The smoke had begun to curl into nameless shapes in the sky by the time the fire department arrived. The ambulance came after, and an hour later Vera Lantós made landfall on the shattered path. The Bomb Squad had been summoned from the next town over and they were just about done picking through the debris.
Adrian Telling had grayed since last she had seen him; he was holding a box, or what had been a box, in his latex-gloved hands. It was cardboard reinforced with what looked like steel wire and she could make out the remnants of an address label on the side. “That it?”
"Sure is," Adrian said. "Not sure what made it go boom."
"Gemma Xiong, rents the left half of the duplex. Don’t know if she’ll make it. Got it in the chest. Paramedics said they’re surprised she didn’t bleed out on the way to the hospital."
"Where’d they take her?"
Vera stuck her hands in her pockets and looked at the mess. The door had been blown half off its hinges; the other half had splintered, mess dripping into the flower patch. Windows on either side of the door shattered but not exactly blown out. Blood on the stairs up, and the path down to the sidewalk. The place smelled of ash. “We know who’d want to kill Gemma Xiong?”
Telling shrugged. “Could be we got another Teddy K.”
Teddy K, like he was a rapper. Vera suppressed a head-shake.
Voice, quieter, no tap on her shoulder. “Yeah, Monkhouse?”
"Need to talk."
"Can it wait?"
"Need to talk," Monkhouse said. He had been picking around the side of the house, where the blast had not reached, and his latex gloves were free of ash. She nodded at Adrian Telling and stepped back towards the linden tree on the sidewalk edge of the street.
"Something’s here," Monkhouse said, when they’d gotten out of earshot.
Monkhouse shook his head. “Something different. Never smelled it before. It’s like - half a human, but there’s no animal to it? I don’t know.”
"Then you need to go to the hospital and run interference before autopsy," Vera said. "She’s at Silver Hill. Call Tobey."
"I think Tobey’s in surgery today."
"Call Tobey anyway," she said, and pushed her hand against his shoulder. "Go right now. Go go. I’ll sort things out here."
To her secret delight, he did not whine. He cast a longing look at the wreckage of the house and sighed. “Don’t smell fireworks or black powder or anything.”
Not your job, honey. “Let the bomb squad puzzle it out.”
He did. They wouldn’t.
Adler caught the scent again in the waiting room of Silver Hill’s trauma center. It was thick and lilac-colored, almost pleasant, and fading. The doctor at the counter pointed him towards Trauma Surgery, and up to the waiting room on the fifth floor. He scented the path in the elevator and it made him itch. Gemma Xiong, they’d be opening her up right now, they’d be testing her blood and fiddling with her internals and finding out that she didn’t match anything in the medical textbooks and then -
And then. He itched, feeling fur. God knew.
Oddly enough, the scent did not taper towards the operating room but towards the door marked Waiting. He could see a young woman through the glass walls, white-blond and short-haired and clutching a box of tissues. She had tears down her face. When he propped the door open she looked up, and, seeing his badge, nearly choked. “Are you here about Gemma?”
Adler nodded and breathed. The scent, the lilac-colored whatever-it-was, it was definitely coming from her, leaching out of her pores underneath the Hard Rock Café t-shirt and the artfully ragged jeans. She had ice-blue eyes and a hunch. Long fingers. “And you are…”
"Maisie, Maisie Curran. I’m Gemma’s - I’m Gemma’s roommate."
The lies were both small but they stacked up and wedged behind his teeth. Adler sat down next to Maisie Curran and waited as she wept. There were balled-up tissues on her lap spilling down on the floor.
"Maisie," he said, when she went to take a breath, "do you know anyone who would have a reason do this?"
"No," she cried, and that lie, the smell of that one was big enough to stick in his throat. He swallowed around it and grit his teeth.
Maisie shoved the heels of her hands against her eyes and took in a great deep breath.
Fuck it. He took her hand, ignoring that she squeaked, and turned. Part of him, only part of him, paw in her hand just for a minute and she startled and stopped crying. “Oh. Oh my god. You’re - “
"I thought they’d gone extinct," she said; her fascination had drowned out her sorrow for the briefest moment and she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "Like, three hundred years ago."
Adler had never heard that rumor - which was fair, he hadn’t heard anything - and took his hand off her lap. “You lied to me three times. Name, roommate, what happened.”
"Name doesn’t matter."
"Don’t tell me that. Are you wanted somewhere? Do you have a criminal record?"
"Am I wanted? Not by humans," she said. She sat up straight and snuffled. For a flash second he saw wings branching out of her shoulders and then they were gone, like brittle shadows. "It’s my fault, this is my fault."
"They weren’t aiming for Gemma?"
"Oh, God, no. God, no. They wouldn’t care. Gemma’s an insect.” She snorted into her hand and sighed. “It’s a, a rite of passage thing. It’s tradition. You have to kill a member of one of the rival clans before you can get married.”
"Rival clans. Okay." Territorial bullshit. The wolf part of him could understand that, could applaud it. Adler looked her straight in the eye. "Exactly what are you?"
She made a noise deep in her throat and when he leaned in she made it again. “Heard of us?”
"Good, that’s how we like it." She rubbed her eyes. "I thought I was safe, you know? I left my clan and said good riddance to them, I don’t go on the hunt, I don’t want to bear a clutch, I, I, I thought I was safe - " Her voice broke again and she pressed her face to his shoulder. He patted her with as much kindness as he could muster. He could feel talons unrolling from her long fingers. She smelled, for a moment, like birds.
"I don’t know their human names," she said after a while. Her shoulders were still jerking. "I know, I know there’s a clutch of the Gentrā clan in Newport. I’m not Gentrā, I’m Lihhot, or I was."
"What was the bomb?"
"It’s not a bomb, it’s flowers, enchanted. Usually you stick them on the end of an arrow. Back in the mountains people made avalanches. That’s what’s Gentrā means, it means blossom-killing. Oh god oh god." She snuffled into her hand. "They’re going to keep coming after me and keep coming after me and, and, and - "
"We can protect you," Adler said. He had no idea if that was true.