The Trust
rating: +19+x

It was early in March of 2005 that she and I were first acquainted, for better or for worse. Her name was Marcie Teeter, and despite the fact that she would later refer me to one of the most profound journalistic endeavors of my life, at first, she thought I was a madman.

"It was something about the way you walked in the door," she had told me when we discussed it over a late New York coffee date near her office. "It's that paranoid, sweeping-the-room look that people with neurological disorders often have. Like they're taking the whole room in at once and it's overloading their senses."

"And you would know about crazy people better than anyone," I quipped before sipping my latte with a smirk.

And I wasn't wrong. Marcie was a foremost expert on crazy people. Some were tempted to call her a crazy person herself, since she had an MD, a PsyD, and a PhD in Health Services. Surely that kind of academic self-flagellation warranted some kind of diagnosis, but if anyone on the planet would be able to diagnose such behavior as abnormal it would be Marcie Teeter herself.

Because of her background and the number of organizations with which she affiliated herself, I was very appreciative of being able to meet her at all. I had been pursuing a story related to overseas studies of brain development and psychology in third-world countries. It had been a fascinating investigation so far, but I had fallen short of actually going to one of these places to get a firsthand look at the research. I had a feeling that unless I had attached myself to a group of people doing any part of the study with boots on the ground, my editor would never approve the kind of international travel I was looking for.

Cue Marcie Teeter. I had been referred to contact her office by a coworker, because she was apparently on one of the approval boards that dealt specifically with this research. So, with heart beating fast, I made the call downtown and made an appointment to see her as quickly as I could.

Marcie's office has always been interesting to me. She seemed to reject the idea of a huge, self-important desk to sit behind, instead setting up her office like a small parlor, with chairs grouped together. Everywhere was a meeting place, and by the lack of paperwork anywhere to be found I could only imagine that she had decided to go paperless or she had delegated the sorting of said paperwork to someone who had exceptionally resilient fingertips to safeguard against cuts.

Marcie herself was nestled in a grey, plush-upholstered chair with a laptop in her lap. She closed it and set it on a tiny side table before rising, her eyebrow cocked at me. "Mr. Lampert?"

"That's me," I said, feeling her analytical gaze sweeping over me as though she had sprayed me with a mental fire hose. "You must be Dr. Teeter. I really appreciate the time…"

"That's fine. Go ahead and take a seat, and tell me what you need." Her no-nonsense approach had startled me then, though over time I eventually understood it to just be an important facet of her personality that allowed her to undergo extreme stress without hesitation or inconvenience.

I explained to her my needs and about the article I was working on. She seemed interested, though it was a little hard to tell from her curtained façade of professionalism. When I explained to her the basic idea behind the article—understanding the kinds of benefit that could be gained from understanding third-world psychology—she seemed to be satisfied enough that I was not a terrible journalist trying to undermine the psychological community. Those kinds of journalists, she later explained to me, were becoming too frequent in a world where being a blogger with no actual credentials and being a "journalist" were considered by less-scrupulous news outlets to be one and the same.

The article was a success. Marcie called me directly at my office in Chicago two days after it was published, saying that she had made sure to get her hands on it as soon as possible and that she was delighted, again, that I had covered the story well and with those often-pesky things called "facts".

So Marcie and I kept in contact, and I quoted her once or twice in some publication or another over the course of the next couple of years. I would make it a point to see her at her office in New York whenever I was in town, and she stopped by my Chicago office a few times as well.

It was a few years later, then, that she had asked to meet me in a restaurant for lunch, because she had run across an interesting "series of events" that she thought I might find interesting. So we had met, one chilly November afternoon in 2012, where she had started by laughing about our awkward first encounter, and then launching into the real reason for calling me out to New York.

I was briefly curious why she hadn't talked to me over the phone, but at the same time I didn't want to give up a chance to visit New York. Chicago is great, don't get me wrong. But I think it lacks a certain "magic" that seems inherently embedded in other cities like New York, where everyone around you is either a multimillionaire, a dreamer, or both.

"I ran across a very interesting patient," she said as she swirled a fancy fruity concoction topped with a cold foamy cream, "and the repercussions of it have been on my mind for a little while. It causes me concern." The way she had said concern perked my interest. Marcie was unflappable and had been for a long time. Either she had suddenly decided to open up emotionally—rather unlikely, to say the least—or this patient's case had not only reached her desk in her fancy top-floor office but also given her enough pause that she had designated it "concern". It was an exciting and terrifying prospect.

I said nothing and waited politely for her to continue. Finally, she drew a visibly deep breath and continued. "I sit on the board for a psych consulting firm that is often hired by organizations to get a psychological temperature, provide counseling, and ultimately figure out ways to promote employee goodwill. Or at least to reduce employee issues and stress in high-impact and high-volume environments like governments, law firms, insurance agencies, investment firms…you get the idea."

"Sounds like a great perk. Wish my editor would hire you guys for journalists who go off the deep end."

