Chapter 1 of Infected: Shift

Yeah, you're screwed

By Anne Cain

Lost at Birth

Roan was so bored he’d decided that Tanning Salon Pervert would be

the perfect name for his biography.

As he’d flipped through the TV channels last night, the information

bar had been visible at the bottom of the screen, and as he surfed past one

news magazine program, he saw their episode was titled “Tanning Salon

Pervert.” He didn’t watch it—on general principle he refused to watch

anything that called itself a news magazine—but the words intrigued him.

They sounded wrong in a wonderfully obtuse way, like “peanut butter hut”

or “purple elephant pedophile.” Now, he’d never been in a tanning salon,

and whether he was a pervert or not was subjective and almost totally

hinged on your personal interpretation of the Bible (if you even had one),

but the phrase just stuck with him. He bet he’d sell thousands of copies to

disappointed people actually wanting the sordid tale of a man who got off

on watching women fry under UV lights or get sprayed with fake bake.

Instead, they’d get the mundane story of a gay ex-cop with anger

management issues who could change into a lion at will.

Come to think of it, not that mundane. But nowhere near as

interesting as a tanning salon pervert.

Perhaps Dylan was right. Maybe he was way too blasé about hate.

Here he was, standing in front of a crowd that was chanting “Kill the cat!”,

some waving homemade signs reading Drown Them in the River! (and

some brought sacks—how cute) in front of the county hospital, along with

a cordon of other cops, trying to keep them back from the doors. Grant

Kim was out of cycle and was being transferred to a special holding cell at

the county courthouse until he could be arraigned for several counts of

second-degree murder (all killings committed while in cat form were

charged as second degree). Imprisoning infecteds was difficult, mainly

because no one felt safe releasing them into a prison’s genpop (not only

was their blood super infectious, but they were obvious targets for

harassment by other inmates), and the erratic natures of the viral cycles

made it difficult to say for sure when they’d change. Most were kept in

special hospitals, although lawsuits had been filed over that. (There was

only one prison specifically made for infecteds, and that was in—of

course—Texas.)

Normally, he wouldn’t be part of the cordon, but Chief Matthews

was seriously concerned about the threat level and asked him to come in

and help. He was glad to do so, even though Dylan was afraid: “If

someone recognizes you, Roan, they will target you.”

What he didn’t tell Dylan was that was fine with him. He had always

been one of those aggressive queers. Instead of adopting a victim

mentality, whenever anyone shouted “You’re a fag!”, his response would

always be along the lines of “What of it?” He was the same way as an

infected. He was supposed to be ashamed because he had some fucking

mutant virus? Because he was born with it? Fuck them. Yeah, he was

infected. What of it? If someone wanted to attack him for it, they were free

to, but he’d only let them leave a bruise. A bruise was all he needed to

legally prove self-defense, even if he ended up kicking the living shit out

of them. Which he would do, definitely; he’d make them pick their teeth

up off the street. If they were very lucky, the lion wouldn’t come out.

The other cops were uneasy about having him around. He thought

maybe it was because he wasn’t actually on the force anymore (adviser

just didn’t count), or because he was gay or infected (or both), but he

discovered the real reason from a rookie, Hawkins, a cute little short-

haired bottle blonde who seemed almost too darling to be a cop. (That

could actually work in her favor in some cases—some men might be

reluctant to hit her. Others would attack her eagerly, though, so it was a

give and take.) She came up beside him to take her place in the cordon,

and after looking him up and down said, “So, you’re Batman.” Ah, so that

was it. Everybody had seen the security tapes, and now everyone just

assumed he was superhuman or something. He’d deny it, but he wasn’t

sure if he was being completely honest. Not that he was superhuman, but

other than human? Yeah, he might be in the other category.

