Note: This is the prologue to a series of graphic novels I concocted with the help of a friend and oft-times partner in crime. The first of the novels has already been scripted and may see the light of day sometime this decade… or before I die, or it may be turned into a novel instead without the purdy pikchoors, but it will be out some day. Life being as full of irony as iron, I may end up living in a cardboard box lined with torn pages of it! Right. Like anything I write will ever get printed, eh, chaps?
The streets of San Jose are a festering wound with prettied up dressing; bandages of neon and black light concealing the purulent sore of society. For twenty-odd years I´ve been walking these streets as something else, something other than human. A wolf guarding the sheep? A dog gone feral that still keeps an eye on his charge. I am a detective – have been for nearly ten years and was a regular stand-up cop for over a decade before that. Not just a job, a condition.
The living, they walk with aimless glee, going about their meaningless lives while we, well, we watch and, when we fail to protect them from themselves, we are given to the task of sorting the corpses out.
Roberto Vega – Bobby -, my long-time partner and friend and I had been on a case for a couple of weeks. A murder – as if there was any other kind of case these days a detective could take on. The picture so far had a dealer, a nun and a hooker in the frame; the whole thing smacked of the bizarre and neither one of us much liked the bouquét. Sure, a dealer is a common type in any violent situation and working girls, well, they never end up well; but what the hell does a nun have to do with this grouping of colorful mugs? We really didn´t have much to go by at the time and from what there was, the hooker had them all done in is what we figured. The question, however, was who had done the hooker in?
Bobby’s take on it was that the hooker had taken her own number off the list and sure enough it was the easiest way to look at it, but something in my gut told me that wasn´t how it had gone down. Something about the rictus on the girl´s face, the frozen expression of what looked to me like fear in her cold, vacant eyes… and the fact that it didn´t look like her throat had been slit with the same knife that had cut the other stiffs – you pick up on these sorts of things with time. Add to that the fact that nun and hooker were sisters and you´ve got one hell of a plot. I´d sure like to meet the parents of these two; makes you wonder what sort of upbringing can produce such different results. Deeper down the stinking rabbit-hole we go.
For days now we´d been looking for clues; hanging on what forensics could dig up so we could get some sense of direction. My hunch was confirmed early – about the second weapon – and a few other details that gave us a possible fifth person involved in the frame: blood. More specifically even: menstrual blood, so our fifth was a female, one not overly concerned with hygiene at that. Further tests revealed a strange virus never before seen. What the virus did, though, we still wouldn´t know for some time. Our next step was clear; find the bleeder.
I´d once been one of the living…
Carlos Hernandez Farias. That is what they christened me. Born to a family of cops: my pops, my two uncles, my grandfather and his father before him, my upbringing was rife with tales of back when things were done the old way. We all had blue running through our veins. An orthodox catholic education was the basis for my character; a hard-nosed kid with a love for family and justice.
The life on the beat took my pops´ life when I was fourteen but that didn´t stop me from following in his footsteps and joining the academy. My uncles went out at the job as well; that didn´t alter my course. A charmed life, I thought. I´m living a charmed life.
I´d once been one of the living. At least, I once made an effort to be more like them. Even while walking the beat I kept a positive attitude. Things had gone well for me for a long time; I´d made it out of the academy with honors, loved my job, had made many good friends during training and afterward. I´d made my way up the ranks of the OIJ in good time so things became economically stable, which made the prospect of actually meeting someone and getting hitched all the more logical and sensible.
Things went easy for me in that respect; an old friend of the family came back to visit after a few years abroad and a girl who´d once been a play mate of mine when we were kids had become a beautiful, charming woman. Lucia Otero, Lucy Doozy when we were kids, now just Lucy to me. She had studied children´s education and started work in one of the best private schools in the country making a pretty decent salary; she was happier than anyone I´d ever met at any other job. She loved the idea of me being a cop – “a real life hero”-, she´d say.
We dated formally for a couple of years and then I popped the question on the second anniversary of our reunion. The rock cost me about a year’s wages but she was worth it. We tied the knot three months later and we bought a house. Nothing too fancy but just right for having a family. I soon made head of my team, finally getting the checks I’d been after and we decided it was time to start the numerous family we’d always wanted.
Andres Hernandez Otero was born on a clear Wednesday morning. I named him after my pops. He made our world so happy.
