1Dances with Werewolves

Ellen Kuhfeld

"My girlfriend says she's a werewolf, but I'm starting to wonder if she's not."

Len Scott smiled with the left half of his mouth. "This is a problem?" he said.

Paul Johnson shrugged. "I like werewolves." Len said nothing, so Paul continued. "I'm a rock-climber. I run marathons. I love the outdoors. It keeps me in good shape, makes me feel alive."

Len looked at the man sitting across his desk. He was perhaps thirty, strong and lean, tanned and vital. Handsome in a sun-beaten way. Definitely alive.

"There's nothing more alive than a werewolf under the full moon," Paul said. "That's only three nights a month, but it carries over. Most Weres live more intensely every day of the month. Why shouldn't I want to be around them?"

"There's the possibility of being eaten when the full moon rises."

"There's the possibility of falling from a cliff when I rock-climb, or getting eaten by a bear in the Boundary Waters. If I can have extreme sports, why not extreme friendship, or even extreme romance?"

Len spread his hands, and smiled with both sides of his mouth. "It's as good a reason as any. And I can see why you came to Scott and Scott. We specialize in the unusual.

"Before you hire us, we should discuss some details. Discretion, for instance. There's a lot of prejudice against Weres. Who can blame them for wanting to keep their double life a secret? I don't like to out a werewolf unless there's something pretty bad going on."

The left side of Len's mouth quirked upwards. "Otherwise, I could be eaten when the full moon rises."

"I can live with that," Paul said. "I just want to know if she's lying to me."

"Well, then. I'll assign my sister Lena to this. She's somewhat a creature of the night herself. Let's fill in the details …. "

First Night of the Moon

Lena cruised her Miata down Flying Cloud Drive in the late-afternoon light, her short, sandy hair ruffling in the breeze. To the left were the lowlands of the Minnesota River, a haven for wildlife; to the right, sparsely-inhabited bluffs. The sun was almost to the horizon before her; in the rear-view mirror, she could see the moon rising. The air carried the scent of greenery and water. Birds sang their evening songs.

She turned onto an access road slanting up the bluff and rolled into a spot beside a black Corvette with white striping. The lot was almost full, normal for a Were bar at sunset. If Weres came later they'd be in their skins, not driving - especially the first night of the full moon. Werewolves and gasoline didn't mix well.

The Outlook was a stone building that hugged the sloping ground, with one story on the uphill side splitting into two on the downhill. There was a patio by the lower story. She crossed to the entrance, rust tulip skirt and cream blouse flowing in the evening breeze. A necklace of gold-tone Celtic beads swayed with her motion.

She waited inside the door for her eyes to adjust from sunset to dimness. She knew other eyes were looking; she was five-nine, with the build of a gymnast. Let them look.

The room was filled, and the air surprisingly clear for a bar. There was a nervous buzz of conversation. People were drifting towards the changing rooms on the upper level. One of the women looked very much like Paul's photo of Erica Schmidt. Between the stairs up was a third, down into an empty dining-room with a window-wall looking out over the river gorge. Egrets were flying, sunset-red against dark waters in the evening light.

Lena went to the bar. She caught the attention of the bartender, an enormous shaggy man in a long brown tunic. This must be the legendary Bjorn Njalsson, she thought. "I'd like a hot beef bouillon, with a dash of Tabasco," she said.

As she sat sipping, the sound of feet and conversation diminished. Muffled growls came from the changing rooms. She squirmed uneasily on her barstool. Bjorn's arms and legs were shorter, his body longer, his head more massive. Her perceptions shifted; he'd become a bear.

He returned. "Haven't seen you here before," he said in a low, chuckling voice.

"I usually go to Hairy's," she said, "or the Townhouse. Club Metro before they closed. I'm relatively new to the scene."

"The Townhouse isn't a Were bar," Bjorn noted..

"I'm not exactly what you'd think of as Were," she said with humor in her eyes. "Consider me a fellow traveler."

Bjorn jerked his head to indicate the people still at the tables. In the dining room below, werewolves and werecats and a few other creatures were taking tables, basking in moonglow slanting in through the window-wall. There was the faint click-and-scratch of claws, an occasional screech or growl, and purrs and yips of happiness as friends greeted each other.

"You're still the same person that came in the door," Bjorn noted.

She sipped her drink. "You can never step twice into the same river, my friend. You of all people should know that 'same' is a relative word."

