Noah’s Boy – Snippet 05
“You can’t take an animal to trial,” the medic said. Then grinned sheepishly. “Though I suppose you could take his owner. And maybe you should. But I bet you it doesn’t have one. I bet you it’s one of those wild animals that seem to show up further and further into town every year. Like that Komodo dragon that went around eating people, what was it? Two years ago? And did you hear about the bear who went through the trash dumpster behind the alcohol and tobacco kiosk on Fifteenth? He then ran through bar row, looking in dumpsters. When they tried to catch him, he ran through ten backyards and across five streets, before being struck by a car as he ambled across the road in front of Conifer Park. And I bet you that they treated him and freed him, too, probably not too far from town. Ready to do the same again next year. A miracle he didn’t kill someone.”
Rafiel made a perfunctory nod and said, “Nothing we can do, eh? It’s the way it is. But I still need that report.”
“Right. I’ll write up something. It won’t be Shakespeare.”
“No problem. Shakespeare didn’t really report on medical conditions and it wouldn’t do us any good to be told the wound is not as wide as a church door.” Rafiel said. The intensity of the smell was driving him insane. It was separating itself into strands, too: the dead body, or the area around it, and a trail leading to the hippodrome and another…
He should — to follow proper procedure — go over to where the forensic team was working and see if there was anything else they needed. Instead, Rafiel frowned as Jason put on his blood spattered but intact t-shirt over his badly mauled body. The shifter smell hit Rafiel full in the face, and he stared, his mouth half open.
The medic was walking away, far enough along the path that he wouldn’t hear anything that Rafiel or Jason said. And Jason had just turned a puzzled and slightly weary face to Rafiel.
“Hunting knife, uh?” Rafiel said. “I don’t suppose you want to show it to me?”
Jason blinked. A dark tide of red flooded behind his tanned skin. “I must have dropped it,” he said. “Somewhere in the grass, I guess,” and with a shrug. “Maybe your team will find it.”
Rafiel sighed. He dropped to sitting in the clear space of bench beside Jason. “I’d think you were the killer, you know, and that those wounds were received from whatever that poor bastard,” a head inclination towards the crime scene, “turned into, except that they say he’s been dead since probably really early morning, before you came to work. They think he was one of he guys they hired yesterday, and he decided to bunk here for the night. And your wounds are fresh. So it’s clear there’s yet a third shifter around — or maybe a second, if that’s his smell around the corpse — and that you got those wounds in a fight with him. But don’t go telling me about a hunting knife. You might have cut the shifter up pretty bad but it was all teeth and claws, wasn’t it?”
Silence went on so long, that if Rafiel couldn’t smell the scent of shifter coming from Cordova, made stronger by exertion, and mixed with his blood, he would have thought he was imagining it.
But then Cordova spoke, his voice very tired. “I see. The police know.”
“Eh. This policeman knows,” Rafiel said, inhaling for all he was worth, intent to the shift in adrenaline that would signal that the man was about to attack. Or shift and attack. It never came. There weren’t even any great movements. Rafiel extended his legs in front of him, doing his best to appear at ease
Turning, he found that Cordova was staring at him, studying him. “What… do you change into?” the man asked at last.
“Bear.” And to what must have been sudden comprehension in Rafiel’s face, “Hey, I’m broke, and I guess I like liquor? I don’t know. I don’t remember much when I’m already tipsy and then become… you know… That hike from the forest preserve about killed me too. Just happy we heal fast. And that the person who found me thought I’d got drunk and undressed while drunk, and got me clothes and food.”
“I have a cell phone,” Rafiel said. “Strapped to my thigh with one of those plastic coil things. Stays in place even when I shift. That way, if I end up too far from where my clothes are, I can always call friends.”
“Smart that,” Cordova said, and looked down at his feet. “Only you have to have friends who know, and I don’t have those. Even my wife didn’t know. She thought I kept disappearing and was having an affair, and when I didn’t want to talk to her about it, she said I was emotionally unavailable.” He shrugged.
They sat side by side a little while, then Cordova said, “But that guy, the dead one, I don’t think he was shifter. I think the shifter smell is from the killer. It’s really strong around all that area, and it goes that way.” He pointed the same way Rafiel had been smelling it.
“Could it be one of the other workers?” Rafiel asked. “Were did they go?”
A grin answered him. “It’s as I told you before,” he said. “They ran so fast, they’re probably halfway to Mexico by now.”
“Yeah, but what path did they take out of the park, do you remember?”
This got him a very odd look, as it should have, because Jason was not stupid. Clearly, from his diction, his vocabulary, the man was smart and well educated. He stood up on visibly shaky legs. “Three of them went that way. And a bunch ran that way. And then a few ran that way.”
He pointed in three directions, in which the park ended in a fence, bordering a little used road. Which made sense if you were an illegal worker trying to run away.
“Not that way?” Rafiel asked, pointing in the direction of the path to the parking lot.
Jason shook his head. “Nah. None of them had cars, you know? The owners picked us up in a truck.” He hesitated a moment. “Say, you’re not going to try to catch them or…?”
“I’m not INS,” he said. “And if I caught them, there would only be a mess and they’d end up on the streets again.”
“It’s just,” Jason said, gesturing with his head towards the ticket house where a motley group of people clustered who looked Greek and who seemed to be the extended family of the owner of the park. They were arguing — or perhaps just talking — in very loud voices. “That I don’t think they have much choice.”
“Any of them. The workers come because they’re hired, and these people hire them because they couldn’t afford minimum wage much less all the deductions and things.” He frowned. “The minimum wage law and the benefits and things, it’s all very pretty on paper, but it’s like legislating the weather, man, it does no good. All it does is make you think everything is fine until reality bites you some place or other.”
Rafiel nodded thinking that Jason was definitely over-educated, but just said, “So none of them went where the smell goes,” he said. “Which means… Shit. There is another shifter at large.”
Cordova hesitated. He lifted his hand, then let it fall. He looked over his shoulder and all around, to make sure he was suitably isolated and that no one could hear him. Then he sighed. “Man, I don’t want to tell you this. You look like you have troubles enough.”
“After… in the fight, you know… I had a pretty good grip on this dude, and I was biting and then…”
“He shifted and slipped out of my grasp,” Jason said. “He just became this skinny, young dude, maybe fourteen or fifteen…” He hesitated while Rafiel gave vent to a string of profanity, from which — his having grown up in Colorado and having Spanish-speaking friends, the word “Madre” was not entirely absent.
Jason Cordova just nodded at it, as though Rafiel had made an observation worth noting, then said, “Yeah, but… that’s not the worst of it. I grant you I was shifted myself, and I don’t remember what happened really clearly, but from the way he looked and how… well… I don’t think he’s all there. And I’m almost sure he’s not, you know… normal. His eyes, you know. They were more feral as human than in animal form.”