CHIMERAS (Track Presius)

BOOK: CHIMERAS (Track Presius)
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CHIMERAS

 

A thriller by E.E. Giorgi

Cover art © Christopher Germano, all rights reserved. DNA image created by DeviantArt artist PublicCenzor. Photoshop chemistry brushes by DeviantArt artist Finner. Stock image © captblack76.

 

 

 

 

 

CHIMERAS

Copyright © 2014 by E.E. Giorgi

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means – electronic, mechanical, photographic (photocopying), recording, or otherwise – without prior permission in writing from the author.

 

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN:
978-1-4951-0538-8

Kindle Edition

 

To my father,

who introduced me

to epigenetics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the exception of Robert Klark Graham,

who was indeed the founder of the “Nobel sperm” bank (http://en.wikipedi
a.org/wiki/Robert_Klark_Graham)

all other characters and events appearing

in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,

is purely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

____________

 

It was one of those hot summer afternoons, with air made of cobwebs and a glare as sharp as pencils.

“Something’s wrong today,” I said.

“It’s L.A.,” my partner replied. “Something’s always wrong in L.A.”

A few hours later Johnny Carmelo was dead, his brains skewered by the whistling path of one of my bullets. He collapsed on the pavement, a red trickle of blood weeping down his face.

They told me they weren’t going to clear me back to duty until the investigation was over. I left the next day. I drove up to the Sierras, camped in my truck, and hunted at night.

There are days I long to disappear in the wild, go back to the predator life I was meant to have. Kill the prey or be killed: it’s in my genes.

A chimera, that’s what I am. And this is my story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

____________

 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Yellow smears of wildfires marred the horizon toward the mountains, tainting the air like a bitter aftertaste. Downtown hovered through its usual smokiness, and traffic along the One-Ten was a steady hiccup.

“Damned lunch hour,” I muttered.

My partner looked out the window. “Speaking of which. I think I’m smellin’ Tommy’s chili. How ‘bout you, Track?”

I rapped the steering wheel. “I smell car exhaust from traffic. I smell chutney and tamarind from that orange stuff you always have for breakfast. I smell shoe polish even though I’ve no idea why you’d wanna polish your shoes on a day like this. And I still smell the fucking dog piss from the blue hair that flagged us at Hollenbeck Park.”

Satish scrunched his forehead. “That was last year!”

“The blue hair? Course it was last year. I keep dumping bottles
of shampoo and deodorizer on the back seat and I still smell the dog piss.”

He laughed, shook his head sideways. “You and your sensitive nose.”

The AC rattled. Red brake lights winked in front of us.

“Damned lunch hour,” I repeated.

Satish checked his watch. “Almost there, shouldn’t take too long. We ask our questions, show the guy the license plate number, see what he’s got to say. Same old, same old. In thirty minutes we’ll be biting into our juicy hamburgers at Tommy’s.”

“Traffic permitting,” I replied.

We hiccupped down the One-Ten, the sleek towers of the business district looming over us with the familiarity of an old lover. Passed the bridge under Fourth, I steered to the right and tore onto the Wilshire exit ramp. I made a left on Lucas and entered a secondary road sandwiched between scrubby apartment buildings that smelled of rusty gutters and beer.

Tucked between Koreatown and Echo Park, Westlake was home to a young population of Latinos, Filipinos, and illegal immigrants whose career paths included street dealing, prostitution, and smuggling false documents. The few times I’d been loaned to this part of town as a street copper, I ended up working overtime and skipping lunch.

“Gotta love this neighborhood.”

Satish snickered. “Back in my street days, me and my partner, we’d cruise up to MacArthur Park, pick up winos and drop them off in the sheriff’s section just for fun. Hey, pull over. It’s right here. Mac’s Auto Shop—that’s the place.”

Red brick building, the name of the shop painted in blue over three garage doors, a Smog Check banner, an old Beemer on one of the lifts, and the rest of the vehicles scattered around like forgotten words. I switched to reverse and turned into the lot.

