Sunday, December 7, 2008

Short Story Set in Shifter's world

*I'm writing a series of short stories set in my Shifter's world, being published by Baen Books -- Draw One In The Dark and Gentleman Takes A Chance, so far. This is the first one of those: Sweet Alice. If you're intrigued by the story, check out the books.*

Sweet Alice

Sarah A. Hoyt

The young man walked along the streets of Goldport, Colorado, his collar turned up against the November wind, his mind in turmoil. The day before Thanksgiving, and the lights of the shop windows and neon signs puddled like curdled milk on the patches of ice that dotted the sidewalk.
Rafiel Trall might look like a California surfer, with his slightly-too-long blond hair, his seemingly built-in tan, but he had been born and raised in Goldport, and knew of the customary Thanksgiving blizzard, and avoided the ice on the sidewalk without even thinking about it; just like he avoided broad splashes of slush thrown by passing cars.
He’d walked from his parents’ home, a mile and a half away, in the older part of downtown where dignified Victorians set on broad lawns had resisted the various waves of devaluation and now gentrification that had submerged the surrounding areas.
His feet had brought him, as they so often had when he was much younger, to the shabby splendor of Fairfax Avenue, which ran – in a straight line – the length of Goldport and where used bookstores competed for attention with diners, with headshops, with used cd stores, with craftshops. As a young boy, he had frequented the comic book store he was now passing. Later on, his interest had moved to the specialty mystery store down the street. And he – his entire class, really – had gathered at the Athens down the street for milkshakes and burgers and conversation.
He wondered if Alice, his high school sweetheart, still worked at the Athens. When they’d parted – trying to be very grown up about the idea that he was going to Denver to study law enforcement, while she would stay here and study art and design at the local community college, while working – she had intended to continue waitressing.
Alice was the last person he needed now. And to even think of telling her what had brought him back home – what had made him give up his life long dream of being a police officer – made his throat close in a knot of panic. He’d have to admit to her he’d lied. That he’d lied to her all these years. That he wasn’t anything like what he had seemed in school – in all the time they’d spent together. He’d have to admit he’d lied to himself. That he was not the person he’d thought he was. That he wasn’t even human.
His father had picked him up at the bus station, well away from the college, where Rafiel had asked to be picked up. He didn’t even know why, except, for a moment, with the barest of hesitations, he had thought of getting on the bus, of going somewhere – somewhere unknown. Of never coming back.
Only rationality had overcome him like nausea. There was nowhere he could go and be away from all humans – be away from all humans in such a way that he was sure he wouldn’t hurt them. The more he isolated himself, the more he would be likely to give in to the beast and to let it take over, let it submerge him. What he needed was to go home – to go back to people who knew what he was, and loved him nonetheless, and helped keep him safe.
He’d called his father on his cell phone, despising the way his voice shook at his father’s worried tone. And when his father had driven up in the old pickup, Rafiel had gotten in without a word, set his duffel bag at his feet, clicked the seat belt shut and hunched against the questions he knew would come.
Only they never came. And an hour later, on the highway, Rafiel had felt he needed to give his father an explanation – the same explanation he’d decided he’d deny him had he asked for one. "I can’t go through with this," he’d said, hearing his voice hesitate and break, as it hadn’t in at least two years, and feeling much, much younger than his nineteen years. "I can’t, dad. I just can’t."
His father, driving carefully under increasing snow fall, had only grunted and said nothing else, his eyes seemingly intent on the highway.
Was he upset? Rafiel had wondered, and then on that almost slapped himself. Of course his dad was upset. In a way, though no one had forced him into it, Rafiel’s decision to become a police officer had been as much a family inheritance as anything else. His great grandad – arrived in Goldport from some godforsaken German town or other, had been a beat cop. His grandad had followed in his footsteps. Rafiel’s father was the only one to have formal training as an investigator. And Rafiel – from his earliest childhood, hearing his dad discuss his cases at the dinner table – had never wanted to do anything else. Rafiel’s mom had named him after a literary character who thirsted for justice. Rafiel had grown up surrounded by mystery books, steeped in the idea that justice must be done.
He wrapped his arms around himself and moaned. "I can’t."
His father grunted again. He kicked the windshield wipers up one notch. "What happened?" he asked at last. "What put the fear in you?"
Rafiel let out a long exhalation of breath. "I didn’t..." He stopped, because he felt tears pool in his eyes and drip down his nose. He wasn’t crying. No. He wasn’t crying. He refused to cry.
