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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Ten

       Last updated: Friday, June 23, 2006 20:36 EDT



    Tom thought it would be the police, come to arrest him. But how could they know he was here? Of course, Kyrie might have spoken, but...

    He tiptoed to the door, trying to keep quiet, and looked through the peephole. Keith Vorpal stood on the doorstep, baseball cap rakishly turned backwards and an expression of intense concern on his good-natured face. Since Vorpal didn’t usually feel much concern for something not involving shapely females, Tom was surprised and curious. Also curious about how Vorpal had found him.

    He opened the door on the chain and looked out.

    “Man,” Keith said as soon as he saw Tom. “Good to see you’re alive. They think someone broke into your place and destroyed it, then tried to set fire to the pieces of furniture. It’s all everyone talks about. Did you see anything weird when you were there?” He looked up at the space over the door, probably where the house number was. “I guess you spent the night here?”

    Tom opened the door. “Come in,” he said.

    Keith came in, looking around the room with the curiosity of someone visiting a strange place.

    “How did you find me?”

    Keith shrugged. “Your boss, at that dive you work in. He said you were staying with the girl, Kyrie? And he gave me the address.”

    How did Frank know? Perhaps Kyrie had told him. She must have called in sometime after they got back to her place.

    “Come on,” Tom said. “I’ll get you some coffee.”

    Moments later, they were in the kitchen and Tom had managed to get cups and coffee, and locate the sugar and milk.

    “I guess you’ve been here a lot?” Keith asked.

    Tom shrugged, neither willing to lie full-out, nor to destroy this impression of himself as a man in a relationship that Keith seemed to envy.

    He wondered why Keith had come over. He seemed to be worried about Tom. But Tom wasn’t used to anyone being worried about him. Did this mean the human race wanted him back?



    “There have been,” Rafiel Trall said, leaning over the table and keeping his voice low. “A series of deaths in town. Well, at least they’re classified as deaths, not murders. Bodies have been found... bitten in two.”

    “Bitten?” Kyrie asked, while her thoughts raced. Only one kind of thing could bite a person in two. Well, maybe many kinds of things, but in the middle of a city like Goldport, almost for sure all of those things would be shape-shifters. People like her. Tom had said that there weren’t that many out there. But there were three of them and the triad. Were there more? And if so, what was calling them to Goldport?

    “Bitten,” Rafiel said, and his teeth clashed as he closed his mouth, as though the words had been distasteful for him to say. And he held his teeth clenched too, visible through his slightly parted lips. “Our forensics have found proteins in the bites that they say are reptilian but not... Not of any known reptile.”

    He sat up straight and was silent a moment. “The theories range wildly,” he said. From pet Komodo dragons that escaped and grew to huge proportions, to an alligator, somewhere, to...” He shrugged. “An extinct reptile that survived somewhere in the wilderness of Colorado and has just now found its way into town. Though that theory is on the fringes. It’s not like we’ve called a palaeontologist in to look at the bite marks yet. But...” He took a deep breath, and it trembled a little as he let it out. “But the teeth size and the marks are definitely... They’re very large teeth, of a reptile type. I...” He shook his head. “You must realize in what position this puts me. Everyone at the police is talking escaped animals and Jurassic revivals. They’ve stopped just short of positing UFO aliens, but I’m very much afraid that’s coming up next.” “And meanwhile none of them guesses the truth,” Kyrie said, leaning back.

    He nodded. “Or at least what might be the truth,” he said. “You see in what kind of a position this puts me...”

    She looked at him across the table, and could well imagine that sort of divided loyalty, that confusion of identities. There were many things she wanted to ask. How many other shifters he’d met. Why he suspected Tom specifically. Instead, she heard herself say, “How did you become a police officer?”

    He grinned. “Oh, that was easy. Grandad was one. Dad is one.” Suddenly the grin expanded, becoming the easy smile of the night before. His hand toyed with his silverware on the side of his plate. “If I hadn’t become a police officer, they would think there was something wrong with me. The shifting, they can forgive even if they can’t understand. Not being a policeman? Never.”

    It was a large hand, with square fingers. No rings, except for a large, square class ring, and she scolded herself for looking for rings. Yeah. They could get together and raise a litter of kittens. What was she thinking?

    Rafiel shrugged. “So, you see...”

