Friday, March 26, 2010

Hounded by Cherie Reich

Hounded

by Cherie Reich



A lone man sat at the desk in an office a little bigger than a jail cell. He tapped the pen against his thin lips for a moment before writing in a five in the lower right corner of the Sudoku puzzle. As his brown eyes searched for other fives, he heard the distinctive dull click of heels on the wood floor. He paused and tilted his head to listen to the woman's gait. The steps grew louder, and he wondered if she was coming to see him or someone else in the three-story building.

A woman's silhouette paused outside the frosted-glass door. She clearly read the name on the door and something written on a piece of paper that she held in her hand. Her slim arm lifted to knock on the door. She hesitated. Her hand rose again but then fell to her side. He watched as she turned away and took three steps away from the door before she spun back around. As her knuckles rapped upon the wooden door frame, his voice called out, "Come in."

The doorknob turned, and a beautiful woman entered the small office. She was tall and as lithe as a feline. Her black hair fell straight to her mid-back. Her complexion was fair, and she had startling green, almond-shaped eyes. "Are you Detective Toby Hound?"

"Yes, I am. Please, have a seat." The man motioned to the folding chair in front of the desk as he folded up his newspaper and sat it on the desk. He ran his fingers briefly over his russet brown hair. "How can I help you, Miss?"

"Miss Reynolds," she supplied. "Catherine Reynolds, but most people call me Cat." He gave her an encouraging nod to continue. A pink tongue darted out and wetted her lips. "My sister is missing," she blurted out as if she could not hold the information in any longer.

Toby opened a drawer and pulled out a notepad. In a business tone, he inquired, "What is her name, Miss Reynolds?"

"Amanda Reynolds, but she has gone by Kitten since grade school."

"How old is your sister?"

"Nineteen."

"How long has she been missing?"

"She didn't show up by morning. She is living with me, since our step-father kicked her out." Cat sighed. "Kitten always calls me, though. She's rather wild, and it isn't unusual for her to stay out all night." Uncertainty filled her voice. "I called where she works. She was there until eleven. No one has seen her since then, and she's not answering her phone."

"You do realize that she isn't considered a missing person until twenty-four hours have passed," Toby explained.

"Yes, that's what the detective at the police station told me." She tucked a silky strand of hair behind her ear. "He gave me your card, though, and said you might be able to help find her." She delicately chewed her lower lip. "Kitten may run around some, but she always answers her phone. She even sleeps with the thing. She would answer, if she could." Cat wrung her hands. "I just know something happened."

"Do you think the phone could have run out of battery life?" He jotted down a few more notes.

She shook her head, causing black wisps of hair to whip through the air. "Not at all. She has one of those iPhones that has a rechargeable pack. She never goes anywhere without them."

"Very well. I need to know some more about her. Tell me where she works, what she does in her free time, who she hangs out with, that sort of thing." He gestured for her to continue talking about her sister.

"Kitten is a waitress at Red Robin. She tried community college, but she flunked out." She shrugged. "She never went to class, so I don't know what we could expect. I don't know all her friends. She doesn't bring them over to our apartment. She prefers the company of men." The woman grew silent as she was thinking. Once again, she chewed on her lower lip. "Kitten recently mentioned a new bar. I think it was called the Wolf's Den. My sister said some biker took her there, and she liked hanging out there some." Cat absentmindedly touched a black bracelet. "We don't talk much. She comes and goes as she pleases, but she always calls me to check in. I made her promise that." She tucked a piece of black hair behind her ear again. "You must think I'm a horrible sister."

Toby gave her an easy grin. "I think you are worried about her and perhaps for good reason. She has her own life, but she still keeps in touch. I am concerned about her choice of entertainment. I've heard bad things about the Wolf's Den." He wouldn't mention all the details to Cat, but if Kitten was hanging out there, then she was definitely in some kind of trouble. "I'll tell you what. Jot down the address of her work and a few other places you know she goes. I'll check things out." He tore off his notes and handed her the notepad and pen. "I would like for you to stop by and bring me something she has worn. It mustn't be washed. I need something with her scent on it."

Cat began to write down various things she knew on the notepad, but she halted at his strange request. "What do you need it for?" Her hand clutched the pen as her knuckles began to turn white from it.

"I have a hound dog that has a fine nose on him. If we can pick up a trace of her scent, then we'll have a good shot on finding your sister."

"Oh." Her hand relaxed, and she began writing again. "That makes sense." She finished the list and handed it back to Toby. "If I think of anything else, I can call you, right?"

