Read Full MoonCity Online

Authors: Darrell Schweitzer,Martin Harry Greenberg,Lisa Tuttle,Gene Wolfe,Carrie Vaughn,Esther M. Friesner,Tanith Lee,Holly Phillips,Mike Resnick,P. D. Cacek,Holly Black,Ian Watson,Ron Goulart,Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,Gregory Frost,Peter S. Beagle

Tags: #thriller

Full MoonCity (6 page)

BOOK: Full MoonCity
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You never know, Father. God arranges this stuff. It’s not us, and it sure wasn’t me. I got out of school like I said, and I got a job at the packing plant. I joined the International Brotherhood of Meatworkers and everything. This teacher I had recommended me, and anytime he recommended a guy, the Human Resources guy at the plant jumped at him. Everybody told me that, and when I applied and gave him my letter, I found out it was true. It said I was good-natured, hardworking, and reliable. On the next page it said I had a natural aptitude few students possess. That was the big finish, you know? I still remember it, and I’ll bless Mr. Johnson to the end of my days.

I was walking back home from work one day and there she was. I guess she’d been kept after school for being naughty, or maybe there had been some kind of special thing at her school after classes. Practice for a school show, maybe. Something like that.

Anyway, there she was, and I followed her. It was broad daylight, so I wasn’t planning to do anything at all. That day I just wanted to find out where she lived. I had this little apartment by then, and a nice new freezer.

So I followed her, and this car came along. The guy stopped and said her momma had sent him to get her and take her home.

Sure I could hear him, Father. You would be surprised how good my ears are. It’s funny because I have a lot of color blindness. I know because they tested me at Braciola Vocational. So you would think my ears might be bad, too. Only they are a lot better than most people’s.

Well, I heard him, like I said, and I knew right off that he was lying. He was going to steal her and he was real scared somebody would know it. I could hear it in his voice, but she could not. She got into the car with him, but I had the smell of him by then and I had seen the car and the license number. I wrote it down as soon as they had gone so I would not forget it.

No, Father. I have never owned a car. I never got that much money together before they put me in here. If I had owned a car I would have driven it to work, probably, and I would never have seen him stealing her.

So I borrowed somebody else’s-just pulled him out when he was getting in and took his keys. Only I never meant to keep his car, which would be stealing. I was going to leave it someplace where he would find it.

I looked for an hour, maybe, before I found them. They were in a trailer park where one of the guys I worked with lived. So I got out and knocked on the door of the trailer. He opened it, and when he saw how mad I was, he just ran away out the back door and I let him go.

Well, Father, maybe most of them don’t have back doors, but this one did.

She was in there on the floor crying. He had tied her hands and there was a rope around her neck that was tied to the bed so she couldn’t get away. Besides, he had torn off all her clothes and she was bleeding from down here.

Sure I did. You would have, too, Father. It tasted great.

So I said, don’t cry, please don’t cry, he’s gone now and you don’t have to worry about him anymore. Now you listen to me. I am going to leave you here until dark. It won’t be long. When it is dark, nobody will see that you are naked, so then I can get you into my car and it will be all right.

No, Father. I wasn’t going to hurt her at all.

So then I drove out to that factory where I had kept Paul. I had my paper and tape there, and a cleaver and some knives. You know. After that I went back home and put some in my freezer.

By then it was dark so I came back for her just like I had said. She was so sweet! She had finished crying by then, and the way she looked up at me… If you had seen her little face then, Father, you would know I would never hurt her. I untied her and got her into my car, only the police stopped us and here I am.

So I am not a child molester like they said. Not at all. He was the one that did her like they were married, only nobody could marry a girl as little as she was then.

Maybe ten. Not much older.

She’ll be older now. I know that. But if you’ll find her and talk to her, she’ll tell you I never did. It was him. I just licked her where she was bleeding. You know. That was all I did.

Well, tell her to tell the truth, please. She won’t lie to you, I know. And tell her I will get out someday and when I do I am going to look her up and make sure she’s all right.

I didn’t mean to scare you, Father. Really I didn’t. I just laid my hand on your shoulder-you shouldn’t be so touchy. Just tell the screw you want out.

