Montgomery slammed and locked the door behind me.
Long fluorescent lights glowed from the ceiling. All the storage lockers I could see were empty.
I reached into my pocket. “I have to call someone.”
He swung around. “Fine. Make it quick.”
I called Rachel. Out in my car. “I’m going to be late for dinner. Save me some tofu.”
“Jerk.” I could almost feel her kick. “Call me again.”
“Sure thing. Love you.” I dropped the phone in my jacket pocket. But I didn’t hang up. I hoped she’d be able to hear me yell for help. “My girlfriend, you know. I’ll have to call her back.”
Montgomery nodded. “Fine. This way.”
He led me to a wide freight elevator. Inside he pushed the button for the second level. The elevator lurched before rising, and shook as the doors open.
“You have to understand something.” Montgomery led me through another row of lockers, all empty like the ones below. The lights overhead were dimmer up here. “Dr. Murrow is a genius. Most people don’t understand him. But his work here is crucial. To the race. The human race.”
Oh god. I wanted to run. “What’s going on here?”
“Here.” He stopped at a door in the corner of the building. “Give me a minute.”
The door was thick. Montgomery knocked hard.
After a moment the door opened. “Yes?”
“This is Tom Jurgen. The private detective I told you about?”
“Oh.” The man looked me over, then glanced over his shoulder, stripping off a pair of surgical gloves. “Adrian, finish that up, can you?”
“Sure thing, Dr. Murrow.” The guy sounded young and eager. I didn’t get a good look at him. But I could hear something moaning in the room before Murrow closed the door.
He looked at me. “I’m Dr. Benjamin Murrow. And you are . . .?”
“Tom Jurgen.” I held out a card.
Murrow was tall, with gray hair and wide sideburns. He looked like he could lead an African safari, kill a wild boar with a crossbow, dress it out with a Bowie knife, and then roast it over a fire built with a single match.
“Mr. Jurgen.” Murrow glanced at my card and then dropped it on the floor. “Montgomery, why is he here?”
Montgomery’s eyebrow twitched. “He’s asking questions. About Lotus.”
Murrow blinked. “Go check on him. Come on, Mr. Jurgen.”
Montgomery scurried away. Murrow led me down a row of empty lockers to
another corner office. He unlocked the door and switched on a light.
Murrow sat behind a square metal desk, opened a drawer, and pulled up a bottle of whiskey and two dirty glasses. “I’m having a drink. Would you like one?”
I don’t drink liquor very much, but accepting seemed like a way to build some kind of rapport. “Sure.”
Murrow poured. “Who are you?”
“I’m a private detective.” I choked down a sip. “A man was killed a few nights ago by a dog walking on two legs. Someone else was killed tonight near here by something else like that. I was hired by a friend of the first victim.”
“And you think it has something to do with my clinic?”
I gestured at the office and the warehouse beyond. “What do you do at this clinic?”
He swallowed his whiskey. “My work here is very experimental. It would be very controversial. And I’ve suffered from controversy. And worse.”
“You worked in animal testing.”
“To help people.” He poured himself another drink. “And to help animals too. Help them grow and evolve into something better.”
“More intelligent. More like humans. Maybe more than human.” He smiled. “I sound like a mad scientist, right?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t met that many.”
Murrow frowned. “I’m trying to make things better. For everyone. But people don’t understand that. If they just knew—”
Montgomery opened the door. “Dr. Murrow? You’d better get up there.”
Murrow stood. I stood up too. But Montgomery shook his head. “Not you.”
I sat. “That’s okay. I’ll wait.”
Montgomery was so agitated that he didn’t realize that leaving a private detective in his boss’s office might not be the best idea. And Murrow seemed to be in a hurry.
So they left me alone, the door half open.
I fished the phone from my pocket. “Rachel, are you getting anything from this?” No response. “Hello?”
The signal was blocked now. Great.
I thought about leaving. But what kind of detective would I be if I bolted at the first sign of trouble? A living, breathing one, sure, and I won’t say that’s overrated. But what kind of detective would I be if I didn’t follow my curiosity? Living, breathing, and probably unemployed.
