A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 10
The Name of the Beast

Something was running around in the woods outside of Seattle – something that flipped off people who tried to take its picture.


Bigfoot sightings tend to run in cycles – so do pterodactyl sightings along the Mexican border, but we’d actually helped them catch that one so it didn’t count. The DIY mod trail that comes up from Mexico into the States has the longevity of a hydra – every time they cut off one head, two more grow to take its place. But anyway, Bigfoot. Is usually a hoax or a misidentification that becomes a minor mass-hysteria in a given area with increasing numbers of people saying they saw it – UFO sightings work the same way, and are dismissed out of hand for the same reason.

This sighting, though, couldn’t be dismissed. Because there were photographs and some videos and they’d all been taken by different people. And in one of them Bigfoot was flipping off the person who was recording him – and he was really, really obviously a him – so there was no doubt he was self-aware. Bigfoot was a modded human.

And he was fucking huge. I flew out with Joey – Dave kept the lab-end this time, because his girlfriend didn’t want him going out of town again so soon. We knew the damned thing was somewhere in the heavily-wooded area outside of Seattle, we knew it was circling the more rural housing editions that stretched up into the mountains…and we knew it was hungry, because it had taken to robbing houses and stealing food instead of doing the real Bigfoot thing and eating roots, berries, and rodents.

So yeah, it was a modded human and we knew it. The local authorities wanted no part of that idea, though. They were insistent that it was a guy in a suit, that we were just publicity-seeking assholes who didn’t care what our narcissism did to their community, and that they were going to catch the guy and show us up as the unethical fame-whores we were. We’d have been more than happy to just let them have their mountain creature, bad attitude and all…but the Forest Service had called us in and told the local authorities to piss up a rope.

Literally. The rangers in the area were jaded, no-nonsense badasses used to chasing yuppies and hipsters and drunk hunter-campers around in the woods, and they had no fucks left to give when it came to local politics. So they’d called us, let the local authorities who met us at the airstrip have their say, and then told them that was nice and to fuck back off to their office in the city because we had important stuff to deal with – if the guy leading the Forest Service contingent hadn’t had on a wedding ring, I’d have offered to marry him then and there. All the good ones really are married – and most of the other half are straight, more’s the pity.

The head badass’s name was Don Rocket – yes really – and he drove us up to the station closest to where most of of the sightings had taken place. The ranger who was currently in said station was another, smaller badass named Diane Smythe, and she’d actually seen the creature. From a distance, but she’d known that wasn’t a costume. “Only if Spielberg is out here with a few million dollars,” was the way she put it. “I used to work at a zoo, and that thing had the gait of a monkey – not an ape, a monkey. Face looked mostly right for that too, but it was too upright to be an actual monkey and I thought of you guys.”

“We all heard about Arizona,” Rocket told us. “They passed the word around: If you see something unnatural or just plain weird, call the guys in Cali and ask them about it. The mayor tried to get up my ass about it, but that’s just because the coffee-swilling, glad-handing bastard is afraid having Bigfoot up here will draw the ‘wrong kind of people’ into his swanky hip paradise.” He saw the look and shook his head. “We have a forest to protect, gentlemen. His kind of people make our jobs a hell of a lot harder and I don’t like that.”

Fuck, I was starting to wonder if this guy was even real. “Hey, we aren’t offended,” I disclaimed immediately. “We’ve been having our own problems with his kind of people down in Cali – they don’t like us using animals, even though the ASPCA works with us and gives us a clean bill as ethical handlers.”

“We thought it was probably something like that, all that shit that comes up in the press about your lab,” Smythe told us. “They pull shit like that with us every time we okay a cull – but they’re the first people who scream when the wolves start getting sick and eating their dogs and cats and goats.” I raised an eyebrow. “Pygmy goats, popular pet right now – and they are cute, but people get tired of taking care of them and then ‘let them go free’. Nobody seems to realize that domesticated goats haven’t ever been free and can’t live in this climate without a human taking care of them. And then the wolves and the coyowolves get used to eating the ‘free’ goats and start jonesing after the attached ones…well, you get the idea.” She went to her desk and opened a folder, pulling out some blown-up pictures. “Here are the most recent sightings, and some of the footprints too. I have a couple of casts of the prints, as near as we can tell there’s only one of these bastards out there.”

“Which would be good for us, crappy for Mr. Bigfoot,” I told her. “We advise most of our clients to have at least two of each species just to keep the creatures happy, that’s just common sense when you’re dealing with animals.”

“Most?”

