Dancing with Werewolves Chapter 1~3


Chapter One

"Authorities assert," I said clearly into the microphone I held, "that medical examinations will reveal this as just the scene of another rural juvenile prank, nothing more."

I held my position while the station videographer wrapped the take. No moving. You never knew when you were really on or off camera. A savvy TV reporter learned to freeze like a department store mannequin before and after filming a stand-up.

Of course I hadn't believed a word I said.

If you don't cooperate with the police in the early stages of a crime story, they'll cold-cock you later, just when everything is getting juicy. They'll cold-cock you anyway, just for the fun of it.

Speaking of juicy, the three corpses were bone soup inside their intact skins. No way does any weapon known to human do that. Yet the "authorities" were playing the incident like a frat-boy prank for the public. So this was just a semi-crime scene.

That scene was a Kansas cornfield and my mid-heeled reporter pumps were sinking arch-deep in clods of dirt or shit, depending.

" Del," the lieutenant said as soon as the day-bright camera light had turned off and we were all plunged back into a rural darkness where no crickets chirped.

Crickets always chirped in the spring country night, which was yet another sign that this was one eerie crime scene.

As the cameraman drove off in the station van to film another story, Lieutenant Werner, short, dark, and rotund, escorted me over the clods to the unpaved road, where a sleek black car stood shrouded in gravel dust. We had a working history, so I accepted his part gallant, part controlling male custody. Besides, that car was very interesting. Out of state license plate. Way more than unmarked police car class. Cool.

"Agent Edwards wants to talk to you."

Agent Edwards. Not the county agricultural agent, not state police. Fed. Hello, Fox Mulder, maybe? Just when you need a hero.

" Miss Street," the man said.

I nodded, unsold. Viewed in the headlights from his car, Agent Edwards was an East Coast yuppie, no hair below the tops of his ears or the back of his stiff white shirt collar. Cornfields were as alien to him as crop circles, but I knew a lot about both.

"You cover the 'paranormal crime' beat around here, I understand." Edwards put a sneer inside his quotation marks.

"I don't think you do understand," I answered. "What... bureau are you with?"

"Office of Rural Security. We handle uncooperative farmers on the mad cow disease issue, fertilizer thefts, anything that involves national safety. So all suspect incidents are a federal case. Media rights bow to national security nowadays. We demand your discretion."

"I know I have to give it, but that doesn't mean you can't tip me off early in return."

He nodded. Not a real "yes." As if I hadn't noticed.

" Miss Street, you know this community, this terrain. What do you think?"

What I thought was that Agent Edwards was a stupid tight-ass, but that didn't mean he couldn't be one of the still-closeted supernaturals. He broadcast an air of "other." Maybe it was just East Coast ego toward heartland hicks, not the arrogance the supers often felt toward us mere mortals. Then again, he could just be the usual officious bureaucratic prick.

What I thought about the corpses would get me a strait jacket in the state hospital, but I tested him. "The bodies have been turned into creamed corn in a can, Agent Edwards."

"Interestingly put, Miss Street. Why? How?"

"We've had a lot of crop circle activity lately."

"Rubes with rider lawn mowers. Pranks." I might have told him. What I'd seen. What I'd put together. The "rubes" comment killed it. I lived here. Worked here. Maybe had been born here. Suck grass, Fed.

I sat in my car while everyone else peeled away into the darkness, riding a pair of blazing headlights. Werner and his partner were last. He leaned on my open car door. Between the '56 Cadillac's width and the wide door, we nearly blocked the two-lane road. Dolly and me. That was the car's name. Dolly. She was built like a fortress. I often needed one.

"You don't want to hang around out here, Del. Could still be dangerous."

"Just gotta record a few notes while they're fresh." I held up my lipstick-size machine. "I'll be okay. It's all over out here, whatever it was."

"The Agri bastard is probably right."

"Aren't they always?"

