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matapam
23 November 2017 @ 03:23 pm
Which many of you will recognize as _The Fat Chick and the Beauty Queens_. I fell in love with a cover, so it's time to kick it out of the nest.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pMSMD_V09XY2XvqM87hZSpOvbnJXCaLY6gAn9UQin0I/edit?usp=sharing
 
 
matapam
23 November 2017 @ 07:06 am
 

Chapter Search

"Nicole's phone is rolling straight to voicemail." Kris hoped he didn't sound as panicky as he felt. The conference room was silent.

He switched back to Stone. "When did she leave for lunch?"

"We do weird hours. I'm off 2 to 3, she's off 3 to 4. I didn't pass her when I got back, but it's a big store . . . I didn't realize she was gone until I looked a few minutes ago, then looked for her car."

"Nicole's phone isn't . . . " Working?

"I'll head for those three houses. I can tell if she's there from two miles away . . . "

"Stay at the store I'll pick you up. Fifteen minutes."

He was already on his way out the door. Masterson was a step behind him.

"Kris—do not go charging in and warn them—I'll get the PD's SWAT team moving."

Kris managed a nod as he hit the stairs. "Nicole should have been at Wee Quiva. Get someone out to check."

Drove in cold fury, or perhaps cold terror.

At the store, Leo leaped in before he was properly stopped. "Go north on 43rd."

"I know where it is!"

"I just need to get within two miles . . . if they're not there . . . "

Kris swerved around a slow car, braked at a corner, looked, went, to hell with lights. Floored it and made a skidding left turn onto Northern on the yellow.

A quick glance at Stone as the boy's knuckles tightened. "They aren't there. No one's there. Get on 60 to the northwest. I've been tracking them. They went out into the desert a couple of times, that I know of. The last time I was out beyond Sun City when they turned off. I found where they went. I think they were setting up for their demon summoning."

Kris whipped onto the highway and sped up.

Reached and activated the phone system.

"Masterson? Stone says there's a spot in the desert they've been going to. I'm headed there right now . . . Stone, can you describe the place?"

"There's a road off highway 60. It's after the overpass and before the Veteran's Memorial Park and it goes past a big development, fancy entrance, waterfalls and stuff. After five or six miles it bends left, two miles on, they drove off into the desert to the north."

Masterson's voice sounded irritated. "You couldn't get a street name?"

"It was one of these stupid number thing. I was running. Hundred and sixty something."

And in the background "163rd. Goes past Asante."

"Masterson! Approach quietly! No helicopters until I'm on the ground. I'll sneak in close before the alarm goes up . . . " Kris shut up as Stone sat up in alarm.

"They started the ceremony when the sun touched the horizon, and said they have to finish just as the last of the sun dropped below the horizon."

Kris shot a glance at the sun, a handswidth above the horizon and concentrated on driving fast.

"Stone, get in the back seat and pull on those tabs to open it to the trunk. I think I want my guns up front."



Chapter Circle

R

"If I were athletic, I'd sort of shimmy right up this pole and . . . and . . . you know, like Jackie Chan. He'd make it look like having his hands tied behind him was helpful." Rachel ran out of ways to try and talk herself out of a full-on hysterical break down. It's only a few inches higher than my head. Jackie Chan would be up and out of here in ten seconds. But then he'd also beat up all twelve of these guys.

Three feet away, Nicole took a deep breath. "Kris was worried. They'll be looking for us."

"Right." Rachel stared at the dogs, running around, excited. They look just like Stone. Well, lighter colored, but the same breed, obviously. Did my picking up a stray dog condemn my sister?

And the men. They all look so much alike. Like Leo.

No wonder he was afraid of his family.

They were in a low flat spot, a circle of sand and rock, cleared of the sparse brush. A few rocks around the boundary, probably also cleared out of the circle.

The cars were parked beyond the ridge, out of sight. No sign of civilization beyond their clothing.

One man bent and lit the kindling under the larger chunks of firewood.

And what's with the bonfire? Actually not that big of a fire. More family barbeque style.

What are they planning on cooking?

Rachel shuddered and did not speculate on what they had planned for after-diner entertainment.

The sun was low . . . and suddenly every man and every dog went silent, facing the sunset.

The sun touched the horizon. A mass howl broke up into some wordless song, the dogs still howling as the men shouted. And danced and capered around the fire in an uncoordinated manner.

Shirts were being stripped off, one man pulled a long knife from the sheathe on his belt. And danced around the fire, running the blade through the flame, and dancing off, touching first one man and then another with the knife. Running the knife through the flames, trailing smoke from burning blood Lines of red marked his passing and blood dripped down arms and was flicked into the fire.

Even the dogs ran up to be cut.

And some of the dogs convulsed . . . rolled on the ground howling in pain.

Rachel stared at one. Smaller than the rest. A paw, toes lengthening into fingers, muzzle pulling back into a human face . . . A young boy, howling and uncoordinated.

Oh. God. They really are werewolves.

A cloud of red smoke crept along the ground, and was carried aloft in the fire's draft. Tentacles of smoke, curling around dancing feet, drifting, rising then blowing away in the faint cold breeze from the north. Getting nearer.

And the knife man danced toward them. Danced around them.

Rachel jerked her head around, trying to keep track of him.

The knife flicked out.

She jerked back, a stinging slash along her jawbone.

A wild uulation and knife man capered back to the fire. A swing of the knife and red sparks flew when he hit burning wood. Smoke billowed and rolled across the ground.

It's just smoke. . . really . . . The sunset's making it look so red, so solid . . .

Howls rose and the man with the knife turned, eyes fixed on Nicole.

Chapter Fight

L

"Lights, gun it. Hurry!" I pointed, leaning over the seat, and forced the words out as the change took hold. I braced myself, reached for the door latch as Kris floored the accelerator and snapped on the headlights. We zoomed between parked car, went airborn as we crested the low ridge. I caught a brief glimpse of what I'd seen with my eyes closed. Poles on the right, fire to the left men and dogs everywhere. One man near the women turning, knife in raised hand . . .

The car smacked down and skidded into the crowd, Kris twisting the wheel to break loose the rear and spin the car sideways into the middle of the dance.

 
 
matapam
22 November 2017 @ 11:11 am

I don't know what I saw, but I'd been changing, got my paws out of the ropes, started taking off my clothes. I can run much faster in dog form, but not when I'm trapped in a pair of jeans."

A long silence.

"They saw you . . . " Kris prodded.

"Yeah . . . are they dead? I just ran . . . didn't stop to check. Ought to have grabbed my clothes, or at least my wallet . . . and then the dogs found me. Fortunately just one at a time."

"Yeah. They're dead. Why didn't you go to the police?"

"I was too tired to change back. It takes so much energy, and I was hurt . . . I heal fast, especially in dog-form. But it was still five days before I could change."

"And by then, you'd hitched a ride down here, away from them."

He looked up, startled. "That was the idea, but they're here. In Phoenix. At least seven of them." He blinked. "But you're a cop, aren't you? You can take care of them, right? I know where those seven live."

Kris felt like he'd been sucker punched.

"How did you find them? Were you looking for them?"

The boy shook his head. "I spotted one . . . I didn't think he'd seen me, but . . . I was talking to Rachel. I left, thinking he hadn't seen me, but he went and talk to Rachel. And followed her home."

Kris froze.

"So I tracked him. There's three houses . . ."

Kris scrambled to grab a pad of paper and wrote down the addresses, asked for the address of the warehouse in Albuquerque . . .

"I tried to send that in anonymously, but nothing happened. They must have thought it was just a silly joke. There's a place in the desert I followed them to yesterday. They're getting a dancing circle ready. It's outside of highway 303, north of highway 60 about eight miles."

Kris swallowed. Had to reach for the professionalism that had become second nature. "I'll send this out . . . minus all mention of werewolves . . . Shit . . . and get Nicole and Rachel out of here for a few days . . . " He met the boy's eyes. "You can stay at the house. We may need your help. The mess in the desert? That was pure self-defense."