Marcie gave me an icy glare that indicated she was in no time for levity on the subject of mental health. Without otherwise acknowledging my comment, she continued: "We were recently hired by a municipal government to follow up on a rise in police brutality cases in their police department. They believed that it had been racially motivated. And most of it was."

"Most of it?" I took out my notepad and scribbled a couple of notes. "Is this a big town? Small town?"

"Somewhere in between. Have you ever been to Kentucky?"

"Not if I can avoid it," I said with a wry grin. Marcie remained unamused. "How far into Kentucky are we talking? The further south you go, the less likely I would think they'd 'wonder' if police brutality cases are racially motivated."

"Fair. But it's not far south from the Ohio border. A few miles west of Florence, a town called Woolper. Not a big town, but not a poor one either."

"I'd assume not, if they hired you."

"Exactly. Anyway, most of our work there is done, but a certain patient came to the attention of one of the clinicians working at the local hospital. He mentioned it to one of my company's staff and it escalated up to me."

"Are you able to talk about the patient?" I asked. I was no stranger to navigating HIPAA, a law that columnist Sheila Hagar once said "was enacted nearly 20 years ago to make reporters gnash their teeth." HIPAA was sometimes a detriment when doing articles about crazy people, and I wanted to get an idea of how much of a head start I was going to have.

"Not as much as I would like to. He was a police officer which gives him certain privacy protections above HIPAA in the state of Kentucky. We will call this gentleman Mr. Robertson." She reached into her bag and produced a manila file folder which I began to thumb through. It was a heavily-redacted medical file. "I should note that neither he nor his attorney are interested signing a media release, but that's okay because he's not going to be the subject of your article." Neither of us knew, at that time, that this would be far from the case.

The way she said it was so cock-sure that I raised my eyebrows, maybe a little by habit. "That so? What's it about, then?"

Mr. Robertson was a white male, aged 47 years. He was pre-diabetic, had cholesterol issues, and other age or stress-related issues. He had been a Woolper Police Department officer for 22 years following two tours in The U.S. Army.

According to Marcie, Mr. Robertson had been a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and had taken part in Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in '83 as well as Operation Just Cause in Panama in '89. He was well-decorated and well-respected, but he had declined another tour to return to his hometown of Woolper and join the police force.

Woolper had a spotless record on the force until mid-2009, when things turned rather sour. In the span of a year, he had three different brutality complaints against him, one of which led to a three-week suspension. He had checked in with the department counselor and got some anger management treatment, and things seemed to calm down in the next couple of years. When Marcie's team started their investigation, however, something in him snapped.

Mr. Robertson had become very belligerent about the presence of Marcie's Company's staff. He would stand up and leave rooms if anyone started talking about them. He would complain loudly about how they were distracting him and interfering with police work with their presence. He apparently issued several complaints to the police chief asking for the city to pull back from all of their bothering: he was tired of being watched outside his house, and getting calls asking him personal questions. He didn't like how some of the staff would hang out near his desk and appeared to be taking notes on his every move.

"To be fair," I said with a facial expression I hoped didn't seem like a wince, "I would be a little tetchy if your staff did that to me, too. Was all of that necessary? I would think you all are thorough, but…"

"That's the problem," Marcie said as she gazed at me with the psychologist's equivalent of bedroom eyes, "We didn't. Our staff had a small temporary office near the department for counseling sessions, but the majority of our work was in data analysis. We never stepped foot inside the building. And we certainly didn't call anyone or stake them out."

My mouth fell open and I shifted excitedly in my chair. "It was someone else? Or was he making it up?"

"Hallucinating," Marcie corrected, "and showing signs of early-onset dementia. So we scheduled a counseling session with him, along with the department counselor, to address these issues and did a little prying into his records. Then, during the counseling session, he pulled a concealed firearm and shot my staff counselor dead, claiming he was 'one of them'."

I dropped my biscotti into my drink and didn't think to say anything in reply while I spent an awkward moment fishing it out of the steamed milk while trying to look dignified. I probably failed horribly.

"So. After that and a speedy trial he was sent to Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in LaGrange, Kentucky. Where he sits, to this day."

I had finally finished getting my biscotti out of my cup and now I nibbled at it while I listened. "You said you poked into his records? What did you find?"

"That the strange behaviors all started after Mr. Robertson did a short special assignment working as a consultant for the city municipal offices."

I nodded in understanding, but immediately stopped and tilted my head. "Wait. What do those two things have to do with one another? Bureaucracy doesn't drive people crazy." I looked down at my coffee cup. "At least…I don't think it does?"

She allowed herself a slight twitch of amusement on the side of her lips. "Not usually. The nature of the department he consulted for, however, might be the cause." She pointed to a yellow sticky-note that was serving as a marker for some of the records. I perused the indicated page.

"What's…'Department C'?"

"That, Kyle," she said with a sage bow of her head, "Is what your book is going to be about."

Anthony Malcom Bartlett had been a man of many worlds. He was born in the summer of 1899, young enough to watch the world of automobiles spring up around him piece by piece. Detroit was the place to be during this time, as Henry Ford moved, shook, and practically bamboozled his way onto the global stage with the Model T in 1908.

