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Moon Called


Chapter 3


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I slipped through the office and opened the outside door cautiously, but the smell of perfume and herbs hanging in the night air told me we were still all right. A dark Cadillac was stretched across the pavement just beyond Stefan's bus. I pushed the door all the way open as the uniformed chauffeur tipped his hat to me, then opened the car's back door, revealing an elderly woman. I stuck my head back in the office, and called, "It's all right, Mac. Just the cleanup crew." Keeping the humans ignorant of the magic that lives among them is a specialized and lucrative business, and Adam's pack kept the best witch in the Pacific Northwest on retainer. Rumors of Elizaveta Arkadyevna Vyshnevetskaya's origins and how she came to be in the Tri-Cities changed on a weekly basis. I think she and her brood of grandchildren and great-grandchildren encouraged the more outrageous versions. All that I knew for certain was that she had been born in Moscow, Russia, and had lived in the Tri-Cities for at least twenty years. Elizaveta rose from the depths of the big car with all the drama of a prima ballerina taking her bow. The picture she made was worth all the drama. She was almost six feet tall and little more than skin and bones, with a long, elegant nose and gray, penetrating eyes. Her style of dress was somewhere between babushka and Baba Yaga. Layers of rich fabrics and textures came down to her calves, all covered with a long wool cape and a worn scarf that wrapped around her head and neck. Her outfit wasn't authentic, at least not to any period or place that I've heard of, but I've never seen anyone brave enough to tell her so. "Elizaveta Arkadyevna, welcome," I said, walking past the bus to stand by her car. She scowled at me. "My Adamya calls and tells me you have one of his wolves dead." Her voice had the crispness of a British aristocrat, so I knew she was angry-her usual accent was thick enough I had to make a real effort to understand her. When she was really angry, she didn't speak English at all. "Werewolf, yes," I agreed. "But I don't think it is one of Adam's." Adamya, I had learned, was an affectionate form of Adam. I don't think she'd ever called him that to his face. Elizaveta was seldom affectionate to anyone likely to overhear her. "I have the body in my shop," I told her. "But there is blood all over here. The werewolf chased me with a torn artery and bled from here over to the storage facility, where he tore up the fence in two places before he bled to death out on the street. The storage facility has cameras, and I used Stefan's bus"-I pointed to it-"to move the body." She said something in Russian to her chauffeur, who I recognized as one of her grandchildren. He bowed and said something back before going around to open the trunk. "Go," she told me, and flung her arms in a pushing gesture. "I will take care of the mess out here without your help. You wait with the body. Adam will be here soon. Once he has seen, he will tell me what he would have me do with it. You killed this wolf? With a silver bullet so I should look for casing?" "With my fangs," I told her; she knew what I was. "It was sort of an accident-at least his death was." She caught my arm when I turned to go into the office. "What were you thinking, Mercedes Thompson? A Little Wolf who attacks the great ones will be dead soon, I think. Luck runs out eventually." "He would have killed a boy under my protection," I told her. "I had no choice." She released me and snorted her disapproval, but when she spoke her Russian accent was firmly in place. "There is always choice, Mercy. Always choice. If he attacked a boy, then I suppose it must not have been one of Adamya's." She looked at her chauffeur and barked out something more. Effectively dismissed, I went back to Mac and our dead werewolf. I found Mac crouched near the body, licking his fingers as if he might have touched the drying blood and was cleaning them off. Not a good sign. Somehow, I was pretty certain that if Mac were fully in control, he wouldn't be doing that. "Mac," I said, strolling past him and over to the far side of the garage, where we'd been sitting. He growled at me. "Stop that," I said sharply, doing my best to keep the fear out of my voice. "Control yourself and come over here. There are some things you should know before Adam gets here." I'd been avoiding a dominance contest, because my instincts told me that Mac was a natural leader, a dominant who might very well eventually become an Alpha in his own right-and I was a woman. Women's liberation hadn't made much headway in the world of werewolves. A mated female took her pack position from her mate, but unmated females were always lower than males unless the male was unusually submissive. This little fact had caused me no end of grief, growing up, as I did, in the middle of a werewolf pack. But without someone more dominant than he, Mac wouldn't be able to take control of his wolf yet. Adam wasn't there, so it was up to me. I stared at him in my best imitation of my foster father and raised an eyebrow. "Mac, for Heaven's sake, leave that poor dead man alone and come over here." He came slowly to his feet, menace