By Donald D. Shore

     Drago reached into the little pocket of his jeans with his finger, feeling around, searching, but the pill wasn’t there. He didn’t remember eating it, so it had to be somewhere. Must have fallen out.

      “Detective.” Officer Fields greeted him to the crime scene with a nod of his head. He threw a thumb over his shoulder. “Detective McKinney is in there with the body.”

     ‘In there’ was a small brick house on the edge of Mason Court, the city’s top of the line housing project. Drago returned the nod and stepped past Fields onto the concrete porch to look inside.

     McKinney had his back to him, looking down at a skinny black girl laid out in the middle of a sparse, dingy room with a television on one end, a sofa against the wall, and a worn-out recliner up against the far wall. The girl in the center of it all was dead.

     McKinney felt Drago’s presence and turned his head to face him. “Come on in, partner. Glad you could make it.”

     Drago stepped inside, the first pangs of withdrawal hitting his nervous system, speeding up his pulse.

     “Don’t touch anything. The crime scene boys are still going over it.”

     Drago looked down at the girl on the floor. She was skinny, dark skinned. Her eyes were open, but they weren’t looking at anything. She wore black tights and a flimsy t-shirt that said ‘Oh Yeah’ across the front and had a bullet hole in the center.

     “Got a name?”

     “Felicia Howard. Lives here with her mother and two brothers. Mother found her. She’s outside, shaken up. Two brothers, T-Bone and A.J., are in the wind.”

     “T-Bone and A.J.”

     “You know them?”

     Drago shrugged. “I know the names. Braun Street Mafia affiliated. Like everyone else around here.”

     “Lucky them,” McKinney said, “brought up on a tough sounding street like Braun.”


      Drago walked around the body, searching the matted, worn out carpet for shell casings.

     “We didn’t find any,” McKinney said. “Either it was a revolver –”

     "Or the shooter picked them up.”

     Drago looked out the window. A small crowd had gathered just beyond the flashing blue and red lights, mingling in the shadows.

     “No forced entry,” McKinney said, reading from a small notebook he kept. “So, it was someone she knew.”

     “Or the lock’s busted.”

     “Seems to work,” McKinney said, one of his gray eyebrows cocked. “We’ll go with someone she knew for now.”

     “Talk to the any of them yet?”

     “Sure,” McKinney said. “They couldn’t wait to step up and help the police. They gave us all the info we needed. Even volunteered to testify in court.”

     Drago turned, looked at McKinney, and shook his head.

     “So, no then.”

     “No,” McKinney said.

     Drago went through the hall. Behind the living room where the girl’s body lay was the kitchen. It was dark, the lights out. Drago reached for the switch. He knew where it was because all these little brick houses inside the projects were the same. The halogen over-head flickered to life. Roaches scattered. Dishes piled in the sink. The smell of decayed food and sour cooking oil coated everything.

     He reached a finger into the little pocket again, but it was still empty.

     He followed the hall to the bedrooms, turning lights on as he went. Two bedrooms, across from each other. One was the mother’s. A queen-sized bed covered with a comforter that hadn’t been washed in while. Pictures on the wall. Her kids at various stages of youth. A man, afro and a mustache, the picture old.

     The other room, the kids’ room, with three twin-sized beds crammed inside, just enough room to walk through, if you were small and skinny enough. Clothes strewn all over. Dresser drawers hanging open. A mirror on the wall.

     The bathroom was at the end of the hall. Like everything else, no one had cleaned it in a while. Shower curtain mildewed. Bathtub covered in a layer of gunk. The tiles cracked, peeling off the wall.

     “Anything?” McKinney asked as Drago came back into the room.

     Drago shook his head, flexing his stiffening fingers.

     “All right. We’ll get this body wrapped up and shipped to the morgue.”

     “Get an APB out on the boys,” Drago said. “I’ll talk to the mother down at the station.”

     “Think they had anything to do with this?”

     Drago shrugged and walked out of the house.


