by Tristan MacAvery
The young vixen, her white fur almost glistening in contrast to the dark muted blue of her outfit, waited as patiently as possible given the circumstances. Even from a distance, she could smell the myriad scents of the crime scene—sweat, blood, fear, the signature scents of victim and perpetrator, all mingled with the various scents of the police on the scene, the investigators, their equipment, their chemicals, even the weariness, the sadness that they carried with them. It was ironic that her sense of smell, which made her so good at her job, also made it so very difficult to do her job. Some like her had taken to sniffing formaldehyde, or menthol rubs, to dull down the scents to a more tolerable level; she simply couldn’t allow herself that luxury, not if she was to make sure that the rest of her senses were in proper accord.
She flicked an ear in the cool air and tried to pretend that her hearing wasn’t at least as acute as her nose. Up and down the block of this otherwise peaceful-looking neighborhood, the various neighbors had stepped out to gawk, and comment, and whisper about what had happened. The name Katie had been whispered more than once. A few other words dropped out about those creatures, along with other, much less polite epithets describing her and “her kind.” A younger couple whispered something kind about the vixen doing her job. Mixed reviews. About average for this sort of neighborhood, she supposed. Any sort of neighborhood. People talk, whatever their species. It didn’t make it any easier for her to keep her tail from bristling.
“Naomi!” A dark-haired woman in a county-approved crime scene jumpsuit waved and walked toward the vixen. “When did you get the call?”
“About an hour ago. I’m surprised at the speed. You about done in there?”
“Almost.” The woman held out her hand and took Naomi’s paw gently. “You’re looking better than the last time I saw you.”
“Last time was a lifetime ago.”
The Lead CSI cocked her head slightly. “That doesn’t sound like you. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Naomi nodded, her muzzle clenched a little more closely shut than she would have liked. “It’s time for me to get back into this, Lil. I can’t keep hiding forever.”
“You weren’t hiding. You were recovering. You had a horrible shock…” Lillian broke off, raising her hand to forestall the vixen’s comments. “I know—you’ve heard all that before. I’m sorry. Just my way of trying to buck you up, I guess. You look like you could use a little support.”
“I wouldn’t refuse it.” Naomi jerked her chin toward the house. “Smells like it was bad.”
“It’s never good.” The woman shook her head. “It’s bad enough for humans; I have no idea how you can stand it.”
“Raw discipline. I was going to make a joke about keeping one’s nose clean, but I thought better of it.”
“At least your humor is back.” Lillian touched the vixen’s shoulder gently. “You don’t have to do this. Or put another way, you don’t have to do it alone. I’ll stay, if you want.”
“Tempting.” Naomi breathed slowly, shook her head. “I think it’s less confusing when it’s one-on-one. I think that’s why they have us doing the work. We seem to have a knack for it.”
“Foxes in particular, or just non-humans?”
The vixen looked down, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know that, kitling.” Lillian smiled at Naomi’s startled expression. “I try to learn a little something about the languages and phrases of other species over the years. I’d only use that term with someone I’m particularly fond of.” The woman touched the vixen’s cheek gently. “You’re my friend, Naomi, and I worry about you. If you don’t think I should join you, then at least you can call when you’re done. Call my cell, any hour. We’ll do something irresponsible, like eat carbs and glutens and high-fat foods that come with toys in the packaging.”
Naomi laughed and gave her friend a hug. “Thanks, Lillian. I definitely needed that.”
The lead CSI looked back over her shoulder, saw the last of her crew getting into the SUV. “Okay. We’re done. Your turn. Now let’s see if I learned this correctly…” She cleared her throat and said a few words in the vulpine tongue. “Was that right? I didn’t just say something ridiculous?”
“No,” the vixen smiled warmly. “For not having been born a fox, you said it quite well. Thank you.”
Naomi watched her friend go off with her co-workers then steeled herself for the duty that she had been called to do. Steadily, she walked to the house, nodding to the few police who had stayed outside to keep out the lookie-loos—two were human, a male and a female, and a third was a young weasel, a rookie by the look and smell of him. The scents of stress, worry, and resignation were strong on all three; the rookie was trying very hard not to be sick. It can’t be avoided, she thought. Eventually, everyone on the force has to face up to The First One.
