Barnes was late. Again.
Not like he didn’t have a good excuse. Even with all three of the bureau’s detectives assigned to the “Acacia Killings,” there was a massive load of work to be done.
Sam checked her watch. She had known that she would be running late for her meeting with Brewin and had called to let him know, but now it looked she would be even later than she had anticipated.
Sitting in a meeting room at the end of a table, Sam looked across at a mobile white board where Barnes had begun constructing a timeline of events in the Eclipse Killing. Starting off the timeline was a picture of the John Doe, the same photo Sam had looked at when Barnes asked if she knew him. Beneath it was a question mark, and the word “Eclipse,” along with the date and time Sam had found the body and the estimated time of death.
There was a line connecting to Sam’s sighting of the killer outside of Mama Kaiser’s bakery, along with the date and time. And soon there would be a line leading to last night’s murders at 22 Acacia Avenue and the Rest-In.
Last night, Sam had been hopeful that Raggedy Man might finally be tracked down when a K-9 unit had shown up and caught his scent… but the officer had reported later that when he thought they were getting close, the dogs had acted skittish and were unwilling to continue the pursuit. The policeman had never seen anything like it.
The on-scene investigation, with its two separate murder sites, had taken hours. After giving her report, Sam had stayed to help guard the perimeter at the Rest-In. When her shift was done, she had gone home, fed Mister Perkins and taken two sleeping pills. Even with the medication, Sam had fought for over an hour to purge from her mind the image of that man with the machete blade buried halfway down his skull.
Barnes had called just after noon and asked if she would come in to go over her statement with him and Sam had agreed, stopping by Taco Time and then Mama Kaiser’s for coffee and cake to go. She had then come in early and gotten started on the colossal heap of paperwork she would have to slog through.
If there was a silver lining to any of this, it was that she had both tonight and tomorrow off. She had offered to come in anyway, but Captain Hoskins made it clear he wanted her to get some rest.
Finally the door opened and Barnes walked in, a half-eaten banana in his right hand, coat draped over his left arm. His hair was sticking out in multiple directions, his facial hair was approaching beard-status, and if he had been wearing a tie at some point, it was currently nowhere to be seen.
He stuffed the rest of the banana in his mouth, trashed the peel, and threw his jacket on a chair across the table, kitty corner to Sam.
After swallowing he said “You know that old stereotype about the burned out, alcoholic detective? There’s a good reason for it.”
“I was supposed to be a dentist like my dad,” he continued, taking a marker from the table and approaching the timeline. “But no! Other people’s mouths give me the willies. So instead, I get to deal with… this.” He waved at the whiteboard. “Torn-out throats and split skulls. Much better. Oh hey, by the way I noticed some damage to the windshield of that kick-ass Mustang of yours. What happened?”
Sam felt her guts twist. “Rock got kicked up by a semi,” she lied. Barnes turned, staring at her unwaveringly. She had to resist the compulsion to either look away or just blurt out the truth.
After a prolonged silence Barnes said “Sorry to hear that,” and turned to the board. “Okay, so last night…”
He drew a line from “Eclipse Killer Sighting” off to one side and wrote “Acacia.” He continued writing, noting dates and times as he spoke. “Officer Jackson gets a 911 call from 16 Acacia. He gets there and he’s told by some crackhead that two armed men had stormed in looking for ‘Smiley’—so called because of the smiley face sweater he wore—‘Jitters,’ and ‘Blackout.’” There was a clear note of mockery in Barnes’ voice as he recited the names.
Typically, four killings in one night would be nationwide news… but when three of the four were homeless junkies? Not so much.
“The crackhead tells the two men to try 22 Acacia,” Barnes continued. “Jackson calls for backup, and just as he arrives he hears gunfire. He pursues the suspects, calls in the code 3, and…” Barnes turned toward Sam, pointing the marker at her. “You respond. Now tell me in detail what happened from there.”
