The second cobble made a bullseye through the nearest stained glass window.
Jason eyed the sisters from a careful distance. Gale and Trudy Meyers. Finally. Finally. A break! A middle-aged police woman with a soothing manner was questioning them. He'd been out again, all evening, checking bars for Homer when HQ called him with the first report of the attack.
"I was so mad, I ran down to the strip, and when I found her car, I went around to the back of the club and spied on her." The younger girl was almost eighteen, and looked younger. Gawky and tall, dark red-brown hair, deep blue eyes. She lacked the shallow prettiness of her older sister, and would probably outshine her in another few years.
"Nasty little brat!" The older sister burst into tears and clutched her sister. "Don't you ever . . ." This one was a blonde. Twenty-one. Blue eyes that had probably been made up to be striking. The makeup had all run with the tears and been smeared and now was getting cleaned off with shaky hands.
"And I threw a rock through the window, because I knew they had an alarm system." The girl hugged her big sister. "I'm glad I was that mad."
"It startled him. He dropped me, and I slid. He tried to flame me! But the roof was so steep there, I rolled off and hit the next roof, and I scrambled around the dormer thing and hid. I think he thought I fell all the way off, because he didn't come down and look. And, and then I sat there and cried until I was sure it was the police looking for me, not him."
They'd had to bring in the fire department with their long ladders, and pry her death grip off the frame of the fake dormer window. The lab boys had swabbed her down for DNA evidence, taken the gag and her clothing—a red dress of cheap stretchy synthetic fiber. Then the medics had bandaged the claw punctures in her arms, inflicted when the dragon carried her. Sprayed something on the burns, none serious enough to require bandages, administered the jayjay antidote. She was currently wearing medical coveralls about five sizes too large.
"So. Can you describe this dragon? Before he changed?" The policewoman asked.
Damn it, why doesn't Homer or Herod answer their phone?
"He was big and strong, with dark brown hair . . . I didn't even think about him being a dragon. I mean, he was drinking, and dancing. Everyone knows dragons don't drink alcohol."
The policewomen nodded uncertainly.
Jason stepped up closer. "Umm. Well, it's not poisonous to them. If they get drunk enough, they can't switch to their alt. Now, all dragons are large and black haired. Can you describe him in a bit more detail?"
Damn, damn, damn. Dragons all look like siblings. Worse than wusses. Will a scared Comer girl be able to see the difference? "Any scars, moles? No? How about his hair, how was it cut?"
The woman looked blank.
The little sister wrinkled her nose. "Ordinary. A bit shorter than yours in front, and standing up. There wasn't a part, that I could see. He was wearing a silvery grey suit, with a red mock turtleneck."
The older sister nodded.
Jason looked at the stack of pictures.
"Gale, right? And Trudy?"
"I prefer Trouble. Trudy's a stupid name."
"Right. Now. I'm going to ask you to look through some pictures. See if you recognize the man. Look carefully, because dragons look a lot alike."
The lighting was good in the church classroom they were using. The shocked priests had opened it for them, then gone back outside to watch the lab guys on the roofs.
Jason handed over the pictures. Gale shuffled through them, baffled. Jason spotted Homer's picture and felt his heart sink. Why must my main witness be a ditzy party girl? And one suspect, a good friend's alt?
The sister—Trouble, indeed—reached out and pulled out Homer's picture. "Is that Homer? It wasn't Homer. Good God, like I wouldn't have recognized him?" She pulled out another. "The lips are all wrong. Get rid of that one. How about those cheekbones?"
They eliminated half the dragons.
Finally the girl looked around for him. "I don't think it's any of them, but he was a lot like these guys. His hair's brushed different that this one's. And this one's a bit too chubby cheeked, but he might have lost weight."
Gale nodded agreement.
Captain Evens had slipped in without being noticed. Now he shifted forward. "You know Homer? How?"
"At juvenile hall," Gale added.
Trouble glared at her. "I've seen him in dragon and human-form. Sheesh. Of course I'd recognize him."
"But not Herod."
She opened her mouth, then shut it. Scowled. "Not in human-form."
Indeed. Herod's picture was still in her stack of possible Rippers.
