there’s a new moon, I lose control.”
“Lose control of what?”
“The power to stay in my body. Without serious mental concentration after dark, if I fall asleep or let my mind wander watching television, I’ll float away. It’s very difficult to get back. Sometimes I can’t get back in at all without doing things I don’t want to do.”
“What kind of things?”
“All kinds of crazy stuff. It’s changed over the years. Lately I can’t get back at all without shedding blood.”
“Is that why there are all the scars on your arms? Do you cut yourself?” Dan asked.
“I used to,” the man confessed. “But it’s not enough anymore. Now, I have to kill people. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. That’s what happened the other night. I fell asleep in the park and floated away. Somebody stole my clothes. Can you believe it, took them right off my unconscious body? I was trying to get back home when the police caught me.”
“There’s not been a new moon killing this month,” Dan told him trying to get him back to reality. “So you can’t be the New Moon Killer.”
“Actually, the truth is, there hasn’t been a body found. There is one out there.”
“Out where? You mean here, in Parkersburg?”
“If I tell you, do you promise not to tell the police?”
“Victor, I don’t…” Dan started.
“You can tell the people here. I know you can’t promise to tell no one. There’s rules, right?”
“Right,” Dan agreed.
“You can tell the doctors or nurses. Just don’t tell the police…don’t testify against me. I didn’t want to do it. I had no control. Give them a chance to fix me here.”
“Okay, no police…. They won’t hear it from me. I can’t promise the doctor will keep quiet.”
“I’ve told Dr. Mattox already,” Toms said. “He doesn’t believe me, but I’ve told him. Well not what I’m going to tell you… not details. I need someone to believe me.”
“Let me hear it, then.”
“About three miles south of Highway 79, on Raccoon Hollow Road there’s an old wreck of a barn that sits behind a white frame house that’s trimmed in green. In the loft is the body of a 5’3’’ blue-eyed blonde named Judy Stiles.”
Dan listened to Toms tell how he cut her throat and bathed in her blood. The guy was a real whack job. Dan said it scared the crap out of him listening to him tell it like it was nothing.
Two days after Dan and Victor’s conversation, Bob Stiles turned his big rig south off Highway 79 and pulled into his family home. He’d been on the road for a week and was glad to be home. He hadn’t been able to get in touch with Judy. That wasn’t too unusual. Judy often went to stay with her mother when he was on the road. Bob wasn’t about to call that old battle-ax’s number come hell or high water.
Inside the house, Bob found Judy’s moldy, half-eaten supper in front of the TV. The set was on as were the lights. Crusty pots and pans littered the kitchen but there was no sign of Judy. Bob had always thought Judy was too big of a neat freak. He knew she would never leave the house looking like that. Something was definitely wrong.
A few hours later, the discovery of Judy Stiles body was the lead story of the ten o’clock news. Police Chief Frank Roberts, at last, admitted to reporters Parkersburg had a serial killer. The FBI was being called in on the case and Parkersburg citizens were ordered to observe a mandatory curfew.
Dan watched the news with a growing sickness in the pit of his stomach. Especially when they showed the pictures of the neat, white-framed house with green trim.
At the suggestion of night nurse, Vicki Meeks, Dan blew off his classes the next day to talk to Dr. Mattox about Victor’s confession and description of the Stiles home. Given the detail involved, Vicki had taken Dan’s revelation seriously. She had dismissed Toms original confession because of the lack of details and the mix with unreal babble. She was willing to join Dan in digging deeper. Dr. Mattox was not so quick to accept Mr. Toms’ story.
“Dan, Dan,” Dr. Mattox said. “You’re missing the obvious here. Toms is mixing news stories into his delusions. No doubt, he heard the story on the news like everyone else and is using your rapport to get attention. People do not float out of their bodies…and even if they did, how could they kill without a corporeal body?”
“Oh, I know he doesn’t float around Doc, but what if he did commit that murder before the police picked him up? He could have ditched his clothes to hide the evidence.”
“There’s always an outside chance that could be true. Still, we will know for sure soon enough,” Maddox assured him.
“How’s that, Doc?”
“He won’t be leaving Green Mountain until after the next new moon. We will report to the police what Mr. Toms has said. They can investigate if they wish. But if there’s another murder, we’ll know it wasn’t him.”
“I guess you’re right,” Dan admitted.
