Infected: A Day In The Life

I was kind of curious to check in with Dropkick, one of Roan’s few cop buddies, and see how she saw Roan. So here’s a story that does just that.

**

Not for the first time, Darinda Murphy was sure that she was married to a crazy person.

If the alarm clock was on her side of the bed, she’d have probably have had it tuned to the Mexican pop station, because it was the type of music that annoyed her enough to wake her up, but didn’t annoy her enough to make her homicidal. (That would be the country station.) But it was on Kim’s side of the bed, since Darinda had broken the last two clocks (the second time was an accident, but Kim didn’t believe her), and she kept it tuned to NPR. Their low voices and dry subjects threatened to put Darinda back to sleep, but Kim found it irritating. Mainly the slow, patrician voices, which reminded her a bit of her estranged family, the one that all but washed their hands of her when she came out. While that made a certain amount of sense, Darinda would have been made homicidal by that kind of familiarity, and couldn’t see how this didn’t drive Kim insane.

But that was Kim. She was calm and cool at most times, like you’d expect of a trauma nurse. There were times when she totally lost it, though, as she learned during the Great Plate Breaking Snit of ’06. She rarely lost her temper, but when she did, she erupted like a volcano. Not that Darinda was exactly a shrinking violet, but at least she lost her temper more often. (Was that a good thing?)

She got up, stretching and wondering how mad Kim would be if she punted the clock across the room. Probably pretty mad. So she just let the smoothed voice people discuss grain yields in Mongolia – or whatever it was they were talking about – and went to take a shower, to see if it would help her wake up.

By the time she got out, she was still tired, but she could smell coffee brewing downstairs, and tried to inhale enough caffeine via the scent route. It probably didn’t work that way.

But on her way down, she recalled Roan’s freaky sense of smell, and wondered if he could actually inhale caffeine simply through scent. If anyone could, you’d think it would have to be him.

In the kitchen, Kim was dressed in her pale green scrubs, blonde hair piled up on her head, and was about two minutes from leaving. She grabbed her thermal lunch bag and reminded Darinda they had to take Ruby to the vet on Friday. She nodded, pouring herself a mug of coffee, and gave Kim a goodbye kiss on her way out. Kim preferred giving Darinda the friendly butt pat, as she claimed it gave her fond memories of her high school soccer team. Darinda was ninety percent sure she was making all of that up.

Ruby, the rescued tortoiseshell calico, wound around her ankles as she nuked herself a frozen breakfast sandwich. The little moocher meowed, and even though she knew she shouldn’t, she got the bag of cat treats out of the cupboard, and poured a couple into a saucer, which she placed on the floor. Ruby started scarfing them up instantly. “Lesbians with a cat. You know you’ve made us a cliché, right?” she told the cat, putting the treats away.

Ruby was part of a passel of feral kittens found behind the hospital a few months ago. Most of them ended up getting adopted by hospital workers, Kim included. Darinda had said no at first, but inevitably she lost the argument. And the worst part was she couldn’t even be properly mad, because Ruby turned out to be one of the most sweet tempered cats she ever encountered. Smart too, which may have been why she seemed so good tempered at all times. She knew kissing up to the humans guaranteed food and treats, as well as pets and a roof over her head. Ruby was no dummy. Maybe in a couple of years, when she realized she wasn’t going anywhere, she’d let her hair down and be a true grumpy pest.

Darinda poured coffee into her travel mug, and pulled out the now hot breakfast sandwich still wrapped in a paper towel. She wondered if they ever showed this kind of glamorous shit on cop shows, and guessed they probably didn’t. Those cops wore designer outfits and never had a hair out of place. They probably walked through their opulently appointed homes and had full breakfasts made of quinoa and bacon, or whatever the hell fancy people ate nowadays. She didn’t spend a lot of times on trends or even watching much television. Kim basically had control of the remote, and that was fine with her. Mostly she watched sitcom repeats at weird times, and the occasional cable drama, but she just didn’t have much room in her head for that kind of thing. She wished she did, because it might have helped a bit with stress. It seemed to help Kim.

