Before he could even pull the trigger, Tommy’s arm was tugged roughly aside, pointing it low and to the left, away from the creature.
“What the hell are you doing?” demanded Chase roughly, at the same time Wells yelled, “Are you out of your damn mind?”
Chase still held Tommy’s wrist in a tight grip, so he pointed with his left hand, limb quivering just as much as his voice as he spoke. “W-w-w-werewolf.”
But that voice had not come from Wells, or Chase. Instead, like a deep rumble, it had issued from the monster, even as it span away from them, head whipping back and forth as it searched behind it. Its ears shivered violently, and Tommy realised it was pulling a hand gun from the holster on a pair of oversized pants. The thing wears pants? his brain managed dully. Some part of him also recognised that the creature also wore shoes, and a heavy jacket, but the part of him that would listen to that other part had taken a vacation.
“Stand down, Brogan.” Wells commanding voice cut through the fog in Tommy’s brain as she moved herself in front of him, putting the nightmare creature behind her. “You too, Zeke. False alarm.”
Tommy watched, uncomprehending, as the beast turned back to them, its eyebrows furrowed in what looked for all the world like annoyance. It moved towards them, and it was only Chase’s vice grip on his wrist that prevented Tommy from raising his weapon again.
“Almost gave me a heart attack,” the creature muttered as it neared, in that voice like a distant avalanche.
“It… it talks,” Tommy found himself saying. From here, the creature’s large face was more feline that he’d expected. That made no sense to him; you heard werewolf, you imagined canine. The fur, which from a distance had appeared pure white, was instead swirled with streaks of light grey, almost like the stripes of a tiger, though it had a distinctly lion-like mane.
“You should hear me sing in the shower, mate,” the creature said. “I do an impressive soprano.” Then its cat-like eyes moved to Wells. “This is the rookie then?”
“That’s what Weston thinks,” she replied, voice back to hard ice as she glared at Tommy. Chase finally released his grip on Tommy’s arm.
“Some shoot-first, ask-questions-later Yank?”
“I’m not a Yank.” It was only when three pairs of eyes levelled on him that he realised his protest had been loud and sharp.
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I insult you?” asked the creature. “Would you prefer if I screamed and pointed a gun at you?”
Tommy felt his cheeks burn. “Sorry,” he murmured. This whole situation just didn’t make any sense to him. This is what happens, he thought, when you jump off a cliff before you see what’s at the bottom. They’d offered him this position, and he’d snapped it up without really knowing thing one about what it actually meant. They’d been sent out to hunt a werewolf, a creature from legend, but instead they seemed to be familiar with it, conversing like colleagues. He addressed Wells. “I thought that’s what you did? Stop the supernatural menace.”
“It is,” she said with a sigh that let most of her annoyance slip from her frame. “But to paint every supernatural creature with the same brush does the vast majority of them a disservice. They’re a lot like humans; a few bad apples spoil it for the rest. And it’s those bad apples that we deal with.”
“Right,” the creature said. “Most of us leave relatively normal lives. I myself grew up on a diet of 80s cartoons and junk food. The most I could menace is a KFC. Didn’t you read the introductory booklet?”
“We didn’t have time,” Wells answered before Tommy could speak.
“So you’re…” Tommy licked his lips. “So you’re not a werewolf?”
The beast laughed, a sound like a much closer avalanche. “Nah, mate,” it said. “I’m a gurajer. Name’s Zeke.” It offered a hand, and Tommy took it, his own hand swallowed up by the creature’s – Zeke’s – mammoth one.
“Tommy,” he replied.
“Well, if that’s introductions out of the way,” said Wells, “let’s get started. Chase, why don’t you go speak to our boys in blue, make sure Brogan’s screaming didn’t cause any of them to become too curious about what we’re doing here? Can’t have anyone else showing up and trying to shoot Zeke.”
Tommy felt a rebuke swell in him, but Zeke beat him too him. “Ah, leave off Monika. Rook said he was sorry. Can’t expect him to know everything. Besides, I’m noticeably bullet hole free, so it’s all good.” His feline features curled into what Tommy could only assume was a grin.
