Lost at Birth
ROAN was so bored he’d decided that Tanning Salon Pervert would be the perfect name for his biography.
As he’d flipped through the TV channels last night, the information bar had been visible at the bottom of the screen, and as he surfed past one news magazine program, he saw their episode was titled “Tanning Salon Pervert.” He didn’t watch it—on general principle he refused to watch anything that called itself a news magazine—but the words intrigued him. They sounded wrong in a wonderfully obtuse way, like “peanut butter hut” or “purple elephant pedophile.” Now, he’d never been in a tanning salon, and whether he was a pervert or not was subjective and almost totally hinged on your personal interpretation of the Bible (if you even had one), but the phrase just stuck with him. He bet he’d sell thousands of copies to disappointed people actually wanting the sordid tale of a man who got off on watching women fry under UV lights or get sprayed with fake bake. Instead, they’d get the mundane story of a gay ex-cop with anger management issues who could change into a lion at will.
Come to think of it, not that mundane. But nowhere near as interesting as a tanning salon pervert.
Perhaps Dylan was right. Maybe he was way too blasé about hate. Here he was, standing in front of a crowd that was chanting “Kill the cat!”, some waving homemade signs reading Drown Them in the River! (and some brought sacks—how cute) in front of the county hospital, along with a cordon of other cops, trying to keep them back from the doors. Grant Kim was out of cycle and was being transferred to a special holding cell at the county courthouse until he could be arraigned for several counts of second-degree murder (all killings committed while in cat form were charged as second degree). Imprisoning infecteds was difficult, mainly because no one felt safe releasing them into a prison’s genpop (not only was their blood super infectious, but they were obvious targets for harassment by other inmates), and the erratic natures of the viral cycles made it difficult to say for sure when they’d change. Most were kept in special hospitals, although lawsuits had been filed over that. (There was only one prison specifically made for infecteds, and that was in—of course—Texas.)
Normally, he wouldn’t be part of the cordon, but Chief Matthews was seriously concerned about the threat level and asked him to come in and help. He was glad to do so, even though Dylan was afraid: “If someone recognizes you, Roan, they will target you.”
What he didn’t tell Dylan was that was fine with him. He had always been one of those aggressive queers. Instead of adopting a victim mentality, whenever anyone shouted “You’re a fag!”, his response would always be along the lines of “What of it?” He was the same way as an infected. He was supposed to be ashamed because he had some fucking mutant virus? Because he was born with it? Fuck them. Yeah, he was infected. What of it? If someone wanted to attack him for it, they were free to, but he’d only let them leave a bruise. A bruise was all he needed to legally prove self-defense, even if he ended up kicking the living shit out of them. Which he would do, definitely; he’d make them pick their teeth up off the street. If they were very lucky, the lion wouldn’t come out.
The other cops were uneasy about having him around. He thought maybe it was because he wasn’t actually on the force anymore (adviser just didn’t count), or because he was gay or infected (or both), but he discovered the real reason from a rookie, Hawkins, a cute little short-haired bottle blonde who seemed almost too darling to be a cop. (That could actually work in her favor in some cases—some men might be reluctant to hit her. Others would attack her eagerly, though, so it was a give and take.) She came up beside him to take her place in the cordon, and after looking him up and down said, “So, you’re Batman.” Ah, so that was it. Everybody had seen the security tapes, and now everyone just assumed he was superhuman or something. He’d deny it, but he wasn’t sure if he was being completely honest. Not that he was superhuman, but other than human? Yeah, he might be in the other category.
