Take the fight to the enemy. That was but one of the many things my step-father told me growing up. Something about the military changed a man. Both my fathers were like that. That’s what mom said, anyway. I only remembered my step-father. This job was similar to being in the military at least for assignments. Go there, kill the monster, and go home. Except that home, for now, is a black and yellow van. It’s not all bad.
Giving the van in question a pat on the dashboard, I smiled to myself. Whatever the squints in Washington did to this thing turned it into the best vehicle I've ever owned or driven. Tight on the turns, nice get up and go, and it got me to where I needed to be. That's all I could ask of a car or truck.
Driving from New Jersey to Missouri takes a lot out of a man. I hoped there would come a time they could just stuff my van into an airplane and fly me across the country. As if the FBI or the Army would allow that. Maybe one day when this division is more than a single person I'll be able to do that. I have been writing all my ideas down for the future, but I doubt the Director will read them. Anastasia tells me that Mr. Hoover is still pissed that I was even able to do the job. He and all his cronies expected me to fail. Nice to prove somebody wrong. I could still die though.
My new assignment took me to the heart of middle America. Right after the Great War and before what folks are now calling the Demon War, the American people were scared. Monsters disguised as humans walked among them. It didn't matter that they might have known the monsters as the local baker, policeman, or librarian. They were monsters now and not to be trusted. Many were driven from town by mobs or in some cases killed. Running them out on a rail became commonplace. It was one such case of THAT that caught national attention.
Freddie Kim was the town pharmacist in a speck of a town in Ohio. When the Great Reveal happened, he was just dumb enough to tell people what he was. They were his friends, his neighbors, and fellow members of the local Moose Lodge. None of that mattered when Fred announced he was a Werewolf. He'd been infected more than twenty years previously during a hunting trip. Unusually, he was a solo and not part of one of the local Packs. They ran him out of town on a rail after setting fire to both his shop and his house.
Typically, the victim of such a thing would straddle a beam of wood while the townspeople jeered at him. Fred's friends did him one better. He was dipped in melted tar, covered in feathers, and dragged out of town tied to a large chunk of a cut-down tree. Fortunately for the people of that small town, Fred liked them. He kept his form and didn’t change. The hot burning tar stayed one step ahead of his healing factor leaving massive amounts of scar tissue all over Fred’s body.
Pictures of the event fed the public's paranoia for weeks. One of the local Packs claimed Freddie before much worse could be done to him. The people cried out, so Washington responded. It didn't help that it was an election year. To assuage the public's fears and protect them from the monsters, all Were folks were ordered to report to the reservations being set up all over the Midwest and California. Like this country's native population, they were locked away to be forgotten.
That came to an end when the Demons arrived in America. Conception, California was ground zero for something that could overcome the government and drive us all back to the Stone Age, an invasion. Battling a Demonic horde wasn't something the United States Army was prepared for. What few special forces troops available were already in the fight in France. For that was where the Demons first appeared. California was just the second front in a battle that would last for years. If not for the quick thinking of then Governor Huey Long, we might have lost. The Governor marshaled the National Guard forces of Louisiana and Texas quickly sending them west. With a stroke of pure brilliance, he also recruited every Were Pack he could find on the reservations. As the only Paranormal species under government control, the Werewolves were up for anything that would get them off the reservations. Even battle was acceptable. With their aid, the Demons were pushed back and destroyed.
The Weres help didn’t get them off the reservations as a species, but any individual that served in the military was given a sort of parole. They were supposed to report to a government handler once a month, but it was an improvement over the reservation system. My Pack leader and friend in Texas was a veteran. Big Ron and his chief followers were all ex-military and could leave the res anytime they wished.
Now I'm off to stop a rogue Werewolf. I grew up around Weres, and they don't go rogue often. The Alphas wanted their people off the reservations so they usually kept their problems ‘in-house'. As a member of law enforcement, I don't approve of vigilante justice, but I'm aware of the issues involved with putting Weres in prison. The standard judicial practice was to give them the death penalty no matter the crime. Only Crowley prison could hold them, but it's more for crazed, Demon possessed magic users than Weres who skipped town without telling anyone.
For this mission, I'm to get a partner. That was a total surprise as the regular FBI, and I don't exactly get on well. Boston will forever hang over my head. But exposing that bit of corruption was necessary.
“New assignment Jack,” Anastasia told me over the secured phone line in Atlantic City.
“More Sea Monsters to kill?” I asked. I actually found and killed a gigantic monster just a few days ago along the Jersey Shore.
“Sort of. There’s a rogue Were loose in St Louis. He’s already infected a couple of innocents. This threatens to become a public relations nightmare if we don’t stop it. The human public’s been warming to the idea of Weres living among them but if incidents like this one crop up… Well, you get the picture. Drop whatever you’re doing and get moving toward Missouri,” Anastasia directed.
"Does the local office have any information about what set him off or anything that would help to find him? St Louis is a huge city," I asked.
Anastasia grunted, “The local office has taken the hands-off stance on this case. The Director has stated that anything having to do with Paranormals is now the sole responsibility of the Magical Division. None of the locals want exposure to the Lycanthrope virus.”
I could feel my jaw drop open all by itself at her pronouncement. Every Paranormal crime was mine to investigate? I was going to be in my truck for a long, long time! “Isn’t that a lot of cases for a single man to do, Ana?”
"It's what you get for succeeding in your job, Jack. The Boss is a bit peeved that you actually found a Sea Monster last week. My contacts in both the Navy and Coast Guard tell me the reported sightings I initially told you about were bogus. You found a needle in a haystack on that one, Jack. This case puts you more into the public eye, so I need you to be careful." Anastasia paused for a moment, "I need you to take Interstate 64 through Louisville on your way west."
