Disclaimer: So very not mine. Ahahaha.
Notes: My entry for the 2008 DS_Match challenger over at ds_flashfiction. I was on Team Whimsy who, for the record, ruled all over the house (and garden, too). My prompt was What do you mean, they did it?
The things that wake Ray up are the smells. He’s just about levered himself up from true sleep into that pleasant, half awake state, where a person is just conscious enough to know that he’s mostly still asleep (and warm and comfortable and hopefully post-coital), and taken a deep breath and then—then—someone crashes an Amtrak train into his nose.
Jesus fuck! Ray yelps as he sits bolt upright and tries to clap his hands over his nose. He feels strangely clumsy, can’t move his fingers and everything is monochrome and mostly out of focus and not like his apartment at all.
There must be a fire.
Standing doesn’t seem to be happening (smoke inhalation? Carbon monoxide? It’s not like he has the fucking brain cells to waste), so Ray crawls across a floor that looks nothing like his worn carpet, into a living room that looks a lot less lived in than usual, and makes for the cracked open window that lets onto the fire escape as fast as he can.
The window seems like it’s almost up by the ceiling and Ray has to work to push it open and lurch himself over the sill and on to the cold metal lattice of the fire escape.
Which isn’t there.
Ray has a brief moment of what the hell? and scrabbling desperately for the wall before he lands head first in an ornamental rose bush. It’s when he’s falling sideways out of the bush to land on the damp soil of the flower bed that whoever drove the train into his nose sets his sinuses on fire.
At this point, Ray gives the morning up as a bad deal and loses consciousness.
Waking up for the second time, Ray finds himself nose-to-brick with a wall. While it’s not the first time that this has happened, it is the first time that the wall has been bordered by an aggressively neat and polite flower bed. It’s also the first time that a hangover has decided to centre itself in his nose.
Lying on his side, pretty sure that if he tries to sit up his face will fall off, Ray considers his options. Something is definitely queer and it’s taking too long for his brain to put together just what it is. Ray’s perception of time also seems to be off: he can feel his heartbeat in every cheese grater thump to his nose and it’s not racing or erratic and part of him is insisting that it’s normal, but… it’s going too fast.
Groaning, Ray decides that he’s actually going to have to get up and see if the world makes more sense that way. All of his muscles feel cramped and strange and rolling onto his belly and pushing himself onto his hands and knees results in the world pitching forwards and backwards and giving Ray a clear view of his hands.
Which are, in fact, paws.
Ray tries to shout fuck, then tries to grab at his mouth when what comes out isn’t a word but a sound like Diefenbaker makes when the last donut doesn’t become his, then plants himself face first into the soil of the flowerbed because bipedal isn’t an option anymore.
Struggling to his feet (all four of them, Christ) Ray stumbles in the direction of the front gate of the building—it’s the Consulate, which is about the only thing making sense so far. Ray pushes through air that’s like bands of syrup impregnated with smoke and spiky bursts of conflicting scent, until he’s standing on the sidewalk, staring at his reflection in the shiny chrome hubcap of an illegally parked car.
His vision is… not fuzzy, like the world when he doesn’t have his glasses on, but it is strangely lacking in fine focus and colour. There’s no denying what is right in front of his nose, though. Staring back at him from the hubcap (eyes wide and mouth gaping open slightly in shock) is Diefenbaker’s face.
Ray moans, the sound transmitting weirdly through his wolf-shaped skull, bringing to his attention that the world around him sounds strange and muffled: all bass tones and vibrations, nothing treble at all.
What can he do? Ray’s brain is a chaotic jumble of confusion and memory and sensory input that’s bewildering in the extreme. The world flexes and presses in around Ray and he does the only thing that presents itself as clear and focused: he runs.
The air streaming around him is cold; the sounds are thrumming; the sidewalk is hard and coarse. Ray’s body is like one big spring and he’s never felt this fast or free, not even behind the wheel of his GTO with nothing but empty road ahead.
