Blue Moon (Chapter 1)
However, on the night the truth began I was still just another small-town cop – bored, cranky, waiting, even wishing, for something to happen. I learned never to be so open-ended in my wishes again.
The car radio crackled. "Three Adam One, what's your ten-twenty?"
"I'm watching the corn grow on the east side of town."
I waited for the imminent spatter of profanity from the dispatcher on duty. I wasn't disappointed.
"You'd think it was a goddamned full moon. I swear those things bring out every nut cake in three counties."
My lips twitched. Zelda Hupmen was seventy-five if she was a day. A hard-drinking, chain-smoking throwback to the good times when such a lifestyle was commonplace and the fact it would kill you still a mystery.
Obviously Zelda had yet to hear the scientific findings, since she was going to outlive everyone by smoking unfiltered Camels and drinking Jim Beam for breakfast.
"Maybe the crazies are just gearing up for the blue moon we've got coming."
"What in living hell is a blue moon?"
The reason Zee was still working third shift after countless years on the force? Her charming vocabulary.
"Two full moons in one month makes a blue moon on the second course. Very rare. Very powerful. If you're into that stuff."
Living in the north woods of Wisconsin, elbow to elbow with what was left of the Ojibwe nation, I'd heard enough woo-woo legends to last a lifetime.
They always pissed me off. I lived in a modern world where legends had no place except in the history books. To do my job, I needed facts. In Miniwa, depending on who you talked to, facts and fiction blurred together too close for my comfort.
Zee's snort of derision turned into a long, hacking cough. I waited, ever patient, for her to regain her breath.
"Powerful my ass. Now get yours out to Highway One-ninety-nine. We got trouble, girl."
"What kind of trouble?" I flicked on the red lights, considered the siren.
"Got me. Cell call – lots of screaming, lots of static. Brad's on his way."
I had planned to inquire about the second officer on duty, but, as usual, Zee answered questions before they could even be asked. Sometimes she was spookier than anything I heard or saw on the job.
"It'll take him a while," she continued. "He was at the other end of the lake, so you'll be first on the scene. Let me know what happens."
Since I'd never found screaming to be good news, I stopped considering the siren and sped my wailing vehicle in the direction of Highway 199.
The Miniwa PD consisted of myself, the sheriff, and six other officers, plus Zee and an endless array of young dispatchers – until summer, when the force swelled to twenty because of the tourists.
I hated summer. Rich fools from Southern cities traveled the two-lane highway to the north to sit on their butt next to a lake and fry their skin the shade of fuchsia agony. Their kids shrieked, their dogs ran wild, they drove their boats too fast and their minds too slow, but they came into town and spent their easy money in the bars, restaurants, and junk shops.
As annoying as the tourist trade was for a cop, the three months of torture kept Miniwa on the map.
According to my calendar, we had just entered week three of hell.
I came over a hill and slammed on my brakes. A gas-sucking, lane-hogging luxury SUV was parked crosswise on the dotted yellow line. A single headlight blazed; the other was a gaping black hole.
Why the owner hadn't pulled the vehicle onto the shoulder I had no idea. But then, I'd always suspected the majority of the population were too stupid to live.
I inched my squad car off the road, positioning my lights on the vehicle. Leaving the red dome flashing, I turned off the siren. The resulting hush was as deafening as the shrill wail had been.
The clip of my boots on the asphalt made a lonely, ghostly sound. If my headlights hadn't illuminated the hazy outline of a person in the driver's seat, I'd have believed I was alone, so deep was the silence, so complete the stillness of the night.
"Hello?" I called.
No response. Not a hint of movement.
I hurried around the front of the car, taking in the pieces of the grille and one headlight splayed across the pavement. For a car that cost upward of $40,000 it sure broke into pieces easily enough.
That's what I liked about the department's custom-issue Ford Crown Victoria. The thing was built like a tank, and it drove like one, too. Other cities might have switched over to SUVs, but Miniwa stuck with the tried and true.
Sure, four-wheel drive was nice, but sandbags in the trunk and chains on the tires worked just as well.
Besides, nothing had an engine like my CV. I could catch damn near anyone driving that thing, and she didn't roll if I took a tight curve.
"Miniwa PD," I called as I skirted the fender of the SUV.
My gaze flicked over the droplets of blood that shone black beneath the silver moonlight. They trailed off toward the far side of the road. I took a minute to check the ditch for any sign of a wounded animal or human being, but there was nothing.
Returning to the car, I yanked open the door and blinked to find a woman behind the wheel. In my experience men drove these cars – or soccer moms. I saw no soccer balls, no kids, no wedding ring.
"Are you all right?"
She had a bump on her forehead and her eyes were glassy. Very young and very blond – the fairy princess type – she was too petite to be driving a vehicle of this size, but – I gave a mental shrug – it was a free country.
The airbag hadn't deployed, which meant the car was a piece of shit or she hadn't been going very fast when she'd hit… whatever it was she'd hit.
I voted on the latter, since she wasn't lying on the pavement shredded from the windshield. The bump indicated she hadn't been wearing her seat belt. Shame on her. A ticketing offense in this state, but a little hard to prove after the fact.
"Ma'am," I tried again when she continued to stare at me without answering. "Are you all right? What's your name?"