It was a sunny but cool day, and he was trying to look as butch as possible to discourage any of the lunatics. He wore mirrored sunglasses to fit in with most of the other cops, but he was dressed in biker boots, jeans, and a black These Arms Are Snakes T-shirt, but that was kind of tight, to show off a well-developed torso. (Which he got through a bit of muscle manipulation. Okay, so he wasn’t supposed to ever let the lion out or risk a blood vessel popping in his brain, but again, his attitude was fuck it—he was going to live his life as always, and if it killed him, it killed him. So he let out the lion just enough to make him seem a bit more muscular than he actually was.) It was cold enough he had to cross his arms over his chest, allowing him to do some subtle bicep flexing to make them look bigger, and the short sleeves showed off most of the new tattoo on his arm, Dylan’s tiger sketch now made permanent in blue and black ink. It was so new he’d just taken off the bandage this morning. It didn’t hurt, but then again, as full of Vicodin as he was, he’d have been surprised to feel anything.
(Now he felt vindicated in his pill popping. Downers lowered blood pressure, right? So downers might keep his blood vessels from going off like fireworks on Chinese New Year. Yes, it was self-serving and probably wrong, but he wanted to believe it, and that might just be enough denial to make it so.)
He was wearing an earpiece radio, just like the rest of the cops, which was how he knew that, finally, things were underway. Two different handcuffed men, surrounded by cops and with jackets over their heads, were going to be hustled out of the hospital and into the back of a goddamned paddy wagon (a “prisoner transport”—nice way of saying paddy wagon). One of them would be Grant, and the other was an undercover cop. That was how vicious and serious the threats were against Grant Kim: a decoy had been employed. How had a scrawny Asian kid who was barely a hundred pounds soaking wet and generally as harmless as all fuck become public enemy number one?
Roan had gotten him a lawyer, one of Dennis’s protégés, and Dennis’s office got sent a bit of white powder in an envelope with a note that said all kitty fuckers had to die. (It was soap, not anthrax, but that wasn’t the impression he wanted to leave.) There had been a bomb threat against the hospital last week. Threats had been issued on the web against cops, or at least those who stood in the way of them getting Grant. Why this case had turned so ugly in the public eye was unknown. Was it because a teenage boy was a victim? A father of two? The number of victims? Because Grant and the first two victims were living in a relationship most found horrifyingly immoral? (The troika of Curtis, Tiffany, and Grant, with Grant still getting some on the outside of their threesome.) Maybe all of the above, maybe none. Roan had come to expect a certain amount of hysteria in these cases, but this seemed more excessive than normal. He was so sorry he'd ever advised Dylan to have Seb bring Grant in, although if the cops had eventually caught him and brought him in (likely), it would have been so much worse for Grant.
Would someone have actually been stupid enough to attack Grant with about a dozen cops on the scene? Considering how foaming at the mouth this crowd looked, Roan could believe it was a good possibility. There was an ugly feeling in the air, a sense of impending violence. It made the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and it was all he could do not to growl.
He was wearing an obvious gun and had a Taser on the side of his jeans, but he wondered if he’d actually use them if or when something went wrong. Lately, his instincts had led him to go hand to hand. Perhaps that was just another reason for the guys to call him Batman.
The cops stood shoulder to shoulder, making a human blockade, not only hiding the men being hustled to the van from view, but also trying to intimidate anyone who might be thinking about attacking. Roan made sure he was in the center so he was both the most exposed and had the best view of the restless crowd.
Somewhere near the person with the Where Is Our Civil Right To Be Safe? sign, a chant of “Kill the cats!” began anew, and Roan wondered what was wrong with him. In the face of this incoherent mob violence, he should have been afraid, but he honestly wanted to anger them more. He wanted to grab Lieutenant Ramirez and tongue kiss him before transforming into a lion, and he really didn’t even like Lieutenant Ramirez (he was way too fidgety, and Roan hated his porn stache). Something in him just lived to be contrary. If he couldn’t have their respect, he’d accept their hate.
As the officers started coming out with Kim and the undercover stunt double, Roan noticed an almost Brownian motion in the crowd, and he saw the ghostly pale scalp of a man pushing forward, so wan his skin was almost the exact same color as his off-white hooded sweatshirt. He was elbowing people aside and reaching into his pocket, and Roan knew in that second he wasn’t going for his phone. “Gun!” he shouted, diving into the crowd.
