RAIN, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING battered Denver from an angry sky. Nature was having her say. Shadows lost in the darkness emerged with each flash of lightning veining the sky. Shrub branches snapped when a body was thrust upon them. Leaves draped in blood and rain discoloured the soil and grass.
The symphony of discord muffled the moans of agony in the night air as a bloodstained blade rose to plunge again and again.
In the thicket a silhouette carved through flesh as though it were an art … a passion. Whispers and laughter arose when the blade made its final statement. A man's genitals were tossed into a green, plastic garbage bag and placed into a backpack. A trademark confirmed once more.
The rain erased retreating footprints. Boots sounded against the wet sidewalk as the figure vanished into the damp night, the backpack flung over his shoulder. Left behind, lifeless blue eyes gazed to the heavens in horror.
* * * *
PATCHES OF FOG SWIRLED through the city's skyline the next morning, caressing it with mystery. Detective Lorrayne Lobato stood at her cubicle window at Denver Police Station headquarters. She recalled unveiling the first body, Chris Valle, in Congress Park east of Cheesman two weeks before. She had been placed on detailed special assignment and put on the case. The victim's throat had been slit, the body castrated. Her insides had twisted, and she'd heaved at the sight. Five days later, Randy Gallegos was found in a southeast Capitol Hill home castrated and stabbed viciously.
Lobato thought she had seen it all. But these three brutal murders proved her wrong. As she looked out on the morning mist, she worked over the victims in her mind. In fourteen years she'd solved very case on her desk, and she wasn't about to stop now.
She thought of Major Crimes Unit Supervisor, Edmund Copeland, and the conflict between them ever since she'd joined the force. She'd surpassed every expectation he'd given her in assigning her the most complex cases to solve. He knew how to work her, to get the best out of her. She intimidated other male colleagues as well. For the most part she stuck to herself, and had few people she could really call a "friend." At the station, work was work as far as she was concerned.
Although Hispanic and from a superstitious culture, she hardly considered herself superstitious. What little superstitions she did have the fog seemed to stir. She was raised in a place called "The Heights" in Albuquerque with a gay brother. He was twenty-three. She'd also had relatives in Del Norte, a small community in the San Luis Valley of south-western Colorado. Superstition had lost its voice, yet still had an echo.
What had brought her to Denver was hardly something of her own choice. Her ex-husband suddenly had a wild hair up his ass dragging her along after they were married, at her parents' consent, when she graduated Valedictorian in high school at seventeen. He wanted to pursue a dream in law he'd always had, which fell through like everything else he'd ever attempted, including their marriage. He took to booze and Lena, her best friend in college, two years after they were married, both vanishing after the divorce. That was the last time she'd seen either and she'd never bothered looking, although she kept his last name. Her maiden name was Maez. Her parents and kid brother had followed her to Denver shortly after.
Her revenge was success, graduating college Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, entering the police force right after her twenty-first birthday while pursuing a master's degree in Business Administration. She chalked up another Summa Cum Laude two years later.
Today, she was a cop with three major problems on her hands, these killings. Life had finally given her a break, so it seemed, only to present her with what most Detective Investigators fear of ever encountering, a possible serial killer. Those were her deepest fears, although not yet confirmed.
She recalled Gallegos' frozen stare. A direct stab wound went directly into the cavity of his chest, perhaps the one that killed him. Drying blood glued his hair to the sheets. She'd accidentally gotten some on her glove. The memory still made her queasy.
She felt a chill and walked back to her desk to read more of this third case. Was this a killing spree directed at gays? She hoped it wasn't there, but knew it had to be.
The call in the early hours from Detective Roger Burns had been bad enough. A bigoted Bible thumper. Not her favourite person on the force, but under her personal supervision due to major circumstances. He'd awakened her from a sound sleep informing her of the body.
No doubt Detective Burns enjoyed adding to her burden. Just the tone in his voice infuriated her. She swore she'd get him in one way or another, but on her time and grounds. He merely added more fuel to the fire each time he opened his mouth. She had a score to settle with him and a few others. At the moment he was up there on her list. His bigotry and prejudice, not to mention homophobia, were things she had little tolerance of and things that should never be put behind a badge, or in a position of authority of any kind.
