Dinosaur Detective

I’ve been wanting to write a surly, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Private Eye character pretty much as long as I’ve been putting pen to paper, but never really could find a plot that would satisfactorily stick. Enter my “Happy Place” drawings: A little strategy I’ve developed whenever I have a crit I’m particularly sleep deprived for, or feeling less than confident about, they basically amount to fun little doodles of whatever ridiculous scene strikes my brain as the escapist pick-me-up I need at the time. Usually it’s just a lot of beaches and the like, but (seeing as it’s my brain) some are a little bit *less intuitive.* Like, for instance, this little number below. Suddenly, everything just fell into place... 

When Sanjay Mann got into the business 3 years ago, he never really expected it to actually succeed as a sustainable venture: As far as he saw it at the time, striking out as a P.I. basically just constituted a relatively painless way to continue ignoring the perilously impending call of real life for another couple of months. At least so far, though, he’s always managed to sneak that one last job just when it seems he’s on the brink, contenting himself with the usual P.I. fodder a limited pool of competition affords  him, and the fact that, at least most days, the work is as tolerable as any job. And while he may concede that the cavalier over-specificity of his self-appointed title as the “Dinosaur Detective,” a nod to his first case and his idea of a bad joke, sees him his fair share of curious drunk college students, he’s also found it has the benefit of peaking potential clients’ interest enough to push them through the door.

When Officer Sofia Fortuna comes knocking one brisk autumn evening with a cagey mystery of an assignment, though, it might also get him a lot more than he bargained for...

Also, bit of a rating to this one: STRONG language throughout, so you probably know better than I if that's something you should be reading or not...

Sanjay Mann, P.I.
Dinosaur Detective
A typically fantastical original Thom Swanson romp

Chapter 1

The buzzer rang angrily, grating through the scattering ghosts of my undisturbed evening.
Disadvantage of living upstairs from your office I suppose.
For probably a proper minute I seriously considered not answering. I was kinda sorta buzzed already, from the pre-gaming I was kinda sorta doing before my kinda sorta friends bailed on our kinda sorta plans, and I kinda sorta just went with it.
Guess it’s just that kinda sorta evening.
On the other hand, I don’t really have posted hours as such. Think I even have something to that effect on the plaque—

“Hours: Damned if I care, try your luck.”

—Or some such similarly arrogant bullshit begetting someone of my apathetic disposition, less three years of soul extinguishing experience and a proper appreciation for plaque-minters’ thoughts on character count.
Kinda sad when you don’t even remember what your own damn plaque says.
I just know the big typeset for sure at this point—

“Sanjay Mann, P.I.

Again, sense of humour: Probably not the best way to compensate for a complete lack of any kind of business acumen…
The buzzer went again, pulling a heavy sigh from the rattling depths of my chest. I justified sinking another couple of seconds of contemplation swilling the last dregs of my beer. As I downed it, I was hit with the strongest urge yet to ignore the intrusion, but as you also might infer from that insight on my sign, I’m not really in a position to be turning away work right now.
Not that I ever am, come to that.
The name alone will probably tip you to the fact that I’d never really expected this to actually work as a serious venture.
It was a nod to my first case. Would’ve been pretty shortly after I finally realized academia really wasn’t my strong suit, dropping out of college a third of the way through my junior year, much to my dear mother’s dismay, proper Indian parent that she is.
I’d managed to get a gig doing security while I “figured things out,” mainly, I think, on the merits of my size coupled with a years-perfected impersonation of my old man’s best stony military demeanor.
So this company had us on the door for this gala at the university museum, where some Doctor had just found the biggest/oldest/most-complete/whateverest skull of one of those obscure early dinosaurs you’ve never heard of or cared about, and it was apparently a big deal in the more learned circles of the place. Not really much a gig from a security standpoint; more helping over-indulged rich patrons into their waiting town cars than knocking skulls together, but for 16.50 an hour with no experience I wasn’t complaining.
Anyways, long story short, I guess the fossil was nicked at some point and everyone lost their shit.
I remember the cops were convinced it was some kind of professional job. Apparently the bone was stupidly valuable, being the biggest/oldest/most-complete/whateverest game-changer-of-a-big-deal that it was, and there were rumors of some letter from the doctor bloke’s arch rival. Plus everyone seemed super impressed by “all the extra security” the museum had hired for the event.
As a significant percentage of that “extra security,” I readily pointed out that the gig was sold more as courteous porter than sunglass-and-earpieced gauntlet, so we weren’t exactly patting people down and deflecting fossil-thieving ninjas in the shadows, but ultimately I reckon the cops of this town just weren’t equipped to handle something on this scale.
And between you and me, they’d probably seen one too many heist movies than entirely benefitted the case to boot.
So the official beat was already sitting ill with me, and it was looking like my reputation in security was shaping up to be pretty muddy, making me extra conscious of things like references and paychecks, when I catch wind that a couple of the university donors from the event were putting together a reward for information about the thing.
So I played on some of my own suspicions, no doubt helped in forming with my oh-so-recent estrangement from the college scene, and in due order managed to track the bone to the mantle of one of the local frat houses.
Whether that would’ve been that is anybody’s guess, but when I went to collect, the dean was unwarrantedly enthralled; kept raving over my “prodigious skill,” or what I liked to think of as “basic application of common sense.”
Kept using that word too, “prodigious”: That’s one of those words that’s fine in writing, but is impossible to pull off in actual conversation.
Anyways, I’ve got this guy waxing poetic about how I should be a detective and all the business he’d refer me—which turned out to be complete bullshit as it happens; in hindsight I realize it’d take a special kind of fuck-up to actually have any kind of business to refer a PI—but somewhere in the spiel the whole “dinosaur” alliteration occurred to me, at which point I reckon I had to commit just for the sake of the bit.
Plus I had that check in my pocket and this harebrained idea seemed as legitimate an excuse as any to ignore the perilously impending call of real life for another month or two, so I cashed in a couple of my old man’s contacts to help fast track a license and set up shop.
Like I said, I never expected it to succeed as a sustainable endeavor. I’ve certainly never held any ambitions towards investigative vocations, but most days the work is as tolerable as any job, and while I’m pretty sure I’d never be confused as a successful business, at least so far I’ve always managed to sneak that one last minute job right when it seems I’m on the brink.
It probably helps to be in a small enough community that I have a pretty limited pool of competition, too.
Generally, then, I mostly just catch the usual P.I. fare—cheating boyfriends, one-offs freelancing for some of the smaller law firms, and more recently this generation’s notion of “missed connections,” which can always be interesting, depending on how tolerant Mommy and Daddy’s checkbook is.
Once I’d realized I was actually garnering enough traction to maintain at least a semblance of momentum, I admit to being a bit bemused that this traffic  seemed undeterred by my self-destructively cavalier jest at specificity, and while I do concede that a statistically significant portion of my callers end up being curious drunk uni students, sharing a college town with the country’s leading school for Paleontology has the added perk that the name has actually landed me half a handful of genuinely dinosaur related cases.
Nothing as glamorous as the biggest/oldest/most-complete/whateverest whatooyacallit skull, of course, but at the end of the day, I’ve found, if nothing else, christening yourself the “Dinosaur Detective” often piques potential clients’ interest enough to push them through the door.
Which brings us back to tonight’s buzzer, whose most recent echoes still rang through my fleeting reminiscences.
Steeling my determination, I hopefully lobbed my empty toward the recycling from the stairs, missing noisily by several unforgiving feet, and wrenched the door open far more gruffly than I anticipated.
I don’t think I had any expectations for who I would find on the other side, but I was still surprised to meet the face of a lady cop, quickly flashing from its doubtful glance up toward the characteristic tinkle back to a standardly shielded façade.

