The Protectors
Author: Fox Wild

Chapter 2
Learning Curve

Rewrite: 6/1/2014

Chapter 2

 

Learning Curve

 

 

That big eight wheeler rollin’ down the track means your true lovin daddy ain’t commin back, cuz I monvin on…” came from the Bose sound system in the den when Snow finally emerged from upstairs. 

 

It was just past one in the afternoon.  Snow was wearing her version of a nightgown; a light clothed single piece dress with no sleeves down to her ankles, in black naturally.  She walked passed the kitchen through the dining room and to the sunken den where Duncan was sitting.  “Hank Snow?  Really?”  She said to his back. 

 

He didn’t say anything.  He was sitting at a large mahogany desk with a computer on it.  Snow approached with apprehension.  She smelt something, not wrong, concern.  As she approached, she noticed her wallet was on his desk.  It was open and items had been removed. 

 

Her first emotion was of violation, trust broken.  She was hurt that he had riffled though her belongings.  Then, a calmer mind took over, there must be a reason.  She came around his right side, from there she could see the monitor of the computer, on it a face she recognized.  Jennifer Mitchell’s face was prominently displayed on a missing persons poster. 

 

Her parents, having not heard from her since after the accident had filed a missing persons report with the police.  The page stated she never showed up for college and mentioned her ID and birth records had been used in several states to obtain drivers licenses with another girl’s picture on them.  It was also reported that her social security number had been used in obtaining several jobs. 

 

An article below stated police had almost captured the girl in question when she was working at a trend clothing store.  It went on to say when they went to the location on file with the store as her residence they only found a vacant wooded lot.

 

“I thought it best after you told me the story of how you claimed your most recent identity,” Duncan began, “to check into the name and records on her.”  Duncan clicked on a tab.  Another poster popped up, this time it had an artist’s rendering of Snow.  It was fairly accurate. 

 

The poster was an FBI wanted poster.  She was wanted in the disappearance of Jennifer Mitchell.  The information on the poster said the girl in question was to be considered armed and dangerous.  Also listed were several warrants for her arrest, one from the state where the accident happened.  Others were from states she’d obtained her licenses from for falsifying government documents and identity theft.

 

Duncan looked back at her.  “We need to clean this up, before it becomes even worse.”  He said to her.  Snow was still gawking at the images on the monitor.  “You need to be more careful in choosing a new identity.  I might suggest someone with no family.  Surely with the kinds of numbers, clans of werewolves, they can’t all be taking on identities in this manner.”  He stated.

 

Snow looked away.  Stupid!  She knew better.  Duncan was right, she could have gone to a clan, they would have provided her with a new identity, clean and legal in the human system.  They had people for that.  She let her personal feelings jeopardize their anonymity.  Sloppy, damn sloppy.  She herself had said record keeping had become more sophisticated.  She knew better. 

 

It had been three years ago she took this identity.  She didn’t realize how close she’d come to being caught.  The day the cops showed up at the clothing store, she had quit and walked out less than ten minutes before they arrived.

 

“How did you know the police were coming to the store?”  Duncan asked her.

 

She hadn’t known, it was dumb luck.  “I didn’t know, it was dumb luck, Duncan.” 

 

She looked over at him.  Her face told him she realized her errors, late but, a lesson learned.  “I only took the job so I could get clothes, employees get a discount on purchases, so I took the job, stocked up on clothes over a few months, then I quit.  I came in that day for my regular shift, I showed up early, maybe an hour.  I told the manager I couldn’t work that day and I wouldn’t be back due to personal issues.”

 

Her eyes ran over other information on the display.  “She seemed nervous, she asked me to stay and talk, she was rather insistent.  Her scent was all wrong.  She asked me to wait when a customer came up to purchase something, that’s when I slipped out.  I never went back.  I left the city that day, went to the woods, packed up and was on a bus in an hour.”   Snow knew something was up with the woman, humans can be read by their scent.

 

So can her kind.

 

“Smart move.”  Duncan said.  “The manager called the police when you came in.  They were planning on being there shortly before you arrived for your shift, they had a trap set as it were.  Only you showed up earlier than they did.  Someone was watching out for you.”  Duncan finished.

 

Snow raised her arms and put her hands in her hair and exhaled.  “Whew, I didn’t know how close I was.”  She said.

 

Duncan, still looking her direction, noticed she didn’t shave her armpits.  He found himself staring at her.  He wasn’t a stranger to this, it was mostly an American custom.  In other countries women often didn’t shave under their arms.  He found the look rather appealing.  Natural.  He wasn’t a fan of things that were fake.  And why would a werewolf shave anyways?   Her scent hit his nose.  A strong musky body odor.  It wasn’t unpleasant, womanly.  Natural. 

 

He shook off his thoughts and looked back at the monitor.  “I can help fix this, I still have friends in the company.  Fortunately, they don’t have your fingerprints.  I should be able to get you a new identity fairly easily.”  Duncan said.

 

“I took her fingerprints.”  Snow said.  “Werewolves don’t have fingerprints of our own, least not like humans.”

 

“Convenient.”  Duncan replied.  “Well, you’ll need to stop using Jennifer Mitchell’s, hers are on file, and if they keep showing up, or should something happen, they will make a connection.”

 

Her body odor, her scent as she’d call it, seemed to affect him somehow, it didn’t make sense.  He was sure she wasn’t trying anything.  It was purely pheromones.  He just couldn’t believe what hers were doing to him.  She lowered her arms.  Her pheromones were still heavy in the air, and in Duncan’s nose.  Feminine and soothing.

 

His wife always bathed with oils.  The oily scents remained after she would dry, then she would apply powder followed by a marinade of perfume.  In all honesty, he didn’t know the real scent of his wife, it had always been covered by everything a girl uses to look and smell her best.  Duncan wondered, if his wife had been more… natural like this werewolf was, would her scent have had the same affect on him?

 

Duncan stood up and turned to face Snow.  “There’s a shower upstairs if you wish.”  He started.  “I’m going to make use of the one downstairs.  If you will excuse me.”  He said with a nod to her then moved to leave the den.

 

Snow raised an arm and gave a sniff.  She made an expression of indifference and shrugged. “Does my smell bother you?  Or that I don’t shave?”  She spoke slightly elevated in volume to make sure he heard her.

 

Duncan stopped with a foot on the first step leading out of the sunken den.  He slumped slightly, considering his response.  After a second or two, he turned halfway towards her and looked at her. 

 

She held out one hand at him while she move it and her head around in her silent urging for him to answer.  Eventually she threw both her palms out from her sides and gave him an intent ‘well?’ look.  Her scent was coming at him strong again.

 

His eyes softened as he gave her a gentle smile.  “What I mean, Snow, is I need a cold shower.  It’s not offensive to me in the least.  I think it’s very sexy and your fragrance is intoxicating.”  Her turned without giving her a chance to respond and left.

 

Snow was smiling.  Blatant honesty.  She appreciated that. “I have a fragrance!”  She said with a broad grin, then made her way out of the den and upstairs for her morning shower.  “You know, in werewolf culture, shower time is a social time.”  She said loudly as she passed by the downstairs bathroom.

 

She doubted he heard her over the noise of the running water, human ears, not as good as werewolf ears.

 

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Duncan was fixing a late lunch, and Snow was helping in the kitchen.  Duncan had put on a suit and tie, removing the coat and tie and putting on an apron while he cooked.  Snow was in the same clothes she had the day before.

 

“Need the eggs still?”  She inquired.

 

“Nah, go ahead and stick them in the fridge.”  He replied.

 

“K.”  Snow said as she returned the eggs to the fridge. 

 

A cookbook lay open on the island, she consulted it during the process of her cooking.  Duncan seemed to have his side of things well under control.  The two moved well together in the kitchen. “Whisk.”  Snow said and Duncan pulled one from the drawer by him and tossed it to her.  She easily caught it and moved to the bowl she was mixing in. 

 

When the cooking was done, they both moved to the dining room where Snow had set a proper table.  They dined mostly in silence, occasionally complementing the other on the food each had prepared. 

 

The house was in an unsecured state, the sun shone in and filled the rooms.  The clouds of yesterday gone, and the fragrance of the day wafted through the room via the open windows in the dining room.  Snow was smiling the entire time they ate.  Her glowing face and cheerfulness was contradictory to her dark appearance. 

 

Duncan himself was in good spirits.  He found himself caught up in her cheery demeanor.  He would look at her and smile, sometimes laugh and shake his head.  At one point Snow leaned back in her chair and sighed, head back against the chair.  Her face wore an expression of contentment.  Duncan paused and looked at her.  His lower lip pressed up against the upper.  He was thinking she hadn’t been this happy in some time.  And in that, he was right.

 

After they had finished their meal, the two gathered the dishes from the dining room and kitchen; he washed, she dried.  It was Friday, and almost four in the afternoon when Duncan grabbed two beers from the fridge.

 

“Come on Snow.”  He said and started walking through the dining room and towards the back of the house. 

 

They passed through a library room then into a small storage area with a door leading outside.  There was no knob, Duncan opened it via a light switch plate on the wall with two buttons.  Duncan pressed and held the top one and the small light next to it turned green.  When he released the button a soft hiss was emitted and the door swung open. 