Bartlett's father worked for Henry Ford. He had been on Ford's team at the Henry Ford Company before Ford himself had left (a company now called Cadillac). At age 11 Bartlett got a job at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. He had worked his way to one of the foremen by age 19, and at 21 he applied to work in the sales department of the company. The young man's spunky attitude attracted the right ears and eyes, and soon Bartlett had traded his factory coveralls for a suit and hat, making a living as a traveling car salesman in the Midwest.

Bartlett sold the first Fordson Tractor in the state of Ohio in 1921, and practically dotted the cornfields himself with Ford machinery for several years before he reached the Ohio River and started making waves in Kentucky.

It was Kentucky, for certain, that had stolen Bartlett's heart in his tour across the fields and farms there. His sales figures were amazing, which he attributed to the developing areas in Northern Kentucky. Ford was more than pleased to have an arm of development stretching down toward the south, where field work would be greatly improved by the company's farming machinery. But Bartlett had other plans.

He didn't continue down that direction, and instead passed off a lot of his duties to his peers. Through some manner of negotiation or straight-up stubbornness, he set up a regional sales office in Kentucky and told the big wigs at Ford that he had no intention of ever returning.

Bartlett's father died in 1930, and he inherited a large sum. With that, he began a sales empire of his own, monopolizing the farming equipment market in the Ohio-Indiana-Kentucky area. His sales were through the roof and his profits unimaginable. He retired early, even, at age 45, selling his empire for a fine and princely six-figure amount that would be in the tens of millions in today's currency.

Bartlett never married or had children. This, one might assume, had to do with his obsessive personality and his devotion to his work. However, the real reason was because of his fascinations that occurred outside the workplace. Bartlett was enamored with the occult.

In his leisure hours, Bartlett would spend his time researching occult mythologies, artifacts, engravings—anything he could get his hands on. He spent a lot of time in contact with historians in New England, trading letters and telegrams back and forth about borrowing books from their libraries and collections. Bartlett had acquired such a library himself over time, which became one of the most complete personal libraries on occultism and mythology in the Midwest.

Upon his retirement, Bartlett's time only increased, and he spent it chasing the occult even more obsessively. At his manor home in a peaceful town called Woolper, days and even weeks would pass without anyone in town seeing him come or go. More than once, Woolper's mayor phoned Bartlett just to make sure he was still alive.

Woolper had a lot to thank Bartlett for. He was active in his community and exceptionally friendly with everyone in town; he patronized practically every shop in town regularly, and he often donated to local charitable organizations and fraternities like the Oddfellows and Freemasons. (On this note: Bartlett was a member of neither. Despite what YouTube might tell you, Freemasons aren't related to the occult and generally do not want members who are obsessed with such things. Minutes of a lodge in Florence, KY, indicate Bartlett petitioned but was blackballed by the fraternity.)

Woolper owed a lot of its expansion to Bartlett's investment in the town around him, and the last thing anyone wanted was for him to die for being a wealthy, eccentric man.

But no man lives forever. Bartlett ended up meeting his end by accident, driving into town in a brand-new 1972 Ford Thunderbird during a storm for reasons unknown. As he crossed the bridge over Woolper creek he apparently lost control of the car and drove off the side.

His death resounded throughout the town of Woolper. What would become of the Bartlett estate now that the owner had passed on? It was a few weeks while Bartlett's attorney handled the affairs, and the local newspaper, The Woolper Gazette, reported practically a blow-by blow of the proceedings surrounding the management and distribution of the estate.

Bartlett had, to be fair, managed his affairs well. His paperwork was in exacting and meticulous order. The contents, however, were outside of the norm. The entirety of the physical assets of the estate were to be liquidated without exception, and the proceeds set up into the Bartlett Trust. This trust had specific instructions on disbursement, which included a large fund that would pay out to the Town of Woolper annually, as well as an annual stipend for business owners in the area who met certain qualifications. In short, Bartlett was determined to continue to support the town of Woolper even after death.

But his generosity came with some interesting caveats. A portion of the trust, it was stipulated, would need to go to the creation of a municipal department dedicated to the research and investigation of the occult and paranormal. His library would be placed in the city archives and made accessible to said department. If the department did not meet certain standards of staffing and activity, the trust would close and the city cease receiving its benefits, with the contents of the trust to be dispersed to an investment firm in Detroit.

And so, with heads being scratched and more than a few eyebrows raised, the Town of Woolper created Department C—a municipal department dedicated to the investigation of things that everyone knows don't really exist.

It didn't take too long to convince my editor Charlene that this was going to be a great story. Soon after that I made the decision to make the trip down to Kentucky by car, for a few simple reasons: first, I would be able to pack more things in the back of my station wagon than I would have been able to take in a checked bag; second, I would have an opportunity to call ahead and do some phone inquiries into records in Woolper. Their library, apparently, didn't have email at all, so I had to request a lot of things in advance by phone. Hopefully I would be able to get a head start on the story.

