Soft City Dragon. If the usual pattern held, Homer would re-ascend sometime this morning. Then Herod, at night. Until, as Homer had dominated the last decade, Herod would own the next. The Gold Country. "Remember that, Homer. Ask the girl about it. She has information I need." I'd shake it out of her, threaten to bite off a piece or three. No doubt you have your own methods. Most likely you'll get a book from the library.
He shrugged, and walked into the bedroom.
The bed moved. There was something in it.
Herod grasped the corner of the thick down cover and whipped it off the bed.
The woman was completely naked. No scales to be seen. Small. Blonde.
"Thunder and Lightning! That pervert is having sex with a Second Rater?"
"Hey! Who are you calling names? We call ourselves 'Humans', you know! We're the way people started, Demon." She bounced out of the bed and glared at him. "Now, who are you, and where is Homer?"
Herod suppressed flame again, then his head jerked around at the sound of the doorbell. One thing at a time. This woman first. The doorbell rang again and someone started thumping the door. Right. The woman second.
"Good grief." Herod turned his back on the woman and stalked over to open the door.
The Wuss just about fell through the door. "Took you long enough. We found another one. Two days old. Can you come take a look? Right now?" As he talked the man had walked in—uninvited! And was checking the contents of the coffee pot.
Herod left the door open. He sat down, and curled his tail around his feet. He couldn't stop the end from twitching like a pissed off cat's, but he was not going to damage either the second comer or the Wuss.
"Who are you?"
The man swung around suddenly, his body language abruptly stiff and wary. "Detective-Inspector Jason Miribeau, Sa Nafro Regional Police. Herod, I presume?"
The blonde walked around the short privacy wall, wearing a shimmery golden shirt much too large for her. "Whose apartment is this, anyway?"
The cop gawped from the woman to Herod. Herod bristled at the assumptions the man was so obviously making. He searched his memory. Should have done this while I was lazing around in the mountains. Thunder and Lightning, that idiot has contracted with the police department to assist with investigations involving dragons. He hunted frantically around for history on the other problem. It was exceedingly brief, and the more personal activities were thankfully in Homer's private memories. Well that's a relief.
He returned his attention to the woman. "Dress and get out."
She glared and stalked out of sight.
Herod returned his attention to the cop. "I see that my sweet little Alt not only writes columns about art and theatre, and teaches delinquents, he helps you. My recommendation is that you wait until later this morning and see if he returns." No need to make trouble for the little pervert . . . "If there is a reason to look at something right now, I could do so. He will remember it when he ascends."
The woman, now in a shiny red dress and the silliest shoes imaginable, walked back in. She lifted her nose and said nothing as she left.
"Well." Miribeau watched her walk away. "Time is essential. You'll have to be careful to not touch anything. And for heaven's sake, change and get dressed."
Herod stalked into the bedroom area, and further into the bathroom. He spat acid in the sink and ran the water. Change and get dressed? Ordered around like a child? He looked in the mirror. "Homer, you had better be glad we share the same body, because I am really pissed at you." He reached deep inside and triggered the change. Gritted his teeth and did not grunt in pain, didn't curse or scream, or even thrash as his wing membranes desiccated and shrunk back against his body, a ridge of “callus” from toe to fingertip, of a finger that had shortened and broadened. Secondary sail a roughness between fingers. Vertebra shortened and widened, his snaky body compacting, the wing girdle compacting with his shoulders, and his arms shortened. The bones, formerly long and hollow became dense and solid. His ribcage keel, anchoring the flight muscles, flattened and the ribcage broadened. Breathing deeply, exhaling a fog bank of excess water and dust, sweating and hissing a bit. Stinking sweat beaded his skin as his scales shrank and thinned to hairs. He looked back up at the mirror. Black hair, golden skin. Eyes black as night. Arrogant arched nose and his jaws and lower face a bit more pushed out and prominent than the "humans" considered pretty. He didn't think it was pretty, either.
"Yetch." He stepped into the shower, cursing the stiff muscle-bound body that could barely wash its own back when it wasn't sore from the change. Fortunately, Homer kept a long handled brush. His residual scaling was confined to his lower body and back, and shed water easily. He toweled off the unscaled parts, and searched for clothes. As he had feared, Homer wore three piece suits, and damned little else. Growling faintly as he searched, he at least managed to find everything in black.
