Dan Shamble HAIR RAISING—Chapter 2

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HAIR RAISING

Chapter 2

Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is a well-known recipe for disaster.  Shouting “Cops!” in the middle of an illegal cockatrice fight is ten times worse.

Officer McGoohan—McGoo to his friends (well, to me at least)—reeled in surprise at the chaos his appearance caused.  His mouth dropped open as he saw dozens of unnaturals, already keyed up with adrenaline and bloodlust from the cockatrice fight, thrown into a panic.

“Cops!  Everybody run!” yelled a vampire with a dramatic flourish of his cape.  He turned and ran face-first into a hulking ogre. In reflex, the ogre flung the vampire against the pit ring with enough force to crack the barricade. Inside, the cockatrices still thrashed and hissed at each other.

Several zombies shambled at top speed toward the back exit.  The human spectators bolted, ducking their heads to hide their identities.  A bandage-wrapped mummy tripped and fell. Other fleeing monsters stepped on him, trampling his fragile antique bones and sending up puffs of old dust.  After the mummy got back to his feet, the clawed foot of a lizard man caught on the bandages, and the linen strips unraveled as he ran.

At the door, McGoo waved his hands and shouted, “Wait, wait!  It’s not a raid!”  Nobody heard him, or if they did, they refused to believe.

The skittish ogre smashed into an emergency-exit door, knocking it off its hinges.  The door crashed to the ground outside, and monsters fled into the dark alleys, yelling and howling.

McGoo waved his hands and urged calm.  He might as well have been asking patrons in a strip club to cover their eyes.  As I headed toward him, I saw that he hadn’t even brought backup.

Gangly Furguson ran about in confusion, bumped into unnaturals, and caromed off them like a pinball.  Scratch and Sniff looked at each other and shared a grin.  As Furguson ran within reach, they grabbed the skinny werewolf and used his own momentum to fling him into the newly cracked pit wall, which knocked down the barricade.  A blizzard of haphazard currency flew out of Furguson’s pockets.

The cockatrices broke free and bounded out of the pit, slashing with razor gaffs at anything that came near.  They were like hyperactive whirlwinds, flailing, attacking.  Sour Lemonade latched its jaws onto the shoulder of a zombie who couldn’t shamble out of the way quickly enough.  Hissy Fit swooped down and attacked a vampire that had been burned by acid blood; the vamp flailed his hands to get the beast away from his neatly slicked-back hair.

Taking matters into his own hands, Rusty grabbed Hissy Fit by the scaly neck, yanked it away from the vampire, stuffed the cockatrice into a burlap sack, and cinched a cord around the opening.  “Furguson, get the other one! We better get out of here!”

Furguson, however, flew into a rage at Scratch and Sniff for bashing him into the wall.  He bared his fangs and howled, “Shithead Monthlies!” Hurling himself on Scratch, the nearer of the two, he raked his long claws down the werewolf-pelt overcoat, ripping big gashes. With his other hand, he tore four bloody furrows in the biker werewolf’s cheek.

Sniff plucked Furguson away from his friend and began punching him with a pile-driver fist. Scratch touched the blood from the wounds on his cheek, and his eyes flared.  Oddly, the tangle of tattoos on his neck and face began pulsing, writhing, like a psychedelic cartoon—and the deep wounds on his face sealed together. The blood coagulated into a hard scab that flaked off within seconds, the flesh knitted itself into scar tissue, and the tattoos fell quiescent again.

I had never seen a body-imprinted healing spell before.  Very cool.

Amidst the pandemonium, I reached McGoo.  He looked at me in surprise. “Shamble!  What are you doing here?”

“Working.  What about you?”

“I’m working, too.  Just answering a disturbance call, Scout’s honor. Your friends sure have hair triggers!  Did I catch them doing something naughty?”

