To Die Fur (A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mystery)By: Dixie Lyle
It slid upward with a loud, metallic rattle. The canvas mostly blocked our view of the interior, so we couldn’t see much.
Then … nothing happened.
It kept on happening for a while, so I whispered to Caroline, “Is everything okay? Is there something we need to do to make him come out?”
“Nope,” Caroline said. She didn’t whisper. “We just wait. I put some fresh meat out, which I’m sure he can smell. I don’t think we’ll have to wait long—”
And then he appeared.
We hadn’t bothered with a ramp, so he just bounded from the trailer to the ground. He stopped, sniffing the air curiously and looking around at his new home.
His name was Augustus. He was twelve feet long from nose to haunches, weighed just over half a ton, and was the only one of his kind in existence. Augustus was a white liger, the result of a union between a white lion and a white tiger. His body was mostly white, with pale, tigery stripes and a silvery mane half the length of a normal lion’s. He looked … unearthly. Like some immense, phantom creature from myth or maybe another planet.
And then he farted.
[Well, he seems at ease,] Whiskey observed. [And I believe he had buffalo for lunch.]
“Amazing,” Caroline breathed. I don’t think she was talking about the buffalo.
I was pretty amazed, myself. As well as having one of those moments when I was incredibly grateful for having the job I did, with all the experiences that came with it. Well, Tango? I thought at her. What do you think?
Silence. I was starting to wonder if she’d gotten bored and left when she finally replied. <Okay, so he’s … large. So is a cow, and they don’t impress me much, either.>
[I think someone’s a bit intimidated.]
<Please. Let’s not forget who’s on which side of the fence.>
Augustus was investigating the pool and waterfall. Ligers behave like lions in some ways, and tigers in others. Tigers, for instance, love to swim; so do ligers.
Most domestic cats tend to side with lions. <Oh, you’re kidding me,> Tango said in a disgusted voice. <He’s not going to—no, no, no—oh, that is just wrong on so many levels.>
[He’s simply cooling off. It is a rather warm day—I wouldn’t mind a dip myself.]
<Yeah, well, you I expect that kind of deviant behavior from. I watch any more of this, I’m gonna hack up a hairball. See you guys later.>
Tango may have been outraged, but Augustus seemed happy and Caroline was satisfied; therefore, so was I. Which I got to enjoy for all of two seconds, and then I had a hundred other things to do. Mostly, I had a bunch of last-minute details involving the upcoming salon to attend to, none of which was urgent but all of which still needed doing.
But first, I had to check in at my other job.
I said good-bye to Caroline as she locked up the enclosure gate and headed away from the menagerie and toward the house, which wasn’t far; the liger enclosure was at the edge of the zoo grounds. I followed the path to the house but didn’t go in, cutting around the side and past the swimming pool. I wound up at the opposite end of the property, next to a tall hedge with a large wooden gate in it. I pulled it open and went through.
Into the Great Crossroads.
That’s how its denizens refer to it. And by “denizens” I mean beings that often live in dens, only now they’re not living at all. Maybe I should call them deadizens.
What I’m talking about are ghosts. Animal ghosts—much like Whiskey—only these ones are invisible and intangible to most people. I can see them, though, as can Whiskey and Tango. And there are a lot of them to see, because the Crossroads is much more than just a graveyard; it’s a transition point, where dead pets can leave their own afterlife via an animal grave, then scamper, flap, swim, or trot over to a human plot, where they can cross over into the human afterlife to visit someone they miss. It’s sometimes referred to (by humans, anyway) as the Rainbow Bridge, though that always makes me think of Asgard and bearded guys with horned helmets drinking mead. The Crossroads is a lot more like Grand Central Station than a Viking overpass, with animals of every kind coming and going constantly.
The rainbow part is reasonably accurate, though; ghosts are a lot more colorful than you’d think, like they’ve been run through Photoshop and illuminated from within. Watching a flock of ghost parrots take flight is like seeing an animated neon sign launch itself into the air.
I used to come here for the tranquility, just to sit on a bench and maybe sip a mug of tea and relax. Now I come here to enjoy the spectacle; the brightness of the colors and the surreality of the action makes the whole thing feel a little like a Disney cartoon. Well, a Disney cartoon on serious hallucinogens, anyway.
Which brings me, finally, to my other job.
Every town needs a sheriff. Okay, this wasn’t a town and I wasn’t a sheriff, but …
I’ll start over.
Every mall needs a security guard. Even when there are no stores and the customers are all dead pets with no money … no, that’s not working, either.
Okay, to heck with the analogies. What I did was I looked after the place. Whiskey and Tango were my partners. Together, we fought … well, whatever needed fighting. The Crossroads was an important mystical nexus, and somebody needed to keep an eye on it. We’d already stopped a plot to murder ZZ so the killer could convince her son to sell the land, and apparently supernatural threats were also within our purview. I hadn’t had to battle any otherworldly nasties yet—well, I’d stood up to a ghostly bully, but that didn’t really count—which was good, because I was really more of a negotiator than a warrior. So far, that had been enough.