Chapter One

Footsteps In The Dark


Snow came down and blanketed the street in a bright white. The bitter February wind swept through the cemetery and sliced into his coat. A shiver went through his body as he exited his car, a beat up 90s Toyota. He wished he'd grabbed his gloves and hat.

He looked neither left nor right when he crossed the street, knowing that it was desolate that night. No one came to the graveyards at this hour, especially in this weather. The only sounds at that hour were boots crunching in the snow and flakes softly tapping his coat.

White flakes stuck to his dark-hair as he made his way through the rows of marble stones. His breath came out in white puffs, his jaw clenched as he shivered. He held the flowers tightly in his hand, as the icy wind picked up and forced his muscles to bunch. He should have waited for a warmer day to do this, but he made a promise when she died, that he'd visit her once a week.

The cold didn't matter.

He found her on the third row, fifth headstone. It was easy to find as hers was pale pink, her favorite color. Kneeling down, he placed the assortment of flowers into the vase beside the stone. His brother, Emiliano, didn't understand why he didn't just buy fake flowers instead. They lasted longer, sure, but to Diego, it felt insulting. Their baby sister deserved genuine ones.

Running his fingers along the inscription, he read the words quietly, reminding himself that she was truly gone.

Camila Flores Navarro

Loving Daughter, Sister, Friend

May, 12, 1988 - March, 7, 2008

She hadn't made it to her twentieth birthday when a mugger robbed her at gunpoint and left her to die. No one knew who did it and he knew his family would never find out.

He bowed his head and spoke a prayer for her, even if he didn't believe in what he was saying. Despite his lack of belief, it was something else Camila would have wanted.

Grief knotted in his throat and his eyes ran warm with tears. Clenching his jaw, he dug his fingernails into his jeans as he fought back against the emotions swelling within him. He wouldn't allow himself to cry, not here.

He didn't know how long he stayed there, but his knees ached. He was almost thirty but felt fifty half the time. Rising, a sharp pain ran under his left knee. He sucked in a breath while forcing himself to stand the rest of the way. The previous week, he was in a fight that resulted in someone taking a pipe to his leg. The blow was just above the knee, but now the pain had traveled behind the cap.

Reaching into his pocket, he took out his phone and checked the time. It was almost midnight, and he was here after hours. He looked around, wondering where the groundskeeper could be. The old man never seemed to mind Diego's presence. Even if the old man didn't care, a cop driving by would.

He whispered a goodbye to Camila before turning to leave. As he tried avoiding the graves, and dodged headstones in the dark, the snow came down heavier. He flipped up his hood and continued for his car.

From the alley, a figure stepped out of the shadows and moved for Diego's car. He narrowed his eyes at the figure, annoyance coming over him. Whoever they were, they picked the wrong night to piss him off. Ducking into the shadows, Diego watched the figure stop at the driver's side and fiddle with the door. He continued to stay in the darkness as he moved in a wide half circle to avoid being noticed.

He was swift and silent. The car-jacker never knew he was there. As he got closer, he took out his knife and moved in for the attack. The shrouded figure didn't have time to react as Diego flew at him. The thief's jimmy clattered to the pavement. He slammed the thief into the brick wall behind them and hit them once in the jaw.

Diego yanked off the hood. The car thief was a kid with brown hair, pale skin, and almost elfish in appearance with his sharp features, narrow face. His eyes were wide and reflected fear. Seeing how young the would-be criminal was, Diego hesitated for a split second. However, he knew if he didn't teach this kid a lesson now, he would face worse consequences in the future.

Taking out his knife, he pressed it to the kid's throat.

"What were you doing around my car? What made you think it was okay to steal from me?" Diego demanded.

The kid opened his mouth to speak but all he mustered out was a frightened squeak.

"If I ever catch you around here again, I'll kill you. Understand?"

The boy didn't answer.

Diego slammed him against the wall again. "I said: do you understand me!"

He nodded frantically. Diego pulled him off the wall and shoved the kid hard. He stumbled and fell against the trunk of the car before running off, back into the dark.

When the kid found himself at a safe distance, he yelled: "Fuckin' wet back!"

