“The MO seems a bit off too.” Alex sat in a chair in the corner, legs propped on the kitty corner chair and arms across his chest as he contemplated the ceiling.
I grunted, seething. It wasn’t that Alex was being disrespectful or that he didn’t care about Keelan. I knew that. But seeing him so relaxed just pissed me off. It was his fault I hadn’t been there when Keelan left. Somehow the keys hadn’t been in the morgue and I’d had to help him find them. It was his near constant prattling that had kept us from getting to the bus stop sooner, perhaps preventing Murrell from injuring Keelan.
“Kinda surprised it was just a smoke bomb.” He paused. “White phosphorous is his schtik. He wouldn’t deviate without cause.”
“I’m sure I can find a needle and thread to fix that flapping hole in your face,” I growled as I paced past him again toward the emergency room entrance. For the first time in recorded history there was no response from my garrulous partner. Smart. He was just trying to help keep my mind busy, keeping it from running wild. I knew that, but it wasn’t helping. My mind just kept replaying the morning.
We’d stopped at the nurses station for the ICU to pick up the keys which hadn’t yet been transferred to the custody of hospital’s security. Then my phone had rung and since it was George, I answered. I could invite him out for drinks. Asking him for some advice couldn’t hurt. I mean, he’d gotten Keelan to give me a chance before, maybe he could do so again.
I hit talk, but before I could speak he’d said, “It’s Keelan.”
“What about him?”
“Haven, we’ve got a Code 8 half a block from here.” Alex cut in next to my shoulder.
“Sorry, George, gotta run. We’ll talk about Keelan later.”
“B-” George started as I hung up.
Alex and I took the stairs for speed and could hear screaming a block away and as soon as we got outside. A billowing white mass chased several scattering inividuals from the North. Now, without authorization or unless the situation becomes serious, the Guard are trained to approach every situation in human form. This minimizes the risk of unduly escalating a situation and maintains a sense of order civilians rely on to feel safe. Thus, we moved toward the commotion pulling our weapons but keeping them half lowered.
The white smoke made me think white phosphorous but there was none of the telltale scents. I glanced toward Alex for verification but he just shook his head. Terrified shifters exited the thick smoke in both animal and human form. I dodged out of the way of a stag carrying a child. There were a couple gunshots and one of the fleeing birds dipped a couple feet before continuing on, its wingbeats a litte more labored. I raised my own weapon as I went furthur into the dissipating smoke signaling Alex to move around the other side.
Lewis had a familiar cornrowed bounty hunter in his grip while Clark was examining a scoped rifle he held. Spread over the hood of a police cruiser parked at an angle to the curb were a pair of Glock 19s, a saturday night special and an impressive array of knives. I scanned the annoying man wondering where he kept all of the gear. Alex came around the other side and I raised my eyebrows at him in question. He just shook his head and continued to scan the area as he approached Lewis.
“What’d you do this time, Chase?” I lifted an eybrow.
“I would’ve gotten a big payday if your boys here,” he nodded at Lewis and Clark, “hadn’t tackled me and ruined my shot.”
“You saw Murrell?” Alex’s wandering eyes instantly snapped back to Chase.
“Duh, why else would I be here?” The omega rolled his eyes.
“Where did he go?” I demanded.
“He flew off.” When we all stared blankly at him he raised his brows and smirked. “Oh, ho. You didn’t know what species he was? And yet again I prove my intel gathering is better than law enforcement’s. I thought you guys had tanuki’s on the payroll. The FBI do.”
“His species would’ve been in the report if the FBI had a tanuki,” Clark scoffed, resting the rifle on one shoulder.
“Ye of little faith. Though you should have less in the FBI with Donald Merriweather as Director. Have you heard his latest stance on shifters-”
That was when my own scanning eyes caught sight of something at the center of what had been the smoke and I got tunnel vision. I rushed forward and crouched beside Keelan’s body, blood slowly stretching away from him on the slight downward slope toward the curb and the sewer drain there. He lay partially on his side, legs twisted and his left arm trapped beneath his torso. From his back protruded a shard of glass. My throat clenched. With shaking fingers I reached out to check his pulse. I couldn’t feel anything. Hoping I’d just gotten the wrong spot I shifted my fingers and pushed a little harder, my chest squeezing harder with every beat as if a boa constrictor coiled around it.
Then he groaned. Without thought, I lifted him. I hadn’t maded it far before hospital staff someone with a stretcher stopped me. I’d laid him down and stayed by him as he was rushed back to the hospital. It was only later that I realised I could’ve killed him when I moved him. Yes, we’d been close, but I knew he’d been bleeding and that glass could’ve been jarred, or fallen out, or been shoved further in. If I’d waited just moments, the risk would’ve been minimized.
