Val didn’t come to work the next day either.
I started working on Kyra’s order when I got there. She wasn’t exactly looking for excellent work or artistic merit, though, so it didn’t take my full attention. There was plenty left over to think about how weird this was all starting to look.
Val doesn’t miss work often. He’s a dedicated workaholic‒you have to be, to get to be that skilled‒and, as one of the fae, he doesn’t have to worry about little things like sickness or hangovers. Granted he wasn’t exactly punctual, but generally I can count on him being there for at least a few hours every weekday.
And, while he might not be the easiest boss in the world to work for, one thing he’s very good about is letting me know when he won’t be there. I’d been working for him almost six years now, and in that time the number of times he’d ditched work without telling me in advance doesn’t break double digits. For him to miss two days in a row like that was unprecedented.
Of course, my phone battery had been dead the previous day. And, when I’d turned it on that morning, it had told me I missed a call from him as a result, along with one from Enrico. But normally, I would have expected him to call more than once, or at least leave a message or something.
I tried to call him back once it became clear that he wasn’t going to show up. The phone rang nine times, then went to his answering machine. Predictably, the message prompt was just, “Dvalin Kovac. Leave a message.”
I didn’t leave a message. There was too much I didn’t know, and too little I understood about what was happening.
Now, I’m not a normal person. Not in any sense of the word. So I can’t really speak for what a normal person does in a circumstance like this. But when I encounter that much weird and inexplicable shit at the same time, I tend to suspect it’s related unless and until I learn otherwise. You’d be amazed what an awareness of the real-life boogeymen out there can do to your belief in coincidence.
And I am a bit paranoid. Never denied that.
In this case, though, I thought it might be justified. The stuff that had happened yesterday‒and which had, in a subtler sense, been happening for months now‒just didn’t make sense to me. Christopher’s reaction, for example. He’d been…calm. Casual.
Too calm? It seemed possible.
See, here’s the thing. Werewolves have a tendency toward strong emotional reactions. My semi-foster-father (sort of‒it’s a complicated relationship) is a great example. Edward has a tendency to go from roaring with laughter to roaring in anger with little to no transition zone. If you ever hear him calm, you should worry, because he’s almost certainly still feeling something and he’s hiding it from you.
The other thing to remember about werewolves is that they are, psychologically, different from humans in a few very important ways. They often tend to react in rather…extreme ways to challenges. They get extremely territorial. And the dominant wolves, in particular, react badly to being threatened. The message I’d passed on should have hit all of those levels, with the added unpleasantness of being a total surprise.
So why hadn’t he shown it at all? Was it just his ingrained response from spending years living under an insane Alpha? Or something more?
I knew very little about Christopher. I knew he was a decent man, one of the few werewolves Kyra has a pleasant thing to say about. When he was still just a high-ranking wolf in Roland’s pack rather than the Alpha, he had often intervened to help shield the more vulnerable wolves from the insanity of Roland and his cronies. And, as I had noted before, he must have had an unbelievable poker face to survive that pack without either provoking Roland to kill him or going batty himself.
As I worked, I found myself going over what he’d said in my mind. He’d come up with a theory about what had happened almost instantly, I remembered that much. It sounded obvious after he’d said it‒of course a fae mercenary suggested a fae employer, of course a fae imitating a werewolf in a way that would generate lethally bad publicity was a threat‒but then, so did plenty of other explanations. It could have been a werewolf that hired the fae‒I knew there had to be wolves opposed to going public. There were humans who already knew about the supernatural, too, who had reasons to want it to stay firmly in the closet.
So why had Christopher jumped to the conclusion that it was a fae? Was it really that obvious, and it was only my own idiocy (coupled with a knock to the head, don’t forget that) that kept me from seeing it before I spoke to him? Or was it that he already knew something I didn’t?
And was it suspicious that he’d changed the subject immediately afterward? Logically, that made sense if he were lying to me; tell the mark a believable fiction, then move on as quickly as you can without seeming suspicious, so that they don’t have time to think about it and see the holes in your logic. It didn’t help that then he’d dropped an emotional bombshell on me in the form of being invited to the pack, one that‒with my history‒might well have been tailor-made to keep me off balance.
