Noah’s Boy – Snippet 28

Old Joe looked dubious, but followed her into the hallway of the diner, and waited while she got clothes from the pile they kept for him in the storage room.  They bought them at the thrift store any piece of clothing for a dollar day, and blew a couple of hundred dollars twice a year.  As far as Old Joe’s mind went, clothes were consumables.  He’d wear them when they made him do so, but he wouldn’t bother to take them off, or hide them so he might wear them again.  Instead, he would shift and either tear them to shreds in the process or soon afterwards, while he walked around.

Kyrie had often read reports of an alligator wearing a tattered t-shirt, and it was only the fact that she had some will power and could control her more whimsical moods that had saved her from giving Old Joe a bowler hat.

When she came out with the bundle of clothes, he took them, but looked at her, sheepishly.  “I got to wash?” he asked.

“We don’t want people in the diner to be all disgusted at your being filthy,” said.

Old Joe looked very sad and said something she couldn’t quite understand, but which she suspected was his version of “when in Rome” though considering this was Old Joe, it might very well be “When in Atlantis” or “When in Mu.”

He disappeared into the women’s restroom, because it was the more spacious one, and also because Kyrie, frankly, didn’t trust him not to try to wash in the urinals.  So, whenever Old Joe washed, he washed in the ladies room.  Kyrie stood at the door, waiting, preventing any woman from trying to get in.  Not that any did.  There were still few people in the diner, and none got the urge just then.

When he was clean, Joe knocked from the inside, and Kyrie opened the door.

He still looked like a derelict.  To make Old Joe look like something other than a derelict would take… well, probably plastic surgery.  The truth was that his wrinkles had wrinkles, and that the wrinkles on his wrinkles had got so much ground-in dirt in them that they might as well be tattoos.  Or maybe they were tattoos.  Whenever Old Joe had grown up, it was now almost unimaginably long ago, and it was, almost certainly a pre-literate society that had left no trace.  Maybe facial tattoos had been a manhood ritual or something.

So, he still looked dirty, and his remaining white hair looked as wild as Einstein’s but less clean.  And he…  It wasn’t so much that he stooped or shambled.  Oh, you could say he did both, but the words were, to an extent, inadequate.  Yes, he stooped.  Yes, he shambled.  But his posture was more reminiscent of someone who had collapsed into place over centuries, becoming not so much aged as… petrified, stratified.  Like a little mountain in human form.

Still the eyes that looked at her weren’t tired or stony at all.  Instead, they were full of the merriment he seemed to find in anything unusual or unsettling.

And Kyrie realized there was something very unusual indeed, as she realized he was still clutching the filthy trench coat in his — presumably just washed — hand.

Old Joe had dressed in that trench coat without Tom or herself making him.  And that was kind of like hearing the sun had risen in the west, or that soup had fallen from the sky.  It was impossible.  Absolutely and completely impossible.

But he’d done it.

She looked into the twinkling eyes and asked, carefully, with slow suspicion dawning that she wasn’t going to like the answer at all, “Why were you going to come into the diner?”

He grinned.  “I hear dragon boy got dragon egg.  I wanted to know how he’s doing with it, because…”  He looked suddenly embarrassed.  “I like dragon boy.  He’s nice people.”

Uh oh.  He knew what had happened to Tom.  It should have been a relief, Kyrie thought, because if Old Joe knew it, it meant that Old Joe could tell her what had happened, and maybe even why and how to get around it.  But it didn’t feel like a relief.  This whole dragon egg thing didn’t sound pleasant.  She had a vision of a juvenile dragon bursting from Tom’s chest and bit her lower lip.

“Go into the corner booth,” she said.  “And wait.  I’ll bring you food.”

And she was left to torture herself with scary suppositions while she wiped down the soot marks from wall and sink and the water splashes from the floor.  They really should install a shower in the storage room the next time they had some spare cash.  This having people wash in the ladies’ room was messy and probably violated all sorts of rules and regulations.

Of course, next time they had some spare cash sort of assumed things would return to normal.  And Kyrie wasn’t sure of that at all.

* * *

Was it really Tom up there, in front of the restaurant?  Bea had trouble believing it.  She’d met his dragon, after all, on the ledge of that Bed and Breakfast tower, but the truth was that if Tom perched on that ledge now, he would have taken it down.

He was… enormous.  How did a dragon grow.  And then she heard his voice in her mind.  Standing at the edge of the crowd, she saw the two idiots stand and challenge him.  Not that she was sure they were idiots.  But then, they had had to be.  No sane person would challenge something the size Tom was now.  And no sane person would challenge anyone, dragon or human, whose eyes showed as much bewildered fear as Tom’s did at that moment.

Tom didn’t want to be where he was.  That didn’t surprise her.  She’d gathered he had no intention of being a leader of the Triad.  But he was there and — as he issued the challenge, because it was very obvious what he meant by we fly — she realized he would fight for the position he didn’t want.

She wondered why.

Then she stopped wondering.  She’d met Tom only this day, and she couldn’t say she was his lifetime friend.  But Tom was … The Tom she’d met had seemed to be polite, caring, nice, in outdated but probably accurate terms a good man.

Nothing could have prepared him for seeing his dragon take to the air, flanked by the two blue dragons.

It should have come as no surprise that both the blue dragons went up at once.  Or perhaps it should have.  She didn’t know.  What were the rules of sportsmanship for Dragons?  And did it matter if two went up at the same time against another dragon that was so massively larger than any of them?

Like every other dragon present in the parking lot, she sat back and turned her face up to watch.

Tom flew straight up, green-blue underside flashing bright.  He looked bigger, more substantial than the other two.  But the other two weren’t daunted.  The larger one tried to fly to the side of Tom and bite him on the neck.  Tom evaded it, almost skewering himself on the other dragon’s claw – out and trying to disembowel him.

And then it seemed to her that Tom lost patience.  He reached out with arm-claws, and grabbed the other dragon’s arm and twisted viciously and pulled.  Clearly he had more strength than the others, because the arm tore off the dragon’s body.  A fine rain of blood fell on the upturned faces of dragons.

Tom kicked away the larger blue dragon trying to attack him, almost disemboweling the dragon in the process, and turned his fury on the smaller blue dragon.  Methodically, like a psychopathic little boy with a fly, he ripped off the dragon’s other arm, then the nearest leg.

And then he flamed, burning off the dragon’s wings as the dragon, in shock, tried to run away.  And as the dragon’s friend tried to attack Tom by burning at Tom’s side, presumably to pull him off from his friend, Tom turned, without hesitation, and burned him, full in the face.

The smaller blue dragon had fallen like a stone onto the parking lot, his blood spattering those who’d hastily moved away from his falling path.  The bigger one now fell too, hitting the pavement with force, close to Bea who’d scuttled back onto the little side street to give him room to fall.  She had a chance to see him hit, blood splattering up from the impact, and then shift, almost immediately, into a small Chinese man with a burned face and shoulders.  He was dead.  Very, very dead.  She felt queasy to her stomach, and looked again, as Tom returned to stand in his spot, in front of the restaurant.

Was this really the same civilized, kindly man she’d met earlier?  She couldn’t believe it.

Neither could she believe the way the other dragons closed in around the fallen, not stepping on them but surrounding them completely, not wary of being near corpses or paying them any more mind than if they’d been a discarded candy bar wrapper.

He reared up on his hind legs, stretching his body to the sky, “The Great Sky Dragon is dead.  The Great Sky Dragon lives forever.”  And, as though on cue, every dragon prostrated themselves and Bea did too, with them.  But she wondered how bad this would get.