 

On the other side of the door was a screen door.  Duncan opened it and led Snow through.  They emerged onto a deck.  On the deck were chairs and a patio table with an umbrella in the middle with an awning that extended from the roof over the deck.  The table looked recently cleaned, Snow could tell by the smell that was the case.

 

The two sat down, side by side this time, looking out over the field that made the back yard to the foothills of the mountains some miles in the distance.  It was quite the relaxing view.  Snow was softly smiling and drinking in the view while Duncan opened both beers and pushed one in front of her.

 

“Thank you.”  She said.

 

They both relaxed and enjoyed their beverages.  Birds could be heard singing in the distance.  Snow sniffed the air and followed the scent with her eyes and pointed out a hare in the yard eating grass and moving through the yard.  The rain had washed the yard clean of last night’s events.  Snow could pick up a faint smell, but nothing more.  When their bottles were empty, Duncan rose and took them.

 

“I’ll be right back.”  He said to her with a smile. Snow smiled back.  It felt good to be treated kindly.  That was something she was not accustomed to, being the black wolf of the family. 

 

Snow heard Duncan in the small storage area inside the house they had exited from.  She heard the bottles being dropped into the trash and colliding with other items in the trashcan.  She heard glass clink, that was not the bottles, nor was it full bottles.  It sounded like two glasses coming together.  Then she heard an odd sound.  It was running liquid, but it didn’t sound like a faucet.  She couldn’t make it out. 

 

Her attention was caught by a hawk’s cry, she spotted the bird high in the air.  She watched it circle then dive.  With her keen hearing she was able to detect the fearful last chirp of a mouse.  The hawk rose in the air with its quarry in its talons.  Snow smiled watching the bird fly away.  It was a good honest hunt.

           

When Duncan returned he was holding two glasses filled with draft beer.  Snow could smell the fresh pull.  Much more tempting than the bottled kind. “I had a keg of imported German brew in the cellar, figured since I had someone to share it with, why not tap the damn thing.”  Duncan said with a smile handing her a glass.

 

“Ah, thank you kind sir, most thoughtful, and it smells wonderful!”  Snow replied with a warm laugh.

 

They each took a long pull off their glasses.  It was a good heavy beer she had to admit.  Snow set her glass down and became aware of a change in Duncan.  She turned and looked at him. “Yes?”  She asked.

 

Duncan looked back at her.  His eyes surveyed her face.  Could she read minds?  She seemed to anticipate he was about to ask something, or was considering something pertaining to her.  He exhaled and shook his head once. “Why Snow?” 

 

Her face became confused. “Why Snow what?”  She responded, not understanding the question.

 

He chuckled realizing the question was a bit ambiguous . “You said you were born Madelyn.”  Duncan began.  “And you told me your clan name was Sadness.  But you asked me to call you Snow.  Seems like you have a lot of names, so why Snow?”  He finished, turning his chair towards her.

 

Following his lead, Snow also turned her chair to face him better. “Well, you see it’s like this.  Madelyn is my born human name.  I was born in a cathedral by an attending midwife, back then that was not uncommon.  The midwife was one of our own, and legally recognized by the state so I would have a legal birth certificate.  We try and blend in.  Most werewolf mothers try to have their children in a cathedral or holy place, as we are holy creatures.  We are the product of wolf, human and the angelic.” 

 

Duncan interrupted her.  “Angelic?  You mean angels?”  He inquired.

 

“Yes, sorry, I thought you knew.  Human and wolf bound together with the angelic.  The equivalent of the minions of the darkness.”

 

Duncan looked away, absorbing the thought. Snow continued.  “Anyways, we go by our human name until we reach the age of accountability, which is the age of thirteen.  In the first years we age pretty much the same as humans and grow at the same rate.  At thirteen we are old enough to know right from wrong, good and evil.  That’s also when puberty kicks in, and that is when our ageing separates from human.  We age much slower, about the same as human to wolf only reversed, seven of your years to one of ours.”

 

“Oh, interesting analogy.”  Duncan said, giving her a cocky look.

 

Snow snorted at him.  “Anyways, it’s at our thirteenth celebration that we are given our clan name.  For me, being a noble firstborn alpha, names are submitted by the parents and elders and voted on by the elders.  Three names are selected and taken to the matriarch, which incidentally happened to be my mother in my case.” 

 

She looked off and scoffed at the thought in her mind for a moment before returning to Duncan.  “From then on, amongst the clan, you are known by that name.  It is a right of passage; you also begin your career training at this age.  Once named you begin your life as a protector.  You are taught to hunt.”  Snow paused and looked at Duncan, giving him time to absorb and question.

 

“Interesting.”  He said.

 

Snow smiled and began again.  “When deemed ready, usually around our twentieth  year, you are tested and granted alliance to a hunting party.  Being a noble first born alpha, I was never made a part of a hunting party.  It was my place to learn not only the hunting skills needed, but how to train others as my father did.  It was expected of me to learn the management skills needed to govern a clan, so in time, if needed I could manage in my father’s stead.” 

 

Raising her glass and giving him a nod, she drank long from the glass.  When she finished and set the glass down, she had a melancholy look in her eyes.  “Also, eventually I would be expected to break from my clan and expand the protectors by taking a mate and starting our own clan.  Typically between a hundred and a hundred and fifty years old.  Oh, we live to be around five hundred, for reference.”  Snow informed Duncan.

 

He nodded.

 

“I was quite the hunter, one of the best in the twelve clans it was said of me.  But, as I said earlier, I was too dark, or morbid for the clan’s liking.  I wasn’t a happy type.  I didn’t laugh and ‘play’ like the rest.  I was too serious when I should be enjoying myself.”  She made a face and shrugged.  “When I started wearing my black night clothes that typically were worn for hunting only, during the day, pretty much all the time, I was frowned upon.  The clan started shunning me because they felt I was an insult to their ways.  Some said I was becoming like the darkness.” 

 

Snow sighed, remorse filled her voice as she went on.  “Eventually the elders voted and pressured my father, or should I say my mother pressured the elders to vote and then put the screws to my father, to declare my separation from the clan so I might fulfill my duty to expand the protectors as no suitor would want me from any of the noble clans, I was to find my own in the commoners world.”

 

Snow’s face showed the pain that she hid as she spoke.  “Normally this would be a festive occasion, oh there was a party, just wasn’t a happy one, at least for me.  I was being forced out, disavowed, well before my time.” 

 

She turned her face from him for a moment, trying to hold her composure.  Her body shuddered with the deep breath she took as she collected herself.  “Anyways, it is customary at this time, as you are leaving the clan, to choose the name you will be known by to all clans, the name your clan would be known by.  Like my father, he chose the name Frost, and we were Clan Frost.  It was in his honor I chose the name Snow, frost comes before snow, so should I ever actually start a clan of protectors after taking a commoner for a mate, we will be known as Clan Snow.”

 

Duncan sat silent.  He never suspected that werewolves had such a deep culture.  He was openly impressed and now understood better who and what she was.   “Why don’t you start your clan?”  He asked.

 

Snow looked sad.  She shook her head.  “You need to be mated to start a clan.  I never was.  An alpha is always mated before being separated from their clan.  My father tried to find someone willing to mate with me.  None would have me.”

 

She looked up and smiled at Duncan.  She looked to the table again and held her smile.  He picked up a sweet smell in the breeze that hadn’t been there before, it was coming from her.

 

“Duncan, I am truly flattered that you find me attractive.”  Her eyes became pained.  “Sadly, I must be mated to a born werewolf, in order to reclaim my place among the clans and be recognized.  A turned mate isn’t good enough.  I’m even an outcast among rouges.  No born werewolf would ever demean himself to mate with one such as I.”

 

Duncan looked away, off towards the mountains.  He let his mind wander back in his memories.  The silence as he drifted in his mind continued until after several minutes he spoke verse from poetry he had read some years back.

 

“Alone I am cast into the world.

Battered and bashed upon its shores.

 

Cast in all directions alone.

No one to hold me.

 

Never shall I be held by another.

Never shall one cry over me.

 

My path has but one set of prints.

No other by their side.

 

My trials I must bear myself.

My burdens alone shall I carry.

 

I am sorrow,

I am Sadness.”

 

Duncan recited.

 

Snow gaped at him, slack-jawed, mouth hanging open.  The utter look of ‘stunned beyond comprehension’ drenched her face.  She wasn’t even breathing.  She couldn’t speak.

 

Duncan looked at her, he understood her shock.  Those were her words, her poem. “I read that in Betty Cromwell’s journal.”  He said.   “I honestly wasn’t snooping.  I was still reeling from what had transpired that day.  I wasn’t even thinking or paying attention when I left the bathroom at the Cromwell house.  I just walked out, turned and kept walking and ended up in her bedroom.”

 

He took a deep breath and a moment of thought before he went on.  “When I finally looked up, I realized I was in a bedroom, I was turning to leave when I noticed the corner of a book sticking out from between the mattresses.  I didn’t read much, just that one poem actually.  I flipped through the pages, that one caught my eye, it was titled ‘Sadness’ and it fit my situation at the time.  For what it’s worth, it brought comfort to me.  I never forgot it.” Duncan looked away, fully expecting anger for his intrusion. 