I’ve always been a bit at odds with that term, “Lady Cop.” My experience, a cop is a cop is a cop; gender doesn’t really figure into it.
But still, it’s the kind of diction I always feel people in my profession are by definition obliged to use, and, anyways, it wouldn’t do for you to think I’m gonna be running around with some mustachioed, doughnut-shoveling, mall-cop-of-a stereotype here.
In fact, I should describe her. I noticed that in a book I read recently; the author went into pointedly specific detail with all their characterizations, and it struck me that after you surpass a certain level of reading you tend not to get those explicit descriptions as much.
Plus she’s pretty damned atypical as far as blues go, and if I’m going to make a big deal about putting the right picture in your mind, I might as well do it properly.
She was young, probably only my age, and actually pretty small for the job, slenderly filling out the lower end of average, but with that characteristically squared academy stance to compensate. The rigid discipline of the effort was especially poignant, clearly born of a familiar resigned appetence to prove herself, the far set brown eyes lazering out a permanent dare to try something. Though the uniform didn’t give away much in the way of figure, you could tell she took the job seriously, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if she could lift as much as I could.
With the weight gap, I’ve got enough tricks up my sleeve, I could probably take her, but it definitely wouldn’t be a fight I’d look to readily get into.
In of itself, the whole “tough as nails” comportance is common enough I suppose, even with the smaller stature, but that’s where any normality ends.
Her hair, naturally a sandy brown, judging from the sharp eyebrows, was dyed bright blue, pulled back into a short ponytail low beneath the cap, with several loosened strands waving past her ears. Similarly, her broad, largish freckled nose was pierced with a small gemmed stud I’m surprised she could get away with, and the sleeves of her shirt were rolled into neat coils just above the elbow despite the seasonal bite.
Speculating on the purchase of these small rebellions, I looked past the hard professional air she wore to mask the round face’s natural soft innocence, and I could catch just a glimpse of a playful exuberance the job hadn’t quite yet managed to suppress.
I corroborated this impression with the observation that her small, slim lips kept quivering minusculy upwards at the corners before being reminded to flatten back to the unyielding pursed line evidently foreign to them, and made a mental note filing this snippet in my extensive catalog of tells.
And hell, while we’re on describing, I should do myself too.
I recon I got a bit too much of my old man’s Anglo-Saxon to really qualify as “dark”—I generally fall somewhere between white and vaguely ethnic—but at six two I’m “tall” enough, and I can usually pull of “handsome” if pressed, now I’ve grown into myself a bit.
I should probably take better care of myself, and I’ve never really had the discipline to work out properly, so I’ve got a few too many pockets of padding to qualify for a properly athletic body, but I keep pretty active and throw my stubborn strength around enough that I have pretty good muscle definition. Couple that with my exceptionally broad shoulders and burly barrel chest and I usually give the impression I’m a lot bigger than I actually am. Or so I’ve gathered.
I've always had a kind of sentimental impression that my features were roughly carved. Heavy dark eyebrows anchor my flakey, hazel eyes and sturdy, expressive nose. The stanch chin is kept well in proportion with the thick, bowed lips and unconditionally cloaked in some degree of scraggly beard that invariably starts to wisp down my neck to mingle with the unruly curls of chest hair I’ve resigned myself to, no matter how much effort I put into maintaining it.
My hair is a dark espresso that can often pass for black, unless I spend too much time in the sun on the beach, where it will bleach all the way to a milky red, and with it, I don’t even try. I leave it instead to grow to a shaggy length that would send my old man into conniptions if he could see it, and it falls into sharp pointed shelves that make me look like—at least according to one ex-girlfriend—a “walking Christmas tree.”
I’ve never put too much stock in my appearance, either, so the ruffled plaid shirt, stained jeans, and scuffed boots I wore were pretty typical fare.
Needless to say, we cut a pretty stark picture, oppositely framed in my doorway.
It was clear the cop was a bit put off by my unkempt entrance, and I could see now she was already ill at ease, almost imperceptibly shifting her weight from foot to foot, and continually stopping herself from looking over her shoulder, as betrayed by the stiffening bulges in her neck muscles.
To her credit though, she quickly recovered, reasserting the professional command as she introduced herself, “Um, Good evening. I’m Officer Sofia Fortuna. Are you the dinosaur guy?”
That last bit sort of spilled out, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck bristle slightly with it. So it was one of these visits.
“That’s what it says on the plaque,” I said, gesturing. A rehearsed line at this point.
I could see her grappling with indecision, eyes flashing over me in the slightest of glances, and actually looking out over her shoulder for something in the distance I couldn’t see, before finally making up her mind and leaning in towards me with a new hushed edge in her words.
“Look, we’ve got a situation. It’s out of our depth; something in your specialty,” she said meaningful.
Now this was a surprise. Definitely not something you get every day.
Properly intrigued now, I turned on my mental windshield wipers to clear the narcotic haze from those parts of my brain trying to parse the meaning from her coy reticence.
I stared at her for a good couple seconds from behind my resolved mask, kept up purely out of professional habit rather than for any particular benefit of the case at hand, wondering silently what the police could possibly want with a private detective, and what it had do with some gag about dinosaurs.
“Yeah, sure. Alright,” I said finally, rolling my jaw calculatedly, “Why don’t you step in then.”
I gestured in towards the office, but she made no move to follow.
“Actually, it’s really very urgent,” she said, with another of those little hops, “Like, feet on the ground? Maybe if you followed me to the…um…”
She trailed off with a small gulp, and it was almost enough to break my poker face.
I managed to keep it up for another measured beat, though, mind racing for her hidden meaning as I carefully scrutinized her. I’ve found it cultivates the right brooding impression to keep the clients on edge a bit with the ball in your court.
“Fine. Lead the way,” I said curtly, then, grabbing my favorite long leather coat from its hook, swinging it over my shoulders in a single practiced gesture, and made to lock the door behind us.
She didn’t move though, rather trying to look past me into the office, and opening her mouth uncertainly.
“Don’t you need…have any equipment?” she asked hesitantly, leaning in closer yet and dropping her voice almost to a whisper, “You know, weapons? Or...”
Now let me tell you, that is a properly weird thing to hear coming from a cop, and I felt an unbidden frown pull down the corners of my mouth.
My mind flashed dubiously to my “piece,” and I briefly toyed with the notion that this was some kind of convoluted bust. I guess it’s pretty obvious I’d have a gun registered, my line of work. That’s what I’d figured too, when I got it as I was starting out, before quickly realizing that practically speaking, it basically just amounted to an expensive toy that wasn’t really worth the upkeep in day to day operations. Damn fun to fire off though.
On balance, I decided to resist the urge to offer up my papers.
“I mean, I can dig up my nine, but I’m really not sure I even have any bullets,” I said instead, “And I’d take any odds you’re a better shot than me.”
I’d meant it almost as a joke, but you wouldn’t guess it from looking at her. Any attempt to hide the doubt that had been plaguing her had now been abandoned, her face instead dissolving into a look of shock that bordered on horror.
I watched her mouth “a nine millimeter?” slightly, before managing to splutter, “But, this situation…I don’t know that you…I mean, don’t you have anything…bigger?”
That right there should have been a red flag, but just at that moment I caught sight of my axe sitting in the umbrella stand and all caution flew to the wind with the picture of the idea.
Of course, I don’t normally keep an axe by the door. I feel the need just to clarify that. I was just chopping firewood for old Mrs. Robinson next door a couple days back and hadn’t had a chance to put it away yet. Again, just to clarify about Mrs. Robinson, there’s nothing going on there, in case you were thinking that was some kind of weird allusion; I swear that’s honestly her name: I just like to feel helpful, and to promote the kind of community I’m always thinking we’re lacking here stateside where ever I can. Plus she has excellent taste in beer...
So I’ve got this axe sitting right there, and Fortuna’s set me up so perfectly with that whole “something bigger” bit, you can’t even fault me for going with it on this one.
“Ah, you want bigger. Right-o, sure thing,” I said hefting the axe into view showily and again making to shut the door.
“Mr. Mann,” she said, nostrils flaring slightly, “This is serious. We don’t have time to—”
“Who say’s I’m not being serious,” I said, completely deadpan, “Trust me. I am the expert after all.”
I cracked a malicious flash of a smile at that, muscling forward and literally shutting the door on the matter.
For a beat, I was sure she’d protest again, her mouth hanging open slightly and eyebrows crossly furrowed, but I could tell I’d shaken her with the incontrovertible seriousness of that “expert” line: I’m a very good liar afterall.
Then the unmistakable sounds of commotion began to waft their way through the guarding boughs of the autumning trees lining the streets, and it seemed to settle the matter.
With a consiliatory grunt, Fortuna pulled her eyes finally from their inquisitive probing of my now shielded office, and motioned for me to follow the brisk pace she charted toward the town center.
I was again surprised to see that she wasn’t with a car or bike, evidently on foot patrol, which meant whatever it was had to be close. I could distinguish the sirens now too, peeling out of the layered ruckus still largely held at bay by the town’s sleepy atmospheric inertia. There were a lot of them, couple of dozen I should think in the least: I hadn’t had sirens like that since the stint we lived in Paris.
Whatever this was, it was significant, and I started to remember my misgivings about Fortuna’s cageyness.
As if sensing this hesitation, she began to speak, somewhat haltingly from ahead of me.
“So, do you need like a briefing or something? I might not be the most the qualified with,” she hazarded a quick glance back at me with another of those judging, micro-second onceovers, “this stuff, but…” she trailed off again.
            “Won’t be necessary,” I heard my mouth grunt, evidently forgetting the concern just voiced by that small part of my brain not given over to snarkiness, “I generally like to do my own recon a bit myself first thing anyways. Don’t really trust other people’s take on things without getting my own input in, if I can help it. No offense.”
            It was true. Plus I have this bad habit where if someone says or implies I can’t do something or need help with it, I take it as a challenge, and I’m really bad at turning down challenges.
            Suffice it to say, any reservations I’d had about going into this ever approaching melee blind had been momentarily placated with the convoluted notion that it was somehow my idea, and Fortuna for her part seemed guiltily relieved to be able to continue avoiding breaching that murky hang-up out loud.
            She did offer a final, “Just, its…big. Even by your standards, I’m sure,” doing nothing for the nervous flutters linking my stomach to that small overridden voice.
            She didn’t give them a chance to stake a claim, though, turning back toward her tacit objective.
            Apart from that glance, she’d been focused determinedly ahead, not even turning to speak, but rather pushing an ever more anxious pace as the impending clamor began to sharpen, finally reaching that skipping-halfstep powerwalk for several strides before committing to a full jog.
            I followed suit wordlessly, my longer legs quickly proving to be nowhere near as effective an equalizer for her practiced rhythm as I might have hoped.
            I tried not to dwell on this as the blocks mounted and inevitably began to tell their toll. That’s the thing about cardio: Doesn’t matter what kind of shape somebody looks like they’re in—get their heart pumping a bit and you can pretty quickly sort out who’s serious and who’s not.
            Fortuna was pretty oblivious to my lagging plight, the visible intent focus on our fast approaching destination blocking out anything else, and I tried to put off reminding her of my all but forgotten presence as long as possible.
            I’m hardly at my most flattering when running, and already my breathes were reduced to sharp ragged gasps and my initial suave, rolling gate had slipped and loosened to the point of complete collapse. The axe, maybe a cute joke back at the office, was definitely seeming a less advisable hindrance now as it bounced sloppy at my side, doing everything in its inanimate power to trip me from the ever loosening, sweaty grip I wielded over it…

