Twilight Town (Part One)
Barry H. Smith
(Author of "Twilight Dynasty")
The wolves howled at the rising moon, as terror propelled the man forward. The sun's death in the
forested hillsides had allowed the autumn temperature to fall into the sixties. Despite a cool breeze rustling
the tall grasses about him, sweat soaked his tattered clothes and glistened on the redness of his face. He
appeared to be in his forties, carrying a paunch that caused him to wheeze as he fled. As he stumbled
down the hillside away from the sleepy town, his legs seemed as rubbery as his fisherman's boots. He
reeked with the smell of fear. Reaching the roadway, he jerked his head back, searching for his pursuers.
Wolf howls assailed him, driving him forward, but his pursuers were not yet in sight. He made better time
on the road, boots slapping asphalt. He rested against the road sign to catch his breath.
It read: Twilight - Population: 550
He had reached the town limits. A smile brightened his sweat-shined face. The crack of the rifle, the
crack of his skull, dropped him into a bloody mess on the pavement, signaling the end of his flight. As the
wolf howls filled the night, the small pack of human predators descended the hillside. They broke from
the darkness only long enough to heft the man's body into the woods.
Her feet pounded the earth. The cool morning air was sucked into her lungs with controlled precision.
Through the trees, she could see the outline of the house. It was a half-timbered mansion set in the
sprawling grounds of the country estate. She pushed herself, propelling her sleek body through the
woodlands like an Olympic athlete. Dark hair was tied at the nape of her neck. Her toned form glistened
like bronze where it was exposed by tank top and jogging shorts.
Mounting the last rise, the woman broke into a trot on the asphalt drive that snaked toward to
mansion. It encircled the sculptured fountain at the front entrance. There was something amiss. The
classic Lotus Elan parked in front of the triple car garage blended with the estate's elegance. The
mud-encrusted Jeep Wrangler with the motorcycle trailer did not. Neither did the wild-haired man who
stood facing the massive oak doors. He seemed intrigued by the security camera that was embedded into
the entrance door. It was shaped like a mystic eye, and the man was attempting to force its eyelid open
with one hand, while slamming the door knocker with the other.
The man sensed her silent approach and turned about. He boldly admired the woman, his lips pursed
in a silent whistle. She folded her arms, maintaining her proud stance. His quick eyes scanned her curves,
but lingered on her face. Dark brown eyes sparkled with a mixture of curiosity and intelligence. Shoulder
length brunette hair framed an intriguing face; finely sculpted cheekbones, pert nose, dimpled amusement
cultivated by expressive lips. "May I help you?" Her cultured English accent was unmistakable.
"Lookin' for a Mrs. Steele. ‘Pears no one's home. An' this bloody cyclops don't work fer crap."
"I was out for my morning constitutional," she replied.
"That is what my marriage certificate states."
She appraised the man as she mounted the stairs. He stood about 5' 10" in his heeled boots, only an
inch and a half taller than she was in her runners. He had a day's growth of beard. His dark, wavy hair
seemed to have a will of its own. It swept back from his forehead, over his ears, and tumbled to his
collar. He was dressed in a loud plaid shirt, and tight jeans. Tossing his cigar aside, he pulled out his I.D.
wallet and flashed his badge.
"Name's Grogan. I'm R.C.M.P."
"Elsa Steele. Smoking will kill you, Inspector Grogan."
"It'll have a lotta competition," he smirked. "And just call me Grogan."
Steele turned away from him as she replied. "Fine. Grogan it is. You can call me Mrs. Steele."
"Hm. Feisty broad, eh? You Brits are somethin' else."
"Transplanted Brit, Grogan. Been a Canadian citizen since my teens." Steele spun the tumblers on the
combination lock. The bronze eyelid opened, stared her down for a second, then released the door with
an electronic whir. Grogan was still staring at the bronze eye as it snapped closed. "Retina scan," she
explained as she led him into the main floor sitting room. The door closed automatically behind them,
locking with the sound of a bank vault. "Now, to what do I owe the honour of a visit from the world
"You contacted us, Mrs. Steele." Grogan paced about like a caged animal while Steele settled on the
couch. As he spoke, he surveyed the pictures and mementoes on the mantle of the stone fireplace. "You
applied to the police college last year within months of your hubby bein' declared missin' in action on an
Interpol assignment." Grogan admired the framed Award of Excellence with the name John Steele
calligraphed thereon. Beside it was a photograph of Mrs. Steele and a distinguished man with bowler hat
and cane. "Is this the famous Superintendent John Steele?"