“Some creatures aren’t…sociable,” Joey explained. “For those we recommend some other kind of companion animal, or inclusion in a habitat. The Allen Preserve in Australia, for example – the drop bears all hate each other, so they’re scattered out all over the place. But they see the keeper on a regular basis, and there are plenty of other animals around them that can’t be prey. They won’t attack a crocodile, and they tease the bunyips but won’t get close to them.”

“What about the Jersey Devil?”

“That’s the state mascot and pretty much a pet – the governor loves it to death, he plays fetch with it, walks it on a leash, puts little sweaters on it. It lives in his house, just like a dog.” Joey grinned. “We’ve made more for the state, but that one is his baby. When the animal assholes said they thought it should be put down, he made an official pronouncement from the governor’s office that anyone who deliberately killed or harmed a Jersey Devil was going to be tried for animal cruelty and then treason. People said he couldn’t do that…but turns out New Jersey actually has a sedition law on the books and he can call it like he sees it. Those people have been giving New Jersey a wide berth every since.”

I’d been looking at the new photos. “This guy must have been huge to begin with,” I said, mostly to myself. “He looks even taller in these pictures – say six and a half, maybe?”

Joey took a look; so did Rocket. “We’d estimated that, yes – we went out to the site of one of the other sightings and did some measurements on nearby trees. I’d say six-foot-five.” He slanted a look at me – a ways down, since he was around Joey’s height. “Couldn’t some of that have been the mod?”

I shook my head. “Nope. If he’d started out at say, my size, modding him with a monkey would cost him height, not stretch him out. Which might help you find out who the hell he was to begin with – except on a pro basketball team, you don’t run into too many guys kissing the seven-foot mark.”

“So maybe he was on a team,” Smythe suggested. “Or kicked off a team, maybe? Although I still don’t know why he’d have something like that done to himself and then just run up into the woods to become a homeless monster who robs houses.”

“We don’t use the word monster,” I advised, politely – I knew she hadn’t meant it that way. “Monster is a pejorative term – everyone is used to using it descriptively, but when it comes to modding the connotations can cause problems.”

“Point,” she agreed, and Rocket nodded; I assumed that meant he was incorporating the idea into his Terminator programming. “You say creature?”

“Or mod – or in this case, modded human.”

“Not human mod?”

Joey shook his head. “Human mod would be an animal modded with human – huge ethical no-no, there’s no telling what you’d create if you did that. Especially since nobody’s sure if an animal brain could handle having even semi-sentience thrust upon it. And not to mention that humans are pretty vicious predators in their own right, so what you end up with could become a really big problem really quickly.”

Rocket made a face. “Yeah, you aren’t kidding. I used to be a Marine,” he said. “I’ve still seen worse shit in these woods perpetrated by civilians than I ever did in two tours overseas.”

“I don’t doubt it.” I picked up one of the pictures and took a closer look. “Joey, that looks a hell of a lot like an orangutan, what do you think?”

“I think he’s fucking huge, and if that’s what I think it is,” he indicated a part of the picture that was just slightly blurry because of movement, “then maybe we shouldn’t be too sure he’s alone up here. Either that, or the person taking that picture got really, really lucky.”

Rocket took the picture. “What…” Joey pointed for him, and his very square jaw tightened. “Oh no, fuck that,” he swore. “He doesn’t run free one more day in these woods, I don’t care why he’s up here. Do you guys have any ideas about catching him?”

“We were hoping you already had that covered,” I told him. “We aren’t trackers – most of the time we aren’t even animal handlers. We’ll go out in the woods with you if you really want us to, but I can’t guarantee we won’t be more of a hindrance than a help.”

“True.” He considered for a second. “All right, I want one of you with me, and the other one can stay here with Smythe to go over the reports in case we’re missing something important. You,” he said indicating Joey. “No offense, Dr. Darling,” he disclaimed quickly. “But Dr. Cristal looks more able to handle himself.”

“Oh, Danny’s not offended,” Joey assured him, slinging an arm around my shoulders. “He knows he’s short.”

I just rolled my eyes. “Don’t do anything stupid,” I warned him, elbowing him in the ribs to get him off. “You might be his size, but you’re not and never have been a Marine.”

“That I am not, I don’t deny it.” He elbowed me back and let go. “Okay, Ranger…okay dude, I cannot call you Ranger Rocket with a straight face, I’m sorry.”

The guy grinned – the first one I’d seen on him. “Just Rocket is fine. Okay, let’s get going – I want to check that last area before it starts to get dark, which happens pretty damned early around here.”

