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Dec 09

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Full Moon Rising

(originally appeared in the “Of Hexes and Hauntings” anthology from Witty Bard Publishing)

Set after Dogs of War, so beware spoilers!

 

Summary: Ari has always been concerned about someone seeing her transform, but she discovers there can be bigger problems from an unexpected shift. Finding herself trapped in a sticky situation, she and Dale have to rely on the help of a newfound ally… who happens to be an old girlfriend.

There was absolutely no credence to the belief that werewolves only transformed on the full moon. Ariadne Willow wondered about that her entire life. She was born a canidae, a condition that couldn’t be passed on with a bite, and as soon as she hit puberty she was able to transform whenever she wanted. If a wolf bit a human, they would become infected, but a full-grown adult body couldn’t survive the stress and shock of transforming. They usually fought the urge as long as possible but within three or four weeks the change was impossible to resist.

Maybe that was where the full moon myth originated, Ari thought as she leaned back in her chair. She had always liked the theory that the full moon provided more light, which made it easier to hunt and simultaneously made it easier to see them prowling around. They weren’t more active on full moon nights; they were just more visible.

She was sitting in the window seat of Zeeks Pizza sipping her second cup of soda, her head angled so she could see the Space Needle over the building across the street. It was the night of the so-called supermoon, the first of three that would be happening over the summer. Sure enough, the flat dish of the Space Needle was neatly enclosed within the large yellow-gray sphere of the rising moon.

Dale had explained the whole supermoon phenomenon to her, using math and distances and all that dry science stuff, but Ari hadn’t really expected it to look so much different than normal. Earlier the news actually ran a fluff piece about werewolves between the headlines and the weather. If people went crazy during a regular full moon— which Ari accepted as a real if inexplicable phenomenon—then would they go even crazier during a supermoon? And if werewolves were real, the reporter asked with a chuckle in her voice, then would they be especially violent?

Ari couldn’t speak for the canidae population in general, but she felt absolutely fine. There was always a slight increase in her desire to go for a run when the moon was full. Dale suggested that was just psychosomatic. The world said werewolves were more active so she felt the urge to be more active. It was the same thing advertisers used to trick people into buying things they didn’t need. “The power of persuasion,” Dale said. “You hear it enough and you start to believe it’s true whether there’s evidence to back it up or not.”

The thought of advertising made her look at her plate and consider a third slice. She really didn’t want one but it would justify her taking up prime real estate for another twenty minutes or so. She couldn’t leave the restaurant until the client’s husband left work. She looked away from the moon to check his office window across the street. Still lit, his shadow still moving along the far wall. She sighed and looked at her phone for the time. If he didn’t hurry he wouldn’t have time for an affair. She reluctantly got up and went to the counter to order another slice of pizza.

Most of the slice was still left twelve minutes later when the light across the street finally shut off. Ari quickly got rid of her detritus and left the shop. She jogged across the street and waited in the mouth of an alley until Donald Webster came out of his building and started walking toward her. He was average height, average build, brown hair, average everything. Ari wore a white button down over pinstripe slacks and looked like the stereotypical businesswoman out to unwind after a long day. She timed his approach so that she was moving before he reached her.

She led him toward the corner with her eyes on the phone and slowly altered her pace so that she fell behind him. Webster brushed past her and continued on without a second look. Ari had found that people were less suspicious of being followed if their tail started out ahead of them. It also gave her the opportunity to get a whiff of his clothes. Her sense of smell wasn’t as strong as it would’ve been in wolf form, but she was able to tell he was wearing fresher cologne than necessary after spending a full day at the office.

Webster was good at covering his tracks. He didn’t leave any odd charges on his credit card that could be attributed to a hotel room, but his wife was convinced he had someone on the side. After three days of watching him and following him before, during, and after work, Ari was starting to think the same thing. He kept unusual hours. He would step out of the room to take long and whispered calls in private where his partners couldn’t overhear. If he wasn’t having an affair, he was definitely up to something shady. He glanced back when he reached the curb and Ari thought his gaze lingered on her just a moment too long. She didn’t know if he suspected her of tailing him or if he was just leering at a pretty young woman, but the odds were good he’d remember if he saw her again.

