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Blue Moon (Chapter 26)

There was no sign of Cadotte when I let myself into my apartment. I checked my messages. None –  on my home phone or my cell. Strange.

But he should get the message I'd left him. I was so tired, I unplugged all my bells and whistles, then fell into bed. I had another doozy of a dream.

I was at Mel's funeral. Closed casket for obvious reasons.

Cadotte was with me. He cleaned up nice. The dark suit made his hair appear darker, and his eyes seemed endless.

I was in uniform, which wasn't strange. But Cadotte holding my hand was. Even stranger… I liked it.

We sat at the back of the church. I could tell by the stained glass it was St. Dominic's right at the edge of town. The place was full. A sea of humanity rippled all the way from our pew to the front, where Cherry sat dolled up in killer black heels, a silky dress, and a hat with a veil.

The priest went into his endgame. I tried to pay attention. Really. But out of the corner of my eye I saw the casket move. Before I could shift my gaze, the top slammed open and Mel popped out.

At least I think it was Mel. He was a wolf now. Huge, muscular, sleek, and blond.

People started screaming, running, but he paid them no mind. He set to devouring everyone in the front pew.

"Does that seem like rabies to you?" Cadotte asked.

I hated being wrong. Hated it even more when my being wrong cost lives. I headed for the front of the church unimpeded since, in the way of dreams, everyone else had disappeared.

"Mel!" I shouted as he began to eat a mourner's face.

He looked up. The wolf's eyes were Mel's. The blood dripping from his muzzle ended any hesitation I might have felt.

I emptied my gun into him. He didn't flinch. He didn't die.

Instead, he gave up on the appetizer and came for me.

I awoke to a pounding on my front door that echoed the one in my chest and my head. One glance at the clock revealed I'd slept the day away. The slant of the light told me who was at the door. Mandenauer was nothing if not prompt.

Since I'd fallen asleep in my uniform, all I had to do to get ready for work was fill my rifle and my pistol with silver instead of lead. Mandenauer's bandolier was a regular buffet line for ammunition.

I didn't believe in prophetic dreams. I didn't believe in werewolves. However, I did believe in being prepared, and what could silver hurt? Hopefully nothing but the wolves.

I opened my door and joined Mandenauer in the hall. He took one glance at my face and kept quiet.

Smart man.

The streets were deserted. Without the tourists, who would wander the shops at this time of day? I only hoped that the threat of the DNR had cleared the forest. I cer-tainly didn't want to spend my tomorrow filling out more accidental shooting reports.

Mandenauer drove his hearse… I mean Cadillac. After my dream the thought of riding in it nearly caused me to insist on the Crown Victoria. But since I hated being scared even more than I hated being wrong, I forced myself into the passenger seat. Not that I didn't check the back for stray corpses. There weren't any.

He drove away from town, in a different direction from Highway 199 and the place where we'd first seen the black wolf, in the opposite direction of the Gerards'place and the wolf pyre of the night before.

"Where we going?"

"North."

My teeth ground together, but I managed not to snarl my next question. "Any reason why?"

"Because we have not gone there yet."

I guess that was as good a reason as any other.

He turned off the main road and onto a dirt track. The Cadillac fishtailed. Luckily we hadn't had much rain or we'd have needed an ATV to get wherever it was we were going.

The road was surrounded on all sides by towering pines. I wondered how Mandenauer had found it or if he'd just picked a road, any road, and turned. I considered asking, but really, what did it matter?

The track stopped abruptly and so did the car. We were surrounded on three sides by thickly set trees.

There was barely enough room for a raccoon to squeeze between them. How we were going to, I had no idea.

Nevertheless, I followed Mandenauer deeper into the woods. He had a sixth sense for finding the way.

There wasn't exactly a path, but we made progress. We seemed to walk for hours, but when he stopped at last, darkness still hadn't fallen.

We stood on the south side of a fern-covered hill. Mandenauer shimmied to the top on his belly. He beckoned me and I followed his lead.

The ferns whispered as I slithered through them. Soft, spidery leaves brushed my cheek, tickled my neck.

The scent of fresh greenery and damp earth pressed against me like a fog.

Peeking over the hill, I frowned. About one hundred yards distant stood the opening of a cave.

Caves were not all that common around here. Farther west, toward La Crosse maybe. But in the deep woods? I'd never seen one –  until today.

"What is this?" I whispered.

"I found it while the others were running mad through the woods last evening. You wonder why no wolves were shot?"

"The question did cross my mind."

He smiled. "Your answer is here."

Night came on long thin fingers of darkness that spread through the trees, walked over the ground, and smothered the mouth of the cave. The moon and stars sparkled in the sky as wolf-shaped shadows slunk out.

One, two… Five, six… Eleven, twelve.

I cursed beneath my breath and my hand crept toward my gun.

Mandenauer stopped me. "Let them go," he breathed. "For now."

