Sheila decided there was enough of a story that we should stick around for a day or two investigating. We rented the cheapest overpriced room available at the local motel. At least the motel provided free Wi-Fi. The room was small and cramped with two single beds and a small table. We set up our laptops and contemplated ordering Chinese. After several minutes of heated debate, Sheila phoned the local pizza delivery instead. She didn’t want to drive to pick up the Chinese or pay extra to have it delivered. Pizza delivery was free.
Since we were sticking around, that meant I could grab some photos of the caverns after all. Part of me was really excited at the prospect of photographing nature in all her glory and part of me just wanted to get started doing some research so that we could find out what was going on with this whole miracle baby story.
Sheila was already making phone call inquiries to the Sullivan hospital to see if anyone was willing to talk to her about Mrs. Glass. After half an hour of fruitless attempts she slammed down the phone. “Damn privacy laws. ‘Because of HIPAA, we can’t give out confidential medical information, blah blah blah.’ I swear.” Sheila fumed. “You know what? Screw it. I’m going to dress up like a nurse and snoop around.”
“Umm, I’m no expert on the law or anything, but isn’t that illegal?” I asked.
“Who cares? As long as I don’t get caught no one will notice. I’ll go tonight, do the night shift. Sneak in there before the hospital closes and steal a uniform. People do it all the time on television.”
“That’s scripted, Sheila. I don’t think it actually works like that in real life.” The knock at the door interrupted us and Sheila paid the delivery man. She opened the box on the way to the table and grabbed a slice before setting it down.
“Mmmm, this is so good.” She smacked her lips for emphasis. “I used to date this guy who was a nurse. I’m pretty sure I can pull it off. I’ll just rattle off some of the jargon I’ve overheard him say and no one will suspect a thing.”
“Right, well, if you get caught and thrown in jail don’t expect me to bail you out.”
“You’ll bail me out. I’ve got the car keys.”
That night Sheila snuck off to the hospital to do some snooping while she left me at the motel to worry. Investigative reporting was nowhere near as glamorous as it was on T.V. Most of the time it involved a lot of waiting. Admittedly I wasn’t really the one doing the investigating, I just did all the photography and video interviews for digital submissions. Slowly the art of printed media was giving way to the internet. In journalism you had to adapt or become obsolete. The Register News had a fledgling website but were still heavily focused on print. If we were lucky, our story would end up on the website instead of stuck somewhere on the back pages of a newspaper no one read anymore.
Sleep was out of the question. I figured that Sheila would be back by midnight at the latest. Even if the hospital locked up for the night, the Emergency department would remain open. Sheila would find a way to sneak out through there, hopefully without getting caught.
I should have been doing some research on the internet, find out more about the town we were staying in, see what kind of news had made it to the internet over the past few days. I wanted to stop by the local library to check the paper to see if anything strange had happened around the time Mrs. Glass gave birth and also around the time she’d had her miscarriage. It was impossible for the woman to have conceived again and carried an infant to full term in only five months.
“I got it!” Sheila called out triumphantly as she rushed inside. It was a little past midnight. Her eyes were glowing from the excitement of her nocturnal adventure. She held a large folder in her hand. I was surprised they even kept medical records on paper anymore. Lucky for us the investigation didn’t involve hacking into the hospital’s computer system. We would have needed more help for that and the fewer people that knew we were lawbreakers the better.
“What does it say?” I asked her. She laughed and put the folder on top of the greasy pizza box.
“I have absolutely no idea. To be honest, I was scared to death I was going to be discovered the whole time I was there. But everyone just ignored me. Weirdest thing ever. You would have thought someone would have noticed I didn’t belong. They were more worried about strange people being in the maternity ward than anything else. I’m going to change out of these clothes.”
I picked up the folder while Sheila changed into her pajamas. We always carried an overnight bag with us because we never knew when a story was going to be interesting enough to require an overnight stay. Up until this point, we’d never had to use it. Most likely the clothes inside were pretty wrinkled from staying folded up in the bag for so long.
