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Blue Moon (Chapter 8)

After Clyde reamed out Bozeman one more time for the road, he beckoned to me. Leaving Mandenauer with a map of the area that the teeny-tiny secretary had found – I really needed to ask her name, or not –  I joined him in the ME's office.

He closed the door. "Jessie, you wound me."

"I'm sorry?"

Clyde frowned, uncertain if I was apologizing or asking what in hell I'd done to disappoint him now.

Since I'd never been much for apologizing, he chose the latter, and he was right.

"You have information about this case, which is now on the front burner for all of us, and you don't tell me?"

"Clyde, I –  "

"What else do you know?"

His black eyes were intense, and his jaw pumped up and down even though he had no tobacco. I resisted the urge to point out that he shouldn't bother with the mouth cancer aid if he could get the same relief with phantom chewing. Clyde wasn't in the mood for my wit.

Quickly I told him everything I knew. When I got to the part about Professor Cadotte, he interrupted.

"William Cadotte?"

Hell. I should have left the guy's name out of it.

"Yeah. That's him."

"He's trouble, Jess. Big trouble."

I frowned. When Clyde called me Jess, he was serious. "He seemed harmless enough to me."

Not really. He'd seemed very, very dangerous. To my celibacy.

Clyde paced the room, tense, edgy. He reminded me of a caged animal, and that just wasn't like Clyde.

"He's an egghead. An activist."

"He's Ojibwe, just like you."

"He's not like me. I'm Lac du Flambeau. He's Grand Portage. That's as different as the Welsh and the English."

Okay. I knew each band considered themselves separate from the other. I hadn't realized how separate.

Or maybe that was just Clyde's point of view.

"I'd think you'd approve of someone who stood up for the Indians."

"There's standing up and stirring up. I just want to live my life. Do my job. Be myself. I don't need some pretty boy smart-mouth getting everyone angry at me on principle."

Cadotte had certainly stirred me up, but I had a hard time believing he would spend time stirring up the community just for the fun of it, and I told Clyde so.

The last part. Not the first.

"Maybe he's changed. But I doubt it. Stay away from him, Jess."

"I'll do my best."

And I would. Cadotte made me nervous in more ways than one, something I did not need when all hell was about to break loose in Miniwa. Then I remembered.

"I will have to see him one more time."

"What for?"

"To get the totem back."

"You gave him the totem?" His shout rattled the windows in Bozeman's office. "Are you nuts?"

I was getting mighty sick of being yelied at. "I was doing my job, Clyde."

"By giving evidence to a convict?"

"Convict?"

"William Cadotte has been arrested more times than he's been laid."

"' And how would you know how many times he's been laid?"

" ' With a face like his, it's no doubt daily."

Since I had to agree, I let that one pass.

"What's he been arrested for?"

"Disturbing the peace. Inciting a riot."

"Nuisance stuff."

"Breaking the law isn't a nuisance."

"You know as well as I do that half the folks above the age of fifty have those charges on their records. It was called protesting if I remember my history books correctly."

"Cadotte isn't over fifty."

"I noticed."

His gaze had been intense before, now it went sharp and suspicious. "You'd better watch yourself.

Associating with a known troublemaker will not improve your career options."

My heart gave a sharp thud. All I had was my job, and I loved it. Being a cop was what I did, who I was. It was the only thing I'd ever been any good at.

"Are you threatening me, Clyde?"

"No. Just givin' you good advice."

I knew a threat when I heard one, having given enough of my own to know the difference.

"Get that totem back, Officer. Now."

I executed a military salute, then clicked my heels and goose-stepped out of the office. From the expression on Clyde's face, he did not find me funny.

My thoughts turned to the professor, and I sighed, then pulled out my cell phone. Best put an end to any contact with him before 1 lost my head and my job.

I dialed his office. A machine picked up. "This is William Cadotte. I'm not in right now, but if you'll leave a message I'll call you back as soon as I am. My office hours are Monday through Friday from one to three."

I glanced at my watch. I'd just missed him.

Beeep!

I started at the loud noise. "I… um, this is J –  I mean Officer McQuade. We met yesterday?"

I must have sounded as stupid as I felt, because Man-denauer lifted his head from his perusal of the map and contemplated me with a lift of his off-white brows.

I turned my back on him and came face-to-face with Clyde, who stood in the doorway to Bozeman's office. Sheesh, could I even finish the call before he was on my case?

"I need the totem right away. Call me." hit the end button, then tucked the phone back into its pocket on my belt. "Let's go!" I called to Manden-auer. "I'll take you out to the accident site."

"Jessie," Clyde said.

I gave an exaggerated sigh. "Yes."

"I'll check out Karen Larson's place. Then you don't have to."

I gave a sharp nod and escaped the ME's office. Moments later Mandenauer and I were headed down Highway 199 in my patrol car.

I was still a bit steamed over Clyde's telling me to stay away from Cadotte. Not that I'd planned on being near him more than was necessary –  I may be sarcastic, but I'm not stupid –  however, Clyde's threat only made me want to see Cadotte a few times just for the hell of it. I guess that makes me stubborn, too.