Werner laughed. He was just looking out for me. That's what was nice about living in a smaller city. A buzz came from the police radio screwed onto Dolly's humongous drive-shaft hump.

Werner nodded at it. "You're wired into us if you need anything."

"I'm okay, you're okay. Good night, Leo."

I watched his taillights fade into the absolute country night.

I'm not a particularly brave woman, but I am determined.

Once me and Dolly and the dark were an uncrowded three-way again, I left the car, toting a heavy-duty flashlight. Dolly's trunk could hold everything, including the kitchen sink.

The flashlight spotlighted the corpses' massive profiles. Three dead cows, their huge carcasses pulverized to broken bones floating in precious bodily fluids inside intact cowhides. Those intact hides were most unusual for livestock attacks; they usually involved cryptic mutilations.

I played the intense light over the ground markings. What Edwards had described as "moo-cow hooves wandering into a scene of punk prankery," I saw as local livestock blundering into a mysterious crop circle creation incident.

I'd also spotted some very non-bovine marks on the rough soil. Maybe the spooked animals had been stampeded into the crop circle by something.

My flashlight hit the highs and lows of the alien footprints. Not "moo-cow" hooves, but huge heavy footpads. Way too big for werewolves, but what else pulled down adult cows except were-packs, or even natural wolves; of which very few were left?

I squatted to measure the tracks mixed in with the milling hooves.

Dinner-plate size. Clawed. Almost wiped away by some trailing... appendage.

Okay. Cow tails are scrawny and just long enough to swat away horseflies and not much else. This was almost a... a reptilian trail, making a long, S-shaped swath. Cows with lizard tails? Not even a rare were-cow could leave marks like that.

I stood. The cows had been attracted to the activity at the crop circle. Lights. Action. No camera. Something had followed and then slaughtered them. I'd get another station videographer out here in daylight to film the footprint evidence without the prying eyes of the authorities present. Even the local cops had a stake in not stirring up the populace with alien invasion or supernatural slaughter stories.

In less than half an hour, I was back in my rented bungalow, jubilant, rerunning the audiotaped second version of the stand-up I'd sneaked in under the noses of the local cops and the Fed.

"Authorities are perplexed by a crime scene where local cows apparently have been cooked inside their hides by forces beyond conventional firearms or other weapons. Found dead yesterday in a field outside of Wichita, Kansas... "

Found dead.

Found live was the story of my life so far: I'd been found alive, from birth, but just barely.

Found dead always made a much better story hook.

Chapter Two

After work the next day, the latest report on my story safely digitalized and under wraps for a debut on the evening news at ten, I crashed at home by seven that night. How does a weird-phenomenon TV reporter relax? By watching national network forensic crime shows, natch.

So there I am, sucking up microscopic forensic details on TV with the rest of the country, when wham-o!

It all happened so fast. The camera zoomed in closer than the world's best lover. A maggot writhed like a stripper from the dark cave of a deadly pale... but delicately shaped... nostril. With a tiny blue topaz stud.

The camera dollied back. Hmm. Not a bad-looking nostril at all. In fact, it's a dead ringer for mine. Tiny blue topaz stud and all. A very dead ringer. Literally.

I can feel my cold sweat. This is the same old nightmare: me flat on my back, unable to move, bad alien objects coming at me. Except I'm not dreaming, I'm watching network TV on a Thursday evening, like eighty million other people in America.

The object of the camera's affection is a body on the hot TV franchise show, CSI Las Vegas V, Crime Scene Instincts, what I nickname Criminally Salacious Investigations. Media is my business. I have a right to mock it. I am not in a mocking mood at the moment.

Who has tapped my very personal nightmares for network exposure? While my stomach starts to churn, the camera retracts farther.

Holy homicide! The turned-up nose is mine! And the chin, the neck, the collarbones, the discreet but obvious cleavage, the muscle-defined calves visible past Grisham V's burgeoning backside...

