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Nov. 27, 2019

Ep.5 – Thanksgiving Dinner - Blood is Thicker Than Gravy

Ep.5 – Thanksgiving Dinner - Blood is Thicker Than Gravy

Dinner is a time for family...

Episode Notes

On Thanksgiving a police officer discovers a horrible secret about a family dinner...

Thanksgiving Dinner by Rachael Redolfi (A Weekly Spooky Original)

Music by Ray Mattis

Produced by Daniel Wilder

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Monticello, Indiana - just an hour and a half from the infamous Gary, and still less than three hours from Chicago. It was a small town, with a population that barely scratched 5,000 men, women, and children. Most residents grew up together, worked together, went to school together, hell… Most of them even frequented the same five churches.  That’s why, when Sophia got the chance to move she chose Monticello. Just close enough to home that she could visit her family if she chose to, but usually she chose not to. She loved her family but… they were a thorn in her side.  Chicago just wasn’t quite her speed; there was too much going on all the time and she just couldn’t cope with all of that, not anymore. Aside from being constantly high-strung from all the work she had to do for the city, she also found herself increasingly depressed dealing with the less-than-responsible members of her precinct.. With the recommendation of her chief, and with a little bit of fenagiling when a position opened up, Sophia got herself a cushy job in Monticello, Indiana. She considered it cushy because she really didn’t have to do much or deal with much, aside from the odd noise complaint or writing your standard parking tickets. Sure, in the summer she would have to work a little harder to control traffic or stave off the common drunken tourist, but for the most part she really didn’t have to work that hard.  It really felt like the only time she was working was May through August - once the chilly September air hit, everything quieted down and she got a chance to relax.  Sitting in her cruiser, she got a text on her phone.  “Are you coming, or not?” the text message from her brother bellowed. Sophia grimaced at her phone, sighed, and stretched out. It had been a long shift already, she really didn’t feel like dealing with her family. She glanced at a picture on her dashboard before opening up her phone and responding.  “No. I’m not coming. The drive is too long,” she tapped back. Three dots.  Someone honked across the street and she glanced up. One elderly driver was taking too long to make a left turn at a light. She decided to ignore it.  The response finally chimed, “Dinner starts at 6. Just say you don’t want to see us.” “Ok fine I don’t want to see you,” she hastily pounded back then hit send. She was working a double anyway. Chief Lewis called off sick and she’d taken his shift; even if she wanted to see her family she couldn’t.  Her black coffee bellowed up puffs of heat-vapor. She took a huge, scalding gulp and hissed, “fucker” at her phone before glancing back up at traffic. The picture on her dashboard glowered at her in monochromatic tones.  The elderly driver had figured out the problem and traffic was moving along fine.  It was never busy during noon, anyway, but during the holiday season it was so slow she could almost take a nap.  Another ding. She glanced at the home-screen of her phone which had the banner of, “But grandma really misses you. Her and mom…” She honestly debated opening up that message - it had been a whole year since her brother had attempted an honest-to-god conversation with her, she was curious to see what he would try to pull this time.  “Officer Cortez please report, please,” a familiar and friendly voice chimed.  Nancy was always too polite, if she didn’t end a call with “please”, Sophia would be suspicious.  “Officer Cortez, reporting,” Sophia said back. “We have a request for a welfare check at 1911 East Davidson, please,” Nancy said.  Sophia plugged it into her GPS, it was less than three miles away.  “Now, this one here is a doozy,” Nancy continued. “Probably should have just called animal control… um, if you please.” Officer Cortez talked back through the receiver, “If you needed animal control you just should have called them. Why am I going there?” “Well, to be honest,” Nancy droned. If she wasn’t droning, something was wrong. “Perfectly honest, mind you, the animal isn’t of the utmost concern.” “Alright then, so what is?” “Norman Roberts. He ain’t been in contact with his neighbor and his dog is still outside, if you please. Abigail White called and said he hasn’t been seen in over twelve days.”  Sophia started her car and the engine of her cruiser grumbled to life when she followed the directions on her GPS.  “Oh good! You are going! I’ll let Chief Lewis know he don’t need to go all the way down there,” Nancy said.  Sophia paused. Furrowed her brows. Hissed into the radio, “You didn’t disturb him, did you?” “Oh I’ve been keeping him updated on all activity in the town!” Nancy chortled back cheerily. Sophia sighed, pinched her brow at a stop-sign and groaned, “Let him know I’m handling it and then… just… stop. Please. He needs his rest.” “Oh, sure!” Nancy chirped.  Sophia headed forward and followed the directions on her phone.  “I guess chemo ain’t easy, afterall,” the dispatcher noted.  “No, it is not,” Sophia reassured, trying not to look at the picture of her father.  