By Cathy Clamp, C. T. Adams, Anna Genoese
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2007 Cathy L. Clamp and C. T. Adams
All rights reserved.
Raphael's hand slapped against his clock radio several times before he realized it was the phone ringing and not the alarm.
"Hullo?" The word into the receiver was muffled by warm pillow. He turned his face a bit and cracked open his eyes.
"Raphael, it's Charles."
Throwing off the sheets, he sat bolt upright in bed, trying desperately to jump-start his sleep-fogged brain into coherence. "Mr. Chief Justice!" Morning was so not his time of day and it was only, he glanced at the red numbers of the digital clock, 5:00 A.M.
Shit. The sun's not even up yet.
"I need a favor."
The head of all shapeshifters was asking him for a favor? Granted, they were shirttail relatives of a sort, but it wasn't a relationship either of them had ever presumed upon. Charles Wingate was not a casual man. If he said he needed a favor, he needed it.
Heart beating frantically, Raphael fought to keep his voice steady. "Of course, sir. What can I do for you?"
Running his left hand through his bed-mussed tangle of curls, Raphael swung his legs off of the bed and onto the carpeted floor so that he was at least technically up.
There was a long, awkward silence. "I'm not sure where to start."
That did not sound like the Chief Justice. There were so many nuances to his voice — anger, sadness, and the one emotion Raphael would never have expected: fear.
The old man sighed deeply. "Someone has been trying to block my gift."
"Is that possible?" There was shock in his voice. Charles was the Sazi's best foresight seer. Nobody should be able to block his ability to see the future.
"Oh, it's possible. It isn't easy, but it is definitely possible." There was a heat to the words. Raphael almost felt sorry for whoever had done it, because sure as hell they were gonna pay, and pay dearly.
"Jack Simpson has done it again," continued Charles. "He attacked a woman and killed her parents." There was a pregnant pause. "The woman's name is Catherine Turner. She's my goddaughter."
"The full moon is tonight." Raphael tried to keep his voice neutral. He failed. It was a little higher and breathier than usual. On the plus side, he wasn't groggy anymore.
"Yes, it is. And Catherine will be facing her first change."
"What do you need from me, sir?" Raphael was wary. He could guess where the conversation was leading, and it was nowhere he wanted to go.
"I just learned that Catherine is staying with her aunt, Violet Wildethorne, in Boulder."
"Right on our doorstep. I'll contact Lucas." Raphael began weighing options on the proper procedures to deal with the situation.
"No!" Charles said firmly, then he backpedaled a bit. "Please don't."
Blinking with shock and the sudden derailing of his thought process, the obvious question popped from his mouth. "Why not ... sir?" The last word was an afterthought.
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. "Lucas would simply murder the woman." The Chief Justice's voice softened. "I'd rather avoid that if I can. She —" There was a catch in his voice when he continued. "She means a great deal to me."
"Sir." Raphael chose his words very carefully. "There's a good chance she won't survive. But if she does —"
A slight rustling over the phone said Charles was nodding. "She may go feral. And if she is feral, she will need to be put down. I understand that. But I don't believe she will be. Catherine has always been an exceptional woman." He sighed. "And there's something else you should know. Things could get complicated. I don't think the press have traced her to Boulder, but there is always the possibility they might have. You'll need to be careful how this is handled."
"The press?" Horror fought with anger in Raphael's mind. What in the hell was Charles trying to do, kill them all? Secrecy was the single greatest rule in the Sazi culture. Humans weren't aware of their existence only because they didn't allow the press to get wind of the reality of shapeshifters.
"Unfortunately so. Catherine was somewhat of a local celebrity in California in her twenties because her father was a leading computer hardware designer in Silicon Valley and she was a bit, well ... wild. Things settled down while she was away at university. But when she became engaged after graduate school, there was a scandal involving her mother that got them interested in her again. Of course, when her parents were killed and she was mauled ... well, I'm sure you can guess the rest. But Violet has always kept a low profile, so we might get lucky. She's a romance author who writes under a pen name, and nobody in California ever connected the two families. I realize this complicates things, but if at all possible, we need for Catherine to come through this alive."
Raphael took a deep breath. Wow. "Of course, sir. But I can't make any guarantees. Um ... not to question your authority or your absolute right to send me on any mission you choose, sir, but are you certain that I'm the best person for this job? It's been a lot of years since I've taken on a case like this."
"I know, I know. Yes, you're the person best suited to this task. Trust me." Charles sounded tired, defeated. But beneath it all simmered rage. Raphael was very glad that he was in Boulder and the Chief Justice was wherever the hell he was. "Get a pen. I'll give you the information."
