Crescent Moon (Chapter 39)
Mandenauer's face didn't change. He didn't find me funny. Imagine that? "You lie to everyone else, but you cannot lie to me. I have hunted these beasts for longer than you have both been alive. Unless…"
He considered us. "Unless one or both of you are possessed by the demon werewolf." His gaze lowered to Adam's bloody arm. "I don't suppose you were shot with silver."
"As a matter of fact – " I began, and Adam elbowed me in the ribs. "Hey!"
"Who de hell are you, mister?" Adam demanded.
"I will be happy to tell you as soon as you prove you aren't evil."
"And how are we supposed to do that?" I asked.
"Well, in the good old days, I would just shoot you and see if you exploded. But as everyone has been telling me, that causes too many questions. I hate questions. So I have come up with another way."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge silver crucifix, throwing it at me before I knew what he was up to. I had no choice but to catch the thing or let it hit me in the nose.
"No smoke," Mandenauer said. "You live."
My silver fleur-de-lis chain had disappeared down my shorts. I tugged it free. "I could have shown you this."
"Oh well." He shrugged and glanced at Adam. "Are you wearing one?"
The old man lifted a brow in my direction. "If you please?"
"I've already done this test," I said.
I pressed the cross to Adam's nonbloody bicep, then lifted a brow in Mandenauer's direction. "No smoke, no flame, no explosion. Happy?"
The old man lowered his gun. "Ecstatic. Now where is the beast?"
"What beast?" I asked.
"You have a cage in the swamp. You have been hunting from a tree. You understand about the silver. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were one of mine."
"My German is a little rusty."
"Hunter-searchers," Adam said.
Mandenauer's gaze narrowed. "You know of us?"
"I know a little German. My guess is you hunt things no one else believes in."
"You'll find nothing here."
"I know better. Even without the physical evidence, the newspaper reports of disappearances and deaths, the rabies concern, there's what I know about her."
"Me?" I squeaked.
"Diana Malone, obsessed since her husband's untimely death with finding evidence of a paranormal creature and clearing his name. For the past four years you have traversed the globe searching. But at last I think you have found one. My question is, why are you not calling the national media?"
I tightened my lips and kept quiet
"Could it be because you're in love with the thing?" His gaze turned to Adam. "Lycanthropes are accomplished at the physical. They will do anything, say anything, to keep themselves alive."
"Are you hinting that I've allowed myself to be seduced to the dark side?"
"It has happened before," Mandenauer muttered.
"I just showed you that silver doesn't affect him."
"Perhaps the beast in the swamp is a different kind of beast from the one I am used to. Perhaps whatever hunts beneath the crescent moon in the Crescent City has grown strong enough to survive the usual methods."
He lifted his gun, and I stepped in front of Adam again. "No. I mean, yes. But… hell. Adam, I think we should tell him."
"There's nothing to tell."
"I sent a man down here a few weeks ago," Mandenauer continued as if we'd said nothing. "He saw wolves where they did not belong, led by a black wolf with all too human blue eyes. Then my man disappeared. Now I learn he was strangled not far from here. Do you know anything about that?"
I started to sweat – actually I'd been sweating all along, it was hot, but the sweat trickling down my back turned cold.
Although Adam hadn't told me so, I was pretty sure he'd been responsible for the strangulation. What would Mandenauer do if he discovered Adam had killed one of his operatives to protect the evil, murdering loup-garou? Edward Mandenauer might appear too old to do much of anything, but in his eyes I recognized a steely resolve, a lack of compassion reminiscent of the beasts he hunted, and that made me nervous. Because even my grandpa could fire a gun. Maybe Adam was right and we should keep quiet.
"I can cure lycanthropy," Mandenauer murmured.
Adam's sharply indrawn breath was drowned out by my blurted, "You can?"
"Not me, but there is someone I would call."
I turned to Adam, hope making me babble. "This could be the break you've been looking for."
"Or a trap." He lowered his voice. "He said he's a hunter. All he knows is how to kill."
True. Why should we trust someone who'd walked out of the swamp? He could be anyone. I stilled. Or anything.
"You were in the army, Ruelle," Mandenauer continued. "Elite Special Forces. A team known as Company Z – last resort You were assassins."
"How do you know that?" Adam demanded. "No one is supposed to know that."
"I have worked for the government most of my life," Mandenauer said. "Even now, though I am in complete charge of my unit, I receive my funding from them." He pulled a cell phone off his belt and tossed it to Adam. "You must have a contact, a friend, still in the employ of Uncle Sam. Call him."
"If you are who you say you are, no one will tell me anything."
"They will if I say so. Call your friend; have him access my file, then type in A-I-R-A-M when asked for security clearance. After be relates the information, you can decide if you want to tell me the truth. But remember, I will either kill or cure whatever I find here. It is your choice which it will be."
