I came up the stairs to my office and found a Velociraptor standing in the corridor.
“You are Jack Hammer, Private Investigator?” He tapped a hooked claw impatiently on the floor and glared up at me from waist level. “I’ve been waiting.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, trying not to stare, as I fished in my pocket for the keys. “I was on a case.” A case of beer, as it happened, and it was still more than half-unfinished. Like most private detectives, I hate leaving cases unfinished. “I’m here now, though.”
“I’ve been waiting,” he repeated. His English was good, but with a distinct Mongolian accent. I suppose that was natural, seeing what he was. “Outside. In the corridor. Is this the way you seek to impress potential clients?”
“Times are tough,” I said, finally finding the keyhole. “I had to let my receptionist go.” Actually, she’d quit after I’d made one advance too many, but the Velociraptor didn’t need to know that. I’d not had money to pay her anyway. “What can I do for you, Mr...ah...”
The Velociraptor didn’t reply immediately. He followed me through the receptionist’s closet, into the inner office, and looked around at the furnishings. One could almost feel his contempt. All right, I admit I’m not rich, so I can’t afford fancy furnishings, or even a reupholstering job. And maybe the ashtray on my desk is full, and I might have remembered to put last night’s bottle of whisky in the wastebasket. But, for Poirot’s sake, that was hardly reason to act as though touching the stuff would give him some kind of disease. You could almost see his feathers twitch.
I threw my Homburg on to the rack and eased myself into my chair. “Please sit down,” I offered, expecting him to stay on his clawed feet.
I was wrong. With only a little difficulty, he hopped on to the visitor’s chair. His long stiff tail poked out from the back, keeping the receptionist’s office door from closing. That didn’t matter, because there was no receptionist. His arms, like stunted wings, rested on the scuffed surface of the desk, long chestnut feathers spread. He tilted his head to one side, all the better to look at me with.
“My name is Jamsakhurgiin Jangezkhan,” the Velociraptor said. “I’m a third secretary in the consulate in this city.”
“Umm?” I asked, still trying not to stare. I’d been in the business long enough not to expect leggy dames whose name spelt out TROUBLE, but, damn.
“And stop staring at me like that,” the Velociraptor snapped. “It’s like you never saw a Velociraptor before.”
“Well, I haven’t, actually,” I admitted. “Not from so close anyway.”
“What were you expecting, something big and scaly like the fakes out of Jurassic Park?” His face couldn’t actually manage a sneer, but he did lift his lip enough to let me know he intended a sneer. “In that case you ought to stick to watching Jurassic Park.” His fangs weren’t large but were legitimately terrifying, and I say that as someone who’s been bitten by more than one barroom brawler with rotting teeth. “Now will you listen to me, or should I go elsewhere?”
The prospect of a job focussed my attention. I got my pencil and notebook and flipped to a fresh page. “Yes, how may I help you?”
“I was told that you were someone who is discreet and tends to get results.” He tilted his head the other way and looked at me some more. “Now, have you heard the news this morning?”
I hadn’t actually touched the news in weeks. There’s only so much coverage of celebrity breakups and car bombings I can take, not to speak of election campaigns. “Yes,” I said cautiously.
“Then you’ll have heard of the death of, uh, Peaches Golddigger.” The Velociraptor sat back as far as his tail would let him, not far. “It’s all over the papers.”
“Peaches Golddigger,” I repeated, making a note.
“Of course, they haven’t given out the details yet. They just said she was found dead. Right?” He twisted his head to look over his shoulder, as though to reassure himself that we weren’t being overheard. “That won’t last. They say she was found dead, but they haven’t yet said she was killed. So this is what I want you to do – before they say anything more, you’re to prove that I didn’t kill her.”
I took a deep breath. “What makes you think anyone will claim you killed her?”
The Velociraptor leant so far over the desk I could smell his breath. It stank of rotting peaches. “She was with me last night, and she was found dead outside my house.”
“She was?” I blinked. “What was she doing in your house?”
He tried to shrug, but the anatomy of his shoulder girdle didn’t allow it. Instead, his head bobbed towards me, teeth and all, and I reared back in alarm. “You know what some human females are like. They go for dinosaurs. They think having us as lovers gives them social cachet.”
I waited. He ruffled his feathers impatiently. I waited some more.
He grew tired of the waiting. “Oh, all right. I thought I might as well try it with a human female. Who’s to know back home, right?” He subsided back into the chair gloomily. “And, anyway, I didn’t like it much. Give me a dinosaur any day, even if it’s a Utahraptor or even a Tarbosaurus.”