"There’s tissues in the glove compartment," his dad said. "Cold is making your nose drip."
Rafiel grabbed a tissue and rubbed at his nose and face. "I woke up shifted," he said, his voice made firm by anger. "I woke up and I was a lion, in the middle of the hallway. Just... wandering around. There was no one. But if there had been.... I might have eaten someone, dad. I might have..." He bit his tongue, because if he went on, he was going to cry in earnest, and it would embarrass his father even more than it would embarrass him.
His father nodded. He said nothing. He turned his lights on medium, to avoid their being reflected on the increasingly thicker snow. "Let’s hope we make it home," he said. "Before they close the pass. Your mom said she’d make dumpling soup."

They had made it just ahead of the patrols closing the gates on the highway. And now two days later, Rafiel was restless and lost. Confused, he thought.
Oh, it wasn’t his parents. They hadn’t said anything, really. His father had told him to call the college and explain he might not be able to come back before Christmas break, because the highway was closed, and it often stayed that way for two or three weeks. If needed, he’d said, Rafiel could claim illness. Just don’t make any hasty decisions.
But Rafiel didn’t think there was any decision he could make. The decision had been made for him. Six years and some months ago, he’d shifted into a lion – in his sleep, the first time. His body had changed shapes. His father and mother had seen it, that first time. There was no denying it, no telling himself it was all a dream, no matter how crazy it all seemed. It was what he was – a shape shifter. Maybe the only one. Maybe there were others. He didn’t know. Neither did his parents. They didn’t want anyone to know. At best, Rafiel thought as he walked along Fairfax Avenue through the frost of the gloomy evening – at the very best, he would be locked up in some lab and studied within an inch of his life. At worst... at worst people would go crazy and start hunting for creatures like him. It wasn’t the future he wanted.
And, after seven years of living with this – after seven years of learning to control himself and his shifts, and the animal that shared his mind and body, he’d thought he could survive college. It was only the dorm – so many people together, all the time, so many creatures that the half of his brain insisted on thinking of as meals or, at least, prey. He’d watched himself. He’d prevented himself from shifting. And then... And then he’d woken up in the middle of the hallway, in his lion form, padding softly along linoleum-floored hallways.
He shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his tight jeans. So, he’d stay in Goldport. Not as a police officer. He would have to think of some excuse as to why he’d given that up. And he’d have to think of something he could do. Goldport had a college, but a law enforcement major was not offered. He would have to study something else. Perhaps teaching–
He had no more thought that then he flinched from the idea of children, all day every day, while the lion looked out of his eyes and judged them for plumpness. He clenched his hands on his jean-clad thighs. No. Perhaps he could take a course in advanced hermit-living or intensive reclusiveness, or something.
And his steps had brought him, insensibly to the door of the Athens, where he looked through the grimy, cold-befogged windows at the people sitting around cracked green formica tables, having the Athens’ patent battery-acid coffee. Groups of laughing students and rosy-cheeked teenagers, wool caps and scarfs stowed next to them on the torn vinyl booths. For a moment, he thought if he blinked, he’d see himself in one of the booths, Junior Highschool Rafiel with Alice...
On that thought, he pushed open the door, causing the bells affixed to the inside to tinkle. He would see Alice. He would talk to her. Surely they were still friends. He wouldn’t need to tell her the truth, but she could help him figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life. She knew him better than anyone but his parents. They had been boyfriend and girlfriend since eighth grade. If Rafiel had thought he could ever marry, like people who didn’t turn into lions could, he would not even have thought of cooling it with her when he went away to Denver. As it was, he’d seized on the opportunity. But it didn’t mean he’d forgotten Alice.
The sudden rush of hopefulness as he saw a blond waitress come out of the back told him he hadn’t forgotten her at all. Not even a little bit.
But as the blond took a step into the restaurant, it became obvious she wasn’t Alice – much smaller-framed, and freckled. A girl from school. He struggled to remember her name, and managed it, just as she came close enough to recognize him and smiled, in surprise, "Rafiel!"
"Jen," he said, smiling back.
"Wow, I didn’t even know you were back."
"No, just... decided to come back for Thanksgiving," he said. "Where’s Alice? Is she working?"
Jen flinched. She visibly flinched, and Rafiel started immediately, "It’s okay if she had another boyfriend or... I just want to see her as a friend."
Jen looked up at him, startled, then seemed to observe him intently. "You mean no one told you?"
"No one told me what?" he asked, suddenly panicked, his heart beating in his throat. "What happened?"