 

He was pleasantly surprised when she came to him, kissed him on the cheek then hugged him and whispered ‘thank you.’

 

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They had almost finished their drinks when the alarm on Duncan’s watch went off.  Snow looked at the sky, nightfall wasn’t near yet.  Curiously she looked at him.

 

“What’s that for?  Time to feed the parakeet?”  she asked with a crooked smile.

 

“No.”  He answered.  “Time to fix the werewolf.”

 

Snow looked at him with a questioning, concerned look.  She wasn’t sure what to make of that comment.  “I didn’t know I was broken.”  Came her reply.

 

“Come on, it’ll be ok, some friends are coming over to fix our problem with your identity.  Told you, I still have connections.”  Duncan said with a smile and held out his hand to her. 

 

She took it and allowed him to escort her into the house.  Once in the living room, Duncan divulged a touch more information.

 

“A friend of mine from the company is coming over, he owes me a few favors, and well, we were, are, good friends, been through a lot of shit together.  He’s good people.  He’s going to take your picture and generate legitimate documentation for you, drivers license, passport, social security records, school records, the whole shebang.”  He said.  Snow smiled. 

 

She liked how he called it ‘our’ problem.  It felt reassuring that he wasn’t keeping her at such a distance. 

 

They didn’t have to wait long.  The house alerted its occupants to the arrival of their timely guests.

 

“Duncan.”  Snow said urgently.

 

“What is it Snow, they’re here.”  He replied.

 

“I know, you said they’d be taking my picture.”

 

“Yeah, need it for the license and passport.  So?”

 

“Which eyes should I use?”

 

Duncan hadn’t thought of that.  Her natural eyes would defiantly not be wise to have in front of the company men, nor on any ID.

 

“Go with the blue, I liked those.”  He said as he covered the rest of the distance to the door, just as the bell went off.

 

Duncan answered the door.  “Steve, Ed, thanks for coming, come on in.”  Duncan greeted the two men in suits. Snow understood why Duncan was wearing his now.

 

“Hello Duncan, how have you been?”  The first one in asked as he shook Duncan’s hand.

 

“Oh, not bad, you know, staying busy Steve.  Never run out of things to do when you’re in business for yourself.”  Duncan said as the one identified as ‘Steve’ whapped him on the shoulder.

 

“Ed, what’s new with you.  Heard you got promoted, congratulations.”  Duncan said to the second man who seemed less friendly, more business than the first.

 

“Heard about that did ya Dunk.  Been good.  More work.  Not much more pay.  You know.”  Ed said.

 

“I hear that.  Never pay you what you’re worth do they.”  Duncan replied as he led the two men into the living room where Snow sat.

 

“So, this is the young lady in question?”  Steve said as they entered the living room.  He had looked her over as they came inside.  “Snow is it?”  He asked her.

 

Snow stood and extended her hand to Steve.  “Yes sir, I’m Snow, nice to meet you.”

 

“Thank you, thank you.  You too.”  Steve said as he shook her hand.

 

Snow turned towards the second man, who was looking around the house.  “Hello sir, I’m Snow.”  She said to him and extended her hand.

 

Ed turned and looked at her.  Expressionless.  “Yeah.”  He said and coldly turned away.

 

Steve snorted in disapproval.  “Forgive him miss, he’s just an asshole, he was born that way, an asshole baby.  That’s Ed, Ed the asshole.”  Steve laughed.

 

Duncan came to the group and motioned for them to sit.  As they all took their seats, Ed began the conversation.

 

“Alright, what have we got here.  She doesn’t look like you’re typical illegal alien.  You want us to get her all fixed up like a good little citizen.  Am I understanding that right Duncan?”  Ed said.

 

Duncan took a deep breath and let it out loudly.  Snow could smell his emotion.  She turned her attention to the one called Ed.  He emitted a sour smell right now.  The tension between Ed and the others in the room was palpable.  Snow had her focus continually on the man, the others didn’t know what she knew.

 

“Yes Ed, that’s what we want.”  Duncan said.

 

Steve looked away from Ed, he was sitting on the couch next to him while Snow and Duncan sat in the recliners across from them, Steve rolled his eyes.  He didn’t care for his counterparts attitude anymore than anyone else in the room.

 

“I see.”  Ed said.  “So, what’s in it for me?”  he asked. 

 

Duncan blinked a couple times. “What do you mean, Ed?”

 

“I mean, what’s in this for me?  What are you going to do for me for doing this for you?”  Ed posed acting smug and superior.

 

Duncan snorted softly, Snow felt him become cold.  “I’ll tell you what’s in it for you Ed, you get to pay off one of the many favors you owe me for starters.”  Duncan said. 

 

Ed snorted.  “Favors?  What favors, you left the company, far as I’m concerned the slate has been wiped clean.”

 

Duncan leaned back, crossed his legs and his arms. “Is that how you see it Ed?”  Duncan looked away, he made a lip snap sound.  “You think, just because I’m not with the company anymore, the slates clean now?  I don’t see it that way Ed, matter of fact, I don’t see how my not being with the company affects anything between us.”  Duncan finished.

 

Steve was clearly the ‘good friend’ Duncan had referred to and not Ed, which was a good thing Snow thought to herself.

 

“What are you going to do Duncan?  What can you do?  You’re little people now.”  Ed commented.

 

“Right, you know Ed, there are people in the company that don’t share your view on favors.  Some people who I don’t even need to call in a favor with.  Get my meaning Ed?”  Duncan said, his tone held an unspoken threat.

 

Ed laughed.  “Call in your favors Duncan, we’ll see who has higher favors.  Unless you have something to offer, we’re done here.”

 

Duncan smiled.  “Your psychological review back yet Ed?  Better yet, you want to get out of here before nightfall?  After dark is when things get fun around here.”  Duncan had an evil smile now.

 

“Yeah.” Snow chimed in, smelling the change in Ed after Duncan’s comment about the night.  She started singing.  “Sundown, you better take care, if I find you creeping round my back stair.”

 

“Stop it!”  Ed yelled at her.

 

“What’s the matter, scared of what goes bump in the night big shot CIA man?”  Snow taunted.

 

“Snow.  Stop.”  Duncan said quietly to her.

 

“He ain’t tough, three years ago he had a close call, shit his pants.  I saved his ass then.”  Snow finished and waved Ed off.

 

“Is that so.”  Duncan said looking over at Ed who had turned white.

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, where did you find this crazy broad?”  Ed said, his voice wavered. 

 

Snow slowly got out of her chair and walked over to Ed and crouched down in front of him so their eyes were at the same level, only a few inches from him. Her voice was cold when she spoke, it put chills down Duncan’s spine.  “Sure about that Ed.”  Snow said in a deep voice.  Then she stood, turned and went back to her seat.

 

“Here’s the deal Ed.”  Duncan started.  “New identity for her and you’re evaluation goes good, and you get out of here before nightfall.  Trust me, you don’t want to be outside here after the sun goes down, and I know you know why.  If not, that promotion, gone.  And, you get to spend the night in my yard.”  Duncan finished.

 

Ed looked over at Snow.  “I could report her to the company.”  He said.

 

“Sure, want to use my phone?  They have a plane leaving for Chile regularly.”  Duncan responded.

 

Duncan looked over at Snow, his brow furrowed as he looked at her.  The odd feeling that she knew more than what she was telling them kept nipping at him.

 

“Make up your mind Ed, it gets much later, I’ll be staying here with these two where it’s safe, I don’t think you’ll be welcome.”  Steve said.  “And don’t count on me to back any part of the story you tell should you report it, I like my job.  And breathing.”

 

Ed looked over at Steve, then at the other two.  “Fine, deal, lets get this over with.  You girl, into the kitchen, the lights better in there.”  Ed said with a finger aimed towards the kitchen.

 

Snow leaned back in her chair and didn’t get up. “Well, you want this or not?”  Ed asked.

 

Softly Duncan spoke.  “Her name is Snow, not ‘you girl’.”  He said calmly.

 

Ed looked at Duncan with a stone face.  Then he looked at Steve who had a smug look on his face with a light loathing smile.  Steve moved his hands from his lap and turned the palms up and made a small shrugging motion.

 

“Snow,” Ed started, “if you would please, come into the kitchen.”  His tone conveyed his disdain for having to call her by name.

 

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Ed took Snow’s picture, collected other information, all in silence only speaking was needed. “What name should her new identity have?”  Ed asked Duncan while Steve processed the pictures and put them in what would be her new passport.

 

Duncan smiled giving her conniving glance.  “First name, Snow.  Middle initial, T, no actual middle name, just T.  Last name Wolf.”  Snow closed her eyes slowly and smiled lightly.

 

“Fine.”  Ed said coldly.  They could have their little fun.

 

Steve had a device set up and quickly put it to use after he heard the name.  In a few seconds he handed Snow a social security card with her name on it, and her new number. “You just need to sign it here.”  He said and pointed to where she needed to sign.  Then he gave her a smile and went back to the case he had open.  He looked at Duncan as he walked and flashed a look over at Ed.

