free fiction for IPSTPD: “scent work.”

Thanks to my first pro fiction sale, I’m an associate SFWA member now. As such, I feel like I ought to participate in the International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. In that spirit, here’s an Urban Fantasy short story I wrote a while ago. It has werewolves and mobsters in it, and also candy bars. Click past the split to read if those things are your bag, baby.

Scent Work

by Marko Kloos

I won’t lie to you: Lycanthropy has a major perk.

I’m not talking about the stuff everyone knows about, like the fast healing and the enhanced senses. Those are a mixed blessing, anyway. It’s nice to never have to see a doctor, and being immune to tooth decay saves a ton of money on dental bills, but try living with a canine sense of smell when your neighbor likes to cook with curry and lahsun ten times a week.

No, the best thing about being a werewolf is that awesome metabolism. I burn fifteen thousand calories a day even at rest. Most of us can pig out all day long and never put on weight. That’s why you’ll never see a fat lycanthrope–we simply can’t eat enough. Your garden-variety private detective keeps a bottle of bourbon in the file drawer. This private detective keeps a candy stash in his desk, enough sugar to give diabetes to a playground full of first-graders.

I was in the middle of a king-sized Mars bar when my first client walked in. I dropped the candy into the desk drawer and reached for my box of wet wipes. It’s unprofessional to greet new clients with chocolate fingers.

She looked like a business executive: pant suit, bottle-blonde hair in a tight ponytail, frameless designer glasses that were rectangular slivers in front of her eyes. She looked around in my new office, which was still mostly bare. I had just opened the business, and the place still smelled like fresh paint. The office building was a dump, but with all the zoning restrictions on my kind, I couldn’t be picky.

“Mister Decker?”

“Yes,” I said. “Chance Decker. How can I help you?”

“My name is Sandra Connelly. I’m looking for someone with your particular…talents,” she said. “There are plenty of private investigators in Boston, but only one that advertises…you know.”

I gestured to the chair in front of my desk. She sat down and looked around again. There wasn’t much to look at except my P.I. license on the wall, and the Registered Lycanthrope certificate next to it. Her glance lingered on it. Then she looked at me with a faint smile.

“You’re not quite what I expected, I must say. I thought you’d be more…hirsute. Yellow eyes, maybe.”

“I shave three times a day,” I said. “And I wear colored contacts. Out on a job, it’s useful to blend in.”

“I see.”

“So how can I help you? I’m assuming your need for my particular talents doesn’t refer to my good looks.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Her smile barely moved the corners of her mouth. “I need you to track someone down for me.”

She rummaged around in her purse and pulled out a pair of pictures. One was a man’s portrait–someone in his forties, the rugged good looks of a fashion model for expensive hiking clothes. The other was a young girl, ten or eleven years old. Her features were so similar to the man’s that she couldn’t have been anyone but his daughter.

“My ex-husband and my daughter,” the woman said. “I have sole custody. He picked her up last weekend for visitation and didn’t return her on Sunday as required. I want you to track him down.”

“Any idea where he might have taken her?”

“He’s an outdoors type. Hunting, fishing, that sort of thing. I have a suspicion he may have taken her north, but there’s no way I can find him if he went off the grid.”

“There’s really no such thing as ‘off the grid’,” I said. “Not in this day and age.”

“I hope you’re right.” She smiled curtly. “Is it true what they say about your sense of smell?”

“Is it true what they say about the way you people are…gifted?” I said, but she didn’t smile at the Blazing Saddles reference.

“Yes,” I said. “Even when I’m on two legs, my sense of smell is ten times better than yours. On four legs, it’s more like a few hundred times.”

“Care to demonstrate?” There was a small glint of amusement in her eyes.

“Sure.”

I sniffed the air theatrically.

“You had something with garlic and shrimp for lunch. You chewed some gum not too long ago to cover up the garlic. Spearmint gum. Also, you have a gun in your purse. I can smell the gun oil and the powder in the cartridges.”

“Impressive.” She smiled again, a little more genuinely than before. “You want the job, you’re hired.”

I told her my rate and the amount for the retainer, and she wrote a check.

After she left, I went downstairs to deposit it at the ATM in the lobby right away. Can’t completely trust anyone who doesn’t know Blazing Saddles.

#

His name was Charles Chadwick. He had an apartment in a brownstone in the Back Bay. There was no doorman, and the locks were nothing fancy.

The apartment was neat and minimalist. The furniture was straight Ikea showroom stuff. The only mess in the place was the second bedroom, obviously set up for the daughter. There were clothes all over the bed, and school things piled up on the desk by the window.

