Hunter's Moon (Chapter 20)
"I don't think so."
"Really. You will. I promise."
I knew / would.
It was probably a mistake. She was worried about Will and I was worried about Hector, but we'd be together and we'd have guns. What could happen?
"We should wait," Jessie said.
I roiled my eyes. "As long as we burn the wolves, like good little Juger-Suchers, everything will be OK."
She shook her head.
"I'm supposed to be training you. You're supposed to be patrolling the town. We're going to blow that off because pretty boy stopped for a few drinks and didn't ask permission?"
"Keep it up," she muttered, "I just might shoot you."
If she was back to threatening me instead of staring at her shoes and moping, I was on the right track.
"Come on. By the time we get back, Cadotte will be home. You don't want him to know you're sitting around by the phone, do you? Have a little pride."
Her eyes narrowed; I smirked, taunting her. I'd welcome a good fistfight. I wanted my mind off Hector.
Off the knowledge that he was here, somewhere, watching me.
I'd been searching for him for years. But I'd never once felt that he was near. Until now.
My scar ached and burned. Was that what he'd meant when he'd said I would never be free of him? And here I'd thought he'd only been referring to my nightmares.
"I got a package from Mandenauer," Jessie said quietly.
I forgot about hunting, about Hector. "The rogue agent file?"
She nodded and handed me a FedEx envelope. They had overnight delivery even in Shit Heel. Amazing.
"I talked to Damien. He said the gun wasn't his."
"And you believed him?"
"Yeah, I kinda did." I hesitated, glancing at the package in my hands. "Did you… ?"
"And?" I held my breath. Had Damien lied?
"I didn't recognize Fitzgerald. But then I'm not as close to him as you are."
My breath caught. How could she know? Did my forehead flash She slept with him! in orange neon?
"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded.
"Never mind. Just look at the pictures, Leigh."
I upended the envelope onto the kitchen table. Several photos fell out. None of them were Damien.
"I'd better find out who lived in the cabin before he did," Jessie said.
She nodded. "Hold on; I'll get my rifle."
Jessie disappeared into the bedroom. I guess we were going hunting. I couldn't very well renege when I'd just taunted her into it.
She returned with her gun and ammunition. "What if we see the white wolf?"
"Shoot first, ask questions later."
"That would be my call."
We took the squad car. While we'd been chatting, the sun had gone down and Jessie had gone on duty.
"Have you searched for their lair?" I asked.
"A little, with Mandenauer."
I should have known. One of my first lessons had been How to Find a Lair 101. Once you did, the rest was so much easier.
"We checked all the usual places," Jessie continued. "Caves, abandoned buildings, dugouts, collapsed barns. Nothing."
I remembered an earlier conversation with Will. "What about the mine?"
She glanced at me, her eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Let's find out."
We headed out of town.
"What about Elwood?" I asked.
"What about him?"
"Shouldn't you get him the picture, let him know who we're after?"
She glanced at her watch. "He's off the clock. I won't be able to get ahold of him."
"He's got a phone, but he won't hear it."
"He turns off his hearing aid as soon as his shift ends."
I shook my head. "What if you need backup?"
"I don't want it from him. Shakiest gun in the West, remember?"
"Gee, I feel so safe and protected."
"Crow Valley hasn't had a murder since it appeared on the map."
"Somehow, I doubt that."
"Well, none that were reported anyway."
Which reminded me. "Anyone gone missing in the last few days?"
I was thinking about the black wolf – and the nine dead from the other night.
"No." She glanced at me. "It's strange. I agree. But without a report, what can I do?"
"With a report, what would you do?"
We'd know where the missing person had gone – straight down a werewolf gullet, but we couldn't say so. If someone was reported missing, Jessie would call headquarters. They'd make something up, ascertain that their lie held water. That's what Juger-Suchers did.
"I'll show Elwood the picture of Hector in the morning," Jessie said. "He'd be no use now anyway. He gets a little…" she roiled her finger around her ear, "when he's tired."
Swell. Werewolves, a psychotic, cannibalistic ex-boyfriend, and a loony deputy. I loved this town.