They crossed 4th Avenue and he changed direction to go inside the 7-Eleven. Ari kept walking at a steady pace. He disappeared inside while she ducked into an alley that ran behind the convenience store. The security lights were poorly angled and provided a small dark blind spot about halfway down the alley near the dumpsters. She stepped between the large metal bins and began undoing the buttons of her shirt. She scanned the top of the trash for a relatively clean plastic bag.

She was an expert at getting out of her clothes quickly. She had once watched a behind-the-scenes special about Saturday Night Live that showed how all the actors had to get in and out of costume between sketches. What she did was extremely similar. Her shirt came off with the sleeves tugged inside out, and it was deposited in the bag with one hand while she unhooked her bra with the other. She shed her jeans over her shoes, which she then pushed off without bothering to untie them, and the whole works went into the bag.

Ari dropped to her knees and stuffed the bag behind the dumpster. She was already transforming, the bones in her back snapping and reforming to make her torso longer and more slender. Her eyes closed and she pulled her lips back to reveal that her teeth had receded and left behind sharp fangs. Her jaw snapped and reconfigured into a longer snout.

The transformation was anguish, but the pain didn’t linger. Her legs trembled as she balanced on her forepaws, her bare skin covered by a thick pelt of brown fur. For a moment her brain was foggy as the wolf tried to take control. She forced it back easily and kept her focus. She often let the wolf take control for their runs, basically blacking out while her canidae ran free, but she needed to remain aware to finish her job.

She trotted to the mouth of the alley. Five minutes or so after he ducked into the 7-Eleven, Webster reappeared with a fountain drink. He stood in the parking lot and sipped his drink as if waiting for a ride, but Ari knew he was really looking for her. She sat down next to the building, her paws out in front of her, and waited until he decided the coast was clear and started walking again.

Once he had a large enough head start, she got up and started trotting after him.

 

 

 

The most convenient part about being canidae in Seattle was an abundance of parks and wooded areas where she could transform without being spotted. She spent a moment of post-transformation confusion leaning against a tree, trying to catch her breath. Her arms and legs were killing her, the joints burning from being twisted into a whole new shape and then pushed back again. She was drenched with sweat, which attracted dirt and crushed leaves, and her feet slipped in the mud when she finally pushed away from the tree and started walking.

It took her a few minutes to get her bearings. As she wandered she searched her memory to fill in the blanks of her time as the wolf. She pictured the convenience store and its garish security lighting, the smell of gas from the station next door, and a thick aura of garbage. The wolf could smell food, discarded pastries and old hot dogs thrown out when they became too rubbery, but Ari kept a tight leash on its animal instincts. There were times when her wolf seemed like a completely separate entity with which she was merely sharing a body, but if she exerted enough willpower she could normally keep it under control.

The hardest part of reconciling the wolf’s memory with hers was making the switch from a wolf’s brain to a human’s. She knew Donald Webster by his features, his build. The wolf knew him by smell and gait. To Ari, he was a client. To the wolf he was a predator and a potential threat.

She remembered following him down Denny Way, and a large yellow-and-red hotel called… Homeward? Homewood. During the walk he kept looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed, but if he noticed the four-legged tail it hadn’t raised any red flags. She waited across the street and watched the front entrance while moving around as much as possible to avoid anyone calling Animal Control on her. She had woken up in the kennel more than once, and it wasn’t an experience she was keen to relive any time soon.

Webster left the hotel just after midnight. Ari caught up with him and, with the benefit of the wolf’s better sense of smell, determined he’d had sex and showered while he was inside. She let him walk on and went back to the front of the building. She was wearing a collar and acted friendly so most of the people who came out cooed and tried to pet her rather than shooing her away. She smelled each one as they scratched between her ears and the scruff of her neck until finally one of them came out reeking of sex and carrying a hint of Webster’s cologne under her perfume.

“What a pretty doggie. You have a bit of wolf in you, don’t you? Yes, I bet you do.” She touched the collar to see if there was a tag. “Your people are probably pretty worried about you. Did they leave you out here all by yourself?” Ari sat on the pavement and tried to look patient and obedient until the woman petted her once more and continued on her way.