He isn’t sure how long he runs for. It’s long enough that the sun goes from just beyond the city-lined horizon to hovering over the blanket of urban smog. He gets used to the monochrome vision and the distorted hearing and begins to get a handle on the fact that the entire universe is trying to climb up his nose and scribble graffiti on his brain.
Finally, when his limbs are fizzing all over with energy Ray bounces to a stop and crowds in close to the front of a building because everything is so strange and alien. Across the street: that’s his apartment building, looking all wonky from his new perspective. Crossing the street is an unnerving experience and the firmly closed front door is an insurmountable barrier.
The fire escape, once Ray has edged cautiously into the alleyway (the smells now have colours in his brain, like his memory is struggling to match experiences, and the bins are surrounded by lime and acid yellow, all jagged and starburst in the air), looms above him and it takes Ray a couple of goes to remind himself that Dief usually bounds up and down the thing like it’s on the horizontal, and that since he seems to be Dief, it shouldn’t be that impossible. Right?
Ray shuffles his feet and lines himself up with the ladder as best as he can. Firmly telling himself that it’ll be a walk in the park, Ray rushes towards the ladder and then leaps—and it’s terrifying.
Paws do not have thumbs and cannot grip and Ray finds himself kicking and flailing his way upwards, counting his blessings every time a foot catches on some metal work and delays his fall to the trash littered ground and probably a broken skull.
Finally—finally—Ray reaches the platform outside his window and collapses in a heap of gasping breaths and adrenaline. Diefenbaker must be insane. Ignoring the delicate rust-coloured latticework that his nose insists hangs above the metal grid platform (shot through with trash-green and curls of something unidentifiable and blue) Ray unsteadily gains his feet and almost sits down with relief when he realises that the window is cracked open enough for something wolf-sized to fit through.
The unidentifiable blue turns out to be the turtle tank. Ray eyeballs it uncertainly as he picks his way across the floor. Maybe he should vacuum when he has hands again.
Standing outside his own bedroom doorway is a strange, strange experience and Ray can’t quite complete the movement that will push open the door. He’s almost certain that he can hear breathing in the room and the implications of that are not comfortable ones. Just as Ray has about convinced himself to kick at the door with one foot, it’s yanked inwards and something large is right there in front of him. There’s a confusion of sound and scent, a tangling of too many limbs and then Ray is sprawled on the floor staring at someone who looks remarkably like him.
“Heeeeey!” The sounds are garbled, but they’re still recognisably words. Ray makes an embarrassing yelping sound as the not-him lurches closer and pats him on the head. “Fingers are cool.”
“Hello, Ray!” Diefenbaker arranges his new body into a contorted position that looks thoroughly uncomfortable and beams widely. “Bathrooms are a lot more difficult than they look.”
What the hell happ—wait, what?
“Taps are hard.” Dief rolls onto his side and stretches out his legs. “And being you is weird.”
Screw ‘weird’, how about ‘totally fucked up’? I’m a dog!
Does it really matter? I’m running around on four legs, my eyesight is even more crap and everything seems to want to explain itself by shoving itself up my nose!
Dief pulls a strange face. “Yeah, humans really can’t smell anything. I always thought Boss was exaggerating.”
You really talk to Fraser?
“Well, sure. You do, don’t you?”
Yeah, but I’m human. Dief let out a bark of laughter and Ray groans: You know what I mean!
“Boss is going to think that this is really cool.”
Are you delusional?
Dief performs another rolling contortion that Ray is sure is going to have him in physiotherapy once this is all sorted out and yawns. “Well, I guess you want to get back to your soft body and stupid senses. Boss is good at things like this.”
Ray gapes, not entirely sure which part of that to attack first: Diefenbaker’s implications that his body isn’t all that much, or the fact that Fraser will apparently be totally blasé about having his partner and his wolf swap bodies.