Even the toenails are painted my color, Glitz Blitz Red.

I look down and wiggle my bare toes shimmering blood-bright in the living room lamplight. I'm alive but I'm alone, in all senses of the word.

Me with a body double? A doppelganger. A replica. A clone?

My heart was pounding as if I'd actually undergone a recent brush with scalpel and saw and had lived to tell about it. I'd never "felt" the presence of a missing birth twin, like you were supposed to. I'd never sensed an absent "half." Yet the detail that really unnerved me was the tiny blue topaz nose stud on the televised body. Hardly a genetic similarity.

Separated twins were supposed to be so alike that they often held the same jobs, married men who shared a profession, even dressed alike. Long distance. Without one knowing about the other. That small blue glint on the corpse's nose made me shiver. Facial resemblance might eerily echo some stranger's features. But the exact same impudent touch of nose jewelry?

No. Can't be. I'm an orphan so abandoned that I was named after the intersection where my infant self was found.

So who's been trespassing on my mysteriously anonymous gene pool?

I haven't taped the damn show, so I can't rerun my media centerfold moment. Who knew? I'm used to being on TV, but I've never acted, never aimed at a career as a corpse, and I've never been to Las Vegas.

My white Lhasa apso, Achilles, sensing agitation, came bouncing over to comfort me, his lovely floor-length hair shimmering in the bluish light of the television. I absently stroked his long silky ears.

Lhasas are often taken for largish lapdogs, but they've got terrier souls. Achilles is twenty pounds of Tibetan staple gun. I used to wonder why centuries ago the Dalai Lamas bred Lhasas as temple guard dogs... until I got Achilles as a puppy. He was a growling relentless rusher, that short toothy jaw snapping with playful nips. I'd push him back and he'd joyously charge me again. If an intruder ever fell down in a pack of these, it would be Piranha City. Flesh stripped from bone.

In fact, Achilles was named for his playful puppy habit of nipping at my heels wherever I went. And because he's my soft spot, my Achilles heel.

Yeah. I'm an orphan, I'm single. I love my dog.

And apparently I'm now anonymously famous. Or infamous.

Chapter Three

Achilles' sturdy body next to mine radiated pure comfort as I impatiently waited for the CSI Las Vegas show to end. When the legally required credits ran, though, the local station cut them to the size of the fine print in a pre-nuptial contract. That made room for teaser images from the upcoming ten o'clock news. The information that this was "A Hector Nightwine Production" ran in letters two inches high, but I couldn't read a single name from the cast list. Not that a corpse usually gets a credit, not even on the reality TV funeral shows.

The local station, by the way, is my station. WTCH in Wichita, Kansas.

In fact, I had the weird experience of catching a flash of my face on the upcoming footage of the nightly news show and the onscreen line: Delilah Street, WTCH-TV PARANORMAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER. I'm used to that, but not after the shock of being personally dissected on primetime network TV.

My piece on the latest wrinkle on the local ritual mutilation and killing incident should run at least number three on the story roster tonight, right after the top two national stories.

I basked for a moment in the sheer joy of where and who I was. I had a great job and I was doing good work, important work. Woodward would have been proud of me but Bernstein probably would have wondered why I was wasting my talents on a Podunk town in the heartland.

Maybe that was because it was the heartland. My heart, my land. What a Brave New World lay out there after the Millennium Revelation of 2000! I'd been young enough to adapt fast, just a misplaced kid with an itch to become a reporter someday.

Of course some of the older folk couldn't accept witches, werewolves, and vampires as near neighbors, not after eating up scary tales about them all their lives. Kids, though, were rapt. After the Millennium Revelation, we learned these creatures-er, supernaturals-weren't necessarily evil, any more than humans were necessarily good. Serial killers, for instance, were pretty much a human phenomenon until recently.

Yet there were criminal elements among the newly outed supernatural population. When I graduated from J-school and got my first job at WTCH-TV, I was so hooked on these new but ancient resident species that I made them my beat.