Leo shook his head. "It'll never come to trial. I'll stick around as long as I can, but I'm not going to disappear into some government laboratory."

"Umm . . . I . . . don't think we've got . . . anything like that." Crap. I've fallen into a horror flick.

The boy started laughing. "Maybe, maybe you should find out." He pointed at the dash cam. "Show them that."

"I'd rather just shoot myself." Kris sighed. "Right, so you can't change very often?"

"Not when I'm injured, dehydrated, and starving. Now? No problem. So if you don't mind? I'll just sack out in your yard and go to work early."

"Why there?"

"Because my first paycheck wasn't enough to rent even a cheap apartment, and everything I own is in Albuquerque."

Including his wallet with his ID in the police evidence room there.

"Right. Back yard until I get the ladies someplace safe." Kris put the car in gear, and headed for the house.

He left the dash cam running, and presumably recording whatever Leonard Stone was doing in the back seat. When he pulled into the garage, it was a dog that jumped out of the back seat.

Nicole and Rachel were still up.

"Listen . . . " He trailed off. How do you tell them a dog warned me . . . "Umm, a case I'm working on has gone sideways, and there a good probability that they know who's investigating them. I was followed both away from here and back. I need both of you to leave, to go someplace safe for a couple of weeks."

Nicole looked worried, but Rachel was sitting up indignantly.

"I just started a new job. I can't go away for a couple of weeks!"

"It's . . . "Kris eyed the dog. Stone will be there . . . "I think you'll be fine so long as you stay away from here."

Rachel glowered, but reached for her laptop. "How about a hotel? There're some just off the freeway, maybe a mile . . . "

Stone interrupted with three sharp barks.

Kris eyed him, then turned back to Rachel. "Stone says three miles to be safe."

Rachel sputtered and Nicole laughed. "All right smart ass. For that, it'll be Wee Quiva."

Rachel eyed her.

"Upscale Hotel and Casino. We'll go in the morning, after the Bad Guys have followed Kris to the office."

Rachel typed away at her comp . . . "Ooo! Nice! There goes my first paycheck, which I haven't even got yet. I'll meet you there after work. Umm, do they allow pets?"

"Stone can stay here with me. And really, it should just be for a couple of days. I need to write some stuff up, if you two will excuse me?"

"Sure, no problem." The sisters exchanged glances and headed for the kitchen.

"God knows what the pair of them will cook up." Kris muttered, very quietly.

Stone thumped his tail, got up and followed the women.

Kris stepped into the garage and pulled the chip from his dash cam.

I need this backed up, and a carefully cropped part of it sent to Dr. Reid. My Boss, the Albuquerque field office.

He fished Wright's card out of his pocket.

Yeah. Even Wright, this isn't the time for inter-agency rivalry. I'll have to say I let Leonard Stone get away. But we've got addresses. We know there are at least seven men here, a couple dozen in Albuquerque—plus women and dogs—so more of them . . . in dog-form.

But do we have enough evidence for warrants? For raids? Well, I can always arrest Stone.

Kris snorted. He'd probably turn into a dog and woof at them, looking innocent. Dear God above, I'm going to wind up in the looney bin over this . . . nightmare.

And I may have to actually ask someone if there's a "Really Weird Stuff" division tucked away somewhere.

He plugged the chip into his computer and copied it.

Sealed the original in an envelope and shoved it under other things in the top drawer. Cut the start and finish of the video.

The report is going to be . . . really interesting . . . even without the no fireworks, no eerie lighting effects Hollywood-does-it-better transformations.

The subject, Leonard Stone, see attached file 1, seems to believe he actually is a werewolf. The attached dash cam recording, see attached file 2, includes his claim of being the intended victim, and to killing both the men at the site, as well as two dogs.

No one is going to believe this. But with some careful surveillance to confirm . . . maybe we can wrap this up in a couple of days.

And they won't find Nicole or Rachel.

He choked, swallowed bile. Remembered what had been done to the Forty-eights' other victims.

I will watch Nicole leave in the morning. I will follow her, watch for anyone else following her. We'll all be fine.

Stone identified the following addresses . . .

Kris typed in the addresses both here and Albuquerque. Finished the report. Hesitated.

Sent it.

All Right, NSA. You've got your SWAT teams in Albuquerque? Take them out. A couple dozen men, Stone said. Plus women and dogs. Then get down here and deal with the seven Stone's found, and any others in their gang.

And hurry!

He didn't sleep well.

Got up in the middle of the night to open his gun safe and stare at his deer rifle. His larger caliber pistol. Fast take down of a large dog. Or man. Hope I don't need silver bullets.

He loaded both and put them—and extra ammunition—in the trunk of his car.

I'll remind Nicole to take hers.

***

Thursday morning he followed Nicole for two miles, then turned for the office.

For a frustrating morning trying to talk to anyone in Albuquerque. "Thanks for the intel. We're too busy to chat. Go find Stone, I can't believe you let him get away, and stop bothering us."

Much peering at satellite photos, Google maps. Street views. Three houses in a row. landscaping no worse off than anywhere else in the desert.

The boss brought in sandwiches and they continued arguing, and watching the dash cam clip over again.

Masterson walked in, shaking his head. "We can watch them, but we can't do anything. Kris, I'll put people on Wee Quiva tonight."

Brad Cohen stopped the replay. "How'd he meet your sister?"

"They both work at Handyman Central on Bethany." Kris made a note. "I'll get, eventually, a warrant to see what employment history he gave them, what identification, since . . . well, the NSA by now, no doubt . . . has his wallet. Damn I'd like in on this."

He stared at the picture of the three houses. "Can we put a drone up to watch . . . "

Masterson was shaking his head. "I asked, and got an absolute no. The NSA owns this . . . operation."

Kris nodded. "I wonder if they're moving on them elsewhere? Get enough results and the announcement won't sound so bad. 'A Cannibal Cult that's been killing women all over the US for twenty years and we've finally got some of them' is not going to be well received. 'Most of them' will pass muster."

His phone vibrated in his pocket. He got a censorious look, but pulled it out anyway. Unknown number.

"Hello?" He kept it neutral, uninformative.

"This is Stone. Rachel didn't come back from lunch, but her car is still in the parking lot."



 
 
matapam
21 November 2017 @ 07:30 am
 

Chapter Desert #2

L

3rd Tuesday

I ran with Rachel Tuesday morning, then changed and headed for the bus stop.

This time I need to be well north and hidden when the Hunters came.

If they came.

I mean, unless they were grabbing locals . . . my stomach clenched at the thought. But if they weren't grabbing locals, what were they doing out in the desert?

I didn't even know if they were going to the same place every time.

There was a war memorial just off the highway a quarter mile past the road they'd taken. I rested there. Snacked down on salami, cheese, and bread.

Much better than jerky.

I closed my eyes. And just sort of felt everything around. The memorial park, some kids playing basketball, a few houses. No Bad Guys.

I stretched and headed up the road.

Six miles to where it turned. I cut across open desert well before I got to the turn. Undressed and hid my clothes. Changed and trotted off northwest.

I didn't have a watch, but they showed up about when I expected them. Sick green auras, coming right at me. I ran away, trying to keep at the periphery of my ability to sense them—and presumably at the limit of them being able to sense me.

And then they weren't there.

I turned around and flipped a mental coin; angled north off the road.

Another mile and I could feel them again. I got nearer, stopped when I could sense individuals. A couple impatient and irritable. Old. Half a dozen youngsters, more anticipation than excitement. Hunger not yet pressing. But building.

The young ones were working under the direction of the elders. Clearing away brush.

Oh yeah. They're clearing a circle, like where they tried to kill me.

They're planning to kill someone.

One of the older Hunters was trying to teach them something.

