Hidden Moon (Chapter 28)
"If you'll excuse me," Doc Bill said, "I need to get down to business."
Since his business involved knives, saws, and the removal of various body parts and fluids, I made haste for the door.
Grace lagged behind. "You're sure he was killed by a canine, not a bear or a big cat?"
"I did some training in the recognition of various animal kills."
"That doesn't seem to be common training for a GP," Grace observed.
"At one time I considered moving west, taking a job at Yellowstone. But the wife didn't want to leave Georgia. Now she's gone and I'm too old."
"What brings you to the conclusion that this is a canine kill?" Grace asked.
"Cats use their claws to hold victims steady. Think of a domestic cat with a mouse."
"They play with them," I murmured from my position near the door. Oprah did it all the time. Drove me crazy.
"Exactly," Doc Bill agreed. "Which means a victim would not only have his throat torn but also exhibit scratches, serious ones if we're talking cougar and the like."
I glanced at Grace, suddenly understanding where she was headed with this line of questioning. Malachi's cougar, or even his grizzly, might have been used to kill Josh; then Malachi could have dumped the body in the ravine.
"And bears?" Grace pressed.
"Will swipe at their prey."
"I can see why you don't think this is a bear or cat kill, but what leaves the impression that it's canine?"
"The modus operandi of canines is to knock their victims to the ground and rip out their throats."
"I'm certain when I examine the body I'll find fur consistent with my theory. Has there been any hint of rabies in the area?"
Grace glanced quickly at me, then back at Doc. "Why would you think that?"
"Cats have been known to attack humans. Remember that situation in California where the cougar grabbed a woman right off her bike?" We nodded. "And it wasn't long ago that a mother was killed protecting her child from a bear at Yellowstone. Those animals weren't sick. We don't know what set them off. But canines don't commonly attack unless rabid."
"You have a strong feeling one way or another about what type of canine we're dealing with here?" Grace asked.
Doc Bill chewed on his lip as he stared at the corpse. "I'd be inclined to say 'wolf,' except there hasn't been one in these mountains since before I was born."
"That may have changed," Grace said. "We had a tourist attacked by what he swears was a wolf."
"Really?" Though the older man's body stayed in the same relaxed position, I got the impression he was suddenly very interested. "I'd like to take a look at this tourist."
Grace winced. Doc noticed. "He died?"
"He – uh – got up and left the hospital in the middle of the night, and he hasn't been seen since."
I expected a shocked reaction from Doc. Instead he continued to gnaw on his lip and stare at dead Josh.
"What about his wounds?"
"Sir?" Grace asked.
"Had they healed?"
Grace and I exchanged glances again.
"It appeared that way on the security tape," Grace said, "but they're notoriously fuzzy."
"Damn," Doc murmured.
"You seem to know something about…" Grace spread her hands. "Whatever this is."
"I haven't seen anything like it since I was in Germany."
"When were you in Germany?" I asked.
"Nineteen forty-four, forty-five."
"You were in the war?" He didn't look that old.
"Lied about my age. Dumbest thing I ever did."
"What happened?" Grace asked.
"We won," the doctor answered drily.
Grace's mouth curved; she always appreciated well-timed sarcasm. "I meant, what did you see there that reminded you of – ?" She waved vaguely in the direction of the body.
"It was so long ago, sometimes I'm able to convince myself I imagined it."
He paused, rubbing between his eyes as if a headache pounded. I didn't think we were going to like what he had to say, but then, I hadn't liked much of what anyone had said lately.
Doc dropped his hand. "I was a paratrooper."
"Like Band of Brothers?"
"Pretty much. They dumped us behind the lines in France while the others came in from the sea. I wouldn't have wanted to have been them, though floating through the air between the bombs and the gunfire wasn't exactly my idea of a good time."
"I bet not."
"Once we landed, we were supposed to meet up with our unit and head east, liberating towns as we went. I'm not going to go over how long it took or how many we lost in the air and on the ground, but eventually we crossed into Germany."
"And then?" Grace asked.
"Then some weird things started to happen. There were wolves everywhere. Hundreds of them."
"Why is that so weird?" I asked. "Isn't the Black Forest – home of Grimms' fairy tales and a whole lot of wolves – in Germany?"
"Problem is, we weren't in the Black Forest and these wolves weren't exactly wolves."
"How can wolves not be wolves?"
"These were smarter than the average beast. They herded us, stalked us, followed us for miles and miles. They seemed to know what we were going to do, as if they'd been listening to our conversations and understanding them. And when they killed us… some of us didn't stay dead."
I glanced at Josh, then quickly away. "You know how crazy that sounds?"
"Why do you think I never told anyone about it before?"
"When you say they didn't stay dead…" I began.
"They were attacked, throats ripped out, and then they healed all their wounds and walked away."
That sounded far too familiar.
"You never saw them again?" I asked.
He went silent, staring at his feet.
"Doc?" Grace pressed.
"I saw them again." He lifted his head. "As wolves."
I discovered I'd inched away from the door and closer to Grace and Doc Bill. I was having a hard time catching my breath.
"Doc," I managed. "What are you saying?"
"I think he's saying that his friends were bitten by wolves, then they healed their wounds and became wolves themselves," Grace said, as if she were reciting the Miranda warning. "Is that right?"