He ignored my incredulous gape. Seemed to me we could pick off quite a few before they knew what hit them. But since there were more wolves here than I'd ever seen before, and he was the expert, I let my hand fall back to my side.

The animals slunk into the forest. Silence descended, broken only by the breeze through the branches, and then –

A chorus of howls shattered the night. I started, gasped. They sounded as if they were right behind us.

But when I turned, nothing was there.

The rustle of leaves beneath boots yanked my attention back to my companion. He was headed for the cave.

I scrambled to keep up, reaching his side in time for us to enter shoulder to shoulder. He produced my city-issue flashlight –  guess I'd forgotten to get it back, so bill me –  and shone the artificial light inside.

The night was hot against my cold, cold skin. "What is this place?" I murmured.

"They always have a lair. Always."

The cave was damp, as caves were. But that wasn't what made me go all clammy.

The piles of bones in every corner didn't even bother me. We were, after all, in the lair of the wolf. No, what made me squirrelly were the scraps of cloth, the unmatched shoe, the glint of an earring beneath the startling white of a rib bone.

Nausea rolled in my belly and I turned away. "Wolves don't do this," I said.

"These wolves do."

An unnatural clatter made me spin around. He was poking through the pile of bones. His boots scuffled in the dirt as he continued around the room.

"What are you looking for?"

"A clue."

"What kind of clue? They're animals."

"You'd be surprised what animals like these will leave behind."

"After this, not much will surprise me."

Once again I couldn't have been more wrong.

The howl of a wolf reverberated around the stone enclosure, so loud Mandenauer and I both flinched and spun toward the entrance. He shut off the flashlight, but it was too late. We were trapped.

I lifted my rifle. This time Mandenauer didn't stop me. The shadows on the rock's surface did.

The moon hit the mouth of the cave and sent silver light cascading across the opening. The silhouette of a man appeared.

I lowered my gun, opened my mouth to call out, and Mandenauer's hand slapped over my face. He shook his head, and his expression was so odd –  equal parts of fury, disgust, and fascination –  I didn't struggle. Soon all I could do was watch.

At first I thought the man was bending to touch his toes. Calisthenics in the forest. Sounded like something Cadotte would do.

But he didn't return to a standing position. Instead, the shadow remained folded over as it changed.

One moment there was a silhouette of a man touching his toes. The next he was on all fours, his head hung down so low I couldn't see it.

The shadow rippled. The sound of bones popping, nails scratching, filled the cave, punctuated by a series of grunts and moans I would have associated with really great sex if I hadn't seen what was happening instead.

Between one blink and the next the man became a wolf, threw back his head, and howled. Others answered and he was gone.

Sometime during the show Mandenauer had dropped his hand from my mouth. I couldn't have spoken if he'd poked me with a stick. I couldn't stand, either, so I sat in the dirt and put my head between my knees. Mandenauer left me there as he continued his hunt for clues.

I'm not sure how long my mind spun and my voice refused to work. I jumped a foot and yelped when Mandenauer patted me on the back.

"We must go, Jessie."

I lifted my head. "W-W-What was that?"

His rheumy blue eyes met mine. "You know what it was."

I shook my head. "How would I know?"

He pulled me to my feet –  I would never have been able to get there under my own power –  then tapped his forehead. "Ignore what you know." His finger moved to his chest and tapped there, too.

"Believe what you feel."

"You sound like Cadotte."

"The boyfriend?"

"He's not my boyfriend."

"Lover then."

I made a face. That sounded so… girlie. "Leave him out of this."

"I did not bring him up."

Right again. I needed to get back to the matter at hand. Whatever it was.

"Did you find anything?" I made a vague gesture to indicate the cave at large.

"Nothing I did not expect."

"What did you expect?"

He stared at me for a long moment as if gauging my sanity. Since I was wondering about it myself, I let him. Then, as if he'd made a monumental decision, he lowered his head in that bowing thing he did and sighed. "We need to talk."

"I'll say."

"Let's go back to your apartment."

"My apartment?"

"What I have to tell you is for no one's ears but your own."

"Sounds serious."

"More serious than anything you could ever imagine."

Well, hell, I didn't like the sound of that. He'd told me to trust what I felt. What I felt was scared and angry and confused. Three emotions that brought out the worst in me.

"Shouldn't we do a little hunting before we call it a night?"

"Not tonight. Tonight we talk. Perhaps once you know the truth you will be of more use to me." He picked up his rifle and headed for the mouth of the cave.

"Hey." I scrambled to catch up. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He paused at the entrance, looked both ways as if crossing the street, before he leaped out, spun around, and pointed his gun at the roof of the cave. I flinched and ducked. But he lowered the weapon, straightened, and beckoned for me to join him.

"You will be more motivated when I have told you the truth."

"All right. Tell me."

"Ever hear of Josef Mengele?"

A chill of dread rolled from my neck to the small of my back. "The Nazi?"

"That would be him."

"Isn't he the wacko who did all those experiments on the Jews?"

"Yes."

"He's dead."

"But some of his experiments live on."

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