by Richard Reid
© Richard Reid -- all rights reserved
I was jogging home after my last delivery of the day when something - some feline instinct perhaps - made me glance up at a particular sign. 'The Blind Pig Gin Mill' it reads. It is a memory that makes me stop. I made a delivery there a week before. A birthday present that turned out to be a practical joke.
Best laugh I've had since coming to this city; and most of those in the bar were laughing just as hard. Including the joke's victim.
What the heck. I don't exactly have plans tonight. I turned and padded into the bar.
Now I don't usually drink in bars. In fact the night of that delivery was the first time since ... Well; it's been a hell of a lot of years. I do enjoy a cold beer now and then, but bars - at least all the bars I've seen before this place - just don't fit my style.
I paused just inside the door to look around; quickly recognizing some of the regulars from last time. The mule morph at the piano. Playing the blues tonight; unlike last time. The jokester from my last time here (name of Wanderer, I remember) was playing cards with two fellow wolf morphs and the 'victim' of his joke.
I could see several of those here recognized me as well. Some quickly glanced over at Wanderer. Wondering if he had something to do with my appearance; I suspect. Or perhaps wondering if a certain full morph coyote might be repaying a joke in kind.
Not surprising they remembered me. Eight foot five (plus my ears) feline morphs don't exactly grow on trees ... though I'm known to climb an occasional tree to keep my claws in shape.
I laughed and shook my head as several customers looked my way. "No jokes today."
I walked over to the bar and took a seat. As the bull morph bartender got my beer I turned to the full morph otter beside me. "Hello; Oren."
He turned quickly; almost spilling his milk. "I thought you didn't do bars; Katra?"
"I might make an exception for this place." I laughed; gesturing towards the card players with my tail. "I get the feeling this place is more about people than drinks."
"Ppprrrrrrr..." Then a soft slurping sound as Oren finished off his milk.
I looked around again as the bartender set my drink in front of me. A sip of beer; then I turned back to the otter. "I suspect this place is full of stories." My ears twitched as someone entered; letting in the sound of a distant siren.
"That it is." Oren looked across the bar and tapped his cup with a claw. "Another, please." He turned back to me as the bartender replaced the empty cup with a full one. "They start with him. Donnie Sinclair; the owner."
The otter paused to take a sip of milk. "I think you will like it here, Katra. If you want stories; just introduce yourself to some of the regulars."
"Speaking of regulars; I don't see the rabbit."
"Phil? He's with a client. A cage case; I think."
I must have been staring because Oren shook himself. "Sorry. Phil is a counsellor. Gets most of his cases through the West Street Shelter.
"Thanks; Oren." I looked around, wondering who to talk with. I almost walked over to Doug and Wanderer; then decided I didn't want to interrupt the card game.
My eyes met those of one of the human customers for a second, and his raccoon ears flicked once with recognition. Wait a second. Raccoon ears?
The obvious half of my answer was he's a SCAB. The other part didn't come to me right away; but he obviously remembered me. I was halfway to his table when a flash of memory made me freeze in my tracks.
Doug Linger the coyote lying tangled with a chair - and a man with a raccoon face.
No wonder I hadn't remembered seeing the raccoon morph before the jack-in-the-box went off. He'd morphed when he was knocked down.
I continued; hoping my pause wasn't too noticeable. He motioned to a chair across the table from himself when I got close.
"Hello; I'm Katra." I set my beer down and offered him my hand.
He shook it. "Brian Coe." A brief pause. "You saw me on Wiley's birthday?"
"I think so. The one he bowled over."
Suddenly sounds from outside caught my ears. Screeching tires and the blare of a horn; followed by a crash. A wreck!
At least some of the others heard it too, as there is sudden silence inside the bar. I spun and headed for the door; seeing a few others moving the same direction.
One look down the street confirmed what my ears had told me. It was a wreck; about half a block away. A delivery truck lying on its side. Or rather almost on its side, I realized when I was halfway there. I half noticed two figures stagger from the truck and down the cross street, but my attention was on the small car pinned beneath the box of the truck.
The truck driver must have been trying to make the turn at too high a speed, and skidded into the car before going over, because the car was all the way underneath with only the left rear corner visible.