“Hey, you don’t look so hot.”
I just…if my body’s so crappy, why aren’t you more eager to get out of it?
A satisfied sound. “Hands mean opening things. Things that contain donuts and candy. And cheese.”
Ray whips his head around and stares in the direction of his kitchen. He can see enough to confirm that either Chicago is experiencing its very own version of the Biblical plagues or Dief has ripped through everything he can find. The air also smells like a Rorschach test designed by a schizophrenic.
You trashed my place?
“I was hungry.”
You trashed my place?
I don’t believe this!
Diefenbaker looks contemplative. “It is sort of strange.”
You’re telling me. Ray slumps to the floor and debates trying to hide his head under his paws.
“Boss’ll know what to do.”
Are you sure he won’t freak out?
Dief grins. “Oh, you haven’t met Dead Man. Boss’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Ray lifts his head and squints at Dief, then sighs. I don’t want to know.
“Come on, let’s go find Boss!”
Dief clambers to his feet and shambles towards the front door of the apartment.
Wait! Ray yelps and launches himself after him, just managing to insert his body between Dief’s legs and the door before he can open it. You can’t go out like that!
“What?” Dief looks honestly confused.
Clothes! You need to put some clothes on. Do you have any idea what’ll happen if Mrs. Paluki sees me practically naked? Not to mention the walking around outside thing!
“But you are practically naked; you have fur and I do have clothes on.” Dief plucks at the faded blue boxer shorts that Ray fell asleep in last night.
Not enough. Nowhere near enough.
Dief sighs and turns back towards the bedroom. “I get to pick; colour vision is fun. Not too sure about the hearing, though.” He sticks a finger in his left ear and wiggles it vigorously.
“Yeah. Everything seems all low down, which is the same, but it sounds all high up. I’d got used to not having the high-up stuff. Makes it easier to sleep.” Dief transfers his attention to the other ear.
So you lie to Fraser about being deaf? This is why I can hear you?
“For a wolf, you are deaf.”
Fine, just make sure you put on enough. And shoes: you have to wear shoes.
Ray waits outside the bedroom because, although it’s his body, he really doesn’t need to see it under the control of a wolf that thinks fine cuisine is eating everything in the kitchen, packaging included. So he misses most of the ensuing fight Dief has with his wardrobe and only gets to see the result which is Dief, almost correctly dressed in odd boots, a loose pair of jeans and a t-shirt that Ray doesn’t even remember buying, wearing a rebellious expression.
“I do not like laces or buttons. And I hate zippers.”
Hey! You didn’t damage anything did you?
“No.” Dief waves his hands around. “But they are hard and stupid and I do not like them at all. Now can we go and see Boss?”
You need my keys—on the table next to the phone—and you should probably take my cell too.
Dief’s eyes light up. “Keys? Car keys? Does that mean I get to drive the car?”
No! Whereas most of Ray’s speech up until now has consisted of body movements and occasional soft sounds, this one is underscored with a loud bark. There is no way in hell that I’m letting a speed freak of a wolf kidnap my car as well as my body! We can walk to the consulate.
Diefenbaker vents a mournful sigh but doesn’t protest as he holds open the apartment door for Ray and then follows him down the stairs (nowhere near as bad as the fire escape, but still not Ray’s favourite thing).
They’ve only walked about three blocks before Dief starts complaining about Ray’s body’s stamina (laughable), posture (impractical) and balance (unforgivable), the ridiculousness of the human body in general and the fact that humans managed to become the dominant species on the planet in particular.
You’re one to talk. You see the world through your nose. Every moment is like having lead bricks smashed into your face. It’s no wonder wolves aren’t the masters of the planet: you’re too busy sitting around trying to figure out whether it’s a garbage truck or a school bus that’s about to drive up your left nostril.
The argument lasts them up to the front door of the consulate and Ray stares at the dark wood of the door with some trepidation. Dief shows no such reticence and bursts excitedly through the door.
