Noah’s Boy – Snippet 07
“So this is what I suggest we do,” Rafiel said. “I suggest we go in, two by two, and look around and see if we can find this creature.
“Okay,” Tom said. He was frowning at Rafiel, his blue eyes hard. He hadn’t tied his waist-long black hair as he normally did, and it was drying and being blown into a mess by the wind. He’d also forgotten to shave. The combination of the unkempt long hair, and the shadow of beard against Tom’s naturally pale skin made Tom look like some seriously dangerous man, out on a spree. At least he wasn’t wearing the black leather jacket, Rafiel thought. If he were, some of the rookie officers who didn’t know him might arrest him on sight.
Tom frowned more intently. “I’ll bite,” he said. “We’re going to go in and look for this guy who has already killed two people, and who is a shifter. And what do we do when we find him? Go argh and die?”
“He didn’t kill me,” Jason Cordova said. “Though he messed up my shoulder something awful. I think he’s some sort of pre-historic dog.”
“Pre-historic,” Tom said and in his tone Rafiel could hear the unspoken question, Is this another of the ancient shifters come to town to mess with us?
Rafiel shrugged his ignorance in the matter. “My idea,” he said, enunciating carefully and trying to make himself sound official and in control. “Is that there would be two of us and maybe he would be too scared to shift.”
“Yeah, because being scared never causes anyone to shift,” Tom said, at the same time Kyrie said, “But fear normally makes you shift.”
Rafiel sighed. “We have to do something, okay? We can’t leave here and leave a bad shifter on the loose. I mean, if it really were just some dog or something, we could hope maybe it would be afraid of people and not come out, or not, you know, confront humans. But if it’s a shifter… and if it is a feral shifter, who can tell what it will do?”
Tom didn’t answer, just pulled back his hair with both hands and gave a huff of exasperation. Kyrie bit her lip.
“Look,” Jason said, then seemed to realize he’d spoken up in front of a bunch of people who’d clearly dealt with this sort of thing before, and visibly hesitated. Then sighed. “Look, guys, maybe if we approach it all of us together. I mean, there’s only so much it can do, right? What is it going to do against four?”
“Sometime,” Tom said. “Remind me to tell you about this creature who was a dire wolf and who –”
“Yeah, but this is not quite that bad,” Rafiel said. “I don’t think Dante Dare would have been living in an abandoned hippodrome, okay? I don’t think this guy is that smart.” He cleared his throat. He could feel sweat run down his back, under the Hawaiian shirt, and he wondered if he’d already got late enough to get out of his date with the excuse of police work. He had to look at all the silver linings he could.
* * *
Tom put his arm around Kyrie’s waist, as Rafiel hesitated. “I should,” he said. “Go call my people before I show it to you, but there were rustlings and things, and I’m afraid…” He bit at his lip. “I’m afraid that it is still around there somewhere. So I’ll have to risk contaminating the crime scene.”
“Crime scene?” Jason said, and snorted. “The newest of those human remains must be at least a month old, maybe more.”
“Still a crime scene,” Rafiel said. His inner struggle was visible in his tense face, the frown that pulled his eyebrows together. Tom was accustomed to it by now. He was aware that Rafiel must forever fight between his duty as a police officer and his attempts at keeping shifters and their kind secure. He understood it too. He didn’t like it. He didn’t have to like it. It was as much part of Rafiel as the policeman’s mane of blond hair, consistent in both human and lion form.
He waited until Rafiel — who looked almost terminally relaxed in his surfer t-shirt and khaki pants if you didn’t look at his face — finished the interior debate that Tom knew made him more tightly wound than a year-long-clock, and said, “The thing is, well… as long as you guys don’t touch anything. You could have been with us when we first went in there to explore after all.” And when they didn’t protest, he seemed to give up on being saved from himself and adhering religiously to his policeman’s duty, and said, “Well, come then.”
And they went into the boarded up hippodrome, squeezing past the broken boards at the entrance.
There was no way to be an honest copper and a shifter, Rafiel thought, not for the first time. Back when he’d first found out he could shift, while in college for law enforcement, he’d almost given up on the idea of going into the force.