Miribeau was sitting in an oversized chair drinking coffee. He raised his eyebrows at something about Herod's appearance, but didn't say anything.
"So. What is it I'm going to be looking at?" Herod stalked over to sniff the coffee pot. "When did Homer start drinking this crap?"
"Homer was already a coffee connoisseur when I met him five years ago. I'm surprised we haven't met, to date."
Herod curled a lip. "Connoisseur. We are very bi-polar. I don't like city life, and haven't bothered to fight to stay ascendant the last few years. Besides, he drinks too much. Now. What do you want me to look at?"
"A dead body, found in a dumpster. The medical examiner says she was killed two to two-and-a-half days ago, by a dragon. Homer's job with the department consists of finding and questioning draconic suspects, but he is also good at figuring out who to suspect in the first place."
Herod snorted. He couldn't even work somewhere he might get into a fight. Pansy.
It made Jason's skin crawl to turn his back on this transformed "Homer." The immaculate Homer with his coordinated colors, expensive scent and even more expensive jewelry had somehow morphed into this black wolf. His hair looked like it had been combed with his fingers, he wore no rings, no tie clip, no watch. No hint of perfume.
And then there was the woman. Blonde, dressed in red, obviously picked up in a club somewhere. Exactly the profile of the six murder victims. As soon as Herod was out of sight, Jason had dashed downstairs. He'd gotten her car license number as she pulled out onto the street. He'd have to trace it . . . He didn't want to think about the possibility that Homer's alt could be the killer. He glanced back over his shoulder to see if Herod was going to come. He felt a shock of adrenaline as he caught the Dragon in his peripheral vision. He was already following. He was two feet away. Utterly silent. Cold stare.
Homer had never spoken about his alternate personality. Jason knew the sunspot cycle was near the minimum, when the Sun's magnetic field would change polarity, hard to not know, the way the media was playing up the Dragons' personality switches as if it was the end of the world. All it really meant was that the amount of time each personality was in control was going to change. If your dragon friend was usually happy and occasionally grumpy, he was going to be grumpy for longer periods, until, at the height of the sunspot cycle the happy personality rarely came out at all. You would see less and less of your happy friend, until the next minima, and the polarity reversed again. It was the way dragons worked, each and every one of them a naturally split personality, trading places according to their daily, monthly, yearly and especially strong, the ten to twelve year solar magnetic cycle.
Since Homer had been an arrogant snob, taking great pride in his social work and a bit prissy and over-educated, Jason had been looking forward to meeting his alternate.
The reality of the inverse hadn't occurred to me. And he's got all of Homer's memories, access to all of his education. He's just as big, and he doesn't appear to abide by customs, and he is scaring the shit out of me. I was not expecting one of the old Dragon Lords.
No wonder everyone is in such a tizzy over the swap.
He beeped the car open from a few feet away, and seated himself thankfully. Herod slid carefully into the other seat.
"You don't change often, do you?"
Herod considered that carefully. "No. I prefer dragon-form. Homer, I see, changes nearly every day. How amusing."
"Changing burns a lot of calories. He's a glutton, and uses the frequent changes to keep his weight down. Easier than exercise, for him." There was a definite tone of contempt in there.
It was a short drive. Homer lived in the upscale area adjacent to both the artsy high-brow areas and the glittery strip, where the well-to-do and good looking drank and danced. And sometimes became the prey of night life of a very different sort. Jason pulled in and parked at the end of the alley. Yellow police tape still blocked this end. He nodded to the two patrolmen who'd been left in charge of the scene. They both did a double take at the sight of Herod.
"She's in there." Jason nodded at the first dumpster.
Herod looked over the scene with those cold eyes. "What can I touch?"
"The lab's done, they said the morgue could have her, they'll be here in another hour. Then we get to check the rest of the dumpster contents." Sergeant Diamond was eyeing Herod thoughtfully. "So you can touch anything."
Herod promptly climbed the dumpster, and hung over the edge for a good look. "Definitely dragon work, but then the ME will have told you that." He shoved back and looked at the rim of the dumpster, then up at the roofs on either side. "Did you look for signs of a dragon landing up there?" No show of emotion. As if corpses were nothing new or surprising.
