There are two things Selma is renowned for: racing and the upper-middle class. It isn’t just the horses in Ratama Park that are known for their speed, though. As the great Steve Earle pointed out, the pristine conditions make for a great place to put a speed trap.
And I didn’t need any state troopers running checks on my glove box full of various local, state, and federal IDs.
So, at exactly three miles over the speed limit, I snaked my way through the massive houses of Selma, trying my best not to be jealous of their sprawling yards and picture-perfect facades. Sure, every other one of them probably had a husband who drank too much or an unsatisfied wife eyeing the pool boy, wondering whether it was worth the risk, but people in cities like Selma never had to worry about real problems.
You can probably fit all the places I’ve ever lived into one of these houses.
Even now, CERBERUS had me bouncing between extended-stay motels in San Antonio and the base while they tried to find me a more permanent place to set up. After all the things crawling around at the last motel, Stanley was where I was resting my head these days. Maybe I’d suggest a town like Selma.
I wouldn’t mind being a backyard barbecue kind of guy.
As I pulled to a stop on a street named Triangle Ranch, I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head. This place was too nice for my blood, and the crime rate was too low to make it interesting.
That was until recently. A handful of cattle mutilations over the course of a week was either some sort of blight or the calling card of a hungry supe. When the cattle was replaced with human victims, Strickland ordered me to look into it.
The six bodies the police recovered were unidentifiable, save for one. From what the coroner had told me, some poor sap recognized the engagement ring on one of the corpses. His fiancée had been missing for a few days. Luckily, the doc hadn’t shown him the mess of torn flesh, snapped ribs, and loose flaps of skin that resembled roadkill left on hot asphalt more than a human being.
All signs pointed to some kind of ’thrope, but not one that any of the nearby packs seemed keen on dealing with. Which meant I was packing CERBERUS-issued bullets filled with silver and iron filings, and a silver blade hung underneath my jacket. Hell, I even grabbed a silver-plated pen just for good measure.
“Ops is busy with a shitload of ghouls threatening to overrun the Choctaw up north, so I want you running recon on this one,” Strickland told me. “If it really is a rogue ’thrope, I want it detained. Something that’s scaring the wolves off would be a real asset to this organization, if it wants to keep its head on its shoulders.”
I’d been running down leads all day, talking to anyone who claimed to have witnessed the attacks or had a missing persons report out for someone. Selma was a small town, barely more than ten thousand people, but everyone had been spooked by the attacks.
Luckily for me, the residents and police all believed it to be an animal—a normal animal, at least—so I didn’t need to flash DHS or FBI credentials.
I quickly swiped through the information I had on one of the last witnesses on my list: Melvin White. Single, accountant by trade. Wore suits that were too big for him.
Honestly, he was almost impressively unremarkable.
Texas Parks and Wildlife badge in hand, I got out of my car and crossed the street to Melvin’s house. The house was two stories on a lot maybe fifty feet wide and at least twice that deep, countless planters and hanging baskets of flowers offset the bland desert tones of the walls. Reds, yellows, blues, and basically every other color you could think of covered his lawn and bordered his driveway.
The walk up to the accountant’s front door reminded me of a trip through a department store perfume section. Waves of different floral scents washed over me, agitating my sensitive nose and pushing me to the verge of sneezing with each step.
Underneath the potent floral smells was something else, though. Something musky. Sprinkled among the colorful bouquets were old flower arrangements in various states of decomposition. Some were wilted, others dried husks, while some were nothing more than mushy piles of rot heaped on top of soil.
If I had enough money to replace flowers rather than keeping them alive, I’d probably do the same. Keeping things alive was never my strong suit.
It was unlikely anyone other than me or an SNE with a heightened sense of smell would pick up on the dead flowers. Lucky for Melvin, or I’m sure he’d be the gossip of his Stepford neighborhood.
The large wooden door was adorned with a brass knocker, because of course it was. Instead of rapping on the door and requesting the master of the estate, I rang the video doorbell. The scratchy speaker notified me and the owner, but more than a minute passed before Melvin answered.
“Um, hello?” Just like the rest of what I knew about him, Melvin’s voice was as vanilla as it got. No Texas accent, though, so he’d moved to the state at some point.
“Mr. White?” I asked the mechanical lens. “Juan Alvarez, Texas Parks and Wildlife. I was hoping to follow up with you about a reported animal attack.”
Another moment of silence.
I used my best Sunday school manners. “Are you there, sir?”
“Yeah, sorry. Now’s not really a great time.”
I don’t give a shit, Melvin.
