Chapter 8: The work of women
Elderton turned off her sirens as she approached the home of Leonard and Martha Hampton. Their small house had been built in the early 1900s and needed major renovations, but it was impossible on Leonard’s factory job and attitude towards a little thing he called women’s work.
A staunch Christian, Leonard had commanded rather harshly one evening eight months prior that Martha quit the cashier job she’d taken at Aldi to help the family. She was working during the days, when the kids were at school, and being a dutiful housewife and mother all other times of the day and weekends. Elderton had taken that call personally, and found an agitated Leonard breathing heavy and quoting scripture at his wife outside Aldi in the parking lot. The Aldi personnel had taken him out of the building when he came in fuming and hit her repeatedly while she was trying to check out someone at her register.
Elderton could see she’d taken a beating as she yelled at him from the automatic doors, which kept opening and closing in confusion while several employees tried to hold her back from getting near him. Elderton recalled how Martha wasn’t mad but rather upset and trying to explain to her angry husband why it was okay for her to take a job. She was in tears.
Elderton didn’t waste any time when she arrived at Aldi that day slamming Leonard into the hood of her patrol car and handcuffing him. She gladly shoved him into the back and took him off to the station. A tearful Martha would later pay his bail, reassuring him all the while that she had quit the job and acknowledging it was a lapse in faith. They hugged and kissed. And prayed.
Elderton wanted to toss the bail money and put him back in jail that day.
She didn’t know what to expect when she pulled into their driveway, but she knew what Leonard Hampton was like sober. She had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that she hadn’t seen the worst of Leonard.
Elderton stepped a firm boot out of her patrol car. She loosened the fastener around her nine-millimeter pistol and pulled it from the holster. Holding it firmly in both hands, she kept the barrel aimed down to the ground. The safety still on.
She gently closed the door, but not to latch. Slowly and carefully she crept through their yard, ears alert for any signs of life.
She had to dodge children’s toys and bicycles as she made the way to the front stoop. Some toys looked like they hadn’t been moved in a long time from the yard, splattered with grass clippings and dirt. She stepped up the porch of the old home, the wood creaking loudly as she reached the door. She knocked loudly on the screen door, the door itself was open. She could see light shining from underneath what she assumed was the bathroom door where Martha had called from. The door was past a staircase that went to the second story and at the end of the hallway. It appeared the only light on in the house was in that one room.
She knocked loudly again. “This is the police! This is Sheriff Elderton! I’m going to enter unless you come forward Leonard Hampton, hands raised and behind your head!”
No answer. She could see no signs of movement underneath the bathroom door, and she began to fear the worst for Martha.
“I’m coming in!” She called out and opened the screen door. It made so much racket, her skin crawled and she developed goosebumps on her arms. Once inside, she slowly let the screen door close with her boot. She checked to her left and saw a small kitchen with outdated appliances, yellow linoleum tiles, and a puddle of blood on the floor. She looked to her right and she saw the small living room, the TV running, but just static. The antenna was on the floor, the coffee table was broken, and items from it had fallen onto the floor. Very clearly signs of a struggle.
She leaned into the kitchen and what she saw shook her to the core. The remains of their children were piled in a corner of the kitchen, against the cabinets. They were stacked like a wild dog might do with his latest find of bones and animal carcasses. Some of the remains were noticeably chewed upon, others were missing entirely. There was no sign of an adult’s remains.
Elderton slid back into the hallway, regripping her pistol with her sweaty palms. She glanced up the stairs and didn’t see any signs of anybody lurking at the top. She headed down the hallway, closer and closer to the bathroom door. She wasn’t sure what she would find. Another massacre? Leonard? Martha? At the door, she gave a gentle tap and held her breath.
“Martha, if you’re in there, this is Sheriff Elderton,” she said loud enough to be heard, but gentle enough not to startle her. “I’m here to help.” She didn’t hear anything, but she watched as shadows darted about at the bottom of the door in the light. She stepped back two steps, not sure if it was Leonard about to come out to attack. She readied herself and turned off the safety on the gun. “Martha, if that’s you in there, I need you to confirm before opening that door.”
“Stop talking,” Martha whispered through the door. “He can hear us. He can smell us.”
