Look Before Leaping

By Brian Lawrence

The day-shift guard barked, "Larson, your lawyer's here."

I stood, the only one awake in the crowded cell, and pulled the borrowed brushed wool coat with a Native American pattern tightly around my otherwise naked body. The guard led me to a droll little room. In it sat a young man in a neatly pressed, slate gray suit and spit-shined wingtips. The poor boy tried desperately to look the part of the serious public defender, but with his orange hair, parted to one side, and a spattering of freckles on his boyish face, he failed miserably.

The lawyer stood and extended his hand. In a voice sucked down an octave or two, he said, "Mr. Larson, I'm Milton T. Greenhorn. Your court appointed lawyer."

I smiled, grasped his hand firmly, and replied, "My pleasure." His Mayberry face did little to win my confidence, but I could tell under his off-the-rack suit he had a good heart. Besides, what choice did I have? I'd never required a lawyer, so I didn't know any. I have eaten several, though. They usually leave a bitter aftertaste.

"Please, have a seat, Mr. Larson." We sat.

Cutting to the chase, Greenhorn said, "You've been charged with first degree murder. The arraignment will be this morning, at which time the charge will be made formal."

"Murder! I didn't murder anyone."

"According to police records, you admitted to killing a woman last night."

"Kill her, yes. Murder her, no. Murder, as I'm sure you're aware, is the unlawful killing of a human by another human with malicious aforethought. I assure you there was nothing malicious about what I did. I simply killed her for food, much like you'd kill a chicken."

Greenhorn turned ashen and gulped. "Ma...ma...maybe you'd better tell me what happened last night." He glanced furtively at the closed door, no doubt debating whether to ask the uniformed officer standing outside to step inside.

"Okay." I leaned forward on the scarred wooden table, resting my forearms on the cool surface. Directly across from me, Greenhorn leaned away. Even so, I caught a whiff of his cheap cologne, Aqua Velva I thought, and beneath that his fear, an odor I'm intimately familiar with.

I recited my tale, embellishing dramatically for effect.

"Last night, I was hunting in the city. The steamy, moonless night allowed my dark bulk to blend into the shadows. I stalked the back alleys of downtown searching for dinner. As I slinked through a dark alley, I heard the rhythmic click of heels on the rough pavement. Crouching in a doorway I fixed my gaze upon a woman of the night. A prostitute, not a vampire. There are no such things as vampires."

Greenhorn nodded, his thin body rigid, his eyes urging me on.

"The heat from her body shimmered. I easily followed her aura in the blackness. Still early in the night, only about eleven, I remained wary and carefully checked about for others. Sensing no one, I waited for her to pass. When she did, I leaped on her back. Warm, sweet blood filled my mouth as I sank my jaws into the base of her neck. I violently shook my head and tore out her spinal column, snapping her neck like a piece of balsa wood."

Greenhorn's eyes ballooned. Again, he gulped. His hands clenched the edge of the table, knuckles white. Even with my advanced auditory ability, I could barely hear him breathing.

I smiled to reassure him. The corners of his lips twitched.

"I realize my actions seem cruel." He nodded vigorously. "But I assure you the woman felt only a brief moment of shock and virtually no pain."

"The poor woman," Greenhorn whispered.

"Poor woman? Hardly. I mean I didn't choose her just because she was a prostitute. Many of them are fine people, stuck in a bad situation. But this one emanated evil like a cheap perfume."

I paused. The poor boy seemed lost in a trance. "Shall I go on?" He bobbed his head, the rest of his body stiff.

"I dragged my meal under a nearby trash bin and settled in for a leisurely repast. As I tore flesh from her meaty thigh a shrill creaking caught my attention. Instantly alert, I spotted a man emerging from a doorway about a hundred yards away. Silently, I crouched farther under the bin. The approaching man carried a flashlight that weaved a zigzag pattern along the ground. I smelled the cow blood dripping from his stained apron, and the stench of rotted fat from the trash bag he dragged along behind him. The neighborhood butcher.