“Please, Mr. White. Anything you can tell me will be helpful, then I’ll be on my way.”
Unease tinged each of his words, that much was obvious through the doorbell speaker. I’d probably interrupted his late-afternoon jerk off to some shit that would make a soldier blush. The boring ones were always the most messed up.
Melvin sighed. “Okay, give me a few minutes.”
“Thank you.” He could take all the time in the world, so long as it meant I didn’t have to come back to Selma tomorrow.
Nearly ten minutes later, the door opened to reveal Melvin White. His hair was wet like he’d just washed and combed it to the side in a way only people who worked with spreadsheets knew how to do. He was drowning in oversized gray athletic pants and a white t-shirt, and his running shoes looked brand new.
That wasn’t the worst part, though. Body spray, the kind teenage boys slathered on themselves to hide the smell of puberty, creeped out from Melvin like a miasma. It crawled up my nostrils and singed my nose hairs.
I coughed to stop myself from gagging, but the reaction didn’t escape Melvin’s notice.
“Sorry, I just finished working out,” the accountant explained.
I shook my head. “No need, I have a bit of a scent allergy is all. Nothing serious. Do you mind if I come in? I promise to be as quick as I can.”
Melvin glanced at my ID, then back into his house. After a moment of quiet contemplation, he led me through the massive entrance and into a sitting room. A couch and two armchairs surrounded a coffee table in the beige room. Photos covered the walls, but none featured family. Diffusers sat in two of the outlets in the room, filling the air with enough fake lavender to give the accountant’s body spray a run for its money.
“Can I grab you anything to drink?”
“Water would be great,” I said, jumping on the opportunity to be left alone in the room.
I knew how cagey people were when speaking with authorities. When I was a marshal, I’d learned to scan a room for anything I could use to connect with a witness, anything that might break down the wall between us. And while a Parks and Wildlife warden wasn’t as intimidating as a marshal, Melvin was clearly on edge. He probably wasn’t used to anyone visiting him, much less a public official.
Among the photos were two common themes: corporate events and outdoor pictures with the same group of guys. I had never been a fan of—or been invited to—any corporate events, so I opted to talk about the latter.
“You a big outdoors fan?” I half-shouted so he could hear me from his kitchen.
Pine trees and evergreens filled the photos and brought a splash of color to the otherwise bland wall. A massive, crystal-blue body of water showed up in a few of the images as well.
Melvin came back into the sitting room, a glass of water in each hand. “Absolutely. I go on a camping trip every year with some friends from college.”
“I don’t recognize the scenery,” I said, taking the offered glass and sitting in one of the armchairs. My back to the corner of the room, I had eyes on the door and an easy out through the kitchen to my right if the ’thrope chose the wrong time to get rid of witnesses. “Somewhere up north?”
He nodded. “Canada. On the shores of Hudson Bay. It’s a beautiful place, still mostly untouched by people.”
“Can’t complain about that.” That part wasn’t a ruse. I wouldn’t have minded living somewhere with a population of zero most days. “I prefer the desert to snow, though.”
“You’ve got to aim for the few weeks before it gets cold, then. The ground isn’t frozen, and the animals are a little more active so they can stock up before winter.” He was more confident when he spoke about camping than he was before.
When I asked him about the animal attack, though, that confidence vanished again.
“I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, Mr. Alvarez. It was dark, I could barely see a thing. And when I finally did make out some details, there was… there was so much blood.” His voice softened with each word. “I’m lucky it didn’t come after me. If those others hadn’t shown up, I might have been…”
“You’ve probably seen your fair share of animals while camping, though, right?”
He bobbed his head in a non-committal gesture. “Yeah, a few. Heard some wolves once. Saw a bobcat another time. But it’s the wolverines and moose you need to watch out for.”
I cocked my head. “Moose are dangerous?”
“And massive. A cow will trample you to death if you stray too close to her calf.”
Melvin mentioned a few other things about Canadian wildlife, but all of it was about normal, non-supernatural animals. Sure, the guy was awkward, but he didn’t have anything that would help.
Onto the next, then.
Before standing, I took a sip of the water he’d given me. When the glass touched my lips, the same musky smell from outside cut through the haze of body spray and essential oils. It was only then that I realized the odor wasn’t rotting plants. The decay was being used to cover up another smell, one that made my skin crawl and my instincts scream.
“And you’re sure you didn’t see anything?” I prodded.
Melvin averted his eyes. “Like I said, it was all a blur.”
From my pocket, I procured a small notepad and my pen, then I slid them both across the table to the accountant. “Mind jotting your number down? Just in case I have any questions.”
