Hidden Moon (Chapter 34)
"Tonight's the bonfire," she said.
I nodded. Grace knew as well as I did the schedule for the festival. It hadn't changed in the last forty years; I doubted it would change in the next forty. Unless Lake Bluff grew too poor to have the festival.
"I made some calls," Grace continued. "Logan's campaign manager agreed to keep the specifics of Logan's death under wraps for the time being."
"How'd you get him to agree to that?"
"Threatened to feed the media the truth about his golden boy. Works every time."
Interesting. Even though he was dead, they didn't want it touted on the national news that Josh Logan had been a rapist.
"We can still go public once this is over," Grace said. "But right now I'd like to keep the media frenzy out of town – even though the idea of feeding a few journalists to the werewolf does have its appeal. No offense."
"None taken," I said. A lot of people held the same opinion, including me, about certain reporters. "I'd rather let this drop. Josh can't hurt anyone anymore. I want to forget."
Grace glanced at me searchingly, her brow creased with worry. "You don't have to decide now."
"I have decided. That part of my life is as dead as Josh." I hoped.
While I should be happy that I didn't have to tell the world my private horror, right now I couldn't manage to feel happy about anything.
"I also talked to Doc Bill," Grace continued. "The fur found on Josh's body tested positive for wolf."
"We figured that."
"It's always good to have data to back up a theory." Grace bit her lip. "I'm not sure what to do about Balthazar."
"What is there to do?" I asked. "Sweep up what's left of him and put it in an urn?"
"That might be a little hard to explain."
"What isn't lately?"
"He's listed as a missing person; it might be best to allow everyone to continue to think that. I'm not sure how to account for the explosion, let alone the tail. I've got the same issue with Freestone, even though no one's actually seen him get furry."
"Freestone may be long gone."
"And if he's a werewolf – "
"We know he is."
"Yeah." Grace sighed. "So if he's hightailed it to the mountains or, worse, to a big city – "
"There are going to be a lot more werewolves soon."
"I wish I knew what to do about that, too. Would be nice if there were some sort of army you could call to take care of this."
"Wouldn't it, though?"
"I'm going to have to go after him."
Silence fell, broken only by the hum of the tires against the pavement.
"Parade tomorrow at ten." Grace went back to listing things I already knew. "Picnic at noon, followed by fireworks just after sundown. Then the eclipse and we're home free."
As long as the werewolf, or wolves, followed Malachi's wagons out of town.
"Make sure everyone's got silver bullets," I blurted.
Grace turned in to her driveway. "It's one little werewolf. Maybe two. What could happen?"
I hated it when people said things like that.
I'd left my dad's car at Grace's, so I drove directly to work, where I discovered an empty office. Since Balthazar had… disappeared, and his editorial diatribes, too, the number of people requesting appointments had dwindled.
I glanced at my watch. Joyce should be here, but she wasn't.
A quick perusal of her desk revealed she had been here, not too long ago. Where was she now?
The ladies' room was empty, as was the break room. I continued searching, asking anyone who milled about town hall if they'd seen her, tracking Joyce like Grace tracked wolves, through a building instead of the forest. I found Joyce forty-five minutes later in the bowels of the basement. I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and with good reason.
Once I'd come to work with my father and begun exploring. I'd crept down the dark, dank cement staircase then as I did now, feeling chills wind up my spine as cobwebs drifted across my face and clung to my hair.
When I was ten, I hadn't lasted more than a few minutes on the ground level before I'd thundered back up and burst through the door, slamming it behind me. I'd heard strange things in that basement. I heard them again now.
Scratchings and scramblings – mice, no doubt. I didn't like them, but they weren't enough to make me run before I found out what in hell Joyce could be doing down here. I figured that all the times she'd gone missing, this was where she'd been. Considering what was going on in Lake Bluff, I needed to know what she was up to.
The lighting was dim – several bulbs were burnt out. My shadow trailed ahead of me across the cement floor, making me jump every time that I saw it.
The corridors twisted and turned. The basement was mainly used for storage and maintenance. Cardboard boxes, rusted filing cabinets, brooms, mops, and fuse boxes abounded.
In the distance I heard a low growl, and I paused. Maybe I shouldn't be down here after all.
Somewhere ahead lay an old storm cellar door, leading to the outside. Town hall was the tornado shelter for most of downtown Lake Bluff. People could get in from the street if need be, or out if they became trapped once the tornado knocked the building down. That also meant that anyone, or anything, might be hiding here.
I reached for my cell phone, thinking I'd get Grace to come and hold my hand.
"No service," I muttered. Should have known.
The odd growling noise increased, sounding more mechanical than feral. Maybe the air-conditioning was about to blow up.
I continued on, one hand trailing along the damp, cool wall of the basement. I turned a corner and there she was, hunched over a desk like a crone.
"Joyce?" I murmured, and she shrieked, the sound bouncing off the close cement walls and making my hair stand on end.
She whirled, the stark bulb overhead flaring across her face, making it ghostly white, even as her eyes appeared completely black.
I skittered back, heart pounding from both the sight and the sound of her, if not the sharp, shiny knife in her fist.
"Claire! You scared the crap out of me."
She moved forward out of the light, and she was just Joyce again, though she still had the knife.