“Name’s Johnny Carmelo, age twenty-two,” Satish said. “Clean sheet, he just recently moved into town. And it’s
sambar
.” He opened the door and scrambled out of the car.

I got out on the other side and locked the Charger. “What is
sambar
?”

Satish loosened the knot of his tie while surveying the place. “The orange stuff I always have for breakfast.”

“What about the shoe polish?”

He laughed, rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. A harsh sun glinted off the pavement and pearled his forehead with sweat. “Why is it, Track, that I can never hide anything from you?”

“Not if it’s got a smell, you can’t.”

The place had an overcast shade of charcoal. Gasoline and car oil mingled with the smells of sweat, urine, and instant noodles. The clonking of the hydraulic lift clashed with the loud rock music coming from the stereo of a white Chevy.

Satish banged on the roof of the car. “Anybody home?”

A grease monkey with gray eyes and unshaved cheeks emerged from behind the open hood of an old Mercedes. He lifted his chin, sized us over, and drawled an unsentimental “Can I help you?” while wiping his hands with a ragged cloth. He looked like the kind of guy who would’ve shouldered through the swinging doors of a saloon and fired four rounds at the bar.

“We’re looking for Mr. Carmelo.” Satish flashed his badge, his body slouched into the casual stance of a routine chat over a stolen car.

Mechanic Joe frowned at the LAPD tins, then craned his head toward the back of the shop. “Johnny!” he called, shoving the cloth in one of his pockets.

I caught a swift movement behind a VW camper covered in derogatory bumper stickers. The squeaky hinge of a back door set my adrenaline off.

“He’s making a break!” I yelled.

I ran to the car, Satish bolted to the back of the building to give chase on foot.

“I just hired the guy. I swear. I know nothing about the man.” Mechanic Joe’s apologetic yapping trailed off.

A clean sheet and a dirty conscience. Or maybe just a crackhead high on dope.

I whipped the Charger around the block and entered a construction zone littered with metal bins, wooden pallets, and steel construction pipes piled up along the right lane. Carmelo jumped into the street and delved into oncoming vehicles. Satish huffed behind him. Startled, the driver in front of me hit the brakes, sending his car over a row of traffic cones.

Carmelo knocked over a plastic barricade, leaped over the pipes, and then pushed them into the street in a cacophony of clangs. I stomped on the accelerator, yanked the wheel left, and slammed on the brakes. The Charger spun to the side and flung against the rolling pipes. I groped for the door handle and yanked it open while radioing a code three to request backup. I got out of the car and broke into a run.

By now I was pissed. My shirt was drenched in sweat. I cursed at the asshole for making me run in this heat, and at the LAPD etiquette for imposing formal attire and dress shoes.

Carmelo vanished in the shadow of an underpass, Satish followed. By the time I got there, I spotted Carmelo do a one-eighty around the corner and pull three-quarters of his trigger.

“Satish!” I yelled, one second too late.

As soon as there was enough cop to shoot, Carmelo fired.

Satish jerked backward and keeled over.

The next bullet grazed my ear. I held my Glock on target and fired four rounds. The gun recoiled in my hand. Carmelo curled into a question mark and flopped to the sidewalk. One by one, the spent shells dropped to the ground, yet I kept shooting, intoxicated by the smell of blood and the rattling of fire, as if every new bullet sinking into his body had the power to rewind time.

To fix my own failings.

Revenge hardly mends anything. The son of a bitch you want to crush does not exist. The son of a bitch is your own self.

The muted clicks of the trigger startled me, my fingers so tightly wrapped around the grip it hurt to slide them out of position. I holstered the Glock and inspected the body. Blood sprawled across
his chest and drenched his dirty overalls. The scent was warm and inebriating.

Careful, now
. I prodded his left hand with the tip of my shoe.
No watch
. I moved my eyes quickly, searching. No rings on his fingers, no laces on his shoes. I had to find something, anything. I slipped a hand into his pocket, felt something hard, grasped it, and slid it into my jacket.

The wailing sirens of backup broke a surreal silence. I scrambled by Satish’s side and slid two fingers along his neck until I found the faint trace of a pulse.

