Chapter Eight, Part Two

    What Reggie “whipped up” was some kind of pulled pork tacos with pineapple and a chilled red bell pepper and habeñero soup. I found out later that the tacos were called “al pastor,” and that he must have been marinating the pork since the day before. I was fascinated just watching him cook, and I was thankful that whoever had ransacked our quarters had left the kitchen alone. When lunch was finally served, Reggie started talking.
    “I told you about my birth, about gradually learning about my father. My mother apparently developed a kind of immunity to lycanthropy from carrying me. I bit her often growing up, but she never turned.” Reggie appeared lost in unwelcome remembrance for a moment, so I decided to jump in with a question.
    “If she had?” I cut in. “Or if you bit me, or I ate from the same fork or something?”
    “First of all,” he said, “there has to be an actual exchange of bodily fluids, and saliva to saliva doesn’t seem to be enough. So, eating off the same fork wouldn’t do it. I am more contagious during the full moon, so we may want to wash the dishes better during that time of the month, but otherwise, it would take a lot more than a little spit swapping.”
    “Okay, but what would happen to me if I did get bit?” I asked.
    “First, the wound becomes inflamed,” Reggie said. “Then, the pain radiates outward, building in intensity for about three days.”
    “Yep. It becomes debilitating. You won’t get out of bed for a week. During that time you will feel a severe ache near your kidneys. That’s your adrenal gland mutating. Its production of adrenaline increases, and it begins producing lycanthropene. You eventually make a full recovery, but you’ll notice changes. It’s like going through puberty all over again.”
    “In what way?” I asked.
    “Your bone structure changes slightly, which feels like growing pains. Your toe and fingernails become coarser, and start growing more rapidly. Your underarm hair and pubic hair get coarser. Your sex drive ramps up.”
    “My sex—”
    “It’s a permanent cure for erectile dysfunction.” Reggie laughed. I couldn’t tell if he was joking or if he just found it funny. “Anyway, your first transformation occurs during the night that precedes the first full moon after you were turned. Normally that means you’ve had a whole lunar cycle to recuperate, but in rare cases that’s not true. If you haven’t had a whole month it will be more painful, as a lot of the changes you would normally undergo slowly will happen quickly and all at once.
    “In your beast form,” Reggie continued, “you’ll be slightly smaller than you usually are, but still big for whatever you change into.”
    “Is that dictated by who bit me?” I asked.
    “Yes. So, if it was me that bit you, you’d be a very big coyote. You’d have an insatiable hunger for raw meat. You wouldn’t care where it came from. Lycanthropes eat all the normal game animals, but they also experience a desire to consume the flesh of predators like coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions. And humans.”
    “But you told me that you don’t eat people,” I said, sitting up straight.
    “You asked me about if you were turned. A turned werecoyote, or werefox, or wereanything experiences the blood-lust at a greater level than I ever have. Second, the compulsion, like any compulsion, can eventually be overcome. It’s easier for born lycanthropes like me. We’re also more likely to want to, because we’re more likely to remember our nocturnal activities. But the first time you turn, you’re guaranteed to eat any raw meat you see. Cooked meat won’t do it.”
    “Okay, so three nights of that, and then back to normal?”
    “No. The first time, your hormone cycle hasn’t quite synced up with the moon yet. It’s volatile and highly unpredictable. You could turn one night, be normal for two more, and then turn again for another week. You could turn during the daytime, though that’s very rare. You could turn every night for the whole first month.”
    “So, how do you come to know anything about turned werethings?”
    “From Die Wurf,” he said. “I mentioned my time in Europe, right?” I nodded, and he went on. “I’d heard my father had been a member of Die Wurf. So I went to find out. And I tried to join. I didn’t understand what they were back then.”
    “And what are they?”
    “It took me a while to find out. At first I thought they were mostly a syndicate for crooks who just happened to be werecanids. And they are, at the lowest levels. They deal with ‘norms’ when practical, they have rules, and a hierarchy, they have a support network for specialized needs. Getting lots of fresh raw meat in a city like London without drawing attention to yourself can be a bit of a puzzle. They can help you with that.
    “But at the higher levels,” Reggie said, “they’re a cult. They’ve got rituals like a cult, they’ve got weird ceremonies and mythology like a cult, they’ve got an elaborate initiation like a cult, and they’ve got a mind-numbingly awful ultimate goal like a cult.”
    “So what’s the goal?”
    “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘as the world turns’?”
    “What?” I laughed, thinking Reggie was being facetious. “They want to turn everyone?”
    “I never got high up enough to hear the full ‘Blueprint’, but there’s definitely a large amount of pressure to turn ‘norms’ as they called them. There’s also a cavalier attitude towards taking lives. I said that they’d help you find raw meat that didn’t draw attention, and that’s true, but they only saw that as a means of concealing ourselves as a practical matter. I heard about hunting parties that would go out on the moors of England or into the forests of France or Germany and camp under a full moon, letting their inner creature take over, unconcerned with whether they fed on some poor rancher’s sheep or the rancher himself.”