 

Snow flared her nostrils.  She took in the scent of the two men, Steve and Duncan.  Neither of them trusted Ed, she could tell.  Neither did she, the only difference was, she knew why.

 

“Are you done with me?”  She asked Ed.

 

“Yeah, your finished.”  He said, giving her a cold look.

 

“Good, I need to pee.”  She stated and popped off the bar stool and slipped into the bathroom.

 

She returned a short minute later and joined the three others around the island in the kitchen.  Steve came up to her, he had a kind smile.  “Miss, here is your passport, like the social security card, it wont be valid until Monday.  After we enter the information into the system.”

 

“Please Steve, call me Snow.  Miss is way to formal for me!”  Snow said sounding practically joyful. 

 

Steve smiled, “Alright, Snow.”

 

Then Snow did something that completely flabbergasted Duncan, and caught Steve by surprise too.  “Gentleman, Duncan has just recently tapped a keg of some fine German beer.  Please, for all your trouble, join us on the back deck for a glass, it’s the least Duncan and I can do for all your help.”  Snow offered as she moved over next to Duncan.  “Isn’t that right honey?”  She said to him. 

 

She was also stepping on his foot, out of sight of the others.  Taking the hint, Duncan agreed.  “Yes, she’s right, pardon my manners.  Ed, Steve, right this way, have a glass with us.”

 

Ed looked towards Steve who was already moving to join them. “We really need to be getting back, don’t we ‘Steve’.”  Ed said, emphasizing his name. 

 

“Not really Ed, I’m going to stay for a beer, it’s the weekend, we don’t have to be back until Monday morning.  Hey, since when did you refuse a free beer, and a German one at that?”  Steve asked.

 

Ed rolled the cheeks of his face.  It wasn’t the beer, it was the company.  Plus, he did have matters to attend to.  He relented.  One beer, that’s all.  Plus, the time might give him a chance to worm some information from these two.  “Fine, one beer.  Then we have to roll, don’t want to be here after sunset, do we.”  Ed said with a tone at the end as he looked at Snow.

 

Snow led their guests through the house to the back deck, Duncan followed behind her.  Once at the door that led outside, still open, she looked back at Duncan. “Dear, would you mind drafting the beer while I entertain our guests?”

 

“Not at all sweetie, I’ll be out in a jiffy.”  Duncan replied, his brow furrowed, desperately trying to figure this twist from Snow out. 

 

While Snow showed the guests to the deck, Duncan opened the cupboard above the keg chiller and pulled out four glasses and pulled the beers for them.  He came to the deck, set a glass in front of their guests first, then in front of Snow and one at his spot, then he collected the glasses he and Snow had left on the table from before.

 

On the deck, Steve and Duncan engaged in idle chit chat, occasionally including Snow, though she seemed to be more preoccupied with taking in the view as she kept looking around the yard. 

 

Ed on the other hand was deeply involved in his beer.  He didn’t engage in the conversation anymore than a grunt when Steve would say something like ‘isn’t that right Ed’, he had no interest in making nice with either of them.  Ed finished his beer well ahead of the others.

 

“Alright, I’m done, lets roll.”  Ed announced, setting his empty glass on the table.  Steve and Duncan had barely finished half their beers.

 

“Did you like the beer Ed?” Snow inquired in a perky manner that was well out of her character.

 

Ed nodded, it was a good beer.  “Yeah, you weren’t kidding, it was good.  But I’m afraid…”

 

Snow cut him off.  “Here Ed, let me refill that for you, Steve’s barely started his, I think you appreciate a good beer more than he does, and he can drive, no worries.”  Before Ed could object Snow snatched up his glass and darted into the house to fill the glass.  She returned a minute later with the glass full and an inch of head on it. 

 

She smiled and handed it to Ed. “There you go Ed, a perfect pour, wouldn’t you say?”  She chirped.

 

“Yeah, yeah, good pour.”  Ed said, he took the glass and didn’t look at her.  He was obviously annoyed by her.  But it was good beer.

 

The conversation between Steve and Duncan was light.  They laughed reciting stories of days past, people they’d known.  Ed drank his beer, wishing to hell they would leave.  Snow had been looking around the yard, not really noticed by any at the table.  Nor was it when she suddenly stopped looking around and turned her attention to Steve and Duncan and paid more attention to their conversation.  Ed was happy to be left out. 

 

“You have a dog?”  Steve asked Duncan.

 

“What?  No.”  Duncan replied and Steve pointed behind Duncan after he answered.  He turned to look.

 

A chocolate lab was trotting up alongside the deck, he was still maybe twenty feet away and would pass within four to five feet of the edge of the deck if he stayed on his path.  His tongue hung out and off to the side.  Snow didn’t look.  She remained quiet and leaned back, straight backed in the chair.

 

 “I wonder where he came from.”  Duncan questioned.  “Only one neighbor out here and they don’t have a dog, must be lost.”

 

As the dog came right by the front of the deck in full view of everyone, Snow turned and spoke to Ed.  “You didn’t bring a dog with you, did you Ed?”

 

“What?!”  Ed ejected in a louder than needed and agitated voice.  “Hell no, we didn’t bring no damn dog!  Do we look like a canine unit to you?”  Ed finished.

 

The dog slowed slightly, looked at Ed, then at Snow and finally at Duncan, then he picked up the pace and continued by the deck, breaking into a full run away from them.

 

“Friend of yours?”  Duncan said to Snow with a smirk.

 

“Huh?  That was a dog Duncan.”  She retorted.

 

Duncan raised an eyebrow, shook his head and chuckled.  He was turning back to talk to Steve when Ed set his glass down rather abruptly.

 

“Alright, finish your beer, we need to get going.”  He said.

 

“Okay, Ed.”  Steve said and drained the last inch of beer from his glass and set it down nicely.  “Nice talking with you Duncan, if you ever make it back to the big city give me a call, I’ll buy you lunch.”

 

“You got a deal.”  Duncan replied setting his own glass down and standing along with Steve.  Ed was already standing and heading for the door in.

 

Snow hadn’t touched her beer yet.  She grabbed it and in one long pull, drained the entire glass.  She wiped her hand across her mouth. “Good stuff.”  She said then stood and made it to the door before the other two so she was right behind Ed.

 

They passed through the house.  Snow purposely moved slower than Ed, keeping the other two behind her.  When Ed arrived at the door they were a good eight feet behind him.  Snow stopped and turned around to face the other two men while Ed opened the door.

 

“Steve, can I talk to you?”  She turned and looked at Ed who looked back when she spoke, then turned her attention back to Steve. “Privately for a minute?”

 

Steve looked at Ed and shrugged with a confused look on his face. “Ah… sure, I guess.”  He answered confused and not knowing what to say.

 

“I’ll be in the car, if you’re longer that five minutes, you’re stuck here, I’ll be leaving.”  Ed said.  His voice more than agitated.  He slammed the thick door on his way out.

 

Before the other two could react or question her, Snow leapt for the control panel beside the door, opened it and actuated the buttons that secured the house.

 

“Snow, what the hell are you doing?”  Duncan yelled at the same time Steve demanded to know what was going on.

 

“What’s going on here?  Duncan?”

 

“Dies ingredior!”  Snow shouted at them.

 

Steve looked at her.  “What!?”  He yelled back.

 

“Dies ingredior!”  Snow repeated her voice excited.

 

“Day walker?”  Steve said translating her words.  “What the hell does that mean?”

 

“You know day walkers?”  Snow asked him.

 

“I know the Latin, yes, I have no idea what you are talking about.  Wait, isn’t that some kind of vampire reference?”  Steve asked, his voice agitated now.

 

“Yes, your friend is a day walker.”  Snow said.

 

“Friend is a bit strong of a reference, I still have no clue what you are talking about.”  Steve said.

 

“I do.”  Duncan cut in.  When Steve turned to look at him, Duncan’s face was gaunt.  

 

“You don’t want to go out there right now, trust me, you don’t want to see what’s happening.”  Snow said.  Then she looked at Duncan.  “Yes, I knew who that was that walked by us, not exactly a friend, he’s a rouge.  He hunts day walkers.  I was able to smell what Ed was.  That’s when I revealed myself to him for what I was.”

 

“What is all this?  What the hell are you two talking about?  Day walkers?  Ed?”

 

“Sit down Steve.”   Duncan said.  “I’ll tell you.”  Duncan moved to a recliner.  Steve followed and Snow took to the couch.

 

“A day walker,” Duncan began, “is a human controlled by a vampire.  You were with me in the field, before what happened to my wife.”  Duncan looked at Steve.

 

Steve twitched a bit in his chair.  “I remember, we aren’t supposed to talk about that time.”  He said.

 

“I know, and as far as the company is concerned, we aren’t.  They are here, have been for a long time.  Snow here,” Duncan paused and looked at her.  He didn’t know how much he could trust his friend. “well, she knows a lot about what we are dealing with.  She has… friends who deal with these things.  Perhaps its best if I let her explain it.  Snow?”

