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Blue Moon (Chapter 13)

"What the hell was that?" I asked.

"I was going to ask the very same question."

I glanced at Mandenauer. He was staring at me and not the wolf. I looked back. The thing was gone.

I rubbed my eyes. Tried again. Still gone.

"Where is it?"

"The wolf ran off, along with all the others."

"But… but… I hit it."

"Are you certain?"

The wolf had jerked, jumped, fallen. "Yes, 1 hit it."

"Apparently, not well enough."

Which wasn't like me. What I hit, I hit very well indeed.

"Why did you shoot, Officer?"

"Didn't you see that thing?" I shuddered, remembering those eyes.

Wolves had light eyes –  yellow, greenish, hazel. This one's had been brown –  nothing to write home about except for the unusual flash of white and their expression. A calculated hatred and too human intelligence. I never would have thought intelligence could be evident in the eyes, but I was wrong.

"Of course I saw it," Mandenauer answered. "I was waiting for the others to show themselves before I shot. They were all infected, Officer."

I winced. I'd screwed up and now we had nothing to show for our hours of patience.

"How do you know they were all infected?"

"They were coming in like a Special Forces operation."

"And how would you know that?"

Mandenauer peered down his long, bony nose. "I know."

Special Forces? Him?

"You're losing it, Mandenauer. How could a group of wolves, supervirus or not, use Special Forces tactics? How could they get to us up here?"

"We will never know now that you scared them off before I could adequately gauge what they were planning."

I stifled the urge to apologize. This guy was nuts. Wolves with human intelligence? Even after I'd seen those eyes, I found that hard to swallow.

The amount of planning he was talking about was beyond an animal, enhanced or not. How did they devise their strategy, by drawing pictures in the dirt with their paws?

"I thought wolves rarely attacked people."

"These are more than wolves."

More than wolves? What did that mean? I could ask, but then he'd probably tell me. I needed to talk to Clyde and a few others before I started questioning Mandenauer. I was having serious doubts about his sanity.

After flicking the safety on my rifle, I reached for the rope used to lower weapons to the ground.

"Where are you going?" Mandenauer sat on the floor of the tree stand with his back against one plank wall.

"Back to work?"

"This is your work now."

I glanced at the woods where the wolves had disappeared. "But –  "

"Now that they know we are here they may be back. It isn't safe to be on the ground until morning."

"You mean we have to sit up here all night?"

He shrugged and snuggled his shoulders into the corner. "Wake me if they return."

Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep, just like that.

Morning came –  eventually. But none of the wolves did.

I observed a lot of wildlife that night, but nothing out of the ordinary. A raccoon or three, an opossum, a doe and two fawns tripped through just before dawn. Man-denauer slept through everything.

When the sun spread bright fingers of light across the floor of the tree stand, I kicked Mandenauer's boot. He came awake in an instant. I could tell by his face he knew where he was. I wouldn't have. The only people I knew who could come out of a deep sleep and function immediately were ex-military. The longer I knew Man-denauer the more interesting he became.

He glanced into the clearing. "Nothing," he stated.

I didn't bother to answer what hadn't been a question.

We lowered our rifles to the ground, then followed them down, returning to town in silence. Mandenauer must have gotten a car from somewhere, since he'd met me at the station, so instead of dropping him at his cabin, I took him back where I had found him.

Zee was already gone and a new fresh face sat in her place. I wondered where they'd gotten this one.

She appeared to be all of twelve years old –  fine blond hair, huge blue eyes, porcelain pale skin –  she would have been pretty except for that nose. Poor thing had a beak like a hawk.

"Morning, Jessie," she chirped.

Someone had neglected to tell her she should never talk to me before breakfast.

Clyde must have been waiting for us, because he barreled out of his office almost as soon as we walked in. "Gonna make my day?"

The youngster murmured, "Sudden Impact." Maybe she was smarter than she looked.

"No, sir," I answered. Set to launch into an explanation of how it was all my fault, I was shocked when Mandenauer put a heavy, staying hand on my shoulder.

"This will take time," he said.

Clyde chewed hard and fast on his first chew of the morning. "I went to Miss Larson's house. Nothing unusual there."

"Any indication of why she might have been out on the road at three a.m.?"

"None. I doubt we'll ever know the answer to that. Hell, maybe she just couldn't sleep."

"I hate loose ends," I muttered.

"You, me, and the rest of the free world." Clyde stalked back into his office and slammed the door.

"He is upset."

I glanced at Mandenauer and tamped down on the urge to say, "No shit." The old man was staring at the door to Clyde's office with a contemplative expression.

"He doesn't do well with change. Rabid wolves, citizens eating each other, that's new around here."

"Hmm. Then we'd best obtain some results for the sheriff. I will meet you tonight?"

"Same bat time, same bat channel," I agreed.

Mandenauer appeared confused. His knowledge of classic television trivia was no doubt sorely lacking.

But at least he didn't ask me to explain. 1 was not in the mood.

What I was, was tired and sore from lounging in that tree stand all night. I wanted food and my pillow, but I had one phone call to make before I could go.

