A lot had changed for the team in the last year and half. First Nate and Sophie had retired, Parker was running their three man crew as the mastermind/thief, and most startling of all Eliot finally let his team/family in on his big secret. He was a werewolf. Granted it hadn’t exactly been a voluntary admission, but his family had taken it better than he expected and he was still accepted for who and what he was.
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Hardison had multiple pages up, documents, and databases on the big screen in the living room. It was four in the morning and Parker was fast asleep upstairs. The three of them had tried to watch a mission impossible flick last night and it had been an unqualified disaster. First Parker started loudly criticizing the equipment and repelling style of the main character and that lead to Eliot pointing out that “At least that’s not as bad as the way they’re handling the weapons. All these guys would have already been killed probably from friendly fire.” Even Hardison couldn’t resist, pointing out the errors in the “geek speak”. They had abandoned the film before the end. But one of the comments from Parker, about how Eliot would be tougher than the main character, had stuck with Hardison. And that was how he found himself looking up what he could on werewolves at four in the morning.
“Watcha got goin?”
“Aachkk!” Hardison startled badly at the sound of the voice in the dark. “Don’t do that to me man! Not cool! So not cool.” Hardison grabbed his chest as if he was about to have a heart attack and glared at Eliot who was standing quietly behind him.
“You know, you could just ask me.” Eliot indicated the screens with a tilt of his chin.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around it. I’m mean, I got big questions, and little questions, and how-in-the-hell questions. And I just didn’t know where to start so I thought I’d do my thing until I had somethin.”
Eliot nodded and sipped at his coffee. Adjusting his knit beany he looked up at Hardison with the quirk of an eyebrow.
“Okay… For starters there is all sorts of contradictory info out there on how people become, um, werewolves.” Hardison glanced at Eliot but Eliot didn’t look perturbed. “So, um, I know you said this happened after you were attacked but none of the other guys on your team…” Eliot flinched just a little and Hardison rephrased. “Moreau’s guys I mean. None of them changed. Is it changed? What do you call it?” Hardison looked a little flustered.
Eliot took another sip of his coffee as he took the seat next to Hardison and rested with his elbows on the table. “That first time is usually called ‘turned’ because you are turned from a human into a werewolf. But after that change works, I’ve heard it called a bunch of other things as well but I guess “change” ’s how I think of it too, or shift. Since you shift or change shapes.” Eliot’s lip quirked in a half smile. “I don’t know why the others didn’t become wolves too. Maybe just too much damage, I’m not sure.”
Hardison swallowed a little loudly and glanced at Eliot but pressed on. “So, um, are we in any kinda danger?” Another nervous gulp and he rushed on. “I mean, I’m not like, scared of you or nothin. But Parker, I just wanta keep her safe. And I know you do too but I just… well…” His babble finally slowed to a stop and he glanced at Eliot again.
Eliot gave a snort that turned into a sigh. “No I’m not gonna turn you, or her, into somethin like me.” Eliot pinned Hardison with the most reassuring look he could manage, willing Hardison to believe him.
Hardison nodded but looked down at his keyboard for a second before whispering. “But how do you know?”
“’cause so far as I have ever seen and what I know from my own experience is that the wolf has to damn near kill you for there to be a chance for you to turn into one. It’s not like the movies where a single scratch or just one bite turns a person into… Believe me Hardison, you and Parker are safe from this. My word on it.”
“Okay, I believe you man.” Hardison said with a grin that was approaching his usual sunny smile. He knew what Eliot’s word was worth and it was better than money in the bank.
“I know you do.” Eliot knew this would lead to more questions but something about this conversation seemed to allow and even encourage him to drop his guard a little bit. Maybe it was the wee early hour or maybe it was his trust in Alec but Eliot knew that he could share these things, for now.
“’cause you just know me so well huh?” Hardison smirked
“No. Cause I can smell it. Emotions have a certain scent. And I can hear your heart beat. It slowed when you finally decided to believe me.” Eliot glanced up. “Come on sweetheart. You know you’re welcome here too.”
Hardison looked up just in time to see Parker slide down one of her ropes like it was so much easier than taking the stairs. Parker dropped down, landing lightly next to Eliot and leaned her cheek against his shoulder for a moment. Parker moved between them and nestled under Hardison’s arm. “Is that why I’ve hardly ever startled you?” Parker had obviously been listening for a little while.