They left, and I grinned at Smythe. “So short people guard the fort?”

She laughed. “Only when Rocket is up here – I love the guy, but he’s all that he can be every damn day, believe me. He’s gonna run your friend ragged keeping up with him.”

“Joey will be fine – he does go to the gym sometimes.”

We went back to the folder and tore it apart, but we didn’t find anything new. Which could mean good or bad things, it was too soon to tell. And then we went to the database they kept and started checking other reports, other incidents. Because it was entirely possible that Bigfoot was only showing up on the Forest Service’s radar right now because it was getting cold and he’d gotten hungry.

Hopefully he hadn’t gotten anything else. I was really hoping that, because I wasn’t sure what we or the Forest Service or anyone else were going to do if there was a missing persons report anywhere in the database that ended up having Bigfoot’s name on it.

Diane and I – she told me to call her that, settle down – ended up isolating half a dozen other incidents which might have involved Bigfoot somehow, several of them campsite robberies which had been attributed to other campers rather than bears or raccoons, because bears or raccoons would have done more damage. There had still been damage, though, and the ranger who had taken those reports – we got him on the phone – said he’d come to the conclusion that the perpetrator had wanted people to think an animal had done it but hadn’t realized how much damage an animal would actually do. Animals don’t spare your kid’s candy stash, after all…but a modded human might, if he wasn’t a total asshole.

Or at least, he hadn’t been a total asshole then. What he was now was anyone’s guess. Because until we caught him, tested him, there was no way of telling if his mod was stable, how much it may have affected his brain, anything. He might not even be an orangutan, he could be some other thing entirely or even a mixture of things. That possibility was scary to me. Humans are vicious, remember? And Joey wasn’t a Marine.

Joey came back unscathed and actually kind of bouncy, because apparently Rocket turned into a comic-book hero when he got out in the woods. “We found a trail – a fresh trail,” he gushed. “Bigfoot’s out tonight, and he’s making tracks for town – supplies must be running low, or he just has a craving.”

“Hopefully it’s just for Cheetos,” I told him, and handed over the list. “He’s probably been up here for a while, no telling if he had food with him and it ran out or if he just got tired of eating like an animal and then winter put a stop to that too. And we’ve got two missing persons cases. I’m really, really hoping neither one of those have anything to do with him – they were both girls.”

“Damn.” Rocket came over with a big gun. “Well, now I don’t feel bad about going after him loaded for bear. We have a tranq gun, it’s the one they use for bears,” Joey told me. “I think it should be okay for Bigfoot, considering how big he is.”

“We have antidote if it turns out to be too much,” Rocket assured him. “Smythe, I got more pictures, they should be in the cloud by now. And Joey thinks we may actually have more than one of these things after all, because one set of prints looks off somehow. You ready?” he asked Joey. “The guys should be meeting us at the bottom of the road, we’ll cut the bastard off when he tries to go home with his loot.”

Joey was ready, so they were off again a few minutes later. For some reason the truck’s engine sounded really loud, and Diane shook her head at me. “It’s because the temperature’s dropping,” she said, apparently not needing to ask why my eyes had widened. “Every little sound gets magnified, at least to human ears. On a really cold night, I’d swear I can hear a branch crack from 100 yards away.”

I nodded. “I’d never thought much about how the acoustics might change up here with the temperature – I always just thought that was like tuning out the background city noises unless you hear one that requires your attention.” I went over to her computer and sat down, on a whim going to the search engine she was using and typing in a phrase: missing NBA player. A page of search results came up, the first few having nothing whatsoever to do with what I’d been looking for…but then, three-quarters of the way down the second page, there it was. “Diane,” I said slowly. “Have you ever heard of Roger Kramer?”

“Isn’t he the guy who went missing after he was traded and then dropped?” she asked. “He took off one day and a couple of days later the word went out that he might have been planning to commit suicide – they found a note to that effect in his apartment, and he’d kind of settled all of his affairs. Did they ever find that body?”

“No, and I think I know why. Take a look at this.” I clicked on a picture to enlarge it, and Roger Kramer’s team picture filled the screen one line at a time – the station had internet, it was just really slow. “Grab that photo of Bigfoot, will you? Because this guy…”

She scooped up a few of the photos and brought them over. “Well I’ll be damned.”

“No, but he might.” I backed up and opened another tab. “Roger was a very naughty boy, from the sound of it – that’s why they traded him, and then he did it again so they let him go. Or at least the news said he did it again, and that he did it the first time. He was never convicted of anything, they didn’t have enough evidence and the ‘victim’ refused to testify. When they put her on the stand, she just sat there and cried until the judge said to let her go.”