Entering by the front door, Naomi paused first in the living room at the front. She saw the woman sitting on the edge of the otherwise comfortable chair, her hands in her lap, her face slack yet somehow tense from having experienced great shock. This was the person that Naomi had been called in to counsel, and at this particular moment, the woman didn’t even acknowledge her existence. This, so far as it could be called such, was “normal.” The vixen decided to look at the actual scene of the crime first, hoping it might help her to help the woman.
It had happened in the kitchen. Her nose told her a great deal of the story, and the crime scene tape and other detritus told the rest. Cordite never seems to go away, not to a vulpine nose at any rate. She could almost guess what it had been about. There was a lot of passion here, a lot of guilt, of attraction, even of revulsion. Lovers’ quarrel? An affair? Given the scents involved, there were at least three people involved, each with a signature scent, and—the first real surprise in the day’s work—all three were female.
It was nothing that could be introduced as evidence in court; the law of the land had yet to take judicial notice of the heightened olfactory (and other) abilities of non-humans, with the exception of drug or trail-sniffing hounds. That technique was used only to track a person, drugs, explosives, and so on; after the tracking was completed—the sought-after material was actually found—came the court-admissible forensics. Scent wasn’t evidence, by and large, so Naomi and her multi-species kin were not considered expert witnesses. They did, however, have a great many other talents, including Naomi’s specialty, which someone had labeled part of the crime scene clean up, despite that the description was more than a little callous. She sighed, not knowing quite what else to call it. Clean-up crews would indeed come from somewhere, no doubt; meanwhile, Naomi had her own cleaning up to do.
She returned to the living room, walking slowly so as not to cause the woman any alarm. A glance through the windows told her that the police crew were still outside, just a call away if needed. Naomi was good at her job; it was rare that she needed backup. She sat on the sofa, neither too near nor too far from the woman, and spoke softly. “Hello.”
At first, the woman seemed not to hear her; there was no direct response. Naomi took a slow breath, let her mind and her emotions radiate calm and safety toward the woman. Anyone—even humans—can sense a benevolent change in the air around them if they’re in need of help. The vixen waited patiently. After several moments, a slight furrowing of brow gave the woman the appearance of being a little more aware of the world. In a dreamlike motion, the woman turned her face toward Naomi and asked softly, “Who are you?”
“My name is Naomi McLeroy,” the vixen offered gently.
“You’re with the police?”
She nodded. “Part of the crime scene investigation crew, more or less. I get called in under special circumstances, like this one.” Pausing briefly, Naomi asked, “What is your name?”
“I thought I told one of the officers.” The woman spoke with detachment, not yet really sure of what was going on. That was to be expected.
“You might have said something to them. I apologize; perhaps I should have asked them. They’re gone now, though. Would you tell me your name?”
A pause. “Carolyn.”
“Minnie always thought so.”
“My darling Minnie,” Carolyn smiled. “People thought it was short for Minerva, or even Wilhelmina. It was short for Miniature. That was her name, the one on her birth certificate. Miniature Dwyer.” The smile faded somewhat. “Minnie was angry.”
Naomi shifted. “What was Minnie angry about?”
“I don’t know,” Carolyn said quickly. She cast her eyes down, not looking at Naomi, looking instead at her hands, at the cuticles of her fingers, at the space on the floor just past where her feet met the unblemished soft pile carpet.
“Carolyn, do you remember what happened this morning?”
A long silence. “I’m supposed to remember. You’re trying to help me remember.”
“Yes. That’s what my job is about.”
“You’re a shrink.”
“In part.” Naomi smiled. “I’m just here to help.”
“Do I need a lawyer or anything?”
“Not at all. You’re not under arrest, and anything you tell me is just between us. No one can compel me to take the stand and testify to what you tell me here.” She was tempted to say that most of those associated with the justice system would probably prefer that she never entered a courtroom even as a visitor or amicus curia.