“Sixty-four? Is that the most direct route?” I asked.
"Not really but it's the one I wish for you to go. Outside of Louisville, Kentucky, you'll be picking up a partner for this mission, Jack," Anastasia answered.
I pulled the phone away from my head and stared at it. Did she say what I thought she said? “Am I getting another agent?”
There was a chuckle before she answered me. “Another agent? No. This man isn’t agent material, but he is an expert on rogues. He was recommended to us through one of my contacts in the Paranormal underworld. His name is Robert Moore, and he’s exactly what you need for this case. Trust me on this ok?”
I nodded to myself. Ana hadn't steered me wrong yet. "I always trust you, Ana. Where do I pick him up and what does he look like?"
So, now I'm looking for a hole-in-the-wall barbecue restaurant on the side road to nowhere. Personally, I'm starting to think this is a wild goose chase.
The directions send me away from the highway and onto a single lane road. I turned at the red barn and then at the brokendown mill building which popped me out onto a small town street. Stopping at what looked to be the only stop sign in this town, I craned my neck around to see where I was. There was a small, almost tiny, town park to the right of me and a big white sign atop a house that read Ookami Barbecue.
Pulling into the parking lot beside the house I could only shake my head. Even Big Ron wasn’t this bold. I wondered if the town elders knew.
Climbing the broad steps, I opened one side of a double screen door leading into the house. Tables and chairs were scattered across the wide porch to enjoy the cool breeze. The front door was propped open, so I walked on in.
The place was set up like a diner with a counter at one end of the room. Several families with small children were eating off to one side along with men that had a local feel to them. A man sitting at the counter matched the description of my ride-along.
“Coffee?” The waiter asked me as I slid onto the swivel stool at the counter.
Shaking my head, I replied, “Water and sarsaparilla if you’ve got it please.”
The man nodded and turned back to the fountain counter area to get it.
I wiggled my back and shoulders to relieve some of the road stress as I waited. The insides of the place reminded me of a favorite bar back in the city. It seemed strange to find it inside a house in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky. I think it was the sense of familiarity in the place that made me think of the only one that had ever made me feel that way before.
"Need a menu?" The counterman asked as he slid a short bottle of soda in front of me with a water glass.
For a split second, I watched a bead of water glide down the frosty glass. My entire attention was on that drop.
“Menu?” The man repeated.
Looking up I could see him staring at me, “Sorry. Not right now, thanks.”
Grabbing the glass with one hand, I took what started out as a sip and turned into a gulp of the water.
“Ahh. That’s the stuff.” I opened my eyes to see both the counterman and my possible contact staring at me. “Sorry. Long drive.”
The man behind the counter turned back around but not before I heard his muttered comment, “City people.”
My possible ride along continued to stare at me. I ignored the man and started drinking my soda. Sarsaparilla used to be a home remedy for hangovers and headaches more than a century ago. Big Ron, my friend, and Pack leader introduced me to it when I was a kid. They called it Birch beer in some parts of the country. Very similar to true root beer. Not like that sugary stuff everyone served now at all.
“So, does the town know or do you just fake it?” I asked the man sitting next to me without looking at him.
“Fake it, Agent Dalton? All of these are my people.” The man waved his hand at the other patrons in the room.
All movement stopped behind me. The families in the corners were deathly quiet, and every head in the room was looking straight at me. Even the counterman, still in my sight, watched me with shrewd eyes. There was just the slightest hint of yellow to them. Not one agent in five would have caught that little clue. This entire town so far was nothing but Weres.
Noting my non-reaction, the man I assumed was my contact spoke. “When did you know?”
I chuckled and glanced to my right. It really was too easy. "When I stopped outside before pulling up. Other words would have worked as well. Japanese is a bit out of place for backwoods Kentucky after all. I expect that few catch it though.”
Robert Moore smiled, his teeth were shiny white and gleaming. “I told Henrietta that name was too dubious, that she should have used an Indian name or something. Japanese is a bit out there for the FBI to be fluent in isn’t it?”
“I had an eclectic education. My mentors made sure I knew lots of strange words. My suggestion if you plan to go with a similar theme is to use Susi as a replacement,” I replied.
Robert’s eyebrow went up on his forehead as he looked at me. “Susi, like a girl’s name?”
“It’s Finnish for 'wolf.' A double meaning. But it's your place, who am I to mess with it. I'm assuming you are Robert Moore?” I asked.
The room came to life again with the families and others now ignoring me and my companion.
“That would be me. A good friend of mine informed me of your situation and what you can expect in Missouri. Hunting down a rogue by yourself is not a task for a human to do. Didn’t you think to ask for help?” Robert asked.
“From whom? Mr. Hoover himself said I was it for this division. Besides, most regular FBI Agents only shoot to kill Paranormals. Don’t we want this one alive?” I asked.
“Hmm, you are an interesting man, Agent Dalton. I was given details about you but didn’t believe them,” Robert replied.
I cocked my head to one side. “Who is it that gave you information about me? Was it Anastasia?”
"Ana who? I don't know anyone by that name unless you mean the Tsarina of Russia, but I only met HER in passing. The… person that sent me to you has connections but not that kind. Power isn't always political after all," he replied. Moore had a look on his face that my mother would call the ‘I’ve got a secret’ look.
I had a secret as well and now was the time to use it. I smiled and replied. "No, it isn't. This is going to be such an interesting trip, Alpha Moore."
Once again it was as if time stopped in the entire restaurant. Everyone froze. Only the ticking of the clock on the wall told me time didn’t actually end.
