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The UFO Hunters

Forty-seven-year-old cop Ken Storch can barely contain his enthusiasm this Monday morning in August. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt that reads "Aliens are Real: The Government Doesn't Exist," he revs the engine of his RV in the Bear Valley Mall parking lot. He's itching to get going on Colorado's...
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Forty-seven-year-old cop Ken Storch can barely contain his enthusiasm this Monday morning in August. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt that reads "Aliens are Real: The Government Doesn't Exist," he revs the engine of his RV in the Bear Valley Mall parking lot. He's itching to get going on Colorado's first formal UFO expedition. His buddy LJ Dalicandro, a former civilian undercover operative for the Drug Enforcement Administration, is a bulldog of a man who's been shot three times and will tell you all about it. Right now, though, Dalicandro is adjusting the carburetor on his motorcycle. They've already checked and double-checked the hitch on the trailer of their supply truck. They've introduced all the members of their unusual nine-person team. There's nothing to advertise to the outside world that these people are searching for aliens. An onlooker might think they are an odd mixture of a biker gang and a church group.

The caravan pulls out of the parking lot and heads south toward the San Luis Valley, the state's headquarters for mystical occurrences and extraterrestrial sightings. Storch and his RV are in the lead, followed by the supply truck and three other vehicles. The convoy gets on Highway 285, and Dalicandro races his Kawasaki Vulcan up and down the line like a cowboy on horseback keeping a wagon train in order. Thanks to Storch, everyone has walkie-talkies to keep in touch.

This expedition has been a dream of Storch and Dalicandro's for some time. The two met years ago on a drug bust in Littleton and quickly formed a bond based not on law enforcement but on their desire to search for aliens ("Reach for the Sky," July 2). They've made trips out into the wilderness to watch the skies before, but they always figured that the way to do it right would be to assemble a team of people with varied backgrounds to help lend the hunt some credibility. After advertising for team members willing to pay $100 a pop, they've gathered an archaeologist, two people who report having been abducted by aliens, a waiter, an unemployed musician, a retired police officer, an employee of Dalicandro's tree-trimming business and a San Luis Valley native who claims to have had several run-ins with "unexplained phenomena."

"It's a team concept," explains Storch. "If you've got one person up all night by himself, it isn't going to work. But one thing I've learned from my 21 years in law enforcement is that you never send a guy out alone on a stakeout. Having a partner helps keep you awake, and if all hell breaks loose, you've got a witness. With a group of people like this, we can have people out on watch 24 hours a day so we won't miss anything. If nothing else, this expedition will establish the research parameters for the future."

But their past precedes them. Storch has acquired some minor celebrity for appearing in several episodes of Cops. As an undercover operative, Dalicandro has a much lower profile, but he still gets recognized. During a brief stop for refreshments in Evergreen, he goes into a bar where ten years ago he worked as a confidential informant on a drug deal for eighty pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms. "The bartender is looking at me like, 'Don't I know you?'" says Dalicandro, "and I'm like, 'Maybe you recognize me from America's Most Wanted.'" Dalicandro notes to the team that he helped put away the bartender's husband for ten years.

Four hours after leaving Denver, the expedition arrives in the San Luis Valley. The expedition's base camp is located about a mile off the highway in an arid bowl ringed on three sides by jagged hills. The camp is hidden from the road by a 200-foot-high rock outcropping. Although this piece of public land near Saguache seems isolated, Storch and Dalicandro still want to keep a low profile. Set up the way they are, the UFO hunters will see anyone--or anything--coming long before he or it reaches camp. The only non-humans they've spotted so far are a small herd of cattle grazing on the valley's short, dry grass.

Tents pop up around Storch's RV while Dalicandro and Tyron Lucas, a rugged-looking 33-year-old who works for Dalicandro back in Denver, help get the cooking fire going. Dave Lancaster, the Salida native, sets up his own tent on one side of the bowl, apart from the others. He drives his Geo Tracker back and forth across the 100 yards of scrub separating his tent from the rest of the group.