The dancing ground. The chanting. Irritation rose.

I backed off to where I could barely feel them and waited

I remembered the Hunter, probably some cousin to some degree of mine, talking to Rachel. Following to find where she lived. My stomach clenched.

I have to talk to Kris. He's some kind of cop. Maybe a detective, he wears suits everyday, and I can smell the gun oil, the leather, has to be a shoulder holster.

But will he believe me?

The sickly yellow-green glows, gathered together in three groups and started moving toward me. Since there was no reason to not believe that if I could see them, they could see me, I turned tail and bolted west into the desert. From what I hoped was a safe distance, I watched them drive back to the road and retrace their path. They turned toward Phoenix and sped up, disappeared beyond the limits of my odd "sight."

I turned and trotted back to where they'd been.

It was pretty obvious, from the ground. They'd parked on a slight slope, and over the crest, they'd cleared a circle of brush and rocks. And before they'd left, they'd dragged some dead mesquite back into the circle.

Hiding it from the air.

Two poles lay on the ground beside two holes dug into the sandy soil.

Poles. To tie their victims to. So they're planning on two victims?

They're all set up, whenever they want a dance. Do they work with the moon phases? I never noticed any difference. I suppose though, that it matters if you're driving across rough ground and don't want to show headlights.

I walked back to my clothes and curled up to sleep on them. The almost full moon rose before the sun set. If my memory of an astronomy class was right . . . tomorrow or the next day would probably be the full moon.

I'll go home tomorrow, warn Kris.

Somehow.

I have to trust him.



Chapter

K

The talk

Wednesday night?

Shit. This is going to be embarrassing.

Of course, if he is just a dog, he'll never tell anyone he was accused of being a werewolf.

If he even shows up tonight.

It was late when Kris got home. He sat in the car a moment, then repositioned the dash cam.

Nicole and Rachel were in the kitchen giggling as they cooked something that smelled fantastic. His guts unclenched.

Stupid idea. Really.

Nicole came out to give him a welcome home smooch. "If Rachel's going to keep that oversized mutt, we'll need a higher fence. Stone showed up in the back yard around noon, begging for food. He doesn't seem to be the least bit inconvienced."

Kris paused . . . and decided to not mention the wisdom of neutering . . . a possible werewolf. "Umm, yeah. So what smells so good?"

After dinner . . . he manufactured an excuse and invited Stone to take a ride.

Drove a few miles and pulled into a parking lot.

"Stone . . . we need to have a little chat. About what happened in Albuquerque." Kris turned and eyed the big dog in the back seat. "Or . . . do you prefer Leonard?"

The animal stiffened, backed into a corner.

And . . . his ears, smaller than most dog's, just the tips flopped over, shrank back against his head. And the muzzle, which had been more square than pointy was flatter and the hair seemed thinner . . . and there was a young man shifting around to sit like a human.

"Ow. That's not really fun, in case you wondered." The young man pulled what Kris had thought was a cloth collar over his head. He unclipped the dog tags and unrolled running shorts. Pulled them on.

"So what are you?"

"I'm not sure." The young man hunched his shoulders. "I was lost. Maybe my parents were killed. I don't know. I just . . . I was raised by some really great people. But they were old, and they died when I was in college. So I decided to try and find out who I was. Am. What I am."

"You didn't try before? Didn't tell the authorities?"

"I wasn't . . . I looked about five, I guess. But I wasn't actually talking, then. The Stones, they were my foster parents, they taught me to speak, got me up to speed that first year, so I could start first grade . . . Well, all I had were flashes of places, people I think were my parents, places they had been. After Mom died—my foster Mom—just a couple of weeks after Dad, I decided to try to find those places."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'd been searching on the internet for years. So I went and found the zoo where that woman was frightened by the wolves. Found—I think—the Ferris wheel. Then I had a dream. It was rainy and cold and someone said 'I really miss the desert.' So I headed southwest."

"How'd you find them?"

"I . . . in Albuquerque, there was this restaurant. The waitresses kept looking at me, like they knew me and didn't particularly like me. I rented an apartment in the area. Ate there regularly."

His hands had been resting on the back of the front seat. Now his head lowered and he rested his forehead on his hands. "Two men walked up . . . they looked a lot like what I see in the mirror. They asked all sorts of questions. And said someone must have gotten careless and let a woman live. They said I should come to the meeting . . . I was . . . scared . . . their eyes were . . . not friendly. But I had to go, I had to find out."

"There were a couple dozen of them there. At this big empty warehouse. Men. Some women back to one side, and a few kids. Dogs. Except they weren't really dogs." His voice got tight. "The leader, they called him Jack, said they were the hunters. The hunters of men and the devourers of souls. Sons of the Great Demon Sack a diffle or something stupid like that. The All-Mother who had given birth to their ancestors. 'The Four Sons of Men' they said, all deep and dramatic. I thought they were trying to fake me out, scare me or something."

Kris's fingernails bit into the palms of his hands, as he tried to not interrupt the flow of words.

"I . . . asked what they meant . . . what did they hunt? 'Humans,' they said. 'Women are the most fun,' some of them said. They were grinning and laughing. I laughed. 'Very funny, now what are you, what am I, really?' They laughed . . . and said this could be a good night for a hunt." He straightened, took a deep breath. "Join us or die. We'll kill tonight. You or another."

"I said hell no, tried to leave. They wrestled me down and tossed me in the trunk of a car. When they hauled me out, we were out in the desert, the sun just setting." He rubbed his forehead, stress lines across his forehead and showing in his voice. "There was a pole at one side of an open space. They tied me to it and started arguing, well, like they were still arguing about something. 'Wasting a consecrated dancing ground on a crossbreed' they said."

"The older ones said they ought to just kill me and what if the Great Demon didn't like being given a cross-bred descendant? The young ones said they'd found me and that they had the right to dance with the demon."

Kris's stomach was in a knot. Demons on top of werewolves?

"We're not werewolves. We're not even really dogs."

Kris froze . . . Coincidence or did he just read my mind?

"Anyway, the old guys said 'Go ahead, be fools' and they drove off. They left one car, the two guys from the restaurant and two of the dogs."

A couple of deep breaths, then the boy continued. "They sent the dogs off to collect firewood. Then they started a little fire from some dried brush and started dancing around it and singing . . . I've wondered about hallucinogenic herbs or mushrooms or something . . . between the smoke and the dust they were raising . . . I don't know what I saw, but I'd been changing, got my paws out of the ropes

Tags:
 
 
matapam
20 November 2017 @ 02:40 pm
 

Chapter Sixteen Desert #1

L

2nd Tuesday

Tuesdays and Wednesdays were my two off days every week. I bought a bunch of jerky and nuts at a store on the way home from work Monday, and ate kibble for breakfast.

Then I hopped a bus for Sun City.

And for lack of a better idea, I hiked further out highway 60. Just because I'd tracked some Hunters headed this direction didn't mean they hadn't turned off somewhere. Or weren't coming out here regularly. Or ever again.

And yet, if they wanted solitude for summoning their Demon, the desert had plenty of places for them to be unobserved. But how far out would they go?

Where would they turn off the highway? North or south?

I stopped at a gas station and bought a cold soda . . . and spotted a rack of free touristy handouts. I sat in the shade and read them.

There was a big regional park to the south, outside highway 303, which was probably that overpass right there. With hiking trails and so forth. Too many people or a target rich environment?

There was a canal running roughly north-south down toward it that looked a lot more hiker and dog friendly than walking along the highway, so I headed for it.

There was a big subdivision on the east side of the canal, with a high fence and no shelter for a wandering dog. The west side looked like it just backed up onto desert. So I hiked a bit further along highway 60 and over the canal. Then I had to hop a barbed wire fence, but no big deal.

Two miles south, I found a taller than average bush and kicked back in a bit of shade. Chewed jerky.

Next time, maybe salami, cheese, and bread?