We reached the southern outskirts. I'd never gone in this direction before. Jessie swung onto a wide dirt path. Was anything paved around here but the highway?
Thirty seconds over another "good" road she stopped. "We'd better walk in."
I nodded. If the werewolves knew we'd found their lair, they'd abandon it. We'd be back to square one.
I checked the wind, adjusted our direction. Were-wolves could smell, see, and hear better than real wolves, definitely better than humans. We should stay upwind, keep quiet and out of sight.
I glanced at the sky. The moon became larger and larger with each passing night. Soon it would hang heavy and full. By then we needed to know where they went to change. We needed to even the odds as best we could. We needed to find out what they were up to.
Jessie went first, cutting through the trees, heading away from the road. I followed, just behind and to the left, keeping an eye on our back trail. You never know what might creep up on you.
I was impressed with the way she moved, avoiding sticks, dry leaves, low-hanging branches that could not only blind but also make a helluva lot of noise if they snapped.
I'd heard rumors that she'd been some hotshot deer hunter in her previous life, which must have thrilled all the manly men in Miniwa to pieces.
At least she knew how to walk through the woods with a gun. I wouldn't have to worry about getting my brains blown out. One less thing.
Jessie glanced at me, pointed ahead. I followed her finger. The entrance to the mine loomed from the night. Set into a hill, it was boarded up. Except for a single plank that hung free. By accident? Or design?
Time to find out.
Together we moved out of the cover of the trees, eyes searching the shrubbery for movement, the ground for tracks. There was nothing.
Jessie made for the entrance. I grabbed her arm and she scowled, tugged, but I shook my head. I was going in first.
I held out my hand for the flashlight that hung from her utility belt. She stuck out her tongue, but she gave me the flashlight.
I didn't have to tell her to watch the clearing, make sure we weren't trapped in here. She turned and scanned the woods, rifle ready.
Switching the heavy-duty cop flashlight to on, I aimed it inside the abandoned mine. No shining eyes stared back. Nothing jumped out and said, Woof!
So far, so good.
I squeezed through the small area left by the lapsed plank and entered the cool, damp interior. The flashlight revealed a packed earth floor, decrepit poles, and beams that had collapsed. No clothes, no shoes, no wallets or purses. Double damn.
They hadn't been here. At least not today.
The lack of a lair was beginning to disturb me nearly as much as the lack of missing persons reports.
There had to be a lair somewhere. It didn't take a genius to find it, just patience and time. Neither one of which I had in abundance.
"Yeah?" I whispered. "I'm here."
"Hurry up," she said quietly. "This place gives me the creeps."
I had to agree, though I wasn't sure why. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Abandoned mine, middle of the forest. Deserted, dark. Big deal. As long as there weren't any werewolves out for my blood, it was a good day.
I inched farther inside, flicking the flashlight back and forth across the floor in front of me. The earth tilted downward. The air grew cooler. I kept walking – until something crunched beneath my boot.
I froze and aimed the beam onto my toe. I'd stepped on a femur. As in human leg bone.
There were a lot more bones scattered in a descending trail of white down the path in front of me.
"Jessie?" I called. "You'd better come see this."
She didn't waste time. In less than ten seconds she was at my side.
"Looks like you found a few missing persons."
"Hell. Now what?"
"I don't know. We can find out who they are, but it'll take time and raise a ruckus."
"Ruckus? Good word."
"This makes no sense." I shook my head. "Why would they drag their kills here? They've never cared before who they killed or where they left them."
"They've never eaten one another before, either."
"No body, no proof," Jessie murmured. "If they kill transients, hide what's left when they're through, no one's the wiser. They could keep hunting until they clean out the town. Except that might be suspicious."
"Wouldn't it, though?" I shook my head. "This makes no sense. A werewolf is smart, but it's a werewolf.
People are food. Any people. I just can't see them picking and choosing like they're at a buffet line. Can you?"
"I don't know. You're the expert."
I was, and I was stumped.
"This could be their lair. If we set up outside, waited awhile, we should be able to pick off a few."
"Won't they smell us?"
"Maybe. Depends which way they approach." I shrugged. "I don't know what else to do."
