In Dreemlyn, that place somewhere between reality and oblivion, there is a valley about the size of one of those inland seas known as the Great Lakes. Here, the WereFolk make their home. These Children of Diana were blessed with the ability to shift their animal forms for human. These are their stories, their legends, their myths…
Venturing outside their native valley, some WereFolk have chosen to mingle their lives with those of the others. This is one of those stories…
Suspicions, Part I
Picture a tower. 85 stories of gleaming steel, sticking in the air. A metal spike in the middle of San Zisco. Filled with shops, restaurants, offices, hotel rooms, and apartments. Picture the top, the steeple if you will. Appropriate, since the top three floors are used as a temple for the Children of Light. Picture a man standing on the roof looking over the city. Looking over San Zisco.
Picture me up there. My name is Jake.
Picture me looking over my city. Looking over to the east, a collection of town houses and circus tents. It was The Tripsters Free City, the tenements, and sort of a no-man’s land. Then over by the shore the steel boxes of the docks, the home of the dragon that is the Yakuza. Offshore are several large ships where they sleep. A little to the east, past the warehouses sits that riot of colors, visible even from here, that we call Chinatown. Covers about a third of the town. The Tongs run that town with a firm and benevolent hand. And the food is terrific. Up from Chinatown there’s another set of tenements and then the dome and white marble of the capital. Call them the Mayor, the Machine, the Mafia, it’s all the same. Occasionally they speak for the city. Usually they speak for themselves.
And here in the middle of it, the Regency, my hotel. Well I don’t own it, just head of security, and the house dick. Tasked with making sure things don’t go wrong. Occasionally I succeed.
That morning was beautiful, but I couldn’t stay on the roof for long. I took another look around and walked to the edge and threw myself off. Changed about half way down. I’m of the Children of Diana, what folks around here call the WereFolk. I’m a crow. Crow is my natural form, comes in handy in my work, being able to fly, being able to blend in. Part of the reason I am so good at what I do, is that in either form, full or half… I blend in so well. I am no pretty boy for sure, but I suppose I am okay, at least no one ever ran away screaming in fear. Caucasian, brown hair and eyes, rather ordinary I suppose, used to bother me some, but then I realized how good I was at blending in, I have been told I am sometimes invisible. Anyway I transformed, fluttered around for a moment and flew into my office.
The phone was ringing. I answered it. All hell broke loose. That’s basically the story. The rest is just details (oh, but what details. . . white hair cascading down . . .) read on if you’re interested. . .
I picked up the phone and Luke, my assistant, started talking. “Jake, we got a corpse. Room 609. You coming?” Luke doesn’t talk much when he doesn’t have to.
I sighed. That would make two deaths in three months, which was not good. “Yeah, I’m on my way.” I took the elevator like a human. Even smiled at the elevator guy. Room 609 was one of our half price suites. Perfect if you wanted to live like a king, but didn’t want to pay for it. Or at least that’s what our brochures said. I walked in.
The body was Hispanic, dark eyes. The suit was very nice– he was connected, at any rate. Luke looked over at me, and said, “Look at this.”
He pulled open the shirt, and showed me the wound. The bullets (assuming that’s what the assassin used) had hit a little high, near the traditional place of the heart. They also messed up a rather nice tattoo. A Dragon coiled around an ax. I looked over to Luke and he nodded. The Yak, Dark Children of the Angry Dragon, the Serpent with a Thousand Scales. And those were the nice names. They generally stayed away from the Regency, but something like this… well, I’d be getting a call soon. “So, where’s the weapon? Who was scanning last night?”
“It was Michelle, actually.” He looked at me conspiratorially. “Do you think she’s been turned?” I considered. Michelle was a nice girl off duty, but on duty she was ice. It takes a lot to exercise that sort of emotional control. This job really meant something to her. I looked over at Luke. “Nah, doesn’t seem likely, and it doesn’t seem likely that anybody could have gotten a weapon past her. Maybe the Tripsters, if they wanted to.”
Luke shrugged. “Maybe they didn’t come in the front door.”
