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Chapter 12: "Greener Pastures"


Unless there were any more monster fights, or other bizarro flare-ups before morning, Smith thought, it seemed less important to be anywhere except at the coroner's office getting through more sharktopsies, to see what else they had inside them. The county men had bagged up the three dead sharks, and it was determined that the half-swallowed womanimal would not be removed from the shark maw she was half stuck in, in order to leave the evidence as pristine as possible for Coroner Thompson. They bagged up the headless clerk too. And his head. And rolled them all to the morgue. Smith phoned the coroner, and she met them there.

“I have a date, Smith,” Detective Thompson announced, after the bodies were gone, extricating himself from his workday. “You can stay up late with this lot. Besides, it seems to me, these sharks are your deal — not mine. Please tell Dixie for me, that I will be around tomorrow sometime, to check out our new wolflady. Good luck.”

“Fair enough Thompson,” Smith answered. Beyond hauling the bodies off, to preserve also for later evaluation the scene of the incident, they locked up the convenience store in a state of precisely-as-is, retaining the muddy, bloody, multi-species goo that covered nearly all the surfaces in the store like wet pink lacquer. Smith and two of the city units made their way to the coroner's office, where the detective remained with Dixie until about 2 a.m.

It had already been quite clear what had killed the clerk—a Chinese guy whose identification defined him as Laurence Xjiang, 48—and the facts of his demise became even more indisputable when Dixie cut open her first shark, the belly of which contained the clerk's head, eyeglasses, and ball cap. As well as a couple of sea bass and several large bags of sour cream and onion potato chips—the chips and the bags they came in, and some beef jerky sticks also still in their wrappers.

When she gutted the second Great White—the one full of buckshot—inside of it, they were surprised to find Beep Beep Beaver of the Chino Wheeled Beavers banked-track roller derby team, a survivor of Saturday night's parking lot massacre. Tonight she was no survivor. So far, anyway—this was, of course, at least her second time to die. And in addition to Beep Beep, this second shark, like the first, had quite a bit of seafood and quite many convenience store snacks and treats inside.

For the third sharktopsy, the coroner cut open the fish's belly, which revealed the rest of the womanimal, whose legs were of course still hanging out of the shark's mouth, having been swallowed head first. Stitched across the back of her derby skirt was her handle. Sugar. Somebody made a joke. The city cops and Smith helped Dixie pry the thing from the throat of the shark. Then she put the two womanimals on each their own tables, and bound firmly their hands and feet.

...


By 11 on Saturday morning, Kelly Sammys was a rolling boil, grandly fueled by Tina Santos' friends and loved ones, as well as, many opportunistically festive students and barflies leaning into the inertia of the sax player's wake. Looking slightly out of hat, Smith thought, and noting them immediately as he walked in the door, were the dry, alert, and watchful members of Wells' straight edge punk band, gathered, booze-less, in a booth. But they wore their anachronism well, in various states of plaid, and clean, pressed t-shirts, and felt hats upon slick heads. The detective nodded at them as he walked in. At a booth near the crowded bar he saw Santos' bandmates, solemnly playing cards and drinking black beer. The regular usual cat was behind the bar, pouring pitchers and taking down short-order tickets for the kitchen. The smell of the tavern this morning was a pedigree of coffee, expensive stout ale, French onion soup, and rain. Smith did not see Foster and Wilson or Janice Allison yet.

About noon, the bar cleared and the crowd moved outside into the rain, boarded a bus, and rode to the graveside ceremony. After most everyone else had cleared the bar, Smith followed in his own vehicle. Likewise did Wells' bandmates. The ceremony would be short, about 30 minutes, and then everyone would get back on the bus and go back to the bar.

As he pulled up to the graveyard, Smith took a call from the lieutenant: “How's the funeral?”

“A lot of musicians and alcohol,” Smith answered.

“I just took another call from Thompson. He's over at the coroner's. He said he was checking on the new monsters that you two bagged up last night. Anyway, he says his two new femanimals are still there, but he said your three sharks are gone,” Mackinney said. “So keep your eyes peeled, eh. Touch base with Dixie when you have the time.”

He hung up his phone, got out of the car, and walked towards the crowd, as the ceremony had just begun. Foster, Wilson, and Ms. Allison were at hand. Performing the rites in plainclothes were a man and woman, of some natural religion or another, whichever Santos' preference had been. Smith, a Buddhist, was somewhat relieved that he did not have to hear the ashes-to-ashes rote.
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