While Dalicandro cooks dinner, Storch and Mike Riese catch up on old times--they were roommates back when they started working for a metro-Denver sheriff's department in the Seventies. The two hadn't talked for seven years until Riese's ex-wife heard Storch on a radio talk show discussing the expedition this summer. After calling Storch, Riese decided to sign up for the trip.

As the sun sets and the temperature drops, the hunters drift over to the campfire. Ruth Thomas is shivering more than the rest of the group--and not just from the cold. A diminutive woman in her early fifties and the mother of two, she seems an unlikely member of this team. But she came, she says, to face fears that have plagued her since she was a child. Ruth Thomas says that she's been abducted. Being out under the dark skies is scaring her.

She is not alone. Ryan Zearley, a 25-year-old waiter who moved to Colorado four years ago from North Dakota, also says he's been abducted. His eyes dart quickly around the darkening valley basin. He smiles nervously at Storch and Riese's jokes and chain-smokes Marlboros.

But while the abductees are distracted by their own thoughts, the rest of the expedition members pay rapt attention as Storch, Dalicandro and Riese lob cop stories back and forth.

One of them was investigating a church break-in and almost shot Jesus when a statue of his likeness popped into his gunsights. They laugh about a rookie cop who busted a cap in a mannequin in a sporting-goods store. Once, Storch slit the throat of a deer that had been hit by a car and got punched in the face by a female motorist who thought he was being brutal to the animal.

On the first night of an alien-hunting expedition, the conversation inevitably turns to horror stories.

"There was this time I got a call about a woman screaming," Storch recalls. "And I'm telling you, you could hear this woman clear across the valley. So I pull up to the house and can see the woman in an upstairs bathroom window just yelling her head off for us to save her. Backup arrives and we hit the front door. There are no lights on inside the house--the circuit breaker has been thrown--so we're sweeping with our Mag Lites. We get upstairs, and at the end of the hall is a guy holding a knife. He's completely naked, wearing a devil's mask and covered--I mean covered--with blood. The officer behind me is so freaked out that he almost splatters the guy right then and there. But the guy takes off down the hall and we tackle him.

"We get the woman out of the bathroom and she's missing three fingers on her right hand. When we finally get her calmed down, she tells us what happened. She was asleep in her bed and wakes up after she hears this crazy murmuring above her. She opens her eyes and there's this naked guy in a devil's mask standing over her. He comes down with this butcher knife and she blocks it with her hand, but it takes off her three fingers. Somehow she locks herself in the bathroom and starts screaming for the police.

"The guy in the mask is still in some mental institution. It turns out he was in some cult and picked this woman as his victim at her husband's funeral in Arizona. Then he followed her all the way up to Colorado before trying to sacrifice her. Man, I still have nightmares about waking up to that lunatic murmuring and seeing some guy standing over me with a knife."

As if horror stories, the pitch-black night and the howling of coyotes aren't enough to set the hunters on edge, they have to begin standing watch in two-hour segments beginning at 10 p.m.

A couple of people drift off to their tents, but most are too worked up--either from the campfire stories or the prospect of seeing a UFO--to sleep just yet. They settle into lawn chairs and watch the skies.

Ruth Thomas stands off by herself and huddles inside her parka. When asked if it makes her more nervous than usual to be out in the open, she says no. But her halting speech indicates otherwise.

"I don't feel any...more scared...out here than I do at my house in Cherry Hills," she says quietly. "If they're coming to get you, it doesn't matter where you are."

Thomas says her first recollection of being abducted occurred many years ago: "I was lying in bed, and I woke up to see this hooded figure leaning over me saying, 'We love you.' And I've had these terrible end-of-the-world dreams ever since. I've been under hypnosis, and my therapist is convinced that I've been abducted. He thought it would be a good idea to come out here. But like I said, it doesn't matter where you are. They can always get to you. At home I never sleep without the lights on."

An explosion rocks the camp at 8 a.m. The expedition members scramble out of their tents to find Dalicandro standing over the cooking fire with a .30-.30 rifle in one hand, a spatula in the other and a big grin on his face. "A gunshot gets people to breakfast quicker than a dinner bell," he says.