“Ray?” Fraser’s voice comes from the direction of his office and Ray has to scramble after Dief as he bounces off in that direction. As it is, Ray only just arrives in time to see Dief pounces on Fraser, sniff noisily at the side of his neck and let loose with another loud “heeeey!”
“Ray!” Fraser exclaims, pushing away and giving actually-Diefenbaker a shocked look. “Are you feeling well?”
“Life is great, Boss! There were donuts and cheese from the fridge. It was awesome.”
Fraser does a creditable impression of a landed fish and looks between Ray and Dief.
Your wolf has trashed my apartment, Ray says with some feeling. And being a dog sucks.
“Hands are awesome. They open things. Things with food.”
Fraser backs around his desk until he can sit down on his chair, expression firmly stuck in ‘shocked’ and one hand rubbing the back of his neck. Dief makes a beeline for Fraser’s cot and arranges himself on it in a way that would have Ray blushing if he could because, hey—thinking about that kind of thing while jerking off and actually seeing it from the outside because your body is possessed by a wolf? Not the same thing at all.
Ray’s attempt at embarrassed throat clearing comes out as an even more embarrassing whine and he sinks to the floor and gives some thought to trying to hide under Fraser’s desk.
“Am I to, ah, understand that you have, ah—”
Swapped bodies? Got it in one.
No, it sucks. It really, really sucks. Also, Fraser? Why does your wolf sound like a surfer dude?
“I fear that he’s been over exposed to American television.” Fraser seems to answer the question automatically, his brain obviously on autopilot as he tries to process the bizarre situation. “But, how did this happen?”
Ray fights the urge to settle over on his side. Just because he’s a wolf, it doesn’t follow that he’s going to go around exposing himself like Dief seems to be. Speaking of which… Ray shoots a glance at Dief, who is now absorbed in playing with his hair. Ray didn’t bother with showering last night; he was so wiped that he simply fell into bed, figuring that he could wash in the morning, so his hair is still heavy with styling gel.
Hey, watch the hair.
“It feels funny. How can you walk around with all this stuff in?”
Quite easily. Really? Watch the hair. You’ve already trashed my kitchen.
“I was hungry.”
Ray’s stomach growls loudly, making him start. There is no way in hell I’m eating kibble.
“I… will see what I can find in the kitchen.” Fraser stands up and edges around the desk, keeping it between himself and Ray and Dief as if he’s not entirely sure what to expect. If Ray wasn’t becoming acutely paranoid about being naked under the fur (thick but not thick enough. Several feet would not be thick enough), then he’d probably be more sympathetic.
Relocating to the kitchen, Fraser alternates between rattling around in the cupboards and darting glances towards the kitchen table (Dief has draped himself over most of a chair and the table top and Ray is sitting on the floor, feeling utterly ridiculous) and remembers that his question from before hasn’t been answered.
“Ray, what happened?”
Ray is kind of disconcerted at the way that Fraser focuses all of his attention on him. It really brings home that he’s speaking with his whole body rather than just his voice and Ray just hopes that his tail and ears aren’t going to start talking to Fraser on their own because there are certain things that Ray would want to keep quiet, even if he wasn’t currently a wolf.
I don’t know! I just woke up because I felt like someone had smacked me in the nose with the city, fell out of a window and then ended up at my place where I found him trashing the joint.
“I was not trashing, I was hungry.”
“I think we should go down to the precinct and review your open cases.”
Fraser sighs. “Because I suspect that it would be the most logical place to start. Sandwich?”
Ray looks down at the plate Fraser set on the floor in front of him and gulps it down the sandwich (wholemeal bread, no butter, turkey) in about three bites.
Three hours later, Ray is seriously looking for a wall that isn’t hidden behind filing cabinets so he can beat his head against it. Fraser had suggested that they take refuge in one of the records rooms after retrieving the case files from the vicinity of Ray’s desk. Given how Dief seems to be going for an advanced award in creative lounging that was a very good idea.
