When I woke up, I could hear Cormack talking on the phone, but I couldn't make out the words. I got up, pulled on some shorts, and went out to the living room.
Cormack was on the phone, talking quietly. "Thanks dad. Thanks for the advice. Thanks for talking to me. I really appreciate this. Say hi to mom and the kids for me." He said.
He looked up at me, and I realized he'd been crying. He angrily wiped away a tear, blew his nose and looked at me. "Sorry, that was the first time I've talked to my dad in two years."
"Two years?" I asked. "Geeze, don't you know about the morale calls?" I said. "You get ten free minutes a month."
"No, you don't understand." He said. "That's the first time in two years that my dad would TALK to me." He said. "Ever since…" and he clamped his mouth shut.
"Ever since?" I prompted.
He looked at me. "Ever since I got the disease."
"Disease?" I said blankly. "What disease? I didn't see anything in your record about you being on medical profile."
He stared at me intently "I guess…I need to come clean with you, Agent Crockett." He grimaced. "You'd be the first person I've ever admitted it to." He said. "But…I'm hoping that you'll do the right thing with what I'm about to tell you."
He breathed deeply. "I wouldn't do this if I could possibly help it, but we need to get those two under control, or the outbreak will spread." He grimaced. "And I don't think I can do this myself. I need a Hunter."
"Kid, what in the HELL are you talking about?" I demanded.
"Sir," he said earnestly, "I think if I told you, you'd be calling the pshrinks. So I better show you. Then you'll understand."
He went into the guest room and came out with something wrapped in a towel. Holding it carefully, with the towel – I realized it was a silk cloth, actually – he handed me a nicely made knife, handle first.
It looked like a Sykes-Fairbairn Fighting knife, but instead of being darkened with a carbon coating, the blade was shiny – and I realized it was chased in silver inlay. "Hopefully, you won't need this." He said.
"What the fuck?" I said.
"Just bear with me, sir." He said, as he went into the kitchen. He came back with another towel, and two half gallons of ice cream. He set the towel on the floor, and opened the cartons of ice cream. "Sorry, sir." He said. "I'll replace these for you when I can get to the commissary."
I sat there, incredulous. What the hell was this kid up to?
And that's when it got really weird.
He stared at me, and smiled. "I'm betting that you will do the right thing, Agent Crockett." He said. "And I am praying I will do the right thing, and not fuck this up."
I was past words now. What the hell was going on?
He stood up, pulled off his t-shirt, and then pulled off his shorts.
"What the FUCK are you doing?" I started to demand.
And then – he changed.
It was like watching a morph in a monster movie.
But it was in my living room, and I was pretty sure nobody had snuck any projectors in here.
Where there had been a tall, well-built naked man, he suddenly started to sprout hair – fur! – all over his body. The shape of his skull changed, and his spine shortened as he fell on his hands and knees.
And suddenly – I was looking at a wolf.
A BIG wolf.
Apparently conservation of mass applied. 180 pounds of Airman Cormack Smythe was now converted to 180 pounds of rather handsome wolf.
The wolf drew back his teeth and growled at me…I had the disturbing thought that he was sizing me up for a meal.
The knife in my hand seemed pretty small.
And then the wolf shook himself, and suddenly buried his muzzle in the ice cream box.
Surreal is the only thing I can use to describe that situation.
I smiled, as I remembered my old Timber Shepherd – a half Timber wolf, half German Shepherd cross. Taro had always loved ice cream better than anything else.
And my brain was in warp speed. I had read a lot of Science Fiction. It might be, that the change from human to wolf, took up a lot of energy. That might be why werewolves were notoriously hungry.
Cormack had grabbed the most high-energy food in the place. Maybe he could control the wolf nature better if he wasn't hungry. The wolf licked the last bit of ice cream from the second box, and sat down abruptly, wagging his tail, with a big doggy grin.
I smiled back. "OK, kid. This all makes one hell of a lot more sense, now." He came over, and set his muzzle in my lap. I rubbed his ears, and he whined that happy whine that Taro always had. I set the blade aside. Didn't look like I'd be needing it.
Cormack shook himself and then padded over to where he'd left his clothes. He shook himself and then changed back to human form. It was fascinating – I wish I'd had a video camera. The fur got short, the muzzle shrunk back into his skull, the skull changed shape, the legs lengthened into arms and legs – human arms and legs – and suddenly, Cormac was there, covered in a sheen of sweat. He staggered, grabbed his clothes, put them on, and slumped in the chair.