Now in human form, Ari focused on remembering what the woman looked like. Green eyes, lots of thick black hair. Ari carefully sidestepped twigs and small stones, her feet caked with mud by the time she reached a low stone bridge that cut east-to-west through the forest. She knew the bridge was in Wolf Creek Ravine and began searching her memory for the location of that stash.

”Wolf Creek?” Ari said, traipsing through the underbrush behind Dale. The strap of a duffel bag cut across her chest, the bulk of it banging against her hip. “That’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?”

            Dale laughed. “I prefer to think of it as kismet.”

Ari closed her eyes and tried to remember that day, almost a year ago. Wolf Creek was a relatively new stash location. She had others all across Seattle, stocked with clothes, underwear, a little bit of cash, a pay-as-you-go phone, and shoes. The wolf was good about making sure to end its runs in or near one of the parks where Dale had hidden a bag, but it was up to Ari to remember where it was hidden and get to it without being arrested for indecent exposure.

The Wolf Creek stash was tucked under the exposed roots of a Bigleaf Maple tree. Two stones had been pushed into a V shape to help obscure the bag. Ari climbed on top of one stone, peered down and slapped the tree to evict any critters that might have taken refuge in the tiny cave she and Dale had created. She reached into the darkness, snagged the bag’s handle, and hauled it out.

Inside she found jeans and a thrift shop T-shirt advertising a Radiation Canary concert. She dressed quickly and put on the sneakers without bothering to find socks. There was also a watch, and she squinted in the darkness to see it was a little after one in the morning. At the bottom of the bag was a TracPhone, completely dead, and a money pouch with twenty dollars and a handful of change inside. She pocketed that, then returned the bag to its hole for the next time she wound up in this park.

Once she was dressed she returned to the bridge and climbed up, checking for traffic before she started walking. The park was in a residential area, but she and Dale toured the neighborhood when they left the bags and she remembered seeing a small clutch of restaurants a few blocks east. Hopefully one of them would either still be open or have a payphone outside that she could use. She used the walk to further cement the image of Donald Webster’s mistress in her mind for her report to his wife. By the time she reached the bar, she was fairly sure she could give an accurate description.

The bartender let her use the phone in exchange for buying a drink. She chose a ginger ale and paid with the money from the stash. The bartender moved away to give her privacy. It only rang twice before it was answered by a sleepy woman.

“Dale Frye Taxi Service.”

“You know how guilty it makes me feel when you do that.”

Dale sounded sincere when she apologized, even if the words were slurred and grunted. There was a rustling of bedclothes as she sat up and groped for the light with her free hand. “Where are you?”

Ari gave her the intersection. “Near Wolf Creek Ravine.”

Dale chuckled. “I guess the wolf approves of that location, huh?”

“Yeah, yeah. You were right. There’s a bus stop around here, I think.”

“No, I’m already getting dressed. I can be there, uh, be there in ten. Did you catch the guy?”

“Yeah, I caught him.”

“Good puppy.”

Ari smiled and ducked her head, reaching up to brush her fingers over the collar Dale had given her. “Take your time. I’m safe and I have a comfortable place to wait. You don’t have to worry about me huddling outside.”

“Okay. I’m getting my shoes on right now.”

“I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ari hung up and thanked the bartender by lifting her glass. She moved her glass to a booth, then went into the bathroom so she could wash some of the dirt and grime off her hands and feet before Dale showed up.

 

 

 

Dale arrived in ten minutes as she had predicted. Her mess of red hair was hidden under a cap and she had simply thrown a light jacket over the tank top she’d worn to bed. Ari kissed her hello as she got into the car but most of the ride was spent in sleepy silence. When they got back to Dale’s apartment, technically the apartment they now shared, but it was hard for Ari to think of it that way, Dale joined her on the couch while she made notes on the case. Dale’s sleepy weight against her side made her want to drift off, but she’d had memory lapses before when it came to the wolf. She didn’t want the night to be a waste. She finished, kissed Dale’s forehead to wake her, and they shuffled back to bed together.