Plus stopping to ask if we could slow up a bit definitely qualified as a concession of weakness.

Too much longer, though, and I physically would have no choice. We must have been closer to a mile out than half by this point, which is pretty well my limit in the best of times.
I was probably on my fourth or fifth “Just do it already. Stop her. Do it now”’s, had the words halfway out my mouth if not for the searing oxygen I was desperately trying to suck in, when I realized I’d blown right past her, catching my bearings to see I’d stumbled clear into the middle of a deserted Main Street.
Forcing a tactical impulse to recover, I looked up for why Fortuna had stopped, and for a second I fumbled my sluggish thoughts trying to make sense of the image of her huddling for cover at the mouth of the alley I’d erupted from.
Then I felt as much as heard a low, sensational rumble, and felt the bottom melt out of the world as I turned, dread and realization dawning on me at last.
Suddenly it all made sense; Fortuna’s coy difficulty finding words for anything, all the evasive references to “my specialty” and “equipment”…
Standing in front of me, as little as fifteen meters away, was a fully grown Tyrannosaurs Rex.

Chapter 2

One thing was for sure, Fortuna was right when she said it was “big.” Even with the new insight into her actual implications, that qualifier was, if anything, an understatement.
The Rex was, quite simply, massive, a comfortable four car lengths nose to tail, and layered with stocky ripples of hard muscle that were constantly ashimmer with charged energy and unassailable power, leaving little doubt that despite her confounding girth she was easily capable of realizing speeds you’d expect to see in normal applications of that “car lengths” unit.
As it was, She was currently moving with slow, fluid motions, swaying Her head from side to side to keep me in view of Her sidelong eyes, the motion carrying down Her body in a quiet, mesmerizing wave through to the flicking tip of the thin balancing tail as She lowered Her head toward street level, breathing in the scent of my slipstream in deep, deliberate snuffs. Her stomach and sides were armored in a thick, leathery forest green plate that tapered in downy, speckled-brown stripes moving up Her torso to the rattling plumage bristling from Her neck down Her back. The camouflaging effect combined with the bewitching motions to mingle in the hot clouds of exhalation seeping upwards from the open, wet, sabre-studded maw to join the cloying ammonia musk visibly misting off of Her in the impressionable evening chill to complete her ethereal, hypnotic presence.
I didn’t immediately register with the pumping rushing in my ears, but as I marshaled my reeling senses I realized She was emitting a low, pulsating cooing from Her chest, that now quickened as She overcame the surprise of my entrance, taking a tentative, seismic step forward with a soft, curious chorus of popping bugles rolling up her throat.
You could tell She was interested in me, but not in a Hollywood, go-to-the-ends-of-the-earth-risking-life-and-limb-for-that-last-human-mcnugget kind of way, so much as the inquisitive wariness of having a strange, small, squishy creature burst into your path in an unknown, overwhelming environment, reeking of foreign pheromones, wheezing uncontrollably, and otherwise giving every indication it was on death’s door.
Realizing this, I forced myself to pull together, clipping back my breathing as much as my furiously jumping heart would allow, and squaring my defeated posture into stitch-aggravating shape.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t in immediate danger at this point. The Rex was still hanging back cautiously, and She was far enough away yet, I reckon I had the agility on Her to dive away if She changed Her mind on that stance.
That being said, I’d garnered enough oxygen back by this point that every fiber of my self-conscious was now quickly shifting its interest from protesting our uncharacteristic exertion to the imploring reflex to turn and run. It stood to reason, I acknowledged, oddly detached; no matter what end of the stick Fortuna had gotten back at the office, I was definitely not equipped for whatever kind of hellish situation this actually was, the mere thought of the silhouette I cut squared off against this impossible primal force armed with naught but my already-battered wits and some stupid axe, as nausea-inducing as it was laughable.
I was a bit too taxed to fully escape the Rex’s enthralling dominance, though, before another train of thought muscled its way through to contention, largely comprising the imagined figment of a bus of hypothetical orphans stalled conveniently around the corner.
That’s another problem I have; I’m actually rather more given to the whole stupid chivalrous, protector shtick than I’m entirely comfortable copping to, and chances to exercise a bit of proper heroism are actually remarkably hard to come by in today’s society. Sure, in this exact scenario with no one immediately around, there’d probably be a pretty convincing argument to be made that I’d be working primarily for the benefit of my own ego, but, crafty son of a bitch  that it is, it came back ready with the counter that if I did duck out now, only to find out there was bus of actual orphans later, I’d never be able to let myself live it down.
All that to say, in the grand scheme of things, I actually tend to think of myself as generally pretty expendable, and at least I can more or less take care of myself in a “feet on the ground” situation. So, while I certainly wasn’t qualified to handle A GIANT FUCKING DINOSAUR, I’d be damned if anyone else for the last 65 million years really was either. Barring, of course, some conspiratorially astronomical blanket pulled over the eyes of pretty well the entire populous obscuring my knowledge of this elite class of dinosaur wranglers.
I tried not to picture a giant white sheet draped ceremoniously over an unmistakable, flexing theropodian silhouette.
Temporarily shelfing that troubling reflection, I made a decision and reluctantly flipped the manual override on the “flight” half of my adrenal instincts, starting instead to fire through everything I knew about Tyrannosaurs Rex.

