It had taken over an hour for Sam to compose herself after leaving the lake. On top of everything else… why did the body have to be found now? They would identify Nina. And they would dig a silver bullet out of her skull. It would be deformed but it would be silver.
That would connect Elias to Nina. And Sam was connected to both. She would become a prime suspect… but knowing people wasn’t a crime; they would need evidence, a motive, a murder weapon. For now, at least, Sam was safe.
But from here on out, she would have to be very, very careful.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Sam left her house, looking for any signs that she was under surveillance. As she drove, she watched to make sure she wasn’t followed.
The rain drummed steadily as Sam parked, two blocks away from Carpenter street. She was once again wearing her “homeless garb.” Pulling up her hood, she exited the vehicle and made her way toward the railyards.
A massive embankment, reinforced at the bottom with huge wooden beams, ran parallel to the twin sets of rails. Further south was the old terminal, a warehouse, construction equipment and several smaller outbuildings. Just beyond that the freeway overpass stretched out and swooped around continuing its span to the coast.
Sam picked a spot at the incline’s edge, sat, and waited. And waited…
And waited. The rain continued steadily for an hour, then dissipated, then reached a consistent rhythm once again.
Four hours in, small knots of homeless began to arrive and congregate near the terminal. Barrel fires were lit as a steady stream of vagrants arrived. Half an hour later a van came and parked near the warehouse. Two men emerged from the back, one of them a large man, the other smaller wearing a long coat. The tall, thin driver exited and took up a position to the right of the man in the coat; the larger man placed himself to long-coat man’s left.
The trio walked from the warehouse toward the terminal. Sam’s pulse thundered in anticipation as she moved for a better look…
But the man they guarded wasn’t Kronin. As he leaped from the ground up to the roof of the terminal building—an impossible jump for any human—she saw that it was the blond with the patchwork coat, the dreadlocks and the claw-like hand.
A murmur emanated from the crowd of roughly fifty homeless men and women. Claw-man spread his arms and almost instantly the voices were silenced.
“We are joined tonight by three fellow acolytes,” Claw-man said. “Though they have received the gift, they have not yet taken the pledge. Come forward!”
Two men and a woman stepped from the gathering to stand at the base of the structure. “Raise your right hand,” Claw-man commanded. The three complied, holding their right hands high. Sam maneuvered so that she was even with the “preacher’s” position and could see the three pledges more clearly. From this distance she could barely make out the scars on their palms.
“Do you give yourself fully to your one True Lord—he who is known by many names, among them the serpent, the Dark One, and the Antichrist? Do you vow to carry out all that is asked of you? Do you bequeath unto him your very soul, from this day forward, upon pain of eternal torment?”
Each of the three responded “I do.”
Almost instantly a light appeared, as if the scars on their palms were being retraced with a burning ink. The flashing script flared and then dissipated as if it had never been.
“So be it. What has been done shall never be undone,” Claw-man proclaimed, arms held wide. “Join me in welcoming our newest brothers and sister to the flock!” The gathered faithful raised their right hands, palms out as the rain continued its persistent onslaught.
Another sermon followed—more about the “chosen” and the “gift” and the true nature of humanity. Sam waited anxiously for Kronin to arrive but he never did.
When Claw-man’s preachings were done he hopped down from the terminal. Still flanked by his guards he laid hands on a few of the vagrants brave enough to approach him, and then he began heading south along the rails, toward the van.
They were preparing to leave. And there was no way Sam could get back to her vehicle in time to follow. She might never get another opportunity like this…
Without hesitation she clambered over and down the steep decline, behind the three men, the sound of her movement drowned in the pouring rain. In the distance, Sam heard a train horn.
The Desert Eagle held before her in both hands, Sam approached, barrel trained on the tall, thin bodyguard as he neared within a foot of the driver’s side door. Using her left finger as support over the right, she pulled the trigger, blasting the man in the back of the head and splattering blood and particulate brain matter onto the window. The large bodyguard turned just as Sam swept the gun over and fired three times—twice to the man’s chest and once to the center of his forehead. The man fell back, dead before he hit the ground. Just as she set her sights on Claw-man, he ran. The train horn blew once again, closer this time.
He was impossibly fast, scaling the steep embankment effortlessly. Sam aimed just above… leading her target, and fired; still the man was fast enough that she only struck him in the right leg. It had been a gamble: she had risked killing him. But the gamble had paid off and she had succeeded in slowing him down. Depositing the gun behind her back, Sam gave chase.
Claw-man reached the top of the embankment and hurried, with a pronounced limp, onto the freeway overpass. A quick glance over her left shoulder revealed to Sam the approaching train’s headlight. It was nearing the closed terminal, vagrants scattering into the shadows. Sam resumed her chase, reaching the crest of the hill, re-drawing her gun and speeding after Claw-man…
Onto the overpass. The train engine roared beneath them. Claw-man was silhouetted briefly in the headlights of a large, oncoming pickup truck. The driver blasted his horn as he swerved to avoid the preacher, shouting obscenities through the open window as he sped past Sam. She was running full-tilt, determined to chase him down; make him tell her where Kronin was…
Even as she thought this, Claw-man leapt onto the guard rail on the freeway’s south side. He took one look down at the moving train… and jumped, disappearing from sight.
Sam ran and looked over the edge of the guard rail. The freight train’s cars were barreling along several feet below her. She quickly assessed the situation. Claw-man was escaping, and with him, any knowledge of Kronin’s whereabouts. In an instant Sam’s mind was made up: she re-deposited the gun behind her back, hopped up onto the guard rail, took a deep breath…