It was a sunny but cool day, and he was trying to look as butch as

possible to discourage any of the lunatics. He wore mirrored sunglasses to

fit in with most of the other cops, but he was dressed in biker boots, jeans,

and a black These Arms Are Snakes T-shirt, but that was kind of tight, to

show off a well-developed torso. (Which he got through a bit of muscle

manipulation. Okay, so he wasn’t supposed to ever let the lion out or risk a

blood vessel popping in his brain, but again, his attitude was fuck it—he

was going to live his life as always, and if it killed him, it killed him. So he

let out the lion just enough to make him seem a bit more muscular than he

actually was.) It was cold enough he had to cross his arms over his chest,

allowing him to do some subtle bicep flexing to make them look bigger,

and the short sleeves showed off most of the new tattoo on his arm,

Dylan’s tiger sketch now made permanent in blue and black ink. It was so

new he’d just taken off the bandage this morning. It didn’t hurt, but then

again, as full of Vicodin as he was, he’d have been surprised to feel

anything.

(Now he felt vindicated in his pill popping. Downers lowered blood

pressure, right? So downers might keep his blood vessels from going off

like fireworks on Chinese New Year. Yes, it was self-serving and probably

wrong, but he wanted to believe it, and that might just be enough denial to

make it so.)

He was wearing an earpiece radio, just like the rest of the cops,

which was how he knew that, finally, things were underway. Two different

handcuffed men, surrounded by cops and with jackets over their heads,

were going to be hustled out of the hospital and into the back of a

goddamned paddy wagon (a “prisoner transport”—nice way of saying

paddy wagon). One of them would be Grant, and the other was an

undercover cop. That was how vicious and serious the threats were against

Grant Kim: a decoy had been employed. How had a scrawny Asian kid

who was barely a hundred pounds soaking wet and generally as harmless

as all fuck become public enemy number one?

Roan had gotten him a lawyer, one of Dennis’s protégés, and

Dennis’s office got sent a bit of white powder in an envelope with a note

that said all kitty fuckers had to die. (It was soap, not anthrax, but that

wasn’t the impression he wanted to leave.) There had been a bomb threat

against the hospital last week. Threats had been issued on the web against

cops, or at least those who stood in the way of them getting Grant. Why

this case had turned so ugly in the public eye was unknown. Was it

because a teenage boy was a victim? A father of two? The number of

victims? Because Grant and the first two victims were living in a

relationship most found horrifyingly immoral? (The troika of Curtis,

Tiffany, and Grant, with Grant still getting some on the outside of their

threesome.) Maybe all of the above, maybe none. Roan had come to

expect a certain amount of hysteria in these cases, but this seemed more

excessive than normal. He was so sorry he’d ever advised Dylan to have

Seb bring Grant in, although if the cops had eventually caught him and

brought him in (likely), it would have been so much worse for Grant.

Would someone have actually been stupid enough to attack Grant

with about a dozen cops on the scene? Considering how foaming at the

mouth this crowd looked, Roan could believe it was a good possibility.

There was an ugly feeling in the air, a sense of impending violence. It

made the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and it was all he could do not

to growl.

He was wearing an obvious gun and had a Taser on the side of his

jeans, but he wondered if he’d actually use them if or when something

went wrong. Lately, his instincts had led him to go hand to hand. Perhaps

that was just another reason for the guys to call him Batman.

The cops stood shoulder to shoulder, making a human blockade, not

only hiding the men being hustled to the van from view, but also trying to

intimidate anyone who might be thinking about attacking. Roan made sure

he was in the center so he was both the most exposed and had the best

view of the restless crowd.

Somewhere near the person with the Where Is Our Civil Right To

Be Safe? sign, a chant of “Kill the cats!” began anew, and Roan wondered

what was wrong with him. In the face of this incoherent mob violence, he

should have been afraid, but he honestly wanted to anger them more. He

wanted to grab Lieutenant Ramirez and tongue kiss him before

transforming into a lion, and he really didn’t even like Lieutenant Ramirez

(he was way too fidgety, and Roan hated his porn stache). Something in

him just lived to be contrary. If he couldn’t have their respect, he’d accept

their hate.

As the officers started coming out with Kim and the undercover

stunt double, Roan noticed an almost Brownian motion in the crowd, and

he saw the ghostly pale scalp of a man pushing forward, so wan his skin

was almost the exact same color as his off-white hooded sweatshirt. He

was elbowing people aside and reaching into his pocket, and Roan knew in

that second he wasn’t going for his phone. “Gun!” he shouted, diving into

the crowd.