I closed my eyes. And just sort of felt everything around. The subdivision across the canal, people zipping around in cars. Pretty quiet in the middle of the day. If I was reading the map scale right, I should be able to feel the Hunters when they approached the intersection of 60 and 303.

And change . . . no, I'd change in a little bit. Be ready . . . again assuming they'd be headed this way in the evening.

But the dance was as the sun set . . .

I shivered, despite the heat of the day.

I sat and meditated.

Stretched and yawned. Opened a bottle of obscenely expensive water, chewed more jerky. Meditated. Watched the rush hour hit, cars everywhere.

And something . . . them? Getting closer at any rate.

I dodged into the thicker brush, undressing, changing. Hiding my clothes. A pause to "look."

Sick green auras, two miles away, moving to my left. Turning away from me. They'd left the highway, and were heading north.

I ran northeast. Two miles to the highway. Where I managed to not get hit by any cars crossing it. Half a mile to a road, yes this was the road they were on. I followed it past a ritzy entrance to some upscale subdivision. I kept running as the Hunters increased their lead and pulled away, finally out of range of my perception.

Drat.

But I trotted along and followed the road to where it curved west . . .

There was a smaller lane going on straight . . . I checked it out but found nothing even though I circled out until nearly dawn.

There were no white glows in the cars. There was no brutal sacrifice last night!

So far as I could tell.

I panicked and ran back to my clothes and changed. Back over the fence and hustled into Sun City, took a bus down one stop past where I'd gotten on yesterday and hiked to the Kovac's. Rachel's car was parked in the street. Two brighter-than-most auras from inside.

I climbed their side fence and flopped on the ground to catch my breath. Then I changed and curled up to sleep until Rachel called me in the morning.

Wednesday. She had to work, I didn't. I crunched down kibble and flopped on the rug to nap.

Kris and Rachel went off to work. Nicole shook her head at me. "Tough day chasing cats Stone?"

"Woof!" Lions and Tigers and Bears, according to the Hunter I'd had that interesting chat with. And Octopi. Eww!

"I'm going to go grocery shopping. Are you going to be here when I get back?"

"Woof." I was totally pooped, and even going back to the library sounded like too much work.

I need to run with Rachel in the morning. Just in case I wind up running all over the desert on a regular basis . . . Which I'll probably be doing at least once a week until I find out where they are going.



Chapter Interlude

R

Tuesday

It was kind of strange, not seeing Leo at work.

And the dog disappeared right after breakfast.

Which is good, because Nicole isn't home alone all day with a werewolf. But what does a werewolf do on his day off? Okay, he's not at the laundromat.

After all, he's got clean clothes for the week . . .

She stifled hysterical laughter at the thought, and told herself to start paying attention to other things around her.

But why does the dog disappear every morning and come back at night?

To watch football?

She grabbed a sheaf of web orders and marched determinedly off to start filling them.

Her only problem was getting a lot of ogles from the men who worked there, enough to make her skin crawl a bit. And that was before George got fresh . . . and rude when she said no.

Wednesday morning, Stone was grinning at the sliding glass doors, looking for breakfast.

She eyed him, shook her head. "Anyone want to bet he'll find a way to get out within the hour?"

No takers.

But when she got home, there was the dog, reading the newspaper he'd spread out on the living room floor.

Nicole laughed. "Doesn't that look funny?"

Yeah. REAL funny.

She popped upstairs to change and the papers were gone by the time she came back down. She didn't ask. It was safer to just assume Nicole had been the one to tidy up.

And of course the dog was gone Thursday morning, and Leo was at work, polishing off donuts and brushing crumbs off his nice clean shirt.

She grabbed web orders and looked around for a cart. She ignored George as he started forward, grinning, to "help" her.

And there was Leo towing a cart. "Here you go." And all day long jumping in to fetch things from the warehouse for her with a cheerful smile, as if he liked to climb ladders and manhandle heavy boxes.

Damn it, why is the werewolf the nice guy.

The store was having a Three-Day-Sale so Friday, Saturday, and Sunday turned into a non-stop madhouse.

She spotted Leo several times, helping customers with items on high shelves.

She stayed late, not going home until the doors were locked each night.

And Leo was still working as she left. Cleanup and restocking.

Thank god for computerized bookkeeping, else I'd be up till one in the morning!

She really wasn't surprised when the dog failed to come home Friday and Saturday nights.

Probably sleeping at the store, or someplace near.

God, Rachel, listen to yourself! The dog is out raiding trash cans, chasing cats and looking for lady dogs in the mood to party. Leo, on the other hand, is sleeping wherever he lives.

At least I have Friday and Saturday off this week so I can relax.

And keep an eye on the dog.

Stone was still missing in the morning.

But he came back in time to watch the football game.

And eat pizza.



Tags:
 
 
 
matapam
19 November 2017 @ 07:28 am
 

Chapter Fifteen NSA

K

Weekend off?

Monday morning

Kris drummed his fingers nervously on his desk.

It had been a nice relaxed weekend—the sister-in-law working and her wretched dog had disappeared again—so he had the house and Nicole to himself most of the time.

But Monday had brought a new problem.

He ran through the report again.

Leonard Stone was an orphaned or abandoned child. The case files were brief. A naked boy of about five years of age, found wandering the streets. Didn't speak. No physical cause. Neglect suspected. Stuck in a foster home while a search for his parents was carried out. Unsuccessfully. The elderly foster parents had been working on his speech, kept the boy, raised him . . .

The boy's high school yearbook was online. The pictures were quite clear. Outthrust face, broad, heavy jaw with a long chin. Grinning out of a studio portrait, accepting an award, beaming elderly couple behind him. Winning a track event. Wrestling team. Football team.

"At least his hair is darker." Kris rubbed his face. Dark brown, about the color of the dog's hair. Have I got AQ1 living in my house? Maybe I should go home and shoot him.

Except . . . what happened out on that cattle ranch? Did he kill two fellow gang members?

Shit. If I'm going to believe in werewolves, four gang members died out there. Were killed. Why?

I should hear soon about the DNA test on those dead dogs.

His eyes slid to the pictures of the messy half eaten remains. Big heavy short haired dogs. Pale brindle hair. Smallish ears mostly erect, just the tips flopped.

Damn it all. They probably looked a lot like Stone before they got all chewed up.

Leonard Stone had received one traffic ticket in Vermont two years ago, one in Maine, just six months ago.

So what was he doing out on a cattle ranch west of Albuquerque?

Or limping down an Arizona highway.

Looking like a dog.

He checked his email. His requested DNA analysis of the dogs still hadn't arrived. But the raw crime scene description of the Albuquerque site came in just before noon.

He sat back and studied it. Nodded to his boss as Brent Masterson stuck his head in the door.

Masterson eyed the chart on Kris' computer.

"How's it compare to our sites, or the Carolina sites, for that matter?"

"In the Carolina's they buried everything except the poles. Here they dumped the bodies—or what was left of them—down old abandoned mines and caved them in. Well, you've read all of those reports."

Masterson nodded.

"It's nice to see one of their killing grounds that hasn't been concealed. Nice and clear. A single stake, rather than the usual three or four. But the hole was freshly dug, not a long standing . . . installation, so to speak. The post was close to the north side of a circle cleared of vegetation. A fire on the south side of the clearing. Their victim was tied with ropes, that's the way they usually do it, from the marks on the victims. But here we have the intact ropes, knots still tied. He must have wiggled loose."

"This is only their third male victim, right?"

"Right, and the only one, male or female, related to them. A traitor?"

"Sure sounds like it." Brent tapped a spot on the map.

"Clothing. The victim's, we believe." Kris scrolled through the report looking . . . "Sorry, I just got this and I haven't gotten to any names . . . Oh, they have three IDs from the site. From both of the bodies, and a wallet in the clothing there by the stake." Kris scrolled down . . .