The folder Sheila had brought back contained more than just the medical records for Mrs. Glass. I decided to wait on snooping through those until Sheila finished changing so she could tell me what else she’d been looking for. I flipped through Mrs. Glass’ file instead. The documents confirmed that she’d had a miscarriage five months ago. It also confirmed that she had given birth to a full term infant. The doctors had been thorough in their examination. How was it even possible?
“When I was hunting for Mrs. Glass’ file, I thought it might be a good idea to check to see if there was anything else weird that was going on. I found a record for another woman who had miscarried her baby two days after Mrs. Glass. But no fetal remains were recovered in her case. And the woman had had an ultrasound the previous day showing a perfectly healthy four month old fetus. Had it survived, it would have been born around the same time as Mrs. Glass’ baby. But somehow, that woman miscarried a perfectly healthy baby and it completely disappeared.”
“This case is getting weirder and weirder,” I agreed as I read the paperwork Sheila had confiscated. “Mrs. Glass’ medical records confirm she miscarried the baby at four months and five months later gave birth to a healthy full term baby.”
“There is no way that is possible. Something freaky is going on and we have got to do some more digging to find out what it is. It looks like you won’t be getting credit for writing this piece after all.”
The next morning we decided to save time and money by getting the motel’s free continental breakfast, delivered to our door. It consisted of weak coffee and glazed donuts. The donuts were fresh so that was a plus right there. Sheila spoke around mouthfuls of donut.
“OK, so this morning we are going to hit the local library, do some research on the area and see what news has made it to the local newspapers. Then, if we find anything weird going on…”
“What we’ve found isn’t weird enough?” I mumbled almost unintelligibly with my mouth full of donut.
“Chew, swallow, then talk,” Sheila scolded me in a perfect imitation of my mom. I almost snorted the donut out of my nose. She looked at me and shook her head before continuing. “If we find anything weird going on, we’ll go to the police station and talk to a few cops to see if we can get some details.”
“Sounds great, Sheila, but when do I get to take pictures of the caves?” I asked with my mouth empty this time.
“Later on, I promise. Right now though we need to do some digging before anyone, namely Mrs. Glass, notices that we are snooping around.”
“You think she’ll run?” I asked.
“If she’s doing anything wrong she will,” Sheila nodded. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Fair point,” I said and scarfed down the rest of my glazed donut. We flipped a coin to see who would have first dibs on the bathroom, and the hot water. Sheila won.
One hour and a cold shower later, we were ready to head out the door.
Sheila pulled up the town of Sullivan on Google maps on her tablet. The library and police station were practically at opposite ends of town. After filling up the SUV with overpriced gas meant for tourists, we headed to the library. It was tiny. Small town, small town library. Hopefully they had everything we needed.
We walked inside and Sheila made a beeline to the help desk. I meandered over to the periodicals section. There were several newspapers pressed into wooden rods. The rods neatly rested into their individual cradles. While the effect was one of tidiness and organization, I knew the real purpose of the rods was to prevent people from stealing the newspapers.
It took me only a few minutes to find the local paper. There was about a week’s worth of papers on the rack. The rest of them had most likely been scanned to digital format or possibly microfiche depending on how behind technology the library was.
I scanned through the headlines and noticed nothing out of ordinary for the day that Mrs. Glass had had her baby. As I shuffled through the remaining papers, I noticed a few odd stories jump out and grab my attention. ‘Police suspect infant smuggling ring operating out of local hospital.’ ‘Security heightened at Hospital Maternity Ward as police seek out persons of interest.’ I set aside the newspapers containing any information on missing infants and then hunted down Sheila. She was placing one of those old fashioned spools in a microfiche reader. Apparently the local library had not caught up with the times.
“Check it out,” I greeted Sheila and showed her what I’d found. “There’s a baby smuggling ring going on in this town.”
“Look at this,” Sheila said as she brought an article into focus. “Two days after Mrs. Glass had her miscarriage, the first baby was reported missing from the maternity ward of the hospital. The hospital tried to cover it up and the director got fired over it. Since then there’s been more that have gone missing.”
