It was so early in the morning that it might still accurately be called night, and Agent Danny Taylor was swigging coffee and leaning against the car, unmindful of the eddying red lights illuminating the scene.
This was his least favorite way to start a day, and his least favorite way to end a case. Instead of reporting back to Mrs. Hassan that her husband had turned up in a hospital or jail cell or motel room, he was going to have to tell her that her husband had turned up in an alley, dead.
The coroner’s guys were finally taking the body bag away. Martin finished talking with the techies and headed toward him.
“How do you die of an animal attack in New York City?” Martin asked.
Danny slurped his coffee and shrugged. He’d been contemplating that very question for the past two hours, and had yet to come up with a good answer. Martin’s phone went off and he flipped it open.
“Yeah,” he said, then, “All right, well, it was worth a shot. Thanks for checking.”
He snapped the phone shut. “All big cats and canines accounted for at the zoos,” he told Danny.
“Hmm,” Danny said, and drained his cup. He pitched it into a trash can. “Leaves dog or escaped illegal exotic animal.”
“ME said no way was that a dog,” Martin answered, shaking his head. “Wolf, at least.”
Danny shrugged. He’d seen some pretty big dogs in his day, bigger than any wolf. Personally, he was leaning toward a pet tiger or something on the loose. With any luck, the thing would have mauled its owner before hitting the streets. Some people just didn’t understand that there was a reason they were called wild animals.
* * *
It was so late in the day that it might now accurately be called night, and Danny was again swigging coffee and leaning against the car, because a street cop had uncovered another body, this one so badly mauled that they couldn’t tell if it was male or female, and probably two nights old. That made two kills in two nights.
Sometimes Danny just didn’t like his job.
Martin headed toward him, shaking his head. “They’re going to try to pull prints down at the lab,” he said. He reached out and took Danny’s cup out of his hand, tossing back what was left inside. “We gotta find this thing.”
“Animal control?” Danny asked, and Martin nodded at a man and a woman in blue jumpsuit uniforms talking to the techies.
“They’re talking about calling in a specialist from U.S. Wildlife, can you believe it?” he said. “We’re in the Bronx.”
“This used to be farmland,” Danny said. “This was a trip to the country.”
“Yeah?” Martin said. “People get mauled to death by lots of cows and chickens back then?” He went around the car and got in the passenger side, slamming the door. Danny guessed he was ready to go.
* * *
NYPD and U.S. Wildlife took over the case, and Danny was coming off a frantic three-day search for a missing five-year-old, now safely in her mother’s arms, when Martin passed him in the hallway, keys in hand, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the elevator.
The victim was a homeless guy, ground up under an overpass, and there was a witness. Unfortunately, the witness went by the name of “Clyde Frog” and had reached that point of alcoholism where you were never actively drunk, just permanently pickled.
“It was a wolf,” Clyde Frog told them earnestly. “But it was a man. It was a Wolf-Man!”
“What, like Teen Wolf?” Danny asked, and Clyde Frog stared at him blankly.
“Like a man who’s a wolf,” Clyde Frog repeated.
“Thank you, Mr. Frog,” Martin said, closing his notebook. “We appreciate your time.”
They gave Clyde Frog a cup of hot coffee and a still-good sandwich that was in the back of the car and left the mangled body in the hands of the NYPD. Danny let Martin drive and leaned against the smooth, cool glass of the passenger window.
“Think it’s the same thing that killed Hassan?” Martin asked, and Danny was too tired to shrug.
“It’s been a month,” he said, and let his eyes close. “Probably not. Wild dogs, other bums, crazy hopped-up kids in werewolf masks. Not our case, anyway.”
“Yeah.” Martin was quiet and Danny was in a near doze when his partner hesitantly said, “Maybe it really is –“
“Martin,” Danny said, opening his eyes and putting warning in his voice. “Shut up.”
“All right, all right,” Martin grumbled, and shut up about it.
* * *
When Danny walked out of his front door the next morning, Martin was parked at the curb. His saving grace was that he had coffee in the car waiting for Danny.
The victim was a college student, coming home from a late-night shift at the corner diner. He’d been dragged behind a building, and Danny had to admit, it looked like something had enjoyed him as a late supper.
He let Martin poke around and ask questions while Danny looked at the brick wall behind the body. It was taller than him, quite a jump for a canine. There was a large, muddy paw print on it, big as Danny’s hand.
“Hey, Danny!” Martin called, and he meandered over to where Martin was talking to a couple of suits, detectives probably.
“This is Agent Scott and Agent Johnson from U.S. Wildlife,” Martin said, gesturing to the two men. “My partner, Agent Danny Taylor.”
Danny nodded cordially and shook the men’s hands. “Scott and Johnson,” he said. “Like the AC/DC lead singers.”
“Dude, classic rock fan,” said the shorter one, Scott, then looked abashed when his partner shot him a look. “Er, no one ever gets it. Cracks me up.”
“So, what does U.S. Wildlife think?” Danny asked. “Escaped tiger? Wild dogs?”
“Wild dogs, maybe,” Johnson said. “Wolf more likely.”
“People traffic those?” Martin asked.
“Sometimes,” Johnson said. “Some people like to breed them with dogs. All illegal, of course. We’ll find it.”