“The next new moon is June 6th,” Dr. Maddox said. looking at his calendar. “D Day, how appropriate. I can see to it you’re assigned close observation on Victor for those nights around the New Moon. It might help him feel more secure and ease his delusions. Hopefully, his meds will have some positive effect by then too. Then we’ll all feel better about getting him out of here.”
“Thanks, Dr. Mattox.”
“Sure, Dan. By the way, how are the studies coming along?”
“Pretty well, 4.0 this semester.”
“Excellent. Keep up the good work Green Mountain needs you.”
The next few weeks were mayhem for Dan and the staff at Green Mountain. The patients were out of control. There were fights between patients, patients attacking the staff, even the staff were snapping at each other. Several of the patients laid the blame for their actions on Victor Toms.
One evening after supper, a rather buxom female patient treated everyone sitting in the courtyard to a striptease. The staff quickly wrapped her in a blanket and hustled her into seclusion, but not before she revealed all. She insisted Somebody named Victor had been controlling her mind and made her do it. She was treated to an extra dose of Thorazine thwarting any further attempts at controlling her mind for many hours.
When the performance was over, Dan noticed Victor got several poorly concealed pats on the back from the men in the audience.
“You having fun with this?” Dan asked Victor.
“Always,” Victor smiled. “The best part is that I can’t really be responsible. I mean no one can control other people’s minds, right? It’s just a psychotic break, the power of suggestion, or some other logical explanation, isn‘t that right?”
Soon the entire patient population of the ward began complaining about Toms. Naturally the staff shrugged it off. That is until one night Victor Toms’ roommate decided to smother him with a pillow.
Dan stumbled on to the scene. He pulled the guy off and they carried him away to a private padded room for the rest of the night.
On June 5th, Victor refused to sleep at all. His anxiety and the complaints of him messing with other people’s minds grew the longer he was awake. Dan volunteered to work the next evening even though it was his regular day off. Dr. Mattox, true to his word, and had Dan assigned exclusively to Victor Toms.
Dan swiped his badge and walked into the ward. He walked through the staff area to the nurse’s station when the day shift tech pulled him aside.
“Victor hasn’t been out of his room all day,” he said, “He’s hardly said a word. I think something’s up.”
“I’ll check it out,” Dan replied.
He found Toms sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bunk.
“Hanging out on your bunk all day’s kind of asking to fall asleep, isn’t it?” Dan asked. “I thought you wanted to stay awake.”
“Leave me alone,” He ordered. “You and Dr. Maddox think you’ve got it all figured out. We’ll see who proves what to who tonight.”
“You don’t seem as concerned about your problem as you did a month ago.”
“Yeah, that’s the hell of it, afterward you feel bad. Beforehand it sounds so good that you just can’t wait.”
"Tell you what,” Dan said. “Come with me and we’ll get some real coffee,” Dan offered. “None of that crappy decaf shit y’all have to drink.”
"Thanks, Dan,” Toms said. I have to stay awake, or I’ll kill again, and no one will be able to stop me.
“You don’t need to worry,” Dan told him. “Dr. Mattox has arranged for me to sit with you all night. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“If I fall asleep, how do you think you’re going to stop me from floating away?” Victor asked.
“How can you be so sure you’ll kill somebody?”
“I’ll have to or I won’t be able to get back in my body. It happened the last time. Do you want to take a chance it won’t this time?”
“Maybe, everything will be different this time.”
Victor’s eyes narrowed and he studied Dan’s face looking for something. It was there to be found and it didn’t take Victor Toms long to hit on the truth.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“I believe you’re telling the truth…as you see it,” Dan said. “I even believe you might be the killer you say you are. But, no, I don’t believe you float out of your body to do it.”
Victor stared at his coffee for several minutes. Dan remained still and let him try and work things out. When Victor finally raised his head there was a look of sad resignation on his face.
“Okay, at least that’s honest. Let’s go back to my room now. I’m tired.”
“Now you’re wanting to go to sleep. What about….you know.”
“Yeah, I know. I know there’s never going to be any help for me. No one is ever going to believe me. I thought you were different. Green Mountain’s not the first hospital I’ve been in. I think it will be the last. I’m tired of trying.”
“Victor, don’t be that way,” Dan said.
“What way is that? I’ve decided to accept myself the way I am. Isn’t that what Dr. Mattox has been getting at…isn’t that what you’re learning in school—that whole ‘I’m Ok, You’re Ok’ bullshit?”