Well. Shit. I couldn’t even begin to guess how much of that was real and how much was just my own paranoid tendencies. I mean, I know as well as anyone how little it really takes to make a conspiracy theory.
I hate feeling like that. I mean, seriously. Never mind joining the pack; now I was starting to remember why I left the Khan’s pack in the first place.
I don’t know if there are any great minds on record as saying “werewolves are trouble,” but if there are, they were a genius. Really.
When I finished roughing out a table leg, I sat down and checked my phone again. Kyra had texted to say that our meeting with the chief of police was at one-thirty which‒I had to check‒was in a little under two hours. Other than that, nothing had changed.
I frowned. Thinking of Conn had reminded me of something. Given that he was the one actually managing the joint motion between the werewolves and the fae to go public, he definitely needed to know if there was a rogue faerie out killing people and making it look like a werewolf.
Besides which, if Christopher were serious about that, he should have already called Conn to tell him about it.
The phone rang a half-dozen times before being answered by Erin, Conn’s youngest child and only daughter. “Hallo,” she said brightly, the tone not quite covering an underlying coldness. Erin and I were sort of similar, except that she takes all my paranoia and dislike of strangers and multiplies them by a thousand or so.
Probably because her function is to be the Khan’s assassin. When somebody causes trouble‒a werewolf breaking the rules, a reporter following crazy stories a bit too closely, even just some poor fool who gets too close to the truth and reacts badly‒somebody needs to fix things. Most of the time in North America (and Iceland, and Japan, whose wolves also answer to the Khan) she was that person.
“Hey, Erin,” I said.
“Winter!” she said, the cold undertone vanishing. “How you doing? You never call.”
“I know,” I sighed, “I know. I’m a terrible person. Is your father there by any chance?”
She sighed theatrically. “I knew you wouldn’t have called just to talk to me. He’s not around, sorry.”
I frowned. “All right. What about Dolph?” If Erin was an assassin, her brother Dolph was more like a diplomat. More or less the same function, except that one solved problems with fangs and bullets while the other prefers the infinitely more treacherous weapons of contracts and backroom deals.
“‘Fraid not. He’s with Conn in Reykjavik.”
“Iceland? What the hell are they doing there?”
“Summit meeting about the big reveal coming up.” Erin’s tone suggested that she didn’t fully approve of said reveal‒or maybe just said meeting; it was hard to tell.
“Wait a second, I thought the fae had already agreed to the deal.”
“Sure,” she said wryly. “But now that my father’s got them to agree some of the European wolves want on on the action.”
I sighed. “I hate politics.”
“Seconded, motion passed,” she agreed. “You want me to take a message for one of them? The summit’s only supposed to last ’til Friday.”
“No thanks. I have Dolph’s cell number; I’ll just try that.” I paused as a thought occurred to me. “Actually, Erin, maybe you could help with something. If a fae wanted to hire somebody for a hit, somebody who maybe wouldn’t ask very many questions, who would they ask?”
“Depends on the fae, I’d guess.”
“Well, sure. But who are some popular choices?”
“No idea. Sorry. The fae aren’t really my area of expertise. I could talk to a few people in the trade I’m acquainted with. Samuel Black, maybe, or Blind Keith might know…
I sighed. “No thanks. I’ll figure it out.”
“Have fun. Sounds like it might be getting exciting out there. Call if you need anything, you hear?”
“Of course. Thanks, Erin.”
Conn was the one who answered Dolph’s cell phone when I called. It’s the sort of thing that happens around him so often you just sort of get used to it. And no, I don’t know how he does it. I’m not sure if Conn really does know everything, or if he’s just unnaturally lucky and good at faking it. Whatever it is, it happens way more than coincidence accounts for.
“Hello, Winter,” he said without preamble. And without my having to tell him who I was, although that might have been caller ID for all I know. “What do you need?”
“Conn,” I said. “There’s a fae mercenary in town who killed somebody and made it look like a werewolf. When I followed up on it, he said that it was supposed to send a message to Christopher.”
“So why are you calling me?”