But then he’d figured out his first girlfriend’s murder, a crime that involved shifters, and which would have gone unsolved without his intervention. And he’d found his vocation for law enforcement again, because, if not him, who would enforce law to shifters? And who would protect them, both from detection and from each other?
He’d been walking that narrow, knife’s edge path between duty and duty ever since. But he didn’t have to like it.
He heard Jason’s boots crunch behind him, and Tom and Kyrie walk behind that, as he led them past the collapsed seats, among waist high grass. His nose kept track of the three shifters behind him, and traced the other scent around here, winding through the grass, trying to be aware if a new, fresher shifter scent joined it, giving away the location of the killer.
Cordova was another problem. Well, not a problem. The poor bastard couldn’t help turning into a bear, any more than Rafiel or Kyrie or Tom could help their shape changes. But they’d have to figure out something for him. What he’d said, about not knowing anyone else who knew he could shift… Rafiel had never been that alone. His parents had figured out his secret early on, and had never been scared or repulsed by it. Rafiel knew, though, that Tom and Kyrie had each spent many years alone with that secret, trying to survive in a world that would kill them or worse should they find out. And he had enough empathy to figure out how terrible that must be.
The thing was, every shifter, by the nature of shifting, was, after a while less than sane. What kind of crazy was Cordova?
His particular form of insanity, just now, seemed to be to behave about as sane as a brick and twice as unconcerned, as he gave Kyrie and Tom a running narration, as he walked around patches of high grass and carefully avoided stepping on needles and human waste, “We came this way, you know, following the scent. And just here, it’s going to get really bad.”
It did, and Rafiel was ready for it this time. It wasn’t bad in the sense of really intense shifter scent, but of the shifter scent being overpowered by the sweet, sickly smell of decay.
Tom put his arm around Kyrie, as they advanced, behind Rafiel, into the ruined place. If he were forced to admit the truth, though he hoped he wouldn’t be, he would have said it was as much for his comfort as hers. He didn’t know if Kyrie was in need of comfort, but he was.
Coming here, and looking at human remains killed by a shifter reminded him of his own days of living wild, of his own fears of what he might have done in the almost blank hours when he surrendered to the animal. Even now, there were portions of that time that were a blankness and a forgetting, and that he hoped remained so, at least if their revelations involved dead people.
They crossed a musty passageway, composed of rotting boards and the remains of what looked like a ticket booth, and across a short gravel path and into chaos.
It looked like the ruins of Pompeii, only not nearly that neat. If the place had been encased in lava, there wouldn’t be a riotous growth of vegetation. People wouldn’t have dumped trash in there. And teens wouldn’t have got in there, who knew how, to do who knew what. Though some of the what was answered easily enough by the discarded condoms and the syringes and needles embedded in the grass.
Tom pulled Kyrie back before she stepped on an exposed needle. He pointed it to her, hoping it would make her more careful, but neither of them spoke. They could smell it now, more intensely than before. They shouldn’t startle whatever was there.
Past a pile of broken wood and rusted metal, which must once have been bleachers or seats, around a pile of sand that looked like someone had dumped it there so they didn’t have to cart it back after a construction project. Then into the tall grass and…
The smell changed, and enveloped Tom. It wasn’t shifter smell, anymore, but the smell of decay. It was so strong and so offensive that he thought they’d stumbled on another body. But what lay in the tall grass were the remains of several rabbits and what might have been a fox. The fox looked like the most recent. It was partially eaten, partly rotting in the warmth of the Colorado spring.
The smell of decay was so strong it made them lose the scent. Tom hesitated, but then as Rafiel started to follow a path of beaten down grass, Tom followed, still holding Kyrie around the waist, as though he could protect her from all evil that way. After all, Rafiel was trained. They weren’t. And Kyrie shouldn’t have to face horrors.
He saw the teenager before he knew what he was seeing. For a moment, for just a moment, he didn’t seem so much like a human being, but like a Rorschach stain against the grass — a collection of dried grass and stones and blood-stained sand. But then Tom blinked, and saw that it was human, and a teen. A young man on the verge of manhood, with overlong, lank, and probably very dirty blond hair, completely naked, his body stained and battered in a way that indicated naked was his normal state.
