Red Herring and Port Wine By Richard Spurling Red Harrington has more pups than anyone else in the group, and he’s proud of it. Mongrel. He is too, a mongrel that is. Not that it’s affected him at all, despite being raised human and joining the group as a teenager. Man he was a wild teenager. Joined us to rebel against his mother, poor soul. His mother that is. The little shit didn’t deserve a lot of sympathy when we got him. Sorted him out though. It was only testosterone kicking in, well, that and the fact that he had no idea of what he was. He does now. I watched him, leaning against the bar, beer in one hand, a woman’s hand in the other. A stranger, some lass looking for a quiet drink to chase away the loneliness. Not that Red needs to pick up lonely women. He’s one of those who can charm a fence post into bed with him ... or into a dark alley. “Who’s that?” Jack sat down beside me, jealous, as usual, of Red’s latest conquest. “Red.” “No, not him. The good looking one.” “Dunno.” I could see the longing in Jack’s body language. Could smell his lust and frustration. The pack wannabe. I’d felt sorry for him once – most of us have made that mistake ... once. “Man, I’d like to be able to pick up chicks like he does.” Jack’s voice carried his usual tone of self pity, a sort of low whine that seeps into your brain cavities and echoes until you want to grab a drink coaster and ram it down your throat in the hope of choking. It’s one of the reasons he can’t pick up women. That and the hair. Not all of us are as good looking as Red. Red and his conquest stood up. She smiled up at him, then glided towards the door with his hand resting in the small of her back. He’s good that way. They not only go where he wants but seem to feel as though they want to, as though it was their idea. What’s it to be this time? I thought. Another pup to look out for? I ordered another beer with a lift of my mug towards the barman. My third ... unless they’d cleared away some empty glasses. Could have, I seemed to remember starting with glasses, not these mugs. Madison walked across the room towards me, a jug of beer in her hand. Like every other male in the room, I watched her. Man is she watchable, and she knows it. Not one of those self conscious types is our Madison. She hides her age well, and the number of ankle biters she’s bred over the years. One of them is mine, a cute, sandy haired little bugger with a wicked smile and an overly active sense of humour. Not like his Dad at all, thank goodness. There’s hope for him yet. “And how are you this evening?” asked Madison. “Pissed.” “Aww. Been missing out lately have we?” and the zip at the front of her dress slid down an inch. Dunno how she does that, hands no-where near it. Just a flex of the shoulder muscles perhaps, or her boob muscles if there are such things. “Stop teasing or Bruce’ll have your hide.” She frowned. “Yes. He’s been a bit possessive lately.” Possessive? What about that bloke he tore apart last week? Mind you, the idiot had placed his hand up under her dress and cupped a buttock. I nearly stepped in meself but Bruce has the ability to over-react in milli-seconds. We’re a dangerous group at times. “Ah,” she said. “Red’s back.” Hmm, just a quickie in the alley. Not his usual style. And I noticed that his gait lacked its usual bounce. Things had gone wrong. The hair around his muzzle was stained a Port Wine red, but you’d expect that, but I was used to seeing a pair of satisfied eyes above that, not the look of doom. “What happened?” I asked as he sat down. Madison had scurried away, hopefully to find Bruce. Red grabbed the jug of beer and drained it. The barman, an observant gent, placed another full jug on the table as Red gulped the last mouthful. I poured myself a drink before Red scoffed the lot. I needn’t have bothered. His muzzle withdrew and his features reformed. The hair over his face lightened and disappeared, except for the moustache he’d taken to wearing. That was when I noticed that his ears had been human before the change. The poor bugger had suffered a semi-transition. Nasty things. Can do horrible things to your confidence, especially if you act badly, and I guessed I was about to discover that he had. “You idiot,” said Bruce behind me, then pulled a chair over from another table and sat down between us. “Blood everywhere. Never seen such a mess. What