“Well, there’s only three people who can fly in this city. Besides the Tripsters I suppose. I guess I’m going to the Haight sometime.” I sighed. “Who found the body?”
Luke pointed. “She’s in the next room.” He looked down. “What should I do with the body?”
“Take it down to Manny. I just want to check for drugs in the bloodstream. And make sure that those are bullet holes.” I looked away, and then thought. Manny was a ghoul, after all. “Tell Manny that we have to give the body to the Yak. He can have the liver, but that’s it.” Luke shrugged. I walked into the next room.
Sitting on the bed was a woman. Head in her hands. Long white hair cascading down past her knees. She looked up when she saw me enter. “Hello Detective. Do you know who that man is?” Her voice was lyrical and low, her eyes a clear bright blue. She had a serene look about her, her hair looked so soft.
I found myself thinking how lovely she was, wondering how tall she was. I realized she was staring at me, again she said, “Do you know who he is?” I shook my head. “Not specifically, I’m afraid. He’s Yakuza, though.” I looked at her face, and saw no sign of recognition. “Do you know who the Yak are?” She frowned and shook her head. “They came from the east in a bunch of ships. Run merchandise from their city out on the ocean somewhere. Nobody but the Yak can go to their city apparently. They are heavily armed and stone cold killers. They have a sense of honor, but no sense of humor. They will want to avenge that man’s death.” What I didn’t say, was that they would want answers damn fast, and the obvious one might have to do. Which meant that I would probably have to turn this young woman over to them. I tried not to think about what the Yak would do to her. After a moment I said, “How did you find the body?”
She looked surprised. “This is my room. I am nocturnal, actually. I had come back to sleep, when I saw him.”
I should have known that one, but you can’t win them all. “Do you know why he might be in your room?”
She shook her head. “I have no idea, detective.”
I smiled, hoping to put her at ease. “Where are you from, and why are you here? Come to think of it, what’s your name?”
She smiled softly. “I am GentlePaws. My sister SilverFur and I are… visiting. It was not safe to be at home.”
I looked at her. “Those sound like WereFolk names.”
She looked up. “We are Tiger, actually.”
I smiled softly. “I am Crow, myself. Came here about 10 years ago, got a job. I like the city, so I stay. So your family is in trouble?”
She nodded, and I could see tears forming in the corner of her eyes. “My mother was killed. They tried to kill my sister and I, but… we lived. Father sent us here for the time being.”
I looked at her and did some mental calculations. “You had better stay here for the time being. In fact, I am ordering you to do so. I will visit the embassy and tell them of your predicament.” She nodded tearfully. “If you see your sister ask her to stay here too. And call this number, I’ll want to talk to her.” I handed her my card, and walked away. Feeling like a bastard.
She was beautiful, but she was stupid. Well, probably just naive. But if someone wanted to eliminate her and her sister, planting a Yakuza body in her suite would probably do the trick. I would be getting a visit from them in a few moments I guessed.
Of course she might be playing me.
They were waiting at the curb. Three toughs, standing outside of a limo. One thing about the Yak, their toughs are very polite. I guess they learn that somewhere along the line. Anyway I smiled as one approached. He bowed slightly and said. “Inspector Jake, there is a certain party who would like to talk to you.” He opened the door to the car and gestured me inside.
I nodded and said, “I would certainly talk to any interested party,” and climbed in. The tricky thing about the Yak is their politeness. The Mafia, even the Tongs, if they are angry with you, you know pretty quickly. But the Yak… polite even when they slit your throat, so you never know. Which is why it’s a good idea to always be polite back.
Sitting across from me was a youngish looking Japanese man. He smiled and said, “I am concerned for the Regency, Inspector. I thought it important to bring my concerns to you.”
I nodded. “I am certain that you and your… associates have the Regency’s best interest at heart. I will listen diligently to what you say.”
He nodded slowly. “A young man was killed in the Regency last night. I understand you are aware of this?” I nodded. “He is in fact a relative of an associate of mine. We wanted to assure that the body was buried properly, for his family.”