I shrugged‒Conn couldn’t see it, but that never seems to stop people on the phone. And besides, with Conn there was no guarantee that he couldn’t see it. “He seemed to think that the message was that if the werewolves go public, they’ll keep killing people to start a witch-hunt. I figure that makes it something you need to know about.”
He laughed. “That’s putting it lightly.” There was a brief pause, during which you could practically hear him frowning. “Christopher called me last night. His story was the same as yours except that he left out that it was you that found the mercenary.”
Well. If Christopher were bringing the Khan into things, that suggested that he was telling the truth. Either that or he was willing to take a much larger risk than I would have guessed. Lying to me was one thing, but lying to the Khan…well, suffice to say that if he found out, Christopher would regret it. Intensely, but very briefly.
From the other side of the phone, I could hear someone start screaming in the background. They were speaking what I presumed was Icelandic, and I couldn’t understand a word, but it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on when somebody screamed back in Spanish. Get more than one Alpha in the same room and a certain number of screaming arguments is inevitable.
Conn sighed. “I have to go deal with this. I’ll be in touch.” He hung up without saying anything more.
Surprisingly enough, I was the first one to arrive for the meeting. Granted I’d left pretty much right after I finished talking with Conn, but still. Considering that I was the only guy without transportation, you’d think I’d be the last one there.
I wasn’t entirely sure how formal this meeting was supposed to be, so I’d even taken the time to make myself appear marginally presentable before I left. I say marginally because golden eyes and charcoal-gray hair, both of which I’d inherited from my father, tend to make anything beyond that rather difficult to attain.
Kyra was the next to arrive, parking her battered vehicle down the street and walking over to join me. There was plenty of space in front of the police headquarters, but I guess she didn’t want to be too obvious. I could understand that.
“Hey,” she said in the too-casual voice that tells everyone who knows her that she’s feeling nervous. “You been here long?”
I shrugged. “Five minutes or so.” We were still fifteen minutes early.
“So what’s the plan?” she asked.
“Um. I thought you were the one with the plan.”
“Hey, you’re in charge here, remember? You’re supposed to be the brains of the outfit.”
“Great. I guess we play it by ear, then.”
“Wait a second. What’s with this we stuff? I’m just here to give the demonstration. You’re the one doing the talking.”
“Right. Why am I doing this again?”
“You agreed,” she said pitilessly. “Deal with it.”
“You’re a great friend. Speaking of which,” I checked the time and saw that it was only twenty after one. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.” I proceeded to lay out the basics of what Christopher had said to me, focusing on the part where he invited me into the pack.
“That’s great news!” Kyra exclaimed once I finished. Then she paused. “It is great news, right?”
“Maybe,” I answered. “But there’re a few things bothering me. Do you remember how exactly he phrased it at that pack meeting?”
She hesitated. “Well,” she said slowly. “No. Because that meeting never happened.”
I froze. “Are you sure?”
“Winter. I haven’t missed a meeting in over a year. He declared your status as a friend of the pack not long after Roland was killed, and reaffirmed it a month or two ago. That’s it.” She shook her head. “Besides, it doesn’t make any sense to do something like that now. The pack’s still pretty unstable without bringing you into things. He’s right about how they feel about you, but you’d think he’d wait a while to do anything about it.”
“Why?” I asked, curious. I’d heard a few things from Conn that suggested that Christopher wasn’t able to hold his pack together as tightly as they should be. If that had progressed to the point that the pack was actually beginning to fall apart, things might get very bad.
She shrugged. “The new structure’s still settling into place after Garrett killed a few of our wolves.” She grimaced in distaste. “Like me being second, for example. I wish I knew whose brilliant idea that was so I could strangle him.” I managed to keep from whistling innocuously or anything else that would give away the fact that it had been my idea, but only with difficulty. “Then,” she continued, “there’s all the new wolves in town.”
My ears perked up at that, metaphorically speaking. I wasn’t quite far enough removed from humanity in a physical sense for them to perk up actually. “What new wolves in town?”
“We were under strength even before Garrett. After, well, we needed a few more wolves. So Christopher arranged for a few immigrations.” She shrugged again. “People are still getting used to them. Figuring out how they fit in to things.”
