As it turned out, Chase lived on the other side of town. The so called “wrong side of the tracks”. It was fully dark by now and the neighborhood we walked through was a bit run down and creepy. The streetlights glowed a dull yellow as if they didn’t have enough power to shine bright white like the streetlights in my part of town. The streets were deserted and what my mom called a lazy wind was blowing. It didn’t bother to blow around you, it just blew right through you and froze you from the inside out. I shivered in my parka and wished for my wolf fur. In wolf form I didn’t feel the cold at all.
We eventually reached Chase’s house. It was more of a cottage really, a weathered grey clapboard with blocked gutters and a sagging roof that looked like it hadn’t seen a paintbrush in years. Dull light shone from the two front windows and showed a rickety porch with a battered old lounge chair taking up the far end. It had a tiny yard of concrete, no flowers, just a gnarled old tree from which a tattered tyre swing hung.
I hesitated, this was not at all the kind of place I had imagined Chase would live. He was after all one of the most popular boys in school. We opened the rusty gate which screeched and set the neighborhood dogs barking wildly. The porch light came on before we made it down the path to the door.
“Who is there?” shouted a deep male voice aggressively
A large man with straggly hair and a few days worth of stubble on his puffy face stood on the porch a beer bottle in one hand and a baseball bat in the other.
He saw us girls, took a slug of beer and said with a leer ”Hmm, and who might you two pretties be?”
My skin crawled and Joanna and I backed off down the path. Suddenly Chase squeezed past the man and firmly pushed him back into the house saying, ”They are my friends dad. We are going out for a bit ok?”
The man mumbled something we couldn’t hear but stumbled back inside obediently. Chase quickly closed the door behind him and said, “sorry about that.” He hurried us down the pathway to the front gate and through it before we had even realised it. He would make a great shepherd I thought ironically to myself.
We headed to the local diner where Lira had worked. I didn’t want to go there but nowhere else was open at that hour of the night. As we walked our breath left smoke trails of cold behind us and we walked fast. Chase was quiet as we hustled the few blocks towards the diner. He kept a wary eye out and seemed very on edge. Although to be honest so was I. This was not the best neighborhood to be in after dark and even a small town like ours has its low life areas. Unfortunately this was the quickest route to where we were going. A few minutes later the welcoming glow of the lights of Barrels diner shone in the night and we hurried towards its warmth and light.
Chase had so far not said a word. Neither had we, it seemed none of us knew what to say. I could feel Chase was embarrassed by his father’s behaviour and I had no idea what to say to make him feel better. We found a booth at the back and removed our coats, gloves and hats, sat down and got comfortable. Barrels was busy as usual but quieter at the back where we were and the one man band was on a break so we could hear ourselves talk. The smell of ribs, steak, chips and hot coffee made my mouth water, but we were not here for the food. Then I thought about what I had to tell Chase and all thoughts of food flew from my head. My tummy cramped with nerves, this was not going to be an easy conversation. But I had to warn him and at least we were warm and safe for now I thought. I took a deep breath to start talking but before I could speak Chase held up a hand and said “Let’s order first. Then you can tell me why you came to my house in the middle of the night.”
I gave a small sigh of relief at the brief reprieve and nodded. Just then the waitress came up to us with three menus in one hand and a small order book in the other. We did not know her and she did not seem very friendly, her name tag said Gloria. We refused the menus and by unspoken consent all ordered the same thing, the house special of hot chocolate with whipped cream and mini marshmallows on top.
While we waited for our drinks Chase explained, “Sorry about my dad. My mom left us about three months ago and my dad started drinking. Last week he got fired for being drunk at work so he is pretty angry at the world right now. To make it worse because he was fired he won’t even get his pension.”
My heart ached for Chase, he was always so cheerful and popular you would never think his home life was so difficult. I reached across the table and covered his hand with mine, “I am sorry Chase.”
He shrugged carelessly and said, “its cool. We will be OK.” but I knew it was not OK at all, he was just doing what he always did, putting on a show. Our drinks came and I insisted on paying for them, I had an allowance and he didn’t.
He looked uncomfortable at this and I stared into his eyes and said, “truly it is no problem Chase, especially since we are the ones who dragged you out here in the middle of the night. Paying for your hot chocolate is the least I can do” he seemed to accept that and relaxed a little.
He said, “Good point Clarissa, why did you drag me out here?”
Now came the hard part. “Chase, I know you are a werewolf and you know I am also one, right?”
“Yes I do know now,” he answered casting a suspicious glare at Joanna. “I knew it when your eyes flashed gold in the corridor at school.” He stared at Joanna again, who had been remarkably quiet up to this point.