     Drago checked the car seat. Shoved his hand in the crack of the seat and down along the floorboard. His bones ached, cried out for his fix. A clear stream of snot ran out of his nose.

     All he found in the seat was an empty straw wrapper.


     “Tell me what happened, Mrs. Howard.”

     Drago sat across from Aviana Howard, a plain gray table between them. He had a file folder in front of him, but it was closed. More for effect than anything else, though it did have files on her two sons. Both of their juvie records. Aviana had a file too, going back fifteen years. Mostly drug busts and suspected prostitution.

     McKinney stood on the other side of the two-way mirror, watching. He’d come in if he was needed, but for now he’d stay out of the way and let Drago do his part.

     Aviana Howard starred across the table at Drago. She had dark chocolate skin, a round pudgy face, and hard eyes glistening with tears.

     “I come home and found my little girl shot dead in the living room. Ain’t you supposed to be out there looking for who killed my baby, ‘stead of in here grilling me?”

     Drago’s hands were clasped on the table in front of him. He unclasped them, pulled the file folder toward him, and said, “That’s what we are trying to do, Mrs. Howard.” He opened the file folder to give his hands something to do and looked up at Aviana. “I know this is painful, ma’am, but we have to go through everything to find out what happened. Sometimes, it’s the smallest detail that breaks a case.”

     Aviana breathed out what might have been a laugh. “It’s my daughter you talking about, not a case. My daughter.” Tears fell down her dark cheeks.

     “I know, ma’am. And we’re going to do everything we can to bring in whoever killed Felicia.”

     “Yeah,” she said, “right.”

     “Just bear with me,” said Drago. “You said you came home and found her. Where were you before you came home?”

     Her eyes shot up. Anger hardened her face. “What you asking me this for? Why don’t you go out there and find the bastard done this?”

     Drago shook his head. Sweat trickled down the side of his face. He forced down the rising anxiety, the urge to tell Aviana Howard to go screw herself so he could find that pill. Or make a call. If he couldn’t find the pill, he’d have to make a call and hope it was answered.

     “This is just routine, ma’am,” he said. “Please.”

     “I was at Marcia Johnson’s house. Watching her little baby. She pays me twenty dollars to babysit. I was there from one o’clock to seven. I got home ‘bout seven fifteen. Found my baby girl.”

     She started sobbing. Drago let her. He cocked an eye toward the two-way mirror.

     “What about your boys, Mrs. Howard,” Drago said when Aviana’s breathing steadied. “You know where they were?”

     “What my boys got to do with this?”

     “Just routine, ma’am. Like I said, anything might help us find who did this.” Drago leaned forward and kept his voice low, to give Aviana the impression only she could hear him, that he was letting her in on a little secret. “This is a homicide investigation, Aviana. We don’t care about drugs, or dealing, or anything else. All we care about is catching Felicia’s killer.”

     Aviana dabbed at her eye with a tissue and nodded her head. Drago scratched at the thick bristles sprouting from his wrist.

     “I don’t know where Thaddeus and Alvin be. They come and go when they want. I tell them to stay out of trouble, but they young boys. They going to get into trouble.”

     Aviana’s eyes narrowed on Drago. “Something wrong with you?”

     “I’m fine,” he said and pulled his sleeve down to hide the hairs. “Tell me about the father.”

     “He ain’t around no more.”

     “Still, ma’am, it might help.”

     She shook head and looked away. Drago wondered if she saw it in his eyes. The coming change.

     “His name Steven. Call him Big Heff.”

     “Big Heff have a last name?”

     “Wilder. But he ain’t around no more. I told him not to come around last time he got locked up. You sure you okay? You don’t look right.”

     “Yes, ma’am, I’m fine.” Drago took a card from his pocket and set it in front of Aviana. “You think of anything else, call me.”

     She looked at the card then looked at Drago as he stood up. “That it?”

     “For now, ma’am. We’ll do all we can.”

     Drago left the room, went into the hall, and went through the door next to the interview room where McKinney was waiting.

     “Didn’t get much out of her,” McKinney said.