There's excited talk around the fire about a possible sighting the night before. "It came over that saddle right up there," says Gene Romanski, an archaeologist with long brown hair and a mustache. "It was a pulsing red light preceded by a flash. At first I thought it was a helicopter, but it was more like a strobe. The second flash was a little weaker, and the third was even weaker."

Storch saw the same thing. "My first thought," he says, "was that there was an airport over on the other side, but I've been over there, and there's nothing. I don't know how to rationalize it."

Dave Lancaster, the loner, comes rushing over, adjusting his long hair under his cowboy hat. He interrupts the conversation.

"Man, it was like a damn headlight was shining right into my tent," Dave says excitedly. "I got up so fast that I put my shoes on backwards. It was like a stationary firework, like a big purple firework. It was most excellent."

Storch and Romanski remember it as a much more prosaic event. Lancaster suggests that maybe they picked up the strange light too late, and he sticks to his story. Storch and Riese fall back on their police experience and speculate that it could have been drug smugglers entering the valley in a light aircraft to drop off a shipment. The flashes may have been beacons from the drug runners on the ground.

"But, damn it," says Storch, "I still can't explain the lack of engine noise if it was an airplane."

After a breakfast of eggs, hash browns and green chili, the expedition breaks up into teams. Storch, Riese and Thomas head into nearby Crestone to gather "intel." Romanski, Zearley and Kate Fahey, a 22-year-old musician with long, blond dreadlocks and several tattoos, plan to hike to the other side of the saddle to see if they can find any traces of a landing strip connected to the night's strange lights. Dalicandro and Lucas stay with the camp. Dave Lancaster heads off on his own.

In a Crestone restaurant, Storch posts a flier that urges anyone with information about unexplained aerial phenomena to leave a name and phone number. Walking out of the restaurant, he spots a kid in dirty jeans and white tennis shoes carrying a rifle under a camouflage jacket. He approaches the kid and reminds him that they met the week before, when he and Dalicandro came down to scope out potential camping sights. After a moment's hesitation, the kid recognizes him, and Storch introduces him to Thomas and Riese. "See anything since the last time we talked?" Storch asks.

No, replies the kid, but he dredges up a story from three years ago: "It was a giant rectangle, as big as a football field. It scared the hell out of me. There was no noise at all. Nothing. Came over the mountain like a piece of paper, floating but really controlled."

"Any thickness to it?" asks Riese.
"I don't know. But the dogs noticed it before I did. They chased it and were going nuts like they wanted to kill whatever it was. I know it changed direction and speed."

"Any chance it was a cloud?"
"No way," the kid responds emphatically. He thinks for a moment and then adds, "You know, there was something I saw about a month ago that was pretty strange. It was like this flashing light that came over the mountains. Three flashes. Then it was gone."

Storch, Riese and Thomas exchange glances. Last night's lights? The kid agrees that it sounds pretty similar.

The next stop is a liquor store in the heart of Crestone. The streets are deserted except for a pickup truck. In its open bed are an East Indian woman in a sari and a man in silk pajamas, sitting in the lotus position and facing backward as the truck putters through Crestone's lone intersection.

Storch doesn't waste the opportunity to ask the liquor-store clerk if she's seen anything "unusual."

"No," she snaps. "I've been living here for 43 years and I haven't seen anything." Storch patiently explains why he's in the valley and mentions that he knows a guy on his police force who hails from Crestone. Turns out that the liquor-store clerk knows the guy. Storch smiles brightly and the clerk loosens up.

As a matter of fact, she says, her sister has seen something: A few years ago she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. While she was in the bathroom, it filled with a surreal light and started shaking.

"Like I said," says the clerk, "I didn't see it. But if my sister says she did, I believe her. This place has a strange energy to it, and that attracts a lot of strange people. Shirley MacLaine was supposedly moving out here, and there were tons of people coming in here asking about it. They were driving me nuts. A lot of people try to take advantage of this valley by capitalizing on this UFO stuff. Forty percent of the people in this county are on some form of subsistence, but all these outsiders come in here trying to make money off us. There was one religious group that was down here trying to raise money so they could build some goddamn pink pyramid."