Robert rotated his head to look directly at me. He stared into my eyes, and I felt a sort of pressure building inside my head. To me, it felt as if I suddenly had the world's most massive sinus headache. As if the only relief would be for my head to pop like a balloon at the circus. And then it was gone.
"Interesting. By all the Gods in the heavens, how did they manage that? You really do have Pack ties. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't just seen it. Big Ron is to be commended," Robert commented. "Will you tell me when you sensed it?"
Reaching up I rubbed my face. Right above the sinus channels on both sides of nose, my face ached like a gigantic bruise. "When I entered the room. This isn't MY Pack, but it has a similar feel. Whatever that was you just did was more powerful than anything Ron ever did to me. What was it?”
“Just a test, Agent. Just a test. You must allow me some secrets. Are you ready to go? Or do I need for Patrick here to make you a sandwich or something?” Robert asked.
It took a bit of manipulation, but we managed to move the file cabinet on the passenger side to the rear of the van. Washington didn’t configure my official vehicle for passengers. My small cooler sat between us filled with sandwiches and more of that tasty sarsaparilla.
Robert patted the dashboard of my van. “Nice setup you’ve got here, Agent Dalton. Everything compact and easy to find.”
“I like to think so. It’s all come in handy so far. Someone in logistics really planned this out for me. And it’s Jack. Agent Dalton is too big a mouthful all the time. Does that make it easier for you?” I asked.
“It does. Call me Robert. So, who are your people, Jack, and what brought you to me?” He asked.
Keeping a firm hand on the wheel of the van, I reached into the small cooler with my right hand and pulled out one of the sandwiches and a soda. Slipping the soda bottle between my legs to hold it in place, I unwrapped the wax paper sandwich covering. “The US government brought me to you, Robert.”
“Patrick makes good sandwiches. That one smells like roast beef. May I?” Robert pointed down at the small cooler.
“Be my guest,” I took the distraction to open the bottle using an opener I had secured to the door.
Robert pointed past me at the device, “Handy.”
“I do a lot of driving. Want me to open yours for you?” I gestured.
Using his thumb, Robert popped the top right off his bottle. “No thanks.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Weres.
“Do you have any clue to the whereabouts of this rogue? I know that they wouldn’t just send you along for comic relief now would they?” I asked.
Robert chuckled at me and shook his own head, “Comic, no. I volunteered actually. What do your orders say about the attack?”
Keeping both hands on the wheel as I steered through traffic I thought for a moment. "I was to confer with the local office, but they described an encounter at the train station. Our subject was spotted after two servicemen were attacked and infected during a USO stopover. There weren't any details provided beyond that. He's supposed to be a local agricultural purveyor."
Robert barked out a sharp laugh. "Agricultural purveyor? That has to be the FBI's way of saying farmer. Why can't they just say 'farmer?'"
“Politics most likely. Something I try to stay as far away from as possible. So, the report’s a bit thin. I assumed we would pick the station’s attendees brains along with whatever the local office has and figure out a plan. How hard could that be?” I asked.
Two hours later I found myself eating those simple words. How hard could it be?
It turns out there were hundreds of station employees to choose from, and all of them apparently saw nothing.
“I don’t understand how the people you had in that area of the station didn’t see anything at the time of the incident. How?” I asked the station manager.
The St. Louis trains administrator was a short round individual with a severe problem with law enforcement for some reason. He smiled. "Have you looked at the station here? St. Louis is a major freight line for all things west of here. During the war, we shipped and prepped troops traveling west faster and more efficiently than any other station. This place was vital to the war effort," He waved at the window in his office looking out at numerous train cars moving about.
“There isn’t a war going on anymore though. Why all this activity here?” I asked.
“Everything comes in by rail. Food, merchandise, people, and fuel are the chief items. We’re a distribution point for half the businesses in the state. I have dozens of employees whose sole job is just to keep track of the trucks that pick things up. The people that come through here are anonymous. Don’t get me wrong Agent Dalton. I feel for the families of the two men bitten. It’s why my company provides an insurance benefit for those killed with the LV virus. Putting them down is the only option for those workers. It was luck that our protection team was on hand to take care of the task. The FBI boys around here are too squeamish to do it.” The administrator grinned suddenly. “The bounty was nice too.”
Quickly I gripped Robert’s arm and pulled him back. I could see that the Alpha was going to be a problem here.
“What is the bounty for Weres here in Missouri?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“Fifty bucks a head. It used to be lower, what with the war and all. Some of those beasts were actually working with the troops that protected us. A few of us made a profit even then. Have to protect the nation and all that. Did either of you boys serve?” The administrator asked.
“Only with the FBI, it’s my calling,” I answered.
Robert nodded and spoke a single word. “Army.”
“Excellent. I did a tour as a quartermaster for the Missouri Volunteers. We ran the USO efforts and kept everything running properly.” The administrator nodded and smiled.
As what the man said worked its way through my brain, I watched Robert. He acted as if he was stalking the administrator by carefully stepping and looking, his eyes taking in every tiny detail about the office and man.
“Did your protection team question the men before ‘putting them down’ or did they just kill them?” I asked.
"I was told they were part of an illegal card game in one of the older club cars out in the storage yard. A Were had been involved in the game and bit the two men as he escaped the car. That's all I know," he replied.
Stepping sideways, I blocked Robert’s access to the man for a moment. "Did you know that only half of those bitten actually become Weres and that there's a new vaccine that, if administered in time, will prevent transformation? You murdered those men without any provocation. Being bitten is not a death sentence like it used to be. Missouri just passed a bill two weeks ago eliminating the bounty system on Paranormals. You broke the law, and I intend to see you prosecuted for it."
