Noah’s Boy – Snippet 06
Tom turned in bed, almost but not quite fully awake. He felt Kyrie stir, waking up.
Being in the same bed with someone was still an odd feeling. For so many years, Tom had been afraid of sleeping near any other human — scared of changing shapes in his sleep and killing his companion by morning.
But he and Kyrie had shared this house for over a year, and this bed for five months, now, and even Kyrie had started to talk about it as “our bed” instead of “my bed.” So the feeling was odd, but good. Married feeling, Tom thought. Not that marriage was for the likes of them. Not really. They couldn’t have kids. Kids might inherit their shape shifting. And if one of them did something horrible, it was better not to have a spouse who would have to live it down.
He sighed and let go of what couldn’t be, and instead opened his eyes just a little: enough to see that Kyrie had thrown off the covers and was asleep on her stomach, in a tiny t-shirt and tinier shorts, her exposed arms and legs long and golden in the sunlight.
While negotiating a loan for the new fryer, the bank officer had demanded to know what Kyrie’s race or background was. He’d thrown out in succession, as guesses: Greek, Italian, Spanish and Native American. The man, a well-educated worker at some city bureaucracy or other, had seemed personally offended that Kyrie had refused to admit to one or another background. He’d pointed out all the benefits that the diner Kyrie co-owned with Tom could get from being minority owned. Loans and things were apparently theirs for the taking with much easier terms than the bank could otherwise offer.
But even if Kyrie had wanted to claim the benefits — she didn’t, suspecting the too-easy gift — she would have been hard pressed to guess at her origins. Her personal history, that she knew of, started on a Christmas night twenty two years ago, when the church goers coming out of midnight mass at a Catholic church in Charlotte, NC, had found a baby girl asleep in a bassinet. After that there had been a never ending of foster families, one of whom had been named Smith, which surname had been joined to the given names she’d got from the person who’d discovered her that Christmas eve: Kyrie Grace Smith.
God’s Grace. To Tom she’d been all that and more, the one person to whom his actions and his well being mattered. Sometimes he thought she kept him sane, and strong and, in the end, human… even when he shape shifted into a dragon.
His hand reached out, as though of its own accord and ran along her smooth, golden thigh.
Kyrie mumbled something against the pillow, then turned her head, throwing back the curtain of her brown hair — the fringe dyed to resemble a tapestry in Earth tones — and blinking foggily at him.
“Hello sunshine,” he said, half ironically, because he knew that she, like him, was not a morning person. Or maybe not an afternoon person, because they usually went to bed at around seven in the morning, and woke up at around four or five to start work at the diner they co-owned in time to take the later part of the dinner shift at six.
She growled at him, and gave him a dirty look, more in mock exasperation than in reality. Then she reached out a hand and patted at his shoulder, as if not sure it was really there. Reassured, she mumbled between clenched teeth, “Time?”
He turned his head to look at the alarm clock on his bedside table, in reality a little bookshelf they’d bought at the thrift shop to serve the duty. “Four,” he said.
She sighed, a deep sigh and turned on her side to face him. “I suppose,” she said. “We have to get up.” And leaned towards him for a kiss, he didn’t at all grudge. He never understood complaints of morning breath.
“We could take a few minutes,” he said hopefully.
She kissed him again, and he tried to turn on his side. Tried to, because as he started to turn, several sharp points inserted themselves into his calves and something gave a good impression of a demonic scream. “Ah,” he yelled. “Not-dinner.” The utterance would have seemed cryptic to anyone who didn’t know them, but not to any of the clients of their diner, or even their neighbors, who were used to the unusual name of their orange tabby tomcat.
More out of habit than thought, Tom returned his legs to the position they’d been in, and after a while the pain of claws on his calves waned. “I don’t think,” he said. “Not-dinner approves of the program.”
“So?” Kyrie said. “Let him not approve. I will –”
She started to rise, when one of their cell phones rang. Kyrie’s. Had to be because the tone, playing muffled and distant from somewhere in the house was She only comes out at night.
“Shit,” Kyrie said, slipping out of bed, and opening the door of the bedroom, before dashing off into the house in search of the phone.
Fortunately, Tom thought, the house wasn’t very big, so it wasn’t like she could look in a lot of places. He sat up, leaned down and, carefully, removed Not-Dinner from his legs. The cat bristled and yowled, but let him do it.