"My heart leapt into my throat and my neck hairs bristled as I noticed my prey's hand protruding from under our hiding place. Agitated, I watched the zigzagging light approach the hand. I knew if the pattern persisted, my deed would be exposed.

"The light stopped. It shone directly on the hand. A deep, masculine voiced said softly, 'What the heck?'

"I tensed, ready to spring. Not to kill, mind you, just to startle and make my escape. I heard the man kneel, the creaks in his joints sounding like firecrackers. The bright ball of light traveled up the dead woman's arm, past her shoulder, and into my eyes. I sprang.

"The next thing I remember was being awakened by a uniformed police officer. There had been a small protrusion on the trash bin I had failed to notice. So there I lay, completely naked, on top of a dead woman, blood smeared around my mouth. The young officer roughly pulled me to my feet, rudely ignoring my splitting headache. He threw me against the trash bin, jerked my arms behind my back, and cuffed me. Without bothering to cover my nakedness, he tossed me into the back of a squad car."

I leaned back in my chair and rested my hands in my lap, raising my brows. After a moment, I said, "Well?"

His mouth moved, but no sound issued forth. He looked at the door, then back at me. He picked up his pen, dropped it, picked it up again. "I...I...I"

Frowning, I asked him, "Haven't they told you what I am?"

"No, what are you?" His fear at what I might answer gleamed as obvious as the pair of glasses distorting his brown eyes.

"I'm a werewolf."

He sighed nosily and without hesitation said, "Then we'll go for an insanity plea."

"No, no, no. I'm not insane." Greenhorn smiled wanly and scribbled on his pad.

Frustrated, I decided a demonstration was necessary. During the short time Greenhorn studied his pad, my jaw lengthened, my nose extended, my teeth grew, my eyes yellowed, hair sprouted over my face, and my ears grew points and moved closer to the top of my head. All quite painless, I assure you. During that same instant, fur the color of thunderheads spread over my entire body, my legs flattened at the thighs, the hips shifting, drawing underneath me. My arms thinned, my hands and feet becoming paws with razor claws. Finally, a tail sprouted from my rear, not visible due to the heavy coat.

Greenhorn, though, made the wrong assumption when he glanced up from his scribbling.

"All right, who put the dog in here, and where's my client?" The lawyer stood and stepped toward the door.

I spoke. "I'm right here, sir. And, if I may beg your pardon, I'm a wolf, not a dog."

He fainted like a felled tree. When he came to, I had returned to human form.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Larson," Greenhorn said, as he returned to his chair. "I don't know what came over me. Must have been your story. For a minute there I thought I saw a talking dog."

"A wolf, Mr. Greenhorn. Not a dog. A wolf."

"Insanity plea. Right, that's where we were."

"Mr. Greenhorn, look at me."

The lawyer stopped writing and stared at me.

"Watch very carefully." I repeated the earlier demonstration, only this time just the head. He fainted again, falling forward onto the table. We tried two more times before he finally stayed conscious.

He stared at me for some time. I patiently waited. Finally, he asked, "You said you came in naked. Where did you get the coat?"

I snarled at the memory, then said, "When we arrived at the precinct house the officer made no attempt to cover me. He paraded me through the squad room to the holding cells."

Greenhorn looked sympathetic. I continued. "I felt utterly humiliated and confused. Many times I thought of changing into a wolf and ripping the young officer to shreds."

"Why didn't you?" Greenhorn asked.

"I have a strong survival instinct. One well-placed bullet-"

"I doubt the cops carry silver bullets," Greenhorn said, snorting.

I cocked an eyebrow and replied, "A silver bullet is not required to kill a werewolf. That's a nasty rumor started and perpetuated by writers. We do have extraordinary regenerative powers; generally twenty-four hours for most wounds, however, any bullet in a vital organ will do the trick."

"Hmm." He scribbled some more, then said, "Go on."