Staring at the doors separating the emergency room from the waiting room, I prayed that my fear hadn’t caused him more damage. I’d been trained for these type of situations. I shouldn’t have been so irrational. I turned to pace back the other direction and nearly tripped over my partner who stood nearly toe to toe with me in a wide stance with his arms crossed.
“I know you’re worried.” His eyes stared into mine, implacable. “But there’s nothing more you can do for him. Help me catch the man who caused this.”
I eased my clenched fists open a milimieter at a time as I focused on my breathing. Punching my partner would get me nowhere but suspended where I’d be of no use to anyone. Plus, he was right. Closing my eyes I took a deep breath and stretched my fingers wide on the exhale.
“Good.” Alex nodded sharply. “Now, Murrell’s not known for leniency. So, why smoke bomb? Seems a little odd that he’d randomly switch now.”
“First time for everthing. He could’ve switched in an attempt to throw us off the scent.” I focused on slow even breathing.
“When he could distract us more with extra cusualties? Still doesn’t make sense.”
I forced myself to sit in a chair but couldn’t stand sitting for more than a second. I went back to pacing but with more deliberate, measured steps. “Maybe he just didn’t want to risk poisoning himself.”
“Could be.” Alex resumed his position in the chair from earlier. At closer inspection, I could see the tightness of his shoulders, faint worry lines around his eyes. Although he had his one leg tucked under his chair and the other folded on the chair with the flat of his foot on the seat and an arm resting across the knee, I knew he was not really relaxed. From that position he could launch himself from the chair to dive out of the way or attack with a powerful kick. “But I wonder if all those crimes are really his?”
“You’re not suggesting-” I glowered.“What if I am? He always put my bear on the defensive just by entering the room. I mean, think about it. When had he had the time to rig that trailer in Cloverfield to blow and how had he accumulated so much wh-of the ingredient in less than a day?” He looked around sheepishly as if saying “white phosphorous” around civilians was worse than speaking on the topic here in the first place.
I opened my mouth to retort, it had been Murrell who’d caused the havock today and Avery was dead. Right then a young doctor in her late twenties entered the room, her sweeping gaze giving me pause. We weren’t the only ones in the waiting area, but for the first time I noticed the amount of space between us and everyone else. Had I really seemed that unstable?
I watched as she approached George. We’d notified Keelan’s family as soon as we could, but with the virus going around only George was able to make it. My bison wanted to bull his way into their conversation but by the wary glances I was getting I was better off staying where I was. So, I planted my feet and crossed my arms stubbornly against my bison, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the pair a couple rows over. With shifter senses this place wasn’t particularly private.
He looked up at her from where he’d been seated staring blankly at his phone. Upon recognition he jumped up. “Yes? How is he?”
She glanced around the room, clearly not wanting to talk here. “I’m Doctor Ellory. I performed your cousin’s surgery. He’s recovering. Would you come with me?”
“Yes, of course.”
I’d been able to stay calm while I could hear their conversation, but couldn’t hold back when they were going to leave. I found myself right on their heels as they passed through the door she’d come through.
Dr. Ellory stopped just on the other side of the door when she realized I’d followed.
“Excuse me, who are you?” she demanded.
“Detectives Riley and Lovett.” I hadn’t been aware that Alex had followed me. I turned to him in time to see him flipping the leather flap back over his badge. “We were first on scene and have some questions for the patient.”
“He’s in no condition to answer questions at the moment.” She glared at us as if we were ambulance chasers. “He’s asleep. Right now I need to talk with his family. We’ll let you know when you can speak with him.”
My shoulders stiffened and I glared right back.
“He is family,” George said, placing a hand lightly on the doctor’s wrist and drawing everyone’s attention back to himself. “Please, if you would.” With a polite smile he motioned the doctor to continue. She glanced back and forth between us and I did my best to emulate George’s polite smile. I don’t think I did very well, but she just grimaced and motioned us to follow. She took us to an office a few doors down the hall with a simple, if elegant, L-shaped desk. Her school degrees hung on the wall and a collapsible dual picture frame stood next on the side by the wall, tilted so it faced her chair, a picture of her son was on one side but I couldn’t see what was in the other.
“Very well,” she gave a short nod. “He has two cracked ribs and his right arm has been broken in several places, likely a result of the stampede. A shard of glass punctured his back nicking a rib and just missing his right kidney. He was lucky. But it’s going to take some time for him to heal. He shouldn’t shift for at least a few days, maybe even a week, and it may take two to three more shifts after that between which he should rest. He’ll need help. Is there someone he’s staying with?”
“Me.” An unexpected voice spoke up from the doorway.