Thad has gotten a few leads in his off-the-clock investigation of Mr. Jacques’ murder. Meanwhile the killer dog is still running loose in local parks. Are they connected, if so how?
“All right people, let’s get this thing started.” Maurice’s voice carried over the soft babble, silencing the conversations, calling the Called Meeting of northern Virginia’s branch of the Collegium Custodius to order. His usual countenance of ‘friendly grandfather’ was over shadowed by one of concern for the reason behind the untypical meeting.
“Jim, since you were first to call attention to the current incident, why don’t you open?”
Jim nodded slowly, ran one hand through his thinning hair, and stood up. He took a slow look around the room, cleared his throat as he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his faded jeans.
“As most of you know, there’s been a rash of deaths in the northern parks lately. Deaths that look like they were caused by a canine of some sorts.” He paused and scanned the room, making sure he had everyone’s attention. “A few of you know that I work in one of the parks.” A few soft laughs followed his comment. A couple of the members were mildly amused by his careful, somewhat ambiguous phrasing. A quick glace from Maurice silenced the chuckles.
“A few days ago I came upon the badly torn up body of a young female.” Now he had everyone’s attention. “All initial signs suggested it was canine. There were numerous paw prints surrounding the body. Also the victim had several course, grey, hairs, that that roughly match Canis lupus caught under her fingernails. The young woman was nude; however there was no sign of clothing in the clearing where she had been found. Also, I found the tracks of two humans entering the clearing, and one set of tracks, human, leaving on a small deer trail.”
“Was there any indication of animal tracks leading into the clearing?” Maurice quietly asked.
“No. The only paw prints were inside the clearing.”
“Was there any indication of a weapon? Or a struggle?” A young Asian woman picked up the questioning.
“None that could be determined, Robin.”
“Could you follow the tracks leading out?” Robin leaned forward in her seat.
“Only till they came to one of the main pathways. All of, which are hard packed.”
“What about dogs?”
“We don’t have any.” Jim shook his head.
“Are there any more questions?” Maurice rose and looked from member to member.
“No, Maurice,” one of the younger women sniggered. “I think Robin covered all of them.”
Robin turned to glower at her friend. “Thanks, Misti.”
Maurice ignored the good natured teasing and nodded to Jim. The ranger sighed gratefully and sat back down.
“A couple of days after Jim brought his report to me I was contacted by another member who lives in the vicinity of the Great Falls National Park. They reported picking up on some unusual ‘activity’. The next morning two more bodies were found in that park. Agnes, did you get an opportunity to check the area?”
An older lady with an Audrey Hepburn like bearing slowly rose from her seat next to Maurice and, like Jim, looked briefly around the room.
“Indeed I did,” she said, “I checked the area in question. What I ‘found’ confirms that a form of blood magic was invoked. There was only one practitioner at the time. He is still young and inexperienced, but he is growing bolder.”
“We don’t have much right now.” Maurice took the floor back. “But, ..”
“Magus,” Winnie interrupted him, slowly standing up. “I think I may have one of the missing pieces.”
“Which is?” he asked, resuming his seat.
“I had a visit from my cousin. He was first on the scene of a suspicious death, something he couldn’t get out of his mind. He wanted to know if I could give him any “clues”. He had copies of some photos of the crime scene. I gave him a description of a suspect, some general information and sent him on his way.”
A yelp of protest, quickly silenced, from the far corner interrupted her. She glanced over her shoulder. “My cousin’s known about my gift for a long time, so nothing was revealed.” Turning back to Maurice she continued. “I did not tell them he killed the man for a piece of jewelry. Because if I did, I’d probably would have had to explain what it was.”
“I believe it was a very old, fairly powerful, amulet of transformation.”
“Oh God!” “Bloody Hell!” “Lord and Lady!” The exclamations were varied, but the reaction was the same: shock.
Maurice waited until those reactions had died down to speak. “Are you sure?” he asked when silence resumed.
“I only caught a brief glimpse it, but the impression I got was one of age and power. It’s possible that the events are entirely unrelated.”
“Possible, but not highly probable,” A man just starting to grey in middle age looked over at her and gave her a slight smile. “While it may not be logical to assume that the murder and the park deaths are being committed by the same person, it’d be illogical to assume that they weren’t. The evidence given does appear to suggest that the murder, having access to an amulet of transformation, could indeed be the ‘animal’ doing the killing in the parks.”
“Gary has a point. Do you know what form the person metamorphoses in to?” Star asked. “I do believe that the aforementioned transformation could take on any number of forms.”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I got the impression that it was a wolf.”
“Which leads us right back to the conclusion that it’s the same person.” Maurice stood back up. “The question now is what are we going to do about it?” ‘
“Anyone want to go hunting?” Star asked, a vicious smile crossing her normally angelic face.
“How is one supposed to hunt a werewolf?” a younger member asked.
“Very, very carefully, Jeff. They’re even more dangerous than vampires.”
