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Chapter 17: Nebraska

I leaned down and kissed Gunny goodbye, then grabbed my stuff and walked out. My clothes had been laundered and packed, and Renee was waiting with a cooler filled with drinks and sandwiches for the road. I hugged her, thanking her for everything, then I followed Jerry to the waiting sedan.

I called Craig back once we were on the road. “What happened, Alpha?”

“Details are sketchy, but it looks like a drive-by shooting. One dead, a Pack warrior in training. She was 16. Single gunshot at close range while she was sitting in her car making a right turn.”

“Please tell me there was a witness,” I said.

“Nothing, a passing car found them. The local police called it in when they found a scrabble piece in the car, like someone had tossed it in. The letter ‘L’, one point.”

T T T H H R M S was already written in my notebook, I added an ‘L’ to the end. Tapping my pen against the pad, I came up with nothing. Another clue bought at the cost of a life. “Anything from the coding guys?”

“They’ve added the new information, and are using a program to sift through the possibilities. They don’t have any single word that contains every one of those letters, so they are thinking it might be a name or a phrase. What they are doing now is sifting through the millions of possibilities looking for something that makes up actual words.”

“Any other ideas from the team?”

“Not really. We didn’t find anything new in the Cascade or Telluride Pack cases, and right now Rob Smith and Melody Post are on their way to the Adirondack Pack. We’re still adding names to the database, and the cameras haven’t given us anything to go on yet. The call center is up and running, thousands of tips have called in but nothing good yet, according to Nadine. Listen, we just arrived at the plane, I’ll talk to you more when you get here.”

He hung up so I took the time to call Charlotte. “Hi, baby. Did you see my text?”

“Yes,” she said dejectedly. “We’re getting ready to leave now. Do you know how long you’ll be gone? Ella said there was another killing in Nebraska.”

“No, but at least a day. Can you pack a day’s worth of clothes for me and a couple days’ worth for Gunny? He’s able to move around some now and I’m sure he’s getting restless.”

“Sure Mom. Alpha Renee has guest rooms, right? So Josh and I can stay there?”

I had to push down my protectiveness, of course they would want to be together but I was still her mom. “Actually, honey, I need you to do something for me.” She wouldn’t like this as much but it would help and it would make ME sleep easier. “You know that Gunny will heal faster if he’s with someone.”

“MOM! He’s NAKED under there!”

“Doc is going to have his shift, have him go into his cat form and you go sleep with him. His panther already sees you as his daughter so it’s the next best thing to me. If you want, you can have Josh go wolf and sleep on the other side. That’s the only way you all get to be together, young lady. If you don’t like it, I’m sure I can get Renee to give you separate rooms.”

She huffed a little, but she was smart enough to take what she could get. She’d already confessed to me that she slept so much better when Josh was around, and he was always in his wolf form for it. “FINE. Just because they are so comfy to snuggle into, even if they DO leave hair all over my jammies. If one of them starts licking my face I’m going MMA on their ass, though.”

It was true, I had gone through more tape rolls to keep black hairs off my work clothes than I could believe. It was like having twenty cats in the house. “Tell Gunny I have a job for him. He knows the capabilities of the shooter, I need him to send his advice on defending against her to all the Packs.”

“Got it, Mom. Hey, Alpha Ella wants to talk to you.”

I had to admit it was weird, looking to a woman more than ten years my junior as my leader, but Craig and Ella were both born to lead and I could see how well they did it. “Rose?”

“Hi Ella, thanks for helping with those two,” I said.

“It’s no problem, and we all love Charlotte. She kicks ass like a werecat already. Do you want me to get anything else other than clothes?”

“No, but if you would, Alpha command both Gunny and Josh to remain in their animal forms all night. The last thing I need is for her to wake up with two naked guy next to her.” She laughed and said she would. “Now, one other thing I just thought about. The killer was in New Mexico and is in south central Nebraska now. We need to warn the Packs to the North and East that she could be on her way to any of their territories. Keep their people close, watch the borders, report anything suspicious.”

“Will do, Rose. Have a good trip, and catch this woman before she kills more,” she said.

We reached the airfield, and Jerry drove into the hangar where the private jet was waiting, its engines already idling. He grabbed my bag and escorted me to the stairs, and as soon as I was inside the door was closed. We were taxiing out for takeoff by the time I got my seatbelt on.

“How is Gunny doing, Rose?”

“He’s being a pain in my ass, William,” I said as I adjusted my seat. I was sitting next to Alpha Craig, William Post was across from me, and Linda Remington was next to him. “Doc puts him on bedrest and he thinks that means he can have sex all day long. I would have whapped him with a rolled-up newspaper until I realized that’s only for canines,” I said.

