Kelsey and Harriett came over and showed him their columns.
"Oh. You have outdone yourselves. But don't speculate on pregnancies. It's low class." Homer snickered through their Jerry Lumpkin's column. "How snide. Now, let me show you how it needs to be changed. See how you played on the second and third coming? In fact, if you'd been talking to them about religion, you'd realize . . . "
And then I realized these five religions’ so called parent religion had got ahold of some jayjay. They were really the Third through Seventh Coming. Now Comings Three, Four and Five were obviously the siblings of Second Coming. They've all got the Genesis thing, and they all expect somebody important to pop up and fix things. One of them even has it as the return of the savior. But lemme tell you, Momma mustsa been pissed at Daddy when Six and Seven were conceived. As the scientists say, they have drown something new in the gene pool.
Somebody smarter than me is going to have to 'splain Hindu to you. It has, like, all these gods with all their kid gods, hundreds of them, splitting up the deity-type goodies and duties. You gotta have a program to keep track of which of 'em you pray to for what.
And the Wiccan stuff, no, they ain't worshipping cane bottom chairs, it's . . . Well. As best I could make of it, doing or saying anything that doesn't hurt anyone else is just fine, but if you do hurt, it comes back in triplicate, like government forms. But I swear it all has to do, somehow, with dancing naked under the full moon. So I may have to look deeper into it. Personally.
I'll try to getcha an update next week.
Scarlet was giggling helplessly, and shaking her head.
"Your religions aren't like that?" Jason asked.
"Well, well, yes. But not so, so . . . It wouldn't be so hideously funny if he was completely wrong, you know. I guess this is why I'm an Agnostic. How on Earth did this fellow find all this out? I take it he's a regular columnist?"
"Oh yes. He's been lampooning people for years."
"I read Homer's column in the other paper. He seemed to like the Ambassador. And vice versa. What does Homer think of this Lumpkin person?"
Sergeant Diamond snickered as he walked past. "They butt heads occasionally. Lumpkin challenged Homer to a duel two years ago. Homer just sneered and said he only dueled with gentlemen, and that Lumpkin probably would show up with a bathroom plunger. I was afraid we'd have to put a guard on Homer, but he just laughed." Diamond eyed Jason. "The Inspector thought it was funny then, too, and never did explain. We all figured Homer’s Alt must be Lumpkin, but now that I’ve met him, I can’t see it."
Jason took his knuckle out of his mouth. "No. And I'm not going to explain now either."
Diamond sighed and walked on. Scarlet cocked her head. "No? Let me guess. Homer writes both?"
"Yes. Homer writes both of them. Gleefully. Don't tell. I don't think the newspapers realize that. If they fire him, we won't ever get any more."
"Oh. Dear." She looked back at the paper and snickered. "Well. What are we doing today? More bars?"
Jason looked back at his computer. "We've got a short list of eight dragons with Desota as part of their name. Let's go talk to them."
"With Homer?" She looked uncertain.
"Yes. Some dragons won't talk to Wusses, and in some neighborhoods you'll be treated like the hired maid, at best. If we take Homer along, they'll at least open the door so we get a look at them." He shrugged. "I know you suspect him, and don't understand about alts. I just can't see Homer gutting anyone, let alone a pretty woman."
She shook her head. "I ought to believe you. After all, you were right about the metamorphosing. Our science people are going to be begging dragons to let them examine them, once they find out about it."
/// interlude of checking dragons. None of the eight seem likely. Too old, for the most part, married with kids a couple of times. Remove Homer from scene? Add flirting between Jason and Scarlet.
"Thank goodness! I was beginning to think you dragons didn't have children."
Homer sniffed. "Messy little things. Sensible people don't have any. Most eventually, reluctantly, decide they ought. Then they realize that there's a serious gender imbalance. Something to do with a dominant gene on the X chromosome. The mutation that caused the wingless syndrome. This new genetic testing may help, but it's a bit of a cold way to gauge relationships."
"Do dragons marry? I mean, with the two personality thing . . . "
"Sometimes. A lot of dragons marry around sunspot maxima, then end up divorcing at the switch. And marrying a wingless is hard, sometimes the spouse just doesn't understand. Or if it's two dragons, what if the alts are incompatible? Not just with each other, but both alts have to be able to coexist with both of the spouse's personalities, because they may come and go at different times."
Scarlet shook her head. "Homer, let’s just be friends."
He gave her a soulful look. "But I am just fascinated by your red hair. Your exqu . . . Do you know, Lieutenant, I think I'd best restrain myself. I shall paint your portrait, and live with it on my wall—much more peaceful that way."
Jason shook his head. "Be flattered, Lieutenant. He doesn't often let his silly side show. In fact he usually has to be drunk, and you don't want to know how much it takes to get a dragon drunk."
Homer snorted. "I think I'm going to give up alcohol. Caffeine and sugar will have to suffice. Surely Herod won't begrudge me the occasional donut."
"Is the switch like death? It must be awful, to realize that you won't have hardly any . . . time?"
Homer looked surprised. "Oh no. Well, a little, but it's more like taking a sabbatical, a long vacation. Getting all the sleep you want and not having to work, because the alt is in charge of that part, now. Of course someone else is in charge of the itinerary, which can be quite startling."
Scarlet studied him. "How old are you? You look too young to have done this very many times."
