EXCERPT FROM THE BADGE OF OUR TRIBE
COPYRIGHT © TAYLEN CARVER 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Badge Of Our Tribe
Harley paced the length of the long front room of Noel ap Tailor’s little house on Mountain Avenue. It might once have been a living room, but there was no hint of lounging or comfort in the room now.
Harley didn’t know the first thing about garment-making. She hadn’t sewn so much as a button in her life. The amount of equipment and tools, fiddly little things and bits and bobs which seemed essential to sewing had surprised her the first time she’d stepped into the room. The equally large mountains of fabric rolls, fabric bolts, and decorative bits and pieces was just as astonishing.
The room wasn’t enormous to start with, for Noel’s house was one of the old post-war tract houses built to cater to the baby-boom, all of them small, rectangular replicas of each other. Unlike the majority of people living in Falconer, who used their front rooms to grow food, Noel had squeezed into her room three different types of sewing machines, each with their own table, all of them complicated monsters with multiple dials and settings, and threads running up and down and over them like elongated, colorful spider webs.
An enormous iron hissed, steam rising from it, at the back of the room. Two different lines ran up to a tank hanging above the board the iron sat on.
A cutting table the size of a ping-pong table took up the middle of the room. There, the used clothing Noel adapted for the Old Ones to wear was piled for sorting and cutting. Multiple in-progress projects were neatly folded and arrayed on the rest of the table.
Harley’s path took her between the table and the three sewing machines. Noel worked on the machine in the middle, seated upon a stool which let her white wings tuck in and hang down behind her. Harley’s wings brushed Noel’s with each lap.
“It’s not that I actually mind the peace and quiet,” Harley said, picking up the threads of the conversation she had been having while Noel worked. “After twenty years as a full-time cop and now this year as the town’s sheriff, you’d think I’d be grateful for a few weeks without active cases.”
“Uh-huh,” Noel said, her head down over the black shirt she was working on. It was Harley’s plain black button-up work shirt. The shirt was without badges or crests. Falconer’s police force consisted of Harley and two lieutenants, and a microscopic budget which didn’t stretch to tailor-made uniforms.
Harley had finally run out of excuses and brought the shirts she had hacked with her boot knife so they fit over her wings for Noel to finish properly.
“And I am grateful,” Harley added, as she turned and trod back toward the corner where the front door was located. “Especially now the snow is finally going away. But six weeks of no crimes? It’s unnatural.”
“Uh-huh,” Noel said.
Harley stopped mid-lap, which put her just past Noel. “Did you hear anything I’ve said?”
The sewing machine stopped humming. Noel looked up at her, her heart-shaped, pale face and white hair gleaming in the light coming through the big picture window the sewing machine was parked in front of. She smiled. “Isn’t everything in Falconer unnatural to one degree or another?”
Then she had been listening.
“Or more natural than human communities,” Harley replied, thinking of the St. Brigid’s Day gathering which the whole town had attended, back in February. Most folk in Falconer found the old ways, which were rooted in the passing of the seasons, suited them better than modern civilization’s idea of “normal”.
“Isn’t that Mojag?” Noel pointed at the big window.
The snow-free sidewalk ran along the front edge of the faded lawn peeping through the thin layer of old snow. One of Harley’s police officers, Mojag Bear, strode south along the path, his arms swinging, his gaze ahead. He wore a short black sheepskin lined coat, all that was needed in the near-spring weather, and his black uniform beneath.
“He looks upset,” Noel added.
“He does,” Harley said. “What the hell is he doing down here?” Noel’s house was south of the town’s one main intersection, and there weren’t much more than a few houses. “The school is this way…” she murmured.
“I think Mojag has a nephew or two at the school.” Noel’s tone was back to disinterested. The sewing machine started up again.
Harley moved to the front door. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
She stepped out onto the concrete stoop and shut the door. “Mojag!”
He glanced at her but kept walking.
Harley zipped up her jacket and jogged down the narrow path to the sidewalk, then hurried to catch up with Mojag. “Where’s the fire?”
“Official business?” She had left him as the point man at the station this morning.
Mojag blew out his breath. “Yep.”
“At the high school.”
She walked behind him, breaking into a jog every few steps, to keep up with his pace, and waited.
“I diverted the phones to Kask’s cell,” Mojag said.
“Not what I’m worried about.”
They crossed a side street. Up ahead, Harley could see the heavy chain link fence that enclosed the school grounds, on the other side of the road. Everyone was in class. She couldn’t hear kids yelling, the way they did at recess.