Jen shook her head. "Alice has been missing for three weeks, Rafiel."
"She disappeared from her apartment. No one... The police..." She shook her head.
His dad was in the garage, sleeves rolled up, doing something or other to his 65 Mustang convertible that he’d been working on every weekend for the last three years, salvaging pieces from the junkyards, sanding away rust, priming.
He’d made great progress since Rafiel had left in early August. The convertible was now shiny red all over, and his dad seemed to be installing leather seats – proper leather seats, not the fuzzy-green-shag seats that had come with it when his dad had bought it, and which his dad had said must have been home-recovered Thunderbird seats.
He looked up to see Rafiel in the doorway, and looked a little embarrassed as he always did when caught fussing with the car. He cleaned his hands – which looked perfectly clean – with a nearby rag. "It’s almost done," he said. "Come spring, I’ll have the vinyl top replaced by this little old guy who says he’ll do it for five hundred, on weekends, and then I can take your mom for some drives with the top down." He started to smile at the idea, but his features froze as he looked at Rafiel. "What’s wrong?"
"How come you didn’t tell me about Alice, dad?"
"Alice Harten. Don’t tell me you didn’t know she was missing!"
"Oh. That." His dad seemed to become suddenly very tired. He sat down on the driver’s seat, his feet out the door, resting on the floor of the garage. "I didn’t think you needed any more trouble..."
Rafiel tripped down the steps into the garage and dropped to sitting on the bottom step. "What is it, dad? What happened? Where did she go?"
"Damned if I know," his dad said. "We’ve... asked everywhere. At first we thought, you know, she’d gotten tired, had a fight with her boyfriend, left town. But there’s no sign of her having left, and no sign of her anywhere else. Her credit cards haven’t been used." He shook his head. "It’s like she vanished into thin air."
"Are you going to take up about that?"
"No. No. How could I? I left her. I knew... It was likely to happen. Who is it?"
"Carl. From the basketball team? Carl Leuten?"
"Uh." Rafiel nodded. He and Carl looked alike enough at a distance. Both were more athletic than bookish, neither was stupid. Perhaps it was not surprising.
"She’s been living with him. About a block from the Athens. Just down the street. They rented an apartment. Her dad doesn’t approve, but... I don’t think he was that upset about it. They’re nice kids, Carl and Alice, and Carl says they wanted to get married. Just, when they finished their associate degrees. He’s studying to be some sort of computer repair technician."
"You’ve talked to her father? Carl? Her mom?"
"We’ve talked to all of them. Even the grandmother that lives out of town." His dad sighed. "Do you want to read the reports? I brought them home. I planned to look them over, I thought... perhaps there was something I’d missed. I know it’s not strictly right to let you see them, but perhaps you can see something I missed."
Feeling numb and more than a little lost, Rafiel nodded.
There was nothing in the reports. His father said, calmly, the things he’d heard him say so often when other teenagers were missing. "Nine times out of ten when a teenager is missing, they’ve left," he said. "Another boyfriend, a different job. Running away from home because they think themselves offended. Anything."
"And this time is the tenth?" Rafiel said, pushing aside the piles of printed paper. Question, answer, evidence, deposition. And nothing in them. Nothing. Rafiel was only a beginning student, but he could see his father had followed up the case, flawlessly, by the book. Perhaps a little more energetically than he would have done had he not known the girl.
"Alice wasn’t the type to run away," he said. "To take up with a new boyfriend, to skip town without telling anyone. She was not the type to run away if she was mad at her parents. Besides, I don’t think she was. A little impatient at her father, maybe, but she knew he was only trying to protect her."
Rafiel nodded. Of course, he also couldn’t imagine Alice living with someone. In their time together, they hadn’t even got there. Heavy petting was about the extent of it. Of course, part of it was Rafiel’s heart-felt conviction that he should not marry. He should not have children. He should not risk creating anyone else who would be born with the beast inside; who would be incapable of controlling himself, of being fully a human.
It was the same reason he’d told Alice, in the end, that they should cool it. She had agreed, almost too readily. Perhaps she had never been that interested in him as a husband. Just as a highschool boyfriend. Rafiel Trall, sports star, cool guy on campus. Or perhaps she thought he had never loved her, or that he gave a damn that he had the money to go to a four year college and she didn’t.
He bit his lip. Wherever she was, he hoped she wasn’t thinking of him as a snob, or doubt that he had loved her – loved her despite his best efforts to control it. That he loved her still. If they could get her back...