She chirped in “It’s OK, I know everything,” and threw him a wink “your secret is safe with me.”
I nodded and said, “It’s true Chase, you can trust her with your life. I trust her with mine any day.”
He still looked a little worried but replied ”OK if you say so.” and took a long sip of his hot chocolate “So what is so important?”
“Have you seen the news about Lira?”
He nodded, “Yeah, they are saying it was a wolf attack but I know for sure it was none of my pack.”
Just then the waitress interrupted to ask if we needed anything else we all said no and she went away with a sigh. I think she had been hoping for a bigger order and a bigger tip. Too bad. We had more important things to worry about.
“OK, now there is something else I need to tell you about me,” I said and hesitated
“What is it?” he asked puzzled.
“Well as it happens, I am more than just a werewolf.” I explained and could feel my face warming in a blush. I hoped he would not be angry with me about something I couldn’t help. “My family are witches so I am a bit of both.” I said in a rush.
He looked puzzled and surprised, “How did that happen?” I didn’t answer that question. Joanna waggled her eyebrows at him suggestively and I could swear I saw him blush, he just stared down into what was left of his chocolate and stirred it with his spoon.
I broke the awkward silence by hurrying on, “ Lira was one of our coven. Now the witches think the werewolves are starting a war like in the past.”
He suddenly bolted upright almost knocking over his mug, “oh shit,” he exclaimed, “that is not good! The last thing my pack needs is the witches and those men in black after us.”
We nodded, but Joanna spoke, “We actually think it was the men in black who killed Lira and made it look like a wolf attack to stir trouble.”
He thought about that for a moment and replied, “Could be, but how do we convince the witches of that?”
Joanna chipped in, “More importantly I think we need to find out who they are. We can’t stop them until we know who they are and what they want.”
“I agree,” I said. “Chase do you have any ideas?”
He grinned as he remembered something, “Actually, I can do better than an idea. I have a clue.” He dug in his jeans pocket, pulled out a battered canvas wallet with a skull on it and then from the inside pocket took out a ragged strip of material and showed it to us. It was a piece of black cloth and it had clearly been ripped off a larger piece of fabric.
Joanna’s eyes lit up as she snatched it from his hand and inspected it carefully. “This I can trace,” she said.
I looked at her in amazement, “Are you kidding?”
She shook her head, “Nope. My mom has a friend who works in the police department forensic lab. He is a friend of the family. He will be able to tell us the manufacturer and as there are not that many around here we may be able to track something down.” She inspected the piece of fabric “I think I also see a few letters embroidered on here, like a name tag. H.nt..r
“I have an idea too.Chase how many men would you say attacked us that nIght?”
“About ten” he replied, “although I can’t be sure. It was so quick and unexpected.”
“Exactly,” I said enthusiastically “Ten new faces in town are bound to stand out even in the tourist season.”
“And one of them will have a bite wound,” Chase grinned and pointed at the piece of cloth in Joanna’s hand, “I got that from Smoke’s mouth after he died. He took a chunk out of one of them that is for sure.”
“Hmm,” I said, “but they probably wouldn’t go to a hospital to get treatment do you think?”
They shook their heads, we were pretty sure these guys wanted to stay under the radar.
“I wonder who they are and why they are after us?” Chase mused, “I mean we do no harm and why now after all this time? I wish they would just leave us alone” he finished wistfully.
I shrugged and patted his hand, “I don’t know Chase, but we better find out soon before all out war ensues.”
I downed the last glug of my hot chocolate and stood up, “Come on Joanna, we have a big day tomorrow.” She nodded and we donned our outer gear and headed for the door. We exited into the cold night and the warmth of our hot chocolate instantly evaporated from our bodies. We shivered in the icy air. Chase insisted on walking us home to Joanna’s place, and truth to tell we were grateful for his presence. The trip home seemed shorter and not nearly as scary when he was with us. We walked in silence all deep in our own thoughts. He left us at the gate and hurried away.
As we reached Joanna’s front door I glanced at my watch, it was 5 minutes to midnight. It was time for my change. We hurried upstairs and got into her room and closed the door just in time.
All I had time to say was, “Don’t worry, you are safe” before the change came over me and two minutes later I was a big furry wolf again.
Joanna’s eyes were wide as saucers, but not afraid She stroked me and said, “Gosh Clarissa, you are beautiful.” I licked her hand in thanks, curled up on the sofa like a dog and was almost instantly asleep. At dawn I turned human again and went back to sleep.