I reported the crimes that occurred where the various breeds met and went wrong, fascinated by what twisted any creature to act outside the limits of its kind. I felt an unspoken kinship with the supernaturals. I'd been both outcast and -when I attracted attention for a too-good grade or even just the way I looked-preyed upon during my various institutional lives.

I couldn't wait to get out on my own. That's when my life would begin. And now the "beat" I'd built at WTCH, the sense of reporting what was really going on despite the community's tendency to bury bad news and anybody different in the back forty... well, I thought I was making a difference. For the public, for the people who watched my reports, for me, for the world in general. I guess you have to be young to believe so much in your own potency.

My piece running tonight focused on the crop circles that scribed ancient fertility symbols into the Kansas wheat fields. My thesis was that they weren't of alien, off-world manufacture, but an expression of the alien within our recently upended worldview and ourselves. Maybe they were a positive, attracting rain and sun. Earth symbols. I tried to open the viewers' minds. And my own.

A big personal problem I had with the Millennium Revelation was that the vampires it had shaken out of the topsoil were a pretty debased breed. Where was Count Dracula in white tie and tails when you needed him? The real vamps were no better than human wastrels, for the most part: druggies, partiers, and cheap criminals. Even the few who rose to white-collar jobs sported a sleazy rusty ring-around-the-collar from the one-nighters they pulled with doped-out prostitutes to get a little blood on the hoof.

And I took it personally. Let's just say that, as a pale-skinned young human female, I was always a top target for vampire lust and late-night snacking.

I tuned out the TV. I'd seen enough of my own news reports to forego another self-image fix. That vertical legless version of me, mike in hand, is old hat by now... unless I'm shown horizontal and naked, as on CSI just moments ago. I didn't have much time to brood on this weird coincidence. I had to stay up way past the news anyway. That's what happens when you date an anchorman.

I observed the opening "Eye on Kansas " news show hype with half an eye tonight. Rapid cuts between sweeping helicopter film of downtown Wichita. Yippee. Then Ted Brinkman, the anchorman, unleashed his studied baritone and the games began. His name was perfect for the job. He had the anchorman trifecta: razor-cut helmet of dark hair, flashing bleach-white teeth, and red power tie.

His slightly bloodshot eye-whites and the way his prominent canine teeth dented his lower lip at times was the just-right extra touch. Vampires were still a novelty on evening TV in Kansas.

Ted had to take injections so he could come in early enough to do the six o'clock show before the sun had set. He used a George Hamilton product that pumped melatonin into his skin, giving him that golden glow. The extra effort gave him a ratings edge. A lot of vampires were selling out their heritage to "blend in" nowadays, though not all of them were out of the closet, or the coffin.

Ted was coming over after the news to take me out to midnight supper. I insisted on all the old-fashioned time-consuming date moves because I was wary of vamps. Oh, not the literally oral sex thing. It was what women have had trouble with since Eve: the sincerity thing.

Whoever my parents, whatever my missing background, I was one thing for sure: what they call Black Irish. No fiery hair and freckles for me. My hair was drop-dead black, my eyes sky-blue, my skin wedding-invitation-white. I'd been vamp bait since I was twelve.

My natural pallor was catnip to them. That just-drained and ready-for-more look. I even shared their allergy to direct sunlight, though I could overcome mine with sunscreen. I cracked my first smile of the evening imagining Ted Brinkman slathered in sunscreen. All anchormen, vampires or not, are a bit too full of themselves.

So why even bother? Because I didn't have a life, at least a dating one. I kept hoping that someday I'd meet an exceptional vamp who grooved on my Ivory Snow skin and still treated me like a human being. Ironic goal, right?

I'd brooded myself through twenty minutes of droning stories and screaming ads, so Sheena Coleman was already doing her nightly bump-and-grind against the studio blue screen. Of course she had to compete with the weather maps the viewers really wanted to see.