The clerk suggests that a guy who might be worth talking to is "Daily Dan," a UPS driver who is supposed to have a bunch of cattle-mutilation pictures. Back in the car, Storch gets on the radio and tells Romanski's group to watch for a UPS truck and flag it down.

The next stop is a double-wide trailer that serves as the Saguache County library. No luck there. But as they leave, Storch spots a black Hummer cruising past. "Hurry up," he hollers. "We've got to catch up with that Hummer and get its plate number. I want to see if it's the feds."

Riese guns his white 1988 Honda Accord, spitting up gravel, but the Hummer is almost out of sight by the time the car gets on the blacktop.

"Can't you get this piece of shit going any faster?" Storch asks as Riese hits 85 mph. "We're losing him!" The Hummer appears on the horizon just in time for Storch to spot it pulling off the road. "There it is, pulling off to the right. All right, just cruise past real casual and we'll get the plate."

The Hummer is idling by a group of mailboxes at the entrance of what appears to be a horse ranch, although there are no horses in sight. The driver of the Hummer leafs through his mail as Riese drives by. Riese intones, "Alpha, Charlie, Tango, niner, fiver, seven, two." Storch scribbles down the intel.

"Interesting," says Storch. "The clerk at the liquor store was telling us that 40 percent of this county is in the poorhouse, and that guy's got an $80,000 Hummer and a horse ranch with no horses."

Before heading back to camp, the team stops at a crystal shop--a tip from the kid outside the restaurant--and chats with Donna, one of the owners. With everyone sitting around a table adorned with a plastic tablecloth, a box of doughnuts and a jar of mayonnaise, the talk turns to outer space.

Donna, a heavyset woman in her sixties with short gray hair and tinted glasses, rattles off all the sightings she's seen. Her husband, Al, joins the group. Al also has tinted glasses and sports a large crystal around his neck. For some unexplained reason, he's wearing black leather gloves in the ninety-degree heat. Donna mentions a magical crystal skull, and Al pipes up to say, "The big ones are always orange." He sagely nods his head. Storch asks, "What's orange?" but Al just keeps nodding his head.

Donna picks up for her husband. "What he's talking about is a big orange craft we saw coming down the road not too long ago."

"Was it natural?" Storch asks.
"Not at all," says Donna. "I think a lot of it is done by the government. After every sighting, the Air Force is all over the place right away like the Keystone Cops. They come in here with their black helicopters and jets. We've seen a Bigfoot, too."

"That's right," says Al.
End of interview.
But intel is intel, as Storch says during the drive back to camp. "It's difficult for me to imagine that on one hand you've got the clerk who's lived here for 43 years and hasn't seen a thing, and then you've got Al and Donna, who've been here five years and have seen all sorts of stuff," he says. "And then they're tossing in stuff about the crystal skull and Bigfoot.

"But at the same time, they're actively looking for the phenomena. I don't know the clerk's habits. She may go to bed at 4 p.m. every night. Ninety percent of the population is just flat-out not paying attention, and that's why a lot of them become victims. For example, people will be walking down a path and won't look up when they see someone approaching. Attackers like that sort of ambush. But if you're paying attention to them, they'll pick someone else to mug. The bottom line is that you've got to pay attention. Maybe that's why some people see UFOs and others don't."

Everybody's returned from the day's missions, but Storch, Romanski, Zearley and Lucas decide to hike up to the top of the saddle where the mysterious object appeared the night before. They want to take a magnetic reading. While the others take the reading, Zearley stares at the valley below him and thinks about another mysterious force. He says his first realization that he'd been abducted occurred after he read a book called The Abducted.