They both had super stressful jobs, and that was kind of why she thought originally, when they first got together, that they were kind of doomed. Dating a detective was bad, but dating a trauma nurse was just as bad if not worse, and there were weeks when their schedules clashed so badly they were lucky to see each other even once. But they were pretty much the only people who could stand each other, and begin to understand their crazy lives. It was probably a good thing they were perfect for each other.

Once in the cocoon of her car, Darinda had her first good gulp of coffee, and bit into the sandwich. What it lacked in flavor it made up for in relative neatness. A lot of cops came in wearing specks or traces of their breakfast, but not her. It made her look efficient, and far more together than she actually was.

Traffic was never too bad at this time of morning, although, since this was Seattle, that was kind of relative. Darinda turned on the radio to the local news, but quickly got tired of it and switched it to a classic rock station. Kim liked to say that was her “ugly little secret”, which was only partially true. It wasn’t that ugly. As secrets went, this one was nice and tame.

She was sitting at a red light, sipping her coffee, when her cell hummed in her coat pocket. She plucked it out, and a quick glance showed her it was her partner, Dubois, calling. “Somebody’s at work early,” she said, instead of saying hello. After you’d been working together for a while, niceties like “hello” and “goodbye” fell by the wayside.

Dubois groaned. “Yeah, I had to finish the Macauley casework. But maybe it’s a good thing. You on your way in?”

“Yeah, I’m about eight minutes out.”

“Why don’t you come to eighth and Butler instead? Follow the black and whites to the fun.”

“Oh no, what we got?”

“Triple homicide, might be infected related, so we’re double teaming it with the cat squad for now. Batman’s coming in to clarify things a little.”

“Oh joy.” Batman was, of course, Roan. Pretty much every cop called him that, and most disparagingly. It was an improvement over his previous nickname, “Kitty fag”. But anything was an improvement over that. It was kind of funny how many cops didn’t think a lesbian would find the term fag derogatory. Wait, not funny, fucking infuriating. “Okay, I’ll meet you there.” She hung up, and tried to think of the best way to get to Butler from here.

If she were a betting person, she’d bet half her paycheck that Roan would show up grouchy. It was way too early in the morning for him, especially since he seemed to keep vampire hours now.

That they remained tied together was another one of those funny/infuriating things. Initially they were pushed together by fellow cops (the union included) because they were both the only openly gay cops on the force at the time. It struck her as weird that everyone thought they’d get along perfectly because they were both gay, never mind the fact that gay men and lesbians really weren’t known for doing a whole lot of socializing together. In the straight person’s mind, being gay was enough.

But, ironically, they did get along. It helped that Roan had missed his calling as a comedian; he could wield humor as effectively as a weapon, proving that all his years watching Monty Python and The Kids In The Hall weren’t in vain. He was also amusingly ballsy, refusing to put up with anyone’s bullshit or homophobia, even though she knew if you wanted a career in law enforcement, you had to embrace tact and patience. She always had the feeling Roan’s attitude would get him canned, although she never foresaw him beating the living hell out of an obnoxious, aggressive drunk. Still, it didn’t surprise her that much. Roan liked a good fight. Sitting down and shutting up was something he had never managed to perfect, even though, by all accounts, he was as nerdy as they came as a child. So what had happened? Roan himself blamed punk rock, but Darinda was more than half-convinced it was simply the lion in him, asserting itself as he got older. Lions weren’t nerds. Lions ate nerds. And considering how much the virus expressed itself after he left the force, she really felt she had something. She’d never shared this with Roan, because she wasn’t an idiot. Also, with the lion peeking out so much now that other cops called him Batman, it would seem like an obvious conclusion to draw. It wasn’t eight years ago.

It was obvious where the problem was, as there were several cop cars and a meatwagon making Butler nearly impassible. What surprised Darinda was the scene seemed to be in some kind of shop. She’d been expecting a private residence.

Once she found a parking place, she got out and flashed her badge until she was inside the shop, which seemed to be some kind of new age style head shop. It reeked of blood and death, and weirdly enough, patchouli.

Dubois was in the back, along with Detective Estes, who was part of the cat squad. The bodies were still covered by sheets, which were soaked through with blood. Clearly she beat Roan here. “So what’s the story?”

