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Blue Moon (Chapter 23)

"About time," Clyde muttered when I entered the morgue.

Since the drive from Miniwa to the hospital in Clear-water was forty minutes, I'd done the best I could, so I ignored him.

I'd flipped through Brad's notes as I'd walked in from the car. He'd done a decent job, though it wouldn't do Mel much good now. As I'd suspected, a reddish-brown wolf had bitten Mel. Since Mandenauer had already killed and burned the thing, the case would be closed –  if Mel hadn't gone and died on us.

The morgue was bright with electric lights and shiny chrome. All the players were in place.

Clyde leaned against a counter, jaw ratcheting his chew like a mortar with a pestle. Bozeman was playing with his instruments –  lining and realigning them on the pristine table. Anal, much?

As I wandered into the room, the door behind me opened and what must be a doctor, since he wore a white coat, walked in.

"You wanted to see me?"

Clyde pushed away from the counter. "What happened to Mel Gerard?"

"Got me. I followed the prescribed practice for rabies inoculation."

The doctor shook his head. His next words were low, near a mumble, almost as if he were going over it again in his head. And maybe he was. "But he started convulsing. Blood pressure skyrocketed. Cardiac arrest. Flat line. All in about five minutes."

"Allergic to the vaccine?"

"I don't think so."

"What, then?"

He shrugged and jerked a thumb at Bozeman. "Isn't that what he's supposed to find out?"

Clyde chewed faster, thinking long and hard before he nodded. "Thanks for your time, Doctor."

When the door closed again, Clyde turned to Bozeman, who was still playing with his toys. "Let's get on with this, Prescott. I've got things to do."

Bozeman sighed and yanked the sheet from the body. We all stared. The ME went pale. Clyde made a gagging sound and hacked his chew onto the floor. I took one step toward the door before I stopped myself.

I'd been at autopsies before. Seen a lot of dead bodies. But I'd never seen anything like this.

Mel's face was hideous. His nose was twisted, as if broken ten too many times. His lips were drawn back in a grimace; his teeth appeared to protrude. His eyes, open and staring, had bled nearly to black, with only a small rim of yellow around the edge.

Had Mel had yellow eyes? I think I would have remembered that.

"What the –  ?"

I crept closer. Clyde stopped gagging and joined me.

The oddities didn't stop at Mel's face. His fingernails and toenails were unnaturally long. Fu Manchu had nothing on him. And his beard was longer and coarser than it should have been if he'd only shaved yesterday.

"A reaction to the rabies?" I asked.

"Or the vaccine," Clyde murmured. "But why didn't the doctor mention this?"

"He wasn't like this when he came in." Bozeman was still staring. He lifted his gaze from Mel to us. "I saw him. He was dead. But not like this."

"Rigor mortis?" I suggested.

"I've never seen rigor set in this fast or… or… " He waved a hand at the table. "This bad."

"That doesn't mean it couldn't."

"I suppose not." The ME went back to staring.

Clyde made an impatient sound. "Prescott, I need to know what happened before I talk to Cherry again.

That woman is sue-happy."

"Her and the rest of the known world," I muttered.

"Um, yes. I… uh – Yes," Bozeman managed. He went to work while Clyde and I watched. Not the most appealing pastime for a Saturday afternoon, but I'd done worse.

Bozeman muttered and mumbled, cut, measured, recorded. When he was done, his hands hung at his sides as he shook his head.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "Come here."

I didn't want to and I could tell Clyde was thinking of about a thousand other things he'd rather do, but we went. We looked and we listened. We learned.

"The spinal column is altered. Twisted as if it were… " Bozeman's voice trailed off. He appeared to be searching for a word but unable to find one.

"What?" Clyde snapped.

"Changing."

Oh, boy, I thought. That doesn't sound good.

"Changing how?" Clyde asked.

"I don't know. He's also got hair growing out of his back."

"Some guys do," I murmured.

"Not like Mel's." Bozeman manipulated the body. He was right.

The hair, long and blond, resembled fur, but how could that be?

"What's going on?" I asked.

"I have to do more tests." Bozeman continued to stare at the body as he talked to me. "Maybe send out some samples. I wouldn't be surprised to discover bizarre changes in his DNA."

"From a wolf bite?"

He started, blinked, glanced at me. "Hell if I know."

Clyde had been amazingly quiet all along. He, too, was staring at the table. His expression was one of horror. I'd never known him to have such a weak stomach before. Clyde must have seen things in his years on the force that I'd only imagined. So what was the matter with him now?

"Clyde?"

I touched his arm and he jumped, yanked free, and spun away from the body. Any expression that had been on his face before was gone. Clyde was a good cop, a good guy. It probably just bothered him to see Mel this way.

"Do whatever you need to do, Prescott, and get back to me. Jessie, I want you to go to the Clip and Curl."

My hand went to my hair. The feminine nature of the gesture made Clyde scowl. "Yours is fine. And since when do you care?"

I blushed. If I didn't watch it, I'd be painting my nails and buying a dress.

I lowered my hand and curled my treacherous ringers into a fist. "What for?"

"Tina didn't come home last night. I got the call just before you came in. You gonna check that out?"