“Damn. So you’re thinking…”

“I’m thinking Roger may have had a good reason to hide in the mountains in a disguise he wouldn’t be able to take off,” I told her. “It was the girl’s family who went after him, but they were such assholes they became a meme – I remember the meme, I just didn’t remember where it came from. But if Roger’s up here and he’s not alone…”

She pulled the keyboard over and typed. “No, the girl’s accounted for – because she killed herself, and they did have a body for that one. Her parents tried to stir the case up again, but the judge wouldn’t touch it. I think by that point even he’d realized something was really, really wrong there.”

“Sadly, a little too late for everyone else involved.” I thought about that. It was possible the parents had just wanted some of that sweet, sweet NBA money. It was also possible Roger Kramer hadn’t known the girl was underage, which was what he’d claimed the first time around in court – he’d run into the girl in a bar, and she’d been drinking with her friends, so he wouldn’t have had a reason to suspect she was underage. I flipped through a few more of the stories; the tone of some of them was depressingly familiar to someone who’d been getting regularly smeared by the media. That didn’t mean Roger Kramer wasn’t an asshole, because he might have been…but it could explain why he’d gone to Doc. Or why Doc might have sought him out, changed him, and placed him – Roger hadn’t gotten all the way over to the Pacific Northwest by hitchhiking, and since there’d been a missing-persons investigation following his disappearance it was a good bet he hadn’t traveled to Seattle and been modded there.

Which meant one of two things: Either Doc had done the mod and then found a way to sneak Roger across the country so he could get into the woods…or Doc had snuck Roger across the country and then modded him. Either way pointed to Doc not just being a back-alley nutjob anymore. He obviously had resources now, not to mention people helping him…my phone rang, and I pulled it out and answered it. “This is Dr. Darling.”

“Well hello, dear boy, I heard you were in Seattle and thought I should give you a call.” The voice wasn’t familiar, but for some reason it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. “I suppose you’re up there looking for Bigfoot, are you? His name is Roger, by the way – but you’re a smart boy, you’ve probably already figured that out. I’m rather proud of the way Roger came out, he really is the spitting image of that old hoax, isn’t he?”

Any hairs that hadn’t already been standing up joined their friends. “Doc?”

“Yes, it’s me. I just thought I’d better warn you, Danny: Roger isn’t a very nice young man, but he is in complete possession of all his faculties. I didn’t want you to wonder, or to possibly start feeling sorry for him – trust me, he isn’t worth it.”

“He isn’t?”

“Oh no. See his problem wasn’t that he slept with the young woman – he didn’t, that was a contrivance by her parents to extort money from him. They apparently thought the accusation would be paid off quietly, and the girl had very little to do with it at all except for having been out with her friends that night and happening to run into Roger. ” He sighed – theatrically. “Unfortunately Roger, as I said, isn’t a very nice young man, and he’s rather stupid on top of that. His manager and the team lawyer both told him to just forget about it, that the media would leave him for some newer, shinier target within a week or two, but he decided that if he was going to be accused of something he should really get some of his own back. So he approached the young woman, drugged her, and then took nude photographs of her in excessively lewd – I’d even say raunchy – positions with his phone. After which he took her home and showed the photos to her, and told her that if she didn’t admit to lying he was going to share them with the world.”

Son of a bitch. “So when they accused him the second time, even though he’d actually done it…she was afraid to talk.”

“Exactly. She didn’t last long after that, poor child, and Roger started searching for a way out. I had someone approach him and reel him in, and he thought he was going to have a fine time pretending to be an urban legend. Pity he was so stupid – he’d never even been a boyscout. Not to mention there are several large bounties in existence for a killed or captured Sasquatch specimen, I honestly didn’t expect him to make it this long.”

Honestly, after hearing that I was surprised he had too. But a cornered animal is a more dangerous animal… “Doc, I appreciate you calling to let me know what’s going on,” I told him. I meant it; I was. “How dangerous is this guy, do you think? Because one of the rangers took Joey to go look for him a little while ago.”

“Why didn’t you go?”

The almost accusing question startled me. “The ranger said he wanted Joey, I’m apparently too short. He left the other ranger on duty here at the station for the same reason, according to her.”

I could almost hear him rolling his eyes. “Dear god, it’s the plot of a bad movie. Tell me the two of you aren’t stupid enough to have sex in the woods.”

I blushed red all the way to the roots of my hair – I felt it. “Um, Doc, the fact that we’re both professionals aside…wrong gender.”