“Of course. Sorry I couldn’t—”
A scream replaced his next words when Melvin picked up the silver-plated pen. Charred flesh mixed with the medley of scents in the living room.
“You’ve got to be fucking with me.” I jumped to my feet and drew my sidearm. “You’re the werewolf?”
Melvin’s scream changed pitch, going from a squeal to something wet, guttural. The sound made the hair on my arms stand up and clarified exactly how much shit I was in.
“Not… a wolf,” the accountant spat through pained grunts. “Can’t… control. Run!”
I sprang to my feet and drew my sidearm, a Glock 20 loaded with enough silver rounds to subdue most lycanthropes. Even as I shouted my warning for Melvin to stop his transformation and cooperate, I couldn’t help but watch the change with a certain awe.
Melvin’s body convulsed, the bones in his limbs cracking and realigning in new, monstrous shapes. His spine elongated, pushing his chest forward and giving him a hunched, animalistic posture. His skin rippled and bulged as muscles swelled and expanded beneath it, his veins pulsing with raw power.
As the transformation progressed, Melvin’s features became increasingly bestial. His nose grew longer and broader, flaring with every ragged breath he took. His ears shifted and twisted on his skull, becoming pointed and covered in tufts of coarse hair. His eyes, once human, turned yellow and slit-pupiled, glinting with a wild, ferocious intelligence.
I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the sight before me, a terrifying transformation that spanned mere seconds. Thick fur of browns, grays, and whites covered Melvin’s body, each strand standing out in sharp relief against his corded muscles. His hands and feet were massive paws, tipped with razor-sharp claws that clicked against the floor as he moved. And his teeth… dios mío, they were each weapons in their own right. Those fangs were long and pointed, jutting out from his powerful jaws in a fearsome display of primal aggression.
The ’thrope’s hair bristled in agitation, his breaths short and furious.
Thank God for that hair. The beast in front of me was naked, but bushy enough to keep himself modest. And, judging by the size of everything else, the thing dangling between his legs would’ve made a stallion self-conscious.
Melvin, now more Hulk than accountant, hunched over before me, shoulders rising and falling in deep, raspy breaths.
“Don’t do something stupid, Mr. White.” I kept my sidearm trained on the hairy monstrosity. Sure, he was a killing machine, but ’thropes were still intelligent.
A laugh slipped out from behind wicked fangs, a series of quick, wet, and horrifying “heh-heh-hehs” that reminded me of throat singing. Melvin lifted his head, black slits staring at me down an elongated snout. There wasn’t anything left of the accountant in that gaze. All I saw was bloodlust.
“Last warning, Melvin.” I kept the barrel of my Glock aimed at center mass. It would hurt like hell, but Strickland wanted this guy alive.
In response, the ’thrope let out a growl loud enough to shake the windows in their panes. Pointed ears pinned back, Melvin charged me, covering the distance between us so quickly I barely managed to fire a spray of bullets. Each one of the silver projectiles bit into the accountant’s fur-covered flesh, but they didn’t slow him in the slightest.
Actually, they might have pissed him off more.
Melvin swung one of his hands at me. Each finger boasted a claw that was almost comically long, but there was nothing funny about what they would do to my flesh. I ducked the first swipe, only to find myself backpedaling away from the other claw a second later.
The ’thrope kept advancing, a flurry of claws looking to turn me into strands of skin ribbons. My heel bumped into one of the armchairs, warning me I’d run out of space. Another spray of bullets, these ones striking arms and chest alike, made Melvin hesitate long enough for me to roll over the back of the chair. It fell backward with me, cushioning my descent.
I came up firing again, this time aiming for Melvin’s legs. At this rate, I needed to shred one of his knees to stop him from coming at me again. But Melvin pounced forward, soaring above the overturned chair and most of my shots. The ’thrope used me as a landing pad. Before I knew what was happening, I was underneath eight-hundred pounds of fur and muscle, fangs buried into my shoulder.
Bone cracked underneath the force of Melvin’s bite, which elicited an appropriately loud “Fuck!” in response. Before he took my arm off, I shoved the barrel of my Glock into his flank and unloaded the last of the rounds.
That grabbed the beast’s attention. He let go of my shoulder to let out a pained howl, then swatted at me with one of his clawed mitts. A noise not unlike nails on a chalkboard accompanied the talons slicing into my chest until they hit my ribs, and the force of the attack sent me sliding a dozen feet away, until I was halfway into the kitchen.
A trail of crimson painted the floor as I slid.
Not good. That’s a lot of blood…
That concludes this sneak peek of Felony Magic. Click here to start reading Felony Magic now!