(A Moxie Donovan byline)
Story by Teel James Glenn / Illustration by John Waltrip
The year is 1938:
My wife, Maxi, says I’m not your average jerk, no sir, she says I’m a special kind of idiot, which explains why I ran straight into that little pub on the outskirts of Gatineau, Quebec following a killer.
I paused in the doorway of the tavern to force myself to breathe normally and scanned the room. There were five individuals inside the tavern that all looked human. I knew that one of them was not.
Let me backtrack.
My name is Moxie Donavan and I used to slap Smith-Corona keys for a living as a reporter, though now I’m a flack for Hollywood. It was what I was doing up in Canuckland, covering the premier of my wife’s latest Universal film, a Singing Mountie epic, across the river in Ottawa. I had decided to take in the sights on a Friday night on the North side of the river.
It was a full moon, and I suppose that was the crux of it, ‘cause while I was walking along on my own I came upon something that no Hollywood hoodoo could come close to in horror.
It was a quiet side street down by the river walk on the outskirts of town when I heard a short, sharp cry that became a gurgle of pain from down a nearby alley.
I ran toward the sound and entered a trash-strewn alley just in time to see a dark figure, backlit by a streetlamp, hunched over a body on the ground. The victim was a young girl who was stretched out in a pool of blood.
“Hey, you!” I yelled as I piled on the coal and ran at the figure.
Then the killer turned around to stare at me and I pulled up short.
The thing that stood before me was not human, not by a long shot. It stood upright on two legs, all right, but that is where any resemblance to Clark Gable ended. The thing was furry as a rat with red, feral eyes and a fanged snoot that emitted a roar when it saw me. It was covered with gore and blood dripped from its maw.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes and at that moment I was about as religious as the Pope. My legs turned to jelly and my heart started to pump like an oil well but for some reason (probably the reason Maxi calls me an idiot) I was angrier with that misshapen piece of reality for hurting that girl than I was scared for myself.
The beast took a slow step toward me in a low crouch but I didn’t wait for him to spring. I snatched up a pipe from a pile of trash nearby and did a Sultan of Swat impersonation, connecting with the carnivorous kisser. Hard.
The monstrosity staggered back but I could see that my Babe Ruth hadn’t really done any damage. Instead I think I made it mad.
Dogface gave out a sound halfway between a bark and growl and fixed his eyes on me. I felt as if I wasn’t going to see my redhead any more and wished I’d given her just one more hug before I got on the plane for Ottawa from California where she was finishing another picture.
Just then headlights slashed across the alley and startled the monster enough to put it to flight.
I went straight to the fallen girl but it was clear without even touching her shredded corpse that there was nothing I could do. I’ve worked the crime beat in a couple of big towns but I hadn’t seen anything half as ugly as the mangled corpse of that poor girl.
That was when my wife’s assessment of me came in again; any sane man would have gone for help or waited for the police or fallen down blubbering in fear. Not Mrs. Donovan’s little boy.
I took off after the hirsute horror at a dead run.
Hey, I was a newspaperman at heart and the Fourth Estate demanded that I at least follow the killer and find out how the story ended so I had a -30- for my four column story.
The snowy ground made tracking the beast easy even for this city boy and I followed the spooked specter through some winding streets till the tracks changed.
And by changed, I mean, one step had taloned bare toes in the snow and the next were very human looking shoe prints.
That stopped me for a second, imagining the runner transforming in midstep from beast to human, but then, considering the strange things I had seen in my career prior to the beast’s butchery, I bucked up and pressed on.
Half a block further on the footprints turned into a little building that had a metal cutout of a Teapot hanging in front of it. The words Thu du Prince were written in white letters on the black metal of the silhouette.
I took a deep breath, hefted the pipe I still held in my hand, grabbed the doorknob and pushed my way into the building.
So there I stood like the boy on the burning deck looking at a group of people in the tavern, one of whom I knew was something horrid, something murderous that had literally torn a village girl limb from limb only minutes before.
I took off my hat and overcoat and hung them up on a hook by the door, stomped the mud off my shoes and slipped the pipe up my jacket sleeve, just to be on the safe side.
The tavern was a classic big, rustic, cheery room, with exposed beams and a stone hearth to one side, on the mantelpiece of which was a shiny antique teapot and service. In the back of the room was a short bar and some tables were strewn around the room. It had the feel of an older age, with shadows from the roaring fire dancing along the stuccoed walls.
A burly, bearded fellow dressed like a cartoon lumberJock was sitting at a table by himself with two tankards in front of him and a mean scowl on his face, giving me the evil eye. A stout barrel of a man was behind the bar working a rag into a glass and chatting with a mousy guy in a rumpled suit who was hunched over a drink and eating some peanuts.
Lastly, an old duffer was at a table by the hearth resting on the worn elbows of his tweed jacket and staring into an empty beer glass. He barely looked up when I entered.
A young, buxom, dark haired country girl was stoking the fire in the hearth. When she looked up and saw my expensive, Hollywood-cut city-clothes I saw her eyes go wide with visions of tips and maybe a ride to civilization. She stood up and wiggled her way over to me.