The administrator’s smile dropped away when his mouth opened to protest. I didn’t give him time to do anything. Quickly I hauled him out of his chair and cuffed him. “No use struggling. Those cuffs were designed to control Paranormals. I doubt you could break them. Sit quietly until I have someone here to arrest you.”
I shot a glance in Robert's direction, but he only stared back at me. Shaking my head, I pointed towards the waiting area outside the office. Robert took my hint and stepped outside.
Using my authority as Director of the Magical Division I had the man’s own secretary call the local police for me. He was in shock as they hauled him away charged with murder for hire. The law was new, but I was sure the local district attorney would throw the book at him and those that helped him. Defrauding the federal government was the least of his worries. Now that the result was under arrest I continued to need the cause. Only Robert could help me track down that portion this hunt.
The man in question sat in my van staring at me. He hadn’t said a word since local St. Louis police took the rail administrator into custody and tracked down the security force.
“Are you ok?” I asked him.
Robert reached up and stroked his beard for a moment as he watched me. “I’m not sure. You stopped me back in the office but made sure justice was served. Did you know?”
“Did I know what?” I asked.
“That the railroads were killing my people? I can show you figures if you like, but there have been literally hundreds killed in the last couple of years. We don’t have rogues, Jack. At least not in the sense that humans think of them,” Robert waved toward the train station and all the people milling around.
I let out the breath I was holding. “Sort of. Ana, my boss, filled me in on some of it as background. I didn’t lie to you that I knew little about this specific rogue or where he might be. I’m aware that most Packs don’t have rogues. My Pack in Texas had a few lone wolves, but they weren’t considered being rogue. That term is something entirely different.”
“Your boss sounds like someone I’d like to meet someday,” Robert replied.
I laughed. “She’s something, I’ll tell you. Ana has a multitude of jobs at the main office. One is collecting little bits of information and facts that don’t always make sense in the beginning but later prove worthwhile.”
"It's hard for me to classify you as Pack and I do apologize for it. I'm not sure if Ron told you, but there have been only a small handful of non-Weres admitted into any Pack. Friends of the Pack, yes. But not full members. It's very rare. I've seen it happen twice in my life," Robert informed me.
“I heard you say you’d served. May I ask what branch? My dad was in France in 1946.” I asked him.
“You should really ask what war. I was a brand spanking new lieutenant in Fifth Kentucky when it was formed in 1862. We were attached to General Breckinridge’s command initially. We fought from Vicksburg to the retreat at Atlanta. Sherman’s boys were just too tough to push back.” Robert had a look of longing on his face. He turned to look me in the eye. “Having men die under your command is one of the hardest things you can ever witness. April twenty-ninth, 1865 was the last time I fired a musket in anger. It was a different time. My convictions were different. We were trying to make a different world for our people. All our efforts failed, and the cause was lost.”
“You’re not talking about the Confederacy, are you?” I asked.
"No, I'm not. It was a different world two centuries ago. States’ rights and slavery might have been the human reason for the war, but not everyone who was in command of the Southern forces was human. History is written by the victors, Jack. Always remember that," Robert instructed.
All I could do was nod. It was easy to forget that many Paranormals were long-lived. Vampires and Weres especially. This man in front of me had seen much in his life.
“Forget I said anything kid. The past can be overwhelming sometimes. Thank you for what you did back there. The local Alpha might have a lead on our fugitive. Do you want me to contact him?” Robert asked.
I looked over at my companion. “I didn’t know there was a reservation around here.”
“There’s not. You’re going to have to pretend you weren’t ever in the town or met any of these people. If you truly want to catch the guy and continue to do your new job the proper way, you have to pick a side here, kid." Robert was using the tone of voice that behaviorists at the Academy warned us about. Add a little Alpha kick, and he could control just about anyone. I'm was surprised I even caught it.
Shaking my head to clear the imaginary butterflies, I responded. “What if I say no and go it alone? I told you before that your tricks didn’t work on me, Alpha. Doing my job is my side.”
The subtle power stopped and made Robert smile. "I had to try. We all answer to someone, Agent Dalton. Those that lead me told me to make an effort. If you report it, we’ll deal with it then. If you still want my help, head northwest. The town we’re looking for is called Foley. If the Alpha there doesn’t know where to look or who our culprit is, then it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose to try to take some pressure off my head. It really did feel like someone was squeezing it like a grape. I wasn't ready to become a mindless servant just yet though. Letting out a sigh, I shook my head. "Let's go to your contact. If I involve the FBI, law or not, they may shoot you, and then MY boss will be upset. You might be the scariest man I've met recently, but she truly scares me. Which way do I go?”
Robert gave me directions as we pulled out of Union Station. “That station is pretty neat. What was it like in its heyday?”
"You've got balls, kid. That'll serve you well in this business. It was built in the 1890s. It became a showplace of a station. It had restaurants and a hotel right there inside the station. It was an innovation for the time. Before the war even started, twenty-two railroads were using that station. It may be a bit rough around the edges now, but once upon a time it was magnificent." Robert motioned with his hands as he spoke.
"It sounds like it." We were heading north, but there was a total mess of construction equipment and detours everywhere. "What's going on over there?"
Robert spat out his open window in disgust. “Humans. Your people spend money on the damndest things sometimes. About thirty years ago, the city council along with the mayor of St. Louis had a brilliant idea to build a monument that idealized Western Expansion. The President even set aside prime riverfront property for its use. They’ve been raising money forever and only found an architect ten years or so ago for it. All this mess is the result of having to move several lengths of tracks and building a tunnel under the whole thing as well.”
