Monday, March 31, 2014
Cue the Ominous Music
Barry peered out the car window, his voice high and jittery. “Oh Jesus. They’ve spotted us.”
“No shit.” Atcheson cursed under his breath. Of course every eye of every shifter in Talbot’s Peak was now trained directly on them. These were shifters, monsters, inhumans. Naturally they’d be suspicious if a cop car cruised into town and parked in the center square. They’d be doubly wary of anyone who got out of it, especially if those passengers were human. Any element of surprise they’d been hoping for had just vanished like a puff of smoke from one of Barry’s joints.
No way Atcheson was taking the blame for this. They’d lost both the van and Cochrane's Chevy. The cop car, probably the least inconspicuous vehicle ever devised, had been the only thing available. What were they supposed to do?
Roll with the punches, his daddy always said. If possible, throw the first punch yourself.
Atcheson got out from behind the wheel for a look around. Barry and Lowenstein piled out like clowns from a circus car. Atcheson found the analogy depressingly apt. Ted grunted and groaned and finally squeezed himself loose with an assist from Lowenstein. “What now?” he panted. “We gonna eat or what?”
The townsfolk gave them the hairy eyeball—talk about your apt—but no one approached them or challenged them. All in all, life in the square seemed remarkably calm. “Cochrane’s not here yet,” Atcheson deduced. “We couldn’t have passed him. He must have gone straight to the bar.”
“So we hit the bar?” Lowenstein asked.
“Yeah. Set a trap. Catch him when he gets there.” Atcheson turned around to address his team, just like a real leader should. “Remember, he’s a werewolf now. A monster. He’d want us to off him. If he could, I’ll bet he’d—oh Jesus Christ!”
“Mphf?” Ted said. After some effort he’d freed a squished Snickers bar from his back pocket. He’d already peeled back the wrapper and was munching on it right in front of Atcheson, so close Atcheson could smell the toxic combo of caramel, peanut and chocolate.
Dear God, was he insane? Or out to kill the team’s new, untried leader?
Atcheson smacked the candy bar out of Ted’s blubbery hand. “What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“M’hungry, man,” Ted mumbled. He looked hurt.
Now Barry and Lowenstein were looking at him funny. Get a grip, Atcheson ordered himself. He couldn’t afford to lose their support, not yet. “Okay, then. You stay here. Keep an eye out for Cochrane. If you spot him, call us. We’re going on to the bar.”
“That’s an order, mister.” Atcheson clambered back into the cop car. Was his hand burning? Were those hives? No, couldn’t be. Must be his imagination.
# # #
Ted had no time to wedge himself back into the car. Atcheson barely gave Barry and Lowenstein a chance to get in before he peeled out of the square. Within seconds the cop car was a cloud of dust with flashing blue lights. Belatedly, Ted shot it the finger.
He looked around for his Snickers, but a crow had already flown off with it. So much for breakfast.
Hold on. His gaze hit a place across the square. The sign said Bighorn Diner. Now that looked promising. He lumbered over and was welcomed by the seductive aromas of fried eggs and maple syrup. A sign in the window promised Flapjack Special -- All You Can Eat $4.99. All of a sudden the day appeared much brighter.
Screw the team. Screw Cochrane. Screw hunting shapeshifters. What had shapeshifters ever done to anybody anyway? Ted opened the diner door and went inside.
He was the lucky one.
# # #
Among those handing out the stink eyes to Atcheson and his team was a knot of young men on a bench by the town’s dog dish fountain. They were, in fact, wolves. They wore leather jackets and tight jeans and motorcycle boots and dark expressions. Since the Twilight movies came out, they had started dressing in shirtless Ts, or going shirtless entirely.
To be specific, they were Hancock wolves, sworn to Damien Hancock. Their orders were simple: keep an eye out for strangers, humans, and any other beings who wouldn’t be missed. Morloxian was constantly running short of subjects for his ghastly experiments. If he couldn’t get humans he might start using shifters. This tended to spike motivation.
They spoke among themselves in growls and body language, indecipherable to ignorant humans. Monkeys, one said. The others nodded agreement. Hunters, said another. More nods.
The leader of the little pack grinned. Twofer. He jerked his chin at the wolf beside him. The low-rank leaped up to get the truck.
They let the fat one lurch across the square and enter the Bighorn Diner. His heart was probably three beats away from imploding. He’d never survive the trip to the lab, let alone the mutation process. The low-rank returned with their vehicle, a former bread truck that now said Full Moon Deliveries on the side.
The leader got behind the wheel. By now they’d lost sight of the cop car, but that was okay. The apes had been chattering loud enough to be heard clear back to the exit. The big blond ape had said, “the bar,” and there was only one bar at the end of that particular road. Hell, the mutts out there would give them a medal for saving their business from hunters. He trundled the bread truck out of the square.