#58 Pet shop: part 2
Chakraborty's life hangs in the balance...
Previously: While investigating reports of a body in a north London house, detectives Kaminski and Chakraborty find themselves face-to-face with a deadly creature from Palinor. Chakraborty has already been incapacitated, paralysed by the creature’s venom. Can Kaminski get them both out of the house in time?
On duty: DC Zoltan Kaminski & DC Nisha Chakraborty
Chakraborty’s body was heavy and uncooperative, her eyes already half-shut and face slack. Kaminski couldn’t tell if she was still breathing. His own was ragged, clutching, the effort of dragging her along the landing taking more of a toll than made sense.
The ornate marble-topped balustrade curved into the staircase banister rail and he tried gripping it with one hand while still keeping hold of Chakraborty with the other. It made it even harder to move and he abandoned the idea, tucking both arms under her armpits. He took one step down.
Before him the creature loomed, unnaturally tall on its spindly black legs, its body seeming to be far too large to be supported. Its bright green fur shimmered and undulated like grass in the wind, the colour seeming too saturated and rich, almost glowing despite the gloom of the house. It was Palinese for sure and it definitely shouldn’t have been in a posh suburban house in north London.
“Hold on, Nisha,” he said, her legs clunking down each step. The stairs seemed awkwardly narrow and difficult to negotiate, his feet clumsy and tripping over each other. He was convinced they’d both break their necks tumbling down even if the creature didn’t get them first. “Help!” he shouted in the general direction of the front door, somewhere below. The officer wouldn’t hear over the noise of the city.
The animal paused at the top of the staircase, its featureless, headless body bobbing left and right as if it were assessing its environment. For a second Kaminski hoped it would stay where it was, but then it reached out a leg and tapped it on the banister. It started descending, again its weight appearing to be less than its size would suggest, almost floating its way down. There was no noise, no animal call. It slid down, its legs clacking on the wooden steps but otherwise silent.
It was getting closer. Kaminski had to pick up the pace, and shuffled as fast as he could, moving backwards with his arms around Chakraborty. Just as he increased his speed he reached the ground floor, the unexpected absence of another step sending him sprawling onto the floor, Chakraborty landing hard on top of him. Winded, he pushed her aside and scrabbled to his feet. The creature was halfway down.
“Officer!” he screamed, louder than he’d ever shouted. Bending down he grabbed Chakraborty by one arm and dragged her along the polished floor.
The front door banged open and the uniformed officer entered, stark in the bright light from outside. “Everything alright?” he began to say, his question cut off by a strangled cry of surprise.
“Help me get her up and out of here!”
The officer ran over. “Holy shit, what is that thing?”
“Take her other arm,” Kaminski said, ignoring the man’s questions. They hauled Chakraborty’s body up, limp and lifeless. “Go, move it!” The assistance made all the difference and they charged back towards the front door. He glanced back into the house one last time, to see the creature standing at the foot of the stairs, green and expressionless. Nevertheless, Kaminski had the distinct impression it was looking at him.
They tumbled out into the daylight, nearly dropping Chakraborty down the steps leading from the front door to the driveway. The officer ran back up and slammed the door shut.
“Reckon it can get out?”
Kaminski shrugged, concentrating instead on making Chakraborty as comfortable as possible. He put his ear to her mouth. She was breathing, albeit shallowly. “Thank fuck,” he muttered.
The officer knelt down. “What happened? What the hell is that thing?”
“I need you to call this in. Get an ambulance here ASAP, and armed officers.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Did you see the way it was moving?”
Kaminski shifted his concentration from Chakraborty to the officer. “PC Hughes, right?” The officer nodded. “Constable Hughes, get your shit in order. Snap the fuck out of it and do what I tell you. Get to a telephone. Make the call. Ambulance. Armed squad. Do it now.”
As Hughes ran off down the street to find a house with a landline, Kaminski leaned over Chakraborty. Her eyes were glazed and distant, unfocused, her breath slow. He put a hand to hers: it was unusually warm. A sheen of sweat had appeared on her forehead and her hair was already sticking to her face.
He ran his hand through his hair. He didn’t know what to do. She could be slipping away that very moment, the toxins from the creature continuing to shut down her system. Even though she was breathing, she might already be gone - her brain emptied of all that made her Nisha Chakraborty. He couldn’t stand the thought.
Kaminski’s hand felt numb. Maybe he’d picked up some of whatever was causing this, lifted it from Chakraborty without realising. Perhaps he’d be lying next to her, also entirely incapacitated, by the time PC Hughes returned.
Movement at one of the windows caught his eye. The green creature stood there, tall and impassive, unmoving, behind the glass.
“It’s called a dopur,” said Ambassador Vahko, standing beside Clarke in the hospital corridor. “Judging from Officer Hughes’ description and the evident effects on your colleagues.”
Clarke looked through the window into the ward where Kaminski and Chakraborty were in isolation. “Doc says they’ll live, thanks to your information, ambassador.”
“My pleasure. Their recovery may take longer. I think we all need to help each other a little more in these trying times, don’t you, detective?”
“Take whatever help I can get,” Clarke said. It had been Styles’ suggestion to call the koth ambassador and get his opinion, after the local doctors had demonstrated their lack of knowledge. To be fair to them, deadly Palinese animals weren’t on the training syllabus.
“Is the creature contained?”
Clarke nodded. “It’s inside the house still. Whole area is cordoned off until we figure out what to do with it.”
Vahko turned, their bulk blocking out the light from the overhead strips. “Kill it, detective. Destroy the house if you have to.”
“That was my suggestion,” he said. “I’ve had enough of things from Palinor for one year already.” Clarke glanced at the koth. “Present company excepted.”
“They are a pest where I come from,” Vahko said, “a dangerous pest. They breed rapidly. There are entire fields of them in the northern steppes. You can imagine what happens to any person or animal taking the wrong route. I heard once of a village being entirely surrounded by a ring of dopur. The inhabitants woke one day to find the dopur had arrived, encircled the buildings, making it impossible to leave. The green ring got a little smaller every day.”
“Sounds like a fairy tale.”
Vahko laughed, softly. “Much of our history sounds like your fairy tales. Alas, for us the world is not quite so simple.”
Through the window, Kaminski stirred. He’d been unconscious for a day, though not nearly as affected as Chakraborty. Clarke watched as the man took in his surroundings, then stretched out a hand, reaching for Chakraborty on the bed next to his. She was still in the coma induced by the dopur’s toxins; Vahko had assured the medical staff that the treatment would bring her back to health within the week.
“What next, detective?”
“Next? Me and my partner figure out where that dopur came from. How it got into that house, and who is responsible.” He gestured towards the glass. “Responsible for two of my colleagues being in that room.”
Vahko took a deep breath, like chains scraping on stone. “And then?”
“I don’t know,” Clarke said. “Maybe I’ll keep that dopur around after all. See if whoever is responsible wants it back.”
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Two things have been stuck in my head this week. I recently delivered ad writing workshop to a group of 10-13 year olds, and the overwhelming theme of their work was horror. Their ideas were infused with fear, anxiety, powerlessness. Can’t shake that.
The other vague notion buzzing around in my mind has been Musk’s Twitter acquisition and the associated discussions about ‘free speech’. The discussion of freedom of speech is so often co-opted into something else entirely, warped and distorted to make some other point. That all filters back around to Substack and my use of Substack. Basically, publishing on the internet is fraught with ethical issues, because we are always in thrall to much larger companies which own the communications lanes. It makes me uncomfortable. I should probably write more on this.
Anyway. Let’s do some author notes!
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