“A tunnel? Right next to the river? Is that even possible? They’ve got some kind of chutzpah then. That’s crazy. What’s it supposed to look like? I can imagine a gigantic horse-drawn wagon up there,” I pointed.
“’Chutzpah,’ that’s a good term for this project. It’s a bit crazy, but they made it work somehow. I think Fredrick Douglass said it best, ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress.' It explains why they threw themselves into this." Robert looked at me and laughed. "You wanted a description, didn't you? Sorry. Sometimes I talk just to listen to myself. It's supposed to be an arch. Sort of like a gigantic silver horseshoe in the sky."
“Interesting. At least it’ll be big with this much of mess. What highway did you say I needed to look for?” I asked.
Robert looked up from the map in front of him, "I didn't, but stay on Interstate 70 until we cross the Missouri river. Once we pass through St. Charles and St. Peters, we’ll take the interchange onto State Highway 79.”
Corn, wheat, wood, and hay. Those were the fields I saw off of Route 79. Lots and lots of farms at work out here. We were on a two-lane blacktop heading north along the river.
"So, where am I going, Robert?" I asked.
“I told you already. A little farming town called Foley. It’s not that much further. If I were you though, I’d slow down a bit before you pass that next rise. The local sheriff thinks he should be in the State Police and likes to find reasons to arrest people. Just a warning,” Robert explained.
Nodding I started looking for speed traps. The speed limit was fifty-five and to be sure I was doing less than that, but I looked up when I heard the sound of a siren.
“I told you. You better get your credentials out because if he looks in the back, you’re toast,” Robert informed me.
Carefully I pulled over to the side of the road and waited. My van was clearly marked FBI on all sides. It would be interesting to see how this local officer reacted.
The patrol car pulled up behind us, and the officer got out. He wore the typical peaked cap with aviator sunglasses that many departments were now wearing. You have to hand it to Hollywood for making them so popular.
“License and registration please,” the local asked.
I flipped my credentials out the window showing him the badge then the identification, “FBI. I wasn’t speeding so why pull me over?”
The officer started to stutter so badly his glasses fell off his face, “Eff bee eye? I… I… I… Di… Didn’t know.”
Putting on my best smile I looked out the window at him, “It’s ok. Was I speeding, officer?”
Scooping his glasses up, the man straightened up and peered into the cab of my van. “The chief told me to pull over any out-of-towners. Sorry.” The man leaned down more and looked past me toward Robert.
“Is that you there, Mr. Moore?” The officer asked.
Robert chuckled at my expression, "That it is, Roscoe. Now I know Chief Dan didn't tell you to pull over everyone. Not after you tried to arrest those state investigators. This man really is the FBI, so you best be turning us loose now, you hear?"
It was my turn to smile when the seemingly well-educated man sitting next to me slipped into a slightly southern sounding local dialect.
The local finished his conversation with Robert and ran back to his patrol car. I could hear the engine start up and it suddenly tore past us heading north. The car was at least twenty years old and at one point had been a taxi. I could see the faded words peeking out under the police logo. “Something I should be aware of?”
Robert shook his head no. “That was Roscoe. He’s actually a part-time officer for the Winfield Police Department. That’s the next town up ahead.”
"Part-time? I can't imagine how that works. Do I want to know?" I asked.
“Not really. This area is all farming. Money’s tight and city budgets are even tighter. He won’t bother us again,” Robert answered.
"Hmm. How is it you’re known here? I assumed you were from Kentucky since that was where I picked you up and you served. Was it all a lie then?" I asked as I slipped my left hand down towards one of my sidearms.
Robert pointedly looked at where my hand was and replied, "I'd rather you didn't shoot me, Jack. I paid a lot of money for this suit, and bullet holes will only ruin the line. You're safe. Trust me. Foley's the very next town. Now don't blink or you'll miss Winfield."
He was right about the town. There was only a stop sign between the next local highway and where the one we were on started. Just a couple of local storefront buildings and a small train station. Nothing to write home about. A few of the houses near the tracks looked prosperous, but the rest were a bit run down. We crossed a small bridge nestled up close to the railroad trestle, and then we were back to cornfield country.
“Farming is hard on the farmer and his entire family. Locals keep to themselves as well. It’s the perfect place to hide a Were Pack as long as you keep it private,” Robert said.
Foley was worse than Winfield. I was surprised they even bothered to build a town there. There wasn’t even a stop sign.
Robert pointed to my left, “Pull up next to the post office. The man we need is in that bar over there.”
Peering out the window I could see there was a very small establishment just to the right of the building proclaiming to be the post office.
“How many people live around here?” I parked the van in front of the postal building.
“Officially?” Robert asked.
I nodded as I got out and grabbed my everyday bag. I’d started carrying it after my adventure in Jersey. You never know when some things might just come in handy.
"One hundred-eighty-three at the first of the year. That's about four clans of Pack with a few stragglers thrown in. If you count hangers-on and the older folks, we've got double that here unofficially. I told you this was a refuge, not a reservation," Robert pointed out.
I could feel the others as soon as we stepped inside. The bar was simple and to the point. A real bar took up the longest wall with three small tables and some stools. No pool, no darts, no dancing. It was all about the drinking and Werewolves. A large man sat at the bar with what appeared to be two big dogs at his feet. I knew better.
“You bring me to all the nice places Robert,” I commented pointing to the wolves on the floor.
“I thought we weren’t doing this anymore, Addison? This man is on our side,” Robert told the man at the bar.
Reaching down, the man called Addison patted the wolf on his right, “He’s a stranger to us. Why bring him here? We know he’s FBI.”