In the morning Ari showered to get the rest of her run off of her. Dale came into the bathroom while she was putting on her makeup.

“I left my clothes behind a dumpster on Denny Way. I know it’s a little out of the way, but we can swing by to pick it up on the way to the office.”

“Okay.” Dale pushed back the curtain and got into the shower. “Did you use all the hot water?”

“My shower was cold,” she said. “Humid night last night.”

“Aw, poor puppy.”

Ari whimpered pitifully and went into the bedroom to dress.

They decided since they had to drive to work anyway, they might as well get some breakfast instead of eating at home. They picked up breakfast at a diner across from where Ari had gorged herself on pizza the night before, then walked the rest of the way to where Ari had left her clothes. They only made it halfway down the block before Ari realized something had gone horribly wrong. It took Dale a moment to realize Ari had slowed, and when she did she followed her line of sight to the police car parked between the 7-Eleven and the gas station.

“Tell me that’s not where you left your clothes.”

“Plastic bag behind the dumpster.”

Dale slipped her hand around Ari’s elbow and dragged her toward the building. “Okay. What did you have in your pockets?”

“Just my wallet. Money only, no ID.” She had stopped carrying identification on nights she thought she would have to transform and leave her clothes somewhere. Dale argued it was dangerous to walk around a major city without it, but Ari said she didn’t want to stash her clothes somewhere and find her ID had vanished.

“Okay. So they don’t know it’s yours. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Ari considered the question. “Bad. All they know is that a woman’s clothes got stashed behind a dumpster. They’re going to have to assume they got there under pretty bad circumstances, so they’ll be investigating. That’s bad. And even if I came forward and told them the clothes are mine, I have to explain why I was stripping in the middle of downtown.”

Dale looked down the street. The alley was blocked off with crime scene tape, and she could see uniformed officers inside the 7-Eleven. “What do we do? Go over and tell them it was some kind of prank? You got drunk and went streaking?”

“There will be security footage that proves it didn’t happen. Hell, there might be footage of me going into the alley and a wolf coming out.”

“Bad,” Dale repeated.

Ari nodded. “Very bad.”

Dale said, “What do you want to do?”

“We can’t let them waste resources looking for a victim who doesn’t exist. We have to clear this up as soon as possible.” She patted Dale’s shoulder. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re going to get some help from a friend. Either that, or we’re going to be arrested by a friend.”

Dale sighed and followed Ari back to the car.

 

 

 

Detective Diana Macallan put down her coffee and smoothed her tie as she sat down behind her desk. Ari was sitting in a chair beside the desk, while Dale had taken a seat at the next desk over. Diana took the lid off her coffee, poured in a packet of sugar, and purposefully looked past Ari to address Dale.

“Does it bother you asking Ari’s ex-girlfriend for help?”

“That’s why I’m here,” Dale said. “Chaperoning. Making sure there’s no hanky panky.”

Diana smiled. The exchange wasn’t in the slightest bit malicious; she and Ari broke up a long time ago, there were no lingering romantic feelings between them as evidenced by Ari’s relationship with Dale and by Diana’s marriage.

“So,” Diana said when she was finally settled in, “to what do I owe this pleasure, I ask knowing full well that whatever you’re about to say is bound to ruin my good mood.”

Ari shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Have you heard anything about a package being found on Denny Way, in the alley behind a convenience store?” Diana shook her head. “It was clothes. A woman’s clothes, including underwear, had been stuffed in a plastic bag and hidden behind a dumpster.”

“God. That sounds…” Diana blinked at Ari, looked at Dale, and her shoulders sagged. She looked around and leaned forward. When she spoke again her voice was much quieter. “Was it you? With the whole…” She curled her fingers into talons and clawed the air.

Ari nodded. She had revealed her canidae nature to Diana earlier that year during an incredibly trying time. She accepted the fact that Ari could transform into a wolf, and the revelation had explained a great many issues they’d had in their friendship, but it was clear the detective still had trouble with the reality of it. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and thought for a long moment before speaking again.

“You took off your clothes to change into the wolf. And then you left the clothes there. And you didn’t come back for them because why?”