Dubois rubbed his eyes, which was his tell. It meant even he was horrified by something here. “Hard to say. We have three bodies, one of them really torn up, and what appears to be a broken cage in the corner. The dead are two Caucasian males in their early thirties and a Caucasian female in her late twenties, but we’re having a hell of a time piecing together a coherent narrative based on what few facts are available to us.”

“We assume that one of the men is Robert Donaghy, the owner of this establishment,” Estes said. “But we found no IDs on the bodies, and we’re scrambling to track him or anyone related to him down.”

“But it looks like a cat kill?” she drifted over towards the bloodiest sheet, as that one seemed to indicate that it was hiding a very unusual shape beneath its sheet. One a human body shouldn’t have had.

“Oh yeah,” Dubois replied. “One of these guys looks like he was pulled out of a shark tank. You haven’t eaten recently, have you?”

She had an iron stomach, which she was particularly proud of, but now that she was standing beside the corpse, with its iron and shit smell pretty overwhelming, she questioned whether seeing it for herself would help any. Even if she doubted Dubois, Estes was a long time member of the cat squad. If he thought it was wrong, he’d have said so.

Darinda was spared from having to make a choice or not, because Roan came into the room, wincing. “Goddamn. It’s too early for this.” His dark red hair was messed up from his motorcycle helmet, which he carried under his arm, but it had the odd effect of making him look more leonine. If he’d have known, it would have pissed him off. In his deliberately shlubby outfit of jeans, biker boots, obscure band t-shirt (well, she assumed – was there an actual band named Police Teeth?), and leather jacket, he kind of looked like a rock star trying to look cool without looking like he was trying to do so. With his eerie green eyes and masculine jaw, he actually looked more handsome now than he had eight years ago. Kim claimed that was a man thing, that some men just looked better as they got older, but she hadn’t seen him as a fresh faced rookie. Roan’s face hadn’t exactly changed shape, but it was different in a fundamental way that Darinda couldn’t pin down, and age had nothing to do with it. She knew it verged on racist (specist?) to say it was the lion coming out in him, somehow bringing a predatory gravity to his face, but … yeah, maybe that was it. Even the energy changed when he came into the room. Now a lot of the time you could chalk that up to fear and ignorance, but they were all professionals here. It was just something in your lizard brain telling you a scary and carnivorous predator had just come into the room, and maybe you’d best stop making sudden moves. It was stupid, of course, as Roan wasn’t going to hurt them. But could he? She liked to think she could draw down on him if she had to, but having seen the same tapes as the other cops, she suspected Roan could tear through them all before anyone’s gun cleared a holster if he really wanted to. His humanity was falling away in pieces, and what was left behind was called Batman, because if you could joke about a thing, you didn’t have to be scared of it. It was all manageable if you told yourself it couldn’t possibly be real, because that was fucking crazy, and wasn’t how the world was supposed to work.

Just a glance at Dubois and Estes told her they were still processing the weird feelings Roan could bring out in you, maybe because they were straight men (she almost pitied those poor bastards at times), so she took the lead. “Know what kind of cat we’re dealing with here?”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He then tilted his head to the side, eyebrows furrowing. After a few seconds, Roan straightened up, and opened his eyes. “Oh, this is fucking weird.”

Estes had recovered. “Weird cat?”

“Weird emotions. I’m picking up a lot of rage,” Roan said, walking over to look at the bodies. She stepped back to let him pass, and hoped he ignored Dubois’s slight, under his breath groan. He accepted Roan’s bloodhound status, but he refused to believe emotions had a scent. Darinda was a little dubious of that too, but Roan had been correct too often for this just to be a guess on his part. Roan was technically – and in a very legal sense – a bloodhound, and he had access to a scent vocabulary that normal people couldn’t even imagine. Dubois was kind of being an ass.

Roan lifted up the sheet on the body Darinda had almost looked at, and one quick glance told her all she needed to know. The guy had hamburger where his torso used to be, and while he surely had a face once, that was no longer the case. She looked at Roan instead, as his face was still intact. His jaw went taut, but otherwise there was no reaction to the violence. “Well, the guy committed to the bit, you had to give him that.” He let the sheet fall back on the corpse.

“Gonna hafta unpack that one for me,” Estes said.

