This eight-chapter novella is the second of two stories set in between the periods of Stranger Things: The College Years and Stranger Things: The New Generation. I advise reading those stories, as well as the third in that trilogy, Stranger Things: World’s End, before reading The Witch of Yamhill County and then this one, which are supplementary and do not involve the Upside Down. Like the Upside Down trilogy, they are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from these stories and they are not canon. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull the stories down.
The Black Rose of Newberg — Chapter Eight
To Have and to Hold
Much later, at the end of the third worst day of her life (the worst two being the days Mike Wheeler died), Jane Hopper sat with her father and Paul Holland in the police chief’s office. Walter Plante had been released with apologies, which he accepted with astonishing magnanimity. Gavin Ridge had been rushed to the hospital under heavy police guard. There was no question he would be incarcerated for life. He accepted his turnaround with considerably less grace than Walter Plante. He had been thwarted from a holy purpose. Nurses and doctors listened to screams about Satan’s daughter, walking the earth as a woman named Jane Hopper.
Holland was out of sorts. The mystery of Black Rose was solved, no thanks to him, but rather to the same Jane Hopper being decried in a Newberg hospital room. There were certain curiosities about this Jane Hopper. She was 5′ 4″ and 118 pounds, and yet had somehow managed to overpower, disarm, and snap the leg of a well built man who was 5′ 9″ and 170. Holland treated her martial arts explanation with the same contempt he returned Ridge’s tirades about demonic powers.
“You broke his leg using karate?” said Holland. His tone called her a bald-faced liar.
Jane didn’t answer.
He nodded. “I hope I never see you again, Miss Hopper. You and your father have given me more indigestion than my wife’s chicken cacciatore. And she’s the shittiest cook in town. They’re all yours, Shane.” He prepared to leave.
“Wait,” said Jane, ignoring the insults. “Did you find out how Ridge got into the Hoover House without tripping the alarms?”
Holland shot her a look of acid. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that I don’t have daughters. Sons are bad enough. My eldest gives me ulcers. Go home, Miss Hopper.” He walked out of his boss’s office and slammed the door in disgust.
“What a fucking asshole,” said Hopper.
“That was actually his way of thanking you both,” said McCormick.
“Are you serious?” asked Jane.
“Oh yes,” said McCormick. “If Holland really hated you, he’d still be in here. But to answer your question, he did learn how Ridge deactivated the museum’s alarm system. The alarm code is in the director’s desk drawer, and also, believe it or not, on a post-it note stuck to the bulletin board behind the reception desk. If a detective like Ridge toured the museum twice, he would have found what he was looking for. The reception desk goes unstaffed a lot of the time, according to Director Caswell. Oh, and then we found a ring of skeleton keys at Ridge’s house. That’s how he got through the front door.”
“So that leaves only one dangling thread,” said Hopper.
McCormick nodded. “The tour guide.”
“Which I don’t get,” said Hopper. “He identified Plante from the SIU photo. He was clear: Walter was at the museum, not just once but twice. Showing hostility each time.” Walter had denied ever setting foot in the Hoover House, and they knew he was telling the truth.
McCormick had his own copy of the photo framed on his desk. He picked it up. “Pointed right at him, huh?”
“Yes,” said Hopper.
“No,” said Jane, without thinking.
Her father turned to her. “What do you mean, no?”
She wasn’t sure what she meant. “He didn’t point right at him… I mean, his arm didn’t reach the photo.” What had happened? She remembered: the tour guide had pointed and said it was the guy in blue. Which was Plante. No, that wasn’t quite right either.
“He identified Plante, clear as day,” said her father. “He didn’t hesitate, and he said that he didn’t recognize anyone else.”
She held out her hand to McCormick. “Can I see it?” The detective gave her the photo, and she handed it to her father. “Hold it up to me as you did for the tour guide.” Her father did so. It was framed but the same size as his own copy out in the car. “Am I standing at the distance he was?” she asked. He nodded. “What did you say to him?”
“I asked if he recognized anyone in the photo.”
“Yeah,” said Jane, reenacting Brett’s response as she remembered it. “Him. Blue suit.” But she pointed deliberately at Gavin Ridge.
“Exactly,” said her father. “Plante.”
“I’m not pointing at Plante,” said Jane.
“What do you mean? Yes you are.”