clinging to him. Then he shook his head and rubbed his face, swaying a little. "That helped," he said. "Can you do it again?" I tried my best. "Mac. Get over here right now." He staggered a little drunkenly over to me and sat at my feet. "When Adam comes," I told him firmly, "whatever you do, don't look him in the eyes for longer than a second or two. Some of this should be instinct, I hope. It isn't necessary to cower-remember that you've done no wrong at all. Let me talk. What we want is for Adam to take you home with him." "I'm fine on my own," Mac objected, sounding almost like himself, but he kept his head turned toward the body. "No, you're not," I said firmly. "If there wasn't a pack, you might survive. But if you run into one of Adam's wolves without being made known to the pack, they'll probably kill you. Also, the full moon is coming soon. Adam can help you get control of your beast before then." "I can control the monster?" asked Mac, stilling. "Absolutely," I told him. "And it's not a monster-any more than a killer whale is a monster. Werewolves are hot-tempered and aggressive, but they aren't evil." I thought about the one who had sold him and corrected myself. "At least not any more evil than any other person." "I don't even remember what the beast does," Mac said. "How can I control it?" "It's harder the first few times," I told him. "A good Alpha can get you through that. Once you have control, then you can go back to your old life if you want. You have to be a little careful; even in human form you're going to have to deal with having a shorter temper and a lot more strength than you're used to. Adam can teach you." "I can't ever go back," he whispered. "Get control first," I told him. "There are people who can help you with the rest. Don't give up." "You're not like me." "Nope," I agreed. "I'm a walker: it's different from what you are. I was born this way." "I've never heard of a walker. Is that some sort of fae?" "Close enough," I said. "I don't get a lot of the neat things that you werewolves have. No super strength. No super healing. No pack." "No chance you might eat your friends," he suggested. I couldn't tell if he was trying to be funny, or if he was serious. "There are some benefits," I agreed. "How did you find out so much about werewolves?" I opened my mouth to give him the short version, but decided the whole story might better serve to distract him from the dead body. "My mother was a rodeo groupie," I began, sitting down beside him. "She liked cowboys, any cowboy. She liked a Blackfoot bull-rider named Joe Old Coyote from Browning, Montana, enough to get pregnant with me. She told me that he claimed to come from a long line of medicine men, but at the time she thought he was just trying to impress her. He died in a car accident three days after she met him." "She was seventeen, and her parents tried to talk her into an abortion, but she would have none of it. Then they tried to get her to put me up for adoption, but she was determined to raise me herself-until I was three months old, and she found a coyote pup in my crib." "What did she do?" "She tried to find my father's family," I told him. "She went to Browning and found several families there with that last name, but they claimed they'd never heard of Joe. He was certainly Native American." I made a gesture to encompass my appearance. I don't look pureblood; my features are too Anglo. But my skin looks tanned even in November, and my straight hair is as dark as my eyes. "But otherwise I don't know much about him." "Old Coyote," said Mac speculatively. I smiled at him. "Makes you think this shifting thing must have run in the family, doesn't it?" "So how was it that you were raised by werewolves?" "My great-grandfather's uncle was a werewolf," I said. "It was supposed to be a family secret, but it's hard to keep secrets from my mother. She just smiles at people, and they tell her their life stories. Anyway, she found his phone number and called him." "Wow," said Mac. "I never met any of my great-grandparents." "Me either," I said, then smiled. "Just an uncle of theirs who was a werewolf. One of the benefits of being a werewolf is a long life." If you can control the wolf-but Adam could explain that part better than me. His gaze was drawn back to our dead friend. "Yes, well." I sighed. "Stupidity will still get you killed. My great-grandfather's uncle was smart enough to outlive his generation, but all those years didn't keep him from getting gutted by a moose he was out hunting one night." "Anyway," I continued, "he came to visit and knew as soon as he saw me what I was. That was before the fae came out and people were still trying to pretend that science had ruled out the possibility of magic. He convinced my mother that I'd be safer out in the hinterlands of Montana being raised by the Marrok's pack-they have their own town in the mountains where strangers seldom bother them. I was fostered with a family there who didn't have any children." "Your mother just gave you up?" "My mother came out every summer, and they didn't make it easy on her either. Not overfond of humans, the Marrok, excepting their own spouses and children." "I thought the Marrok was the wolf who rules North America," said Mac. "Packs sometimes take their public name from their