The Great Clockmaker
Sam was still trying to make sense of everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. Her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. She had nearly nodded off during roll call but somehow managed to make it through.
Later in the morning, she had sat in her cruiser just down the block from Mama Kaiser’s Bakery. She tried to work up the courage to go in, to pretend that everything was normal… but there was no way in hell she could actually do that. After fifteen minutes she had finally left without getting her morning coffee.
While patrolling, her foster mom called three times, but Sam wasn’t ready to talk to her yet. She listened carefully to the radio, convinced that at any moment a call would come through that something had been discovered at the Myers property, something that would implicate her in Nina’s disappearance… or worse, that Nina’s body would be found at the lake.
Close to noon, Sam was called out to a crime scene in Hard Knox, on Langenkamp Lane, two streets away from the church where the John Doe had been found. Three other uniformed officers were already at the location when Sam arrived at the address—it was a rub and tug massage parlor up until a month ago when the place was busted for prostitution.
Barnes’ SUV was there. No crime scene tape had been put up yet and CSI hadn’t arrived. Sam exited her vehicle, said hello to the officers and walked inside, through the waiting room and into a hall with rooms on either side. Barnes was standing near the end of the passage, writing notes on a small pad. Sam walked toward him, glancing inside the rooms as she passed, doing her best to maintain composure.
In each room the ceiling had been knocked out, opened up to expose the beams above. From those beams hung chains and at the ends of the chains, manacles. Blood stains painted the walls and dark patches had pooled on the floors. The carnage was the same for all rooms, six in total.
What the hell happened here?
Barnes looked up as she drew near. “Oh hey.”
“What is all this?” Sam asked.
“Good question. Lots of blood in each room. Some arterial spray, some gravitational droplets, puddles…”
Sam looked to her feet, then back down the hall.
“But hardly any blood in the hall.”
“Yeah, weird huh? Gorsky still thinks it’s some Satan-worshipping cult. By the way, thought you might want to know a couple things: first off, the lab confirmed the bullets from that rifle recovered at the Rest-In to be silver. The rifle itself was untraceable.”
Barnes fell silent and jotted another note in his pad.
“And the second thing?” Sam asked.
“Hm? Oh yeah, Jacob Foster, the rifleman who was killed at the Rest-In, I told you he worked at Swayze’s Roadhouse, right? Well anyway I talked to the staff there. One waitress…” Barnes checked his notes, “a Tina Gray, said Foster was on his break in the back and she went out there to grab a smoke. She saw Jacob talking to some other guy. When Foster and the other guy saw her, the other guy left in a hurry. Suspicious, right? I’m thinking maybe the other guy was his partner, the one who got away.”
Sam’s throat tightened. “Did she recognize the other guy?”
Still absorbed in his notepad, Barnes didn’t answer right away. Sam waited anxiously until Barnes said, “Yeah, oh yeah. She said it was that mechanic guy… Elias, I think the name was.”
Sam stood at Elias’s window, looking out for any signs of surveillance, just to be sure. “Barnes said you’re a person of interest. I’d expect him to stop by tomorrow.”
“What you found, at that massage parlor, was a turning ground.”
Satisfied that they weren’t being watched, Sam faced Elias. He was sitting on the bed pulling on thick socks. There were holes in the toes. He wore a shirt that may have at one time been white. It was ripped and stained to various shades of gray. His pants were corduroy, also ripped and stained. Sam had to admit, he made a pretty convincing homeless person.
“A what?” she asked as she went and sat on the couch. She was wearing his clothes again, but this time, a pair of his “disguise clothes”—tattered and soiled, similar to what he wore now. They would both be going to walk among the vagrants tonight. Elias had balked at first, but Sam wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“A turning ground,” Elias repeated. “Last night, while you were… with Nina, Kronin and others of his kind were chained inside that abandoned parlor. There are humans who are loyal to the Infernum Cane, who are not hounds themselves. After those who were chained turned, those faithful would have brought in the aspirants…”
“Humans who are ready to become Infernum Cane. Those humans are bitten by the captive hell hounds so that on the next full moon—”
“They’ll turn,” Sam said. In her head, she started doing the math: six rooms… how many “aspirants” were bitten in each room? How many of those things would be out there in just under a month? And what if Elias hadn’t broken off pursuing Kronin to go after Nina? Could he have stopped them?
“The faithful would have allowed the hounds to bite the aspirants… probably used a cattle prod to get them to let go, then bandaged the wounds.”
That was why there was almost no blood in the hall.
Elias grabbed an old coffee can and sat back on the bed. “Get a chair,” he said. Sam took the nearby chair and sat so their knees were nearly touching. He reached into the coffee can and scooped up a muddy glob with his fingers.
“My own concoction,” he said. “A little soil, a little mud. You and I are still way too clean to pass for homeless.” He began spreading the mixture on Sam’s face. Actually, it didn’t feel that bad; kind of like a mud mask. “Are you okay?” Elias asked. “You didn’t say much this morning.”
“I’m still… trying to wrap my head around all of this. Doesn’t it seem crazy to you?”
Elias shrugged. “I believe in God, I believe in the devil. The rest isn’t so hard to swallow.” He continued, wiping muck on her forehead. She gazed into his eyes. They really were beautiful. Stern and yet serene at the same time.
“Okay, now you do me,” he said.
Elias held up the coffee can.
“Oh! Oh yes of course. Sure…” she took the can, thankful that the dirt covered the red that had risen in her cheeks. She dipped her fingers in and leaned forward, tracing the contours of Elias’s rugged face.
“What’s the meaning of your tattoo?” she asked. “The one on your back. The watch with the universe inside?”
Elias was quiet for a moment. “God is the great clockmaker,” he said at last. “He created this universe, wound it up and let it go…” Elias held up his grimy hand, pinched the fingers to his thumb and then spread them. “And then he just disappeared. I don’t believe, like some do, that God intervenes on our behalf. I believe we’re left to fend for ourselves.”
Sam frowned. So that was the grand plan? God creates everything and then just bugs out? In some ways that felt terrible… in others, not so bad, really. She liked being the one in charge of her destiny.
“So if those things come after us you don’t think God or some angel will swoop in and save us?” Sam asked half-jokingly.
Shaking his head Elias said “God won’t protect you, Sam…” he smiled and put his palm to her cheek. “But I will.”
Elias leaned in at the same time Sam did. Their lips met and parted, their tongues explored. A rush of emotion and warmth flooded through Sam. But when Elias put his hand on her knee, Sam pulled away.
“I… I shouldn’t have,” Elias said.
“No, it’s okay,” Sam replied. “It’s just… I can’t relax, I can’t be comfortable…”
She stood, returned the chair to the table and picked up the Desert Eagle that had lain atop it. She thought of the Turning Ground. She didn’t think of the apocalypse, because she still didn’t believe in it… but she thought of those who were bitten and might kill innocents, all because of him.
“I can’t be comfortable until we track down Kronin.”