Blue Moon (Chapter 18)
"Judas Priest, girl, where have you been?" Zee's voice, already scratchy from a lifetime of cigarettes, had become even rougher with anger.
"At home. Off duty." I glanced at my watch. "Why are you on the radio now anyway?"
"The shit has hit the fan around here. I got rid of the dingbat on second. She couldn't handle it."
I sighed. Dispatchers came and went with regularity in most departments. The job did not pay enough to offset the high level of stress. But in ours, thanks to Zee's vile tongue and perfectionist nature, we went through them quicker than dogs went through dog food.
"Head to Three-one-five Cooper Court."
"Brad. He's been ordered to secure only, then wait for you."
Brad was on early, too. We must really be strapped.
"I assume creepy crawly found you."
I shot a glance at Mandenauer, but he continued to stare through the windshield as if he couldn't hear every word that was said.
"He's right next to me."
"Good. Ask him the details."
Zee clicked off. I replaced the receiver, cleared my throat. "Urn… she's not – "
"Nice?" He raised a brow.
"For want of a better word."
"Do not worry, Jessie. I have dealt with far worse than Zelda Hupmen in my life."
Considering his life span, I had no doubt he was right. I nodded and moved on. "What happened?"
"A wolf went through the window of a residence."
I frowned. Cooper Court might be at the edge of town, but it was still town. A new subdivision complete with minivans, bicycles, and kids. I hit the lights and the siren.
"The wolf was injured from the glass and no doubt disoriented. It ran around the house, and when the owner tried to direct it outside, the animal bit him, then left through the hole in the window."
"Obviously this is one of our special wolves."
He shot me a quick, unreadable glance. "Why obviously?"
"Wolves don't come near people. They particularly don't come into town, or dive through windows in the middle of suburbia. The only known wolf attacks on people have been by rabid wolves or wolf-dog hybrids."
I wasn't sure, but I thought his gaze became a bit more interested. "You've been doing research, Officer."
"You'd be amazed at what I've learned," I muttered, thinking about Cadotte and his werewolf army.
But I wasn't going to share that little delusion with Manden-auer. Not when he'd finally stopped treating me like some kid who didn't know her job.
I killed the siren several blocks from Cooper Court.
No reason to wake the entire neighborhood. Unfortunately, that had already been done.
As we turned into the small subdivision at the edge of town, an electric halo pressed against the night sky.
Every house blazed like a Christmas tree; every yard light blared. People milled about on their lawns, in the street, in various states of dress and undress. I had to slow to a crawl to avoid rolling over a citizen.
"Hell." I shut off the revolving red dome and ignored the questions people shouted as we passed. There would be no keeping this quiet any longer.
Brad had done a good job with the scene. He'd taped off the entire yard and stood in front of the door.
A few other summer cops formed a loose circle at the perimeter. My estimation of Brad's intelligence climbed several notches.
The house was like a hundred others in Miniwa – a ranch that resembled a log cabin – except this one sported a great big hole where the front window ought to be. Glass sprinkled across the bushes and sidewalk, catching the lights and shining like icicles on a moonlit night.
But there was no moon – or rather there was, but it was hidden behind thick, smoky clouds. Not a glimpse could be seen; not a star lit the sky.
I pulled into the driveway and we got out of the car, leaving our weapons behind. Though with Mandenauer wearing enough ammo to start a small war, I'm sure we made quite an impression on the nightly news cameraman, whom I saw filming us from the street.
"Jessie, thank God!"
Brad was glad to see me. Things must be worse than I thought.
I pointed to Mandenauer, who muttered, "We've met."
Well, that saved me from being polite. My favorite way to work. "What happened?"
Brad glanced at the street. I followed his gaze. People lined the yellow border tape, practically hanging over it in their eagerness to hear what we were saying. The television camera was trained right on us, and the reporter watched our mouths with an eagle eye. I'd bet my next doughnut she could read lips.
All three of us stepped inside. Considering the fiasco at the medical examiner's office, I was surprised the press hadn't been more avidly on my ass – or at least Clyde's. But without the bodies there wasn't much of a story beyond that. After tonight, there would be.
The low rumble of voices from the living room drew my attention. "Who's that?"
"The victim and his wife."
My estimation of Brad's brains plummeted. "He hasn't been sent to the hospital?"
Mandenauer and I exchanged glances. I raced him to the living room.
Pale and blond, the victim was perhaps six-foot-four, though it was hard to tell since he was sitting down.
He must have weighed 240. I didn't see an ounce of fat on him. He could have throttled the wolf with his bare hands. Maybe he'd tried, since his hand had been bitten.
Just like Karen Larson's.
His wife was as small as he was large. Why was it that huge guys always ended up marrying tiny women?
I'd think they'd be afraid of breaking them, or maybe that was part of the appeal.
I cleared my throat and they both glanced up. I stifled a curse. The wife was Prescott Bozeman's secretary.