Well. Stranger and stranger. I trusted Kyra, to an extent possibly unmatched in the world. And she was telling me that at least one thing Christopher had said was a blatant lie.
It was entirely possible that he’d made it up just to soothe my concerns about the pack’s opinion. Presenting a prospective werewolf formally to the pack was, as he’d said, entirely optional. Especially if he really had known that the pack would accept me, which seemed at this point fairly likely.
Of course, it was also possible that it had been part of a carefully calculated deception. I’d already been considering the possibility that he had been duping me, and the fact that he’d lied to me at least once made it seem just that much more likely. I’m no psychologist, but in my experience people who lie about small things will also lie about big things, given a good enough reason.
My unpleasant thoughts were, thankfully, interrupted by Enrico’s arrival. He’d apparently parked out of sight, because he walked around the corner without my ever seeing his car.
“Hey,” I said to him. “You ready?” It was barely five minutes till our meeting.
“As I’m likely to be.” Enrico glanced in our direction for the first time as he approached, and sighed despairingly. “Don’t you ever dress up for something, Winter?” he asked rhetorically.
I looked briefly at my Hawaiian shirt, decorated with a lovely orchid print, and cargo pants. “This is dressed up,” I informed him honestly. I don’t bother with nice clothes for the most part. They’re expensive, uncomfortable, and difficult to move in. More importantly, they have almost no pockets, which I find to be a lethal flaw in clothing. Next to his understated suit, though, I had to admit I looked a little bit tasteless. I mean, even Kyra had found a decent pair of slacks and a buttoned shirt for the occasion.
Enrico, on his home ground, was the one to take the lead through the building. The people at the front desk let us by without question. Luckily, they were willing to take his word that we were safe people, and didn’t insist that we walk through the metal detector or anything. It hadn’t even occurred to me until that moment that loading my pockets with concealed weapons, some of which even a normal person off the street would recognize as such, might be a bad idea before this meeting. I mean, come on. If anybody should understand paranoia, it’s the police, right?
Enrico led us unerringly through a maze of brightly lit, windowless corridors to a simple wooden door that bore the name ALBERT JACKSON, CHIEF OF POLICE. The door was firmly closed when we got there, and when Enrico tried the handle it was locked. I could hear voices from inside, but I couldn’t make out anything of what was being said.
It probably shouldn’t have surprised me that our meeting didn’t start on time. After all, it seems like no appointment actually happens on schedule. The three of us sat in surprisingly comfortable chairs across the hallway from the office, and waited. And waited. All told, it was probably fifteen or twenty minutes before the door opened and a short man in an expensive suit walked out. If his posture was anything to go by, the conversation had ended rather badly for him.
Enrico waited a moment to make sure it was really over, then walked up and knocked on the doorframe. Kyra and I took a deep breath (metaphorically—we weren’t like breathing in tandem or anything) before we followed him over. I was feeling a lot more uncertain that this was a good idea now that it was actually happening, and I could tell that Kyra was feeling the same way. What had seemed entirely reasonable when Christopher described it was now striking me as a fairly stupid way to go about things.
This was a bad time to change my mind, though. So I squared my shoulders, pretended to know what I was doing, and followed the other two in.
The Chief of Police had a surprisingly small office, all things considered. Not tiny or anything like that. But given that he was, to the best of my knowledge, a sort of important person locally, it was a lot smaller than I had expected.
There were a couple of big windows to the left of the door. A few potted plants, which looked like they were doing pretty well. The desk, which took up a fair amount of the room, was liberally coated with papers, file folders, and notebooks. There weren’t any family photos or keepsakes that I could see, giving the office a sort of grim, institutional feel.
I had plenty of time to take all of this in while the Chief was on the phone. I could hear both parts pretty well, but the conversation wasn’t the eavesdropping treasure trove you might imagine. From what I could tell, it sounded like he was attempting to explain to an exceedingly dull woman that he wasn’t actually the right person to call for information on tax breaks. It took him a few tries to get the point across. And yes, I had to work to keep from laughing.
“Sorry about that,” he said when he eventually managed to hang up.