There was screaming, cops shouting in their radios, people running one way or another, but the man was focused on Grant, and Roan was focused on him, so much so that the crowd of people around him, even those he was reflexively shoving aside, dwindled away to mere spots in his peripheral vision. Noise was nothing—all drowned in the blood pounding in his ears and the growl burbling up from his throat.
The man had managed to pull the gun out of his pocket before Roan was on him, tackling him and riding him to the ground, hands firmly grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the asphalt parking lot. The man, tall and lean but still fairly strong, tried to buck him off, but Roan had had too much experience riding guys (ha) and wasn’t moved. “Motherfucker!” the man shouted, spittle spraying from his lips. “Cat-fucking fascist p—”
To Roan, the bones in the man’s wrist felt like fish bones, fine and fragile, and with just the tiniest squeeze they crackled like dead leaves under his fingers. The man screamed incoherently, arching in pain, as the gun fell out of his useless hand. Roan saw a fast-moving blur in his peripheral vision, a bigger, chunkier guy pulling a baseball bat out of one of the cat-drowning sacks and charging him. He was vaguely aware of a cop—maybe more than one—yelling “Freeze!” But he ignored it as much as the man did.
With a snarl, he jumped, and slammed bodily into the man, who was too surprised and hit too swiftly to react. He went crashing to the parking lot, still managing to hold onto the bat, and as he brought it up, Roan caught it and yanked it out of his hands, throwing it across the lot. Although the Vicodin was helping to keep his anger in check, he still felt a sharp, deep pain in his jaw as it shifted, and tasted blood. “Who else wants some?” he roared at the onlookers. The ones who didn’t want trouble had already fled; those who were considering whether or not to join the fray if there was any chance of winning were still loitering about, and most were in the dangerous demographic of men in their late teens and early twenties, the probable age group of the would-be assailants. The sideliners stared at him in goggle-eyed horror, and he could smell the sudden fear like a toxic spill of vinegar. The fight was over; no one wanted to chance it.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Batman, couldn’t you leave some for us?” Thompson carped. He was the cop that looked not unlike a young Jim Brown and had been at the head of the escort line. Roan wouldn’t have minded tongue kissing him; he was much more attractive than Ramirez.
“Oh, he’s always been a show-off,” Dee said, kneeling beside Roan and putting his EMT kit on the ground. Yep, ambulance teams were standing by, and since they were at a hospital, it seemed almost silly. There were doctors inside—why couldn’t they use them? Probably some damn insurance thing.
Dee looked him in the eye, an eyebrow raised in concern, and asked, “You okay, Ro?”
It was probably the Vicodin, but he felt much more in control of himself. The lion hadn’t come out enough to run away with him. It had just come out enough to distend his jaw a bit. Oh, and allow him to throw a body slam on a guy trying to assault him with a bat. And break a man’s wrists like they were made of spun sugar. Okay, so the lion had come out a bit more than he intended. At least no one was dead, himself included. Roan wiped the blood away from his mouth and said, “Peachy.”
“I can’t breathe,” the man beneath him gasped, obviously breathing but wincing in pain all the same. Roan got off of him, and he rolled over on his side and curled up into a fetal position, holding his ribs.
“You know, if you just Googled this red-haired bastard, you’d have saved yourself a world of hurt,” Dee scolded him, snapping on a pair of rubber gloves. Roan stood and noticed Shep and some other paramedic he didn’t recognize were attempting to work on the gunman, who was still screaming and writhing in pain. Three cops were standing around them, but only one still bothered to have his Taser out. Roan visually confirmed the paddy wagon was gone; Grant and the other cops got away, as they were supposed to have done. Mission accomplished.
He rubbed the back of his neck and scanned the rest of the lot, freezing as soon as his eyes fell on a cameraman for Channel Five standing crouched beside an SUV, the helmet-haired “action news reporter” beside him (his name was Chip or Flip or some damn cartoon name). Roan only needed to see the blow-dried wonder’s mouth moving in profile to know he was saying to his cameraman, “Tell me you got that.”