Jason eyed the woman, while the Chief retreated. Tall for a woman. She looked like a Second Coming poster. Put her in red, and she'd fit right in with the Ripper's victims. "Well. We've just got the ID on the last victim. I was about to go break the news to the family, search her home, and talk to friends. Do you feel up to some really distressing legwork?"
"I am a police officer. It goes with the job."
She had a faint tone of talking-down-to-inferiors. He couldn't wait to introduce her to Homer. He suppressed a smile. Or maybe Herod.
He collected phone and computer, and slipped them in his pockets as he headed for the elevator.
"I understand the perpetrator is a dragon?"
"All the physical evidence points to it. Are there dragons living on Hesperus? What is that? An Island?"
"Yes, a large and crowded one. No dragons. I've never met one."
"Hmm, we'll fix that later." He steered her toward the car. She seemed perfectly at home with the machinery, although she watched carefully as he started it and backed out of his usual parking spot. "Have you been in the city very long?"
"No. I came six weeks ago for a brief visit, just got back this morning."
"Right, you people are flying in and out of Geburg on Tapoli?"
She nodded. "And then taking a boat to and from Hesperus. I feel like I've been traveling constantly, for the last few months."
"Sounds like you have been." He pointed out landmarks as he drove. The address of the next of kin was in a poor part of town.
The man who came to the door was obviously drunk, a can of ale in his fist. "Police, eh? Found my Dora yet? It's been four days since she walked out on me. Serve her right If I don't let her come crawling back." He belched. "Well? Where is she?"
Jason sighed. "The morgue."
It didn't get any better. Dora Franc had had a fight with her husband and walked out. Borrowed a slinky red dress from a friend and gone out bar hopping to show him she didn't need him.
The friend wasn't much help. "Gosh, we split up after the Rainbow. I was after this really really pretty boy, and she had about three guys chatting her up, last I saw." Bet was able to describe the three in general—all with blonde to brown hair, so not dragons. The bartender wasn't at home, nor work.
Jason swung around to Candle Street and parked in front of the gallery. "C'mon. I'll introduce you to the department's consulting expert on dragons."
The woman raised her eyebrows over the paintings on display in the windows. Landscapes and portraits. Homer admitted that they were perfectly adequate works, and vastly overpriced. The bell rang as they walked in. Homer stuck his head out of the studio and waved a painty brush before ducking away.
Magana seemed content to prowl the gallery. Jason wandered as well, watching her more than looking at the paintings. He'd seen most of them before. The woman, on the other hand, was new, attractive, and professional, and seemed more relaxed here in Homer's ultra-tasteful piece of capitalistic snobbery.
One room held a deeply pigmented abstract with good enough dimensionality to give him a touch of vertigo.
Homer escorted the gentleman out of the gallery, chattering about some upcoming soirée. He walked back briskly.
"One of my student's work." Homer looked at the painting and shook his head. "The one that kicked me." He eyed Magana as she walked up to them. "I don't know why the most talented students are also the most troublesome."
"Homer, this is Lieutenant Scarlet Magana. From Hesperus. Lieutenant, may I present his Lordship Homer West Plateau."
"Oh, just Homer, please. Titles are so passé. Goodness, I wasn't expecting one of you new people to just walk into my gallery. Come into the studio, won't you? I need to clean my brushes."
The portrait on the easel had the face painted in clearly, the remainder a ghostly sketched outline. "I'll get the background and clothing in, then one more sitting to get the hair right and tie it all together." Homer sighed. "As you see, lieutenant, I'm perfectly competent. But the spark of genius eludes me."
She made a non-commital sound, studying him. "I understand you are the resident dragon expert? I'm afraid I know absolutely nothing about them. The rumors are very odd."
Homer's black eyes lit. "Do you mean to say I get to lecture?"
Jason chuckled and wandered off.
"The first thing you need to understand is that every dragon is in fact two dragons . . ."
Jason walked back to the vertigo painting. Anything this good, by a kid with the sense to kick Homer, might be something he ought to buy. Depending on what sort of price tag that suave and urbane pirate put on it. He knew Homer too well, after five years.
". . . sunspot cycle is just ending, the magnetic polarity is switching, so the personality that is dominate is also changing."
The dragon's prissy facade, well, it was more than a facade. The artistic appreciation was . . . more complex than his public pronouncements would lead one to suspect. He wrote competing columns on high society, art and the theatre for the two papers. The one under his own name loved the avant-garde society and said all the right things about them. The other lampooned them. Most people thought Lord Homer and Jerry Lumpkin were deadly enemies, only modern sensibilities preventing bloodshed.