 

Kitty Learns the Ropes by Carrie Vaughn

I
hit play on the laptop DVD software and sat back to watch.

This was a recording of a boxing match in Las Vegas last year. The Heavyweight World Championships, the caption read. I was glad it did, because I knew nothing about boxing, nothing about who these guys were. Two beefy, sweaty men-one white, with a dark buzz cut and heavy brow, the other black, bald, snarling-were pounding on each other in rage. I winced as the blows against each other sent sweat and spit flying. As sports went, this was more unappealing than most, in my opinion.

Then the white boxer, Ian Jacobson, the defending champion, laid one into his opponent, Jerome Macy. The punch came in like a pile driver, snapped Macy’s head around, and sent the big man spinning. He crashed head-first into the mat. The crack of bone carried over the roars and cheers of the crowd. I resisted an urge to look away, sure I was witnessing the boxer’s death.

The arena fell silent, watching Macy lie still. Jacobson had retreated to an empty corner of the ring, looking agitated, while the referee counted down over Macy. Ringside officials leaned in, uncertain whether to rush in to help or wait for the count to end. Macy lay with his head twisted, his body crumpled, clearly badly injured. Blood leaked out his nose.

Then he moved. First a hand, then an arm. He levered himself up, shaking his head, shaking it again, stretching his neck back into alignment. Slowly, he regained his feet.

He turned, looking for his opponent with fire blazing in his eyes. Jacobson stared back, eyes wide, fearful. Obviously, he hadn’t wanted Macy to be seriously hurt. But this-rising from the dead almost-must have seemed worse.

The roar of the crowd at the apparent resurrection was visceral thunder.

They returned to the fight, and Macy knocked out Jacobson a minute later, winning the title.

A hand reached over me and hit the pause button on the laptop.

“That wasn’t normal,” said Jenna Larson, the woman who had brought me the recording of the match. She was a rarity, a female sports reporter with national standing, known for hunting down the big stories, breaking the big news, from drug scandals to criminal records. “Tell me that wasn’t human. Jerome Macy isn’t human.”

Which was why Larson was here, showing me this video. She wanted to know if I could tell Macy was a werewolf or some other supernatural/superhuman creature with rapid healing, or the kind of invulnerability that would let him not only stand back up after a blow like that, but go on to beat up his opponent. I couldn’t tell, not by just watching the clip. But it wouldn’t be hard for me to find out if I could get close enough to smell him. I’d know if he was a werewolf by his scent, because I was one.

She’d brought her laptop to my office. I sat at my desk, staring at the frozen image of Macy, shoulders slouched, looming over his fallen opponent. Larson stood over me-a position of dominance, my Wolf side noted testily-waiting for my reaction.

I pushed my chair away from the desk so I was out from under her, looking at her eye to eye without craning my neck. “I can’t say one way or the other without meeting him.”

“I can arrange that,” she said. “His next bout is here in Denver this weekend. You come meet him, and if there is something going on, we share the scoop on the story.”

This was making me nervous. “Jenna. Here’s the thing: even if he is a werewolf, he probably doesn’t want to advertise the fact. He’s kept it hidden for a reason.”

“If he is a werewolf, do you think it’s fair that he’s competing against normal human beings in feats of strength and endurance?”

I shrugged, because she was right on some level. However talented a boxer he was, did Macy have an unfair advantage?

It also begged the question: in this modern age when werewolves, vampires, witches, and other things that go bump in the night were emerging from shadows and announcing themselves-like hosting talk radio shows that delved into this secret world-how many other people had hidden identities? How many actors, politicians, and athletes weren’t entirely human?

Larson was in her thirties, her shoulder-length brown hair shining and perfectly arranged around her face, her makeup calculated to look stunning and natural, like she wasn’t wearing any. She wore a pantsuit with high heels and never missed a step. She was a woman in a man’s profession, driven to make a name for herself. I had to respect that. The territorial side of me couldn’t help but see an alpha female on the prowl.

She was brusque, busy, and clearly didn’t have time to hang around because she shut down the laptop and started packing it into her sleek black shoulder bag.