There was screaming, cops shouting in their radios, people running

one way or another, but the man was focused on Grant, and Roan was

focused on him, so much so that the crowd of people around him, even

those he was reflexively shoving aside, dwindled away to mere spots in his

peripheral vision. Noise was nothing—all drowned in the blood pounding

in his ears and the growl burbling up from his throat.

The man had managed to pull the gun out of his pocket before Roan

was on him, tackling him and riding him to the ground, hands firmly

grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the asphalt parking lot. The man,

tall and lean but still fairly strong, tried to buck him off, but Roan had had

too much experience riding guys (ha) and wasn’t moved. “Motherfucker!”

the man shouted, spittle spraying from his lips. “Cat-fucking fascist p—”

To Roan, the bones in the man’s wrist felt like fish bones, fine and

fragile, and with just the tiniest squeeze they crackled like dead leaves

under his fingers. The man screamed incoherently, arching in pain, as the

gun fell out of his useless hand. Roan saw a fast-moving blur in his

peripheral vision, a bigger, chunkier guy pulling a baseball bat out of one

of the cat-drowning sacks and charging him. He was vaguely aware of a

cop—maybe more than one—yelling “Freeze!” But he ignored it as much

as the man did.

With a snarl, he jumped, and slammed bodily into the man, who was

too surprised and hit too swiftly to react. He went crashing to the parking

lot, still managing to hold onto the bat, and as he brought it up, Roan

caught it and yanked it out of his hands, throwing it across the lot.

Although the Vicodin was helping to keep his anger in check, he still felt a

sharp, deep pain in his jaw as it shifted, and tasted blood. “Who else wants

some?” he roared at the onlookers. The ones who didn’t want trouble had

already fled; those who were considering whether or not to join the fray if

there was any chance of winning were still loitering about, and most were

in the dangerous demographic of men in their late teens and early twenties,

the probable age group of the would-be assailants. The sideliners stared at

him in goggle-eyed horror, and he could smell the sudden fear like a toxic

spill of vinegar. The fight was over; no one wanted to chance it.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Batman, couldn’t you leave some for us?”

Thompson carped. He was the cop that looked not unlike a young Jim

Brown and had been at the head of the escort line. Roan wouldn’t have

minded tongue kissing him; he was much more attractive than Ramirez.

“Oh, he’s always been a show-off,” Dee said, kneeling beside Roan

and putting his EMT kit on the ground. Yep, ambulance teams were

standing by, and since they were at a hospital, it seemed almost silly.

There were doctors inside—why couldn’t they use them? Probably some

damn insurance thing.

Dee looked him in the eye, an eyebrow raised in concern, and asked,

“You okay, Ro?”

It was probably the Vicodin, but he felt much more in control of

himself. The lion hadn’t come out enough to run away with him. It had

just come out enough to distend his jaw a bit. Oh, and allow him to throw

a body slam on a guy trying to assault him with a bat. And break a man’s

wrists like they were made of spun sugar. Okay, so the lion had come out a

bit more than he intended. At least no one was dead, himself included.

Roan wiped the blood away from his mouth and said, “Peachy.”

“I can’t breathe,” the man beneath him gasped, obviously breathing

but wincing in pain all the same. Roan got off of him, and he rolled over

on his side and curled up into a fetal position, holding his ribs.

“You know, if you just Googled this red-haired bastard, you’d have

saved yourself a world of hurt,” Dee scolded him, snapping on a pair of

rubber gloves. Roan stood and noticed Shep and some other paramedic he

didn’t recognize were attempting to work on the gunman, who was still

screaming and writhing in pain. Three cops were standing around them,

but only one still bothered to have his Taser out. Roan visually confirmed

the paddy wagon was gone; Grant and the other cops got away, as they

were supposed to have done. Mission accomplished.

He rubbed the back of his neck and scanned the rest of the lot,

freezing as soon as his eyes fell on a cameraman for Channel Five

standing crouched beside an SUV, the helmet-haired “action news

reporter” beside him (his name was Chip or Flip or some damn cartoon

name). Roan only needed to see the blow-dried wonder’s mouth moving in

profile to know he was saying to his cameraman, “Tell me you got that.”

Oh shit.

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