The Mayor of Woolper was curious and excited when he heard that I was doing a piece on the town. Woolper, which he described in an eager afternoon phone call as I drove through the empty expanse of Indiana, was a "lost jewel" in travel and a place that any American with freedom in his heart should visit once. He went on for a short while about how amazing the fishing in Woolper Creek was last year, and how many tourists "flocked" to the town to see the historic buildings and visit the greenhouse.

"What's in the greenhouse?" I dared to ask.

"Lots of things! We have several specimens of very rare snapdragons."

I mentioned my research into Department C. I could almost hear the mayor's face fall.

"Oh, that? It's nothing really. Just a curiosity. It's barely even staffed."

"Nothing interesting?" I said with a chuckle, "It's a municipal department that funds paranormal investigations. That's very interesting."

The other end of the line went quiet for a moment. "There's no…I don't mean to put a hole in your story, but…" He coughed. "You realize that there's no actual…they don't actually investigate anything."

"I figured that," I said as calmly as I could muster. Outside the window, I passed a Burma-Shave sign, but it appeared to be the only one of the set still standing: but a man's no peach… "So I was interested in what they actually do. It's kind of like those 'weird laws' articles that float around every once in a while, but in this case it's bigger. And Bartlett himself seems like a great person of interest if you ask me."

The mayor's voice seemed to release some of its tension, but his words were still noticeably slower and measured. "I'm…I really hope that this isn't some kind of 'ghost-hunting' expedition or something. I get calls every couple of years from paranormal researchers convinced that we're running a secret government facility here. In reality, we have a quirky caveat in our funding, and we try very hard to pretend it doesn't exist."

I hadn't realized that I was not the first person to trot down this path. I wondered why Marcie hadn't mentioned this important piece of information. Had no one else published anything whatsoever on the subject? "Well, I'm not like that. And I'm just here to look into the town as a whole. Don't worry," I lied, "I might poke my head into Department C a little bit, it's definitely not a priority."

I will admit that as my third hour of endless Indiana swept past me, I had already begun to wonder whether this would end up being the dumbest wild goose chase of my career. As I crossed over the Ohio River into the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, I was taken by a severe sense of vertigo. It was fleeting, but it passed as quickly as it had washed over me. Call me superstitious, but I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. I've had several such feelings—the most prominent of which came before I decided to sit down and write my first book. So with the reminder in the back of my mind that I was making a good decision, I started to get my bearings.

Woolper is situated around a creek of the same name. After crossing from Indiana into Kentucky via I-275 near the town of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and a turn off onto State Route 20. Situated in Boone County, the town is practically divided by the twisting, s-shaped creek running through town. These kinds of geographical boundaries have a tendency to create sociological ones as well, so I was on the lookout as I drove into town. Racial divides, class divides—all could easily be enforced through large physical dividers. If you have ever heard of things from a small town regarding "which side of the tracks" you're from, then it should come as no surprise that a flowing body of water like Woolper Creek could have the same sociological effect.

As it turned out, the majority of the buildings on the north side of the creek were residences, while the ones on the south side were mostly businesses. The town's streets followed the course of the twisting river, with a single bridge just north of the big S-bend that seemed to be the only connection between the place of work and the place of home.

I stopped at a corner on the south side, fed the parking meter, and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. The movies will tell you that when an "outsider" comes to a small town, everyone immediately recognizes it and it causes a stir. You know the trope: whispers, dirty looks, some big guy slamming his fist and saying they don't like "them dang city folk". But the reality of it is that when you go through a small town, no one really notices, because everyone has their own issues to deal with. There is a lot less idleness in a small town than one might think, because in the land of blue collar workers, a moment not spent working is a moment spent not getting paid.

I pulled out my phone and scrolled through a checklist of items I had set up to take care of. Check into hotel. Meet up with Dr. Pennington. Visit Town Hall. All seemed particularly doable, especially since the second one was already set up.

Dr. Pennington (whose name has, of course, been changed for this publication) was the local clinician and member of the town's city council. He had been Marcie's main point of contact for her team's research and had been invaluable in the retention of medical data. I appreciated that Marcie had set me up to meet with him, because he was quite the asset to my research: in addition to his connection to Marcie's study, he had also been Mr. Robertson's doctor prior to his incarceration.

It's often said (at least in my circles) that if your town is large enough for an Olive Garden, that it's not a small town. I am not sure if Woolper is the exception that proves the rule or not, but after four hours of nearly nonstop driving with little more than a Diet Coke and a bag of Funyuns in my stomach, I was ready to eat and had no desire to contemplate the philosophical implications of the presence of Italian food. My phone lit up just as I walked into the sweet chill of the doors to the restaurant, and Dr. Pennington informed me politely that he would be a few minutes late, and to order a quartino of the Tuscan wine blend.

After placing my order with the red-haired, freckle-faced server, Rosie, I spent a little time going over the file again. Dr. Pennington had been a part of the Robertson murder trial, which had been a very quiet affair that had been kept off of social media and out of the news in the way only a small town can. "Short gags", they are sometimes called in the journalism industry, where a small group of journalists either decide mutually to not cover a subject due to the risk of public outcry or backlash against a community. Sometimes they may even be (illegally) pushed on them by the local government. I was not sure if this was the case here in Woolper, but just to make sure I added visit the local newspaper to my list just as Dr. Pennington showed up.