"You presume correctly. Now, could we get to the point, Grogan? I was a civilian martial arts
instructor at the Canadian Police College prior to my husband's death. I'm fully capable of completing the
C.P.C. program, but my application was summarily rejected. So, why the sudden interest?"
"Yer file's drenched with tragedy, both parents murdered within months of your husband's death. The
Commish figured you'd crack fer sure, if you get my drift."
"You're anything but subtle, my dear man. So what changed their mind?"
"Not only didn't ya fall apart... ya excelled. Ya took over yer old man's fashion and cosmetic empire
and tripled profits in under a year. So, when somethin' came up that's right up yer alley, I thought I'd see
if yer still up fer it."
"You've been sent to test me... see if I still have what it takes? Fine!" She rose. "There's a gymnasium
"Oooooo! Can't wait to pin you to the mat, honey." He patted her playfully on the butt as she turned
to lead the way.
Steele spun and kicked in one fluid motion. Grogan barely avoided the roundhouse. This set him up
for the sidekick that knocked him over the couch. When he gained his feet, it was with a switchblade
popped like a claw in his fist. He vaulted onto the couch, and sprang forward. Grogan smiled as he
backed her against the wall.
Cooly, Steele removed a rapier from the wall display. "On guard," she challenged, easily parrying his
smaller weapon. She sliced his shirt open, and forced him back. Grogan dropped beneath her next thrust,
seized the rug, and yanked her feet out from under her. He slammed her onto her back. The force of
impact sent the foil clattering from her hand. Grogan seized her by the hair and pressed his blade against
"I was the one who replaced ya at the police college, babe. You're a mite rusty."
Her fists clapped his ears, momentarily deafening him. Trembling fingers released the blade. A
follow-up blow knocked him off her. Then, it was Steele who was on top. Snatching his weapon while he
was still dazed, she positioned the knifepoint under his chin.
"You talk a good fight, Grogan. Want me to demonstrate the killing stroke for you?"
He spread his arms, palms up, in surrender. "I take it back, little lady. Welcome aboard."
She retracted the blade and handed it back to him.
"So what's this special assignment?"
"Well, you could say we'll be investigatin' a huntin' accident."
"A hunting accident? The R.C.M.P. wants me activated to investigate a hunting accident?"
"Apparent accident," Grogan corrected. "Got anything by Molson's?" He headed toward the wet bar.
Steele followed, watching him scour the fridge for a recognizable brew. He finally settled for a Guinness.
"The victim was on a fishin' trip. Turned out to be a high-profile American politician... Senator Hugh
"You suspect an assassination?"
"Summers wasn't the first accident in these parts. Three in all. All foreigners. Yesterday, the F.B.I.
finally leveled with us. The first two were bureau agents on an op not sanctioned by Ottawa."
"A slight breach of protocol."
"Better believe it. The big boys are furious. They want an undercover operative in the area without
delay... someone who ain't American but can pass for an outsider."
"Why an outsider?"
"The townsfolk are extremely tightlipped. Federal and local cops've been crawlin' all over the
backwater town of Twilight fer days. No one admits to hearin' anything, seein' anything, knowin'
anything. No one remembers Summers, even though his car was found parked in front'a the local
hardware store. Any stranger who walks inta town after that inquisition better look nothin' like a cop.
‘Sides, our perps will be expectin' American retaliation or a Canadian undercover agent, not a lone English
woman on her way to her Sudbury cosmetics plant."
Grogan dug a jewelry box out of his pocket, and snapped it open to reveal a pair of diamond earrings.
"Grogan, you shouldn't have."
"I didn't. They're fake. We're maintainin' radio silence in case transmissions are bein' monitored. If you
get a line on what's goin' down in this town, hightail it out of there. If you get in a jam, push hard on the
stem of the left earring and it'll activate a homin' signal. I'll extricate ya A.S.A.P. . Any questions?"
"Does this mean we're engaged?"
"Very droll." Grogan mimicked her accent.
Steele exchanged her studs for the earrings. "Level with me, Grogan. Did you select me so you could
make fun of my accent, pinch my butt, or both?"
"I needed someone who'd be highly motivated. The F.B.I. suspect the involvement of a Mid-East
terrorist group name'a Black Venom." He noticed Steele's mouth drop open, her eyes misting as they
drifted to the wedding picture on the mantle. "So you knew Black Venom was his last assignment?"