"Of course." He handed her an official business card. "Feel free to call me if you think of anything else. May I have your information as well, so I can get in touch with you?"

She laughed, and it lightened her entire face, releasing her of the worry that etched those pretty eyes. "Of course." She reached into her black leather purse and pulled out a business card. "My cell number is on there. Please let me know as soon as you hear anything." She stood up. "I'll bring back that item, too." She smiled. "Thank you, Detective Hound. You don't know how much I appreciate this."

"You're welcome, Miss Reynolds." He stood and walked her out of his office. He breathed deeply and caught a trace of honey and vanilla as she passed by him. It wasn't until her heels had clicked away down the hall and stepped into the elevator that he remembered that he hadn't mentioned a thing about his fee. He slapped himself on the forehead and sighed. "One pro bono case won't kill me, right?" He took the information she had given him and set out to work finding her sister.

#

A little after nightfall, a dark gray car pulled off the side of the road. Toby sat there for a few moments as he replayed what he had learned in the hours since he took the case. No one had seen Kitten since she left work at eleven. She didn't own a car, but no one saw her catch a ride with anyone else. She still wasn't answering her phone, and none of her friends knew where she might be.

There was something else to the case that troubled the private investigator. He had spoken to some of his old cop buddies. In the past three months, four women had gone missing. They ranged from ages twenty-five to thirty-eight. The women were all on the fringe of society who held odd jobs. The most recent missing woman was twenty-five and worked at the S.P.C.A. Kitten was younger than twenty-five, but his instincts told him that he was on to something.

He took out a small plastic bag that held one of Kitten's used tank tops. He was down the road from the Wolf's Den, and he needed to get a good whiff of her trail to see if she had been there recently. The place would be opening up, so he hoped that her scent hadn't faded yet. He breathed in Kitten's scent and closed the plastic bag, which he tucked into an inside pocket on his leather jacket. His gaze darted to the cloudy sky. He could feel the presence of the moon beyond those clouds. Stepping out of the car, he locked the doors before trotting the half-mile to the Wolf's Den.

The Wolf's Den was a small bar on the outskirts of town. The 'W,' 'D,' and 'N' were out on the neon sign, and a faint glimmer of light penetrated through dirty windows onto the gravel parking lot. One car was around back, and there were four motorcycles out front. Toby figured that he arrived there at a decent time. There wouldn't be too many around, if trouble happened.

Toby Hound moved closer to the door and took a small sniff. A deep frown etched his face. The place reeked of werewolves. He had heard rumors that a group had taken up shop in the town. The rickety door creaked open, and every eye in the place turned and watched him enter. His brown eyes quickly counted six heads, including the barkeep/owner of the Wolf's Den. Only one female was in the bunch, and he could tell that there was nothing special about her. He inhaled. Stale beer, sweat, dried blood, and peanuts filled his nostrils. The barkeep and one other man were werewolves. The girl and another man were ordinary folks, but the other two men were a mixture of the two. His nose twitched again, recognizing them as the bitten werewolves, those who would only change during the full moon and would retain a half-man/half-wolf state.

He moved away from the three tables cluttering the room and went to the barkeep. "I'd like a beer," Toby asked in his gruffest voice.

"What kind?"

"Whatever is on tap."

He picked up a semi-clean glass and filled it to the brim with foam and beer. It sloshed out on the bar as he banged it down on the table. "Haven't seen you here before? What brings you by?"

Toby grabbed the mug, but he didn't drink. "Just passing through." He briefly studied the bartender, noticing the shaggy, unkempt hair, the small gray eyes, and the prominent scar that ran across his jaw. "A friend of mine told me about this place, said I should stop in sometime."

The werewolf bartender gathered a glass and cleaned it with a dirty rag. "Really? What is your friend's name?"

Toby knew that this was the moment to reveal his information. He took a deep breath. "She goes by Kitten."

"Kitten, you say?" He gave a laugh that sounded more like a growl. "We don't allow no cats in here."

The detective cocked his head to the side. "Really? She told me about the place. I could have sworn she said she would be here today. Sure you haven't seen her? She's about this high, has black hair with a bit of red to it, and has green eyes."

The bartender sat the glass down so hard it cracked. "I said we have no one like that here. Perhaps you should finish up and leave."

Toby put up his hands in surrender, although it might have been more correct to display his neck to the werewolf. "Alright, I'm going." He put a five down on the table to pay for his drink. "Is there a restroom here? It's a long way back."

"In the back." The werewolf bartender nodded toward a small hallway off to the side in the back of the bar.