"Couldn't sleep for a week," he says. "There were all these case studies of different people who'd been abducted, and they all had experiences similar to mine. I had the same dreams they had. End-of-the-world dreams and nuclear holocausts. One dream in particular has stuck with me. It's me and a bunch of people in a van, and we get hit by this nuclear explosion. In the dream I look at myself in the mirror and I've got all these radiation scars. I've woken up in the morning and found scars on my back that I can't explain.

"It's been good to talk to Ruth and find out that we've experienced some of the same things. But I'll tell you, I was scared last night when we saw those objects. But like Ruth says, they could come and put the rest of the group to sleep, take us, and nobody would even know it. It sounds weird, but I don't try to keep the fact that I've been abducted a secret anymore. I don't care if people think I'm crazy."

This group of UFO hunters, however, is not likely to be taken by surprise. After dinner, Storch breaks out his ten-gauge "goose gun," a one-shot rifle that sounds like a cannon and has enough recoil to make the six-foot-two Storch stagger backward. The gun's report rolls around the valley like thunder.

Suddenly an entire arsenal appears. Lancaster emerges from his tent with a .44 Magnum revolver and a .22-caliber semi-automatic Tek with a banana clip. Romanski, the mild-mannered archaeologist who was gently playing with an insect before the shooting started, walks out to the impromptu firing line with a 9mm Glock. Storch goes back to his RV and grabs a Walther PPK and a .357 Magnum. A couple of tin cans are placed out in the basin and the shooting begins. Only Dalicandro and Thomas don't take turns firing the guns under the cops' expert instructions. Fahey, the 22-year-old musician, shoots everything but the goose gun. Zearley takes the .357 and bull's-eyes a can on his first shot. "I've shot a .357 before," he says modestly.

Lancaster steps up and starts rapid-firing his Tek. "Every cop's worst nightmare," Storch comments, mostly to himself.

Fahey is quick to offer an opinion about the apparent connection between guns and an interest in UFOs. "It stems from a distrust of the government," she says. "If the government is going to cover up the UFO phenomenon, why wouldn't they declare martial law and seize everyone's guns? I think that people on this expedition realize that could happen, and they're preparing themselves."

Storch agrees, saying, "It's a self-protection issue, on one hand. But this expedition is all about finding out for yourself what's going on. You can't wait for the government to tell you the truth--or protect you when it comes right down to it. Look at the Constitution. The First Amendment ensures freedom of speech and the press. The Second Amendment ensures the right to bear arms. And, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, you've got the Second Amendment to protect the First.

"I'm not surprised that people on this expedition own weapons."
Thomas, who sits with Dalicandro during the fusillade, believes otherwise: "I think it just shows the aliens how violent we really are."

The next morning, everyone's talking about a multi-colored, pulsating light. Riese and Romanski saw it sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.

"Gene and I got pretty excited," Riese recalls as breakfast is being served. "But as it got higher, the light became less intense. So Gene and I did some rough scientific calculations, comparing the light to the stars around it, and the object kept its relative distance. And then we saw another star, which was doing the same thing.

"Even though we wanted it to be a ship, more than likely it was just an atmospheric light refraction. I guess you've got to eliminate the innocent before you find the guilty. Tonight we'll check again, and if we don't see the same phenomenon, maybe we were on to something. I don't have a lot of experience in this kind of stuff, but like Storch says, it's experience in gathering information that applies. You want it to be something so badly, but you've got to be analytical about it."

That kind of "second-guessing" encourages Storch. "You can't jump to conclusions," says Storch. "That's what destroys credibility. If you jump at every light, like Al and Donna at the crystal shop, nobody is going to believe you. I'm not discouraged by what Gene and Mike did last night, because if and when they do come to me and say they've got something, it'll be worth my time to get up and see for myself. It's not going to be a false alarm."

As if to emphasize his point, Lancaster ambles over to the main camp to say that he also saw something that was "not normal." He draws a diagram of a light he saw that was doing loops like "the icing on a Hostess cupcake, zigzagging like crazy." While Romanski and Riese have spent the past hour debunking their own possible sighting, Lancaster is trying to sell his. The other expedition members try not to make it obvious that they're not listening to him: Riese takes a sudden interest in a UFO pamphlet, Romanski walks off to look at some rocks, Zearley lights up a cigarette.

