We think we've seen it all.
From the age of fifteen, we think we've seen all there is to the world. As we strut the city we've lived in since birth, we hold our heads high and think we know everything there is to know about existence.
And then, something like this happens.
I stared sadly at the woman in front of me, as she wrapped her arms around her knees, pulling them tightly to her chest. Her tear tracks were streaked with smudged mascara, her eyes as lifeless as if there were no soul behind them. She was sitting quietly on a bed, rocking slightly, her large brown eyes wide with internal shock and emotional damage. I repressed a sigh and nodded to the dark clad figure in the corner. He pushed off his position on the doorframe and stepped out of the room, conferring briefly with the police officer standing outside.
I sat down next to the woman on the bed, ignoring the rumpled sheets behind us, smeared liberally with blood and body fluids. They were torn in places, smeared with the marks from a bloody knife now in an evidence bag down in the police cruiser.
She was only wearing a large white men's dress shirt, the blood having also soaked through the shirt in places from the inevitable cuts and bruises I knew would lie underneath it. Large, sausage-like bruises covering the parts of her arms and legs I could see, forced into the shape of large hands imprinted all over her body. Her hair was matted and lank, blood and fluid drying in cakes throughout it, melding clumps of hair together.
As I moved to sit beside her she made no move to acknowledge my presence at all. Nor had she when we had entered the room. It was always the same.
It was always like this.
0 0 0
I sighed as we closed the door to the woman's sobs, as she cried and cried into the bedclothes. Literally the only witness to her destruction. I could feel the pain welling up inside me, the outrage and horror that anyone could commit these terrible crimes, that anyone could think to destroy a woman so completely.
And not just this woman.
The tall, muscular figure beside me sighed quietly, running a hand through his long black hair as we walked quickly through the decrepit building, and out to the waiting car. I had been working with him for a couple of years now, but had known him for many more. We had met in college, taking the same criminology degree, and had immediately become close friends. Well, as close as anyone could get to Carlos. The army career after he had left college had taught him many lessons, but had most of all, closed off the blatant openness I had once loved about him. It had left him with terrible memories, of women and children being killed protecting each other, of seeing men as young as seventeen being blown apart and others being tortured and killed in the most terrible ways. And when he came back after his missions, time after time, I would be the one who would see the changes in him. Each time, he would come back quieter, more silent, more alone, more in need of a friend to talk to. The horrors that he had seen haunting his dreams for months after he returned, plaguing him with guilt and anguish at the lives he had been unable to save, or forced to take. I would be the one to sit next to his bed for the weeks after he returned, being jolted awake every few hours to Carlos thrashing and yelling in his sleep, reliving the atrocities he had been forced to witness, and commit. I would be the one to grab his flailing limbs and attempt to fight the strength driving them to madness, to quell his cries and yells, to try and stem the pain. I saw each time how it got worse and worse, how his nightmares lasted longer. And each time it was harder to wake him. Until they were so real, the memories so lifelike that I could not wake him in his darkest hours of the night. So deep was the anguish and real were the memories that he could not be roused, and would tear at his own flesh with his teeth, hit his limbs on the bed frame and yell himself hoarse as the nightmare continued. He was so mentally scarred that he cut himself off from everything he knew, and retreated inside himself to try and heal the terrible wounds inside him. Which no one but he could repair.
He had just recently come back from a short mission, only two weeks, and had been relatively ok. The nightmares had not plagued his sleep much and had only caused him to twitch at times. He had settled more quickly back into his routine, and I felt that he was handling the psychology better. Granted, he was still silent a lot of the time and he still concealed his feelings, but this was Carlos. He was doing fine.
We had lately been working on a joint case with Trenton PD, a little different to what we usually did. It was late March and the weather was cool, the new buds beginning to spring from months of frigid ice. It seemed it was not only the plant life that had defrosted in the new thaw. It seemed all the criminals who had hunkered down for winter were spreading their wings again too, one of them, a serial rapist. Over the past four months since we had been approached by Trenton PD we had been working several cases for them, because they were severely under resourced, and Rangeman, Carlos' company, employed a small army of ex-military men with enough expertise to invade and take control of a small country.
I rubbed my tired eyes and sighed as Carlos pulled the Porsche out of the dingy street and moved into the traffic. For once there was no soft classical playing in the background and the car was silent, the only other noise being his quiet breathing. I felt my mind loosen for a second as the exhaustion dealt another blow, unfocusing my brain and causing my muscles to relax. I had done a third all-nighter this week tracking down new leads in the case, and all had ended up leading nowhere. Then at five am we had received the intel about the next victim. Victoria Simmons, the woman we had just visited. She was slipped a date rape drug at a popular Trenton club and woke up with vague recollections of her repeated rape that night. She was 23 years old. The familiar sadness hit me all over again, as the disgust and horror joined it.
I didn't realise I was bent over holding my face in my hands and breathing jaggedly until a soft hand touched my shoulder, rubbing smooth circles calmingly onto my tense muscles until the knots in them began to loosen. I took a deep breath as I began fighting back tears. I could do this, I would do this. I needed to do this—I needed to catch the sick son of a bitch that was doing this. For the victims. For the nine women who had now been touched by this bastard, and had their lives ruined by it.
0 0 0
I found myself in Carlos' arms, my face buried in his neck and his arms tight around me as I sobbed. I tensed for a second. I couldn't remember how I had gotten there. I pulled away slightly, my breath still shaky and shuddering. We were still in the car, pulled over on the side of a busy three lane road. So how had I gotten into Carlos' arms without even realising it. How had I started crying? The last thing I remembered was thinking about the nine victims…
"Querida, you started sobbing." Carlos said in a soft voice, one hand gently stroking my hair lovingly, the other supporting my back as I collapsed on his shoulder. The tenderness in his voice made my heart twist. This was Ricardo Carlos Manoso, trained mercenary and Special Ops holding his friend to his chest and comforting her as she cried.
I sucked in a few deep, shuddering breaths as the images of the various victims flooded my brain. A young girl of fifteen, still wearing what was left of her school uniform, lying discarded in an alleyway next to a dumpster. As if she were rubbish. A twenty two year old woman who had been to a concert with friends. She had been found propped against the drain pipe of a local convenience store. A nineteen year old girl on the way to sports practice, shoved halfway down a drain. She had died of her head wounds.
There was no pattern to the rapes; no rhyme or reason.
Just the bile that rose every time I thought of these poor women, and what that bastard had done to them.