Charles Chadwick had a computer tucked away in an armoire. I fired it up and got out my little sleeve of computer snooping tools. He had been good about deleting his browser history, but he didn’t know about low-level formats, complex passwords, or encrypted data partitions. I was in his system in three minutes, and had the contents of his hard drive on my portable unit in another twenty.

There were no obvious smoking guns–no online directions to a specific address, no receipts for a rental. He had, however, deleted a whole bunch of pictures recently, and after running a recovery on the files he had dumped, I had a rough idea where he was.

On the way out, I grabbed some clothes out of the laundry hamper–a pair of his socks, and a t-shirt that was small enough to fit his daughter. I checked the fridge, too. The milk had expired four weeks ago.

#

The shots from the digital camera showed stuff I knew to be in downeast Maine: his kid in front of the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor, the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, the lobster boats at Bar Harbor. Sandwiched in between were shots of a half-finished log cabin out in the woods somewhere. Cameras file their images in sequence, so I guessed he had taken the kid and hid out somewhere around Acadia. That gave me a small enough area for some legwork.

#

I went up to Maine the next morning. It was late fall, so the hotel rates were still insane, but I found a decent motel in Ellsworth that didn’t charge a king’s ransom. I watched some TV and slept away the afternoon. At sunset, I shifted into wolf form, took a good whiff of the clothes I had taken from Chadwick’s laundry hamper, and ran out into the darkness on four legs.

You can’t live out in a cabin with a ten-year-old without hitting the nearest town for pizza and DVD rentals every once in a while, and Ellsworth was the closest place to Acadia. I caught traces of father and daughter all over town, but the scents were faded, weak, washed out like sidewalk chalk after a day of heavy rain. I spent most of the night expanding my search pattern outward. The sky was already pink with dawn when I finally got a solid trace on the road to Bar Harbor.

They weren’t totally off the grid after all. The cabin was in one of those vacation home communities where the lots are a quarter mile apart, lots of privacy all around. The pine trees swished softly in the morning breeze when I trotted along the access road and up to the house.

I got to the cabin in time for breakfast. He was in the kitchen with his kid, drinking hot cocoa and cooking bacon and pancakes on the griddle. The place looked warm and cozy. Out here, the smells were sharp and clean. Chadwick had an SUV parked out front, one of those expensive European ones. There was no other living thing around save for the squirrels and chipmunks that chittered nervously when they caught my scent. I crouched on the damp ground between the pines for a while and watched Chadwick and his daughter talking and laughing over breakfast. Then I got up and loped back, to get to the motel before the sun was up completely.

I filled out my change log, as required by law. Place, Date, Length of Excursion, Purpose of Transformation. Then I got out Sandra Connelly’s business card.

Call me once you find them, she had said. Don’t let them know you’re there, and don’t call anyone but me.

I sat on the bed, freshly showered, with her business card in one hand, and the room phone in the other. Then I put the phone down again.

Something wasn’t right about the whole thing. I had known that pretty much from the start, but the run in the morning air had given me time to think some more.

The milk had been expired for weeks, I remembered. The whole apartment had had a dusty sort of smell to it, like it hadn’t been lived in for a while. They had been gone for much longer than a week.

Then I remembered the kid’s room. School things and clothes all over the place.

School books? Closets full of stuff? For weekend visits?

I put the business card on the nightstand and grabbed my car keys. It was time to get the other side of the story.

#

When I pulled up in front of the cabin, they were loading up the car for some daytime fun, bicycles and backpacks. Charles Chadwick looked concerned, but not panicked. I got out of the car, and he moved between me and his daughter with a few determined steps.

“Looks like you’re at the wrong house, bud,” he said. “Can I help you find something?”

“Mr. Chadwick,” I said. “We need to have a chat, I think.”

#

They offered me some hot cocoa, and I gladly accepted. His daughter smiled when I didn’t turn down the marshmallows. She was an adorable girl, dark blonde hair like her father’s. I could already tell that she’d be much more beautiful than her mother.

“She doesn’t have custody,” Charles Chadwick said. “I do. Full and undisputed. She doesn’t even have visitation rights.”

“Why would she lie about something that’s so easy to disprove?” I asked.

“Because she’s a pathological liar, and a crook. You familiar with the O’Connell family?”

“Of course,” I said. The O’Connells were the heads of the Irish mob in Boston. I had offers of employment from them in the past, which I had refused—very politely.

“She’s the youngest daughter of Seamus,” Chadwick said. “Did six years after that corruption case a while back. We were already divorced then, but with her federal conviction, the judge granted me full custody.”

“So why is she paying me to go find you?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?”

There was a new smell in the air, something strange and familiar at the same time. It came from the outside, where the chipmunks and squirrels had stopped chattering. Even the firs seemed to be holding their whispering in the morning breeze.