Bjorn shook his head in puzzlement, and reached under the bar for a bowl of raspberries. "The harvest is in," he said as he scooped a pawful into his mouth. "Care for some berries?"

She took one, popped it in her mouth, savored it. A drop of juice glistened on her lower lip. "One thing about an omnivore," she said, smiling. "You can satisfy your primal hungers without killing something."

Bjorn took another pawful, then bit into a honeycomb. "Amen!" he growled. "I see you do know a few things." And he shambled down the bar to another customer.

Lena finished her bouillon, then caught Bjorn's eye. "Any chance of getting a bowl of those berries? With cream?"

He brought them. She paid, and moved over to a table with a better view of the dining-room below. Erica had gone into the women's changing room. She hadn't come out, so she was probably downstairs. Erica had looked to weigh about one-forty; Lena watched the Weres below, making quick estimates of weight.

Coming up the stairs was one of the most beautiful Weres Lena had ever seen – a mist-grey Angora rabbit, carrying a salad plate. She came over to Lena's table, and gestured to a chair.

"Mind if I join you? I'm uncomfortable in a dining room full of werewolves. They eat too vigorously."

"My name's Lena. Sit and be welcome, but don't let the berries fool you: I'm an omnivore myself." Lena added, "No offense, but a were-rabbit? I didn't know there were any of you."

"Rabbits bite, if you startle them. Just my luck to have a pet with the virus. I've half a mind to bite her back and see how she likes being one of the Wee Folk three nights a month. But that'd cause more trouble than it's worth."

She picked up a carrot, held it, waggled her brows. "Ehhh, *crunch* what's up, doc? Call me Bugs. It reminds the wolves I'm not a safe rabbit to chase."

Lena looked at Bugs' front teeth, and agreed. They giggled. Bugs fed Lena a cherry tomato; Lena fed Bugs some raspberries. They bought a pitcher of V-8 juice, and sat happily talking of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings; and what the Weres do late at night, and other curious things.

The evening passed pleasantly. Quite a few of the regulars came casually by to look at the newcomer, which suited Lena – she could look them over herself. Two of Bugs' friends sat with them a while – Mao, a were-Siamese, and Judy, a were-husky. Bugs and Mao were both about one-forty. Judy weighed at least two hundred, and definitely wasn't a candidate for this investigation.

Karaoke started, with Judy singing "Werewolves of London". Mao and two other werecats harmonized on a few pieces from "Cats". And Lena was in full retreat when a were-poodle started in on "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" accompanied by yelps from the audience.

As she drove home, the moon rode high; to the right, the river glistened. The howls of moonstruck Weres came faintly from below. Lena thought of the evening. There'd been dozens of Weres, almost as many normals. Erica hadn't been seen – as Erica - after sunset. If she hadn't left unseen for the wildlands below, Bugs and Mao seemed the best candidates for Erica's other life.

She needed more information.

It was just short of midnight, and Paul had said she could call until then. She pulled into an overlook, took out her cell phone. She dialed.

Second Night of the Moon

At sundown, Lena pulled into the Outlook's lot. She walked to the entrance in the fading light. Inside she stood a moment, searching the room, then headed towards a table where a tanned man in white shirt and Dockers was waving.

Paul saw a tall woman at the door, with sandy hair in a short pageboy, and freckles. She wore a gold linen sleeveless blouse with umber slacks and canvas flats. She looked very much like Len: almost certainly, his sister Lena. He waved.

She moved towards him, growing more beautiful with each step. A slight stumble spoiled the magic, but Paul only found that, too, charming. She reached the table, held out her hand. "Paul Johnson?" she said in a rich contralto, the voice he'd heard on the phone last night.

"And you must be Lena Scott. You do look like your brother, though you're certainly the more elegant dresser." He hadn't taken his eyes off her for a second.

"I seem to have arrived just at the witching hour," she said as she sat. "Bjorn changed while I was crossing the room." They looked towards the bar, and a bear stood where a man had been moments ago.

"This is good timing. The dining room is just opening; let's get a table," she continued. "That'll give us a better view of the patrons."

As they went down the stairs, she thought, and it'll give you a bit of an education. Last night Paul had shown less familiarity with Weres and with Erica than she'd expected. He hadn't even known if she kept a pet. And hadn't known why the question was important. "Have you eaten at a Were bar before?"

"I've eaten here a few times," Paul replied. "Never at the full moon, though."

Lena chose a table for two where she could see Bjorn at the bar, and he could see her. "This table," she said as she sat. Paul sat across from her.