I nodded again. “Such respect for family ties is admirable. I have one of my men preparing the body for transport right now. It should be ready in about (I did a quick mental calculation) two hours. Will that be satisfactory?” He nodded. I knew he didn’t care all that much, but he had to maintain tradition.
Then he said quietly. “There is also the question of who murdered this child. I would be very grateful if I could be certain that such a villain would be brought to justice.”
I looked over at him quietly. I didn’t know how much he knew. So I played it tight. “We have some suspects; however, we do not have enough information right now to suggest that they are definitely guilty. I know that you would be horrified if the wrong party was accused and the guilty person escaped justice.” What justice meant in this case was that the guilty party would be kicked out of the hotel. And the Yak would be watching and take him and… well, best not to think about that.
He nodded. “That is correct, Inspector. My associates respect you, and your work. We will wait for a while. But justice must be served, as I’m sure you understand.”
I bowed my head slightly. “Of course. Your associates will see justice done, I assure you of that.”
He returned my bow. “That will relieve their minds. I assume you wish to return to your work now?” I nodded. “Then go, and may good fortune smile upon you.” I exited the car.
I got out of the car, and pulled out my cell phone and called Luke. He responded, “Hello, Regency Security, what can I do for you?”
I said quietly, “We’ve just been given our two minute warning. You have anything?”
He gulped. “That was fast. What’s going on?”
I shrugged. “No idea. I’m going to the embassy to see if there is anything about these girls I need to know. What have you got?”
“Well, it’s definitely bullets. Didn’t get much from the corpse. There’s a possibility of drug use, the ghoul says, but he’s not sure. He says that that means it probably wasn’t recent. Nothing else really. The other sister hasn’t shown up yet.”
“OK, if she does put her on ice. I’ll talk to her when I get back.” I folded up the phone, placed it in my pocket. I then transformed and flew off into the city. I can imagine some inquisitive youngster wondering what happens to my clothes and hence my phone when I take off. The answer is that I don’t know. So long as it works, I guess I don’t care. Maybe not the best attitude, but it’s the only one I have.
Anyway. I got to the embassy at about 11:00. Lousy time to get there, it was pretty busy. So I waited. And then I waited some more. After about an hour and a half, one of my friends came out. Big man built like a rock, strong too. Called himself FlintSkin. He looked down at me and grimaced. “What the hell are you doing here, Crow?”
I smiled back at him. “Got some business with your employer, Shark. Why are you always so angry? You need to go swimming more.”
FlintSkin looked down at me and flexed slightly. “Some of us have duties to perform for Diana.”
I smiled up at him. “Well, maybe you could go swimming at night. Probably be better anyway, fewer people would see your ugly carcass.”
I think that annoyed him, cause he reached down and picked me up, holding me against the wall. “You talk a lot, Crow. Maybe I will go swimming, around nine. Then again, maybe I’ll just beat you senseless right here. That’d probably put me in a good mood too.”
“Well, no, you wouldn’t want to mess up this lovely office. Just go swimming.” FlintSkin dropped me. My friend, method actor that he is, played the whole scene out that way because he wasn’t supposed to fraternize with me. But of course he did anyway, and on a case like this, I was glad to have him. He stomped back in his office. After another dull hour, the door opened and out stepped a dapper young man. A hawk. The shark’s complement. A shark and a hawk usually staff security of all embassies. Nobody can guard like a shark, and there are some rumors that the Hawks make good spies. He looked over at me and smiled. I smiled back. He was annoying as hell, but no reason not to be friendly. He said quietly. “The Ambassador will see you know.” He turned and walked away.
I entered the office. Behind the desk sat FieryClaws. She was an eagle of the Golden Tribe, strong and fierce. A good ambassador though. She understood this city almost as well as I did, and did nothing to disturb the balance. Just took care of her own. That’s something everybody in San Zisco understands. Taking care of one’s own.
She wasn’t smiling when I came in. Her dark blond hair cascaded down, and a tight frown appeared on her face. “I understand somebody died last night?”