“Not a problem,” I assured him, stepping forward very slightly to establish myself as the leader. Humans don’t generally think about things like that, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t notice them.
Chief Jackson studied me for a moment. His gaze was…uncomfortable. Nothing like some of the people I’ve had stare at me in my life, but I still got the distinct impression that he saw more of me than I saw of him. “You must be Mr. Wolf, then.” He wasn’t asking.
I gave him my best winning smile, which admittedly will never win an award. “Please. Call me Winter.” I wasn’t speaking rhetorically. I despise my last name. I mean, I understand where my mother was coming from and all, but come on. Winter Wolf? That sounds more appropriate to a comic book than anything.
He nodded slowly. It was interesting; watching him, you could practically see him slot the information into place. “Right. So what did you want to talk about?” The question was clearly directed at me. He hadn’t missed the subtle deference Kyra and Enrico were paying me.
Clearly, the Chief of Police was accustomed to paying attention to the little things. That’s dangerous in a person.
It’s easy to see too much.
I didn’t answer him right away. Instead, I pushed the door closed, and then locked it firmly. I could feel his attention on me as I closed the blinds, casting the room into an odd half-light. I wasn’t entirely sure how this conversation would go, but I was certain I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. In fact, ideally no one would ever know it happened at all.
That accomplished I sat down across the desk from the Chief and thought about how to approach the subject. Enrico sat beside me, while Kyra hung back in the corner. She resembled an exceptionally pleasant-looking thug, even with her nice clothes on.
I am not good at complicated word games and subtleties. Oh, sure, I can do them if I have to, but as a rule? Not my first choice. So, as I usually did when I had any option at all, I settled on the direct approach.
“Is this room bugged?”
I felt Enrico tense beside me, and even Kyra was a little startled by my bluntness. Not that you’d know it to look at her; the only reason I could tell was because I had years of experience with her personally, and a lifetime’s worth when it comes to werewolves in general. Having magic helps too, at least when one of the main things it lets you do is form connections with predators. I was familiar enough with Kyra that when she was nearby, I had to work not to pick up surface thoughts and feelings from her on a subconscious level.
Chief Jackson, though, seemed to see nothing odd about my question. He leaned back a little in his expensive-looking office chair and considered me for a moment before answering. “Not that I know of. And if someone did bug it, there’ll be hell to pay when I find out.”
Good enough for me. “Officer Jackson,” I began. Paused. “Is it supposed to be Chief Jackson?” Wow, did I feel like an idiot then. I mean, seriously. When you have to ask a question like that, you know that you’ve made a mistake.
He waved one hand as though it couldn’t have mattered less. “Not important. Call me Albert.”
I wondered idly whether everyone got the informal approach, or it was because Christopher had been smoothing the way for us. “All right then, Albert.” I leaned forward slightly, placing my elbows on the desk. “What I’m about to tell you is secret. Unless you hear otherwise from me or one of my associates,” I gestured vaguely at Kyra, “it doesn’t go beyond this room. Is that acceptable to you?” Too late I realized he would probably think I was including Enrico in that comment.
“I’m willing to treat it as confidential information,” he said slowly. “But you realize that if it comes up in court or anything like that, I’m obligated to disclose it.”
I smiled reassuringly. “That won’t be a problem. If things get that bad, I doubt it’ll matter anymore anyway.” I paused. “I have your word on that?”
“How quaint,” he said, with the first trace of humor I’d heard from him. “Yes. You have my word.”
And he had no idea what that meant. See, the supernatural world has a totally different set of priorities than the normal one. A lot of things just don’t have any meaning. The law, for instance. Most people in the community couldn’t care less about mortal law, literally. It’s not even an annoyance. There are lots of things like that. Money. Fame, outside of supernatural circles. To a lot of them morality as I understood it was literally a meaningless concept.
On the other hand, there are things that carry more weight. Obligations, for example. As I’d explained to Enrico, even a minor obligation is literally a matter of life and death on a regular basis. Likewise, favors are a currency infinitely more highly valued than wealth. Related to that, a promise can be extremely important.
