The smell of chocolate made Sam’s mouth water.
She had started her shift just under two hours ago, but her purpose for being at the German bakery on Elm Street was work related: Mama Keiser, the old lady who ran the establishment, was known for handing out baked apples to the homeless. Sam told Kaiser and her young assistant Nina about the man she had seen–hooded coat, scarf, sweats—and asked if they had seen him… prompting the girl to simply shake her head, and the old woman to point out in her thick accent that Sam had just described almost every homeless man in Washington State.
Sam had to admit, the woman had a point. But, the bakery was only a few blocks away from the church where the body was found, so who knew? Maybe Raggedy Man had been through here, or would come by in the future. And if not… purchasing a slice of Black Forest cake ensured that the trip wouldn’t be a total waste. Who said cops always ate donuts? Coffee, however… coffee was most assuredly a police department staple. Especially in Washington. And after she had set up shop a few months ago, Mama Kaiser proved that she could brew some of the best coffee in town.
The gray-haired Frau was in the process of filling Sam’s thermos at the back counter, something she did for the price of a large cup, while Sam stood in front of the register and reflected on her earlier phone conversation with Barnes.
He wanted to meet with her tomorrow before her shift. Of course he did… most likely he had a lot of questions regarding any possible connection between Sam and Raggedy Man— or the “Eclipse Killer” as the guys in the bureau were calling him. That was all well and good, after all Sam had those same questions herself, but she wouldn’t have much in the way of answers for Bill Barnes. Still, it was possible their chat would spark something useful.
His theory that the killer left the message for her made sense… especially given her nightmare, but of course Barnes didn’t know about the dream and Sam still had no idea what the word “eclipse” could possibly be referring to.
At the shop’s side counter, Nina was boxing a slice of cake. She was a mere slip of a girl, with stringy brown hair and darting eyes. Sam had wondered if she was related to Kaiser but had never gotten around to asking.
“I will make sure and call department if I see something suspicious,” Mama Kaiser said, her back still turned as she screwed the lid on the now-full thermos. Nina walked over, setting the cake box on the counter next to the cash register. Her dark eyes glanced past Sam’s left shoulder toward the front of the shop, and widened.
And saw him.
He was there just beyond the storefront window, lurking in the gloomy half-light of dusk, arms held slightly out to his sides, face covered by the scarf and hood. The inside fluorescents cast just enough light through the window to reveal his darkly-stained coat sleeves and gloves.
The figure held perfectly still for a heartbeat, then took off.
As Mama Kaiser turned around with the thermos, Sam was already on her way out the door…
Running at a dead sprint, chasing the fleeing form around a corner, down a side street, then over to the adjacent corner. She hit the talk button on her shoulder mic:
“Blackrock, echo six,” she blurted between breaths. “Foot pursuit of suspect, corner of… Canyon and Slate. Think it’s the same, from the church…”
“Copy, echo six,” dispatch replied as the man sped through a missing section of chain link fence, darting behind its shredded mesh and into Slate’s homeless camp.
The vacant lot had once been the site of the Slate Theater. After the building was demolished five years ago, vagrants had begun squatting there. Sam bolted through the fence opening and into the camp proper. Men and women in thick clothing warmed their hands over blazing barrel fires. Others sat on milk crates, slept under threadbare blankets or huddled inside patched-together tents and lean-tos. A haze of smoke leant the entire scene a dream-like quality.
Sam unsnapped her holster cover and drew her weapon as she scanned the crowd. A child in a soot-covered parka met her eyes and pointed in the same direction she was walking. On her left side, an old black woman sat in front of a small fire inside a gutted microwave. On Sam’s right she passed a thickly bearded man with a drifting right eye and some kind of knobby growth jutting from the left side of his head, nearly poking through his grimy knit cap. Under a ripped pea coat he wore a green sweater with a yellow smiley face. His left eye was gazing in Sam’s direction as he proclaimed in a low, hoarse voice:
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads…”
Removing her mag light and hurrying on, Sam continued scanning, passing more transients, shopping carts, clotheslines. She paused to look inside tents… all the while the booming voice continued:
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast…”
Sam heard a metallic crash just past a shredded hanging tarp near the back of the lot. She ran, yanked the material aside…
And saw an overturned shopping cart, a plump old lady on her back, looking in the direction of a gap in the fence. Sam pushed in and leaned through the opening, shining the powerful mag beam in all directions, down the streets and alleys outside the camp, but there was no Raggedy Man to be seen. She heard sirens in the distance, but above them, the voice of the man in the smiley-face shirt concluded:
“For it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty six.”