I’ve got this theory, closest thing I have to any kind of business model or life philosophy: Know your opponent.
Sounds pretty straightforward when you dumb it down to that level of catchiness, but frankly I’m amazed the extent to which people seem oblivious or willfully ignorant this basic kernel: You throw them any little bit of conflict and all rationally is the first casualty thrown out the window. Shit just gets all persecuted and self-centered, and their adversary is trivialized.
Which is pretty much the stupidest thing you can do. Throw punches blindly, and you’re bound to get some busted knuckles.
I try to make a point about doing things differently, guess that’s why I’m at least not complete shit as a PI. The most important thing is sussing out the other guy. Figure out who he is and what makes him tick; where he’s coming from and what he’s trying to get from it. What kinda context and motivations is he bringing into this?
Figure that out, and you’ve got him, before you even go in. You play the man: It doesn’t matter if it’s a drunken fist fight, or a philandering partner.
Or a Tyrannosaurus Fucking Rex.

I’m hardly an expert, but I’ll admit to an appropriate appetite for those things terrible and lizard-y, and  I’ve picked up enough tidbits through my paleontologically-baiting title to be getting on with.
I was fairly confident saying, then, that despite Hollywood’s panderingly theatrical insistence, She was almost certainly an opportunistic hunter. She might take some stabs at bigger game, if it was obvious enough, and could certainly handle Herself in a fight if it came down to it, but probably got by more regularly on cred: Bully your way to the top of the scavengers line, and don’t waste the calories it’d take to nab that lone, elusive, person-sized mammal.
As long as I didn’t walk into Her unsuspecting jaws, then, it shouldn’t take too much to convince Her I was more trouble than I was worth.
A “herd” of defenseless humans would be an entirely different matter though, and I somehow suspected the university powers that be would fail to see a couple of “weak or straggling” students picked of the edge of the crowd as acceptable links lost to the food chain.
When you frame it that way, it’s pretty obvious what I had to do.
A vague notion was rattling its way through the back of my knowledge base that the Rex lived predominantly in plains and swamps, and the chorus of car alarms haunting Her path through the town seemed to support the notion that the narrow, tree lined residential streets would serve to funnel Her toward the most open route She could find.
That is Main Street.
As in, now She’d found it, She could either turn, and follow it straight into the open snack bar that is campus, or She could keep coming toward me and the all-but-deserted-for-the-day industrial district.
Another grinding step in my direction seemed to drive the point home.
She clearly was put out by the unfamiliarity, largely engrossed in feeling it out, so assuming that a century or two of scrupulous study weren’t completely off base, I was actually in with a better shot than I might normally expect.
“Try telling that to Godzilla over there,” snapped my common sense irritably, but I quickly suppressed it, as it seemed was fast becoming habit, consciously channeling the energy to a plan instead.
Wasn’t much of one to be fair, but I figured I basically just had to make sure She stayed in curiosity mode: Toe that fine line between keeping Her occupied and getting eaten, and we should theoretically be able to walk right out of here. Just so long as I didn’t do something stupid to make Her feel threatened and revert into fight mode, it might even work…

And so it was that I did my best possible Steve Irwin, waving my arms about in front of me in time to Her slow rhythm, and taking a decisive step backwards at the precise moment two of the new charger patrol cars bounced into the street behind us, fishtailing sideways as the drivers momentarily forgot the road with the sudden realization of the Rex.
The rear car caught the first sharply in the back fender, and the resultant lurching crunch shattered the mesmerized stillness, the cutting siren wailing and harsh strobic lights surging into aggravating focus through the cracks.
My body seemed to catch on to the implication of this development before my mind had fully caught up, jumping forward with a sharp shout trying desperately to keep Her attention, but it was already too late.
The riders in the first car were out and shielded behind their doors, pistols trained and firing, and those from the second quickly joined after reversing to a less prone position in the alley.
The Rex pivoted to face the assault, arching Her tail and neck up toward Her center of mass to complete the motion with a curdling, snapping swiftness. She landed the maneuver planting Herself low and opening Her jaw wide in a menacing display of Her teeth, spittle and pungent mist propelled from Her gullet with powerfully threatening gnucking barks She roared out at them.
She continued to play up the display from a cautious distance, bristling the feathers at Her neck into an intimidating mane, and running Her bellows through disturbingly alien tonal range as She bobbed Her torso up and down, stamping Her feet with enough chaotic force to thankfully dispel my reflexive reaction to run up and start hacking at Her legs with the ax.
There wasn’t any use engaging in the fight now it had been determined; there was only one way that would end, and the odds weren’t coming back in mankind’s favor. Brute force was out: if I was going to have any hope in this now, I’d have to out play Her.

Chapter 3

I allowed myself another brooding beat, before finally trumping my natural inclination and turning my back on the fight and screaming metal corresponding to the Rex’s first offensive lunge. Taking the first few lethargic strides of a light canter, I frantically threw my eyes around the dark street for inspiration.
            I’d almost forgotten about Fortuna with all the excitement, and my shot nerves returned an embarrassing shock when she flitted up to my side, far more quickly and lightly than any normal person had any right to.
I just had a quick view of her pale face before I pulled ahead, her falling instep beside me, but it was enough to see the word “plan” forming on her ponderous lips, so I quickly preempted her, letting my usual placeholder anger swell to mask my own floundering indecision.
“Can’t you call those dickwits off before they completely fuck everything?” I snapped irritably, with a thumb back toward what I tried not to think was left of the patrolmen.
I didn’t wait for her to respond, continuing more thinking out loud than for her actual benefit, “Tyrannosaurs had a reasonably large brain, probably fairly evolved for a dinosaur, but She’s still gonna be running pretty primal programming. Plus She’s obviously built to stand, fight, and win when push comes to shove, so you now your boys have triggered survival mode, we’re pretty well fucked.
“So million dollar question: you’re basically the Cretaceous version of a tank, what trumps survival on your scale of priorities? The obvious answer would be sex, but I somehow doubt you guys have got a full size Rex suit lying around, and even if you did, I’m not volunteering to—”
I trailed of as I saw it, and it finally all came to me.

There’s an actually-pretty-sizable meat packing plant buried in the middle of the industrial district, and I recognized their logo on the small box truck parked half a block away.
An inspired burst of speed saw us close enough to note the padlock barring the back, but it was pretty small and had seen better days, so painlessly yielded to a pair of well-placed blows from the back of the ax, landed in quick succession before Fortuna even had a chance to protest.
I popped the latch, and any further argument was instantly washed away with a familiar overpowering wave of iron and damp collapsing out on us.
“Bingo,” I muttered softly, taking quick stock of the various boxes and contained miscellanea before jogging lightly toward the driver’s seat, Fortuna wordlessly peeling around the other side.
The axe was poised to follow the suit of the lock with the window, but at the last second I caught the top sliver of a glare from Fortuna peeking over through the windows, the reproachful eyebrows pausing me long enough for her to grab the door handle and prove the cab unlocked.
I grunted conciliatorily as I followed her up, wedging myself under the dash before I could catch the full brunt of her condescending, and she gracefully conceded her victory, limiting any response to the amusedly pursed lips, skewing over to the side of her face.

Now a good car jack could hotwire an old truck like this in under a minute; I didn’t have any of my stuff, but I reckoned I could still do pretty well for matching that time, properly motivated as I was. Even then, I was still worried if it’d be enough, or if we’d already irrevocably lost the Rex’s attention.
I’d already gruffly torn away the dash cover and was taking stock of the newly exposed wires I had to work with, when a sharp jangling made me look up to see Fortuna triumphantly shaking a set of keys pulled from the sun visor.
From her haughty expression, you could tell I wasn’t going to get away scot free on this one, but then she caught sight of my expression, her face paling to match my look of dread and realization, because when I’d looked up, a set of taunting keys wasn’t the only thing I’d seen.
I’d also caught a brown and green flash in the rearview, bearing down on us over the trademark “Objects in the mirror” bit.
Hardly thinking, I shot a hand upward, grabbing the keys and fist that held them in one go, mashing both into the ignition and turning as I brought my elbow down to bear on the clutch.
Fortuna couldn’t have seen Her coming, but she was smart enough to figure out what was going on, and kept the torque on to engage the starter as I dropped my other hand to gun the gas, popping the clutch to send us peeling forward not an instant too late.
We jumped the curb simultaneously with the jarring impact of the Rex slicing at the side of the truck with Her teeth, and the combined force was nearly enough to tip us over.
Fortuna was on it though, jerking the wheel from the passenger’s seat sharply enough to get all four wheels back on the ground, and I could feel us careening around the sidewalk as she struggled to regain control.
I kept the pressure on the gas, figuring a bit of fancy wheel work was well worth the alternative, managing the shift to second as I pulled myself up toward a proper seated position.
I got as far as to get my eyes above the windshield, catching the first glimpse of our trajectory just in time to see us angling straight for an old sedan as we corrected back towards the road. I barely had time to even register the impending collision, and my face slammed into the horn forcefully in time with the blow.
We’d caught the car squarely in the back axel, though, and the truck had the momentum to carry us through. Another second or two, and I was able to shake the cartoon birds from their orbit around my head and swallow the taste of blood in my mouth, properly hoisting myself into the driver’s seat and pointedly making the sullen shift to third as I steered into the clear road ahead.

