Malcolm feels hot and the sweat is dripping down his face. He wonders why he let August talk him into wearing a bear suit. He thinks of how absurd he must look while he stands in line outside of The Haven. All around him, young girls are wearing short dresses and animal ears; they giggle and snicker as they gather in small circles.
I’m too old for this, he thinks, I could be the father of some of these girls. Granted, some are cute, but way too young. He folds his arms defensively as he takes a few steps forward. I shouldn’t have let him talk me into the whole fur suit. I should have talked him down to just some ears or something. It is just too damn hot tonight. A woman tattooed with zebra stripes walks into his view. He looks him up and down; she has black and white striped hair, icy blue eyes, and wears a bikini with knee high boots. Okay… here we go, thinks Malcolm, trying to act cool while wearing a bear suit.
“Hey there, Mr. Bear.” she says with a smile laced with sensuality and rimmed with glossy black lips. “You are a newbie here. Want me to help show you around?” Her striped hand runs down Malcolm’s fake fur chest.
“Hey Bruce!” calls Jacob with Emma following close behind. The tattooed zebra girl looks at the pair and flips her hair. Malcolm, not used to working undercover, responds slowly to his pseudonym.
“Hi guys.” he says, hoping that he sounds more Bruce-like and less like a guy called Malcolm whose skin is crawling under an inch of faux fur. “Good to see you. Are we going right in?”
“Since when do you two buddy-up with Otherkin? I thought you were beyond hanging out with humans.” the tattooed zebra girl remarks snidely. She steps towards Jacob, but stares daggers at Emma.
“Back off, Zeeb.” says Emma in a serious monotone, the hair of her tail starting to stand on end.
“The Old Pig said he saw you talking with the investigators. Are you narcing on us? Is this one of them?” Zeeb slides her hands to her hips and looks at Malcolm. “Which one could it be? Looks manly and sounds manly to me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Malcolm, “I don’t know who you think I am, but I know I’m no investigator. I just wanted to have some fun, and my sister suggested that I come here. She arranged for me to meet with Jacob and Emma.” Malcolm is surprised how easily the lies were flowing. The heat makes him feel agitated, and he uses that annoyance as an acting device. He never knew that the two semesters of acting he took would ever come in handy.
“Zeeb, Emma, Bruce, can we leave this at the curb. We’re all here just to have some fun and unwind. We don’t need to start anything.” interjects Jacob, placing a calming, feathered hand on Emma’s shoulder.
“You think you’re getting in after talking to that Minerva woman? Lana said to stay away and shut up about everything. She said, ’don’t even give them the time of day’, and there you are sitting and having tea.” snaps Zeeb, thrusting a finger at Jacob.
“Zeeb, do you believe every pig-faced homeless man you talk to? The poor bastard has no idea what he’s talking about. He can’t even read a paper without panicking about genocide.” says Jacob in a quiet, measured voice. Feeling Emma’s continued consternation, he begins to lightly stroke her hair and scratch her ear.
Malcolm, not knowing that Emma and Zeeb have a long history of animosity, is confused about Emma’s aggressive stance. Watching Emma’s thrashing tail, Malcolm nervously steps a foot to the side, worried that she will pounce at any moment. As he scans the crowd, Malcolm spots a large, apish man wearing a suit wading through the crowd. He is Bruno, the club’s bouncer. The commotion has attracted his attention, and his red-rimmed eyes boil with intolerance.
“What’s all this then?” he asks in a bass voice with an English accent. Menacingly, he cracks his thick knuckles and adjusts his cuff links.
“What’s with the monkey suit, Bruno?” jokes Jacob. Dully, Bruno stares at Jacob for a moment before a smile breaks his stoic and intense expression.
“Oh, it’s you buddy!” says Bruno excitedly, “I love that joke. It’s very, uh, very.”
“Thanks Bruno.” responds Jacob, glad that he’s built up such a good rapport with Bruno over the years. While most would dismiss Bruno as a dullard, Jacob always treated him as an equal, going as far as to encourage Bruno to attend junior college. Zeeb glares at Bruno, practically stamping her feet with rage.
“Sorry, but Lana’s at the door, so if you could, you know, be a little more quiet. You know, not so vos… uh… vo-ci-fo?” Bruno winces, trying to think of the right word.
“Vociferous?” offered Malcolm, clapping his hands over his mouth. I put my foot in it now he thinks. Yet, contrary to what Malcolm thinks, Bruno is glad to have the assistance.
“Yeah! That’s the word. Vociferous.” says Bruno with a grin that showed a mouthful of thick, blunt teeth book-ended by sharp canine teeth. “Come on, I like you guys. Let’s get you inside, okay?”
“But they were talking with the investigators! We’re not supposed to!” appeals Zeeb, frustrated.
“You might as well go home then.” says Bruno, “Because I’m not letting you in.”
“What did you say?” asks Zeeb indignantly.
“Are you deaf?” responds Emma, her words like a whip. Wrapping her arm around Jacob’s, she contemplates sticking her tongue out at Zeeb, but ultimately decides that it would be too childish.
“Well, that went better than I expected.” remarks Malcolm as he, Jacob, and Emma trail behind Bruno, who pushes through the crowd like an icebreaker.
“Yeah, but now we’re going to be watched much more intently.” responds Jacob quietly. “Lana will know that we’re here, and thanks to Zeeb, she’ll suspect that something’s up.”
From afar, Zeeb watches Bruno lead Jacob and Emma into the club, along with their friend. She contemplates the unfairness of it all as she stalks away. She thinks I could go directly to Lana. She’ll believe me. She’s not stuck up like the other Anthropoes. She cares about the Otherkin… Lost in thought, she doesn’t notice the figure of a man that flits from shadow to shadow behind her. She doesn’t notice him, and worse, she doesn’t notice the cruel, rusty knife in his hand.