I studied the wolves on the floor as I prepared myself. They didn’t look like they were about to attack but with Weres looks could be deceiving. All I was armed with was my two modified sidearms, a couple of knives, and a silver nitrate grenade.
Carefully I slid one hand into my pocket gripping the handle of a knife. “There was a Were attack in downtown St. Louis last week. Two innocents were bitten. I’ve been sent by Washington to find the one that attacked and either arrest him or put him down.”
“Put him down? What gives you the right to just kill one of us out of hand, Mr. G man?” The man Robert called Addison slid out of his chair and approached me. His arms were slowly doubling in size while claws formed on his hands.
“The FBI created a special branch for dealing with Paranormals. I’m sanctioned by Congress and President Long in this. It’s my way or the highway. You know the standard policy on what the regular FBI considers rogue Weres. Do you really want to die? I need to bring him or her in. It might the only way to save all of you from detection,” I explained.
“Now you threaten all of us with death. Who will know if I just kill you now and dump the car you came in with? We don’t give up our people, Agent. We’d rather die first.” Addison paused and glanced at Robert who only stood there. He made the tiniest motion toward me with his hand. “Take him.”
Like I practiced, my hand came out of my pocket knife in hand. It was flying through the air toward the local Alpha as I drew my pistols. I kept them in a cross draw under my arms for easy access. I fired to the left even as the gun came loose of the holster, hitting the Pack member just now getting out of his chair. My other weapon fired at the first charging Werewolf. A miss.
The two wolves charged straight at me so fast that most humans wouldn't have even seen them. But I'm not most humans, and I was trained both by the FBI and my Alpha Big Ron.
My guns were loaded with silver, but they were only every other round. Lead bullets will just piss off a Were unless you hit them in a vital spot like the head or heart. Then you have a few minutes more before they jump up and kill you. But silver, silver burns like the fires of hell and slows the regenerative process enough for the wound to kill. Damage a Were with silver sufficiently, and they might die.
I dodged a claw swipe from my left and hit a Werewolf with my right pistol. The impact of the silver-plated weapon momentarily confused the Wolf. It’s nose stinging it let out a yip and retreated just a bit to give me time to fire at the one on the left. A silver bullet this time it pierced the wolf’s hide and struck near the head.
Alpha Addison attacked the very moment I fired the first round. He transformed into his battle form almost instantly. My friends back in Texas used to tell me that the process took more than a minute and was excruciatingly painful. Addison came straight at me claws extended. I braced myself. This was going to hurt.
The world slowed as time seemed to stop. I could feel immense pressure in the air. Addison froze. I could see his eyes moving as if in panic, but his body stood immobile. The others were in similar states of stillness.
Robert spoke up, “This ends now.”
Slipping my pistols back into their holsters I looked at Robert. He wasn’t waving his hands or muttering curses like a Witch would. He just stood there staring at the local Alpha.
"I bring someone to you to help, and this is how you repay me? Addison, I thought we were friends. This man, this agent of the FBI has connections. You know who I work for. Didn't you wonder how I was in a position to help the FBI? This is now Council business. Attacking representatives of the government doesn't get us anywhere. Rogues make us all look bad, now change back so we can talk or complete your challenge," Robert explained.
The amount of power it would take to control four Weres at once boggled my mind. Who exactly was Robert Moore and what Council was he speaking of?
Alpha Addison started shrinking. I could hear moist sounding pops as his battle form shrank, and the human form emerged. Two of the other Weres began transformations as well.
Stepping to one side and kneeling, I checked on the man I shot first. He was writhing on the floor but was at least breathing. "Hold on, buddy."
Where the bullet hole in his chest had been now showed cleanly healed skin. The bullet remained inside. “Do you know where it went in? We could try cutting it out?”
"Leave him alone Jack. The first time he transforms the lead will pop right on out by itself. Our bodies don't like impurities. He'll be uncomfortable for a few days, but he'll survive," Robert told me. "Come back over here please."
The best word to describe the Weres in front of me was naked. All three of the ones that attacked me were just naked humans.
“Getting yourself an eyeful, are you?” The former Wolf was now a human woman and staring right at me.
Weres, as a rule, were blasé about nudity and other human morals. They usually only paid faint lip service to the laws surrounding them. So, naked was pretty typical in Were society.
"Put some clothes on, and we can talk like civilized beings," Robert ordered.
“Like we’re civilized, Consul Moore,” Addison replied.
A sudden pressure filled the air. It pressed down on everyone in the room including me.
Addison held up his hand as if in surrender. “Stop, please. I get it.”
The pressure relented and everyone in the room sighed in relief. Grabbing a stack of clothing from behind the bar the Weres got dressed.
“The rogue?” Robert asked.
Addison shook his head. "Not one of my boys. An outsider. Lone wolf. He said he was passing through from roundabout Jackson way down in Tennessee. They run a high stakes poker game in the storage yard at Union Station almost every weekend. He claimed he could win and promised us a twenty percent cut for room, board, and protection. If we'd have known he was a biter… Well, you know. He was already here and under my protection when the word went out. I'd heard rumors about the kill squad at Union Station, but it didn't sound real. You remember how it was back in the day. We used to run that place. We had respect. Even the Dons didn't stand in our way then."
Robert grimaced, “Times change.”
"Yes, they do. The rogue is up at the safe house. Macintosh Hill Road down in the lowest part. One of my boys will show you. Robert, I swear to you, we didn't know. Please don't hurt my people for this. Please?" The Alpha begged.
“He’s not in charge of this little mission. That would be me. At the moment I don’t care about your internal politics or whatever Robert is in your world. I only need the rogue,” I demanded.