Dr. Pennington instantly reminded me of a wiry, sharp man with little patience. The hair on his balding head was grey and white, and the only other hair above his shoulders was a meticulously-trimmed goatee that gave his whole face a very long appearance. I was internally intimidated, as though he was examining me mechanically for defects.

One sip of the wine, though, and he broke into a pleasant smile that didn't fade throughout our conversation.

"What do you think of Woolper so far? Had a chance to see the sights at all?

"Not yet. Mostly just pulled in here. I haven't even checked into the hotel. Any sights you'd suggest I check out?"

"Oh, definitely the greenhouse. There are several rare species of snapdragons there that are quite lovely. You're not allergic, are you?"

"No, at least I don't think so. I had heard about the greenhouse. Is it really that popular?"

He took another sip of wine. "Oh, certainly. It's one of the major sources of income for Woolper."

I nodded. "The other being the Bartlett Trust, right?"

Rosie appeared and took our order before disappearing again. It occurred to me that no one else was in the restaurant besides us at the moment, and the realization made me internally shiver. I was getting those Clive Barker-esque horror vibes again.

Dr. Pennington resumed the conversation as soon as she was out of earshot. "So you're familiar with the Trust? It's a great boon to the town. Business owners who meet certain requirements get a stipend every year from the city based on how many years you've been in business and what kinds of profits you had for the year. It also provides large scholarships to children in town with high GPAs. We have one of the highest college-attendance rates in the Midwest."

"I can imagine. It must be a massive trust."

"It is. I'm sure you can find the exact amount if you peek into the public filings. Also, is that shorthand? Goodness." He gestured to my notepad, where I was swirling shorthand scribbles.

I chuckled awkwardly. "Some old-fashioned skills never die. Now, on the subject of the Trust—tell me a little bit about its big…uh…caveat." I raised my eyebrows in the hopes of not putting him off with a direct reference.

He grinned and took another sip of wine. "An interesting piece of estate law, that. It sets down minimum budgetary and staffing requirements. In order to make it work, it had to be written into the town's charter, which they did back in the seventies. Bartlett was an…eccentric man."

"Did you know him?" Rosie came by with breadsticks and salad. "Bartlett, I mean. I know this was 40 years ago, and I hate to ping you on your age…"

Pennington laughed. "No, no, the hair gives it away. I knew him briefly. He died when I was in high school. I remember he used to come to town a few times a week, dressed in a long salmon-colored coat and matching hat, carrying an umbrella—all of this, rain or shine, summer or winter. At the time I thought it was a bit obsessive. But he was also very polite. It was hard to dislike the man."

I could imagine. It was probably a combination of his salesman's demeanor, mixed with richest-man-in-town syndrome. Everyone sucks up to the richest man in town. "Are his medical files available?"

"Not until 2021. HIPAA, you know…"

I wanted to gnash my teeth. "Fair enough. Sorry to get off on this tangent. You were going to tell me a little bit about Mr. Robertson."

Dr. Pennington had originally been a little bit opposed to the idea of out-of-state medical professionals running a large-scale analysis on the government of Woolper. To be fair, he wasn't just a family doctor to the town—he was the family doctor. Anything that didn't need a full hospital was handled in his office right by the river.

A long string of complaints and a few anonymous threats to blow up all over the media led Woolper City council to look into a self-policing program, where they could try to find a lean solution to locating the source of the problem. They sent out inquiries to various consulting firms, and by the end of 2010 they had settled on a firm connected with Marcie's company, who offered a very in-depth analysis. And they were prepared to cover a lot of their own expenses, presumably to write them off later.

The city council voted 3-1 with one abstention in favor of the proposal in a closed session. The paper didn't publish the individual votes, and it was assumed that the Police Chief Ryder, who was also on the council, had the one to abstain because the source of the problem appeared to be with the Woolper Police department. In reality it was Pennington who had abstained—Ryder had been the one opposed.

Despite his reservation about the project, Dr. Pennington was very pleased when he read over the project summary. The analysis was going to be discreet, unobtrusive, and clinically thorough. Its goals were clearly defined: to find the source of discontent and aggression in the Woolper Police Department and consult on a resolution.

Robertson was now a Lieutenant, and upon hearing about this project he apparently lost his cool in front of the entire police department. Dr. Pennington only learned this later that day, after work while having drinks with some friends, one of whom worked for the police.

The project moved forward as planned. Ideally, the people of Woolper wouldn't even know an investigation was going on at all, but in a small town such things cannot remain under wraps for very long. It took all of two days, apparently, before the gossip was churning on both sides of the creek. Pennington was rather unhappy, but after being reassured by Marcie's company that it would not interfere with their research, he resolved that he would keep a closer tab on things before they got out of hand.

Robertson started filing his complaints about a week into the project. Dr. Pennington read through these complaints with deep distress, and brought them immediately to the project manager, Dr. Schubert.