Mandenauer headed for the parking lot; 1 headed for what passed as my office –  a desk among all the other desks –  but at least no one else was in the room. Then I looked up the number for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

"This is Officer Jessie McQuade of the Miniwa, Wisconsin, PD," I began. "I… Uh, well, you see, we have a tiny problem here."

How did I explain something that sounded like I'd read it in a fantasy novel? One that had a cheesy, car-toonish, snarling, slavering wolf on the cover?

I took a deep breath and told the switchboard operator everything that I knew. To the woman's credit, she didn't collapse into giggles right away. Who knows what she did after she transferred my call to Dr. Hanover.

"Elise Hanover." The voice on the other end of the line was clipped –  all business and very busy.

I began my story all over again, but she interrupted me after only a moment. "Yes, yes. I know about the new rabies strain."

"You do?"

"Of course. I'm working on that problem right now."

"You are?"

An impatient sigh drifted several hundred miles. "Officer, what is it you want to know?"

What did I want to know' ? That Mandenauer wasn't a psycho with a gun? That he hadn't made up this rabies crap so he could go bonkers in our forest and start killing every wolf that he saw? I guess I knew that now. But as long as I had an expert on the line…

"Is this a terrorist infiltration?"

Dr. Hanover snorted. "Like I'd tell you if it was?"

Good point.

"Relax," she said. "Everything that goes to hell in our country isn't the result of a terrorist."

"Yeah, tell it to the media."

Silence met my snarl. I waited for the click of the phone or the request for my superior's phone number.

Instead the doctor chuckled. "You're a woman after my own heart, Officer."

I blinked, uncertain what to say to that. I wasn't used to female friendliness. The two words were mutually exclusive in my book.

I'd spent my childhood with the boys. I liked them – still did. Boys didn't smile in your face and stab you in the back. They kicked your ass; then they were done. I prefer my hostility out in the open where I can see it.

My only girlfriend was Zee, and she wasn't much of a girl. But her hostility was definitely out in the open.

Zee was a woman after my own heart.

When I sat there like a lump too long, Dr. Hanover filled in the silence. "The virus is a result of nature, Officer. You've heard, I'm sure, that certain infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics because of overuse of medication?"

"Yes. I also know that infections are different from viruses and antibiotics aren't worth dick if you have the flu. Since rabies is basically the flu on acid, what difference does resistance to antibiotics make?"

"None whatsoever. I was using an analogy. The rabies virus is mutating to get around the vaccine."

"I was told if anyone else was bitten we should use the rabies vaccine."

"For humans, that's true. The only help for animals is a bullet."

"Those I got."

"Silver?"

"Excuse me?" I could not have heard her right.

"Silver bullets work best."

It was my turn to snort. "Doctor, have you been watching too many Lon Chaney movies?"

"Who?"

She was either too young to remember the Wolf Man –  hell, I was too young, except I liked black-and-white horror movies –  or too much of a brainiac to watch movies at all.

"Never mind," I said. "You're kidding me about the silver bullets, right?"

"Sorry, but no. We've discovered the mutated virus reacts negatively to silver."

"Dead is dead in my book. What difference does it make how?"

"You'd be surprised. I've had reports of animals with a nonkill wound dying if a silver bullet was used.

What can it hurt? Dead is dead, right?" I heard the amusement in her voice as she threw my own words back at me.

"Where the hell do I get silver bullets? Werewolves ' R'Us?"

"Try the Internet. You can buy anything there."

The phone went dead in my hand.

"Silver bullets." I shook my head. That'd be the day.

I could see myself trying to explain why my rifle was loaded with silver –  to Clyde, to Bozeman, to John Q. Public, even to Mandenauer. They'd lock me up and throw away the key.

I'd take my chances with the lead variety, thank you.

My radio crackled. "Jessie?"

The new dispatcher. Why hadn't she just shouted for me? She had to know I was three doors down the hall.

I got up and walked to the front of the building. She appeared frazzled; the buttons on her switchboard were lit up like a meteor shower. Someone was chattering into her headphones. I could hear them from five feet away.

I glanced into Clyde's office. He was taking a call and, if the wide sweeps of his hands and the scowl on his face were any indication, he was in the middle of an argument.

"Jessie!" The dispatcher beckoned. "I need you to go out on a call."

"I'm off."

"Nuh-uh."

I raised a brow and glanced at her name tag. She wasn't wearing one. Zee must not think the kid would last through the day.

She waved a hand at the switchboard. "We just got slammed. There's a three-car pileup on the highway and a domestic disturbance on Grand. I sent everyone available; then another call came in." She bit her lip. "Clyde said if I disturbed him I should find another job."

I glanced into his office again. He was still arguing. He caught me staring and turned his back. Odd.

"Fine." I saw my blueberry bagel and cool soothing sheets slipping away, but there was nothing I could do about it. "Where and what?"

She beamed. "The university. One of the professors'offices was ransacked."

"Whose?" I asked, but I already knew.

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