One Step Closer
During her time at Uncle Brewin’s bedside, Sam had held his hand and asked in low tones if he could hear her; an enquiry answered only by the old man’s wheezing, strained breaths. The nurse had said that he had awoken earlier in the day and asked for her but once again Sam had missed an opportunity to converse with him.
And there may not be many more opportunities left. The cancer had now spread to his brain. The doctor wasn’t sure how much time Brewin still had, but he had been honest in telling her that it wasn’t much. There was also a chance that his periods of lucidity would diminish further, or disappear altogether.
The beeping of the heart rate monitor reminded Sam of the last time she had visited him in the hospital, when the ECG had sped up in reaction to her mentioning “eclipse.” She remembered also Brewin borrowing her phone and—she later found out—looking up the lunar cycle.
He knew. He knew about the Hell Hounds.
And was that why he had wanted to meet with her “tomorrow or the day after”—before the full moon… had he wanted to warn her?
If so, how did he know about the Infernum Cane? And what did that have to do with eclipse?
Sam had left the hospital with—as usual—more questions than answers.
That had been last night. Elias had called, but she had been in no mood to spend time with anyone. They did talk about Barnes’ visit. Elias didn’t seem particularly concerned. Sam got the sense that the mechanic was no stranger to police scrutiny. He had never been imprisoned as far as she knew, so he must have been good at concealing the truth; good at covering up what he didn’t want others to know. Maybe it came natural to him…
It was, however, something that did not come naturally to Sam. Which was part of why she was sitting in Captain Hoskins’ office listening to him tell her that she should see the police psychologist.
“You’ve seemed… off, lately, that’s all. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed it. So I want you to spend some time with Natalie this afternoon. She’s great, you’ll like her.”
“Everything’s okay, really—” Sam protested. Hoskins held up a hand.
“You’ve been through a lot in the last several weeks. More than most officers who’ve been on the force ten times as long. There’s no shame in talking to a professional about it.”
It was clear from the way Hoskins was presenting it that this was not a request.
Natalie Vanderbeek’s office was just a few blocks from the station, on the second floor with a window looking out at snowcapped Mount Baker. Sam sat on a loveseat across from Natalie in a padded chair. The two had been chatting for about twenty minutes. “What made you want to become a police officer?” the psychologist asked.
Sam thought about this as the other woman waited. Natalie was a heavyset thirty-something with bright blue eyes and wavy golden hair. She was eyeing Sam with an unreadable expression, but this did nothing to alleviate the fact that Sam felt like she was being judged.
It didn’t matter; if this was some kind of test, Sam wanted to pass. And so, in an effort to answer the question, she thought back… she had wanted to be a cop for as long as she could remember. But there wasn’t one single thing she could point to.
“Oftentimes men and women join the force because someone in their family served,” Natalie offered.
Sam shook her head. “My dad was a… an accountant. Mom was a stay at home Mom. Before the accident. Before they died.” A dull, throbbing pain had worked its way deep into Sam’s temples.
“Did you have any other family?”
The pain intensified. Sam rubbed the side of her head. “No. After the accident I… I went into foster care. My foster dad was a long haul trucker. My foster mom Kathy stayed at home.”
“What’s the happiest memory you have, of the time you spent with your birth parents?”
“I…” that pain was suddenly a burning needle lancing through her skull. She tried desperately to remember, but the only images that came to mind were like projections on a movie screen. Her and her parents at a park, gathered around the Christmas tree…
And then there was a flash: It was dark. Sam was running from something, something that frightened her to her core. There were teeth, gleaming in moonlight.
As quickly as they had come, the images were gone, replaced by the home-movies…
“Christmas,” Sam answered finally. “My favorite memories are of Christmas.”
Natalie smiled. Shutting her eyes, Sam tried to relax, hoping it might ease the migraine.
“I wanted to ask you about something,” Natalie said. “I understand that you were at an accident scene yesterday. A homeless woman approached you, words were exchanged and you told the woman that you knew ‘what’ she was…”
So that was part of why Sam was here… the irate woman from the fender bender had apparently taken exception to the way Sam treated the deformed vagrant and had voiced her discontent to Sam’s superiors.
“That’s incorrect,” Sam said. “I simply asked her to keep her distance.”
Natalie wrote something on a pad. “The person who witnessed this was very specific.”