Body #1

Neil Sampson Wolfe

654 Wanderlust Dr #132

Albuquerque, NM


Body #2

Kenneth F. Wolfe

654 Wanderlust Dr #65

Albuquerque, NM


ID in clothing

Leonard S. Stone

6931 Green Meadow Ln

Bangor, ME

Masterson stuck his finger on the last. "An outsider. A feud within the Forty-eights?"

Kris swallowed, trying to regain his composure. "We, umm . . . The four groups are quite distinct, not much mixing. So gang warfare is certainly a possibility."

"We need to find Leonard Stone."

Kris shivered. So the dog's owner was in the area, with the dog. The dog survived . . . so where is the man?

He scrolled further . . . the two Albuquerque addresses . . . the apartment complex manager had been puzzled by the abrupt departure of six tenants. All six apartments were stripped and very clean. They were being swabbed for DNA.

"Damn. They must have found out before the killing site was discovered." Kris bit his lip. Better early than late. "As it happens, I was looking for a Leonard Stone prior to this, on what I thought was a private matter."

"Oh?"

"Yes. My sister-in-law's come to stay with us. She took I40 all the way from Nashville to Flagstaff, passing the kill site about 48 hours after the killing. Roughly thirty miles into Arizona she picked up a big dog limping down the road, heading west. We traced the tags to a Harriet Stone in Atlanta, Georgia. The vet's office said both the Stones had died five years ago, and perhaps the dog was with their son—they thought his name was Leonard."

Kris stared at the screen. "I think I'll see about getting a bite impression, just to double check that there really isn't a dog involved in the actual killings."

"Indeed." Masterson nodded. "If we can locate Stone, perhaps we can get close enough—returning his lost dog—to actually get our hands on him."

Kris nodded. "Maybe an ad? A 'Found Dog' sort of thing?"

"Let me coordinate with Albuquerque first."

And maybe I should coordinate at home.

Stone is definitely sleeping on the porch.

­With all the doors locked.

"Right." Kris took a deep breath. "And it looks like we'd better start looking around Atlanta, for kill sites. And find out what happened to the Stones."

***

Kris was halfway home when his boss called.

"The NSA, complete with armored personnel carriers has descended on Albuquerque. The State Police, County Sheriff, and our field office are all off the Forty-eight Kill site."

Kris sighed. "I suspect we're next on their agenda, and we won't make the 'need-to-know' list. Dammit. I wonder what triggered this?"

"I figure they're going to have to go public with all these old mass graves being connected, the work of a single gang."

"Oh." Kris nodded. "And they want to look like they're serious about it. That's . . . what the hell are they going to do with an APC? Do they have a lead on what and where to raid? Dammit, I want in on this."

And what about the bloody dog?

I don't believe in werewolves, vampires or zombies.

But I haven't gotten anything back on the dog DNA . . . Surely that couldn't be what triggered a . . . response from the NSA?

The dog showed up to watch Monday Night Football, wagging his tail whenever the Raiders scored.

***

And as he'd half expected, the NSA arrived early Tuesday morning.

"Brian Wright. Pleased to meet you. I need all of your information on the Forty-eights."

"Right, have you got the preliminary report on the kill site discovered last week? Good." Kris winced, internally and pulled up the file on Leonard Stone. "The strong resemblance leads me to believe he's related, but by the history we have on him, he may not be part of the gang. I was wondering, in fact if he might be AQ1. I have not yet queried Atlanta as to whether they have DNA of the lost child later named Leonard Stone."

Wright leaned and studied Stone's pictures. "Now that is interesting. We need to find this young man . . . why were you looking for him?"

"Tracing a lost dog."

The NSA agent straightened abruptly.

Kris leaned back and studied the man. "I requested a DNA analysis of the dog remains, for breed identification, maybe find the breeder, check his sales records. I haven't heard back at all. Do you have that information.?"

"That is need-to-know only. Where's the dog now?"

"Over the fence and gone. So . . . what are the dogs?"

The man's eyes narrowed. "That is no longer any of your business." A brief drumming of fingernails. "And you didn't send an anonymous email about . . . anything. Did you?"

"What?"

He waved it away. "Some one was cute and tired to hide their tracks."

"Through my account?" Kris eyed him. Got a nod. "Home or here?"

"Home."

"Right. And you're not going to tell me anything about it, are you?"

A thin smile.

Kris grabbed a thumb drive, downloaded all of his files on everything to do with the Forty-eights and Leonard Stone and handed it over.

Wright glowered.

Kris shrugged and deleted them from his computer.

Wright nodded and produced a card. "Send me anything else as quickly as you can." And walked out.

Kris looked back at his computer. Stupid. Surely he knows I've got back ups. Most likely he's got me tapped and is waiting to see what I do. So we've got a script kiddie playing with . . . dammit. Stone is not a werewolf and he didn't send an email from my home.

I am going to leave the Forty-eights in the competent hands of the NSA, and get back to what I ought to be doing.

Which, now that I think of it, is get back to work on the matter of embezzlement on the reservation . . . I'll check if Rick's got anything new . . . talk to the Boss . . . think about home security.

Or what to do if the dog shows up tonight.

Because if the dogs were just Mastiffs or some such, why not just say so.

***

Kris left work on time for a change.

Was met at the door with an ardent kiss from Nicole.

"So now you're being left alone all day by both your husband and your sister?"

"Umm, and the dog. I suspect he was off before you were this morning. Or maybe last night. I feel responsible for him, which is silly. Not my dog, you know?"

"Yes . . . I noticed an absence of dog, this morning. We'll just have to see if he comes back when he gets hungry."

And then we'll find out if Wright is watching me.

It was nice to have some time alone with Nicole.

Rachel bounced in just after eight, checked the back yard, shook her head. "Just as well. Bit of a nuisance, bound to be an issue with the neighbors."

Kris ignored her frequent glances toward the sliding glass door, and the unhappy downturn of her mouth. Yeah, he's a good dog . . . sort of.



 
 
matapam
18 November 2017 @ 05:14 am
  At least there were no white glows in the cars. If they're going somewhere out in the desert, it's without a victim.

I turned around and started limping back. At least my hip wasn't hurting. A little skin off my pads would heal fast enough. And another night of sleeping rough. Maybe I'd change back and buy dinner. Although I was hungry enough that even kibble sounded good.

No it didn't.

When I got back to my little nest in the bushes, I changed and dressed.

Checked my cash. Not enough to splurge, but a burger at the all night place would be just fine. I waited until there were no cars driving by and slipped out of the bushes and around the corner.

I sat outside and savored real human food . . . And looked up to find a man watching me. A Hunter.

Oh shit.

Oh . . . opportunity. Can I pass myself off as being from out of town? Ask questions?

I nodded politely to him. Took another bite
.
He stalked up and looked me up and down. "I don't know you."

I swallowed. Be cool. You can carry this off. "Just passing through."

"East Coast by your accent. And your color's off. You're nothing but a halfer. Bet you've never seen the Demon."

"I've been to a dance." Shit, they did call it a dance, didn't they? And something about a great demon? "I've seen the Great Demon. I'm just here to earn some money. I'll be gone soon enough."

"Oh? Is Dominic trying to pick up territory out here? Tell him to go bugger himself."

I nodded. "Not that he'd listen to me . . . we have our differences."

Damn it, how do I get information out of him? What the hell did those killers say?

"All the stupid history he spouts." Stone looked the Hunter up and down. "But then I suppose you believe all the crap about the four brothers and such."

"It's not crap! How dare you defile the legends of our people."

Stone sighed. Loudly. "Yeah, go ahead. Convince me. Tell me your version." Took a big bite of burger.

Glare. "Sashoddifail entered the World in the fire of an under-sea volcano . . . are you quite certain you've seen the All-Mother?"

Stone remembered the fire at the dancing ground . . . shifted nervously. It was just smoke.

