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Hidden Moon (Chapter 30)

The rest of the day was taken up with searching the Gypsy camp and interrogating the residents. They weren't happy about it, but since Mal ordered them to cooperate, they did. Nevertheless, I heard a lot of muttering in both Rom and Gaelic that didn't sound complimentary.

Grace brought along several of her officers, whom she told as little as possible. Since everyone knew there was a wolf loose and no one trusted the Gypsies, the camp and surrounding area were searched thoroughly without complaint.

They found no secret wolf hideaway, no evidence of a canine of any type. Just the same animals that had always resided in the menagerie.

Once that was established, Grace sent everyone back to town but me and handled the questioning herself, with only Malachi present. Another smart move. How was she going to explain tossing a silver bullet at person after person? With him there, she didn't have to. I got the impression his people were a little scared of him.

What I really wanted to know was what Grace was going to do if one of them caught the bullet and began to burn.

While she quizzed yet another performer, I wandered off. I'd been ordered to keep an eye on things, though what I was supposed to be keeping an eye out for I wasn't sure.

Did Grace think the werewolf would just walk into camp and let us shoot it? And if it did, what would we shoot it with? A single sixty-year-old bullet that didn't fit in any of our guns?

Even though I'd been the only one – left alive anyway – to see a werewolf, and despite Doc Bill's claims and Grace's acceptance, I was still having a hard time believing it.

I stood outside the snake enclosure, which was slightly different from the other menagerie wagons. Since a snake could slither right out between the bars, one wall was made of glass.

Squinting against the glare of the dying sun, I counted snakes. There appeared to be a new one. Well, Malachi had said Sabina picked them up wherever she went. What a strange girl.

The sudden rise and fall of angry male voices drew my attention, and I followed the sound to the largest, most elaborate sleeping wagon in the clearing. Painted on the side was the same strange full, red moon I'd seen on Edana's cards. A hidden moon, whatever it was, must mean something special to the Rom.

Mal and Hogarth stood in front of the tableau arguing in two languages. Grace had to have finished her questioning. I should get back, but I found myself rooted to the spot by the tension that vibrated in the air. I'd never seen any of the Gypsies behave with anything other than respect toward Malachi – until now.

The big man leaned down and put his face near Mal's, spitting out something in Romani before finishing with, "You must do it, ruvanush, or all of us will continue to suffer."

"You think I don't know that?" Mal said, the words so anguished I took a step toward him.

The men glanced up. Mal's lips tightened, and he shot a glare at Hogarth, who returned that glare first at him, then at me, before stalking into the trees.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to interrupt."

Mal crossed the short distance, stopping when our bodies were only a whisper apart. He reached out and captured a strand of my hair, rubbing it between his fingers. "Fire and ice," he said. "You're so damn beautiful."

When he looked at me like that, I actually felt beautiful. In his eyes, maybe I was.

"Claire!"

I turned, and Mal let go of my hair, stepping back. As Grace approached, she flicked her hand in Mal's direction, as if casting a spell. Even though I knew what she'd been doing for the past several hours, I still started when something small and shiny flew toward Mal's face.

Mal snatched the bullet out of the air with a speed that blurred his fingers. Then he handed it back to Grace with a sardonic tilt of one brow. "Sorry to disappoint, Sheriff."

She shrugged and accepted the offering. "Can't blame me."

"I don't." With a dip of his head that made his silver earring sway, he left.

"Grace," I began, but she held up her hand.

"Not a single person burned at the touch of silver. I was desperate."

"You sound upset."

"I'm back at square one. I can't exactly question everyone in town." Her shoulders lifted and lowered on a sigh. "I'm tempted to cancel the festival."

"You can't!"

Her eyes met mine. "Oh, I think I can."

"But that'll kill Lake Bluff."

"You think a ravening werewolf won't? We've got so many people here now, the place is like a freaking buffet. No wonder the beast showed up."

"Listen to yourself." I threw up my hands. "You're planning on canceling our main source of income because you think there's a werewolf. You tell the merchants and townspeople that and I can guarantee we'll both be out of a job come Election Day."

"I don't give a rat's ass. Besides, I don't have to say 'werewolf; 'rabid wolf will do the trick just as well."

"You can't force people to leave, Grace."

"I know." Her shoulders slumped. "I was just hoping to make things easier, but nothing ever is. We may as well go."

I glanced toward what I assumed to be Mal's wagon, but he was gone.