He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. "Damn," he said. "I thought fighting the change was bad last night." He took another deep breath. "Usually, I spend all night in wolf, and change back in my sleep. That really sucked."
He lifted his head and looked at me. "I really expected you to be a lot more weirded out by that." He slurred.
"Actually," I said, "it makes a lot more sense, now. Thank you for letting me in on your secret." I shook my head. "I can see why you were reluctant to reveal it."
"Look." He said, "there's a lot more we need to talk about, especially before we go out after these two tonight." He said. "But right now, I gotta sleep…" he said, and then his head fell over and he was asleep.
I pulled a blanket off the couch and covered him up. A million thoughts were whirling in my head.
But he was asleep, and I realized I was hungry. I went into the kitchen to fix a sandwich and some coffee.
I munched the sandwich, drank the coffee, and thought furiously. I mean, yeah, the idea of a werewolf – a real werewolf! – in the living room of my hooch was pretty strange. Some people would be running around in circles and gibbering at that point.
But – what's the old Sherlock Holmes quote – "Eliminate the impossible and the merely improbable must be the answer"?
I had seen Cormack change. I had felt his fur under my hands. That was no hoax, no hallucination, no illusion.
And the behavior of Eun-ju Li…she was a werewolf too, possibly infected by the one Cormack called "Big Boy."
Who was Big Boy?
In the end, it didn't really matter. We needed to take this guy down. Forget the damage to the farmers' livestock, these folks – Eun-ju Li and Big Boy - were an infectious disease vector.
I was taking a combat nap on the couch when Cormack started to stir. I was up and looking at him.
He smiled wanly. "Damn, sir. Are you sure you aren't a were?"
"Not that I know of, troop." I said. I looked at my watch. "We've got half an hour before we need to get on the road to Ge-dong-yo. What can you tell me about what we're facing? How does the werewolf disease work?"
"Don't really know, Special Agent." He said. "For most folks in the lowlands, this is all myth and legend, same as it was back in the old country." He shook his head. "My family have been Hunters" – I could hear the capital H "– since back in the Middle Ages."
"What do Hunters do?" I asked, pretty sure I knew the answer.
"We hunt the Creatures – mostly were-creatures and vampires, but a few of the other creatures that harm humans."
"Other creatures?" I said. I was amazed at the calm tone of my own voice. "What else is there?"
"All I ever saw was vampires and weres- mostly werewolves, but we hunted down a were-cougar once, and grandpa talked about were-grizzlies." He shrugged. "The other creatures – trolls and the Sasquatch – they tend to avoid man, even before the invention of firearms. I did met some Faerie once – High Elves have courts in the high Rockies. There's a Faerie mound up near Wolf Creek Pass, up on the Continental Divide. Lord Evenstar wanted to talk to Dad about something, and, for some reason, asked him to bring me along, even though he never talked to me, and I wasn't allowed to listen to their conversation."
I think all my disbelief circuits were totally fused. This kid was totally, calmly discussing the totally impossible, as if it was totally fact…and I was believing it, every word.
"Brownies and Gremlins are, for the most part, harmless." He said. "Dad has cleared out a few infestations in his time, though." Said Cormack. "We mostly live trap those guys and relocate them." He smiled. "Dad knows a witch who can transport them to other places on earth. A few years ago, she and her friends started sending the Gremlins to Iraq and Iran, to their defense factories and weapons depots." He smiled, "The Brownies, on the other hand, go to US Depots and maintenance facilities. Those guys can cast a glamour that makes them look like stray cats…and GIs love to set out food and milk for cats."
I shook my head. "So, tell me about the werewolf disease."
"Not much that I really do know." Admitted Cormack. "Part of the reason I became a veterinary technician was to study the biomedical aspects myself."
I was struck by a thought. "How did you make it through Boot Camp?"
"Didn't get the disease until I was in Tech School." He said. "Of all the damn things – I'd grown up hunting weres – knowing about them all my life, I'd been on a bunch of hunts with Dad and some of the other Hunters. Never expected to see a damn werewolf in San Antonio.
"One thing I don't understand." I said. "If everybody who get's bitten turns into a werewolf, then why haven't all the humans become werewolves?"