A quick roll of the tongue reassured me all my teeth were still in place, but a hot splash on my arm told me the wet sinus pressure was my nose bleeding as well, and I wiped it gingerly on the back of my sleeve, not needing a mirror to know I was making a proper horror show of my face.
I hazarded the glance regardless, and was able to at least sate the jolting nerves ignited by the suddenness of the contact, with the confirmation that the Rex was well behind us.

“Not sure how fast these things run,” I admitted once the shock had worn off enough to let the silence brood into awkward contention, “That was a quick turnaround, though, I want to get a bit of distance on Her before we get stuck with it that close again.”
Fortuna stared ponderously out the window, and the pause made up its ground, humming along to the engine with enough vengeance that I was sure she was too shaken to rise to the conversation, and made my peace with the silence.
But then she spoke, suddenly breaking its hold with a hard confidence that caught me off guard.
I didn’t immediately track, still slowed in my own ruminations, but she clarified before I had to ask.
“You said ‘Her,’ it’s a female?”
It was still distant, and I could recognize her compartmentalizing the shock and rawness of the situation behind the forced nonchalance of the query.
“Don’t know,” I offered, more softly probably than I’d been up to this point, continuing the lethargic pace of the conversation.
“So then why’d you say ‘Her’?” she asked, seizing on the lower stakes of the banter.
It was my turn to pause, then, revving down the red lining turmoil of my subconscious to consider my response.
“A proper Freudian would probably say it was indicative of my fucked up relationship with my folks informing my perception of gender roles and identities,” I let that hang, “but really it’s because of Jurassic Park.”
My humor’s probably optimistically off colour in the best of times, and could tell it was out of place in the high-strung, trip-wire tension of the cab. As it was, I was fast becoming uncomfortable with that personal of an insight hanging in the fizzling space left by the conversation.
I made a show of checking the mirror again, and was dissatisfied to see how far back our pursuer had fallen.
“I’m worried She’s going to lose interest,” I said, casually rolling down the window, “Do you know the plant this truck is from.”
She didn’t answer right away, but I took confirmation from the slow glimpse of recognition as she parsed out the information.
“Great,” I said, casually slipping the axe to my hand poised outside the car, and shifting my frame in my seat, “Take the wheel, I’m going to lay some bread crumbs.”

Chapter 4

It’s actually a fair sight to see a guy my size haul himself through a car window, but I’m surprisingly practiced at dumb shit like that. Trick is to get your center of gravity up over the roof, after that it’s just a matter of dragging your fat ass up after you. That said, there was a dicey moment with the corresponding jerk as Fortuna grabbed the wheel, but I was able to torque myself back up and complete my hop to the cab roof with a definitive push.
I felt a swatting at my feet as they disappeared out the window, along with some undistinguishable admonition from Fortuna below, but I successfully ignored it, posing for a minute on the roof as I collected myself.
It had dropped a couple of degrees since we started out, or at least I was more aware of the autumnal chill juxtaposed to the heat of exercersion fogging up the tightness of the cab, and I was content to sit and adjust as the night washed over me.
The cold felt good needling into my face and exposed skin with the speed of the car: There was something about the raw physicality of it that was centering after the monumental-impossibility-of-a-mindfuck this evening had turned out to be, and even if I still wasn’t much more able to process any of it, I could feel my mind clearing.
My nose had slowed, too, but was still bleeding, several red drops whisking away to disappear into the dark behind us. It was starting to smart now my senses had had a chance to catch up to me, and I ran my facial muscles through their paces trying to get a feel for it.
Was possible it wasn’t even broken. Maybe…
On that thought, I decided I’d treated myself to enough pissing about, and made to make my way down the roof.
Turning, I got a good look at the damage She had caused, and honestly, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least slightly alarming given the brevity of the contact. I was careful, therefore, to steer well clear of the jagged slashes of twisted metal spiking up around the corner of the roof as I slid down to the back, keeping low with as much contact as I could get to maintain my friction against the dewy momentum of air rushing over us.
It seemed the rear doors have must have swung shut in one of our dicey maneuvers or another, but with the axe extended I had the reach on the latch to get it back open in a couple of fishing attempts. Luckily the hit had been in the center of the box, so the frame wasn’t too twisted for the doors to swing open, and a length of straightaway gave me the window to grab the back ledge and drop myself in, swinging forward with enough momentum to send me pin-balling around the cargo.
Once I’d composed myself enough from that landing to get my jumpy-truck-suspension-legs, I was finally at a vantage to observe the rex properly for the first time, and I took maybe a full minute just to study her.
She could actually put on a fair pace in a straight bearing; nothing approaching Hollywood’s red-lining, flat-out car chase speed, of course, but enough you would probably be in trouble on foot. The corners, though, were a different matter: It seemed balancing Her bi-pedal stance cost a lot of momentum at each sharp direction change, making a for a distinct hit to Her agility at speed
It was definitely something we might be able to use in ultimately setting up a trap—granted I had no idea how as of yet—but in our immediate baiting capacity it was going to be increasingly more problematic as we began to weave into the circuitous fabric of the district toward our destination, and it informed my strategy in implementing the next stage of my “plan.”
Again, pretty loose definition of the term, but to be fair still wasn’t exactly rocket science. You might say I was a bit inspired by the finally-abating drops from my nose dotting my path wherever I went a-là Family Circus, but the gist was basically I figured if we were supposedly playing an injured bit of prey, we should look the part. Now, I was actually pretty pleased with Her stamina in keeping up so far, all things considered, but in the mindset of appealing to a scavenger, I figured we could make our Hansel and Gretel game a bit more enticing.
I was aiming for “dino-sized” drops of blood, which is basically to say I’d grab a box of meat, chop at it a bit with the axe to get the juices flowing, chuck it out the back, and repeat ever hundred meters or so, concentrating my efforts around the bends. I was aiming for enough to keep Her interested, but not so interest that she’d cut Her losses and stop for the snack. It appeared to be working. Or at least as far as I could tell…

At any rate, it paced out damn near prefect, and I went ahead and dumped the last couple boxes as we rounded the last bend coming up to the plant, leaving just a pair of plastic drums containing a soup of indistinguishable blood and innards I didn’t want to think too much about for fear of being put off sausages for life. Which was just as well, I had plans for them.
We’d been gaining steadily on the Rex pretty well the whole trip, and there were a series of sharp turns in quick succession leading onto the street, so I didn’t have eyes on her anymore, but I was happy for a bit of leeway to actually get into the plant, so contented myself with the still audible signs of pursuit that my trail was performing as intended.
On my first attempts with the tough plastic barrels, the axe just skipped off, so I reverted to the time-honoured fall back of brunt ‘n’ elbow grease to tip them into the back. Bit messier to be sure, but at least it served as a gag-inducingly odiferous proof of concept that the truck should make an ample mark for the olfactorially-inclined without my continued baiting. And suffice it say, I needed a shower after all this anyways…