“Yes. Usually I can smell or hear someone comin. I’ve got to be pretty distracted not to notice someone. Although you do test those limits.”
“So what about the other stuff? Like the super strength stuff? Or the howling at the moon stuff?”
Eliot decided to try to answer a few of Parker’s questions before she really got going with a list of crazy questions. “Parker I’m not some wild animal.” Eliot couldn’t completely keep the snarl from his voice. Which made Hardison need to stifle a chuckle. “I don’t bay at the moon. I’m still me. Even then, I’m still me.” Hardison bumped a fist against Eliot’s shoulder in support.
“So how does that work man?”
“Um, well, after I change, my senses are a little sharper and my instincts seem stronger. But I’m in control now. I still think like me and I remember what I do while I’m in that shape.” Eliot sort of trailed off.
“What do you mean now?” Parker asked. With her head tilted just a little to the side in a way that always made Eliot think of a bird.
“The first couple of times I changed shape I don’t really remember much of what happened. What I did while I was wolf. I…it was because I fought the change so hard. Now I’m completely in control within the first couple of seconds of finishing the change either direction.”
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La Villette, Paris, France. Ten years ago.
Eliot knew he needed help and fast. He had been turned into a werewolf, somehow, by Jean Chastel’s men a little less than a month ago. The first change had been horrific. He remembered the uneasy achy feeling right before he saw the full moon. As soon as he saw the moon he could feel an ache that was almost a burning in his skin. He knew something bad was happening and he fought for control. The harder he fought the worse the pain seemed to get. On top of the pain, in joints and skin, he was hit with a sudden queasy feeling that doubled him over. Pain seemed to be his whole existence and that seemed to stretch on forever.
The next morning he had woken up miles from Moreau’s warehouse in Toulouse, which was the last place he remembered being, and he was naked. Eliot saw the big wolf tracks that lead through the park to where he found himself and he knew without a doubt what that meant. He couldn’t risk going back to Moreau. The things that he had already done for Moreau were horrific enough. He could only imagine what Moreau would do with him now if he found out. After liberating some clothing and a wallet full of cash Eliot called Moreau to tell him that the other men were dead and that he wouldn’t be coming back.
Eliot had carefully used some of his contacts to see who he might talk to about the strange and supernatural. He made out that he was running a side job and the customer was interested in an old manuscript concerning werewolves, and vampires, and the like. There was some laughter and he realized his request was only one step up from: Asking for a friend (wink). But it did eventually shake out a name. François Bertrand.
Hans Becker who trafficked in antiques of dubious provenance was the one to come up with Bertrand’s name for Eliot. “Spencer! Good to hear from you. So what is it Moreau wants this time?”
“Hans, my man. No. Nothing for Moreau this time. I’m actually running a little job of my own. I’ve got a client that is interested in the occult I guess you’d say. She’s wanting a manuscript on werewolves, and vampires and the like.”
“You don’t know exactly what it is your client is looking for?” Becker sounded dubious at the thought of Spencer not knowing what he was looking for.
“Well I’ve got the name of it right here and if you think it will help I can send you the details. Really, why I called was I was hoping you might know someone that was into that kind of thing since I’m doing more of the research end of things still. Now if I need it moved you’d be my first call.” Eliot hoped that offering to share the information would sooth some of Hans’s suspicions and hopefully he wouldn’t actually ask for the details because Eliot really didn’t have any.
Becker could tell that something was up but it was unlike Spencer to give him the whole story in any case. Spencer was known for playing his cards close to his chest. He was also known for leaving dead bodies when people screwed with him. Whether this was actually something for Moreau or not Becker decided to play along. “Well there was this one guy I used to use to find things. He’s not ever really been the reliable sort but if you’re looking for the occult he might be your man. Name’s François Bertrand. I haven’t tried to reach him in a while but we used to meet at this little gambling place in Le Villette in Paris.”
“What’s this cat look like? Or is there a particular way to contact him.”
“He kinda dropped off the grid a while back and my last number for him doesn’t work. But if he’s still there I’m sure he still goes to that little parlor. Never could stay away from the horses; course maybe that’s cause he’s never picked a winner.”
“Hans? Have you got a picture? I’ll find him myself if I need to.”
