22 Acacia Avenue
Sam was in her parked cruiser, just down the block from a house that was under suspicion of drug activity. She watched the comings and goings of various people, some on foot, some in vehicles, and kept a record of what she observed. Her hope was to catch a glimpse of Raggedy Man. There were plenty of vagrants, but so far no luck spotting the killer.
Aside from the house’s visitors, the night outside was quiet; peaceful. Everything around—the trees, houses, the street—was painted in a blue ambient light.
Inside the cruiser, Kathy’s voice drifted from the cell phone on the passenger seat.
“Weeeeell?” Sam’s foster mom said, “come on, is he dreamy or what?”
She was referring, of course, to the mechanic, Elias. For a split second Sam wondered if Kathy had hit on Elias herself, then decided it was best not to think about it.
“Mom, you’re ridiculous. Are you drunk?”
“Come on! Don’t be such a stick in the mud!”
Outside, the nearly full moon broke free of its cloud cover, turning the world from blue to silver.
“Okay,” Sam said. “He was kinda dreamy.”
“Ha! Can I pick ’em or what?”
At that moment a call from dispatch broke over her radio: “All units, Code 2, repeat, Code 2. Officer needs assistance at 16 Acacia Avenue.”
“Gotta go, Mom,” Sam said. She hit the end call button on the phone and immediately thumbed the talk button on her mic. “Blackrock Echo Six, responding.”
Sam flicked on the cruiser’s light bar and floored the gas.
Acacia Avenue was just a few miles from Sam’s assigned area. She was two blocks away when she heard the crack of gunfire. Three shots. Seconds later, another voice on the radio:
“Code 3, code 3! Shots fired. Now at 22 Acacia Avenue. Pursuing suspects. Two males, camouflage jackets, black masks, jeans…”
It was officer Jackson, and he sounded frantic. A code 3 was the most urgent call an officer could make. Sam blared the siren, blew through two stoplights and skidded to a stop outside the designated address less than a minute later. “Echo Six on scene,” Sam said. Next instant she was out of the vehicle and running, flashlight and gun both drawn.
Acacia Avenue was a haven for prostitutes, drug addicts and street vermin. 22 was one of many known flop houses, a single-story blight on the landscape with boarded windows. The ramshackle structure’s front door was open. Sam dashed through the doorway, fanning the Glock and flashlight beam in front of her. The closed-in space smelled of urine, vomit and blood. Sam approached an open doorway on her right, where her mag light revealed three prone homeless men. One of them she recognized from when she chased Raggedy Man a few nights ago— it was the old man with the lazy eye and the growth on his head, the one who had talked about “the beast…” He was lying on the floor, legs splayed; his left eye was staring blankly at Sam. His back and head lay against the foot of a shredded couch. There was a bullet hole through the center of the smiley face on his green sweater.
Two other vagrants lay on either side. Sam quickly checked each for a pulse but found none. “Blackrock Echo Six, request homicide at 22 Acacia,” she radioed in. Just after, an out of breath officer Jackson came through: “Blackrock Echo Five, foot pursuit… backyards, heading… south…”
Sam was up and running, speeding through the main hall of the dilapidated house and out the back door. Sirens sounded a block or so away, getting closer. There was a gap in the wooden fence that enclosed the weed-choked backyard. Sam ran through the hole into another yard. She heard Jackson yell “stop!” and sprinted toward the sound of his voice, fighting for breath as she climbed a second fence and sped through another backyard, crashing through azaleas, struggling over yet another fence, landing and spotting an open back door to a small, dark home…
Lungs burning, she raced through the door past a fat, screaming woman in mismatched underwear in a bedroom on her right, through a kitchen that smelled of pot and cheap perfume and boiling vegetables, through the front door…
“Blackrock Echo Five, heading south, we crossed Hetfield to… Rest-In Motel” Jackson sounded like he was about to collapse. Sam stopped, taking only a second to catch her breath, eyeing the back side of the blocky, massive, two-story structure that was the Rest-In. The motel had been abandoned for the past six months, after a devastating fire had wiped out most of the east wing’s second story.