Schubert was concerned as well when he heard the complaints about harassment and stalking. After providing massive reassurances that the accusations were without foundation, Dr. Schubert suggested to Dr. Pennington that perhaps Robertson might be suffering from something far deeper than racism and aggression.

This, Dr. Pennington said, led to the day that they all met together to talk. Pennington and Police Chief Ryder were behind glass, observing, while Dr. Schubert and the police counselor talked. Their conversation was recorded, and I had the displeasure of reviewing it after requesting it later.

SCHUBERT: Tell me a little bit about your concerns.

ROBERTSON: Concerns? Conc—they're more than concerns, [expletive deleted]. You're [expletive] harassing me at my [expletive] home.

SCHUBERT: Can you tell me who, or what, you saw? I trust your observational skills, Mr. Robertson. If you can give me some details, I promise I'll get to the bottom of it.

ROBERTSON: It's a different car every day. Crown Vics, dodges, fords—police vehicles. You're using police resources!

SCHUBERT: The people who you've seen in the office. Have they spoken to you?

ROBERTSON: No, they just watch me and when I tell them to [expletive] off they just keep—they just keep [expletive] sitting there.

SCHUBERT: Do you recall what they might have been wearing?

ROBERTSON: I have a wife, and kids. You can't do this to me. You can't [expletive] do this—

<Papers shuffle>

ROBERTSON: Uh—Just ask—just ask—

SCHUBERT: Any distinguishing features?

ROBERTSON: He's right [expletive] there!

SCHUBERT: In that corner?

<Something slams to the floor.>

ROBERTSON: I'm not gonna.

SCHUBERT: What do you mean? Stay with me. I need you to understand that I don't see anyone in that corner, Mr. Robertson. So it's important that you stay with me.

ROBERTSON: That's not it! I'm not!


ROBERTSON: I'm not doing it!


<Gunshots. Screaming.>

ROBERTSON: No! What are you doing? Stop!

<More gunshots. Recording ends.>

Dr. Pennington, it seemed, did not share my loss of appetite at talking about the event. Perhaps it was a clinical barrier he could put um to compartmentalize himself, but it almost struck me as cold in the way that he continued to down bits of chicken masala while discussing the matter. I, however, had had the good forethought to nibble on breadsticks and order something that would keep well in a to-go container.

"Did he get a psych evaluation? I'm assuming he did during proceedings if not before, right?"

Dr. Pennington nodded. "He did. Marcie Teeter—you know Marcie, right?—she was devastated, and worked with us on it. Us being the City Council. Lots of paperwork, lots of non-liability clauses. I'm sure you understand."

"And the project?" I could hardly believe it would have survived such an incident.

"It ended shortly after that. The company provided the City council a massive consulting report with its advisements and disappeared pretty much overnight."

I nodded, packing my ravioli into a box Rosie had provided. "What were the findings, by the way? Racism in the department?"

Dr. Pennington handed Rosie his empty plate. "Actually, as it turns out, almost every reported incident was traced back to Robertson or one of his direct reports. So they offered some minor tweaks to how the city handles brutality complaints, offered diversity training, and then went on its way. Washed their hands of it."

I was confused at this response. It certainly didn't seem like Marcie's style, but at the same time I am not sure what I might have done in her place if one of my subordinates had been killed on the job in such a manner. But tracing everything back to Robertson seemed almost too convenient.

As I checked into my hotel room, I kept thinking back to Pennington's demeanor throughout our conversation. He was pleasant enough, but something about the way that he discussed a cold-blooded murder in the same way one might describe how to build a birdhouse made me feel almost queasy. As I set up what would be my new office for a week or so and munched on reheated ravioli for dinner, I again reviewed my to-do list. There were a lot of people to talk to. But I could not avoid the central piece of the unfolding narrative surrounding Mr. Robertson: Department C. I would have to visit it sooner or later. I decided, then, that it should be sooner.

Town hall was the center of all thing municipal in the town of Woolper. A three-story, beige building with 50's architecture, it stood flanked on either side by grey stone structures. On the left, the Woolper police station, a place that I had no intention of venturing anywhere near at the moment. The other was the library—a venture for another day.

Every municipal department in town has headquartered here within one of these three buildings. Everything from development to agriculture had an office here, and the large brass-plated information sign just inside the door made it very clear that if you need anything in the city, this was the place to find it.

Except one, of course. I am sure it was more of the city council's desire to separate itself from the quirky nature of Department C that led it to be stationed several blocks down. I had no idea how to even locate this thing until the Town Hall security guard saw me looking confused and out-of-place and was kind enough to point me in the right direction. I caught him giving me a dirty look on my way out the door, however, so there's that.

Department C was inside a grey, run-down office building. The tenants of this building included the local dentist, two ambulance-chasing attorney offices, and a florist. I passed the window of the dentist and to the end of the row of glass-doored offices. It read, simply, "Municipal De artment C." The p had apparently been peeled off. The door was locked, but a small buzzer attracted my attention and I pressed it.