Chadwick opened his mouth to say something else, and I hushed him. He shot his daughter a concerned look.

I knew then why she had paid me to find her ex-husband. I put my cocoa on the kitchen counter and slid off the bar stool.

“Take the kid and lock yourself in the bathroom. You got a gun?”

He glanced over to the door.

“In the truck.”

Bathroom,” I urged, but before he had taken two steps, there was a harsh thud that shook the front door in its frame. A deep, rumbling growl came from the other side of that door, and the scent that had crept into the house a few moments earlier was now all-pervading: musk and wet fur, sharp and wild.

The second impact blew the door off its hinges. Through the opening came a gigantic wolf, so obscenely large that it could only be a lycanthrope. He was shaggy and jet-black, with teeth the size of paring knives.

Chadwick and his daughter both screamed in terror. The giant werewolf stood in the middle of the room for a heartbeat, regarding us with green eyes that were ablaze with hatred and hunger. Then he growled again, a sound so low and resonant that it made the floor vibrate and the glasses on the breakfast counter chime. I saw the muscles on his hindquarters flex underneath that shaggy fur, tensing like coiled springs, ready to launch him right among us to tear us into bloody chunks. He was magnificent, the biggest of our kind I had ever seen. Compared to him, my wolf form looked like a scrawny mutt with a nutritional deficiency.

Then he lunged, and I drew my revolver and shot him in the snout. Twice.

#

It took Chadwick and his daughter fifteen minutes to calm back down to the point of coherence. All things considered, I thought that was pretty good composure.

“Is he dead for good?” Chadwick asked, after he had finally worked up the courage to prod the huge, shaggy carcass with a hesitant foot.

“Two to the brain will do it every time,” I said. “Doesn’t leave much to regenerate.”

“What do we do with him?”

“Whatever,” I shrugged. “In wolf form, he’s considered an animal, legally speaking. It’s like shooting a rabid dog. Dump him in the woods, let the coyotes take care of him.”

“Isn’t he going to change back?”

“Nope. The form you die in is the form you stay in.”

I checked the big werewolf’s shaggy neck and didn’t find anything.

“He’s not tagged,” I mused. “Naughty, naughty.”

“Tagged?”

I pulled my registration tags out from underneath my shirt and showed them to Chadwick. “Lycanthrope tags. He should be wearing them by law, in whatever form.”

He swallowed hard.

“You mean you’re one, too?”

“Relax. I’m on Team Law-Abiding. This fella down here is an unregistered lycanthrope. Ten years in Club Fed if you get caught.”

Chadwick eyed the big pile of shaggy, smelly fur on the hardwood floor skeptically.

“Would you mind helping me? No way I can drag that into the woods by myself,” he said.

#

I followed the big werewolf’s scent trail back to where he had parked his car. Lazy bastard had driven all the way to the end of the access road before getting out to change.

His clothes were in an untidy pile on the hood. I went through the pockets to find his wallet. His driver license picture showed a huge meathead with a not-too-bright expression. WEIGHT 310, his license proclaimed. HEIGHT 6’6”.

I pocketed the license and the hundred and twenty bucks in cash he had carried, and threw the rest into the bushes.

There was a laptop on the passenger seat. It had a moving map display on the screen, with a blue triangle marker just a little further down the road, where my car was parked.

“Son of a bitch,” I said.

#

The GPS transmitter was stuck to the inside of my bumper. Whoever put it there had taken the time to disinfect it and neutralize all the scents. The big, stupid goon had just followed the marker on his screen to save himself a bunch of tracking work. I had delivered him right to his target.

I didn’t much care for killing one of my own kind, but some guys are just feral. I cared even less for being used as a homing device for a hitman. That bothered me more than someone trying to kill me.

“You need to move, and fast,” I told Chadwick. “Just in case your ex has another unregistered werewolf on her payroll. If she tried it once, she’ll try it again. Go to a big city. Easier to stay anonymous.”

“We’ll leave in five minutes,” Chadwick said. “Can you watch out a bit, just in case?”

“Sure thing,” I said.

“What are you going to do?”

“Go home to Boston, settle accounts.”

#

For a mob daughter, Sandra Connelly didn’t have much in the way of security. She lived out in Brookline, on a quiet cul-de-sac shaded by ancient elms. I did a recon of the property and smelled no hired muscle anywhere. She lived by herself, which made her either supremely confident, or very reckless.

She left the house for a run at dawn. I could smell the gun in the fanny pack around her waist. When she walked down the driveway, stretching her calves as she went, I walked up to her from behind a neighbor’s hedge.

“Miss Connelly. Nice morning for a run.”

She was surprised, but her composure was flawless. She didn’t even flinch when she saw me.

“Did you find my husband? I thought I asked for a call, not a private visit.”