The Hunter snickered. "Yeah, you've seen her. I'll bet you ran away like a yelping puppy." He laughed and Stone suspected he'd blushed.

Or possibly looked terrified.

He sat across the table from Stone and stared into his eyes. "She absorbed the essences of the life around her, and assumed the shape of the most advanced, the octopus."

Stone glowered. "Whales, dolphins, seals . . . "

"Shut up. The All-Mother preferred the shape of the octopus, the ability to grasp and make. She partook of all as a she explored. And at the end of the water, there were more things. Bears, wolves, cougars . . . and man. And in man she found the perfect mix. Intelligence and hands." The Hunter wiggled his fingers in the air.

Like he's telling a story to a little kid. But I'm not going to interrupt his insanity.

"And Man lived with Dogs. The All-Mother partook of both, and understood that they were two species living together, not just one. That together they were greater than both separately. And so when she created us, she made the four sons both dog and man, as mutable as she herself."

Stone wiggled his own fingers. "With cat's claws." He made himself shrug. "A tall tale for the kiddies. I figure the four sons were escapees from a government lab."

The Hunter growled as he stood and loomed. "Don't go spouting that heresy around us, Puppy. We've danced with the Demon and we know the truth. I think you'd better head back East where you belong." He stalked out.

Stone sat and stared at what was left of his dinner. Appetite gone.

My version makes more sense.

It was just smoke.

 
 
matapam
17 November 2017 @ 08:53 am
 

They'd run out of news and started chatting about the weather—about how dry it had been and hopefully they wouldn't have something called a haboob.

I hadn't a clue what they were talking about, so I put my head back down. The ache was wearing off . . . I'd never tried to switch back in mid-change before. And while it was useful to know it worked, I really hoped I'd never have to do it again!

And then . . . football! Yes! Monday Night Football!

I couldn't help it, my tail wagged madly. Seahawks versus the Cardinals.

Rachel reached down and scratched that itchy spot between my shoulder blades. "So, you like football too, Stone?"

"Woof!"

I even stood for the National Anthem.

And with the crowd cheering a long runback, I slipped into the laundry room and turned on the dryer.

Closed the door and slipped back just as Rachel noticed I was gone. I gave her a hopeful look and tail wag and headed for the kitchen. Sat and stared at the refrigerator.

"Oh dog, really!" Rachel had followed me, shaking her head.

"Give him a hotdog." Nicole called over the roar of the crowd.

Rachel pulled out a pack with only two hotdogs left. She pulled one out and offered it to me.

I gave her my best shocked looked and turned to stare at the microwave.

She started laughing. "Oh? You want it hot? How about a bun and mustard."

"Woof!" I danced happily around, and was rewarded with a proper hotdog.

Then we watched more football.

The buzz of the dryer came with the first touchdown, and I bolted down the hall to stop it before it buzzed again. I opened the back door, dropped the dryer door and scooped everything out to the back porch. I had to make three trips, being in dog form, to get everything around the corner to my hideout, then I closed the dryer, the back door, the inside door, and flopped down to watch the rest of the game.

That was a much needed task, all wrapped up.

All is well with the world.



Chapter Fifteen

R

Monday night

Rachel spotted the dog leaving from the corner of her eye.

What is he up to now? He keeps going back to the laundry room, which is really odd. And pretty funny. How on Earth did someone train him to close doors?

She got up and walked down the hall . . . eased the door open . . . Oops, the pup had left the back door open—probably because the dryer door was in the way.

Don't tell me Stone opens cupboards and stuff . . . and why is the dryer warm?

She peered at the pile of clothes out side the door . . . men's clothes? A purple shirt . . . just like the Handyman Central shirts . . .

She reached and turned over the purple shirt.

The embroidered name was clear.

Leo

She backed away . . . slipped out the inner door and walked back to the living room.

Stared blankly at the screen.

Stone's a werewolf.

Dog. Whatever.

She shook her head.

Oh don't be stupid.

Did Stone find his owner Leo and lead him back here? And finding us gone, Leo decided to do his laundry while we were gone? That's creepy enough. And it would explain why Stone keeps going back there.

Oh God. Is Leo a rapist? Is he stalking me? Doing creepy things before he strikes?

All things considered, I think I'd prefer a were-dog to a creepy stalker.

She froze at a thump. Looked down at the big dog stretching out, looking tired.

Of course, a werewolf would explain all the locks and doors and gates. And he has to run off to work every day. And likes his hotdogs hot, in buns, with mustard.

Why does he work . . . well, duh, for money. This isn't a stupid movie where he's the filthy rich head of a pack of werewolves.

Not that I believe in werewolves. But . . .

I wonder when the full moon is?

And why was he limping down the highway?

After the game, she gave Stone a bowl of kibble and filled a bowl with water—out on the back patio. And made sure the outside laundry room door was both locked and a broom "just happened" to fall where it barricaded the door.

Not that someone couldn't get in . . . but they'd make a lot of noise, and Rachel was quite certain that FBI Agents carried loaded guns. Kris probably sleeps with one under his pillow.

Maybe I need one.

***

And yet, the next morning she kind of missed the big mutt, who had departed sometime during the night.

Except . . . he'll be at work, won't he?

Slapped her forehead.

Rachel, listen to yourself. Leo is not a werewolf. Maybe he's creepy, or maybe he's homeless. Whichever, you'd better stay away from him.

Chapter Magic

L

Rachel's sister was the only one home when I got there. I hid my clothes, and trotted around to the back door.

"Woof!" I sat and put on my best smile and wagged my tail when she left me in.

"Honestly, dog. If you weren't so charming, you'd be in big trouble." She scooped dry dog food, refilled my water bowl and left me staring at the kibble.

Drat.

But I still ate every bit of it.

I checked that Nicole was upstairs in what they called the computer room and reached under the couch to retrieve my library books. Demonology had been a bit much, so I tried the Natural Magic book. It started out like the Power of Positive Thinking, meditating and visualizing the results you wanted, and then visualizing all the steps to get there. I think she left out the bit about "and then get off your sass and do it," but it wasn't what I'd call magic.

I ought to have quit there, but the author dived into crystals, aroma therapy, and feng shui. It was interesting in a sort of "Please tell me no one actually believes that" way.

I shoved the books back under the couch when I heard Nicole coming down the stairs. Wagged my tail and concentrated on how lovely a ham sandwich would be. Fresh bread, a touch of mayo and mustard, thin sliced swiss cheese, that delicious smoked ham I could smell from here . . .

She walked into the kitchen and fixed a beautiful big ham sandwich. And sat down and ate it.

Clearly I was going to have to work harder on my visualization.

I stared at her. Poor dog. Needs a bite of ham.

She cleared everything away and walked out, patted me on the head. "Poor dog. Do you need a bite of ham?"

She walked back to the fridge and got me one.

Definitely going to practice visualizations.

 
 
matapam
16 November 2017 @ 07:25 am
 

Chapter Thirteen

R

Weekend

Saturday was supposed to be the busiest day of the week for the store, so Rachel dressed, packed a lunch . . . gave into the impulse to make a second sandwich . . . just in case . . . some random cute guy was hungry.

But it turned into a day of completely different kind of busy than the weekdays. Millions of shoppers, but no contractors. Millions of small sales. Lots of medium sales. Only two tickets for the warehouse. She spotted Leo three times, helping customers with items on high shelves.

And being scolded by "Miss Nina" as everyone call her boss.

Miss Nina looked over at Rachel. "And you haven't taken your lunch either, have you? Go! both of you. You have to last all day, you know!"

Rachel fetched her cooler, which was still cool inside, and looked at Leo who was contemplating the selections in a vending machine. "Rot your teeth eating like that."

He snickered. "What! I can't live on fast food?"

She looked at the packet of cupcakes in his hand. "That doesn't even rise to the status of fast food. Not that I don't love those things . . . " She looked back at her cooler.