The room was mostly empty. There was a woman in a green-and-gold running suit at a table on the patio, chatting amiably with a skunk. Moonlight and dim fixtures lit the room, and the windows to the south looked past trees to the river. Lights moved along the highway on the far side. Now the doors from the changing rooms were opening, and Weres began to spill down the stairs into the dining room.

The room overfilled, as if dozens of hyperactive teenagers had entered – teens wearing fur suits, armed with fangs and claws. Rough-housing on the men's side turned into a scuffle, two werewolves rolling over and over on the floor, snapping at each other. Again, there were yelps and purrs of welcome; and the scuffling wolves untangled themselves before they reached the center of the room.

"I don't think they want Bjorn to see them tussling," Lena said. "It's his bar, and his tables they might knock over. Even a werewolf would rather not be disciplined by a were-bear."

A waiter was at their table – a human. Yes, Lena thought, hands have their place. She glanced quickly at the menu. "I'll have the buffaloburger, and a glass of spicy V-8 with a celery stick."

"Steak tartare," Paul said, "and a stein of Beck's Dark."

"I'm sorry, sir. We don't serve alcohol during the full moon." The waiter didn't look particularly sorry. "Would you care for a non-alcoholic beer?"

Paul shook his head. "I'll have coffee."

The waiter left. Lena raised an eyebrow. "Alcohol isn't safe at a Were bar during the full moon. Poor impulse control, this time of the month? Bad idea." She folded her arms before her on the table. "Did you see Erica here?"

Paul leaned towards her. "Yes, but I don't think she saw me. She went up into the changing room about the same time as everybody else."

Over Paul's shoulder, Lena could see Bugs and Judy talking with the skunk and the woman in green. Bugs looked up at the same time, and saw Lena. She started to smile, then saw Paul and turned away. Judy hurried after her.

"If you saw her going into the changing room, she's almost certainly a Were," Lena said. "That's not a safe time and place for normal humans."

"Yes, but she said 'werewolf'. I want to be sure."

"Silly," Lena said as she shook her head. Amber earrings flashed in the moonlight. "There's probably not a single true werewolf here. You're dreaming the impossible dream."

"If werewolves are so rare, who's in this room with us?"

"Were-dogs, mostly. Where are you going to find a wolf to bite you? Dogs and cats, easy. Rabbits, even. And there's a skunk over there. You wouldn't want to meet a genuine werewolf. Dogs get along with people much better than wolves do. They like to be called 'werewolf'. But that doesn't make it so."

Paul looked as if Lena had taken away his toy.

Waiters began arriving with food: joints and chops and steaks and turkey-legs, mostly raw, and sushi. One werewolf, dancing with impatience, snatched his steak before the waiter had set down the plate, began tearing at it. There were growls and snarls and gulping sounds, and Weres glancing sidelong at each other. The copper smell of blood filled the air.

"Where's our food?" Paul said after a while. "We ordered first."

"Our food has to be prepared," Lena said. "Their food only had to be warmed to blood heat." Paul looked stricken. "And you don't want a Were getting impatient for dinner."

"Oh dear," Paul said. The waiter placed steak tartare before him. He looked at it cautiously.

"It won't bite you," Lena said. "You're supposed to bite it." She took a healthy chunk from her burger, and washed it down with V-8. She wiped red from the corner of her mouth. There were crunching sounds from the next table.

Paul gulped, stood, and headed for the exit. Lena threw a fifty on the table, and followed. She caught Bjorn's eye as she passed the bar, pointed to her table. "We'll settle the details later!"

Paul was in the parking lot, standing by a low-rider Cruiser. Lena hurried up to him, saw the distress on his face, saw the reason the car was riding so low. Its tires were shredded.

She caught his arm. "Tooth-marks. Bet those tires tasted awful, too. Somebody must be angry. And only your car is damaged. This is not a good place to be." She began pulling him back towards the Outlook.

Bjorn met them at the door. "Can't take it inside, don't like it outside?" Paul glared. Lena stood between them. "Bjorn, somebody chewed Paul's tires. It's not safe for him out here. We need your protection."

"Like hell we do," Paul growled. He spun on his foot and began walking away.

"He's a damn fool," Bjorn said. "Anybody who doesn't know when to be scared shouldn't hang around Were bars."

"He's the damn fool that's paying me," Lena said. "I'd better talk some sense into him." She ran after Paul.