“He’s just found his mate, his instinct is to claim and mate,” Craig said. “Frankly, I’m amazed your neck is still clear.”

I laughed. “No time for that, his cat doesn’t like it but his human side understands. Plus, Ella put Alpha command on him. He just insists on having his scent on and in me at all times.”

“You aren’t fully his yet, his cat sees that as a way of warning off rivals. You’ll just have to put up with it until your mating is complete.”

“What brings you here, William?”

“I’m continuing on to New York, meeting Melody and Rob there. Once they are done we’ll come back to Superior and bring you guys home when we are done.”

We were airborne, climbing rapidly to the northeast. “So bring me up to speed with the case,” I said.

Craig’s laptop was connected to the television that lowered down from the ceiling, and he soon had the details of the case so far. The first thing up was a picture, looking like a yearbook photo, of a young girl with long, light brown hair in her cheerleading uniform. “Victim was Denise Young, age sixteen, junior at Superior High School. Cheerleader, debate team, honor roll. She was in training to become a Pack Warrior like her father. No mate or boyfriend, nothing showed up in the Internet searches out of the norm. She was driving home from practice to her home fifteen miles northeast of Superior.”

He clicked on another photo, this one a crime scene. It was a four-way stop with turn lanes; her car had driven across the intersection and the front end of her Dodge Neon was stuck in the soft mud before the cornfield, right turn signal on. He clicked on a different view, then a picture through the driver’s side window. She was buckled in, her head hanging forward and almost touching the steering wheel. The exit wound had removed a large chunk from the back of her head, and parts of flesh and brain were spattered over the seat and the passenger side window. “The car was still in drive, wheels spinning.” He clicked on the next photo, taken after she had been removed from the vehicle. A hole was just above the right corner of her mouth. “Single shot, large caliber handgun. No powder burns, so it wasn’t point-blank range.”

“Was her window down when they found her?”

“Yes, and it was in the forties so the local Sheriff thinks she rolled it down. The investigators think she was turning right when someone pulled up next to her. She probably rolled her widow down, and that person shot her.”

This sucked, it was a lot like the killing at the Gila pack. “Shell casing? Anything else?”

“No shell casing, so she either picked it up or she shot from inside her own vehicle and it never exited.”

I closed my eyes, the headache already forming. “Traffic cameras and the Kansas Turnpike. Use the travel times from Albuquerque and Superior to set the range of times. I want every single license plate screened against those we found in the Albuquerque search.”

“On it,” Craig said as he typed on his phone.

I took his computer and started flicking through the other photos, looking at what little we had. “How well known was it that she was Pack?”

“Pretty well known. Her Facebook page lists it, and she was interviewed at Wolfstock by Fox News. She and her sister attended, looking for their mates.” Craig clicked on her page. Sure enough, among her posts were invites to the young wolf get-togethers that started to be held in between the yearly festival. “Their Pack is small and isolated. She and her sister were both active in the mate search.”

I scrolled down to a photo of her with her family; her parents, older sister and younger brother were with her, in the stands at Wolfstock. They looked like a typical Nebraska farm family; the Dad was barrel chested and strong, Mom was pretty and had her own strength. Her sister was a older version of her, and her younger brother was still growing into his form. They looked so happy then, and I could only imagine how they felt now.

“Do you think this was planned or random,” I asked.

William was first to answer. “Only a fraction of the school is werewolf, and how is a human going to tell the difference? The only way I can see this is if our killer knew who she was. Either she waited along the way home, or she followed her until she had the right opportunity.”

“The Packs are going to freak,” Craig said. “What do we tell them?”

“Gunny’s working on something, but we tell them the truth. There is a killer out there who is targeting wolves, and is picking out vulnerable targets. They need to protect their members.”

He was right, this threat overruled things like school and work. Until we found the killer, they needed to stay together and stay protected. I told Craig what I was thinking, and he agreed. I pulled out the phone from the armrest and dialed Ella first. “Ella, it’s Rose. The killer targeted a young girl on the way home from school today, we believe she is choosing targets, maybe following them. Craig and I agree, we need to keep our whole Pack inside the gates. No school, no work. Nobody leaves the compound unless escorted in groups of four or more, and we should avoid that as much as we can.”

“What about visiting Gunny? We’ve already left.”

I thought about it. “Stay there for a while, she’s a few states away so it won’t be an issue for this trip. I’m calling Robert and Renee next.” I hung up and made that phone call, asking them to pass the word to the other Packs.

The werewolf population of the United States was bunkering down for the first time since the end of the war, and I hated it.

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