“What’s his name?”
I looked at the mutt, who promptly licked my hand. “No clue.”
“You should name him Watson,” Patrice said. “Then you can tell him ‘Elementary, Watson,’ when you solve a case in a blaze of intellectual glory.”
Intellectual glory. Yeah, right. I waved my write-up at her. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
I handed her my notes. “The perpetrator is male, olive complexion, approximately six feet six inches tall, wears a long, sweeping cloak with a tattered hem, and likes to keep his hood on.”
She grimaced. “Don’t tell me. A guy in a cloak did it.”
I nodded. “Looks that way. Other fun characteristics are preternaturally hardy constitution and superhuman strength. There were roughly fifty people in the bar, but the m-scanner registered only one magic signature, probably our murderer. Fifty violent guys and nobody used magic.”
“Sounds unlikely,” Patrice said.
“It was a big brutal brawl. Nobody can explain to me why they started fighting, but apparently they went from zero to sixty in three seconds. I think our dude in a cloak emanates something that hits people on a very basic level. Makes them really aggressive. It’s also possible that animals run away from him, but we only have one test subject.” I petted the demon dog. “Your turn.”
Patrice sighed. “He’s a Mary.”
I nodded. Marys, so named after Typhoid Mary, were disease vectors—individuals who either spread or induced disease.
“A very, very strong one,” Patrice said. “Our guy didn’t just infect—and we can’t say for sure that he did, since the victim could have been syphilitic prior to the fight—but he actually gave the disease life, making it more potent and almost self-aware. The last time I saw this was during a flare. It takes a great deal of power to make a disease into an entity.”
Godlike power, to be exact. Except that no gods were prowling Atlanta’s streets. They only came out to play during a flare, which occurred roughly every seven years, and we had just gotten over the latest one. Besides, if he’d been a god, the m-scan would’ve registered silver, not blue.
“We have to find him now.” Patrice’s face was grim. “He has pandemic potential. The man’s a catastrophe in progress.”
We both knew that the trail had gone cold. I’d missed the chance to go after him, because I was busy crawling around and trying to keep his handiwork from infecting the city. He would strike again and he would kill. It wasn’t a question of if, but a question of how many.
“I’ll put an alert out,” Patrice said.
Find a guy in a cloak without any eyewitness sketches and apprehend him before he contaminates the whole city. Piece of cake.
“Can you find out more about the Good Samaritan who called it in as well?” I asked.
“You’re Joe Blow. You walk by and see me crawl around the fuzzy pole drawing shit on the pavement. Are you going to figure out immediately that I’m trying to contain a virulent plague?”
Patrice pursed her lips. “Not likely.”
“Whoever called it in knew what I was doing and knew enough to call Biohazard, but didn’t stick around. I’d like to know why.”
Half an hour later, I dropped Marigold in the Order’s stables and surrendered the dust bunny to the assistant stable master, who also was in charge of collecting all living “evidence.” We had a slight disagreement as to the living status of the dust bunny, until I suggested that he let it out of the cage to settle the issue. They were still trying to catch it when I left.
I dragged the dog into my apartment and into my shower, where I waged chemical warfare on his fur. Unfortunately, he insisted on shaking himself every thirty seconds. I had to rinse him four times before the water ran clear, and by the end of it, a wet spray blanketed every inch of my bathroom walls, my drain was full of dog hair, and the beast smelled only marginally better. He’d managed to lick me in the face twice in gratitude. His tongue stank, too.
“I hate you,” I told him before giving him leftover bologna from the fridge. “You stink, you slobber, and you think I’m a nice person.”
The dog wolfed down the bologna and wagged his tail. He really was an odd-looking mutt. Once the diagnostics from Biohazard came back, if he was just a regular dog, I’d have to find him a nice home. Pets didn’t do well with me. I wasn’t even home enough to keep them from starving.
I checked my messages—nothing, as usual—took a shower, and crawled into bed. The dog flopped on the floor. The last thing I remembered before passing out was the sound of his tail sweeping the rug.
I MADE IT TO THE OFFICE BY TEN. I’D HAD ROUGHLY four hours of sleep, awoken in a foul mood, and my face must’ve shown it, because people took pains to move out of my way on the street. Of course, it could’ve been because a giant fetid mess of a dog trotted next to me, growling at anyone who came too close.
The office of the Order of Merciful Aid occupied a plain box of a building. When the magic was up, it was shielded by a military-grade ward, but now while the technology had the upper hand, nothing distinguished the bastion of knightly virtue from its fellow office buildings. I climbed to the second floor, entered a long drab hallway, and landed in my tiny office, painted plain gray. The faithful canine companion flopped on the carpet.
I pushed the button of the intercom. “Maxine?”
“I believe I’m due two cookies.”
“Come and get them.”
I looked at the canine companion. “Me cookies. You stay.”
Apparently “stay” in faithful canine companion language meant “follow with enthusiastic glee.” I could shut my office door in his face, but then he’d probably howl and be sad. I had enough sad in my life right now.
We trotted down the hallway and crashed to a halt before Maxine’s desk. She surveyed the demon dog for a couple of stunned seconds, then reached under her desk and produced a box of cookies, each the size of my palm. The scent of vanilla hit me. I did my best not to drool. One must maintain the sleek and deadly image, after all.
I snagged two cookies, broke one down the middle, picked the chocolate chips out of one half, and gave it to the mutt. I chomped on the other half. Heaven did exist and it had walnuts in it. “Any messages for me?” Usually I got one or two, but mostly people who wanted my help preferred to talk in person.