Her eyes narrowed. "You," she spat.
"You, too. How… odd."
And it was. Not that the size of the town precluded running into people more often than I liked. But coincidences always bugged the hell out of me.
"Get an ambulance out here, Brad."
"No, II'm tine," the man said. He was pale, sweating. If he hadn't been in such good shape, I'd worry that he was going to have a heart attack right in front of us all. He still might.
"He doesn't like doctors." The wife rolled her eyes.
"Mr… " I let my voice trail off hopefully. He didn't answer, and I raised an eyebrow at itty-bitty snot-nosed bitch.
"Gerard," she supplied, though I could tell she didn't want me to know their name. As if I'd start calling her up and asking her to come out and play. "Mel Gerard, and I'm Cherry."
Of course she was.
I managed to keep any snide comments to myself and get on with business. "Mr. Gerard, you'll need to go to the hospital and have a rabies vaccine."
"Vaccine?" His voice raised to a near hysterical pitch on the end of the word. I frowned.
"Big manly man is afraid of shots." Cherry patted Mel on the hand that wasn't wrapped in gauze.
"D-don't want a shot."
He was more coherent than Karen Larson had been when I talked to her. Still, I remembered what Karen had been doing less than five hours after she was bitten. From the size of Mel, he could do a lot more damage. We needed to get him a vaccine and quick.
"He needs the medicine, Cherry."
"No. He'll be all right. Mel's never been sick a day in his life."
"We're dealing with something worse than the flu."
Her face went mulish and I sighed, then threw up my hands. She wasn't going to listen to me.
"It is for the best," Mandenauer murmured, moving in closer, talking low, keeping calm. "He must take the medicine. What can it hurt?"
Mel had lost interest in the conversation. His eyes were half-closed. He leaned on Cherry so heavily she was pressed into the arm of the couch. In the distance, the wail of a siren announced that Brad had done as I asked.
"I suppose that's true," Cherry said quietly. "A little old vaccine can't hurt Mel now."
"Right." I knelt in front of Mel. "1 just need to ask him a few quick questions."
"Jessie, we must go," Mandenauer pressed.
I knew better than to walk away before interviewing the victim. Look what had happened the last time.
"Now," he snapped. "The animal flees farther and farther into the night."
I glanced over my shoulder. "What kind of wolf hunter are you if you can't find him?"
"It is better if we go immediately."
I sighed. While we'd been arguing, Mel had fallen asleep on his wife's shoulder. From the glare Cherry was giving me, she didn't plan on letting me wake him. I got to my feet.
"Fine. Let's go."
"I did an initial interview." Brad hovered in the doorway.
"You what?" My voice was deceptively calm. What I wanted to do was rip into Brad the way the wolf had ripped into Mel. Brad was a summer cop – muscle and no brain – he wasn't trained to do anything but stand there and follow orders.
Color spread from Brad's collar to the hairline. He cleared his throat, shuffled his feet, fumbled in his pocket for a notebook, and practically threw it in my face.
"He was talking, rambling really, so I wrote it down, asked him a few things."
"You were supposed to secure the scene. That's all."
"So I should ignore a victim's testimony? I'm not quite that stupid."
Sometimes I wondered. But in this case Brad had done the right thing. I hoped. If what he'd written down wasn't gibberish.
"Did you hear any of this?" I asked Cherry.
"She arrived after I did," Brad said.
Cherry shrugged and nodded.
Mandenauer stood at the window. Something in his voice made me join him. There, behind the crowd that still peered in our direction, stood the big, black wolf. I could swear the thing was staring right at me, and as he did, the totem I'd forgotten shifted and slid across my chest. I gasped.
The sound seemed to break the inertia. As we watched, the wolf melted into the trees.
"Did you see that?" Mandenauer asked.
But I was already heading for the front door.
We nearly ran into the EMTs as we left the house. I paused to tell them what had happened and what needed to happen. I stressed the latter.
"This guy needs that vaccine," I insisted. "Make sure he doesn't go home without it."
They nodded, but I had my doubts. This was still America, last time I checked, and Mel didn't have to accept the vaccine if he didn't want to. I only hoped that Cherry was as bitchy with him as she had been with me. I had a feeling she would be.
Mandenauer and I retrieved our rifles. He glanced at the crowd, then jerked his head toward the back of the house. "We will take the long way around." He frowned at my gun. "What is that?"
"Where is the one I brought to you?"
"At my apartment. I like my own gun. I missed that wolf last night. I won't with this." I raised my rifle.
He contemplated me for a moment, then shook his head. "As you say… whatever." He continued around the side of the house.
The forest had spread into the backyard, as forests will. The lack of moonlight, the heavy cover of the branches, contributed to a near complete darkness.
"Here." Mandenauer threw me a bandolier of bullets. Once again, I had to catch them or eat them.
"Could you stop doing that?" I asked.
"Throwing things at me." I looped the bandolier over my shoulder. "Besides, I like my own ammo."