“Where did you meet her?” I asked.
“At the party at the consulate last night.” He clicked his jaws together. “I suppose you wouldn’t know about it, though.” He supposed right. They wouldn’t allow the likes of me in through the door there. “It’s one of the opportunities for dinosaurs and humans to mingle, so we make the most of it. She was there, and I got to know her.”
“Somebody introduced you?”
“No, er...” He hesitated. “I’d just got to the party, a bit late. I was held up at the office correcting some mistakes made by my...” he muttered a word that sounded like sghmert. “...of an assistant. I saw her as soon as I entered. She was talking to a boor of a Giganotosaurus. I don’t like him at all, so I went over to see whether I could...”
“Rescue her from him,” I prompted.
“Yes. Rescue her. Well, I can’t stand him, and neither could she, since she came away with me when I said a couple of words. She said I was exotic.”
“Why can’t you stand that Giganotosaurus?” I asked.
“He’s a fourth secretary, and he wants to be promoted. He’s been trying to make things difficult since I arrived. He thinks because he’s been here longer, he’s entitled to my job.”
“Well, did he try and stop her when she came with you?”
“No, how could he? Humans and dinosaurs are free agents. He wasn’t happy, though.” The thought seemed to make him happy. He grinned.
“And what happened afterwards?” I asked.
“Well, we had a couple of drinks, and then she invited herself to my house. She said she’d never slept with a dinosaur before and was looking forward to the experience.” He scratched his neck plumage with a huge hooked claw. “She kept running her hands through my feathers and saying how much she loved the feel.”
“So you went back home with her. How did you go home? Dinosaurs can’t drive.”
“She had a car, but she couldn’t take it into the diplomatic quarter. It’s a car free zone. She drove us up to the entrance and parked it outside. They found it there in the morning, where she’d left it.”
“All right, so you and she got home. What happened after that?” I raised a hand. “I don’t really want all the details. Just the main points.”
“She took off her clothing.” His mouth curved downwards in disgust. “I never knew how naked humans were without clothes before. They look like newborn Velociraptor chicks.” He scratched again, on the other side of his neck, with the other claw. “Then we went to bed and I clasped her in my arms.” He demonstrated. “She wasn’t much of a size, for a human, which is why I could do that. And after that – but you don’t want the details.”
“You said you didn’t enjoy the experience much.” I glanced at my notes. “Did she?”
“As far as I can judge a human’s response, yes, at least at first.” He yawned, displaying a terrifying, but not very large, tooth-studded maw. “Then, after a few hours, she started saying she was feeling – what is the word in your human language? – dizzy?”
“Did she say she was drunk?”
“Drunk? No. She only had a couple of drinks, as I said, and that was long before, in the party. We came back to my house at nine, and this was about one in the morning. No, she said she was feeling dizzy, and wanted to go home.”
“She was shivering a bit too, but then she hadn’t any clothes on, and as I said she was naked like a Velociraptor chick.” He looked down complacently at his chestnut-brown plumage. “Maybe it was cold, but I couldn’t tell the difference.”
“Did you offer to drop her home?” I asked.
“Of course not.” He blinked. “A lady Velociraptor would never forgive that kind of thing. It would...ah, impute...that she couldn’t take care of herself.”
“So what happened then? She got dressed, I imagine?”
“Yes, but she didn’t stop shivering or feeling dizzy. Then she left and I didn’t see her again. I was only told she’d died this morning.”
“But she was found outside your house.”
“Yes – only a few metres away. In fact she was lying in the street, just outside the gate.”
“I see.” I drummed my fingers on the desk. “Who found her?”
“In the morning? The human police do a security patrol at dawn. You know how there are groups among you humans who hate dinosaurs, and who’ve threatened to attack us? That’s why the police make rounds. They found her.”
I made more notes. “You said your house is in the diplomatic quarter?”
“It is. There are plenty of dinosaurs living there.” He seemed to be thinking about something. “My neighbour is the Giganotosaurus I mentioned.”
“Are you accusing him of killing her?”
His nictitating membranes slipped across his eyes several times. “I’m not accusing anyone of anything. All I want you to do is prove me innocent.”
A thought struck me. “Suppose you can’t be proven innocent. You do have diplomatic immunity, right? They can’t do a thing to you except expel you.”