She nodded, still stunned.
Steele and Grogan headed from the Ottawa area in separate vehicles. Elsa would have preferred her
Lotus to Grogan's Jeep; but, he insisted that it fit the country locale better. Grogan directed her onto the
seldom traveled road that led to Twilight, while his Harley continued along the highway. She eased up on
the accelerator as she passed the abandoned True Brick factory on the town's outskirts. This had been
Twilight's chief industry before it ran afoul of Environment Canada and was shut down two years ago. It
was still protected by its eight-foot chain link fence, but was overgrown with vines and crumbling into
disuse. The factory's closure had turned Twilight into a dying town, apparently in more ways than one.
The drive had been uneventful, until the explosion rocked the jeep. Steele went into combat mode,
jerking the vehicle to a stop on the shoulder and diving beneath the dash. The .32 was removed from the
glove box. She scoured the woods for any sign of movement. The steam from the hood drained her
tension away. She returned the weapon, released the hood, and stepped out of the jeep. She was dressed
in a waist-length suede jacket and matching skirt. She used the jacket to fan the steam aside. The hood
was lifted to reveal a mess of shattered hoses and leaking fluids.
"That's what Grogan meant," she muttered to herself. "He said I could tarry in Twilight without raising
suspicion. The stinker booby-trapped his own jalopy."
Retrieving her overnight bag from the passenger seat, she headed into town on foot.
Owen Hunter ignored the oil and grease that smeared his hands and coveralls as he completed his work
under the chassis of Elmer Wilkins' pick-up. Likewise, he ignored the bell from the service station office.
The feminine voice finally broke his concentration. He turned to see the low-heeled sandals move to
where he lay. Pushing himself out from under the truck on his roller-board, he beheld a woman of
She was obviously not a local girl. Her jacket was slung over one shoulder, her upper body draped in a
fashionable, silken blouse. Her short skirt showcased long, shapely legs. She lowered her sunglasses to
meet his devouring gaze, shocking him back to reality.
"Can I help ya, ma'am?"
"Hopefully," she smiled. "My vehicle died on the edge of town. I'll need a tow and some mechanical
Owen looked at his grease-smeared watch. "You'd best get a tow inta North Bay. I can't look at it
t'day. Four twenty already."
Her lips twisted into a wry smile. "Double time after five, I suppose?"
"No one ‘round here works after five. It's quittin' time." He rolled himself back under the truck.
Steele crouched down in pursuit of the mechanic. "Could you ring the motor league for me?"
"Phone's in the office," Hunter's voice echoed from beneath the truck.
"How very kind of you," she clipped her words.
The desk in the office was strewn with grease-smeared work orders, under which hid a black rotary
phone. She called the C.A.A., surveying the town through Hunter's glassed-in office while she waited for
the tow truck to arrive with her vehicle. Across the street was a Fifties style strip plaza that boasted an
antique shop, a bookstore, a convenience store, a pizzeria, a credit union, and various other
establishments. There were only a few cars parked in the angled spaces in front of the plaza. At the end
of the street stood the town church. Hunter's garage was flanked on one side by Ted's Restaurant, and on
the other side by a two story building containing a hardware and sporting goods store. It seemed to be the
busiest of the town's businesses. On the other side of Hargrove's Hardware and Sports stood an English
styled pub named the Twilight House. She studied the townspeople. Their pace was unhurried until five
o'clock approached. Then, she noticed a marked increase in their activity. Shop-owners prepared for
closing time. Several people made their way into the Twilight House, while others headed towards the
residential section of town. Main Street was virtually deserted by the time Hunter's clock chimed five.
"Curiouser and curiouser," she whispered to herself.
"You still here?" Hunter stood in the doorway wiping the grease from his hands. She turned from
where she stood at the window. He towered over her, even though she was 5' 10' in her heels. Thinning
hair straggled about his full face. She gauged Hunter at six foot six and two hundred and fifty pounds.
Intense eyes bore down at her from under protruding brows. "Closin' for the day." He turned the Open
sign about where it dangled on the glass door. "You'll haveta wait fer the tow truck outside."
"My you are a stickler for time, aren't you?"
"Folks ‘round here like to keep to a sensible schedule, Miss..."
"Mrs... Mrs. Steele."