“I’m pointing at Ridge.” Ridge was next to Plante. Both Ridge and Plante were on the right side of the photo, to the left of McCormick. Plante was at the end, on the far right, but Ridge was shoulder-to-shoulder with him.”
Her father was exasperated. “He wasn’t pointing at Ridge! He was pointing at Plante. He said the guy in the blue suit. That’s Plante.”
“Plante’s not in a suit,” said McCormick. Jane stared at Gavin’s purple attire. He was the only one in the photo wearing a suit.
Hopper was getting angrier. “Walter is decked out in blue dress clothes. He’s the only one in blue.”
McCormick laughed. “I think we just solved the mystery.”
“I’m lost,” said Hopper.
“So am I,” said Jane.
McCormick walked over and took the photo. “I guarantee you that our tour guide is red-green color blind. It’s common enough in men, and they often confuse blues and purples. They can’t see the ‘red’ element of purple. You and I see one person in blue: Plante. The tour guide saw two people in blue: Ridge and Plante. He said ‘blue suit’ to distinguish Ridge from the other guy in the blue who isn’t in a suit. And as Jane’s demonstration just showed, pointing to the right side of the photo looks like you’re pointing at either Ridge or Plante.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” said Hopper.
McCormick clapped his shoulder. “You’re a great sheriff, Hopp, don’t get me wrong. But any detective under my wing would skewer you. Always place the photo down on a surface, and be sure the witness touches whom he identifies.”
“I know all about that!” yelled Hopper. Her father was clearly disgusted with himself.
“Well, it’s done,” said McCormick. “You guys did great work.”
“My daughter did great work. I did nothing to find Black Rose. Except get an innocent cop arrested. My friend.”
“I didn’t do great work,” said Jane. “I got Black Rose by accident. I kept provoking him and then I said something that made him think we were on to him. So he attacked me in this building. I said it by mistake. I made other mistakes, and got my friend killed for it. My best friend.”
“If not for both of you,” said McCormick, “Black Rose would still be at large, right under my nose. No one would know he’s a cop. Stop beating yourselves up.”
He was right, but it was easy for him to say. Jane would be bruising herself for a long time.
“So why the Hoover House?” asked her father. “There are safer and more isolated places for a killer to commit rape.”
“I think I can explain this part,” said McCormick. “Gavin reveres Herbert Hoover. If you had come to me with the information that Black Rose was one of my detectives using the Hoover House, I would have had Gavin at the interrogation table right away.”
“Shane, I told you,” said Hopper. “We thought you could be Black Rose.”
“I wasn’t criticizing,” said McCormick.
“You were Dad’s favorite suspect,” said Jane.
“Was I now?” McCormick looked amused. “That hurts me, Hopp.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Hopper.
“I can’t imagine what I ever did to you –”
“You broke women’s hearts by staying single all your life,” said Jane, unable to resist.
“Do you mind?” snapped her father.
McCormick laughed, then looked at Jane. “When someone like you comes along, I’ll consider a lasting relationship.”
Jane had no interest in lasting relationships after Mike Wheeler, though a few days ago she would have welcomed a rough tumble with Shane McCormick. Nicki’s death had destroyed her sexual impulses. Today McCormick may as well have been Paul Holland proposing a heartless marriage. She smiled to be polite.
“You were saying about the Hoover House?” asked Hopper.
“Gavin thinks Hoover was America’s last good president. You know how booze offends Gavin. Hoover enforced prohibition.”
Jane suddenly remembered Ridge in the Void, reading a book on Jesus and wine at the eucharist.
McCormick continued: “Liberals hate Hoover for his hands off policy during the Great Depression; he hardly lifted a finger to help all those starving people crowded in shantytowns. It was only after Hoover, with FDR, that our government began providing economic aid to its citizens. Gavin thinks that ruined the country.”
“He must hate Clinton,” said Hopper.
McCormick looked surprised. “Actually, Gavin thinks Clinton is the best Democrat president since Grover Cleveland a hundred years ago. President Bill has been more of a budget hawk than anyone since Eisenhower. The Republicans have been so shamed it’s actually embarrassing. The economy has been great, and we have Clinton’s tight-ass fiscal policies to thank. Not to mention that he’s curbed welfare and made people work while getting their assistance. Another point of shame on the Republicans. Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in thirty years. We’re living in good times. Thanks to Clinton.”
“Our president doesn’t walk on water,” said Hopper.
McCormick laughed. “You must have loved his tobacco speech last month.”