"Doesn't work that way, Agent Crockett." Said Cormack. "Near as I can determine, most folks who get bitten get a nasty staphylococcus infection. I'm pretty sure it's related to MERSA. It's only about one in maybe a hundred or more that turns were-something…and it's not always wolf, not always the local wolf species. I've managed to turn up some cases where a werewolf bite has resulted in a werecougar, but the data is inconclusive." He frowned. "Not usual to find werewolves in a pack like this – usually they are loners. Don't often find two together, unless they're family."
He scratched his ear again. "Thing is, the change has an energy cost. Going to the werewolf shape takes a lot of energy, and you come out very hungry, and with most of your human mental functions gone – and the rest lost under the urgent need to eat."
I smiled. "Thus the ice cream."
He grinned back. "Thus the ice cream. I can pretty much drive the change whenever I need to, but I try to do it in private, and have a lot of calories readily available when I do change." He said. "That makes it easier for the remnant human fraction to keep the Wolf under control."
He grimaced. "The only change we can't resist is the night of the full moon, when the moon is directly overhead. That's why I made the supply run to Osan the other day – I left before sunset, drove north to some isolated hills, and made the change, then got dressed again and got to Osan by morning. It helps. Being a Vet technician – we rarely get assigned duty outside of daylight hours. I always try to juggle my schedule to have the night of the full moon free."
I looked at my watch. "So what do we need to do about these guys?" I asked.
He grimaced. "I think we need to kill them. Werewolves are bigger, stronger, and smarter than normal wolves. Not sure if they'd fall for the culvert trap – or just go human and let themselves out."
He snapped his fingers "I better split the ammo with you." He said. "I thought I was paranoid when I brought this stuff, but now I'm glad I did." He handed me two magazines, one of 5.56 and one of 9mm Parabellum. "I only brought fifty rounds of each with me." He said. "Now I wish I had more."
I looked at the rounds. They looked normal, until I realized that, where normal 5.56 had a shiny copper jacket, these pretty much looked sort of a dull silver – not the dull grey look of lead, but silvery... They WERE silver.
"Damn." I said. "The Lone Ranger make these for you?" I asked.
"Believe it or not," he said. "A fellow in Nevada makes them. His name is Moore – claims he's a relative of Clayton Moore – a great nephew or something. But he has a little silver mine, a remnant of the Comstock Lode, and he loads a bunch of calibers. Not much call for these, most Hunters prefer something heavier – but he made them special for me when I told him I was headed over here and wanted a little insurance."
I looked at the magazines. "Just going to have to make every shot count." I said. "Any idea how many you need for a kill?"
"OK," he said. "Actually, the movies have it pretty much right. One good center of mass hit will do – it seems to be a very rapid allergic reaction or poisoning. They heal really fast, but silver seems to inhibit the quick-heal process. With regular bullets, regular weapons, you have to damage a were to the point where he or she dies before the rapid healing can kick in. Cutting off the head, severing the spinal cord – also seems to work. Cut off a limb, and the limb will re-grow – but it takes months before the full function is back. A headshot with a lead bullet will put them down, but not kill them – unless, again, you manage to break the spinal cord.:
I looked at him quizzically. "Is this lore, or have you personally done this?" I said. "Just asking, don't answer if you don't want to."
"No," he said with a grimace. "You need this information." He said. "I went on ten werewolf hunts with my dad, two on my own – three, if you count that bastard that got me in San Antonio." He grimaced. "I thought it was a big dog, and I chased it down and beat it to death with a shovel. I thought it was rabid, which is why I wanted the body. It tested negative for rabies – but a day later, I came down with the were- disease. "
He grimaced again. "That is one good thing the movies got WRONG – and it's important from a Law Enforcement perspective – kill a were- in its animal form, it stays animal. Kill it in its human form, and it stays human. Not sure how I'd handle it, if I shot a wolf and it turned human on me…kind of hard to explain that one."
"Yes" I said, looking at my watch. "We better get dressed and on the road, young fellow."
"Roger that." He agreed.
As we drove out to the Yong farm, my mind was only half on my driving. One part of my mind was off to the side yelling, "This is crazy. Werewolves? Werewolves! Are you nuts! He's crazy! Silver bullets!"
And another part was saying…"Yeah, OK, it all makes sense now…" and trying to reconcile quantum phase change to shape shifting.