“Yes, well...” Unless I was much mistaken, he looked embarrassed. “The thing is, I’ve only just arrived here. I’m from a village in the back of beyond, without any facilities at all. If I get thrown out it would be right back there, and, you know, I really would rather not do that. It’s dead as a Stegosaurus.”
“All right.” I tapped the pencil on the pad and tried to look as though I didn’t need the job. I’m sure he wasn’t fooled for a moment. “I’ll take you on as a client. My fee is...”
“It doesn’t matter.” He waved a clawed, feathered arm. “My office will pay whatever your fee is. The consulate doesn’t want dinosaurs blamed for a human death either.”
“I understand that.” It had begun to rain. Water made tracks through the crusted dirt on the window and pooled on the sill. The Velociraptor looked at the rain and shuddered.
“Rain,” he said. “I’m going to get wet. I hate getting wet.”
“You’ve got your feathers,” I couldn’t help pointing out, remembering his preening earlier.
“Yes,” he said. “They’re pretty much waterproof, too. But I still hate getting wet.”
Oh well. “I’ll need a couple of more details,” I said, pencil poised over the notebook. “And then I’ll get down to work.”
“Your other case will wait,” he said. It was a statement, not a question.
I thought of the bottles of beer sitting in my flat and sighed. “It will wait.”
As soon as he’d gone, I phoned my journalist friend, Tab Loider. “Friend” might be an exaggeration, but I did buy him a drink a few times a month and give him a scoop when I had one to offer. Like the time I’d been hired to represent the Loch Ness Monster in a defamation suit against filmmakers who showed her to be a murderous beast. The suit, unfortunately, had fallen apart when I couldn’t find a way to prove that the Loch Ness Monster even existed. But Tab had got a lot of material out of that one, his name on the front page for a solid week.
“A Velociraptor named Jamsakhurgiin Jangezkhan,” I asked. “What do you know about him?”
Tab’s voice, never particularly trusting, became as cautious as a man walking past a pool with a hungry Kronosaurus. “Why do you ask?”
“Come on, Tab. You owe me for Nessie, as you know perfectly well.”
“Third secretary at the consulate,” he chanted. “A new arrival, straight out of the yurts; this is his first posting. Lives at –”
“If I wanted all that I could just call the consulate desk,” I said patiently. “I want the real stuff you’re holding back.”
“How do you know I’m holding something back?” he asked.
“Tab,” I sighed, “I may be an unsuccessful shamus who’s likely to be evicted any day for non-payment of rent, but I’m not a total idiot. Some random Velociraptor who’s a third secretary at the consulate, and you know his name and all about him, so you can repeat them to me just like that? How stupid do you think I am?”
There was a long pause. “I can’t talk now,” he replied eventually. “But let’s meet at the usual place in half an hour.”
“I’ll be there,” I said, putting on my Homburg. I didn’t bother taking the notebook. Anything he told me would be strictly off the record anyway.
The usual place was a bar about halfway between his office and mine. I invested some cash in a ordering drinks while I waited. I knew what he’d be drinking and I knew what I’d be drinking. The drinks were always the same.
Tab entered, shaking off water from the shoulders of his raincoat, and slipped into the seat opposite me. “All right. What do you want?”
This was a bit abrupt, even for him. His rat-face was closed, and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He picked up his brandy and swallowed it in two gulps. “Another.”
I ordered another. “I told you what I want. What do you know about Jamsakhurgiin Jangezkhan?”
“Why don’t you wait till tomorrow? You’ll find out all about it in the news for yourself.”
“Because the news isn’t always the truth. Now tell me.”
“He killed a woman last night, didn’t he?” He peered at me over the rim of his glass. “Peaches Golddigger. Tasty Peaches, she was called, and, yes, the reason is what you’d imagine.”
“She was well known, was she?”
“You really never heard of her? You ought to read the celebrity news sometimes, Hammer. I know you don’t move in those circles, and they wouldn’t be seen dead hiring the likes of you – ” This was only the truth, so I didn’t resent it. “But, you need to keep up with it if you want to know what’s going on in this town.”
“So she was a celebrity? What for? Was she an actress?”
He shrugged. “She had a minor role in a film or two. Not much better than softcore porn really. Then she arranged for a sex tape with an ex boyfriend to be leaked, and that got her in the news, which was what she wanted. It got her into a talk show or two. Mostly, she was famous for being famous. Apart from being famous for screwing her way through half the men in the city, of course.”
“Not me,” I said. “I never even heard of her till today.”
“No, working class stiffs weren’t her style. Musicians, models, actors, sports stars...anyone in the news was fair game.”