 

Snow took a deep breath and nodded at Duncan.  She appreciated his candor. “Vampires, they need help that can stand to be in the light, as they cannot.”  Snow started and Steve turned his attention to her.  “They take control of humans that have ‘compromised principals’ and are open to control.  They are easy to influence and, what the vampire does is remove some of the fluid from their brains, it doesn’t contain blood, so the victim won’t turn but it forms a link between the human and the controlling vampire.  The fluid needs to be refreshed, from time to time to keep the link, and the control working.”

 

Steve’s eyes dropped as he listened.  Like Duncan, he knew more than he was willing to admit.

 

“The victim is typically well rewarded for their service, in the beginning.  The fluid though has an addictive factor.  Soon, the human needs the fluid, they become willing to do anything to get it.  The fluid becomes its own reward.”

 

Snow looked hard into Steve’s eyes.  “Your… Ed, has been under this control for some time, he’s been the leak in your agency.  I knew about what happened to Ed, I smelt it, when I… when I looked him in the eyes, I let him know I knew what he was.  You wouldn’t have made it home alive Steve.  Ed had to take you out.”  Snow paused.

 

Steve considered what he was told.  He knew of the events Duncan and he shared, along with Ed.  Ed was a different person then, nothing like he was now.  He had changed over the years.

 

“I contacted a rouge in the area, he’s the one that told me about a CIA agent that was compromised and described him to me.  He was hunting this dies ingredior, day walker.  I was able to identify him, I have been trained you might say, expertly, to be able to identify vampires and their victims.”  Snow stopped there, not wanting to say too much, and was choosing her words carefully.

 

Steve sat motionless for a few minutes.  As much as he wanted to doubt what he was just told, he couldn’t.  He had his own secrets that told him what Snow and Duncan said was true.  “So what do I tell the authorities about Ed, a CIA agent killed while visiting a former member?  They aren’t going to accept that we were here on just a social call.”  Steve said.

 

“Mountain lion attack.”  Snow said.  “They’re around here, we are a ways from the main area they’re in usually, but they do venture out this far.  It’s not inconceivable, and it is an easy explanation.”

 

“The company won’t want to delve to deep into this.  They’ll want it closed as quick as possible, especially since I’m involved.”  Duncan added.

 

Steve considered the situation for a moment. “So when do we contact the authorities?”  He asked.

 

Duncan looked at Snow. “You can now, it’s over.”  She said with a somber face.  Then she got up and walked out of the room.

 

Duncan heard her go downstairs, followed shortly by the sound of the vault door closing.  Less then a minute later the steel curtains raised as the house returned to its daytime normal.

 

Duncan and Steve went to the front door.  They looked at each other with apprehension in their faces.  Neither one wanted to go out and face what they knew they would find in the yard.  “He was my partner, suppose I should go first’”  Steve said then turned to the door, opened it and took the first step.

 

The body of Ed lay next to the open door of the car.  The sun was starting to set.  Steve looked at Duncan, then he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his cell phone and began dialing.  In the distance, the sound of sprinklers near the tree line could be heard turning on.  The yard lights weren’t coming on yet, but several of the black orbs hanging from the overstocked yard of telephone polls started to glow.

 

Duncan looked at them and smiled.  He faintly heard the whine of the generators coming up.  Snow had learned his system.  They would need the safety of the lights.  He hoped she also figured out how to control the intensity.  Considering she was able to discern how to turn on only a few, he felt secure the intensity was also well under control.

 

The yard was well lit when the sheriff and an ambulance arrived about twenty minutes later.

 

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The Sheriff’s car pulled into the yard and stopped about thirty feet from the car Duncan and Steve were standing near.  He climbed out of his cruiser and looked up at the lights, then slowly around the yard from behind the open door of his cruiser.  He looked forward at the men standing by the car, then took a step back and closed the door to the cruiser. 

 

A deputy followed the Sheriff’s lead once he closed the door, got out of the cruiser and started forward, meeting up with the Sheriff at the front of the cruiser and coming to the body on the ground with him.  Both men looked down at the body.  Duncan and Steve were at the front of Ed’s car, clear of the view of Ed.

 

“Jesus, Mary, Christmas.”  The Sheriff said looking at the mess on the ground.  Two more cruisers and an ambulance pulled into the yard with the patrol cars parking behind the Sheriff’s cruiser.  The ambulance turned so it could back up closer to where the body lay.  The deputies just arriving stayed in their cruisers until the ambulance stopped, then everyone climbed out of their respective vehicles.

 

Two deputies moved towards the body, one considerably older than the other.  Both were carrying cases with them, three were black, one was a silver color.  The other two deputies came over to the Sheriff and his deputy.

 

The men over by the body began talking, the older pointing at the body and the ground nearby.  The younger nodded at what was being said.  Then the elder moved back to the one case he had set down back from the scene and the younger man followed. 

 

They opened their equipment cases after looking the ground over.  The younger produced a camera and moved back to the body and started taking pictures of the area.  The other pulled plastic bags from his cases and stuffed some in his pockets, he took more items when he had a hand free then moved over to where the other deputy was and began measuring and marking the area around the mess.

 

“Mr. Galt.”  The Sheriff said when he arrived at the front of the car where Duncan and the other man were standing at. “What the hell happened here?”  He asked.

 

“Mountain lion attack.”  The man the Sheriff didn’t know said.

 

“I was asking Mr. Galt, I’ll get to you in a minute.”  The Sheriff said to him.

 

“Excuse me, Sheriff.”  The man said as he reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket, and produced a small book, about the size of a passport.  He held it out to the Sheriff.

 

The Sheriff took the item, looked at the front of it and his expression became harder.  He opened the government identification and read.  “Steven Rheineer, special investigator, CIA.”  The Sheriff recited.  He flipped the only page in the identification and read Steve’s qualifications and duties. 

 

“So you’re a CSI man for the government.”  He said as he closed the ID and handed it back to Steve.  “This is still my crime scene and my responsibility until told otherwise.”  The Sheriff put his hands on his hips and took a stern stance.  “We clear on that Mr. Rheineer?”  He asked.

 

Steve held a well moderated, professional stance.  No emotion in his voice when he spoke. “Sheriff, I understand you have a job to do.  I do need to point out that this is a matter of national security considering Mr. Paxton’s position with the agency he worked for.  Any documents on his person or elsewhere in this accident scene are to be handled by my agency.”

 

Steve gave a quick glance over to Duncan.  “You may investigate the attack, you may not, however, confiscate any documents or other items the CIA deems classified.  Until my department arrives, I am responsible to determine what you may and may not take as part of your investigation.”  Steve tucked his ID back in his coat pocket.  “Are we clear on that Sheriff?”  He asked.

           

The Sheriff was pissed.  Didn’t need any special skills to see that. “Tell me about this alleged ‘mountain lion’ attack, pretty far out of the mountains for a cat to be roaming around.”  The Sheriff said to the two men.

 

“Sheriff, “Duncan started, “I have heard blasting in the distance, towards the mountains.  In the paper, a new road being built has been discussed at county and state meetings.  I take it this project has been approved and is currently being put into action, the road’s being built?”  He asked.

 

“Yes, construction began two weeks ago.”  The Sheriff answered.

 

“With all that activity,” Duncan continued, motioning in the direction of the mountains, “wouldn’t it be a correct assumption that the cats would be disturbed in their environment and move away from the blasting and machinery?”

 

The Sheriff’s gaze was cold as he looked at Duncan.  The explanation was logical, and the cats moving out of the mountains and foothills did happen whenever there was construction or logging on a large scale.  The current road project would disturb them.

 

“Yeah, it would make them move from the area.”  The Sheriff said.  “Maybe even this far from the mountains, but it would’ve had to be one hell of a big cat to do that to a body.  Explain to my why would a cat rip a person apart like that.  Hell, I don’t even think dental records would be of any use to identify that mess.” 

 

The Sheriff turned away from the Steve and Duncan and stepped over to the men marking and taking pictures without waiting for an answer. “Dalton, you see anything indicating this was a cat attack?”  He asked.

 

The elder of the two looked up from pegging yellow tape to the ground. “Well Thomas, I’ve got tracks here.”  Dalton said, pointing to the string of pegs and yellow tape on either side of a set of tracks, about two feet wide. 

 

“They aren’t human, no dog made them either, very large tracks.  More the size of a bear, could have been a very large cat, but they don’t exactly look like cat either.  Too big to be dog tracks, but that’s more of what they look like.  Could’ve been a cat though.”  Dalton said looking the tracks over, talking while he thought.  “Honestly Thomas, I’m not sure what kind of tracks they are.”  He finished.

 

The Sheriff squatted down by the tracks, across from his deputies.  He looked the line of tracks up and down. “That would have had to have been one hell of a cat.”  He finally said.  Dalton nodded in agreement.

 

The deputy who arrived with the Sheriff came walking up to the Sheriff as he stood up from looking at the tracks. “The EMTs want to know how much longer until they can get the body to the county.”  He told the Sheriff.

 

“James, tell them to hold fast and get ready to spend the night.  That body isn’t going anywhere until the feds say so.  Nobodies leaving, we’re here for the duration.”  The Sheriff and James walked off away from the others working on the scene, back near their cruiser.

 

“Tell me James, did you get a look at those tracks?”  The Sheriff asked him.

 

“Yes Sheriff, I saw them.”  James said.