I stopped alongside what was left of the car and looked under the overturned truck. The car's roof was smashed nearly down to the bottom of the windows. I couldn't see inside; but I could smell the one occupant - a woman - and some blood. Not a lot, but that didn't tell me how badly she was hurt.
I couldn't hear any clues either over rapidly approaching sirens. Someone called 911, was my first thought. Quickly dashed as one police car screeched to a stop while three more rolled past, then accelerated down the cross street with a howl of turbine exhaust I heard even through the sirens and my flattened ears.
My mind wasn't on the meaning of the police cars, though. It was on the victim of whatever happened. Somehow I felt I had to reach her, but a quick examination of the windows failed to reveal a space I could slip my arm or tail through.
I tried the back door's handle; not really expecting it to do any good. The door popped an inch or so when I released the latch, but all my strength wasn't enough to move it further. Its mangled top held it in place.
As I prepared for another try I felt other hands grab hold as well. "Now," I growled, pulling as hard as I could. The squall of tortured metal bit into my ears as the door opened.
A glance into the wrecked car reveals only one way to reach the woman from the back seat. Those who helped open the door - Donnie Sinclair, the mule from the piano, and Wanderer - gave me strange looks as I turned my back to the car. What they couldn't see was my five foot prehensile tail snaking between the seat and driver's side of the car.
The tip of my tail found bare skin, and I curled it around the woman's upper arm. With a physical connection to the victim I could use my power to assess the woman's condition.
My eyes closed as I concentrated on her. Ignore her genes; feel her body ... What I found made me shiver. Cracked skull and internal bleeding. She wouldn't live to be rescued unless I did something.
I opened my eyes and let out a deep sigh. "I can get her out alive; but you folks are going to have to keep what you see a secret."
Most of those who followed me from the bar nodded; and I saw Brian Coe meet a police officer as he walked around the front of the truck. I don't know what he told the officer; but the cop spoke into his radio after a moment; then turned his attention to the front of the truck.
But I was only half watching. Regardless of my secret I wasn't going to let this young woman die. I did the only thing I could in the situation and thought snake. Python to be precise.
The woman began to change. My power altering her form to a large snake. An extremely delicate process that required all my concentration. Even more so than usual since I had to be sure that injured parts morphed into intact ones.
It didn't really take that long; but it felt like hours to me before the victim was morphed to python form. As I slid the scaly form out of the wreck I saw surprised looks on the faces of those surrounding me. Mostly my new friends from the Blind Pig; but also a trio of wide eyed paramedics.
A last bit of concentration pulled the string on the genetic changes I made, and the woman began to morph back to her true form. Without her injuries, since the demorph process was controlled by her own genes.
Then I released her and walked slowly over to the paramedics. "She will ... be fine." I managed though my panting. It was a moment before I caught my breath enough to continue. "I don't think she will remember any of this, but she might suspect what I did."
'I see what you mean." One of the paramedics took a sheet from their gurney and laid it over the woman's re-emerging - and completely naked - form.
That would be a clue; but not the one I meant. I shrugged; then looked into the eyes of each paramedic in turn. "I need what I can do kept a secret. I ... will not even be able to think of doing anything like it for at least a week." I felt my ears flatten against my skull again. "If the people of this city find out what I can do; they'll hound me right out of town."
The paramedics nodded. "No one will find out from us," one stated.
"Thanks." But then it's almost never the professionals who blow my secret. It's the bystanders. I looked around; then joined the others walking back to the bar.
"Your secret will be safe here."
I turned to see the mule from the piano walking beside me. "I hope so." I managed a soft purr. "I really don't want to leave this place."
"I know a small something about secrets." He laughed. "We are not alone in that here."
My purr got a little louder as we slipped through the door. "I suspect you have quite a tale to tell."
"Jack. Jack deMule." He shook his head slowly. "I'll leave the story telling to others." He turned towards the piano.
After a moment I sat beside Brian Coe again.
"So you're a polymorph," he said in a soft voice.
"Not a very strong one." I laughed and flicked my ears. "I think you were about to tell a story?"
"All right. A story for a new friend ..."
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