Even though the windows in Captain Hunt’s office were thrown wide, the oppressive heat, unstirred by any breeze, permeated the room.
Sergeant Benjamin Hull could feel rivulets of sweat trickling down his neck, to be absorbed by the heavy cloth of his uniform’s collar. True, he was carrying a few more pounds than was typical for a member of the Virginia State Militia, but it was still hotter than a baker’s oven in there.
He glanced across the desk at the slim figure of Captain Hunt, who seemed completely oblivious to his subordinate’s discomfort or, indeed, to the temperature. His face was pale and composed, his uniform immaculate and unstained with either food or sweat. This just gave Hull another reason to dislike the man. Things had been running fine under his command, so why had they foisted this greenhorn on him, taking over his command of the militia in Staunton? Maybe he had abused his position slightly, but surely that was one of the perks of the job? And whilst those whose he had taken advantage of might whisper behind his back, they were aware that crossing good ole Ben Hull was asking for a whuppin’, so he couldn’t imagine anyone had been flapping their gums about him. But now that Captain ‘Greenhorn’ was here, he’d have to be more careful. As long as he kept his head, things should work out fine.
Or so he hoped.
Captain Hunt finished writing up his report and looked at the stocky figure facing him, sweating and fidgeting in his chair. Various reports had filtered back to the state capital in Richmond, indicating that there was something awry in Augusta County. Requests for further details were fobbed off with missives stating that all was fine – missives signed by Sergeant Hull. Hunt had heard some disturbing rumours regarding Hull and his…appetites and the underlying feeling one got from walking the streets of Staunton was one of repressed fear. Whether this was due to Hull and his activities or the other strange occurrences that seemed to plague the county, Hunt wasn’t sure yet, but he was determined to find out.
And maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. Over the past few weeks, several bodies had been found in the woods outside Deerfield – all men, all armed and all missing their heads. Gossip attributed the deaths to one of the local Indian tribes, but Hunt was not convinced. True, the natives had been known to scalp their victims, but taking their entire heads was something else. He needed answers and this situation offered an ideal opportunity to test Hull’s mettle.
“Sergeant Hull,” he said, breaking the silence, “I have a task for you…”