    “Why not just go around biting everyone, if turning people is the goal?” I asked.
    “Because,” Reggie said, “between the handful of people who are smart enough to figure out that weres exist, and the paranoid conspiracy theorists like Banks, there have been mass extinctions of were-things in the past. That’s why there are no more werewolves, for instance. That’s what the Dogcatchers were set up to do.”
    “So, you found out they wanted to wipe out mankind, and that’s when you left?”
    Reggie took a big bite of his taco and chewed it thoughtfully for a moment.
    “I wanted information, Sam. I stayed with them longer than I should have. But I was on this revenge kick, I wanted to find my father. So I kept climbing and climbing their ladder. It was easy for me because I’m a born were, and born weres are favored more than the more volatile turned weres. I was clever at confidence schemes and a good actor. I was a good earner for the society, too. One night they haul me out into the wilderness wearing a black bag over my head. And nothing else. The moon is at the waxing gibbous, so I’m getting hungry, but I’m still in control.
    “They drive me in the back of the van from one night into the next day, until nightfall again. Without food or water. When they take the bag off my head, I’m standing, naked, on a hilltop in the Scottish highlands. There isn’t a town for miles. The moon, looking pregnant but not ready to burst, is at the apex of its nightly journey. I’m disoriented. I’m ravenous. I ask if there’s any food, and they laugh at me. I ask for water, and they laugh again. They stand around me in half-forms—”
    “Half-forms?” I asked.
    “Sorry, Sam. A half-form is something that’s difficult to master even for a born were, like me. Nearly impossible, I would think, for a turned were. You transform partway into your base-creature. So you stand erect like a person, you keep your flexibility and your opposable thumbs, you keep most of your higher brain functions, but your hands and feet become more claw-like, your nails extend, your teeth jut out, and you get a lot hairier. And quite a bit shorter. The adrenaline and the lycanthropene are pumping, almost like in a full transformation, so you’re a little high, pain is dulled. Your muscles have become more dense so you’re noticeably stronger.
    “So I’m standing there, surrounded by fox-men, coyote-men, jackal-men, and hyena-men, even a few dog-men. And they’re laughing at me. It’s this barking, yipping, cacophonic laugher that just beats on your ears. I feel extra naked, so I go into my half-form, too. With the hair all over my body I feel more in control, almost clothed, but hungrier.
    “I say, ‘Seriously, guys, I need something to eat or drink.’
    “‘We’ve got something for you,’ someone barks at me. ‘It’s the next step. You can have your own little pack, some turned brutes to do whatever you want. You just got to pass a test. A little loyalty test, is all.’
    “‘And then I can eat?’ I ask.
    “‘Then you can have your fill.’ He says. I recognize the voice and scent of the weredingo speaking. His name’s Marcus June. He’d been my mentor, and occasionally a friend, though he’d often been harsh with me when my capers didn’t meet his standards. I tell him food sounds good, and ask what I have to do.
    “‘Down there in that valley is a little house where a young shepherdess is all alone tonight,’ June says. ‘You race down there, you claim her, you turn her, and you can have whatever you want from her flock. What’s more, you reach the next level in Die Wurf.’
    “I’m about to protest that I’ll do no such thing when he cocks his head and continues.
    “‘These other boys have all failed in the past. They want a shot at it, too. But you get a two minute head-start, lad, since it’s your first time.’
    “So I run. I run with the thought of warning her, but what can I do? I’m naked. I could either approach her as a hairy monster, or as a nude pervert. Really, I’m naked either way. Halfway down the hill, I see her cottage. I decide to approach in my half-form, but remain hidden. I figure I’ll knock at her window and call out to her, to warn her. Suddenly I hear a choir of howls behind me. My companions are starting down the hill as well. They’re in beast form, gaining on me. I start yelling, screaming at her to bolt the doors, to bar the windows, to protect herself however she can. I hear a clap like thunder and a bolt of lightning goes right through my shoulder.
    “It burns. It burns like I’ve been impaled with a hot iron. I look down and see blood pouring from my shoulder. So much of my own blood. So much pain. More than I’d felt in my life of misadventures. She’s got silver bullets! She knows what we are! I call out to her once more, warning her, but she fires again. I hear it go past my ear. I look over my shoulder and see the rest of the pack bearing down on me.”
    “Oh my God,” I said to Reggie. “What did you do? How did you save her?”
    Reggie sat in silence for a while.
    “I didn’t.” He swallowed. “There were so many of them, Sam. At least a dozen. I couldn’t fight them all. I couldn’t stop them all, Sam! And she was firing right at me with those damned silver bullets! I didn’t save her. I gave up. I ran. I ran as fast as I could from a dozen crazed monsters and a poor shepherdess with a handful of special bullets. I still have the scar.”