It turned out we never did make the family any bigger than the old magic number three. I was injured on the job and lost the ability to have kids. That was the start of when things turned around for us… for me. Lucy and I both felt sad at the loss of that dream, the big family never to be. It was when little Andres got diagnosed with leukemia that things began to crumble.
Ramon was only five years old, only just discovering the joys of a moderate independence, the magic and wonder of early childhood; it wasn’t right for a child to go through a sickness as grueling as that one.
I am immensely grateful that the end has not come and it hasn’t all been too painful for him. That he doesn’t really understand what may happen to him, the idea of a heavenly playground ever in his mind. But for Lucy and I the end came entirely too soon, our cancer metastasized too fast for us to salvage our marriage.
Andres Hernandez Otero was diagnosed on a rainy afternoon, like the sky itself wept a slow, grey deluge that numbed my soul to the abyss of despair that lay ahead of me, just a step away. I lost my faith that day. It wasn’t something sudden, starting with Andres’ illness, but something that had been waiting on the edge of my perception even before the diagnosis. It had built up around me very gradually through all the years I worked the streets, a stolid monolith of happiness and satisfaction amid a sea of misery and injustice I seemed, the disparity not going entirely unnoticed, gnawing away at my will and belief that things in the universe have a purpose and that a being greater than us all loves and cares for us. Like wolves lying in wait, my soul beset by the encroaching darkness, the barrier of resolve whittled away like rotting enamel, until our world became a frigid, listless landscape marked only by the grief of imminent loss and impotence. And so when Ramon fell ill I knew in my heart that there cannot possibly be a God. That the universe is a barren place where life is simply destined to drive itself to inevitable extinction.
Lucy simply seemed to stop caring about life altogether. She took a leave from work – something she would never have considered before – and never went back. I thought we would need of each other, to hold together and perhaps face the road ahead, but she was lost to me. The only other thing left in the world that truly mattered, her love, was no longer there. I don’t know when I lost her. From thereon the rift between us would grow and become an insurmountable breach in our relationship despite all my efforts, though I can’t say I had much force of will left.
My mother passed away 3 months after little Andres’ diagnosis. I tried to drown my sorry self with whiskey, all I got for my troubles was Detox and AA meetings every week.
Lucy left a few weeks following my last episode. Even though we didn’t even talk anymore the house feels too empty without her. I’ve been begging her to come back. She’s stopped taking my calls and her mother is fed up with my incessant questions. Bobby’s the closest thing to family I’ve had for a good while… Now, I’m all out of life lines.
So Bobby and I hit the streets of the Red Zone, San Jose’s seedy side of town. Looking back I have to wonder how, with all the change that’s come over Costa Rica in the last two decades, this area has only gotten darker. Sure, the place no longer looks quite as dilapidated and run down as it once did; the whole district has become a streamlined engine of criminality and a haven for society’s more lurid secrets.
In any case, we got ready to do the usual routine: hit up the surrounding area of the crime scene and, failing that, go through the cluster of “businesses” where one might wrestle some information from the patrons. Turns out we didn’t have to go too far before we got a nice piece-of-pearl from one of the junkies on 12th street.
The gist was that some guy the junkie knows says he saw an incident much like the one we were investigating. The junkie gave us the man’s description and a possible address, all for a little financial lubrication.
We thought we’d have the junkie take a look at our mug shot collection on our PDA’s from the main database and, surprisingly again, we came up with only one match. Better yet, the guy was a registered sexual offender. Pure gold! I couldn’t help but feel that this was going a little too smoothly of a sudden; it made me all the more suspicious.
Having an ID of a possible witness, we now needed to see the guy; we went looking for his stated place of residence. The joint was an apartment building on the outskirts of the Red Zone, five stories and four one-roomers to a floor. Our guy was on the third floor, 3-B. Three series of knock from Bobby and a fat slob in a stained wife-beater with a day-old stubble for a face opened the door. Not our guy.
We get the skinny form him that he shared the apartment with our target but the man had shacked up with a hooker some days earlier. This girl – the slob said – wasn’t the type of night girl you see often, she looked high class, what she was doing with his buddy and in this area he couldn’t imagine. The address where she was shacking up, coincidentally, was right across the block from our crime scene.