"The fog that had settled on my brain from the bump lifted as the officer threw me into a cell with six or seven hoodlums. Most were drunks, but one quite large brute was perfectly sober. Immediately, a chorus of hoots and hollers sang out from the rogue gallery.

"I approached the larger man, well over six feet eight," six inches taller than myself, "and pleasantly asked, 'May I borrow your coat to cover myself?'

"He exploded with laughter, but then he stopped and glared at me. He said, 'Buzz off, faggot.'

"Leaving me with little choice, I quickly changed my head into a wolf's head, as you've seen."

"Uh huh. Go on," Greenhorn said, attacking his notepad furiously.

"I then laid my ears back and growled a deep, vicious snarl, saying in a low guttural voice, 'Give me the coat, jerk.'

"Speechless, the man wet his pants, fortunately not getting any on the coat as it slid off his massive frame. He then kicked the coat over to me and joined the others in the corner of the cell. It was quite amusing to see seven grown men take up the space of two."

I chuckled. Greenhorn smiled, then scratched more onto his pad. "When did the police question you?"

"After a couple hours, an officer accompanied by a tall dark man came to get me. Both men glanced curiously at the huddle in the corner and then led me to a small, sparsely furnished room with a single bulb dangling awkwardly from the ceiling. Seated in a metal chair was a bulky unshaven man. He gestured to another chair across the table and ordered me to sit.

"After fifteen minutes of good cop, bad cop they finally got down to business. The lean dark detective asked, 'Did you kill that woman?'

"'Yes,' I answered without hesitation.

"Several seconds of silence fell over us as both men struggled to pull their chins off the table.

"The bulky one then asked, 'Why?'

"'I was hungry,' I flatly stated. Both men turned snow-white, even the black detective.

"'What kind of animal are you?' the bulky detective asked.

"'I'm a werewolf.'

"The tall detective, addressing the other said, 'I'll go call Belleview.' The bulky man nodded, his unblinking eyes fixed on me, his mouth partially open, revealing crooked, tobacco stained teeth. I could tell he was dying for a cigarette.

"Before the tall man could leave, I said, 'I assure you, gentlemen, I'm perfectly sane. If you'll allow me to demonstrate.' I turned into a wolf draped with a large overcoat. Like I did for you."

"Hmm. I'm not sure that was a good idea. Why did you do that?" Greenhorn asked.

"I'm not sure what possessed me to do such a thing, to reveal my secret. But to quote a favorite cliché, desperate times call for desperate measures, and at the time, it seemed like the thing to do."

Greenhorn scribbled some more, then nodded.

I continued. "When he recovered his composure, the tall detective led me back to my cell leaving the bulky one in his chair still staring at the spot where I had been, his mouth silently working up and down like a guppy in heat. They left me in the cell until this morning, apparently unsure what to do with me."

"Fascinating," Greenhorn said. He glanced at his watch. "Your arraignment is in one hour. Let me get you some clothes and we'll go see about bail."

The judge set bail at five million dollars for the hideous crime I supposedly committed. The only reason I received bail at all was because I had a clean record, and promised not to feed again. I posted the cash, I'm quite wealthy, and broke my promise no less than six times. I had no choice.

Greenhorn gave a bland opening statement, as we planned. The prosecutor, a young, haughty assistant district attorney, electrified the crowd with his performance. Charging through his opening statement like a knight on crusade, he expounded on the iniquity of murder in general and on the brutality of my crime.

The prosecution's case consisted of three witnesses - all cops. The first was the officer who found me lying on the victim, the second and third were the two detectives who questioned me. Oddly enough, neither one mentioned my changing into a werewolf. The prosecutor focused on my confession. Greenhorn passed on cross-examination.

Before the trial, Greenhorn and I had discussed the possibility of trying to persuade the jury I had not killed the woman. The pathologist who had done the autopsy on the dead prostitute said the bite marks on the woman were those of a large dog and did not match my teeth. However, in the end, we decided it would be too difficult to explain how I'd come to be lying on the woman, naked, blood dripping from my mouth.