"Thanks." Toby stood and moved toward the back. He entered the hallway and saw three doors. Two were restrooms, and the third must be for storage. It was difficult to pick up Kitten's scent from all the others, but he knew she had been there. He had one last place to check, though.

He pushed open the men's restroom door and frowned. If possible, this place was even dirtier than the rest. The bathroom held a sink, two urinals, and one stall with the door hanging crooked. He knew that he wouldn't have much time to investigate, so he removed his clothing and reluctantly placed them on the floor behind the toilet. He opened the plastic bag with Kitten's tank top in it.

His eyes closed, and his entire body shimmered. A cracking sound resonated as it was followed by muscles and bone shifting. Toby's russet brown hair coated his body. His fingers shrunk and turned to paws. His nails grew sharp. His nose, ears, and mouth elongated. When the transformation was complete, Toby Hound was now nothing but a hound dog.

His cool, black nose sucked in Kitten's scent, filling it to the core of his being. In his hound form, he would be able to detect the scent more accurately. He quickly checked the men's room, finding a trace of her scent on the side of the stall, but it was so infinitesimal, that he was certain that it was older than last night. He didn't even want to think of what she was doing in the men's restroom, although he could guess.

He lifted his floppy ear and listened at the door. No one had come to check on him. Using his head, he pushed open the door and caught Kitten's scent again. It trailed to the women's restroom. He followed it and used his teeth to open the door. Kitten had definitely been in this restroom. The scent wasn't fresh, but it had to have been from last night. He sniffed all around, certain that she had been there, especially when his nose picked out a piece of plastic in a corner stall. It was a piece of a cell phone, and it reeked of Kitten. He was about to turn to leave when he noticed green eyes staring at him through a small window. He stood up, pressing his large paws against the wall as he caught a swish of black tail as the cat jumped down from the window. A delicate whiff of honey and vanilla drifted to his nose from a crack in the window.

He growled softly as he raced out of the bathroom, went back into the men's, where he changed his form and redressed.

Once fully clothed, he burst from the restroom and left the bar. He overheard the bartender mumble, "Dog," as he left. Toby jogged over to the side of the Wolf's Den where he spotted slim, lithe movement. His arm shot out, and he clasped his hand around her wrist. "What do you think you are doing here?" he growled.

Cat turned, ready to slap her attacker until she realized it was Toby. A slight hint of pink filled her cheeks. "I'm sorry. I had to see for myself." Her green eyes shined in the pale light. "Did you find my sister?"

He released her arm and huffed. "You put yourself and me in danger, Miss Reynolds," he hissed. "If I hadn't found anything, I would have half a mind not to continue searching for her."

"You found something."

"Yes, her scent is there, but it's not fresh. She was there last night." He motioned to the bar. "They know something, but everyone is keeping quiet."

She smiled and flashed her clean, white teeth. "I'll go in and do some sleuthing. Perhaps I can get more from them than you can."

He shook his head so hard he almost saw stars. "I forbid it! You don't know what you are getting into. It's too dangerous."

Her eyes narrowed. "I am going to find my sister, Detective Hound." She stormed away before he could stop her. If she had a tail, it would have been swishing angrily back and forth. She entered the bar, and there was nothing he could do but stand there. "Stupid, stupid, stupid Cat," he grumbled as he paced back and forth.

He froze on point as he caught Kitten's scent again. He followed it to a motorcycle. She had been on that bike, and Toby had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He smelled blood. Kitten's blood.

He moved toward a window and peered inside. It was too dirty for him to distinguish more than shadowy shapes. Three people headed to the door, and he ducked behind a corner as Cat and the two bitten werewolves exited. She climbed onto the back of the same motorcycle as her sister had the night before. "Cat," he whispered, but she didn't hear him from the roar of the motorcycles as they sped down the road.

"Shit." He sprinted to his car. Gravel spun behind his wheels as he shot off down the road. He rolled down his window and breathed deeply as he followed the sweet honey and vanilla scent that was distinctly Cat Reynolds.

#

After following a safe distance behind the two motorcycles for thirty minutes, they arrived at a small cabin in the woods. Toby left his car a mile behind and lightly jogged to where the log cabin was. He listened intensely. He could hear voices, but he couldn't make out what was said.

Creeping closer to the cabin, he spotted one of the bitten men standing guard outside. If he had any hope of rescuing Cat and her sister, then he would have to take out this guard first. He picked up a rock and threw it to his right. The rock hit a tree before falling to the ground.

