Thursday, September 29, 2016
Another Story from the Vault
Here's another one I dug out of my files. Shane, a supernatural cop with psychic powers, tracks a killer shifter to his hideout in a traveling circus. But which one of the circus animals is his quarry? Or could there be more than one?
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Shane stalked among the tents and vehicles and kept a cautious distance from any people he spotted. Let the protesters think he belonged to the circus, and the circus folk vice versa. As long as no one suspected he might be other than he seemed. Something his quarry was no doubt also thinking right now.
He paused behind a Job Johnny and let his psychic senses do a recon. Somewhere, probably in a cage, was an animal that wasn’t an animal. The claw marks on the victims had suggested a big cat, so a cage would make his job much easier. He moved his hand beneath his jacket, to the butt of his gun with its load of silver bullets, and waited for the zing of connection.
Instead he got hit with a tidal wave.
For a moment he nearly lost himself in psychic overload. Just in time he cut the connection, before it knocked him cold. He clung to the Job Johnny and struggled for breath until the echoes faded, leaving scrapes across his mind like nails across a blackboard.
Damn it to hell. More than one.
In his entire ten years of hunting shifters he’d only ever had to take on one at a time. It was usually the solitary ones that turned to killing humans in the first place. Shifters in groups policed themselves.
That blast hadn’t been any solo act. That was a whole damned orchestra. Could he be dealing with a family of rogues, all hiding out in a travelling circus? There would be one for the books.
One thing for sure, he didn’t dare use his psychic senses again. He shoved away from the Job Johnny and aimed for the nearest tent, with his hand still in his inner pocket, locked to the grip of his gun.
Fifteen minutes later he finally let it go. Fifteen minutes of furtive searching and dodging circus personnel hadn’t turned up his elusive killer shifter. Or animals of any kind, actual or not.
The sound of frustrated voices sent him ducking behind the wall of a tent. He peered around the edge. A group of protesters had been rounded up by four beefy roustabouts and were being herded toward del Rio’s RV. “But there have to be elephants!” a scrawny young man with a scraggly beard kept wailing. His T-shirted fellows all nodded.
The roustabouts remained unmoved. “Ain’t no elephants here.”
“But I heard one when we pulled up!”
“Maybe they hidin’.”
“Yeah, thass it. They hidin’. Lemme go check under my bed.” The men laughed and gave the activists a shove to activate them faster toward the office.
With all their backs to him, Shane slipped into the tent. And found his animals.
There were three of them, all cats. The lioness was sprawled out asleep on the floor of her cage. The tiger scrambled upright and pressed his muzzle against the bars. His lips pulled back as his nose took in the scent of stranger. The male lion gained his feet in one graceful bound. His ears flattened and he bared his fangs at Shane. The lion was not in a cage.
Three things happened at once. Shane experienced the psychic zing that told him he was in the presence of a shifter. His hand dove for his gun. The lion charged.
In the race between gun and attacking shifter, the lion came in first. It knocked him to the ground and pinned him with its weight. Its paw came down, deliberately, on the wrist of his gun hand. Eyes of green, not lion-yellow, glared murderously into his own. The hot breath that fanned Shane’s face smelled of fried eggs and pancakes.
The lion’s muzzle blurred into a youthful human face, brown-skinned and topped with messy blond hair that almost obscured the green eyes. Now a lithe, muscular but no longer leonine body pinned him to the dirt floor of the tent. The hostility in the shifter’s eyes gleamed unabated as he leaned in close to Shane’s face. “I know what you are,” he snarled, in a voice like the growl of a predator. “Hunter.”
“Not quite. But thanks for showing me what you are,” Shane said, and punched him. Lions posed a problem, but humans he could handle. The man lost his balance, just enough for Shane to throw him off. He delivered a kick to the shifter’s midsection that landed him on his naked ass with the breath knocked out of him. Before he could think to switch back to lion, Shane regained his feet and aimed his gun at him.
The tiger roared and circled in its cage. The lioness raised her head and blinked at them. Neither of them changed into anything else. Shane risked a quick scan. No zing. “Are you the only one?” he asked the lion-man.
Shane studied him. He’d taken the shifter for a kid at first, but at second look put his age at mid-twenties, not much younger than himself. That fit the profile. Shifters who went rogue were usually the young ones, feeling their power, and the older ones, feeling helpless as that power waned. This wouldn’t be the first big cat he’d had to put down in order to save human lives.
Pity. As a lion he’d been magnificent, all supple muscle with a thick blond mane. In human form he was just as beautiful, practically vibrating with passion and power. Instead of shooting, Shane took a moment to savor that beauty, and regret the need to end it. Such a waste.
Those eyes burned at him. He found himself groping for some excuse not to put that fire out. Of course. There were other shifters here. What if this one wasn’t the killer he hunted?
“You get three seconds,” he barked at the lion. “How many other shifters are hiding here?”
Just shoot him already, practicality demanded. And still he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger.
Just in time he spotted the telltale bunch of muscles in the lion-man’s thighs and knew he was preparing for a suicidal charge. No choice now. Shane took reluctant aim at that broad, naked chest.