 

“And what do you think?”  The Sheriff asked.

 

James looked from the scene and at the Sheriff.  “I think those ain’t no damn cat tracks is what I think Sheriff.”  The Sheriff nodded in agreement. “So, what are we going to do?”  James asked.

 

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do James, you and I are only going to do what we have to, mark the scene, take the pictures, take notes, only do our jobs, nothing more until the feds show up.  Then we are dumping everything in their lap and walking away.”  The Sheriff answered.  Then he cocked his head at James and asked, “You don’t have a problem with that, do you James?”

 

James was looking back at the scene, he pursed his lips and started shaking his head and looked over at his boss. “Nope, not a one Sheriff.”

 

The Sheriff and his deputy returned to where Duncan and Steve were still standing. “Did you find tracks?”  Steve asked.

 

“James, this is Steve Rheineer, he’s a CSI man for the CIA.”  The Sheriff said.  “This is my Chief Deputy.”  Steve and James nodded at each other. When the Sheriff started talking again James pulled out a small digital recorder. “Now, are there any other witnesses to this, animal attack?”  The Sheriff asked the two men.

 

“Actually Sheriff, there aren’t any witnesses to the attack.”  Duncan said then he turned and pointed a hand at the house.  “Steve and I were still in the house when it happened.  Neither of us knew anything happened till Steve went out to the car.”

 

“My partner had gone out to the car ahead of me.”  Steve continued.  “After I said my goodbyes to Duncan, I found the body when I came out, the door was open and Ed was on the ground, just like you see him now.”

 

“And the two of you didn’t hear a thing?”  The Sheriff asked.

 

“No”  Duncan and Steve said in unison and shaking their heads.

 

“You’re sure, neither one of you heard any screams?  Nothing?”

 

“Nothing.”  Steve answered.

 

“Now that strikes me as odd, gentlemen, that neither of you would have heard a man scream, and he surly would have, cried for help, screamed, something while being attacked like this.”  The Sheriff stated.

 

“The house is very well insulated, with the doors and windows closed, you don’t hear anything from outside.”  Duncan interjected.

 

“So, the door was closed, no open windows, is that correct?”  The Sheriff asked.

 

“Correct Sheriff, the house was sealed, Ed had closed the door when he went out.”  Duncan said.

 

The Sheriff looked around, disbelief on his face. “These are some interesting lights you have here Mr. Galt.”  He said looking back at Duncan after he looked around at the Venus lights.

 

Duncan looked at the lights that turned the night into day in his yard.  He didn’t say anything and returned his eyes to the Sheriff.

 

Not getting any response the Sheriff pressed for details. “Care to explain these lights Mr. Galt?”  He asked.

 

“Sheriff, what do these lights have to do with your investigation?”  Steve asked.

 

The Sheriff responded in an harsh voice.  “It’s still my investigation Mr. Rheineer, I’m still the one asking the questions here.”  The Sheriff looked back to Duncan.  “Its brighter than high noon on the fourth of July here, what the hell is up with all these lights?”  Thomas asked.

 

Duncan shrugged with a glance at Steve. “This is my lighting research area.  I’m sure you know I have a research facility on the other side of town and I work in bioengineering with plants, we grow vegetables in a perfect environment, these lights are an experimental design for that facility.”  Duncan informed the Sheriff.

 

The Sheriff looked around the yard again.  It was plain he didn’t care for the answer and suspected Duncan wasn’t telling him anything close to the real reason for the lights. “So, you’re telling me, this yard, filled with telephone poles, with all these intense lights on them, is all so you can study the lights?  Is that what you’re telling me Mr. Galt?”

 

“Not so much to study the lights, but rather endurance and power consumption testing, longevity of the lighting cells, the effects of them on plants, such as my grass, and to see if they hurt the grass or help it grow.  As well as measure the amount of power used to sustain the lights at an effective level for my facility.”  Duncan responded.

 

The Sheriff snorted.  The look in his eyes said he wasn’t buying any of it. “There anyone else here?”  The Sheriff asked.

 

“We told you already Sheriff, there weren’t any witnesses to what happened here.”  Steve said.

 

“I didn’t ask about witnesses Mr. Rheineer,” the Sheriff looked over at Duncan, “I asked if there was anyone else here, is there Mr. Galt?”

 

Duncan looked at Steve.  The two exchanged a look, understanding the Sheriff was digging for more than just what happened to Ed.

 

“I don’t see how that matters to anything dealing with what happened here.”  Duncan responded.

 

“Is there anyone else here Mr. Galt?  Or do I need a search warrant for your house?”  The Sheriff pressed.

 

“Yes, my…” Duncan paused, considering his words, choosing them carefully.  “My girlfriend arrived yesterday.  She was tried from traveling, she’s been sleeping most of the day, actually she had a migraine this afternoon and didn’t even know we had company.”  Duncan finished.

 

“Girlfriend aye?”  The Sheriff said.  “I’ll be wanting to talk to her then.”

 

“Why is that necessary?”  Steve asked.  “He told you, she knows nothing, doesn’t even know Ed and I were here.”

 

“Well, maybe she might know about something else I am looking into.”  The Sheriff stated.  “Which brings me to the next question Mr. Rheineer.  Just what were you and your partner doing here?  It’s not like CIA agents to make social calls, even to a former agent.”

 

“I’m sorry Sheriff, that is classified.”  Steve said.

 

“I bet.”  The Sheriff retorted.

 

The Sheriff leaned over to his deputy and whispered something to him.  The deputy turned off the recorder and pocketed it, then he moved off to the cruiser.  “Now, about this ‘girlfriend’ of yours Mr. Galt, you said she arrived here yesterday.”  The Sheriff asked Duncan.

 

“Yes, she did.  What is it you want to know about her?”  He asked.

 

“For starters, her name.  How old is she, and where did she come from?”

 

Duncan could see the Sheriff suspected something, something unrelated to the body in the yard.  How had Snow tripped up on her way here.  He was positive the Sheriff was looking for her.  The files he pulled up on her assumed identity did say the perpetrator was spotted in a nearby town, about an hour away.  She wasn’t exactly trying to hide in town here.  Duncan was predicting this was the reason for the interest in his ‘girlfriend’.

 

“Her name is Snow, Snow Wolf.  She’s 32 and is from New York.”  Duncan said.

 

The Sheriff nodded.  “Snow Wolf, she an Indian?”  He asked.

 

“No, she is quite white.”  Duncan answered, containing a smile.

 

The deputy came briskly walking back with a manila file folder and handed it to the Sheriff.  The Sheriff flipped open the folder and scanned over the pages inside.  He pulled a heavier bond page from the file and showed it to Duncan.  The picture was of Snow.  Duncan looked, not at the image of her in the photo, but at the background, trying to determine where the picture was taken. 

 

He recognized the barber pole of Donald Martin’s barbershop, and the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk for Olivia’s Cafe and the daily specials on it.

 

“That’s Snow Sheriff, from when she arrived yesterday, why do you have a picture of her from in town?”  Duncan asked.  “Do you normally spy on strangers in town and take their picture?”

 

The Sheriff’s jaw pulled tight.  Duncan was baiting him, challenging him.

 

“This picture was taken yesterday in town by a citizen.  The girl matches the description of a young girl who was recently spotted in a town just to the south of the county line, about an hour away.”

 

Duncan gave an annoyed laugh.  “Well obviously Sheriff, that was not Snow as she only arrived here yesterday from New York.”

 

“Yeah, so you say.  Let me ask you, how did you know this picture was taken in town yesterday?”  The Sheriff asked.

 

“Seriously Sheriff?”  Duncan returned.

 

“Yeah, you think I’m frelling around here?  Answer the damn question, either here or at the Sheriff’s station, you’re pick.  I have reason to believe you’re harboring a fugitive at this point.”  Sheriff Hanks stated coldly.

 

Steve mashed his face on one side.  He was ready to step in, take matters out of the Sheriffs hands if needed.  He was hopping Duncan could contain the issue. 

 

Duncan gave a satirical laugh.  “Maybe I should’ve voted differently in the Sheriff race, you don’t appear to good at your job.  In my professional opinion.”  The deputy gave an honest laugh when he heard this. 

 

The Sheriff gave the deputy a look and he quieted down. Before the Sheriff could take issue with Duncan’s statement he filled in the details.

 

“Look in the background, though the photographer, I would say, was in the hardware store, judging from the angle of the shot and the blurred images at the edge of the paper, even though they zoomed in on Snow’s face, you can clearly see the barber pole and a meatloaf open faced sandwich special on the sign on the sidewalk.  You can also see ‘O-L-I-V’ painted in a dark green on the top of the sign.  The lunch special at Olivia’s Cafe yesterday was, correct me if I’m wrong, an open faced meatloaf sandwich with your choice of mixed vegetables or the soup of the day.  I went with the soup of the day which was cream of potato with broccoli.  Very good too I might add”.   Duncan wore an expression that wasn’t exactly cocky, but defiantly said ‘suck it’.

 

The Sheriff snapped the paper back, clearly vexed by Duncan’s comments and overall attitude.  The Sheriff was bested by him and he knew that Duncan had made him look the fool.