"Anything ring any suspicious bells, dad? When you talked to people?" He had grown up with his father’s talk at the kitchen table. He knew what his father called his bells. It was some feeling of suspicion, never justified by what was happening, exactly, and yet almost always accurate.
"Well," his father said. He dug into his pocket and brought out his cigarette pack. He’d once been a pack a week smoker, but he’d cut it down and now smoked only on weekends and only outside of in the kitchen – per his wife’s decree. He turned on the fan over the stove, piously, though he sat at the table with his cigarette. "I don’t know." He blew a ring of smoke, something that used to fascinate Rafiel when he was a very little boy. "I don’t know. I would hate to..."
"Come on, dad," Rafiel said. "It’s just me."
His father looked at him, seriously, as if evaluating him – as if Rafiel too were a stranger, perhaps a suspect. It was so intent, so searching, that Rafiel almost blurted out that he’d been at college and he could prove it. He controlled himself with just a shuffle in his seat showing his discomfort.
"It’s the boyfriend’s place," his dad said. "Look... it’s nothing..."
"Blood? Some other woman’s belongings? What was it?"
His dad shook his head. "Just too clean. Really clean. Not the whole place. It’s just one of those student apartments, you know, small kitchen, living room, tiny bedroom. The living room and the bedroom were a mess – well, not really, but you know..." He allowed his lips to quirk. "Like you keep your room."
Rafiel shrugged. A book here, a book there, a bit of dust. His mom didn’t dust in his room, not since she’d thrown out his chem notes in his Junior year. "But the kitchen?"
"The kitchen was sparkling. Shining. Old vinyl tile on the floor washed till it shone white. It smelled of cleaners." He shrugged. "Look, it’s nothing."
"It could be a lot if someone was killed in that kitchen. If there was blood," Rafiel said.
"Or maybe they had a mess there, of any sort, and cleaned," his dad said. "They didn’t report her missing for three days, you know. They had heard all the stuff about how we wouldn’t do anything for three days, anyway, and she was over eighteen."
Rafiel nodded. The clean kitchen had triggered his father’s sense for something out of place. Rafiel couldn’t think of anything but an attempt to hide blood. "Did you bring a black light in?" he asked his father. "And the reactive spray?" There was a spray that reacted with hidden blood, which would then shine under black light.
His father gave him a quick, embarrassed grin. "Once. Quickly. I had Carl go and find a picture, you know, so I was left alone."
"Bleach and certain cleaners will change the blood," Rafiel said. "So that..."
His dad didn’t say anything. Of course that was what was bothering him all alone.
Middle of the night, and Rafiel lay awake in his room. The neighbor had set up one of those displays that should be worthy of the death penalty – particularly when set up before thanksgiving. Multicolored lights chased each other around the steep roofs of a house of Edwardian design, while Santa Claus and his elves sat in improbable neon on the roof.
On the front lawn, the reindeer and sleigh – fully illuminated, of course – competed with a family of ducks dressed as Victorian Carolers and not only lit up in horrible glory, but also emitted a faint jingle of Christmas music. Or at least they’d been until ten o’clock, when, by city ordinance, the sound had to be turned off or down. Now the ducks of Christmas had fallen silent.
And yet, Rafiel could not sleep and he got up and paced his bedroom, from dusty desk to bed cluttered all about with the report he’d borrowed from his dad once again. He wanted to read it. He was sure there was something there.
Because the thing about the kitchen being clean and the blood would presume that Carl killed her, and this was not something that Rafiel could even imagine Carl doing. Not even on drugs. Well, okay, maybe on drugs. Maybe that was why the kitchen was so clean. Because they’d been cooking meth. But he couldn’t imagine that either. Not Carl and Alice.
They were both serious. Rafiel knew Carl less than he knew Alice, of course, but he would say both of them were – or appeared to be – much more serious than himself. He could imagine them grimly saving to buy their first car or their first house. He couldn’t imagine them dealing drugs.
He walked again, from the desk – set in front of the window, through which the riot of lights spilled – to the bed, and then back. The black light hadn’t found anything. Perhaps it was drugs. Perhaps Alice had skipped town to escape being arrested. Or perhaps it was blood; perhaps the black light hadn’t picked up anything because it had been cleaned up. If there were some other way of telling.
In his mind, clear, stark, the idea of the lion. Of what things felt like to the lion. Of the lion smelling. Some smells were always very clear to the lion. Blood was one of those.