“And she hadn’t a regular boyfriend or something?”
“Not in recent years, for sure. She wanted variety, and the same man in bed every night isn’t much variety.” He blinked at me. “What else?”
“Where was she from? Any idea?”
“Someplace in the Middle of Nowhere. If she had family there she never went back and as far as I know they never came here looking for her either. Does it matter?”
“I don’t know.” I digested all this information while getting both of us more drinks. I would, naturally, charge them to the Velociraptor. They were a legitimate business expense. “Got a picture of her?”
He showed me one. It wasn’t a professional photo, just a snapshot of her sitting in a rumpled bed. She was very pretty, and also pretty small, as Jamsakhurgiin Jangezkhan had said. She also had nothing on; all the better to see her skin, which was very pale and very clear, and the tattoo of a flowering vine twisting all around one arm with, my dear.
“Lovely,” I said, giving it back. “Where did you get it?”
“Let’s say I have my sources, like you do yours.” He looked smug.
“Is that her bed? Did she live with anyone?”
“All beds look the same to me. As far as I know she’s been living alone. It gave her the freedom to go to someone else’s house whenever she wanted.”
I tried another tack. “You said she was killed by Jangezkhan. Why?”
Tab blinked. “You’re asking seriously? Damn, Hammer, she went home with him, spent the night with him, and was found outside his gate dead. What more do you need?”
“Some evidence, for one thing. How does anyone know she was even killed?”
“Is this why you’re giving me free drinks?” He shook his head in mock sorrow. “I hate to take advantage in such a manner, but, man, you’re going to have to do better than that.”
“What are you talking about, Tab?”
“She was found half eaten. Now you tell me how that happened if nobody killed her?”
“Half eaten?” I repeated.
“That’s right. Didn’t know that, did you?” He grinned with enjoyment and drained his glass. “Rather more than half, really. I think I’d better be going now, because you obviously won’t want to pay for more booze.”
“Wait,” I said. “You’re planning to accuse Jangezkhan in tomorrow’s edition?”
“As soon as the police give us the go ahead. If they don’t, we’ll imply it in terms that leave no doubt who’s responsible.” He saw my expression. “Hey, Hammer, it’s not just us. Everyone in the media will be doing the same. That we held off for one full day is risky enough. Somebody might scoop us.”
“All right,” I said. “But here’s a word of advice. Don’t jump the gun quite yet. There may be last minute developments.”
“Why, are you going to prove Jamsakhurgiin Jangezkhan’s innocent?” He began to laugh, and then his eyes widened in realisation. “That’s what it this is all about, right?”
“Suppose I can prove he’s innocent,” I countered, “and you’re the only people in the media who haven’t accused him? You’d be in the perfect position to make everyone else look stupid. You’ll be able to pose as the voice of reason and justice against a media feeding frenzy.”
He thought about this. “Right, but that depends on his actually being innocent, and, much more importantly, you being able to prove it.”
“I’ll prove it,” I said, though I had no idea how. “Is it a deal?”
“I can’t hold off for long, or it’ll be my job,” he said. “But I’ll hold off till the morning.”
I grinned and signalled for another round of drinks. “Then it’s a deal.”
From the bar I went to the city morgue. I thought about going to the police for ten solid seconds, and decided against it. My reputation with the cops was not great, ever since I’d investigated a software pirating ring that had ended in the death of a couple of coders, and discovered that the chief’s son was ears deep in the business. No, the cops weren’t fond of me. So the morgue it would have to be.
It was a dank evening, and the rain had picked up force. Just the kind of weather, in fact, when people could be expected to leave work early, so one could be reasonably certain of finding the field clear to do some unauthorised snooping around.
The city morgue’s night orderly was, not surprisingly, another contact of mine, though his cooperation wasn’t bought with an occasional glass of alcohol. No, I had to pay him with another currency altogether, though what that is, I’m not going to disclose. You never know who’s listening, and I have a licence and liberty to lose.
The orderly’s name was Cad Aver. I’d dropped in to the, ah, place where I purchased the currency in which I always paid him, so as soon as he opened the door I slipped him the packet.
He checked the contents before he deigned to let me in. “Which one do you want this time?”
I told him. He showed neither interest nor surprise, his waxy face expressionless as one of the corpses in the shelves below. “Come along.”
I went. The morgue was exactly like those you’d see in the movies, so much so that I suspected it had been modelled on one seen in a film. Cad dragged open a shelf and pulled back a cloth. “There.”