"We don't much like strangers ‘round these parts... ever since outsiders shut down the old brick
factory." He waved a stained hand toward the horizon where the lonely smokestack jutted above the
treeline like an accusing finger. "There's no lodgings in town, Mrs. Steele. I suggest you have the motor
league take you and your vehicle to a more tourist-friendly town."
"You don't sound hungry for business, Mr. Hunter, despite the factory's closing." Hunter glared back
at her. Just then, she noticed the tow truck approaching. "There it is now. I'm tired from my journey. I'll
leave my jeep here for you to service in the morning."
Hunter locked the door behind her. By the time she finished with the tow truck driver, he was gone.
Unlike the rest of town, the Twilight House was full of life. The sounds of chatter and raucous laughter
greeted Steele as she entered, but soon subsided. Several of the men eyed her with interest, while envy
coloured the women's stares. The pub was packed. About twenty people were seated about the chunky
wooden tables, some dining and others altering their mood with mugs of ale. Having taken her measure,
the customers returned to their activities. Voices were raised. Darts flew. Steele lifted herself onto a bar
stool. An unsavoury-looking man fixed his penetrating stare on her long legged form, undressing her with
his eyes. A young waitress with painted on jeans and a tight tee shirt scurried from the kitchen with a tray
of food. The sexy waitress finally diverted the unsavoury man's stare. Steele spun her stool toward the
bar. A middle-aged woman, dressed like an English barmaid, approached to take her order. The woman's
figure was too full, and her face overly round.
"Can I help you, dearie?" It was anything but an authentic English accent.
"My name is Elsa Steele. I've had some car trouble. I wonder if I could rent a room for the night?"
The woman's pleasant face tensed about the eyes. "I-I'm sorry, Miss Steele, but we don't have any
lodgings. We get very few foreigners in town. Trucker over there's driving a rig to Sudbury." She
motioned towards the unsavoury man with the penetrating stare. "Perhaps you could hitch a ride--"
"No. I don't think so. This is a converted house. Certainly there are extra rooms to let."
Steele reached into her handbag, and slid two hundred dollar bills across to the barmaid. A tentative smile
betrayed the woman's crumbling resolve. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy." She shot a glance at the
man with the penetrating eyes. "I do enjoy my privacy, though."
"Well... there is a small room. It's mostly used for storage. Window's broken... boarded up."
"I shan't require a view."
"Very well. By the way, you can call me Ruth." Ruth secreted the bills in her blouse, lifted a section of
the bar's countertop, and led Steele up a creaking stairway behind the bar. Elsa counted four doors leading
from the second floor hallway. Ruth motioned toward the end of the corridor. "Washroom's down there.
You'll haveta share with the others."
"My husband and I, and Ginny, the waitress. Your room's in here." The door was padlocked. "Like I
said, it's used for storage."
Ruth unlocked and removed the padlock, slipping it into her apron. The door's hinges complained as
they entered. The window was covered with plywood. Dust blanketed the bed and dresser. A mound of
supplies were stacked on the floor under a clear plastic covering.
"Help yourself to fresh sheets and cleaners."
"It appears I've got my work cut out for me."
"The pub closes at six, if you want to grab dinner. Lights out by seven."
"Strange hour for a pub to close."
"There's a curfew in Twilight. No exceptions."
"And who came up with that repressive little rule?
"Why, we had a referendum," Ruth answered defensively. "The vote was unanimous, and we haven't
had a stitch of crime ever since."
Steele raised an eyebrow in response, as the flustered barmaid departed. She then set about making
her room liveable. It took the better part of a half hour to clean the room, and put clean sheets on the bed.
Ruth kindly brought her a tray of food at quarter to six. She ate in the privacy of her room, then stripped
for a cleansing shower. The impatient banging on the bathroom door made the experience less than
relaxing. Ginny glared at Elsa as she exited, grumbling under her breath about outsiders.
The silence from the main floor was eerie. Apparently, not a single patron lingered after six o'clock.
Instead of going to bed, Elsa dressed once again, this time in a more utilitarian outfit. Black leather pants
fit her like a second skin as did matching boots. She slipped into a lavender corset tee, fastening its
hook-and-eye closures to mid-bosom. Then, she reversed her suede jacket, exposing its black leather
guise. Besides the central zipper, the garment was adorned with zippered pockets. She draped the jacket
over the footboard of the bed, and checked her watch. It was a minute to curfew. She doused the lights.
