The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. (H.P. Lovecraft)
It was late, not midnight but not far from it. Nick pulled to a stop at the curb next to the sign for Wilshire Park. The stretch of grass was was split between shaow and the stuttering blueredbluered lights from the two cops cars already on the scene. Nick wasn't too surprised to see Wu step away from a cluster of uniforms to meet him.
"Thought you were off tonight," Nick said.
Wu smirked, but his eyes looked tired.
"When you can't sleep, put in some overtime, I always say," he muttered.
Nick felt the ever-present prickle of guilt. It was past time they explained to Wu what it was that made Portland (more) odd. Still, now wasn’t the time.
"What do we have?"
Wu led the way into the park, heading towards a police taped-off area as he explained.
"A neighbor across the street was walking her dog when she heard something in the park and Fluffy took off," he said.
"Seriously? The dog's name is actually Fluffy?" Nick had to grin at that.
"Seriously.” Wu said flatly. “After they found... the body, Fluffy's owner called the cops. Hank's over there taking a look. It's pretty weird."
Since weird usually meant "ripped apart in some animalistic way by a Wesen”, Nick made sure to check the surrounding area as he walked towards Hank. The grass, though wet, appeared undisturbed. The rain had slowed to a fine mist that glowed under the yellowed halo of light from the nearby lamppost.
“Sorry to interrupt your evening,” Hank said with a grin when they got closer.
“That’s sweet of you, sir, but I have Tivo,” said Wu smartly. Nick rolled his eyes and joined Hank where he stood over a young woman, probably 20 or so, dead but definitely whole.
"What happened?" he asked.
Hank held up a wallet.
"Meet Beth Stewart, a student at Portland State. Address is only a few blocks away; she might have been taking a shortcut home through the park."
Nick crouched down to get a closer look at the body. Beth had been a pretty girl and whatever had killed her hadn’t really changed that. She just looked… dead. No marks that Nick could see, no blood. He glanced up at Hank.
“Cause of death?”
“Couldn’t see any injuries, not even bruising. She just looks… dead. Hopefully the M.E.’s report can give us more.”
He raised an eyebrow at Nick, asking as plainly as he could if he thought this was Wesen related.
“If people are just randomly dropping dead in parks, Juliette will definitely make me put in for a transfer,” was Nick’s quick reply with a muted shake of his head. No Wesen he’d ever heard of did this.
“You and me both,” Wu said, coming up to stand beside the detectives.
“You said there was a witness?” asked Nick.
Wu gestured back towards the cars, “Ear-witness. Heard a scuffle, then a scream and someone running off through the grass; Officer Franco is with her.”
Nick glanced again at the body, still saw no ready answers and stood up.
“Guess we should go talk to the witness.” As Wu moved away, out of earshot, Nick continued quieter, “And check the books at the trailer.”
Hank looked concerned.
“Think it’s Wesen?” he asked.
“Hard to say, even if Beth was a Wesen, you know that she wouldn’t stay woged, she’d shift back. And I’ve never heard of a Wesen that can kill without leaving a mark. Usually there are too many marks.”
“Okay,” Hank said. “I’ll talk to the witness and make sure that they canvass the area. You never know, this might just be a heart attack or something like that.”
“Then why’d the witness hear someone running?” asked Nick. “Not a very good friend to run from a heart attack.”
“Guess we get to hit the books,” said Hank.
“And I’ll give Monroe a call,” Nick agreed, pulling his phone from his pocket.
“…and Rosaleee wants something lacey, but her mother is all up in arms that she just has to wear her grandmother’s dress, it will be so special, and Rosalee’s sister, man, that woman has a chip the size of a tree on her shoulder and the biting phone calls have been epic.”
He trailed off when he noticed Nick and Hank staring at him with bemusement.
“So. People dropping dead? Bummer,” he offered brightly.
“Heard of anything that can do that?” Hank asked, flipping another page in the book on his lap.
“Well, I mean, that doesn’t really narrow it down,” Monroe waved an arm expansively around the trailer. “When Wesen go bad, it’s not a pretty sight. But really, she just dropped dead? No bites or anything?”
“Not that we could see,” Nick said. “I don’t know, maybe we’re over-reacting and it’s a suspicious death. Did the witness say anything, Hank?”
Hank looked up from his book.
