The Hunted - By L.A. Banks

On the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Present day

The American embassy official turned away from the grisly sight, bent over, dry heaved twice, then lost his lunch. Two American CIA investigators posing as embassy military police mopped their brows in the dense humidity, the smell of old, rotting flesh and new vomit making their skin go pale. The stench was so thick that it practically blurred the vision of those assembled. The befouled air could almost be seen rising on translucent waves of heat. The villagers kept their distance, and even the Brazilian police were slow to move too close to the carnage.

Four bodies lay in a mangled heap. Three men, one woman - their throats and limbs missing, their abdominal cavities gutted, with huge hunks of torn flesh - were scattered across the ground. Within the heat-liquefied slurry, there was a mass of flies buzzing, larva writhing, and beetles skittering for cover in the three-day-old flesh. Disturbed buzzards waited their turn to feast again from their patient posts in the trees. Twenty local farmers that had found the dead shook their heads and made the sign of the cross over their chests, while murmuring, "Cuidado, por favor! Diablo - Exu." The crowd was growing behind the police barricade.

"This wasn't the damn Devil," a CIA operative muttered. "Although I can see the locals' point. These folks definitely died a helluva awful death."

The embassy official only nodded, still trying to regain his composure.

Investigators stared at the khaki safari clothing torn away at the chest down to the abdomen on each body, making the fabric dark, muddy brown, and stiff. Removed entrails torn from the gaping abdominal cavities had been snatched away so brutally that bits of splintered ribs littered the ground next to each victim. Dead hands paralyzed with rigor mortis still clasped hunting knives, while cameras and other equipment scattered the area. Mouths were still frozen open in silent screams, gums and tongues picked away by wretched scavenger beaks. Only one skull still had eyes left in it, which were open and glassy and stared at the sepia-stained earth.

"The buzzards missed one," the other CIA man said and then glanced away toward the trees. His pale face had gone ashen even under the blaring sun, and his blond hair was matted and stained dark by sweat not generated from the heat but pure fear. He tried to summon calm as he straightened his red-and-blue rep tie, and loosened his white button-down Oxford shirt at the collar, opening the top button, then wiped his hands on the pockets of his navy blue suit. "Rebels sure have a helluva way to make a point to mark off drug territories."

"This was not rebels," the coroner finally said with conviction. "This is not an international incident. Don't make it one, either."

Slowly pushing himself up from his stooped position, the American embassy official nodded, blotting his mouth with a handkerchief then with his forearm. "I know," he said, trying not to breathe too deeply. The air smelled like blood and rotting flesh. His eyes watered from the stench.

The two CIA men stood there in navy suits and white shirts, their grim expressions partially masked behind dark aviator sunglasses. They looked almost identical, save one had brown hair, one was blond, but their just-the-facts facade was blown by the way their once-crisp white shirts clung to their bodies, sweat staining them, making them limp. Heat wasn't the only culprit. Their silent fear was palpable. All the officials and authorities present shared the same quiet terror with the locals.

"Looks like our National Geographic science team was attacked by some kind of animal. No slicing with a knife could have dismembered these bodies like this. All their expensive equipment and cameras are still here," one of the CIA men said after a moment. He raked his fingers through his perspiration-soaked brown hair. "Even the local boys didn't disturb the site by moving in to fleece the bodies of valuables, which would have made for more paperwork. So we can at least thank superstition." He walked around the remains, glancing at the carcasses. "No shell casings, there wasn't even time for them to defend themselves."

"Then, Se¤or, make sure that this is what is said in your media. This was no crime - just an unfortunate animal attack." The Brazilian police captain wiped at the trickle of sweat running from his temple with his forearm.

"Problem is, there's hardly anything left to ship home," the other CIA man said, shaking his