     “Not much to get. How’s the search on the two boys going?”

     “Still in the wind.”

     “Get me anything you can on the father, Steven Wilder aka Big Heff.”

     “You okay, Drago? She’s right. You don’t look good. Like you got one hell of a

     Drago scratched at the back of his neck. Small, sensitive bristles had broken through the skin. “I’m fine,” he said. “I got to go home for a while. You get a line on any of them, call me.”


     The change was coming. Unless Drago could find that pill, or get another one. Maybe he dropped one in house somewhere.

     The house was an apartment off Toll Gate, across the trails that ran across Fagan Springs. Drago never walked the trails. Any time off he had was spent resting in the darkness of his townhouse apartment.
     Except he had all the lights on now, pulling dishes out of the cabinet, running his hand along the unseen edges. Rummaging through kitchen drawers, throwing empty pill bottles over his shoulder.


     The bathroom was empty, too.

     He was out. He tried to remember if he had taken the last pill, the one he had stashed in the little pocket of his jeans. If he had, it was wearing off. It showed in his eyes as he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. The whites of his eyes had yellowed, and the pupils looked like two black bubbles, ready to burst. And the hairs…the hairs sprouting out of his skin all over his body, they were everywhere. And sensitive…God, those hairs could feel everything.

     His phone vibrated in his pocket. It was McKinney.


     “We got a line on the two boys. They were seen coming out of a gas station on Holmes, heading toward the old Greyhound Bus station.”

     “Okay,” Drago said. “I’m on my way.”

     He hung up, slipped the phone in his pocket and took a deep breath. Something moved inside his chest.


     Drago slid into the seat next to McKinney. The unmarked Crown Vic was parked on a side street pointed toward the old Greyhound Bus Station. Drago could see three shadows moving beneath the unlit awning where buses had once rested.

     “What we got?” Drago said.

     McKinney handed Drago a Styrofoam cup of coffee. “Jesus, Drago, you look rough.”

     Drago took the coffee. Cold sweats crept up his spine. In a minute he’d feel the heat again, burning from the inside. The ache of his bones was constant. "Never mind that,” he said, looking toward the depot. “What’s over yonder?”

     McKinney nodded toward the depot. He sipped from his own cup. “T-Bone and A.J. Howard. The other, I don’t know. This is your part of town, figured
maybe you could tell me.”

     Drago squinted. His eyes would be useless until he got his fix. He had made the call on the way over, but it had gone straight to voice mail. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe when we get closer. Any word on the father, Big Heff?”

     “All these guys have nicknames,” McKinney sighed and shook his head. “No. No word on Steven Wilder aka Big Heff yet. You think he’s mixed up in this?”

     “Maybe, maybe not. Wouldn’t hurt to find out. Anyway, he might want to know his daughter is dead.”

     “He might.”

     “You ready?” Drago’s heart changed tempo beneath his chest. He sipped the stale coffee and set the cup on the dashboard.

     “Yeah,” McKinney said. “Let’s do it.”

     Drago and McKinney got out of the car and walked down the street so the three kids wouldn’t spot the Crown Vic. Crown Vic meant cop to these kids. Drago wanted to get close enough to have a conversation before they bolted.

     As the detectives closed in, the three shadowed figures drew toward one another.

     “Who that?” Drago heard one of them whisper to the other.

     “T-Bone and A.J,” Drago said. His vision cleared as they walked up the tarmac toward the awning. The kids were standing now, dressed in oversized shirts and tight pants that still managed to sag in the bottom. The third kid wasn’t a kid at all. He was the about the same height as T-Bone and A.J. but had a sheen of gray in his hair. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” Drago said.

     The unknown looked at the brothers, then turned back to Drago and McKinney, his ivory white teeth showing in the night, his lips stretched into an easy smile.
“I’m Uncle Deacon,” he said. “You the police?”

     “That’s right,” Drago said. McKinney lit a cigarette. He’d let Drago do all the talking and jump in when he felt like it. Like he always did.