were you thinking of?” “I’m sorry.” “Not as sorry as me. That car’s only six months old. The leather’s ruined. Dammit man, if you’re going to kill, do in the alley. Why do you think we put in the concrete and the drain? To wash our cars over? No! To clean up the mess.” “I’m sorry.” I reached out and put a hand on Bruce’s arm. “Semi-transition,” I said in a quiet voice. Red’s head drooped, like a dog that’d just been whipped. “Tell me,” said Bruce. To my surprise, Red did. That takes a lot of courage. Hell, we all suffer them at least once in our lives but it’s a bit like taking a gorgeous girl to bed and finding that you can’t ... well ... you know. “Need a doctor?” asked Bruce. Red shook his head. “You sure? By the mess you made of her, you were pretty upset. Teeth marks all over the place.” “I had to have two goes at her throat,” said Red. The tone of his voice made me want to cry and place a comforting hand over his ... paw. He was still stuck in limbo. Bruce noticed the paw too, so did Red. “I think I’d better go see the doc,” he said, then lifted his head. “What about the girl?” “Mike’s cleaning up. He doesn’t mind a bit of carrion, as long as it’s fresh. Will probably lick the seats clean too though I’ll have to toss the car.” “Sorry.” “Not to worry. Jumps out of third gear anyway. I’ll nick another one this evening.” Bruce turned to me. “Can you take him to Doc Jerrison? He’s at the Pork Inn tonight.” I nodded, then smiled at Red. Red smiled back and that smell of fish that he gets when stressed wafted towards me. That’s why some wag perverted his name, Red Harrington, to Red Herring. But we all told Red it was because his targets thought he was one thing but then discovered he was something else. Well, it’s not nice to talk about member’s personal problems is it, not to their face. Other group members nodded to us as we walked out of the bar room. All had looks of sympathy on their faces. The few men in the room, real men as opposed to one of us, watched too. None of them would go home tonight. Bruce was probably giving the orders right now. But that wasn’t my problem, my problem was poor Red. His paws kept flexing and developing small bulges like you see on horror movies when some bloke’s supposed to be making the change. It doesn’t happen that way in real life of course. You only get those bulges when you’re suffering transition trauma, and damned uncomfortable they are too. “How about some Port Wine on the way?” I said as I drove off. “You think that’s wise?” “Well, it’s the first thing Doc Jerrison’s given me each time and I’ve had three semis now.” I tried not to blush at the admission but could feel the hair sprouting on my face. “I’d like that,” said Red. “Good. There’s a bottle shop up ahead. Let’s try there.” I parked my car near the front door, next to a small, Japanese sedan with fluffy, pink seat covers and a green rabbit glued to the dashboard – takes all kinds to mess up a world. We walked inside and stopped just inside the front door. Two teenage girls were looking at bottles of wine, a woman in her thirties stood behind the counter. “Your choice Red. It doesn’t really make much difference.” He wandered down towards the stacks of red wine near the back of the shop. I picked up a flagon of cheap sherry, unscrewed the cap and poured it onto the floor. “Hey,” said the woman, then stepped back as she saw my snarl, her face white, eyes large with that lovely luminescence they get when their owner is terrified. “That one,” said Red and pointed. I transitioned, leapt the distance between me and the blonde, then slashed her throat with a claw. Her friend screamed and ran but I let her go, I was more concerned with catching the girl’s blood in the flagon. It only took a few minutes. We could hear the police sirens in the distance as we drove away. “Thanks,” said Red as he sipped from the flagon. “This is good stuff. Want some?” I shook my head. “Not while I driving. I’ll have a gulp if there’s any left when we get to Doc Jerrison.” I glanced across at him. He was looking better already. It’d be a week or two before he could kill again, and probably longer before he mated with anyone outside the group, but the healthy flow where the wind rustled his hair and the bright glow to his eyes told me he’d be alright. Yep. He’d always been a difficult kid, but that had never stopped me being a proud Dad.