Nike Hanforth, the head of the field lab walked in, grinning. "We found an almost flat spot. Gutter is full of old blood. This looks like the place he's killed at least one of the women."
More footsteps. This iteration of Priests was larger and older. One of them did a double take at the sisters, and his lips pressed together.
"I should have known. I hope the matron kept your bed open for your return."
Trouble leaned and grabbed Jason's wrist, looked at his watch. "I've only been out for ten hours. I could luck out and get it back."
Gale frowned at the priest. "She saved my life. You might at least be polite."
The oldest priest seemed to have recognized her as well. "I hope you can finish up quickly, officers. The demon child is not welcome on our grounds. She is in violation of a restraining order that requires her to remain at least one hundred feet away from our premises. Under the circumstances, we won't press charges, but we would prefer that you expedite her departure."
Jason raised his eyebrows. "Certainly, why don't we adjourn to the station. You young ladies can read over your statements and sign them, then we'll get you home."
The Captain shifted then, and shook his head. "Protective custody. Especially since one suspect knows the girl, and may have recognized her. I'll call the Chief, and arrange a safe house."
Jason nodded. Damn, damn, damn. Call me, Homer!
Kinda Tied Up at the Moment
Where am I?
"Who are you people?" Homer rather thought he knew the answer to both questions. He'd closed down bars for three nights straight. He remembered walking out of that nice new one on Garner Street . . . The taxi had had an odd odor . . . Then nothing. Whatever they'd done hadn't triggered Herod. For better or worse.
The Church of the Second Coming. The basement. He looked around carefully. No. They couldn't hide this in the city. Perhaps in that retreat he'd heard of, up in the foothills? He eyed the altar. It wasn't one of the pretty carved things he'd seen in pictures. It was stone, blocky and solid. It was nice and clean. Cleaner than the corner he was currently occupying.
Like they scrubbed something off it recently.
Blood comes to mind.
Jason stayed back and watched the family hooha. Mother, stepfather, three brothers and a little sister. "Pity the girl isn't a few months older. Hiding the whole family expands the chance of a leak of the safe house location enormously."
The Captain nodded. "The younger girl knows Homer—she took art lessons from him. She says it wasn't him, but she's never seen Herod in human-form. If it is Herod, we don't want him to know we've got these witnesses. He may not have recognized Trouble, in the dark. We'll get them all tucked away safe, and then see how he reacts."
The ME stalked up, frowning. "Which of them are your survivors? And how did they manage that?"
"Big sister borrowed a dress from little sister, without permission. Little sister set out to ruin her sister's night out, and witnessed the dragon carry the her up to his abattoir and raised the alarm."
The ME shook his head. "I need to talk to her. I was pissed because #7's DNA scan was contaminated after all, but only by one guy, a second comer, the markers are quite clear. But then the swabs from this scene arrived. I took a quick look, since there wasn't a body needing my attention. The swabs of the victim's skin had her genes and the same dragon and second comer. Then I looked at the swabs from the other person on the site, and damned if they didn't have the identical sort of contamination, but a different dragon and second comer. The ones labeled Witness #2."
Jason caught the eye of the hovering policewoman and held up two fingers, then crooked one to fetch them. "You think there's a second comer helping the dragon? And the girl must have come in contact with him?"
The policewoman escorted the two women over. The family milled uneasily, but didn't quite dare come too.
"Must be, how else would he have been at more than one murder scene? I can't think of any other way to combine the draconic and second comer DNA."
Trouble sniffed. "Maybe the killer's a hybrid."
The ME looked down at her. "Between a second comer and a Dragon? First, I've heard they can't cross. And the killer can change, which is rare for even wuss and dragon hybrids. And really, have you ever even heard of such a thing?"
The girl rolled her eyes. And then pushed her sleeve up. "Duh. I am one." She held out her arm. A vee of fine scaling started halfway up her forearm, like a shiny rust colored tattoo. "Mom's a second comer. Herod said that a wuss kid with this much scaling would assumed to be a dragon. Maybe when I'm older I'll be able to change."