Costa Rica was once a country known for its apparent freedoms. A small republic founded on a doctrine of peace after the initial troubles every new nation must go through; the growing pains of geopolitics. In the years after the political climate had settled the country abolished its army and its people gained a reputation worldwide for their easy going demeanor.
At the start of the 21st century the rot at the foundations of its structure began to spill into the general populace like so much sewage from a ruptured cesspit. The rampant corruption that had remained hidden beneath the surface for decades had blown its cover; the people knew now what kind of government they had and just how much damage had been done to the country throughout.
Crime had become a problem that went from the lowest rung of society to the very cusp of the social strata. Politically, the country was in turmoil, unrest which kept building as the Central American Free Trade Agreement came into effect; an international trade agreement that only got passed by the slightest of margins when submitted to popular vote. It was, nonetheless, the country’s great economic hope – quite frankly the only feasible and realistic one as well.
The country – as my father often put it – was going to hell in a hand-basket. Things were becoming increasingly unhinged, the CAFTA’s implementation clearly gone awry, when a then recently booming scientific and industrial giant decided that Costa Rica was fertile soil for its many diverse designs.
Morning Star Corp. made offers to the country that symbolized a lifeline to the drowning economy. What Morning Star did was move all of its research and production facilities to Costa Rica; a multi-billion dollar business, spanning everything from weapons development and industrial design to pharmaceuticals and satellite broadcast operations, making a diminutive third world country its home.
M.I.C. (Morning Start Corp.) moved in and swiftly became so entangled, so intrinsically enmeshed in the structure of government that the very Corporation seemed to be calling the shots. At first, there was some worry from certain political and social parties but MIC quickly swayed all dissenters, and those it couldn’t sway would conveniently get out of the way somehow. Despite this appropriation of power things actually began to improve, even crime became a much more streamlined kind of biz; no longer was petty theft and armed robbery a worry, these seemingly cordoned off into notoriously dangerous areas. Economic prosperity brought a different kind of criminal to the front, although the odd violent crime in the good part of town did crop up now and then.
M.I.C. poured so much money into Costarican infrastructure that you can’t escape their contributions in any of modern life’s amenities. Much as I hate to admit it, the entire police force is indebted to the corporate giant for its bleeding edge technology. They built better buildings, gave us better pay, practically made us the paragons of police-matter in the entirety of Latin America. The state universities got the most out of the deal, though; had a person seen the old campuses 20 years ago they wouldn’t believe their eyes at the marvels of architecture that now house the learning masses.
But for all the good that came from M.I.C. many of the issues we had prior to economic prosperity were only exacerbated. Corruption, for example, only becomes more prevalent when funding is flowing. Some people make the mistake of associating drug use with the lower rungs of society where, they think, these substances come in to replace the absence of food and luxuries. They may not be altogether wrong, but what drugs are used for is a bigger, wider purpose in the big picture, that of sedating the human species with a spiritual palliative that makes society’s rot painfully evident to those who care to sober up and look closely at the horrifying picture. So the wealth for the country didn’t get rid of drugs, it just made them more accessible to the general public. Kids started getting a little out of hand; the dealer got craftier, having found a new wealth of sources for new clandestine products: MIC. I guess it’s only a matter of time with these things, before secrets get too big and start spilling into the streets, where the kids play, so to speak.
Some of these drugs were never meant to be consumed by just anyone; they were part of some reseach project or another. The things they did to people… it changed them in ways far deeper than could ever be diagnosed by any range of physical examinations, somewhere deeper than their mere bodies. Most of those exposed were taken away by MIC under the pretense of providing treatment. I think they all became lab rats. Those that didn’t get the “treatment” died or ushered themselves out the door of this mortal coil.
Children in their majority, the toll this incident took made most realize just what they’d really bought into with MIC, what the country had truly become. Costa Rica had gotten into bed with the devil and might likely never get out.
Not long after we’d turned in some blood samples forensics got back to us with a whole-lotta info that seemed to make the picture darker, muddier, rather than clearer. One more person at the crime scene confirmed, our bleeder, this same person infected with some sort of virus that seemed to target the host’s genes, entirely too much info pointing in wildly dangerous directions and somehow nowhere at all.
What first made me feel I was out of my depth were the reports on the menstrual blood samples after a few third parties with a higher degree of means and know-how had a go at them. It all started to look like something out of a sci-fi movie and I didn’t feel comfortable with the questions these new developments brought to the fore, especially when the first point of origin that popped into my head was none other than this very country’s benefactor.
