Chapter 67: Ker Package
I looked at the Marine, the former friend and instructor who had just told me he was here to kill me, and my jaw dropped. “Why would you do that? What did I do to deserve a bullet in the chest?” Snipers always aimed for the chest where the large round would cause fatal damage even if it was six inches off.
“I volunteered.” The ring of wolves and panthers started to close in on him as I smelled the blood leaking from the punctures on his shoulder and neck. My cat had clawed him, we didn’t have much time if he panicked before he would make a forced turn, and that was no fun to deal with. I resigned myself to thinking I was going to have to kill him. One of my Pack members tossed me a pair of shorts and I pulled them on. Craig was starting to growl at my closeness to him, combined with his smell being on me from the shirt. Luckily for Gunny, he was smart enough not to eye rape me in front of my mate.
“I thought you were my friend, Gunny.”
“That’s why I volunteered. I know you, Ella; you’re dangerous, but you aren’t the person they were making you out to be. There had to be an explanation, but if the CIA picked another guy, they would shoot first and ignore questions later. I figured I’d talk to you and find out what really happened.”
I smiled a little at that. “So what were you told?”
“That you went rogue. There was a job in Mexico and you disappeared; the only way the Cartel would not kill you would be if you were working for them. So a few months ago when word got out that Black Ker was alive and taking jobs, your picture was front and center.” I started moving him towards home as we talked. “That was the only photo they had of Black Ker, after it was let out that the CIA sent you to me to train you for the job. You can’t believe the shit that came down after you left.”
“What do you mean?”
“Word got out that your group was really working for the Pacific Cartel. That’s what they told me, anyway. I can guess at the rest. Big shots at the CIA would flip out when they were told Al was running a group off the reservation; if the connection was made public, people would go to jail.” Al’s cat growled as he walked behind us. “The CIA sent a team to take your team out, and that team never came back. Then Jose Hernandez was killed, that pretty much confirmed you guys were rogue, since Jose was an informant with the Drug Enforcement Agency.”
I took in this information. “I was sent to you to train to kill Jose. I was told the CIA needed him dead.” It hit me like a sledgehammer. “I was never meant to survive, was I? Whether it was the Cartel or the CIA, they were going to kill me.”
“Probably. They needed things cleaned up, that meant Al and Ker had to die.” He looked over at me. “You did a good job faking your death, Ella, but without a body there was always doubt. When Ker became active, the Agency decided to find out if you really dead. If not, I was to make it so.”
We had made it almost back to the house, and most of the Pack members escorting us ran inside to get changed. “I’m not Black Ker, Gunny. I know who she is, this job had to be done and she was pregnant and couldn’t do it. I owed them for busting me out of Army custody, and this job was the price.” Craig ran out with a pair of shorts, I pulled them on before leaving the treeline since we still were worried about surveillance. “Killing that bastard of a druglord was the first time I killed someone who wasn’t trying to kill me or my people. He deserved it; you wouldn’t believe the stuff I saw while I was surveilling him.”
“Oh, I’d believe it. Those guys are animals.”
“So I killed him, and escaped. When I got back to the safe house we were using as a base, it had been attacked. The place looked like a war zone. Ker was gone, Al was damn near killed.”
Al walked back, wearing khaki shorts and a Panama shirt. “Would have been dead if she hadn’t turned me.” He stood in front of Gunny, neither man flinching as he stared him down. “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to who tried to have me killed.”
Gunny grinned. “Any ideas?”
“Two. Either the CIA was getting rid of us, or Black Ker was getting rid of the CIA. Since she was injured in the attack, I was thinking the former. I know that’s part of the answer, they are still after her. How she escaped and what she’s doing now, I don’t know.” Al put his hand on Gunny’s broad shoulder. “I don’t care, either. All I want is for Ella and I to be left alone, to raise our families in peace and safety. I’ve grown to love island life.”
“I can see that.” He looked around at the beach and the big hotel-like home. “Look, Ella… All I wanted to do was to see that it wasn’t true, that you weren’t what they said. I can see that now. Let me go, I’ll report back that there is no sign of you here.”
“It’s not as simple as that, Gunny.” I pulled aside his shirt to show the scratches on his neck and shoulder. “I’m a were-panther, and I scratched you. Luckily, you aren’t scared so the change didn’t come fast, but it will come. You’re going to become like me, like Al, like a few others on this island.”
“That doesn’t seem like too bad a retirement plan,” he said. “You’ll help?”