Sophia took a turn, waited at a traffic light, and took another sip of her coffee. Well-paved roads gave way to gravel as she headed toward the trailer-park. The soy fields were barren and empty, a copse of oak trees with vibrant orange leaves towered near a fence line, and a few crows glowered at her from their perched on the phone lines.  The road was bumpy and her cruiser had a rough time hopping over all the potholes. Monticelllo was doing well, but not well enough to buy new SUV’s for the police, or repave all the roads; and even as well as the city was doing, it still had its rough areas, just like any city around the world. Sophia just counted herself lucky that this particular city didn’t have many of the other issues as elsewhere in the country.  While driving past a barren grove of trees her phone chimed again. Another message from her brother, this time insisting, “Dad would want you here.”  That almost set her off. Feeling the blood pounding hard in her arms and the burning sense of rage in her chest she paused, took a deep breath and counted.  One. Two. Three.  Four. Five.  She released the breath glanced at the picture of her father in uniform she kept in the car and scowled, grumbling to herself, “Now he’s trying to use you against me.” She wouldn’t dignify her brother’s harassment with a response.  She turned a corner at the entrance of the trailer park and followed each left-hand turn until she came to the address she was looking for. An elderly woman, definitely past her seventies, rushed out of a trailer and swarmed Sophia’s SUV.  “Are you here for Norm?” the woman asked. Sophia nodded, stepped out from the car with hardly a glance at the photo, and considered leaving her phone in the car but then thought better of it. If this was an emergency she would want her phone - and if it wasn’t… Well, it was still set on vibrate and wouldn’t disturb her.  The woman, Abigail, bombarded Sophia with a tirade of information, “I’ve been waiting for what seems like forever! It’s Thanksgiving now and Norm promised to have dinner with me… He always promises but rarely keeps them. Almost two weeks ago, though, I made him swear on his momma’s grave he’d have Thanksgiving dinner with me and he ain’t said a word!” Sophia nodded, took out her notepad and wrote down any pertinent information she could discern - there was none.  “So the last time you spoke to Norman was twelve days ago?” she asked. “Yes, twelve days ago,” Abigail confirmed with a nod. “He’d just got home from a long haul and promised me a visit today!”  Sophia closed the door of her car with a slam, and immediately a cacophony of barks sounded from behind the trailer. Within a few moments the entire park was filled with the warning howls of dogs.  “He does that when anyone comes over,” Abigail explained, pointing at the small yard behind the trailer. “He’s been chained up this whole time.”  “For almost two weeks?”  “Yeah, I just been giving him food and water,” Abigail explained, looking rather sheepish.  Sophia grimaced before the yelping died down, and only the baying of Norman’s hound remained.  “Have you tried contacting Norman directly?” she pried.  Abigail nodded. “I banged on the door - both front and back! - and he hasn’t said anything,” she explained. “I called him last week but it went straight to voicemail.”  Sophia nodded, and glanced over Norman’s trailer; none of the other trailers were in the best of shape, but his was the most worn-down. The paint had peeled off of practically every inch, all of the windows had been broken and replaced with plywood, the front door itself was held in place with a patchwork of duct-tape and bungee-cords… the trailer sat at nearly a forty-five degree angle at the left corner because the foundation had settled unevenly. She noted a security camera duct-taped just above the front door and she assumed on instinct there was a twin on the other side of the house. She didn’t mention this to Abigail.  Officer Cortez took a step forward and asked, “So when was the last time you spoke to him directly?”   Abigail’s answer finally raised enough alarm that Sophia had to write down the answer, “Just about three weeks ago, right before he went on the road.”  Noting it, and raising an eyebrow, Sophia took another step forward and the dog in the backyard began to growl again. Another noise - like a dog growling but very muffled - caught her ear. Sophie nodded and asked, “Does he travel often?”  “Every week!” Abigail said, as Sophia took another few steps toward the front door. “He’s a trucker.”  Both nodded.  Abigail, finding a sense of urgency, yelled back at the dog, “Hushyerface, Hank!” The dog out back whimpered then shut up, while the near-silent grumbling indoors still continued. The wind picked up and changed direction, and Sophia’s nose wrinkled when she caught an acrid, metallic scent.  “Been stinkin’ like that for almost a week,” Abigail said, seeing her face. “Don’t smell good but it’s not a gas-leak.”  “No,” Sophia agreed. “Definitely not a gas-leak.”  She took a step up onto the porch and the dog began barking again. The smell definitely wasn’t gas, but it wasn’t good. It was bittersweet and smelled of decomposition; it was the smell of death and she knew, she’d smelled it before when her father passed.  “And you’ve tried contacting him directly?” Sophia pressed, trying to be heard above the hound, her hand hovering over the doorknob.  Abigail nodded, “Every day at 3pm when the mail comes!”  