Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - Eugene by Jacob Sager Weinstein
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ABOUT

An unusual police officer solves crimes with his nose and irritates his partner in this science-fiction tale from author/screenwriter Jacob Sager Weinstein.

Eugene

I've been dreaming about my dad, lately. Or what I remember of him, anyway.

This time, we're hunting. The woods are dark, but the smell of squirrel leads us on. Dad is in front, strong and fast, not old and tired like I remember him. The squirrel runs up a tree, and we hug the base, calling at it to come down, to face us, to not be such a coward.

Then I wake up, and I know Dad and I never went hunting together, and he's gone, now.

I wish I had known him better. I'm sure they were right for not letting me see him more, but I wish it didn't have to be that way.

I wish I could have talked to him. I liked talking with my mom, and I always wished I could have talked to my dad. I know dogs can't talk, but sometimes, in my dreams, my dad is different, like I'm different.

I stretch, get up, head to the bathroom. I don't mind brushing my teeth—it's kind of fun, actually—but I wish I didn't have to shower. It makes me smell less. I know that's the point, but I don't like it. I do it anyway, because they tell me I should, and I trust them.

Afterwards, as I'm eating breakfast, I hear the whine of the cruiser, and I know Francisco's only two miles away, and I start to get excited. I throw on my shoes, and grab my gun and my badge, and pace back and forth, and look out the window, although I know it's not yet in sight.

And then it is in sight. The cruiser touches down, and I rush out to the street. Francisco pushes the door open, and I hop inside.

"Hi, Francisco! It's great to see you! It's great!" I take his hand and pump it up and down. Francisco's a good sport. He doesn't get out of the cruiser when he sees me, because he knows I'll have to hug him, and he doesn't like that, but he lets me pump his hand when I see him.

I've seen him every morning for three years, and it's more exciting every time.

"It's nice to see you, too, Eugene," he says, and I know he means it, even if he's a little calmer than I am.

As he puts the cruiser in gear and takes off, I calm down a little bit, and smell something that worries me. I smell Apurna on him, like always, but she doesn't smell right. She smells of nervousness bordering on fear, and come to think of it, he does, too. It's an old smell—I'd say from late yesterday evening, just after work—but it's unmistakable. And there's a hospital smell, and the smell of Apurna's pain.

I shouldn't say anything. Francisco doesn't like me to pry.

But he took Apurna to the hospital.

But he doesn't like me to pry.

But he took Apurna to the hospital.

But he doesn't like me to pry.

But—

"What's wrong with Apurna?" I say.

"She's fine," he says, and I can smell that he's lying. He knows he can't lie to me, but he'll usually try it when I pry.

"What's wrong with her?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

OK. That's all I need to hear. Francisco is a good human being, and I love him, and I respect his wishes. He's decreed this topic off-limits, and I'll respect that. I won't bring it up.

But he took Apurna to the hospital.

But he said he doesn't want to talk about it.

But he took Apurna to the hospital.

But he said he doesn't want—

"Why'd you take her to the hospital?"

"I said I don't want to talk about it."

OK. I respect that. I won't ask again. Then I notice that we're not headed towards the station. I like going to the station first thing in the morning. I like the smells of the files and the metal desks and the other officers, and I like being part of the group. Lately, though, they've had Francisco and me skip our stop at the station, and head off to work. I'm always afraid it's because I've done something bad and they don't want me around any more, but they tell me that's not the case. They say that they just need me out on the street too much to spend my time in the station, and I know they're telling the truth, because I'd smell it if they lied.

But maybe that's not why we're skipping the station today. Maybe this time, I did something awful, and they don't like me down there. I'm scared to ask, but I have to. "How come we're not going to the station? Did I do something bad?"

"Nope, they just need us at a crime scene," Francisco says, and I know he's telling the truth. I can smell his amusement that I've asked him yet again, and I can smell that he's being sincere. But, dammit, I can also smell Apurna's pain and his fear.