“I did find him. And your shaggy friend found us shortly thereafter.”

She didn’t try to keep up the charade, I’ll give her that much.

“He screwed up, huh? I’m surprised you made it back. He looked a lot bigger and stronger than you.”

“Oh, he was. Biggest damn werewolf I’ve ever seen. Would have ripped me to shreds if I had fought him on four legs.”

“How’d you manage?”

“I shot him.”

She let out a low chuckle.

“Gus didn’t use guns. Said he didn’t need ‘em.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the problem with some. They get all punch-drunk on the wolf form. They forget that their human half can use some pretty awesome tools.”

“Well.” She stuck her hand into her fanny pack. When she brought out the revolver, I could see the glint of silver in the chambers.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “Are those silver bullets? Someone ripped you off. You don’t need those. Lead will do just fine.”

“Really?” She glanced at her revolver, then pointed it at me again. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Try it, and I’ll tear you limb from limb,” I said.

She chuckled again. “What, no gun?”

I showed her the revolver on my hip.

“I can draw that long before you can finish pulling the trigger,” I said. “But all things considered, I’d enjoy the wolf thing for a change. Just for you.”

“You kill me, you’ll have to look over your shoulder for my Dad for the rest of your life,” she said.

“You kill me, your ex-hubby is going to tell the Feds about it. Using an unregistered lycanthrope as an assassin. That’ll get you the death penalty.”

We looked at each other across her driveway for a few moments. Then she shrugged.

“Since it looks like neither of us can kill the other, how about you fuck off and let me do my morning run? Go find missing puppies or something. And stay out of my way.”

“I’d much rather make you a personal project,” I said. “Become a pain in your ass instead. See you around, Sandra.”

I turned around and walked off.

Lyke,” she called after me in a low voice. “Get out of here.”

From her mouth, the racial slur didn’t have any sting to it. In return, I flipped her the bird without looking back.

#

When I got to my office, the sun was coming up over the ocean, bathing the glass facades of downtown in pink and red. There was a stack of mail in my box, and I fished it out.

The first letter on the stack was an automated notice from my bank. Sandra Connelly’s check had bounced.

I chuckled, balled up the notice, and threw it away. Then I opened my desk drawer and reached for a king-sized candy bar.

There are worse ways to end a work week.

–END–

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25 thoughts on “free fiction for IPSTPD: “scent work.”

  1. Steven says:

    Two thumbs.

  2. FrankC says:

    Carrie Vaughn should look to her laurels. An excellent short.

  3. AJD says:

    Once again, you tease us with just a little bit of your word-smithing. Just enough to get completely into the story, but then it ends all too soon.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      It may please you to hear that it was just intended as a teaser trailer, so to speak. Right now I’m finishing the first novel in a series with that character.

  4. pdb27127 says:

    I’d buy this book.

  5. Bing says:

    Two howls up to the moon!

  6. Gerry N. says:

    Distribute it on Kindle. Failing that, go PaperBack. So I can afford a copy.

  7. Mike says:

    Very nice! I will definitely buy the book, I’ve already bought into the idea..registered lyconthrope..I like, I like!

  8. velcro8ball says:

    Enjoyed the story and the character. I’ll be looking for the novel.

  9. staghounds says:

    FWIW, these books often short change the process of dealing with the “different” by the wider public, and by specialists. I always wonder about what it’s like to be the curry cooking neighbour, or the person at the lycanthrope registry.

  10. davidc says:

    Very good !

  11. ibex says:

    As a wookie-suiter, I usually flinch at the term “market failure”, but your writenings not being commercially available? EPIC MARKET FAIL right there.

  12. Alan J. says:

    Great story, and I’d buy the paperback. Nice to see another facet of the universe also occupied by Harry Dresden and Monster Hunter International. I’ll enjoy reading the rest of the story to find out how he deals with the Irish mob and protects Charles and his daughter. BTW, why just ‘the daughter’? Giving her a name would be nicer.

  13. Kaerius says:

    I liked it, serious Dresden Files vibe.

  14. spikehamer says:

    Nicely done. Thanks for all the free icecream. I will gladly buy the next bowel.

  15. Me not you says:

    Marko, loved it. I’ll buy it when it hits the street.

  16. Jay G. says:

    Marko,

    Loved it. Seriously. I want an autographed copy when this hits the shelves… :)

  17. Rey Brandt says:

    That was fun! More please? When does the book become available and are you going to have it for e-books? Nook please!

  18. Sebastian says:

    Awesome. Want book.

  19. Donald says:

    Write faster….

  20. cargosquid says:

    Nice. I’d buy it.

  21. Jeffro says:

    That was pretty stinkin’ cool. Good job, Marko!

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