“Yeah, according to the last story I read, the total is 5.”
“One for each month of Mrs. Glass’ remaining pregnancy.” Sheila paused and tapped her pen to her lips, lost in thought for a moment. “You think she made some deal with the smuggling ring or bought one of the smuggled babies?”
“No,” I shook my head. “The hospital did thorough testing on her. She gave birth to the baby that she has.”
“I know this has something to do with Mrs. Glass. I’m almost certain of it,” Sheila insisted “But I don’t have any idea how she can be involved in all of this. Let’s get some copies of what we’ve found so far and then go check out the police station to see if they can give any more details on the case. Maybe they’ve already got a suspect or some leads or something.”
“If it’s an ongoing investigation, they may not be willing to speak about it for fear they might spook the perp.”
“Look at you using Crime Scene jargon,” Sheila teased me. She knew that watching criminal investigation dramas on television was my guilty pleasure.
I ignored her teasing and set to work making copies of the articles from the newspapers which was a far more difficult task than one would expect. After a few minutes of struggling to balance the wooden poles and not rip the newspapers to shreds, one of the librarians took pity on me and offered to help. She slid the papers from their poles, one at a time, so that I could make copies of them. I thanked her profusely when I had finished. Sheila leaned against the wall with her stack of papers. She was flipping through them and reading the articles, trying to connect the pieces of the puzzle we had uncovered.
“Ready?” Sheila asked.
I nodded, grabbed my stack of papers and headed to the door. “Let’s go see what the police have to say.”
Sheila drove in silence to the police station, both of us lost in thought trying to puzzle out this ever increasing mystery. There had to be something that tied everything together, something that made it all make sense. But every avenue I explored ended up as a dead end. It all circled back to Mrs. Glass and her baby.
Unlike the rest of the town, the police station was fairly large and well-staffed. I realized that as a tourist town, they probably needed the extra space for unruly troublemakers that came into town. The officers we spoke to were all friendly and polite. I could tell they wanted to help but couldn’t. I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get anywhere when we finally started getting some answers. But, like the rest of this case, the answers we got didn’t make much sense.
“Listen, we aren’t supposed to give details of a case while it is still under investigation. As long as you keep this off the record, I’ll tell you a few things to, ah, help move you along in your investigation.” Officer Bailey was young, probably fresh out of the police academy. The way he was looking at my friend made me suspect he had ulterior motives. “Follow me.”
We walked with him through the precinct, ignored by the other cops who were busy working cases, filling out paperwork or processing some juvenile delinquent that had probably been caught shop lifting. Officer Bailey opened the door for us and motioned us into the cruiser parking lot.
“None of this goes on record and if you mention my name at all in the papers,” he whispered nervously. Sheila promised him that nothing he said would be on record. She took out a pen and paper and took notes the old fashioned way. No recordings. No photos. Bailey relaxed and opened up after that. “We’ve got nothing. In the five months, well almost six now, that we’ve been investigating this, we haven’t had one credible witness. No one except the local drunk saw anything. Nothing was captured on any of the cameras at the hospital or if it was, it’s been tampered with. We’ve got extra officers watching the hospital with the hopes of seeing something the next time this happens. And we know baby number six will go missing soon. We just don’t know when.”
“You said there was a witness?” Sheila asked. Even if the police didn’t think he was a credible witness, Sheila would still want to interview him for the article.
“Yes, Billy Wilkins, the town drunk. He swears up and down he was sober when he saw what happened. Swears he’d been sober for weeks. But he sure smelled like a brewery when we interviewed him. Said what he saw made him fall off the wagon. He said if he was seeing monsters while he was sober, he might as well keep drinking.”
“Yeah, claims he saw a harpy take off with a baby from the hospital. He works nights as a janitor for the hospital. They don’t care if he drinks as long as he does his job. And he’s a functioning alcoholic for the most part. We made him sell his Caddy a few years back after he kept calling to have it pulled out of the ditch. Told him either sell it or we’d make sure he didn’t drink and drive by putting him in jail. So now he walks everywhere.”