     “Been looking for the two boys. Got some bad news for them.”
Drago looked at T-Bone and A.J. Their dark round faces blended in and out of the
shadows. Drago sensed they already knew.

     “You their guardian or what?” McKinney spoke up. He blew a gray cloud of cigarette smoke into the night.     

     “Me?” said Uncle Deacon. “No, sir. I just watch after them. Keep ‘em in line, that sort of thing.”

     “What about Felicia? You keep her in line, too?” This came from Drago.

      It was a one-two punch. Something the partners had worked up over the years. Uncle Deacon took it in stride.

     “Felicia a good girl. She stay at home, mostly. Shame what happened to her.”

      Drago watched the two boys as Deacon spoke. They shuffled their sneakers against the pavement but stood silent.

      “You know anyone who might have wanted to hurt Felicia?” Drago aimed his question at the boys, but Deacon intercepted him.

     “Like I said, Felicia a good girl. Studies, does her homework. All that.”

     “Anyone who might want to hurt the family?”

     “Man, it’s a rough neighborhood,” Deacon said. “You bet we be finding out though.”

     “Why don’t you let the boys answer,” McKinney said.

     Deacon spread his arms out in an apologetic manner, and stepped aside, still wearing his smile.

     “Answer the man,” Deacon said.

     “We don’t know who done it,” T-Bone said.

     A.J. shook his head.

     “All right,” Drago said. He reached into his pocket and took out three of his cards and passed one to each of them. “You hear anything, anything at all, call me. We want this guy, understand? We don’t like child killers getting away.”

     Deacon nodded, smiling. “We hear anything, we call you.”



     “Should have frisked them,” McKinney said as they walked back to the Crown Vic.

     Drago checked his phone. No missed calls. His ears buzzed. His throat was tight, filled with mucus.

     “Wouldn’t do any good,” Drago said, as they climbed into the car. They sat watching the three of them still loitering at the bus station.

     “Might have,” McKinney said. “They were packing. I could smell it.”

     “T-Bone,” Drago said. “Probably holding for Uncle Deacon.”

     “Well,” McKinney said.

     “Well, we take away their guns, they might not lead us to the suspect.”

     “You think they’re going after them?”

     “I know they are. You heard Deacon. They’ll find out. Most likely already know who it is. Or think they know. We follow them, see where they lead.”

     “You okay?”

     Drago looked at McKinney.

     “Your eyes,” McKinney said.

     Drago looked away.

     “I’ll follow them,” Drago said. “You go back, see if you can’t get a make on the gun that killed Felicia.”

     McKinney started the car.

     “We’re supposed to be partners,” McKinney said.

     “We are partners,” Drago said. “You do your thing, I do mine. We come together in the middle and bust them.”

     “That ain’t what I’m talking about, and you know it.”

     Drago looked at McKinney. He could see every pore in his partner’s face. Could see the tiny hairs breaking through his skin. The gentle bumps and ridges of old acne scars.

     “I’m fine,” Drago said. “Been a long day, is all.”

     “Yeah,” McKinney said. “And the nights are even longer.”


     Drago checked his phone again after climbing into his own car. Still no missed calls. Fine bristles covered his fingers. He started the engine and, without turning on the headlights, pulled up to the curb where he could watch the bus depot.
Deacon and the two boys were still there, waiting for something to happen. Sweat rolled down Drago’s face. The change was coming. By morning, if he didn’t have his pill, he’d be done.

     Checking the time on his phone, he saw it was 12:30. Getting late. His temples throbbed. Watching the shadowy figures at the depot, he made the call. The phone went straight to voicemail. “This is Drago. I need some help. Call me soon as you can.”

     Light drew his eyes toward the depot. Uncle Deacon was on a cell, either making a call or receiving one. It was the call they had been waiting for. They left the tarmac and started across the street, back into the maze of brick houses inside the Mason Court Projects.

     Drago started the engine and pulled the car around without turning on the headlights. He’d follow them as far as he could with the car. The narrow streets winding through the projects were quiet except for the hum of the car engine and the roll of the tires against asphalt. He stayed back about fifty yards as they walked beneath the dim glow of worn out streetlamps.

