Hidden Moon (Chapter 29)

"Crap," I muttered.

"Shit," Grace said more succinctly.

"Exactly," the doctor agreed.

"Wait a second." Grace held up one finger. "Who said anything about biting?"

"Yeah," I agreed, seeing her point. "If the rune's magic, isn't it razzle-dazzle he's a werewolf?"

"Didn't work that way in Germany. Biting was needed. And I didn't see any runes back then. Not that I hung around to search."

"That doesn't mean the rune can't be the cause of the change here."

"True, but then why bother to bite your tourist at all?"

He had a point.

Doc held out his hand. "May I see that rune?"

I checked my right pocket, then my left. My eyes widened. "It's gone."

"That's evidence," Grace said. "I wouldn't have let you keep it if I'd known you were going to lose it."

"Really, and here I was thinking you'd definitely handed it to me so I could do just that."

Grace scowled at my sarcasm, but I didn't care. I couldn't believe I'd misplaced evidence. I was queen of the idiots. Where was that dunce cap?

"I had it…" I thought back. "At the Gypsy camp. I showed it to the ticket taker and…"

Malachi. The big burly bouncer. Hell.

"A few others," I finished.

"Did you leave it there?"

"No. I'm sure of it."

"They steal, you know." We both looked at Doc. "Gypsies. They can't help it."

I sighed. Not him, too.

Grace's lips tightened. "Someone might have taken the rune at the lake. Someone might also have taken it at your house."

The way Grace put the emphasis on "someone," I knew what someone she meant, and for an instant my heart stuttered.

What if Malachi had slept with me to get his hands on that rune? He had wanted to keep it when I'd shown him the wood chip at his camp, although he hadn't seemed desperate to.

Then I remembered. He'd been taken in for questioning.

"Did you find it on him at the station?" I asked.

Grace's brow creased. "No."

I spread my hands.

"He could have hidden it before he came downstairs this morning."

"If the rune's still at my house, then he didn't steal it."

She couldn't argue with that.

"What I'd like to know," I said, "is how Mengele made his first werewolf. Maybe the whole rune thing started with him."

"Not necessarily."

"You said Hitler ordered him to make a werewolf army."

"That doesn't preclude him making the army from another werewolf," Doc said. "In fact, Hitler was fascinated with wolves and werewolves. His name, Adolf, can be translated as 'Noble Wolf.'"

"You're saying Hitler was a werewolf?"

"He had the personality for it. Once bitten, humans become possessed by the demon lycanthropy. They're no longer quite sane."

"Hit that nail on the head," I muttered. "But Hitler died of cyanide poisoning."

"And a gunshot to the noggin, or so they say. But maybe he died of silver poisoning."

"Is that a euphemism for explosion on contact with a silver bullet?" I asked.

"Considering his cronies dumped gas on him and the new missus, then torched them before the Russians arrived, it's hard to say."

"Does it really matter if Hitler was a werewolf and birthed his own army?" Grace asked. "That army and its descendants are still running around screwing up our life now, and we need to do something about it." ' "She's right," Doc agreed, "because soon, if not already, there'll be more than one or two werewolves in these mountains."

"How you figure?"

"The Gypsy woman was right to call them the devil. Werewolves enjoy killing as well as making more of their own. If you don't nip this in the bud, the entire town, the entire state, perhaps the country, will be overrun."

I couldn't believe we were talking about this. Worse than that, I kind of believed it.

"I need to get some silver bullets." Grace glanced at me. "You think they've got them on the Internet?"

"Aren't you jumping the gun?" I lowered my gaze to her weapon, then back to her face. "So to speak. You can't go around blasting wolves with silver bullets. They'll put you in a room with bars on the windows. Wolves, especially around here, have to be endangered."

"It isn't a wolf," she said, her mouth set into a stubborn line.

"According to you, it's a person who's morphed into a wolf. You think that explanation will get you in less trouble after you shoot it?"

"If I see a wolf with people eyes and it's coming for me with dripping fangs, I'm not going to wait around to become one, too. I don't care if they put me in a cell."

There was just no talking to her sometimes.

Doc Bill twirled his silver scalpel between two fingers. "A werewolf in human form will be burned at the touch of silver."

"That's handy," Grace said.

"You're going to go around sticking people with silver just to see if they smoke?" I demanded.

"If need be."

"Grace!" I smacked myself in the forehead. "Listen to yourself."

She ignored me. "Thanks for everything, Doc. I'll be in touch."

With a nod at Doc Bill, she left.

"Uh, thanks," I said, and followed.

Dead or not, I didn't want to be in the same room with Josh any longer than I had to.

