So much blood.
Facial features distorted. Almost unrecognizable.
And the eyes-dull with death, yet imprinted with a final, indescribable emotion. A concoction of panic, fear, surprise, horror. The kind of look that might haunt a living man who’d seen it forever.
Danyon Stone was no stranger to death. Being alpha of the Wolven pack that lived along the East Bank in New Orleans, he’d witnessed the fallout from territorial battles that occasionally took place between his weres and those from other packs in surrounding parishes. When weres fought to the death over territory or over a mate, the evidence from those fights generally looked the same. Clothing ripped to shreds, gouged flesh, puncture wounds, and blood. Sometimes a lot of it. But this death was far from common.
The victim was Simon Filk, a young were from Danyon’s pack. Simon had been bright and loyal, eager to learn anything his leader was willing to teach him. Although Simon hadn’t known it, Danyon had been training him for a leadership position. He’d had big plans for him. Now, seeing the young were lying dead at the foot of the levee, Danyon wished he had told Simon.
In fact, he wished a lot of things right now. He wished he had someone around to explain what the hell he was looking at.
Heavy cable had been wound about Simon’s chest and feet, binding his arms to his sides and his ankles together. Another cable had been wrapped around his neck. His clothes were only tatters of cloth strewn about his body, and he was soaked in blood. What left Danyon gaping and boggled, however, was that Simon remained in were-state-except for his claws and fangs, all of which had been ripped from his body.
How in the hell is this possible?
Different breeds of werewolves carried certain traits, particularly when it came to the triggers that caused their transformation from human to werewolf and vice versa. Some breeds mutated at will, others only in the face of a full moon. The wolven were different in that their transformation usually occurred when they reached an intense emotional state, be it anger, fear, even sexual arousal. As a wolven matured and learned to control the range of his or her emotions, the mutation trigger became more controllable, the transformation more a matter of will. The same controlling factors existed when it came to reverting back to human form, only reversed, the transformation occurring when the heightened emotion was abated, satiated, or controlled. The only time this didn’t apply was at the time of death. Without any exception that Danyon was aware of, the moment a wolven’s heart stopped beating, no matter the manner of death, he assumed human form. The fact that Simon was dead but remained in were-state was incomprehensible to him.
“Who would do such a horrible thing to Simon?” Andrea Doucet cried.
“Ain’t no way it was a who, girl,” Paul Mire, who was standing beside her, said. “It had to be a what to mess him up that bad. Look how that poor boy’s tore up. Thing I can’t figure, though, is how come he ain’t changed? Why’s that, Danyon, huh? Why’s Simon stuck like that? How come he didn’t change back?”
Wondering the same in spades, Danyon glanced over at his two weres. He had been so taken aback by Simon’s condition that he’d forgotten Andrea and Paul were even there. The two of them had stumbled across the body while walking home from Roosters, a small bar and grill where they both worked, waiting tables.
Danyon shook his head, indicating he had no answer. The truth was he feared if he opened his mouth right then, the anger roiling inside him would take charge and force a transformation that would demand vengeance. He had to keep a clear head. He might not have answers now, but he was determined to find them or die trying. Right now, his weres were frightened, and, as their leader, he had to take charge and keep his emotions in check. If he didn’t, his entire pack might get skittish, and then he’d have an even bigger problem on his hands.
He turned to Andrea. Her eyes were swollen from crying, her square, chubby face blotchy. “I need you to go to the Quarter and find Andy Saville. You know who I’m talking about, right?”
“Man, anybody’s ever gone to Jumani’s Bar knows Andy,” Paul said, unfolding his arms. “That bugger’s gotta be the biggest bouncer in the state of Louisiana. All he’s gotta do is look sideways at a drunk, and they pee their pants they’re so scared.”
Sniffling, Andrea gave an adamant nod of agreement.
This wasn’t the first time Danyon had heard Andy’s reputation preceding him. He was indeed the largest were in the East Bank pack, and the only one Danyon trusted implicitly. No matter the situation, he could count on Andy to watch his back, keep his mouth shut, not ask questions, and follow orders to the letter. If ever those attributes were needed, it was now.
“Go to Jumani’s first,” Danyon said. “I don’t think Andy’s on shift until later, but he usually goes in early. If he isn’t there, Joe, the owner, will know where to find him. Tell Andy I need his SUV. Let him know where I am, but don’t say a word about Simon still being in were-state. Got that?”
“Y-Yes, but w-what do I say if he asks me why you need his SUV?”