Robert looked at me, “Kid…”
“No. I told you about my precarious position in the FBI. The regular boys hate me with a passion right now. If this case gets bumped to them, they’ll hit this town with military precision. Do you really want that? I’m your best chance at living. Kill two birds with one stone. My job and your town. Paranormal rights are what this is all about,” I replied.
Addison pointed to the man I tried to help. “Take him to the safe house. If you have to put down the rogue, do it.”
To me, he explained. "Hollywood here will take you down there. Go in heavy. A cornered wolf…"
"... is a dangerous wolf." I finished for him. "Yes, I know. Thank you, Alpha Addison."
"It's Foley. Addison Foley. Believe it or not, I founded this town. Things just aren't like they used to be." Addison turned away for a moment. "Do we have more to say, Robert?"
Robert looked from him to me and then back again. “No. Let this be a warning to you though. Tell us next time you have a … visitor. This might have been a takeover move by Jackson. Did you think of that?”
Addison looked shocked, “And I fell for it. We’ll be more careful.”
The Were called Hollywood stood at the door and motioned for us to follow him.
Macintosh Hill Road was one of the worst dirt roads I'd ever been on, and that's saying something since I was from Texas. There were ruts and giant holes at just about every turn.
“How does anyone even use this road?” I asked as my van lurched to one side yet again.
“It’s not that bad. You should see it in winter,” Hollywood replied.
Robert chose to sit this one out and stayed in Foley with the Alpha. I winced at the thought of it. He got scarier and scarier the more time I spent with him.
Having seen Missouri winters before from the Illinois side, I could only nod. I found it ironic that I didn't know about this little enclave when I was here as a kid. Some secrets really are secret it seems.
“Why Hollywood?” I asked.
The man next to me laughed, “I went west in my youth and worked as a stuntman for some early films. Buster Keaton was a genius. Those films were so much fun to do. But with the stock market crash and then the war, the industry wasn’t what it used to be. The not-aging thing doesn’t help either. When I came home, they started calling me that, and it stuck. The humans around here all think I'm the town drunk."
"That's a good cover. Robert didn't mention it, but I'm part of a Pack out in Texas. One of the few humans ever to do it,” I explained.
“So I’m not crazy then! You move fast for a human. Good to know,” Hollywood replied.
“What sort of place is this safe house we’re going to?” I asked.
“It’s in a low spot near the cliffs. We stuck a small travel trailer painted green up against the rock wall and planted trees and bushes to shield it from the road. It doesn’t get used very often by the Pack,” Hollywood replied.
I waved my hand in a circle. “Can you expand a bit on that? What’s the terrain like, things like that? I don’t have the advantage of fur and claws.”
“You must be one badass human to do this for a living! What other Paras have you taken on?” Hollywood asked.
I steered the van around an unusually large pothole and glanced at the redneck Werewolf. I just knew that Anastasia would laugh at this report. "Most of my missions are classified, but I was in New Jersey last week and tangled with a Sea Monster.”
“Now I know you’re lying to me. Those things don’t exist.” Hollywood pointed through the windshield at a wooded area. “Just around the bend is the spot.”
“You can check the national papers if you like but it was there. Seriously though, anything I need to be concerned about up there?” I asked.
Hollywood scratched his head, pursed his lips, and looked to the right out of the window. “A few Packs have been using this side of the property for construction dumping so you might run into some piles of… stuff. There’s a creek just past the hedge at the opposite edge of the lot. Watch out for snakes. It’s the season for them out here.”
Slowing down, I parked just off the road but out of sight of the safe house. “You’re just full of fun things aren’t you, Hollywood? I want you to stay with the van. I need to load up.”
I hopped out of the van and opened up the back. Hunting Weres was a tricky proposition. They heal so fast if you don't put them down the first time you can wind up dead. The mechanics that modified the van added a few crazy modifications. My favorite was the pull-out floorboards that gave me easy access to my weapons. I didn't like to show off what was in here, but I figured if I told Robert to keep it a secret, he'd lay down the law on these people. Just writing about him was going to take all day.
“Holy Crap! You planning on starting a war or what?” Hollywood cried from over my shoulder.
Gone was my suit. I'd already pulled out my modified flak jacket and slipped it over my fatigue shirt. Cargo pants replaced the slacks along with high topped leather boots. My jacket looked like something a hunter would wear out in the field, but mine took its inspiration from something the U.S. Eighth Army came up with during the Demon War.
Soldiers and sailors were at risk from the blowback of shrapnel being fired by artillery and flak guns at Demon Bats and other monsters. They created specially designed vests lined with nylon fibers and manganese plates. The main issue was they were heavy at twenty-two pounds and couldn't stop a direct shot or claw attack. The newer version was what I was wearing. Similar in design but lined with fiberglass reinforced panels called Doron, this vest was lighter and much studier. Unlike the standard issue for the military, mine was leather.
My sidearms stayed where they were, but I added a long silver knife at my hip and pulled out my Thompson. Unlike the gun the sheriff had in New Jersey, mine could use the drum magazines. It could also use the military ‘box' magazines. I was now armed for bear... er, wolf.
As an afterthought, I grabbed the helmet I picked up in a surplus store. It was called an Adrian helmet. The French used it as a mainline helmet, but I'd had it painted in US Army colors with ‘FBI’ added to the back. This way if there was anyone out there besides myself they might see it.
“Stay here. If something happens to me, take the van back to Robert and your Alpha. Do not try to take the rogue by yourself. Understand?” I asked Hollywood.
The Were nodded with wide eyes and leaned back against the van as I carefully worked my way across the field and into the trees. As a teenager, I'd spent a lot of time in the woods of Illinois and Texas with my friends, so stalking prey wasn't new to me. The FBI Academy I went to actually taught the basics of what I was doing, but they really didn't have a clue. Maybe that part will improve now that they were actively recruiting Paranormals for teaching there.