Sheena was a weather witch. That meant she could control meteorological conditions to some degree, as well as report them. Actually, I found it admirable that she had a regular job. A lot of weather witches went into blackmail. You know, pay me or I drop a firestorm of hail on your harvest-ready crop. It was a crime to use weather witching for personal gain, but there were only so many government and corporate positions around for them. Sheena was tall, blond, and anorexic. She liked the limelight the way bolt lightning likes trees and power lines.

"There's a storm front moving across rural Sedgwick County," she explained, taloned fingers pointing to an orange crescent on the lurid green background. (I may be Irish but I don't like green; clashes with my baby blues.) "But it will take a quick swing north and miss the wheat fields." She gave her right hip a little bump and the crescent obediently moved over the blue of a water treatment plant.

Weather witches weren't all equally adept. It sucked a lot of their energy to produce major weather changes, so Sheena's little quasi-news/entertainment position was tailor-made.

"Guess it won't rain on Ted and me when we go out to dinner," I told Achilles, whose perky ears immediately took a dive.

Achilles didn't like Ted. I wasn't sure I did either, but every once in a while I had to take a stab at a social life.

So, I bustled around the dollhouse rooms of my small rented house. No apartments for me. I craved roots. I wanted a front door that opened on fresh air. A back stoop. A too-tiny kitchen with no garbage disposal. Achilles trailed me, a canine dust mop, sensing my excitement. Company coming.

Maybe it was time to give up the ghost. I'd always attracted a certain type of man. Well, not man. Ted had a great job for a vamp in the heartland. He was a pioneer for his, um, race. He was attractive, well educated, apparently long ago. He loved my looks, which was more than I did.

What was not to like?

Well, maybe that Vampire Lunge, for one thing. Vamps always made me feel like the smorgasbord at the local pancake house on Sunday morning.

I rushed into my bedroom to survey the clothes in the square old-fashioned closet. I'd been dithering about what to wear all evening; seeing myself totally unclothed on national TV hadn't helped.

I pulled out a seventies miniskirt dress. Weird era. The skirt barely covered my rear but the sleeves were choirgirl wrist-length and the top had a prim little mandarin collar that would convince any vamp to hold off on his neck lunge until the after-dinner mints. Of course tights were the required legwear for this truncated dress, and I had several pair as well as flat-heeled baby-doll shoes. All vintage. Born long before I had been. I loved that sense of connection to times past.

But I also felt like an overage baby doll. Not ready for prime time. As a dedicated reporter, yeah, I was ready for a jump to a major market. As vamp bait, I hoped I'd only get a wee midnight nibble. I needed... I don't know what I needed, except a little patience and a lot of love. Or maybe the opposite.

If I were cinderella I'd have lost a slipper by the time Ted finally showed up. He should have been here by 11:30, not after midnight.

I saw why he was late the minute I answered the door.

"You've been drinking."

"Just a mellow-outer after the show." He flashed the glass hip flask in his back pocket. Sterling silver was a no-no for vamps and werewolves, almost as bad as a sunburn. I doubted the "quick one" he'd stopped for had been alcohol. He knew I was not an easy bite.

He also pulled a bouquet from behind his back, white roses and gardenias bursting with heady scent. The gesture did sweep away my inbred suspicion. Growing up in an orphanage, even if it was called a "temporary group housing facility" for social services, will do that.

"Ted, these are gorgeous. Thank you."

"Gonna ask me in?"

"I forgot. Sure."

He couldn't cross thresholds without an okay. His eyes were only a little bloodshot. Could be the hot studio lights. Sure.

"I'll put these in water and then we can go."

This was starting to feel almost old-fashioned. Maybe Ted really was willing to put some effort into me, instead of offering the usual mesmerizing gaze and knee-jerk snap for the carotid artery.

