The Variant Effect
PART ONE: SKIN EATERS
Copyright 2009 by G. Wells Taylor
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It was an old building in a rundown part of town-the perfect place to find a body. And it was the perfect place for Joe Borland to come bitching and moaning out of retirement. He wasn't complaining at the moment because he was half-cut, still drunk from the night before. The peppermints he chewed did nothing to hide the smell of cheap whiskey on his breath. He preferred a blended scotch, but had learned to drink anything he could afford on his pension. There was a time that being drunk was part of the job, but that was then. Since he got the golden boot, being drunk was part of doing nothing at all.
The patrol car pulled up to the building and Borland struggled out of it adjusting his belt where it slung under his belly. His hernias were acting up again. He kept postponing the operation to get them fixed because his health insurance didn't cover non-life threatening injuries and illness, so he had to save for the surgery himself. When he weighed the issues of needing a drink and needing his hernias fixed, the drinks came out on top. The hernias only bothered him when he walked or rode in cars and he didn't do much of that anymore, but needing a drink bothered him every damn day in paradise.
Borland didn't look retired at first glance. Sure he had crow's feet clustered at the corners of his pale eyes, his skin was an unhealthy yellow-gray and his gut was bigger than you'd find on any two active duty cops, but he had lots of dark brown hair in a tangled mass over a band of white that ran around back from temple to temple. His shoulders and arms bunched powerfully with muscle under his wrinkled beige sports coat. His pants were light blue, and cranberry colored where something had spilled on the left thigh after traveling down the front of his cream-colored shirt. A wide polyester tie swung from his thick neck and did what it could to draw the eye away from the stains. So he looked more unkempt than retired, more homeless than homebody.
That was because Borland didn't care how old he was and he was as dressed up as he would ever be. The booze made him immune to criticism.
The cop that drove him down nodded at the building and Borland winked his quiet thanks for the lift. Then he turned to give the gathered uniforms the once over. He saw disdain or curiosity on the youngest faces, and grudging admiration in none but one older flatfoot; a black officer he vaguely remembered, likely named Jenkins, who had twenty-five years on the force or so. Jenkins would remember the day.
Borland walked up to him and frowned. Jenkins grinned, hooking a thumb over his holster. He squared his shoulders.
Borland looked around, ticking off the points of protocol for dealing with Variant: Ziploc, Gas and Burn. The yellow tape was up and barricades rode the curb by the street. The public had been moved far back. The ground floor windows were sealed with thick tarps. Sheets of plastic billowed over those. A fire truck sat well away from the structure. If the wind were right Borland knew he'd smell accelerant. Uniformed officers stood on guard every twenty feet. They wore acrylic visors, bulletproof armor and gloves. The whole outfit was then secured beneath a clear vinyl coverall and hood. The bagged-boys carried 12-gauge pump action shotguns.
Just past them, a big black van was parked behind a pair of cruisers. The side doors were open and the elevator was level with the sidewalk.
"Where is the miserable son of a bitch?" Borland growled at Jenkins without turning.
"Inside," said the sergeant, before pointing to a dark triangular cleft in the plastic and tarps. Borland grumbled and walked toward the building.
He paused inside the elevator to wipe his lips then slipped the pint flask into his jacket pocket as the door screeched and slid back on rusted rails. A young bagged-boy stood there. His visor was fogged. Water droplets followed the creases inside his plastic hood.