Silence; I felt like I could hear gears clicking in his head. “Well well, that I did not know,” he said finally. “My apologies, Danny. Roger could be quite dangerous on his own, if he’s figured out how, but I’m sure the ranger is armed in preparation for that. No, what you need to be worried about is Roger deciding to arm himself, if he hasn’t already. He’d be more than capable of firing a gun, although I don’t think he’d be able to reload it. He has claws like a bear, manipulating small objects should be beyond him.”

“I’ll tell them. Thanks…” The dial tone sounded in my ear; he’d hung up on me. I’d worry about Doc later, though. I speed-dialed Joey, and then had to do it again when he didn’t pick up the first time. “Joey, I just got a very strange phone call,” I told him. “Put me on speaker?”

“Hang on.” I heard him telling Rocket what I’d said, and then background noise joined the conversation. “Okay, what’s going on? Who called.”

“Doc.” I heard him suck in a breath. “We’ll worry about that later, Joey. Bigfoot started out as an ex ball-player named Roger Kramer, and he was no prize to begin with. He’s officially listed as a missing person, but he basically tried to fake his own death. Doc said he’d thought the guy was too stupid to make it in the wild this long, but if he finds a gun you’re both in trouble – he’d probably be capable of firing it, he just won’t be able to reload.”

“Shit. The house he’s targeting has guns, they’re hunters – and every single gun will be loaded.” That was Rocket. “Did this ‘Doc’ have any advice for taking his beast down?”

“Not that he gave me – he hung up on me before I could ask any more questions.”

“Hmm. Well, like you just said, we’ll worry about that later. I’ll try to tranq him before he gets into the house – I was going to try that anyway, but now it’s more urgent that we don’t let him get in that door. Smythe, none of those robberies we think are connected to him involved missing guns, did they?”

“One of them did.” Diane rifled through papers. “Okay, the camper said it was just a handgun, that was what he had a permit for, but he had shells for a big rifle.”

“Okay, then I’ll try to tranq him from behind – his ass will make a bigger target anyway. I’ll call when I’ve got him.”

He disconnected the call, and I sighed, looking up at Diane. I didn’t like this kind of waiting, not at all. “Did you get the whole conversation with Doc, or do you want me to go over it with you to fill in the blanks?”

She looked surprised. “You’d do that?”

“Diane, he’s not on our Christmas list by any means – so far as I know, this is the first time I’ve ever spoken to the guy. I’d say I don’t even know how he got my number, but it’s listed because I use it for business so all he’d have had to do was call 411 and ask for it. As to how he knew I was up here, though…not a clue. And that kind of scares me.”

“It would me too,” she agreed. She plopped down in a chair and picked up the notepad she’d been transcribing my side of the conversation with Doc on. “I wouldn’t usually eavesdrop like that, but the look on your face when you answered the phone said something was wrong.”

“Good call.” We went over the conversation a line at a time, filling in blanks, and then she quickly typed it up to add to the report. She included the phone number, but she and I both doubted they’d find him that way – Doc is underground all the way, no way was he not using a disposable phone.

Some twenty minutes later, my phone rang again, and this time it was Joey. “We’re on our way back!” he sang out. “And Bigfoot is in the bag – he kept moving for a bit after Rocket got him with the tranq, but right around the time he was acting like he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory he sort of fell over and that was that. They put him in one of the cages they use to transport bears when they relocate them.” In the background, Rocket said something. “Oh, the vet wants us to come down and help him figure things out, so we’ll swing by to get you and then we’re off to the big wildlife station to meet up with him.”

“Sounds good to me,” I told him. “Ranger Smythe and I have the report mostly ready, we should have it done by the time you get here?” Diane nodded. “Yeah, we’ll have it done…” He suddenly swore; so did Rocket, who was much louder, and I sat bolt upright. “Joey?!”

“Shit, we have two more!” I could hear what sounded like…well, it wasn’t roaring exactly, but it wasn’t the sound monkeys make either. I heard Rocket gun the engine, he yelled out a warning to duck, and then there was a gunshot. Joey, thankfully, kept talking. “Son of a bitch, Danny, there are two more of them – and the big one has a shotgun! What the fuck?!”

Rocket was on the radio, calling for backup; I really wasn’t surprised to see Diane grabbing her jacket and a rifle of her own, but she shook her head when I made to follow her. “Oh no you don’t – that was a call for backup, not a call for ride-alongs. Rocket wouldn’t have taken your partner with him in the first place if we weren’t dealing with a completely unknown creature. Stay here, man the phones – and keep the door locked, understand? Rangers won’t knock, they have their own keys.”

