Full Moonster [BUREAU 13 Book Three] (5 page)

True enough. Footprints were like fingerprints, totally unique and they never change. Both the FBI and Bureau 13 identified many a weird corpse by processing prints taken off the feet to compare with hospital birth records. It was a long and tedious process, despite the recent augmentation of government computers, but it did work. Well, eventually.

"Besides, they may be ... wearing the heads as a disguise,” I finished. It was a very strange business we were in.

"Appears as if the victims were physically pulled out the windows of their cars,” Donaher said, brushing a tattered coat sleeve. “Note the tiny glass particles on their clothes? And here, and over there, on the road."

Yanked out of the closed window of a moving vehicle? Wow. Our mysterious perps were seriously tough hombres. Even worse than South Philly cops. Curiously, I glanced about for any splotches of green, yellow or black fluids. “Any blood that isn't human?"

The priest frowned. “None that I can see."

"Damn,” I said frowning. Standing in the middle of the roadway, I tried to reconstruct the sequence of events in my mind.

"Okay. Cars are driving along this road. Something, or things, jump onto the vehicles and pull the drivers out through the windows.” I glanced around at the trees and safety barrier. “So how come there are no automobile wrecks? What'd they do? Eat the cars?"

A few yards away, George put two fingers in his mouth and gave a sharp whistle. “Over here!” he cried, motioning us closer. “I found skid marks!"

Joining him, I saw long irregular streaks on the road surface that told the story of brakes applied hard and fast. Many of the tracks overlapped each other.

"How many vehicles?” Raul asked, pulling off the shoes of a corpse to take toe prints.

"Ten, twelve cars,” I estimated.

Holding her wand over the pools of blood, Katrina distorted her face into an expression of disgust. “Which implies many killers."

"Ominous,” Raul agreed, applying a sheet of shiny white paper to the soles of the headless man. The acid in the skin began to form recognizable patterns of the specially treated paper. It wasn't an invention of the Bureau's, just standard FBI issue field equipment. Ed's Rule for Easy Living: Never re-invent the wheel.

Kneeling on the berm, Mindy prodded the laurel bushes along the edge of the road with the tip of her sword. “They came through here,” she announced, with conviction. “And hid behind this clump of evergreen trees."

"Any details?” Donaher growled, standing again to grimly jack the pump-action on his Remington 12-gauge shotgun. Father Mike considered killing monsters a holy chore, and it was one that he performed with relish, ketchup and mustard.

Tapping the flat of her blade in a callused palm, Mindy squinted thoughtfully at the leaves. “Fifty ... maybe sixty. Humans."

Everybody stopped doing everything.

"Humans?” George said with a frown. “You sure?"

Glancing over a shoulder, Mindy gave him a look that would have ignited a lesser man. “Yes, I'm sir. Dress shoes, high heels, slippers, bare feet, boots, and a lot of sneakers,” she replied. “This soil is nicely moist and holds the tracks well."

"Sneakers?” Donaher asked, rubbing a hand across his wild crop of red hair.

Stepping back, Mindy gestured at the bushes. “Take a look for yourself."

Careful not to disturb any possible evidence, Mike and I ambled closer and stared at the exposed dirt. It appeared to be perfectly smooth and unmarred. But that's one of the reasons we have Ms. Jennings along. She could follow a drop of rain in a typhoon, while I often experience trouble locating my car keys.

"Now the problem is here,” Mindy said, kneeling to finger the blank ground. “These are human shoeprints, but this is no normal human stride pattern. Its rather vaguely similar to the tracks of a hoofed demon, but slightly different. Smoother, and lighter."

"Maybe they were little demons?” Katrina asked scowling, miniature lightning bolts crackling nervously along the length of her wooden wand.

The stars on his T-shirt twinkling brightly, Raul leaned in close. “Those are called imps,” he said in a mocking stagewhisper.

Coolly bemused, the Russian mage snorted. “
. Thanks."

"Imps wearing boots?” Jessica asked, sounding as if she did not really believe the idea herself.

Scowling darkly, Mindy shook her head. “There is no sign of any tail drag. Nor is any of the grass wilted from any brimstone contamination."

"Hey, Ed,” Raul said slowly, suddenly looking pensive, “do you think it might be some more of the Augmented Men?"

Fighting off a shiver at the memory, I vehemently shook my head. “We killed the last of those schizo mechazoids in Idaho. This is something new and nasty."

"Strange and serious."

"Deadly and dangerous,” George said finishing the slogan.

"And hairy as a hound,” Father Donaher added unexpectedly.

Eh? That wasn't part of the litany.

Using tweezers, the priest lifted a miniscule item from a crimson splattered shoulder of a well-dressed corpse. “Behold, Edward, this was done by werewolves!"

Now the whole team hurried closer, and the long coarse hair was passed around for closer inspection.


"Can it...?"


Damnation, this was making no sense. Each new clue seemed to contradict the others. The marks on the victims appeared to be done by an amateur, yet identification was expertly removed. The tracks were human, tool-using humans, but with a werewolf hair was on the bodies. Okay, so it was humans, or humanoids, with supernatural strength, speed, agility. But certainly not dumb’ ol werewolves. Those idiots driving cars? Using machetes?

"Impossible,” Jessica snorted, holding the follicle to the sun. Then the stern expression on her face softened into puzzlement. “Ed, werewolves are not sentient. Wolfmen even less so!"

Tucking a stray length of blonde hair back into place, Katrina appeared puzzled. “Explain, please. Werewolf, wolfman, are not same?"

"Faith, lass, a werewolf is a person who assumes the partial form and abilities of a wolf,” Donaher said lugubriously. “While a wolfman is an animal which achieves the partial structure of a human."

"Both are not smart?"

"Dumber than a politician,” I stated firmly, shifting my grip on the Magnum revolvers. “Its only in the movies and bad horror novels that were-creatures chat on the phone or use a coffee machine. The best we've every encountered was a wolfman who figured out how to trigger a rifle. Unfortunately for him, the muzzle was pointing in the wrong direction."

Looking at the bodies, Raul nodded in agreement. “Most werewolves are stymied by revolving doors and light switches. It's the lone saving grace in fighting the bastards. Weres are the meanest, toughest, most stubborn, amoral, devious sons-of-bitches in this whole dimension."

"Even worse than corporate lawyers?” she asked in shock.

Grimly, he gave a nod. “Yep."

With her butterfly flapping nervously, Katrina muttered something appropriate in Russian. “So were-creatures stealing wallets is impossible?"

"Absolutely,” I stated.

"Then how came this to be?"

There she had us stumped. Lifting my wrist, I activated my wristwatch, established a relay link with our van and turned on the scrambler circuit.

"Calling Merlin's Tower,” I said loud and clear. Hopefully the transmission could be heard. The Rocky Mountains were dense enough to foul anybody's communications system.

"This is Merlin's Tower,” the Voice of the Bureau answered. “Identify, please."

"This is Team Tunafish. Report number 3 for 7/26."

"Stardate 4132.96,” Raul muttered.

Gently, Mindy slapped him up the back of the head, and he grinned in sheepish embarrassment.

Mages, sigh. I shot him a disapproving glare, and then continued, “We have a multiple slaying on a country road outside Hadleyville, West Virginia. Indications are that the killing was possibly done by intelligent werewolves."

"By what?” crackled the Voice from my watch.

Amused expressions came from the team. It was the first time the Voice of the Bureau had ever interrupted a field report.

"Intelligent werewolves,” I repeated slowly, driving the point home. “There may be a link between the deaths and the ethereal explosion of yesterday. We will investigate, and report every 30 minutes from this mark.” I hit a button on my watch and it gave a musical beep. D-flat, I believe. “If we miss two reports consider this area a Class Alpha Three hot zone and send in General MacAdams and the Phoenix Squad."

A short whistle of astonishment started, but then was cut short. Must be a new guy at Communications. “Ah, acknowledged, Tunafish."

"Roger, base. Over and out."

"Over and out,” the tiny speaker crackled.

Shaking my watch to terminate the transmission, I grimly reached into a pocket and started screwing a Bureau 13 silencer onto the barrel of my Model #42 ultra-lightweight Magnum. The muzzle blast of my heavy-duty Model #66 gave even magical silencers an annoying tendency to explode, which simply ruined my aim. However, I made good-and-goddamn sure both pistols were loaded with blessed silver bullets.

"Okay,” I announced, easing the cylinders closed. “The stolen cars will take hours to trace, so let's follow the forest trail. Maybe we can find the transdimensional hole, the flying saucer these things landed in, or whatever caused these freaks."

Steadfast, my team murmured assent.

I clicked back both hammers. “On foot. Standard formation. Single file, one meter spread. Mindy on point. George take the rear."


"No problem, Ed."

As we entered the thick array of bushes, I noted a faded sign on the road that boasted: ‘Welcome to Hadleyville. Population 2,572.’ Somehow, I doubted the first and seriously wondered about the validity of the second.

We lost sight of the carnage proceeding into the morass of low bushes, tall trees and wide shrubbery that composed the dense West Virginia forest. In ragged stages, the cool, lush greenery swallowed us whole. Then the plants attacked.

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In a wild explosion of green and brown, the bushes raked at our faces, weeds whipped our legs, and trees slammed their limbs towards our heads. Even the very grass under our feet moved trying to trip us. Cursing in a dozen languages, my team stumbled into a defensive circle firing every weapon we owned.

"Alex Haley!” I cried aiming my Magnums for the roots. A thorny vine ripped away the front of my shirt exposing the molded body armor underneath. As my bullets blasted the vine apart, sticky sap spraying into the air, I made a mental note that I must get tougher shirts.

"Huey, Dewey and Louie!” George shouted, and we all ducked.

In a stuttering roar, his banjo began spiting flame. For a single moment, the protective illusion faded to reveal the huge ungainly M60 machine rifle in his trained grip. The shiny belt of linked ammunition dangling from the breech mechanism of the huge weapon shrank with alarming speed, as the heavy duty .30 combat rounds chewed a path of destruction through the attacking foliage.

A prismatic blur, Mindy's sword was out, the long blade flashing with rainbow eagerness. A tree branch thrust close to her and withdrew as kindling. Jessica's camera sprayed pneumatic death at the Spanish Moss. Father Donaher's shotgun boomed a hellstorm of hot lead; blowing away bushes, destroying daisies and pulverizing pansies.

"...!” Raul shouted in the secret language of mages, and a howling blizzard of ice and snow began blasting from the business end of his wizard's staff.

"...!” Katrina added as volcanic flames poured from her own wand.

In deadly harmony, the two mages went back-to-back, and turning round each other, overlapped the area-effect zone of their spells. Soon, the nearby greenery was reduced to charred ice statues and dirty snow, with only a muddy band of steaming bare ground encircling our group..

As the rest of the forest rustled its leaves in unbridled anger, we caught our breaths. Whew. I'd heard about planting a trap, but ... trapping the plants?

"Thank you, Lawn Doctor Mengele,” I said saluting.

Flushed with excitement, Raul smiled. “No prob, chief-a-roo."

"My pleasure, comrade,” Katrina said, firing a miniature Lightning Bolt at a suspicious hunk of honeysuckle. The plant fried and dropped the rusty nail it had been hiding behind its stalk.

While reloading my Magnums, I noted that my Bureau sunglasses gave no Kirlian aura reading off these ambulatory plants. There was no white for good, black for evil, green for magic. Nothing! Maybe botanical life was too primitive to register.

"This was a trap,” Father Donaher stated, ramming fresh shells into his shotgun. “If the plants had been simply trying to get food, they would have attacked the instant Mindy was among them."

"Instead, they waited for the lot of us,” I shivered. Swell.

After cleaning some sap off my sunglasses, I adjusted the focus and gave the combat zone a fast once over. While the brunt of the dense forest separated us from the van, there was only scattered bushes between here to Hadleyville. No details of the place were clearly visible at this range. Just buildings and houses. Interestingly, not a person was running this way to find out what the firefight had been about. Not very surprising. We had already surmised that nobody was alive, or at least conscious, in the village. Could the plants have attacked the cars on the highway?

"Should we go back for the RV?” Jessica asked, screwing a telephoto lens onto her camera.

Scornfully,, Mindy curled lip. “Retreat? Never!"

A tiny meteor shooting across his starry chest, Raul proffered his wristwatch. “I can call Amigo, and have him bring the van to us."

"The way that lizard drives?” George scoffed, working the bolt on his banjo to clear a jammed round. “No thanks. We're safer with the plants."

"Besides,” Jessica added, “his license is expired."

"Priority one is getting to Hadleyville,” I reminded, stomping on a dandelion trying to get up my pants leg. “If there are any survivors trapped, they may need immediate evac and medical help."

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