"Are you staying for the show?" Grace asked.

I thought about it, then shook my head. I wanted to do more research on the rune, along with the whole Hitler werewolf army angle. Besides, I wasn't getting a very warm and fuzzy feeling from any of the Gypsies but Mal. I never had really, except for Sabina, and I hadn't seen her all day.

I followed Grace to where she'd parked her squad car next to my vehicle. Before coming here, I'd retrieved my car, checking the entire house for a trace of the missing rune. I didn't find it.

"I'm going to leave a few men here," she said. "Can't hurt."

The Gypsies bustled about, getting ready for tonight's show. Customers began to trickle in.

"You going home?" I asked.

"Yeah."

We said our good-byes and she pulled away. I sat in my car a few minutes, pathetically waiting to see if Malachi would reappear. I could stay and watch the performance, but after last night and today, I didn't think I'd make it through without falling asleep.

I called the office, but Joyce either wasn't in or wasn't answering. I guess it was kind of late. I dialed her house and got the same response. Maybe she was on her way here. I could wait, or I could assume that if there were a problem, she'd have called me. That's what cell phones were for. I started the car and headed for home.

As I turned off the gravel path from the lake and started up the winding hill toward town, the sun died, spreading shadowy tendrils across the road. Grace was long gone; not even an echo of her taillights flickered in the distance.

Two dozen cars passed me going in the opposite direction, and then the highway was deserted. The last vestiges of light filtered through the pines, making dust motes dance across the windshield.

Everything was so quiet. No wind, not a single birdcall. The air had that still, close feeling that comes right before a tornado. I pressed my foot harder on the accelerator. I just wanted to get home and lock the door behind me.

A dark shape shot in front of the car; I barely had time to brace myself before I hit it. I slammed on the brakes, yanked the wheel to the right, and stopped with a jerk that threw me forward so fast my seat belt caught with a sharp click. Whatever I'd hit hadn't been big enough to cause my air bag to deploy, or maybe I just hadn't hit it hard enough.

I released the catch and jumped out.

A large, black wolf lay beneath the right bumper of the car. Blood darkened the pavement, and his neck was twisted at an impossible angle.

I inched closer, and the beast opened his eyes. "Balthazar," I whispered.

The animal jerked his neck, and the resulting crack made me take a single step backward. He shook himself, and blood flew from his fur, pattering against the pavement and the front of the car like rain.

I dived inside. The thunk of the automatic locks made me feel safe for the single instant it took the wolf to land on the hood.

I didn't have time to think, let alone react, though I don't know what I would have done. The wolf with Balthazar's eyes lunged, smacking his snout against the windshield, leaving a smudge of blood and gore across the glass. I yelped and cringed against my seat.

"He can't get in," I assured myself, though the tremor in my voice did not inspire confidence. "Windshields are a lot harder to break than we think."

I reached for the ignition and Balthazar struck again. The glass shattered.

His snout was through, snarling, slavering; his claws scraped against the front of the hood as he fought for purchase. I sat frozen, horrified and fascinated. I'd always known Balthazar had it in for me.

I straightened. I hadn't planned to let him best me in an election; I wasn't going to let him best me in… whatever this was.

I snapped on my seat belt and started the car; then I stepped on the gas. The vehicle lurched forward, bringing the wolf dangerously close. I stomped on the brakes, and he flew backward, glass spraying all over the hood. His rump hit the slick surface and slid off the front.

I didn't wait. I slammed my foot onto the accelerator and ran over him.

My front tires rose and fell with a sickening thud; then my back tires did the same.

"Brakes. Reverse." I completed the tasks as fast as I could. Nevertheless, when I glanced over my shoulder, Balthazar was already climbing to his feet.

I hit him once more, ran over him again.

He got up.

"What I could really use is a solid silver car."

Balthazar, the wolf, stood poised in the glare of my headlights. I could keep running over him all night, and it wouldn't do any good. He meant to kill me.

I reached for my cell phone, but I was afraid to take my eyes off the wolf for even an instant. He charged; so did I. A game of chicken.

An instant before impact, there was a sharp crack, and the wolf exploded. I ran over him anyway. I couldn't stop.

I was terrified my car would blow up, too. I didn't pause until I was several yards beyond the fire. Then I peered into my rearview mirror and watched him burn.

Someone had shot him. Someone who knew enough about werewolves to buy a silver bullet and a gun to use it.

My eyes scanned the forest, but no one was there.

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