Sam did just that, recapping everything she could remember. Barnes drew another line and wrote “Rest-In.” When Sam got to the part about reaching the staircase and officer Jackson, Barnes interrupted:
“Said he got Karate kicked in the knee. He’ll be on desk duty for a while.”
Sam went on to describe Raggedy Man jumping from the window opening. As she did so, Barnes was giving her that look yet again, that disturbing look… as if she was an open book and he was riffling through her pages.
Finally he said, “Probably hopped up on PCP. Couldn’t feel a thing… or maybe he’s one of those ‘parkour’ guys. Or both! What do I know?” But his tone conveyed that he didn’t fully believe any of that… and by association, Sam concluded that he didn’t fully believer her either.
Resisting the urge to reinforce her statement, Sam told the rest, and when she finished, Barnes stood back, looking at what he had written on the board. “Our rifleman victim, the guy who parts his hair down the middle… name’s Jacob Foster. Rolled into town a few months ago. He was a short-order cook over at Swayze’s Roadhouse. Nothing too remarkable about the rifle he was carrying, but the ammo…”
Barnes walked around to his jacket on the chair and removed a small evidence bag from the pocket. “Gotta get this back to evidence, but it’s one of those things you just gotta see.”
He tossed the bag onto the table in front of Sam. She picked it up to see a bullet inside, shiny and gray…
“Silver,” Barnes said. “Least that’s what we think. Lab’ll confirm.”
Sam could see something etched into the nose of it, just under the tip. She squeezed the plastic and turned the projectile, holding the bag closer.
Engraved into bullet’s head was a cross.
“Thought I’d seen it all,” Barnes said. “But there you have it: Foster was a class-A nutjob. Some religious weirdo who saw one too many scary movies. Makes you wonder if his partner was packing silver bullets too.”
Barnes went and stood closer to the board as Sam placed the evidence bag on the table.
“I’m waiting on a search warrant for Foster’s apartment; see what else we can uncover. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find that he’s connected to our John Doe. Or maybe we can I.D. the second rifleman. Some kind of lead would be nice. So far we’ve got a whole crapload of questions and almost no answers…”
Barnes turned and gave Sam a very pointed look. “But I’m pretty damn good at getting to the truth.”
A half hour later, with the sun’s afterglow quickly fading from the cloud-covered sky, Sam was inside the Mustang heading east toward Uncle Brewin’s house. She held a hearty chunk of Black Forest cake in her right hand. Comfort food, she supposed.
Thoughts bounced around in her brain like lottery balls in a hopper: Raggedy Man’s uncanny strength, his ability to jump from a second-story height and shrug it off, well-armed assailants employing silver bullets...
There were a few conclusions to be drawn from all of that, but the most obvious one was also the most ludicrous.
What Barnes had said must have been right: Raggedy Man was on drugs. That accounted for the strength, and disregard to injury. And the riflemen… they were some kind of fanatics.
Sam thought of the cross-engraved bullet, and of the religious tattoos on the mechanic, Elias; of the wooden cross on his shop wall…
It doesn’t mean anything. Ninety percent of Blackrock is Christian.
And then there was the fact that Barnes didn’t seem to believe Sam’s version of the events. It was clear that the detective was becoming increasingly suspicious of her. What he had said, about getting to the truth… Sam believed him; despite his blasé manner, she believed that he was good at finding answers. Which was good for the case, but it was also making her nervous. First she had withheld mention of her nightmare about the beast and the word “eclipse,” then she had lied about the windshield. Her goals ever since graduating the academy were simple: to be the best cop she could be; move up in the ranks, maybe make detective someday… but the way things were going, it felt like this one case could derail her entire career.
As she pulled into the circular drive in front of Uncle Brewin’s old A-frame home, Sam took a deep breath to calm herself. “Eclipse” seemed to be the key… both to finding out what Raggedy Man was really after, and to getting her life back on track.
She stepped out of the Mustang, strode to the front door and knocked, hoping that tonight Uncle Brewin could provide what she needed most: