Kitty Goes to War Page 30

So. Here we were. Having drinks. Like normal grown-up people. What came next, again? Conversation? Oy.

We managed a half hour of small talk—a very human activity. I was pleased. By the end the two soldiers had even stopped looking around like they expected an attack.

Then Walters said, “I wish Van was here. If we could get him here, you could help him. Show him that we can be normal—”

“Ethan, you have to let Vanderman go,” I said.

He appeared so forlorn, looking at me with a lost gaze. He had both hands wrapped around his glass, clinging to it.

By then, we’d nearly finished our sodas, which meant it was probably time to quit while we were ahead, or cut our losses, whichever metaphor seemed more appropriate. I waved at Shaun, put the drinks on my tab, and herded the pack toward the door.

On our way, Walters stopped by the bar near Becky, who stood, uncertain, one hand clenching the edge of her seat. She didn’t back up, but I could sense her quivering, as if she wanted to. Shaun looked like he might leap over the bar at him. We all watched, astonished.

Walters kept a space between them, wide enough that he couldn’t reach out to touch her. Ducking his gaze, deferential, he took a moment to gather himself, his lips moving, working to say something. Probably struggling at the wolf roiling inside him. The smells, the wolfishness and hormones they’d sensed in the forest, were still apparent. However faint, our wolves could sense them.

Finally, Walters said, “I’m sorry.”

He slouched, rounding his back, shoving his hands in his pockets, and stomped away.

Becky and I looked at each other. She was wide-eyed, a little baffled. I shook my head, unable to explain, beyond the fact that Walters was socially awkward but trying. I waved a farewell to her and Shaun, and followed the others outside.

I was surprised to find the world overcast but brightly lit—still afternoon. I felt like we should have been at about two in the morning. I’d exhausted myself, just from sitting there. We all looked that way. Ben was glancing up and down the street, as if expecting trouble. Tyler and Walters remained sullen, turned in on themselves.

Shumacher waited near her car. “Well? What happened?”

I stepped with her away from the others to discuss. “I think it went fine. You can tell me after you take a look at the footage.” She was no doubt on her way to retrieve her cameras.

“No problems? Everything was normal?”

“I wouldn’t call it normal,” I said. “Not with this crowd. But we’re all alive, aren’t we? Hey—can we talk about this later? They’re tired and probably ought to get home.”

She looked like she had more questions, but relented. I urged my pack into the car, and we rolled away. I had to admit, I let out a sigh of relief when they were once again safely behind their locked door at the VA hospital.

The field trip had been a success, and there was hope for Tyler and Walters.

Chapter 12

A COUPLE OF days had passed since we’d followed Franklin and he put the whammy on us. I hadn’t heard from him since.

I’d distracted myself by worrying about the werewolf soldiers. And I had a show to get ready for. I wanted to bring on Tyler and Walters for an interview—real-live werewolves in the army, what did that mean, and so on. It was topical, newsworthy, interesting, and I didn’t believe for a minute that Colonel Stafford or Dr. Shumacher would agree to let it happen. I was working on compromise ideas, like maybe conducting a prerecorded interview that the powers that be could approve. I fantasized about possible interview questions, and how I could be sympathetic, yet incisive and hard-hitting at the same.

Ben and I talked about Cormac not answering his phone. He insisted he wasn’t worried, that Cormac was fine, that he often went for weeks without communicating with anyone. He didn’t want to annoy Cormac by babying him. But he spoke as if he was trying to convince himself.

I didn’t have that problem, so I stopped by his place on my way home from work. Just to check, for my own peace of mind. And to make sure Franklin hadn’t gone after him.

Cormac had an apartment at the north end of town, in a run-down building in a run-down neighborhood off I-25 and the Boulder Turnpike. One in thousands. He could melt into the city, not stand out, not get in trouble. That was the idea.

I parked next to his familiar Jeep in the parking lot. So, his Jeep was here. He hadn’t fled anywhere, and nothing about it looked like he had gotten in trouble. Maybe he’d been home the whole time and just ignoring us. Maybe he forgot to charge his phone. I was just being paranoid. Maybe that was it.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor and knocked on his door. There wasn’t a window in front for me to peer through. I drew a couple of slow, careful breaths through my nose, taking in smells. I caught his scent, the soap, leather, and ruggedness of him. He’d been here recently. I didn’t sense anything that set my hair on end—like, say, blood. But I did smell a tang of burning sage, like incense. It tickled my nose and touched a memory—a ritual, a magic spell.

Confused, uneasy, I knocked again.

The door opened and Cormac stood there, staring a moment, blinking in surprise. He gripped the doorknob. His light brown hair was tousled and his eyes were shadowed, sleepless. He wore a white T-shirt and jeans. Socks, no shoes.

“Hi,” I said, raising my hand in a stupid little wave. “We haven’t heard from you in a few days and I wanted to… I guess see if you’d found anything out. And… are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

“Can I come in?” The smell of smoke and burned sage grew stronger when he opened the door. My first thought had been that someone—Franklin—had cast a spell on his place. But the burning had happened inside. Cormac had never struck me as the incense-burning type.

Frowning, he stood aside to let me enter.

I hadn’t been here since we helped him move in—a process that took about an hour and involved two pieces of furniture and a cardboard box—and he’d scowled at my suggestion of a housewarming party. The apartment wasn’t much. It aspired to be a studio, in fact. They called these efficiencies. A square room, part of a block of square rooms, it had a tiny bathroom with a shower stall, a window in back, a kitchenette of sorts with a small, dorm-sized fridge, a sink, and a hot plate. It all seemed terribly grim. But then, I had no idea how Cormac had lived before he went to prison. His home then might have been just like this.

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