Ghoulish police officers, sewer chases, and cell inmates are what Detective Maria Selena need to face as she tries to find out the truth behind her hairy situation. Her leads drag her from one end of the city to the other in a race against time and her enemies. Each new clue brings more questions, and each new deal leads to more trouble. Her only hope is to trust herself and her new abilities to get her out of this mess before she finds herself neck-deep in someone’s mouth.
I backed up and held up my hands. "Come on, Baldwin, you know you don't want to do this."
He chuckled and matched me step-for-step. "But I do. Werewolves are a little furry in my mouth, but they have a toughness in them that I admire. I think of it as a challenge to slay one."
I would have rather not thought of it at all. "This is insane. We've known each other for years. Why eat me now?"
"It's all because of what you know about the moonstone," he revealed. "And if I don't think you're telling me everything you know about it then I'm afraid I'm going to have to make your death all that much more painful."
I reached the end of the small kitchen and my back knocked against the wall. My palms pressed against the wall and I narrowed my eyes at him. "What do you want with the moonstone?"
He shook his head. "I want nothing to do with it, but my employer is very eager to get a hold of it."
"And who's he?" I questioned him.
I'm the one who asks the questions here, and you're going to answer them like a good dog," Baldwin ordered me.
He stretched out his hand towards my neck. Something inside of me snapped. It was my muscles. I instinctively pressed myself against the wall and pushed off the crumbling wallpaper. My feet sprang from the cracked tile floor and I sailed over Baldwin. I landed with a heavy thud on the top of the fridge. One of the legs must have been shorter than the others because the whole thing rocked back and forth when I hit its top. It was a good thing the fridge was one of those old fat ones because I slid across its smooth, dusty surface and crashed head-first into the wall.
I flailed around for a little while to get my bearings and ended up on my back with my head tilted back so I faced Baldwin. He was pretty ticked at me. His mouth was a thin line that no drunk could've walked across and his eyes were narrowed.
"What?" I asked him. "Never seen a werewolf jump?"
"I seem to have underestimated the extent of your adeptness with your abilities," he mused as he strode over to me. "That won't happen again."
I righted myself so I was on all fours on the top of the fridge. The old thing swayed and rocked, and I had to cling to the sides to keep from losing my balance. Some mental nerve inside me was on autopilot and did all the balancing for me. That left the escape plan to my conscious self. I looked past Baldwin at the doorway that led into the rest of the house.
"I hate reruns as much as the next guy, but I'm going to have to disappoint both of us," I quipped.
I pushed off from the fridge and sailed through the air towards the door. Baldwin was one step ahead of me and leapt up. He grabbed my ankle and jerked down. I slammed chest-first into the floor and left a dent an inch thick in the linoleum. The wind was knocked from my lungs and I saw badges swirling around my head. I climbed onto my knees and hands, but Baldwin grabbed the back of my collar and lifted me off the floor. He turned me around and shoved my face into his, and his wasn't pretty anymore.
His eyes were still transparent with a bluish tinge to them, and now his face was as white as a body sheet. The look in his eyes told me he still intended for me to be in one of those soon, if there was enough of me to garner a bag. He grinned and his mouth stretched open from ear-to-ear. He could've fit a whole dozen donuts in there and had room for the baker's treat, but that mouth wasn't made for wheat products. There were two rows of sharp, pointy teeth that glistened in the weak light.
"Nice moves, but not nice enough," he growled.
"Then try this one," I snapped. I swung my fist and it connected with his left cheek.
His head jerked to the side and there was a terrible snap as the neck bones went beyond what the human body was capable of. He lost his hold on me, and I dropped to the floor and scrambled backwards on my hands and butt. Baldwin stumbled back and his arms flailed out in front of him. His back hit the door of the fridge, and he reached up and grabbed his head in both hands. I grimaced when he snapped his head back in place and blinked.
His eyes fell on me and his big mouth snarled down at me. "You're going to pay for that one," he growled as he strode towards me. "I'm going to-"
I decided I didn't want to know what he had in mind, so I kicked my leg up when he stepped within range. My foot connected with his groin. Apparently even ghouls had balls because he clutched his family jewels. His eyes bulged out of his head. He stumbled back and fell onto his knees. A small, high-pitched whimper whistled through his sharp teeth.
I took that as my cue to make a quick escape. I scrambled to my feet and shot past my old coworker and the fridge, and out the door. The night gave me some cover from staring eyes, but I didn't have much faith that it'd keep me from getting chomped by my former friend. I wasn't all that familiar with the abilities of ghouls and I wasn't really keen on learning them. What I was keen on doing was finding some place, or somebody, I could trust, or at least a place where I could sit for a night.
I sprinted down a nearby alley and out of sight of the drug house. My mind was giving me a couple of options, and I didn't like any of them. One was to turn myself in to the Chief and tell him the whole truth. I had enough furry evidence on me to get a skeptic to believe me. Unfortunately, I was also covered in enough evidence to get me committed to a science lab for dissecting and study. That wasn't happening, so I ruled out that option.