The consequences of breaking your word vary a lot. With the werewolves, for example, you probably don’t have to worry about anything except…call it excommunication, for lack of a better word. No werewolves, and nobody on good terms with werewolves, will so much as give you the time of day if a prominent Alpha accuses you of breaking a promise. Not pleasant, but not unbearable either.
Other groups are scarier. Break contract with a powerful mage or, God help you, a mage clan, and you’re a dead man. If you really made them angry you will probably quite literally beg to die before the end. They take insults like that very seriously. Other beings, most prominently the fae, are bound by certain rules. Not telling a lie, for example; I don’t know why, but the fae literally cannot speak a word that isn’t true. I don’t understand a fraction of those rules, but apparently a big part of it has to do with balance and debts. Break a promise to one of them, and you’re solidly on the wrong side of a major debt.
And, because you didn’t outline how it would be paid beforehand, they can collect in whatever way they like. By making you an indentured servant for the rest of your (probably very long) life, for example. Or by selling you to one of the nastier beings to be served as a main course.
Suffice to say that if you ever give your word, even on a tiny thing, you would be very wise to keep it. Which, really, applies whether it’s a supernatural being or not. All else aside, after all, breaking promises is rude.
“Well,” I said cheerfully. “That’s good. So what would you say if I told you werewolves are real?” In my peripheral vision I could just see Enrico’s expression turn from moderately hopeful to somewhere between horrified and disgusted.
“Well,” the Chief said in that slow considering voice that is somehow more insulting than outright laughter, “I don’t know that I’d say much of anything. On account of I’d be too busy laughing at you and calling security.” His eyes hardened. “Now, if you don’t have anything else to discuss, kindly stop wasting my time and see yourself out.” He plucked a folder seemingly at random from the mess on his desk and started leafing through it.
I sighed. This was so not going how I would have liked. I gestured vaguely at Kyra, who cleared her throat and walked forward out of the corner she’d been standing in.
“What?” Chief Jackson said irritably, looking up just in time to see Kyra drop her shirt on the floor. He blinked, then flushed with anger and opened his mouth, presumably to berate her for impropriety or something like that. I never found out what he meant to say, because right about then Kyra finished undressing and started to change.
Theoretically she could have skipped right to the turning-into-a-wolf part. I say theoretically because, in practical terms, things tend to rip when you make a serious anatomical change without getting out of your clothing first. The Hulk had it easy in that regard, believe me.
Watching the were turn into wolf is a bit of an incredible experience. Especially the first time. I was seven the first time I saw it, and the memory is still as fresh and sharp as ever. Since then I’ve probably seen werewolves change at least a thousand times, but some part of the fascination still refuses to fade.
It’s hard for me to look away from a changing wolf. For all sorts of reasons.
At first the Chief probably thought Kyra was having a seizure or something. She dropped to her knees, her eyes half-closed but still showing way more white than eyes really ought to. Her whole body shook once, and then started to shift slowly around. Kyra’s magic seemed to fill the room with the aroma of wolf and lavender, like a perfume for me alone. That was the surface, anyway, the part that was common to all werewolves; I couldn’t get any of the subtler stuff without concentrating, but I knew from experience that her power smelled of shadows and secrets and freshly spilled blood. And yes, that’s just as ominous as it sounds.
The change is not especially quick. This might surprise you if you’ve taken the time to actually read the older legends, in which the process is usually quick and simple as breathing. There are shapeshifting magics that can do that, but a werewolf’s isn’t one of them.
So we sat—or, in my case, stood—and watched for about a total of fifteen minutes while Kyra did her thing. The room was dead quiet, which meant that we could hear the noises she was making with perfect clarity. They were…discomfiting even for a veteran like me. The near-silent whimpers were the least of it. The sounds of bones breaking, shifting around beneath her skin, and rearticulating were infinitely worse. Don’t even get me started about the cartilage.
I knew from experience that it wasn’t exactly a treat visually either, although I was watching the Chief rather than Kyra. It wasn’t like I really needed to see it to know what was going on. Every change is different, but there are only so many ways that bones and muscles sliding around under somebody’s skin can move.