"Hold up," she cried. "We're getting further from my car every minute." But he continued towards the main highway. Behind her there was a rustle in the bushes, and a soft growl.

"Freeze, Paul! Don't do anything that makes you look like prey. There's a werewolf in the bushes."

A flash of motion, a gleam of white teeth, and Judy was bounding past Lena towards Paul. Lena leaned, reached, grabbed Judy by the hindleg; swooped her up into a whirl, spun three times, picking up speed and motion as she danced across the lot, then threw her in the air down the bluff. Lena ran towards Paul.

"Now run! Fast!"

There was a ruined old house nearby, with the fieldstone fireplace and chimney still standing. Paul headed for the chimney, began to climb. Lena raced after him, climbed behind him. They reached the top at the same instant. It was barely large enough for both of them.

"I didn't know you were a rock-climber," Paul said.

"I got the urge to try about half a minute ago."

Judy came loping up the road, began clumsily trying to climb the chimney towards them. She was growling low in her throat.

Lena took a small canister from her purse. She showed it to the werewolf. "Pepper spray," she said. "Your nose is a hundred times more sensitive than mine. It'd be embarrassing, getting done in by a vegetable extract."

Her eyes on the spray, tail quivering furiously, Judy began to back down. In the distance, Lena saw Bjorn heading towards them. The moon shone serenely; a nighthawk made its breathy, whistling sound. Judy bounded into the brush, disappeared in shadows.

They made their way down the chimney, and Bjorn escorted them back to Lena's car. "I'll send a wrecker for my car," Paul said to Bjorn as they left. "Tomorrow, in daylight."

Lena drove with a lead foot until they were several miles from the Outlook, then slowed. "We're in trouble with the Weres," she said. "I hope it's a hissy-fit instead of something more permanent."

"What did we do?"

"You ordered raw meat, then didn't eat it. That says 'wannabe' to a lot of Weres. And I should have realized Erica – or her friends – might think you were two-timing her if they saw us together. Or, just maybe, they realized you were having her investigated."

Lena gripped the steering wheel, looked at Paul from below lowered brows. "Tonight, and tomorrow night, you stay locked up at home. I'm going back to mend fences."

Third Night of the Moon

Lena wore running shoes, sweats, and no jewelry. It was half an hour to sunset. On the third night of the moon, that would give her an hour and a half to talk before everybody went Were. And freedom of movement, just in case.

With the sun still in the sky, The Outlook was quiet. Bjorn was behind the bar preparing for the night, and serving the occasional early-comers. Lena chose a quiet spot, sat down, and waited.

Bjorn came over. "You put down a fifty, but the tab only came to thirty-four."

"Keep the rest," Lena said. "We gave you enough trouble last night."

"Maybe, but I should apologize too. I didn't realize somebody'd chewed up your boyfriend's tires. I don't run that kind of bar."

"He's not my boyfriend. He's a business associate. But that's something I should talk with Bugs about, I think. Is she angry? And what about Judy?"

"Don't worry about Judy. She was talking half the night about that throw you handed her. 'Almost as good as the Slingshot at the State Fair', she said."

"It's amazing what a girl will do under the moon, in the passion of the moment." Lena smiled in the dimness.

"You'll have to explain that to me some time, if you get to be a regular here." Bjorn paused and sniffed the air, then looked thoughtful. "I might have a few suspicions, though."

"And you might be right," Lena said as she marked a score in the air with her forefinger. "And Bugs might have a few other suspicions, and she might be wrong. Think it'll be okay for me to stay and talk with her, if she comes in?"

"I don't see any problems. Not if you have a good line of talk, anyway."

"I intend to speak softly, and carry a big bowl of raspberries. Can I get a bowl of raspberries and cream, say half an hour before moonrise? And some carrots?"

"Sure."

When Erica came into the bar, Lena was at the same table she'd met Bugs at. Almost everybody had been stopping by to say hello to the woman who'd thrown Judy, and Lena had been smiling and greeting them all; when Erica passed, Lena did exactly the same to her.

By moonrise, Lena was no longer a newcomer to the Outlook

Five minutes later, Bugs joined her. She flipped her paw at the carrots. "Looks like an invitation to talk," she said.

"We need to. There was a rather spectacular misunderstanding last night, and you and I seem to have been near the center of it."

"Moi?" Bugs said.

"Paul's tires looked like the Giant Rat of Sumatra was chewing on them. That, or somebody else with gnawing teeth."

"The two-timing rat seemed to own the car, not gnaw the tires."