The ME stood in silent astonishment. Then shook himself. "Well. Proof I'm not too old to learn something new. So that was your DNA sample? I'm going to need to go through the Ripper sample again. Umm, can I have a nice large sample of yours, to work with first?"
She shrugged. "Sure. Then maybe you can stop them being so stupid about Herod.”
With the Meyers, Fergussons, Himlys and Markhams—what a family—packed off to a safe house, Jason looked at the rising sun and gave up all thought of work. He almost undressed before he fell asleep across his bed. But he dragged himself out after six hours and headed for the office.
He was just finishing the report when Magana rushed in.
"I can't believe I missed the big break. What happened? What's next? Is Herod still a suspect?"
"I'll print a copy of this, and you can read it in the car. I'm going to talk to the sisters again, see if they remember anything else." He sent the file to the Case folder and noticed a lack of lab reports. "Labs aren't in yet, so this is a good time to go." He gritted his teeth. "I can't locate either Homer or Herod."
She gave him a narrow eyed look, but read silently as he drove.
Trouble was reading a book when they arrived.
"Haven't you read his books? You don't have a clue, do you?"
Scarlet pulled her eyes away from the girl's arm. "Books?"
"Herod writes, used to write, adventure stories. They're great. Maybe now he'll start again."
"I'll have to find some. It'll be an interesting study, maybe even a look inside a dragon's mind." Scarlet's gaze flipped from the girl's arm, to the pile of pictures. I'll bet all those men have scales. It's got to be genetic engineering from Bio War I, two thousand years ago. Perhaps they did it poorly, a recessive that pops out every once in a while. If their civilization regressed, they might have superstitiously identified these scaly patches with the Native Dragons, hence the name. So, when the recessive trait shows up, call the result a hybrid, defame the woman rather than admit that the man is part "dragon." She suppressed a grin. Whew, got it all explained. Now I feel better. But we still haven't got a grip on this Dragon Ripper. She looked down at herself, suddenly. "I'm the right type. Maybe we should set a trap."
Jason shot her an alarmed look. "You've met Herod, and seen an eviscerated body. Presumably you can figure out how fast a dragon can kill. Just because Gale was lucky, don't think that the dragon will be so startled next time that he won't stop long enough for a single swipe."
She narrowed her eyes and set her jaw stubbornly.
"And your hair's a bit reddish, not quite blonde."
"Besides, you're too professional. I don't think you could act enough like a bimbo to get picked up in a bar."
She gawped at him, then felt herself flush. Not unless I could get a hold of some of that stuff that was slipped into my drink . . . by that tall dark-haired fellow . . . She looked down at the pile of pictures. Yeah, one of the dragon brothers. But Homer didn't look familiar. He wasn't as tall as Homer, he wasn't Homer. I didn't almost get picked up by the Ripper, but he sure enough was a dragon.
The older sister leafed slowly through the pictures. "Who are these fellows? Why do you have so many suspects?"
"They're known sex offenders, or known by one of the victims, or neighbors or known to frequent the bars the women were last seen in. Most of these are surveillance photos, so as to not prejudice the witnesses with arrest photos."
Scarlet frowned down at them as the girl shuffled through the pile. "Maybe I'll memorize them, then dress in anything except red and check out the Strip." She took the girls back through the events.
Pure luck the older was alive, young one too. The Ripper must have panicked, else he'd have made sure of both of them. So maybe he is young, like Jason says. She looked back at the policeman. Typical wuss, black hair, tall and broad, long strong arms. But probably no scales, since he wasn't a dragon. I should check. She shuffled the papers together, to hide her blush. I don't know him well enough to trust his judgment. I don't know how much cronyism comes into their justice system. But that's no excuse for me to have unprofessional thoughts.
"What next? Any ideas?"
"Yeah. C'mon." He stayed silent until they were out of the house.
"Neither of them is answering the phone. I'm headed for Homer's apartment. If Homer isn't home, I'm going to search it."
"I don't want to go official, yet. I'm just a concerned friend, checking because he hasn't answered his phone for a couple of days. After all, he left me a key, for emergencies."
"And this is an emergency?"
"Yeah. Life or death. Problem is, I don't know whether I'm saving his life or endangering it."