I was surprised. “You get news fast, FieryClaws. It’s one hell of a case.”
She nodded. “So I am given to understand.”
“The Yak are showing an unusual amount of interest. They moved very quickly.”
She shrugged. “The Dragon is in a state of agitation right now. They are possibly entertaining relatives?”
I nodded slowly. “That would account for it.”
She looked across at me, her eyes catching mine. They were very dark. “This is not a time for the Yak to stir. You had better wrap this case up quickly.”
I shrugged. “I have suspects, but I don’t think they did it. They are of the Children, two tigers, sisters. The body was found in their suite.”
She looked away. “It would be a shame to lose the two ladies, but the sacrifice may be necessary. Remember, your duty is to preserve the peace.”
I frowned slightly. “Is that how we are defining my duty this week?”
She turned sharply. “Eagle tells you Crow their duty. The Crow obeys. You know why.”
I nodded softly. “I will move quickly, FieryClaws. Perhaps I will find the guilty party in time to save those girls.”
She smiled softly. “I really hope you do, Crow. This is not the best situation for our people.”
With that I stood and left. So there it was. The Yak demanded a guilty party immediately and our ambassador was ready to sacrifice SilverFur and GentlePaws to keep the peace. That didn’t ring true. The Ambassador had stood up to the Yak, and the others of the city to preserve our people on numerous occasions. Something was fishy.
Of course the really lousy part about the situation was that I basically had to do what she said, and she knew it. A long time ago, when the Fox left Diana’s path, the Eagle cast about to find new spies. She invited the Raven tribes to a dinner to discuss the option. But the most of the black bird tribes ignored the invitation. Only the Crow accepted. During the dinner a sorcerer that the Eagle had hired cast a mighty spell over the Crow. The spell was contained in an artifact held by the Eagle. The spell is in abeyance until the Eagle decides to exercise it. Basically it would… kill all Crow under 9 years of age. The Eagle claim that it was the only way to guarantee loyalty after the Foxes left. The Crow watch and look for the artifact. They haven’t found it yet, and so we obey. And wait.
At any rate, I had work to do. I got some lunch and then headed back to the hotel, hoping that SilverFur will have shown up by now. I flew up and landed on the ledge of my office. It was about four, so I figured I had time to interview the other tiger, before going out. As I climbed into my office, I saw that I had company. I hopped over to my chair and transformed, smiling at Clarence Thurston. Our honorable mayor, sort of. He was definitely our mayor, but honorable… well, at least to his face. He was rich and powerful, and kind of ugly now that I think about it. Being reasonably high up in the Mafia ensured that few commented on his looks at any rate. He made some enemies a couple of months ago. Was found naked in an ally with a couple of ice picks sticking out of him.
Anyway, back in the good old days when he was around, he didn’t visit that often. Make that never.
He looked over, and smiled. “I understand there’s been another murder in my fair city, inspector.”
I nodded and shuffled the papers on my desk. I didn’t do a lot of paperwork, but I always had paper on my desk. Made bureaucratic types feel more comfortable. “Yep. A relative of the Serpent, actually. Is the mayor’s office showing an interest?”
He frowned. “Not an interest, per se. There are conflicts here, you know. We aren’t comfortable with certain interests moving any further than they have. This might be a perfect opportunity to express our feelings.”
I frowned. “I’m not sure I’m following you, your honor.”
He nodded back. “Let’s just say I have an interest in this case being handled… correctly. Perhaps you could use the aid of the city police.” Translation, did I want a bunch of Mafia thugs following me around to make sure I handled this case as the mob might want. Well I didn’t, but I had to figure out a polite way to say that.
“At this time, that might not be the best idea. I think I am reasonably close to solving it, and I think any involvement with the city police might spook the perpetrator.” Translation, you tell me what you know, and I’ll see.
He nodded. “I see your point. But perhaps I can pass on some information that might be of use to you. There is a warehouse near the docks, where the murder weapon was purchased. In the territory of… well, a lawless territory shall we say. Here is the address.” He handed me a folded piece of paper.