“Nope, no picture. But unless he’s changed he was thin almost scrawny, sort of medium brown hair. He’s always had the most ridiculous mustache. Never seen him when he wasn’t dirty.”
“I’d say he’s about sixty-nine inches give or take. No useful habits that I know of but his tastes run on the morbid side. I’ll text you the address for the parlor.”
“Alright. I appreciate this. So I’ll say this makes us square.” Eliot would have liked to use his marker with the crafty German dealer for something a little more solid but this was the best lead he’d gotten so far.
Now he found himself in Le Villette an arrondissement of Paris. He found the local gambling hangout for Bertrand but so far hadn’t set eyes on the man. He had come almost every day this week to the café across from the building where Bertrand came to bet on soccer and horses. He knew it was sloppy but he was getting desperate. The full moon was only two days away.
The waitress, a lovely brunette, with curves in all the right places, had been making eyes at him for the last couple of days and normally she would have garnered a fair amount of his attention. She came over to his table and without asking pulled out the chair opposite him and sat down. She greeted him in French and he smiled back before replying in French. “I’m sorry miss but I’m waiting on someone.”
“Yes I know. You are waiting for Mr. Bertrand.”
Eliot was immediately on high alert. He made a quick scan of his surroundings before focusing more closely on the waitress. “And how would you know that?”
She pretended a pout at his gruff tone and showed him his napkin from yesterday’s lunch. “Because you left this. I had hoped it might be your number. I’m free tonight by the way. But no. I notice his name instead and thought you should know he is a regular across the street but only every other Thursday.” Sure enough on the napkin he could see ‘Bertrand’ written in his own blocky handwriting. The waitress turned it over with a wink before she walked away. On the back of the napkin was her name and phone number. Eliot tossed a few bills on the table before catching up with her.
“Marie, hey! Thanks for that. I know it’s kind of a stretch but do you have any idea where I could find Bertrand before Thursday?”
Marie looked a little disappointed but told him that she heard Bertrand mention once that he liked the onion soup at the Franquette better. She hadn’t been there herself but she thought that he could find the restaurant in the neighborhood of the Sacré-Cœur basilica over in Montmartre. Eliot handed her a generous tip and quickly headed for the Métro.
Eliot needed to find Bertrand no later than Wednesday. The full moon was Wednesday night and Eliot might not really know anything about what he had become but so far the full moon thing had proven true. He thought about the other things he had heard about werewolves and most of it came from comic books when he was a kid or movies that had been just this side of porn when he was in high school. The only thing they all seemed to have in common was the full moon thing and the bit about silver bullets being the only thing that could kill a werewolf. Eliot hadn’t worn any jewelry on that last job for Moreau and hadn’t acquired any since. Looking around the Métro car he was in, he spotted a woman with what looked like a silver ring. He walked closer to her and brushed his thumb across her finger as he reached up for the pole near the door. Immediately his thumb burned. She took no notice of the touch and he let go of the pole to inspect the burning sensation more closely. There was a small burn mark on the pad of his thumb as if he had just touched a hot iron. No blister but a definite mark.
Eliot got off the Métro at the foot of Montmartre. He refused to take one of the little rubber wheeled tourist trains and after assessing other options, decided that a walk up the hill would be easiest. At the top of the hill he took in the site of Sacré-Cœur basilica. It was a beautiful white stone edifice with whimsical gargoyles and grotesques decorating its many outcroppings. Standing guard above the entrance were two massive statues. One of King Saint Louis IX and the other of Saint Joan of Arc. Turning his back on the basilica he looked out over a truly stunning view of Paris.
Yes, hmn, yes onion soup today, or no, duck. Yes the taste in his mouth last night reminded him of duck. The thigh had been so tender and tasty…but she knew…she always knows. That’s why I have to hurt her. Why does she make me hurt her? Don’t! Don’t think about that. Yes something better Bertrand prodded at his face as he walked from the Funicular Train up the hill of Montmartre. Ignoring everyone around him he didn’t notice the strange looks people gave his disheveled appearance. I dressed as me…my answer is…yes dressed as me. She always says fit in. Fit in Bertrand or I’ll tan your hide. Want to tan a werewolf hide…can’t track me to my den! He brushed at his pants as if to be sure no dirt was left on them. Then he smelled it; he smelled another of his kind.
