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Blue Moon (Chapter 27)

No matter what I said, Mandenauer refused to tell me any more until we reached my apartment. Which left me plenty of time for thought.

But thinking only got me more confused. Theories ranged from rabid wolves to werewolves, from an Ojibwe legend to a Nazi nightmare. None of them made any sense.

We reached my place at midnight. At least no one was out and about. Zee believed we were still in the forest. I should have told her otherwise and planned to as soon as we reached my apartment. I'd shut off my radio in the woods and as of yet, I hadn't turned it back on.

However, as soon as we entered my place, the dam broke on Mandenauer's silence. I didn't think about anything but his words for a long time.

"I am not who you think I am."

He strode through my apartment and yanked the drapes shut before he turned on a light. Then he sat with his back to the wall, where he could see both the window and the door.

I didn't like to sit near windows, either, but now that I thought about it, I'd never seen Mandenauer without a gun, never known him to relax to a level lower than red alert or put his back to any entrance. It was the behavior of a man with enemies, a man who was as much the hunted as he was the hunter.

"Who are you then?"

"I am a Jdger-Sucher."

"Hunter-searcher. I know. So does everyone else around here."

"No, they think they know what a Jdger-Sucher is, but they do not, because what it is, is secret and special."

A puzzle piece snapped into place in my head with a near audible click. "As in Special Forces?"

His lips twitched. "Yes."

"Who do you work for?"

"Not the DNR, to be sure. Though they think so."

"Does Clyde know?"

"No one knows but those of us who belong."

"Then why are you telling me?"

"Because I may need you as more than a hired gun. I believed I could handle this case myself, but it is far more complicated than I at first understood. And my compatriots are all occupied elsewhere."

"Compatriots? How many Jdger-Suchers are there?"

"Enough."

"Obviously not, if you need me."

"Touche." He flipped his forefinger toward his temple, then away, in a jaunty salute. "Will you help me?"

"Aren't I already?"

"Yes. But it is not fair or safe for you to continue without knowing the truth."

"Then let's hear it."

"I will start at the beginning."

"An excellent choice."

His eyebrows lifted. I shut up.

"You've heard of Mengele and his horrible experiments at Auschwitz?"

"Who hasn't?"

"You'd be surprised how many people know nothing of it. Or if they have heard, they have pushed it out of their minds, even refused to believe in the truth of such inhumanity to man."

"Are these people familiar with the term Nazisl Which I believe is the German word for inhumanity to man?"

Mandenauer's lips twitched. I'd nearly gotten him that time.

"There was more going on with Mengele than the documented terrors he performed at Auschwitz."

"Why am I not surprised?"

"He had a secret laboratory off-site where he worked on his pet project." Mandenauer choked, a sound that resembled a laugh. "Pet. That should be funny under the circumstances. But it isn't."

"What are you trying to tell me?"

He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Monsters, Jessie. They not only wore the uniform of the Reich; they were made by them."

"I don't understand."

"Mengele made monsters."

"What kind of monsters?"

"The ones we have here."

"Which would be?"

He tapped his head, then his chest, as he'd done in the cave. "You know."

I did. "Werewolves."

"Yes."

I might have begun to wonder about shared delusions, psychotic paranoia, something in the water.

Except I'd been there a few hours ago when that shadow of a man had become something else. I wasn't saying I believed in werewolves. But I wasn't such a skeptic anymore.

"How?" I asked.

"One of Mengele's famous experiments was the effect of contagious diseases on different races. He used Jews of course, as well as Gypsies. Hitler didn't like them, either."

"Who did he like?"

"Blue-eyed, blond-haired white men."

"Like you?"

"Exactly."

"You knew Hitler?"

"Only in passing."

I blinked. "How old are you?"

"Old enough."

"Wait just one damned minute." Without my even thinking about it, my hand had crept to my rifle, which lay near enough to touch. "Whose side were you on then? What side are you on now?"

"The side of right."

"Haven't you ever heard that a villain is the hero of his own story?"

"I do not understand."

"Hitler thought he was right, too."

"But there's one difference between him and me."

"What's that?"

"He was wrong."

I didn't know if I was supposed to laugh at his skewed logic or not.

"Relax, Jessie. Take your hand off the gun. I am not a Nazi or a werewolf."

"Well, that sets my mind at ease. Like you'd tell me if you were. Bad guys don't usually have a swastika tattooed on their foreheads." I frowned. "Except for Manson."

I was starting to confuse myself. Thankfully Manden-auer knew when to ignore me.

"I was a spy then. A very good one. I spoke the language and looked the part. I was born in Germany and lived there until I was ten years old. Some would say I was a traitor."

"Some wouldn't."

He smiled. "Thank you. I was given a mission and to accomplish it I did many things of which I am not proud."

His eyes went distant; sadness haunted his face. I remembered him saying he'd lost his soul long ago. I wondered what else he had lost while trying to save the world.