She would later say she didn’t know why she’d thought to tell me that, but it was a good thing she had; she hadn’t been gone ten minutes before someone knocked on the door. I hastily thumbed off the ringer on my phone; I’d been waiting for Joey to call me back once he had a chance. Silence, then the knock came again, more insistent this time, and a man’s voice followed it. “Dr. Darling, it’s Ranger Esteban, let me in!”

A chill went up my spine. As quietly as I could, I slid out of the chair I’d been sitting in and moved away from the window, going into the little hallway that led to the bathroom, a place where I’d be out of sight but would have a somewhat plausible excuse other than ‘hiding’ if the guy really did turn out to be a forest ranger. Sure enough, though, I saw a shadow fall through the window; he’d gone around the building to look in. The shadow moved as he looked from one side of the room to the other, moving around so he could see all the corners. And then I heard him say, “No, I don’t think he’s here. He’d have answered the door – no reason not to. He must be with the rangers. No, I seriously doubt that report has been filed yet; they’ll be waiting until they’ve killed or captured all three beasts. Yeah…yeah, I’m on it. I’ll see you back at our rendezvous point.”

I waited. Was he still there, or was he going to come in? I did hear him rattle the knob on the front door, and then I heard another knob rattle somewhere around the back of the building, and then more silence. I still didn’t come out, though. I had a feeling that he wasn’t really gone – a feeling which was proved correct when a couple of minutes later I saw the shadow again and this time he banged on the glass and yelled for help a couple of times. Then more silence…and then I saw a flicker of different light and heard a somewhat distant crackle.

The bastard had started a fire. Somehow I doubted he’d set the station on fire directly, because arson investigations tend to be pretty thorough. Which meant he’d probably set a tree on fire or something, knowing that the fire would quickly spread to engulf the station.

Apparently he didn’t give a damn about it spreading out into the forest at the same time. Told me what kind of mentality I was dealing with, anyway.

Joey was trying to call – possibly he’d been trying to call – so I texted him. Someone’s outside. Tell Rocket they started a fire.

The little indicator that showed he was responding came on almost immediately. The fuck?!!?

I heard the guy say something about the report not having been filed yet. I think he was talking on his phone.

A pause. Rocket says stay right where you are. The woods aren’t that dry right now.

I saw a whoosh of brighter light, and the glass in the windows rattled. They don’t have to be if you’re using something explosive to start the fire. Staying put. Bigfoot?

Killed the big male, captured the female. She asked if they could stop at Starbucks on the way to lockup. Some people aren’t cut out to live in the woods, I guess.

Guess not. I heard the door rattle again. He’s back. Or someone is.

More typing. Rocket says they must be trying to flush you out. They probably think you’re a special agent.

I wish. The guy at the door called me by name.

Another pause. Rocket says don’t move, we’re coming.

I stayed where I was at, watching the shadows. They were flickering now, but I didn’t see anything else that looked like a person-shape, although I figured they could be crouching down or standing off to one side. So I opened the camera app on my phone, setting it to video, and very carefully aimed it so it could see around the corner. Yep, he was standing off to the side – watching the fire, though, not looking through the window unless he was doing it out of the corner of his eye. I got some really good video of him, especially when he heard the truck come roaring up the road and ran off cursing. Joey messaged me the all-clear and I came out when he and Rocket came in. “He took off. I got his picture, though. The fire…” Then I looked out the window. “That is one tree.”

“Yeah, most people don’t understand how a forest fire actually starts.” Rocket shrugged. “It’s the wrong time of year for what he tried to be effective – if he’d done it in the late summer or early fall he might have done some damage, but everything’s too wet right now and there’s no real wind to speak of.” He sat down at the terminal and got back into the report, adding everything else to it, including pictures Joey and I had taken. Including a couple of the strange man who’d lit the tree outside on fire and a quick note that preliminary investigation of said tree – meaning Rocket got up, strolled out there to look at the still-burning tree and then strolled back in with a wet, partially-charred leaf that smelled like ethanol and cheap firecrackers – indicated it had been arson, most likely with intent to start a forest fire so the station could be looted. Which had apparently happened before. He did, however, save down a couple of extra backups of his report before he submitted it, one to his own auxiliary drive and one to the flash drive Joey carries on his keychain. We all waited around while the report uploaded to the main server, and then Diane came back and rolled her eyes at the burning tree. “Looters again?”