“Soon, I hope,” Danny said. “It’s got a taste for man-flesh.”
Scott shrugged. “We’re in the city, man. Not much else for it to eat,” he pointed out, and Danny nodded.
He jerked a thumb at Martin. “Agent Fitzgerald thinks it’s a werewolf,” he said, dead-pan, and Martin shot him a dirty look.
“We had a witness who said it was a wolf-man,” Martin said carefully.
Scott took out his notepad and flipped through it. “Which one was that?”
“The homeless guy,” Martin said.
Scott made a note. “Remember the witness’ name?” he asked.
Martin flushed. “Ah,” he said, and Danny supplied, “Clyde Frog.”
Scott and Johnson looked at them, eyebrows raised in identical skepticism.
Scott shut his notebook. Johnson looked at Martin.
“It’s not a werewolf, Agent Fitzgerald,” he said firmly, and Martin turned bright red.
“Obviously,” Martin said.
“Obviously,” Johnson repeated, then shifted his gaze to include both of them. “We’ll let you know when we wrap this up so that you can close your file.”
“Thanks,” Danny said.
On the way to the office, Danny said, “Are you thinking it’s a man who becomes a wolf or a half-wolf, half-man?”
“I hate you,” Martin said, and Danny laughed.
“I know,” he said.
* * *
They ran into Vivian in the elevator.
“Another dine and dash?” she asked.
“U.S. Wildlife has it,” Martin said.
Behind him, Danny mouthed “Werewolf” to Vivian, then stretched his face into a fiercesome visage. He held up clawed hands and waved them menacingly at the back of Martin’s head.
“Good,” Vivian said. “Hope they close it fast.”
She got off the elevator three floors before them. The doors closed behind her. Danny pawed the air some more.
“I can see you,” Martin said. His face, reflected in the shiny doors, was tight with frustration.
Danny growled and slobbered.
* * *
U.S. Wildlife never sent them a final report, but the next month was mangled-bodiless. It wasn’t in Danny’s nature to question why corpses weren’t turning up.
It was paperwork day and he and Martin had commandeered the conference room and covered the table in files, coffee cups and sandwich wrappers. Danny was so engrossed in the fascinating minutia of the FBI coding system that he didn’t even bother looking up when the door opened.
Someone slapped a file down in front of him.
“Agents Taylor and Fitzgerald?” someone demanded, and Danny looked up to see a very pissed-off looking black man in a nice suit in front of him. A bored-looking white guy in a decidingly cheaper suit lingered near the door.
“Yeah?” Danny said.
The man pointed at the file. “Are you the geniuses who talked to these two guys?”
Danny looked at the file. Clipped to it were two photographs.
“Agents Scott and Johnson,” Martin supplied, standing up to lean over the table and take a look. “From U.S. Wildlife. They were tracking some kind of loose wild animal.”
Danny noticed that Agents Scott and Johnson were in mug shots.
“Ah,” he said.
“That’s right,” the black man yelled. “Ah! Let me ask you something, Agents Taylor and Fitzgerald. You two ever bother to take a look at OUR OWN FREAKING MOST WANTED LIST?”
“Yeah,” Danny said slowly. He had a feeling this was going to result in a lot of paperwork. He also had a feeling that he and Martin were going to have to do that paperwork standing up after Jack got through with them.
* * *
Martin was unloading the file box from the back seat when Danny said his name. He twisted in his seat to look at his partner.
”It could have been a werewolf,” he said, and put on his I’m-not-making-fun-of-you-face.
“You heard Agent Hendrickson,” Martin said. “These guys are kooks. They run around killing people because they think they’re werewolves or demons or witches or whatever.”
“Yeah,” Danny said, and then added, “They didn’t seem like kooks.” He held up a hand at the look on Martin’s face. “I’m just saying . . . I’m sorry I made fun of you.”
Martin smiled. “Thanks, man.”
Danny jerked his head in acknowledgement. “Have fun with those wanted files,” he said.
“You too,” Martin said.
Danny sighed as he pulled away, eyeballing his own file box in the back seat. It was going to be a long night.
* * *
In the parking garage, Vivian pulled a phone out of her glove compartment. It was pre-paid, with cash, and couldn’t be traced to her unless someone actually took it out of her car. She almost never used it.
She flipped it open now and dialed.
“Hello,” a man said at the other end.
“I hope you boys know what you’re doing, because most people who are on the FBI’s most wanted list try to avoid contact with the officials,” she said.
“Vivian!” the man said with delight. “How you doin’?”
“Dean,” she said wearily, “your father would…” She didn’t finish, because it really was a shame about John Winchester. “Your friend Hendrickson was here today harassing my boys.”
Dean laughed. “Better them than us,” he said. “That was like a month ago. Hendrickson’s off his game.”
“Don’t underestimate him,” Vivian warned. “He’s good, and he’s determined. There’s a reason the Bureau put him on your ass.”
Dean pfftted. “We’re long gone,” he said. “I trust there haven’t been any more problems?”
“Not your kind of problems,” Vivian confirmed, then added, “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” Dean said sincerely.
“Be careful,” Vivian said with a sigh. “Take care of each other.”
“We always do,” Dean assured her, and she snapped the phone shut.