leader," I told him. "So the Marrok's pack call themselves the Marrok. More often they find some geographical feature in their territory. Adam's wolves are the Columbia Basin Pack. The only other pack in Washington is the Emerald Pack in Seattle." Mac had another question, but I held up my hand for him to be quiet. I'd heard Adam's car pull up. "Remember what I said about the Alpha," I told Mac and stood up. "He's a good man and you need him. Just sit there, keep your eyes down, let me talk, and everything will be all right." The heavy garage door of bay one groaned, then rang like a giant cymbal as it was forced all the way open faster than it usually moved. Adam Hauptman stood in the open doorway, stillness cloaking his body and for an instant, I saw him with just my eyes, as a human might. He was worth looking at. For all his German last name, his face and coloring were Slavic: dusky skin, dark hair-though not as dark as mine-wide cheekbones, and a narrow but sensual mouth. He wasn't tall or bulky, and a human might wonder why all eyes turned to him when he walked into a room. Then they'd see his face and assume, wrongly, that it was the attraction. Adam was an Alpha, and if he'd been ugly he would have held the attention of anyone who happened to be nearby, wolf or human-but the masculine beauty he carried so unself-consciously didn't hurt. Under more usual circumstances his eyes were a rich chocolate brown, but they had lightened with his anger until they were almost yellow. I heard Mac gasp when the full effect of Adam's anger hit him, so I was prepared and let the wave of power wash off me like seawater on glass. Maybe I should have explained matters better when I had him on the phone, but where's the fun in that? "What happened?" he asked, his voice softer than the first snowfall in winter. "It's complicated," I said, holding his gaze for two full seconds before I turned my head and gestured toward the body. "The dead one is there. If he belongs to you, he is new-and you haven't been doing your job. He was as deaf and blind as a human. I was able to take him by surprise, then he was too ignorant to realize that the wound wouldn't close as fast as usual if it was given by a preternatural creature. He let himself bleed out because he was too caught up in the chase to-" "Enough, Mercedes," he growled as he strode over to the dead wolfman and knelt beside him. He moved the body and one of the corpse's arms flopped down limply on the ground. Mac whined eagerly, then bowed his head and pressed it against my thigh so that he couldn't see. The sound drew Adam's attention from the body to the boy at my feet. He growled. "This one isn't one of mine-and neither is that." "So gracious," I said. "Your mother should be complimented on your manners, Hauptman." "Careful," he whispered. It wasn't a threat, it was a warning. Okay. He was scary. Really scary. He'd probably have been scary even when he was just a human. But it wouldn't do to let him know he intimidated me. "Adam Hauptman," I said politely to show him how it was done. "Allow me to introduce you to Mac-that's all of his name I know. He was attacked by a werewolf in Chicago about two moons ago. The werewolf killed his girlfriend, but he survived. He was taken by his attacker and put in a cage. A man who sounds a lot like the Chicago Alpha Leo sold him to someone who held him inside a cage in a semitrailer and used him for what sounds like some sort of drug experiments until he broke free. Last Friday he showed up at my door looking for work." "You didn't inform me that you had a strange wolf on your doorstep?" I gave him a put-upon sigh. "I am not one of your pack members, Adam. I know this is difficult for you to fathom, so I'll speak slowly: I don't belong to you. I am under no obligation to tell you anything." Adam swore harshly. "New werewolves are dangerous, woman. Especially when they are cold and hungry." He looked at Mac, and his voice changed completely, the heat and anger gone. "Mercy, come here." I didn't look down to see what he'd noticed in Mac's face. I took a step, but Mac was wrapped around my left leg. I stopped before I fell. "Uhm. I'm a little stuck for the moment." "For a smart girl, you're pretty stupid sometimes," he said, his voice rich and gentle so as not to startle the werewolf by my side. "Locking yourself in a garage with a new wolf and a dead body isn't the smartest thing you could have done. I don't have a connection with him yet. It would help if you have his real name." "Mac," I murmured. "What's your name?" "Alan," he said dreamily, coming up to his knees so his face was pressed against my belly. "Alan MacKenzie Frazier after my grandfather who died the year I was born." The friction of his movement rucked my shirt up and he licked my bare skin. To an outsider it might have looked sensual, but the abdomen is a vulnerable spot on the body, a favorite of predators. "You smell good," he whispered. He smelled like werewolf, and I was starting to panic-which wasn't a very useful thing to do. "Alan," said Adam, rolling the name on his tongue. "Alan MacKenzie Frazier, come here to me." Mac jerked his head away from me but tightened his arms painfully on my hips. He looked at Adam and growled, a low rumble that caused his chest to vibrate against my