“They don’t have a predetermined “down time”.” Robin reminded them. “Depending on which lore you’re reading, they can either assume their ‘were’ form only at night, or anytime they choose. Adding to the fun is the theory that some of the older ones, or old-line ones, that part’s not clear, can shield themselves. Which makes it hard for us to detect them.”
“What about the stuff about the full moon?”
“That’s pure Hollywood bunk, Kim. Just like the line about becoming a werewolf if one takes a chunk out of you,” Robin replied. “Most people die of the wound.”
“Has it been too long to take a dog out?” Miranda asked Jim.
“Depends on the dog. For most, yes. For a few, no. However, most dogs would be afraid of a were.”
“Probably,” Winnie joined in. “They’re unnatural and a dog would know it.”
“Anyone know a were-dog we can have?” Misti asked, laughing. “Bet it wouldn’t faze them.”
“Not a “were”, but I do have a friend who has access to a dog that could probably handle it,” Jim said.
“I don’t believe you’re actually letting this conversation go on,” Maurice’s second, Dominik stood up, glaring briefly at Robin then turning towards Maurice. “We have no bases for any action.”
“He has a point, Master,” Shea said. “Without solid proof, we have nothing to work from.”
“Besides, it does not directly involve any of us,” Mark added, ignoring the look from his sister Kim.
“Why get involved in something we haven’t been called into yet?” Gemma asked, brushing her graying hair out of her face.
“Gemma, if we always waited to be called in, the DC riots would have lasted more than the three days,” Star reminded her.
“Can we afford to sit by and do nothing?” Miranda retorted.
“We cannot afford to draw attention to ourselves,” Dominik pointed out.
“Dominik, Salem was a long time ago,” Robin said quietly.
“We’re not talking about accidents, or riots, here people. We’re talking about possibly trying to track down a man who can apparently turn himself into a wolf with the aid of an ancient amulet.” Carlos reminded everyone of the real topic.
“All the more reason to tread carefully,” Dominik told the group.
“We don’t know that it’s the same person,” Vivian spoke up for the first time.
“We could try investigating,” Winnie suggested.
“If it is, then what?” Shea wanted to know.
“We stop him,” Misti declared.
“Leading the mundanes to depend on us all the more,” Gemma grumbled softly.
“We have enough to do as it is, without the time to do it in,” Dominik loudly complained. “We know from the past, direct intervention can cause problems.”
“If we don’t we will have more innocent deaths,” John quietly reminded his fellow Master.
Maurice settled back in his chair and let the debate wind around the room. Many wanted to step in and looked for the alleged werewolf, another group was equally vocal about waiting to see if it really was a were. After a few minutes he noticed that Robin had stood up again. She was quietly waiting for everyone to stop talking. He tapped the gavel a couple of times to quiet the room
“When I started my training,” she began, slowly looking each member in the eye, “I did so in part so that I could help people. I joined this group to better further this objective. Not,” she slowly shook her head, “to hide behind old fears and prejudices. The best way I can help, is by using my skills to take care of situations Mundanes are unable to handle. A lycanthrope is beyond the skills of the average Mundane. We have been asked, in a sideways manner, to help. I am honor bound to render what assistance I can; whatever the rest of you decide.”
“Even at the risk of your life?” Agnes gently asked.
“At any cost,” Robin firmly stated.
Agnes studied her for a long, silent, moment: hazel eyes peering from a seasoned face, locking gazes with young optimistic brown eyes. Finally she nodded faintly, a smile flicking briefly.
Robin sat back down as Maurice stood up again. “All relevant arguments having been issued, I call the vote. At issue is whether or not the Collegium involves itself in the situation arising in the northern parks. A situation that appears to be the result of a lycanthrope.” He paused and looked slowly around the room. Various members were glancing at friends and partners, trying to see which way they would vote. “Does the potential risk to the community outweigh the danger of possibly revealing our existence?”
He fell silent for a moment, allowing the others to consider their votes. “With a show of hands,” he resumed, “all those in favor of the taking direct action.” Around the room, singly or in groups of twos and threes, hands were raised. “All those opposed.” The first set of hands were lowered and replaced by a nearly identical number. “Very good.” Maurice nodded again. “By a vote of thirteen to twelve, with one abstainer, the yea’s have it. Jim, Winfriede, he looked in turn at both of them, “since you two are all ready involved, you’re in charge of coming up with some type of plan.”
“We’ve already had a few good suggestions made,” Jim told him. “I think, given relative peace, we can come up with a rough plan in, what,” he glanced quickly at Robin and Star, eyebrows raised, “an hour?”
“If that long.”
“My office is at your disposal.” Maurice gestured towards the room in question. As they stood up and headed for the back room, Maurice turned his attention to the other members. “If there are no other issues to address tonight,” he paused and looked around the room, “this meeting is adjourned. Thank you for taking time out of your day to come.”