Lobato prayed she was wrong as Burns uncovered the body in Cheesman, the most well-known gay park in all of Colorado, but instinctively she knew what was there and in what condition. Little doubt remained in her mind that this third body was another to the death walk pattern taking her into the depths of the gay world.
It was Burns who'd come up with the strange notion of the killer's taste for blood being activated by the unusual rainstorms Denver had been experiencing lately. He'd noticed and compared dates of slayings to weather reports. Two points for him. This was only an assumption, but when she stopped and thought about it there was an eerie logic behind it. Lobato had learned anything was possible in the dark side of life. Now that she'd come face to face with it, she didn't know if she was quite ready for it. Nevertheless, it was a theory. She wasn't about to toss any possible theories out the window at this point. Yet, she wasn't about to cling to any theory that came along; especially one so far fetched and Hollywood.
The weather was the least of her worries at the moment. That task belonged to nature. Somewhere out there was a maniac whose victims lived on Capitol Hill -- the heart of this Queen City -- and core of its gay world.
Lobato's brother, Albert, lived on Capitol Hill, so damned right she was concerned. If anything happened to him she'd be out for blood herself. With this third body she'd really grown paranoid about her kid brother being in the heart of this weirdo's stalking grounds. She didn't give a damn about the weather, at least not yet.
She rubbed her eyes, hoping to relieve some of their strain, after a restless night. She was up at half past midnight, seeing the body at 1:30, then back to her office trying to think of some lead or clue to go on. This was no way to live.
By 4:15 she'd had enough. If this whole nightmare was what Burns thought it was, she was going to need all the rest she could get, and then some. With any luck she might capture another three hours sleep before having to return to her office at eight.
Lobato gathered her belongings and stepped into the deserted hallway. The sound of her footsteps gave her an uneasy feeling. Echoes seeming to whisper caused her an uneasy need to peer over her shoulder. It was a sensation strange to her. The feeling remained while she stood in the elevator.
Through corner glances, she noticed a blond cop among the five officers posted at the front desk when she stepped out of the elevator. He watched curiously as she walked by. His gaze made her nervous. She felt a connection between them, yet she had never even spoken to him outside of giving orders. After her divorce the last thing she wanted was to get caught up in a relationship, especially with someone on the force under her command. She'd experienced a bruised male ego with her husband. Once was enough. Still, her heart quivered.
The rookie left his position when she went to the parking lot. Although Lobato hadn't noticed, he had done this before. A strange feeling had come over him when they'd first met. There was someone behind those hazel eyes he wanted to know more about. Something about her brown hair and confidence got his attention the first time he'd seen her. She tripped him out. He headed back to his post when she glanced back catching sight of him.
For a few seconds she tried to think of his name until it clicked. It was Ernest. He was a lateral out of the Seattle area, twenty-nine and divorced as well. Ernest. That was her father's name.
For a moment she sat in the car taken by his actions, questioning this peculiar effect he had on her. She had to admit she was at least mildly flattered. Shaking her head against such fantasies, she drove away slightly puzzled.
By 5:15 Lobato had closed the blinds to her bedroom window blocking out the glow in the horizon. There was only one thing on her mind, hitting the comfort of her king-sized bed and crashing out before her adventure was to begin.
She stared up at the ceiling in thought, but it wasn't long before her eyes became much too heavy for complex thinking. All she wanted was sleep. While drifting she thought of the murders and to where they would eventually lead, questioning in her heart if Burns' theory of the killer in the rain was really possible. This third victim, Jack Webber, may have confirmed it. If so, to where would it lead and why? Finally her eyes became too heavy for any more thought and she drifted off.
* * * *
THE SUN ROSE ON a sleeping detective and a gay couple about to walk down the unpredictable paths of fear and beyond. For some beyond the boundaries of death. The rising sun was not only the twilight of this new day, but also the twilight of this stroll, of a nightmare that had already begun.