    “And your ... shifting... when did you start?”

    He took a deep breath. “It started when I was about twelve. My parents were aware of it first, as I did it in my sleep. They were a little scared, but I was normal otherwise, and how do you go and tell someone your kid... well...”

    Kyrie nodded. “So... they aren’t?”

    “No. And dad is retired now, but the first he heard about these corpses he asked if I knew...”

    “And you think it’s Tom?” Kyrie asked, her hands, unaccountably clenched on the side of the table, as if this mattered to her personally.

    He shrugged. “Just... the shape matches, and I’ve never met another one large enough to actually sever a body in two. But if he was in town that far back, and there were no murders something must have happened three months ago that triggered them. And then you say that he was at work on Wednesday. And on Wednesday we found a body right behind the Three Luck Dragon. Well, actually it was found on Thursday morning, but we think he died around midnight on Wednesday.”

    Kyrie thought back. As far as she could tell Tom had been at work and had been much as normal.

    “Of course,” Rafiel said. “The time is never exact. There could be a two hour difference one way or another. And you see, I don’t know any other shifters, any other shape that could just bite a man in half. And how common can a dragon be?”

    Kyrie thought of the triad. “There are others... like Tom in town.”

    “Really?” Rafiel asked. He raised his eyebrows. “I’ve only met another, truly met another one besides you. He was a wolf and was passing through town. Transient. He was brought in for petty theft, and shifted while I was booking him. Fortunately Goldport has a tiny police force. Most officers are part timers. And I was alone in the room with him at the time. I could.... cover things up and talk sense to him. But that was only one I ever talked to. And he was a mess. Drugs, possible mental illness. I’ve ... smelled others, but I don’t know their shapes.”

    “Smelled?” Kyrie asked, aware of his smell so close, just across the table, that reek of masculinity and health and vigor – like the distilled scent of self-confidence.

    He looked at her, with the look of a man who tries to evaluate whether someone is playing a joke on him. “Smelled – there is a definite scent to those... like us. A slightly metallic smell? An edge?”

    Kyrie shook her head. She hadn’t been aware of ever smelling people before. Perhaps because she hadn’t been aware of really shifting shapes before. She thought of people as people, not smells. And yet, as Rafiel mentioned it, she was aware that there was a slight edge in common in his smell and Tom’s and perhaps her won. If their smell had been music, the metallic scent would have been a note, subdued but persistent, in the background. She blinked.

    “These other... dragons,” he said, lowering his voice on the last word. “Are they part of... The Asian community in town?”

    “Why do you ask?” Kyrie said.

    “Because all the victims were Asian or part Asian,” he said. “That’s why I was so surprised when I saw your... When I saw Thomas Ormson in his other form. Though thinking about it, he didn’t look asian even as... a dragon.”

    Kyrie shook her head. “Nordic,” she said. “Like what they used to carve on the prow of Viking ships.” She wondered if the Viking figureheads had been drawn from life. And if they’d really existed, all that time, in the past. “But yes, the other dragons are Asian. Tom said they are members of a triad.” She hesitated.

    “An organized Chinese crime syndicate?” Rafiel asked. Then added, “I see. Look, I know you feel like you’re betraying him or something. But... put yourself in my place. The police will never be able to solve this series of deaths. And I know – or at least I think I know – something that could lead them to the truth. But if I speak, I won’t be believed. And if I demonstrate it, I don’t know... I suspect the first few of us who come out to society at large face the charming prospect of a life in the laboratory. I don’t want that. I don’t know anyone who wants that. I’m sure you don’t. But at the same time I want to stop the murders. The people being killed...”

    He shrugged. “They don’t deserve to die, and we should put a stop to it. If the killers are like us – and there’s a great chance they are – then it’s our responsibility to stop it.” He looked desperately up at her, his expression very intense and not at all like the relaxed image of the day before. “Do you understand what I’m saying at all?”

    Kyrie understood. At least intellectually she understood. And suddenly, in a rush, she felt as if she, the orphan, had been adopted into a family, a family that came with obligations, with requirements. She looked at Rafiel’s intense golden eyes, and hoped his smell was not influencing her as she said. “Yes, I see. But you must promise to do nothing against Tom on... anything else. Anything beyond the murders. It is not his fault if he is a shifter, and if he weren’t a shifter, none of this would come out about him.”