“Said she heard two people fighting with each other, some sort of growling noise and a scream. Then someone running away. Her dog Fluffy-“
“Seriously, Fluffy?” interrupted Monroe.
“Seriously,” Hank said with a glare. “The dog ran into the park, she chased after it, that’s when she saw our vic and called.”
“Huh,” said Monroe. “Well, hanging out with you guys is way more fun than listening to the pros and cons of veil options.”
“Monroe, someone died,” Nick reminded him with a grimace. “I don’t think this counts as a social call.”
“Oh right, my bad,” Monroe said. “We really need to go out for a beer sometime. It’s sad that this is my social life.”
There was a silent moment as all three men thought. Then a collective, slightly embarrassed sigh. ***
One uninformative crime scene later, Nick was yawning his way through a second cup of coffee at his desk when Hank caught his attention while hanging up the phone.
“M.E. just called, wanted us to come down.”
“Oh good,” Nick said, grabbing his coat. “Maybe she found something. Otherwise we have two people dead with no apparent cause of death. The captain wants to know if we need to kill something or call the CDC.”
“Decisions, decisions,” said Hank.
It was only a short walk to the medical examiner’s office.
“This place always gives me the creeps,” Hank muttered as they entered.
“At least they usually tell us something we that makes up for it,” Nick argued as they approached Dr. Harper at the exam table.
Harper greeted them with a flat, “Well, this is new and different.”
“Not really something we wanted to hear,” Hank said. “Care to elaborate? Or should we tell Captain to start breaking out the hazmat suits?”
Harper pulled back the sheet that covered Beth Stewart.
“I’m happy to report there are no mysterious plagues present in Portland at present. Beth Stewart and," she gestured to another sheet covered table, “Greg Nolan were murdered.”
“How?” Hank asked. “There wasn’t a mark on either of them.”
Harper flipped open her report and then gestured to Beth’s forearm.
“Cause of death was massive stroke. Which seems surprising in one so young, and then I noticed during my exam of the body that there was a sticky residue on the victim’s arm. When I ran some tests, I noticed that her system was in complete overload: an exaggerated stress response.”
“Well, seeing as it sounds like was attacked before she died, I’d be stressed too,” Hank said.
“The levels of adrenaline in her system were off the charts,” Harper said. “It’s the equivalent of 3 grams of cocaine being dumped into your bloodstream.”
“Yikes,” Nick offered. “So the sticky stuff was how it got there?”
“I didn’t find any needle marks and the tox screen was clean. I’m guessing your killer dosed them good, then ran. It just appears to be natural death. We’re lucky that I caught it.”
“Could you identify the stuff on her arm? What it was?” Hank said.
Harper shook her head.
“Only that it was similar to the hormonal trigger our bodies make during stress. Someone cooked this up; it’s definitely not something you could buy from the street or a store.”
“Great, thanks. Let us know if you find anything new on the other body.” Nick said hurriedly and practically tugged Hank out of the room. Before Hank could ask him, he said, “The residue on the victim’s arm reminds me of something I saw last night. Let’s get back to the trailer.” ***
Flipping hurriedly, Nick finally found the page he had passed the previous night.
“Dead with no marks, right? This might be it,” he said, and he read:
It was not long after my travels clearing the trail that I came to a settlement on the banks of a river called “Stinking Creek” by those that lived there. The origin of the area’s name became clear when I met the monsterous Weitsprünge.
“Just once, I’d like to find a Wesen whose name is easy to pronounce,” complained Hank. Nick ignored him and continued.
“It’s toad-like features are enough to frighten the steadiest of men, but the real terror came with its touch. An odorous slime emitted by the creature was as deadly as a poison. Only a moment was needed before its victim succumbed to death, yet it was a death the like of which I have never seen.
Each victim appeared to be gripped by unending fear; a terror so profound that it overwhelmed them totally. There were no wounds on the victims’ bodies, so the only conclusion that I can come to is that the Weitsprünge kills its victims through creating an all encompassing terror, one so total that it murders them as completely as any knife or rifle shot.
“Sounds like our guy,” Monroe said. “Does it say how to kill it?”