Diego sighed, agitated. Not only was he disappointed the kid was a racist in addition to being a thief, but he was also angry with whoever made him that way.

When the kid turned the corner and disappeared, Diego left the area.

He parked several blocks away at a gas station. The lights outside the store shined into the car. He wished he couldn't be seen this easily. Being noticed wasn't exactly good for him. Not since both the news did a story on "The Shadow". Now everyone wanted to figure out who the mysterious vigilante was. He knew when he started this, there was a chance the media would catch wind of him and now that day had finally come.

Rubbing his temples, he tried relieving his headache. He yawned, then checked the time again. It was close to three, and he had to work the noon shift tomorrow. He rubbed his burning eyes and decided on a small coffee.

He yawned again as he got out of his car. In the corner of his eye, he noticed a faded red Blazer pull in beside him. Seeing that the driver was a woman, he continued inside.

The male cashier greeted him dully and went back to reading a copy of Cosmo. He sipped on a green slushie, showing little interest in his customers. Diego returned the greeting and made a beeline for the coffee.

The door chimed behind him as he selected the flavor he wanted. He glanced back again, watching the woman make her way to the snacks. She was of average height, tan-skinned with long black hair. Her face was heart-shaped and her nose round. He'd guess she was either Native American or Latina, either way, he found her to be easy on the eyes.

Placing the plastic lid on the paper cup, he turned in the girl's direction. She'd selected a large bottle of water and a small bag of chips before going down the aisle where the tissue paper and razors were shelved. When she got to the deodorant, her eyes flicked to the cashier who wasn't paying attention. She quickly snatched a small stick and stuffed it in her letterman jacket, then a small box of tampons. His brows raised at what he just witnessed. It wasn't too surprising seeing petty theft in this part of town, but seeing someone as innocent looking as her steal caught him off guard.

She looked up and caught him staring. Her eyes widened in alarm and she quickly averted her gaze away from him. Hurrying passed him, her hair picked up slightly, like a cape in the wind.

She approached the counter first, setting her items down. As the cashier scanned the items, he asked her if she needed anything else.

"Do you know of any nearby motels," she asked in a soft voice.

"Sorry," the cashier answered in a monotone voice. "I don't pay attention to this area."

"Thank you anyway."

Taking her bag and change, she left quickly with her head down, hair curtaining her face. He watched her quickly make her way to her vehicle. He paid for his coffee before following after her.

She stopped just as she approached the driver's side door and took out her phone. Without giving it much thought, he reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Excuse me."

She jumped and snapped up to face him. Her brown eyes full of fear. "What do you want?"

Seeing her up close, he could tell she was exhausted and upset. Both her eyes and nose were red and puffy, as though she'd been crying. Her hair was messy and partly covered her face. He wanted to ask if she were okay, but decided it was best to not pry.

He took a step back. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, but you mentioned looking for a motel?"

She hesitated before answering, "Yes..."

"There's one three blocks from here. Just take a right at the pink house on the corner and keep going until you see the Motel 6 sign."

"Is it cheap?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I don't make a habit of staying the night in them."

"I see. Thank you."

There was still fear and uncertainty in her eyes, but he couldn't blame her. This part of the city wasn't the safest at night and he didn't look trustworthy dressed in dark clothing.

"Don't mention it." With that, he walked back to his car without a second glance.

His house was on the east side of the city, close where "New Tulsa" used to be. It sat at the corner of the street, far from the other neighbors. It was old, built during the early twentieth century. Its paint was a dull blue with white trimming. The windows were old with a pulley system, with most of the ropes rotten from age. If he wanted them open, he had to prop it up with a stick. The doors were solid wood with glass knobs, the ceilings were high, most of the outlets outdated and in need of replacing, and there wasn't central air and heating.

Behind it, was an empty field and wooded area. Across the street was an abandoned house that the homeless sometimes used as a shelter. The house next door burned down last year, leaving behind an empty cement slab.

He got to the four-foot fence surrounding his property and stopped. Down the street someone was blasting music and dogs barked. He'd asked the neighbors in the past to keep the noise down but they never listened. He thought of saying something again, but immediately dismissed it. He was too tired to care at that point.

Shutting the gate behind himself, he made his way inside his dark and empty home.