The man at the top of the stairs was young looking but not a child. A man in his prime. Short brown hair not quite long enough to hang in his blue eyes, but a little messy. Bertrand could tell he was looking for someone and he was pretty sure the man was looking for him. “This won’t do. Won’t do at all.” Bertrand stepped back against the wall opposite the steps of the basilica and listened. Better than normal hearing was a gift of his kind. He could easily pick out the strangers conversation.
“Pardon sir, can you help me with some directions?” The young man didn’t even glance in Bertrand’s direction.
She said go. Can’t stay. Can’t stay and hide. Have to go. Not fair! Can’t send him here. I followed the rules. I didn’t tell. She can’t send him. Maybe if he’s dead she’ll come. No! She can’t come. It’s her fault!
Eliot stopped a local and asked if they knew of a restaurant called the Franquette. “Yes of course. But it is a little touristy. Are you sure you want to go to the Franc? I know a couple of places that are very good and not so many tourists.”
Eliot affirmed that he did want the Franc since he was meeting someone there. Fortunately Le Bonne Franquette was only a few blocks from the basilica. The sign above the front door named many of the famous artists that had frequented the establishment and had now made it a tourist attraction. Eliot made his way in and was seated at a table in the back of the restaurant. There were not as many exits as he would like, but enough that he felt comfortable ordering some food and settling in to wait a little while. The waiter returned with his beer and escargots á la bourguignonne. The kid he was in high school would never have agreed to eat snails. The man he was now thought that they needed a little more garlic but weren’t bad otherwise.
Follow him. Yes he’s not looking. People search for the…no…can’t track me. Yes follow. Bertrand followed the young man to the Franquette and circled around to sit in between the roses near the windows by the back.
“What’s good here? What would you recommend?”
He must be American. His accent is … well… maybe he’s English. No she wouldn’t send and Englishman maybe he is American. Would she send and American?
“Okay. I’ll have the Escargots á la Bourguignonne and whatever light ale you have on tap.”
The sounds of clinking glasses and happy chatter filtered out the windows. The smells of bread and meat and sauce made his stomach grumble.
“Thanks for the refill. One more thing. You wouldn’t happen to know of a customer by the name of François Bertrand?”
She did send him! Follow the rules Bertrand and I’ll leave you alone. She lied!
When the waiter returned to refill his beer, he asked the waiter, if he knew of a customer by the name of François Bertrand. The waiter looked disgusted at the thought of Bertrand. “The man is crazy and you would do well to stay away from him.” Eliot ate a leisurely lunch drawing it out a long while in hopes of Bertrand coming in. Unfortunately Bertrand was a no show. Eliot decided that he couldn’t stake out this restaurant for long. The clock was ticking.
Eliot called a couple of his contacts in Paris to see if they could find Bertrand. While he waited for a call back Eliot booked a room at the Hōtel Adonis Roma. Walking from the Franc to the hotel Eliot passed by a small cemetery. There really wasn’t anything remarkable about the cemetery that he could see but there was a scent that Eliot caught on a passing breeze that intrigued him. It had a familiarity to it like spoiled milk or composted earth but not something he had a name for. But he was sure he had smelled it before, maybe in Gévaudan.
Bertrand heard the man make a reservation for a hotel just down the street. At that, he headed to the one place he knew he could find comfort in his betrayal. The cemetery was only a few blocks from the Franc. He knew the American might find him on the way to his hotel, but Bertrand needed her company now, and was willing to risk discovery to have it. He had seen the fresh earth just a yesterday and knew that they were saving her just for him.
He ran to the fresh grave. Right where he remembered it being. She will understand. Digging down a little farther he found the lid of the coffin and tore at it until he could pull the body out onto the grass. Kissing along the cold flaccid neck he shoved her skirt aside. You aren’t her but you should be! You should be…she should be!
Fifteen minutes later he dumped the eviscerated corpse back in its grave.
Eliot got nothing from his contacts that day and slipped into an uneasy nightmare filled sleep that night. The next morning Eliot got a call from a contact. Reaching for his phone he noticed the burn on his thumb was completely gone. Strange. I’ve always healed pretty fast but not like this.
