Prologue


Neath the waves a wonder grows
with delicate hues of blue and green,
the beauty of the turquoise rose
a secret flower still and serene.

– from Turquoise Rose by Pagan Paul


1

It was a driving rain, the kind of rain that completely soaks you in no more than a few seconds when you step out into it.  Big raindrops, fat and heavy that hit with a smack and just a hint of a sting.  The wipers on the old van screaked back and forward rapidly, but even at full speed could not really keep up with the rain that sheeted on the windshield.  The speed of the van didn’t waiver, though, as it sped down the I-495 towards the American Legion Memorial Bridge that crossed the Potomac River, marking the border between Maryland and Virginia.

After the bridge, he edged over to the right, moving into the collector lanes and followed the signs for the Georgetown Pike, where he turned left.  He didn’t need a map; there were no turn-by-turn directions, just the checklist in his head.  The route had been mapped out in advance; there was no navigation device to tip Google off that he had been in the area.  The van was too old for OnStar or any other low-jack tracking.  That was why he had stolen it for this run – a forty-five-minute drive from point to point and then back by a secondary route.  All planned.  He checked his watch – a dark grey analog Omega that showed him the time was 3:11 am.  Exactly on schedule.

The road was quiet at this time of night, and he drove the 2.4 miles to his next turn onto Colonial Farm Road without incident.  He turned and then took the quick left into the parking lot of Langley Fork Park.  He circled the parking lot once, scanning as he always did, and it was, as expected, deserted.  He stopped the van at an angle across three spaces and put it in park.  He killed the engine, leaving the headlights on.  Then he paused, glancing at a sign that read “No Dumping.”  He didn’t chuckle at the irony.  He had no sense of humour as he moved quickly.  He pulled his hood over his head, and the lower half of his balaclava up onto his nose.  Then tightened his gloves before sliding out of the van and walking around to the back door, opening it.

The man slid the body out of the van smoothly, hefting it onto his shoulder, then crossed the parking lot to the small metal stands that stood alongside the dark soccer pitch.  He stood in a puddle as he set the body of Charles Ballard down on the second row of bench seating and leaned it back so that the man appeared to be lounging on the bleachers.  One arm was outstretched along the row above, so it looked like he might be sleeping.  It was a Monday morning, and unlikely he would be discovered early even at this location.  The darkly clad man then scraped his foot over the surface of the ground where he had stood. He pushed the fine gravel around to disrupt any footprints that remained and backed up towards the coarse gravel lot.  Then he turned and moved back to the van, slamming the door behind him.

He rechecked his watch.

3:18 am.

“Thirty minutes to Beltsville, then four to burn the van, ten minutes to a car, then back to Baltimore,” he said in a mechanical tone.  “Twenty-minute drive, three-minute walk, twenty-minute drive home… ninety-seven minutes, plus or minus three.”

He keyed the ignition.

2

The smell of eggs and bacon had Jake’s stomach grumbling as they snapped and crackled in the pan.  He had stepped away for a moment to change the channel on the TV in his living room.  It was just after 7:00am on April 11th as he went back to the kitchen and took the bacon out of the pan, setting it lightly onto his plate before sliding the scrambled eggs onto the plate as well.  He added a splash of hot sauce onto the eggs, then went back to the living room where he sat down on his couch to eat.

He wasn’t really watching the show.  It was more just to provide noise so that he wouldn’t be eating alone in silence.  Not that he minded being alone, but he had been unable to eat in silence since his days in the service.  On the television screen were two brightly dressed women, one blonde the other brunette, and a dark-haired man.  All three were seated on a long red couch in their studio somewhere in downtown Baltimore, talking about the upcoming 5k Run to raise funding for ALS and the “Going Wild Weekend” at the children’s museum.

Then the screen suddenly cut to a shot from inside the newsroom where an older man sat behind a table.  WJXP Fox News was on the front, and below the man, an infographic read “Breaking: Turquoise Killer Strikes Again.”

“Fuck,” Jake said around a mouthful of eggs.

“We interrupt the morning show to bring you the troubling breaking news that the Turquoise Killer appears to have struck again, this time in Langley Virginia,” the talking head said as the screen cut to a feed from a shot of what looked like a park.  “We take you now live to Langley Fork Park, in Virginia, just a stones’ throw from the headquarters of the CIA.”

“Oh fuck,” Jake said, standing now, his food forgotten.

Just then, his phone started to ring, and he took it from his pocket and answered without looking at it.  “Holt,” he said.

“Jake! Are you watching the news?” Came the familiar and rather excited voice of Calvin Dean, Jake’s partner.

“Yeah, Cal, I’m watching,” Jake said.  On the screen, he could see several men in suits moving among the uniformed police officers.  “How much you wanna bet those are feds?”

“Not a dime,” Calvin said.  “We’re gonna lose the case.”

On the tv, a split-screen showed the anchor and reporter talking.

“We’re currently being told the victim is as yet unnamed, this is certain to spell an escalation in the forces being brought to bear against the killer known as Turquoise,” the anchor said with a degree of solemnity that Jake saw through at once.

The reporter with a finger to his/her ear nodded.  “Yes, that’s right, Don.  We’re being told by police here that they believe that this is indeed the same killer that has been stalking Baltimore, and that the state of Virginia has already requested the assistance of the FBI.  We’ll likely see some sort of inter-agency taskforce put together here fairly quickly.”

“Fuck,” Jake said irritably.

“Crossed state lines,” Calvin said.  “Body probably even came from Baltimore.”

“I gotta get ready, and head in,” Jake said, moving towards the kitchen.

“See you there.”

Jake hung up his phone and set it on the counter.  On the TV, the reporter was still talking as Jake loaded his plate into the dishwasher.

“… And just a reminder for the viewers at home that this park is extremely close to the CIA headquarters.  Just beyond those trees …”

Jake turned the tv off.  He would still shower, but it was going to be a quick one.  Baltimore PD had been hunting for the killer they called Turquoise for the past seven months with a growing sense of urgency as the body-count piled up.  The press had grown especially shrill in the past month or so.  March, like January, had been another double-murder month.  In all, eight bodies had turned up in the past seven months, each with the killer’s distinctive signature.   The first two had been shot, and the other six had been drowned, but all of them had their heads dyed turquoise.  It was bizarre.  It was sensational.  And the local media had loved it.

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