Brittany Rogers peered through the store's broad front windows, carefully inspecting each inch of the nearly deserted parking lot. Satisfied, she unlocked the door, set the alarm and slipped outside in the required thirty seconds. She locked both top and bottom locks and scurried towards her car. As she went, she nervously scanned the area, her head swiveling. Twice she turned and walked backwards a few steps to check behind her.
Why had she stayed so late, she berated herself silently. Trying to finish her sales reports, which darn well would have waited until the morning was her admittedly foolish answer. She had become absorbed and had not noticed how quickly time had passed. She had planned to not only be out of the office before dark, but to be home. Not walking through the deserted parking lot of a deserted strip mall. She wished she had opened her office across town where the big 24/7 store assured that there was always someone else around, even if the rent would have been triple what she paid here.
How could she have lost track of time on, of all nights, THIS night? She shivered, clutched her keys and looked around even more, peering into darkened corners where the alleys between the sections of stores loomed as black holes. This was Halloween. For ten years Halloween night had meant death for a woman in this city.
The police were out in force, she knew. But they had been for the last two years, ever since some enterprising reporter had put everything together and revealed that for the previous eight years a lone woman had been found stabbed to death on the eve of All Saints Day. Each murder had been determined to have taken place before midnight. No details had been made public, but rumors painted a lurid picture of disembowelment and mutilation that reportedly had shocked even the hardened detectives who investigated the crimes. The police had mustered every available officer since then, but had not succeeded in stopping the killings.
Brittany shivered again. There was her car. Only ten steps away. The hair on the back of her neck seemed to stand up and she broke into a run. Reaching her car, she fumbled with the keys. In her nervousness she dropped them on her first attempt to unlock her car. The second was no more successful, as she tried to insert the key in the lock upside-down. Finally she heard the reassuring "click" of the lock and sighed.
It was at that very moment when she felt safe, that she heard the sound behind her. It was a sound that froze the blood in her veins. It was a deep chuckle and she sensed the menace even as she jerked her head over her shoulder and looked.
All she could see was an outline. The form was so dark it blended into the shadows as though the lights of the parking light turned away from it. Straining, she caught a glimpse of eyes under a hat brim. And Hell was in those eyes as surely as it was in the reflection of the light off the long, gleaming knife that appeared.
Brittany tried to move. She willed her fingers to open the car door, her legs to run, her arms to lift in hopeless protection of her body. She stood like a statue, as though the glance of the figure had turned her to stone. All she could do was whimper deep in her throat as he approached. He was within three steps of her when somehow she regained the use of one part of her body and screamed at the top of her lungs.
Officer Christina Windser smothered a yawn and snuck a look at the time. Nearly 11:30. She had been on duty over ten hours now, with only a hasty stop for a sandwich and a soft drink for a break. Her shift had ended two hours ago but, like almost all her fellow shift mates, she had remained on duty. The Halloween killer had not struck so far. Perhaps the saturation effort of the department would pay off tonight. More officers were on foot patrol in the heavily populated areas of the city rather than in their cars. Those were assisted by the Police reserve officers and the auxiliary cops. All volunteers, the former were certified and trained while the auxiliaries had only a short departmental training course. Christina had heard that if this show of force was not enough to prevent a murder tonight that there was already discussion about having the Governor call out the National Guard next year.
Jack would love that. Home less than a year from a tour in Iraq, he had had enough of alley ways and foot patrols and being in danger. Of course, being a First Lieutenant in his Guard unit, he probably wouldn't be walking the roads or manning a barricade if it came to that next year.
The attractive blonde officer scolded herself. She had been mechanically scanning the back of the business center she was checking, pointing the remote controlled spotlight on each service door, each barred window, each gap between the buildings. While she had been on the job long enough that she would have immediately noticed something wrong with anything she passed, she needed her full attention on what she was doing. What if she drove into a restaurant's grease collector as Danny Ubick had a few months ago while he was half turned watching a pretty girl? He was NEVER going to live that down.
She eased the steering wheel over to swing around the corner. She checked the darkened drive through window of the pharmacy that marked the last business on this end of the strip. Now she would check the front doors. She considered getting out of the car and walking the front, rattling the doors as she did. She had just decided not to, that there was no point in her being foolish about exposing herself, when movement in the parking lot caught her attention. Frowning, she started to turn the spotlight on the lone car when she heard the scream.
Her reaction was automatic. She slammed her right foot down on the accelerator. She flicked on the high beams and then cut on the blue lights. Her other foot pressed the floor mounted radio button. As she reported the situation she saw a figure turn and begin to run towards a gap in the buildings. The lights of her cruiser illuminated the knife clutched in one hand. She turned in the direction of the fleeing outline, chasing it until it disappeared in the dimly lit alley.
Stomping on the brakes, she slid sideways to block the entrance and leapt from the car. She shouted the information into her shoulder mike that she was in foot pursuit of an armed suspect possibly the Halloween Killer. Drawing her service weapon, she started after the subject, calling on him, as she thought the figure seemed male, to halt.
Between one step and another the world seemed to slow to a crawl. Dimly, she could hear dispatch acknowledging her. She could hear the woman still screaming out by the car. She could hear the sound of distant sirens and blowing engines as her fellow officers rushed to her assistance. Her mind flashed back to last night, to snuggling on the couch with Jack, with their three year old daughter Cassie tucked between them. Jack had finished grading the tests his 10th grade history students had taken that day and it had been just cool enough to make lighting a fire possible. The warmth surrounding her, from the flames, from her husband pressed against her, from her daughter sleeping with her head pillowed against her all took Chris away to a safe place. The place was so safe that as she forced her mind back to reality for the first time she felt fear and a desire to leap back into her patrol car and wait for backup.
She couldn't. The fleeing suspect was still in sight. She had read last year's reports. They thought they had him trapped but had never been able to find him. Worse, however he had slipped through the cordon, he had done so with enough time to hunt down and murder his annual victim before midnight.
All of those thoughts flashed through her mind in less time than it took for the suspect to take a complete step. Chris took off down the alleyway, her eyes fixed on the fleeing form. He disappeared around the corner, ignoring her demands for him to halt. Sprinting ahead, she reached out and hooked a concrete pole protecting the corner from wayward drivers. Still running, she used her momentum to spin herself around the corner.
The blow was so hard that at first she didn't feel any pain. It felt like a punch to her stomach. Only when she looked down and saw the hilt of the knife protruding from her body, right under the bottom of her Kevlar vest, did the agony hit home. She wanted to scream but she couldn't find the breath. It HURT. Oh God it hurt.
A mocking laugh reached her ears. An unshaven face, full of deadly glee, thrust itself forward, so close she could smell his bad breath.
"Oh this time I topped it all," he sneered. "I killed me a bitch cop."
Suddenly his face twisted in surprise and agony. Chris could barely feel her finger pulling the trigger, but the muffled roar between them assured her that her S&W .40 cal had fired. She fired again and then once more. He tumbled backwards, falling to the ground, pulling the knife free from her as he did.
For a moment she swayed on her feet. Her pistol fell from her nerveless fingers. She covered the cold pain in her lower belly with both hands, her knees giving way. Then she collapsed sideways. A detached part of her mind noted the slight pain from the scrape of the concrete on her cheek. Her hands were wet and sticky, and she knew why. Her mind grasped what was happening and she started to pray.
"Hail Mary, full of grace..."
Headlights and splashing blue lights filled her world. Car doors slammed and feet pounded on the cement, nearing her.
"The Lord is with thee..."
Gentle hands rolled her over. From the sounds of the cries she looked as bad as she felt.
"Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit..."
.... There is more of this story ...