It was a sore subject for her father. “Clinton can kiss my ass for his tobacco crusade.”
Jane flared: “I think I like Clinton for that.”
“Actually,” said McCormick, “I’m with your father on this one. Our president’s speech was awful. He wants to give the tobacco industry immunity from lawsuits in exchange for more strict laws against smoking. That’s backwards. Smoking is an individual decision, and so the government should bloody well keep their nose out of regulating it. Tobacco companies, on the other hand, are businesses. They should face unlimited liability for the damage their product can do to people.”
“Spoken like a true smoker,” said her father.
“Never smoked in my life,” said McCormick, “and you’re stupid for doing so, Hopp.” Jane wanted to kiss the police chief. “I’m a true believer in individual freedom and business accountability. Clinton is taking a hacksaw to both. But Gavin likes him for it. There are less smokers today in the country than ever before.”
“Your point?” asked Hopper.
McCormick got back on track. “I was saying that liberals hate Hoover for his fiscal austerity. But conservatives hate him too, for his pacifism. He refused to drag the country into wars or international conflicts. Hoover was one of the most isolationist presidents in history, which I agree with Gavin is a big plus. Clinton has been surprisingly hawkish for a Democrat — I think that’s the bad side of his presidency — and in that sense not like Hoover at all.”
“Well, no one liked Gavin much either,” said Hopper. “Like Hoover, he upset everyone.”
“The bottom line is that everything about Herbert Hoover — his hatred for booze, hatred for government hand outs, hatred for war and military intervention — squares with Gavin’s Quaker heritage. The Hoover House must be sacred to Gavin.”
“He’s a practicing Quaker?” asked Hopper.
“I believe so,” said McCormick. “He’s a private person and not into public displays of faith, but I think he takes Quakerism seriously. Though obviously twisted to accommodate his Black Rose purpose, which he sees as service to God. Quakers aren’t necessarily chauvinists today, but Gavin has serious problems with unmarried women who make their own way.”
“Don’t Quakers have a bug up their ass about taking oaths?” asked Hopper. “Gavin had to swear the police oath like any other cop.”
“They do object to oaths,” said McCormick, “but we’re talking about the mind of a psychopath. When he took the police oath, he might have been ‘crossing his fingers behind his back’, so to speak. A psychopath wouldn’t see himself bound by any oaths he swore. Either that, or he may have rationalized taking a bogus oath in the same way Jehovah’s Witnesses justify lying under oath in court. Most Christians believe that lying and deception is bad in principle, but some of them think it’s okay to lie and deceive people who aren’t entitled to the truth. In Gavin’s mind, the only ones entitled to hear the truth are probably like-minded Quakers who bow at the altar of Herbert Hoover.”
Jane spoke up. “If Hoover was his hero, why did he only recently take tours of the museum? He’s been living in Newberg as a detective, for what –?”
“Four years,” said McCormick. “Since September of ’93. He must have toured the house as soon as he moved here. But when he decided to start killing people, he revisited the place, probably to familiarize himself with his soon-to-be rape playground. It was his way of warming up. Building his nest.”
“What about prior nests?” asked Hopper. “He transferred from Iowa somewhere.”
“Iowa City,” said McCormick. “He was property crimes there too.”
“You think he’s killed before?” asked Jane.
“Serial killers have patterns,” said her father. “They start, stop for a while, then start again.”
“Uh-oh,” said McCormick.
“What?” said Hopper.
“I think President Hoover was born in Iowa.”
“Iowa City?” asked Hopper.
“No idea,” said McCormick. “As soon as we’re done here, I’m going to call the Iowa City Police. See if there are any unsolved murders of young women occurring in 1993 or before. I would have done that anyway, but now I’m having a bad feeling about it.”
McCormick’s feelings were justified. He called Jane the next day.
“I’m surprised you called,” she said into the phone. She motioned to “the boys” to dial the noise back. Mike was on the floor banging his cars together, and Lucas was chasing circles around him with an ambulance. He hushed Mike, who laughed and ignored him.
“Mondays are pretty busy at the sheriff’s office,” said McCormick. “So I’m calling you. You can pass this on to your father. I like talking to you more anyway.”
He was blatantly hitting on her again. “Well, thanks.”
“I was right,” he said. “Ridge killed six women in Iowa. They were unsolved rape-murders until my phone call yesterday to Iowa City.”
“In their twenties?” asked Jane.
“But without black roses.” McCormick ran it down for her: In the spring of 1993, the women were raped and butchered in West Branch, Iowa. The town was located fifteen minutes east of Iowa City, where Gavin Ridge served in the police. West Branch was the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, and it featured a monument to his legacy: The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. It was a sure bet that Gavin Ridge had abducted the women from Iowa City, driven them to West Branch, raped (“cleansed”) them in the Hoover Library, and then butchered them elsewhere in town.
“How will they prove that?” asked Jane.
“They won’t have to,” said McCormick. “Ridge confessed it all.”
That surprised Jane. “Who squeezed his other leg?”
McCormick chuckled. “You’d be surprised what Paul Holland is capable of getting out of people without violence.”
He didn’t get anything out of me. But if her father had arrived at Nicki’s any later, she would have broken down. McCormick was right. Holland got his teeth into people and didn’t let go.
“Gavin isn’t hiding anything anyway,” said McCormick. “He’s in constant sermon mode now. The doctors can’t wait to send him off to jail.”
“Did he ever work as a cop somewhere else?” asked Jane. Mike screamed as Lucas blocked one of his cars, and Jane snapped her fingers at both of them. Lucas looked apologetic and began picking up the toys. Mike shouted no.
“No, just Iowa City,” said McCormick. “And now that the West Branch Killer has been identified with the Black Rose of Newberg, the families of victims will get the closure they deserve.”
“Thanks for telling me, Shane. I’ll let Dad know.”
“Can I ask you something?”
She knew this was coming. I’m sorry. If you had asked earlier last week, I might have said yes.
But he didn’t ask her out. “What really happened at the hospital? With Lindsey Wyatt?”
She knew her father had asked McCormick to leave the matter alone. Jane had found a way to reach Wyatt and that was all that mattered. “I’d rather not say,” she said.
“And what you did to Ridge? Gavin’s account is impossible to believe, but I can’t imagine why he would lie. Holland went over it with him many times. Your ‘demonic’ powers.”
“I prefer not to talk about it, Shane. I’m sorry.”
She felt bad and wanted to give him something. “I’ll say this. I know you like classical music, and meditate on the floor with a walkman.” And Walter Plante cries over his daughter, who treats him like shit. Her father had confirmed that. When interrogated as to his whereabouts Saturday night, Plante said he was home, crying after a bitter phone conversation with Shawna.
There was a long silence. “Well,” he said finally. “That’s something you can’t possibly know.”
“Which is why I shouldn’t talk about it.”
They said good-bye, and McCormick invited her to stop by his office whenever she was in town. She wished him well on the new police station next year.
As she hung up, Mike was demanding his cars back. Lucas had put them in the closet.
“The cars need a rest,” said Lucas, lifting Mike off the floor. It was Monday, and he should have been at the wildlife station, but he had taken the day off to be with Jane. To support her after Nicki’s tragedy. “Everything okay?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she said. “Or no. Not really. Black Rose had killed before. Six women in Iowa.”
“El, that’s horrible.”
She nodded, starting to cry again. When Lucas had arrived hours ago, she stopped pretending to be strong. He had held her on the floor while Mike stood watching, uncertain at first, and then starting to cry himself. Lucas had done double comfort duty. Jane didn’t want the dam loosed again, but she kept seeing Nicki’s face. She grabbed a kleenex.
“It’s close to lunch,” said Lucas. “Why don’t I pick up some Thai, and also get enough for your dinner tonight. You need a break, El.”
She nodded, feeling her emotions reignite. The last time she had eaten Thai food with Lucas was at the remembrance ceremony for Mike Wheeler, four years ago. Hopper had allowed them — Lucas, Dustin, Will, and herself — to own his house for the day. She wanted to do something like that for Nicki here, but who would she invite? Jane had been her only close friend. Nicki was loved like a porcupine. There would be the family funeral, but Jane hated funerals. The dead should be celebrated. Grief was too sacred for gatherings.
Lucas called to place the order. Mike circled the room, pretending he was an airplane. “Pizza for me, Uncle Luc!” he yelled.
“Michael, be quiet,” said Jane. “He’s on the phone.”
Mike stopped flying and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Pizza for me, Mommy,” he whispered across the room, loudly enough to be heard in Timbuktu.
“No pizza today. We’re having Thai.”