When they got back to Victor’s room, he turned and extended a hand to Dan.
“Thanks Dan,” Victor said. “You’ve been great, really. You’ve listened a lot more than anyone else I’ve talked to. This is for the best. Keep a close eye on me, maybe you’ll learn something.”
Victor Toms stretched out on his bed and folded his hands behind his head. Twice, as he drifted down towards sleep, he shot back to consciousness with a powerful jolt. Each time he gave Dan a sheepish grin and returned his head to the pillow. Finally, Victor’s respirations slowed; his chest began to rise and fall in a deep, regular, rhythm. He was asleep.
Dan wondered just what would happen next. Would he see the astral form of Victor Toms rise from the sleeping body and float away? That was ridiculous. Sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Wasn’t it? Was it really so far fetched? Did Dr. Mattox and science have all the answers? His professors said they didn’t understand everything the human mind was capable of, but that wasn’t the way they acted. They were full of smug assurance. Maybe tonight Dan would get some answers of his own.
Dan had studied the sleep cycle in school. He watched Victor enter and exit REM sleep with its rapid movement of the eyes behind their lids. Victor cycled back into the depths of Stage 4, deep sleep.
He practiced counting respirations. Twelve breaths a minute…low normal, but Victor’s breathing slowed still further…10…8...6, this was not good. Dan shot to his feet. He had to get the nurse. Victor sighed once deeply then seemed to stop breathing altogether. Bending down, Dan put his ear to Victor’s chest.
“Code Blue!” Dan screamed. “Code Blue, room 7! Somebody help!”
Vicki Meeks came running through the door as Dan heard the Code Blue being repeated overhead.
“He just stopped breathing,” Dan told her.
Dr. Howard, from Emergency Admitting and the rest of the nurses poured into the room and Dan was pushed outside. He should have helped herd the curious back to their rooms. Instead, he walked to the nurses’ station and sat with his head in his hands. He had never seen a person die before.
Victor Toms was officially pronounced dead at one o’clock on the morning of June 7th. Dan was the only one who seemed to be mourning the loss. Vicki told him to go home, but Dan refused. He wanted to wait with Victor’s body until the funeral home arrived.
About three hours later, the undertaker finally arrived. He loaded Victor on the stretcher and covered the black plastic body bag with a velvet cover bearing the funeral home’s logo. Dan lingered until the next shift came on the floor. He had the next two days off and a case of beer in his fridge at home. He planned to get rip roaring drunk before the day was out.
The day had barely begun for most folks in Parkersburg. Dan already had one sheet into the wind and was preparing to hoist the second. His revised plan now called to be three sheets to the wind by noon. He was right on track when a knock on the door spoiled everything. It was the police.
“Dan Bass?” the detective asked.
“May we come in?” Without waiting for an answer the two plain-clothes cops stepped into Dan’s living room.
“I’m Sgt. Davidson, this is Sgt. Autry; Parkersburg P.D.”
“What’s up, officers?” Dan slurred just slightly.
“Are you drunk?” Davidson asked.
“No sir, not yet, but I’m working on it,” Dan said.
“I think you’d better hold off,” Davidson suggested.
“We’d like you to come down to the station with us,” Autry added.
“We’ll explain everything when we get there”
“What the hell? No point arguing with y’all. Let’s go,” Dan said.
Dan noticed there was a large crowd gathered on the front steps of the police station. There were vans from the TV stations too. Something big must be happening. Dan remembered hoping he got a glimpse of whatever the commotion was all about. Davidson and Autry ushered him in a side door and hustled him into an interrogation room. Dan smiled and waved to the long mirror that covered most of one wall.
“Okay, we’re here. What’s this all about?” Dan asked. “Am I under arrest?”
“No,” said Davidson. “You’re not under arrest. We’d like to ask you some questions is all. But we would like to advise you of your rights.”
Autry read Dan his rights from a 3x5 note card and by the time he had finished, Dan felt some sobriety creeping back into his head. At least enough that he decided to try keeping his mouth shut until the detectives showed their hand. He sat back in his chair and waited.
“You ever seen this before?” Davidson asked.
He slid a sealed plastic bag toward Dan. In it was a black Ruger .22 caliber pistol.
“No, but I have one just like it at home.”