Dief and Ray are both lying in the dust on the floor—Dief because he seems to have an objection to being any more vertical than absolutely necessary, Ray because wolf eyes apparently aren’t so good for reading typewritten reports—and Fraser is searching through the files for the fifteen cases that Ray currently has open.
“How were the Aldouin brothers when you interviewed them?”
“Because it appears that Louis has ties to the spiritual side of the local Haitian community.”
Spiritual as in?
You mean like a witch doctor?
“Well, traditionally, Ray, ‘witch doctor’ is something of a misnomer—”
Fraser, can we discuss this later? Like when I’m me again?
“Oh, of course.” Fraser coughs and leafs through the papers spread on the desk in front of him. “You suspect that Louis is involved in smuggling drugs?”
Well, yeah. You’ve been looking at the evidence for the past half hour. Ray shifts his weight from side to side and utterly fails to shrug. So, what; are we going to investigate Louis?
“Doing something would be fun.” Dief nudges Ray repeatedly with one foot.
“Yes, thank you Diefenbaker.”
Reading the air is getting easier—Fraser’s insistence on walking everywhere actually being good for something—and Ray’s brain seems to have settled for giving him colour vision on the inside of his head to compensate for the monochrome fuzziness of his actual vision, which is actually helpful rather than confusing. Noses can also see through time: Ray’s world is the sharp immediacy of the here and now painted over a complex layering of ghost places and once-were people, the whole day of the city his for the reading.
Dief has finally stopped sniffing lamp posts and fire hydrants, so they’re no longer getting strange looks from passers-by. Ray is counting his blessings, however small.
“This is the address we have for Louis Aldouin, Ray.” Fraser gestures at the dilapidated apartment block.
Ray points his nose at the scarred and peeling door and inhales. Red and black, sort of like a chess-board pattern, are the two old men that had spent most of the morning sitting on the front steps and are only just now rounding the corner of the block, probably on the way to the liquor store to stock up on cheap bourbon. Off lemon is the old linoleum in the communal entryway; muddy brown and grey are the dirt ground into it. Glittering above all of these smells (and the myriad others) is a purple-green smell that is rich and chemical. Ray realises with a start, that he recognises the smell, although he’s never experienced it quite like this.
Hey! I can smell cocaine.
Fraser sniffs experimentally, head cocked to one side. “I will trust you on that, Ray. You have, after all, got the better nose.”
Yeah, remind me, why don’t you. Ray brushes past Diefenbaker, who is trying (without success) to stop slouching with intent.
Predictably, once inside the building, Ray discovers that the elevators are broken.
Typical. The universe hates me.
“Actually, given that your centre of gravity is located evenly between four limbs, your balance should be much better than usual. Navigating precipitous surfaces should be considerably easier for you.”
Fraser? Stairs suck. Stairs suck big time. Just ask Dief. Ray spares a glance for Diefenbaker, who is slowly climbing the stairs, his expression set in a grimace of concentration and one hand firmly on the rusty handrail.
The Aldouin brother’s shared apartment is on the top floor, and Ray spends the last flight of stairs wading through aurora-bright waves of smell, feeling as if he should be getting hyped from the sheer stench of cocaine.
The apartment on the end, come on.
Ray forges ahead until he remembers that, yeah, wolf, and he has to stop and let Fraser be the one who stops in front of the door and knocks. Ray and Dief stand behind him and exchange dark comments about staircases.
There are no sounds to indicate the apartment is occupied and Ray edges forwards until he can press his nose to the gap between the door and the jamb. He can smell old carpets and second hand furniture, the hints of three absent people and a rich, overpowering smell like a rainbow inside Ray’s head.
Jeez. Ray backs away from the door and sneezes, trying without success to clear his nose. I thought incense smelled bad to human noses.