    Rafiel nodded once and leaned forward. His plate was now empty and he pushed it forward and joined his hands on the place where it had been, his whole attitude one of intense attention to her.

    She told him what had happened the night before. Her considerations and thoughts and final decision to take Tom home to his apartment. The condition of the apartment. The attack by the triad members.

    She could no more stop herself talking than she could stop herself breathing. Her mind was powerless against his masculine scent.

    Rafiel nodded. “That would make sense for the deaths we’ve been seeing.” He pulled a notepad out of his pocket and noted down the description of the triad members. “Not that we can do anything about it officially,” he said. “Because if they catch them then they’ll... They might very well figure out about us as well, you know.”

    Kyrie nodded. The rules of this group to which she belonged despite herself were revealing themselves as complex. If they must be hidden – and they must, because revealing one of them would mean revealing all of them – then, surely, surely, they would have to police their own. Like other secretive communities of what had at the time been considered not quite humans all through history, they would have to take care of their own. Slaves, immigrants, serfs – all had policed themselves, to avoid notice from the outside, as far back as there had been humans in the world.

    One way or another. She wondered what that meant. She could understand it to mean nicely or by force. And she wondered if Rafiel Trall understood it.

    And looked up to find his intelligent golden eyes trained on her. “You know that means we might have to... take care of it on our own,” he said. “I... never met any of us till a couple of years ago, and I never thought about it. The possibilities of someone going bad, doing something terrible and how the normals would never be able to take care of it and we’d have to step in. I never thought about it. I thought there might be a half a dozen of us in the world...” Kyrie shook her head. “Tom has seen a dozen or so over five years. Not counting the dragon triad, where he thinks there could be hundreds. I think there’s more than half a dozen. I wonder...”


    “I wonder how long this has been going on and why no one seems to know about it.”

    “I don’t know,” Rafiel said. “When my parents found out, they tried to research. They found legends and stories, poems and songs. And mom, who reads a lot of scientific stuff, thinks there might be such a thing as... migratory genes. People attaching the genes from other species. Going partway there, as it were. But I’ll be damned if that explains mythological species, too. Like dragons. Wonder if there are sphinxes and sea serpents, as well.” He shook his head. “There seem to be a lot of legends about... people like us, until magic stopped being believed and science stepped in. I think we’ll have to admit that we are not ... things of the rational universe. I’m sure Thomas Ormson’s shift violates the rules of conservation of matter and energy.” He frowned, then suddenly grinned, a boyish grin. “Good thing that’s not the sort of law I have to enforce.”

    Kyrie nodded. Men and their puns. “I’ve thought the same. But if we exist, if we exist anyway, how come no one has found out? How come one of us hasn’t slipped, spectacularly in a public place yet, and been found out?”

    “Who says we haven’t?” Rafiel said. “Have you ever heard of crypto zoology?”

    “Bigfoot and the Lochness monster?” she asked, unearthing the word from a long ago spree on the internet looking up strange stuff.

    Rafiel started to shake his head then shrugged and nodded. “For all I know, they’re of ours too, yes,” he said. “But more than that. Giant panthers in England, the lizard man of Denver, the thylacine in Australia, that keeps being seen, years after it’s supposedly extinct. And giant tigers and giant black dogs. All of those. And perhaps,” he sighed. “Bigfoot and Nessie too.” He looked at her. “They’re all seen. They’re all found. It’s just that they’re impossible, see. And the human mind is very good at erasing everything that is not possible. I... My mother says that the human mind is an engine designed to order reality.” He paused and frowned. “You have to meet mom to understand. But if she’s right, then our minds are also designed to reject anything that introduces disorder, anything that goes against the grain.”

    “Our,” she said, before she knew where her mind was headed. “You said the human mind and referred to it as our. You think our minds are human.”

    “Do you think they aren’t?” Rafiel asked. “Why?”

    Kyrie shrugged. “Up until last night I thought I was perfectly human,” she said. “I had no idea that I shifted shapes. I thought all that was an hallucination. Today I don’t know what I think.”

    Something to the way that Rafiel’s expression changed, and to his gaze shifting to a point behind her, made her turn. The server approached to drop off the bill. Rafiel glanced at it and handed it, with a card, back to the server.

    “Look, when I went to bed yesterday – well, today at sunrise – we didn’t have an ID on the victim yet. I’m scheduled to go and attend the autopsy today.”