Adam's gaze met mine and I shrugged. What could it hurt?
He followed the instructions, then listened as his contact recited the information in Mandenauer's file. Adam disconnected, appearing a little shell-shocked.
"He is who he says he is," Adam confirmed. "He runs some Special Forces monster-hunting unit."
"You mean werewolf-hunting?"
"According to my contact, there are a lot more than werewolves out there."
I caught my breath. "Simon was right all along."
"And often quite helpful to us," Mandenauer murmured. "We monitored his Internet and library usage, his book purchases – "
My eyes narrowed. The Patriot Act could be a real pain in the ass. Although this seemed to be slightly beyond the realm of the rightly paranoid Homeland Security Force. Just what kind of power did Mandenauer wield?
"Your husband was very good at weeding the truth from the lies," he continued. "Often we followed him, and on more than one occasion we eliminated what he found."
"Those times he said he'd discovered something, but when he took me to see it, it wasn't there?"
The times I'd wondered about his sanity.
"We killed the beasts before they killed someone else."
"What about the night he died?"
I'd always wondered what had really happened. Not that it made any difference. Dead was dead.
Or was it?
Simon had died from a fall. His body had been broken, marked, torn. Then, I hadn't thought to check for bite marks. If there'd been one –
I stiffened. The Simon I'd seen at the window of Adam's shack could very well be running around the swamp on four paws. And if Mandenauer actually had a cure –
My heart leaped with hope, even as my gaze went to Adam. What would I do? I loved them both.
I turned to Mandenauer. "Was one of your agents there that night? Did they see what happened to Simon? Is he – ?"
"Out there killing people? No. We made certain he would not rise again."
"He was bitten?"
I winced. "But you said you could cure lycanthropy."
"The developments are recent. I am sorry."
I glanced at Adam. He smiled softly. He understood.
"You couldn't save Simon before he was attacked?" Adam asked. "What kind of army are you?"
"The best that we can be. But sometimes even the best are too late. All the Juger-Suchers can do is continue to fight as we've been fighting since the war."
"War?" I asked.
"World War Two."
Adam and I exchanged glances. The idea that monsters had been multiplying for sixty years was disturbing, to say the least
"You had better explain what you mean by that," Adam ordered.
The old man collapsed onto the stump where Frank had been. "I was sent to Berlin to find out what Hitler was up to."
"Hitler," Adam muttered.
'I hate that guy," I said.
Mandenauer's lips twitched. He didn't seem like a man who would smile much or laugh ever, but I'd been wrong about the nature of a man before. I took Adam's hand in mine, some of my tension easing when he not only let me, but held on, too.
"The fuhrer ordered Josef Mengele to create a werewolf army."
"Mengele was the one who performed the experiments on the Jews?" I asked.
"And the Gypsies and those lacking in their mental capabilities, and anyone else Hitler did not like."
"Which means he had plenty of test subjects."
"He had no shortage," Mandenauer muttered. "Mengele was given a laboratory in the Black Forest By the time I discovered this, D-day came and went Hitler panicked and ordered Mengele to release what he'd created into the world. I was only able to watch as unimaginable atrocities emerged from the trees."
"And the werewolf army?"
"Has been multiplying ever since, as have all the other beasts he created."
Mandenauer didn't answer at first; then he clapped his hands on his knees and rose. "One problem at a time." He fixed Adam with a stare. "I can help you, if you will help me. What is going on in New Orleans that has left so many dead and so many others undead?"
Adam took a deep breath and began to tell Mandenauer the history of his family and the curse. He revealed everything, except that he had a son. The old man listened without interrupting.
Though Edward Mandenauer was spooky, he seemed to know what he was doing, and while his story about the Black Forest was far-fetched, it was also plausible.
I had no problem imagining that Hitler might demand a werewolf army; I found it easy to believe Mengele would concoct monsters. He had, after all, been one of them. And it made perfect sense that those horrors had been released into the world to wreak havoc for the next half-century and beyond.
I'd always known Hitler was far too evil to just die.
"My grandpere wasn't made by Mengele," Adam finished. "But by a voodoo queen."
"Not all the monsters came out of the Black Forest," Mandenauer explained. "There are things walking the earth so ancient it is beyond the scope of our minds. Every culture has its myths, legends, and monsters. Each day new beasts are born and others mutate by accident or design." He spread his hands. "Magic, if you will. What worked to kill them once, does not a second time. This is why my Jager-Suckhr society is getting larger with each passing year."
"It's a wonder I've never caught wind of you," Adam said.
"We are a secret society."
"Yet you told me"
"I am sure you can keep my secret as you have kept your grandfather's for so long. I've sent agents here before. None of them were able to discover anything until this one. And they all disappeared."