“He won’t, not if you say I’m the one asking for it. Tell him to bring a couple tarps, a hacksaw, a pair of wirecut- ”
“No . . . wait . . . I can’t remember all of that.” Andrea wrung her hands. “I’m gonna forget something, I just know it!”
Danyon patted her arm gently. “Okay, never mind, it’s okay. Think you can remember just the tarp?”
“Perfect. All you have to do is tell Andy to bring two big tarps. Then tell-”
“B-But what a-about the other stuff? All the other things you wanted?” she asked.
“Just tell him I said that the job is messy, it’ll be dark, and metal is involved. If you can remember to tell him that, Andy will know what to bring. Can you do that?”
“Wait, you mean we’re gonna leave him here ’til dark?” Paul asked. He was pacing now, a short tight path between two trees. “We just gonna let the flies start collectin’ on his eyes and stuff?”
Andrea let out a loud sob and covered her face with her hands.
Danyon shot Paul a look.
“What? What’d I say?”
“Do you have to be so graphic?” Danyon aimed his chin at Andrea, hoping Paul caught the message. She’s upset, numb-nuts, so cool it.
Evidently catching the gist of Danyon’s meaning, Paul looked down at his feet. “I was only askin’ is all,” he mumbled.
“No, we’re not going to leave him here until dark.” Danyon walked to the opposite side of the road, then pushed his way through the thicket until he found a patch heavy with bramble and foliage. “We’re going to leave him here, where no one can see his body.”
Andrea slowly slid her hands away from her face, peered in Danyon’s direction. “Is . . .will . . . are you sure Simon’s going to be okay in there?”
“Really,” Paul said. “Like there’s no snakes or rats or stuff like that in there, huh?”
“S-Snakes?” Andrea’s face drained of color.
“Shut up, Paul!” Danyon warned.
Paul’s mouth fell open in surprise. Then he snapped it shut, pouted, and folded his arms across his chest.
Ignoring him, Danyon walked back over to Andrea. “Don’t worry, honey, Simon will be fine here. I promise. Do you remember what you have to tell Andy?”
“Tarp-messy-dark-metal,” Andrea said, ticking the items off her fingers.
“Good girl.” Danyon gave her a reassuring smile.
“What about me?” Paul asked. “I can remember to tell Andy stuff.”
“You’re staying with me. I need help moving the body.”
“Whoa, no way!” Paul took two quick steps backwards. “Andy’ll help you. W-Wait for Andy.”
“Having already positioned himself at the head of the body, Danyon glared at him. “Simon’s been out here too long as it is. Somebody might drive or walk by here any minute. He has to be moved now, so suck it up. Come over here and take hold of his feet.”
“You mean, like actually touch him? No effin’ way!”
A low growl rumbled at the back of Danyon’s throat. He allowed it to rise in volume to make sure Paul heard it. “I said, take hold of his feet.”
Paul ran a shaking hand through his shoulder-length hair. “Yeah, o-okay, but . . . I-I don’t know if I can touch him. I-I mean, look at all that blood. What if . . . what if I, like, throw up or something? Maybe we-”
The sound of moving brush grabbed Danyon’s attention, and he held up a hand to silence Paul. He cocked an ear to the sound.
Someone . . . something . . . running toward them.
Danyon lifted his head, sniffed, caught the scent of panic-fury-a male were. Instantly, the muscles in his body began to ripple, burn-preparing for the change, instinctively engineered for fight or flight. For Danyon, though, it always meant fight. Flight simply wasn’t in an alpha’s DNA. No way anyone or anything was going to take them by surprise.
Andrea must have picked up on the sound, as well, because she let out a loud gasp, then cried out, “They’re coming!” She suddenly dropped into a squat and covered her head with her arms. “We’re going to die just like Simon! They’re coming to kill us, too!”
“Who? Where-what?” Paul spun about. First left, then right, then left again, trying to look everywhere at once. “Someone’s . . . coming? Where?”
Danyon sniffed the air again, wanting to get a handle on how quickly the runner was closing in.
“We’d better go then, right?” Paul said. He hurried over to Andrea and grabbed her by the arm. “Danyon, let’s go, okay? I don’t wanna . . . I mean, Simon was a good guy and everything, but I . . . I don’t wanna wind up like him. Let’s just go, okay?”
“Wait,” Danyon commanded. The runner was closing in fast, his scent stronger . . . much stronger now. . .
Copyright 2010 Deborah LeBlanc