Read an Excerpt
The Werewolf Murders
A Niccolo Benedetti Mystery
By William L. DeAndrea
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1992 William L. DeAndrea
All rights reserved.
The Olympique Scientifique Internationale was an idea of self-conscious magnificence. It was grandiose, and hugely impractical.
Only a Frenchman could have conceived of it, thought Paul Levesque when the baron first broached the idea. Only, in fact, a Frenchman of a specific type. The baron's type. A type that hardly existed any more.
Baron Pierre Benac was a small, round man with a deep voice which he cultivated each morning with a set of vocal exercises. It was the baron's belief that the orders of large men with large voices were most readily obeyed. Since it was his fate to be small, he would do his utmost to maximize the effect of his voice. Levesque, as the baron's private secretary and chief aide, was the only person in the world to whom the baron had entrusted this confidence.
And there must have been something to it, Levesque reflected, because the baron claimed grandiosity and impracticality as a birthright. An ancestor had been ennobled by the emperor Napoleon when he had conceived and carried out a plan to sink a British man-o'-war by firing at it from the shore with one sixteen-pound cannon and six muskets.
More than any of the barons who had come between, Pierre Benac possessed the spirit and drive of his ancestor. The current baron's inspirations (and Levesque thanked God for this) ran more to building or achieving things than to destroying them. His love was France, a France that was the beacon and glory of the world, and that love was boundless.
The truly amazing thing, Levesque reflected, was how often the baron's grandiose plans worked. The octopus farm in the Mediterranean. The computer analysis of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, so that it might be rebuilt if ever damaged or destroyed by some catastrophe. Even the necklace of reflecting satellites to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Eiffel Tower would have worked, if astronomers around the world hadn't protested that the extra light in the sky would make it impossible for them to do their work.
When questioned about this, the baron would clear his throat and explain, "The motto of my family is: 'A man with dreams can achieve anything.' How much more, then, can a man achieve who has both dreams and a large fortune?"
And so, in the waning years of the twentieth century, with the world's dictatorships and repressive governments falling like autumn leaves, he saw the human spirit poised to soar to heights never before reached, and the baron dreamed his latest and greatest dream.
"Paul," he said one morning at the office as Levesque tried in vain to induce the baron to look at some octopus production reports, "I must be part of this. I must—France must—do something to mark this as the start of a new era. We must do something to make concrete for the world the potential for greatness in Man that has recently been unlocked!"
Levesque looked at the baron's pointed beard, quivering with excitement, and knew he was in for trouble.
And so was born l'Olympique Scientifique Internationale, or as it came to be known, OSI. "What de Coubertin did for the body, I shall do for the mind. I shall gather the greatest scientific minds in the world, and bring them together to share their knowledge and to spur each other to great achievements.
"And you, you my dear friend, shall organize it for me."
Levesque had seen this coming. Though he knew it was useless, he tried to wiggle out. "Monsieur le Baron, where can we do this?"
The baron stroked his shiny black moustaches and frowned. Then he snapped his fingers. "Simply the most beautiful and peaceful spot on earth—Mont-St.-Denis."
Mont-St.-Denis was one of the baron's many holdings, a ski resort as fashionable as Cortina or Gstaad, if less well known. The baron fell in love with the idea; in the end, it made Levesque's job easier, since the baron was not afraid to back his mad fancies without limit. It was to cost the baron many millions of francs to turn the ski resort into a dream laboratory for some two hundred scientists, and many more to induce them to come.
To say nothing, of course, of the lost skiing revenue. "The townspeople will not suffer," the baron declared. And that was that.
It took the better part of two years, but at last the remodeling had been done, the equipment had been installed, the diplomatic hurdles (even in a world largely at peace, there are diplomatic hurdles) had been cleared, the scientists had arrived, and l'Olympique Scientifique Internationale was ready to begin.
The opening ceremonies were the happiest day of the baron's life. He had been warned that the scientists would not care for such dashing and romantic goings-on, but Pierre Benac had known better. Scientists they were, committed to order and rationality, yes, but they were still men and women of flesh and blood. More. They were the modern counterparts of the Columbuses, the Magellans, the Champlains. The explorers, the leaders into new lands. That they no longer needed to risk their very lives to do so was immaterial; the spirit of adventure (and the desire for glory) must be the same.
And so it seemed. On the great day, there were bands and balloons and doves, and the lighting of a flame. The media of the world had gathered, and the festivities were shown on live television to all parts of the earth.