“Bonsoir, monsieur,” she said in a pleasant voice and then started a rapidfire stream of words in French.
“Wow,” I said, “Sorry, I kiss French, but I don’t speak it.”
“Welcome, sir,” she said with a quick change of gears and a wide smile. “We do not get many Anglais on this side of the river.” She escorted me to a table across from the old rummy, on the other side of the hearth. “Can I get you a drink, “she said then licked her lips and added, “or anything?”
I felt my wedding ring heat up and answered, “Just a cold beer, hon.”
I settled into the worn wooden chair with my back to the hearth, where I could keep everyone in my line of sight. I let the pipe slip down beside me, secretly so I could grab it if I needed to, though considering how little it did in the alley my confidence wasn’t very high it would help if one of my companions went full on Lassie at me.
“Been you come to visit from America?” the rummy asked me. He was listing in my direction, not really looking directly on at me and I had the impression his eyes weren’t focusing all that well, a condition I understood well. He had a genial smile that showed a number of missing teeth.
“Uh, yes,” I said while keeping my eyes on the room. “Over at Ottawa for a movie premier “King of the Northwest!”
“Eh?” he swung his whole body in my direction as if his head was too delicately balanced on his neck to chance turning by itself.
“A movie.” I said. “I work doing publicity for the company that made it.” I was a little too distracted keeping my peepers on everyone to give him a real sales pitch, even though it should have been second nature.
The girl was back with my beer and when she heard my pronouncement and she lit up like a sailor on leave at the burlesque house!
“You work in the movies?” she said in her French accented voice. Her eyes were wide as saucers.
I had seen the look before, in lots of small town girls when I mentioned tinsel town. Less scrupulous (or less married) fellows have been known to take advantage of that look. I just gave her the Donovan smile and hoped she wasn’t going to turn into a hairy murderer in the next eyeblink.
“I do work around the movies, hon,” I said, “In publicity. Now. But I was a reporter—”
You would have thought I yelled raw meat at the lion house at the zoo.
The rumpled suit at the bar swiveled his head fast enough to get vertigo and glimmed me at the same time the burly, bearded bohunk that had been sitting across the room from me was on his feet and lumbering toward me. The plaid shirted giant easily topped my six two and outweighed me by fifty pounds of solid, northwoods muscle and he didn’t look happy.
“Marie,” he said in a deep voice, “Why you talk to this Anglais when I need a drink?”
Great, the natives were restless and I was the cause.
“I… uh…” I started to try to talk my way out of a Romeo and Juliet disaster when Rumpled Suit staggered over to step past Gargantua.
He fixed his bloodshot eyes on me and I suddenly felt like I was looking in a distorted mirror.
My suspicion was confirmed when he thrust out a pale, long fingered hand and said, “Bonsoir, monsieur, I am Pierre DeGaul. I could not help overhearing what you said to our little Marie; I am a reporter myself.”
The bearded giant, standing protectively by the dark haired girl snorted derisively but Pierre ignored him and did his best to look dignified, despite looking like he’d been sleeping in that suit for a week.
Yep, he was a reporter.
I wasn’t surprised to find a fellow type-jockey in a bar—in any big city, the Fourth Estate has ‘ambassadors’ in most watering holes—but in that tavern that night it was the last thing I expected.
I glanced down at the thrust hand, half expecting to see it dripping with blood—it wasn’t—and shook it.
“Moxie Donovan,” I announced as we flopped flanges. “Late of the Daily Star in New York—now a Universal Pictures press hack.”
“I’m the chief report, editor and bottle washer at the local paper here The Gatineau Heraut.” He shrugged and looked a bit ashamed. “We’re little more than a store circular… but—”
“Not much more at all,” the rummy across the hearth said with a snort that made Gargantua laugh. Marie elbowed the big jerk and Pierre did his best to ignore it.
I motioned to the reporter to sit. “Say no more,” I said, following the dictum of keep your enemies close. “Sit; I’m on an expense account; what will you have?”
Pierre sat and ordered in French that sent the girl scurrying to return in moments with a beer and a shot for him. The big bearded cuss didn’t seem to know what to do with himself so he just stood there till she came back and slipped herself under his arm, obviously, a familiar place.
“What brings you to our little hamlet?” My colleague asked me after he had thrown back the whiskey. “Not much happens here, except that Prince Edward stopped by in 1919 and had tea here.” He pointed up at the shiny tea set on the mantel, then his expression darkened. “Unless you heard about the wolf attack.”
That perked my ears up. “Wolf attack?”
“Yes,” he said, “Last month—Janet Dupree was found near Lange-Gardien, horribly killed by a wolf. The police say it wandered down the river from up north.”
“They never caught it,” Marie said with a shiver. “But no one has seen it since then so they think it went home. It is still scary.”
The old rummy from the table across the hearth snorted and worked to focus his eyes on me. “Weren’t no ordinary beast,” he said with a hiccup. “It was a loup-garou; a werewolf!”