"Maybe they got tired of working for you."
The two men held each other's eyes like two alpha wolves over a fresh kill.
"Maybe," the old man conceded.
They both turned away at the same time.
I knew as well as Mandenauer did that Adam had taken out those he'd sent But the Jager-Sucher didn't seem angry about it. Instead, he appeared intrigued.
"Will you give me a chance to end the curse?" Mandenauer pressed.
Adam rubbed his forehead, his hair swinging forward to cover his face as he considered the request If the cure didn't work, Mandenauer would most likely kill Henri, then Adam. From the looks of Mandenauer, he'd probably kill Luc and only lose a single night's sleep.
"All right" Adam murmured. "I'll give you one chance at a cure, but I won't let you kill him. I'll kill you first"
"You can try," Mandenauer said, and pulled out his cell phone.
While he gave orders to someone named Elise, Adam beckoned me. 'I'm going after Grandpere. I want you to take Luc out of town. In case de miracle cure doesn't work."
"Or in case it's bogus."
He smiled and brushed my hair off my cheek. "Great minds, cher"
"All right" I agreed. "But I need to know if the cure is successful; then I can bring Luc home."
Adam lifted his chin in Mandenauer's direction. "He'll know."
"So will you."
"You can't contact me until you're certain de cure has worked, and if it hasn't you need to disappear. If Mandenauer kills Henri, I'll be searching for you, and I won't be me anymore."
I remembered Henri's cold eyes, his vicious words, the blood he'd spilled just for kicks. I didn't want to see Adam like that. I'd do anything to keep his son from seeing it Still –
"You wouldn't hurt Luc."
Sadness flickered over Adam's face. "Wolves are very good parents, but werewolves could care less about their young. To them a child is just another midnight snack."
"Promise me." His voice was urgent; his gaze, intense. "Promise you'll take care of him if I can't."
His eyes gentled. "Thank you."
Mandenauer ended his call. "My assistant is on her way. She has the cure and will meet us at your mansion hi – " He glanced at his watch. "Three hours. Is that enough time for you to locate the beast?"
"It'll have to be."
Adam stared into my face. I answered his unspoken question with a faint smile, and he kissed me on the forehead, men disappeared.
Ignoring Mandenauer's curious gaze, I touched the place where Adam's lips had brushed. A good-bye if ever I'd felt one. I guess he wasn't as confident as Herr Mandenauer that the cure would work.
The old man still watched me. "I have to run some errands," I said, and headed for the mansion.
Mandenauer followed. I hoped he didn't plan to stick to me like gum on a shoe until Adam came back. If he did, I'd have to take drastic measures.
My eyes searched the underbrush for a great big branch or maybe a rock.
To distract him, and because I was curious, I kept asking questions. "What is this cure? A serum? A pill?"
"No. Although Elise has invented an antidote that can restore the bitten if they are injected before the first change."
"Which would be handy if you were around some when you were attacked."
He shot me a speculative look. "My point exactly. Most people aren't, and they don't realize they've been infected until it's too late."
"Then what do you do?"
"That is where the cure comes in."
"What is it?" Mandenauer didn't answer, and I glanced at him. "A big secret?"
"You shall see," he said cryptically, which only made me more nervous. "Elise has also invented a serum that will fade the bloodlust under the full moon," he continued.
"Did it help with the – " I wasn't sure how to explain the soul-deep evil I'd sensed. "Henri appeared human, but he wasn't. Not really."
Mandenauer nodded. "Lycanthropy is a virus, passed through the saliva when a werewolf bites a human. The virus destroys their humanity, leaving behind pure wickedness. What we call the demon."
I guess I'd been right about possession.
"But Henri wasn't bitten," I said. "Does he have the virus?"
"Did he make others by biting them?"
"Then I assume the curse created the infection. It is impossible to know without testing him."
"If he isn't like the others will the cure work?"
"Also impossible to know."
We reached the mansion. The police had gone. The place was deserted.
"I'll be back as quickly as I can," I lied.
Mandenauer studied me with faded yet sharp blue eyes. "It is good that you leave him. Even if the loup-garou is cured, your lover will never be normal. There are too many memories, too many secrets, too many deaths."
He thought I was hitting the road because I was afraid of what Adam might become, or the problems he might have adjusting to all that he'd done to protect an evil thing.
Fine by me. The old man could believe anything he liked as long as he didn't prevent me from climbing into the car and leaving him behind.
Though I doubted Mandenauer would follow, since he didn't want to miss Henri, I wasn't going to take any chances, so I drove around and around the area before I headed for the mobile home. By the time I got there, noon had come and gone. I knocked on the door, and when no one answered, I tried the knob. Just like the last time, it turned in my hand.
I stepped inside and saw the blood.