Chapter Four, Part One




FOUR
 
There’s No Such Thing as Werewolves
 
    At some point in the night, I had collapsed from terror and fatigue. I woke early the next morning, sweating after a particularly vivid dream. I quickly convinced myself that what I’d seen in Reggie’s room was part of my nightmarescape.  Heavy food, brushes with the police, hitting my head, and whispers of a secret society had left my subconscious with a hell of a lot of loose psychic garbage to process. There had been no monster. There were no such things as monsters.
    I still could not help but walk down the hallway to Reggie’s room as I got up to fix my breakfast. The door was closed, so I knocked gently. I expected the kind of grunt or groan my son would have uttered if I’d woken him while he was on winter break from college. All I got was silence.  I knocked louder. Nothing. Slowly, carefully, I eased open the door.
    I nearly lost my appetite when I saw that the carnage of the night before was not a figment of my imagination.  Reggie was nowhere in sight.  The mattress was just as torn as I remembered it. I was ready to believe that the vandals who had trashed his previous abode had somehow infiltrated my home, but I kept looking.  Tufts of gray fur lay strewn about the floor.  There were deep claw marks on the windowsill.  The window was broken, hanging open on its frame, and as I walked to it, I saw that the railing on the fire escape outside had given way.  Remnants of the metal scaffolding lay broken and scattered upon the ground below, and the thick chain itself was strewn across the alleyway.  The leather collar that had been used to fasten the chain about the beast’s neck could be seen lying shredded among the wrecked and twisted metal and other debris from the monster’s escape. 
    Seeing this destruction illuminated by the rising sun gave me a desolate feeling. The scene held a realism that had been missing in the moonlight.  It frightened and disturbed me all the more, but flight was no longer a valid response.  I had to deal with this somehow.  I had to know what had happened to Reggie, where he was, and what exactly had been in his room last night. 
    An absurd thought crossed my mind. I almost laughed.  After all, just yesterday Reggie had told Mrs. Plotkarz that “there’s no such thing as werewolves.”  I needed food for thought. 
    I closed Reggie’s door, then walked downstairs.  I ignored the wall calendar in the kitchen that proclaimed tonight to be a full moon.  I measured out the coffee, filled the coffee reservoir, topped off my juice glass, poured my cereal, and my milk. I took a bite of cereal and spit it out. I’d put the coffee grounds in my cereal bowl. I threw it all away and started again. I was shaking. 
    Once I had replenished my blood sugar and obtained a sufficient level of caffeination, I thought things through.  There was no blood anywhere in Reggie’s room. I decided that was a good thing.  There were no scuff marks in the hall’s hardwood floor, or on the stairs.  Therefore, the beast could not have come in through the gallery.  The window, which had been opened, could not have been opened from the outside if it had been bolted. Which it had been, when we moved Reggie’s stuff in.  The old-fashioned iron window fasteners were sturdy, and unbroken.  If the beast entered through the window, either Reggie left his window open despite knowing that a secret society wanted to harm him, or he had deliberately opened the window to allow the beast entrance. 
    How would one bring such a large, angry monster up a fire escape?  What on earth was that thing, anyway?  Why would Reggie want to chain it up in his room?  Why would the kid have anything to do with it? 
    Reggie himself came in the front door at 6:30 in the morning, after I had calmed down a bit. The only explanation that my sleep deprived mind could come up with was too silly to be believed. Still, I was determined to confront Reggie with something, and I might as well go for the absurd. 
    He was not dressed in a suit and tie today. In fact, he was hardly dressed at all.  The pants and jacket he wore might have been his own, but they were wrinkled horribly and torn in places as though they’d been in the garbage.  Where they weren’t shredded, they were stained.  To top it all off, he wore no shirt.  The hairs on his chest stuck out against the dark color of the jacket.  They were an odd mixture of gray, blond, and black.   The hair on his head, too, was shot through with streaks of grey and blond like it had been when I’d first picked him up.  His fingernails were once again long and untrimmed.  This was despite the fact that the morning before they had appeared well manicured.
    “Rough night?”  I asked, casually.
    “You could say that,” he replied.
    “You look a bit the worse for wear.  Let me get you some coffee while you go up and change.” I let myself emphasize the last word. He looked at me sideways for a moment, then started towards the upstairs.