“Spencer. I’m not sure what you want with this Bertrand character but I’m not sure he’s really worth your time. I can send you a copy of his last mug shot. It’s the only picture I could find of the man. Greasy little turnip. Seems he’s been picked up a couple of times for desecrating graves. He was even locked up in Val-de-Grâce for psychotic behavior. Looks like he was a sergeant before his dishonorable discharge. This guy is pretty nasty but I can’t imagine what use he would be to you?” Paul Lefebvre smuggled just about anything for a price and people were his specialty. Eliot wasn’t surprised that it was Paul that came up with this information.
Eliot ignored Paul’s question. “Can you send the photo to the email I gave you last time? And I’ll have the usual payment deposited in your account.” Paul never worked off of favors when money was available and Eliot certainly didn’t mind not being in debt to the trafficker.
Eliot still didn’t understand the French’s love of using fruits and vegetables in insults but he had to agree that Bertrand did look like a ‘greasy little turnip.’ With the picture of Bertrand on his phone, Eliot began walking the streets in the neighborhood hoping to spot him. He had already checked out Bertrand’s last known address, from the information Paul had sent, and that was a bust. Today was Wednesday and time was fast running out.
By the end of the day Eliot was exhausted and scared. He hadn’t found Bertrand and sunset was only minutes away. Eliot had started to head back to his hotel when the thought occurred to him that it might be a very bad idea to turn into a werewolf in the middle of a hotel. Turning around he practically ran to the park that was a halfway between the hotel and the basilica. It wasn’t a very big park but hopeful this late in the year, the evening chill, would keep most people out. Eliot could already feel a tingle at the back of his neck and the ache starting to settle into his joints as he crossed the park and headed for a stand of trees. Eliot didn’t see the moon that night but it made no difference as the change was inevitable.
He had been following the young man all afternoon, and he was beginning to think that maybe she hadn’t sent him. He didn’t seem to know what he was doing. Bertrand hadn’t bothered to cover his scent trail at all and if she had sent him presumably she would have told him where to look. Besides as the hour drew closer Bertrand could smell the anxiety building toward outright fear and none of her wolves had cause to fear the moon and its singing.
Bertrand followed the man as he raced toward the park. The scent of fear practically flooding the little glade where the man stopped. Oh yes. This will be fun. Haven’t played with a baby wolf since she made me leave. Bertrand started to relax into his change but he wanted to be wolf before the young one made the change. Of course that shouldn’t be too hard since you could see how hard the young man was fighting it. He would hold his breath or pant by turns and every muscle in his frame was clenched tight. The pain of fighting the change was eloquent in his whole posture.
As if you can hold back the moon. Bertrand disregarded any additional pain and rushed his change. The night always seemed brighter when he was wolf. The change was almost completed for the young one. Perfect! He nipped at the new wolfs back leg.
Eliot’s wolf was an overall tan color. The hairs were a mix of greys, whites and blonds. His wolf stood forty inches at the shoulder and weighed in near two hundred and sixty pounds. This left him shorter than Bertrand’s wolf by several inches but he out-weighed Bertrand by forty pounds. Bertrand’s wolf was thin, almost to the point of emaciation.
At the nip to his leg Eliot turned and snarled a warning. Bertrand dodged in and nipped harder before sprinting toward the edge of the park and the street beyond. Eliot, mind and reason subsumed by instinct alone, didn’t consider the consequences and sprinted after Bertrand.
The chase led down to the basilica where Bertrand easily hopped over the six foot tall fence that kept people out of the church yard after hours. Skidding to a halt he leaned against the wall at the front of the basilica and waited in ambush.
Eliot, even with his human reason and logic temporarily overridden by the wolf’s instincts, was a cunning predator himself. Bertrand had gotten a lead on him to start, so when Eliot saw Bertrand, who was almost a block ahead, hop the fence at the front of the basilica, he immediately hopped the fence at the back of the basilica and worked his way around the other side. Eliot began padding his way up the front steps behind Bertrand and was nearly on him when a moment’s lack of attention allowed his claws to click on the stone. Bertrand spun to meet the ambush that had been sprung on him.
Bertrand lunged for Eliot’s neck but missed as Eliot sidestepped, catching his shoulder instead. Eliot tore a gash into Bertrand’s side and the two rolled down the front steps in a scrabble of claws, teeth and snarls. Slamming into the fence at the bottom momentarily stopped the fight. In that moment Bertrand hopped the fence again and bolted down the hill.