Marie gasped and the color drained from her face.
“Now hush up,” the tavern keeper said. “Don’t go spouting your usual nonsense about shape changers, Armand; you frighten my daughter.”
“It scares me,” Pierre said, “But it would make good copy if I had a shred of evidence.”
“Never let that stop me,” I ventured, “Though sometimes it would slow me down.”
I looked around at the assembled members of the saloon and was abruptly aware I was the center in the semi-circle with my back to the hearth. And suddenly very aware again that one of them was a killer.
I glanced at a clock on the wall and realized we were near moonfall. And that would change things; I knew that if I didn’t force things the time to prove who was what—so to speak—would be over. I’d have a whole month before the hairy horror would be provable.
Just then I had a thought squall—not quite a brainstorm, but it would have to do.
“Come away, Marie,” the cartoon lumberJock said, putting his hairy hand on the girl’s shoulder, “You don’t need to be around these marchand de ragots!”
“Wait a minute, Bluto,” I protested. “I think you all need to hear what I have to say just now: it is a matter of life and death.”
That got raised eyebrows from everyone, even the rummy, Armand. Everyone zeroed in on me looking for wisdom and I suddenly felt like Philo Vance (but with less of a stick up my butt).
“That was no wolf that killed that girl last month; it was what Armand said- a loop gabon—”
“Loup-garou!” He corrected.
“Yeah—a werewolf!” I continued, “And it killed another girl tonight.”
That got a collective gasp from everyone with the lumberjack exclaiming, “Osti!” I figured that meant I was on the right tack so I pushed on into Sam Spade territory with my plan.
“I followed the trail of the killer to this building,” I said with all the mellow drama I could muster, “I am convinced that the killer… is one of you!”
“Tabernak!” Bluto said.
“Maudit!” the innkeeper said. “That is absurd! To make such a statement.”
“What’s more,” I pushed on before I lost my audience, “The moon is about to go down and now the killer knows I know he’s one of you.” I stood up from my chair to get all dramatic and smiled. “Being a nosy reporter the killer has to realize I will figure out who it is before the next full moon and make it public knowledge.”
I waited for that to sink in while I looked from face to face till I was sure who was the alter ego of the fiendish furball. That gave me the courage to finish my pitch.
“So the killer has to get me tonight, in the next couple of minutes which means this loop Gammon—”
“—Loup-garou,” Armand corrected.
“Yeah—him—” I continued, “Anyway, he has to kill everyone here to cover up my murder or his whole game is going public.”
That did it, my challenge was out in the open, clear, logical and, proving my wife right, insane.
To make it clear that I was finished I turned away from the group to face the mantel.
There was silence behind me this time for two seconds then everyone but the killer started to talk—mostly in French—denying and accusing. I watched them in the reflection of the teapot.
The disguised killer instead sprang for me, transforming from human to lupine form in an eye-blink.
I was ready.
I grabbed the silver serving-tray from beneath the teapot and spun with all the force I could, smashing the tray flat into the fanged face of the fiend.
The werewolf yelped in agony when the silver hit him and dropped to the floor.
I pounced on the fallen form with the butterknife I had glommed from the set and plunged the silver knife directly into the heart of the wounded werewolf.
The other clustered around and watched in shocked silence as the furry fury went into its death throws and then began to transform back into a human shape.
‘Tabernak!” The lumberJock exclaimed as he pulled the willing Marie into a close embrace.
“Mother of God,” the tavern keeper gasped.
“Old Armand,” Pierre whispered in disbelief as he stared at the corpse of the old rummy as it went from human to rotted corpse then crumbled to ash in ten heartbeats.
The tavernkeeper looked at the ruined tea set and the remains of the werewolf then looked at me with wide eyes and said, “I guess we will have to change the name of the place to Loup Taniere!”
“You knew,” my fellow reporter said to me. “How did you know?”
My breathing was beginning to return to normal at that point, but my heart was still racing at a mile a minute. My wife really is right, I am a special kind of jerk, but I was a triumphant jerk at that point so I sucked it up and acted calm.
“Elementary, my dear colleague,” I said. “You all acted like you could be expected to act; you started to talk shop and worked me for a nip,” I looked to the couple, “you came at me with stars in your eyes and he tried to prove he was more man than me. Papa did his best to keep things calm, but—” I looked down at the ashes left by the dead rummy, “But Armand did not once try to cadge a drink from me. Have you ever heard about a pub souse who did not beg or steal every drink of grog he could?”
I was done being heroic then and added, “And speaking of drinks, a round for everyone, innkeeper while we wait for the cops; I have to figure out how to lie to my wife for getting involved with this!”
But then, that really wasn’t possible, she knew I was a reporter, which is a special kind of jerk indeed!
Let’s say right off the bat that in Price’s imagined world, magic is real. There are places where its use is banned, but that hasn’t stopped mages. I won’t give away any real details but the main issue is that “The confederates” would be able to stop a train along the route and unload the Anti-Magic. It’s just as if the Civil War was being fought all over again…pitting brother against brother, in this case literally.