But I won't ask about that. I won't. I won't. I won't.

"Is Apurna OK? Why'd you take her—"

"Eugene! Bad partner!"

He's right; I am a bad partner. A good partner would respect his partner's privacy, but I didn't. That makes me a bad partner. I slink down in my seat, because if you're going to be a bad partner, you ought to take up as little space in the cruiser as possible. I'm dimly aware that Francisco is counting to himself softly under his breath, and I know what that means. He hates calling me a bad partner, and if he didn't count, he'd tell me right away that I'm a good partner. But I need to be told I'm bad, sometimes. It's the only way I'll listen. I know he hates saying it, but that doesn't change the fact that it's true. I'm a bad partner for making him say something he hates.

Francisco mutters, "Nine...Ten..." and then lets out a sigh of relief. "You're a good partner, Eugene," he says, and reaches out to pat my arm. I feel much better. He's right, I am a good partner. I sigh happily.

I won't ask him again about Apurna.

At least, not today.


The crime scene, unfortunately, is a murder. I don't like murders, but that's usually what I end up working.

There's already a crowd pushing against the police barricades in front. When I step out of the cruiser, they stop staring at the cops going in and out of the hotel and start staring at me. But I don't mind. Actually, I kind of like the attention. "Morning, folks," I say, and some of them nod back at me.

But over the morning coffee and bagels and curiosity that floats off the crowd is the scent of gunpowder and fear, coming from the hotel, and it raises the fur all over my body. I can smell Viggins and Wax from Homicide, and I try to focus on that. They're good human beings. But the smell of murder—the loamy death braided with the phlegm-and-pepper of anger—is hard to ignore.

Francisco sees my raised hackles, and puts a hand on my shoulder, and scratches the right spot. That helps. He's a good partner.

In the lobby, Viggins and Wax are in mid-conversation with the night manager, who hasn't slept for almost twenty-four hours. Twenty-three hours, I'd say. They all look up at me.

"Eugene," Viggins says, and nods at me. People tend to be a little reserved around me, so that I won't hug them, but it's not really necessary here; I don't feel like hugging much when the air smells like death.

Wax nods politely. "Mr. Grauman was just telling us who came through here this morning."

"If the killer passed through here, it wasn't a premeditated crime," I tell them. "I don't smell anything like intent to kill." I would never say it, because I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but after all these years, I still don't quite understand how people can overlook simple things like the obvious absence of a particular odor.

The manager looks like he's going to say something, but Viggins interrupts him. "Wait for us here, Mr. Grauman. Come on, Eugene, we'll show you the room. You too, of course," he adds to Francisco.

They lead me through a corridor and up an elevator, although the overpowering scent is enough to guide me on its own. As we approach the room, the death and anger are folded in with something else. "The victims were having sex," I say, and Viggins and Wax nod. The motion of our bodies stirs the air in the corridor slightly, enough to bring me a fresh trace. I point toward a stairway at the other end. "I think he came up through there."

As we step inside the crime scene, I have to stop and collect myself. The two bodies on the bed are bloody, obviously shot multiple times, but that's not what makes me dizzy. It's the air.

The air is a broth of emotions that ought to stay hidden inside human heads and fluids that ought to stay in their bodies. But somewhere amongst the hate that hangs in the air and loneliness that clings to the wall is something sweeter; a couple with a newborn baby, and very much in love, was here a few weeks ago, and although they have nothing to do with the case, and I'm just supposed to be smelling the case, I breathe them in for a moment. I hope that doesn't make me a bad cop.

And then, back to the fresh scents. Ignore the fluids—forensics can deal with them. Focus on the emotions, the ones intense enough to fuel a killing. "It was jealousy," I tell them, as Viggins writes it down. "Probably her husband." A worn out odor, turning slightly sour, but pure: "Late thirties, non-smoker." An out-of-breath sweat: "Overweight." No sweetness of any shampoo, but no musk of unwashed hair: "Bald. And he left here three hours ago."