Bertrand managed to evade Eliot long enough to leap to the top of the small building that served as the ticket booth for the funicular train. Eliot was just about to leap after him when a woman screamed. Eliot jerked toward the sound and his momentary distraction allowed Bertrand to get the drop on him, literally. Bertrand landed on Eliot knocking him to the ground and rolling to the side. The woman kept screaming but now she was screaming for the police. Before Bertrand finished rolling, Eliot got up and ran taking the first alley he came to. Before he was halfway down the alley Eliot heard the panting breaths and the sound of claws on pavement, behind him. Bursting from the alley and into the street Eliot made a dash for the other side.
A little blue Renault Clio clipped Bertrand before he made it all the way to the curb. He went down with a yelp and could hear the screeching of brakes, and tires on pavement. By the time that he got back up Eliot was gone. Bertrand decided to lay low for a while until his back leg didn’t hurt so much.
After Eliot’s mad dash across the street he paused for a moment at the sound of the screeching car tires. A wolfish grin crossed his face and he ran ahead around a small fountain and down another dark alley. Eliot slowed when he no longer heard any pursuit. He stopped for a moment near a trash bin and inhaled deeply. He could smell so many things and for the moment the novelty of it held him in thrall. Suddenly a man yelled “Merde sainte un loup!” before throwing a bottle and hitting Eliot in the head. Eliot snarled showing a set of truly impressive fangs. He had just braced himself to spring at the man when headlights flashed on and a horn started honking. Eliot ran from the noise and the lights only settling back into a walk when he found a deserted street.
Eliot wandered for a while longer before he picked up on a scent that the wolf seemed to know but had no name for. Eliot followed this scent trail past a cemetery and down a street until he came to a small park. He caught the scent of the other wolf but ignored it for the moment as he followed the scent trail he had been following to some scraps of shredded cloth. After a moment of nosing at the scraps he finally realized that what he was smelling was him. What he smelled like in his human shape. That realization started to bring Eliot’s human mind back to the fore. Just as he started to understand what was happening he heard a rumbled growl come from just beyond the trees. The visceral fear at that sound shoved Eliot’s mind back to relying on instinct again.
Bertrand had been waiting near the place that Eliot had transformed earlier that night. He thought the young wolf might come back there at some point and he was still holding the car incident against him. Bertrand charged Eliot, chasing him out of the park. This time Eliot took a left out of the park and sprinted down the street until he saw a large hedge. Leaping the hedge he found himself in a cemetery. Bertrand was not far behind. Eliot began weaving his way between stones and over benches. Eliot tried to dive under a bench and sideways past a head stone. He underestimated his size and would have become stuck regardless but Bertrand bit at Eliot’s back leg just as he made the dive. This caused Eliot to slam his head against the stone just as inertia wedged him tightly between the stone and the bench.
Bertrand stopped and looked at the unconscious wolf and decided that maybe he could keep this one. Since she wouldn’t let him keep the last one. Yes that will be lovely I will keep him and she will never know. While I wait I could amuse myself with more friendly company. Bertrand found the grave of a middle-aged man and decided to spend some quality time with him, until the young loup-garou woke up anyway.
Eliot woke up wedged between a headstone and a memorial bench.
“Quelle heure est il monsieur le loup?” A voice like a rusty gate seemed to be singing quietly near Eliot’s head
“C’est l’heure du dîner.” Eliot’s voice was cracked, and his throat felt raw but the answer to the children’s rhyme came to him before he could think of why someone would be telling him the rhyme to begin with.
“No, monsieur, it is in fact only five thirty in the morning.” The rusty voice croaked at him. Eliot located the source of the voice and looked up into the greasy, dirt smudged face, of François Bertrand.
Eliot started to scoot away and scraped his back on the headstone. Looking around at his situation Eliot quickly realized he was naked, again, and stuck between a headstone and a concrete bench. Looking at the slightly crazed expression on Bertrand’s face, Eliot had a moment of panic at being stuck in a cemetery with a lunatic.
“Just push the bench over. It’s not heavy.” Bertrand didn’t come any closer and, other than the inane advice, he didn’t offer to help either.
“This thing’s gotta be at least a thousand pounds.” Eliot spoke aloud even though he didn’t really mean the comment for Bertrand.
“So? It is not heavy.” Bertrand just stared at Eliot like he was the one that was crazy. And Eliot supposed that, naked and stuck in a cemetery, he wasn’t in the best position to argue.