I looked over at him. “May I ask your source on this information.”
He shrugged. “A concerned citizen had some information, but due to the nature of the case cannot get involved. He brought the information to me like the good citizen he is, and I brought it to you. I am certainly going to respect this good citizen’s wishes.” He stood up at that. At any rate, if you have any troubles, feel free to contact me and I will arrange for the city police to assist you.” He put back on his hat and walked out. I sat at the desk, looking at the address, trembling softly. The Mafia’s involvement was very troubling. Both the Yak and FieryClaw seemed content that I hand SilverFur and GentlePaws over to the Yak. But this… this didn’t fit. What was this address?
After a bit I called Luke. He came in. I smiled, and said, “The Mayor came to drop by a clue. I am going to check it out after a bit. Has SilverFur shown up?”
“About an hour ago.” A faint smile crossed his face. “Shall I send for her?”
I shrugged. “I’ll go up. I have some time to kill anyway.”
I went up. She was sitting in a chair frowning. She was dressed in a purple skirt and top that showcased her rather attractive body and face, a face framed by lovely soft silver hair. But she stood angrily as I walked in. “What is going on here, Crow?” She managed to turn my tribe name into a curse.
I shrugged. “My name is Jake. You and your sister are possibly guilty of killing a man here last night.”
She glared at me. “We didn’t do it.”
I sat down and looked up at her. “That may be. But I am under a lot pressure to finish up this case. Several people, including the WereFolk Ambassador, seem to accept you and your sister’s guilt. It seems likely that you will face Yakuza Justice.”
She stepped forward, frustration making her hazel eyes stormy. “I tell you we are innocent.”
I shrugged. “As it turns out, I think you are innocent. Doesn’t change much though. You are convenient, in a town that doesn’t want war right now.” I tried to smile. “At any rate I still have a couple of hours, and a clue. Do you know of anybody who has personal enmity against you and your sister?”
She glared. “Obviously somebody does. They probably killed our mother, and now this. If I find out who… ” She gave a low growl and transformed into her half form. Her skin spouted Silver Tiger Fur, and her fingers grew claws. She was damned impressive actually. I motioned for her to sit down.
“You are a warrior, I take it?”
She growled again. “I am Tiger.”
I smiled. “Duly noted.” I considered briefly. “Will you come with me? I have to check out a clue, and I might be able to use you.”
She considered a moment, and said with a sardonic smile, “Yes, a tiny morsel like you probably needs a lot of protecting. I will come.”
It was raining when we left. We caught a cab, took us to the 35th pier, and got out. She looked over at me, back in human form, of course. “Is this it?”
I looked over and shook my head. “We are waiting for a friend. Be patient for a moment.”
After a moment a huge form bounded out of the water and transformed in mid air. FlintSkin landed lightly on the docks. He wore nothing but a loin cloth, but he hardly needed it. Sharks like getting wet. Tigers don’t. Interesting combination of protectors. I smiled. The shark looked at SilverFur in confusion, and SilverFur smiled over at him.
After a second she said. “I am Tiger, Shark. Your people are admired among my kind for their power and their loyalty. You are true warriors.” She bowed slightly.
He returned the bow. “I don’t know much about Tigers, but I know they make good generals. They take care of their troops.” I was relieved. Tigers are pretty friendly with everybody, actually. Except wolves, come to think of it. Wolves and Tigers are both strong and noble, but they don’t get on too well. I guess it is something about being so close together in their natures and abilities.
The address the mayor had passed was four streets down. We found it easily enough, and knocked. Nobody answered. After a moment I reached out, and tried the handle, no luck. I nodded to FlintSkin. He transformed into his half form, and brought his weight down on the door. It splintered away. We entered.
We walked down the stairs, looking for the light. After a moment, SilverFur found it and clicked it on.
In the warehouse, lying on a pile of money, lay coiled the long thin huge form of an Oriental dragon. It slowly rolled over, and eyed us.
After a moment it said, “Oh good, I was just getting hungry.”
To be continued next month…