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Chapter 01

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      Marlot crouched next to the body, looking at the cheetah carefully. "From the way he neck is bent I'd say it was broken," He said without looking away.

      "Well, this is the middle of her living room," replied the lion in an even tone, "I doubt she broke it falling."

      The wolf nodded. "yeah, this was down by someone. Was her ID in her purse?"

      The lion pulled out his data pad to see what the officer who had logged the scene had noted. The only thing he hadn't been allowed to touch was the body itself. That had to be handled by the registered investigators; which would be the two of them. "No, the purse only contained a few beauty products."

      Marlot lifted the side of her jacket with a gloved hand and reached inside the pocket. Not finding anything he moved to the other side of the body and tried again. There he came out with an ID wallet and opened it. "The victim is Aiden Spottedfur, thirty two. Her PRL is still here."

      Trembor smelled the air, "by the scent I'd say she's been dead for about two days. So I think we can rule out a simple killing."

      Marlot nodded and sighed, "yeah, this looked like murder." He scanned her Productivity Rating Levy Card with his pad. "It's such a waste to leave someone to rot away like this."

      Trembor patted his partner on the shoulder. "I know, but we'll get who ever did this."

      The pad beeped and Marlot whistled as he saw the information, "well, I think we have an idea why the body wasn't claimed," He raised his pad so Trembor could read it, "I don't think I've ever seen a PRL this high."

      "No wonder," the lion said in amazement, "she's vice president of Arcas Pharma; the PRL of everyone working there went through the roof when they came out with palatable synth meat six years ago."

      Marlot stood and stretched. As he took out his phone to call the examiner who worked for them he saw a large Doberman standing by the door

      "Shit!" Trembor cursed behind him.

      "Aiden?" the dog said, "Aiden!" He dropped his bags and ran toward them.

      Trembor jumped over the body and tackled him to the ground and held him there

      "What the FUCK is going on!" Marlot yelled in his phone, "Why do I have a civilian in my crime scene?" he'd called the officer in charge as soon as he'd seen the Doberman knowing the lion would deal with him. "I was told this scene was secure, don't you people know how to do your job? No, I don't want you to come get him. I want you to make damn sure no one else can walk in here cause if someone does I'm going to make sure your PRL drops so low even a vagrant will be able to afford you am I making myself clear? Good, you go do that." he closed the phone and looked at Trembor, who was looking back at him with a wide smile. "What?"

      The lion didn't even try to stop chuckling. "You like threatening those poor folk way too much. One of these days one of them's going to realize you can't actually do that, and what's going to happen then?"

      "Then I'm going to claim them myself no matter their rating." Marlot replied seriously as he walked toward both of them.

      Trembor looked at the dog under him "Now, I'm going to let go of you and get up. You're going to remain exactly were you are. You try to move even to scratch your balls and I'm going to knock you unconscious and we'll do the interrogation from the hospital, is that understood?"

      The dog nodded weakly.

      "And you comment on my threats?" Marlot asked

      "At least I can carry through with mine," the lion replied as he stood.

      Marlot simply rolled his eyes and extended a hand toward the dog. "come on, let me help you up. Don't worry about the maned pussycat here; he's not going to touch a strand of fur on your body."

      The Doberman looked skeptical, but slowly reached up for the offered hand. Marlot pulled him up and then escorted him to the hallway, where he had him sit down. Now that he wasn't being threatened anymore he looked lost, looking at the living room door.

      "Call Jaxca," he told Trembor, "I'll deal with your friend here." The lion nodded and took out his phone as he headed to the living room. "What's your name?" Marlot asked the Doberman.

      "Te . . . Telima, sir." He sounded much younger then he looked.

      The wolf took out his ID wallet and opened it so the Doberman could look at it. "I'm registered investigator Marlot Blackclaw, I'm going to have to ask you some question. Are you in a state to answer them?" Telima nodded. "What are you doing here Telima?"

      The dog hesitated a moment, "I sort of live here."

      "Sort of?" Marlot prodded when he didn't add anything. Telina's plastered his ears against his skull to hide his embarrassment and his tail stuck to his leg since it couldn't move to go between them. Marlot sighed, "Look, I don't think you have anything to do with this, but if you don't answer my questions I won't have a choice but to take you in. things wouldn't be anywhere near this comfortable is we need to do this there."

      "I'm sorry sir."

      "All right, lets try again. What were you to Miss. Spottedfur?"

      Telima took a deep breath, "I was her lover."

      "Contracted?" the wolf asked.

      The dog shook his head, "she was contracted with someone else." He lifted his head in surprise, "he did it."

      "Who did?" Marlot asked.

      "Her contracted lover, she told me that he had become controlling; he must have found out and done that to her."

      "Do you know who he lover was?"

      Telima shook his head. "I never asked. I wasn't going to pry, it was enough that she wanted me."

      Marlot studied the Doberman, "how old are you?"

      "Eighteen sir," he replied with pride.

      "You hadn't had your first rut when she found you." The wolf guessed. Telima looked at the floor in embarrassment. That was enough of an answer for Marlot. He didn't react, but inwardly wondered if this might not be for the best where Telima was concerned, sure her death would be traumatic, but he could keep going with the illusion that they would have been together for always, instead of being dumped as soon as he wasn't a youthful horny boy. Marlot knew the type from first hand experience. He'd gotten over it, but it had been years before he'd even been able to think about sex with a female after that.