I took the stand on the second day.

The courtroom was jammed, mostly with reporters. Greenhorn had alerted the media the day before, feeling our best hope was generating public sympathy. He'd given them a vague idea of what was going to transpire, just enough to get them there.

The court room fell silent as I sat on the hard bench in the witness stand.

Greenhorn approached me, a benign smile on his young face. He wore a dark blue, pinstriped suit, a light blue shirt, and a pale yellow patterned tie. His wingtips clicked on the tile floor. Casually, he leaned one elbow on the witness stand. He looked at the jury, then at the throng of reporters.

"Mr. Larson, please tell the court what disease afflicts you," he said loudly.

I cleared my throat and leaned forward. "I suffer from the condition known as lycanthropy."

A few blank faces in the crowd, but for the most part, the reporters scribbled furiously, an excited buzz erupting from them. The jurors straightened in there chairs, now fully awake. The judge banged his gavel and asked for silence.

"Actually, I take issue with calling my condition a disease," I said.

Greenhorn raised his brows and pushed away from the stand. "Why's that?"

"Well, to use modern slang, it's very cool."

Dead silence throughout the court room.

"The power that courses through my veins is exhilarating. My senses are heightened. I can hear you from a quarter mile away, or tell you what cologne you're wearing from the same distance. My vertical leap is sixty-eight inches and I can run at speeds up to forty miles an hour."

A few smiles in the audience. Some of the reporters shook their heads as they took their notes. The jury sat stone-faced, trying desperately to maintain a serious attitude. After all, this was a murder trial.

"Do you have super-strength, as well?" Greenhorn asked, a skeptical smile tickling the corners of his youthful face.

"No, not super-strength. But my physical prowess is more than the average super heavy weight."

This elicited some snickers. I'm six-two and weigh one-hundred and seventy, not exactly Mr. Atlas.

"Tell me, Mr. Larson, don't werewolves only change during a full-moon? The night of the alleged attack, I believe, was a new moon."

"I can become a wolf anytime I want, day or night, new or full moon. The nonsense about uncontrollably turning into a wolf on a full moon is a writer's invention." I paused and looked around the room. The judge was scowling. I flashed him a sincere smile then said, "During a full moon we do become slightly more savage in the wolf state. It's a hormonal thing."

The reporters erupted in laughter. The jury even smiled.

The prosecutor leapt up, his chair grinding against the tile floor and shouted, "Objection. The defendant entered a not guilty plea, not an insanity plea. It's too late for-"

"I assure you, Your Honor, we have no intention of going for an insanity plea. If you'll allow my client to continue," Greenhorn said. The look in the prosecutor's eyes was pure malice.

"Overruled."

Looking at me sternly with deep dark eyes under bushy gray brows, the judge said, "Continue, Mr. Larson. But I'm warning you I will not tolerate any nonsense."

"I understand, Your Honor, but what I'm saying is not nonsense." He scowled again. Looking at the prosecutor, I said, "Nor do I profess to be insane." Reluctantly, like a spurned bully, the handsome man sat.

"Continue, Mr. Greenhorn," the judge said.

"Mr. Larson, please tell the court, did you kill Miss Kimberly Aikens on November 28th at or around eleven that night?" Greenhorn asked.

"Yes, sir, I did."

A collective gasp escaped from the courtroom. The assistant district attorney looked smug.

"Please tell the court, Mr. Larson, why you killed the woman."

"For food, sir."

Another gasp, this time more pronounced came from all in the court, even the judge. The prosecutor grinned savagely and shook his head.

Undeterred, Greenhorn pressed on. "Why would you kill a human being for food, Mr. Larson?"

"Because, sir, I had no choice."

"Why is that?"

