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The Green Tree Frog

Shapeshifters walk, and swim, among us, on both sides of the law!

By Eric WolfPublished 2 years ago 8 min read
The Green Tree Frog
Photo by chinmayee bagade on Unsplash

Charlie got the crazy ones, his supervising officer knew. Why these cases went to him first, to him alone, his supervisor didn’t know. Demonstrated talent for the job, of course, may have played its part. Once upon a time, a fugitive, who was slippery in the not-amusing-to-children sense, eluded other teams of local lawmen; Charlie followed clues only he seemed to understand, knocked on a door, and had his cuffs, in a matter of seconds, on the suspect’s wrists.

The supervisor observed: “You must be some kind of bloodhound, Lévesque,” as they watched a police wagon drive off, the ex-fugitive chained in its back seat.

A faint smile had softened Charlie’s features then; he had said something that both amused and baffled his colleague: “I have been one, yes.” Of course, this was his private joke, but it was risky to make this admission, to non-malleable U. S. citizens. How the hell was the guy to know: Charlie meant he had become a bloodhound, in furred-and-fanged fact? Such a thing was not to be believed; besides children and fools, nobody embraced such a thing in 1976.

Those persons “in Society”, like himself, preferred to keep it that way. It made living the fact of such an experience easier for them to bear. Errant members who wished to get out from under the watchful stares of their order… got exactly the attention that a stray animal/person deserved: someone like Charlie came a-knocking.

His newest partner was a recent transfer, from the Marshals office in Little Rock. In an air-conditioned briefing room, at the Baton Rouge office, Gary Mosby took down details as the more experienced Charlie shared them with him. The men had a date to keep with their new fugitive; it would involve taking a long, hot drive. Mosby was an experienced marshal, but not an experienced resident of the Bayou State. The heat, he said, was “oppressive”, which made Charlie smile — shapeshifters beat the heat in animal forms.

Mosby pulled up a chair beside Charlie’s desk. He clutched another cup of bad coffee in one hand, and a case file in the other. Mosby was solid, too solid for a guy whose partner could shift his form into that of an animal, Charlie felt. The man handed over the file and said, “Can’t say I believe it myself. I have always been a loyal GOP voter, but after he pardoned that bum, I can’t see giving Ford my vote. It would be great to have another Southerner in the White House again. For true Southerners, I mean.”

“I’ll be sure to convey your sentiments to Governor Carter,” Charlie quipped.

Their profession had tasked them with locating one Wiley White, age thirty-seven going on eighteen (in terms of his temperament and impulse control), at some spot along the Atchafalaya Basin — not much in the way of further details than that. “We could be at this search for years,” Mosby moaned, checking the state map. “That basin runs through eight parishes.”

“Just have to know where to look,” Charlie maintained. He scanned the report: a botched bank robbery in New Iberia, involving a single robber, whose escape baffled local police. A teller at the bank, young Pauline Treacy, had suffered at his hands, but was alive, if shaken, four days later. Playing one of his hunches, Charlie invited Mosby along for a drive to New Iberia.

Charlie Lévesque knew what the cryptic numerical tag, affixed to the case file, signified. Unlike Mosby and other deputies, with whom he worked at the U.S. Marshals Service, he held a startling membership in a vivid (and, were it to be made known publicly) most startling collective. By the time he had come back home to Louisiana, he had tracked fugitives, interceded in crimes, all over the country. The current case would require him to lay down the (literal) law, in his own patch of the country — and, once again, his quarry would be one of his fraternity of shape-changing citizens.

If he’s Society, Charlie pondered, while his car ate up the dusty miles, he got to know we’re on the hunt. It behooved Charlie not to inform anyone — least of all, a suspect wanted in a violent crime — that one of the pursuers was a person in Society, too.

^ ^ ^ ^

Pauline Treacy was jittery and skeptical about being interviewed again by the Marshals, but seemed more enthusiastic about their efforts to bring White to justice. “I just got the job a little while back, you know?” she told Charlie on the phone. “Just get him, please? I’m afraid to go back there. To the bank, I mean.”

“I understand,” Charlie said, making his apologies to her before hanging up the pay phone, across the street from the restaurant where she was eating. Mosby grinned at him when Charlie returned to their car. It would be a waiting game now.

The wait didn’t last an hour. Treacy departed the restaurant, got into her used station wagon, and proceeded to drive. A lot of miles passed under her wheels and under Charlie’s, too. Eventually she pulled off of the main highway — into an uninviting strip of road, leading into swamp foliage. After following her for most of a mile, over increasingly desperate terrain, Charlie tapped the brakes.

The station wagon was parked by the side of the road. It didn’t take long for a pair of Marshals to discover it lacking even a single human occupant.

A dirty-white cabin, practically a shack, could be glimpsed through the trees.

Charlie and Mosby drew their police pistols. Fanning out, they approached as quietly as the din of swamp creatures enabled them to be, though visible to an opened eye, they remained. Charlie could not circle around, to the back of the cabin, on foot. On human foot, that is.