Except...Not all of his odor is that old. Some of it is recent—not more than a minute old. "When were the bodies discovered?"

"Half an hour ago."

Odd. I close my eyes and sniff, leaning past the older scents and toward the newer one. It's in motion, coming toward me, on a slender breeze. It's sneaking in under the closed window. From outside.

"He's outside right now."

Viggins and Wax look surprised. "Returning to the scene of the crime?" Wax says. "I didn't think people did that any more."

We hustle out of the room, down the corridor, and back down the elevator. Back in the lobby, now that I know the scent, I can tell he's in the crowd outside. I'm ready to run outside and find him, but Francisco stops me. "It's your case," he says to Viggins and Wax. "How do you want to handle this?" I'm glad Francisco stopped me. He's better than I am at pack politics. He's a good partner.

"Move slowly, and follow my lead," Viggins says. "We don't want to scare him."

The four of us stroll casually out, and Viggins turns to a nearby woman. "We're looking for a 19-year-old male, slender, six feet tall, red hair. Seen him?"

"I just got here," the woman says. Francisco nods at me, and as he and Viggins and Wax make a show of questioning the bystanders, I slowly move toward the scent, repeating Viggins' question as I walk through the crowd, even though it's a lie and I don't like telling lies. Lies are bad. But catching killers is good. I try to remember that as I lie again and again. It doesn't make me a bad cop. It makes me a good cop. I'm a good cop. I'm a good cop.

And then the killer is just two people away from me. I stay calm, I ask the question, I listen to the answer, I move on to the next person. I don't want to scare him away. I stay calm, I ask the question, I listen to the answer, I move on to the next person. And the next person is him, radiating the scent like a beacon. I grab him around the shoulder. "Bad human," I say. "Bad, bad, bad." His eyes widen. In a moment, Francisco is putting the cuffs on him.

"You have the right to remain silent," Francisco says, but the bad man's eyes are on me, still frightened. I realize I'm growling at him, and I shut up.


When we take off from the crime scene, it's to go on patrol, and I like patrol even less than I like homicide. Flying in circles, looking for something unspecified—it makes me fidgety. I tend to get nervous if I don't have a specific task. They tell me I inherited that from my father; it's a characteristic of the breed. Fortunately, Francisco always keeps paper clips in the dashboard for me to fiddle with, and that helps some.

Also, I want to ask him about Apurna, but I know that would make me a bad partner.

We chat a little, but I'm not much of a talker when I'm on patrol. I'm too busy sniffing the air for an actual case, something to do. I wish I could stick my head out the window to sniff better, but Francisco refuses to fly when I do that. He says it's dangerous.

I bend, then unbend, a paper clip, then bend it back, then unbend it, then bend it back.

And then a scent hits me, and, suddenly, I'm pounding on the door. "Put down the cruiser!" I tell Francisco. "Now! Put it down!"

He doesn't have to ask why; he knows there's only one thing that makes me crazy like this. It's a child's fear, mingled with the ill will of an adult. "Where?" he asks.

I keep pounding on the door as I direct him, even though I know I can't open it until we land. "Ahead. Ahead. To the right. Straight. Below us! Right below! Set it down!"

He drops us onto the roof of a moldy apartment building, and before the engines stop, I've opened the door and run out. I shoulder open the door to the fire staircase, and scramble down it, Francisco behind me, struggling to keep up.

Down one flight, down two flights, down three flights, through the door, down the corridor. I'm dimly aware of must and cooking grease, but riding above them is that fear, goddamnit, that fear, who the hell is making a child fear like that? Who the hell would do that?

Then I'm at the door, and by my growl, Francisco knows what it is I know is behind it. But he's still just halfway down the hall. "Eugene, wait," he calls.

I'm supposed to go for my gun, but all I can think of is that child and what she's feeling. I break open the door.