"Well, sir, one drag about being a werewolf is the requirement to eat human flesh. As an ironic twist, the consumption of humans is what allows us to change back to the human form, otherwise we must remain in the wolf state or die."

Complete silence now hung over the courtroom. Everyone watched me, either in disbelief, or the desire to believe.

"How often must you consume human flesh?" Greenhorn asked.

"Normally, about once a week."

Another uproar from the courtroom. The judge pounded his gavel. Comments about what a repulsive savage I was floated above the din.

When the noise subsided, Greenhorn asked, "And are you selective about your diet?"

"Yes. I only kill evil people."

The outrage turned back to mirth.

"Really. And how do you tell?" Greenhorn asked.

"I have the ability to distinguish between good and evil. Werewolves can see into your very souls. Humans are such transparent creatures."

More mirth from the peanut gallery. Even Greenhorn chuckled. The prosecutor still scowled.

"Please, Mr. Larson," Greenhorn said. "Even I find this hard to believe and I'm sure the jury does, too. Tell us how this all came about."

"When I was four, we lived in central Europe. I was playing in a field near the woods when a wolf attacked and bit me. I escaped only because my father frightened the wolf away with a musket. Twenty-eight years later, at age eleven, my family came to America."

"Wait a minute. If you were four when you were bitten, how could you be eleven twenty-eight years later?" Greenhorn asked. He knew the answer, of course, but his acting ability was impressive. The jury nodded, eyes on me, questioning.

"Werewolves are not immortal. We age the opposite of dogs. In dogs, every one human year is approximately seven dog years. But in werewolves, for every seven human years, I age only one year."

"When were you born?" Greenhorn asked.

I hesitated on my answer, pretending to be calculating. Each juror leaned forward. The reporters held pens poised above notepads. This was vital information I was about to impart upon them.

"I was born in 1752."

Silence.

"And how old are you?" Greenhorn asked.

"I'm thirty-eight."

Pens met paper sounding like waves on a beach.

"Are there others like you?" Greenhorn asked.

"Yes, but very few. For centuries we've been persecuted, killed whenever we're discovered."

"And before today, how many people did you tell about your condition?"

"Only the two detectives and you."

"So, up until now, you've lived over 240 years without detection?"

"Yes, sir."

"No further questions at this time, your honor."

Greenhorn sat. After a moment, the prosecutor stood, a skeptical look on his granite chiseled face. He approached me and simply said, "Can you prove any of this incredible story?" His tone mocked me and he wore a feral grin, soon to be eradicated from his handsome face.

Like I said, humans are so transparent. I knew that would be his first question. Our strategy was based on it. I stood and started removing my clothes. The bailiff put his hand on his gun. The prosecutor objected. Greenhorn pleaded. The judge overruled, allowing me to continue, knowing, I sensed, what was about to happen.

I turned my back to the jury, so as not to embarrass the women. As soon as I stood naked, my complete self exposed to the world, I transformed into a wolf. Absolute silence hung over the court room. I slowly turned, avoiding any sudden moves or menacing gestures as the bailiff had pulled his gun.

You see, as a human I weigh one hundred and seventy pounds. And even though a werewolf is a creature with puissant powers we cannot destroy mass, only transform it. So, as a wolf I also weigh one hundred and seventy pounds, nearly three times the weight of a normal wolf; an impressive and frightful sight.

Fear exploded from the people in the courtroom, panic only a breath away. I sensed the people were ready to bolt, so I changed back. For several moments, as I casually dressed, nobody moved or spoke. Most people barely breathed.

After I finished dressing, the prosecutor said in a wavering voice, "No further questions." He walked back to his seat and heavily sat down. The trial was adjourned to the next day.

All that remained were the closing statements.

Greenhorn stood slowly, moved behind his chair, and looked at the jury with a calm expression, ignoring the reporters behind him, packed in, standing room only. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what you've witnessed over the past several days is not something you're apt to see again. It's what many would call...the supernatural. But we now know it's real.