That pleasant task complete, I planted myself on the driver’s side door, swinging out into the view of Fortuna’s mirror and flashing the hand signal for “brake” as we came up toward the plant gates.
I let her slow to ten or fifteen miles per hour, then tossed the axe ahead of us to free up my hands, dropping the six feet to the pavement to land in a tight barrel roll.
I pulled it off pretty well, successfully transferring my momentum into the finishing hop to my feet, but in hindsight it was maybe not the best idea after a recent head/face injury, and I staggered for a couple paces as I regained my equilibrium, scooping up the axe as I angled back for the truck.
Fortuna must have stood on the brakes when I dropped, the back wheels fishtailing to a stop as I rounded on it.
“ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?” she yelled, sticking her head out the window to preempt me.
“Very possibly,” I replied nonchalantly before she could go off anymore, doing my best to shrug off my retreating dizziness, but betrayed by the fact the rush had started my nose off again, “Try being a kid growing up on an army base in Africa; you pull stunts like that for fun.”
Shifting tracks, I continued, trying to reinstate some semblance of authority, “Anyways, Love, I was thinking; You take the truck on ahead and lead Her around the block, while I see if I can’t get this gate open?”
“’Fi’,” she corrected, once again taking me aback, “Friends call me ‘Fi.’”
“Random business acquaintances usually call me some variation of ‘Mann’,” I offered in response, somewhat miffed this is what we were spending our hard-won lead on.
She didn’t take it well: We were definitely going have to work on this humour thing.
“Sanjay,” I amended, “To say I have friends may be stretch, but you can call me Sanjay.”
It was a real bonding moment. Needless to say, then, there followed an extremely awkward beat, as the introduction hung unresolved and I was painfully aware of the lost seconds slipping away, but somehow unable to move the conversation forward. Finally, Fortuna took the initiative to extend an uncomfortably-angled hand out the window, and I dubiously wiped the meat-slop and nose-blood from my own to complete the shake.
“So what do you say, Fi?” I said, sealing the gesture, “Hopefully those barrels I loosed back there are pungent enough to keep Her on you, but I’d still say you could let her get pretty close, if you were comfortable with it; give me a chance to see what we’re working with in there…”
“I don’t know, Sanjay,” she said uncertainly, “Couldn’t we just ram the gates?”
I gave a humourless laugh, “They really do have you lot watching too many action movies, don’t they? This isn’t your grandma’s chain link fence: It’s proper industrial grade. Granted a clunker this size probably could make it through you get it going fast enough, but that sorta thing doesn’t exactly come off so cleanly in real life…”
“If you say so,” she conceded, still sounding unconvinced, but swayed with a crash not far in the distance, “So, I guess, god-speed, or whatever?”
That one got a genuine laugh from me, “God-speed, or whatever.”
 I swear I caught her smiling slightly as she drove off.

Chapter 5

Back on my own, I got to it pretty quickly. The padlock on the gates was a couple categories and a league above the affair from the truck, so there wasn’t much hope of me getting through it with much less than blow torch, but that didn’t bother me too much at this stage.
I tossed the axe over the fence before me and spread my jacket along the barbed wire, letting the razor edges scar the leather rather than my flesh and organs  as I pushed off, locking my elbows at the top to lift myself over

This was probably the diciest part of the entire affair. Afterall, the whole point of the plan was that meat packing plant would present a pretty enticing target for the Rex, so I was definitely a bit nervous She’d get side tracked now we’d brought so close and come on in before I could get the party started. I’d been pleased to see some of the slop splashing out the back as the truck peeled off, though, leaving a dripping trail just as effective as my more intentional efforts.
Not to mention, another of those Tyrannosaurs tidbits I’ve apparently amassed: You know a those stats about sharks being able to smell a drop of blood a mile away, or something equally ridiculous? Supposedly the Rex’s sniffer was orders of magnitude stronger than that.
Ok, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but even so, if I could still smell the stuff, She must be going apeshit.
…Or it might be I was just catching the scent of my own inundated clothes. Either way, I sunk back behind the fence doing my damnedest to blend into the shadows.

In the end I needn’t have worried. Between that sappy Sesame Street shit with Fortuna and the fence, it was only a matter of seconds before the Rex rounded the corner and came charging by, dead set on the invisible path of the truck, going strong as ever as far as I could tell.
            So, in others words, I’d successfully bought myself some time, and now it was really on as I made use of it.
            A line of windows off to the side of the main warehouse betrayed the plant offices, and I figured that was probably a fair bet of where to start. Plus I needed some way in, after all, and I was inclined to say we’d already wasted too much time to play around with something as unreliable as lock picking…

I gotta say: Axes man. I don’t know why we’re not more about these things: Hardly even had to break step…

Almost instantly a sharp, splitting siren melded in with the breaking glass, but it didn’t take too much to tune it out, and I happened to have it the police force was rather better occupied this evening. Plus I think I was safe in saying the best case scenario meant this whole night was pretty much already a write off for the plant's insurance anyways, and with a bit of luck the noise would serve to further lure the Rex in once Fortuna had played goose long enough to bring our chase to fruition.
It was probably too much to hope for to have some blatant peg board of keys hanging labeled on the wall once I’d picked enough of the bigger shards out of the way to hop through to the dimly lit space beyond, so I wasn’t too disappointed when it wasn’t that easy. As it was, I was already starting to reconsider the simplistic bait and switch of just “getting Her to the plant” and calling it quits: An animal that size, the fence really wasn’t going to pose much of an impediment.
No, if this “trap” was going to be worth its effort, we really needed to get Her inside, where the veritable smorgas inherent in operations would hopefully couple with the whole “four walls and a roof” solidity enough to occupy Her  while we worked out something a bit more permanent.
I devoted a couple seconds rooting through the desk for something to spring the gate, therefore, but when it ultimately proved a fruitless effort, I headed for the plant floor rather than wasting more time right now on something that might not even be a sure thing.
            If everything went well, I’d only need a bit extra time afterall, and Fortuna was smart. I had full confidence in her to take care of herself; I’m sure she could figure something out to buy us a bit more slack.
            Even if she was a cop…
            I added a bit more urgency to my step.
            There was a helpfully obvious button paired to each of the rolling overhead bay doors, and I selected one that would afford a good shot to the gate, punching at the switch to get the gears started turning as I ran past.
            We’d lucked out with the layout of the interior, so my next steps were pretty straight forward. I made directly for the elevated catwalk where a conveyor still had a number of grim pig carcasses hanging hauntingly in the shadows.
            I ramped up my momentum leading into it, taking the clamorously protesting metal stairs three at time and rounding toward the belt at nearly full speed, bodily tackling the nearest carcass to tear it handily from its hook.
            I’d hit it hard enough that it was just a quick heave to throw it over the railing, landing in my new target zone with a disturbing splat. I wasted no time with a second, manually lifting and dragging it over to follow suit.
It was a bit slower, but my adrenaline kept pace for me to repeat the process another half dozen times, till I was satisfied I had a large enough pile of meat in my “kill” to be properly incentivizing.
Now it was just time for my pièce de résistance. If you thought those barrels were effective, this was really going to blow the doors off.

Best guess in the brief seconds I had eyes on it running up here, was it was some sort of settling tank: Sits at the end of the draining troughs following the meat’s track through the conveyor and lets the nastier bits of effluent sink down out of the way as the less exciting liquids are skimmed off the top. Should make for a damn pretty cherry on top my rex sundae, in other words…
There was a forklift on the main floor, parked in the back by a section of tall shelves, and I didn’t waste time backtracking, opting instead to keep running straight toward it, vaulting over the railing onto the mast once I was close enough to make the jump, before climbing down into the seat as it stopped swaying.
The controls were familiar enough, and I brought it around full speed, haphazardly skewering the tank as I slammed into it, thick, pungent ooze seeping out past the forks. It easily lifted free of the works with the benefit of heavy machinery, and I was slightly more careful as I maneuvered it into position over my macabre pile, trying to avoid the spew from the tank painting the machinery at every step.
I poised for the drop, when I heard the undeniable peeling of someone leaning on a horn floating in out of the mist, resonating its way eerily into contention over the trill of the security siren.
Shit. I was out of time. And the gates were still shut.
I left the lift in position, running out to see if I could wave Fortuna around again while I did a more thorough search of the offices.

You gotta hand it to the kid; you tell her to let the Rex get close, she really takes it to heart.