"I thought you didn't want any overtime."

"Looks like that idea is shot to hell." He sighed. "I gotta talk to Cherry. I don't know what I'm going to tell her."

Since I didn't want that job, I took the one that had been given to me.

However, on the way out of the hospital I ran into the ER doctor. He recognized me and paused. "The ME discover what was up with that guy?"

I shook my head. Even if he had, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to tell. But I could ask…

"Do you think that maybe this new strain of rabies needs a new strain of vaccine?"

His forehead furrowed. "What new strain of rabies?"

"The one that's creating supersmart wolves very fast."

He stared at me for a moment, then burst into laughter. "Right. You've been watching Tales from the Crypt reruns, haven't you?"

"I'm serious."

"So am I. There's no such thing as a new strain of rabies."

"But –  "

"If there was, an ER doctor in the north woods would be the first to hear about it."

The speaker right above our head blared, "Dr. Benson to the ER stat."

"That's me."

I stood in the hallway and watched him go, but I didn't really see him. I needed to talk to Mandenauer.

But first…

I pulled out my notebook and my cell phone, but I had no service. Sometimes being in buildings was worse than being in the forest. I found a pay phone, dialed the CDC, and asked for Dr. Hanover.

"Who?" the receptionist asked.

"Hanover. Dr. Elise Hanover."

"Hold on." She clicked off, returning a few moments later. "There's no Dr. Hanover here. Never has been."

That should have surprised me. But it didn't.

I was also not surprised to discover that Mandenauer was unavailable. The man I talked to at the Eagle's Nest said he'd been gone all day. Since Herr Spooky didn't have a cell phone, I'd have to hold my questions until I could get my hands on him. I had no choice but to head for the Clip and Curl.

By the time I returned to Miniwa it was nearing the supper hour –  usually the least busy time of the day.

Even tourists had to eat. Today the tourists appeared to be fleeing.

I rolled my patrol car in the opposite direction of all the other cars. Their backseats full of children and their roofs full of crap, everyone was leaving. Since most rentals were from Sunday to Sunday and no one would give up a day if they'd already paid for it, I couldn't figure out what was up.

I had no problem parking right in front of the Clip and Curl. I'd have no problem parking anywhere on Center Street right now.

Tina's partner, Lucy Kelso, stared out the window at the departing exodus. When she saw me, her relief was evident and she waved me inside.

"Have you found her?" she asked before I even shut the door.

"No." Her shoulders slumped. "Do you know what's up with the tourists?"

"They're all scared of the mad wolf pack. There was a story on the news at noon."

I cursed. It had been pure luck that we'd been able to keep things quiet as long as we had. Our luck appeared to have ended.

Lucy sighed and glanced out of the window at the parking lot that was Center Street. "There goes the summer crowd."

She was probably right, and as much as I loathed the tourist season, I would loathe being out of a job even more. So I'd better do my job while I still had one.

"When was the last time you saw Tina?" I asked.

"Yesterday. We both had late appointments. Perm for me, a color for her."

"You left together?"

"No. Tina had to do one of the Chicago ladies." Lucy lowered her voice as if imparting a state secret.

"Black roots. Platinum hair with highlights."

She shook her head, sympathy all over her face. I had no idea if she was sorry for the Chicago lady or Tina.

"I left around six. Tina said she'd lock up. This morning she had a nine a.m. cut. I ended up doing it. I ended up doing all her people today." Lucy's lip trembled. "This isn't like her. She knows if you miss an appointment, customers don't come back. There are too many other salons. People don't have much loyalty these days."

That I could agree with. "You called her house?"

"Yep. And went up there, too." She pointed at the ceiling, which I took to mean Tina lived in the apartment over the Clip and Curl. "She wasn't there.' "

"No note? No message?"

"Nothing."

"Family? Boyfriend?"

She gave me a strange look. "You know she lived with her gramma, who died last year."

I nearly said, "How would I know that?" before I remembered. Popular high school prima donnas believed everyone knew everything about them and cared.

I nodded sagely and scribbled "Blah, blah, blah" in my notebook.

"Her boyfriend is on the road," Lucy continued. "He's a trucker. Karl Baldwin, remember him? He was the quarterback."

"Uh-huh." I didn't know Karl Baldwin from Karl Marx. I hadn't had much occasion to attend football games in high school.

"Could Tina have gone with him or met him somewhere? Little vacation?" I winked.

Lucy was already shaking her head. "I called Karl on his cell. He hasn't heard from her, either."

I frowned. This was not going as well as I'd hoped.

"All right. I'll check into it. Let me know if you hear from her." I handed Lucy my card. "Do you have the key to her place?"

She nodded. "And I found hers when I was in the apartment."

"Her keys were there, but she wasn't?" Lucy nodded. "What about her car?"

"Still in the lot."

"Her purse?"

"On the kitchen table."

That wasn't good. In my experience, you have to pry a woman's purse out of her cold, dead fingers.

Women never left home without them.

I could tell from Lucy's expression she was having the same thought. She put the ring of keys into my hand and turned away blinking back tears.

I stepped outside, planning to go directly to Tina's and see what was up. But someone bumped into me, and when I turned around, all I saw was the gun.

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