The bad man is just inside, and at the splintering of wood, he reaches for his rifle. I'm supposed to draw my gun, but his hand smells of the stale blood of a five year old. I spring, and before that bloodied hand can touch the rifle barrel, he's on the ground, I'm on his chest, and my teeth are around his neck. There's something else, too, a sound, and I realize it's my partner's voice in my ear, saying, "It's OK, Eugene. I've got him covered. Easy. Easy."

I leave the bad man to my partner and follow the girl's sweet, frightened scent through an unpainted wooden doorway. When I entered the room, she starts, and her heart pumps faster, but then her shoulders loosen; she must recognize me from TV. Still, I approach her slowly. "It's OK," I say. "I'm your friend. I'm here to rescue you. It's OK. I'm your friend. I'm here to rescue you."

Now I'm next to her, and I wave my hand gently under her nose. I always trust people who let me smell their hands when they meet me. Then I remember I'm not supposed to do that—that humans find it weird instead of comforting. Instead, I put my hand gently on her shoulder. I'm close enough and calm enough that I can begin to separate out the smells. There's a sharp, startled panic, and the odor of the bad man's hand over her mouth, both from a week ago; she must not have been bathed since she was snatched. And there's a steady accumulation of fear, like a year's worth of old newsprint crowded into a single week. But the blood on her upper lip, just below her nose, is at least two days old, and I don't think she's been hurt other than that. She doesn't smell like that Bad Thing that sometimes kids smell like when I find them. I'm glad. I don't like thinking about the Bad Thing happening to kids.

"Are you the dog man?" she says, and I nod. She cocks her head at me. "Aren't you going to lick me?"

"Most humans don't like it when I do that."

She thinks about it for a moment. "You can lick me," she says.

So I do, gladly. The first lick clears away that stale fear, the second tastes of laughter about to arrive, and by the third, she's wriggling and giggling and delightedly saying "Yuck." Then she buries her face in the fur of my neck and takes a few calm breaths, and then she starts to sob. I want to keep licking her until she tastes of nothing but delight, and then I want to keep hugging her until she's grown, and in the meantime, if anybody comes near her reeking of ill will, I want to bare my teeth until they leave her alone.

"Eugene." It's Francisco, with the backup. The backup is here. I didn't hear them arrive. I usually like seeing backup but not when it means I can't stay and make the little girl giggle.


Back in the cruiser, Francisco looks at me, worried. I realize I'm whimpering a little. I'm whimpering because I had to leave her before I could fix everything that happened to her.

"Look, I'm going to tell you something, and it's only because if I don't, you're going to keep pestering me." Francisco is pretending to be angry, but I know he's worried about me, which is good. I don't like it when he's angry at me.

"Apurna's pregnant. We went to the hospital because she was having cramps, and she's fine, but we thought it might be—"

"She's pregnant? She's pregnant! That's fantastic! You're going to have a baby? You're going to be a good dad! Good dad, Francisco, good dad! Good mom, Apurna! Good mom!" Forgetting that he's supposed to be steering, I grab his hand and start pumping it, and the cruiser veers into a crazy curve. He yanks his hand back and steers us straight.

"Bad partner! You can't shake my hand while I'm driving. Bad partner!"

But he's smiling while he's saying it, and I know he's happy that he told me, happy that I'm happy. And that makes me happy.

I'm a good partner for making him happy.

He's a good partner for making me happy.

We're good partners.

About the Author

Jacob Sager Weinstein has written for HBO and the BBC and has contributed to The Onion and McSweeney's. He has been nominated for two Writers' Guild of America awards, and won one. He is the co-author (with Matthew David Brozik) of several books, widely considered to be among the best books ever co-authored by people with three names apiece. He lives in London with his wife, their dog-obsessed daughter, numerous stuffed dogs, and pretty much every children's book about dogs ever written, including both the abridged and the non-abridged version of Go Dog Go.