True to his word the camper was tucked in under the eaves of a dirt and rock wall cliff. I’d checked and was sure to approach the place from downwind. Weres could smell the making of a sandwich a block away if the wind were just right.
Unless the place had a trap or back door, he was stuck inside. That worried me because Big Ron always told me that a trapped beast was way more dangerous than one that was not.
Setting up toward the front of the place I yelled out, "Hello the camper! This is the FBI. Come out with your hands up, and this won't get messy!"
I could see the curtains flicker and the door opened. A voice yelled back, “Come out to my death? You G-men are all alike.”
“I represent the Magical Division, I just want to talk. I’m here about the guys you changed at Union Station,” I shouted back.
“That was an accident! You’ll never take me alive!” The trapped Were yelled.
Cursing under my breath, I pulled back the handle of the Thompson and pulled out the grenade. From inside the camper, I could hear growls and cries of pain as he started his change. The fact it was taking so long was a good sign he wasn't an Alpha. Pulling the pin, I reared back and tossed it through the open door.
Unlike standard Mk2 grenades, this one was constructed of a silver alloy. The knobs on the little pineapple shaped explosive were there so it could be gripped easier. It shouldn't kill the rogue, but it was going to hurt. A lot.
There was a loud pop sound followed by a small explosion. Unlike the movies, these grenades were designed for maximum damage, not power. But it was followed by an even bigger detonation as the propane cylinder exploded as well.
Staying as low as possible I approached the wrecked camper. Chunks of burning aluminum and insulation were scattered in every direction. I could hear cries of pain as I stepped closer.
The rogue lay where the floor used to be. His transformation was almost complete. But he had explosive wounds over half his body, and they weren't closing. Silver fragments were everywhere.
"I didn't want to do this. We actually have facilities to hold Weres now!" I muttered as I cleared debris from the man.
The man’s body never made it to full transformation. What little there was of him undamaged was changing back to normal. If a body bleeding out could be considered normal.
“... me.” I barely heard the words over the fire crackling around me.
“What was that you said?” I asked as I leaned in close to the man’s head.
“...” He said the words so silently I couldn’t hear him.
Getting down on my knees I could see he had lacerations over half his face. Both eyes were gone and half his right arm. Placing my ear right on top of his face I listened.
Faintly he spoke again, “Kill me. Kill me. K…”
I pulled back in shock sitting on my knees. There were hospitals that I could take… My head dropped down onto my chest. There was no way this man could use them. They didn't take Weres, and if he survived, local law would put him down at the first chance they got.
From the stories that the locals and Robert said, this man was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He may have been here to stir up trouble, and I would investigate the Pack group in Tennessee to find out, but he didn't deserve the pain this was causing.
Getting to my feet, I pulled out my automatic pistol and put two shots in his head and another through the heart. Watching carefully, I looked to see if his healing factor continued to work. Patting the body down I removed his wallet and personal items. I'd need them for the report.
“Did you get him?”
I looked up and over my shoulder at Hollywood. He’d driven my van up and was standing not ten feet away. I nodded, “Will your people take care of the burial? The FBI will pay for it.”
"I'll have to clear it with the Alpha, but I think we can do that. What’d you hit him with? I bet they heard that explosion all over the county!” Hollywood exclaimed.
“It was a grenade. I have some made of silver,” I replied. Stepping over to the van I opened up the back and carefully unloaded the Thompson and stored it away. I didn’t put back on the standard suit. From now on I thought I’d wear the fatigues.
Robert was waiting for me outside the bar in Foley. None of the other townsfolk were present, but I assumed that he knew what had happened. Not much is hidden from Weres inside their own territory.
“Good work, kid. Too bad you didn’t arrest him though,” Robert stated.
I looked at the older Were through the open window of my van without getting out. “You knew he’d fight, didn’t you?”
"The law may have changed but not how law enforcement treats us. Our people are rotting on the reservations. Getting them off is my number one priorities. The same goes for many of the other free Alphas as well. Rogues give us all a bad name. We try hard to cut down on any exposure. We could've taken care of this mess easily here, but we needed you to do it. Your new Division gives some of us hope for the future, Jack. We want you to succeed. Don't worry about giving me a ride out of here. I've got a funeral to plan and another Alpha to see. Take care of yourself, Jack. We'll have a drink sometime," Robert reached through the window and shook my hand.
I watched him re-enter the bar and just sat there for a moment. Politics and real life never mix all that well. This job just took on another dimension that I was unaware of. Who Robert was precisely and who he reported to were but two facets of a much bigger picture than I was allowed to see. I needed to have a face-to-face with Anastasia, and I needed to do it soon.
This ends Book Five of Jack Dalton Monster Hunter.
Writing this episode of Jack Dalton was fun in a lot of ways. It tells you that Robert Moore is more than Catherine ‘Cat’ Moore’s father in the main Federal Witch series. He’s also the man that gets things done for the secret World Species Council. That particular council has been in existence a long, long time. Putting it and him in Jack’s world gives that much more background to the character and what I consider a principle of the world. As each new series or story comes out, we’re building up the basis of the universe.
I have plans for the future that include Jack and many others. Knowing what came before is just as important as what is to come. This ends Book Five in the series. Five more to go. Coming soon in the Federal Witch Universe are books about Dragons, Mermaids, Witches, and Valkyries. Keep watching and reading because more adventures, mysteries, and intrigue are coming in the next couple of years.
Stay in touch. You can follow me on my website, FaceBook, the Fan page and my Blog.
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