The gist of it: the virus is a retrovirus – meaning that it writes itself into the host’s RNA and becomes part of its entire cellular structure – that drastically changes the way the host’s sexual reproductive organs function. It appears to target women only – though it is theorized that it might be carried in a dormant state by males as is the case with many venereal diseases – and it feeds parasitically on male genetic material, sperm. That requires the person infected to have sexual intercourse quite regularly in order to keep the virus, and herself, alive. Undisclosed changes may also occur to the host’s physique but further testing is necessary, yadda, yadda, yadda…
So there it is. After 24 years dealing in security; 11 of which specializing in homicide at OIJ, we happened to be dealing with some absurt sort of cum vampire, for lack of less crass terminology. That alone should’ve made me quit the force. It all felt wrong; I felt sick to my core, as if something was there, awaiting, glimpsed just out of the corner of my eye, just beyond the periphery of my vision.
If only I’d known that I was just stepping onto the outermost edge of sanity… things only get weirder from here on out.
It’s a typical muggy Monday morning in the rainy season. Bobby and I head out to the apartment where a Mario Venegas – our purported witness – is reported to be staying. The place is rented by a woman, Paz Cruz a career hooker as we’ve been told by the land lord, not that her career choice is rare for the area, in fact, I’d wager most of the tenants in the building ascribe to said profession. He does say that the lease is recent when prodded and that she’s higher class than any tenant he’s ever had.
Apartment 3-F, says the oddly forthcoming superintendent, who looks as though he’s quite used to cooperating with police inquiries, a certain non-challance and disdain that stains his overall demeanor. We thank him for his help and hit the stairwell towards the back of the building.
A few short moments later we’re knocking on apartment 3-F’s door. Initially there’s no answer from within but then, just as I’m about to fist the wooden door again, it opens slightly and a grimy, gaunt looking face peers at us from within, the look on the man’s eyes that of being mentally elsewhere, or completely subsumed in opiates.
We ask him if he’s Mario Venegas, he nods. We identify ourselves and I ask to be let in. He obliges. We go in, the place is small, a one bedroom affair, and it’s filthy as evidently no care has been given to picking up anything – food, dishes, clothes – or even slightly dusting the place.
Mr. Venegas sits down on an old couch. Bobby and I prefer to remain standing, the sofa proffered to us a collage of fast food packaging and bits and pieces of what may have been food at some point in the recent past.
“You guys here about her, huh?” Venegas pipes with what seems equal measures of relief and trepidation. His eyes forlorn as if fixed on something not in the same plane as his physical body.
“We are here to ask about certain events you have been witness to, Mr. Venegas”, I reply.
“Yeah. I know. It is about her. About the alley”, he says, his expression such a wide mix of emotion that it makes it hard for me to read him.
Bobby and I look at each other.
“Tell us, please, about what happened”, says Bobby after a short, pregnant pause.
Venegas obliges and spills his guts on the whole deal. Says he was minding his own business, the way most junkies do – skulking in dark alleys, rummaging through trash containers, trying to overhear something which might be useful later on-, when he heard a discussion quickly growing heated farther into the alley.
He recognized one of the local dealers, a real nasty type, arguing with one of his girls about not paying her dues and a nun that looked much like the hooker – related, he thought – trying to defend the girl and getting slapped hard for it.
He described the working girl pulling out an ornate-looking knife and stabbing the man repeatedly in a blind rage. Which is when he noticed that there was someone else there, just standing in the far end of the alley – or more like he noticed the person as the person came out of the shadows.
It was a woman. She looked like a high-end call girl, walked calmly towards the girls as the trick was helping the nun back up. The Call Girl – Vicky, as he now calls her – told the girl to stand back, which she did with evident fear. Vicky gently yet forcibly held the nun’s head and looked intently into her eyes, the nun looking back as if she’d been hypnotized. For a minute or so they remained in that position, holding each other’s gaze, while the girl asked in a voice hushed with fear what was being done to her sister. Then he heard the nun say as if repudiating the words, as if she’d recognized something about Vicky: “Mother Babylon”. At this point Vicky turned the nun around effortlessly, while still holding her by the head, towards the girl. The girl, despite audibly crying and repeating denials, slit the nun’s throat as if compelled to do so.