How convenient that Cadotte's cabin was right on the trail I had been ordered –  by Clyde –  to show our guest.

Mandenauer was quiet on the drive to the scene of the accident. I glanced at him once. He appeared asleep, his head tilted back against the headrest, but his eyes weren't all the way closed. I could see the whites beneath his fluttering eyelids.

Creepy. I'd have been afraid he was dead except I could see his sunken chest rising slow and steady.

That would be all I'd need. To have Clyde's precious Jdger-Sucher turn up dead in my car.

I parked the Crown Victoria on the shoulder of the road. The skid marks from Karen's SUV stood out dark against the gray pavement. I glanced at Mandenauer. He was awake.

"Is there anything you would like to tell me about the accident? Anything I should know that will help me to finish this as quickly as I can?"

He stared at me intently, as if he could force me by his will alone to spill some secret I was guarding. But I didn't have any. Except my embarrassing sexual infatuation with the professor. But that wouldn't help Mandenauer kill the wolf –  or most likely wolves by now.

"You read my accident report?"

He nodded. "Before you arrived at the station. Cut-and-dried, as you say."

I thought about the totem, Karen's strange behavior at the scene, and her even stranger behavior later.

"Or perhaps not?" he murmured.

I considered what I should tell and what I shouldn't.

It wouldn't help Mandenauer to find the wolf if I told him about the totem. But I'd already been bitched at enough today for not spilling everything I knew, so I gave him the basics.

"This is what your sheriff was angry about?"

I glanced at him quickly. The door to the office had been closed while Clyde and I talked.

"Sheriff Johnston has a very loud voice and I, despite so many years on this earth, have very good ears."

I shrugged. "I don't know what the totem means. It could have been there for weeks and have nothing to do with this accident at all."

"Perhaps." Mandenauer got out of the car. I joined him. "Or perhaps not," he repeated.

"You sure are a decisive son of a gun, aren't you?"

His lips twitched. From what I'd observed of Mandenauer thus far, he was almost snickering. "I like to keep my mind open."

"To what?"

"To all the possibilities that exist. You never know when something you think is irrelevant is in fact quite relevant."

I agreed with him there. Good police work involved observing from every angle and never letting a thing get by unnoticed. Which was why I wasn't allowing the totem issue to slide.

"Now, if you'll walk me through the scene, show me where the wolf went and where you lost him, I will be most grateful."

I pointed to the skid marks from Miss Larson's SUV. "Their length indicates she wasn't going all that fast, but she didn't have much warning. I hit a deer once, and it was as if the thing appeared out of the pavement. One minute the road was clear; the next I had venison on my grille."

"Charming," Mandenauer murmured.

Charming. Yep, that was me.

I pointed toward the woods. "Blood trail led this way."

He followed me off the road. Not a car had gone by while we'd been examining the evidence. Nothing new. Peak traffic for Highway 199 was Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Then it would be bumper-to-bumper from here to Stevens Point. Otherwise two cars every hour was a convention.

I inched down the slight embankment and stepped from the bright sunlight into the cool shadow of the woods. There were places in this forest so deep and dank the sun had never penetrated. I didn't like those places, avoided them if I could, but they were there.

I walked in the general direction of Cadotte's cottage. The blood trail was long gone, covered by dirt or leaves, erased by rain, perhaps eaten by another animal. If I hadn't followed the shiny black splotches through the moonlight myself, I would have a hard time believing today that they'd existed at all.

"You are sure this is the way?" Mandenauer was keeping up without even breathing hard. He was in damn fine shape for an old guy.

"I have a pretty good sense of direction."

To be honest, in the light of day I didn't need my sense of direction or even the blood trail, because there was a footpath leading directly to Cadotte's cabin. In the dark, even with the moon shining so bright, the forest had seemed overgrown and tangled.

But if I'd been thinking clearly –  then and now –  I'd have realized Cadotte had to get to his house someway. He couldn't drive, since there wasn't a road. He had to park somewhere and walk in.

Just as they had on my previous visit, the trees gave way to the clearing, and there was the cabin. Poof.

Mandenauer's breath caught and he stopped. At least wasn't the only one who thought Cadotte's cottage seemed to pop up like something out of a fairy tale.

Grimms'Fairy Tales, of course. The north woods were a little too creepy and dark to play a part in stories that featured silver-winged fairies and dancing mice. They leaned more toward little-girl-devouring wolves and cannibalistic witches.

"I lost him over here."

I walked across the clearing and down the path a few feet. Mandenauer followed. He crouched and peered at the ground. Picked up some dirt, smelled it, and let the earth sift back through his fingers. Then he sniffed the wind.

I shrugged. Whatever tripped his trigger.

"I need to speak with the owner of the cabin."

Mandenauer nodded, waved his hand in an imperial dismissal, and moved a little farther into the woods.

I returned to the clearing and climbed the steps to the front door. No one appeared to be home, although why I thought that, since there was no car and never had been, I don't know. I knocked. No one answered, proving my theory.

I shaded my eyes and pressed my nose to the window in the door. A snarling wolf stared back at me.

"Shit!"