Rusty tore a two-by-four from the cockatrice barricade and waded in toward Scratch and Sniff. He whacked each of the biker werewolves on the back of the head, which left them reeling while he pulled his nephew from the fray. He shoved the burlap sack into Furguson’s claws.  “Take this and get out of here!  I’ll grab the other one.”

With the struggling, squirming sack in hand, the gangly werewolf bolted for the nearest door. Bills were still dropping out of his pockets as the poor klutz disappeared into the night.

The two biker werewolves shook off the daze from being battered by a two-by-four. They puffed themselves up, peeled back their lips, and faced Rusty, but the big werewolf swung the board again, cracking each man full in the face.  “Want a third one? Believe me, it’ll only improve your looks.”

I looked at McGoo. “We may need to intervene.”

“I was just thinking that.”  He sauntered forward, displaying the arsenal of unnatural-specific weapons that he carried on his regular beat in the Quarter.

Both biker werewolves snarled at Rusty.  “Damned Hairball!”  After another round of hypnotically twitching tattoos, the bloody bruises on their faces healed up.

McGoo stepped up to the troublemakers and said, “Say, know any good werewolf jokes?”

After a glance at his uniform, Scratch and Sniff snarled low in the throat, then bolted into the night as well.  Outside, I heard a roar of motorcycle engines.

The less panicky, or more enterprising, spectators scurried around and grabbed fallen money from the floor, before they, too, darted out of the building.  Rusty managed to seize Sour Lemonade from the zombie it had chomped down on and stuffed it into another cloth bag, which he slung over his shoulder. He loped away from the warehouse, exiting through the emergency door the ogre had shattered.

McGoo and I caught our breath, exhausted just from watching the whirlwind. He shook his head as the last of the monsters evacuated into the night.  “This place looks like the aftermath of a bombing raid. Mission accomplished, I suppose.”

“What mission was that?” I asked.

“One of the nearby residents called in a noise complaint. She’s some kind of writer, asked me to see if they could keep the noise down, said the racket was bothering her.”

“That was all?”

“That was all.” McGoo shrugged, looking around the evacuated warehouse.  “Should be quiet enough now.”

McGoo is my best human friend, my BHF.  We’ve known each other since college, both married women named Rhonda when we were young and stupid; later, as we got smarter, we divorced the women named Rhonda and spent a lot of guy time commiserating.  I established my private-eye practice in the Unnatural Quarter; McGoo, with his politically incorrect sense of humor, managed to offend the wrong people, thus derailing a mediocre career on the outside in exchange for a less-than-mediocre career here in the Quarter.  A good friend and a reliable cop, he made the best of his situation.

It took McGoo quite a while to learn how to deal with me after I was undead.  He wrestled with his own prejudices against various types of monsters, and, thanks to me, he could honestly say “Some of my best friends are zombies.” I didn’t let him use that for any moral high ground, though.

As we surveyed the aftermath, he said, “I’d better go talk to the lady, let her know everything’s under control.”

“Want me to come along?  I could use some calmer interaction after this.” I had, after all, solved the case of the missing money, but I decided to wait for the dust to settle before I presented my results to Rusty.

I found a twenty-dollar bill on the floor and dutifully picked it up.

McGoo looked at me. “That’s evidence, you know.”

“Evidence of what?  You were called here on a disturbing-the-peace charge.” As we walked out of the warehouse, I tucked the bill into the pocket of my sport jacket.  “That’s our next couple of beers at the Goblin Tavern.”

“Well, if it’s going to a good cause, I’d say you were doing your civic duty by picking up litter.”

“Works for me.”

Behind the warehouse, we found a set of ramshackle apartments; I saw lights on in only two of the units, though it was full dark.  A weathered sign promised “Units for Rent: Low Rates!”  Low Rates was apparently the best that could be said about the place.

McGoo led me up the exterior stairs to an upper-level apartment. When he rapped on the door, a woman yanked it open, blinking furiously as she tried to see out into the night.  “Stop pounding!  What’s with all this noise?  I’ve already filed one complaint—I can call the police again!”

