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Blue Moon (Chapter 40)

"Quit starin' at me like you're brain-dead, girl. Don't tell me you didn't imagine I was the one."

I hadn't. Not for a minute. Not once had I suspected my best and only friend of being a werewolf.

But now… so many things made sense.

She smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, Lord knows how old she was –  yet she had the nose and ears of a… wolf.

Most important, she ran this town –  or near enough. She received all the information before anyone else.

She could control what the police learned, where they went.

Having the sheriff as her compatriot was brilliant. Between the two of them it was little wonder they'd been able to get this far.

"I should have known," 1 muttered. "If Clyde wasn't the leader, it had to be you."

"How you figure?"

"Because no one told Clyde what to do."

"Except for me."

"Bingo."

The Indians continued to chant; they seemed to be in a trance. I glanced at Will and he took one step in my direction. A wolf lunged for his crotch. He jumped back and the animal's teeth snapped shut centimeters away from his jewels.

"Ah, ah, ah, Horace," Zee admonished. "I need him for a little while. You can eat him later."

The wolf sat in front of Will and stared at him as if he were a lamb chop.

"You know why you're here?" she asked him.

"I'm a bit fuzzy on the details since my book has a page missing."

She smiled. "Clever of me, hmm?"

"You took the page?" I blurted.

Zee nodded. "I broke into his office looking for the totem, but I found the book. I didn't want to steal it, too obvious, so I tore out the end of the ceremony."

"You didn't think he might order another one?" I asked.

"Of course. That's why I had Horace here keep an eye on pretty boy's mail. Any packages he was to bring to me, which he did."

I glanced at Horace and realized he was the mailman. He was a little hard to recognize all furry like that.

Did Zee have a werewolf planted in every walk of our lives? It appeared so.

"What was on the page you tore out?" I asked.

"The part that matters the most. What happens tonight."

"Which is?"

"I become invincible."

Mandenauer, who'd been unnaturally silent until now, snorted. Zee turned in his direction. A snap of her fingers and the wolves parted. She crossed the distance between them. "You have something to say, Herr Mandenauer?"

"No one is invincible. I have learned that much in all my years on the hunt."

"You will learn something new tonight. The wolf god cannot be destroyed. I will live forever and I will rule everyone."

"Why?" I asked.

I couldn't think of anything I'd less like to do than rule the world. What a shitty job.

Zee spun toward me, and the wolves encircled Man-denauer once more. Anger brightened her eyes.

"Because once I was powerless and Mengele made me a monster."

"Mengele?" I remembered what Mandenauer had told me about the Nazi. "You were one of his experiments?"

"Yes."

"But you haven't got an accent," I blurted.

Zee's penciled-on eyebrows lifted. "That's all you can say?"

I was in shock. I knew that much. But I'd never met a native-born German who could lose the accent.

She waved her hand. "I had plenty of time to practice my English. That was the least of my worries."

I glanced at Will. He made a swirling motion with his finger. Horace followed the movement as if Will's hand were a prepackaged doggy treat.

I got the message. Keep her talking. Why not? I didn't want to get to the part where she needed my blood.

"What were your worries?"

She gave me an incredulous snort. "Look at me. Mengele couldn't have infected me with his crap when I was twenty and beautiful? No, he had to do it when I was eighty and ugly."

I blinked. "You were eighty in the nineteen-forties?"

"Werewolves don't die, Jessie. Unless you shoot them with silver."

"I can take care of that for you!" Mandenauer called. "If you just return my gun!"

"I could have killed myself if I wanted to die. If I do, that pig wins. I wanted a cure. I spent decades searching for one. I traveled the globe, investigated every werewolf legend, tried lotions and potions and incantations until I was so damn tired."

"And then?"

"Then I came to Wisconsin, and I found something much better than a cure." She smiled. "Ever hear ' if you can't beat 'em, join ' em'? I much prefer ' if you can't be cured, then become.'"

"I'm a bit confused as to how you get to rule the world by becoming a wolf god."

"It's not all that hard. If my army spreads, bit by bit, country by country, soon everyone is a werewolf."

Aha!

"And you are their god."

"Works out quite nicely, doesn't it?"

Abruptly Zee crossed to the fire, grabbed a machete that had been heating at the edge of the flames. She beckoned to Will and to me,

"Nuh-uh," I said at the same time Will muttered, "No, thanks."

Zee gave an impatient sigh. "Jessie, I need your blood, but it really doesn't matter to me if I get it after you're dead."

"I thought you were my friend."

"I was. I am. I will be again if you help me. In fact… " Her once dear face took on a feral yet speculative gleam. "You could join me. The world isn't going to be fit for just plain folks. Let me give you a little nip –  after, of course." She wiggled the huge knife. "Then we can be together forever."

"As appealing as that sounds, I'll have to pass."

"Sorry, you don't get to decide. Now get over here, and your little friend, too."

"What do you need Will for? If I come, you can let him go."

"Jessie." Will sounded exasperated.

Zee ignored him. "You haven't been listening, girl, and that's not like you. I need wolf clan boy for the ceremony."

A cold chill wafted over me. "What are you going to do?"

Horrible images danced through my head. Human sacrifice. Sadomasochistic sex. And those were just the ones I knew the names for.

"He has to draw the blood."

