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.
Jason stared in disbelief at the delicate little scroll of words. Under new management. He blinked at the young woman who opened the door.
"Do come in and take a look around. We've added four new artists."
"Homer sold the gallery?"
"You know Homer? He's going off in search of artistic genius. He feels the city has stifled his creativity."
"I see." Jason swept a glance around. "You're still showing his work."
"Of course. And he'll be sending us everything he create in his travels." She sighed. "It's so romantic. An Adventure."
The painting studio had also changed slightly, different holders with different paints. A watercolor flower on the easel.
"Really. Although I find it hard to imagine Homer roughing it."
Another woman looked around and snickered. "Oh, Homer's an old pro at toughing it out. His alt has dragged him though some strange places. We made him tell us all about it."
"Ah. I . . . don't recall Homer ever saying much about Herod."
"Well, they're so different. And so Bi. We hadn't thought about it before. We just hope Homer has enough time to paint."
Jason took the proffered card and walked out. Homer is just preparing for Herod's departure. He's not skipping town.
He turned for headquarters. He'd pick up Scarlet and they could work on their other leads. Because neither Homer nor Herod is the Ripper. Can't be. Damn it.
To his surprise, he found Homer waiting for him.
"Homer, we need to talk about Herod."
As Scarlet approached Jason's office she heard Homer. So odd, even the voices are different. She slowed, not wanting to interrupt. She knew she should also retreat out of hearing . . .
"The problem is whether Herod could be the Ripper." Jason sounded upset. "I know you trust him, but damn it, that bimbo in the apartment, she was blonde and wearing a red dress."
There was a long silence before Homer spoke. "They say a good dragon's alt is evil, and vice versa. But it's much more complex than that, and there's one basic fallacy to the saying. People assume that a dragon's good and evil are the same as a modern human's. But even wusses have a different measure of good and evil than dragons do. Jason . . . I am the evil dragon, not the good one. I am a coward. I'm selfish. I lie. I cheat other people by selling my art at ridiculously high prices. I drink coffee and alcohol. I eat too much, I crave sugar. I . . . consort with human women of low morals.
"That was my bimbo, not Herod's."
There was a long silence. Then Homer continued. "Must have been a hideous shock to him. Wish I could have seen it. I was watching the bars, as you had everyone available doing. I kept my eyes open for blondes in red dresses, consorting with a dragon. And I found one.
“I didn't know what to do. She looked drunk, or maybe drugged. I walked up to the bar beside her and ordered the same drink she was having, and switched them. I drank hers, thinking that as a dragon I could handle anything.
“But it wasn't one of the modern chemicals, it was raw jayjay. Any rational thoughts just disappeared. I didn't even think of phoning. I just poured on the charm and whisked her away. Seductions I can do. Arrests? Forget it."
"What day was that?"
"Very late on the fifteenth, lapping over to the sixteenth. The jayjay in alcohol . . . I didn’t make it to class on the sixteenth, didn’t even think of calling. By the seventeenth, I had a grip on it by noon, and made the class. But I was more obnoxious than usual, and the girl—Trouble, of course—kicked me. Herod ascended, and flew off to the mountains to poach a deer and admire the sunset and the stars. Herod can be sharp and sarcastic; he's a loner. But he fought to save those girls and guarded them. He's the heroic warrior, the dragon lord with the castle on the mountain . . . he's the good dragon, Jason. Sorry."
Long silence, again. This time Jason spoke. "Did you kill those women?"
"No! I'm not that kind of pervert."Homer snorted. “Poor Jacqueline, she had so much jay-jay she . . . well, probably slept most of it off, but still waited around for me, and got Herod instead.”
Scarlet eased away from the door, and sought the coffee pot. When she walked back she made sure her heels clicked on the floor and she walked right up to the half open door and knocked.
"Hi, Guys. Anything new?"
Jason shook his head, more like he was trying to shake his brains back into order than answering her.
"I'm getting ready for Herod to drag me off Thunder knows where, but I'll try to not leave before we catch the Ripper." Homer looked a little stressed.
Scarlet frowned at him. How to put him at ease and talking? "I really don't understand this metamorphosis stuff. How do you change your fingernails into claws. Where do your wings go?"
"Everything is short and chunky and dense in human form, and long and thin or hollow in dragons. Bulky human muscles, wiry dragon muscles. The hairs stick together in spikes." Homer shrugged.
She rubbed her face. "Herod looked bigger, I guess it was the long thinness."
"And air and water added—hollowed out bones, thinned blood vessels with a larger blood volume. We use the dust and humidity of the air, but really need to drink water for the blood volume. Herod was operating without extra water, for the fight. He probably felt stiff and cold and slow until he drank a gallon or two. Then when we change back, we mostly sweat it out, along with extra minerals and, umm, well, metabolic byproducts in the blood stream or lymph system and the extra minerals in scales that skin doesn't need gets dumped with the extra water. Quite messy and smelly, and we need a lot of extra mineral supplements in our diets."
"Wow." Scarlet shook her head. "Do you ever suffer from mineral deficiencies?"
"Oh yeah. Now we can just take pills, but it used to be hard to replace everything we needed. That's why there's all those tales about dragons hording gold and so forth. Sometimes we'd grind up ores and eat them. Gah! I still remember the grit, and needing it so badly I ate it anyway."
"Good heavens." Scarlet thought that over. Cravings. What actions can cravings drive? Rape, murder, eating livers and other body parts? "So. How many more Desotas do we need to check?"
Jason's phone buzzed.
"Got him!" The ME's voice was loud and boisterous. "Both your Ripper and Trouble Meyers have dragons for fathers and their mothers are either half dragon or half wuss. The dragon look didn't show up in the parents because they were also half second comer. You're looking for a dragon who was raised probably by an unwed half-second comer woman."
"Right. School records . . . no. Where the hell can I look, honestly?"
"The Church." Scarlet nodded. "We heard them threaten this unknown. Can we subpoena their rolls on that basis?"
A Beautiful Night for a Murder
It was the day before the full moon. Or night, if you wanted to be picky about it. Homer adjusted the sleeves of his blazer. Ring, watch, cufflinks, tie clip all gleamed with the unmistakable sheen of solid gold. People who didn't know him thought the stone in the ring must be an unusually dark aquamarine, not a blue diamond, at that size. Ha! His tie was just loose enough to suggest he was relaxing after a hard day at the office. He danced. He drank. He moved from bar to bar. In the fourth one he found a blonde in a red dress. He kept his distance. She danced with several men. From a distance he couldn't tell the wusses from the dragons, but one of the large dark haired fellows was persuading her right out the door.
Just for once, be as brave as Herod.