Almost instantly, a young woman was at the door, pushing it open. "Hello!" I was almost bowled over by her smile, and the eagerness to be helpful. Her brown hair fell in curly waves around her face, and she had a truly Instagram-worthy smile. I was instantly given the impression that she was the embodiment of a stock photo for young professional women in the workplace.

I was caught off-guard. So far, I had gotten nothing but strange looks and bad vibes about Department C, and to be honest I had expected someone less…perky. I recovered as best I could. "Hello, I'm Kyle Lampert, from the Chicago—"

"Right, right, we got a call this morning that you might come by." She ushered me into the office. The office was a single space with no lobby. The carpet was very old and worn, and the several desks had computers that had probably been installed in the early 90's. The only other occupant was an older man with very grey hair in a flannel shirt and jeans, sitting with his feet propped up. He didn't even acknowledge me at all as I walked in, his eyes fixed stubbornly on the local paper. The only other door was on the other end of this one, with a small plate marked "Director".

The woman closed the door behind me. "Welcome to department C, Mr. Lampert. I'm Tia LaChiara and this is Adam Brunberg." She gestured to the older man, but he again ignored the both of us. I looked at the two desks out here in this open space and instantly noticed that Adam's desk was entirely devoid of papers of any kind. LaChiara's desk, however, was covered in books, papers, food wrappers, and a multitude of other things. "So I was told that you're doing a piece on Department C, right? Or is it on the town itself? Want some coffee?"

"A little of both, and yes please," I said sheepishly, looking around for a place to sit. There wasn't one. "I'm doing some investigation, actually, on someone who used to consult for this department. Mr. Robertson? Name ring a bell?"

LaChiara froze, one hand holding a pot of what looked like cold coffee. Brunberg finally made a movement, to look over at her curiously. She set down the coffee pot. "Um…yes. I should get…Let me get the director." She gave me a grimace that I think might have been at attempt at a smile, and then disappeared through the director's door.

I looked over at Brunberg. "Sorry, didn't mean to disrupt anything."

He shrugged. "I dunno. I'm kinda new here."

"You? New?" I tilted my head.

"Yeah, I'm fifteen days from retirement, and my last job got done training my replacement. This department is required to have three people staffing it, so they rotate in older, retiring people a lot. I'm the newest and oldest rookie. Seems to be a big joke around here." He chuckled and went back to his paper.

I waited awkwardly while I heard urgent-sounding voices behind the door. I was almost amused at the fact that they were acting so utterly suspicious in front of a journalist, but I reminded myself that this town seemed to be controlled by a single city council that had access to a lot of money. It was in my best interests to not make enemies on my first day.

The door reopened, and another woman stepped out alongside LaChiara. She was tall, dark-skinned and with impeccably-permed hair that seemed to radiate outward from her head like a halo. My intestines turned frigid from the gaze she was giving me, and I waited with a growing anxiety in my throat for her to speak.

"My name is Antoinette Smith. You're investigating Mr. Robertson? Why is that?"

"Actually," I said hastily, "I'm researching the town. Mr. Robertson just sort of came up in the investigation and I wanted to see if I could find out anything interesting. I'm more concerned with knowing what your department does, so if you're not comfortable talking about him then I'm fine with that."

She narrowed her eyes. "Mr. Robertson worked here for three weeks while suspended from the force, because we had a gap in staffing and needed to fill it. That's it." I nodded, trying to give an expression of someone who believed that was the only explanation. Because I certainly didn't.

I shuffled my feet a little bit. "I understand. I didn't mean to start this all off on the wrong foot here. I'm interested in what your department does. Obviously, you don't really investigate the paranormal, but then the question becomes, what do you all do? Or are you all just people on leave or on loan from other departments?"

Smith leaned against LaChiara's desk. "Depends on the time of year, honestly. We have reports we're required to file and staff requirements we have to keep. Part of that report requirement is that we have to show that we have done some 'investigating' throughout the year. Because of that, we often go on loan to other departments, and help them do things. Like maybe we go to the library and do some archives work. Or we might help the police canvas an area. That's it. We're nothing special. We're a weird idea left behind by an eccentric millionaire and implemented for the purposes of filing paperwork. Not super glorious, is it, Mr. Lampert?"

I shook my head. "Actually I think that's pretty fascinating. You're basically an underdog department, but your existence is crucial to this whole town. That's something worth writing about."

I saw LaChiara stifle a smile over Smith's shoulders. I hoped my appeal to Smith's ego might go somewhere, but if it did, she refused to show it. "You do what you want, Mr. Lampert. I'm happy to help because I literally have very little else to do here, but I am afraid it's not going to be anywhere near as interesting as you think it is. Know what we're doing today? Helping the landscaping team by taking pictures in the greenhouse. That's it. That's my whole 8-hour day."

I sighed. "Sounds about right. When are you doing that? I could come by and follow you around. If that's fine with you?"

She continued her never-ending glare that seemed to reach into my very soul. "That's fine. But I'm not talking about Mr. Robertson and neither are these two. We had nothing to do with that asshole. He's a stain on this whole town. Get those answers elsewhere."