He waited for Mosby to dash out of direct view, and Expressed his major form, the first animal shape he had learned to wear. His clothes and weapon fell. He was an American green tree frog, but with a human intellect. Submerging into the swamp water, he swam as fast as he could, in his current form, to a patch of unmown grass at the water’s edge. He crawled onto shore, and returned to his naked, dripping-wet human form.

He peered inside the cabin. Nobody home. A record player on the dresser next to a single bed bore a single album disc, ready to play. An AM/FM radio stood, beside the bed, on a stool.

The place smelled good, better than he had expected it would. Pauline, taking good care of it? Made sense. Where was she? Has Mosby already pinched her?

Charlie wanted to preserve the element of surprise, but he knew he couldn’t apprehend White while naked and unarmed. He hopped back to the water, returning to his clothes and gun, which he had concealed with moss and rocks. Creeping back as a human meant he had to sacrifice stealth, but the place seemed empty. He couldn’t risk exposing his secret to Pauline — or Mosby; White already knew it. He dressed and armed himself.

Charlie heard footsteps approaching. He spied a man, fitting White’s photo, on his way to the cabin from a nearby outhouse. Drawing his pistol, the Marshal waited, in the bathroom, for the inevitable encounter.

^ ^ ^ ^

White returned to the cabin. He walked to the AM/FM and opened its volume. “Tuesday’s Gone” — a song Charlie did not know, by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band he did know — filled the room, with its glorious sadness. White opened a cooler, cracking open a bottle of beer. He unbuttoned his short-sleeve work shirt. The sweat made his clothes and hair stick to his skin.

Stepping out of the bathroom, he aimed his pistol. “Hold it, White! Dolo toujou couri larivière — ”

White dropped his beer bottle, which poured out onto a painted wooden floor. He swore, at least twice. “How did you — ” He grasped for a pistol, stuffed into his shorts. Charlie smiled, suspecting that White was not known for his many black friends, or even one, for that matter. Charlie wasn’t there to make friends —

“You don’t live up to your name, Wiley,” Charlie said. “Or, do you? Could it be I am arresting the wrong man? You made this too easy. Turn around, with your hands up.”

White rubbed his flattened palms against his closed eyelids. “Always meant to take French in school. Never got around to it.”

Charlie’s voice betrayed a wisp of his amusement. “That’s Creole, actually, and it means: The water always goes to the river. Just like a rabbit will return to safe surroundings. In this case, you are the rabbit. I’ll bet you’ve been one, before. I like that form myself. In my current form, I’m deputy U.S. Marshal Char — ”

“A Marshal, did you say? You’re the original lawmen of this country. When was it established — after the War of Northern Aggression, was it?”

“Well, before the last century began. Seventeen hundred eighty-nine. You have a commendable interest in law enforcement. A shame that you have such a low an opinion of obeying the law yourself, but — that’s the hand that wears the glove.”

“I see, you mean, because I’m a crook, I must be fascinated by men with badges who kick down our doors, and give us their best ‘Popeye Doyle’ impressions. Where, incidentally, are you from? Figured you for a local, though of course, I could be wrong — Federals ship in the finest muscle from all over the map.”

“Indeed, you are wrong, White. Just not about that. I’m Creole. You know why I followed you, why I’m here? I don’t mean, just to arrest you for the bank heist. Why they sent me to get you.”

“Who are they?” White’s gaze was distant, as if he were scanning the horizon.

“‘We’re all the same’,” Charlie pressed him, “‘under our skins.’” He awaited a reaction from White. “‘We’re all members, In Society.’ Does that shake your brain?”

White blinked at him, twice. He spun on one bare foot, and bolted outside. He got maybe twenty feet before Charlie, who was forty-one, and not getting a bit younger or slimmer, decided to short the pursuit, with one pistol shot in the air. White dropped to the ground, putting his hands up. “You got me, good and square. Don’t shoot, man! I’ll tell you where the money is, just don’t shoot me!”

This did not scan. White’s uncomprehending gaze was perplexing. Charlie knelt beside him, hissing: “Why didn’t you ‘Express’? You could have become real trouble for me, if you’d taken a form dangerous to men. A bobcat. A rattlesnake — ”

Mosby burst out of the trees, a moment later, his service weapon in both hands. “There’s no sign of Treacy — ” he said, between gulps of air.

Leaving White handcuffed, they searched the cabin for possible hiding places. Finding none, they collected their prisoner and escorted him to Charlie’s car. I don’t comprehend how he didn’t change, Charlie thought. When I fired over him, the surprise should have forced him to shift his shape, out of fright alone.

Charlie’s handlers had gotten it wrong. White was not Society material. It was the only explanation he could reach. Why had they wanted him to —

“Do you suppose she got away?” Mosby pondered. Looking up, he scowled, an unexpected move from the stolid Marshal.

“What is it, partner?” Charlie said, pressing one hand down upon White’s head as they sat him in the back seat. “Gary?”

“I think it was a squirrel,” Mosby said. “Yeah, I’m almost sure of it. Do you have squirrels out here, in the Atchafalaya?”

Charlie looked about, trying to find a source of his partner’s ire. “I expect that most places that have trees, have squirrels in them. Why do you ask?”

“Damnedest thing,” Mosby growled. “Could have sworn, that little bastard was laughing at me.”

© Eric Wolf 2021.


About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail:

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