“Probably.”

“Damn, I liked that tree. I used to go out and drink my morning coffee under that tree.” She sighed. “I’ll call the Arbor guys tomorrow so they can send us a new one.” I must have looked surprised, because she laughed. “Yeah, whenever someone does something like this, I call a buddy of mine at the Arbor Day Foundation’s nursery in Nebraska and he picks us out a replacement tree – they even deliver it and help us plant it.”

“See if he can get us a vine maple,” Rocket requested. “This part of the woods could use a little more color.”

“That would look pretty outside the station,” she agreed. “I’ll ask him. Oh, and female Bigfoot has a name: Myrna Rafstick. She and her husband – who she doesn’t seem to be all that upset about losing – were approached by someone about getting revenge on the guy who’d victimized their daughter.” Diane nodded at me. “Same story, same people.  When I mentioned that, she admitted they had lied the first time. She even seemed kind of put out that Roger had been angry about it – according to her, this kind of thing goes on all the time and they really didn’t think it was a big deal. Oh, and they kidnapped the two missing girls in an attempt to frame him, but at that point she realized she was probably saying too much and demanded a lawyer. The cops were still trying to figure out if Bigfoot is entitled to legal representation or not when I left.”

I was finding myself more and more in sympathy with Doc at this point. “I don’t know what your public defender will think about it, but I know she can hire a lawyer,” I said. “Our lawyer has Hana Kim – the bunnygirl – as a client; he said it doesn’t matter what she looks like as long as she meets all the requirements for being competent to manage her own affairs. Does Mrs. Bigfoot have money?”

“Doubtful,” Rocket said. “They weren’t wearing clothes.” He stood up. “Let’s get you guys down to talk to the vet, maybe between the three of you we’ll be able to figure out how to classify these things. Because as soon as our superiors get that report I’m expecting a phone call asking me if I’ve been working too hard lately.”

“Tell them yes, take a vacation,” Joey told him. “After today you’ve earned one.”

“If he goes, I’m going,” Diane put in. She shook my hand, thought about it for a second, then pulled me into a hug. “I don’t know why I told you the rangers all have their own key to the station,” she said. “But I’m damn glad I did, Danny.”

I hugged her back. “Thanks, Diane.”

Joey hugged her too. “From me too, Diane – and from Pete and Dave and Hana in absentia. You be careful, that guy could still be around.”

She shook her head. “No, he’ll be long gone – Rocket has a reputation around these parts. And probably any other parts he’s visited, too.”

 

Roger was awake by the time we got to the other station, and he was confused. And sick, because apparently tranqs pack quite a wallop, and I’ve never seen anything quite so surreal in my life as Bigfoot puking into a bucket inside a big cage in between complaining that we hadn’t had any call to shoot him and threatening to sue us. “Sorry, the cops are still trying to decide if you’re human enough to have rights,” I told him, which got his attention in a hurry. “Hi Roger. We’re here to find out what exactly Doc turned you into.”

Openmouthed confusion is not a good look on Bigfoot, but I had to assume he’d looked that stupid as a human once upon a time too. “I’m Bigfoot,” he said. “What, you don’t have fucking eyes? I’m Bigfoot!”

“No, you’re Roger Kramer with some added animal DNA zipped in. Bigfoot is an urban legend.”

“Doc said I was Bigfoot!”

“Doc was yanking your chain – he thinks you’re a dick, Roger.” He opened his mouth. “He called me and told me so.”

And Roger’s eyes got round. “Really?”

“Really.” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “So what happened, Roger? If you’d wanted to be an animal that breaks into houses, you should have picked a raccoon.”

He huffed. “I didn’t want to break into houses – I was hungry, and those assholes who came after me kept taking all the food. Why’d Doc turn them, anyway?”

“Probably because he thinks you’re all dicks. He said he didn’t really expect you to live this long in the woods anyway, you don’t have any skills and there’s a big bounty for Bigfoot – dead or alive.”

“That bastard! I’ll get him. When are you letting me out?”

We all looked at Rocket, who shrugged. “They don’t even know how to charge either of you yet, or if we can.” Roger looked pretty happy about that. “And when an animal attacks people or a dwelling, we either relocate it to a different territory or put it down. These guys,” he waved a careless hand at Joey and I, “are here to figure out which side of the human/animal line you belong on, and then we’ll figure out what to do with you from there.”

“I’m not an animal, I can talk and everything!”