Homer rarely let that sly humor out in person. In fact it took about four drinks . . . He really was going to miss the oversized dandy. Pity he couldn't keep Homer drunk enough, for long enough to keep Herod at bay.
". . . Church of the Second Coming is a real nuisance, but with nearly a third of our society composed of their adherents, we really can't throw them out. Fortunately most Seconds aren't very fervent. They pay lip service once a week, and are decent neighbors the rest of the time. I do hope your people aren't more of the same."
"Oh, no, we have a couple dozen different religions, so none of them are truly dominate. We've become very tolerant of differences. Perhaps we'll help defuse your problem."
Jason grinned as they strolled up. "Probably give the second comers a new target."
"And they'll lay off the dragons for a bit? That would be nice." Homer beamed down at the woman. "As you see Jason isn't a Comer. In fact, by his height, dark eyes and hair, you can tell he's a Wingless. If I were crude, I'd call him a Wuss."
She looked puzzled.
Jason grinned. "An mildly insulting term the Dragons and second comers use. Wingless, with a single personality, single shape. I wouldn't advise you to use it until you understand us a bit better."
"Umm. What insulting names do Second Comers and Dragons have for each other?"
"Second Raters and Demons. Blacker than Hell, black as a Dragon."
"All dragons are black." Homer lifted his nose a bit. "Unless they use powered copper or iron to sparkle up their scales. Rather gaudy, in my opinion, but done well it can be quite spectacular."
The Lieutenant's eyes twinkled. Jason diagnosed laughing at the snobbishness.
Back to work. "Did you have any luck, at the support group?"
Homer rolled his eyes. "It was appalling, all of the poor little dragons crying over their big mean alts getting them into arguments with their friends and spouses. There's going to be the usual flood of divorces. I also prowled the tea houses, and picked up gossip. I was very sympathetic, and asked all sorts of concerned questions. I'm building up a list of full moon dominates who've been heard to say things that . . . worry people. How we're going to find them ascendant and question them is beyond me. I'm noting times and dates they were ascendant, so no doubt we can eliminate most of them before we start getting intrusive."
The Lieutenant shivered. "I've never seen a dragon. They sound terrifying."
Jason swapped glances with Homer over her head. Homer smirked, and winked.
"Oh no. Half of them are quite civilized. Pity they come attached to the other half." He twinkled at her snort of amusement. "Have you two eaten? Would you be my guests at the Lisbonne?"
They paused while Homer turned off lights and locked the doors.
"Are either of you religious?" She glanced back and forth between them as they bracketed her.
"No, I'm an Agnostic." Jason shrugged.
"I'm a complete Agnostic." Homer flashed a grin. "That means I don't believe in anything at all."
"Beats being an Agnostic Agnostic." Jason pointed out. "Not knowing what you don't believe in is rough."
"And Convinced Agnostics are such a pain." Homer smirked. "They know what they don't know and they are certain you don't know it either."
"That's just one step away from the Militant Agnostic, who insists that no one knows or can know."
"You two are awful, I don't believe you." The Lieutenant's green eyes sparkled in the bright lights as they walked inside.
"You're right." Homer smiled. "I'm really a Happy Agnostic. I believe ignorance is bliss, although I'm not sure."
A dignified Matre 'D whisked them immediately to a table, well placed to see and be seen. Homer was well known here.
Jason found himself in competition with Homer to explain the various dishes. He let Homer pick a wine. They ordered and the Lieutenant returned to asking about Dragons.
"I don't understand how they can have two personalities. I always thought that was a psychological response to abuse."
Homer shrugged. "The personalities don't split completely until early adulthood. Even then they share most of their memories. Only highly emotional memories are private. There are cranial clusters, one on each side of the brain, and they lose communication gradually. Something to do with destroying conflicting neural connections. Each personality ends up connected separately to the nervous system."
Jason nodded. "People used to think the left cranial cluster held their good side, the right cranial cluster their bad side, as that's the side that usually develops late."
"But all that depends on your definition of good and bad." Homer inserted.
"At any given time one personality will be ascendant, and one suppressed. The rest of the brain: senses, body control, education, training, various abilities and so forth, are accessed by both personality clusters."
"Not equally." Homer said. "One personality can be graceful and the alt clumsy. They aren't necessarily different, it's just a matter of each one having separate connections. Like Jason says, memories can be shared or personal. The stronger the emotion involved, the more likely the memory will be personal. One half can invade the other's personal memories, but this often flips the dominance to the alt."
They fell quiet to deal with the very excellent food.