“I said she was mistaken,” Sam insisted. Natalie’s eyebrows lifted slightly. She wrote something else on her pad. The pounding in Sam’s head was like a marching band parading through her skull.
“Okay,” Natalie said. “How have you been sleeping?”
“Just fine,” Sam said, worried that it sounded like a lie even to her. It didn’t matter. Sam’s head felt like it was about to explode, and there were only two more minutes left in their session. Sam asked if she could be excused.
Natalie gave her an appraising look, then finally smiled and said “of course.”
Late that afternoon Sam arrived at her small home and was greeted with a brand-new windshield, leaning against the wall next to her front door.
There was a note on it that said “let me install this for you tomorrow?” Despite her crappy day, Sam smiled. She walked out to her mailbox and retrieved a manila envelope. It was from the Department of Social Services.
Her juvenile records.
Mister Perkins met her just inside the door, rubbing against her leg as she flipped on the lamp and hung her jacket. On the half wall separating the foyer from her tiny kitchen, a light was blinking on her phone, alerting her that she had a message. She hit “play” and heard Captain Hoskins’ voice:
“Detective Cain, it’s Captain Hoskins. In light of everything that’s been going on these past months, and based on your session with Miss Vanderbeek, I think it’s best if you take a little time off… not a big deal I just want you to get some rest. No need to come in tomorrow. Take the next five days to recharge and we’ll talk more when you get back.”
A pleasant voice announced “end of messages” as Sam threw the manila envelope onto the fold-out table in the kitchen and plopped down in one of its accompanying metal chairs. She pounded the table top with her fist. Hoskins had told her to take the rest of the day off after the session, but this… how? Why? All this time, all the hard work she had put in to make a good impression…
Placing her elbows on the table, Sam leaned forward, resting her face in her palms.
Unraveling. It felt like her whole world was unraveling.
She made a mental note to call her guild rep tomorrow. This wasn’t fair.
Mister Perkins hopped up into her lap. Sam wiped at her face and looked at the envelope. With a long sigh she reached out and opened it.
There was a stack of papers. She flipped through them, looking for notes from her social worker prior to the time she went into foster care—she wanted the name of the man from her nightmare about the hospital.
The hospital… where she’d stayed after the car accident in which her parents had died. She hadn’t been able to remember the name of it.
Finally she found some notes from the social worker who had been with her during foster placement. She was a sweet old lady who had been nearing retirement. A couple years ago Sam had learned that she passed away from a heart attack. She felt a pang of sorrow now, looking over the old woman’s notes. In the handwritten documents she did briefly mention the hospital—
Fairfield. That was it. Fairfield Hospital, Fairfield Montana.
But there was nothing else in the records about the hospital. Nothing from before her time in foster care. Where was the rest of it?
Sam put the papers down and considered. What about her medical records? The hospital would have to have a file. Sam was still convinced that “eclipse” and all the mystery surrounding it was somehow connected to her life right around the time of the accident.
Glancing at her cell phone, Sam saw that it was still fifteen til five. She decided to call and request her doctor’s name and medical history. Her online searches for Fairfield Hospital, however, came up empty.
So… she decided to contact the city directly. After a series of calls that yielded nothing but answering machines, she actually got through to an old woman in the Public Works Department. When she asked about Fairfield, however, she was met with confused silence.
“You mean our emergency clinic?” the woman asked.
“No I mean an actual hospital.”
More silence. Then: “You mean old Sutter Cane Memorial?”
Sam’s heart skipped a beat. She was on her house phone, so she used her cell phone to go into her notes and look at what she had written the night she had visited Uncle Brewin at his house… when he had been under the influence of the morphine and thought he was talking to “Craig.”
Brewin had said: “I’ll see you tomorrow at Sutter.”
“Used to be a VA hospital,” the woman continued. “Til they rebuilt over in Stanford. The government shut it down soon after and it’s been closed ever since.”
Sam was silent, processing. The woman asked if she was still there. Sam thanked her and ended the call, her head spinning.
Why write the name of the hospital as Fairfield if it was Sutter Cane Memorial? And why would she be at a VA hospital? And what would Brewin have been doing there? The old woman must have been mistaken…
But what if she wasn’t?
Sam looked once again at her note, “Sutter…”
And couldn’t help but feel that she was one step closer to the truth.