     Drago sped up after they turned a corner and slowed again as he came to an alley lined with clothe lines. No way for the car to get through. No streetlamps either. Just random porch lights. Drago’s vision had changed, sharpened now, because of the withdrawals, and he saw Uncle Deacon and the two boys turn down another alley.

     Drago cut the car’s engine and stepped out. His foot burned like fire and his shoe fell away in pieces. It was the change, but he couldn’t worry about it now. He took a step, leaving his other shoe behind, torn apart from the sudden enlargement, the hard chiton of his appendages.

     Small wings tore through the back of his suit and he was almost able to take flight down the alleyway. “Not yet,” he said, his voice garbled, grotesque, long strings of saliva dripping from his mouth, acid burning against his soft brown flesh.
Deacon and the two boys dipped down another alley as Drago’s phone buzzed. He fumbled it out of his pocket with fingers bent in all the wrong places. He saw McKinney’s number and answered as he struggled to keep moving.

     “Yeah,” Drago managed, forcing the word out through disintegrating lips.

     “Got the ballistics back on the gun. Nine-millimeter.”

     “Any word on the father, Big Heff?” Drago moved slowly, an awkward hand on his sidearm. The two boys and Deacon had disappeared into the shadows of the neighborhood, but a figure emerged, coming towards him.

     “Steven Wilder,” McKinney’s voice came through the phone, “aka Big Heff. Just released from a five-year stint on a b and e. Address listed as 1014 Braun Street.”

     The figure emerged from the shadows, revealing Uncle Deacon, smiling, his hands splayed out in front of him.

     “What you doing here, officer?” Deacon smiled.

     “Where you at?” McKinney’s voice came through the phone.

     “I’ll call you back,” Drago said, and hung up. “Keep your hands where I can see them, he said to Deacon.

     “I was just walking the boys home,” Deacon said. “Shame what happened to they sister. Happen all the time ‘round here though.”

     “Turn around and keep your hands up.”

     Deacon’s eyes twisted as he looked Drago over. “Aw, man, you one of them, ain’t you.”

     “Turn around,” Drago said.

     Uncle Deacon turned and Drago patted him down, his clawed fingers raking against Deacon’s shirt and pants. “I’m clean, man,” said Deacon. “More than I can say for you.” He turned back around, gazed into Drago’s multifaceted eyes, and said, “You on that stuff, ain’t you?”

     “What’d you do with the piece? You give it to one of the boys? Let them do your dirty work?”

     “I don’t know what you talking ‘bout, officer.” Deacon flashed his smile. “I tell you what though, you need something make all that,” he motioned to Drago’s feet and head, “go away, you come see me, dig?”

     Drago sneered at Deacon and felt the mandibles growing inside his mouth click together, cutting into the soft flesh inside his cheeks. "You’re scum,” Drago said, bloody saliva dripping from his lips.

     Deacon laughed. Both their heads turned as a gunshot cracked the night, echoing down from the alleyway.

     “Sound like duty calls, officer,” Deacon said. “I’ll be seeing you.”

     Drago started down the alley, half flying, half running, transparent wings buzzing from his back. His pistol and phone in hand, he punched up McKinney.
“Shots fired,” he said, “in pursuit.”


     “Mason Court.”

     Drago dropped the phone before he could give the address. Down the alley, he saw the two boys break out from the back door of a brick home. Drago flew to the porch. Inside the opened door, lying in the kitchen, a half-naked man lay in a spreading pool of blood. Drago entered, felt for a pulse with a hooked hand, and felt nothing. The hole in the man’s chest oozed blood. Drago was drawn to the dark crimson ichor. He knelt, sniffed at the warm bitter-sweet scent of blood with the antennae breaking through the corners of his skull, and slurped at the
wound with his darting proboscis.