“Code three, officer down,” I barked into the radio. “My partner’s down, get me a fucking RA unit
now
!”

Man down, one of our own. My partner. I let my partner get shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
2

____________

 

 

The acrid smell of wildfires and dry soil, the blinding sky, the scent of orange trees and her sun-kissed skin, a flower randomly tossed in the air, a promise,
See you next summer
, and then silence, long winter days waiting, bicycling along the arroyo back when you could still bicycle in L.A., the setting sun flashing on and off between palm trees…

Her eyes
.

Waiting at the window, a cottonwood branch tapping against the glass,
tap, tap, tap
, time slugging by, she didn’t keep the promise, she never came back, Mom turning the TV off,
Don’t watch the news tonight, honey, not tonight
.

Not tonight.

Her eyes, pleading
.

I couldn’t save her pleading eyes.

 

* * *

 

Saturday, August 23

 

“Ulysses.”

I jerked backward and flew a hand to my holster, the light around me too bright and too sudden. Dr. Watanabe didn’t move a muscle, his narrow eyes scrutinizing me as if they’d never seen me before. I exhaled, bent over, and rasped my unshaved cheeks.

How long was I out
?

“Sorry. I uh—I didn’t catch much sleep last night.”

He gave me a quick pat on the shoulder. “My fault,” he said. “I kept you waiting for too long. Come on, let’s go talk in the office.”

I shuffled up the stairs behind him, the images from the nightmare I just had spinning in my head.
No, not a dream. A memory
.

“You said on the phone it was self-defense.”

“The first bullet was,” I replied.

Watanabe’s office was tidy yet crowded, with too much furniture, too much light, too many books, and too little of anything else. A shaft of afternoon sun poked through the curtains and framed a cone of dust motes. I could smell everything in the room, and it bugged me like loud static in a bad reception.

Watanabe motioned to the chair. I walked to the window and stood there.

“The sprinkler in your garden must be broken again,” I said. “Were you able to fix it this time? Is that why your wife brought you
sake
after making you teriyaki beef with rice noodles for lunch—your favorite, I seem to remember.”

Watanabe sat behind his desk, laced his fingers across his lap and smiled, placidly. “I get the
sake
,” he said. “I brought the mug here in the office, and I’m sure your refined sense of smell can still detect the alcohol even though I drank it over an hour ago. How did you guess the rest?”

I leaned against the windowsill. “There’s a tiny residue of your
lunch on the right cuff of your shirt. And I smell wet grass from the soles of your shoes. Given that it hasn’t rained in over three months, it had to be your sprinkler, and the only reason why you’d want to walk around your sprinkler while it’s off is to check that it’s working.”

Watanabe was used to my ways, old tricks I pulled to procrastinate talking about me instead. “What did you do yesterday, after you fired?”

I’d lost count of how many times I’d been asked the same question over the last twenty-four hours. I turned to the window and pretended to stare outside. My eyes glazed over, and what I saw instead was Carmelo’s blood on the pavement, the zipper of a body bag closing over his face. I saw the FID officers taking my gun and asking about the shooting. “What did you do after you fired?” I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell the shrink either. For two hours he picked my brains, as protocol mandated after a deadly shootout.

“Ulysses?” The pen he was holding gave out a few soft taps. “What did you do after killing the suspect?”

Ulysses
.

The rest of the world called me Track, as in tracking dog, because of my nose. I got it back when I was in Gang and Narcotics—I could find a buried body faster than the K9 unit. Only Watanabe still used my birth name.

“You should ask what I
didn’t
do.”

I heard him smile. “What did you
not
do?”

“I didn’t feel for Satish’s pulse. I
should’ve
felt for Satish’s pulse right after he’d been shot. Instead…” I pursed my lips.

“Instead?”

“You know what I did instead.”

“You collected your prize.”

The pen resumed tapping. I undid the top button of my shirt. “The air’s stiff in here.”

Watanabe weighed his words over long pauses. “You said Satish is out of the woods.”