Chapter 6

An airy fog had started to roll in since we set off, and I saw the conic swaths of the headlights first, slicing jaggedly through the night heralding their return.
A second later the truck exploded into view around the corner, tires screaming and suspension pushed to the very edge of tipping as Fortuna slammed it around into the home stretch. And then, of course, came the real show stopper, my precognition evidently not enough to prevent a momentarily flash of goosebumped paralysis as the stretching, yearning bite-personified bolted into focus after it, lingering no more than a meter behind the back of the roof.
The truck gained back a bit as Fortuna gunned into the final run, clearly pushing the accelerator through floor, eking out every last drop of pull the engine had to offer in the race against sinewy muscle and flesh.
I could see the determination in her face as she waved frantically for me to steer clear, bracing as they closed in on the gap, still accelerating.
I was helpless to do anything but watch in enthralled dismay as grill met reinforced metal, everything blurring to slow motion as the cab and gate crumpled into each other, the whole front end of the truck lifting into the air with the sudden transfer of momentum.
It seemed to hang suspended for a still heartbeat, as the hinges and bolts finally gave up the fight, pitching the contorted mass forward at a precarious angle, before the furious, unadulterated mass of dinosaur slammed into it from behind. The tangible force rammed the truck over the brink, pushing it through the fence onto its side to skid a further ten meters along the pavement like it weighed no more than so much cardboard.
The Rex became entangled slightly in the fence in the sudden opening, giving me a fraction of a second to process everything that had just happened and figure out what to do jumping off from it.
Of course, that derelict hero streak I mentioned earlier was really digging in its claim now, seizing on the guilty notion that it was pretty much my fault Fortuna was now pinned in a situation a hell of a lot closer to the literal, gallant damsel-in-distress scenario than I ever thought I’d find myself as a realistic self-respecting member of the twenty-first century, and it was hard to focus on anything more objectively rational than the primal urge to run out there, crack the cab open, and drag her out of there like some kind of big-budget action hero.
With a snarl of breath, I recalled the ill-advisedness of direct confrontation, though, forcing myself to think smart and get back into the mindset of a Tyrannosaurs Rex.
I’d put in enough damned work convincing the thing the truck was prey, after all, I could hardly kick myself now when She went about acting like she’d just made her kill.
I quickly cued up a mental picture of a Rex standing over some fallen dinosaur, the bloody-jawed image of the tyrant lizard king, overlaying it onto the modern carnage of the plant and everything I had to work with, and slowly cracked a deranged grin to myself.
I could still make the trap work, get the Rex into the plant, and away from Fortuna and the truck. How do you pull an apex scavenger away from its kill?
What I needed, was a challenger.

Chapter 7

I picked up a lot questionable skills growing up around my old man’s buddies, but one of the most objectively useful has to be the art of the wolf-whistle.
Now, I stuck two fingers in my mouth, and gave one of the loudest, longest piercing shrills of my life, looking the Rex dead in the eye as She pulled herself free from the twisting remains of fence.
I doubt She could register intent coming from something so foreign as a human face, but none-the-less I packed as much menace into the look as I safely could without burning my eyeballs out of their sockets, and the glare hung charged between us in the echoing hollow left as the whistle faded off, until some unspoken drop of the hat broke the tension, the Rex ducking toward the truck in time to me diving off toward my pile where I’d left the forklift.

I immediately dropped the tank with a booming crash, unleashing an assailing, inconstruable wall that slammed into every one of my senses just as forcibly as the physical wave of surge spilling out into the crevasses of the pile and my unprotected cab alike.
I was already to the door when the full force of the gag reflex hit me, but my stomach fortunately proved strong enough for me to shake it off, as I steered wildly into the stretch of paved no-man’s land to confront the Rex.
As I’d hoped, the percussive impact of the tank falling had caught Her attention, and She was already looking up as I brought the lift to a sliding halt a bit out of reach, giving another splitting whistle.
It seemed She may have already discovered the disappointment of the truck’s inner emptiness, too, so I was fortunate enough to have Her full attention as I jimmied the boom up and down, remembering Her challenging display with the police cars, and doing my best to emulate it within the limits of the lift’s mechanics.
Whether She understood the concession in those terms I can’t say for sure, but it was clear the Forklift was having the desired impression: I hazarded a quick dart toward Her before pulling back several sharp meters, and She followed as surely as if I had Her on a lead.
In the seconds I was gone, She’d spun the truck around as She peeled into the back cargo bay, so I couldn’t see into the cab anymore, but I kept it in the corner of my eye as repeated the backtracking gesture, decisively leading the Rex on my retreat toward the plant. It seemed a long time, but finally I was relieved to see a pair of hands extend out of the upward facing window as a haggard but determined looking Fortuna pulled herself from the wreck.
One of her legs seemed to be messed up, held out at a telling angle, but she didn’t let it slow her down, hardly hesitating to make the heavy jump to the ground below. I let out a final, triumphant whistle, before determining I had the Rex close enough now, spinning in through the door and beelining for the pile.
I came around on the far side of it, so that the carcasses were between me and Her, lowering the boom into the thick of the meat to make sure the tank wasn’t blocking anything, and splashing the forks about enough that it was clear this is what we were talking about.
I could tell I had her now. As She bore down into the room, I slowly backed away from my figurative red X, stopping 5 meters away and raising the carriage to a moderate height I hoped would convey non-threatening inquisitiveness.
I held my breath as She slowly paced forward, doing that unnerving waving-head thing to keep me in Her sight. Finally she stopped directly over the pile, and I could hear my heart drumming in my ribcage as everything froze into Her consideration of the moment: It seemed impossibly slow.
This was the closest we had been, by a long shot, and I could practically feel Her breath, seemingly the only stirring of the unmoving air. Finally, she cocked Her head sideways, pointing one beady eye directly toward the simmering mass for a beat, before dipping Her jaw slightly down toward it.
That was all I needed.
I finally exhaled, lowering the boom almost to the floor in concession and reversing, slowly at first, but picking up speed as the distance between us gained.
I didn’t immediately notice how narrowed in my focus had become in the tension, and I was hardly watching where I was going as I pushed into full speed, still only concerned with getting away from those teeth.
I was clumsy backing in amongst the tight rows of shelves in the back, and ricocheted hard between two of them as I let up off the accelerator far too late, splitting a shelf on one side to send a landslide of heavy boxes raining down on me.

Even I can’t take 25 kilos directly to the (now-definitely broken) nose unfazed, and I lost a couple of seconds to the flashing cycles through white and black of cerebral-degauss before my vision began to tunnel back into watery clarity.
I remember noticing several fleeting, inconsequential oddities in my immediate bubble before turning my attention outward and immediately realizing something was wrong in some still functioning back corner of my mind.
It took me much longer to identify what, however, that little red flag was, as I struggled to train my vision to the space ahead. I was having trouble focusing my eyes on one spot, and was momentarily distracted with the comical impression that the panning jumping of the scene was the film slipping on the projection of my universe, before I realized what was off as I finally registered a green and brown silhouette looming swimmily out of the cross-eyed blur of night toward me.
That brought me back into the game pretty quickly, as I sat back upright, trying to figure out why She hadn’t stopped at the “carcass.”
She was doing the waving thing with Her head again too. Why did that bother me so much?
I pushed it from my mind, desperately fighting back distractions and pain, toying with the idea it had been the sound of my less-than-graceful braking “strategy” that had pulled Her away, when it finally hit me—The swaying head bothered me, because Tyrannosaurs Rex, like humans or birds of prey, had binocular vision: This dinosaur’s eyes, however, were spaced off to the side of its head for the less precise, further reaching panoramic peripheries of pigeons or deer. Hence the swaying, perhaps to widen the overlap and hack some added depth out of the monocular set up in a zeroed in scenario like this.
The realization prompted a memory, much deeper than the causal college and business tidbits I’d been drawing from in my profile, of a rare recreational trip in my childhood to a natural history museum, and a pair of enrapturing sculls illustrating a subtle distinction.
Gulping at my suddenly dry mouth, I looked critically at what I had taken for granted before: the side-looking eyes; the narrow, streamlined skull; longer arms than you would expect; three fingers, instead of two…
This wasn’t a Tyrannosaurs Rex; this was Giganotosaurs.