Sophia nodded. Opening the door, the smell was undeniable; decomposing flesh was somewhere nearby. Over the howling barks of the dog she could still hear that growling noise.  The door creaked open. The dog whimpered and then fell silent. The growling continued.  “Norman Roberts?” she called into the trailer.  No answer.  “This is Officer Cortez with Monticello PD.”  Still nothing but the faint growling and the hum of a TV.  The living room housed an old TV, still running ads, a dilapidated recliner with a bowl of popcorn. Flies buzzed around the bowl then dispersed as she walked forward. The room itself was… sparse. There was furniture - a TV stand and TV, a recliner, even a bookshelf - but no books or decorations. No pictures, no posters, not even a loose receipt. Every step she took echoed around that blank room.  The growling grew louder, but Sophia couldn’t place where it was coming from.  First she searched the room to her right, a bedroom. She walked slightly uphill against the settling foundation, boards creeping underfoot. The bed wasn’t a real bed - it lacked a frame and was really only a mattress on the floor. A line, a nylon cord like the kind used contain a dog, was bolted to the floor near the mattress and extended to the doorframe of the room. No pictures or anything to make the room homey, just the mattress and the cord. The windows were enclosed with boards, nailed from the inside.  Hank, the dog, began to whimper when he heard the floorboards creak.  Sophia called back to the station, “Nancy, I need you to stay on the line with me.”  Her eyes followed the cord from the far end of the room to the door she was standing at, and she could still hear Hank’s whimpering - now an excited yelping - as well as that constant grumbling. In that bare bedroom, there was a closet to her left and a dresser to her right. She considered searching either of them, but since his was only a welfare check she decided against it.  She doubled back and paced through the living room, the ad on TV proclaiming it could cure any subscriber of all credit card debts, while the growling grew louder. Little hairs on Sophia’s neck prickled and she could feel her heart begin to speed up.  Something wasn’t right.  When she came to the doorway for the next room, Hank’s yelping silenced and so did the growling. For a brief moment, the only things she could hear were the pounding of her own heart, and the TV switching over to sports commentary.  The kitchen had no natural light - every single window in the trailer was covered - and there were no other lights aside from the TV. In the darkest corner to her left, something shuffled.  “Hello?”  No answer.  “Norman Roberts, this is Officer Cortez, I’ve been called for a welfare check.”  Still nothing.  She took a step forward and counted her heartbeats to the count of five.  One.  Two.  Three.  A shadow pounced forward from the corner and reached toward her, hissing.  Sophia took one step back and pulled her gun from its holster, shouting, “This is Officer Cortez with Monticello PD!”  The cord around the goblin’s neck caught it and stopped it midair, crashing to the ground. Hank began whimpering again, and when the goblin hissed at Sophia the dog howled.  “Nancy I need backup now,” Sophia said into her radio, taking a few steps back.   The gaunt figure paced on all fours, tugging against its leash. It stopped hissing and then growled like a dog, ready to strike when it got the chance. The goblin barked at her thrice then sat on its haunches, head tucked between its shoulders, and glowered at her. It attempted to pull against the collar around its neck to no avail, so it stumbled back on all fours to its corner and grabbed an object and began chewing on it.  Then the smell hit her.  Decomposing flesh, and death, and the tangy scent of some kind of infection.  The goblin screamed at her, then went back to gnawing its bone. An arm.  An entire human arm.  Sophia glanced to the right end of the kitchen in the trailer and saw the main source of the stench: the bloated corpse of a man with one missing arm, slouched over the table, only barely out of reach from the naked goblin. Scratch and bite marks riddled his body.  The creature hissed, shrieked, and then charged her again.  Its lithe and lanky frame was caught by the nylon cord in midair and fell to the ground a second time. The broken eyes of a human child glanced at her beneath the matted hair on its head.  Officer Cortez fled the scene, never mind what her father would have thought, and emptied the contents of her stomach in front of Abigail. They both waited for reinforcement. The second officer arrived, the baying of hounds filled the air, and ninety seconds after entering the trailer he fled as well. Two more officers were called in. Then they called in the EMT, the coroner, animal services, and child protective services.  It took only thirty minutes to extract the dog, Hank - a full-blooded and un-neutered male German Shepherd. He nearly mauled one of the animal control officers - and they assumed he would have to be put down.  The goblin, however... Officer Cortez couldn’t leave the scene despite how much she wanted to. Abigail made coffee for everyone - except Sophia who got a cup of tea and accepted it without argument. Abigail kept her arm wrapped around Sophia while the other officers extracted the remaining… suspect? Victim? No one was really able to tell at that point. Whatever it was, they had to sedate it just to remove it from the scene.  