For his part, Chief Jackson looked to be taking it pretty well, which was a relief. That was why I was watching him, and also why I had stood up as soon as Kyra made her move. If he decided to do something stupid, I would really prefer to be ready to do something about it.
Here’s the thing about people. Most of the time, they’re pretty predictable. I mean, that’s what society’s for, right? We have these complicated, senseless patterns and rituals for how we communicate precisely to ensure that we can guess how a person will react to what we do. You don’t have to think too hard, for example, to know what to say when you check out at the grocery store.
When those rules break down, though? Then people are hard to predict. What he was seeing was a threat to his world. I don’t mean that in a literal sense—the werewolves were hardly going to go rampaging in the streets or anything like that. They have too much invested in this world to want to harm it. But in terms of how he saw the world, what he understood existence to be, people like Kyra—or me—represented a very fundamental threat.
Unless you know somebody very well, you can’t predict how they will react to that. Even if you do, it’s chancy. One of the few people I’d actually seen react, who I would have said I knew extremely well, pepper sprayed me in the face and ran away, possibly screaming. I wasn’t exactly paying attention to that detail at the moment, so I’m not sure.
On the other end of the spectrum, Erin had once told me a story about a rather inebriated man who, for reasons I’ve never completely understood, had just seen her transform right in front of him. Rather than fear, he reacted by immediately trying to hit on her.
The best part? She wasn’t turning into a human. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with flirting with a werewolf in fur, but it always strikes me as a bit icky. Especially if you’re a human yourself, because there is no way I can imagine that encounter ending that isn’t disturbing to contemplate.
The Chief of Police was somewhere in the middle. He wasn’t calm, cool, and collected, but he didn’t go for a gun. Or the phone, which I was frankly more concerned about. I could handle guns a lot more easily than the whole city finding out about werewolves before Conn’s organized reveal.
Eventually, after what felt like a short eternity, Kyra was finished. Where she had been kneeling—or, later, laying—was a medium-sized wolf. Well, medium for werewolves. That translates to about two hundred pounds or so, which (for those not conversant with canines) is bigger than pretty much any actual wolf.
You may notice that that’s also bigger than most humans. Including Kyra, who only weighed about one-thirty as a human. Where does the extra mass come from? Beats me. I heard an explanation, but it involved way too much math for the likes of me. I am not, generally, fond of numbers. The short answer is that it involves other dimensions which may or may not exist as we use the term, and that unless you’re a freaking quantum physicist or something it’s better to just not worry about it.
“Well,” Jackson said, staring down at the brown-furred, green-eyed wolf sitting in the middle of his office floor. “I suppose I owe you an apology.”
“No need,” I said easily, sitting down now that the danger was passed. “It comes as a bit of a shock to most people.”
He gave me a sharp glance. “Not to you?” he asked.
Damn. He might not look like much, but the man didn’t miss much. “Not especially. You could say I was raised with it, and that makes a big difference.”
He raised one eyebrow, and a surge of jealousy went through me. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that, but whenever I try my face contorts to such an extent that I look like I’m wearing a Halloween mask or something. “I’m sure. So why did you just show me that? Assuming I haven’t started hallucinating, that is.”
“Maybe we were just sharing information with the police out of the kindness of our hearts,” I said innocently.
He snorted. “Yeah, and I’m sure you have a bridge you’d like to sell me too. Now can you cut to the chase? I have another appointment in fifteen minutes.”
Wow. That was…an impressively cool reaction.
“At some point in the near future,” I said, picking my words more carefully now. “Werewolves will no longer be as…secretive as they currently are. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a matter of some concern to a great many people.”
“Great. And I get to be one of these people why?”
“It has occurred to certain individuals that the transition would be a great deal smoother if there were people on hand ready to assist in it.” I sighed. “I’ll be frank with you, Albert. Humanity—and America in particular—doesn’t have a shining history when it comes to bigotry. It would be helpful if people such as yourself were to talk about how useful, law-abiding, and all around awesome werewolves are when this happens.”
“Makes sense,” he said slowly. “So I guess that makes you the talker, her the bruiser, and Rossi the inside man, right?”
I blinked. “What?” I said stupidly.