So I sat behind Murrow’s desk and tapped a key on his computer. It was password protected. Of course. I started opening drawers.
Nothing except a spare necktie, a bag of almonds and a box of Band-Aids. I might need those later.
I tried my phone again. Still nothing. I stood up to take a look at the books on his shelf—
And something ran past the door.
I turned. What the hell? It was too fast to be Montgomery or Murrow. And although I didn’t see it, I caught the distinct impression than it was scurrying on all fours.
I leaned out the door. Nothing.
But I heard noises above me. Shouting. Pounding. And howling.
The hell with curiosity. I was getting out.
Then Montgomery ran from a stairwell door. “Get out!” he yelled. “Get out!”
He darted toward me, then stopped, his face sweating. I swung a look over my shoulder.
An animal was lunging toward us. It loped on two legs, eyes gleaming in its small skull, sharp teeth hanging from its jaws.
Then another creature pushed through the stairwell door. This was bigger, thicker, more like a chimpanzee on steroids. It howled and rushed down the hall after Montgomery.
I ducked back into the office, and Montgomery made it inside just before I slammed and locked the door.
Just a doorknob lock. The door wouldn’t hold against a heavy assault.
Montgomery sank into the chair I’d been sitting in a few minutes ago. “Oh shit,” he breathed, his head in his hands. “Oh shit, oh shit . . .”
I pulled on one arm. “What the hell is going on?”
“They’re loose.” He leaned forward to grab the whiskey. “Lotus stole my keys a few days ago. He gave them back when I asked, but he must have—” He gulped a drink.
Montgomery set the bottle down, his hand shaking. “He killed Dr. Murrow.”
Something banged at the door. It shook on the frame.
I’m not a violent person, not even when I’m scared. And I’m scared a lot. Right now, especially. But I clamped a hand on Montgomery’s wrist and squeezed. “Is this what I think it is?”
Montgomery nodded. “He’s turning animals into . . . something different. Human hybrids. Surgery and—and human DNA. The first ones didn’t live long. But the second and third batches started showing signs of intelligence. Low-level IQ. After we disposed of those—”
“Disposed?” I eat hamburgers and steaks as often as I can withstand Rachel’s withering glare, but I like dogs and cats and other animals too. “You just exterminated them?”
“After—after extracting the relevant tissues and DNA samples. The next generation . . .” He shuddered. “It’s upstairs. On the third floor.”
The door thundered again.
“And Murrow is dead?” My stomach felt like a deep pit of fear.
“I don’t know. They were beating him. Tearing at him. I ran. I just ran . . .” He drained half the bottle.
I yanked the whiskey away from him and sat down behind Murrow’s desk. “What’s his password?” If I could send an email to Rachel’s phone—
The door cracked. Another blow broke a gash in it, and then a hairy arm reached through and grabbed the doorknob. Twisted it back and forth.
Then the door burst open.
Drool dripped down the creature’s long chin as it stepped through the ruined doorway. It dropped down on its front paws for a moment, then reared up, running its long red tongue over its teeth.
“Monty . . .” Its voice was hoarse and low. “Monty come.”
“Lotus.” Montgomery held his arms up. “We’ve always been friends, right? I fed you, I gave you water, I let you walk around—”
The creature had long sharp claws. It slashed them across Montgomery’s face. Montgomery screamed, clutching his cheek, blood dripping down onto his shirt. “No. No. Please, no . . .”
Then Lotus looked at me. “Who? You?”
Who, me? I sat back. “T-tom. Tom Jurgen. Private investigator. I’ll just be going now—”
“Tom. Come.” Lotus looked back into the hall and barked words I didn’t understand. But he grabbed Montgomery’s shoulders and hauled him through the door.
Then the other creature darted in. It looked like an oversized puma, stretched out and slender. Feminine, but still dangerous.
I staggered around the desk. “No need to hurt me. I’m coming.”
A chuckling sound from the puma’s throat made me want to run. But I had nowhere to go. It grabbed my arm and pulled me through the door.