“The wolf took me to a stash. I took the clothes out of that and went home to sleep. I thought I could just pick the other outfit up in the morning.”

“But instead some nosy clerk decided to investigate and now… okay. Damn it. Never come in to work on a Sunday, Diana.” She picked up her phone and dialed an extension. “Hi. Detective Macallan. Do you know who caught that suspicious package on Denny Way? Yeah, I’ll hold.” She moved the mouthpiece of her phone down and looked at Ari. “I can’t just bury this. There has to be some sort of explanation for how those clothes got there.”

“I know,” Ari said.

Diana started to speak but lifted the phone. “Yeah. Okay. That’s perfect. I’ll take it.” She picked up a pen and scribbled something down. “No, I have a lead. Thanks. Bye now.” She hung up. “The officers are still canvassing the neighborhood and talking to potential witnesses, so it hadn’t been assigned to anyone yet. I got myself assigned.”

“Well, that’s good.”

Diana stood up and took her blazer off the back of her chair. “Don’t celebrate just yet. We still have to investigate this and come up with a conclusion that at least looks good on paper.”

“Too bad you can’t just put down ‘a werewolf did it’ on your report,” Ari said.

“Keep testing me, Willow, and I’m going to start doing exactly that. Come on. Let’s go clean up your mess.”

 

 

 

Ari and Dale rode in the backseat of Diana’s car on the way to the scene. Ari watched Diana driving, marveling at how much had changed since their first meeting. Diana was a patrol cop and Ari was still apprenticing with another detective in order to earn her license. Back then a nine-year age difference didn’t seem like that big of a gap. Now Diana seemed so grown-up. She was a detective, married, and her newly-short hair had veins of silver running through it. The hair definitely worked on her, both the length and the color.

It would be easy to look at Diana and feel like she was sitting still. But having Dale sitting beside her eradicated any feelings of inadequacy before they could take hold. One day when she was out in wolf form, she was caught on a dead-end street by a group of delinquent teenagers wielding PVC pipes and stones. Every time she tried to get past one, the other two pelted her with stones. They were closing in, and she had nowhere to go. The only way she could fight back was if she transformed into a human but she doubted turning from a wolf into a naked woman would have helped matters.

Then, like a Valkyrie riding down from the clouds, a savior. A redheaded girl racing down an incline screaming at the top of her voice, throwing her own stones at Ari’s attackers. It would have been three against one, but Dale must have put the fear of crazy into them. The boys dropped their weapons and ran. Dale chased them for a bit, but eventually she let them go and went back to check on Ari. She shared her hamburger, a meal Ari later discovered was purchased with the dregs of Dale’s dwindling bank account, and took the poor beaten animal home. Ari went to sleep on Dale’s couch fully intending to sneak out in the morning.

Instead, she transformed back into a woman in her sleep. She woke disoriented in the middle of the night, stumbled to the bathroom, and because her change-addled mind assumed she must have gotten drunk and gone home with a stranger, she climbed into Dale’s bed and spooned her. Dale screamed, so Ari screamed, and they both ended up falling out of bed and retreating to opposite corners of the room.

Ari was forced to explain herself to a complete stranger, and Dale was surprisingly willing to believe the outlandish tale. They had a nice breakfast together—Ari’s treat to thank Dale for saving her and to apologize for terrifying her—and then Ari took Dale to see her agency. It was Dale who pointed out that Ari needed help, lots of help, to turn it into a viable business. Since Dale was broke and out of work, she agreed to stay for a month and get things sorted.

A month turned into six years in the blink of an eye. It took longer for “business partners and friends” to become lovers, and they’d fought the urge to cross the line for as long as they could. When they finally did act on their mutual attraction they both knew there was no going back. Diana might have grown up and settled down, but Ari had gotten a great life without settling for anything.

Dale sensed Ari’s attention and looked at her. “What?” she mouthed.

Ari shook her head and slipped her hand over Dale’s. They linked fingers and Ari squeezed Dale’s hand as they pulled up behind the squad car. Ari got out when Diana did and ignored the pointed look the detective gave her over the roof of the car. They walked together toward the officers who were waiting on the sidewalk. One of the officers, the man, stepped forward and met them halfway.