Just as Tom set his feet on the floor, Kyrie’s phone switched off, and his own — I need a hero — started ringing.
It was somewhere in the room. He was almost sure of it. He stumbled to the armchair in the corner, which was in fact never used as a chair, but as a repository of clothes worn once but not dirty enough to wash yet. He picked up the jeans he’d worn the night before, and patted at both pockets, then his black leather jacket and patted those pockets, before he woke enough to realize the sound was in fact coming from behind the chair.
He’d bent over the back of the chair, and was trying to reach his phone on the floor, aware that Kyrie had come back and stood at the door to the room, when his phone stopped ringing and the house phone started.
There was only one house phone, and it was attached to the wall in the kitchen. The house was small enough that the coiled cord could extend to almost the whole place.
Tom straightened and turned and ran out of the room, across the living room and down the hall to the kitchen, two steps behind Kyrie.
Someone was desperately trying to reach them. He and Kyrie owned a greasy spoon, the George, on Fairfax, together. The fryer had probably exploded, killing their cook and splattering several employees and diners. The damage charges alone would put them out of business and —
But his nightmarish scenario was interrupted by Kyrie who’d picked up the phone and listened attentively for a few seconds, then covered the mouth piece, and looked up — her eyes solemn. “It’s Rafiel,” she said, naming their best friend, one of Goldport’s finest. “He says there’s been a death at the amusement park.”
“He thinks it’s a shifter. From the look of the things wild shifter.”
“You know, feral? One who has no clue he shouldn’t kill or eat humans.”
Tom rubbed his hand down his face and groaned. In some ways the law suit and being put out of business was a less scary scenario.
“What does he mean feral, I wonder” Tom said, as he got behind the wheel. They’d showered very fast and at the same time, which was a triumph of love over solid geometry, since the shower in the house they rented was maybe comfortable for one skinny person, and okay for two people if they were both very slim and close friends. Kyrie and Tom were, for those purposes, very good friends. But it was a trial to get out of the shower without wasting time in anything but showering.
Now, they were in the car, their hair still wet, Kyrie giving directions from the text message that Rafiel had left her. “He couldn’t believe we don’t know where Riverside is,” she said.
“He grew up here. And besides, I hear he has a life that includes days off and vacations,” Tom said, not resentfully. “He doesn’t work at a diner. But what does he mean feral? Did he tell you?”
“He thought there might be some impairment,” Kyrie said. “Some form of mental issue, in addition to the shifting.”
“How would he know that?”
“He said the witness thought the human form looked more… feral and desperate than the shifted form.”
“Oh,” Tom said, and, as he headed towards the highway. “Witness?”
“Apparently. To both the animal and the shift to human. I didn’t ask, because Rafiel was in a flap, but that’s what I gathered.”
“Joyous,” Tom said, and tried not to think too much about what that might mean. Sooner or later shifters would be outed, but perhaps they could avoid making it today? Or not. And asking Kyrie for more details would only cause her to worry more, which wasn’t fair. Her entire conversation with Rafiel had lasted maybe two minutes. She didn’t know any more.
They’d have to wait till they got to the amusement park, and then they’d know.
Tom resisted the impulse to close his eyes and pray, mostly because he couldn’t really drive with his eyes closed, but also because he’d never been very good at the praying thing. Once, in the worst possible circumstances, he was fairly sure his prayers had been answered. He didn’t have the nerve to bother whoever was up there again, just now. It didn’t seem right. He should be able to deal with most things without bothering God about it.
They left the highway in the least fashionable end of town and wound their way amid narrow streets with houses as small as theirs, but less well kept. Kids played in some yards, and sullen teenagers stood around street corners.
The park was at the end of that neighborhood, where a larger street bordered it. There was a bodega, and then, with surprising suddenness, a six foot tall dilapidated white wall, in desperate need of a good white washing, with the letters Riverside Amusement Park, painted on it in reddish brown.
At one end, a tower of vaguely oriental design presided over what was clearly an entrance, and a sign painted on splintered wood said “Parking lot” with an arrow pointing west.
It was a parking lot, if you wanted to call it that, or just a really large expanse of sandy beaten dirt, hard as concrete, with no lines or demarcations.