      "You came in with a bag, did you just arrive?"

      Telima nodded, "I was at the academy for the week. I have a room there. I only come here for my rest days."

      "Can I see your PRL card?"

      Telima took it out of his pocket and handed it. Marlot scanned it and it came up as a student. He handed it back, at least he didn't have to worry about Telima getting eaten, as a student he was off limit to predation.

      "I want you to head back to your dorm, you can't stay here during the investigation, and after that it's going to depend on how her possessions have to be processed." Telima nodded weakly and stood. Marlot put a bill in his hand. "I want you to use that to buy a wallet for you card. One you can wear around your neck and don't take it off, even while you sleep."

      Telima looked at him wide eyed, "am I in danger?"

       Marlot shook his head. "no, but you don't look or smell like a cub anymore, that means the only thing that can keep someone from attacking you is your student status. You need to learn to take care of your card because once you enter Predation it will mean the difference between living or being someone's meal. Understood?"

      Telima nodded and slowly backed from the wolf. Marlot didn't care if he'd scared him, so long as he learned to take care of his card. They lost too many young adult to carelessness already as it was. He also wasn't too worried about the looks he might get when he paid for the wallet with paper, it wasn't outlawed, yet. Electronic was strongly encouraged, but in his job Marlot often found himself in situation where it was best not to leave traces of transactions behind.

      He walked back in the living room where Trembor was helping a small red frog place Aiden's body in a plastic bag for transport. "Hi Jaxca," he greeted him with, "how's life?"

      "You know me," the frog replied as he delicately placed the cheetah's head in the bag, "I live the blessed life."

      "Don't get cocky," the lion said in a sharp tone, "one of these days you're going to come across someone with a taste for the exotic. What are you going to do then?"

      Jaxca snorted, "my PRL keeps anyone but the wealthy from affording me."

      "And who do you think have the weird taste but those who can afford them?" Marlot said. They both meant the warning. Even Marlot could probably eat the frog in two, maybe three bites. Only the poison the frog's skin secreted had kept him from considering him as his next meal the first time they met.

      "Just be careful ok? I don't want to have to start looking for another examiner; no one's going to be able to measure up to you."

      "everyone measures up to me, and taller," Jaxca answered as he zipped the bag closed. Marlot gave him a wide berth he didn't feel risking even a mild accidental poisoning; he wouldn't die from a small doze, but it would lay him down for a few days. "You two put her on the gurney and I'll be out of here. I'll have a prelim by the morning."

      "Thanks Jaxca," the lion said as he and Marlot lifted the body. They escorted the frog out, closing and locking the door behind them.

      Marlot grabbed the officer in charge, "We're done here. Tell me that every other entrances is now locked and sealed." The officer, a hyena, gulped and nodded. "Good, seal the front door and pad me the code lock."

      The hyena did as instructed. Once Marlot had the code he changed it so only he or Trembor could gain official entrance to the house and he then joined the lion at their car.

      "Do you think her contracted lover could be the one to kill her out of jealousy?" he asked the lion as he leaned against the driver's door.

      Trembor turned and took a good look at the house before answering. "She was a VP, do you really think she would contract someone who couldn't afford her PRL? I don't care why he would have killed her. He wouldn't have left her to rot."

      Marlot nodded and got in the car. Trembor did the same, placing a hand on the wolf's thigh as soon as the doors were closed. Marlot placed his hand over the lion's and rubbed it, before squeezing it tenderly and removing it.

      "Someone might see," he said softly while looking straight ahead.

      Trembor shook his head with an amused smile, "We're RIs, you really think anyone would do anything to us?"

      Marlot just shrugged and started the car. "Let's go home, ok?"

      * * * * *

      Marlot leaned back in the chair and pressed his head against the headrest.

      "Want anything to drink?" Trembor asked from the kitchen.

      "Do you have anything that'll help me relax?" he replied, taking off his shirt and throwing it on the seat opposite him.

      "I have just the thing," and a moment later the lion came back and lobbed a can at him.

      Marlot looked at it and nodded, alcohol wouldn't have been his first choice, but it would help him relax. He pressed a claw in the top and was rewarded with a spray of alcoholized liquid to his face and chest, and the laughter of a lion.

      "Thanks a lot," the wolf said with an annoyed growl, "like I really needed this on top of the day."

      Trembor prevented him from getting out of the seat by straddling his lap, "you said you needed to relax, and I know that you're going to relax if I lick you clean. You know the laws have changed," he added seeing the hesitation in the wolf's eyes, "this isn't illegal anymore."

      "I know," Marlot replied softly, "but I can't forget what used to be done to males like us where I grew up."

      Trembor looked him in the eyes for a moment before getting off him, "ok."

      Marlot caught his arm before he could move too far. "I didn't mean it like that. It's only the two of us here so it's fine," he said as he pulled him back.

      "It is, is it?" the lion said after falling back in the wolf's lap and licking his muzzle once, "but there's one condition, you're staying the night."

      Marlot became nervous, "I can't, I have to go to my place, we can't have people talk."

      Trembor placed a finger on his lips, "this is non-negotiable, if we start this you're staying the night."

      The wolf closed his eyes and tried to chase his fears away. He wasn't entirely successful, but he still nodded, and with a smile the lion moved in to kiss him.

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