It wasn’t a goblin apprehended from the scene but a child, and after she was sedated and carted off with the EMT’s Sophia had to stick around with the investigators to explain what she’d seen and then - because she was covering for Chief Lewis - follow up the rest of the investigation.  As her instincts predicted, animal control found another security-camera facing the back yard when they caught Hank. CPS found a camera in the kitchen while they were trapping the child. Officers found another camera in the bedroom, hidden in a corner where Sophia couldn’t see it. Chains and nylon cords everywhere - whips, handcuffs, and muzzles (for both dogs and humans) in the bedroom and kitchen.  That night on the drive home, after everything was revealed, Sophia talked to her father via the picture of him she kept on the dashboard. As she talked and she reflected on what she had seen, she couldn’t stay stoic like her father had been and she found herself discovering more differences between the two of them. At home she actually called her mother, and explained what had happened.  Further investigation was required and searching around the house even more found evidence of more torture to the child: cages that were too small for Hank, more restraints, and tethers.  Physically the child looked to be eight, that was almost a relief to everyone involved. Then a researcher found medical records that Norman Roberts had a wife that died in childbirth nineteen years ago, but even the county coroner couldn’t find a death certificate for the baby.  The next week Chief Lewis took a turn for the worst and Sophia had to helm the investigation. She was there the day investigators found something strange in the backyard and began to dig; at the end of the day they had recovered bones from the corpses of four different children, all aged between five and eleven. The graves were unmarked, and bore all appearances of just simply being holes Norman dug just to dump the evidence.  Digging under the trailer showed dozens of external hard-drives - the source of the slump in the foundation - constituting days of footage documenting torture of the children.  Sophia herself had to search records for missing children, and eventually found four missing-person reports that all coincided with the apparent ages of the children. She made Nancy make the calls to the families. That night, she called her brother and talking about everything she was seeing, they managed to go thirty minutes without an argument.  Searching the bedroom eventually turned up a laptop with over a decade-worth of footage: most of it had been scrubbed but there were highlight reels from over the years and at least six months of security footage. Security footage was mostly hours and hours of nothing, just Hank barking out back or Abigail standing at the front door - but sometimes Norman would go out back to fetch Hank and that coincided with the highlight reels; which were almost exclusively Norman chaining down the girl in the bedroom then encouraging the dog to have his way with her.  Each day a new horror from the case awaited Sophia; Norman had initially kept a cadre of five children in his home, only one of them related to him. Over time all of them had died off but one. No one in the community had reported anything wrong because they didn’t think there was much wrong with a grown man blocking out all his windows and keeping secrets.  A month later, and Sophia had learned that the remaining child really was Norman Roberts’ own progeny, with his wife really dying in childbirth. Shortly after the death of his wife he had “adopted” four other children and then, highlander-style, chained them all in the house and systemically starved them to see who would survive the longest.  Videos showed a marked change in his torture of the children when he acquired Hank.  The dog was eventually put down, and normally Sophia would feel kind of bad for an innocent animal getting caught up in crime like this but after the footage she saw, she couldn’t feel bad.  Toxicology reports of Norman Roberts showed that when he died, he had a bad heart and had taken too many pills for erectile dysfunction; it was a simple case of trying to make himself too horny when his heart couldn’t take it. He’d died at the kitchen table, and the only thing that had saved his daughter was the fact his arm was just close enough she was able to rip it off and use it for sustenances before Officer - now Chief - Cortez had arrived.  The girl had no name, she had no story other than what the investigators could discover, she didn’t have a way to explain what had happened, she had nothing. She was nearly twenty years old, trapped forever in the body of a malnourished eight-year-old, with the mind of a beast, and that was about it.  Sophia wished she could keep track of the child it honestly… that’s not what Chief Lewis would have done, and even if her father would have followed-up he was dead now so it really didn’t matter. Over the course of this investigation she learned that she admired him, but she was nothing like him.  Sophia Cortez would never be the same.  A month later, Chief Cortez got a text on her phone.  “Are you going to be there, or not?” her brother asked. She tapped back, “I’ll be there in time for dinner.”  She thought, then added, “Just like Dad would want.” 

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