She raised her hand to her head. There was blood dripping down her arm. I frowned. No broken glass, except on the front of the car, which appeared to be more plastic than anything else. How had she cut herself?
I grabbed the flashlight from my belt and trained it on her arm. Something had taken a bite-sized chunk out of the skin between her thumb and her wrist.
"What did you hit, ma'am?"
"Karen." Her eyes were wide, pupils dilated; she was shocky. "Karen Larson."
Right answer, wrong question. The distant wail of a siren sliced through the cool night air, and I permitted myself a sigh of relief. Help was on the way.
Since the nearest hospital was a forty-minute drive, Miniwa made do with a small general practice clinic for everything but life-threatening crises. Even so, the clinic was on the other end of town, a good twenty minutes over dark, deserted roads. Brad could transport Miss Larson while I finished up here.
But first things first. I needed to move her vehicle out of the road before someone, if not Brad, plowed into us. Thank God Highway 199 at 3:00 a.m. was not a hotbed of traffic, or there'd be more glass and blood on the pavement.
"Ma'am? Miss Larson, we need to move. Slide over."
She did as I ordered, like a child, and I quickly parked her car near mine. Planning to retrieve my first-aid kit and do some minor cleaning and repairs – perhaps bandage her up just enough to keep the blood off the seats – I paused, half in and half out of the car, when she answered my third question as late as the second.
"Wolf. I hit a wolf."
A litany of Zee's favorites ran through my head. The wolves were becoming a problem. They followed the food, and with the deer herds increasing in alarming numbers despite the generosity of the Department of Natural Resources with hunting licenses, the wolves had multiplied along with their prey.
The wolves were not typically aggressive; however, if they were wounded or rabid, typical did not apply.
"Did it bite you, ma'am?"
I knew the answer, but I had to ask. For the record.
She nodded. "I-I thought it was a dog."
"Damn big dog," I muttered.
"Yes. Damn big," she repeated. "It ran right in front of my car. I couldn't stop. Black like the night.
Chasing, chasing – " She frowned, then moaned as if the effort of the thought was too much for her poor head.
"How did you get bitten?"
"I thought it was dead."
A good rule to remember when dealing with wild animals and soap opera villains? They usually aren't dead – even when everyone thinks that they are.
"Ma'am, I'm just going to check your license and registration, okay?"
She nodded in the same zoned-out manner she'd had all along. I didn't smell alcohol, but even so, she'd be checked for that and drugs at the clinic.
I quickly rifled her wallet. Yep, Karen Larson. The registration in the glove compartment proved she owned the car. All my ducks were in a row, just the way I liked them.
Brad arrived at last. Young, eager, he was one of the summer cops, which meant he wasn't from here.
Who knows what he did during the other nine months of the year. From the looks of him he lifted weights and worked on his tan beneath an artificial sun. Having dealt with Brad before, I was of the opinion he'd fried his brain along with his skin. But he was competent enough to take Miss Larson to the clinic.
I met him halfway between his car and hers. "We've got a wolf bite." I had no time for chitchat. Not that I would have bothered even if I did. "Get her to the clinic. I'm going to see if I can find the wolf."
He laughed. "Right, Jessie. You're gonna catch a wolf, in the middle of the night, in these woods. And it'll be the particular wolf you're searching for."
That's why Brad was a summer cop and I was an all-through-the-year cop. I had a brain and I wasn't afraid to use it.
"Call me silly," I pointed at the blood, plastic, and fiberglass on the pavement, "but that's gonna leave a mark. If I find a wolf with a fender-sized dent, I'll just arrest him. Who knows, we might be able to avoid rabies shots for our victim."
Brad blinked. "Oh."
"Yeah. ' Oh.'Can you call Zee, tell her what happened, have her inform the DNR?"
I resisted the urge to thump him upside the head. Maybe I'd shake some sense loose, but I doubted it.
"Standard procedure when dealing with wolves is to call the hunting and fishing police."
"Do we have to?"
Though I shared his sentiments – no one around here had much use for the Department of Natural Resources – rules were rules.
The wolf had been an endangered species in Wisconsin until 1999, when the classification was changed to threatened. Recently they had increased in number to the point where they were delisted. Which meant problems – like rabies – could be handled under certain conditions by certain people. If I had to shoot a wolf tonight. I wanted to do so with my butt already covered.
"Yes," I snapped. "We have to. Have Zee get someone else out here to secure, then measure this scene."
I patted the walkie-talkie on my belt. "I'll be in touch."
"But – Uh, I was thinking… Maybe, um, I should, uh, you know… " His uncertain gaze flicked toward the trees, then back to me.
"I know. And you shouldn't."
Think. Ever. My mind mocked, but I had learned a few things in my twenty-six years, and one of them was to keep my smart-ass mind's comments to myself. Mostly.
"I've lived here all my life, Brad. I'm the best hunter on the force."
A fact that did not endear me to many of the guys I worked with. I couldn't recall the last time I hadn't taken top prize in the Big Buck contests run by the taverns every fall. Still Brad appeared uneasy at letting me wander off alone into the darkness.
"Relax," I soothed. "I know these woods. You don't."
Without waiting for further argument, I went in after the wolf.