I agreed. It seemed I would have to get my answers directly from the source.

The Northern Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Institute is near the highway as it crosses over from Ohio into Kentucky. It is exceptionally easy to miss; one might chalk it up to be another row off an off-highway office building, or another McMansion sprung up in the rapidly-expanding Covington area. But it's a little further out of the way, and if you happen to know it's there, it becomes a little easier to notice.

I was struck, as I walked in the front door, by the sheer lack of color in everything. The walls were beige. The floor was beige. The ceiling was beige. Altogether I felt like I had walked into an incomplete sketchbook, where the only details were on the sharp edges and not on anything else.

I produced my ID at the front desk and asked for the doctor I had spoken to on the phone a few hours earlier and made plans to meet: Dr. Carl Abernathy. According to the Kentucky Board of Medicine, Dr. Abernathy was a fine mind in the field of neuropathy and psychosis, specifically, which made it doubly fortunate that he was the administrator of this facility. He was a very pleasant, round-faced man with little hair, and as he shook my hand I felt very at-ease. It was surely a gift of Dr. Abernathy's to be able to put people at ease, especially when those suffering from mental illness often found themselves with no respite.

Psychosis, Dr. Abernathy explained as we headed down the hall and through several sets of security doors with armed guards, was the name of the game when it came to Robertson. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality." Psychosis leads to delusions and hallucinations, but not—as Abernathy explained to me as we sat down in his office—violence. Psychosis and violent tendencies were not really related. Some people with low levels of psychosis, he said, lived perfectly normal lives.

What about Robertson, then? This was where things became interesting. Robertson hadn't been a particularly violent person on his own, but something had triggered a psychotic episode that had been rolling around in his head for some time. Something else in his psyche had triggered a hallucination that, ultimately, had led to his ultimate act of violence.

I asked if I could see him.

Robertson, I had imagined, would be some kind of violent, disheveled, crazy lunatic in a straight jacket. I cough it up to understanding far less then than I do now about mental health. But in any case, I was still surprised by how calm and serene Robertson was as he and Dr. Abernathy entered the interview room where I sat waiting. His hair was short, but tidy; his face clean-shaven. He also bore a brilliant smile on his face like a kid who had just been given a milkshake and a new puppy.

Abernathy had told me that Robertson was particularly lucid today but warned me that his condition was very subject to change.

He offered his hand. "Hi, I was told your name is Kyle."

"Yes, that's me. Thanks for meeting with me."

We all sat down at the table. Robertson knitted his fingers together innocently. "I heard you're doing some research, Kyle."

"I am. About the town you used to live in. Woolper."

Kyle nodded eagerly. "It's a nice town. Lots of good folks live there. I miss it a lot."

I glanced over at Abernathy, who raised his eyebrows. I continued. "I don't want to alarm you at all. I had some questions about a place you worked for, very briefly. Is that okay?"

"Yes. You're talking about Department C."

I took a breath, and let the moment pass quietly. "Y-yes. Do you want to talk about it?"

Robertson furrowed his brow slightly. "I…I want to, but I can't."

I nodded. "I wouldn't want you to do anything you're not comfortable with."

"Oh, I'm comfortable with it, Kyle. But if I talk about it, then he will kill me."

I looked over at Abernathy who was now looking, concerned, at his patient. I looked back to Robertson, and I nearly leapt back. His positive and smiling demeanor had changed, like the flip of a card, and now his face was contorted in a face of utter despair and fear. I had scarcely seen such a face before in my life, and I was chilled down to my core as Robertson let out a whine.

"Can you tell me who? It's important. I want to keep you safe."

"Byali," He choked out, and then his face relaxed and he looked down at his kitted fingers. The knuckles of both hands had gone white.

"Who is he?"

"The question of the ages," Abernathy said softly. "Every time he mentions him, he goes quiet…for days. I think that's all we'll get out of him for a while. Come on, Mr. Robertson. Time to head back to have a nap."

My interaction with Robertson had left me a little shaken, and as I rolled back into Woolper with a bag of takeout I had picked up in nearby Florence I could not dismiss the uneasy feelings that had risen up into my stomach.

I unpacked my dinner with my laptop open and as I dug into the delicious MSG-ridden Chinese food goodness, I started down my email box. I immediately spied an email from Marcie.

I heard from Dr. Pennington that you're in town. How are you settling in?

I tapped out a quick reply that I hoped might subtly convey my dismay through a fog of snark.

After dropping my last paycheck at a bourbon distillery and growing a beard, I have infiltrated the locals. Tomorrow I will slaughter my first chicken, and afterward I have been invited to sit on someone's porch and stare at a cornfield. Soon I shall complete my conversion into a true Kentuckian, and never return to the sinful city from whence I came. My name is now Duke.
The redneck formerly known as Kyle

After checking in with my editor and sorting a few queries and responses on other research projects, I got a reply. I could almost feel her rolling her eyes.

Glad to see you're enjoying yourself. Stay out of trouble.

Continued in: Department C

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