     Sirens in the distance brought Drago up, his antennae flickering, human blood glistening from his bristled jaws. He turned his bulbous eyes back to the dead man as he fought to regain his own humanity. The man was older, without the afro and mustache, but it was the man from the photograph he had seen at the victim’s house. Steven Wilder aka Big Heff.

     Drago left him there on the floor, the buzz of his wings carrying him out onto the porch. Blue and red lights danced from the street. Men in uniforms ran towards him with guns drawn.

     “Jesus Christ!” one of them shouted.

     “Put your hands up,” called another.

     Drago’s wings buzzed and he flew into the air, high above them. A shot rang out, whined past him. Then another. He danced easily around the slow-moving bullets and looked down on the tops of the brick homes with multifaceted eyes.


     The boys were gone, but Drago had a good idea where they would be. Kids in the projects have few options. He landed on the roof of their home and crawled down the side, his claws digging into the red brick facade. His antennae picked up voices.

     “Hell, with him,” one said. “Got what he deserved. Uncle D. say he a rat.”

     “What ‘bout Felicia?”

     “Felicia a daddy’s girl. She shouldn’t have got in the way.”

     Drago’s phone was gone, dropped somewhere during his flight. His sidearm hung useless from a clawed appendage. He buzzed toward the door.

     “What ‘bout mama?”

     “She from the street. She know the rules.”

     “You gone shoot her, too?”

     “If I have too.”

     Drago worked the knob with his claws and pushed the door open. T-Bone and A.J. stood in the living room, on the carpet stained with their sister’s blood. Their eyes went wide at the sight of Drago and they stood frozen for a moment, shocked at the sight of the giant blowfly.

     “Drop the gun,” Drago said. His words buzzed through the air, harsh and almost lost inside the creature he had become.

     “You that cop from the bus depot,” said A.J.

     Drago heard both their hearts racing. T-Bone’s steadied, and he knew which one had the gun.

     “You ain’t no cop,” T-Bone said. “You one them bugs.”

     “Don’t do it,” Drago said. “Put it down.”

     T-Bone reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a .9mm.

     “Don’t,” A.J. said, “he a cop.”

     “He ain’t no cop, he just a junkie bug. Heard everything we said.”

     “Cops…on…the way.” Words were losing their meaning to Drago. Sirens flared in the distance. Coming closer.

     The pistol shook in T-Bone’s hand.

     “Put. The. Gun. Down.”

     It took all of Dago’s concentration to form words and to keep his train of thought. Sirens were behind him, vibrating his antennae. The gun went off. Three quick shots.



     “So, Deacon was grooming the boys,” McKinney said, “and by the time Big Heff got out, he had them wrapped around his fingers tight enough to murder their own father.”

     Drago stared out the window. The detectives were in a white, sterilized hospital room.

     McKinney’s words hit Drago like blows from a hammer. Drago kept his eyes on the world outside the window. He wanted out.

     “Felicia was just collateral damage,” McKinney went on, not sure if his partner was even listening, or could even understand him anymore. “She overheard the boys, tried to stop them, talk sense into them. Tried to wrestle the gun away from T-Bone and it went off.”

     Drago touched the window pane. Felt the vibrations carried through the glass.

     “Got it all from A.J. T-Bone isn’t talking. Thinks he’s a man now, got two murders under his belt, even if they are his own family members. D.A. is going for conspiracy on Deacon. With what Big Heff gave them, should put him away for a long time.”

     Drago spotted a woman walking a dog through the courtyard. His hand raked the smooth glass, yearning to follow.

     “Anyway,” McKinney said, “thought you’d want to know. Hope you get better, partner. Hate to see you like this.”

     McKinney stood for a moment, watching Drago in the corner of the windowsill. The detective looked down at his partner, shook his head, and left, shutting the door behind him. he sound of the door latch thundered against Drago’s antennae. He lifted off the windowsill, his wings buzzing, aimed for the little dog outside, and bounced off the clear glass.

     He wanted out and couldn’t understand what was holding him back. He tried again, bounced off the invisible barrier, and landed, clinging to the smooth glass, his antennae rubbing the hurt out of his face.

The End

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