“Detective Macallan? Officer Brooks, my partner Officer Fischer.”

Diana nodded to them. “What have you found out?”

“Night clerk at the 7-Eleven came out to dump some trash, spotted a white plastic bag sticking out from behind the dumpster. He started to just toss it inside but it felt like clothes. So he looked inside and that’s when he saw a pair of jeans, brassiere, blouse, panties, socks, and shoes. We’ve asked the businesses around here if anyone saw anything, but we didn’t have any luck. Security cameras are all pointed the wrong way.”

Diana said, “Well, you can relax. This is Ariadne Willow. She’s a private investigator who sometimes consults with the department. She knows how the bag got there.”

Both officers looked at Ari. “How?”

“She’s Wonder Woman. She had to change into her costume.” Both officers cracked a smile, and Diana relaxed a little. “Honestly, it’s a case she’s been working on. The suspect’s neighbors have been suspicious of him for a long time. They’ve seen him come home from shopping with women’s clothing, but there are no women in the apartment that they know of. They hired Ariadne to check him out. Last night she was following him and he spotted her. He got spooked, and he stuffed the bag in the alley.”

Ari picked up the lie. “I had to choose between looking in the bag or risk losing him. I decided to keep following him.”

“Find anything interesting?” Fischer asked.

“Inconclusive. It’s going to take a few more nights before I’m sure.” She realized that they would hear about a case like this if it ever went anywhere. “So far he’s not looking dangerous. Just a freak.”

Fischer said, “Sometimes the freaks are the ones you have to watch out for.”

“I was thinking if I show up with the bag, it would make him more inclined to talk to me. Otherwise he can just deny it.”

The officers looked at Diana, who nodded. “It’s not evidence because there’s no crime yet. I checked it out and there are no disappearances or abductions in that neighborhood.” She looked at Ari. “But if it does become relevant to a case…”

“I’ll bring it directly to you. Scouts’ honor.”

Officer Brooks handed her the bag. “If you need someone to watch your back when you go talk to this guy, let us know.”

“Will do. I appreciate it.”

Diana talked shop with the officers for a minute or two before they parted with friendly handshakes. Officer Fischer went to take down the crime scene tape while Brooks returned to the store. Diana motioned for Ari to lead the way back to the car, where Dale had gotten out to lean against the front bumper. She stood up and raised her eyebrows questioningly.

“Well?”

Ari said, “Diana talked our way out of the hole. Very nice improv skills, detective. I was impressed.”

Diana shrugged. “I kept trying to think of reasons for your clothes to be hidden behind a dumpster. Then I thought, what if they weren’t your clothes? After that it all just kind of fell together.”

Dale held out her hand and Diana shook it. “Thank you, in case Ariadne didn’t say it.”

“I was going to.”

“Sure you were,” Dale said.

Diana said, “You’re very welcome. I…” She sighed and looked back at the squad car. “I know you don’t do stuff like this just to make my life harder. As much as it might seem like that’s your goal, it’s just a happy side effect. You do this, you run around and risk your life turning into a wolf in the middle of the city to help people. You help people that no one else will help. That’s admirable. Not a lot of people will do that for strangers these days. So if I have to pull some strings because you stuck your neck out a little too far…” She shrugged. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you, Diana.”

“You’re welcome. Get in. I’ll drive you back to the station so you can pick up your car.”

Ari and Dale climbed into the backseat, this time far more relaxed now that the situation was diffused. They would get the car, then return to the office where Ari could call the client and set up a meeting to review what she had found out. She hated those meetings. The majority of people who hired her to follow a spouse already knew what she would discover, but that didn’t make the revelations any easier. Fortunately she had Dale to lean on and help her get through the ordeal. She put her arm around Dale’s shoulders and pulled her closer.

Whatever the next case was, whether it was an easy track-and-confirm like Donald Webster or an unexpected minefield like the Jenna Morris case, she took solace in knowing she had people like Dale and Detective Macallan to catch her when she fell.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/full-moon-rising/

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