Carolyn seemed to think about this for a moment, weighing the idea in her mind. “Too many cop shows, I guess.” She smiled a little. “I’ve probably watched them all.”
“Did you watch them with Minnie?”
“Sometimes.” The woman said this doubtfully. “It’s not her favorite. She really loves the food and travel channels. Alton Brown, Adam Richman, Andrew Zimmern… We love the exotic locations, the food, and the humor and all that.” She smiled at the memories. “We met over food, did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t.” Naomi offered an encouraging smile. “Were you together long?”
“We’ve known each other for several years, actually. Good friends.” Carolyn seemed both to blush and to look a little sad. “I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call it these days. Not like there’s a ceremony for this sort of thing, I guess. Not in most places.”
“You loved each other.”
“Yes.” Carolyn looked wistful. “I always told her that there was plenty of room in this old house, even if she wanted her own bedroom. She never quite… it just didn’t quite happen.”
“I understand.” Naomi had the urge to touch the woman’s hand, but she knew better. “It’s not always easy to be in love, is it?”
“No.” The woman looked at the vixen with gentle eyes. “Have you ever lost someone?”
“Would you tell me what happened?”
Naomi shifted very slightly; she needed to gain the woman’s trust, and at the same time, she didn’t want to get too personal. The warring personae popped into her head like the old cartoons of a devil and an angel sitting on her shoulders. Professionalism wanted to put up barriers; Compassion wanted to break them down. Perhaps Lillian was right: It was still a little too soon since Philip had died. Yet her instincts, her senses, her scent on the situation told her that this woman was reaching out to her through the loss.
“He was a homicide detective. That was how we met. About four years ago. We never did go through with marriage, although we talked about it a lot.”
“Was he human?”
Carolyn looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “that didn’t come out the way I meant. I’m no one to pass judgment; I just was wondering.”
“That’s all right,” the vixen said. “Not everyone is comfortable with that sort of relationship.”
“Mine either. I sometimes wonder if Minnie was trying to protect me. Have you met Minnie? Where is she, anyway? Is she still here?”
“I haven’t met her. Tell me about her.”
The woman looked almost rapturous. “The most wonderful person I’ve ever met, human or otherwise. She said that her heritage was part tiger and part panther. She’s so sleek and beautiful, so full of life and curiosity, so caring, never a harsh word…”
“She sounds wonderful,” Naomi said. She paused, knowing that the segue was a clumsy one but not sure how else to broach the subject. “Did you two have a lot of friends? We were just talking about how relationships could be difficult, so I wondered—”
“We didn’t exactly have the Sewing Circle thing,” Carolyn chuckled softly. “That’s the usual joke for… well, for women… well, females like us. We know a few people. Friends. We have people to talk to, and I guess we don’t make much secret of it. Secrets are terrible things.”
The vixen nodded. “I agree, Carolyn.”
The woman smiled softly. “You’re very nice. I hope Minnie can meet you soon. Do you like souvlaki? Minnie and I found a great recipe that we’ve wanted to try. I know it must be difficult for police to get good meals on such schedules. We’d love to cook for you. Minnie…”
Carolyn paused, an odd look crossing her face. Naomi sniffed discreetly, catching the tiniest change. She never thought of it as a “scent of recognition,” more like a change that someone will produce when they have shifted their thinking. A very complex sort of scent, with tinges of fear (something new), relief (an end to uncertainty), and sometimes even excitement.
“Carolyn? You were saying something about Minnie?”
“Minnie,” Carolyn reflected. She frowned. “She was here this morning. She was just here. Where is she?”
“Well, let’s think about it,” Naomi prompted. “Where do you remember seeing her last?”
“Kitchen,” the woman said, remembering slowly, speaking more slowly. “She came in the back door, into the kitchen. She seemed upset. She was yelling about something. Angry. She was angry this morning. Why was she angry?”
“I wasn’t angry.”