“A harpy?” Sheila closed her notebook. I think she suspected that Officer Bailey was just yanking her chain.
“I know it sounds crazy,” the officer agreed, “but that’s what Billy claims he saw. You can interview him. Who knows, maybe you can get a story out of him that makes more sense.”
“Where can we find Billy Wilkins?” I asked. Even if Sheila didn’t want to follow up on this ridiculous lead, I still wanted to hear the guy’s story.
“Probably the local bar. Offer to buy him a drink, if he’s not too drunk already. He’ll talk. He might already be talking about it to anybody who will listen and buy him beer.”
“Thanks, officer,” I said.
“Sure, no problem, oh and hey, here is my card. Should you need me for anything,” He winked at Sheila. She rolled her eyes at him. I grabbed the card and shoved it in my pocket. We might need his help again. No need to burn down the bridge.
“Come on. I want to see what this guy Billy Wilkins has to say.” I grabbed Sheila’s arm and practically dragged her back through the building to our car.
“You want to interview the town drunk?” She asked. “Seriously? Even if he says something, we can’t put that in the story. Our star witness to the investigation can’t be the town drunk.”
“Why not? Reporters use unnamed sources all the time for their articles.”
“There’s this pesky little thing called credibility in journalism,” Sheila insisted.
“Fine, whatever. I admit it. I’m just curious and what he has to say about the harpy. Indulge me.”
“It looks like there are two sports bars in town, one with a night club,” I said as I looked through the Google map on my phone.
“Give me directions for the one without the night club. Something tells me our guy isn’t the clubbing type.” I rattled off the address and soon we were pulling into the parking lot of the bar.
Once inside, it only took a few moments to scan the place and find our informant. He was the only person swilling drinks at the bar at this time of day. We sat on either side of him at the bar.
“Excuse me, Mr. Wilkins?” Sheila flashed a winning smile in his direction when he looked at her.
“Who wants to know?” He asked.
“My friend and I are journalists doing a story about the missing babies and I was told that you are a witness to the last crime.” Sheila motioned to the bartender to bring the man another beer.
“Well, aren’t you just a pretty thing. Like I told the Sheriff, it was a harpy what done it. He didn’t believe me, so that’s that.”
“A harpy?” I asked. “Can you tell us what you saw?”
“Well, I was doing my job, cleaning the maternity ward floor and I came to the room they keep all the babies in. I seen a woman stand over one of them plastic baby containers. She was breast feedin’ the baby, which I thought was odd ‘cause I ain’t ever seen ‘em let a mom in there. They usually take the baby to the momma. Anyway, I admit it, I was hopin’ to see something, if you know what I mean,” he winked. “Anyway, I snuck up closer and got a good look at her. She had on an owl mask so I couldn’t see her face. But she had these big talons or talon boots and this bird costume on. And her chest was just exposed so I could see everything.” He paused for a few moments.
“Man, she sure had a nice ra…”
“Right so,” Sheila interrupted him, “she was breastfeeding the baby, then what happened?”
“Well, after she fed the baby for a few moments it got real quiet, like it was asleep. She carefully put the baby inside of a bag and carried it up to the roof. I was following behind her but she never saw me. I wanted to see her boobs again. Anyway, when she got to the roof, she just starts flappin’ her bat wings, grabs the bag by her talon feet and flew off.”
“Okay, so let me make sure I got this right. A giant owl with boobs, talons and bat wings flew off with the baby. And this is the story you told the police?”
“Yes ma’am. Like I said. It was a harpy. I even collected some evidence for them but they didn’t want it.” He patted his shirt pocket. “I’ll give it to you if you buy me another beer.”
Sheila paid the bartender for another beer and the man handed over a plastic baggie. Inside was a handful of bird feathers. “Them’s harpy feathers, in case you were wonderin’. Anyway, that’s my story. Make of it what you will. I told the police I was stone cold sober that day but they didn’t believe me. I figured I might as well go back to drinkin’. More fun that way.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Wilkins,” Sheila said as she got up. She handed me the plastic bag of feathers and I put it in my pocket.