Well? Have I got the nerve?

"Trade you one of my sandwiches for a cupcake."

He grinned.

Ohmygawd he's fantastic when he grins. I swear his eyes twinkled.

She pulled out both sandwiches and grinned back. "I made two, in case I stayed late."

"And with that madhouse out there . . . "

"We'll be staying late. But I forgot how late my official lunch is." She pushed a sandwich across the old scarred table.

He opened his packet, and pulled out a cupcake. He handed the packet with the other cupcake across the table. Took a bite out of his own, and started opening the sandwich bag.

Rachel snickered.

"Don't worry, no chance I won't eat it all."

Rachel grinned. "I can hear my mother's voice in my head."

Leo grinned back and managed a falsetto. "Not until after dinner, young lady."

Oh dear . . . all crinkle eyes and dimples . . . happy.

"Exactly. And what would you're mother have said? 'Don't spoil your dinner, dear?' No?"

"More like 'I swear you're going to eat me out of house and home, you bottomless teenage black hole!' and then she'd laugh." He looked wistful, shrugged. Popped the last of the cupcake into his mouth.

"Do you talk to them often?"

He shook his head. "They're both dead, now. Just . . . old age. They were my foster parents, the only parents I remember. The state thought they were too old to adopt me . . . but they raised me from the time I was about five through a year of college."

"But you know your extended family?"

"After Mom died—about a month after Dad—I decided to track them down. What a mistake. I was better off with dreams." Took a bite of ham sandwich. "Umm, this is good."

Rachel nodded. "My parents sold the house, bought a condo on a golf course and didn't quite kick me out, but they made it clear that it was time for me to fly the nest. They phone every week. Generally to complain that we never visit."

Leo raised his eyebrows.

"Which we do! But we're busy. My sister's husband transferred down here—he's from Tucson and he missed the desert—and they're trying to have a baby so she hasn't been working. When the company I was working for folded, I decided to come check out the job prospects here." She paused for a bite.

"I noticed your car had Tennessee plates."

She nodded, swallowed. "Nashville. Phoenix is going to take awhile to feel like home."

He nodded. "I guess I've been in the desert for . . . three weeks? It's really different. Even though I think pristine green lawns are unnatural, I'm so used to them that all these cactus and rock yards look scraggly and uncared for."

Rachel nodded. "And the crab grass is the worst. I mean, I know it'll come back when it gets rain, but right now? It's just brown!"

She stayed late, not going home until the doors were locked, the last receipts in and counted. Leo'd stayed for restocking and a final sweep, and left a bit before she finally staggered out to her car and drove the short distance home.

Sunday the store opened late, so she slept in, got in a probably-not-actually-two-miles run, with Stone who'd actually been there, for a change. Ate breakfast, fed the dog—who promptly disappeared—and headed back to work. It wasn't nearly as busy as Saturday, but still impressive. Contractor order for cabinets were coming in, so she got the admire Leo's strength and balance again.



Chapter fourteen

L

Monday night

I got to work early, and instead of a lunch hour, I took two and found the local library. They didn't have anything I hadn't already read on werewolves, but there were some on 'Skinwalkers' . . . that I put away hastily.

Almost scarier than my family!

And books on magic . . . stage, nope, Tarot cards? Umm, don't think so. Oooo, demonology for beginners . . . maybe I could find out where the hunters got their delusions from. Natural Magic? I really didn't think I could do anything "magic" but I suppose, I mean . . . I certainly ordinary . . . supernatural seemed a bit of a stretch, though.

A bit to my surprise, an out-of-state driver's license and a local address—I gave them the store's—was good enough for the library card. I trotted back to the store, put the books in my otherwise empty locker and got back to work.

And after, I headed straight home, books, and then clothes, in a bag.

I got scolded for having escaped, and locked in the laundry room while they went out for dinner.

Yay! As soon as they were out of the house I streaked for my clothes stash and dragged them all inside. It took two trips in dog-form, but I needed to wash everything.

Only a small spill trying to pour the laundry detergent. I'm more dexterous than a real dog, but that's more because of being able to think how to do things with paws, than my paws being not-quite standard dog or cat paws.

Anyhow, I got the wash started. And stretched out on the living room rug to read about demonology. Brrr. If the author wasn't a believer, he was sure good at pretending.

The sound of the garage door opening caught me by surprise.

I shoved the books under the couch and ran for the laundry room. Jumped up and stopped the washing machine, closed the inner door . . .

"Oh! Look who's a good dog! You stayed in the . . . " Rachel voice trailed off.

I sat there looking innocent as she stepped past me and shoved the outside door closed.

Oops, left it ajar.

Click.

And unlocked.

"Honestly Stone! I didn't know dogs could do things like that! I don't know what to try next. C'mon out."

Oh well, at least she hadn't noticed the washing machine stopped in mid-rinse cycle.

Nicole had kicked off her shoes, and rubbed her feet. "Why do I wear things like these monstrosities?" She leaned to scoop them up and headed for the master bedroom, downstairs, opposite the garage and laundry room . . .

The TV clicked on to an advertisement. Kris put the remote down and followed her.

Rachel headed upstairs.

Yes!

I hustled into the laundry room and clicked the resume button. Closed the door behind me. With the sound of the news on the TV, maybe I could get everything washed. The dryer . . . umm, this was going to take both luck and cunning.

I trotted back to the living room and flopped down where I'd be in the way of anyone heading for the laundry room.

And watched the news. About the discovery of two bodies in the desert, on the New Mexico side of the state line. Apparently killed by an animal, but the coroner would have more to say after the autopsy. The police suspected a falling out between drug runners.

Two bodies.

I'd killed both of them. I wasn't going to feel bad about fighting for my life. I wasn't.

But . . . Oh, dammit all, why hadn't I doubled back and taken my wallet away with me?

I heard the faint whirr of the spin cycle spinning down and eased back down the hallway. With a noisy advertisement for cover I got into the laundry room and closed the door behind me.

And had my first set back. I couldn't reach down into the washing machine and grab stuff.

I cursed mentally and reached mentally for the human-form that lurked in the depths of my bones and my mind.

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

My arms elongated, front toes extended . . . I grabbed clothes and stuffed them into the dryer as quickly as I could, while the change was still under way.

Quick check, got them all!

"Stone? Are you back here letting yourself out?"

Oh, oh, oh! Bad timing!

I reached for the dog-form as I quietly closed the dryer door.

The doorknob turned.

I leaped and leaned on the interior door, as pain wracked bones that suddenly didn't know which way to morph.

"Woof!" I reached out and turned off the light. Maybe she wouldn't notice . . . problems . . . in the dark . . .

"Silly dog! I can't let you out if you don't get out of the way."

She shoved.

I braced myself, hands against the door, and held the door closed.

Reached for the dog-inside. Be a dog. C'mon body, go back to being a dog.

Okay. My hands were looking pretty dog-like. I rubbed one on my nose. Nope, still a human nose. Paw back on the door as Rachel put some muscle into it.

"Dog!"

Another quick feel. Ears, the ears were good.

"Woof!" I tried to sound happy, not frantic and in pain. What I really wanted to do was howl in pain and frustration.

Deep breathing, relax. C'mon, you learned how to control your form that interesting summer before high school.

I rubbed my . . . muzzle, wagged my tail . . . a couple of more deep breaths and I backed off as the door opened.

Rachel peeked around the door. "Good Grief! Get down, you silly mutt."

I backed up and dropped down to all fours.

"Woof!'

"Good. Grief. You are the weirdest dog! C'mon."

I followed her to the living room and flopped on the rug. Tried to relax, tried to will away the aches and pain. Whew! Next time I'd have to find a laundromat. This was just too harrowing.

And I still needed to turn on the dryer.