Rafiel had never turned into the lion on purpose, and certainly never to figure something out. But now the idea had come and lodged, and he could not avoid it. If there was blood there – if there had been blood, the lion would smell it.
He turned to his father’s report and got the address. He didn’t worry about finding the key. If Alice had been living in the house, he was fairly sure he could find her emergency one. In case she got locked out. She had a limited number of places where she liked to hide the spare key, but she always hid one, because she often forgot her keys.
Taking off his pajamas, he slid into a t-shirt and jeans. He was going to go hunting. He was going to go hunting as a lion. Heaven help him, but after all these years of keeping the beast down and keeping the beast hidden, he was going to shift on purpose, and he was going to use the abilities of his shifted self.
He rang the doorbell, first. And knocked at the door for a while. He had no intention of breaking in, unless he were sure there was no one in there. People got nervous when that happened. And he never, ever, ever wanted a human – other than his parents – to watch him change. He was helpless when he was between states, incapable of either speaking or forceful action. The last thing he needed was to be caught in that space and attacked. And he knew damn well that half the people attacked when they were scared.
After some minutes, he looked in the logical places and ran the key to ground under the flower pot next to the door. Alice’s habit of always leaving a key to her home in a place she could find came from – she said – her being so absent minded she often found herself locked out. Rafiel did the same at his parents’ house, though his reason was more that he often found himself out of doors and in lion shape.
He opened the door to the apartment, finding it a little hard to believe – truly believe – that Alice had been living with someone else, that she’d been living in a place he’d never before seen.
The apartment was crowded with furniture – most of it looking like garage sale finds. An old tv held pride of place, faced by two plastic chairs imperfectly covered in some Indian print throws. There were books everywhere, which made sense, and none of them was called how I plan to run away from my boyfriend. None of them was called how to kill your girlfriend for fun and profit, either, for that mater.
He made a circle of the living room, looked into the kitchenette where floors and counters and stove were indeed sparklingly clean, though there were now several plates, and a couple of empty noodle packages on the counter.
The bathroom was as Rafiel expected bathrooms to be in a student apartment, at least if one of the students was Alice, who would keep it from getting downright filthy. But no one had taken the trouble to make sure it sparkled, either. It was just a bathroom, with a bit of dust in the corners and a bit of grey mold here and there between the tiles.
And then clockwise from there, the bedroom, which was Alice’s bedroom from her father’s house – white bed, with princess draperies, and matching white dressers and desk. For some reason, seeing it gave Rafiel a cold feeling in his stomach, and made his eyes mist over.
He couldn’t take it. Not as a human, he couldn’t stand there and think. And besides, he had come here to change into a lion and to see what the lion’s nose might tell him.
He undressed quickly. It seemed odd to undress in the apartment of some guy he barely knew, but he undressed and dropped his clothes behind the sofa, and then he stood there and willed himself to change. It wasn’t easy. It was never easy. Sometimes, with the moon right and the right emotions taking over, it could happen almost instantly. This time, it happened slowly, almost painfully, his will driving his body to do something it didn’t want to do.
First came the cough, the spasmodic twisting and wrenching that changed his body; the grind of bone against bone; the splitting pain of the muscles swivelling to new positions.
The lion behind the sofa growled, softly, and padded a careful route between furniture that all looked to him like strange, looming animals. Rafiel, in the back of the lion’s mind, analyzed the smells and the feelings.
There was a smell of old food and a smell of – Rafiel winced – semen from the bedroom, and a smell of old food from the living room, popcorn mingling happily with cheap noodles and canned soups. And then... and then near the kitchen, he smelled it.
Blood. Not fresh, but bright, a symphony that overpowered all other thoughts. Blood, which to the lion smelled like prey, the hunt, and...
Rafiel forced the lion back behind the sofa, step by step. Then forced the change again, against the lion’s will, against the pain in his body. His face set and grim, he went back to the kitchen. He thought you wouldn’t need the black light. Carl wasn’t used to cleaning. He’d used bleach, clearly, but he’d forgotten that stoves and refrigerators weren’t attached to the floor, and that liquids would run beneath.
He pulled the stove forward, looked behind it. His knees went weak, his stomach curled, and he punched the wall, hard, over the stove.
"What?" Carl asked coming in, which, of course, made perfect sense, because he wouldn’t expect a stranger in his home. Rafiel, feeling a hundred years old, was sitting on one of the plastic chairs, his hands in his lap.
After the first moment of surprise, Carl seemed to recognize him. "Rafiel. You’re in town. Alice is... Alice is not... that is..."