Chase let out a soft laugh, and clapped the big creature on the back. “You always were the best of us,” he said, with more than a trace of playful mocking, before moving away towards the distant flashing lights of police cars.
Wells gestured towards the parking structure. “If you’re quite done, shall we get started?”
Tommy eyed the darkened building. Five stories in height, it was made of heavy grey concrete, the sides open to the elements. The insides were all dark shadows, black and oppressive. He followed the others towards it. The big gurajer had long strides, moving out ahead of Tommy and Wells, though the woman did not appear in too much of a hurry. That was the opposite of Tommy’s feelings; his skin hummed with anticipation, and his eyes were already searching eagerly.
A werewolf, he thought. A real life werewolf.
He wondered what exactly it would look like. Oh, sure, he’d seen movies since he was a kid, old black and whites all the way up to CGI blockbusters, and every werewolf in those were as different as the next. In his mind, he saw something not unlike Zeke; big and hairy, probably grey fur, and with claw and teeth that could rip flesh apart like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Red glowing eyes swam in his imaginings, and he stumbled up the steps of the circling stairwell they were climbing.
Zeke gave a small laugh. “Thought you army types were supposed to be coordinated?” he said.
The stairwell was close and oppressive, the tight confines making the shadows deeper and longer. Each wall was whitewashed, though with enough brightly colour graffiti to make that all but impossible to make out. They reached the top of the stairwell, pausing by the thick red firedoor. Like seasoned pros, Wells and Zeke had their weapons up, stacking up on either side of that door. Instincts kicked in, and Tommy drew his SIG as well, slipping easily back into his combat-ready mind set, senses on overdrive.
Wells made eye contact with them both, then counted down with her fingers; three, two, one. Then she grabbed the door handle, twisted, and pushed the door open.
Zeke was first in, weapon scanning around, while Tommy was hot on his heels. He sensed Wells behind him, also searching deep into the dark shadows.
“Clear,” said Zeke, his massive frame relaxing, and a second later Wells and then Tommy repeated the word. Aside from a few cars, no doubt belonging to people out late in the city’s many bars and restaurants, there was nothing in the dimly lit parking level.
He followed the others to the middle of the level, tucking his SIG into the back waistband of his jeans. “So what exactly are we looking for?” he asked, still scanning the area around him, senses still heightened, though a more relaxed ready than seconds before.
Zeke pulled out a PDA from the pocket of his pants; his giant furry palm dwarfed the device. He tapped it briefly with his stylus, then showed Wells and Tommy an image of a dark haired woman. “Call came in from Amanda Sark, 32, works in the City but not local. She called 999, with reports that a big dog was stalking her.”
“Big dog?” Tommy queried, his eyebrows furrowed.
“Most people wouldn’t recognise a werewolf if they saw one,” came a voice from behind, and Tommy turned to see Chase approaching them. The agent took a sip from his coffee. In his other hand was a large black case, obviously heavy enough to make him need to adjust the lean it forced upon his stance. “Or, well… they would. But they tend to not believe their own eyes. And who can blame them?”
“So ‘big dog’ is a buzzword the Call Centre looks for,” added Wells.
Tommy felt his brain descend briefly into that same fog he’d entered several times today already. Call Centre? No, no, that’ll be in the book, I’m sure, no need to ask what that is.
Wells continued. “Of course, nine times out of ten, it turns out to be an actual big dog that’s got loose somehow.”
“And let’s hope this is one of them,” Zeke muttered. Even his muttering was like a dozen bumblebees.
“I hope it’s not,” Tommy surprised himself by saying out loud. He stammered a little as they all regarded him quizzically. “I…I… I mean, it’s a, you know, it’s a classic. I think I’d love to see one.”
“No,” said Chase, that single word holding a chill. “Trust me, you wouldn’t. Werewolves are evil. They’re malicious, and intelligent, and they kill for fun. They don’t hunt for food, they hunt for sport. You don’t want to meet one, but if you do, you put it down without question.”