    “I’d just as soon get some rest,” he said. “Gotta work on the Renard case today.”
    “Alright,” I said. “Hey!  When were you going to tell me about your pet?”
    “About my—”  a shade of color drained from Reggie’s face, and his jaw opened slightly. 
    “That was your pet I ran into last night, right?” I asked. “I think he got away.”
    “I—” he stammered for a while, mouth open, as if suddenly remembering something. I decided to push my luck and risk being thought an idiot. At least it would be good for a laugh.
    “When were you going to tell me you’re a werewolf, Reggie?”
    He took one physical step back but appeared to shrink into the distance even further. Did he think I was serious? Wasn’t he going to explain everything to me? Wasn’t he going to condescend to me, and make up a story?
    “I told you yesterday, Sam,” he said almost meekly and apologetically. “There’s no such thing as werewolves.”
    “Then what did I see last night, Reggie?” I forced a chuckle, but this was beginning to seem less and less like a joke.
    “Werewolves have been extinct since the mid-eighteenth century,” he said. “The Beast of Gévaudan was the last.”
    “Extinct? Come on,” I said. “You’ve had your little joke. Now just up and tell me what in hell was that last night?”
    “It was me, Sam. I’m sorry. I don’t have a better explanation for you. It’s the truth.”
    “That thing was you?”
    “I change into a coyote at the full moon.”
    “You’re a—”
    “Werecoyote,” he said. “A lycanthrope. Call me Reggie?” He began to smile, but then seemed to think better of it.
    “That’s ridiculous. You’re pushing this joke too far!”
    “Look, Sam. You saw me last night.”
    “I don’t know what the hell I saw!”
    “Here.” He held out his hand, staring at it for a moment. I stared at it, too. Slowly, before my eyes, his fingernails lengthened, and hair sprouted all over the skin. Then, just as gradually, it returned to normal. I wanted to accuse him of using some sort of stage magic, of tricking me somehow. But the claw his hand had just become was clearly the claw of the beast I’d seen last night. A million intelligent questions popped into my head. I didn’t ask any of them.
    “Do you eat people?”
    “No,” he said.
    “How do you know?”
    “I wasn’t made this way by the bite of another werecoyote,” he said. “I was born like this. My father was a werecoyote and my mother knew him only briefly. They conceived me under a new moon.”
    I grimaced.
    “I didn’t want to know that much about my conception,” he assured me. “But I always wondered why I was the way I was, and why my mother wasn’t like me. She explained to me that she had learned a little bit about lycanthropy since I had been born. First, the only ways to become a werecoyote are to be bitten by one, or to have at least one parent with the condition. A conception under the full moon would have turned my mother, too. The exchange of fluids— the contagion is at its peak during the high point of the lunar cycle. Also, she probably would have been eaten unless it was during the day. But he still may have— ugh.” We both shuddered.
    “Moving on,” he continued, shaking his head as though to rid himself of a mental image. “Under a new moon it was possible to pass the contagion along to me, but not affect my mother. In between the results are,” Reggie paused, “unpredictable.” He coughed.
    “After leaving home I soon learned,” he explained, “that my father had quite the reputation here in the southwest. His name was Patrice Kino. He had built his legend around sleeping with unsuspecting prostitutes beneath a new moon, and impregnating them. Every time I heard the stories it became harder to restrain myself, because of what they implied about my mother. I discovered, by prying as much as I could, that he had arrived in America from Europe. He had been born in Spain to an innocent woman and a Mexican werecoyote, and he wanted to fill the world with others like him.” Reggie coughed again, then exhaled.
    “He must have had high hopes for me. My mother told me that a day before I was born she received a letter from my father with a single sentence: ‘Name him Reginald,’ it said. I’ve always believed he saw something in my mother that made him think of me as… something special. An heir to his hairy empire, as though he was some kind of royalty. Is it possible to be both flattered and disgusted by the same fact?”
    “Yes,” I decided, amazed I could keep up with the wall of impenetrable exposition pouring from Reggie’s mouth.
    “I was,” he said. “Apparently I was special, even amongst other lycanthropes.”