“Tie?” He was indignant. “I don’t want tie.” He took wing again, swooping down the hall into his bedroom, where he lost himself in a drama of crashes and parachute bailouts.
Lucas hung up the phone and sat in the La-Z-Boy. “You know with all this mess going on, I forgot to mention Will.”
“What about him?” She hoped Will was okay. He had returned from the Peace Corps in December of ’95, but he was still readjusting to American culture. His last threat was dire: he was leaving the U.S. to become a full-fledged Botswanan citizen.
“He’s enrolled in an MLS program.”
She was shocked. Didn’t MLS have something to do with menstruation? “He wants to be a doctor for women?”
“El, where do you get this stuff? It’s a masters of library science. He going to be a librarian.”
“Oh,” she said, feeling stupid. “Well, that sounds great.”
“Yeah,” said Lucas. “He’s finally doing something. He’s out of Hawkins, which is already mountains off his back, and studying in Bloomington.”
“His aunt wasn’t helping,” agreed Jane. “I can see Will running a library.”
“Easily,” said Lucas, “and he’s — whoa, little man!”
Mike had returned from his bedroom, and the aviation fantasies were over. He had one of his stuffed toys, his basset hound Ralph, and was aiming to throw it at Lucas.
“Oh, you think?” asked Lucas. “I wouldn’t try it if I were you!”
Mike pegged the toy at him. Ralph hit Lucas square in the face and bounced to the floor. Mike ran in circles whooping. Then he spotted his plastic wiffle ball next to the couch. He picked it up, and faced Lucas with the same intentions.
“Hey, hey!” said Lucas, no longer amused. He pointed at the floor. “Put it down.”
Mike dropped the ball, crestfallen.
Then Lucas caught himself. “Oh, sorry El. These days I’m so used to being the little man’s boss.”
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I want you to feel comfortable disciplining Mike, even when I’m around. It’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
She could see that he was moved. “Wow,” he said, looking at Mike. “Did you hear that? Your mom wants me to discipline you. You’re in BIG trouble.” He scooped Mike off the floor and began tickling him ferociously. Mike shrieked laughter.
Jane felt relieved. It was no small thing she was asking. Lucas would be the equivalent of a stepfather to Mike, when he and Raquel were planning for children of their own. But she knew Raquel would be on board. Lucas had been Mike Wheeler’s best friend. He was the perfect father figure for Mike’s son.
“Thanks, El,” said Lucas, when the gaiety subsided. Mike’s face was red from being tickled. Lucas set him down.
“No,” she said. “Thank you. He really likes you. Sometimes I think more than me.”
“Hah! No way.”
She was serious though. Mike was devoted to her, but he was on speed around Lucas.
Lucas looked at the clock and stood up. “Okay, I’m getting the chow.”
“Take me, Uncle Luc!” said Mike, running for the door.
He was intercepted and lifted onto her lap. “You’re waiting here,” she said. “And don’t worry, your chow won’t be as spicy as ours.” When it came to Asian cuisine, Mike stuck to spring rolls and fried rice. Lucas promised a swift return.
Jane was suddenly grateful for all she had in life: her son, her father (for all his difficulties), and her remaining friends; the luxury of not having to work. Black Rose had driven it home. Anything of value could be snatched in a heartbeat, leaving an abyss that gaped, as it had gaped for the past few days, to snuff out the best in her.
She had thought she was taking her life back in the Green Room, but she had behaved irresponsibly there, and at the Hoover House too. Her risk addictions had done little more than enable dangerous men. One of them was still roaming free — probably at The Raped Wench right now, seeking another “Jill Harris” to punish. Jane wasn’t sure what had happened to her. Lucas’s summer arrival had triggered something unprecedented, a feeling of inner poverty, that she was behind the curve of her existence. She had gone into exile to fill that emptiness, with late night excursions and libertine fantasies. That was over now. The seedy joints, the shady police work; looking for Mike Wheeler in the wrong places. Mike was right here in her lap.
He played with her face as she stared into his. His eyes were hers, but everything else replicated his father. He was saying something. He wanted to sleep over at Uncle Luc’s tonight. Again.
“Oh no,” she said, “I’m going to be around a lot more now.” She tickled him. She wasn’t as good as Lucas, but good enough. Mike protested, laughing. She pulled him up and kissed him. “We have wild times ahead of us. Together.”
Mike giggled. Wild times sounded exciting.
And Jane had no idea how right she was.
(Previous Chapter: Black Rose)