It was...messy. I’ve seen dames who’ve been killed in various ways, and it’s never pretty, but this was especially bad. What was left of her was bad, I mean. Fortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of blood.
“What did this?” I asked.
Cad pointed at an arc of deep gashes in the pale flesh. “See for yourself. Toothmarks.”
I looked. There wasn’t much dispute that they were toothmarks, and big and sharp teeth at that. To take my mind off them, I looked at the parts of her that weren’t bitten. The arm with the twined flowering plant tattoo was crossed under one breast. There were dark red dots on the skin of the inside of the arm and the breast, little pink rings around them. I didn’t recall seeing them on the photo Tab had shown me.
I pointed them out to Cad. “What do you think those are? Drug injection tracks?” Though they weren’t like any I’d ever seen. I was just clutching at straws. “Was she a junkie?”
“Hardly drug tracks.” He snorted contemptuously. “They’re just some kind of insect bites. Mosquitoes, maybe.”
I sighed. I really wasn’t getting anywhere. “Has the autopsy been done?”
“Would she be in pieces if it had been? They were busy with the bus accident victims from last night all day.” So that’s why the media hadn’t jumped on the Velociraptor story right away; the bus accident was hotter news right now. “They’ll be doing her tomorrow.”
Tomorrow would be too late, no matter what they found. I shook my head and turned away. “You can put her back.”
Cad flipped the sheet back and slid the drawer closed. “Two packets next time,” he said.
“You heard me. Two packets. The cost of everything is going up.”
It’s a damned shame. Everyone is a mercenary these days.
The Giganotosaurus’ name was Ramon. I finally tracked him down to the Mesozoic Manger, a restaurant which catered largely to a dinosaur clientele. Though it was still raining, a protest group of one of the anti-dinosaur societies was outside in the street, waving flags with a dinosaur silhouette in a barred red circle.
“Don’t go in there,” a bearded young man in a conical woollen cap told me. “That place serves dinosaurs.”
“They serve meat as well,” his girlfriend, a barefoot young woman with lank hair, added. “Monsters!”
A third person, of indeterminate gender – I couldn’t really tell past the curtain of hair and the bead-encrusted clothes – stepped in front of me. “If this sociocultural miscegenation between dinosaurs and humans isn’t halted right now,” he (or she) said, “we’re soon going to have trade treaties and dino immigration, and the next thing we know is all our jobs will be taken by them. Stop it now!”
I pushed past them without pausing to ask whether any of them actually had a job, and headed for the entrance. “Traitor!” the young woman shouted, and threw something at me. It bounced off the pavement and rolled to a stop under a light. I glanced at it. It was a can of meat sauce.
The Giganotosaurus was sitting at the far corner, in the area reserved for large carnivorous dinosaurs, bent over a plate of food. He glanced up briefly under his brow ridges when I slipped into the legally obligatory human seat at the table, and went back to poking at the nodules of food on his plate with his three-clawed hands. The nodules jerked and skittered in vain to get away from him. When he speared one, it would scream.
I watched while he nibbled a couple. “Not hungry?” I asked at last.
He eased himself back and looked down at me. “Who on earth are you, again?”
I introduced myself. “I hope you don’t mind my sharing your table?”
“Legally,” he grumbled, “you have the right to sit here and I can’t do a damn thing about it, no matter whether I mind or not. But I’m only waiting for my friend. He’ll be here any minute and then I’ll be off.”
“Yes, my friend. You don’t mind my having a friend, do you?” Clearly not in the sunniest of moods, Ramon. “Are you here to eat or just bother me?”
“I’d actually wanted to talk to you.” I told him what I did for a living. “I’m investigating the death of Peaches Golddigger.”
“Who?” He blinked at me a couple of times. “Oh, that one. What about her?”
“I’m told you were talking to her at the party last night at the consulate.”
“Maybe I was.” He speared another nodule, stabbed at it viciously until it stopped screaming, and popped it into his mouth. “I fail to see what concern it is of yours, though.”
I shrugged. “She went home with the Velociraptor Jangezkhan, who is a neighbour of yours. This morning she was found dead outside his house. I was just wondering if you’d seen something.”
“Why should I have seen something? I don’t interfere with other people’s business, be they dinosaur or human.” He was clearly getting annoyed, but given his enormous size there wasn’t even another table he could shift to. “What’s your interest in this, anyway? Was she your woman or something?”
“No. I’m just investigating her death for a friend.”