"Can't hurt to try."
I agreed and we headed for the entrance.
"I hate to leave them here like this." Jessie glanced back at the trail of bones.
"They won't know."
I understood her unease. Humans buried their dead – in a nice cemetery. Or kept their remains in a pretty urn on the mantel. They did not leave their werewolf-gnawed bones in an abandoned mine forever.
And we wouldn't, either.
"When this is over, Edward will send in a team," I said. "They'll identify everyone, and if they have any family, they'll be notified."
And lied to, my mind mocked.
"If they had any family, I doubt they'd be in here. It's sad, don't you think? Disappearing and no one even knows that you're gone."
I kind of thought it was nice. No one to mourn. No one to cry. No one to wish that they'd died, too.
"You know we have to leave them here, Jessie," I said quietly. "Dragging them out will alert the werewolves. Letting the world know that there's a pile of human bones in Crow Valley will end any hope we have of finding out what's going on and stopping it."
"I know. But I don't have to like it."
She stalked ahead of me and I let her go. I shouldn't have.
"Oomph," was all she said when the wolf leaped through the entrance and hit her in the chest.
The animal went straight for her throat, no fooling around. An excellent clue that this was a werewolf.
Wolves just don't attack people. It's against their nature. Werewolves, however, are unnatural from the get-go.
The beast snarled and snapped, lunging with all he had as he tried to end Jessie's life. He was seriously pissed. I suppose we'd stepped on sacred ground or something. Who knows with them?
Jessie was quick, and she'd dealt with werewolves before. She grabbed his neck and levered the snapping jaws away from her skin.
I shot him in the head. Fire blazed through the cavern, highlighting Jessie's pale, shocked, biood-spattered face.
She heaved the wolf to the ground and rolled away. I stepped past them both and glanced outside. He'd been alone. At least for now.
I hurried back, grabbed her elbow, and tugged. "Let's go."
She got up, retrieved her rifle, which had flown into a corner when he hit her, then followed me out of the mine.
"You OK?" I asked.
Jessie nodded. A quick glance at her hands revealed red streaks on her palms but at least no blistering burns from the exploding werewolf.
"Back to your place."
"We were going to hunt."
"I think we already did."
"But – "
"Forget it, Jessie. We can come back, but I have a feeling they're on to us."
Since a werewolf and not a person had attacked, I didn't think the mine was where they went to change.
I'd found no evidence of that – no clothes, no shoes, no underwear.
The mine might not be their lair, but it was something. I'd have to ask Edward just what.
Jessie could walk, even talk. But she was pale, brain spattered, and her hands clenched the rifle too tightly. I made her go first. I didn't trust those hands on that gun behind my back right now. Accidents might happen, but I didn't plan on letting them happen to me. At least not here, not now.
We reached the car, and I slid into the driver's seat. Jessie didn't argue. But when I started the engine, she suddenly reached over and switched it off.
Her expression was as serious as I'd ever seen it. Her eyes huge, pupils dilated, her face was ghostly white beneath the drying blood.
"If I'm ever bitten," she said, "shoot me."
"Jessie – "
She grabbed me by the throat, squeezed my windpipe just enough to shut me up. My fingers circled her wrists. I tried to break her hold, but she was strong and a little bit crazed.
"I don't want to be one of those things. And Will…" She cursed and let me go.
I thought it was mighty big of me not to beat her silly. Instead I rubbed my throat and let her talk.
"Will would say it didn't matter. That he loves me no matter what I am."
"I know. I loved him, too, even when I thought he was one of them."
I didn't get that. However, now was not the time to bring it up.
"I should have shot him, but I couldn't."
"Lucky you didn't, since he wasn't."
"Shut the hell up," she said, though there wasn't much heat behind her words. "I know he'll never do it. I probably couldn't off myself either. I wouldn't want to leave him."
"You'd rather turn furry, howl at the moon, and eat raw people than leave him."
She stared me straight in the eye and said, "Yes."
"Fine. You get bitten, I blow your head off." I held out my hand.
I shrugged. "Goes without saying."
She put her palm against mine. "I'll do the same for you."
I guess that made us lifelong pals.