 

“Oh, you wouldn’t be able to get me a print of that, it really is a nice shot of her.”  Duncan added.

 

“Don’t push me boy.”  The Sheriff said.

 

“Boy?  Who the frell do you think you’re talking to Sheriff?  I happen to be the superior law enforcement agency on site right now, I have the authority to take command of this scene anytime I want, and with your current attitude, you might find yourself sitting in a cell for general purpose.”  Steve said getting the full attention of the Sheriff.

 

“Do whatever you want Mr. Rheineer, but until you assume command or put me in that cell and forget about me, I’m conducting my investigation the way I choose to, without any regard for the CIA.”  The Sheriff said in a huff.  “Now, is your ‘girlfriend’ up, or has she suddenly gotten into the wind?”  He asked, then looked at Steve.  “Or is this homicide and identity theft case being taken over by the CIA?”  He asked in a mocking tone.

 

Steve rolled his eyes.  He didn’t like stepping on any local laws toes, but sometimes you sure wanted to kick them in the head and adjust their attitudes.

 

“I’ll go see if she’s up.”  Duncan said and started towards the house.

 

“Great, I’ll accompany you, we’ll both see if she is awake.”  The Sheriff said.

 

“Is that really necessary?”  Duncan asked.

 

“Yes, yes, I think it is Mr. Galt, considering the circumstances, I do, wouldn’t you in my position?”  The Sheriff responded.

 

Duncan considered for a moment, he supposed were he in the Sheriff’s position, he might do the same thing.  He just hoped Snow had been listening as well as watching to what was going on outside.

 

“Alright Sheriff.”  Duncan said and walked to the door, opened it and stepped in, with the Sheriff close behind.  Steve stayed put, just in case he was needed for some unknown reason, and to keep an eye on what the deputies were bagging up as evidence. 

 

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Duncan passed through the entry into the living room and towards the kitchen where the downstairs bathroom was.  Music was playing, ‘She’s Lump’ could be heard coming from the stereo in the bathroom.  Just as they were approaching, Snow emerged from the bathroom freshly showered and singing along with the music while taking a towel to her hair. Seeing Duncan wasn’t alone she emitted a startled “OH!” and quickly jumped back into the bathroom. 

 

The Sheriff started to charge forward when Duncan stepped in front of him and stopped him. “Hold on Sheriff, you don’t have any reason to go chasing after my naked girlfriend, what are you, some kind of pervert?”  Duncan said sternly.  The Sheriff started to raise a hand with a pointed finger. “Let her get her robe on, alright?”  Duncan said and turned leaving a hand on the Sheriff’s chest while he spoke towards the bathroom.

 

“Pupcake, the Sheriff here would like a few words with you if you don’t mind.”

 

“Pupcake?” The Sheriff said with a question in his voice.

 

“Cupcake, I called her cupcake Sheriff.”  Duncan said letting his hand drop.

 

The Sheriff made an ‘ah’ face, figuring he’d made a mistake.

 

“Just a second love-chunk, getting a robe.”  Came the reply from the bathroom.  Duncan turned around laughing a little.

 

“Love-chunk?”  The Sheriff said raising an eyebrow.  “That’s a new one to me.”  He said as he adjusted his stance.

 

“Ah, yeah, it is isn’t it.”  Duncan said bobbing his head.

 

A few moments later Snow appeared from the bath in Duncan’s black robe.  He had to admit, it looked better on her than the pink fuzz ball he had given her to use.  Snow walked up to the Sheriff and stuck out her hand.

 

“Hello Sheriff, I’m Snow, what can I do for you?”  She said with a polite demeanor and a soft sweet smile.

 

It was obvious the Sheriff was not expecting such an attitude from someone with as much metal in her face as she had. “Well, miss, Snow, I want to ask you about Jennifer Mitchell, and anything you may know about her and your whereabouts over the past couple months.”  The Sheriff said in his professional voice.

 

Snow nodded lightly.  “Well Sheriff, I don’t know Jennifer Mitchell, and as to my whereabouts over the last couple months, I have been in New York, that’s where I live, well did live.  I’m moving out here to be with Duncan and to help with his business.”  Snow looked back at the Sheriff who’s eyes spoke of disbelief of her claims. 

 

“Is there anything else Sheriff, or can I go now?”  She asked in an unemotional voice.

 

“Ah, no miss, you can’t go yet, I’m afraid I need to ask more questions, you see I’m investigating a case of possible homicide and definite identity theft.  And the girl suspected was seen in another town not far from here, and, well, you fit the description to a T.”  The Sheriff said.

 

“I see.”  Snow said.  “Well, do you mind if I get dressed Sheriff?  I’m not really comfortable talking to a complete stranger in nothing but a robe, do you mind?”

 

The Sheriff looked over at Duncan, then back at Snow.  “Fine, get dressed, just so you know, I have a yard full of deputies outside.  Should you be thinking of running.”

 

“Why would I run?”  She said then turned and headed back into the bath.

 

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Snow returned dressed in the same clothes she had worn since her arrival at Duncan’s home.  Only now she didn’t have her black gothic riveted shirt snapped to the neck as Duncan had become accustomed to.  She had the first two snaps undone and the collar adjusted so that her neckline was visible. 

 

Duncan had seen when she dropped her robe that she wore a necklace, but at that moment he was a bit distracted and didn’t see what was on the necklace.  Now the silver star of David hung high on her neck was clearly visible.  Duncan found himself staring at it while she walked into the kitchen where he and the Sheriff waited. 

 

Duncan had a question in his eyes.

 

“What is it you wish to interrogate me on now Sheriff?”  Snow asked.  “Must be awfully important if you have a yard full of deputies to ensure I don’t escape.”

 

The Sheriff’s face looked as if he had been bit in the leg.  He had spoken without thinking of the consequences.  Now he needed to explain.

 

“The deputies aren’t here for you miss, there was another event that happened.  Perhaps it’s best if your…” The Sheriff paused and looked at Duncan, his face showed his disapproval, “boyfriend here explained that.  My matter with you concerns a missing college student on her way to California.  Jennifer Mitchell’s car collided with a highway divider with three other passengers in the vehicle a little over three years ago.  Two of the girls died instantly, the third would have been lucky too.  She suffers from extensive brain trauma making her a vegetable, she needs life support to stay alive.”

 

Snow’s face was wrapped in anguish.  “That’s horrible!”  She exclaimed.

 

Ignoring her, the Sheriff went on. “The apparently uninjured girl claimed to be Jennifer Mitchell, or at least that is the identification she presented to the officers responding to the accident.  The driver and the other occupants had considerable amounts of alcohol in their systems, this person who survived uninjured had none according to a field sobriety test.” 

 

The Sheriff put a hand on his hip as he looked at Snow suspiciously.  “Being that she hadn’t committed any offenses as far as the local police were concerned, she had no prior record, no warrants and hadn’t been drinking or driving, she was released.  The girl talked to Jennifer’s parents, they believed it was their daughter they had talked too.  They said the girl sounded exactly like their daughter, only not as happy, considering the circumstances, they were convinced it was Jennifer.  Only it wasn’t.” 

 

The Sheriff was boring holes in Snow with his eyes, he was convinced Snow was the girl he was looking for.  His face showed that.

 

“This girl, having Jennifer’s drivers license and copies of her birth records and other documents passed herself off as Jennifer.  She received a Washington state drivers license in Jennifer’s name using these documents, and secured a credit card in her name.  She worked several jobs using her name and social security number, and another license in Colorado.”

 

The Sheriff opened the folder and looked at one of the pages.

 

“The last license she received was in Idaho about six months ago where she worked in a mall at a trend clothing store till a month ago, she barely escaped capture there.  She apparently figured out the local police were looking for her and got into the wind shortly before they arrived when the manager of the store, who the police had contacted, alerted them that she had arrived early and was quitting.” 

 

He looked back to Snow.

 

“That brings us here.  Two days ago a resident in a town just across the county line about an hour south of us reported seeing a girl matching the description of the girl wanted in this murder investigation and for identity theft.  We’re assuming Jennifer Mitchell died in the crash and this other girl stole her belongings to adopt her identity and hid the body so she could take Jennifer’s place, switching one of the passenger into the drivers place.”  The Sheriff opened the folder again  and pulled out several papers.

 

“The description from the police report from the scene says the girl was approximately 5 foot tall, shoulder length black hair with brown eyes.  She had pale white skin and three horizontal scars on her face.  She had a considerable amount of earrings in her ears from the bottom of the lobes to the top of her ears in various styles and designs from hoops to studs.  She also had a nose ring and two rings in her lower lip.  She also had a tattoo on her right arm midway between the shoulder and elbow of a mans face and some Latin or Spanish words below it.”  The Sheriff cleared his throat returning his eyes to Snow’s.

 

“Seems like a pretty fair description of you doesn’t it?”  The Sheriff said as he planted an artists rendering of the girl in question in Snow’s hand.

 

She looked at the picture.  She slowly wobbled her head back and forth in an action of scrutiny.