I leaped back, heart thundering, breath coming in sharp gasps, palm slapping onto the butt of my gun, any second expecting the animal to crash through the glass and go for my throat.

Nothing happened.

I crept back to the window and glanced inside. The wolf was still there. But the animal wasn't going to come and get me anytime soon, since it was very, very dead.

Or at least it had better be, since it was hanging on the wall opposite the front door.

I don't know why the wolf bothered me so much. I have head-and-shoulder deer mounts on my walls.

Why shoot trophy bucks if you aren't going to display them? You certainly can't eat them. They taste like smelly shoes boiled in rancid garbage water.

But in my apartment the racks are used to hold my first-place shooting medals and, on occasion, my air-drying unmentionables. A head-and-shoulders mount of a wolf would be of no use to me at all.

I wondered why Cadotte had one.

I moved to the edge of the porch. "You about ready to go?" I called.

My answer was the distant howl of a wolf.

Too far away to catch, still the sound made me jump off the top step and hurry toward where I'd left the old man.

He wasn't there.

I cursed as I followed the trail. I shouldn't have had to warn him not to wander off. He was a big boy.

But the number of people who got lost and died in the woods every year was staggering.

If I lost Clyde's elite wolf hunter my name would be dumbshit for the rest of my life.

I shouted and heard nothing. I thrashed around and found the same. Suddenly I realized that the forest had gone still. Too still. Even the birds were quiet. Something was coming.

The cry of the wolf sounded again –  closer this time – and a second wolf answered.

Why were they howling in the daylight? Had Man-denauer gone after them? He didn't have a gun, or at least one that I could see.

The whisper of stirring foliage wended my way. I glanced up. The tops of the trees were as still as a lake beneath a new moon. Any wind there had been earlier had died. Then what was moving through the bushes?

A twig snapped. I froze. So did whatever was out there. I had my pistol in my hand. I don't know when I pulled it. I was merely glad that I had.

In the dark, in the forest, it's nearly impossible to tell from which direction a sound is coming. I discovered it was just as impossible in the bright light of day. I stood amid the bushes and the trees as the back of my neck prickled. I was being watched.

"Mandenauer?" I shouted. "Get back here, right now!"

That oughta work, my mind mocked. If he was here, he'd be here.

My breath rasped; my heart thundered; a trickle of sweat ran between my breasts and skated down my belly. I cocked the gun, and the birds began to chirp again.

A movement at the corner of my vision had me crouching and swinging my weapon in that direction.

Mandenauer raised a brow. "My, aren't we jumpy?"

I uncocked the gun, but I didn't put it back into the holster. "Yes, we are. Where were you?"

"Out there."

He waved in a vague circular motion. The movement pulled his shirt tightly against his body and I saw the outline of a gun. I should have known.

"Did you hear the wolves?" I asked.

"I'm old; I'm not deaf."

"You didn't go after them, did you?"

He shook his head. "Those are not the animals I seek."

I frowned. "How would you know?"

"I know."

Whatever. I wanted to get out of here. I hated to admit it, but I'd been well and truly spooked. Birds didn't stop twittering for no reason. And I didn't feel as if I were being watched unless I was.

"Done?" I asked.

"Most certainly."

We headed for the car and if we left more quickly than we'd come, tough. I didn't get spooked often; when I did, it shook me.

"You can put up the pistol, Officer."

I glanced down, surprised I still held my weapon in my hand. I was also surprised to discover I didn't want to put the gun away.

"Where's your rifle?" I asked.

"Locked and loaded and back at the Eagle's Nest."

So Mandenauer was staying at the Eagle's Nest Resort and Spa, spa being a relative term in Miniwa. It meant there were towels available by the lake and an ancient sauna that tilted drunkenly toward the water from its perch on a nearby hill.

"A gun doesn't do you much good in the case under your bed." Or hidden beneath his shirt, for that matter.

Mandenauer put a hand on my shoulder and I paused. "The wolf will not attack us in broad daylight."

"Why not?"

He smiled as if I were simpleminded. "It will not. Trust me."

I snorted. I trusted no one –  except Zee and sometimes Clyde. I'd learned the hard way that those you trusted the most were the ones who could hurt you the most, too. So my circle of trust was a very small circle.

"You won't trust me?"

I gave him my "do you think I'm stupid?" glare and he nodded. "Good. Trust no one, Jessie. You will live longer that way."

Mandenauer and I were in agreement on a lot more than I would have imagined.

I tightened my ringers on the grip of my pistol and was comforted. Other women might keep relics from their childhood –  dolls, stuffed animals, blankets –  and pull them out when the going got tough. Me? I preferred a .44 Magnum anytime.

I didn't care how many wolves Mandenauer had killed, how many times those animals had behaved in a predictable manner; I wasn't going to bet my life, or even his, that this one –  or twenty –  would behave appropriately.

I remembered Karen Larson's eyes. I would remember them in my sleep for years to come. Right before she'd died there'd been a flicker of knowledge. She'd still been in there behind the insanity caused by the virus, and she'd been very, very afraid.

I hated being afraid. Fear smelled of weakness, and the weak did not survive.

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