"That's right," the doctor agreed. Then he pulled a shiny scalpel from his bag and stabbed Josh in the chest.
I gave a little shriek and stumbled back. Grace took a step forward, hand on her weapon, but she didn't draw it. Instead, she laid her other hand on Doc Bill's shoulder. "What the hell?" she asked quietly.
"I've been carrying that scalpel around for sixty years," he explained. "Pure silver."
"That'll kill them?"
"What them are you talking about?" I asked.
"What kills on four legs, then disposes of the corpse on two?" Doc asked.
"A man and his dog?"
"Claire," Grace said quietly. "You know what he means."
I did? Maybe. But I didn't want to say so.
Doc had no such problem. "They say Hitler ordered a werewolf army," he murmured. "And Mengele gave him one."
"Mengele," I repeated. "Isn't that the guy – ?"
"They called him the Angel of Death. He experimented on those incarcerated in the camps."
We'd heard about the camps before. From Malachi.
From the expression on Grace's face, she remembered that, too.
I couldn't help it; a laugh escaped me, just one. "This is insane."
I waited for Grace to agree with me. Instead, she and the doc exchanged a glance that made me the outsider.
"It's not?" I asked.
Grace let her hand slip from her gun as the doctor removed his pure silver scalpel from the body.
"Every culture has a shape-shifter legend," Grace said.
"Legends are make-believe."
"Not always. Sometimes they're the only way to pass on the truth."
"You believe this?" I demanded.
"I've been considering a lot of strange things since our mauled tourist jumped out a hospital window and disappeared."
That had bothered me, too, but I hadn't made the leap to werewolf.
"There's also the little matter of the swastika at the scene," Grace pointed out.
I'd forgotten about that. In light of Doc's revelations, I liked the finding of that rune less now than I'd liked it then.
"You found a swastika?" Doc Bill asked.
"A rune." At his confused expression I elaborated. "A talisman. Icelandic in origin, as is the swastika. Before the Nazis got hold of it, the symbol was used for protection and rebirth."
"It might have been used for that after they got ahold of it, too," Grace muttered. At my quizzical expression she continued, "If Hitler ordered a werewolf army and Mengele gave him one, perhaps the swastika has something to do with it."
"I'm not following."
"Talismans are kept now for luck, but they were once considered magic."
"Still not getting it."
"Knowing Hitler, he didn't plan to stop at one army."
"Right," Doc agreed. "Once Mengele found the formula, or whatever the hell he was up to, they could have turned the entire Nazi army, as well as every other army they conquered, into something that was very hard to kill."
I got a chill, even though Hitler and his pal Mengele had been dead a long, long time.
"So maybe the swastika wasn't just a symbol they appropriated because they liked the way it looked on their flag," Grace said. "Maybe it had something to do with the changing of the man into the beast. Rebirth, then protection from all enemies." Grace glanced at me and shrugged. "It could happen."
Now I rubbed my eyes. "You two are giving me a major headache."
"I've done a bit of research into magic and shape-shifting myself," Grace said.
I dropped my hand and stared at her. Sure, her great-grandmother had been a medicine woman, but I'd figured they were discussing herbs and roots, and maybe they had been, along with other things.
"Every culture has a shape-shifter legend," Grace repeated. "Most of the Native American tribes believe they were descended from some sort of animal."
"Believing and being are two different things."
"I'm just saying the shape-shifter legends aren't new. They've been in place since long before the Nazis showed up, so maybe they just appropriated one."
"You're saying we've got a Nazi werewolf running around?" And wouldn't that just be special?
"I have no idea." Grace turned to the doctor. "How do we recognize a werewolf?"
"If you shoot them with silver, they'll explode, in both forms."
"Anything marginally less violent?" I asked.
"In wolf form, a werewolf retains its human eyes."
I started, remembering. "I saw that."
"What?" Grace turned to me. "Where?"
"In… a – well, a crystal ball."
"You saw a wolf with human eyes in a crystal ball?"
"I was getting my fortune told. A wolf appeared in the center of the crystal with a bunch of shadows and mist all around. Then Edana, the fortune-teller, said, 'Beware the devil who is a shape-shifter.'"
"Always good advice," Grace muttered. "Did the eyes of that wolf match the eyes of our missing tourist, or anyone else you might know?"
"Too small." I made the shape of the crystal ball with my hands. "I could see the whites but not a color. Not really."
"You saw a werewolf," Doc said. "Wolves, normal ones, don't have whites around their irises. Only people do."
We went silent for several moments, pondering that.
"Let's take stock," Grace said. "The rune was found where the tourist was attacked. He became the beneficiary of miraculous healing and disappeared into the mountains. In theory, he was reborn a werewolf, and now we need to kill him. With silver."
How the hell was I going to explain silver bullets and exploding wolves to… everyone?
"Isn't there a way to cure him?" I asked.
"Not that I'm aware of." Doc fixed both Grace and me with a somber gaze. "I don't think you're seeing the entire picture."
"I think we're seeing it fine," Grace said. "Our missing tourist is a werewolf."
"He might be." Doc pressed his lips together as if he didn't want to impart any more bad news, but why stop now? "He probably is. But there's one question you haven't asked yet."
Grace lifted her brows. "What's that?"
"Who bit him?"