Homer choked. "I see I left too much out of my lecture on dragons. Dragons live to be four or five hundred years of age, with little sign of aging until we're very old indeed. I am middle aged, for a dragon, but very old by your standards. We've switched numerous times. It's more of an irritant—because I know I'll have to re-establish myself in twelve years—than anything else. Although I'll probably be able to find an honest property manager, so I'll still be in good financial shape in another twelve years."
Scarlet looked back and forth between them. They were both smiling. "I cannot tell if you are kidding me again or not."
Jason eyed her. "Second comers are very short lived, eighty years if they're lucky, a few make it to the century mark. Wusses, sorry Homer, Wingless like me can depend on a couple or three centuries. How about your people?"
"We." She cleared her throat. "With modern medical techniques we usually live well into our second century." Or more, it's only been a hundred and twenty years since the Methuselah therapy was developed. "What about mixed Wuss and Dragon people?"
"It's a bit hit or miss, especially once you get into the third or greater generation. And as you've probably gathered, there aren't many Comer and Dragon crosses. Or ones that survived their damned church. So we're short on data, there."
Homer eyed the numbers. "Here's the next Desota. Lucky it's an unusual name. Be glad we're not looking for a common name like Herod."
A very old and thin man opened the door. "Herod? My alt. With luck he'll stay away for a good while. Stiff old prune, doesn't like to dance, doesn't like the ladies. I'm having much more fun than he ever dreamed of. I'm Desota Bayview. Don't I know you?" He peered at Homer.
"Are you the former City Council Rep?'
The old man cackled. "Sure am. You look like a fellow who knows how to have fun. You ever vote for me?"
Homer sighed as they walked away. "I seem to recall Herod threatening to kill the old pervert once. The modern lifestyle is . . . changing all the definitions of what is good and bad. I don't know if I like it or not."
"And we're out of Desotas, of obvious Draconic names. I guess I'd better run up another list."
Homer nodded. "Tedious, but necessary. And despite my fiasco, we can't neglect the bars either."
Scarlet stiffened, but said nothing.
"I'm showing five artists, right now. You'll need to bring in more. Wherever my alt ends up living, perhaps I can still manage a picture, now and then." He sighed, and eyed them. Was he pathetic enough to move them? How was he to keep them honest for twelve years? "I do wish my alt was at least well mannered. You won't see much of me."
Kelsey sighed. "That's rotten, Homer. And we had plans for you as well."
"Oh?" Drat, they'll want to be paid.
Harriet grinned at him. "Yes. Before you leave, we're going to seduce you. We've decided to have children."
Homer choked faintly. Children? Me? No way! He tried to control his breathing he didn’t want ~~~ Herod twitched his glanced left and right, not liking being bracketed like this. More kidnappers? Memory surfaced.
"Ah, yes. Homer's friends, the ones he's trying to get to help him stay rich, without paying them a cent."
They recoiled, circling to join hands and present a united front.
"Sorry to have disturbed you, we'll talk to Homer later."
Herod sighed. "Stay. I'll fetch him back in a moment. But first, pay attention. Homer is filthy rich and owns this entire building, the apartment tower he lives in and a couple more as well. Make him pay you a good solid salary, and set up a net site to communicate, and send him monthly reports. No need for him to carry on like we’re living in the dark ages."
They were gawping at him in shock.
"My alt is basically selfish and untrusting. Charming, mind you, and reliable so long as it doesn't cost him too much. But don't let him take advantage of you. None of this old fealty nonsense." He nodded politely, and dived grimly into Homer's memories. Oh, ho! No wonder the panic. About time Homer had some children ~~~
Homer blinked. Swayed on his feet. "Children? Me? I . . . oh crud. Herod is such and stiff and morally upright . . . All right. A salary. As my property managers." He met their frowning gazes and winced. "Sorry. I, umm . . . "
"You." Harriet shook her head. "You are a charming old pirate, and we know it. But we're not going to let you get away with this particular bit of piracy."
"In fact," Kelsey closed in on his other side. "I think we're about to commit a bit of larceny ourselves. Come with us . . . "
Jason tried hard to sound bored and just doing routine followup. The staff at juvenile hall listened to him cynically, but looked over his warrant and opened their records. Homer'd been teaching classes for several years now. He'd do a six week set, then be off for twelve, then another six weeks.
"What do you do when Homer's not here?"
"We cycle through Dance and Music. It gets us a very nice cultural balance." the Matron frowned. "I hate these switches. Homer's gotten irregular, and now he says he won't be back at all, most likely."
Jason glanced through the record, and felt his smile congealing. He noted down all the days Homer had missed, thanked the matron and left. Sat in his car and stared at the dates. Homer'd been seen picking up a blonde on September fifteenth, late, about eleven pm. Miss Franc had been killed around 2 am on the sixteenth. Homer had not shown up for class, had not called about it. On the seventeenth he'd had an altercation with a female student and departed mid-afternoon. Early morning on the eighteenth, Jason had found him, or Herod, rather, at home with a woman who fit the victim profile.
Then on the twentieth, he’d dropped Homer off at his apartment around ten thirty. And returned at two in the morning to find Herod just flying back in. Victim number seven had been murdered in that three-and-a-half-hour time gap.
Jason started the car and headed for the gallery. He should be able to find Homer there, this time of day.
They were going to have to have a difficult talk about Herod.