"Who's out there?" The guard glanced around before leaving his post and armed himself with a pistol. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

Toby crept as silent as a wolf behind the guard. With a lightning quick move, he wrapped his arm around the man's neck and squeezed. The werewolf clawed at Toby's arm, but it was too late. His body relaxed as he fell unconscious. The detective tied the man up and relieved him of his pistol.

He turned towards the cabin, considering his next move. Hesitation and uncertainty filled him, but he felt the tug of the moon above the clouds. He undressed once again, transforming in the darkened woods to the hound.

With his wet nose to the ground, he began to sniff everything. He detected three males had been there, including the two he followed on the motorcycles. The third male was a full-blooded werewolf. He caught Kitten and Cat’s scents mingling with the others. He froze again as he caught a different smell. The dog seemed to frown as he followed the pungent scent of body odor and rot around the back of the cabin.

A metal trash can was sitting there, blocking his view of a medium-sized dog carrier. He approached the carrier step by step as the scent grew stronger. He was certain that whatever creature was there had to be dead. As he silently crept around the trash can, he saw a woman's face pressing against the bars of her prison. He whined softly as he recognized that this young woman was the one who worked at the S.P.C.A. and who had been missing for over a week. He reached over and placed a gentle paw against the carrier in a gesture to mourn the fallen woman. Her eyes flung open, startling the pooch, and he gave a yelp.

Her eyes were wide and a bright blue. "Help," she rasped out as she tried to shift her small frame around in the dog carrier. She was stuck tight in there.

Toby whined again and gave a tentative dart of his tongue as he licked her cheek. Help would come, but he was afraid to frighten her, if he changed forms right now. He had to get help. He grimaced as he turned away from the woman and hid his face behind his paw before trotting over to where his clothes were. Toby changed forms again, much more slowly this time, and he dialed 9-1-1. He spoke to the operator and told her what happened and where they were. Help would be on the way, and Toby knew that he had to have backup.

A high pitched scream broke Toby's conversation. "Send them immediately," he called into the phone as he disconnected it. There was no time to put on any clothes. The naked detective dashed to the cabin. As he ran, his form changed, and he was once again the russet brown hound dog.

He banged sharply into the door and began to growl and bark. Something fell over inside the cabin, and another scream rose into the night. Toby could not wait any longer. He saw a window, gave a running start, and crashed through it, shattering the window and spraying shards of glass inside. The dog shook the glass from his fur and leapt at the bitten werewolf, who was aiming a pistol at him. A spark lightened the room as the gun went off. Man and dog fell backwards into a table. The man's head cracked against the side of the table, and he fell unconscious. The hound turned and growled at the werewolf, who had brought out a shotgun and was aiming it directly at the dog.

"I don't suggest moving, dog," the werewolf growled. "Change back." He cocked the shotgun. "Now." The battered and bleeding detective shifted into his bare human form. "Disgusting beast," the werewolf spat as he kicked Toby in the ribs, cracking one of them. "People like you are what is wrong with the world."

"You're a beast, too," Toby wheezed out as he caught sight of a shaken Cat moving towards the previously dropped pistol. "So, tell me. Why kidnap the ladies? What are they to you?" He moved slightly, so the werewolf's back would be toward Cat.

"They aren't ladies. They are nothing more than bitches, who will spread this mutation to their children. They have to be stopped." His hands clenched the shotgun tightly as he shook with rage.

"Lower the gun or I'll shoot," Cat hissed as she pointed the pistol at the werewolf.

He laughed and moved a step backwards, keeping the shotgun between Toby and Cat. "I suppose if I shoot, you will try to as well. Do you think you are quick enough, kitty cat?" The werewolf rolled his eyes.

"I think I am quick enough," Cat stated in a surprisingly even tone.

Toby slowly shifted into a crouch before jumping at the werewolf. At that second, the clouds parted and the full moon's light gleamed upon the three people. The shotgun and pistol fell from hands as they turned into paws. Skin was covered with fur. Clothes ripped from the werewolf and Cat as they transformed.

Cat turned into a sleek black cat, slightly larger than a housecat. Her fur stood on end, and she hissed and spit at the werewolf.

A large gray wolf with bright yellow eyes glared at the hound and cat. A menacing growl rose, and he gnashed his teeth, causing spittle to fly from his pulled back lips.

The hound growled as well and crouched down. With no further warning, the hound and wolf attacked. The two creatures clashed with a fury of claws and teeth. Fur flew. A lamp was knocked over. A chair shattered into wooden splinters. Growls and yips burst from each as they viciously fought to the death. The wolf kicked hard, and the hound flew and skidded across the floor.