"I know," Rafiel said, his voice croaking. "Alice is dead."
"She..." Carl ran his hand back through his hair, in utter confusion. "She... No! She... disappeared. The police are trying to find her. Maybe she tried... maybe she wanted to leave me."
"No," Rafiel said. His voice was very still. "Alice never left here." He got up. He led Carl to the kitchen. Rafiel had set two blades on the rickety card table that served as a dining table. "I’m guessing you killed her with this knife," a pointy, sharp knife. "And you dismembered the body with this," a vicious, heavy cleaver.
Carl’s mouth had dropped open. He made a lurch towards the knife, but Rafiel interposed an arm. They were much the same build, but Rafiel was more muscular. Nights as a lion, running did that. Carl crashed against his arm. He looked up. Again, his hand went up, nervously.
"It’s her blood all behind the stove," Rafiel said. "And I bet you if we pulled up the linoleum we’d find her under there blood too. Those cuts would allow it to leak under there." He felt very tired. Beyond anger. Carl had to be mad. It was the only explanation. Rafiel had dated Alice for years. Oh, he’d never slept with her, but even if he had... he couldn’t imagine her doing or saying anything that would deserve that kind of treatment. "I bet you they’ll find blood on those knives, Carl, and then they’ll look for the body. Where is it? What did you do with Alice?"
"It wasn’t Alice!" Carl said. A thin wail. He didn’t so much sit down as fall on his behind. "It wasn’t. It was... a lion. I..."
"A... lion?" Rafiel asked, his voice breaking as it hadn’t in years.
"I woke up in the middle of the night, and she wasn’t in bed, and I thought that was weird, and I got up... and there was this lion, in the kitchen. And I... I didn’t even know I was awake. I... I took that knife. It didn’t attack me. I thought... I had limited time, and I stabbed it before... before it turned on me." He looked up at Rafiel, his eyes looking as though he were staring at untold horrors. "But then... but then, as the lion died, it changed... and it was Alice!" The last word was outraged, a sound of complaint. "It was Alice, and I’d killed her, and ... and all I could do was get rid of the body. Yeah, I chopped her up and I..." His eyes looked glazed. "So much blood."
Rafiel found he had his phone out of his pocket and had speed dialed his dad.
It must have taken a considerable time, but it seemed to him the police car arrived almost immediately. He left his dad and his partner – both in their pajamas! – talking to Carl, and went outside. In the cool dark of the alley behind the apartment building, he tried to vomit, but ended up sobbing.
"She was like me," he said. "All along. We could have..." He didn’t even know how that sentence ended. We could have had litters of little lions? No. We could have shared our lives and supported each other? Perhaps.
His father refilled Rafiel’s coffee cup and looked concerned. "No use beating yourself up over it," he said. "There was no way you could have known. She wouldn’t tell you, anymore than you’d tell her. And then, perhaps it had never happened before you left. For you it started at twelve, maybe she only started last year."
"If I hadn’t left, she’d never have lived with him and she..."
"No one forced her to live with him, Rafiel. You’re not responsible for other people’s life choices."
"I know," he said. And he did. He wasn’t responsible for other people’s life choices, but he was responsible for his own. And if there were more people like him out there, how many of them were prone to suffering this kind of assault? How many of them were unprotected? How many might be killed – or kill – in the grip of the shift? Or just get lost and need a figure in authority to protect them. "You... you found her then?"
"Yeah, in the city dump, where he said he took the bags," his father said.
"He... What will people... I mean..."
"People will think he went crazy. Insanity defense is notorious for failing in Colorado, but in this case..." His dad shrugged. "... no one forced him to dismember her and get rid of the body." He paused. "But it’s a bad thing, Rafiel. I don’t think the boy would murder a person, in cold blood. And I don’t think it will be considered murder. Man slaughter, probably. A few years of psychiatric care and he’ll be out. And now he needs psychiatric care. Whether he needed it before or not."
Rafiel nodded, but he still felt the sense of terrible waste, the awful loss of a path not taken. You weren’t responsible for other people’s choices, but you were responsible for yours.
"When do you think the road will open, dad?" he asked.
His dad looked surprised. "The pass?"
Rafiel nodded and sipped his coffee.
"Weatherman said probably tomorrow."
"Good. I think I’ll go back to Denver. The... dorm and all... a matter of self-control."
"I see," his father said.
It was Rafiel’s choice to become a figure of authority, someone who would be law to those like him. Sometimes the only law. And perhaps prevent a tragedy like this from happening ever again.

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