"You have the opportunity, or misfortune, however you choose to look at it, to make a landmark decision. My client, Mr. Larson, is not a human being. He's a werewolf."

As he spoke, he moved from behind our table to a position between the jury box and the judge. All eyes followed.

"You cannot dispute that fact. You have seen it."

Their heads bobbed in unison.

"And as such, he's a different species of animal from you and I."

Making a half turn, he faced the judge, who leaned on his forearms intensely watching Greenhorn. "And therein lies the crux of this matter. If he were human, then his killing of that woman would definitely be murder. But as a werewolf, a non-human, intelligent species that has existed on this earth for over two hundred years, can he be charged with murder when all he did was kill for food?"

He pivoted toward the jury and approached the box. As he leaned on the railing, he said in a low voice, "Is what my client did any different from you or I killing a cow for our steak dinner?"

Greenhorn pushed away from the railing and raised his voice to normal volume. "He's told you, and I believe him, if given the choice he would not kill humans. He's been totally frank with you, held nothing back so you should have no reason to doubt his sincerity." He raised his voice, "But to eat human flesh is a matter of his survival. So on behalf of his species, I implore you to find him innocent. To set him free."

The reporters scribbled madly, like insane bookkeepers. The faint whir of tape recorders could be heard during each break in Greenhorn's recitation.

Again, he faced the judge. "As a gesture to acknowledge your understanding and to accommodate the repulsion you certainly must feel toward him, he's agreed to leave this country, to return to his native land, if allowed."

He turned to the jury and held his hands out in supplication. "Please, ladies and gentlemen, consider your verdict carefully. Follow your conscience, for the law offers very little guidance in this case."

Covering the space between him and the jury box quickly, he slammed his hands on the rail and said loudly, "Do you want to be responsible for the possible extinction of a species?

"Thank-you. I know you'll do what's right. What's in your heart." He sat. We thought we had won. Especially after the prosecutor's closing statement, a desperate plea to follow the law. It looked in the bag...but we were wrong.

In less than an hour of deliberation the jury returned a guilty verdict. I was devastated. Greenhorn said we would appeal, but I just shook my head. It was over.

The next night, in my cell, I received a surprise visitor. The judge who had presided over the trial had some questions for me.

"Mr. Larson, let me ask you something. You mentioned that if, as a wolf, you didn't kill and eat human flesh, you couldn't change back to human form or you'd die?"

"Yes, sir, that's correct."

"So, if I send you to prison you'll be forced to either kill inmates for food or die?"

"Yes, sir. It appears that way."

"What will you do?"

I know he wanted me to say I would just go away and die, but I refused to give in. I said, "I'll kill until they put me in solitary, at which time I'll remain a wolf."

He stood there looking at me, a pensive expression on his regal face. "For some reason, I believe you. I don't know why, but I do. What happens if you just stay a wolf?"

"After a year, if I don't eat human flesh, I lose the ability to change to a human, even if I eat a human after then."

"So you become a plain wolf, not a werewolf?"

"Technically, no. But for all practical purposes, yes."

"Then, Mr. Larson, this is what I'm going to do. Next week at your sentencing I'm going to give you a life sentence without parole in the state penitentiary. But if you'll agree, I'll ship you to the Minnesota Zoo, where for two years, just to be safe you understand-"

I nodded. I could see where he headed.

"For two years you'll remain as a wolf in the zoo's timber wolf area. You'll be quite an attraction with your size and all. Anyway, after two years you'll be released into the wilds of Alaska. Do you agree to these terms?"

I hate cold weather, but what choice did I have? I thought about asking for Montana, but decided not to press my luck. "Yes, sir. I agree to your sentence. In the face of it all, you're being more than fair."

So here I sit awaiting my fate. Tomorrow, I get shipped to Minnesota. Tonight are my last hours in human form. Do I regret my decision? Certainly not. Is there anything I regret? Of course. I regret being such a moron I forgot to look before I leaped and smacked my head on that trash bin.

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