"Yes. It's clean. He either dropped her while airborne, or walked in and tossed her over." Jason shivered at the completely indifferent tone of the Dragon. What's an eviscerated half eaten corpse to a Dragon Lord?
He stepped back as Herod jumped down, athletic and springy. Then the dragon lurched a bit, blinked and backed away from the dumpster, brushing hastily at his suit.
"Gah. Herod has no taste and no pride. All in black. Good grief." He held his hands out like he didn't want to admit ownership. "Honestly Jason, couldn't you have waited just a bit?"
Jason huffed a relieved breath. "Welcome back Homer. You have no idea how relieved I am to see you."
"Heh. I'll bet. I ought to have warned you about Herod."
The two patrolmen were relaxing as well, smiling. This was the Dragon they all knew, and liked. Trusted.
Homer snorted. "Well, at least this time I wasn't out in the wilderness somewhere eating something best left unexamined." He looked at his hands. "Not a huge improvement, but . . ."
Jason bit his lip. "Yeah. I got worried, the way you weren't answering your phone. But when I got there, well, the blonde bimbo pretty much explained that."
"Blonde? Bimbo?" Homer looked at him with dawning horror. "You saw . . ."
"What did she say? What did Herod say?"
"Herod told her to get out. She dressed and left, nose in the air."
"He . . . "
Sergeant Diamond proffered a sealed packet hand wipe. He had his face well under control. The story would be all over the Department by tomorrow.
"Oh, thank you." Homer opened the packet and scrubbed his hands. "Well. I suppose you've just figured out that you are going to need to get a different dragon expert fairly soon, and for the next few years." He patted his pockets. "Wretched Savage didn't pick up my computer. I have a nasty suspicion the first reversed polarity sunspot just popped up. He's very off schedule."
The younger patrolman, Gerschefski or some such mouthful, nodded. "It's small, but its position is right for the new cycle. It'll be around where it can actually be seen in about three more days."
Homer nodded. "Great. Now the panic can really get rolling. All the alts will be showing up and offending their Alts' nearest and dearest."
"Well, I don't remember last time being that big of a deal." Sergeant Diamond shrugged. "Of course the human population has been booming, and there's been a lot of immigration."
"The baby boom." Homer sniffed. "Last time the bulk of them were kids, now they're adults. Much less icky, but it's hell on the job market."
Diamond nodded. "Dragons are down to about 20% of the population."
"And the second comers are what, close to thirty percent? So half Wingless. And now all these new people who want to come here. Whoever heard of an ambassador negotiating mass migration rights? I'm almost glad Herod will be dealing with them, not me."
Jason snorted. "I can't imagine Herod volunteering to teach at juvenile hall."
"Ha! Now I remember. One of my student's kicked me yesterday. That's when Herod took over. Maybe that little trouble maker has learned her lesson."
"He didn't hurt her did he?"
"No. But his threats are generally much more credible than mine." He turned as a black van backed up the alley. "I'm done here. Herod is observant and not at all queasy."
"I noticed." And if the kid wasn't terrified, she's inhuman. Jason led the way back to his car. "What the hell are you going to do? I'd not thought about this change from your point of view. It never occurred to me that your alt would be scary."
"Pack my stuff and store it. I doubt Herod will keep an apartment. Although he's going to find buying a mountaintop a bit difficult. The Forest Service has most of them." He looked down at the black on black on black and shook his head.
Now that he wasn't effortlessly looming over everyone like they were his next meal, the big fellow merely looked like he was dressed for a very formal funeral. The dragon barely showed. The contours of the face, the big hands with the very heavy fingernails, in this case clipped short and polished smooth, immaculately clean. Instead of looking wolfish, Homer looked like he was having a rather amusing bad hair day. He slid into the passenger seat and closed the door.
"So, any ideas about the body?"
Homer's attempts to finger comb his hair into shape slowed. "Do you know, Herod is actually rather unusual in that he doesn't come out much. Most other alts have been increasing their dominance times for the last six or eight months. That may be why I'm not getting any leads. This may be an alt that no one knows very well, or at all. Especially if he’s young, or his alt moved here over the last eight years. He may just come out at night, hunt these poor women, then clean up and let his dragon take over. Let's do a frequency evaluation of the killings, see if there's a pattern that would indicate an emerging alt."