Sam ran, the mag light beam swinging crazily in her left hand. There were shouts up ahead, coming from the second floor, from the front of the building, out of her line of sight. Within seconds Sam was around the side of the building and to the front corner, taking the outside stairs two at a time. On the second turn of stairs she spotted Jackson, near the top, leaning back against the stone treads clutching his right knee and grimacing in pain.
“I’m okay, but he got my gun,” Jackson said when Sam reached him. She nodded and stepped up to the second floor walkway, left hand under right, Glock and mag light beam both aimed ahead of her. Behind her and on her radio she could hear Jackson updating dispatch on both his situation and their location.
The motel was an L shape, the section where Sam was now located being the shorter wing. Ahead of her lay a long, open walkway with room doorways on her right and metal railing on her left. At the far end of the walkway the larger east wing trailed out, the north end of its second floor completely missing, destroyed in the fire.
As Sam stepped forward a man emerged from a doorway roughly forty feet away. He had on a padded camouflage jacket, jeans, boots and he wore a balaclava, concealing his head and most of his face. He carried a bolt-action hunting rifle. Somewhere on his person Sam assumed he also had Jackson’s gun. As he had walked out he had turned to his right so he had not yet seen Sam.
“Put the rifle down, now!” Sam commanded. The man stopped, stood perfectly still for a heartbeat, then squatted down and laid the rifle on the walkway. He pivoted, facing Sam as he stood back up, hands raised.
“On your knees, hands behind your head,” Sam shouted. Before he could comply, a taller figure in a hood and scarf stepped out from the next farthest doorway.
He closed in behind the suspect silently, his right arm high in the air, moonlight gleaming off the blade of a machete in his right hand. Both hand and machete descended swiftly, the blade driving into the top of the suspect’s skull, down to a spot just between the man’s wide eyes. The accompanying sound was close to that of a coconut being split.
Sam was stunned into temporary silence as the suspect fell to his knees, blade still lodged. Raggedy Man stood there, hands held out slightly at his sides, waiting, as if daring Sam to shoot him.
She barely registered movement in her peripheral vision, of another man—also in camouflage and mask—emerging from a doorway of the intact portion of the east wing, pointing his rifle in their direction. She swung the Glock over and shouted “Drop your weapon!”
This new suspect hesitated only for a second, long enough for Raggedy Man to back up and disappear back into the doorway he had stepped out of. Sam fanned her Glock to where he had stood, then back in the direction of the second rifleman, only to see that he too was gone.
She rushed forward, past the still form of the fallen first suspect, who had collapsed sideways onto the wall. She put her back against the rail when she reached the doorway Raggedy Man had fled into. There was an open aperture at the rear of the room where a window had once been. Sam entered, angled herself to view the bathroom—empty—then hurried to the window.
Looking down she could see Raggedy Man running south, the way she had come from just a moment ago. “Echo Six, church murder suspect, gray hoodie, scarf, heading south on Hetfield…”
How? How could he jump from the second story and just run away?
No time to worry about that now.
Sam rushed outside, sprinting down the walkway toward the east wing and the second rifleman… “I have one suspect down, pursuing another… camouflage, black mask… second floor of the Rest-In, upper story… armed with a rifle…”
Sam turned the corner and raced to the doorway where she had seen the second rifleman. The room was empty and the window in the back was boarded, but there was a massive hole in its fire-scarred northern wall. Sam came back out and continued along the walkway, the singed outer wall next to her diminishing until there was only empty space to her right, where the upper-story rooms had once been. Occupying the area that had been the floor of the second story there was nothing but a tangled ruin of charred beams, allowing a partially obstructed view into the first floor below. Several pieces of large, blackened timber angled downward from the second story to the first.
Two squad cars pulled into the parking lot as Sam swept her light down through the wreckage… but the second rifleman was nowhere in sight.