Before Ramon could answer, if he had any intention of answering, that is, there was a sudden commotion in the street. From where I was sitting I could see out through the large front window, at the crowd of anti-dinosaur protestors and their flags. Now they were suddenly scattering as though before a battering ram.
I wasn’t completely mistaken; it was a kind of battering ram.
The Carnotaurus came out of the darkness. He came on long, springy, muscular legs, low to the ground, his long stiff tail lashing out behind. He swung his head to left and right, his sharp brow horns ripping at the banners, the protestors breaking and running before him. One of them threw something; the Carnotaurus plucked it out of the air with a hand, shook it, and flung it away. He paused a moment at the entrance, as though defying the protestors to return, but they’d apparently had enough. Apart from a woollen cap on the pavement and a few ragged signs, the street was empty.
The Carnotaurus grunted happily and walked over to the table. “I hate those twits,” he announced. “I’ve been waiting to make an impression on them for months.”
“You didn’t harm any of them, did you, Jorge?” the Giganotosaurus, Ramon, asked anxiously. “There might be...complications...if you did.”
“Of course I didn’t,” the Carnotaurus said, “Credit me with a little sense.” He bent an eye at me. “Who’s your friend, Ramon?”
“He’s not my friend. Just some human who insisted on sitting here. I told him I’d be leaving as soon as you got here.”
“Oh, but I don’t want to leave right away.” The Carnotaurus sat down. “I’d like to sit down for a bit first.”
There was something very strange about him. Right from the time I’d seen him in the street, something had been nagging at me, and I suddenly realised what it was. He’d caught whatever it was that the protestors had thrown at him. He’d caught it with his hands.
In most dinosaurs this would not have been anything remarkable. But Carnotauruses, as everyone knows, have no hands – just vestigial stumps with nubs for fingers. How had Jorge done it, then?
He’d done it because he had arms. At first, because they were coloured like his armoured skin, I hadn’t noticed them, but now, peering at him, I could see that they were artificial, and held on by some arrangement of suction cups over the bases of his vestigial stumps.
“Nice,” I said. “I’ve never seen those before.”
Jorge looked at me, clearly flattered. “I just got them. I never realised how crippled I was before.” He raised his new arms to demonstrate. “I control them with buttons at my fingertips.”
“I didn’t know they made them.”
“I’ve wanted them for a long time. It’s a custom job, and very expensive. I couldn’t afford them before.”
Ramon was clearly getting impatient at our talk. “He’s a detective,” he said. “He’s been asking me about that woman who got killed last night in my neighbourhood. You know, the one the papers mentioned this morning.”
“Is that so?” The Carnotaurus tilted his head to look at me with real interest. “I’ve never met a detective before.”
“He wants to know whether I saw something. I was just telling him that I –”
“Were you at the party too, Jorge?” I interrupted.
“No, I’m not a consulate employee. But Ramon came to my house after the party like he often does. We spent the night watching films and drinking.”
“There you are,” the Giganotosaurus replied. “Why don’t you ask that pipsqueak of a Velociraptor what happened?”
There was a brief pause. I looked from one to the other and realised I’d got as much as I’d get from them. “Thank you, gentlemen,” I said, rising. “I’ll wish you a good night, then.”
They were already deep in conversation by the time I reached the door. Ramon was peering down at Jorge’s new arms, and for some reason he didn’t look very happy about them.
There were only a couple of loose ends to tie up. I first went to the library. The reference section was about to close, but I was lucky and found what I wanted in a book on dinosaur biology. It wasn’t exactly as much blind luck as it might seem – I’d known exactly what I was looking for, but it was nice to be sure.
From the library I went to have a look at the diplomatic quarter. There was a barrier at the entrance, with an armed guard. Beyond him, the tree-lined, deep-shadowed avenues of the diplomatic quarter, already totally silent at this time of evening.
I sauntered over to chat with him, but he was having none of it. “State your business. Do you want to visit someone?”
I didn’t want to visit anyone. “Can you tell me if anyone came in here last night at...”
He raised a hand impatiently. “Only residents and approved visitors are allowed inside. Either state your business or go away.”
I went away. I went back to the office and made a few phone calls.
The first was to Jangezkhan. He picked up at once, as though he’d been waiting for the call.
Apparently, he had. “Any news?” he demanded, as soon as he heard my voice.
“I need to ask you a couple of questions.” I paused, trying to think of a way of asking them that wouldn’t sound offensive. “You said you hadn’t offered to drop Peaches Golddigger home. What did you do after she left?”
