Hunter's Moon (Chapter 3)
Her eyebrows lifted. "Who do you think's going to hear me? The raccoons?"
"There was a man – " I frowned. "Didn't you see him?"
"No. You were talking to yourself when I got here."
"I was not. There was a man." I waved my hand. "He was wearing pants."
"Always a good choice."
"But nothing else."
"Even better. The last time I met a naked man in the forest it was the start of something big."
"He wasn't naked. Completely."
The woman shrugged. "Too bad. Where'd he go?"
"I don't know."
"You're sure there was a man?"
Was I? Yes. Definitely. I hadn't lost my mind since… I'd found it the last time.
"He said his name was Damien Fitzgerald. Don't you know him?"
"Can't say that I do. But then Mandenauer and I just got here last week. From what you're telling me, he sounds like a prime candidate for the fanged and furry club."
Finally I heard what she'd said, what she'd been saying. She knew about the Juger-Suchers, the werewolves, Edward. The guy I was supposed to train had just turned into a girl. "You're…"
"Jessie McQuade. And you must be Leigh, my trainer."
I scowled. We'd see about that. I could think of few things I'd like to do less than teach this spectacularly competent woman all my tricks.
"You are Leigh," she said.
She took that as a yes. "Mandenauer is waiting at my place. Follow me."
Without so much as a by-your-leave, she kicked apart the remnants of the fire and stomped on the cinders. Then she marched back in the direction I'd come.
My gaze scanned the clearing, but there was no sign of the half-naked man. I even hurried to the place I'd last seen him and crouched in the leaves to examine the ground for a footprint. But the earth was hard and he'd been wearing… hardly anything.
A wolf howled near enough to make me jump, far enough away so that I followed Jessie at a walk instead of a run. I wasn't going to let her, or them, know just how spooked I was.
Had there been a man named Damien? Probably.
Was he merely a man? Or had he been more? I might never know that for sure.
Jessie's place was an apartment located in a small complex adjacent to the sheriff's office. I parked beside the squad car and followed her up the flight of stairs to the second floor.
"Are you really a cop?" I asked. "Or is this just pretend?"
"I'm a cop."
She didn't elaborate and irritation flared again. Jessie got to do her chosen job while she saved the world.
I got to pretend I was a warden and earn the scorn of every community.
But I couldn't exactly be a werewolf hunter and a kindergarten teacher. The very thought was ludicrous.
The door sprang open before she could touch it, and a tall, emaciated silhouette spread across the hall floor.
"Edward," I murmured.
Jessie cast me a quick, surprised glance, and I realized I'd said his name aloud in a delighted voice that didn't belong to me. I couldn't afford attachments, not even to him, so I straightened my shoulders, cleared my throat, and stuck out my hand. "Good to see you, sir."
"Jeez, why don't you click your heels and salute," Jessie muttered, pushing past him.
Edward Mandenauer was as unlikely a leader of an elite monster-hunting unit as could be imagined.
Cadaverous thin, he owned every one of his eighty-plus years. But he could still pull the trigger, and he'd killed more monsters than anyone, even me. I admired him. More than I would ever say.
"Why did you not come directly to me, Leigh?" Edward stepped back so I could enter the apartment.
"You took a detour."
"How did you know?" I scowled. "How did she find me?"
"Your car was abandoned in town. Jessie ran the license plate, then tracked you into the woods."
My interest was piqued. Tracking had never been my strong suit. I wasn't patient enough. Jessie had to be very good to have found me as quickly as she had in the thickness of a forest that must be as strange to her as it was to me.
"From the look of the bonfire," Jessie tattled, "she's already started blasting away."
"That's my job," I snapped.
"This is my town."
"Girls, girls," Mandenauer admonished.
"Don't call me a girl," Jessie and I said at the same time.
We glanced at each other, scowled, and turned away. Mandenauer sighed. "You need to work together.
There is something odd happening in Crow Valley."
That got my attention. "Odder than werewolves?"
"To be sure. Did you make note of the name of this fair city?"
Crow Valley. I hadn't thought about it. Stupid me.
For reasons unknown to science, wolves allow crows to scavenge from their kills. Some naturalists believe that the birds fly ahead, locate suitable prey, then circle back and lead the wolves to it. In gratitude, or perhaps as payment for services rendered, the wolves don't chase the crows off the corpses.
Whether this is true or not is anyone's guess. But the fact remains, where there are a lot of one, there are a lot of the other. Wolves feel at home around crows. Werewolves appear to as well.
"The wolves in this area have always been abundant, but they increased in number recently."
"And you know this how?"
He just gave me one of his stares. Edward knew everything.
"When the sheriff in this town left – "
"Left or was eaten?"
"Not eaten. Not this time. The odd occurrences with the wolves disturbed him. He called the authorities with his tall tales, and I was notified. I convinced him to take a leave of absence, then gave Jessie his job."