Elderton stepped back to the door. She lowered her voice, “Is Leonard in the house?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well,” Elderton started, “We need to get you somewhere safe. That’s the priority. I’ll need you to open this door and come outside with me. My patrol car is waiting for us. We’ll go back to the station. He can’t hurt you there.”
“He won’t let me leave.” Martha said. “He wants to eat me. He wants to eat all of us.”
“Martha, you have my word, if we see Leonard, I’ll kill him. He won’t hurt you again.”
There was a silence as Elderton waited for a reply. It came in the form of the bathroom door unlocking and opening to a crack. The light cut like blades into Elderton’s eyes. She had to readjust for the light, and she saw only a fraction of Martha’s face. She could see an eye that was red and swollen from crying. Her cheek was scratched open in long, vertical lines.
“I’m ready,” Martha said.
Elderton simply nodded to her in understanding.
Martha opened the door just enough for her to slip her malnourished body through it. She slid in behind Elderton and wrapped her arms around her waist, trembling. Elderton took one hand and held onto one of Martha’s hands. They slowly moved up the hallway, Elderton keeping her aim shoulder level as they headed for the door to the house.
“Hold,” Elderton whispered. She stopped them at the side of the stairs. She looked up the worn wooden railing. Still no sign of Leonard. They moved forward a few more steps. Elderton peered to her right, into the kitchen. No sign of Leonard. She started to turn to her left to check the living room, but before she could get her head turned around Martha was screaming in her ear.
Elderton wrapped her left arm around the back of Martha and pivoted the two of them away from the stairs, trying to get herself positioned in front and Martha protected. Before she could finish the move, Leonard had leapt from the stairs and tackled them to the ground. Elderton’s pistol whipped Leonard in the forehead while she pushed Martha away with her other hand into the kitchen. Leonard climbed up on top of Elderton, hugging her into a tight grip around her shoulders. They came face-to-face, his eyes were crazed, and he drooled on her face a mixture of saliva and blood. Behind them, Martha was screaming continuously. Elderton continued to squirm beneath his grasp. She writhed and squirmed, trying to free up her gun hand, but he had a tight grip on her.
“Leonard Hampton, I will use lethal force if you don’t get off me!” she yelled in his face, but he didn’t seem to understand. He smelled the shampoo fragrance in her hair, and began to lick her hair, but got it caught on his tongue and it began to stick to her face. She tried to turn the gun in her hand until she was certain the barrel was positioned against his leg. She felt it nudge him, and he snarled at her. It was now or never.
She pulled the trigger.
Martha continued to scream.
Leonard rolled across the floor, he rubbed at a gunshot wound in his upper thigh. He was kicking and squirming, hissing and growling. Elderton sat up quick, not sure how much time she had just bought herself, and she took two quick shots. The first one hit his left shoulder, the second went through his left eye and out the back of his head. It lodged into the wood railing of the stairs.
Martha was still screaming hysterically.
Elderton watched Leonard for a moment for any signs of life. She moved in and checked his pulse. Dead. She looked up and saw that Martha was standing in the kitchen, screaming not because of what had just happened, but because she had just rediscovered the remains of her children.
“Don’t look!” Elderton yelled. She jumped and ran to Martha. Elderton put the gun into her holster, and fastened it. Elderton wrapped an arm around Martha’s shoulders and muscled her out the front door. Martha didn’t stop screaming until they had passed the Dollar General, a good five minutes down the road.
Elderton noted that the glass windows had been smashed out. The lights were still on inside, but she couldn’t see anyone inside as she passed. She grabbed her radio.
“Wendy, this is Elderton,” she said, “Come in.” No answer. “Wendy, this is Elderton, please come in.” She only got static as she waited for a response. She switched frequencies on the radio, and pressed the button down, “Marvin, this is Elderton, pick up.” Silence. “Marvin, pick up.” After a moment of more static, she tried the police station again. Frustrated she slammed the radio down. She looked over at Martha who looked horrified and confused.
“What’s going on?” Martha asked.
“I’m working on that, Martha,” she said as she grabbed Martha’s hand and squeezed it tight, “I’m working on that.”
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