Eliot braced his hands against the seat of the bench and shoved. The bench tilted over like a child’s plastic pic-nick table. Eliot scrambled up to his feet and backed away a few paces.
“Well, aren’t you going to put it back? It is rude to leave it lying there.” Bertrand spoke to him as if he were a naughty child.
Eliot was strong and in good shape but he didn’t think he could lift the bench back into place, but then again, he hadn’t thought he could shift it in the first place. Walking around to the other side of the bench Eliot squatted down, dug his fingers under the edge of the bench and lifted. He almost flipped it in the other direction by accident. Eliot stared at his hands a moment in shock.
“Okay. We go now.” Bertrand stood up and turned toward the entrance to the cemetery.
“Um, wait. I…we…you…” Eliot stopped. Pinched the bridge of his nose and collected his thoughts. “First. I need clothes. Second. Where are we going? And third. Do you even know who I am?” Eliot was angry. He had always had a short fuse but over the last few weeks his patience was almost completely gone.
“But of course. You are the loup-garou who has been looking for me. We should leave here soon before les keufs come by. I don’t fancy being arrested again. And here…” Bertrand hopped down into an open grave with a thump and a moment later hopped out with a soiled looking pair of trousers clutched in his left hand. He thrust the garment in Eliot’s direction. “He doesn’t really need them anymore.” Dropping the pants when Eliot didn’t immediately reach for them Bertrand turned to the entrance again and began whistling a tune high and off key as he strode away.
Eliot looked at the disgusting pants, that Bertrand had apparently just pulled off a dead man, and back to Bertrand’s retreating figure. He grabbed the pants. It was still early in the morning and while the filthy pants and lack of all other clothing might draw some attention at least no one would be calling the police because he was running around Paris naked. He caught up to Bertrand. “Listen, I need to stop by my hotel for just a minute.” Eliot didn’t have much stashed at the hotel but at least there would be a change of clothes and a new id in his go bag.
“Whatever you want. Want…hmn…Want to tan a werewolf hide. They’ll never track me…track m…hmn. What is the rest do you know?” Bertrand looked at Eliot like he expected an answer and not like he had just segued into crazy-ville.
“Right. Whatever. Just wait here.” Eliot sprinted across the street to his hotel. Slowing to a less alarming pace but still moving fast enough to make it clear he had places to be and didn’t plan to stop for questions. Eliot strode through the lobby and made it up to his room without more than a startled glance from the receptionist at his appearance.
Quickly changing into clean clothes Eliot grabbed his go bag and ran back across the street. Bertrand was obviously crazy but Eliot didn’t know where else to start, and Bertrand had made it clear that he knew what Eliot was so maybe he could be of some use.
Eliot had followed Bertrand to a drainage tunnel near the railroad tracks that bordered Cimetière Parisien De Saint-Ouen. He wasn’t sure what Bertrand’s obsession was with cemeteries but he hoped it wasn’t a side effect of lycanthropy.
“Neighbors searching far and wide….hmn… what’s next…when the sun comes up. I’m me again!...yes that’s right.” Bertrand still seemed to be jabbering nonsense and Eliot was hoping that he didn’t have to spend much more time with him. He was beginning to think this had all been a waste of time but he didn’t know what else to try at the moment.
“So, Bertrand, what can you tell me about this werewolf thing? Is there a way to stop it, or reverse it or something?” Can you tell me anything besides the gibberish you’ve been spouting for the last half hour?
“Of course.” Bertrand suddenly sounded completely sane. As though he were sitting down to tea instead of sitting in a storm drain, covered in grave dirt. “Being a wolf is really quite lovely. The smells in the air. The taste of blood on your tongue. Oh yes! Quite wonderful.”
“Come on man. What about a cure?” Eliot could see that keeping Bertrand on track was going to be a lot of work.
“Cure? No cure. Who would want a cure?”
“Me! I want a cure! I certainly don’t want to be stuck like this.” And definitely not stuck here with you!
“So don’t be stuck. Just shift.” And on the last word Bertrand closed his eyes and started to change. Bertrand stepped out of his drawstring pants and pulled off his shirt with fingers that were already misshapen and claw tipped. The change from man to wolf took Bertrand less than a minute. Eliot decided that this was freakier than anything else that he had ever seen and he could think of some truly disturbing things.