It took a minute of rummaging in the drawer of the nightstand and tossing dried up pens and broken-tipped pencils against the wall to find one that still worked. It wasn't often he needed to take notes while still in bed. He started writing, pen flying across the notepad as the older man dictated details. The reality of the situation sunk in with the weight of lead in his stomach as the Chief Justice spoke. An attack victim — a jaguar, one of the large cats — in Boulder. Possibly feral, definitely turned by a homicidal madman. She might inherit Jack's insanity, or his infamous temper, or both. It was a recipe for disaster. At least the address was on the outskirts of town, near one of the big parks. But a cat that size could cover ground very quickly, and jaguars tended to roam. He would need his weapons — and plenty of silver ammo. He hoped there'd be enough in the safe. He'd have to check. He hadn't needed any in years, not since he was in Wolven, the Sazi police force. At least he went to the range often, as much for entertainment as to keep up his skill. But this was the kind of thing Wolven sent teams of two or three agents to handle. There was nothing more dangerous than a feral were-animal.
Charles had finished speaking and was waiting for his reply. He needed to say something, but what? A woman the old bear loved like a daughter was facing death tonight — and there was a good chance that Raphael would be the one to dispense it.
"I'm going to need help, sir."
The reply was a warning rumble. "I told you —"
Raphael shook his head, even though it couldn't be seen. Charles had to know what he was asking with the request. He was being asked to risk his life and his pack status. He would be violating pack law by not informing Lucas or Tatya about an attack victim that could endanger the pack and breaking at least a dozen Wolven regulations as well. Yes, to an extent, Charles's word was law, beyond the reach of the council, but this whole situation went beyond foolhardy, straight into suicidal.
Putting aside any fear of reprisal, he summoned all his courage and spoke to the head of the shifters as though he were still on the Wolven force. He made sure to keep any annoyance and condescension from his voice — but it remained firm, commanding. "I need information. I'm not in the loop anymore. At the very least, I need photos, vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers. Is there anyone I can call? If I have to step outside our law, then I want to have a marginal chance at succeeding. My son, maybe?"
There was a long pause and Raphael was afraid he was going to turn down the request. But his son, Raven Ramirez, was second in command of Wolven. He could get the information without anyone asking questions — even if he was on mandatory health leave. And, he held confidences like no other man Raphael had ever known. If Charles could trust anyone, it would be Raven.
Finally, the old man sighed. "Call Raven. Find out what you can. I could tell you myself, but I'm afraid that I ..." He took another deep breath. "I trust your judgment. It's why I called."
In the end, too many lives were at stake. Raphael knew it and so did Charles. Neither of them would— could —risk all of the Sazi for one woman.
"I'll do my best, sir. I swear it."
"Thank you." There was undisguised gratitude in his voice. "I appreciate that more than you know. Call me tomorrow on my private line. I'll be waiting for your report." Charles dictated the number where he could be reached, and when he finished, he hung up without bothering to say good-bye.
Raphael leaned back against the headboard once more and stared into space, desperately trying to think how to convince his son to ignore all protocol, disobey every rule that he lived by, to give him classified information. If Jack Simpson had attacked someone in Lucas's territory, it was a sure bet that Wolven knew all about it already. Would he have to find a way to the woman around the agents who would be arriving tonight?
The coffee was finished brewing by the time he decided how to approach the situation. If he called in a Beta Six alert, then perhaps Raven would get to a secure phone line to return a call without telling the higher-ups in the agency. But Beta Six was not only a seldom-used code, it might well be so old that Raven wouldn't even recognize it.
Raphael stirred sugar into his coffee and took a sip, trying to clear the remaining fog from his thoughts. A rooster crowed in the distance. It was incredibly loud to his ears, reminding him all the more strongly that the full moon was just behind the rising sun, waiting to pull the animal out from inside him — and from inside her.
There was no time to lose. He had to find her and isolate her from the humans before the moon rose and pulled the beast from her body.
He glanced at his watch as he reached for the portable phone next to his coffee mug. The sultry scent of the dark roast helped him relax and think in cop mode again.
The phone rang twice before he heard his son's familiar voice "Ramirez."
"Raven. It's me."
"Oh, hi, Dad! It's good —"
"Raven. Beta Six." Raphael disconnected the phone and set it down, feeling his heart pounding and adrenaline racing for the first time in a very long while. He tried to imagine what his son would do next. Beta Six was an internal agent code that was the equivalent of trust no one. If Raven understood the code, he should know not to contact anyone in charge — there was a breach of security, and everyone was suspect. Even his own father.