Fraser inhales thoughtfully. “It is a rather overpowering odour. I imagine that it’s homemade rather than being a commercial brand, given the rather unusual top notes.”
If you mean the purples, then yeah, unusual is one word for it.
Another round of knocking produces no response and Fraser clears his throat. “There doesn’t appear to be anyone in at moment, Ray. It’s rather late, perhaps we should come back tomorrow?”
Fraser, I want to be me again.
“I understand Ray, but there is a limit to what we can do. We can’t gain access to the apartment without a warrant, and it’s very doubtful that a judge will issue a warrant based on the testimony of a half-wolf.”
“Yeah, humans are stupid like that.” Diefenbaker sits down next to Ray and slings one arm around him. “Can we get some food? I’m hungry.”
If you make me fat, Dief, I will bite your ankles.
“Come on, Ray,” Fraser says. “Let’s go home.”
Home turns out to be Ray’s place. Fraser doesn’t deem it wise to leave either Ray or Diefenbaker alone, and fitting all three of them into Fraser’s office at the Consulate would present some difficulties. Fraser even voluntarily orders pizza (with pineapple) and divides it between the three of them with minimal fuss.
Ray gives Fraser a suspicious look, but makes sure to bite off a large mouthful and chew it thoroughly before asking; Who are you and what have you done with the real Fraser?
“I thought that the familiar food would be a comfort to you, Ray.” Fraser has to pitch his voice to be heard over Diefenbaker’s enthusiastic assault on his own slices of pizza.
Everything tastes hinky, but thanks anyway.
“It tastes great!” Dief sprays crumbs down his front as he gestures with sauce smeared fingers. “Pizza is the best thing ever.”
You’re cleaning that up, you know.
Dief pulls a face, sprawls out on the rug next to the coffee table and begins to lick his fingers clean.
“I do apologise, Ray.” Fraser puts his own plate down and makes an abortive attempt to stand up, only to have Ray scoot in front of him and lean against his knees.
No way. He’s getting such a kick outta having hands? He can do something useful with them. Ray glares up at Fraser until he settles back into the couch, a faint smile ghosting across his face, the citrus-scent of amusement spiralling around his shoulders.
“As you wish, Ray.”
Yeah, I wish. And I wish to sit on the couch and watch the game. Ray makes good on his statement: jumping onto the couch, turning in a circle twice before settling down.
The amusement smell around Fraser intensifies and Ray drops his head onto his paws with a moan.
I just went in circles like a dog, didn’t I?
“Yes, Ray. I’m afraid you did.”
Greatness. Just… great.
“We’ll get this all sorted out, Ray.” Fraser reaches over and begins to gently scratch the top of Ray’s head and around his ears.
Ray twitches and gives Fraser a startled look; his hand drops away and the smell around him becomes more metallic. Embarrassment, Ray realises as Fraser’s cheeks flush.
“I, ah, do apologise. I’m afraid that it’s something of a habit when Diefenbaker is upset and body memory is somewhat difficult to overcome at times, not that that is in anyway an excuse—”
“And it has been and long and confusing day—for you more so than myself, I know—and I’m really very sorry—”
“—endeavour to keep the facts straight in my head and my hands to myself.”
I don’t mind, Fraser.
“Oh.” Fraser coughs and the smell of embarrassment fades upwards like evaporating water.
It’s actually one of the most normal feeling things about today, Ray says quietly.
“Thank you, Ray,” Fraser sounds pleased and, after a moment of hesitation, reaches over and continues to scratch Ray’s ears.
A happy Fraser, Ray discovers with some surprise, smells like buttered popcorn and melting sugar.
The next morning sees the three of them back at the Aldouin apartment: Fraser standing to attention in front of the door as he knocks, while Ray wrinkles his nose at the sharp purple-green threading through the air and Diefenbaker slouches against the wall and grumbles under his breath about his aching back (despite being warned, Dief fell asleep on the floor and couldn’t be woken up. Whichever chiropractor Ray ends up seeing when this is all over is going to love him).