Homer sipped at half a glass of wine. Many Dragons didn't drink at all, as it interfered with the switches between the personalities, generally suppressing them for a day or so, then they'd be irregular and hard to predict for several days. Strange, until he'd met Herod, he hadn't realized how little he knew about Homer's off duty life. They each had separate circles of friends, and rarely crossed paths. A dinner or two, a bit of bar hopping "with the guys" a few times a year. And that was the extent of their off duty socializing. But tonight he ought to be analyzing someone else.
The Lieutenant complimented the food, and the wine. She was so at home in the upscale restaurant that Jason started wondering just what sort of place this Hesperus was.
Certainly not a wilderness.
Scarlet reported in to the Major's office, as ordered. She was still wide awake, but surprised that he was.
He gave her a rather dyspeptic look.
"Relax. I didn't not get drugged again." She huffed out an exasperated breath. "I only hope I can recognize Inspector Mirabeau tomorrow. Honestly, it's too spooky. The Inspector introduced me to their expert on Dragons. I've just finished typing up the report. He was a wuss too, black hair and eyes, olive complexion, outthrust lower face. They have unusually large hands, and the ring and pinky finger are the longest fingers. Heavy fingernails too. Lord Homer, the expert, was a bit extreme that direction, and even taller than the Inspector."
Big hands and heavy nails, but they weren't the talons I thought I saw when I was drugged, either.
"He didn't use it. I asked and he said that now it was just a term of respect, and that it never had been inheritable. He thought that was amusing. Apparently even the crown is only loosely tied to a single family. He said there is a pool of about three hundred men from which the Parliament will select a king, when the current one dies."
"King Ferris is barely a hundred years old, so no one expects there to be a royal election anytime soon."
"It sounds like you hit a jackpot as far as information goes."
"Oh yes. He's an artist, with his own gallery. Well placed in high society, knows everyone, apparently. Now all I need is to meet a dragon." She jumped a little at an unfamiliar buzz. It was the local phone she'd bought on Jason's recommendation. And Jason's ID showing.
"The Ripper hit again, just hours ago. I'll pick you up."
Herod woke up in bed. Alone. In dragon form.
"My, Homer, aren't you being a good little dragon." He spotted the three books beside the bed, and his fingers twitched. A new Burley, and the sequel to Jaquard's best seller. And an old book. His last one. Damn you, Homer. It's been so long since I've written anything. I don't know if I can anymore. He turned away from the books, oozed out of bed for a long stretch, then threw himself off the balcony on a long swooping drop, soared upward, then flapped for altitude. He breathed in the cold air, exhaling a fog of ice crystals. He circled, studied the plane traffic, then he couldn't stand it any longer. Maybe I'll just reread Thief, see if it stirs anything. He turned into a steep glide for home.
There was a familiar car in the parking lot, the door just opening as he watched. Both doors. The blonde policewoman Homer had been trying to charm was there as well. Watching him with her mouth hanging open.
He stalled his forward speed and dropped to the ground in front of them. "Miribeau. I hope this doesn't mean there was another one?"
"You can talk!" The blonde looked stunned.
He dropped his nose and restrained himself. If there's been another murder, I don't need to scare a pair of policemen.
"Of course." He looked away dismissively.
Miribeau nodded. "Just four days apart. This is going to look really bad."
"Yes. I really wish I could see some way to blame it on the Church. Where is the body? How long has it been there?"
"Half an hour, a wino saw it, and actually called the police."
The woman gulped audibly. "He said the dragon was black."
"We all are. Unfortunately I was watching airplanes, not the ground and low flying dragons. I'll change and be right down."
Miribeau shifted. "It would be better if Homer could come."
He growled faintly. My books! My reading time!
When had Homer changed to dragon form?
Herod shoved off the ground, flapping to get up and moving forward. And what did he do? That blonde in his bed. He can't be killing them there, all the blood . . . He isn't killing them at all. Not Homer. I refuse to even consider it.
He didn't bother with acrobatics, just dropped on to the balcony and started changing. Without a witness this time, he cursed and yipped and bitched. And showered. Looked at Homer's wardrobe.
"Damn you." He sank into his memories, found the girl, who hadn't kicked Homer today, a bit of deskwork, then painting, conversation and dinner. Miribeau had dropped Homer off then left to take the woman to the "embassy" her people had bought in the city. Homer had walked upstairs, undressed and changed. The rest of the memory led off into private territory, hopefully just some naughty thoughts before he slept.
Please tell me that woman didn't come back! He felt his stomach cramping. He didn't kill her. Homer is not a killer.
He gritted his teeth and forced his way into Homer's private mem ~ ~ ~