    “Can you just say ‘lycans?’” I asked. “It’s much shorter.”
    “Do I look like Kate Beckinsale to you? How about ‘werethings?’ or ‘weres?’”
    “That’s better,” I said.
    “Anyway, Patrice sent letters, but not one dime to help us survive. My mother couldn’t earn enough to support us both. That’s why I turned to theft and con games. Eventually I went to track him down in Europe—”
    “I think we’re getting off track.” I said. “I’m sure your vendetta against your father is very interesting, and it may even be relevant to my life if I’m going to continue to house you. I’m still dealing with the fact that I have a tenant and friend who claims to turn into a monster at night. I’m simultaneously dealing with the fact that I’m forced to believe you because of what I’ve seen with my own eyes. But what I asked was how you know that you’ve never, well—”
    “I was getting to all that,” Reggie said. “Unlike werethings who have been turned, I retain some memory of my canid activities.”
    “You didn’t seem to remember that I saw you last night,” I pointed out.
    “It takes a while,” he said. “The coyote’s memories fade into my own like bits and pieces of a dream. But kills are the most vivid memories I have from my canine self. The memory of the goat I ate last night is still fresh in my mind,” he licked his lips. “I owe a rancher a donation.” He paused, and thought. “Or maybe it was a petting zoo. Anyway, I have no memory of killing a human, ever.”
    “I guess I’ll just have to trust that,” I said.
    “Or you could trust the fact that I chained myself up last night,” he replied.
    “Not particularly well.”
    “No,” Reggie said, frowning, “I’ll admit that. The people who ransacked my apartment yesterday took one thing I hadn’t counted on: a sedative I normally give myself on nights like last night.”
    “Great,” I sighed. “My tenant keeps a pet and does drugs. You’re a walking eviction notice, Reggie.”
    “Very funny,” he said. “I tranquilize myself. It makes the chains more effective. When they tossed my place they took my notes on Die Wurf. They took the drugs, too. I didn’t notice they were gone until I unpacked here. I thought the chains would be enough.”
    “What does ‘Die Wurf’ mean, anyhow?” I asked.
    “It means ‘the Litter.’ It’s German.”
    “So it’s a werewolf secret society that’s after you?”
    “There’s no—”
    “—such thing as werewolves. I heard you. Do you get my point?”
    “There are actually two societies after me,” Reggie said. “The Litter is a pro-werecanid society dedicated to the spread of lycanthropy. I think my father must have been one of them. There’s another society, called the Dogcatchers. They’re an anti-lycanthrope society, dedicated to the annihilation of every last were-anything. I don’t like either extreme. I thought that both of them were confined mostly to Europe, with few members here. I am beginning to realize that I was wrong.”
    “Are you a slave to the moon?” I asked.
    “Only to a certain extent,” he said. “I guess you learned yesterday that I’m more emotional during a full moon. And I can’t not change for the three nights when it’s full. I can put it off like I did last night until you went to bed, I can sedate myself, but I can’t stop the transformation. Under a new moon, I can’t become a coyote at all. In between I can control myself to greater or lesser degrees depending on the phase of the moon.”
    “And that’s because you were born a were, ah, werecoyote?”
    “Partially,” he said. “Mostly, it’s from training myself to do it. But yeah, turned weres have a very hard time exerting any control at all over themselves.”
    “So, you promise you’re not going to eat me?”
    “Yep,” he said.
    “Even if you get loose like you did last night.”
    “Yes. I’ve taught my inner-coyote that your scent is pack, not prey. I don’t think a turned-were could do that.” He cocked his head, and then shook it, remembering something. “Sorry about your son’s room, Sam. I’ll pay to put it back together, after this case is over.”
    “I’ll believe that when I see it,” I said.
    “Wise move.” Reggie’s phone buzzed. “Reginald LaKino,” he said. “Mrs. Renard!” Reggie gave me an accusing look, as though trying to make me feel guilty for making him late to his investigation. I crossed my arms. “Yes, we’re on our way out now. Okay. Okay. Fine. Okay. See you soon.” He hung up. “Hey, Sam, can you give me a ride? The client’s getting impatient. We should go.”
    “Fine,” I nodded, slowly rising from my chair. “I’ll get my sunglasses.”
 



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