Each of the two hundred six participating scientists was introduced by name and nation and field of expertise. Each walked to a podium to stirring music. Each received a handshake, a gold medal, and an accolade from the baron. Some beamed; some were solemn. All, the baron knew, were touched and proud, but none more so than Pierre Benac himself. He knew he had done something few men can achieve—he had consciously and deliberately made History.
And while the baron didn't disdain any glory that might come to him personally, his greatest joy was that he had wrought l'Olympique Scientifique Internationale for the glory of mankind.
Levesque would always remember the baron on that day with a mixture of pride and sadness. It was a great achievement. The fact that it was to turn into a grinding nightmare of superstition and fear and death was not the baron's fault.CHAPTER 2
She always did her running at the first light of dawn. It was the perfect antidote to a long night's work. Back in New Mexico (she'd lived there for six years, now, but she never thought of it as "back home"), she would simply run the four miles down the mountainside when the sky got too bright for good seeing. Then she'd take a shower, have breakfast, and go to sleep.
That wouldn't work here. For one thing, her room in the Hotel de Leone was separated by a steep mountainside and a craggy valley from the observatory Baron Benac had built up above the top of the ski run on Mont-St.-Denis. For another thing, the observatory was closed tonight—the nova wouldn't be visible. Too much other light in the sky.
Dr. Karin Tebner hadn't been the first to see the nova. If she had been, she'd be famous, or at least as famous as an eyeball astronomer can get in these days of X-ray analysis and radioastronomy.
Still, Karin believed there was something about taking actual pictures of the heavens and studying them, or even giving into the atavistic urge to put your face right up to the eyepiece and look at the ancient light from distant stars, that no amount of computer readouts could replace.
Of course, the electronic astronomers got to work regular hours—the radio data is always there no matter what bright object is in the sky. Nor did the techie types have to be where the instruments were. Willem Bork, for instance, was working on data that came to him daily via satellite from the Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico.
Bork was here, as Karin was, as all the scientists were, she supposed, more for the honor of the thing than in the expectation of getting any serious work done.
Well, Karin told herself, you're certainly not getting any work done lying in bed reading a horror novel. Not even your running.
It was always like this on her nights off. Since they came bunched together once a month, it was always a temptation to go native, to adjust herself to days-awake, nights-asleep instead of the late-afternoon-till-dawn routine she needed to follow for her work.
Once or twice, she had given into the temptation and had regretted it. She walked around in a daze for a week before she got readjusted.
Karin threw her legs over the side of the bed. She pulled off her pajamas, then put on her running bra, a pair of cotton panties, and some sweats. She accepted her body and her looks without loving them. She wasn't tall or especially shapely, but she'd do. She'd given up hating her freckles. She was pleased with her natural strawberry-blond hair. She knew she looked a lot younger than her thirty-two years. This sometimes proved irksome ("Doctor Tebner? But you don't look old enough to be out of high school!"), but Karin knew a lot of women worked very hard to be taken for younger than they were.
Of course, she reflected as she laced on her sneakers, pluses and minuses were all pretty academic when your work precluded a social life of any sort.
Karin put her keys, passport, and OSI identification card (the photograph on which made her look twelve) into the pocket across the belly of her sweatshirt and zipped it up. Then she pulled the hood up over her head, tied the string under her chin, and left.
The night clerk at the hotel, a skinny old man named Claude, grinned at her as she went out. Claude thought they were sharing some huge secret. She had tried to explain running for fitness to him, but her high-school French and Claude's tourist-trap English ("You leave a note for the manager, no?") had proven inadequate to the task. Claude drew his own conclusion—she was sneaking out in disguise early every morning to meet a lover. The fact that she came back each day sweaty and flushed only added to his conviction.
It was early June, but she could see her breath in the predawn light. The altitude explained the chill, of course, and the fact that the higher up you were, the farther over the horizon you could see. Therefore sunrise came much earlier, and took longer to take the chill out of the thin air. People had told her that by noontime it would be quite pleasant, but Karin was never awake at noon to know.
She didn't mind the cold. She followed her usual route—away from town and out toward the ski lodge, near the base of the funicular she and her colleagues rode to work every day, then back along the north road on the edge of town, curving around until she reached the Boulevard de Ville, (or, as she liked to think of it, Main Street) and back to the hotel.
Today she thought about luck. A very unscientific concept, luck. As a scientist, she should realize that if you could simply quantify the factors involved, what looked like luck would be the simple workings of the laws of probability. And she did know that. But she still believed in luck.
