As Seattle’s alpha werewolf, Ted Baron could control the transformation. He rolled his shirt up past his elbow and winced as the hair sprouted on his forearm.
The bones in his wrist thickened and the tips of his fingers split as his claws unsheathed.
He drew Manny close with his human hand. Ted smiled once, and before the warlock could utter word one of a spell, he slit the man from his neck to his pubic bone.
Manny’s entrails spilled onto the floor as he screamed. Ted turned around so that Manny wouldn’t see his nostrils twitch. Meat was still meat after all. Hard to leave a fresh meal to go to waste.
He turned back to see Manny writhing at the end of his human hand. Each scream forced his diaphragm in and out, pumping more blood onto the floor.
Ted stared into Manny’s eyes until Manny grew quiet. When the only sound was the gurgle of Manny’s exposed intestines, Ted brought the wolf hand before Manny’s eyes.
He forced his face into a grin so that Manny wouldn’t see the pain as Ted’s claws slid back into the flesh of his hand. His skin returned to a tanned white, while the dark hairs retracted, shortening slowly like a time elapsed film.
Ted stretched the now-human hand and all of his knuckles cracked. He reached into his pocket for his Blackberry, thumbing a few keys before bringing the device to his ear.
“I need you in the office,” he said. “Don’t tell me it’s late.” Both he and Manny glanced from the copy room through the glass wall of Benson’s office to see the moon rising above Mount Rainier. “I need you to take care of a mess.” He dropped Manny to the floor.
Manny’s legs tumbled awkwardly beneath him. His hands shook as he tried to gather up his entrails and push them back into his body.
“Trust me,” Ted said. “No one has ever figured out how to get them back in once I’ve let them out.” He leaned down and ran a finger over a glistening intestine. Again he held Manny’s gaze as he brought it to his mouth and licked his finger clean.
“Shame that I never learned to read this particular kind of oracle, but that was always your thing. Give it a good look, but remember, Manny,” he said, “whatever my pack consumes is mine. There’s no escape. Not even in death. Especially,” he said, “when I have this.”
Nearly covering Manny’s hand with his own, he pressed it to the floor. Only Manny’s right index finger remained clear. Manny muttered a few magical words that stopped in his throat when Ted yanked the finger off at the root.
He pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped the index finger like a package, then returned it to his pocket. He also pocketed the vial of Manny’s blood he’d forcibly collected when the warlock had arrived.
Ted checked his Rolex. “You have about five more minutes to make an attempt at peace before the cleanup crew arrives. Best of luck, Manny.” He ruffled the man’s hair and turned to walk out. One hand jangled the change in his pocket, the other he held at Manny’s eye level while he allowed just the tips of his claws to peek out.
“I just can’t leave without one more taste,” he said as he scraped the claws across Manny’s right cheek, leaving four deep lines of blood.
Manny could hear Ted sucking his nails clean as he walked down the hall.
He waited until he heard the office door click shut and imagined the elevator had arrived to take Ted down into the parking garage to his awaiting vintage Porsche.
Manny shoved his hand under his intestines, looking for the cell phone in his pocket. The pain had overridden his mind to where he could no longer tell the difference between his insides and his outsides. He had to push and dig until he finally managed to retrieve the phone.
When he looked down, he saw it was covered with blood and feces. His sister Margaret would only argue the last breath out of him. He turned his head and pressed four with his thumb to speed dial his niece Cassie while vomiting.
“If this is your idea of a prank call, Uncle Manny,” she said, “You ought to block your number.”
“Ted,” Manny said.
“Who’s dead? I’m at the Alibi and we’ve got a crappy connection. You know how it is at the Market.”
“T,” Manny said.
“Now I’m getting alphabet lectures,” she said.
He gave up on identifying his killer and settled for action. “Protect yourself,” Manny said.
“Quit trying to scare me into making up with Mother. You know she only uses mild spells against family.”
“There’s magic in your blood.” Manny shuddered with effort while he inhaled.
“So she says.”
This was taking too long. The wolf’s cleanup crew was coming. He had to warn her. “If you don’t use your magic,” he said, “someone else will.”
“Are you drunk, Uncle Manny? Tell me what’s really going on. . .”
But all she heard on the other end of the line was Manny’s scream and a wolflike snarl. Then the line went dead.
When dialing Manny delivered nothing but voicemail, Cassie did what every fresh cop would do. She dialed the precinct and argued her way up the food chain until she got Sergeant Mortenson on the phone.
“We’ll file a missing persons report when he’s reported missing, Hunt.”
“But the scream. The line going dead. We know something bad has happened.”
“You think you know something, officer, but I know Manny Shay. I’m not banking taxpayer money against a rookie hunch — you’re your uncle’s niece as much as you’re your father’s daughter.”
One of her mother’s spells bubbled into Cassie’s mind. She stamped out the thought. “I earned my way onto the force.”
“Believe what you want. As far as I’m concerned, the thing you have to earn is your right to remain.”
“It’s not like you’ve got candidates lined up outside your door.”
“No, but a bad cop is a luxury I can’t afford. Don’t prove pricey, Hunt.”
The phone went dead.
Cassie dug a crumpled twenty out of her jeans pocket. She dropped it on the bar beside her full shot of bourbon.
“That leaves us more than even.”
Kat, the bartender and owner, didn’t even turn around.
“Let Nick know that he’s too late — again,” she said.
Kat punched a key on the cash register. The drawer opened. Her left hand swept up the twenty, smoothed it and settled it sweetly in the drawer.
“I charge extra for messages.”
“And that large bill just delivered it.”
Cassie tried to grab her jacket and purse with one hand while dialing Nick with the other. She refused to enter him in speed dial. Besides, his number burned in her memory.
She bumped the door open with her hip. The door swung just wide enough to catch Nick Myers chin. His head jerked back to keep her from getting his precious nose. Being a big, bad werewolf kept him from going down, but it was Cassie who did the growling.
“You were supposed to be here an hour ago.”
“What’s her name? I can run her in.” Cassie jabbed her purse at Nick’s chest. He grabbed it reflexively, knowing enough not to try to help her on with her coat.
“Manny’s got trouble and Mortenson refuses to help fix it.”
“And that’s news?” He smoothed the straps on her bag before returning them to her waiting hand.
Cassie snapped up the purse and stalked ahead of him six paces before spinning around.
“One of your low-life connections knows how to do a trace, right?”
“You mean an illegal trace of someone’s cell phone?” Nick shook his head and opened his arms wide. “I don’t know a thing about illegal activities.” He crossed his arms across his chest and winked, “But I do have a new friend who’s handy with computers. I’ll introduce you.”