My mouth fell open. "That's it?"

Zee's lips twitched. "What did you think? That I'd screw him here in front of you and everyone? You did say he was good in bed, girl, but I'm too old for that shit."

My cheeks heated. How I could be embarrassed at a time like this I'll never understand.

"Time's a-wastin' . Don't make me send them to get you. I promise you won't like it."

Two of the wolves growled, the fur along their backs lifting. Zee was no doubt right. I wouldn't like it.

But I'd like being a werewolf even less.

Will cleared his throat. I looked at him. He looked toward Zee. I frowned and followed his gaze.

The guns were in a pile near the edge of the forest, nearly out of sight. Zee didn't seem to know they were there. Goody.

Will and I joined Zee near the fire. She didn't waste any time. As the Indians continued to chant, then throw a little magic dirt into the fire, the flames turned from orange, to crimson, to neon blue –  she put the machete into Will's hand. Holding on to his wrist, she grabbed mine.

Will and I both struggled, but it was no use. Zee had the strength of a werewolf, not a little old lady. One quick slice across my forearm and it was over.

Or maybe not. She dragged both of us nearer the fire, held my arm over the flames, squeezed the cut until a stream of red bathed the totem and dripped into the fire.

Whoosh.

The flames shot skyward. I shrieked and fell back, hitting the ground hard enough to make my teeth rattle. The machete clattered in one direction, Will in the other. But my gaze was riveted on Zee.

The moon shone in a bright silver stream through the trees, hitting her and her alone. The light bathed her face, turning her skin an ethereal white as if she glowed from within.

Zee plucked the totem from the fire, tossed the icon around her neck. The eyes of the stone wolf flared flame red. My blood stained her uniform shirt. It didn't matter. The shirt ripped open as she changed.

The Indians'chanting grew louder. The wolves began to howl. Mandenauer shouted something, but I couldn't hear him, and I couldn't take my eyes from Zee.

The change was unlike anything I'd seen before. She didn't become a wolf like Clyde –  not completely. Instead, she remained upright, bipedal. White fur sprouted from her pores. Her feet became paws, but her hands stayed the same, as ears appeared on top of her head. Whiskers sprang from her lip; her nose and her mouth didn't change.

I blinked and she was a woman-beast.

As if a switch had been thrown in the sky, the silver light of the moon went under a cloud. The Indians stopped chanting. The wolves went silent. Zee turned to me.

Ugh, that just wasn't right.

Werewolves had human eyes. But Zee's eyes had gone wolf. With fur all over her face, and the canines she revealed when she smiled, the effect was pretty repulsive. That wasn't even taking into account the body of a human, covered with fur. She twirled for me, as if showing off a new dress.

"Uh, nice tail," I managed.

"Thanks."

Her voice was different –  gravelly, more a growl than a smoker's grumble.

She didn't resemble the wolf god in the drawing, but I doubted the artist had ever seen one, either.

"Walking upright is good," Zee murmured. "And talking." She wiggled her fingers. "Opposable thumbs will come in handy."

"I bet."

There was a flash of movement behind her and a sudden snarl from one of the wolves. Zee turned, and Will plunged the machete into her chest.

All I could do was blink, shocked. Zee stared down at the hilt of the knife; then she lifted her gaze to Will. "You have got to be kidding me with this."

She grasped the machete and yanked it out, then tossed the thing into the bushes. A sickening slurping, sucking sound came from her chest. As I watched, the wound closed before it even had time to bleed.

"Told you they'd come in handy." She wiggled her thumbs. Then she backhanded Will so hard he flew into the forest in the wake of the knife.

I didn't realize I'd jumped to my feet and taken several steps after him until Zee grabbed me.

"Not so fast." She leaned closer. "How about a little nibble?"

I backed up; she let me go. The guns were still behind her. I wasn't going to get to them anytime soon.

Will was unconscious, maybe dead. Mandenauer was still surrounded by wolves, if they hadn't eaten him already.

We were, to put it in the usual vernacular, screwed.

"Join me, Jessie. I'll rule; you can be my right-hand woman. We'll have so much fun."

"All I have to do is get furry."

"It's not so bad. You might even grow to like it." She waved her hand at the werewolf army. "Most of them do. Embrace your inner wolf, girl. Or die."

A movement from the forest caught my attention. I cast my eyes toward the ground. "Let me think a minute."

"A minute, starting now."

I made a great show of rubbing my head. It still hurt, but what I really wanted to do was see behind Zee without her following my gaze.

Will hovered in the sparse tree line at the edge of the forest. Though his lip was bloody, his cheek already swollen, he didn't hesitate. He grabbed my pistol from the pile. Unfortunately, his hands were still bound and he fumbled, unable to lift the thing or fire it.

His dismayed gaze met mine and I held out my hand. He tossed me the pistol just as I kicked Zee in the chest. Her wound might have healed, but from the way she howled it still hurt like a bitch.

The gun connected with my palm as she gained her feet. Would silver bullets work on the wolf god? Only one way to find out. I shot her as she whispered my name.

After the incident with the machete, I half-expected Zee to laugh and kick my ass. Instead, flames shot from the wound, so bright I had to shield my eyes. The wolves howled mournfully.

When I lowered my hands, a great white wolf lay at my feet. She was beautiful and she was dead.

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