All right, the laws of probability said that supernovas would occur at irregular intervals; that there was nothing remarkable in the fact that after a drought of over a thousand years, there should appear two in one decade, the first visible from the Southern Hemisphere, and the second in the Northern Hemisphere, as though in the interests of fairness.
Neither of the new supernovas was in our galaxy, naturally. If they had been, no telescopes would have been needed. Like the one the Chinese had recorded all those years ago, it would have been visible in the daytime to the naked eye, and might have caused people to cast a second shadow. It was still a fairly remarkable occurrence, all the more so since it had happened again so recently after a delay of centuries. Karin felt lucky to have been in on it.
Not as lucky as Dr. Goetz, who had first spotted the new light on the blinker, but lucky enough.
Baron Benac must have been feeling pretty lucky, too. Karin puffed breath through a smile as she ran. The baron was such a sweet, charming little man. He was the first, and so far only, man ever to have kissed the hand of Karin Tebner, Ph.D., and he did it as if it were her due, as if she were a duchess or something. She'd treasure the memory.
So she was glad things were working out so well for him. OSI had started in late April (to let the townspeople get the skiing season in, Karin supposed) and would run until next April. And already, in less than six weeks, the inmates at the baron's little scientific asylum were coming up with results. There was Dr. Goetz and the supernova. There were the geneticists, a Filipino and a Kenyan, who had compared notes and realized they'd each already done about half the work toward preventing the anopheles mosquito from mating, big news for those parts of the world where malaria was still a problem. And that American on leave from Monsanto teaming up with the Frenchman (she could still see the baron's beaming face in the local paper) to cook up a new fiber many times stronger than steel, but lighter and finer than silk.
That last one might have all sorts of ramifications. Bullet-proof clothes that didn't weigh a ton. More finely calibrated optical equipment. Stockings that never ran. Nah—if the material was that tough, it would probably cut your toes.
By the time the north road looped around to join Main Street, Karin's muscles were warm and loose, and she was ready to pick up the pace. It was just as well to run faster through town because by the time she got there, smells of baking would begin to fill the air.
One day, back in April, she had occupied her mind by doing a little statistical breakdown on the town of Mont-St.-Denis. She had worked it out that there was a pâtisserie every 1.67 blocks along Main Street, and a charcuterie every 3.01. They all got busy preparing their wares for the day about the time she started running. Since her two major culinary weaknesses were pastry (or the long loaves of French bread that were as good as pastry) and delicatessen food, the run down the Boulevard de Ville each morning was a greater test of her self-discipline than the running itself could ever be.
There was an especially strong scent this morning. Perhaps Belanger et Cie, her favorite charcuterie, was roasting a pig, or doing a batch of those absolutely marvelous, slightly charred sausages.
Stop it, Tebner, she ordered herself. You'll talk yourself into a pig-out breakfast again. Karin frequently gave herself orders. She obeyed much less frequently.
She ran past Belanger, and the smell was stronger yet. Odd, but not unpleasant. She put it from her mind.
There were fewer shops here as she approached the town square, renamed, as part of the opening ceremonies that had been held there, Place de Science. Karin looked for the Eternal Flame, an aluminum thing like an art deco barbecue grill about eight feet high. The Torch of Science was almost exactly a half mile from the hotel. As soon as she passed it, she'd begin her sprint. Scientist or not, Karin was unable to give up the English system of measurements in her personal life.
She saw the flame at last. It was a lot smaller than usual, and pretty smoky. The baron would have to tell somebody to mix more oxygen in with the gas, or clean the jet or something.
Karin reached the square. When she looked at the torch, she stopped in her tracks. Her brain was suddenly so full, she couldn't remember to keep running.
Now she knew where the smell of charring meat had come from. Someone had draped a human body over the top of the flame. Two legs, blackened but recognizable, dangled over the edge of the Torch of Science, near the ladder that an incredibly beautiful French youth had climbed back in April to light the flame.
Karin raced across the grass to the Torch, climbed the steps. She wrapped her arms around the legs and tried to pull the body out of the flames. When it began to come apart, her stomach churned, and she moaned. She backed down the stairs and stood on the grass, taking deep rasping breaths.
They didn't help. Each breath brought a great lungful of the no-longer-appetizing smell.
Karin looked at the ground, then at herself. She saw the greasy blackness clinging to her clothes and hands. She could feel it on her face. She suddenly realized what it was.
Only then did it occur to her to scream.
That was the first murder.
Excerpted from The Werewolf Murders by William L. DeAndrea. Copyright © 1992 William L. DeAndrea. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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