“I know you’re interested in this,” she said. “If you don’t help me, I’ll get someone else. One way or another, with or without your help, I’m going to break this story. How about it?”

There wasn’t even a question. She called me pretty well: I wouldn’t let a story like this get away from me.

“I’m in,” I said.

 

***

 

I came within a hair of changing my mind outside the Pepsi Center the night of the bout. The crowd swarmed, jostling around me as they elbowed their way through the doors. This many people, all of them with an underlying aggression-they had paid a lot of money to watch two guys beat the crap out of each other-was making me want to growl. The Wolf side of my being didn’t like crowds, didn’t like aggression. I wanted to fight back, snarl, claw my way free to a place where I could run, where no one could touch me.

Concentrating, I worked to keep that part of me buried. I had to keep myself together to do my job.

I still wasn’t sure I wanted to do this job. If Larson turned out to be right and Macy was a werewolf, what if he didn’t want to be exposed? Should I step in and somehow talk her into keeping his secret? He had a right to the life he was carving out for himself. I’d been in his position once. On the other hand, maybe Macy would be okay with exposing his werewolf identity. Then I could claim his first exclusive interview for my radio show. Larson could break the story in print, I’d get the first live interview-part of me really hoped Macy was okay with telling the world about this.

The other part hoped he wasn’t a werewolf at all. Luck had saved him during that bout in Vegas.

Larson met me inside the doors with a press pass that got us close to ringside. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be ringside. Flying sweat and spit would hit us at this range. The arena smelled of crowds, of old sweat and layers of energy. Basketball, hockey, arena football, concerts, and circuses had all played here. A little of each remained, along with the thousands of people who watched. Popcorn, soda, beer, hot dogs, semi-fresh, semi-stale, ground into the concrete floor, never to be erased. And the echoes of shouting.

The arena filled. Larson talked with her colleagues, talked on her cell phone, punched notes into her laptop. We waited for the gladiators to appear.

“You look nervous,” she said to me, fifteen minutes into the waiting. I’d been hugging myself. “You ever been to a fight?”

I shook my head and unclenched my arms, trying to relax. “I’m not much into the whole sports thing. Crowds make me nervous.” Made me want to howl and run, actually.

The announcer came on the booming PA system, his rich, modulated voice echoing through the whole place and rattling my bones. Lights on scoreboards flashed. The sensory input was overwhelming. I guessed we were starting.

The boxers-opponents, combatants, gladiators-appeared. A great cheer traveled through the crowd. Ironically, the people in the upper bleachers saw them before those of us with front row seats. We didn’t see them until they climbed into the ring. The challenger, Ian Jacobson, looked even more fierce in person, glaring, muscles flexing. Already, sweat gleamed on his pale skin.

Then came Jerome Macy.

I smelled him before I saw him, a feral hint of musk and wild in this otherwise artificial environment. It was the smell of fur just under the skin, waiting to break free. Two werewolves could smell each other across the room, catching that distinctive mark.

No one who wasn’t a werewolf would recognize it. Black hair cropped close to his head, he looked normal as he ducked between the ropes and entered the ring. Normal as any heavyweight boxer could look, that is. He seemed hard as stone, his body brown, huge, solid. In his wolf form, he’d be a giant. He went through the same routine, his manager caring for him like he was a racehorse.

Just as I spotted him, he could sense me. He glanced over the ropes, scanning for the source of that lycanthropic odor. Then he saw me sitting next to Jenna Larson, and his eyes narrowed. He must have known why I was here. He must have guessed.

My first instinct, wolf’s instinct, was to cringe. He was bigger than I, meaner; he could destroy me, so I must show deference. But we weren’t wolves here. The human side, the side that needed to get to the bottom of this story and negotiate with Larson, met Macy’s gaze. I had my own strengths that made me his equal, and I wanted him to know that.

As soon as Macy entered the ring, Larson leaned over to me. “Well?” She didn’t take her gaze off the boxer.

Macy kept glancing at us and his mouth turned in a scowl. He must have known who-and what-I was, and surely he knew about Larson. He noted the conspiracy between us and must have known what it meant. Must have realized the implications.

“Yeah, he is,” I said.

Larson pressed her lips together in an expression of subdued triumph.