    “Why the autopsy? Because we don’t know exactly what killed the man. Our pathologist says the wounds look odd.”

    “No, why would they have you attend it? I’ve seen this in cop shows on TV, but I don’t understand whey they need a policeman, who’s not an expert in anatomy or anything of the sort to be there.”

    “Oh, that...” He shrugged. “Look, I’m the investigating officer. We don’t have a murder department. Until these bodies started appearing three months ago, our murder rate was one or two year and those usually domestic. And the investigating officer has to attend the autopsy. It’s... That way we’re there. They film the autopsy, you know, but a lot of it never makes it onto the film or even the official report. And we need to know everything. Even some casual comment, that the examiner might forget to put in the official report, or that the cameras might not catch. Sometimes, crimes are solved on little suff.” He grinned suddenly, disarmingly. “Of course, I’m going on my criminal science class. As I said, most of the murders here don’t involve much solving. The murderer is usually sobbing by the kitchen door, holding the knife. But the classes I took said I should be there. Also, if they find any evidence – dust or hair on the victim’s clothing, I’ll be there to take it into custody. Chain of custody is very important, should the case ever come to trial.”

    The victim’s clothing. Kyrie remembered the sodden rag of a body the night before, soaked in blood. She hadn’t been able to tell if he was wearing clothing, much less what it might be.

    She emerged from the reverie, in time to hear Rafiel say “To the morgue?”

    “Beg your pardon?”

    “I was asking if you’d come with me to the morgue. To watch the autopsy.”

    “Why?” she asked.



    He shrugged. “I don’t know. Because though I’m not deputizing you, in a way I am? Because there might be something you see or notice. There might be a hair on the victim’s body that is that of a diner regular–”

    “I doubt they can find a hair, with all that blood,” she said.

    “You’d be amazed what is found in autopsy. And I think you can help us. Perhaps help me solve the whole thing.” He paused a moment, significantly, playing with his napkin by folding it and unfolding it. “And then we can deal with it.” From his expression, he looked about as eager to deal with it as she felt.

    “Won’t people mind?” Kyrie asked. “Isn’t it irregular to have me with you at something like an official autopsy?” She imagined facing the dead body again. All that blood. It was safer during the day, but it would still trigger her desire to shift.

    “I’ll tell them you work at the diner,” he said. “And that you’re there because I think you might see or remember something. And if needed I’ll tell them you’re my girlfriend and you’re thinking of studying law enforcement. But it should just be me, and Officer Bob – Bob McDonald. Good man, he usually helps me. He’ll be there. But he was my dad’s partner when dad was in the force. Bob won’t ask much of anything. He’ll trust me. He thinks I’m... as he puts it: strange but sound. And no, he doesn’t know. At least we never told him. Of course, he’s around the house a lot.” He shrugged and set the napkin down, neatly folded, by his still half-full water glass. “So, will you come? With me?”

    Kyrie sighed. She nodded. It seemed to be her duty to do this. Would it be her duty, also, to kill someone? To ... execute someone? Until this evening she’d never even examined her own ideas on the death penalty – she hadn’t had any ideas on the death penalty, trusting brighter minds than hers to figure that out. But now she must figure it out. If Tom had killed the man yesterday, did they need to kill him? Was there another way to control him? How much consciousness did he have while killing? And would any considerations of justice or injustice to him have anything to do with it? Or would it all be overruled by the need to keep society safe?

    The server dropped off the credit card slip, and Rafiel signed it.

    “Your name,” Kyrie said. “It’s an odd spelling.”

    “Rafiel? I was named after an Agatha Christie character. Mom is a great fan.”

    “Jason Rafiel,” Kyrie said. “Nemesis and Caribbean murder.”

    He smiled. “Mom will love you.” Then he seemed to realize how that might sound, and he cleared his throat. “So, will you come with me?”

    Kyrie sighed. “I really don’t want to,” she said. “But–”


    “But I think I might have to.” She felt as if her shoulders were being crushed by the weight of this responsibility she didn’t really want to take.



    Tom had given Keith coffee and shuffled him to the back room where Tom had spent the night. He felt more at ease there, as if he were intruding less on Kyrie’s privacy. She’d let him sleep here. It was a de-facto guest room.