leg. "Mine," he said. Adam's eyes narrowed. "I don't think so. She is mine." It would have been flattering, I thought, except that at least one of them was talking about dinner and I wasn't certain about the other. While Adam had Mac distracted, I reached behind me and grabbed my big crowbar from the shelf directly behind us. I brought it down on Mac's collarbone. It was an awkward hit because I didn't have much leverage, but the collarbone, even on a werewolf, is not hard to damage. I heard the bone crack and wrenched myself out of Mac's grip and across the garage before he recovered from the unexpected pain. I didn't like hurting him, but he would heal in a few hours as long as I didn't let him eat me. I didn't think he was the kind of person who would recover from murder as easily as he would a broken bone. Adam had moved almost as quickly as I had. He grabbed Mac by the scruff of his neck and jerked him to his feet. "Adam," I said, from the relative safety of the far end of the garage. "He's new and untaught. A victim." I kept my voice quiet so I didn't add to the excitement. It helped that Mac wasn't looking particularly dangerous at the moment. He hung limply in Adam's grip. "Sorry," he said almost inaudibly. "Sorry." Adam let out an exasperated huff of air and lowered Mac to the ground-on his feet at first, but when Mac's knees proved too limp to hold him up, Adam eased him all the way down. "Hurts," said Mac. "I know." Adam didn't sound angry anymore-of course, he was talking to Mac and not me. "If you change, it'll heal faster." Mac blinked up at him. "I don't think he knows how to do it on purpose," I offered. Adam slanted a thoughtful look at the body, then back at me. "You said something about a cage and experiments?" Mac didn't say anything, so I nodded. "That's what he told me. Apparently someone has a drug that they are trying to get to work on werewolves." I told him what Mac had told me, then gave him the details of my own encounter with the dead werewolf and his human comrade. I'd already told Adam most of the salient facts, but I wasn't certain how much information made it through his anger, so I just told him all of it again. "Damn it," said Adam succinctly when I'd finished. "Poor kid." He turned back to Mac. "All right. You're going to be fine. The first thing we're going to do is call your wolf out so that you can heal." "No," Mac said, looking wildly at me, then at the dead wolfman. "I can't control myself when I'm like that. I'll hurt someone." "Look at me," said Adam, and even though the dark, raspy voice hadn't been directed at me, I found myself unable to pull my eyes off him. Mac was riveted. "It's all right, Alan. I won't allow you to hurt Mercy-much as she deserves it. Nor," Adam continued, proving that he was observant "will I allow you to eat the dead." When Mac hesitated, I walked back over and knelt beside Adam so I could look Mac in the eye. "I told you, he can control your wolf until you can. That's why he's Alpha. You can trust him." Mac stared at me, then closed his eyes and nodded. "All right. But I don't know how." "You'll get the hang of it," Adam said. "But for right now I'll help you." His knee nudged me away, as he got out his pocket knife. "This will be easier without your clothing." I got up as unobtrusively as I could and tried not to flinch when Mac cried out. The change is not easy or painless at the best of times, and it was worse without the aid of the moon's call. I don't know why they can't change like I do, but I had to close my eyes against the pained sounds that came from the corner of my garage. Certainly the broken collarbone didn't make the shift any easier for Mac. Some werewolves can change relatively quickly with practice, but a new werewolf can take a lot of time. I slipped out of the garage through the office and walked out the door, both to give them some privacy and because I couldn't bear Mac's suffering anymore. I sat on the single cement step outside the office and waited. Elizaveta returned, leaning on her grandson's arm about the same time that Mac's scream turned into a wolf's cry. "There is another werewolf?" Elizaveta asked me. I nodded and got to my feet. "That boy I told you about," I said. "Adam's here, though, so it's safe. Did you clean Stefan's van?" I nodded at the bus. "Yes, yes. Did you think you were dealing with an amateur?" She gave an offended sniff. "Your vampire friend will never know that his van held a corpse other than his own." "Thank you." I tilted my head, but I couldn't hear anything from inside the garage, so I opened the office door and called, "Adam?" "It's all right," he said, sounding tired. "It's safe." "Elizaveta is here with her chauffeur," I warned him in case he hadn't noticed them when he'd stormed in. "Have her come in, too." I would have held open the door, but Elizaveta's grandson took it out of my hand and held it for both of us. Elizaveta shifted her bony grasp from his arm to mine, though from the strength of her grip I was pretty certain that she didn't need help walking. Mac was curled up in the far corner of the garage where I'd left him. His wolf form was dark gray, blending in with the shadows on the cement floor. He had one white foot and a white stripe down his nose. Werewolves usually have markings that are more