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Alas, Thanksgiving is here, and I can't leave without an update. This is a big one and we return to Americana with the ROADHOUSE storyline (which will soon be retitled, HUNTER'S CABIN) with Wynn "Big Game" Hunter aka The Huntsman along with a couple more characters, The Autodidact and The Gospeler, so thank you for sticking this one out this late into the month. We also return to the story-driven narrative with mention to the Doe Patrol and their investigation of the spate of disappearances and the rabbit hole of horrors they have uncovered.
As we begin our seasonal holidays starting with Halloween, then on to Thanksgiving and Christmas up to the New Year, we wish you the best of "dining" experiences with a cheeky evil grin, and the usual sign-off... bon appétit!
HUNTER'S CABINETTES: An Interview with The Autodidact
So, this was the place?
Yeah. This used to be the Hunter's Cabin flagship franchise back in the 70's. This one here closed sometime in '92, if memory serves me right and unused since then as you can clearly see here. I can guarantee, rat pellets on bird poo sauce ain't on the menu back then.
Yeah. That's gross.
You haven't seen nothing yet, kid. Life as a crime scene cleaner will harden your gut I can tell you that. Imagine that. First, starting out in the kitchen as a line cook, roastin' up dead bodies into mouth-watering ribs and roasts, then ending up cleaning up putrefied dead bodies of the human variety so gross you'd swear off food ten lifetimes over. It may be a hog, sow, man or woman, bodies are still bodies. Muscle, blood, sinew and bone.
Now that you put it like that, it's kind of ironic.
We had the most gorgeous waitresses wearing trademark tight white-lined red dolphin shorts to make up for Hunter's overpriced ribs. Our girls were called Hunter's Cabinettes. Got a nice ring to it, eh? We were Hooters before Hooters and I'd thought the franchise would stay strong till today. We had the better ribs, the better gals, we had a joke back then that Hooters had the boobs, but we had the drumsticks. But somehow everything changed. I was long out of the gig by then working for the Virginia PD, but I heard through the grapevine that it had something to do with the business partners that it all went south. Maybe Wynn and his partner ran across some shady business that closed the doors for good. You know, it wasn't the first time that the Cabin had run into some financial trouble?
What do you mean?
So, back in the 60's, the boss made a small fortune in real estate, antiques, and also through his hobby, hunting. Selling hunting supplies, taxidermy all that sort of thing. And he loved collecting. He would make bank in the antique auction market, too. With a bit of that fortune, he started out the Hunter's Roadhouse over here in the mid to early 70's. It did alright at first. Looking back, I gotta admit he was generous to a fault. Working at the Roadhouse was probably one of the best gigs you could have in Virginia Beach. He paid us well good money to his staff, but in the end, I'm sure he ran his savings into the ground. He started to sell off his antiques, even his favorite ones too to keep the Roadhouse open, but it got to the point that he was hinting at layoffs. I don't rightly know why business didn't take off, I mean, he really did have the best ribs that side of town, but I'm guessing Wynn wasn't too much of a marketing genius back then. Then through his best bud, Mike the preacher, he was introduced to some new business partners. Men in suits, international, government' lookin types, and I mean like CIA. We're talking big shots. Big money. Hell, one of them you'd know today as that big shot magician who owns a bunch of casinos in Vegas.
Then, overnight, the whole place rebranded. That was around fall of '75. New investments came floodin' in... and that's when the boss changed the name to the Hunter's Cabin. Just like that, the whole place changed, from the brink of bankruptcy, to being the best barbecue joint east of the Rockies. There was a huge renovation in winter that year. You could see we bought up the neighboring establishments, then tore up the whole place up and by the start of the following year, we were back in business. We had VIP rooms, this big old black sculpture of a bull's head, we had kitchens three times the size as the old place, and the waitresses became the "Cabinettes". We kept our generous salaries, and times were good in the beginning.
At least for the next fifteen years.
Haaa..., yes. But it was this intervening fifteen years which were why you came to me, isn't it?
Yes. How much did you know about Judy and her disappearance?