I nodded. “They had to open him up and fish the bullet out of his lungs. So far things look good. If there are no complications, he should be out of the ICU in a couple of days.”

“What about you?”

What about me
? “The LT told me I can take a desk job until the BSS—the Behavioral Science Services shrink clears me back to duty.” I snorted. The hell I was going to take a desk job. “Of course, there’s the issue of all the rounds I flew. And you know what happens every time the FID officers nose into my package again…”

I inhaled, smells of old and new clashing together across the bookshelves. My very own oracle of Delphi, this small doctor who held the key to my DNA, stared at me through folds of sagging skin.

“You don’t believe me,” I said.

The slightest furrow crossed his forehead. “Of course I do.”

“I don’t mean about yesterday. I mean—the other stuff. What I told you happened when I was a kid.” I snorted, shook my head. “You think I’m crazy.”

“No,” he replied, as empathic as a nail in the wall. “I think you’re extraordinary.”

Extraordinary
. Right. I flopped into the armchair he’d offered earlier and clutched the armrests. I remembered the first time I sat in this chair, six months earlier. I’d clutched the armrests with the same fierceness but for a different reason. I was nervous. I’d spent a lifetime repressing my instincts, pretending I could mold them into normality. I came to see Doctor Watanabe the day after my mother’s funeral. The little I disclosed on our first meeting was enough to fascinate him.

“You have a very sharp eyesight,” he said, “both frontal and peripheral. I bet you can see perfectly well at dusk. Your vomeronasal organ is highly developed and very sensitive to pheromones. Though your vision is enhanced, you see mostly through your sense of smell. It adds a fourth dimension to your sensorial landscape.”

“You’ve had other patients like me?” I asked.

“No. But before getting into human genetics, I studied
zoology.”

The comment wasn’t flattering.

He seemed to know so much about me and yet the one thing I cared about, to this very day, he still wouldn’t disclose.

Why?

Why was I a monster, with monster traits, monster senses, and monster instincts?

Watanabe bent over, opened a drawer, and produced a brown envelope. “The MRI images you brought the other day.”

I leaned back in the chair. “What about them?”

“You said you were a healthy kid growing up. Nothing worth mentioning, aside the usual flu or mumps? No hospital scare?”

“Doc. I had
one
scare and it was in the woods, not in a hospital.”

“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about your medical history. You haven’t provided me with any.”

I slammed a hand against the armrest. “That’s because I don’t have any, Doc. The only relevant thing in my life—”

“In that case I would like permission to look for myself.”

I blinked. “Look for what?”

“Your medical records.” He pulled a white piece of paper out of the brown envelope. “I need your signature. I’m requesting your permission to access medical archives from the ‘seventies and search all documents under your name.”

I took the piece of paper he slid across the desk and signed it.

I wasn’t in the mood for short talk. I got up and walked to the door.

“I’m taking some time off, Doc,” I said. “Until they clear me back to duty.”

He nodded, clicked the pen some more. “Do you know what a Chimera is?”

I had a hand poised for the doorknob. I shoved it back in my pocket instead. “A monster,” I replied. “Part lion, part goat, and part snake.” At Watanabe’s smile, I added, “Is that what I am? A Chimera?”

He shook his head, smoothly rolling the pen between his
fingers. “Not a genetic one, no. But you have me thinking, Ulysses. Those traits you have—” He waved a hand, as if traits were culpable things. “We all have ancestral genes—genes we used for hunting back when we were predators—but they’re no longer expressed. However, a serious shock or trauma, especially early on in life, can cause genes that normally wouldn’t be expressed to suddenly turn on.”

I stood by the door, hands shoved in my pockets. Confused. “So, you do believe me, Doc?”

He put down the pen and laced his fingers across his lap. “Those brain scans—” His eyes strayed to the brown envelope on his desk. “I need to find out more about you.”

I bobbed my head, probably a little too enthusiastically to look spontaneous. “Right. You go do that, Doc. I’ll see you back in six weeks. Tell your wife to have some
sake
for me too, next time.”

This time I did turn the doorknob and left.

BOOK: CHIMERAS (Track Presius)
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