    “I was just worried about you,” Keith said, sitting down on the love seat as Tom motioned towards it. “The paper said a corpse was found behind that diner place where you work. And then with the apartment the way it looked, I thought–”

    He had never clearly said what he thought, just frowned and looked worried. And Tom wasn’t absolutely sure how to respond. It had been five years since he had actually needed to talk to someone or had a personal connection with anyone. And apparently socialization was reversible, because as far as making small talk – or any talk at all – he might as well have been raised by wolves.

    He hadn’t been a solitary child. He’d always had his buds, back when he was growing up, all the way from his playgroup in kindergarten to what – he now suspected – had been a rather unsavory group of young thugs in his adolescent years. In fact, it could be said that Tom, growing up, had spent far too little time alone with his own mind and his own thoughts.

    But the last five years... Well, there had been interactions with other humans, of course, some of which still made him cringe. The man who’d tried to rob him outside his father’s house. At least Tom hoped he’d been trying to rob him. Though why a barefoot kid in a robe would have anything worth taking, Tom couldn’t understand. All he remembered was feeling suddenly very angry. He remembered shifting, and the dragon. And coming to with a spot of blood in front of him, and no one near him.

    And there had been other... simpler interactions. But there had been practically no social interaction. Every time he’d talked to another human, or another human had talked to him, one of them had pretty clearly and immediately wanted something of the other.

    Now, he couldn’t see any signs that Keith wanted something of him. At any rate, there was nothing Tom had – what few possessions he’d owned had been destroyed at the apartment – his changes of clothes, his second hand furniture, his... he realized, with a start that his thrift store black-leather jacket would be lost as well, and felt more grief over that than he’d felt over anything else. That jacket had been with him from almost the time he got kicked out of the house. He’d bought it almost new, from a thrift shop, with the proceeds of his first day as a laborer.

    In many ways, that jacket defined him. It had a high enough collar for him to raise and hide his often-too-vulnerable face at moments when he wanted just his tough exterior to show. He’d learned early that looking tough and perhaps just a little crazy saved him from having to do real violence. Which, when anger could literally turn you into a beast, was half the battle.

    Tom had lost his home and left without even the clothes on his body. For the second time in his life. And the thought that Keith might want Tom’s body made Tom start to laugh – rapidly changed into a cough when Keith looked at him, puzzled. He knew Keith. That was not in the realm of possible.

    Keith, for his part, just seemed to want to reassure himself Tom was okay. Having done that, he now sipped the coffee very slowly. “I guess your girlfriend is out?” he asked.

    “Kyrie had an appointment,” Tom said.

    “She’s cute,” Keith said. “How long have you guys been together?”

    Ah. “Well, we work together,” Tom said, edging. “And one thing led to the other.”

    Keith nodded.

    “You? Did the girl see any other dragons last night?”

    Keith frowned. “Now that you mention it, yeah. She said she saw four dragons later on. One jumped down to the parking lot, and then three others flew away a while later.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe she has a dragon obsession. She’s fun and all, but it might be more weirdness than I want to handle.” He scratched his head and adjusted his hat. “I have weirdness enough at college.”

    Tom nodded, not sure what to say. And Keith launched in a detailed description of his college trouble, which involved pig-headed administrators and some complex requirements for graduation which Tom – who’d never been to college, only vaguely understood.

    And then in the middle of it – he’d never quite understand it or be able to explain it – there were wings.

    Only it wasn’t quite like that. There was a powder. A green powder, like a shimmer in the air. Tom had sneezed and was about to say something about it, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was as if he were floating a long way above his own body.

    And Keith jumped up, dropping the cup that he’d been holding. Tom jumped for it, in the process dropping his own cup. Both cups shattered with a noise that seemed out of proportion to the event, and seemed to go on forever in Tom’s mind.

    And then he turned, but he seemed to turn in slow motion. For one, his body didn’t understand that his legs actually belonged to him. And his legs felt like they were made of loose string, unable to support his weight. He tripped over his feet, and as he plunged towards the floor there were... wings over him. Green wings. Dragons. Green. Wings. Had to be dragons.

    Suddenly the windows weren’t there. Ripped? The screens were ripped, from the frames. Glass lay at his feet. And the tip of a green paw came into the room, only it didn’t look like a paw, more like a single toe with a claw at the end.

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