She sat on bed, but had no intention of sleeping until she was certain nothing was afoot in this strange
She didn't recall falling asleep. As she slept, the only sounds in the Twilight House were the occasional
groan or creak of the aged structure. Nonetheless, images and sounds flooded her unconscious mind. A
voice seemed to be speaking to her, suggesting she sleep soundly unless she was called upon. The ‘voice'
was reminiscent of her Japanese sensei. Her family had travelled extensively during her childhood. At
various times, they had lived in Africa, the Far East, India, South America, and finally Canada. Peter
Knight had insisted that his daughter study all manner of self defense, as she was a girl growing up in an
increasingly violent world. It was years before she would learn that her father had been an operative for
Interpol. His Ottawa Interpol posting resulted in the family making their final move to Canada.
While in Japan, Elsa was given private lessons in the art of Ninjutsu. Her mysterious sensei was
known to her only as Master Shado. The ‘voice' in her head had the same hypnotic quality as Shado,
without the chopped Japanese accent. She couldn't distinguish the actual words, but the intent was clear.
She was to sleep, to empty her mind, and to ignore all sounds save the beating of her heart. Only if she
were called by name would she rise. At eight o'clock in the morning, she would awake refreshed and
would remember nothing of the ‘voice'.
Master Shado had trained her mind as well as her body, as not all assaults are physical in nature.
Steele's mind resisted the whispered instructions. She filled her mind with images... images of her
departed husband... his gentle touch... their passionate love-making ... the news of the tragic deaths of the
few people who had glimpsed her soul... and back to memories of her long dead sensei. She could still
hear Master Shado explaining control to twelve year old Elsa Knight.
"Little flower, your soul is like your shadow. It is always with you in one form or another. From
sunrise to sunset it is your constant companion, at noon it is a mere aura, at twilight you are closest to
being at one with its dark essence. To be at one with your spiritual essence, you must likewise study it
and understand it, until no one but you has the key to its secrets. Permit no one to enter your private
domain. Guard it jealously."
Elsa Steele's eyes snapped open, and sounds crashed about her like waves birthed by a sudden squall.
Every dog in the neighbourhood was howling. There were sounds in the hallway. Over the canine wails,
she could hear the echo of marching from the street below. She sprang from the bed fully alert, and
cracked the door open. Ginny, fully dressed, left her room and headed downstairs. Ruth stepped into the
hall with a man Elsa assumed was her husband. She noted the glazed look in Ruth's eyes before she
closed the door to avoid detection. The next sound was unmistakable. The padlock was secured once
again to the outside of her door.
The marching sound intensified. ‘Could it be a terrorist invasion?' she thought. ‘But, why here?' She
slipped on her jacket, buckling its belt and throat protector. Twin daggers were secreted in the zipped
scabbard-like pockets of each sleeve.
She used one of the daggers to pry the plywood from the window. Its removal did little to improve the
view. The window faced the brick wall of the hardware store. She poked her head through the jagged
remnants of the window pane. There was a narrow alleyway between the buildings that could only be
navigated crab-like. Craning her neck, she could see a slivered portion of the main street.
There were no soldiers, but it looked like all of the adult population of Twilight was up and about.
There was no talking and everyone who passed the mouth of the alleyway was walking in step. Elsa
carefully climbed through the shattered window and onto the window ledge. It was a sheer drop to the
concrete below. Removing a length of cord from a zippered pocket, she triggered the stud on the metal
weight attached to one end. Prongs snapped open converting it into a small grappling hook. She tossed it
over the edge of the neighbouring roof, scaled the hardware store wall, and hauled herself onto its tar and
It was eerie as she lay there under the full moon. From her perch, she could hear the wolves joining
the dogs in their terrifying serenade. She suddenly felt very alone. She fingered her earring, as if to assure
herself that it was still there. Her mind was racing. She needed more proof before calling the feds in on
what might turn out to be nothing more than a clandestine town meeting.
Moving to the front of the building, she peered into the street. There were about four hundred people
walking six abreast in a column that stretched the entire length of the town. They were headed back in the
direction of the abandoned brick factory. Unzipping another pocket, she removed a small telescope, and
set it on infrared. She located the smokestack, but it looked different. A mysterious antenna now
telescoped from its crumbling remains.
"Ultrasonics," she whispered to herself. "Hypnotic ultrasonics."
(End of Part One - Check out Part Two posted to this site)