The scratched wooden door creaks open, letting out a gust of warm-rich-chocolate air and allowing a suspicious brown eye in the midst of a dark-skinned and wrinkled segment of face to peer out. Ray sniffs as subtly as he can while Fraser engages the wrinkled old woman in the apartment in conversation, trying to ascertain who she is in relation to the Aldouin brothers and whether or not she knows where they are.
Interestingly, Ray notices, the purple-green of cocaine isn’t winding through the open door. He turns his head and stares at the door opposite. The door and frame have been messily painted with gloss, but Ray can see and smell the metal reinforcements that have been concealed underneath. The gap under the door is also bright with scent, pooling out across the hallway like a dry-ice blanket that only Ray can sense.
Dief gives up on the leaning and begins fidgeting his way across the corridor towards Fraser and Ray, scuffing his boots on the floor.
“What do you mean, they did it? My boys wouldn’t be doing that kind of thing.”
Ray whips his head around at the woman’s exclamation. She looks shocked, although this is fast being overtaken by an expression of irritation.
“I’m afraid that there is evidence that your nephews have been involved in the manufacture of drugs, as well as some…other things, ma’am.”
“I told them boys.” The woman shakes her head and allows the door to swing open a little wider as she rests her hands on her hips. “I said to them: ‘Don’t you be messing around with those street types. Your mama would be twisting and turning fit to shake up Legba and cause all kinds of trouble.’ I said that to them. Said to them all the time.”
Fraser clears his throat and is about to continue when Dief misjudges where his feet should be placed, mid foot-shuffle, and steps heavily on Ray’s tail.
Fuck! Ray leaps sideways and forwards, impacting with Fraser’s leg and spinning himself in a half circle.
The Aldouin’s aunt stares at Ray, who is cursing and Dief, who is looking sheepish, and says something long and protracted in a language that Ray doesn’t recognize at all. Fraser winces occasionally, usually at a particularly elongated word.
“Those boys of mine be more trouble than they’re worth.”
“Ah, Mrs. Aldouin?” Fraser ventures.
“Mama Tendai and you boys had better be coming inside.”
Before Ray has really recovered from the trauma of having his tail trodden on, the short woman, dressed as is now apparent, in a motley collection of conflicting shawls and wraps, has burst into the hallway, hustled all three of them into the apartment and firmly shut the door.
Ray blinks in the relative gloom. There are several lamps, and all of them are turned on, but they are also draped with dark swatches of fabric. The front door lets straight into the front room. The whole of one wall is taken up with a low, altar-like wooden table, scattered with a collection of objects that Ray’s nose is telling him he really doesn’t want to know overly much about, the rest of the furniture crowded haphazardly together. Thankfully the rich musk of the incense in the copper bowl at one end of the table goes a long way to overpowering everything else.
Voodoo? I’ve been voodooed into being Dief?
“Vodou, Mister Detective, and no you ain’t. My ignorant, ignorant nephews have been at things that they’ve no right to be poking into and they’ve gone and stirred up some of the Rada into mischief-making.”
“Ah.” Fraser looks suddenly relieved. At least one of them is. Ray? Ray is debating launching into another freak out at the fact that his nose has just connected a maroon smell with the large black cockerel that is sitting on top of the television in the corner of the room and staring imperiously at them. “I did wonder if Ray was the victim of some kind of supernatural confusion.”
Confusion? This is confusion?
But Mama Tendai is already shaking her head. “Not your Mister Detective, your pack mate.” She essays a slightly creaky bow in Dief’s direction. “Them boys know a wise creature when they see it and I’m at guessing that they were scared of what his nose could find so’s they tried to convince some of the Iwa-yo to get rid of him.”
“Get rid of me?” Dief looks offended. “Boss, I do not like these people.”