He snorted again, but without any significant humor this time. His eyes had gone granite-hard. “I’m not an idiot. You’re talking around it, but I know what’s going on. So what happens if I don’t? Blackmail? Or do I just meet with an unfortunate accident and someone more amenable takes over?”
I suddenly realized what he was talking about. “You think we’re threatening you?” I asked incredulously.
He eyed me. “Well, it does seem that way, now doesn’t it? What with the Mafioso approach and everything. So which is it?”
I probably shouldn’t have laughed then, but I did. Long and hard, while everybody else in the room stared at me. “Oh,” I said eventually. “Sorry. That’s just….” I shook my head and started over. “There’s nothing like that going on here, Chief. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. I’d appreciate it if you would hear me out first, but you can always say no.” I paused. “Although I was serious about that secrecy bit. If people find out about this too soon, it might get ugly.”
A faint flush of embarrassment crossed the Chief’s features. “Oh. Sorry. What exactly were you trying to say, then?”
I shrugged. “Basically just that. We’d appreciate it if, when the time comes, you’d speak publicly on the werewolves’ behalf.”
He frowned. “But if you’re not threatening me, why would I lie on your behalf?” He eyed me again. “I hope you’re not trying to bribe me.”
I smiled. “Sort of, but not in the sense you’re thinking. Our idea was that by the time we’d be asking anything of you, it wouldn’t be lying.” I leaned forward again, and met the Chief’s eye steadily for the first time. “Think of this as a bargain between two groups. You represent the police. I represent the local werewolf pack. We’re willing to prove to you that werewolves are decent citizens. We’re willing to help you out. In return, we’d want your support.”
He considered that for a long moment. “What kind of help are you offering?”
I shrugged again. “Depends what you’re willing to take. Not all of the stories you hear about werewolves are true, but some of them are.” I gestured vaguely at Kyra. “My friend here is at least as good as any police dog you have. She’s smarter, stronger, and I guarantee you that with a little practice she can do anything they can.” Kyra gave me a withering look, which made me smile again.
“So if you want, I can arrange for a half-dozen or so wolves to help you out in that regard.” I paused. “They might want compensation for their time, the same as anyone else. That’s between you and them.”
He nodded slowly. “Reasonable enough. So I have two questions. One, what exactly do you want from us in trade? And two, what’s his role in all this?” He gestured at Enrico, in case it wasn’t perfectly clear who he meant. “I get it that the girl’s here to provide a demonstration, and you’re obviously the negotiator. So why’d you bring him?”
Enrico broke in for the first time. “They thought I might smooth things over. Not that that worked or anything,” he said dryly.
“And also, I’m not actually a negotiator,” I told him. “I’m just here to present you with this offer. If you’re thinking about accepting, there’s somebody else you can talk to. You’d probably do better to ask him your first question, too.” I nudged Kyra with my foot.
She looked up at me, then stood and turned to face the door expectantly.
“Come on,” I said. “You’re smarter than that. If we leave with you looking like that, somebody’s bound to notice.”
She sighed—and it’s amazing how well werewolves can sigh, considering—before walking back into the middle of the room and starting the change back. It took about another fifteen minutes, during which time nobody said anything. Enrico and Chief Jackson were both staring at Kyra, because watching the change once or twice doesn’t make it familiar enough to no longer be fascinating. I wasn’t quite as enthralled, but I figured that at this point I’d either sold the deal or not. More talking wouldn’t make a difference.
Eventually, Kyra was fully human in shape again. She dressed efficiently and without any sign of modesty or self-consciousness, which was entirely in character for a werewolf. She went right back to lurking in the corner, without having said so much as a single word since we’d walked in the door.
I met the Chief’s eye again. “So. What’ll it be?”
There was a long pause. “Who do I call?” he said finally. He sounded reluctant.
I smiled at him, showing plenty of teeth. “I was hoping you’d ask,” I said, reaching over to set a business card in front of him, on one of the few clean spots of the desk. It was plain white with a phone number printed on it in jet black. No ornamentation. No name.
And yes, Christopher does enough dealings of this sort to make up a business card specifically for the occasion.