 
 
matapam
15 November 2017 @ 09:13 am
 

Chapter Fourteen? Emails

L

Friday night

They let me sleep inside, closed in the laundry room. So I didn't have any excuses for not . . . somehow doing something about the Hunters of Men. I opened the laundry room's inside door as quietly as I possibly could, and paced down the hallway. The good thing about retractable claws was not worrying about clicking on the hardwood floor.

Up the stairs to the computer room. Nice and quiet. I closed the door behind me and checked carefully that Nicole's speakers were turned off. Then I turned her machine on and worried about the best way—secure and requiring the least amount of two-claw-typing—way to spoof a senders location. I'd been pretty good a few years ago. Badly out of practice but I'd give it a try.

Thank you for saving all your passwords!

The computer took no skill at all . . . A quick internet search . . . who did I want to send this to, anyway? Arizona and New Mexico were both involved . . . Right, FBI. I got their email address and then got to work laying a false trail, a misleading back trace, and then typed a very brief message. A rough location for the warehouse in Albuquerque I'd been taken to, and the addresses of the three houses here. "The werewolves live here."

Retractable claws were not made for typing . . . and if they didn't understand, I wasn't sending the locations to the right place, anyway. I hit the send button and erased my tracks.

I started at the computer . . . then turned it off. There's no one I want to talk to.

I crept back to the laundry room and slept.



Chapter Twelve

K

Friday

"The two bodies in New Mexico have turned out to be members of the Forty-eight gang. The Albuquerque Field Office incident crew is taking over the scene, and has expanded the search area.

"Besides the two human bodies, we've found the remains of two large dogs. Much chewed by critters, but with a time of death very close to that of the human victims. The map of the area . . . This is a cattle ranch—four thousand acres of rugged sparse grazing, rarely visited—a hundred and ten miles west of Albuquerque and eight mile north of Interstate Forty. They've got trained cadaver dogs enroute to see if there are any of the sorts of hidden graves we've seen elsewhere."

A map of the state, then a close up with the locations marked of the parked car and the two human bodies. The canine remains were a quarter and a third of the way back to I40.

"We're getting daily updates."

Kris Kovac repressed a sigh. If I was still in DC, I'd probably have been sent out there as the lead investigator. Now I'll have to wait for someone else to write the report and circulate it.

Dammit. However much nicer it is out here, otherwise. I feel like I'm in a backwater.

"We have a new detailed analysis of those extra chromosomes from the labs." Masterson clicked on the big screen and they watched the whole dog and pony show.

"Genetic engineering as the direct transfer of DNA from one organism to another was first accomplished by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in 1972. The first genetically modified animal was a mouse created in 1974 by Rudolf Jaenisch." The man on the screen shrugged. "So we've had fifty-five years, in theory, to do something disastrous to ourselves. In actuality, serious expertise has existed for less than half that, but it's clear from this Forty-eight Gang that it has been done."

Kris had seen presentations by the man before, met him in person once. Dr. Daniel Reid.

So the experts don't think it's a natural mutation. Something deliberate. But we're getting third generation DNA showing up.

"The two extra chromosomes are not natural. Not accidental duplications of other human chromosomes or even parts of them. They are hodgepodge collections of control genes from several species, mostly canine and feline, although we haven't pinned down the exact species. And there are some oddities that might be from an octopus, or . . . something else. Other labs have suggested genetic engineering of those chromosomes, but work of that nature has never been demonstrated. We have identified epigeneic switches on some of the odd genes that turn the genes on during adrenaline surges, then turns them back off. Of course, we're still studying them . . . what physical effect they could possibly have is hard to say. Faster reflexes? Stronger? Neither dogs nor cats are known for endurance, so possibly just in bursts?" Dr. Reid scowled at the camera. "It would be nice to have an actual individual to observe and test. The evidence indicates that they are completely fertile with ordinary people, so find me some children from outside the criminal gangs, eh?"

"Oh, how does that work, with the extras not interfering? Best guess is they're mostly non-functional. Next best guess is they don't turn on until trigger by something—such as puberty. Eh, we need an actual—better yet several—live persons."

"Now the two bodies in New Mexico

He tapped at a computer and a new chart popped up. "And we know interbreeding with outsiders works because of these new results we've just started studying, from New Mexico. An all new, never seen before individual. Different Y chromosome, different Mitochondrial line. He has both of the extra chromosomes, and enough overlap with the other genes that the best match is grandson of both LA2 and SC7 with outside women who both had daughters, and the son of one of those daughters married, or whatever, the daughter of the other half forty-eight daughter, and produced this fellow.

"His DNA was from the usual fake dog bites, and also from blood on ropes found at the site. This is, however, the first time we've gotten actual bodies of gang members to study. This outsider apparently killed two of the Southwest group."

Kris leaned forward. "But the spitting on fake dog bites motif points to someone very familiar with the gang. Not an outsider."

The video, of course, rattled on without pause. "Well, details of the autopsy . . . both the victims had odd skeletal abnormalities. Whether these are typical of the gang, an effect of the artificial chromosomes, more ordinary birth defects, or deliberate post natal restrictions of growth is an interesting question."

What? Like the old Chinese foot wrapping? Or unset breaks?

"So, in any case, they've been identified as KC5 and KC8, based on semen samples from the 2018 attack in Kern County California where at least ten men raped, killed, dismembered, cooked, and ate four women . . . "

The pictures bore a definite resemblance to the boys in New Orleans. Outthrust face, light brown hair.

More DNA pictures . . . "our reconstructions of the women in the gang, from the DNA their sons have been leaving around . . . "

Kris barely paid attention as the technical terms flew.

West of Albuquerque? North of I-40? What date? Rachel must have driven past within 48 hours of the killing. I wonder if her dash cam would show anything interesting? At least I don't have to actually worry that the dog she picked up is a werewolf.

.

.

.

Right?

He mentally kicked himself and switched his attention to the screen.

". . . And so in addition to the one hundred and seventeen identified male members of the gang, we are postulating twenty-five adult women adding to the gene pool. Status in the gang unknown, number of children unknown."

The doctor glared out of the vid screen. "I need more samples. Do I have to find and hire a hacker to get into genetic data bases?"

And I need a description of those dead dogs . . . although it's hard to imagine Stone as trained to kill. And he has a tag, former elderly owners.

I'll start by tracking down that son of theirs. Leonard Stone. I need to do that anyway . . . and now it's quasi-pertinent to the case.

He typed out a request for pictures and DNA on the dogs . . . they'll think I'm insane . . . He added a request for breed identification, and if that breed or breeds required DNA testing, to check any matches, or even partial matches that might be useful in tracking down the owners . . .

And dash cams. He'd check and see if Rachel even had one. And then . . . what? An open call for dash cam footage right then would alert the Forty-eights. And unless he could find someone who had downloaded the right times, the small memory capacity of most dash cams would have been over-written already.

When Masterson asked for additional input or suggestions, Kris brought up the dash cam potential. "Maybe quietly ask truckers? See if any of them regularly download and save trips."

He went home and checked—Stone was gone again—and Rachel's car did indeed have a dash cam. He pulled the chip and copied it to his computer, then headed back to the office.

She hadn't driven since her arrival. Kris trawled slowly through the trip, from just outside Albuquerque. He noted license plates. Crimes are often solved by trudging along looking at everything.

He spotted the big dog limping along the road. Away from the scene of the slaughter.

I need a picture of the dead dogs at the scene.

That evening, he listened to Rachel's newest plans to corral her dog.

I should haul him down to HQ. Or something. At least get him away from my family, in case he really has been trained to attack and kill people. But that's stupid. There's human saliva in the bites. Fake dog bites, not real. The Albuquerque scene was probably the Forty-eights versus a drug smuggling gang.

"Don't bother getting too elaborate. He's not your dog yet."

Rachel glowered. "He could get hit by a car."

"Any dog that can open and close doors and gates is probably pretty street-wise." Kris winced. This is stupid. I do not have a werewolf member of the Forty-eights sleeping on my back porch!