The only other plan I could think of was to go back to the Rusty Knife and pump the owner of info about Quinn. Namely where I could find him and who'd set me up the last time I tried to pay him a visit. Maybe I'd take care of both problems when I pumped the bar owner for details.
I wound my way through the streets and snatched a blood-red bed sheet off a backyard clothesline. It worked pretty well as a cloak with a hood. If I stumbled into someone I wouldn't be dealing with a lot of screaming.
I arrived on the street of the Rusty Knife at just past midnight. The witching hour. Baldwin's transformation into a grinning, murderous clown with a taste for human flesh made me wonder if witches weren't crawling the streets, too. I slid behind a nearby mail drop box, the kind that could have hid a whole gang of werewolves. I peeked over the top and surveyed the area. Nothing moved except a flickering streetlight down the street. If I survived this mess I'd complain to the city about that light. I picked up a couple of broken bits of sidewalk and looked over all the streetlights across the road. I'd leave out this part in my complaint.
"Don't fail me now, paws," I whispered.
I stood and chucked the bits of sidewalk at the lights. My aim was true, or my luck was a whole bunch of stupid. Every single one of my targets went dark followed by the tinkle of glass hitting the sidewalk and road. In a few moments I had my darkened street. The way was clear for me to take the door of the bar.
I snuck across the dark road and stretched out against the front wall of the bar. The shaded windows were weakly lit by the lights from inside the bar. I tried to get a glimpse around them, but it was useless. I went for the handle of the closed door, and it was unlocked. I quietly opened the door and peeked my head inside. The bar was as inconspicuous as the last time I entered, but I knew how that ended.
I slipped inside and stuck to the wall. There wasn't a patron to be seen, but I saw the usual bartender-owner of the Rusty Knife behind the bar. Bill was his name, and he had a rag in one hand and a glass in the other. The bar was recessed into the wall so that I was able to slide underneath the lip of the bar between the fake wood paneling and the stools. I took a deep breath and swung myself up and over the top of the bar. I grabbed the bartender by the neck and shoved our faces together. The rag and glass dropped onto the bar. The hood of my sheet fell back and showed off my fur, but I didn't have time to worry about my looks.
Bill's eyes widened. "Jesus!"
"He's got nothing to do with either of us," I quipped.
Bill furrowed his brow. "Detective Selena?"
"In the flesh, but that's not important right now," I replied. "What the hell happened last time I was here?"
He glared back at me. "That's what I'd like to know."
I frowned. "So you don't know who the two goons in here were?"
He shook his head. "No, but if I ever see them again I'm gonna kill them. They owe me a shitload of of money for renting out this place and scaring off Quinn." I studied his face and for the first time he studied mine. "What the hell happened to you, anyway?" he asked me.
I dropped him so his feet were again on the floor and shook my head as I took a seat on the stools. "It's a long story, but I can tell you that those guys aren't going to be bothering you again and they definitely aren't going to be paying their bill."
Bill sighed and shook his head. "Just my luck. Anyway, what do you have to do with them? Need them to shave your face?"
"Really funny," I growled. "Let's just say they roughed me up worse than they did your place. What was the story they told you to get you out of here?"
He shrugged, then grabbed the rag and proceeded to wipe down the bar. "Just that they wanted to rent the place for a little while. I figured it wasn't any big deal because Quinn wasn't here and he told me not to expect him for a couple of days."
"Damn it. . ." I muttered underneath my breath. Just my luck that my only lead would go AWOL.
The bartender stopped his wiping and leaned over the bar. "You looking for Quinn?"
My eyes flickered up to him and I frowned. "Would I be here otherwise?"
Bill leaned back and continued his wiping. "You don't have to be so sore about it. It's not like I have that bad of a selection."
I shook my head and ran my hands through my werewolf hair. "I just really need to find Quinn. We have some unfinished business. He's got something I really need."
He raised an eyebrow. "What kind of something?"
My eyes slid up to him and narrowed. "Not the kind I'm going to tell you about."
"Actually, I might have that something for you." He reached beneath the bar and I readied myself for a gun, sword, or at this point, maybe even a wand. Instead, he pulled out an envelope and held it out to me. "Before Quinn left last time he told me to give this to somebody who was asking for him. He had some info for them. I figure that's you."
I took the envelope and opened the flap. Inside was a small slip of folded paper, and I pulled out the paper and read the contents.
If you want me and what I have then you'd better get down to where this all started. I'll be inside.
It was signed Quinn. My eyes flickered up to the bartender and I held the note out to him.
"Any idea what this means?" I asked him.
He took the paper, read the contents, and shook his head. "No idea," he told me as he passed the note back to me. "You have any idea?"
I shook my head and pocketed the envelope and note. "Nope, but it's the only thing I've got." I slipped off the stool and walked towards the door.
"Hey," Bill called to me. I paused at the door and turned to him. "What's really happening to you? You look like a bearded lady I saw a long time ago at the circus."
I pursed my lips and looked away. "You could say I'm going through a change."