Vicky held the nun up until the life had left her and the girl watched, wracked with sobs, seemingly unable to look away. Then Vicky told her she never should’ve betrayed them and swiftly slit the girl’s throat.
Venegas, thinking the incident over from his hiding spot, said he literally loosed his bowels when, faster that he’d seen anyone move, Vicky was suddenly upon him.
He explained the she said she could smell the chemicals in him, that she would suck them out of him, at which point she undid his pants and straddled him, shit and all, his prick inexplicably hard despite the circumstances, and started whispering sweet nothings with an unearthly voice in tongues, gibberish.
He then described that, as she was in evident orgasmic throes, he felt tens of needles on his member, the pain excruciating yet unbearably pleasurable. He said that she had marked him as hers to feed on and that’s how he ended up there.
At this junction I knew I must’ve gone insane. Surely, I was really secluded in some mental institution as I lived this perverse fantasy and not in the real world any longer. Venegas’ insistence on showing us his prick in reaction to what disbelief showed on our faces brought that reassuring notion crashing down. There they were, perhaps a hundred incisions on the wretch’s erect member, sure enough they looked like teeth marks from the glance I took before turning away in disgust.
“She keeps me hard”, he offered dumbly, grasping his cock with his hands, “she’s got teeth down there so’s she can feed from my dick without me pulling out”.
Sanity gone out the door, away on a permanent vacation somewhere far away, Bobby and I found ourselves at a loss. We didn’t have much time to adjust, however, as Vicky arrived just as we stood there trying to digest what we’d just been shown.
“He’s told you more than he should have”, she said, her voice sultry and seducing as if imbued with some unknown power, stirring something inside of me. Her eyes fixed on us. “I’ll have to punish him for that sleight”.
Faster than we could move to intercept her, faster than we could even shout “Stop!”, Vicky was across the room and at Venegas’ side. She took him down, jumping on him, wrapping her legs around his waist, in full mount by the time they hit the floor. Venegas screamed in agony. All of this in mere seconds.
Vicky stood up, her pants torn between her legs, her privates exposed. Blood trickled down her thighs and flowed from her inhuman, gaping labia. Rows of serrated teeth lining the walls of her insides as she plumped down of the couch, flash images of the mythical Charybdis invaded my head. Her nether-mouth was exposed in its full, hideous glory. Venegas’ manhood replaced by torn flesh and sputtering blood as he lay on the floor. She was changed; human a few seconds before, now some creature, too many joints to her limbs and all at unnatural angles, the face almost lupine. Her maw exposed a series of sharp canines. The look on her face was one of hunger.
Bobby and I were trying to follow what was happening but our minds refused to cope.
Bobby drew his gun before I could react and shot at the woman.
What followed happened entirely too fast for me to make sense of it. One moment Bobby draws his gun and fires a shot, the next he’s got his neck slit open as he’s falling to the floor.
Before I could even check to see if I could stop Bobby’s bleeding I felt myself hoisted up into the air. The whore was holding me up with her left hand, arm outstretched, my feet dangled in the air struggling to find a foothold. Then something changed in her expression. As I was getting ready to face a God with whom I have more than a few bones to pick, Vicky the whore seemed to suddenly sober up form her murderous stupor as if spooked, dropped me on the floor and was gone before I could even draw my gun.
I immediately turned to help Bobby, trying my best to staunch the blood’s flow while I called on my Tab for help.
I guess the cut wasn’t deep enough, thankfully, as Bobby survived, but he has since fallen into a coma and the prognosis isn’t something I find particularly encouraging.
So what I’ve got now is a case that’s been blown wide open in my head, if it hasn’t yet in the actual physical world, so to speak. My partner’s hanging on to life by a thread, my personal life’s in shambles – the one thing that mattered the most ripped from me – and I have taken one-too-many steps into a slasher film enthusiast’s rendering of the fucking twilight zone.
Again, my gut tells me things are only gonna get darker and weirder as I go deeper into this one. Hell, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it out one end or the other, but what really surprises me is the realization that I don’t really care. I’ve got nothing left, really. I don’t know if this will be found if I do bite it, but I have the need to lay this down in writing, so that at least there’s a chance for some of the truth to be known at some point. Now that I’ve gone underground… well, I can only hope.