Monday, August 18, 2014
Cochrane glanced around Talbot’s Peak’s center square and tried not to let his horror show. It looked like the whole misbegotten population had turned out. To honor him, the wolf-man Dante said. Yeah, right. They were still shapeshifters, and they still outnumbered him, and they had still confiscated his weapons after the fight was over. This better not be the honor accorded the victim right before the sacrifice.
At least they’d left him his clothing this time. That was a step in the right direction.
A lean, gangly man with a twitchy nose stepped up to the podium. He’d been pointed out to Cochrane earlier as the current Mayor. “Fellow Peakites,” he spoke into the mic, “by now you’re all aware of the monster that threatened us and our town. We came together in the face of peril, and we triumphed. I’m proud of all of you.
“Today we honor those who directly risked their lives and safety to defend us. Dante.” The wolf man seated near the podium stood and bowed modestly to the cheering crowd. “Duff McDuff and his cohorts.” From out of the crowd the Scotsmen and -woman raised tankards of liquor and roared something in Gaelic. “Rafael Golden.” The Mayor nodded skyward, where an eagle circled. “The Turkle family, who politely declined to join us this afternoon. Ditto for Syprelli, a newcomer to Talbot’s Peak, who nevertheless put her life on the line for us. I hope you all help to make her feel welcome here in the days to come. May I also extend our gratitude to a young man who played a vital role in our defense, yet chooses to remain anonymous.” Cochrane spotted Deuce standing with a bunch of glowering wolves dressed like Twilight wannabes. He was the only one smiling.
“Ewan Carter and Maureen Starkey.” The blond man standing at the front of the crowd hastily yanked his hand off his girlfriend’s rack. The girl in the glasses just laughed and left her own hand where it sat comfortably on his ass. Cochrane tried not to scowl directly at them. That damned coyote still owed him for that bite on the wrist, even though the cast had come off a while back. And her. She was a hunter, or supposed to be. She’d clearly thrown in her lot with the enemy. Women. Couldn’t trust ‘em.
“And a special thanks and our undying gratitude to another stranger to our town, who nevertheless literally leaped into the jaws of hell to save us all. Abel Cochrane.” The crowd broke into thunderous applause. Numerous hands propelled him toward the podium. The Mayor stepped back and motioned to the mic.
Cochrane stared out at the sea of faces confronting him. Shifter faces. Monsters, every last one of them, hiding behind faux human features. Clapping and chanting his name.
“Just doing my job,” he mumbled into the mic, and tried to make his escape.
“Just a moment.” The Mayor caught his arm. “I’ve been told you initially came to Talbot’s Peak for a specific reason. We’d like to help out. Mr. Lincoln? Mr. McMahon?”
Cochrane stiffened. He recognized those two old geezers stepping out of the crowd. Purple paint, cardboard fairy wings, public nudity and the cops. He wasn’t going to forget those sons of bitches any time soon.
“Mr. Cochrane,” the aged ape who’d once been Mayor of Talbot’s Peak boomed within earshot of the mic. “Last time you visited our fair hamlet, Vern and I—well, we did something mean that I know now we shouldn’t’ve. We’d like to apologize for that. No hard feelings?”
He held out his hand. Cochrane just stared at it. “Take it,” Lincoln murmured through a politician’s smile. “Otherwise Vern here’s liable to shift, and that’ll put his big wolfie jaws right in line with your dingle. We wouldn’t want any accidents to happen in front of the children, would we?”
Goddamn shifters. They’d trapped him good and proper. Cochrane seized the ape’s hand and pumped it once, then repeated the gesture with the grinning old wolf’s. The audience went wild. Short trip for them, he thought scathingly.
The high school band raised their instruments and broke into the ceremonial music from the end of the first Star Wars movie. That appeared to signal the end of the gathering. The crowd broke up, most headed toward the center square’s various eating establishments. Better that than him, Cochrane reckoned.
Oh Christ, here came the coyote, with Maureen at his side. Probably after the rest of his arm. The hunter tensed for battle.
“Mr. Cochrane,” Ewan said, amiably enough. “As long as everybody’s apologizing, I want to say I’m sorry for the bite. You sorry you tried to kill me?” Cochrane didn’t respond. The coyote shrugged. “Told you,” he said to Maureen.
“That’s why I didn’t take the bet. Sir?” Maureen addressed Cochrane. “I quit.” She walked off arm and arm with the coyote, now and forever a traitor to humanity. Picked a monster over her own kind. Typical woman.
Once he got his weapons back, she could die along with the rest of them.
“Mr. Cochrane.” Now that the mic was shut off, the Mayor also shut off his joviality. “You saved a ton of lives at the risk of your own, and we’re forever grateful. Just the same, I think it would be best all around if you left Talbot’s Peak right now and never came back. I’d even go so far as to say stay out of Montana altogether. There are plenty of other places in the world for you to ply your trade. I’m sure you can find one.”
Cochrane studied the Mayor’s hard eyes, then those of Dante, just beyond his shoulder. The Scottish contingent had clumped together and watched the hunter warily. The two old bastards went on grinning, like they couldn’t wait to get their mitts on another bucket of paint.
“How can you do this?” he muttered at the Mayor. “You know what these things are.”
“Better than you can imagine,” the Mayor growled back. “I was born human, Mr. Cochrane. We have more in common with ‘these things’ than you believe. I’ll take their kind over yours any day.” He smiled thinly. “Thanks again. Have a nice day.”
The Mayor, with Dante and the Scots as backup, escorted Cochrane to his car. He got in without a word and drove out of Talbot’s Peak. And that was that.
For now. In spite of everything that had happened, the basic threat posed by a town full of shapeshifters remained. As soon as he replenished his weapons stash, he’d be back.
One final tribute awaited him as he drove down Route 15. The Turkle clan had gathered at the side of the road. As Cochrane motored past they raised various weapons in salute. A grinning Abram Turkle hefted his newly-arrived bazooka.
Cochrane slowed and saluted. When he returned to clean up the town, he would spare this bunch. He would never hunt turkeys again. They were true Americans.