“Ma’am, I am the police,” McGoo said.

The woman was a frumpy vampire, short and plump, with brown hair. She looked familiar.  “Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said. “The noise only got worse after I called!  It was a mob scene out there.”

She plucked a pair of cat’s-eye glasses from a chain dangling around her neck and affixed them to her face.  “How can I get any writing done with such distractions?  I have to finish two more chapters before sunrise.”

I knew who she was. I also knew exactly what she was writing.  “Sorry for the interruption, Miss Bullwer.”

McGoo looked at me.  “You know this woman?”

“Who’s that looming out there on my porch?” The vampire lady leaned out until she could see me, then her expression lit up as if a sunrise had just occurred on her face (which is not necessarily a good thing when speaking of vampires). “Oh, Mr. Chambeaux! How wonderful.  Would you like to come in and have a cup of . . . whatever it is zombies drink?  I have a few more questions, details for the veracity of the literature.  And you can pet my cats. They’d love to have a second lap. They can’t all fit on mine, you know.”

“How many cats do you have?”

“Seven,” she answered quickly.  “At least, I think it’s seven.  It’s difficult to tell them apart.”

I’d first met Linda Bullwer when she volunteered for the Welcome Back Wagon, a public service group that catered to the newly undead.  More importantly, she had been commissioned as a ghostwriter by Howard Phillips Publishing for a series of zombie detective adventures loosely based on my own exploits, written under the pen name of Penny Dreadful. The first one was due out very soon.

Ms. Bullwer gave McGoo a sweet smile, her demeanor entirely changed now.  “And thank you for your assistance, Officer—I’m sure you did your best, especially with Mr. Chambeaux’s help.” She cocked her head, lowered her voice.  “Are you working on a case?  Something I should write about in a future volume?”

“I doubt anyone would find it interesting,” I said.

“That’s what you said about the tainted Jekyll necroceuticals, and about the mummy emancipation case, and the Straight Edge hate group, and the attack on hundreds of ghosts with ectoplasmic defibrillators, and the burning of the Globe Theatre stage in the cemetery, and the golem sweatshop, and . . .”

I knew she could rattle off cases for hours, because I had spent hours telling her about them.  She had taken thorough notes.

“It’s nothing,” I reassured her.  “And we don’t even know if your first book is going to sell well enough that the publisher will want to do a second one.”

“They’ve already contracted with me for five, Mr. Chambeaux.  The first one is just being released—have you gotten your advance copy yet?”

“I’ll check the mail when I get back to the office.” I have to admit, I was uncomfortable about the whole thing. Vampires shun sunlight, and I tended to avoid limelight.

McGoo regarded me with amusement.  “I believe we’re done here, ma’am. Enjoy the rest of your quiet night.”

“Thank you, Officer.  And thank you, Mr. Chambeaux, for your help.”  She drew a deep breath.  “Ah, blessed silence—at last I can write!”

Just then, an anguished howl split the air, bestial shouts barely recognizable as words.  “Help!  Help me!  Help!

McGoo was already bounding down the stairs, and I did my best to keep up with him. We tracked the cries to a dark alley adjacent to the warehouse. A gangly werewolf leaned over a figure sprawled on the ground, letting out a keening howl.  Beside him, two squirming cloth sacks contained the captured cockatrices; fortunately, the ties were secure.

As we ran up, Furguson swung his face toward us, his eyes wide, his tongue lolling out of his mouth.  “It’s Uncle Rusty!”

I recognized the bib overalls and reddish fur.  The big werewolf lay motionless, sprawled muzzle-down in the alley.

“Is he dead?” McGoo asked.

Bending over, I could see that Rusty’s chest still rose and fell, but he was barely conscious.  The top of his head was all bloody, and it looked wrong.

Furguson let out another wail.

That’s when I realized that someone must have knocked Rusty out and then, using a very sharp knife, scalped him.

That’s all you get, folks! You have to check out the book to read the rest.

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