“That was a dead end,” she said as we walked out the door.
“What now?” I asked.
“Well, we haven’t interviewed Mr. Glass yet. Let me call Mrs. Glass and see if I can set up a time to interview him. I’ll just tell her that our boss loved the story we had so far but wanted to include the dad. Make it a family piece.”
As we sat in the car, Sheila tried Mrs. Glass’ number a few times but she didn’t pick up.
“You think she bolted?” I asked.
“Looks that way. Time for plan B.”
“What’s plan B?”
“We break into Mrs. Glass’ house and snoop around.”
“Do you even know what you’re doing?” I asked Sheila. We were standing in Mrs. Glass’ backyard, snooping around in broad daylight. Sheila had tried all the doors and windows. Everything was locked down tight. I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching us. Mrs. Glass’ backyard was surrounded by a privacy fence but that wouldn’t stop nosy neighbors from snooping if we gave them a reason to.
“Of course I do. We just need to break a window with something. Look around for a big rock.”
The first rock I picked up was a hide-a-key. “Or we could just use this key I found.”
Sheila dropped the rock she’d been holding. “Good idea. We’ll do that.” She grabbed the key from my hand and unlocked the back door. We slipped inside. The house was surprisingly dark inside with the shades drawn. Neither of us had had the sense to bring a flashlight. We used the light from our cell phones instead. It made an eerie blue glow.
We silently searched through the house and found nothing out of the ordinary. I reluctantly snooped through Mrs. Glass’ underwear drawer. I was going to be scarred for life.
“Basement?” I asked. Sheila nodded and we searched around for the stairs. The door to the basement wasn’t even locked. But the steps creaked as we went down them. Even though I knew the house was empty, I was still scared. I stuck close to Sheila.
The basement was unfinished and it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in ages. There were cobwebs everywhere and probably several spiders lurking about. The whole place had a creepy Halloween haunted house vibe to it. The uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach was starting to make me nauseous and a little short of breath. We continued to move forward until we came to a door.
Sheila turned the door knob and walked inside. “Wow,” she exclaimed in surprise. “Our Mrs. Glass is into the occult, big time.”
I followed Sheila into the room. There was a large alter with a wooden pentagram hanging above it. On the altar were some statues of Greek gods, different colored glass candle holders, a silver cup and bowl and double edged knife with pentagrams carved on the wooden handle. “She’s a witch.”
“A New Age witch,” Sheila corrected. I didn’t even know there were different kinds of witches but apparently Sheila did. “Let’s snoop around and see if we can find her Book of Shadows.”
We began searching the room. There was a bookshelf full of new age books on crystals, green witchcraft, ghosts and all kinds of weird supernatural stuff. I flipped through a few of the books. They were all printed within the last ten years. There were tarot decks, crystal balls and pendulums neatly laid out on other shelves in the room. There was even a creepy looking cow skull that I refused to touch. Sheila picked it up and mouthed the word “plastic.”
I was about to give up when Sheila motioned me over to a second, smaller bookshelf. There were two pieces of shiny paper stuck inside a how-to book on Gardnerian Witchcraft. The paper looked old. On it was a bunch of symbols and swirls written in a strange brownish colored ink. “Is that blood?” I asked Sheila, immediately grossed out by the prospect of some document written in human blood.
“I think so,” she nodded. “This is some kind of spell work. Ancient magic. Not like the rest of this New Age stuff.”
“Can you read it?” I asked her, surprised that Sheila even knew anything about any of this stuff. Apparently my friend had secrets I didn’t even know about.
“No, but I know someone who can.”
“Who?” I asked as Sheila started tidying up the room. She kept hold of the two pieces of paper with the spells written on them and motioned for me to follow her.
“My Nonna. She’ll be able to tell us what this is, what these spells do.”
“Wait, are you telling me your grandma is a witch?”