Nick nodded, then read:
By wearing gloves of the toughest hide, I was able to protect myself from the Weitsprünge’s toxic skin and remove its head with my blade. Further reports I have received of the Weitsprünge (who hunt alone, far from others of their kind) are few and far between, leading be to believe this is a rare evil, though a potent one.
Respectfully submitted on this day, 25th of June 1776 Daniel Boone
“Did you just say Daniel Boone?” demanded Hank. Nick tilted the page to show him the signature. Hank sighed. “Of course, blazing trails and killing Wesen, why not.”
“So, all I have to do is find this toad-looking thing and then chop its head off,” said Nick. “Sounds easy enough.”
“Sounds like you should grab some gloves before you slice and dice,” Hank reminded him. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some gloves of ‘the toughest hide’ hanging around here somewhere.”
Monroe obligingly turned to the nearest cupboard and started digging through the supplies while Nick opened the weapons cabinet to dig out a wickedly sharp knife. He wondered idly where Aunt Marie picked up a machete, but then decided it was safer not to know.
“Found some,” Monroe said finally, sounding a little disgusted. “Can’t tell if this is regular leather or Wesen skin, but it’ll probably do the trick.”
“How will we find it?” Hank asked. “I doubt we can just walk around Portland with gloves and a knife looking for some guy to turn into a toad.”
“Well, the book says that the Weitsprünge hunts alone,” Nick explained. “Judging by how close together the two bodies were found, it seems likely that it might stick around the area. Not to mention that it’ll be as wet tonight as it was when Beth was killed. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Hey, Monroe, the book says that their ‘slime’ has a smell to it. Do you think if we swing by the scene at the park, you might be able to sniff it out?”
“It’s worth a try,” Monroe said. ***
He was more than ready to call it quits as the time passed, the sun began to set and the rain continued to fall. Nick made his way back to the car, already thinking of the hot drink, hot shower and warm bed waiting for him.
Nick was so intent on getting out of the rain that when he heard a voice ask, “hey, man, got a light?” he didn’t even bother to shake his head no. It was only when he heard a guttural growl that he turned to see a rain slickered man who was slowly woging into… yup, it was the Weitsprünge. Shit.
He felt the creature grab him by the arm, but his thick jacket and gloves kept him protected from whatever it was emitting. Smelled awful. Nick aimed a swing at the Weitsprünge’s head, causing it to snarl and pull back, surprised by its vicitm’s continued vigor.
Behind him, Nick could hear a snarl as Monroe, woged and pissed off, ran towards him, but there wasn’t time to wait. He tilted his head back to dodge a swipe from the creature’s dripping hand. Oh, that smell!
Gagging, Nick reached for his machete, struggling to grip it tightly in his wet (and no doubt beslimed) hand. He felt his feet slide on the wet grass and even as he fell backwards he swung out, feeling the blade catch into what he hoped was the Weitsprünge’s neck. They both fell away from each other in opposite directions and Nick felt his breath rush out of his lungs as he slammed into the ground.
He was blinking rainwater out of his eyes and trying to roll to his feet, wincing as he did, when Monroe got to him and offered a hand. Nick paused, hesitating at sight of the sharp Blutbaud claws.
“Oh, sorry man, didn’t realize,” Monroe said, as the red winked out of his eyes and his human features returned. By then, Hank had also appeared.
“You got him, man. Looks pretty tame now that he’s a man again.” He reached out to grab Nick’s hand, but Nick avoided his grip as well.
“Wait, he touched me, I don’t want any of this crap to get on you. You should call it in, Hank, and Monroe, you should probably get out of here. Might be harder to explain why we asked my friend the clock repairman along to catch a double murderer.”
Hank obligingly backed up and let Nick push himself back to his feet. Monroe sketched a cheerful salute.
“Nice work, Nick. Good luck explaining how you took a suspect down with a machete,” Hank said drily.
“Maybe it was the suspect’s?” he said. “I mean, a guy who clearly poisoned his victims with some kind of biological weapon is just the kind of whack job to carry around a machete.”
“Not a bad story.” Monroe said with a grin. “Let me know when you’re done with the cleanup. I really think we do need a beer and to talk about something that isn’t trying to kill us.”
“Still don’t want to go home, huh?” Hank guessed.
“Forget wedding dresses. They’ve moved on to talking about the underwear, and not even the sexy kind. I’ll take a Weitsprünge anyday, man. Any. Day.”