For the most part, though, the expedition members are getting tighter with one another. Later that morning, Riese and Fahey discuss Fahey's multiple tattoos. At first Fahey seems defensive when this former cop with a silver crucifix hanging around his neck asks why she feels the need to decorate her body. But Riese seems genuinely interested, and Fahey lets down her guard. She says it's a "spiritual" thing and starts showing Riese a tattoo in progress that will ultimately encircle her waist.

In return, Riese offers tips to Fahey and Zearley about how to deal with police trouble. He tells them that if an officer pulls someone over for drunken driving (Riese worked in a DUI unit for many years), the officer has to observe the suspect for twenty minutes before administering a breathalyzer test. If the suspect burps or chews anything during that time, it nullifies the test.

But mostly Riese urges the two not to be defensive. "I think that most cops would rather help you out than make your life miserable," he tells them. "Storch and I have talked about it several times. The idea is not to enforce the letter of the law but the spirit of the law."

The conversation isn't lost on Storch. "I think that this might be the first time that Kate and Ryan have had the opportunity to talk to guys like me and Mike, who work in law enforcement, without worrying about what they're saying," he says. "But it works both ways. A lot a guys on the force, myself included sometimes, look at somebody with tattoos as an automatic degenerate. And I'm sure Kate has had her share of negative run-ins with the law.

"But you get out here in the field, and those preconceptions don't mean anything. I've really enjoyed talking to Kate, and I don't think that would ever happen if we were in Denver sitting in some coffee shop, whether I was in uniform or not."

It's certain that both of the abductees feel safe with the cops around. After breakfast, Dalicandro declares that Wednesday is chore day. "If you don't want to participate in the cleaning of the camp," he adds, "just go out and find a rock so the bullet doesn't go through you and hit anyone else."

Zearley turns to Storch and asks, "Is he serious?" Storch laughs. Later, Zearley approaches Storch and says that he likes having Dalicandro around: "He makes me feel safe."

Storch assures the team's other abductee that he and Dalicandro would do anything to prevent her from being harmed.

"But there isn't anything you can do about it," Thomas says. "They can come and put everyone to sleep and take anyone they want."

"That may be true," says Storch, "but I don't think the aliens have ever run into LJ."

Thomas laughs.

The Saguache County Sheriff's Department is a tiny, prefab building on a deserted street behind a deserted courthouse in Saguache. The only thing missing from this ghost town is a tumbleweed cartwheeling down the street.

Sheriff Al King is receiving visitors this afternoon, and Storch and Mike are ushered into his office.

King is a large man with white hair and a mustache. He's wearing a turquoise shirt. Storch and Riese introduce themselves as fellow officers, and King looks a bit excited. But when Storch mentions UFOs and local authority Chris O'Brien, King rolls his eyes toward the ceiling.

"Look," says King, "this county is one of the largest in the state. We've got approximately 3,500 square miles, which are covered by eight officers. I haven't seen anything like a UFO in the sixteen years I've been out here. I'd love to see a saucer, but I haven't seen a thing." King says the guy they should talk to is his under-sheriff, Mike Morris, who has investigated several mysterious cattle mutilations.

Morris walks into the boss's office and King walks out. It's an election year, and UFOs aren't a burning issue among the locals. The latest issue of the local monthly paper, The Crestone Eagle, features an article by William "Buck" Winters that derides the true believers who have come to inhabit the valley.

"I'm not saying that the aliens aren't doing their mutilating here," writes Winters. "If you have any doubt, take a look at area teenagers. The aliens seem to be fond of pokin' holes in noses, lips, or eyebrows, then insertin' metal devices, probably for trackin'. I'm speculatin', though, that these devices may also be some sort of mind control function, judgin' by some of the erratic behavior some of us have been noticing.

"Things have come to a pretty pass when extraterrestrials start haulin' off the cream of our youth and returning 'em in the kind of condition we've been seein' recently. Something has got to be done. Maybe we should form an Alien Prevention Posse."