Chapter 8

The difference, in many respects, was inconsequential for our intents and purposes: We had, after all, been generally pretty successful in our premises in baiting Her here. One little hiccup, however, which it seemed may not skip over the transgression, regarded my slapdash strategy of introducing the “challenger.”
A last ditch effort to be sure, but even in my split second cobbling of the plan, I had been playing it to the scavenger Rex; Giganotosaurs, however, was a hunter. I didn’t know how discerning Her olfactory acuity was in tracking, but if you thought about it, the only fresh blood She’d smelled tonight was mine. And to drive the point home, my nose sure was pissing the stuff out now, like some demonic fire hydrant.

More importantly, She had 30 million years less evolution than I’d been banking on, with a drastically smaller brain. Tyrannosaurs, by all accounts, was highly sophisticated, able to prioritize stimuli, and I’d intentionally painted a familiar situation to that mentality, establishing myself as some smaller competitor, and bowing to Her dominance when She’d pushed in to take over the kill. Roll that same interaction back to Giganoto, and you had a very different story. We’re talking banana sized brain here—for an animal the size of a bus. She was going to be much more one track.
And I’d just pulled out all the stops in setting that track to “Challenger Fight mode.”
From the looks of it, I’d done a pretty damn good job too…
I recognized the whole stamping and bobbing routine from Her “fight” with the cops earlier, and I could tell from the increased speed and tone of Her bugles that She was nearing the end of Her caution, already lowering Her center of mass and increasing Her speed toward me as she made to charge.

Chapter 9

I’ve nearly died scores of times. Some misses were a hell of a lot closer than others, but suffice it to say it’s not exactly a new feeling for me. My usually response when I realize I’ve gotten myself into some situation idiotic enough to be boned is pretty undistinguishable from anger, giving me an extra spurt of resolve to stop wussing out and power through it.
This time I didn’t get that. Maybe it was because I’d been through so much already this evening that my adrenal gland was completely tapped. Or maybe it was just that this time, I knew, deep down, I really was fucked.

The lift had come to rest grinding up against the undamaged shelf, and the cascade from the opposite was pressing in from the other side, pinning me in place, and literally boxing me into the cage, so I really had nowhere to go.
I watched the final seconds as She committed, opening Her jaw and rushing in past the point of no return. I wasn’t treated to my life flashing before my eyes, or some wash of inner peace, or any of the other usual stereotypes either. I stared down the impending gullet and thought…nothing. The only thing going through my head was that spinning wheel over a frozen, unformulated away message to the gist of “That’s all folks.”
It took me a pretty long time to realize it hadn’t played out like it inevitably ought to have.
I noticed the ringing in my ears first: which is weird; in retrospect I have no recollection of ever hearing the explosion of the shell going off—just its aftermath.
Sometime after that, I finally registered the impossible hole, giving me a view clear through the suddenly lifeless body of the dinosaur within spitting distance from my face.
Maybe it’s physically impossible that it would have timed out like this, but I swear I first saw the tank through that hole, for a split instant, like some kind of fucked up doughnut. Then She crumpled, and got a full view to the small hoard of soldiers running into position on the flanks of the machine, its smoking barrel trained directly at me.
I guess I should just be glad someone’s first reaction when they get an off-hours phone call telling them there’s a “situation” and to bring their “equipment” isn’t to take the piss…

Chapter 10

            Everything was pretty chaotic afterwards, and it mostly just blended into one big indistinguishable blur. As well as the fucking army apparently, there was what must have been close to the entire police force, milling about uncertainly in the lot once they’d cordoned off the site. Others came soon enough, several government agencies quickly represented, and a small contingent of reporters eventually fringing the periphery.  Last to arrive were a pair of helicopters, interminably circling the area.
            No saying to whom they owed their alliance, but I bet there were at least a couple higher-ups in the loop somewhere tonight who were pissing themselves with relief that we’d managed to get Her indoors out of the public eye.
            I’d gotten scoped up pretty early by a paramedic, so didn’t get a chance to confer at all with Fortuna, but I had view of her in another ambulance across the way from the truck where the paramedic planted me down. She looked alright, everything considered, the bad leg propped awry in some of their kit, but that seeming to be the worst of it.
            She saw my watching, and pulled a cartoonish face at me in reaction to the medics’ attentions.
            I chuckled a bit, and was sure to return a few grimaces of my own in the windows of respite from my own caretaker’s efforts.
            He hit the big notes first off, evidently appeasing himself with the age old presidential-flashlight tests that I hadn’t suffered too much brain damage, and largely shooed away from my other maladies.
            My own knee was a bit screwy from sitting ten minutes under an avalanche of frozen meat, and heavens knew I had more than an evening’s worth of cuts and bruises, but I like to think I know my body pretty well, and didn’t seem like anything a couple of aspirin and good week’s sleep wouldn’t take care of.
            I did let him at my nose though, even my stubborn machoism having to concede it was well beyond my honed policies of medical negligence. I braced myself as he set it, this time ready for the seconds lost driving through the pain of it.
            “Man, your some tough stuff, aren’t you,” he joked, “Hardly even blinked at that!”
            I grunted some non-verbal response, noticing, as I recollected my vision, that Fortuna was now blocked from my view by a confused throng of foreboding officials. I let him finish bandaging up my face in silence—real silence I noticed suddenly; someone must have finally managed to shut the siren off—and then, after some final insisting I didn’t need him poking about with anything else, gladly jumped on his suggestion that he needed to go confer with the other team.
            It took a couple more assurances I’d stay put to finally get him to bugger off, but at last he left, and, after serval seconds wait to confirm he’d made it far enough into the throng to be lost, I wasted no time in jumping up, figuring I’d probably be happiest if availed myself of the bureaucratic confusion to slip out unnoticed.
            I didn’t feel too bad about ditching just then; something this unprecedentedly fucked up would certainly take another couple hours for them to get figured out enough to go about with things as mundane as debriefing, and Fortuna knew where to find me.
            As I’m sure they would.

            I started off away from the crowd, remembering at the last minute the axe left inside the office window, and was pleased to see the spectacle of the dinosaur’s body was apparently still maintaining adequate attention that the side wing was out of the way enough to allow me a free shot for the detour. I scooped it up surreptitiously, smiling as I tested it to be the perfect height for an impromptu cane, limping toward the outside world. I made for a nice deserted corner of the complex to be sure I lost the reporters, hopping back over the fence in what felt like an ironically low key bookend to culminate the evening.
            As I hobbled through the deserted side streets back toward my apartment, I was struck for a long time with a complete, hollow loss for how to process any of what had just transpired. As the blocks ticked by, it felt like my mind was rebooting, “Recovering from an unexpected shut down: Checking device systems—21% complete.
            Perhaps predictably, anger, my root kernel apparently, was one of the first things to return.
            “For fucks sake! A fucking dinosaur! A DINOSAUR!” I actually shouted aloud into the unhearing night, “Fuck.”
            It was short lived, though, and a second later I stopped in the middle of the street as a fit of racking laughter came over me, crescendoing into the silence before choking off abruptly in something almost bordering on a dry sob.
            I really was getting too old for this. Not even twenty seven, and already I was genuinely saying that.
            A fucking dinosaur though! I think you should be qualified to do a bit of that kind of bitching after showing down a TYRANNOSAUR FUCKING REX. Alright, not tyrannosaur: won’t be making that mistake again any time soon.
            In all seriousness though, maybe it was time I gave up the ghost and turned in the keys. I’d given it a good shot; damn fair sight better, even, than I think anyone would have expected, least of all me.
            And cheap pun of a name or no, I hardly signed on for fucking dinosaurs! I passed a happy couple of minutes thinking of everything I could do with the burden of the business in the rearview. Maybe I could follow after my old man and become a mercenary: Had to be better than dinosaurs!
            That’s when you know I’ve really exhausted a tantrum, when I start throwing my old man any kind of legitimacy.
            I let any sentience tapper off there, just basking in the contented delirium for a while, relishing the numb repetition of pain from my knee with every truncated stride and the blissful wash of nipping, winter cold claiming the night.
            Half mile of that I was finally ready to come back to the sense of old habits. Could hardly judge the profession on one off night, after all…
            I distinguished the switch with a heavy sigh.
            Guess I’ll have to look up Fi about where to send my bill.

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