Noah’s Boy – Snippet 04

What made things worse, was that Rafiel wasn’t even sure he would have a chance with Kyrie if something happened to Tom.  He had a feeling that a Rafielandkyrie creature would not be nearly as good as Tomandkyrie, and might in fact fail to gel at all.  And besides, he liked Tom, the scruffy, scaly bastard that he was and he’d die ensuring nothing bad happened to Tom, if needed.  The two of them had fought together enough, been through enough danger to develop a brother-at-arms camaraderie, stronger than any romance.

No.  What Rafiel really needed to do was find a girl he could love and who wouldn’t mind his shifting.  And the last requirement cut down the population of eligibles to a negligible number, most of whom would live too far away for him to ever meet.

He’d been contemplating that when his afternoon had got worse, with the phone call about the man found mauled at the amusement park.

Riverside Amusement Park, where, even at the height of the season, if one dropped a virus that selected for non-native-Spanish speakers, no one would catch it, had had some sort of death by misadventure and the police was called to investigate.

It had been hard to understand what the heck was going on, because the person calling it in kept lapsing into something that Rafiel suspected was Greek.  But Rafiel had caught stuff about a mountain lion and Mexicans and — this was emphatic — definitely not the owner’s fault.

Now he stood in the middle of Riverside, while a medic, who’d accompanied the police, patched up one of the workers: the only one remaining.  Well, the only live one remaining.

Not far from them, in the long grass, a forensic team went over the victim: Hispanic, late twenties and dead.  Very dead.   According to the forensic team several feet of intestine — and various other internal organs — were missing.

They hadn’t found the mountain lion, yet.  But that wasn’t the worst news.  The guy who’d been mauled and was being patched up, said it wasn’t a mountain lion but more like a dog, but even that he wasn’t sure of.  He said it was a weird animal.

And Rafiel could smell shifter.  It was a smell he’d decided only shifters could smell, metallic, with a salty tang, and unmistakable once you first smelled it.  And it was all over the place.

“So, it was a dog?” he asked the guy who sat on the chipped cement bench by the closed spider ride — the big black apparatus with its cup-like seats frozen and vaguely threatening in the afternoon light.

The guy’s name was Jason Cordova, not withstanding which, he spoke English perfectly and without the slightest hint of an accent.  His only Spanish words came flying out as the emergency medic bandaged his arm and shoulder, which had been mauled by something.  Something with sharp teeth.    His white t-shirt, smeared in blood, lay on the bench by his side.

Jason was dark enough to be some variety of Hispanic, though most of it, Rafiel thought, would be due to his working outside in the sun.  He wore his hair short, with the tips dyed white-blond, and he looked at Rafiel and shook his head then tried to shrug, which brought about another outbreak of Spanish, in which the word Madre featured prominently.  “It looked like a dog,” he said, at last, looking at Rafiel out of narrowed eyes, though they seemed to be narrowed more in pain than in suspicion.  “But it didn’t fight like any dog.  And it didn’t bite like any dog.”  He shook his head.  “I was lucky I had my hunting knife, because the day labor office is in a bad area and — Anyway, I must have cut it halfway to pieces before it let me go.  And its jaws were like… steel clamps.”

“I’ve never seen a bite like this,” the medic who’d come with the ambulance Rafiel had called, and who was probably a male nurse said.  He blinked grey eyes behind coke-bottle glasses.  “And I’ve treated all sorts of injuries, even people mauled by mountain lions.”  He looked at Jason.  “You’re very lucky to be alive.”

“Yeah, I feel lucky,” he said, in the tone that implied he didn’t.  “I’m unemployed, divorced, crashing on a friend’s sofa, and, on good months, making enough to pay for my own food and fuel, and now I’m going to have to pay for the ambulance someone called.  It’s not like the park has insurance.”

The medic grinned, and started to put his stuff away in a little bag.  “Nah, the park will pay.  It’s not like they want you to go to hospital and have to show papers.  I’ve sent the ambulance back anyway, so it’s just my time.”  He stopped.  “And I suppose you do have papers.”

“Sure I have them.  I was born in California, so I have a birth certificate,” Jason said, sounding vaguely amused.  “I suspect I was the only one.  I mean of the workers.  But I didn’t tell the owners.  They can’t pay minimum wage or do all the paperwork stuff, and if I’d told them I wanted that, they’d never have hired me.”

“Yeah, I won’t tell them.  You keep a watch on that.  I disinfected as much as I could, but there might be something left in there.  It’s a deep wound.  If you notice a ring of red form and start to expand, get yourself to emergency and fast.  Oh, and…”

But Rafiel was no longer listening.  Instead, he was smelling the air around him.  It didn’t much matter to him — or not exactly — whether the creature was a dog or a mountain lion, or some mutant, undefined creature.

What mattered — and this was very important — was that he could smell shifter in the area, all around.  There was a sweet-metallic tangy scent that he knew all too well.  He smelled it everyday in his own clothes, and rising from his own body.  And he smelled it from Kyrie and Tom and the dozen or so shifters who frequented the George — the diner Kyrie and Tom owned together.

The thing was that the scent lingered in areas where shifters had been.  Sometimes for hours.  It had been so strong around the dead man, that Rafiel was sure he’d been a shifter himself.  But was the killer a shifter or not?

It made all the difference.  As Rafiel stood here, away from the scene, he could hear the forensic team discussing their findings in the blood-spattered area with long grass, where the body had lain.

If the killer was just a wild animal on the loose, then Rafiel could let them figure it out in their own way.  There would be the routine of a police investigation, the normal adding up of evidence till you could take the case to trial and corner whoever was responsible for the animal being loose: police, park or perhaps the owner of the animal.  Then whoever was responsible would be fined or given community service, or something.

In that case, throughout all of it, Rafiel would be just be Officer Trall, a professional and well trained police officer.

But if the killer had been a shifter in his shifted form, it all changed.  Because a shifter who killed once, rarely stopped killing unless he were caught.  And it wasn’t as though Rafiel could bring the apparatus of the law to bear on him.  You couldn’t really tell a judge “this isn’t a dog, it’s a werewolf.”

Well, you could.  But then they put in a nice resting place, medicated to the eyeballs.  And, given that Rafiel himself was a shifter lion, heaven only knew what the meds would do to his shifting.  He might become a lion and eat a few nurses not-in-a-good-way.  He took a long whiff of the air.  There was the smell from the dead body, the smell around it, and another smell.

“Hey, something wrong?  You allergic to something?” the medic asked.

And Rafiel became aware that he’d been sniffing for all he was worth, as though he expected to find his way with his nose.  Which he probably could.  In fact, he would swear the smell came from back there, from the path to the parking lot, past the closed up hippodrome.

“Ragweed,” he said, automatically.  It had the advantage of being true, not that it mattered.  “So, could you write me just an informal report on the wounds?  In case I have to take this to trial.”