Roan pointed down at the shredded body. “He was cougar strain. He was killed by someone trying to make it look like a cat attack, but it wasn’t. I’m thinking a machete was used, maybe something else, like a garden implement. I’m getting a hint of rust and grass.”

“Rust and grass?” Dubois said. “How the hell can you smell that through all that blood?”

Roan turned his sharp gaze on her partner. Roan knew Dubois wasn’t crazy about him, and in his Roan like way, absolutely did not give a fuck. It was one of the things she liked about him. “I can tell you what he had for his last meal. Would you like me to?”

That was one of Roan’s superpowers that she would never want, under any circumstances. People smelled bad enough normally. To be able to smell all of the scents would have been maddening. “No, I’ll pass,” Dubois said, tacitly giving Roan the point.

Estes scratched his head, trying to puzzle out everything Roan was saying. “So this is a triple murder by a human?”

Roan nodded. “Only this guy was infected. The other two are clean.”

“That would explain the minimal damage to the other two bodies,” Estes said.

“I bet he exhausted himself messing this guy up,” Roan replied. “This had to take a long time.”

“Hate crime?” Darinda wondered. He did say he smelled a lot of rage, and this guy wasn’t so much hurt as pureed. That spoke of something personal, even if it was only personal to the killer.

Roan shrugged. “Maybe. We’re gonna have to find our suspect first.”

“If you smelled the guy again, would you know him?” she wondered, and heard Dubois make that noise of disapproval again. That was just one of the asshole things about Dubois she’d learned to ignore. As partners went, he was one of the better ones she had worked with. He was smart and did his homework. He just wasn’t crazy about Roan and his “abilities” (which always sounded like he was saying it with air quotes). She felt that said something terrible about his masculinity, or he was a possible closet case, as they always seemed to have chips on their shoulders when it came to Roan. He was so defiantly and unabashedly out, he made them super defensive. That was one of the things she really liked about Roan.

Roan thought about it for a few seconds, then nodded. “Yeah, he was in here, and he sweat a bit. Possibly on the bodies.”

Estes let out a slight groan of disgust. That was a lot of emotion from him, as he usually didn’t display much on the job. “You had to go there, huh?”

“I was asked, I answered.”

Darinda saw the people in white clean suits in the front of the store, and said, “Let’s clear for forensics.” Also, this was the worst part of her job. Yes, dealing with grieving families was hard, but standing right beside the remains of someone, someone who was alive five hours ago but was now just a body, was always strange. One day, it could be you or someone you love under that sheet. Constantly confronting your own mortality wore on you, just like the shittiness people were capable of grinded you down to a stump.

They squeezed out of the foul smelling back room, and into the bigger but still pretty rank front room, with Roan bringing up the rear. There was a tasteless joke in there, but she wasn’t going to make it. Not with straight guys in the room.

“You know, you could have made my life easier by pretending it was a cat killing,” she told Roan. That would have kicked it over to cat squad, and it would have been all there problem.

He had the decency to grimace as he shrugged. “Sorry. Just reporting it as I smell it.”

But Roan had, to be fair, made her life instantly easier. All they had to do was identify suspects and bring them in. Then they could have Roan come into a room with them, and say if he smelled them on the scene or not. Since he was legally a bloodhound, that was enough probable cause for a warrant, and they could lean heavily on whoever Roan placed at the scene. Hell, they could send Roan into the box with them. That weird gravity he now carried around with him seemed to fill the people he questioned with extra terror. Most people knew he was a nightmare, although most of them couldn’t say why. Nothing about him in this state screamed inhuman, it was just something you picked up on a gut level. She sometimes wondered, if you looked deep enough into his eyes, if you could see the lion peering out at you.

As they stepped outside, she noticed Roan giving her an unusual look out of the corner of his eye, and finally he asked, “You have a cat?”

Amazing. They kept Ruby out of their bedroom for the specific point of saving their clothes from cat hair. Her rubbing up against her leg in the kitchen was enough? “It was Kim’s idea. She rescued a kitten.”

“So you’re discovering all the joys of married life, huh?” he said, flashing her a toothy grin.

Somehow they had both gone from sexual deviants who would destroy humanity to married, boring people. That wasn’t fair. How had that happened?

Well, it wasn’t her mystery to solve. And she was glad, as she had enough on her plate as it was.

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