Noah’s Boy – Snippet 03
Riverside Park, at the edge of Goldport, was a thrill whose time had passed. Competing with the various flags, gardens and other franchised, national attractions which specialized in rides based on the latest technology, its main advantage was being cheap and therefore it appealed mostly to the young, the recent immigrants and the impecunious.
Slumbering quietly at the edge of a small lake — the River in the name being one of those mysteries no one could explain — it displayed a flashy entrance tower dated from the orientalist period of the nineteenth century when pseudo arabesques had been in vogue. It appeared quite nice at night, when bright little lights outlined its contours making it look like something out of a fairytale and when no one could see its flaking paint and the parts that were boarded up.
Its vast central pavilion, which once had hosted shows by all the big bands and dancing by all the fashionable local couples, now housed bumper cars. The hippodrome that had seen horse races back in the middle of the twentieth century had long since closed. Its sun-bleached carcass, encircled in a tall wall that stood, as incongruous and forlorn as the bones of a long-dead dinosaur, was posted all over with signs warning visitors off exploring its dark interior.
Not that many visitors were interested. Most came for the corny spider rides, the colorful dragon roller coaster, and the not very horrible house of horrors. A few aficionados and romantic souls came for the wooden roller coaster or the turn of the – twentieth – century merry- go-round.
But right then, early May, the only people in the park were there to work. Teams of men fanned out up slope and down path, cutting down the knee high grass and calling to each other in Spanish.
Jason Cordova straightened up, as the mower he’d been pushing choked on the knee high weeds. Man, the least they could do is get some riding mowers. Rent them or something. And if not, then with grass like this, we should be using scythes.
Despite the relatively mild weather, sweat glued his t-shirt to his body and his jeans felt like they had insects climbing up inside them. He knew it was probably his imagination, but he still had to suppress an urge to scratch and an even stronger urge to take off his jeans and shake them.
He listened to the chatter around him and frowned. It’s like they went to the day labor office and picked everyone with a Spanish name. Which was probably exactly what they’d done. And it wasn’t that Jason didn’t speak Spanish. He did. He’d studied it in college. For all the good it was doing him in the current economy.
A shout that he couldn’t quite understand but that seemed to mean he should be getting back to work made him say, “Yeah, yeah,” as he started pulling the cord to restart the mower. But the motor only sputtered, and then he realized the shout hadn’t been at him.
Instead, his coworkers were shouting to each other and running towards an area where tall grass remained. Oh, what the hell, Jason thought, as he ambled in that direction, wondering exactly what they’d found there. A credit card? Someone’s illegal weed patch? Or, judging by the trend of the conversations he’d heard before, and what seemed to really interest all his co-workers, perhaps there was a girl there who’d somehow lost all her clothes?
Before he got to the center of the excitement, he saw two of the guys running away, their face more green than olive, and another one throwing up into a recently mowed patch.
Jason jogged forward the next few steps. And froze. Laying on the trampled tall grass was one his co-workers. He was small, probably Mexican. What remained of his white t-shirt was torn and covered in red-black blood. The lower half of his body was unrecognizable — his stomach torn open, the guts spilling. It looked like something had eaten a good portion of the man’s insides.
Jason would never know quite how it happened, but he found himself throwing up, too, right beside the tall grass. But as he straightened, wiping his mouth to the back of his leather gloves, he realized there were a lot fewer men around. Like… none. Though he could see one or two in the distance, jumping the fence, and another desperately swimming across the lake.
Oh, good God, he thought, as he called aloud, “Stay, don’t go. We must report this to the police.” Which he realized was exactly the wrong thing to say, as they ran even faster.
A trail of moving grass near at hand called his attention, and he rushed there, determined not to face the police alone. “Stop,” he said. But then realized it wasn’t one of his co-workers he was looking at. It wasn’t any human. It had to be the largest feral dog he’d ever seen. Well… feral something. Immense, beastly, its maw stained with blood, it looked like what happens to big bad wolves who die and don’t go to heaven.
Jason felt his body clench and twist. His mouth contorting, he made an effort to speak, as he managed to pull off his jeans and t-shirt before they got shredded. “Nice doggie,” he said.
Rafiel felt like he was going stark, raving mad.
Okay, so no murder investigation — or in this case, what seemed to be the investigation of death by misadventure — was ever a good thing. Ever.
Goldport wasn’t exactly a crime capital, but as one of four senior investigators in its serious crimes unit, Rafiel saw his share of seamy underside: thefts, break ins, the occasional drunken Saturday night mutual shoot out, and the share of drug traffic that couldn’t be avoided anywhere in these days. They even had murders — quite a few recently.
But on this particular Friday afternoon, he’d been finishing his paperwork, and giving some thought to the girl his parents had arranged for him to go out with that night. His parents — heck, his entire family — were anxious to see him matched up. Nearing thirty and living in your parents’ house was not how the story should go. Particularly not when you were a successful police officer. But Rafiel’s parents should know better.
They knew that their son shifted into a lion at the drop of a hat, or sometimes even without any hats dropping. They knew he lived in fear of hurting someone while shifted, and also that normal people, who didn’t change shapes, wouldn’t understand that he remained throughout more than half human: that in either form he tried to do the best he could and serve justice.
What did they think would happen if a woman came home to find her husband — or fiancé — had changed into a giant jungle cat? Did they think she would take it as an inconvenient but endearing thing. Oh, well, he’s a lion shifter, but at least he makes good coffee?
He could only imagine his parents’ desire for grandchildren had overwhelmed their common sense. Leaving him with the task of taking this “daughter of old friends” on a first date, being polite and nice but cold, so she wouldn’t feel too disappointed when he never called again.
Some days he wished he didn’t know there were female shifters in the world, people with whom, theoretically, he could share both sides of his nature. He also wished he were unaware that Kyrie Smith, one of his two best friends, shifted into a panther. Some days he wished he could help thinking that he and Kyrie could have made a go of it, if the other one of his best friends hadn’t been around. But Tom Ormson had been around. And though he was quite unsuitable for Kyrie as a shifter — shifting into dragon — he was very compatible with Kyrie as a human.
Rafiel had had doubts about that, in the beginning, but once those two had got together, they’d stopped being individuals and become a whole that was bigger than the sums of its parts: they’d become Tomandkyrie, a composite creature more competent than either of them was separately, and so inseparable, that he might as well try to come between Siamese twins.