“I went to sleep, of course. Right away.” He paused briefly, and I heard the rustle of his claw scratching his plumage. “It had been a long day. The next thing I knew, it was morning and the police were banging on the door.”
“All right. This is my second question.” I looked through the window, where the rain had slackened to a drizzle. “You said you hate getting wet. So how do you, er, maintain hygiene?”
“I fail to see what business it is of yours,” he informed me, “but I take dust baths. You should try them sometime. They’re very refreshing.”
“Ah,” I said. “Thank you. Could you come to my office, please?”
“At this time of night? Why on earth?”
“Nothing much.” I paused. “I have just solved the case, that’s all.”
“You’ve solved the case?” he yelped. “Who did it?”
“Come over to my office,” I said, “and I’ll talk about it.”
Next I called Tab Loid. “Remember what we talked about? Come to my office, and come ready for your scoop. Right away.”
Then I sat back in my chair and had some of the whisky left in the bottle. I thought I’d earned it.
“Peaches Golddigger,” I said, “was a woman who was always headed for disaster.”
Jangezkhan and Tab stared at me from across the desk. They’d evidently met before, and had greeted each other with cool hostility, unbending a little only when I told them that they’d be the making of each other’s career. “So what?” the Velociraptor asked. “How does that help us?”
“I’m just setting the scene,” I told him. “Anyway, as I said, she seemed to live for sexual gratification. A woman like that takes risks that inevitably catch up at some point.”
“So?” Tab asked. He and Jangezkhan seemed to be uniting in impatience. Maybe it would be the start of a beautiful friendship.
“So, she began taking risks that she couldn’t have been unaware of. In all probability, the risks added to the thrill. But she was also rapidly bored.”
“I told you all this already,” Tab said. “Get to the point.”
“I am getting to the point. She’d got bored with humans, so it struck her that she ought to try dinosaurs. Sexual relations between dinosaurs and humans, after all, aren’t illegal. Right?”
“They aren’t illegal,” Tab admitted, and Jangezkhan nodded.
“So she got herself invited to the consulate party, which wasn’t hard since she was a celebrity. She was chatting up dinosaurs, evaluating them as possible conquests. But they were all too big, or something else was wrong with them. She was beginning to think she’d made a mistake when Jangezkhan here turned up.” We both turned to look at him. “And he went right to her, because she was talking to a Giganotosaurus called Ramon, whom he hated.”
“I never said I hated him,” Jangezkhan protested.
“The euphemism you might prefer to use isn’t that important. Basically, you had little interest in the woman, but seeing her with Ramon aroused your desire to get your own back at him for the way in which he’d been giving you trouble at work. So you went up and began talking to her. Of course, you weren’t to know that she’d look at you and immediately decide you were what she was looking for.”
Neither of them said anything. I took a meditative sip of the whisky.
“You were fairly surprised at the alacrity with which she came away with you, and, in fact, insisted on going to your house right away. Not repelled, no, but you weren’t exactly overwhelmed with joy either, and didn’t enjoy the experience nearly as much as she did. It must have been a relief when, after a few hours, she started feeling sick and dizzy all of a sudden and decided to go home. Wasn’t it?”
Jangezkhan nodded. “I told you all this already,” he said. “How is this of any help?”
“How do you imagine it isn’t? You seem to have forgotten the Giganotosaurus, Ramon. Not only is he your rival at the office, he’s your neighbour as well, and he can’t have been overwhelmed with pleasure that you took away the woman. It wasn’t that he was sexually interested in her – he was about twenty times bigger than her, for one thing – but the humiliation of having her taken away by you in public must have rankled. Exactly as you intended it to.”
He didn’t try to deny it.
“So Ramon sat in his house, brooding, and looking across the street at your place, and he saw the girl come out in the small hours and start walking down the street...”
“You mean...” Jangezkhan scratched his neck. I was getting tired of the scratching. “You mean Ramon killed her?
“No! He’s terrified of ‘complications’ that might jeopardise his position. He was merely watching when he saw her collapse in the street. She probably fell down in one of those heavily-shaded parts of the street, under those big old trees you have. He watched for a while, waiting for her to get up and get going, but she didn’t. So – still seething from his humiliation – he went to see if she needed help, so he could redeem himself as a Good Samaritan.
“But she was dead. When he found her she was already dead.” I paused to take another sip of whisky. “Ramon isn’t a particularly bright thinker, but it came to him at that moment that this was his big chance to get rid of you. All he had to do was frame you. So he did.”
“How?” Tab asked.