“So you can do it on purpose?” Eliot didn’t expect a response from the wolf. The wolf stared at him for a moment before sneezing directly in Eliot’s face. “Gross!” He wiped his face on the sleeve of his jacket and looked up to see the wolf moving farther down the drainage tunnel. The wolf stopped in the junction where the current tunnel intersected another tunnel. Eliot could see that Bertrand had been living there for a while. The wolf curled up on a pile of filthy rags and seemed to drop off to sleep.
Eliot was exhausted but knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He sat on the floor opposite the wolf, with his knees drawn up in front of him and tilted his head back against the wall. He dropped into a near meditative state that would allow him to stay aware of changes in his surroundings but would afford his body a modicum of rest. A couple of hours ticked by before the wolf stirred. Eliot was instantly alert. The wolf stretched like any dog Eliot had ever seen after a long nap. After giving him a knowing look and a wolfish smirk, the wolf began to transform back into a human shape.
“So how do you do that? Go from one shape to another?”
“Just do. It just is. That’s all.” Eliot was becoming frustrated with the lunatic and was about to leave. “Natali knows. She can tell you.”
“Who is Natali? Where do I find her?”
“Doesn’t matter. She says go she says stay. You’re here you stay. She’s not looking for you. You don’t have to hide.” Bertrand trailed off to a mumble he shifted around on his nest of rags and pulled out a filthy set of blue shorts. Eliot thought they might have been swim trunks at some point but now it was hard to tell through the muck.
“Is she looking for you? Is that why you’re here? You’re hiding? Eliot looked around at the filthy surroundings of the tunnel junction.
“Thought she sent you but you didn’t find me. Found you.”
“So. Can you tell me what you know about this wolf thing. I’m a…werewolf, now, right?” Eliot had to force the word werewolf past the lump in his throat. He hadn’t said it out loud yet in reference to himself.
“Oh yes! Oui loup-garou. Now you stay. Now I keep.”
“Keep? Keep what? Keep me?” Eliot noticed the earnest expression on Bertrand’s face and the hairs rose on the back of his neck. “Not a chance buddy. No one is keeping me.”
“People searched for the werewolf. All my friends think I’m…scary…hairy…” Bertrand stared off into space and chuckled like a child. Then his voice dropped to a more threatening register. “But she knows. She knows. She’s ….”
“Natali? What does she know?” Eliot hoped that he could find out who Natalie was or what she knew so that he could make some headway here and maybe find out something useful for himself. Bertrand didn’t answer him just kept staring off down one of the black tunnels. The smell in the junction changed just subtly but Eliot realized it made him uneasy although he couldn’t say why. “So who is she?” He asked again trying for a soothing tone.
“Natali Ossory. She knows….SHE KNOWS!!” Bertrand bellowed the last words and charged Eliot.
Eliot tried to knock the lunatic to the side but with the werewolf’s strength Bertrand was not so easily put off. They fell in a tangle of limbs back into the tunnel. Eliot punched Bertrand several times in the jaw and was surprised that the jaw hadn’t broken yet. Bertrand shoved past Eliot’s defenses and clamped down with his teeth on Eliot’s collarbone. Eliot was able to pry him off but not without losing a chunk of flesh. Eliot got both feet under Bertrand’s chest and kicked out. Bertrand flew back into the junction smacking his head on a wall. Eliot wasn’t sure whether Bertrand was alive or dead but was quite sure that he didn’t care either way. He stepped into the junction far enough to retrieve his bag and noticed Bertrand’s chest rise and fall. “Not dead then. Hell with you.” Eliot turned and left.
“Paul I have another name that I need a location on. Natali Ossory.” Eliot adjusted the phone between his left shoulder and his cheek while he dabbed at the gash over his right collarbone with paper towels in the men’s room of the Métro. “No I don’t know whether she’s just a citizen or not. The name was the only thing I could get out of that lunatic. I think he sold my artifact to her.”
“I heard it was a manuscript you were looking for.” Eliot could hear the humor in Paul’s voice.
“Don’t bust my balls. Just get me what you can on that name. Usual payment.” Eliot hung up without waiting for an answer.
After cleaning the wound and taping a gauze bandage over it, Eliot boarded the next Métro headed for the airport. If Natali was in Paris he could take the train back but if she was somewhere else he was more than ready to leave Paris behind.