I shook the box I'd taken from the safe. Bullets rattled, their number a comforting weight in my palm.
"Mine are better."
I frowned. "Why?"
"They were made for wolves."
"Let me guess." I fingered the shiny bullets in the bandolier. At least they were the right caliber. "Silver?"
I expected him to scoff, if not laugh. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. He opened his mouth to say… I'm not sure what… and a long, mournful howl split the darkness, so close both of us jumped. Mandenauer headed into the forest. I was right on his heels.
With no moon to light the trail, we were forced to use a flashlight. Flecks of blood on the dirt, a bush, a branch revealed the wolf that had bitten Mel must have been cut by the window glass.
But were the black wolf and the kamikaze one and the same? I had no idea. The thought that we were following one wolf, with another following us, made me twitchy, and I longed for a nice, safe tree stand.
Mandenauer was another story. His step was spry. He was damn near skipping. I could feel the excitement rolling off him like a vapor.
He stopped dead on the trail and I nearly bumped into his back. "What?" I whispered.
Mandenauer stiffened, then slashed his hand across his neck in a violent gesture.
I lifted one hand in surrender. Okay, okay, I'll shut up.
I lowered my hand and spread it open and out indicating the question I'd already asked: What?
He flicked a long, bony finger to the left, then to the right. The trail split here.
He knelt and so did I. When he turned the light to the right, splatters of blood shone in a black wavering line across the dirt and leaves. He sniffed once, twice, then moved the beam to the left. A large, fresh pile of feces sat in the center of that trail.
Hmm. That appeared to be the wolf equivalent of "Na, na, na, na, na."
Mandenauer's hand tightened on his rifle. He glanced at me and for the first time I saw true emotion in his eyes. He was furious. He jabbed a finger at himself, then pointed down the trail to the left. He pointed me to the trail on the right. I frowned and shook my head.
Separate? That sounded like a really, really bad idea.
He held up two fingers. Pointed again to the divergent trails. Two of them, two of us.
He lifted his rifle. We had the guns.
True. So why wasn't I impressed?
In the end, I went to the right and Mandenauer to the left. Through sign language – every time I tried to whisper, he made that creepy throat-slashing movement – I understood we were to meet in an hour back at the house. If one of us found a wolf, he or she should shoot it. The other would hear the shot and follow the sound.
I was to use his bullets in my gun. What the hell? Silver killed as good as lead. In this case, perhaps even better.
I used the small penlight I kept in the glove compartment and let Mandenauer keep the blaring city-issue flashlight. Even if he moved like he was fifty, he was still eighty, and so were his eyes.
As a result I progressed more slowly than he did, stopping often to ascertain the blood still trailed ahead of me. It wasn't long before any trace of Mandenauer – both sound and sight – disappeared. I was truly alone, and for the first time in my life I didn't like it.
I'd walked these woods at all hours of the day and the night. I'd never felt uneasy, watched, exposed.
Tonight I felt all of those things, as well as…
A branch broke behind me. I spun around. Nothing was there. Nothing that I could see, anyway.
"You are not being stalked."
I'd hoped the sound of my own voice would calm me. Instead, it was louder than a gunshot and only served to make my heart beat even faster. Now that I'd started talking to myself, could complete insanity be far behind? Next thing I knew, I'd be believing in Cadotte's werewolves.
I let my eyes wander over the forest. A shadow cut between two trees – more man-sized than wolf-. I shook my head. Closed my eyes, opened them again. Nothing was there.
I was letting my imagination run away with me, and I had no one to blame but myself if I became too distracted by fairy tales to see a real-live big bad wolf creeping up on me. I tightened my grip on the rifle and continued down the path.
But the thought of Cadotte could not be banished as easily as that. He invaded my mind even though I tried to push him back out. When would I see him again? What would happen when I did?
I gave a mental snort. I knew the answer to the latter, if not the former. We'd end up in bed – sooner rather than later. It was a given.
The shadow flickered again at the corner of my eye. I flashed the light across the shrubbery as an opossum skittered away from the beam.
The breeze picked up, making the trees whisper. No wonder I was seeing shadows. The forest was full of them.
Then I smelled it – a scent I'd become quite familiar with in the past few days. Leaves, wind, wildness.
My voice carried in the night. From far down the trail came the howl of a wolf. The hair on the back of my neck rose, causing me to shiver even though the temperature stood at near sixty-five degrees.
Another wolf answered the first – from the left, off where Mandenauer must be by now.
I don't know why I started running. I only know that when the gunshot ended the sorrowful serenade, I tripped and fell to my knees. Thank goodness for safeties on guns. I could have blown my head off being so careless. As it was, my knee hit a rock, and I writhed around on the trail awhile cursing.
If a wolf had truly been after me, now would have been the perfect time to finish me off. Instead, I lay there until the pain receded enough for me to catch my breath. Then I got to my feet and followed the sound of that gunshot.