“But,” said Tommy, shaking his head. “But I thought you said that most of these things are good, or at least as good as humans are in general. What if this one is like Zeke?”
“No,” Chase snapped again, his tone harder. The man’s eyes were narrowed, and he glared at Tommy.
Wells moved to Chase’s side, resting a hand lightly on the other agent’s arm, though she looked only at Tommy. “A werewolf isn’t like a gurajer, or any other species. A werewolf is a human, cursed with pure evil. They’re forced by the curse to transform into beasts with every full moon, true. But that’s pretty much all fairy tales will tell you. The reality is that as each werewolf grows older, the more the curse takes over, and the more control they have over when they transform. A sufficiently old one can, and will, be in wolf form almost constantly. But as the wolf form becomes more pronounced, so too does the human aspect of the mind.”
“And that’s bad?” Tommy asked.
“Yeah, that’s bad,” Wells agreed. “Because the mind that’s there is twisted by the curse, warped by it. It magnifies the worst traits of humanity; cunning, treachery, malice, the lot. There are no good werewolves, just like there are no good vampires. Most species… they have a choice. They can choose to do good, or choose to do evil. But those two are corruptions, devoid of any basic moral compass, and need to be stopped at all costs.”
Tommy was silent a moment, running the woman’s words through his mind. It seemed that everything he learnt about this new world that had been opened up to him, he found there were a dozen other things that he did not know. No wonder the damn book is so big, he thought. “Alright,” he said. “I guess I’ll take the back seat on this one. Leave it to the professionals, and try not to ask too many stupid questions.”
Chase gave a tight nod, and turned away without another word. Zeke, however, gave him a comradery clap on the back that almost sent Tommy spilling. “Don’t worry, Rook. You’re a rookie for a reason.”
Wells was silent, eyeing Tommy with that weighing look of hers. As usual, it appeared whatever she saw when she looked at him, she was not happy with the result. Tommy would have bet money she was thinking about how she had been straddled with an inexperienced person on her team. Idly, he wondered what had happened to his predecessor.
“Anything on CCTV,” she said suddenly, turning so it was clear her words were for Chase and Zeke.
“Naturally,” Zeke answered, tapping on his PDA again. “Building CCTV works perfectly. Oh, except for the three cameras on this level, which all conveniently went out about twenty minutes before Amanda made her call.”
Wells scoffed. “What’s the point in living in the most camera-heavy city on the world if inconsiderate creatures are just going to disable them?”
A call from the side attracted her attention just then. “Got something, Mon’.” She moved to Chase’s side. The other man was squatted down on his haunches, looking at something on the ground. Tommy peered at the item until he understood what it was; a shattered smart phone.
“Bag it and tag it,” Wells said, even though Chase was already pulling a camera from the case. It was a good model of camera, professional, though Tommy really wasn’t the best judge of these things. Chase began taking pictures of the phone’s location.
“So what now?” Tommy asked, feeling very much like a fifth wheel now that it was clear that nothing was going to leap out the shadows and attack them.
“Now we catalogue the scene,” Wells said. Behind her, Tommy could see that Zeke too had a camera out, one that looked laughably small in his big hands, and was diligently taking pictures of the area around them.
“And the woman?” asked Tommy. “What if she’s still around somewhere?”
“Unlikely,” Wells replied after a moment. There was a trace of resigned acceptance in her voice, almost as if some strength had slipped from her. Then she sniffed loudly, and her posture straightened again. “There’s no body here, and no blood either. She might have run, or…”
“Or she might have been taken,” Tommy finished. That did not sound like something positive; he was certain that meant one of two things, and being turned into a werewolf was the lesser of those. “So what’s our next step?”
“We catalogue the scene,” Wells repeated. “We look for clues, though there probably won’t be anything useful. And after that, we head back to the base and wait.”
“Wait?” Tommy cocked his head to one side. “Wait for what?”
It was Chase who replied, almost offhand from where he was still documenting the area around the damaged phone. “For the next sighting.”
“Yippee,” said Tommy, his voice devoid of all emotion.