    Reggie unbuttoned his shirt to show me his left shoulder, with a twisted, pale scar from the bullet that failed to kill him.
    “I heard her screaming all the way back to London,” he said. “I ran the whole way on foot. I collapsed, hairy and nude, in an alley. I drank from a rain barrel. I still hear her scream at night, Sam. I caught a glimpse of her through her candlelit window. Just a fiery mane of red hair.”
    I sat looking at him as he buried his face in his hands and apparently began to weep. I admit I had become somewhat jaded towards Reggie, and had my doubts about his grief. I had my doubts about his story, too. I rationalized that if it had been me inventing the story, I would have made up a way to save the girl. I’d have made myself the hero. On the other hand, that’s what a practiced confidence man does, isn’t it? He tells you a story that hits all your buttons, that slips right under your bullshit radar? I thought about motive. Why would Reggie lie to me about this? To gain sympathy. But he had that. He knew I wasn’t going to kick him out.
    It wasn’t in my nature to be this suspicious, and finally I decided it couldn’t hurt to comfort him. I stood up. I walked over to his chair, and looked down at him. He was shaking. Tears poured from his eyes. Real tears that streamed through his hands. I laid a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up at me. I patted him twice, as my father had done for me when I was eight years old and our hound dog Duchess had to be put down. It was the only memory of a comforting male figure I could conjure. I’d wished he had been there to pat my shoulder when Carla and Robin had died.
    Reggie looked up at me.
    I looked down at him.
    He looked at his feet.
    “So, ‘MJ’ is Marcus June?” I asked.
    “Yep. That’s his card.”
    “I think that’s enough story time for this afternoon, kid. I got dishes to do. You got a case to solve. And some surreptitiously recorded conversations to listen to.”
    Hours later I tore Reggie away from his work to eat a meal of take-out Chinese food and beer. On the way home I’d pulled over to offer Packey a box of chow mein, but   his corner was empty. Reggie had been committing to paper what could remember from Street’s desk, cross referencing that with the transcription he’d made of my interrogation, and double checking it against his notes from Banks’ case book.
    “I would have made dinner, Sam,” he said.
    “And it would have been as excellent as the lunch you ‘whipped up’ I’m sure, Sherlock. But A, you’ve been cooking for me all week, and B, you’ve been working hard, and more importantly, C, I was too hungry to wait until you were done with all this.” I waived my hand at his paperwork.
    “Thanks, Sam.”
    “Getting anywhere?”
    “Yep. Apparently Street and Banks are tied up. I still think the Sheriff is holding them back for political reasons. Looks like Pat White’s a lot more connected to everyone than I thought.”
    “He’s got financial interests in some of the tribal casinos around here, in tourism, the payday loan industry. And a little business doing private loans on the side. Looks like at some point he floated Patty’s late first-husband a rather substantial sum.”
    “That’s weird. Why did he need money? Wasn’t his sports-bar franchise still a moneymaker?”
    “Juegos?” Reggie asked. “I think so. You’re right.” he nodded, then pulled out some of his other notes. “Except,” he continued, “Banks’ notes from before mentioned he gambled.” He closed his eyes and faced the ceiling, rubbing his temples. “But he died without debt. Then there are a few interesting bits about the corpse.”
    “Yeah. Gunshot wounds, both show traces of silver. That makes sense to us of course, but not to them. What’s confusing me is that there was also an old coin stuffed in Noah’s mouth. It was silver, too, but there was no note of any scarring around the mouth. So it must have been put there after death. I called Lupé but neither she, nor Jack knew anything about the coin, or why it was there.”
    “Could it be an organized crime thing?” I asked. “Is this one of your secret societies after all?”
    “Renard did seem to think Salazar was a Dogcatcher, but still. I’m not aware that they use any sort of symbolism like that. Why would a French secret society use a Spanish coin?”
    “What does it all add up to?” I wondered aloud.
    Reggie paced up and down for a few minutes in silence, then shrugged and sighed. “Can we talk about something else?”
    “Sure,” I smiled.
    I drank way too much, but we didn’t say a word about the case for the rest of the night. Or werewolves, or secret societies, or any of it. We talked about music, we talked about food, we talked about travel. Mostly we talked about food.
    I made my way upstairs and found the empty canvas waiting for me. I stared at it for a moment before picking up my pallet and prepping it with a few choice colors. There was an image in my mind that I needed to get out. I don’t really remember the process. I had had too much to drink. I just remember the enormous relief I felt to be attacking the canvas with oil. I went to bed exhausted, and woke up abruptly to Reggie’s voice in my ear.

2 Responses to Chapter Eight, Part Two

  1. Brad says:

    The pork tacos with pineapple sound delicious. Where can I get some? Bring on chapter 9! (P.S. I vote for 2 chapters a week)

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