As Boyer and I stood there admiring the mesquite and dry grass, the SP returned with a sweating Air Force officer.
"I'm Captain Draper. What can I do for you ma'am?"
"CW3 Summers, Criminal Investigation Command. This is my assistant, Sergeant Boyer. We were enroute to Denver for a conference when the call came through, so we were diverted here to see if we could help," the story sounded plausible and the flight plan had been fiddled with to match.
"Yes sir, AFOSI is a little stretched so we were volunteered by somebody with stars on their shoulders until they could shake some people free."
"Well shit. Glad to have the help anyway," he stuck out his hand and I shook it, "Paul Draper."
"Buffy Summers," I ignored the muffled snicker from the Airman, "and this is Sergeant First Class Standish Boyer. So Paul, what have you got?"
"Follow me," he led us past some scrubby trees into a a depression by a scraggly looking creek. There were two ambulances parked there and a bunch of guys with cameras taking pictures. The whole area stank of drying blood. Marked with cute little yellow flags were the positions where body parts had been found. I started counting, but gave up after seventy.
Paul continued speaking, "None of the bodies was intact and none of the torsos contained liver, kidneys, or entrails."
"This scene looks way way too violent for somebody organized enough to take souvenirs..." I said.
"Yeah, you'd think so, wouldn't you? We got a dog team out here ASAP, but they wouldn't follow anything. Something they smelled, scared them to death."
"Might have been a bear or some other animal. Grizzly urine will terrify the crap out of dogs," Boyer added.
"It wasn't a bear or a jaguar or a puma..."
"How do you know Paul?" I asked.
"We found tracks."
He led us over to a puddle of blood coagulating in the sun. "See how the blood is filling that depression?" He pointed at a divot in the ground. I nodded. "Well, if you follow the line of depressions you can see how it stepped on some puddles and was covered by others. It had to have been here during the attack."
He walked a little further down, "Look at this."
I crouched and looked at a naked footprint about 18 inches long. It was weirdly proportioned to a human footprint, having no real arch and being a lot wider. Also there were marks of really nasty claws at the ends of the toes. I've seen a lot of lycanthrope tracks in my time and this didn't match any of them.
I stood up, "We had to get through a gate to reach this place. Anybody use this land besides the Air Force?"
"Ranchers rent it for pasture land occasionally."
"Any of them report any missing livestock?"
"Not that I know of. I can find out though."
"You could? Thanks...an animal attack like this on humans only happens if there is none of its regular prey."
"So you think this was some kind of animal, Buffy?" Paul looked concerned
I gestured at the carnage, "Well yeah...I mean it could have been a gang hopped up on PCP, but I didn't see any sharp edge cuts on the bodies. They look like they were torn apart, and I think the missing organs were for snackage."
I saw Paul turn slightly green, "Oops, sorry sir. This your first bloodbath?"
"Yes, and I hope it's my last too."
I nodded in agreement, "Good attitude to have. Some stuff you seriously don't want to get used to."
An civilian Jetranger was coming in for a landing over where Boyer and I had parked.
"Christ!" Paul swore, "Who the hell is that now? Excuse me Buffy. Sergeant," He headed back towards the LZ.
I stood there looking around at the smears and traces of blood.
"So Buff?" Boyer asked.
"You tell me what you see first smart-guy."
"Okay...there was more than one and they ambushed the blue suiters."
"How do you know?" I prodded.
He pointed at some crushed brush beside a mesquite tree. "One waited here, another by that tree over there. Looking at the body placement and where the gear was scattered, those waiting spots would have been along the line of march." Boyer scratched his chin, "But there's no real cover or concealment. That head over there still has its NVGs on for Christ's sake. The ambushers should have been spotted. They're big Buffy, that stride puts them well over seven foot tall." He pointed at the spacing of the footsteps. "What do you see?"
"Not any animal or were-creature I've ever run into. Those footprints are pretty much of the distinctive and I would have remembered them. This kind of reminds me of Tajikistan actually. Only not as cold and less mountainy bits. We'd better call this in, as it's definitely under our jurisdiction."
We headed back towards the SUV and I froze. "Hold up," I hissed at Boyer.
"What is it?" he whispered back but he stopped moving and tucked his hand towards his holster.
"The two guys talking to Captain Paul, the ones that came in on that helicopter..."
"I recognize them and one of them can recognize me...maybe."
"Who are they?"
"The guy in the uniform is Colonel George Haviland. The guy in the civvies is named Anglefish or something. He's some kind of doctor or scientist and he's seen me before."
"Fort Huachuca, a few years ago. He used to work with Maggie Walsh."