Not that lines were needed just now, since the only cars there were three police cars, Rafiel’s SUV and another white SUV. Tom applied the parking brake and got out after Kyrie.
She stood in the middle of the parking lot, sniffing.
He got out after her and took a deep breath. “Shifter,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“Like the whole area has been drenched in it,” she said. “Makes me wonder if the owner is a shifter.”
“Could be. In which case we’ve probably seen him at the George for coffee and eggs.” He tried for a smile, but kind of missed it. Their diner, the George, had been drenched in shifter pheromones before the two of them had bought it. The pheromones — that had been designed to bring shifters to it, in service of a rather deranged shifter’s mating needs, apparently could influence shifters as far as a hundred or more miles away, without the person influenced ever being aware of it. But of course, once it brought them there, it didn’t make them go in, and it certainly couldn’t make them become a regular of the diner, even if lots of shifters did. He pointed. “The smell gets stronger this way.”
She nodded, but her face pinched. “There’s blood,” she said.
He wondered if he could really see, behind her very human eyes the shadow of the panther — the animal she became when she shifted. He wasn’t sure at all. After all, Kyrie wasn’t starting to shift, nor making any efforts towards shifting. There was just, in the expression of her eyes something that reminded Tom of the panther. The interested look of the animal scenting blood.
He reached out a hand for her, grabbed at her hand, which felt cold and dry in his. She gave a little laugh. “I wasn’t going to shift,” she said.
“No,” he said, and it was as much reassurance to her as to him. For years, neither of them had had much control over when and how they shifted. In his case, his past was full of stupid attempts to control the shifting, that often had made things worse. There had been his addiction to heroine, because heroine was a central nervous system depressant. And there had been his stealing of the artifact known as The Pearl Of Heaven from a triad of Chinese dragon shifters.
That episode had left Goldport strewn with bodies that Rafiel had had to work very hard to attribute to an escaped Komodo dragon. And it had almost left Tom for dead too.
But strangely the thing that seemed to work best for control was his relationship with Kyrie. The same could be said for her. Tom couldn’t remember the last time they’d accidentally shifted. Well, not after the time six months ago when that association of really bad shifters, who called themselves the Old Ones had come to town. But that, he thought, was hardly accidental. They’d had to shift. And fight for their lives.
As they followed the smells, her hand in his, up a small path towards the hippodrome, they could see wood had been stripped from the boarded up entrance, and they noted splats of blood on the sand of the path. Broad stripes, as though something had bled profusely while running.
They stopped steps from the entrance, hesitating, and while Tom wondered how to ask Kyrie to wait while he went in to see what the creature that had left the blood drops might be, Rafiel came out of the ruined door. Which was good, because Kyrie was likely as not to insist on going in, too.
“Is it in there?” Kyrie asked, before Rafiel could speak.
As Rafiel nodded, someone else came up behind him, and Tom took a step back, ready to go into a defensive crouch, or even to change if it should become needed, because the person was a complete stranger: short, powerfully built, with olive skin and short-cut hair with the tips frosted in blond.
Rafiel followed Tom’s look and said, “Oh, this is Jason. Jason Cordova. He’s the witness I was talking about.”
The man stepped forward, his hand extended. “Hi.” A small hesitation. “I’m a bear.”
Kyrie reacted before Tom, stepping forward and shaking Jason’s hand. “Kyrie. Kyrie Smith. I’m a panther.”
Tom, feeling Cordova’s gaze on him, extended his own hand. “Tom Ormson. Dragon.”
Cordova’s eyebrows went up. “You — What? Dragons don’t exist.”
Rafiel shook his head. “He does. As do some serious bad dragon triad dudes. Remember the komodo dragon thing? Yeah.” He waved a hand. “Meddle you not in the affairs of dragons for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup and all that. Though in Tom’s case, he’d demand some fancy sauce,” it was a mark of Rafiel’s preoccupation that he didn’t even smile at his own joke, but instead turned to Tom, his eyes looking haunted. “It’s bad,” he said. “Really bad. Whatever it is, I think it’s been living in the ruined hippodrome. I have to call my team, there are other… remains there. Mostly rabbits and foxes, but a couple of people too.”
“People?” Kyrie said, and her voice squeaked. “Wouldn’t someone have reported it?”
“Lady,” Jason said. “From the clothes and stuff, they were homeless and possibly illegals. No one would know.”