“He ate part of her – in fact more than half of her – and threw the rest in front of Jangezkhan’s gate. At that time of night it was fairly safe, because nobody was about. He then cleaned up the blood and went home, thinking the job was done.
“Only it wasn’t. It was only after getting home that he realised that he might as easily be a suspect, and that he needed an alibi. So he contacted his friend, a Carnotaurus named Jorge, for the alibi. Jorge, unfortunately, wanted something in return. Artificial arms. Very expensive artificial arms. And Ramon had to pay for them. He had no choice.”
“How do you know all this?” Tab demanded.
“I’ve seen Jorge with the arms. If you check your sources in the banks, I can assure you that Ramon’s account will show a withdrawal today that’s equivalent to what a pair of custom built arms for a Carnotaurus might cost. Of course, even with the alibi, he wasn’t anywhere near safe, and I think by this afternoon he’d realised it.
“He’d made another enormous mistake, you see. Jangezkhan’s a real Velociraptor. As he pointed out when we first met, he’s not some bit of made up rubbish from Jurassic Park. In fact, a lot of the facts in this case suddenly made sense when I remembered that this is nothing like Jurassic Park.
“Jangezkhan,” I continued, “may have a set of impressive teeth, but he’s small. Not only could he not have made the enormous gashes I saw on the body, he couldn’t possibly have eaten so much of the corpse. It would have added up to nearly his own weight! In fact, if the media weren’t so eager to jump the gun and pander to the anti-dinosaur lobby...” I glanced at Tab. “The very ridiculous, very ineffectual anti-dinosaur lobby...if the media, as I said, had bothered to wait until the autopsy were performed, there would not be a case for Jangezkhan to answer to, and the finger of suspicion would point directly towards some very large dinosaur. I imagine even the police would put two and two together and think of Ramon, even if they couldn’t prove it. After all, entry into the diplomatic quarter is restricted – outsiders, even dinosaurs, can’t come in without the permission of residents. So it had to be either a resident or an approved visitor. And, of course, the autopsy would likely also point to the fact that she’d already been dead when she was mauled. But you media people aren’t willing to wait.”
“It’s the competition,” Tab protested.
“Yes. But that doesn’t change a damned thing. Just as it doesn’t change the fact that Jangezkhan was responsible for her death.”
They both sat up straight when I said that. “That’s a lie!” the Velociraptor shouted. “I didn’t hurt her.”
“Of course you did. Just not knowingly, or deliberately.” I looked at him. “Exactly why do you keep scratching yourself?”
He blinked. “What?”
“It’s parasites, isn’t it? Dinosaur lice. You might have been able to wash them off or drown them if you bathed, but you hate water. You prefer to wallow in dust.” I didn’t try to hide the disgust in my voice. “And dinosaur lice, like other ectoparasites, carry all kinds of germs. I was reading in the library today about the kinds of disease they carry.
“It wouldn’t matter, normally. You’ve got immunity to the diseases, and the lice normally stay on your body under the feathers. But when you were with Peaches Golddigger, as you told me, you embraced her with your arms. You could do that because she was small. And, of course, she was naked, and the lice took the chance to taste the new blood. They likely didn’t enjoy the taste, because they went right back to you instead of hanging around on her. But they did bite her, on her arms and breasts. I saw the marks on her body.
“And when they bit her, they spat the germs into her blood. Germs to which she had no immunity whatsoever. She’s not a dinosaur, and she’s never been to Mongolia.”
There was a long silence.
“I suggest,” I said, “that you, Mr Jangezkhan, have yourself deloused, and get over your fear of water. Unless you do that, you are a danger to any humans you may contact, and in all conscience I could not recommend your continuing to reside among us. As for Ramon...” I looked from one of them to the other. “I suppose he could be unofficially warned that we know exactly what happened, and that unless he stops trying to unseat Jangezkhan here, the facts will be made known to the proper authorities. All right?”
“And what about me?” Tab wailed. “What do I tell the readers?”
“That Peaches Golddigger was responsible for her own death,” I said. “What else can you tell them?”
And you know what? It wasn’t even a lie.
The next morning I arrived at the office to find a crowd in the street. They were all staring at a large Tyrannosaurus, who was looking distinctly annoyed at their gawking.
“Are you Jack Hammer?” she asked, ruffling her feathers. “I have been waiting for you. Is this the way you want to impress new clients, by making them wait while a crowd of cretins gathers to watch?”
I sighed. “I was finishing a case,” I said.
And, once more, it wasn’t a lie.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016