“Of course,” I said. “You’ll be fine.”
His fever hit an hour later, and by morning we had a new member of the Pack. His panther was huge, much bigger than Al’s or mine. Just like his human form, his cat was heavily muscled. We equipped him with the contacts, and he reported back to his superiors that I was nowhere to be found in Panama’s islands. He then turned in his retirement papers and a month later was back on the island with us.
He fit right in, especially as a hunter. He loved to mix it up with those huge wild boars, and Craig was happy that I was leaving them to him.
Now I just needed to find him a mate.
She wasn’t among our Pack, our population skewed young due to the refugees, plus the mating age women were all mated- and driving our average steadily down as they had their children. I was lying on the floor in front of the couch in cat form, having learned that shifting late in pregnancy was tough- and giving birth as a cat was MUCH easier. I was watching my children play when the teasers started on television. “Capt. Gary Johnson FOUND SAFE, interview to follow.” I had Darryl turned the volume up, curious because Derek and Renee’s pack was under severe pressure during the search for him. I notified the Pack over the bond, and soon a dozen people had joined us in the living room.
Gunny and I were talking over the bond about how he might have been rescued; I still called him Gunny because Beta made him look around for others and he didn’t like being called Ricardo. I had to save my I Love Lucy jokes for the right moments, you know. When they started the interview, I was watching with one eye until they broadened the shot and I saw Renee Johnson holding his hand. “HOLY F… IT’S RENEE!”
I blasted that over the bond and soon the room was filled with the entire Pack. I was glad panthers didn’t cry, as the emotion at seeing her alive after five years plus the pregnancy hormones left me a mess. Craig rubbed my ears and neck as we watched. She looked good, she had grown into a fine young woman and she positively glowed with happiness. Looking closer, I could see the years in war had been tough on her as well. Her eyes were hard, the same way Gunny’s were; the eyes of someone who had seen too much.
I stood up and walked closer to the screen. When the shooting occurred, I collapsed on the floor and my water broke. My heart was breaking for her as I went through labor. I took no joy in the day that I birthed the twins, son Gary was a wolf and daughter Renee was a panther. Gary couldn’t shift, I could just smell the wolf, but Renee could shift back and forth as I did. They nursed as I watched the coverage of the funeral and the end of the war.
With the signing of the peace treaty, we started to think about whether our island hideout was still needed. The refugees were split, some were happy here and wanted to stay, others wanted to return to their old packs. Maggie spoke up at the Pack meeting on the subject. “It’s been too long, Ella. Jeremy’s never met his father, and he’s five now. I have to go back.” She’d never given up her Pack bond, knowing she would return.
“We have to find out if any other members survived,” John Johnson said. “Our Pack still owns property in the Alexandria area, we need to claim it so we can revive our Pack eventually.” Even the ones who wanted to stay on the island wanted to go back to the States to search for family and friends; no one knew who had survived the war and who had not.
“I owe it to my Pack to find the dead and send them off properly,” Elder Campbell said. “The government said they would return their bodies. It’s my duty.”
“I hate to break into this party planning with some reality,” Al said, “but I have to. Ella and I are still in danger, we don’t know who gave us up and Black Ker is still out there. If anyone leaves the island, they might be traced back; if anyone changes Pack, they could be forced to tell where we are even if Craig issues an Alpha command. The safest thing for us is to remain out of sight, and out of mind.”
I stared at him for a while before answering. “I understand the danger, Al, but I can’t stand in the way of families reuniting. We have to let them go.” I looked at each of them from the couch, my babies in my arms. “I would just ask that if my name comes up, tell them that I died a few years ago.”
A week later and after a bunch of phone calls arranging logistics with Jimmy Erickson, most of my Pack was gathered by the airstrip and loading into the charter bound for Denver. Everyone was happy to go except two… Mabel and Gunny. “Why do I have to go along,” Gunny whined to me. “My relatives are all dead, my family is right here.”
“They might need protection, and you won’t be distracted,” I said. “Plus, you’ll be visiting a number of Packs, maybe you’ll both find your mates.”
“Yeah, right,” sneered Mabel. “I gave up on that years ago.”
“So did Marge, and look what happened to her.” We all laughed, she had gone through an unexpected heat and was now pregnant with their first child. Al had to stay here, so Marge was as well. “Plus, we need to find out how many of our former Pack members survived the war in their new Packs.”
They were gone for a month, and about half of them returned. Mabel wasn’t among them.