The werewolf positioned himself to attack the hound and finish him when the black cat leapt upon the wolf's back, digging her claws deep into his hide. The wolf's head whipped behind him, and he snapped his razor-sharp teeth at her, just missing each time.

The hound got to his feet and shook his head to clear it. A growl unleashed from his throat, and he attacked the wolf again with renewed vigor.

Cat moved to the werewolf's head, and she dug her claws into his eyes, blinding him. The wolf howled in pain before it was silenced as his throat was ripped out.

The last rays of the full moon dwindled away as the clouds reclaimed them. All three changed back into human form. The werewolf man was dead. The other two men were unconscious. Cat was relatively unscathed in the battle, except for a minor cut on her arm. Toby could barely lift his head as he panted heavily.

"Toby! Are you alright?" Cat darted toward the fallen detective. The brazen woman didn't bother to cover herself up as she examined his many wounds.

"I'll live," he wheezed and winced in pain. "Police are coming." He felt the urge to howl himself. A siren could be heard, and it was coming closer. "Your sister?"

"She's safe. She's in the other room." She touched his cheek.

"Other woman outside," he mumbled. "Help her." His voice was growing weaker. He had multiple cuts and bite wounds. His ribs were broken, and his head ached from crashing through the window. "Cat," he whispered as his vision swam in and out. The lovely woman's green eyes met his briefly as darkness captured him.

#

The newspaper rustled in his hands as Toby Hound turned to the Extra section to complete the daily Sudoku puzzle. His wounds had healed quickly and well in the past month, and he was back to his usual self. He began scanning for ones when he heard the click of heels against the wooden floor. He paused and sat the paper on his desk. "Come in," he called as soon as the slim silhouette crossed in front of the frosted-paned door.

Cat Reynolds entered and smiled warmly at him. She took a seat without being offered. "I want to thank you, Detective Hound. We never would have rescued my sister, if you hadn't taken the case."

A wry smile pursed his lips. "You weren't too bad back there as well, Miss Reynolds. How is your sister doing?"

Cat's smile faded a little. "Oh, she's completely healed physically. Emotionally," she shrugged. "I think she'll be fine. She's definitely a lot calmer now. She hardly leaves the house except to go to work. It'll take her a little while, but I'm sure she'll bounce back. Have you heard about the other girl?"

"She's made a full recovery." Toby had discovered that the S.P.C.A. woman turned into a terrier on the full moon. "Have you been keeping up with the papers?"

"Yes." She sighed. "It's a shame about the other three women, killed because of what they were." She shivered.

"I know."

A moment passed and neither one of them spoke. Cat rose from the chair. "I just wanted to drop by and thank you. I also wanted to give you this." She took out an envelope from her purse and placed it on the desk. "I know we didn't set a price down, but I think this will cover your expenses."

Toby stood up and went around the desk. "You didn't have to give me any money."

"I know, but you believed me when no one else would." She touched his cheek. "Everyone had written off my sister when she went missing. You didn't, and I will forever be grateful." She moved closer to him, and he breathed in her honey vanilla scent. "Thank you, Toby," she whispered in a husky voice as she leaned in and lightly pressed her lips against his. She broke the kiss just as quickly and turned around. At the door, she looked at him. "I'll see you around." Her dark red lips smirked as she left, her heels clicking away down the hall.

"See you," he murmured as he placed his fingers against his tingling lips. "Cats," he mumbled the word as a curse and shook his head as he closed the door, wondering if he would see Cat Reynolds again.




~~~
Cherie Reich is an aspiring writer and assistant librarian. Her works can be seen in Emerald Tales "Winter Solstice" issue and are forthcoming from Wild Child Publishing, Wyvern Publications' Mertales anthology, Emerald Tales "It was a bright and sunny day" issue, and WolfSinger Publications' All About Eve anthology. Her third place winning story will also be published by the Virginia English Bulletin. She has a B.A. in Classics from Missouri State University and lives in Virginia.

5 comments:

Aubrie said...

I love how you combined mystery/detective with paranormal shapeshifting! And the woman's personality is soooo like a cat's!

Excellent pacing and great job keeping the tension throughout.

christinerains said...

This is definitely your genre. Paranormal mystery is your strength, Cherie. I love the personalities of the characters and the action is great. I also like how it has a noir feel but it is a modern story.

ssspune said...

Funny and smart! Favorite line: He overheard the bartender mumble, "Dog," as he left.

Faith said...

Great voice throughout the piece, Cherie! Definitely enjoyed this.

Cherie Reich said...

Thank you so much, everyone! I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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