Sam hadn’t been able to get the image out of her mind: the flaming, wailing form, kicking and burning and dying right before her eyes.
She lay in her bed, replaying the encounter over and over as the sun broke through the edges of her curtains.
It had been Sam’s intention to spare the woman; in spite of it all she wanted to believe that some of these “Hell hounds” could be saved. But when she had given the woman a chance…
The vagrant had said “I promised my soul.” So… once a soul was pledged to the “Dark One,” it seemed there was no turning back. And this Dark One… was he truly the horned, hooved Satan of the bible? Sam still wasn’t so sure. But why?
Because if you accept the Devil’s existence, it means that logically you should at least consider believing in God.
Maybe. But whatever the case, one thing was imminently clear: a very powerful, malevolent force was at work. And once the Hell Hounds pledged themselves to it, they were lost one way or the other.
As Mister Perkins yawned and jumped off the bed, Sam’s cell phone vibrated against the top of her nightstand—two short buzzes indicating a text.
Sam retrieved her phone and read: “Meet me at 316 Henriksen. 4 o’clock.”
The message was from Detective Barnes.
316 Henriksen was a mid-sized farmhouse in the county. Barnes’s vehicle, a black Ford Explorer, was parked to one side of the dirt driveway. The detective leaned against the left front quarter panel eating a granola bar as Sam pulled in.
She parked behind him, and as she exited the vehicle he said “Hey, sorry to hear about the suspension but there was something here I thought you might want to see…”
Tossing the granola wrapper through the Explorer’s window, Barnes turned away, said “follow me,” and struck off around the side of the property.
With a building sense of unease, Sam followed.
Barnes led her through an uneven path in the trees, down a slope where the foliage was nearly thick enough to blot out the sky.
Sam thought of the direction they were walking, of what lay beyond these woods, and fresh waves of anxiety rolled over her entire body.
No no no no no…
At the edge of the treeline, Barnes stepped out into the sunlight slanting in from the east even as a misty rain began to fall. Sam followed to see…
Out on the water was a small boat. On land, near the jetty, a diver was removing his wetsuit. There were a handful of uniformed police along the shore, a couple CSIs and the coroner, Stacy Getz. She was standing near a soaking wet, sheet-wrapped corpse.
Sam’s heart leaped into her throat.
The chains lay nearby, coiled like steel serpents. Next to them were the cinderblocks Elias had used to weight the body.
“Some teenagers were messing around by the jetty here,” Barnes was saying as he led Sam toward the corpse. “One girl dropped her cell phone off the edge and her chivalrous boyfriend decided to dive in after it. You’ll never guess what he found…”
The light rain grew heavier. Barnes walked up to the bundle, standing across from Stacy, looking down. At the top, he sheet had been pulled away to reveal a cadaverous head. The long, black hair had fallen out in chunks and the paper-like skin had begun to peel away in places to reveal even paler tissue beneath.
“Gonna be harder to get time of death on this one,” the coroner said. She kneeled down and turned the head, revealing a hole in its side. “We do have a candidate for cause of death, though— gunshot wound to the head.”
“Why are you showing me this?” Sam asked, looking at Barnes, hoping that her face didn’t reveal the anxious dread that slowly crawled over her.
“Well I’ve got a guess as to who this is,” Barnes said. “I think it might be that Nina girl Mama Kaiser reported missing. And I remembered the guys at the station telling me that Mama Kaiser had freaked out a little on you, saying that you knew Nina…” Barnes’ eyes, as usual, searched Sam’s face, burrowing into her, digging, seeking… “Anyway I thought maybe you could identify her, before I drag the old Frau to the morgue.”
That’s not why. You brought me out here without telling me where exactly I was meeting you… because you wanted to shake me up. You want to get inside my head because you know… you know that I’m involved but you don’t know everything; not yet.
Sam swallowed, looked down at the body, and tried her best to appear composed. “It’s hard to tell,” she said. “I can’t say for sure one way or the other.”
Barnes groaned and got down on one knee, looking at the body more closely. “If this is Nina, she worked for Mama Kaiser and Kaiser worked with the homeless. So I wonder… what do you think the odds are we’ll find one o’ them cross-engraved bullets in this girl’s head, like the ones that freak-job Elias used?”
It was all Sam could do not to pounce on Barnes.
He’s doing this on purpose. He’s fishing for a reaction. Don’t give him one.
Barnes was looking up at Sam, watching her closely. The rain had begun to fall more heavily now. “Crap,” he said. “Sorry… I forgot for a second that you and Elias were close. Close enough that if he was the shooter maybe you’d know something about it.”
Just walk away.
“Sorry I can’t help you, detective. Now if you’ll excuse me…” Sam pulled up the hood of her jacket and turned back toward the treeline. “I’m done wasting my time.”