Police Chief Kyle Hamilton shivered slightly in the cool night, mountain air. Without taking his eyes from the report he was reading, he reached behind to pull his heavy gabardine department-issue jacket from the back of his chair. Shrugging in to it, he shook his head. The Basque family up in Turkey Hollow had found several of their goats slashed and mangled earlier in the day.
The veteran officer shook his head in disgust. Years on a big city beat hadn't prepared him for the casual cruelty that he found here in what he had always imagined as the quiet countryside. The goats hadn't been taken by a bear or puma. Nothing that straight forward. They had been savaged by a far more ruthless predator, as indicated by the set of running shoe prints found at the scene.
Kyle knew damned well who had done it. The Neely boys were as mean and bigoted as any big city crime lord. They came by it naturally. Their father was a bitter, nasty piece of work currently doing 25 to life for intentionally running a neighbor down with his car. The sons would likely cut up farm animals just for fun.
He'd gone out to that eyesore they called home, but there was no sign of either of them. Well, there was sign… he'd found blood and entrails at the back of the house. As a matter of policy, he'd collected some and sent it off to the county sheriff's office to be tested. Not that there was any doubt that it was from the Elizalde's goats.
Kyle suspected the boys had high-tailed it for that backcountry shack that they thought was so well hidden. They were going to get a big surprise if that was where they were. Kyle was sick of putting up with them and their nasty little games. He'd called in the county sheriff and tomorrow, he and a squad of deputies would be paying them a little visit.
For this evening, as soon as his deputy, Lyle Billington, showed up, he was headed home for pizza and beer and a ballgame on TV. He was considering his pizza toppings, when the door to his office was slammed open, and a frantic young man staggered in.
After initially jumping at the sudden noise, Kyle stood up and held out placating hands to the man, who was practically gibbering in fear. Years on the force had taught Kyle to sum up threats with a glance, and this guy was a loose cannon. Red hair, damp with sweat, framed a face caught in a rictus of terror. The amber brown eyes darted around the office as if looking for somewhere to hide. The shirt had been halfway torn from his body, showing a well-muscled chest and arms.
"Oh God, you can't be the only one here! There have to be more of you."
Kyle used his most authoritative tone, trying to break through the man's obvious panic. "All right now, son, you need to calm down. Sit down here and take some deep breaths"
The man jerked away. "No! You don't understand! He's right behind me! I've got to run!"
The last thing Kyle wanted was for a crazy man running through the streets in the middle of the night. He was beginning to suspect drug-induced psychosis. He'd never seen this guy before, and he was definitely out of control. He grabbed the man's wrist and halted his attempt to leave. "You're not going anywhere, son. Now, sit down here and tell me what's going on."
The man looked down at his held wrist, a welter of emotion crossing his face. Finally, with a massive effort, he seemed to regain control. Taking a deep breath, he began in a shaky voice, "We were just driving through. We were on vacation…"
"Yes, me and my brother. Oh God, my brother. How am I going to tell my dad, my family?" The man dropped his head down, taking in gasping breaths of air.
"Tell your family what, son?" Kyle asked gently.
The man looked up, stark despair in his eyes. "My brother's dead. That monster killed him."
Kyle frowned. "I think you'd better tell me exactly what happened."
The man turned almost sullen. "We were driving. We pulled over to look at the map. This… this… man thing came up to the driver's side of the car, and reached in, and… and…"
"And took off my brother's head, okay? He reached in, and instead of a hand, he had this knife, and just swiped it, and my brother's head fell off." The man finished in a whimper.
Kyle still wasn't sure this wasn't all a hallucination, but a murder in his jurisdiction was something he couldn't take lightly. "He had a knife? Where did this happen?"
"On the road that runs through this town. Maybe five, six miles… I don't know how long I ran."
"And you said he chased you? With the knife? What did he look like?"
The man looked up at him and with a hopeless little laugh, said, "You don't get it. He wasn't carrying a knife. He had a knife where his hand was supposed to be. And his legs were made of metal. He was like some kind of cyborg or something."
Kyle sat back, finally convinced that the man was on drugs. He casually unsnapped the release on his holster. The guy looked strong, and Kyle knew that the fear could turn to aggression at the drop of a hat. "All right, son, why don't we go take a look…"
For the second time, Kyle jumped as the door opened, this time sliced off its hinges by a monstrous looking knife. Kyle registered the knife, and his hand flew to draw his gun. He pulled it out, and started to aim when he felt a flicker of something against his wrist. He looked down and frowned. His hand, with the gun, was on the floor. Where his hand had been was just a bloody sleeve. He looked up in confusion and had no time to react as the knife flickered through his neck. He dropped never even seeing the man behind the blade.
His bloody head, face frozen in surprise, rolled to a corner, where his ears could no longer hear the screams of the young man who'd sought his help.