Voices blared behind the front door. Television, Splice guessed. Audio cover to mask preparations for his arrival? The window curtains were drawn, hiding all occupants from sight. His gloved finger hovered above the dying orange light of the doorbell button while he ran through an escape plan in his mind. An awning covered the front porch, so launching himself straight up to the roof was out of the question. He would have to settle for shooting backward in a stream of green ooze and aiming for the tree on the front lawn. Sling himself around the trunk for a sharp right-angle redirect to evade weapon fire. If he was lucky, he might even be able to reach the storm drain in the cross street without touching the ground again.
He jabbed the button and heard the bell ring inside. No immediate activity. An obnoxious commercial jangled from the television while Splice stood a few steps from the door, feeling like a compressed spring straining for freedom. Then, hurried footsteps. Not audible, but he noticed the vibrations in the glass outer door. The inner door opened enough for a head to poke between it and the jamb. Officer Greely, now unencumbered by a uniform, glared at him from behind the glass. “You’re early,” he grumbled, then turned around again to bark at someone inside. “Thought I told you to go to bed. And leave that damn thing downstairs.”
Curiosity put a lean into Splice’s stance. Over Greely’s shoulder he spied the teenage embodiment of apathy. A blond girl in cutoff shorts and a baggy tee-shirt glared at Greely from an inclined position on a worn, faded sofa. She took her time standing, and her bare feet slapped against laminate as she left the room, thumbs jittering across the screen of a pink, sparkling cell phone. Her eyes fell on Splice’s shadowy form as she passed the doorway. “Nice outfit, loser,” she said. “Didn’t know they had a comic-con in this craptacular town.”
“Get upstairs!” Greely yelled. He watched her until she was out of sight, waiting a few extra seconds before turning back to Splice and opening the outer door. “Sorry. Come on in.”
Hesitating a moment, Splice glided past the cop and into the house. The cramped living room was otherwise free of people. No signs of a trap so far. Greely shut and locked the doors, then crossed the room and threw himself onto the couch. “You had any kids… before?”
“You’re better off,” he said with a smirk. “Don’t let my wife and daughter catch me sayin’ it, but it’s not worth the heartburn and high blood pressure. Anyway, have a seat, make yourself at home. And you don’t have to keep all that stuff on for me.”
Despite knowing Greely had seen him unmasked days earlier at the police station, it took effort to convince himself to remove any part of his disguise. He folded his sunglasses and medical mask and crammed them into a coat pocket. The coat, gloves, and hat stayed on. Greely gave no outward reaction to his appearance, merely kept a small smile in place. “You hungry?” he asked, jerking a thumb behind him. “We got some leftover pizza.”
“No,” Splice said, then added, “Thank you.”
“Chips and salsa?”
“I don’t eat.”
Greely’s eyebrows rose. “Oh. Um, anything to drink? A beer?”
“I don’t drink, either. Anything.”
“Okay, suit yourself,” the cop chuckled, raising his hands in surrender. “So, uh… how long you been like… that?”
“Several weeks,” Splice droned.
“Christ, and you been walkin’ around like that all this time? Where you been stayin’?”
No chance he was telling a cop anything about his hideout, no matter what sort of arrangement might develop between them. “A safe place.”
“Uh huh,” Greely said, running his hands down the front of his sleeveless undershirt. “Whatcha do before you, uh… turned green?”
“My past isn’t up for discussion,” Splice snapped. “Officer Greely—“
Greely held up a hand. “Ron.”
Splice ignored the interruption. “I’m interested in moving forward, not looking back. What is it you think I can help you with? And what will I get out of skirting the law on your say-so?”
“Well, as awesome as your ‘safe place’ sounds, I can set you up with somewhere to stay, if you’re interested.”
Even if Greely was proposing an unofficial partnership, Splice bristled at the possibility of being indebted in any way, especially to him. Besides, living aboveground again would only necessitate wearing a disguise more often. “You’ll have to do better than that.”
The cop laughed with a conciliatory shrug. “Okay, well, there was something else I had in mind. My kid sister’s a scientist. Loves that, uh… DNA, chromosome bullshit. I could set up a meeting for you, see if maybe she knows anything about… fixing… you.”
Splice sat perfectly still and quiet, wondering if Greely would squirm under the tension that filled the silence. There’d been no concern or uncertainty in the cop’s hesitations. Rather, he simply seemed unfamiliar with the subject and unwilling to choose his words with care. “What makes you think I want to be ‘fixed?’ You should see what I’m capable of now.”
Greely gave him another shrug of surrender, palms up and grin toothy. “We wouldn’t be talkin’ if I didn’t have an idea of what you can do. Just puttin’ it out there. I’m willing to work something else out instead—“
Splice held up a gloved hand. “No. Meeting your sister will do… for now. And the place to stay. It might be convenient to have a second base of operation.”
“So you’re accepting my offer?” Greely said, a touch of smugness creeping into his grin.
“I’m satisfied with what you’re currently offering me in exchange for my help. That may very well change in the future. But I’m not agreeing to anything until I hear more about your requests.”
Greely shifted in his spot on the couch. “Right, yeah, makes sense. So here’s the thing. I’m a cop, right? Boys in blue, serve and protect, all o’ that. Problem is, sometimes the desk jockeys like to let some o’ the scum slip through the cracks. Now I’m not talkin’ mob bosses or serial killers. They’re small-time nobodies, but us street cops know they should be brought in to do their time all the same. Clean up the neighborhood, you know?”
“Why are they ignored?”
In response, Greely smirked, cocked an eyebrow, and rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the age-old gesture of greed.
Splice mimicked a sigh. “Corruption.”
Greely waved the word off. “Probably. We don’t know for sure. It’s not like the higher-ups are gonna tell us they’re takin’ bribes. We’re just told who to lay off of, whether we like it or not. Anyway, that’s where you’d come in.”
He reached over his shoulder to rummage through piles of newspapers and magazines spilling out of a misappropriated wire-frame bookshelf. After considerable effort he withdrew a coffee-stained file folder from the fire hazard and handed it to Splice. Inside were documents that appeared to be official police case reports. Hand-written notes were paper-clipped to most of them; some even had mugshots attached. “Do you always bring your work home with you?”
“It’s not like any o’ the big shots at the precinct are usin’ that stuff. And trust me, there’s plenty more where that came from. Thought I’d just give you a sampling, instead of hittin’ you with binders full o’ perps. Feel free to pick one outta there to get started on. In fact…” The cop reached for the open folder, pushing a few sheets of paper out of the way and bringing a specific report to the top of the stack. “Get a load o’ this one. Name’s Jinko. Might be a good one to get your feet wet with… uh, so to speak.”
Splice gave the report a cursory glance. “Petty theft?”
Greely nodded. “Repeat offender. We used to bring him in every time, hold him overnight, by morning he was back out on the street. Nothin’ ever stuck. Eventually the bigwigs gave him what we started callin’ a DNP order—do not pursue. You wanna get started on him, and I’ll get in touch with my science-freak sis about settin’ up a meeting. Look into that place for you to stay, too. Wanna swing by here two days from now? Same time?”
Splice closed the folder and stood. “Agreed.”
“Excellent!” Greely replied, and thrust a meaty hand toward Splice. “Excited to go into business with you, partner.”
If working with Greely was the price to pay to make a difference in this city, Splice supposed he could tolerate the cop’s questionable methods while their goals were aligned. Still, as he reluctantly grasped the proffered hand with his own gloved one, the cop gave him a grin that sent involuntary shudders through his green, liquid flesh.
This would not be an altogether pleasant enterprise.