Wise creature? Are they smoking the crack they’re making?
“The Iwa-yo, they’re tricky things to control, though. Easy enough to tell them what you want, almost impossible to get them to do exactly what you want unless you happen to be very good at explaining things to them.”
So I—we’re stuck like this because someone can’t wave a magic wand right? Greatness. This day is getting worse. How in the hell do we sort this out?
Mama Tendai leans down, grasps hold of Ray’s muzzle in one surprisingly strong hand and gives his head a shake.
“Happens to be, Mister Detective that I am very good at talking to all manner of creatures.”
“Quite. Sit yourself down over there on the couch, Mister Polite, and you, Mister Detective, need to be sitting on the rug in front of the altar with the wise creature.”
There doesn’t seem to be anything else to do except obey, even if Ray is loath to get any further into the undulating incense cloud that’s clogging up that side of the room. Fraser is sitting on the couch, watching the proceedings with interest; Dief has already sprawled on the floor and Mama Tendai is rattling through drawers and rearranging things on the altar in a truly no-nonsense fashion, muttering under her breath in a bizarre mix of that odd language she was cursing in before and what Ray is almost sure is French of some kind.
What exactly are we doing?
“Ray,” Fraser says very quietly. “I think it would be best to simply wait and not interrupt Mama Tendai while she is working.”
Ray twists himself around to tell Fraser exactly what he thinks of that when the universe lurches violently to the right and the multi-coloured incense monster swirls forwards and beats him to the ground.
“What the hell—”
Something impacts with Ray’s chest and begins to slobber all over his face. Ray screws up his eyes even further and tries to get enough leverage to push Dief off him.
“Dief?” Ray opens his eyes and sits bolt upright, staring in bemusement at the excited wolf taking up most of his lap. “Thank Christ!” Dief launches upwards for another round of licking and Ray catches him in a brief hug before shoving him bodily off.
As soon as Ray’s vision isn’t filled with excited canine, he can see Mama Tendai, arms crossed over her chest, watching him with something approaching satisfaction. “Nothing to it, if you’ve got a silver tongue like mine.”
“Um, thank you.” Ray offers, starting as a hand claps onto his shoulder. Fraser pats him as if checking that he’s really him and then pulls Ray up to his feet with seemingly no effort.
“Are you okay, Ray?” Fraser gets right up in Ray’s face, peering into his eyes and groping after one of his wrists to check his pulse.
In the vicinity of their knees, Dief warbles something derisive. Ray is somewhat disappointed that he can’t understand the half-wolf.
“Yes, I am quite aware of that, thank you.” Fraser pushes Ray away slightly and glares down at Dief. “Forgive me for wanting to check for myself.”
“Fraser.” Ray waves his free hand in front of Fraser’s face. “I’m fine. Can we go and catch the bad guys now? Before they turn me into the turtle or something?”
“Well, I suppose we could go to the precinct and obtain the warrant that Mama Tendai has so kindly agreed to assist us with as regards the apartment across the hall.” The woman in question sniffs and vanishes into the kitchen.
“Wait, what? She’s going to shop her nephews now?” Ray blinks and gives Fraser a look like he’s unhinged. “Give me a chance to recover, okay? I just spent most of my day as Dief; I need some adjustment time here!”
“Of course, Ray.” Fraser’s gaze slides sideways from Ray’s face. “Diefenbaker, you are being utterly ridiculous and, even if you weren’t, you were the one who stood on your tail so you have no one to blame but yourself.”
Ray sighs and edges over to the couch until he’s close enough to sit down. He doesn’t feel entirely steady on his feet and it looks like Fraser and Dief may be at this argument for some time. At least this is giving him the chance to get used to (and revel in) colour vision, having hands, and the fact that his sense of smell is no longer the ruling party in his brain.
Hopefully, the argument will finish up before the Aldouin brothers do figure out how to perform turtle related voodoo.