“What are you going to do?” I said. “Jump in and announce it to the world?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll wait until the fight’s over for that.” She was already typing on her laptop, making notes for her big exposé. Almost, I wanted no part of this. It was like she held this man’s life in her hands.

But more, I wanted to talk to Macy, to learn how he did this. I knew from experience-vivid, hard-fought experience-that aggression and danger brought the wolf side to the fore. If a lycanthrope felt threatened, the animal, monstrous side of him would rise to the surface to defend him, to use more powerful teeth and claws in the battle.

So how did Macy train, fight, and win as a boxer without losing control of his wolf? I never could have done it.

The bout had started. In the ring, the two fighters circled each other-like wolves, almost-separated only by the referee, who seemed small and weak next to them. Then they fell together. Gloves smacked against skin. I winced at the pounding each delivered, jackhammer blows slamming over and over again.

Around me, the journalists in the press box regarded the scene with cool detachment, unemotional, watching the fight clinically, an attitude so at odds with the chaos of the crowd around us.

I flinched at the vehemence of the crowd, the shouts, fierce screams, the wall of emotion like a physical force pressing from all corners of the arena to the central ring. Wolf, the creature inside me, recognized the bloodlust. She-I-wanted to growl, feeling cornered. I hunched my back against the emotion and focused on being human.

The line between civilized and wild was so very thin, after all. No one watching this display could argue otherwise.

They pounded the crap out of each other and kept coming back for more. That was the only way to describe it. An enthusiast could probably talk about the skill of various punches and blocks, maybe even the graceful way they danced back and forth across the ring, giving and pressing in turn in some kind of strategy I couldn’t discern. The strategy may have involved simply tiring each other out. I just waited for it to be over. I couldn’t decide who I was rooting for.

Catching bits of conversation between rounds, I gathered that the previous fight between Macy and Jacobson had been considered inconclusive. The blow that had struck Macy down had been a fluke. That he had stood up without being knocked out-or killed-had been a fluke. No one could agree on which of the two had gotten lucky. The rematch had seemed inevitable.

This time, Macy clearly had the upper hand. His punches continued to be calculated and carefully placed, even in the later rounds. To my eyes, Macy looked like he was holding back. A werewolf should have been able to knock an enemy across the room. As a werewolf,
I
could have faced down Jacobson. But Macy couldn’t do that. He had to make it look like a fair fight.

Jacobson started to sway. He shook his head, as if trying to wake himself up. Macy landed yet another solid punch that made Jacobson’s entire body quiver for a moment. Then the big boxer went down, boneless, collapsing flat on his back and lying there, arms and legs splayed.

Chaos reigned after that. The crowd was screaming with one multilayered voice; the referee knelt by Jacobson’s head, counting; Jacobson’s trainers hovered in the wings, waiting to spring forward. Around me, journalists and announcers were speaking a mile a minute into phones or mikes, describing the scene.

Macy retreated to a neutral corner, bouncing in place a little, arms hanging at his sides. He hunched his back and glared out with dark eyes that seemed fierce and animal. Maybe they only did to me.

The referee declared the fight over. Jacobson was knocked out, and only started climbing to his feet when his trainers helped him. Macy raised his arms, taking in the crowd’s adulation.

That was it. The whole thing started to seem anticlimactic. There was some chaotic concluding business, strobe lights of a million cameras flashing. Then the journalists started packing up, the crowd dispersed, and the cleaning crew started coming through with garbage bags. A swarm of fans and reporters lurched toward Macy, but an equally enthusiastic swarm of guards and assistants kept them at bay while trainers guided Macy from the ring and down the aisle to the locker area, which was off limits.

Larson slung her laptop bag over her shoulder and tugged my sleeve. “Come on,” she said.

Walking briskly, snaking through the mass of people, she led me to a different doorway and from there to a tiled corridor. This was the behind-the-scenes area, leading to maintenance, storage, and locker rooms, from the other side. Larson knew where she was going. I followed, willing to let her lead the way, quietly hanging back, observing. Other reporters marched along with us, all jostling to get in front, but Larson led the way.

BOOK: Full MoonCity
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