You think there are a lot of conspiracies in the government? You don't even know about the ones Edward is involved with. Any odd report – unexplained events, wolves run amok, monstrosities wandering over hill and dale – the information is forwarded to Edward and he sends a Juger-Sucher to determine what needs to be done, then do it.
"What about Jessie's other job?" I asked.
"We had accomplished all we could in Miniwa. The wolves ran from there. We waited, but they did not return."
"What's going on here?"
He glanced at Jessie. "Tell her what we know."
Jessie hesitated, but in the end she shrugged and flopped onto the couch, gesturing me into a chair nearby. The apartment was sparsely but adequately furnished, as if she'd only brought the essentials.
No pictures on the walls, no knickknacks on the tables, though Jessie hardly seemed the knickknack type. Instead, every spare surface was covered with books, papers, notebooks. She didn't seem the studious type, either, but then what did I know?
"Werewolves are being killed in Crow Valley," she began.
"Good for you."
You may wonder how we know the difference between a dead wolf and a dead werewolf. I'll let you in on a little secret. If you shoot them with silver, they explode. Live or dead, doesn't matter. I kind of like putting a bullet into the dead ones. Call me sick. Everyone else does.
"They were being killed before we got here," Jessie continued. "From what I can tell, it started a little over three weeks ago."
I sat up straighter in my chair. A little over three weeks ago would have been the last full moon. That couldn't be good.
I glanced at Edward. "You've got no one working in Crow Valley?"
"Because the werewolves are not being killed with silver."
"Then how can they be dead?"
"There is only one other way to kill a werewolf," Edward said.
"How come I never heard of it?"
"Because it rarely happens."
"And why is that?"
"The only other way to kill a werewolf, besides the silver, is for a werewolf to kill one of its own."
"They never kill their own kind. It's against the werewolf rules of conduct."
"Apparently we have come across one who can't read."
Humor again. What was wrong with the man?
"Wolves and werewolves may appear the same," Jessie said, "but they're not."
"No shit," I muttered. I was already sick of Miss Know-It-All-Come-Lately.
She ignored me. Point for her.
"Though it's rare, wolves will kill another wolf, but werewolves won't. They'll fight, drive one another from their territory, but they won't kill. I'd say it was a remnant of their humanity shining through, but we all know that most humans aren't very humane."
"So what's going on?" I asked.
"That's what we're trying to find out."
She blinked. "I'm sorry."
"What difference does it make who kills them as long as they're dead?"
Jessie glanced at Edward and he took over.
"It does not matter who kills them. What matters is that there is a werewolf out there behaving unlike a werewolf. I do not like it."
"The last time one of them behaved oddly, we met the wolf god."
"You think someone's trying to raise another wolf god?"
He shook his head. "A wolf god can only be brought forth under the blue moon. That time is past."
"I do not know. But I have a very bad feeling."
I'd been around Edward long enough to understand that when he had a very bad feeling, the shit was usually going to hit the fan real soon.
"What's the plan?" I asked.
"You teach Jessie all that she needs to know."
"Why?" I demanded. "You've always taught the new guys."
"I am not as young as I used to be."
"Yeah, join the club."
His lips twitched, almost as if he might laugh. Wonders never ceased these days.
"I have enlisted the help of an expert to search the pages of history. Perhaps we will find a mention of what they are up to this time before it is too late. Until then, I must go back to headquarters. Elise needs my help."
Elise was Dr. Hanover, head research scientist at the Jdger-Sucher Compound in Montana and Edward's right hand. There was something else between them, too, though I'd never quite figured out what that something was. He was old enough to be her grandfather.
"You're not going to leave me alone with her!" I demanded.
"There are at least four hundred people in this town. You will not be alone."
"You know what?" Jessie stood and put her hands on her hips. "I don't need her help. I did Justine in Miniwa without any training at all."
"Yeah, I heard about that," I sneered. "Thanks to you, the werewolf population has doubled in this area and there are fresh new recruits running all over Canada. I just spent the last three months thinning them out."
Jessie's fingers clenched into fists, and she took one step toward me before the apartment door opened.
I had only an instant to register that a man was running through the room; then he grabbed Jessie around the waist and lifted her off her feet.
I started forward, but Mandenauer's hand on my arm stopped me. Good thing, too, because the guy locked lips with Jessie and the two of them shared the deepest, hottest, wettest kiss I'd ever witnessed outside of a pornographic movie.
I knew I should look away, but I couldn't tear my eyes from the sight. In my line of work, I didn't get a chance to see much affection. I didn't get a chance to see anything but death, and that was the way I wanted it. So why was I watching Jessie and whoever with misty, longing eyes?
Because I'd caught my first sight of a half-naked male in several years. My libido was acting up. My skin felt prickly, my stomach wobbly. I couldn't get Damien Fitzgerald out of my head, and that just wasn't like me.
The man stared into Jessie's face and very gently touched her cheek with his knuckle. She smiled and covered his hand with hers. It was as if Edward and I, maybe the whole world, didn't exist.
True love. Hell.
"She's going to get us killed," I muttered.