Blue Moon (Chapter 39)
The trail widened. I was able to quicken my pace and walk shoulder to shoulder with Mandenauer.
He gave me a quick glance and a rare smile. "You are not moping about leaving your lover behind?"
I frowned, confused. "Should I be?"
"Most women would. I like you, Jessie. You are an able officer."
"Gee, thanks. I'm so glad you approve."
I hadn't felt like an able officer lately. I'd broken a shitload of rules, withheld information, stolen evidence, and protected a suspect. I'd most likely be thrown off the force, if I didn't die first.
Mandenauer, who either didn't get my sarcasm or was learning to ignore it, continued. "The plan is to follow the wolves to the ceremony and put a bullet in every single one."
"I can do that."
"However, if the wolf god rises, we may have a problem."
I gave him a quick glance. "What kind of problem?"
"I do not think the wolf god can be killed with silver."
"Why the hell not?"
I must have sounded slightly hysterical, because he reached over and patted me on the shoulder with a heavy, awkward hand. "Otherwise it would be no more than a werewolf, yes?"
I saw his point. I didn't like it, but I saw it.
"Then how do we kill a wolf god?"
"I have no idea."
"Great. Swell. Wonderful."
"My sentiments exactly."
We had no trouble following the wolves. The trail was damp. It must have rained while I'd been sleeping – and doing other things. Unnaturally large paw prints padded to the west like a neon arrow.
"They aren't trying to hide where they're going," I said.
"That can't be good."
"I agree. But what choice do we have?"
"I don't suppose you have any idea who's behind this?"
Mandenauer adjusted his bandolier, which kept slipping to the edge of his bony shoulder. "Do you?"
"Question with a question," I muttered.
Was he trying to annoy me?
"I thought I did."
"You believed your lover was the one."
I shrugged. Hard to admit you'd been sleeping with the enemy. Easier to just do it – or do him, as Clyde had so kindly pointed out – than talk about it.
My eyes burned at the thought of Clyde. I'd miss him. Werewolf or not, he'd been good to me. He'd been a decent boss, a likable guy. What had happened?
I thought back on all that had occurred in the last week. Clyde had made me suspicious of Will. He'd given me false information. He'd out-and-out lied.
That left a bad taste in my mouth. We were the good guys – or at least we were supposed to be. But who was I to throw stones after all I'd done?
"You are thinking about your friend the sheriff?"
"And how he could have done what he did?"
"He had little choice in the matter. Once you are bitten, you do what you are told."
I didn't like the sound of that. I'd never been very good at doing what I was told.
I stopped and he glanced at me with a raised brow. "Problem?"
"If everything goes to hell… I mean if we – "
"Are unable to stop them and are bitten?"
I couldn't speak, so I nodded.
"We have a saying in the Jdger-Sucher society: Always save the last bullet for yourself."
The stark words made me wince, but I could see their practicality, and I'd always been a practical gal.
"Didn't I hear that in an old Western once?"
"I never said it was an original saying." Mandenauer winked and kept walking.
"There's one thing that bothers me."
"Actually there are about a hundred, but for now – "
He waved a thin, heavily veined hand. "Ask."
"Why did you tell Clyde who you were?"
"I didn't tell him anything."
I stopped again, but this time Mandenauer kept walking. I hurried to catch up. "He told me that he knew what you were. That you'd told him everything."
"He told you a lot of things, Jessie."
True. What was one more lie on top of all the others? I'd never been a trusting soul. I had a feeling I'd be even less so now.
Another thought occurred to me. "The crossbow."
"I'd rather not think about that any longer, thank you."
"Just a sec." My mind churned, trying to put all the pieces in place. It wasn't easy. "He told me that Will had one. But how would he have known that unless he was in Will's house?"
"Will said someone had planted the evidence." I rubbed my forehead. "I'm such an idiot."
"Clyde manipulated you. He had his reasons."
"Do you think he shot you?"
"Does it matter now?"
In the scheme of things… ? "I guess not."
We continued to walk, and then we walked some more. Where in hell were these wolves headed?
I was in good shape, but a timber wolf could run me into the ground any day. I wondered if that was what they were up to. They knew we were coming. We hadn't been quiet. What was the point when they could hear a pin drop one hundred yards away?
Mandenauer wasn't even breathing hard. I hoped I could walk a million miles at his age. I hoped I could walk at all in the morning.
He stopped, raised a hand, gestured for silence. The sound of chanting rose toward the blue moon.
I peered through the trees, which wasn't easy. The forest was thick, the trail we were on a deer trail and very narrow. But several hundred feet ahead I saw the flicker of a flame.