“So can a mynah bird,” Joey told him. He turned to the vet, who was a middle-aged man with prematurely white hair. “Did you already get samples from this one, Dr. Carson, or do we need to get them off the dead one? Because I’m pretty sure this one will try to get out if we open the cage at this point.”

“I got samples,” the vet told him. “I thought that might be a problem myself, and I wasn’t sure how aggressive a Sasquatch is so I treated him like a bear. I’ve got blood, saliva, skin and stool.” I think if Roger hadn’t been furry he’d have turned green at that. “I didn’t want to start on any of it until you got here, so if you’ll come back to the lab with me we’ll start figuring this thing out.”

“I’m not a thing! I’m a person!”

“We don’t know what you are,” I reminded him. “I know Doc started with a human base – modded humans seem to be all he does – but other than you having some orangutan features I’m not sure what else may be in there that gave you this distinctive look. Because those don’t look like orangutan teeth to me, and your claws aren’t right for that either.”

He settled down a little. “Once you know, will you change me back?”

Well shit. I raised an eyebrow at him. “Doc didn’t tell you? There’s currently no way to reverse a mod, Roger.”

Roger went ballistic. He couldn’t stand up in the cage, but he rampaged as best he could and it was more than a little pitiful. He ‘roared’ and took swipes at us through the bars – and got his arm stuck – and then he knocked over the bucket and it got all over him and then he tried throwing some of it at us. Which didn’t work, and finally he wound down, sat down in the middle of his mess in the cage and howled like a toddler winding down from a temper tantrum. Which ramped back up into him being howling mad again when Dr. Carson grabbed a hose and cleaned up the mess, starting with him and then finishing by sluicing everything off the cage floor into a nearby drain. And then we all left to go to the lab while Roger carried on about cruel and unusual punishment and wanting a lawyer so he could sue everyone.

It took several hours to run the tests – this was the main wildlife lab for the state, their equipment wasn’t quite on par with ours but it was plenty good enough – and a bunch of calling back and forth to Dave and Pete, but finally we had the Sasquatch mix figured out: Human modded with an equal mix of orangutan and mountain gorilla and then modded on top of that with about ten percent Asian yak to get the dreadlock-like coat. A call down to the morgue confirmed that the other male Sasquatch had been horned, too, they just hadn’t been mature enough to show yet. We were also able to confirm that Roger and Myrna were both members of a completely new species, the DNA had zipped perfectly. So now the problem was figuring out what to do with them. Roger had multiple counts of breaking and entering against him, on top of the previous charges of abduction, assault, and allegations of statutory rape. Myrna and her husband had attacked an official vehicle and tried to kill a federal employee – forest rangers are in that category – to stop him from going about his official duties, and since her husband was gone Myrna was on her own facing at least two counts of kidnapping and possibly murder as well as extortion and fraud. The cops had called the NBA to ask them some questions, and they’d been very interested in the entire thing. They sent up a representative and a lawyer the next morning, talked to Roger and Myra separately, combed over all of the reports, and then offered a proposal. Since neither Roger nor Myrna could be tried in court – representation aside, convening a ‘jury of their peers’ wasn’t exactly possible – and even if they could have been no prison anywhere was set up to hold Bigfoot, the organization was willing to take the vicious animal route and rehome them in a safe location.

In Nepal. Where Doc had apparently made an entire tribe of Yeti at the behest of some monks. Someone – Doc, it had to be – had given the NBA’s lawyer contact information for the tribe, and they had agreed to take custody of the two American Sasquatches (still the same species, just different names) and guarantee that they weren’t able to cause any more harm. The Wildlife Service and the cops didn’t take too long to agree to that, and the NBA arranged secure transport to Nepal and even paid to have Myrna’s husband cremated and gave her the ashes to take with her – the monks had wanted them, she hadn’t seemed to care one way or the other.

The only condition really put on anybody was that no one was supposed to talk about it publicly, and Joey and I agreed to that; so did Rocket and the Forest Service higher-up who got involved. The monks were guarding and maintaining the mountain pass which a lot of locals depended on, so letting anyone know they were doing this as a tribe of Yeti was going to get them hunted and nobody wanted that. Especially not Doc, apparently, because the lawyer and the representative definitely had the Fear of Doc all over them when they talked about how quiet they wanted to keep the whole thing – not that they came right out and said they were scared, but it was kind of obvious.

Joey and I flew home the following morning with samples and photos to add to our files, and a promise from the Forest Service – and Fish and Game – that they’d call us first if they came across any other weird stuff. We’d basically become their go-to consultants for genetically modified creatures, which was a nice little addition to our business even though we couldn’t tell anyone about it.

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