"Actually, Paul's sin wasn't two-timing, but hiring an investigator. To find out if one Erica Schmidt is really a werewolf as advertised. I'm the investigator."

Bugs whopped herself upside the head. "Fleas are enough of a worry this time of the month, now I've got investigators too?"

"He hired me knowing I was discreet," Lena said. "And he obviously doesn't know what he's getting into. So I'll tell him only that Erica is indeed Were, and that the denizens of the Outlook are werewolves by common nomenclature - but none are true werewolves. Erica, and Paul, can take it from there."

Bugs lifted a carrot. "Ehhhhh, *crunch* - he's in for an interesting time…."

"It will probably give him a few grey hares," Lena agreed.

Judy came over to join them. "Looks like you two have made up. I'm sorry I made such a fuss last night. Bugs is a very good friend, and I didn't like seeing her hurt. But you handed me quite a surprise!"

"Poor impulse control," they chorused in unison.

They talked for a while longer, then Lena noted that it was time for her to be off. "Reports to give, checks to collect, things like that. Maybe teach Werewolf Etiquette 101 to Paul. I'll be seeing you both, later." She rose, and left.

In half an hour, she was at Paul's door. He let her in, motioned her to a chair. The room was unpretentious and comfortable, with photos of trails and rock formations. A sturdy end table sat next to the chair, and a good reading light.

"I smoothed things over," she began. "Erica thought you were two-timing her. That wolf last night was one of her friends, angry on her behalf.

"Erica is Were. But she said 'werewolf' because that's the generic. She's not a wolf, and would rather know you better before she has you meet her other half. You'd be safe, with her."

Paul wrote a check for fees and expenses, then sighed. "I didn't get my Beck's Dark last night. I think I'll have one now."

"I'll take a Bloody Mary, if you have the makings." Why not have a drink? It had been a tense evening.

Going into the kitchen Paul moved well, with coordination and control and a spring in his step. Lena was noticing he was a very attractive man. The refrigerator door opened and closed. She heard liquids being poured and stirred. Paul returned with a stein of dark beer, and a Bloody Mary in a tall glass. He'd even remembered the celery stick. Lena took the glass with a smile.

"You didn't seem as familiar with a Were bar as I'd expect from somebody who likes werewolves," she said after her first drink.

He dimpled, and sipped his beer. "I hardly thought of werewolves until two months ago when I started dating Erica. But when I asked her to a concert a month ago – last full moon – she said all her full moons were taken, and told me why."

"A month is awfully fast to get that interested in Weres."

"I get enthusiastic. It fits nicely alongside a werewolf's impulsiveness." Paul shrugged.

Lena drank, then nibbled her celery. "So why did you decide she might not be Were? Enough to pay to find out?"

"Well, I wanted to go out with her during the moon. And she was evasive. I began to wonder."

"Not only enthusiastic, but impatient?"

Lena was beginning to feel warm, warmer than the alcohol, or even the Tabasco, in her drink could explain. She looked at Paul. They'd shared danger the night before – and he'd been a damnfool to get into it, but he'd handled himself well when it counted. She remembered their eyes meeting at the top of the chimney.

Their eyes met. They were silent.

Their bodies met halfway between their chairs, and Lena didn't have the slightest idea who'd made the first move. Darn that poor impulse control! They kissed, long and firmly. His left hand cradled her head; she kneaded the muscles in his back. She paused for a breath, then dove back in. And four urgent hands began to misbehave.

He lifted her up, and carried her into the bedroom.

The Morning After

Paul woke slowly, languidly, to the sun glowing through the curtains. He was nude; and beside him, Lena slept on. He studied her face, thought of the night just past. Tenderly, his hand reached out to brush her cheek.

Stubble.

Green eyes opened sleepily at his touch, looked at him, smiled apologetically. "I was bitten by a woman," she said in a tenor voice.

Paul's mind whirled as his world took a new shape. "You're Len!" he said, backing away.

"Only since moonset," Len said with a wry grin. "For which you should be thankful. Imagine how complicated it would have been if I'd changed at midnight, like Cinderella."

"But dammit …" Paul said, "… you were Lena before all the other Weres changed!"

"Oh, I change at moonrise and moonset," Len said. "But nobody bit my clothes. Don't you dress ahead of time for whatever you expect to be doing? And you said it yourself about werewolves -" Len's body-language and posture shifted. His voice went contralto. It was as if Lena were back.

"You can see a bit of wolf in them all month long."