Mandenauer fixed me with a serious stare from his eerie blue eyes and patted his rifle, then he pointed to-ward the flames. With his finger and thumb he made a motion. I nodded.
Bang, bang, bang. They would all be dead.
His pace picked up. We were nearly there.
The trees rustled with a summer breeze, and I saw the clearing, recognized it instantly. They'd led us to their lair at the cave. I should have known.
Mandenauer didn't hesitate. He braced his back against a tree and started shooting.
I followed his lead, finding a nearby tree with a decent view. The view was what screwed me. I'd have been all right if there'd only been wolves. But there weren't.
The sight of several naked people – men, women, white and Indian – made me hesitate. The hesitation got me knocked over the bead with something really hard.
I fell on my face. A gun was pressed to my head.
Man, I hated when that happened.
"We've been waiting for you."
The voice made me blink. I tried to turn so I could see with my own eyes what my brain refused to accept. But the poking of the gun barrel at the base of my neck stopped me.
A groan from Mandenauer's direction, and the cessation of the shots, told me he was in the same predicament. Too bad we hadn't climbed a tree this time. Of course there were no handy tree stands around – no doubt one of the reasons this place was theirs.
My weapons and ammo disappeared. The pressure of the gun lessened, and I raised myself to my knees.
My head hurt like a son of a bitch. Thankfully I didn't have to lift it very far to have a confirmation on that voice.
Perfectly manicured toes peaked out of obscenely high-heeled sandals right beneath my nose.
High heels in the forest. What a moron. But then, look who I was dealing with.
"Get up," Cherry demanded, tapping me again with the barrel of the gun.
My breath hissed in as a shaft of pain went through my head. But I got up before she could smack me a third time. I glanced toward Mandenauer, but he was already gone. My eyes met Cherry's and she smirked. "Not so smart now, are you?"
"Guess not. I never would have believed you'd let yourself get furry. Doesn't that ruin your makeup?"
"You'd be surprised." She motioned toward the clearing with the gun.
Cherry was the culprit? I had a hard time with that. She didn't have the brains, and I couldn't imagine Clyde taking orders from her.
Mandenauer sat in the center of a snarling, snapping circle of wolves. The ones he'd shot smoldered, the scent of burning flesh reminding me of a tailgate party at Lam-beau Field. BBQ was always on the menu.
The chanting had continued right through our altercation. I didn't recognize either of the men or the woman at the bonfire. I did, however, recognize the totem hanging over the flames.
The only word I understood was Matchi-auwishuk. I figured they were calling on the Evil Ones to raise the wolf god.
Cherry shoved me across the clearing with several nicely placed jabs to the small of my back with her pistol.
"Sit." She kicked the back of my knees and I hit the ground. She certainly was a nasty little thing, but I'd figured that out a long time ago.
"Now what?" I asked.
"Now we wait for – " One of the wolves snarled and she bit her lip. "You'll see."
I frowned. "You aren't going to become the wolf god?"
Her eyes widened. "Me? Hardly."
Sheesh, how many surprises did I have in store for me tonight? At least a few more.
"Why did you let Tina bite Mel?"
Surprise flickered in her eyes for a moment before they started to water. "I wanted him to be like me, but I couldn't do it. He would have been, too, but you killed him!"
The gun wobbled alarmingly. Why had I felt the need to chat?
"I thought I was helping."
"Didn't you know better?"
"I thought once he was bitten it wouldn't matter. And everyone was so damn determined that he have the shot. I got confused." Her mouth trembled, but she tightened it and gave me a glare. "You'll get yours soon enough."
She smiled. The expression did not bode well for me.
"You know how to make a wolf god, bitch?"
"Blood. Yours. Soon." She licked her lips. My stomach rolled – from the headache or the discussion of my blood I wasn't sure, maybe both.
I took a few deep breaths, stared at the ground awhile and not the gun. I had just started to feel better when Cherry whispered, "They come."
I lifted my head too fast; the world spun. I had to swallow back bile. I heard footsteps, more than one person, perhaps two.
The brash parted and Will stumbled into the clearing. My heart gave a hard, painful thump. Confusion clouded my mind. He wasn't a werewolf, so… why me?
I saw the lump on his forehead, new blood on his clean shirt, the way his hands were bound.
He had not come willingly.
The brush rustled once more, and I turned my gaze toward the new arrival. The wind kicked up and seemed to whisper: The blood of one who loves you.
I'd wondered, Why me? Now I knew.
Zelda Hupmen stepped out of the forest.