Undersheriff Morris is no fan of the UFO conspiracy theorists. "You fellas are talking to the wrong folks," says Morris. "Chris O'Brien is the one who sees all the lights."

O'Brien, who was unavailable to the expedi-tion during this trip, has written two books on UFOs, the latest titled Enter the Valley: UFOs, Religious Miracles, Cattle Mutilations, and Other Unexplained Phenomena in the San Luis Valley. His own promotional material describes him as "a media hound whose television coverage as a leading paranormal researcher includes multiple appearances on Sightings, Extra, Inside Edition, Strange Universe, and the BBC." He also hounds the local lawmen, to the point of being a pest.

Morris attributes most of the "sightings" to the airplane lights of drug runners. "That's about all we've gotten into," he says.

Sheriff King steps back into the office to grab something off his desk, and Storch stands up to clear a path for the large man. Standing, Morris seems to recognize something in Storch. He steps right up to him and peers up into his face, squinting through square-framed, tinted glasses. Storch stands there with a pleasant look on his face.

After ten seconds, Morris says, "I know you. I've seen you on Cops." Morris extends his hand solemnly. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"You know what?" says Storch. "You remind me of my brother-in-law."
"Is he rich?" asks Morris.
"He should be," Storch replies. "He beats me in poker every time we play."

With the ice broken, things get downright friendly. Turns out that one of Morris's old buddies was Riese's boss when he was still on the police force in Denver. Everybody starts using first names.

"The truth is, I'm not a disbeliever," says Morris once the men return to their seats. "But I'm a hard-evidence guy, and I just can't find any in conjunction with the mutilations I've been investigating."

He ducks out of the office for a second and returns with a stack of crime-scene photos. "I keep these locked up," he explains. "Nobody outside the office has seen these." Morris kneels down between Storch and Riese and starts showing the pictures. They're of a large steer with half of its face cut off, like a cross-section you might see in a veterinary surgeon's handbook. The animal's tongue is missing.

"No coyote in the world could make razor-sharp cuts like these," says Morris. "And I checked the whole steer and couldn't find a cause of death. My gut instinct is that somebody tranquilized it, then made the cuts. But still, where did the blood go? There's not a trace of it anywhere around the animal, and there aren't any tracks. It doesn't make any sense."

After the three men chat about office politics, response times and the relative merits of the Caprice Classic and the Crown Victoria as squad cars, Morris walks the visitors out and they exchange phone numbers.

In the car, Storch says he wishes he could have been along when Morris did the mutilation investigation. "I don't fault any of Morris's work," says Storch. "I think he did a thorough job with the resources he's allocated. But I would have liked to do a soil test under and around the steer for radiation and have a full autopsy and toxicology test performed. It just doesn't make sense that somebody could've done that and not left a single trace.

"But it's good that we made contact with the local authorities. When we come down here on the next expedition, we'll have people to talk to who'll shoot us straight."

The hunters strike camp Friday morning and head back to Denver. There are no aliens strapped to their fenders, but their mood is pretty good. They've made plans for a future trip to Utah, where they hope to stake out a possible government-run secret site for alien technology studies.

"I think this went way beyond our expectations," Storch says of the San Luis Valley trip. "We didn't get the classic sighting we wanted, but we gathered an immense amount of intel and made great contacts with the local jurisdiction. In fact, they agreed to a joint investigation with us next time they come across a cattle mutilation. And our main goal in that will be to establish a cause of death. Right now, no one can conclusively say what's killing these animals, and we're hoping to determine once and for all if it's related to the aerial phenomena."

Storch adds that they've struck a deal with Undersheriff Morris for Dalicandro to come down and do some intel work. Namely, they want Dalicandro to infiltrate some of the new-age or drug cults that call the San Luis Valley home.

"In exchange for the mutilated cow," says Storch, "LJ will turn over any crystal meth or cocaine operations he infiltrates. It sounds like a fair deal to us."

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