I caught up with Grace halfway across the parking lot. "Hey." I grabbed her arm. "Where you going?"

"To talk to our suspect."

"But…" I frowned. "He isn't a suspect anymore. Josh was killed by a wolf, or near enough."

"What if Cartwright is the wolf?"

I blinked. What if he was?

"I pulled him in because people who'd hurt you were disappearing. That still makes him my prime suspect."

"You really think we have a werewolf running around the forest?"

"Yes." She met my eyes. "I do."

Grace stalked off, and I was left to hurry after her again. "Let's say, for argument's sake, we do," I said. "Why did the werewolf kill Josh instead of making him a werewolf, too, like he did with Ryan Freestone?"

"Once we figure out who he is, we'll ask him."

I was tempted to smack myself in the head again, but I'd only make my impending headache worse.

Malachi glanced up at our entrance, and his welcoming expression turned concerned. "What happened?"

Grace opened her mouth, then shut it again, stumped. How did one ask a man if he turned furry and killed people? Typically, Grace figured it out. "What do you know about werewolves?"

Malachi's eyebrows drew together. "I'm sorry. What?"

"Grace – ," I began, but she silenced me with a slash of her hand.

"Werewolves. Men or women become evil creepy things and kill. Ever heard of it?"

"We have legends, like all cultures. Stories to tell around the campfire, used to scare children into staying out of the woods."

Which reminded me…

"Why aren't there any children in your caravan?"

"Yeah," Grace said. "Why aren't there?"

"You think we'd drag them across the country and back again? Anyone who chooses to have a family finds a relative to watch over their children while they're away." His dark eyes burned. "Did you think we ate them?"

Grace didn't dignify that question with an answer. "We've had a few wolf attacks in the area."

"A few?" Malachi glanced at me. "I'd heard about only one." Understanding lit his face. "Ah, another today then."

Grace didn't confirm or deny. "There hasn't been a wolf in these mountains for centuries, and you insist you don't have a wolf in your caravan."

"We don't. You've seen for yourself all the animals we possess."

"You could have hidden it."

"It isn't that simple to hide a wild animal. However, you aren't really looking for a wolf but a werewolf."

"I'll take either one."

He didn't appear concerned that the sheriff had lost her mind; he didn't even seem to think she had.

"All our problems seemed to start when you showed up," Grace continued.

"We came for the festival, along with a thousand other people you don't know."

"You told us yourself that Hitler incarcerated the Gypsies in the camps. Now we've just discovered that Mengele was making a werewolf army in those camps."

Mal's face went still.

"Coincidence?" Grace asked. "I don't think so."

"My people aren't werewolves, Sheriff."

"Then you won't mind if I search your camp," Grace said.

"That would be fine." Malachi stood. "Shall we?"

"I'll need to talk to everyone in your group. Privately."

"All right."

"Good." Grace indicated I should join her in the hall. Once there she began to pace, muttering, "Gotta find something silver."

I sighed. "Fine. Do you have an earring… ?" The word made me pause, then laugh. –

Grace stopped pacing. "Have you flipped out?"

"Mal isn't a werewolf." I grinned like a fool.

"How you figure?"

"His crucifix earring."

"I don't think the crucifix thing works on a werewolf, just vampires."

"He's still got silver stuck right through his ear, and he isn't on fire."

Her lips tightened; then she shrugged. "I guess that'll get him off the hook. For now."

A shuffle at the end of the hall caused us to turn. At the sight of Doc, we tensed.

"Is there a problem?" I asked.

His face crumpled into lines of confusion. "Problem?"

"With Josh?" I clarified. All I needed was for him to be a newfangled werewolf that was resistant to silver.

Wouldn't that be special? Running from Josh the werewolf for the rest of my life?

"Oh no. He's deader than dead."

"Which is the best kind of dead," Grace said. "How can I help you, Doc?"

"I remembered my good-luck charm." He reached into his pocket and held up a shiny silver bullet.

"Those of us who reached Berlin had them made the day we arrived."

"I can't take that," Grace said. "Then you won't have one."

Doc put his free hand back into his other pocket and drew out a second. "Ever since I left Germany I've never left home without a few."

"Thanks." Grace accepted the offering. "This will come in handy."

Doc Bill left; Grace continued to stare at the silver bullet.

"How will that come in handy?" I asked. "You wouldn't actually use ammunition that's over sixty years old, would you?"

"Not in a gun, but – "

She tossed the thing at me. I had no choice but to catch it or let it hit me in the nose.

Grace lifted her eyebrows. "Nothing smoking. Guess you're clean."

"You thought I was – ?"

"I'm going to think everyone is," Grace said, "until proven otherwise."