Suddenly, Beau heard revolver shots fired from yards away. The werewolf sprang up from him and disappeared into the darkness before Beau had a chance to see which direction he headed. The flashlight beams of Nellie and Dr. Paine flashed up and down as they ran towards and past him with each of them taking defensive positions on either side of him.
“Are you alright?” Nellie asked without looking behind her.
Beau breathed in and out deeply from the exertion. He picked himself up and grabbed the shotgun and still-lit flashlight.
“I’m alright,” he said, his heart still pounding in his chest.
“Did you see which way he went?” Beau asked. Both shook their heads.
“Somewhere in that direction,” Dr. Paine said, pointing with his light.
Beau scanned the ground and then knelt with his flashlight beam shining parallel to it trying to find footprints, a hunter’s trick for tracking. He sighed and looked at the tense faces of Nellie and Dr. Paine lit indirectly by the flashlights in front of them.
“Too dangerous to search for him in the dark,” Beau said.
Both stared at him with raised brows. Beau ignored their pointed looks and they turned and began walking back to the cottage, cautiously keeping a look out for any other attack from Cyrus Vance. After their months long hunt, the werewolf had escaped their ambush. And now he would know for certain he was being pursued.
It had taken considerable effort to trace him. The Chief of their secret organization in London had assigned them the case after the local authorities in Bradford had written off a young man’s death as an animal attack. They had broken into the morgue at night and Dr. Paine had performed his own autopsy on the victim. The young man had washed up in a river near Bradford in central England. They had combed through police reports and coroners’ inquest summaries of other cases of bodies found in rivers. They paid special attention to those that mentioned animals had fed on the corpses.
Their map showed bodies fitting their criteria in a wide circle around England, particularly in rural villages. Then they went to inns in the villages to examine the registers during the time periods of the deaths. Though their suspect had often used different names over the months, his florid handwriting had remained the same. When he had first begun his killing spree three years earlier, he had used his true name when he registered at hotels. It was only after he had been committing murders for six months had he begun using different names.
Once they had his name, he was easy to trace. The Chief had signed off on Vance’s death and they had waited, unsuccessfully, to end his existence.
At Vance’s cottage, Nellie pulled out a small leather case holding delicate looking tools and picked the lock of the back door. They combed through the furnishings carefully, looking for hotel receipts, letters to acquaintances, any possible information that could assist them in picking up their search. He had been careful. There was little of relevance in his trash bins either though they did find a few small bits of paper in the fireplace. He obviously burned his papers. They learned he was a cautious man if nothing else.
In their disappointment, they spoke little as they crossed the field to Dr. Paine’s car. Beau opened the trunk and put the shotgun inside, attaching it with the metal clips to its holder.
Dr. Paine and Nellie made no move as they stood behind him, about eight feet apart. Beau cursed.
“Let’s check you for wounds,” Dr. Paine said.
“You know the drill,” Nellie said.
“You can see I wasn’t bitten,” he protested.
They didn’t speak. Though Nellie kept a wary look around them, she also kept part of her attention on him as did Dr. Paine.
“It’s too cold,” Beau said.
Still neither spoke.
“Nellie could have been bitten too,” he said.
“She didn’t have a werewolf on top of her, did she?” Dr. Paine said.
Beau muttered under his breath as he took off his trench coat, his tweed jacket, his tie, and under shirt. The string of curses grew more audible as he leaned over and untied his shoes and pulled them off, before he dropped his pants.
He began to turn around, but was interrupted.
“Everything,” the doctor said.
“You can’t be serious,” Beau exclaimed.
“Protocol,” Nellie said. There was a slight smirk on her lips.
Beau pulled off his shorts as Dr. Paine looked with a clinical detachment at the old scars that shined white in the flashlight’s beam and crisscrossed and pocked Beau’s body. Nellie smirked and Beau pointed at her. “There’s no need for you to be looking,” he said.
She laughed and looked away.
“Turn around,” he told Beau.
“Not you, Nellie,” Beau said.
His ire had the benefit of at least warming him, he thought.
He held up one foot and then the other before the doctor asked then began getting dressed.
Over the years, they had saved each other’s lives, mourned the loss of their comrades, and had forged bonds that made them closer than family. But Beau had no doubt that if he had been bitten by a werewolf they would have killed him on the spot and grieved for him after.
And his death had been close. Vance was quick and Beau realized he had dodged his claws and fangs by the thinnest of margins. For all of his strength, he had no doubt that he would not have lasted seconds longer if his friends had not driven the werewolf off with their gunfire. After he put his clothes back on, he reached into a hip pocket for his flask and unscrewed the cap with trembling fingers. He took a long pull off it and then another. He was safe. He was with friends. He was still alive.
The wheels hummed as Dr. Paine drove back to London on the winding, narrow roads across the nighttime English country side. Nellie, sitting in the back, asked, “You okay Beau?”
He handed the flask back to her and she took it and took a long pull before passing it back. “You should have thrown your guns at him. You throw better than you shoot.”
Nellie laughed and tried not to make it sound forced. They passed the flask back and forth until it was empty. Nellie shook it to show it was empty and handed it back to him. He pocketed it.
“We learned he can transform when he wants,” Beau said. From experience they knew werewolves who gained their powers through foul necromancy were not limited by the lunar cycle. Only those infected by the bite of a werewolf were transformed by the full moon.
“Yet his past killings have all occurred during full moons,” Nellie said.
“Those we know of,” Dr. Paine said. “That is when he also cannot control his bloodlust. Or more likely does not want to control it. But he’s been cunning and calculating.”
“He might return to his cottage,” Nellie said.
“He’ll see it as too risky,” Beau said. “He’s cautious. He was quick to run when he lost the advantage of surprise. Even in wolf-form he kept his intelligence.”
“So where do you think he is now?” Nellie asked.
Neither Beau nor Dr. Paine answered. They rode a long time in silence.
Continue to Chapter 3.