Barnes was late.
Sam was hoping this wouldn’t take long. She checked her watch again just as the detective entered the interview room, closing the door behind him. His thick hair was uncombed, his face peppered with stubble, his tie loose. He released a long, gusty breath as he dropped a folder on the table. After placing a partially-eaten apple next to the folder he hung his jacket on the back of the chair across from Sam and took a seat.
“If I never see another homeless person again…”
He shook his head. “Late last night, all mornin’, been talking to these vagrants. The smell… good God, the smell alone is enough to make you want to jump off a cliff.”
His steady brown eyes fixed on her. “And trying to actually hold a conversation with them… forget it. Most of ’em don’t even know what planet they’re on. I had one MENSA member tell me the suspect I’m looking for is Tom Cruise.”
“I’m… sorry to hear that,” Sam said.
“It’s just nice to talk to someone who doesn’t smell like the floor of a taxi cab,” the detective replied. He picked up the folder, then flipped it around and laid it open in front of Sam. There was a photo, a close up of a man’s head. He was lying on an autopsy table, eyes closed. There was a ragged, mangled cavity where his throat had been. His skin was pale and his face was heavily lined. If Sam had to guess, she’d say the man had led a hard life. Those lines hadn’t been visible the last time she had seen this face, because the last time she saw it, it had been upside down and covered in blood; an image that still unsettled her.
“M.E. report makes for some interesting reading,” Barnes said. “There were puncture wounds… our killer took wooden slivers, shoved ’em under the victim’s fingernails.”
“Why would someone do that?”
“There were also burn marks where electricity had been applied. All signs of torture. Here’s the kicker though…”
Barnes leaned forward, eyebrows raised. “Toxicology showed drugs in his system. Sodium Pentothal. Truth serum.” The detective watched her, as if waiting for her to come to the same conclusion that he had obviously come to.
“If they had truth serum, why torture him?” Sam said.
Barnes nodded. “Either the serum didn’t work, or… the bastard was having fun. Either way, I’d wager that whatever information the killer was after, he got.” He tapped his finger on the photo.
“You recognize him?”
Sam took a long, hard look and then shook her head.
“That message, if you want to call it that, the word ‘eclipse,’ any idea what it means? Or how it might connect you to our vic?”
The detective’s eyes were locked on her, searching. This was a man who had been lied to a thousand times and was an expert at recognizing dishonesty. Sam’s mouth went momentarily dry but she managed to say “no.”
“So this Eclipse guy, he tortures our vic, sets up this grisly scene, seemingly for you… then he comes after you directly, last night, and you chase him…”
“And he got away. Yeah,” Sam said, a bit more defensively than she intended. “But I’m telling you, I don’t know him.”
Barnes nodded, still eyeing her intently. “Anybody you know might want to hurt you?”
Sam shrugged. “I don’t know, I mean… I’m a cop.”
Barnes leaned back, drumming his fingers on the desk, nodded and said “Well If you think of anything let me know. Please. We still got no idea who our John Doe is. No leads on our suspect, no motive...”
Barnes picked up the apple and took a bite, speaking through a full mouth. “Gorsky thinks it’s some kind of ritualistic thing. Satan worship or some crap.”
Sam thought back to the homeless camp, and the man with the smiley-face shirt. She thought of Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast.
For the devil sends the beast with wrath.
“Any luck on the murder weapon?” Sam asked as she flipped papers to view the medical examiner’s report. She frowned. “This can’t be right…”
“Crazy, huh?” Barnes said. “Got the M.E. shakin’ her head too. Near as she can tell, there is no murder weapon.”
Detective Barnes held the apple out. “She thinks the killer…” He reached into the cavity of the bite mark, scooping the void with his other hand. “Ripped out the victim’s throat with his bare hands.”
After the meeting, Sam drove the Mustang as fast as she dared. She glanced at her watch and bit back a curse. Once she got to the hospital she’d have five minutes to spend with Uncle Brewin, max.
Just then her cell phone buzzed on the passenger seat. She put the phone on speaker.
“Mom, I’m on my way to the hospital now.”
“Oh good,” Kathy said. “Just came back from getting my oil changed…” She sounded coy.
“Yeah I meant to ask about that…”
“Did you know that someone new took over old Henry’s garage? A very nice, handsome young man…”
So that was it. Now it all made sense. Kathy had obviously heard about this new guy and went to scout him out as potential boyfriend material for Sam.
“When was the last time you got your oil changed?” Kathy asked. Was it Sam’s imagination, or was her foster mom dropping an innuendo?
“Yeah I’m okay, thanks.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to let him take a peek under the hood…”
Kathy giggled as Sam pulled into the hospital parking lot. “Okay, I’m here. Gotta go,” Sam said.
A minute later she was rushing through the corridors, trying desperately to keep her mind off of last night’s dream, of a hospital much like this one, and the fiery-eyed beast that roamed its blackened halls.