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Still recovering from his frigid brush with death and world destruction, Darnell remained in Britain for a time until he was called back stateside by MCF headquarters to investigate a missing persons concern in a community deep in the bayous of Raceland, Louisiana. Normally, such a case would be handled by local authorities, but MCF had been specially called upon by the parties involved, and "as he had experience," the case was assigned to him. He wasn’t sure what that meant but knew he’d find out soon enough. He arrived to a surprisingly dilapidated plantation-era mansion - clearly ravaged over quite a long time by the swampy environment - where he met with a grief-stricken young woman, Sara Lawson, the brand-new owner of the property along with her husband who had gained it in inheritance. Her husband, Marcus, had gone missing a day or so prior. The last person to see him was the couple's young daughter, Magnolia, who claimed he'd been abducted by a ghost and had since locked herself in her room upstairs, too frightened to come out for any reason. Also, the house was supposedly cursed by the spirit of a pirate captain who had once been active in the region and whose treasure was supposedly hidden somewhere nearby. It seemed that Marcus had believed the tale and even had been in the process of trying to locate the treasure, which may have raised the ire of the spirit guarding it, though Sara herself put little stock in the whole thing.

As Darnell began his investigation in earnest, he found out just how much of an alien he was to the people around him. Local folks required him to do something for them before they'd even give him the time of day, let alone answer questions - gather cleaning supplies or weather-appropriate clothing for working outside in the persistent rain (the extreme, mosquito-filled humidity was almost welcome after the biting cold of not so long ago), gumbo made and delivered to a nearby homestead, a window AC unit fixed, even clearing a clogged toilet. Also, as he went, he discovered more and more about the legend of the pirate captain Phineas Crown who - in addition to having a supposedly buried treasure in the vicinity as well as several vessels in the nearby swamps he'd captured throughout his career buried in the surrounding swamps - had built the house that the Lawsons now occupied. Twice, in fact, after the first structure had been destroyed in a fire, killing thirteen people – his whole crew. Darnell had begun to suspect the Lawsons' new maid, Mary Lee - a local woman who believed in the supernatural and knew more than she let on - until he discovered a small ritual that she had set up that proved to be hoodoo, not the originally suspected voodoo - an effort to protect and help locate Mr. Lawson rather than harm him.

In the depths of the nearby swamps, Darnell came across a hovel and a hermit who made it exceedingly clear that he wanted to be left alone. Gaining access to the hovel anyway - more by accident than design - Darnell inadvertently chased the hermit out the front door and into the bayou, though not before the man dropped a wallet in his haste. On the filthy mattress in the corner, Darnell found notes and sketches of the various strange puzzle mechanisms he’d been finding (and solving) in and around the manor. He also found an elaborate disguise kit on a table. The most surprising find, however, lay in the hermit’s dropped wallet. Darnell found a pair of driver’s licenses with Marcus’s and Sara’s photos, but not their names. Alarmed, he rushed back to the manor to confront Sara, only to find the door to the parlor locked. Eavesdropping on Sara’s telephone conversation, Darnell realized he’d been played for a fool. She was talking to what Darnell was sure was her husband, they were certain Darnell was close to finding Captain Crown’s treasure – it was Crown himself who had erected all the devices, each of which gave up pieces to a treasure map – and she and their daughter would meet him at the clearing deep in the swamp. It was about then that Darnell too received a phone call. A patron at the bar down the street, a local librarian who owed Darnell a favor, had called a buddy of his to research the names on the drivers licenses Darnell had found, and the news wasn’t good. “Marcus and Sara Lawson” were really Dennis and Alice Blanston”, a pair of felons wanted for, among other things, theft, kidnapping, and even murder. Despite Darnell’s new friend’s warning, the detective was obliged to see the case through to the end. He went after Dennis and Alice.

Unfortunately, they got the drop on him, having been expecting him. Even little Magnolia had been in on the scheme the whole time. Dennis gloated that they had researched for someone to figure out the all of the puzzles that had blocked them and found the perfect candidate in the much-lauded Master Detective of MCF. Then he pulled a gun on Darnell, forcing Darnell to finish what he’d started – recover the thirteen skulls that would finally reveal the location of Crown’s pirate treasure. Darnell did so, placing them in Crown’s final puzzle, and to the amazement of them all, more than a dozen two-hundred-year-old sailing vessels rose from the murky waters of the swamp, the nearest one clearly Crown’s pirate ship. With that, Dennis leveled the gun on Darnell once more. Magnolia got in one mocking dig at him before her father finished off Darnell – “Stupid detective. There’s no such thing as ghosts.” Darnell, of course, begged to differ, but before he could react, someone else proved them wrong for him. Crown himself appeared, walking the surface of the watery swamp as he shrieked at them that how dare they disturb him and seek his treasure. Then, he called up the waters of the swamp in a great wave that crashed up over the pier the Blanstons were standing on, somehow sparing Darnell as the little criminal family was washed into the swamp. Darnell tried to save them, but all three quickly disappeared beneath the slimy surface, drowning in the swamp.

Darnell didn't know why he'd been spared, but . . . he climbed aboard Crown's vessel in search of the treasure. It wasn't that he wanted the loot himself, he just couldn't resist the challenge. He had to know, had to just see it for himself! Besides, he had the skulls of over a dozen people in his possession - it didn't seem right not to try to return them to their rightful owners. After exploring Crown's own ship and one of the nearest other ones, Darnell found a crew roster before cracking the code on the door to Crown's captain's cabin, all the while tuning out Crown's ghostly promises of permanent pain and imprisonment in the bayous for pursuing the hunt. The Master Detective at last laid eyes on the fabulous treasure as well as a long table where sat the ghost of Crown, attended by that tatter-clothed, headless remains of thirteen others. Using a ship's roster he found in his searches, Darnell returned the thirteen skulls to their rightful owners, at which point he was backpedaling hastily as the spirits of his wronged crew took vicious vengeance on Captain Crown, destroying him. Darnell made haste not only off the condemned ship but completely out of the bayou.
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Special Agent Darnell Barrett, Master Detective

August 2017

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