"What was your mission?" I asked.

"To discover what Mengele was up to in his secret laboratory and destroy both it and him."

"I take it that went well."

"Nein."

"What happened?"

"By the time I located the laboratory… " He glanced at me. "Have you ever been to Germany?"

"No."

"There are beautiful cities, acres of rolling countryside. There is also what is known as the Black Forest.

In the old days wolves by the thousands roamed. Mengele kept his secret lab in the depths of that forest."

I nodded. I had a feeling I knew where this was going.

"I saw hundreds of wolves as I crept toward the secret place. I thought nothing of them. I saw shadows of other things, too. But I ignored them, since what I saw with my eyes would not agree with what I knew as the truth in my brain."

"I hear you," I muttered.

"However, when I reached the laboratory it was empty. Everything Mengele had made was gone."

"Where?"

He made a fluttering motion with his fingers. "Released."

"Why?"

"Hitler wanted a werewolf army."

"Uh-oh," I muttered as another puzzle piece went click.

I had heard that term before. I opened my mouth to mention it, but Mandenauer cut me off.

"When the Allies hit the beaches at Normandy and the Russians started marching in from their side, Mengele panicked. He released the monsters and hustled back to Auschwitz, leaving the lab abandoned."

"You're saying we've got Mengele's wolves running around loose in Miniwa sixty years after the war?

Sorry, Ed, I find that hard to swallow. I find all of this hard to swallow. I've done some reading on Mengele."

Nazi information was like a train wreck. No matter how awful it was, you just couldn't keep yourself from looking, then looking some more.

"I've never heard a whisper of Mengele's secret monster-making lab."

"You think because you haven't read about it, this makes it untrue?"

"Something this large-scale and horrific would have been documented."

Mandenauer laughed. "The amount of things undocumented would amaze you, Jessie McQuade."

"Does the federal government know about this?"

"My dear, the federal government knows about everything."

I snorted my opinion of that. Mandenauer and Cadotte each had their own conspiracy theory, and I, who had never believed in conspiracies, was now beginning to believe both of them.

"How long do these things live?" I demanded.

"They are quite hard to kill, as you may have noticed. I have devoted my life to this endeavor."

"You've been hunting werewolves since World War Two?"

"Among other things."

I frowned. "What things?"

He shook his head. "One monster at a time."

Part of me wanted to argue; part of me agreed. If I had to worry about other monsters, I just might need that padded room today.

"How many werewolves were released?"

"We have no way of knowing. Mengele destroyed all his records from the secret lab."

"Then how do you know –  "

I broke off. I could be buying into one huge delusion, except…

"I saw them, Jessie. So did you."

Except for that.

"It does not matter how many there were."

"No? I would think that would matter quite a bit."

"What matters is how many there are. How many there will be if they continue to be made at the rate they seem to be being made here in Miniwa."

Made. I'd heard that before. From Cadotte. Though I wasn't going to say I was buying this, there were a few too many coincidences for my liking.

I sighed. "There isn't any super-rabies, is there?"

"No. Although the werewolfism," he shrugged, "or perhaps I should say lycanthropy for want of a better term, is a virus of sorts. Remember Mengele's tests on contagious diseases?"

"How could I forget?"

"He blended viruses. Mutated them. This one passes through the saliva."

"But if the rabies vaccine works, why don't you just use it?"

He shook his head. "You saw how well the rabies vaccine worked on one who was bitten."

My eyes felt like they'd bugged out. "You mean that was supposed to happen?"

"Werewolves can't shift until dusk. Except the first time. Once bitten they change within a few hours – day, night, rain, shine, it does not matter. The only way to delay the change is an immediate and thorough cleansing of the wound. Delay, but never stop."

I recalled the ER doctor's praise of Brad's first-aid skills. It had taken Karen Larson several hours to lose her mind, and she hadn't changed –  at least not while I was watching.

"I could not let Mel become a wolf. Would you rather I put a silver bullet through his brain in front of half the town and a television camera?"

"You recommend the rabies vaccine knowing it will kill the victims?"

His pointed stare was answer enough.

"Why not just inject all the monsters?"

"The rabies vaccine only kills the bitten before they have shifted for the first time. After that, only silver will do. The more they change, the stronger they become. The older ones are able to control the change, move around as human under the moon. But even they must shift at some point when the moon is full."

So much information, so little time.

"How do you know all this if Mengele's records were lost? Did he tell you?"

"No. But others were persuaded to do so."

From the chill in his eyes, I could imagine how the others had been persuaded to tell him. I gave a mental shrug –  all's fair in love and war. And it had been war. Looked like it might be war again, since there seemed to be a werewolf army on the move.

I shook my head. I still couldn't quite buy all this. Seeing might be believing, but to truly believe, I was going to have to see a whole lot more than a shadow on the wall.

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