Judy was the first. Yes. But let me say this first. After '76, the clientele began to change. It's only normal when you begin charging folk twice the price of other barbecue joints. Men in suits started coming, some were just rich folk just passing through, others, though not many were a lot shadier. Then the employee makeup started changing too. The new investors brought in their own crowd, bodyguards, bouncers, managers and the like who give me the creeps. You could say the staff turnover of this place got me a little worried. Colleagues who were my friends left and were replaced by strangers. Some of us were fired for being a little too curious especially when it came to the VIP rooms and the basement which were all off-limits. I just had a gut feeling seeing how the new bosses looked at her and the other gals, you know that look, as if they were merchandise? Take some of those seafood restaurants you have back at the Beach, especially the Asian ones, you had the fish or crustaceans on display, and the diners eyes would go wide as saucers seeing how huge and impressive those creatures were and how they were going to end up on their table? Yeah.
These men had that sort of look and I started to see Wynn changed too. I mean, he always had a soft spot for the young pretty gals, I mean, who isn't, but the way he looked at them stopped being that playful dirty old man into something more... predatory. So that's how they started ogling the Cabinettes like Judy. As a line cook, I take a time or two looking out at the clientele, and I see things the Cabinettes didn't notice, you know? I raised the issue with Judy and the others girls, but the money was too good to quit.
Then when Judy disappeared, I was half convinced that the bosses pointed the cops at my direction and were too ready to pin her disappearance on me, seeing that they knew we had a thing. But the cops strangely enough left me alone then people started forgetting about Judy, even her family. Seeing that she had worked at the Cabin, Wynn & Preacher Mike took care of her parents, helped to put the word out with missing persons posters and community outreach with the local PD. They pushed the idea that being a Cabinette meant you were family. But you see, a couple of years passed, and well... more of the gals started going missing again. I know most of the cases didn't end up on the crime blotter, but if you dig deeper, you'll find that some of these cases were chalked down to being runaways, running off with a mysterious "boyfriend", some convenient suicide by jumping off a river with their bodies never to be recovered again. It's like the bosses learned their lessons from Judy and the circus that it brought and started cleaning up their methods.
Get this, every holiday season since '76 up until the place closed in '92, Hunter's Cabin would release the Hunter's Cabinette Annual, featuring twelve of our hottest ladies on the calendar, Judy was on it the first year... and I swear to you, for every year, you'll find at least one of the girls would be unaccounted for if you did enough digging. Three here at the Virginia Beach location for the first three years, and when the franchise expanded nationwide at other Cabins. There were even rumors that we were dealing with a serial killer among our patronage stalking the Cabinettes. Preacher Mike was a fire and brimstone sort of fella, railing on about Satanists in our midst. Use your imagination to what happened to those girls, and maybe the truth may not be too far off from Preacher Mike's sermons. Things were undoubtedly, interesting back then. Some of the gals who were easily spooked quit, but the money was good, so most of the level-headed ones stuck around. But even after a while, I felt the boss give me a look, you know, the kind of look that made you uneasy like you were about to rat them out to the feds when I started asking more questions, so I left. I was probably the last of the original staff to leave the place. I said I had taken up a job with my cousin who had a crime scene cleaning business for the local PD, which was actually true, and the rest was history, I suppose.
Yeah. I suppose too. What a life you lead. Well. Thanks for the tour. I never quite thanked you for meeting us out so far away from Arizona.
Believe you me, I want to tie some loose ends myself, and we're talking decades of a mystery left unsolved. I know. I worked for the force and there are a lot of cases that go unsolved.
Yeah, about that. That's one thing I don't quite get. I mean, from your story, you sound like you had every reason to be suspicious of the police, but ended up working for them in the end.
Yeah. Well. Interesting point you made there. You'll make one hell of a detective if not the freelance muckraker you already are. You found that old newspaper clipping, you found Judy and the other girls, heck, you found me and I try to stay out of the picture. But to answer your questions, I can only put it simply... I was never one to read textbooks and sit still in class. What I learned, I learned through practical means. You could say I've drifted most my entire life and when the opportunity arose, I took whatever job was presented to me and then I learned on my own. Someone smart gave a word for this. An Autodidact? I like the sound of that big word, like I'm some ancient Roman senator. But to put it simply... my cousin needed an assistant with his forensics cleaning business, and well, where better to stay away from the cops gunsights if you're actually in the same building sharing the same donuts and coffee?
Now that you put it that way.
--- to be continued ? ---