I found a frosted crystal Victorian celery jar in the cupboard that made a perfect vase. No family heirlooms? Buy 'em at estate sales. Plus, since I'd earned full tuition to college but not a cent of spending money, I'd had to buy recycled to save every penny for so long that I came to love having... saving... the odds and ends of other people's family lives. These objects with their aura of someone else's history were adoptees, as I had never been.

I could visualize some Barbie-waisted corseted Victorian miss plunging this glorious bouquet of pure white dazzle and scent into this very celery jar as a makeshift vase...


Rose stems have thorns and one had torn a jagged slash on my forefinger. I automatically lifted it to my mouth. But Ted seized my finger with its Sleeping Beauty drop of welling blood and sucked like a leech. While I was trying to decide if this was deeply erotic, as the vamp tramps claimed, or just plain rude, the bouquet dropped to the carpet. Achilles came barking and running around our feet.

"Excuse me." I extracted my finger, which had painted Ted's lips a glossy girly red that was a bit of a turn-off, and bent to retrieve the flowers.

The enveloping tissue had fallen away. Something sharp and silver glittered among the green rose stems. I stood, bringing the phenomenon into the light. Not silver. Steel.

"You bastard."

Ted was too busy licking his lips to notice what I'd found. "What is it, Delilah? Don't tell me a little love-nip on the finger is too much? You must be frigid."

Achilles' barks and growls had turned into worrying Ted's ankles just in time. Ted did a two-step away from my dog, and me.

"X-acto knife razor blades," I said. "Duct-taped to the rose stems? You couldn't wait for a tender moment before fanging me? You couldn't so much as feed me dinner before tapping my veins? Frigid! I'll show you hot!"

I picked up the bouquet in its tissue paper and thrust the angle-cut rose stems at his chest. He shrieked and backed away. Rose stems are "woody," you know. And, by the way, never date a man who shrieks. Meanwhile, Achilles took a good Tibetan-staple-gun chomp out of his right ankle.

I backed off, laughing. "Not a man-bites-dog story, but a dog-bites-vamp story! I'm gonna call this in to the rival station, Ted. Oughta get a few chuckles."

"You are everything I've heard! Uppity. Frigid. Bitchy. I should have never given you a chance. If it weren't for your damn white skin, I wouldn't have."

"Date a Royal Dalton porcelain figurine next time, Ted! Probably lively enough for you," I yelled as he retreated through the door.

Damn white skin. That's the way I felt about it too.

Especially now that I'd seen a lancet pierce that skin on TV. Skin that had parted cleanly, bloodlessly. So my double was dead. Or had been filmed to look that way, more likely. People would kill to land the bit part of corpse on any CSI show in the country but I didn't think they'd literally die for it.

I locked the door behind Ted. My house was on the outskirts of town, a nineteen-twenties wood-frame bungalow. It felt like a phantom family home where an aproned grandma lurked just out of sight around the corner, baking blueberry muffins. Some days I could almost smell them.

Achilles quit barking and came twining around my ankles like a cat.

I shook my head, angry at myself. I'd put up with the Snow White thing since the orphanage. Even spray-on tans didn't help much. That crystal coffin in the woods was a real turn-on for the vamp set and every one of them I'd met had panted to picture me in it.

Now I'd seen myself laid out and dissected on TV. So I had a whole country full of eager watchers. CSI was still number one on the Nielsens, with spin-offs galore. Or gore. I bet my Dead Celebrity Q popularity number was sky high compared to my Q rating for being an ace investigative reporter for WTCH-TV. It's true. Some dead celebrities are more recognizable and popular than living ones. Lucy Ricardo over Madonna. John Wayne over Kevin Costner. Now dead Delilah Street over... live Delilah Street. Bummer.

That's when I realized that the worst day of my life had morphed into the worst night of my life. And here I thought my recently but not dearly departed suitor Undead Ted had won that title... cold. Worst Knight in Shining Fangs. Ever.

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