As Jack drove me out to the scene of the ‘road kill,’ I tried to apologize again for having knocked him unconscious. “I’m really sorry, you know. I still don’t really understand when and how my powers work.”
Jack stared straight ahead nearly expressionless, except the slight downward pull of his eyebrows. The radio was off inside his vintage VW Bug. The motherboard and circuitry magpie figurine swung from the rearview mirror. Finally, Jack let out a little breath and said, “Look, I’d probably do the same if my boyfriend were threatened.” He stopped himself suddenly. “Uh, not that I have a boyfriend. Er, not that I’m not okay with the idea of having a—uh, oh for Cripes’ sake, you know what I mean.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
He pulled the car over on an empty county highway. There were open grazing fields for cattle on either side of the road. Just on the other side of the drainage ditch ran a weathered cedar plank fence that looked more likely to fall down than keep anything contained.
As I unbuckled, I asked, “We good?”
Jack gave me a wry smile. “I told you we were after Sarah Jane left her present in your hair.”
I touched the spot I’d spent much of the drive wringing out with Kleenex. It was still very gross. “Yeah, that was lovely.”
“Our pleasure,” he said, hopping out of the car.
We walked over to what looked, from this angle, to be a deer carcass lying on the side of the road. Only, the closer we got the more obvious it became that it was a bit more than that…
It was a male, though I might only have known that from the large, horse-like genitals obvious beneath the white-tailed deer’s backside and the lack of breasts on the naked torso. The centaur’s body-type was slim and ethereal, very classically ‘fairy-like.’ His hair flowed in fawn-colored waves from his head down along his spine until it melded with the fur of the deer-half. Beardless and with elven sharp features, I’d have figured him to be no more than twelve--but I had no idea how centaurs aged.
Dead eyes stared open and glassy. A blue-black tongue stuck out of his mouth. His beautiful body was all-impossible and broken angles.
It was horrible to see, but at the same time, the clinical part of me registered the fact that there were no flies. No ants covered his eyes, and none of the other usual bugs had made their way to the corpse. No crows had been scared off by our arrival, either
“Does he rot?” I asked, noticing that there were none of the other telltale signs of decay either.
“No,” Jack said, taking a camera out of the pocket of his jacket. He started cataloging the scene.
“So there’s no way to know how long he’s been here,” I said, stepping out of the way so that Jack could photograph the corpse from all angles.
“Eventually they turn to crystal,” Jack said, as if that was one of those things people just knew about centaurs.
“Oh, right, sure,” I muttered. “So I guess we just check for the amount of crystal in his body… what the fuck. How am I supposed to do that?”
“I suspect there must be a way,” Jack said again, sounding like most labs came standard with crystal-to-centaur test kits, “But we don’t have to worry about that this time, because we’ve got the report from the accident. We know when it happened.” He gestured toward the car where he’d left the file, “Eleven fifty-two PM yesterday evening, I think. The real question is why. Why were the centaurs on the move?”
“Oh, do they usually… erm, herd around here?” I looked at the open grazing land thinking it’d be nice for horses, but didn’t centaurs prefer people food? “I guess I thought centaurs were Greek?”
Jack took a few pictures of the fence and the surrounding farmland. “They’ve immigrated with the rest of us. Greek-Americans, I think they prefer now. Anyway, they’re properly called Kentauroi and I believe a group of them is an ‘Eminence.’”
“Well, okay,” I said, feeling a bit schooled despite the fact that I was pretty sure this hadn’t been covered in any elementary class I ever went to. “Did we know there was an Eminence of Kentauroi around here?”
Jack frowned at the farmhouse in the distance. “Normally, they stick to the big national parks, like Yellowstone. I hadn’t heard anything about it until the accident report came through. I wonder…” he looked at me then, “If something is spooking them. Something to do with whatever has been scooping things up and dropping them about.”
I didn’t want to know, but I asked anyway, “Are there are lot of big flying things that… hunt Kentauroi?”
“Rocs will, I think,” Jack said. “And, yeah, I know what you’re asking. It’s my understanding that a dragon will eat anything.”
Oh great, another nail in Valentine’s coffin. I knew he was innocent now, but 'evidence' like this didn't help matters.
I looked down at the poor, dead Kentauroi and was struck by how deer-like his body was. Did they taste like venison?
“But, to be fair,” Jack said, still considering all the facts, “Werewolves hunt them too.”
I tried to imagine Mac chasing after a centaur, his tongue lolling and tail waging. It was far too easy. Only there was one problem, “Yeah, but it wasn’t a full moon last night.”
Jack chewed his lip, considering. “I suppose the Kentauroi could just be jittery with wolves in the neighborhood, as it were. That could flush them out, perhaps. The motorist who struck this one was just a drunk ordinarium. Or so the policeman thought. I suppose we should follow up? It could be they were a magician, hoping to collect tears and, well, over did things.”
“I thought mermaid tears were the thing.”
“Kentauroi tears are nearly as valuable,” Jack said, turning back toward the car. “And, anyway, it depends on the merperson. I’d not touch rusalkas’ tears if you paid me a million dollars.”
I started to follow him, but then looked at the body. “We’re not going to leave him just lying there in the road, are we?”
“Well, erm, he off to the side and I was rather planning on it,” he said. Though when he opened the driver’s side door he reached across the seat to dig around in the back seat. Pulling out a black case, he said, “I thought I’d put up a web cam to see if we can catch poachers in the act.”
I nodded. I supposed that sounded like a good idea. “Doesn’t he have next of kin?”
Jack had been fiddling with the equipment and stopped to glance down at the body. “Oh, well, I guess he might. Though they do seem to have left him here. I suppose I can leave my number in case someone wants to contact us.”
“Centaurs have cell phones?” My head was starting to hurt with all this.
Jack laughed a little, “Don’t be silly. I meant my glyph.” He made a sign in the air with his finger. In the fading sun, his motions almost seemed to leave a trail, like a Fourth of July sparkler. He wrote it again in the gravel beside the body. It looked a little like the thing that Prince had changed his name to, only more… swoopy. “There,” Jack said. “That should do it. If I’ve done things right, that should only be visible to grieving persons and none other. That way if we’ve got a magic-using poacher they shouldn’t detect that we’ve been here. Now, I just need to find a place to hide the web cam….”
Several minutes later the camera was set up, nestled inside a knothole of the rickety fence. I felt a little uneasy as we drove away, like we should have said a prayer or something over the body.
I didn’t even know his name.
Or if he had one.
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...