"Wh-what are you doing with that?"
"This?" She frowned at her hand, then reached back to the desk and held up an envelope, slitting it. "Opening mail. What did you think I was doing?"
For an instant I'd thought she'd been performing bizarre rituals right beneath my nose, but the desk was merely covered with letters. Nevertheless, I checked to see if she had a swastika-bearing rune anywhere close. She didn't.
Joyce glanced at the paper she'd withdrawn from the envelope, scowled, and fed both of them to the shredder next to the desk. The machine growled, low, deep, and almost as menacing as a wolf.
"Why aren't you doing this upstairs?" I asked.
She didn't answer, just kept opening envelopes and feeding the junk to the machine.
"Joyce? Is there something going on that I should know about?"
More than there already was, that is. I didn't think Joyce was aware of the werewolf problem, and I didn't plan on telling her. She'd think I was crazy, or she'd want to do something to help.
I had enough on my plate worrying about Grace and myself; I didn't need Joyce deciding to hunt the woods as her father had done and winding up wolf bait like Balthazar.
The very thought made me physically ill and brought home just how desperate our situation was. If we didn't stop this thing haunting our town, soon people I knew, people I loved, would no longer be people.
Joyce bit her lip, as if she was trying to keep the words from spilling out. What was she hiding?
"You're not selling mail-order porn, are you?" My voice rose, thinking of the field day Balthazar – well, not Balthazar, but someone from the paper – would have with that scandal.
"What?" She glanced up, then laughed. "Oh, the Cleavers. No. I'm just taking care of stuff."
"What kind of stuff?" I asked warily, thinking of Granny and her still.
"Well, I guess you had to find out sometime."
"Joyce, you're scaring me." Considering what had been going on lately, that was saying a lot.
"I'm doing the extra work whenever I get a few minutes."
"There's a lot more to running Lake Bluff than I've let on. I didn't want you to break and run before you found your stride."
I stared at her for several minutes as I processed that info. "Let me get this straight – you're working down here so I don't find out the job's harder than I think and take off like a chickenshit loser for greener pastures?"
"Pretty much," Joyce agreed, and opened another envelope.
"I thought you had more confidence in me than that."
"I do. But why push my luck? I certainly didn't want Balthazar in charge."
"You won't have to worry about that," I muttered.
She cast me a quick suspicious glance, but she didn't ask how I could be so certain.
"This is ridiculous." I waved at the pile on the desk. "Bring everything upstairs, and I'll help."
"You know, I kind of like it down here. No phone. No one dropping in to whine."
I could see her point. "You want to stay?"
"Maybe just a few hours a day."
"I should still be helping. I don't mind work."
"Once the festival is over, I'll give you a list." Her face took on a wary expression.
"There are a few more meetings you have to chair."
I groaned. "Isn't the council bad enough?"
She smiled. "Nothing as bad as them, though Hoyt left a message."
"I suppose they thought up a bunch of new business."
"Of course. But he also wanted to make sure you were planning on going to the legion with them after the next meeting."
Joyce smiled. "Yep."
"Yeah. You've been anointed, girl. Congrats."
All the way back to my office, I floated. Although I wasn't happy to discover there was more work to being the mayor than I'd thought, it did explain a lot about my dad's obsession. Still I was thrilled that the council had accepted me as one of them so quickly. Those old coots weren't easy to get along with. I doubted they ever would be, even after several pitchers of Bud Light.
My office and the waiting area were still empty. Yahoo. Joyce arrived momentarily.
"Anything else come up this morning?" I asked.
Joyce shook her head, already preoccupied with the mound of paper in her in-box.
"Hold my calls," I said.
Once behind my desk, I stared at my blotter. I should get to work, help out Joyce, but instead my mind went directly to the nights I'd spent with Mal. I relived every touch, every word. Would I be reliving it for the rest of my life?
I turned to my computer, but instead of answering e-mail, I spent the next ten minutes finding a translation site for Gaelic.
"A ghra," I murmured, typing it into the translator.
My love, my dear.
I frowned. He'd said that meant "pixie."
I leaned forward, thinking hard on the other words he'd murmured.
He'd never actually told me what that one meant; however –
"A chroi," I said as I typed.
My heart, my heart's beloved.
A little more personal than "beautiful one," which had been nice enough, but why lie?
Because those words were endearments. If he'd touched me and whispered, "My heart," I'd have known what he kept in his.
What other words had he lied about?
I frowned as I tried to recall, but the only Gaelic he'd used had been that.
I remembered asking him to translate something else. Ruvanush. The title his people had used for him. Romani for leader, an elder.
Or so he said.
I managed to find a site that translated the Romani language, and it only took me forty-five minutes.
"R-u-v-a-n-u-s-h." I stared at the word. "Is that spelled right?"
Shrugging, I hit enter. If it weren't, the thing would spit the word back as unidentifiable.
But it didn't.
I jumped to my feet and ran out of the office, ignoring Joyce as she shouted my name. Seconds later I was in the car, headed for the lake at a speed certain to get me a jail cell if anyone caught me. But I had to get to Malachi, and I had to get there quick.
Because in the language of the Rom, ruvanush meant "werewolf."