Mojag slowed his pace, which let Harley catch up with him. “I got this, boss,” he told her. “It’s just stupid shit.”
She looked up at him, letting the silence work on him again. He was thirty years old and usually quiet-spoken, but Harley had seen him in action. He might talk little and slow, but his mind moved at lightspeed. He was the empathetic one of her two lieutenants.
Mojag jogged across the narrow street to the other footpath and slowed his pace even more. He gave a great sigh. “My sister’s kid is about to get suspended.”
“Your sister asked you to sort it out?”
He glanced at her, his head down. She could feel awkwardness radiating from him. This was personal stuff. “Her husband was a drunk and a womanizer. He split. Years ago.”
And Mojag had stepped into the breech.
“Why is your nephew getting suspended?”
“‘bout to find out,” Mojag muttered, then added, “Probably fighting.”
Harley wrinkled her nose. “Kids fight. Suspension seems a bit much. How old is he?”
“Eighteen in June.” Mojag slowed even more and scratched at his long, glossy hair. Most of it was tied back with a leather thong, and it was usually neat and tidy. The thing with his nephew was getting to him.
“Eighteen…that makes it a bit more serious,” Harley agreed.
“When he was at the high school in Sundre, he was in fights nearly every month, seemed like,” Mojag said with an air of confession.
“Falconer opened up the multi-school last September.” Harley let her voice rise at the end. The abandoned high school had been reopened to all students of Falconer, of all grades, from pre-school to high-school.
Mojag shook his head. “Nothing since then.” He added heavily, “Until now.”
They both remained silent for a dozen more paces. Then Mojag said, “I was going to call you, once I knew what was going on.”
“And now I’m here, anyway.”
“You don’t have to be, boss. It’s not a police matter.”
Harley recalled the blank top of her desk, back at the station. The empty in-box. “Have you met the new principal yet?” she asked Mojag. Col ap Red Deer was a fae—an elemental—and had moved to Falconer from Red Deer only a month ago, shortly after his transition to an old one. More, he was a trained high school teacher and former principal. Akicita Frazier, the Mayor, had hired him instantly and the floundering, untrained teachers had cheered.
Mojag grimaced. “Never met the principal. Migisi gets the invitations to school things.”
“Then I’ll introduce you to him,” Harley said. She pulled out her sunglasses, put them on, then picked up the pace. There was an opening in the boundary fence at this end of the grounds.
When Harley had first been introduced to Col ap Red Deer, she had been astonished to see that he was a short fae, which was nearly unheard of. The fae were usually tall and lithe. Col had clearly been short as a human and had not acquired much extra height with his transition to an Old One. On the other hand, like all fae—all the Air species, in fact—he radiated an unearthly glow that made him look saintly.
Harley’s first, quick opinion of Col ap Red Deer had been that he would have trouble with the unruly elements at the high school.
His charges weren’t just human teenagers high on hormones and attitude. The kids at Falconer School were of every old race except firebirds, with a handful of still-human kids waiting to change. The problems with being an undocumented Old One in Canada applied just as harshly to them as it did to their parents. The Falconer student body dialed “attitude” way up.
That first meeting had been in March. Now it was mid-April and so far, Harley hadn’t heard any complaints or troubles issuing from the school and figured Col was handling everything with aplomb.
Now she stood in front of Principal Col once more, introducing him to Mojag, she knew the silence had been a mask.
Col looked as though he was short on sleep, at the very least. His ethereal glow was barely there. His face showed signs of stress, particularly around his eyes, which had bags beneath them.
When she had first met him, Harley judged Col to be in his late thirties. Today, he appeared to be in his late fifties.
But he greeted them both in the school’s reception area with brisk efficiency and showed them back to his office. Over his shoulder, he asked the dryad hovering nearby to have Hahnee Bear sent to his office.
Hahnee arrived only a few minutes later. He was a tall near-adult, who limped into the office, a bloody rag in his hand.
Harley caught her breath. The kid looked like he’d been rolled down the Rockies in a barrel. There were cuts and scrapes on his face and hands, and fresh bruising that would be dark blue by tonight. His lip was split and swollen and his nose showed a dribble of blood, which he mopped with the rag.
His brows were pulled in over his black eyes, as he looked from Col to Mojag. “Perfect,” he muttered. He turned to Col. “I’m getting busted over this?”