Woman and vixen looked toward the entryway. Naomi realized quickly that Carolyn wasn’t exaggerating at all. The feline stood tall, compared to human women, darkly, thickly furred with nearly invisible black striping at the back and tail, bright soft yellow eyes looking at Carolyn with deep, abiding affection.
Naomi stood slowly. “I wasn’t expecting you,” she said softly. “You’re certainly welcome.”
Minnie looked at the vixen kindly. “I’m glad that someone called you. I know you’re here to help.”
“It’s not easy to go through this, is it?”
The feline shook her head, smiling. “It isn’t.” In a few whispering movements, Minnie moved to kneel next to Carolyn’s chair, her long tail whispering silently in the still room. Neither cat nor woman moved to touch the other, which Naomi understood. “Hey, Carrie,” Minnie half-whispered. “Told you I wouldn’t be gone long. And I wasn’t angry this morning. I was scared. I was scared out of my mind.”
“Why, Minnie? Why were you scared?”
“You were, too. Do you remember this morning? Coffee in the kitchen. The back door open to let the breeze in. There was a woman here. Do you remember her? The woman from a few doors down. She came around the house and in through the back door. She was always interested in us, in my being here. She always gave us dirty looks at the store, or across her lawn. She talked about us a lot, to hear the neighbors tell about it. I’m surprised our ears weren’t burning.”
“Katie.” It was as if Carolyn only just recalled the woman. “Katie Foutch, from down the street. I remember her!”
Minnie looked plaintively in Carolyn’s eyes. “She was why I was afraid to move in with you, sweetie. No other reason. I wanted to. I wanted to be with you.”
“I want to be with you, too.” Carolyn leaned toward Minnie, their eyes locked. “I don’t care what they say, I don’t care what anyone says about us. I want us to be together.”
“Then we will be.”
Naomi nodded. “Yes. I think that’s a wonderful idea. Put all this behind you.”
Carolyn’s eyes shifted away from her lover, and she hesitated. “Katie wouldn’t… Why would she be so… She was here…”
The feline and the vixen waited. The memory was returning, and as it began to dawn in the woman’s eyes, Naomi felt a deep and familiar tug from somewhere deep inside of her. The scent in the room changed—something that no one could explain. Humans didn’t really notice it, not consciously, and even the various anthromorph species—the ones that did notice it—had no explanation for it. It was simply true. It was part of why Naomi was called in for this sort of crime scene clean-up.
“Katherine Foutch has been arrested and charged,” Naomi said softly. “I have reason to think that our crime scene investigators will find all that they need to make the charges stick. We have at least one eyewitness who saw her enter and leave, and she had the gun on her when the arrest was made.” She paused and said, “It’s over. You don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to.”
Woman and feline looked at one another with understanding and affection. So much love, Naomi thought. Maybe the words are true.
“There’s a saying among my people,” she said. “My friend Lillian reminded me of them just before I came in here. It translates to, Only Love Survives.” She smiled at them. “Be together now.”
Two smiles, non-corporeal and invisible, lingered in the air where two lovers seemed to have been only moments before.
For a long moment, Naomi sat in the empty living room, in the empty house. Eventually, someone would come to clean up the kitchen, the two sets of crime scene tape, the whole horrible mess. It’s possible that future residents of this house would never know of the violence that had happened here. No matter how hard it tried, fear really can’t stay longer than it’s allowed.
“You done in here?”
The vixen turned toward the man standing in the entryway. He leaned against the doorway in a jauntily casual pose, his dark suit having seen better days but still up to the departmental standards. His oval face framed the smile on his lips, his dark short-cropped hair neat above his high forehead. His badge, in its flip-style wallet, hung over the jacket pocket just like all those cop shows would have insisted upon.
“I think so,” she said.
“Follow your nose.”
She smiled at the man. “Then yes, I’m done.”
“I told you it wasn’t too soon. You’re good at this.”
She looked at him. “It’s still not easy.”
“Not supposed to be.” He paused. “Lillian is right—you should be with a friend having comfort food tonight.”
After a long moment, she nodded. “Thank you for staying, Philip.”
The detective shrugged nonchalantly. “Just doing my job, ma’am.”