doglike than wolflike. I don't know why. Bran, the Marrok, has a splash of white on his tail, as though he'd dipped it in a bucket of paint. I think it's cute-but I'd never had the nerve to tell him so. Adam was kneeling beside the dead man, paying no attention to Mac at all. He looked up when we came in from the office. "Elizaveta Arkadyevna," he said in a formal greeting, then added something in Russian. Switching back to English, he continued, "Robert, thank you for coming tonight, too." Elizaveta said something in Russian directed at Adam. "Not quite yet," Adam replied. "Can you reverse his change?" He gestured to the dead man. "I don't recognize his scent, but I'd like to get a good look at his face." Elizaveta frowned and spoke rapidly in Russian to her grandson. His response had her nodding, and they chatted for a few moments more before she turned back to Adam. "That might be possible. I can certainly try." "I don't suppose you have a camera here, Mercy?" Adam asked. "I do," I told him. I work on old cars. Sometimes I work on cars that other people have "restored" in new and interesting fashions. I've found that getting a picture of the cars before I work on them is useful in putting them back together again. "I'll get it." "And bring a piece of paper and an ink stamp pad if you have it. I'll send his fingerprints off to a friend for identification." By the time I returned, the corpse was back in human form, and the hole I'd torn in his neck gaped open like a popped balloon. His skin was blue with blood loss. I'd seen dead men before, but none that I was responsible for killing. The change had torn his clothing-and not in the interesting way that comic books and fantasy artists always depict it. The crotch of his pants was ripped open along with his blood-soaked shirt's neck and shoulder seams. It seemed terribly undignified. Adam took the digital camera from me and snapped a few pictures from different angles, then tucked it back in its case and slung it over his shoulder. "I'll get it back to you as soon as I get these pictures off it," he promised absently as he took the paper and ink stamp and, rather expertly, rolled the limp fingers in the ink, then on the sheet of paper. Things moved rapidly after that. Adam helped Elizaveta's grandson deposit the body in the luxurious depths of the trunk of her car for disposal. Elizaveta did her mumbles and shakes that washed my garage in magic and, hopefully, left it clean of any evidence that I'd ever had a dead man inside. She took Mac's clothing, too. "Hush," said Adam, when Mac growled an objection. "They were little more than rags anyway. I've clothes that should fit you at my house, and we'll pick up more tomorrow." Mac gave him a look. "You're coming home with me," said Adam, in a tone that brooked no argument. "I'll not have a new werewolf running loose around my city. You come and learn a thing or two, then I'll let you stay or go as you choose-but not until I'm satisfied you can control yourself." "I am going now; it is not good for an old woman like me to be up this late," Elizaveta said. She looked at me sourly. "Don't do anything stupid for a while if you can help it, Mercedes. I do not want to come back out here." She sounded as if she came out to clean up my messes on a regular basis, though this was the first time. I was tired, and the sick feeling that killing a man had left in my stomach was still trying to bring up what little was left of my dinner. Her sharpness raised the hackles I was too on edge to pull down, so my response wasn't as diplomatic as it ought to have been. "I wouldn't want that, either," I said smoothly. She caught the implied insult, but I kept my eyes wide and limpid so she wouldn't know whether I meant it or not. Insulting witches is right up there on the stupid list with enraging Alpha werewolves and cuddling with a new wolf next to a dead body: all of which I'd done tonight. I couldn't help it, though. Defiance was a habit I'd developed to preserve myself while growing up with a pack of dominant and largely male werewolves. Werewolves, like other predators, respect bravado. If you are too careful not to anger them, they'll see it as a weakness-and weak things are prey. Tomorrow I was going to repair old cars and keep my head down for a while. I'd used up all my luck tonight. Adam seemed to agree because he took Elizaveta's hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow, drawing her attention back to him as he escorted her back to her car. Her grandson Robert gave me a lazy grin. "Don't push the babushka too hard, Mercy," he said softly. "She likes you, but that won't stop her if she feels you aren't showing her proper respect." "I know," I said. "I'm going home to see if a few hours of sleep won't curb my tongue before it gets us into trouble." I meant to sound humorous, but it just came out tired. Robert gave me a sympathetic smile before he left. A heavy weight leaned against my hip and I looked down to see Mac. He gave me what I imagined was a sympathetic look. Adam was still with Elizaveta, but Mac didn't seem to be having trouble. I scratched him lightly behind one pricked ear. "Come on," I told him. "Let's lock up." This time I remembered to grab my purse. READ MORE ...

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