“What would you say if I told you this gun has your fingerprints all over it?”
“I’d say you’re either mistaken or a liar.”
“Now, that’s going to make this conversation get a little ugly. That’s because your prints are not only on the grip of this gun but the ammunition too…no mistake about that.”
“Anybody else have access to your gun?” Autry asked.
“My girlfriend, Val, has a key but she’s terrified of guns. She wouldn’t…”
“Val?” Davidson interrupted to ask. “Now, that’s Valerie White?”
“Yeah, but what’s she...”
“When’s the last time you saw Miss White?” Autry cut him off again.
“Saturday night, but what’s Val got to do with this?”
“You tell us. You and your girlfriend have a fight recently?”
“Oh, come on kid. We know about Val’s…other interests, shall we say.”
“Other interests? You’re crazy. Look if you’re accusing me and Val of something, quit beating around the bush and say so.”
“Okay, kid, you got it. At one-thirty this morning we got called out to 713 Washburn. You recognize the address? A neighbor reported gunshots. We found Valerie White and her roommate dead. Multiple gunshot wounds; with this gun—your gun—the one with your prints all over it. They were in bed together. We think you got wise your girl was queer and decided on a permanent break up before anyone else found out.”
“Val’s dead? That can’t be. She was…I was just…oh shit.”
“Oh shit is right, kid, now tell us what happened.”
“No, it’s not like that. Are you sure it was Val?”
“We’re sure. Tell us what it was like. It’ll go easier on you. We could talk to the DA.”
“No, I mean, I didn’t do it. Val and I liked each other. I knew she was a switch hitter, but what the hell. She was a good person. She was smart and fun to be with. I could never hurt Val.”
“Maybe you’ve had some practice. We found this in her apartment,” Autry said.
He pushed another plastic bag across the table to Dan. This one had a small gold-colored pin inside. Dan shrugged.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Vermont…the Green Mountain State,” Autry said.
“Mean anything to you?” Davidson added.
“Vermont? Hell no, should it?”
“Just a little something we didn’t tell the news media. We’ve been finding these little things all around Parkersburg and Green Mountain.” Autry explained.
“Yeah, we’re finding them on a real regular basis…like, oh, one every month,” Davidson leaned closer.
“Oh no. Hell no. Hell no! You two think I’m the New Moon Killer? Ain’t no way it was me. I went to work at three o’clock yesterday afternoon and didn’t leave until seven this morning. Check with the hospital.
“Check it out, Autry,” Davidson said.
Detective Autry returned ten minutes later with Captain Freemont.
“His story checks out. Boss says let him go.”
“But we got the murder weapon with this chump’s prints all over it,” Davidson protested.
“Maybe, but for now, he’s free,” Fremont said.
“But, Captain, what about the pin…Vermont, Green Mountain, that’s where he works,” Davidson tried again.
“Yeah, I know. Take him home. Kid, you stay real close to home and be real careful because we’re going to be watching you closely,” Freemont warned.
It was a quiet ride home for Dan and the detectives. Davidson was silent when they dropped him at the curb. Dan could feel their eyes on him as he walked to his front door. Dan said, from that moment on, he felt the eyes of the entire Parkersburg police department on him until the day he went to the university.
The first thing Dan did when he got inside his apartment was to check on his gun. It was gone just as he thought it would be. In its place was a small gold-colored pin.
Vermont, VT, Victor Toms…it fit.
Dan wanted a beer. On the refrigerator door was a sheet of paper with the Green Mountain State Hospital letterhead.
Now, do you believe?
Humor me, call the morgue.
That was all it said. Dan didn’t call. He didn’t need to. He found a small article on page three of the evening paper about the missing body of a state mental patient who died the day before. The coroner speculated the body had been sent to the crematorium by mistake. “They don’t just get up and walk away,” he told the paper. Dan wasn’t so sure anymore. He thought of going to the police. Dan had a vivid imagination, but he couldn’t imagine Sgt. Davidson buying the story of a psycho who could leave his body to kill. Especially not from Dan whom he could imagine in the role of cold-blooded killer.
Vicki suggested he try Dr. Mattox. Mattox listen patiently then set Dan up an appointment with a colleague so Dan could “work through” his grief and trauma. Dan dodged the appointment and kept his mouth shut after that.
Oh, one more thing: there never was another new moon murder in Parkersburg. Victor Toms was never seen again—there.