There were slashes across his middle. The blood they’d been following. And then the smell of shifter hit Tom’s nose.
Rafiel had stopped, dead, in front of them, between them and the boy. “A victim?” Tom asked, in a whisper.
Rafiel shook his head. “The victim cut at him. Bear claws.”
Tom didn’t know if the boy understood them or if something else triggered his alarm. His eyes widened, his barely-human face lengthened. He coughed once, then writhed.
“He’s shifting,” Kyrie said, and sprang forward, but Tom grabbed her, pulled her back. “We don’t know into what. This is not time to –”
And then he realized that Rafiel too was writhing and twisting violently.
As the boy changed into… something low-slung and heavy jawed, and took off running, past them, out of the hippodrome, Rafiel was only seconds behind — a slick, golden lion, leaving a pile of tattered cloth behind him.
Kyrie and Tom followed, running, but by the time they got to the parking lot, the two animal-shape shifters had jumped the fence at the back and were running along the little access dirt road.
Kyrie started to pull her t-shirt up, and Tom realized she meant to shift. “No, Kyrie. We can’t have a parade of felines and a dragon run around Goldport in daylight.”
She hesitated for a minute, pushed her lip out and looked like she’d argue, then pulled her shirt back down, opened the car and slid into the passenger side. He slid into the driver’s side, amazed she’d chosen to let him drive. As though knowing what he was thinking, she said, “You’re better for crazy driving.”
He grinned, but didn’t say anything. In his long distant past, before he’d even been legal for driving, he had made his upper-class parents insane by stealing cars to go joyriding in. He knew Kyrie disapproved of his past, but from her even mentioning it, she might be coming to terms with it. Perhaps… perhaps this would last, after all.
He turned the ignition on, shifted, pushed the gas down and took off, out of the parking lot in a squeal of tires, and sharply right into the little country road. He saw the dog-like creature and the lion run around a curve and accelerated after them.
But by the time he got there, they’d turned and were running among the high grass on the road side. He couldn’t follow them in Kyrie’s compact. If they had an SUV…
“There are neighborhoods that way,” Kyrie said. “Past the fields.”
“Yeah,” Tom said.
“I hope no one will see them.”
“I hope they won’t attack anyone.” And in Tom’s mind was some innocent kid, or even someone’s pet, coming out of his home, to find that … thing in the yard. To be devoured. He remembered the half eaten rabbits and foxes. They weren’t dealing with a civilized shifter. Nor with a sane one.
Tom coughed, then coughed again, and felt his body trying to writhe, to twist to expand into the dragon shape. He coughed again, and reached for the hem of his t-shirt, from long habit, to pull it off before he ripped it in shifting.
Kyrie’s hand grabbed at a wrist that ached with that bone-deep pain of a body part trying to elongate and change shape.
“No,” her voice penetrated through the fog in his senses, the whistling blood in his ears, the drum-like thudding of his heart, and the rush of need to do something, to help. “Rafiel,” he said, and the sound came out oddly sibilant
“Yes, but no,” Kyrie said. “What you told me holds, and — It won’t do you any good. Truly. When people like me are seen or photographed, they can explain intrusions of the wild into the world of humans by mutual encroachment, but a dragon? What would that be? Encroachment from a fairytale?”
She was right. Tom knew she was right. He blinked eyes already endowed with nictating eyelids, and took a deep, deep breath, which seemed to bring back his rationality. As it was, he should be grateful that Kyrie hadn’t taken off. She’d obeyed him. She’d controlled herself, and now he needed to control himself too. This relationship thing involved mutual control and accepting… accepting someone else’s opinions for what he should do. Tom took deep breaths and imagined the air as a cooling force, pouring in on his heated temper, his sense of urgency. He forced his half shifted body back to normal, and as his mind cleared realized no worse damage had been done than popping the button of his jeans.
“If he doesn’t call or come back,” he said. “After nightfall I’ll need to shift and fly a patrol over the area. If he gets in trouble, maybe I can pull him out of it.”
“Rafiel is a big boy,” Kyrie said. “I’m sure he can figure out how to beat a skinny, famished homeless shifter and get back home in time for dinner. I just wonder where that kid came from. And why he attacked a human.”