Raphael didn't wait for the phone to ring again. Even understanding the code, it would take awhile for Raven to verify that his father had indeed called him on his own cell phone. He would probably also check to see that the triangulation of the signal was Boulder, Colorado, and that he had not left the area by any traceable transportation before the call was placed.
There was plenty of time to get started on gathering what was needed to track a rogue feral.
Raphael was still a very young shifter, by Sazi standards, but since leaving Wolven, he'd been feeling old, out of shape. As an alpha male, he would probably live until he was two or three hundred, but there was no substitute for daily training and regular field work, and he'd had neither of those things.
When his handguns were scattered across his desk, the sets of chairs, and rags spread out over the floor, he stopped to take stock. A rifle would be better, or even a shotgun, but all of his long guns were in the safe at his pack office at the school. If he went to get them someone was bound to see and ask the questions Raphael wouldn't be able to answer. Besides, handgun fire was much easier to muffle or "bend" using his magic so humans didn't notice it.
Checking his ammo cans determined his choice of weapons. He only had silver ammunition for the Ruger Blackhawk and the 9mm Colt. There was more ammo for the Ruger, so that would be his first choice. But the Colt would be handy to have along, too — just in case.
He checked the fit of the Kevlar vest. He'd bought it on impulse over the Internet. Tonight he wouldn't be facing gunfire, but the Kevlar might stop jaguar claws briefly, if he was lucky. He was making adjustments for comfort when the phone rang.
It rang a second time before he made it back to the kitchen. "Ramirez."
"Okay, Dad. What in the hell was so important that you had to use a thirty-year-old code to drag me out of the office? I had to buy a brand-new phone to call you!"
"What do you know so far?"
Raven sighed. "I know I had to dig through piles of paperwork before I could even find what Beta Six meant. Then I checked your position, and the phone's position, and did a satellite track. Then I made an excuse to leave the office, bought a phone, and called Granddad."
Raphael cursed under his breath. He should have expected that — he would have done the same damn thing. "He told you what the situation is?"
"He didn't tell me a frigging thing. He just said, 'Yes, your father called. Call him back,' and hung up. Big help there."
Raphael nodded even though he knew Raven couldn't see it. "I need whatever information you have on Jack's latest get. Background, aunt's address, the car she drives, license plate — everything." A long pause made him ask, "Raven? Did you get that?"
His son's voice sounded strange when he responded. "Yeah, I got it. But Jack's last confirmed attack was nearly a decade ago. Why would you need it?"
Raphael nearly dropped the phone. How could Wolven not know about this? They checked into every animal attack in the world, regardless of what the papers reported. Was that why Charles had called him? Didn't he want the rest of the council to know? If not, why not?
"Dad? Talk to me. What's going on over there?"
"Shit." He ran his fingers through his hair again. "Are you sure you're on a secure line?"
A pause. "As secure as I can make it in the middle of Paris."
He blew out a slow breath and sat down. Then he proceeded to tell Raven about the call from Charles and what he had been asked to do. He concluded with, "So, do you have any information, or can you get any information?"
"Jesus, Dad! Just drop a nuclear bomb in my lap. This is the absolute first I've ever heard this. I know about the Turner woman, but no hint of Jack's involvement ever reached Wolven. There were multiple witnesses to the event. Her parents were killed by a wild animal, all right. But all parties agreed that it was a cougar attack. Hell, someone got a photo as it was running off, according to what I heard! Councilman Monier personally checked with all of the cougar shifters and verified their whereabouts, so it was shunted into the wild animal files. Are you certain our spotted friend was involved?"
Raphael took another sip of his now-cold coffee. Bright sunshine was bouncing off the copper bottoms of the pans over the stove. He had to shift his chair to turn his sensitive eyes away. "I'm not sure of a damned thing right now. I can't imagine why Charles would lie. He seemed shaken when we talked — almost afraid. He said that someone had been blocking his ability to see the future, so he hadn't been able to stop the attack."
"Good God! If you're right about this ... but why wouldn't Charles tell Lucas, Fiona, or one of the council? Why you?"
"He asked for a personal favor. I'm hardly in a position to refuse. After all, it's only thanks to him that I'm still alive right now." Raphael's chuckle had bitter overtones. This situation meant he was going to have to once again face the very thing that had nearly caused his death; the very same mistake that had made Jack Simpson his mortal enemy years ago.
"Right." Raven paused. "So, what do you need me to do?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Howling Moon by Cathy Clamp, C. T. Adams, Anna Genoese. Copyright © 2007 Cathy L. Clamp and C. T. Adams. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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