 

“Sheriff, I lived in New York.”  Snow said in a cynical voice.  “That description could fit thousands of girls I ran into on a regular basis in clubs at night.  And that’s just in New York.  Go to any major city and you will find thousands of girls in the gothic scene that match that description.  You’re singling me out because I am here, and someone matching that description was seen not far from here, an hour away you said?”  Snow shoved the paper back at the Sheriff.

 

“That’s pretty weak, Sheriff.  My lawyers wouldn’t even waste their time on this one.”  Snow said in an irritated voice.  “Also…”  Snow unsnapped her shirt and removed it and turned either of her arms towards the Sheriff, “I have no tattoos.  Unless you have something substantial, more than a similar appearance to thousands of other gothic women, have a nice day.”  Snow returned her shirt and snapped it closed.

 

The Sheriff’s eyes returned to her face.  He wasn’t finished yet. “There is more miss, you were seen in town here, and also seen by Mr. Galt’s neighbor running down the road and down his drive.  This neighbor called in a suspicious person report.  They have you on a security camera.  Mind explaining to me, why, if you really are Mr. Galt’s ‘girlfriend’ you’d be running down the drive instead of riding home with him?  He had just left town, why weren’t you with him?”

 

“I can explain that Sheriff.”  Duncan started.

 

“I’m not asking you,” the Sheriff said, “I’m asking her.”

 

“And I’m answering, unless your intention here is only to harass and not collect facts, Sheriff.”  Duncan said, his tone carried with it a threat. The Sheriff shot a dagger look at Duncan.

 

“I hadn’t plugged in my phone the night before, so, in the morning it was almost dead.  When I left for town I didn’t check my phone before I left and I didn’t take it with me.”  Duncan glanced over at Snow.  “So, I missed Snow’s message that she was coming early, and because I didn’t have my phone on me, she was unable to get a hold of me when she hit town.  Snow.”  Duncan said indicating it was her turn to talk.

 

Snow glanced over at Duncan before she started.  “I saw Duncan in town, you were talking to him and I tried to catch him but he pulled out and took off.  Not having a car, and since there’s no taxi in this town, I hitched a ride, the driver dropped me off at the turnoff to Duncan’s.  I’m a city girl, not a lot of woods and country in New York City, and I was a bit scared, so I ran.  Yeah Sheriff, I was a big chicken out here in the sticks.”  Snow finished, her look and tone had become annoyed.

 

“You hitched a ride.”  The Sheriff posed to her.  “Who in this town would give a ride to someone dressed and done up like you are?” 

 

Snow gave a single laugh.  “Someone who wanted to earn a fifty dollar bill.”  She said.  “I ran up to vehicle that was about to leave, asked if they were going towards Duncan’s place and held out a fifty dollar bill.”

 

The Sheriff looked between the two.  His face was hard, his eyes narrow.

“And you two expect me to believe that line of crap?”  He said.

 

Duncan’s eyes flashed.  Snow could smell the anger in him. “I think you can leave now Sheriff, I won’t be called a liar in my own home.”

 

The Sheriff guffawed.  “I honestly don’t care how you feel, I can haul both your asses in, arrest you right now.  I have my probable cause.  Multiple eye witnesses that give the same description.  Go ahead Mr. Galt, throw me out.  I have a body in your yard, and a possible suspect wanted for a possible homicide and identity theft.  How long do you think it would take me to get an arrest warrant?”  The Sheriff said looking smug.

 

Duncan looked at the Sheriff, his eyes burned at the man. “Tell me Sheriff, how long do you think that arrest would last?  How long before my people removed me from your cell and told you to go back to chasing stray dogs?”

 

Duncan’s threat was just as real as the Sheriff’s, and the Sheriff knew it.  He suspected Galt had enough friends in the right places to do what he said.  His face was hot.  He’d never had anything against Galt until now.

 

“You want to play hardball, I’m more than willing to oblige you Sheriff.”  Duncan said.  “All you have is circumstantial evidence, nothing more.  Nothing that would stand up in a court, and you know it." Duncan smiled.  “Like Snow said, that description could fit thousands of women.”

 

The Sheriff looked over at Snow. “You wouldn’t happen to have any ID would you Miss Wolf?  Or was that lost someplace between here and New York?”  He asked.

 

Snow reached to her back pocket.  The Sheriff tensed a bit, his hand dropped to his knee on the side his gun was.

 

Duncan laughed a pissed off laugh.  “You’ve got to be kidding me, why don’t you just pull your gun on her Dick Tracey.”

 

“That’s enough Mr. Galt.  I can haul you in for that kind of talk.”  The Sheriff said.

 

“Then do it.”  Duncan replied, his voice was ice.

 

He and the Sheriff locked eyes.

 

“Here Sheriff, is this good enough?”  Snow said handing him the passport Steve had made for her.

 

The Sheriff took it.  He opened it and read the entire document line by line.  He inspected it under the light.  He even sniffed it.

 

“Smells kinda new to me.”  He finally said.  “You have a drivers license?”  He asked Snow.

 

“No, I have to get one.  Now that I’m here, I’ll need to get one for this state, I believe ninety days is what I have?”  She said.

 

“Yeah, sounds right, what about your New York drivers license?”  He asked.

 

“Don’t have one, didn’t have a car, didn’t need one, that’s why I have a passport.”

 

The Sheriff snorted under his breath.  “How convenient.”  He said.  “Then I will need to hang on to this until I can run it, hope you don’t mind.”

 

“Actually I do mind.”  Duncan said.  “That’s a federal document, you have no right to take a persons passport and only form if identification.  Unless you arrest her, that stays here with her.  I can, however, make you a copy.”  Duncan finished and held his hand out for the passport.

 

The two men locked eyes.  They stared at each other for nearly half a minute.

 

“Fine, make me a copy.”  The Sheriff said and tossed the passport at Duncan hitting him in the chest with it.

 

“You look a bit young for thirty-two.”  He said to Snow.  “Look more like sixteen.”

 

Snow smiled, not a friendly smile, more like a smile one would give if they were trying to be polite and hide their true thoughts.  “Thank you Sheriff.”  Snow said.

 

“It wasn’t a complement.”  He replied.

 

“I know.”  Snow said back.

 

Just then Steve walked into the house and yelled, “They’re here Duncan, boss wants to see you and the Sheriff.”

 

“Alright, be right out.”  Duncan yelled back. “I’ll make you a copy.”  He said to the Sheriff and headed off to the den.  The Sheriff followed.  Duncan stopped when he saw the Sheriff come with, he was about to tell him to wait in the kitchen, but then he smiled to himself and continued on.

 

When the Sheriff and Duncan came back, the Sheriff was folding the copy of Snow’s passport and placed it in his shirt pocket.  He glared at her and was about to pass then stopped.

 

“You can come with us.”  The Sheriff said to Snow.

 

“She doesn’t need to see what’s out there.”  Duncan said firmly.

 

“This is still my case, I say she’s coming.  I may have some questions.”  The Sheriff said.

 

“Not anymore it’s not, the big boys are here, care to see how long you stay around?”  Duncan said.  “You stay put Snow.”

 

The Sheriff stood fast.  He wasn’t about to be pushed around by Duncan, he wasn’t a G-man anymore.  He looked back over at Snow, only, the stool she was on, held no occupant.

 

“Get out of my house, Sheriff.  You’ve worn out your welcome.”  Duncan said coldly.

 

The Sheriff moved ahead of Duncan who was pointing towards the living room where the front door was. Once outside the door two men were there, one either side. “Sheriff Hanks?"  One man said.

 

“Yeah, that’s me, who are you and what do you want?”  The Sheriff asked.

 

The man who spoke held out an arm, indicating the area the Sheriff needed to go to.  “That will all be explained to you Sheriff.”  The man said.  Sheriff Hanks looked at the two men, both were in black suits, white shirts with black ties and both were wearing sunglasses.

 

The Sheriff looked around.  The situation had changed.  There were close to twenty cars in the yard now, all parked off to either side of where the Sheriff’s men were parked.  Men in suits were escorting his men to their cars, the ambulance was already gone.

 

The Sheriff stepped off the lone step of Mr. Galt’s front door.  One of the men put his hand on the Sheriff’s shoulder, guiding him.  His face was that of defeat.  These men were taking over, that was plainly evident. 

 

He looked around, the yellow tape his men had so carefully placed was gone.  He could see one of the men in a suit putting one of the cases his men had brought with them in the back of one of their cars.  He wouldn’t be here much longer, that was a fact.

 

The men escorting the Sheriff took him towards a large black Suburban.  About the time they were there, a helicopter could be heard, shortly after, popped into the night sky.  The Sheriff looked back and up at the sky and watched as the black unmarked chopper descended. 

 

One of the men pushed the Sheriff forward.  “This way, keep moving.”  The man said.  The Sheriff was moved to the back of the drivers side of the Suburban.  When he arrived where the men escorting him wanted him, the back door opened and a man inside called to him.  The Sheriff stepped forward to the open door.

 

The man inside was in the same type of suit as the men out in the yard.  And there was another man in the back with him, dressed the same.  Both had sunglasses on.  The man closest to the door spoke.

 

“Sheriff Thomas Hanks?”  The man inquired.

 

“Yes, I’m Sheriff Hanks.”  He replied.  “Who are you, why are you escorting my men away from this area, I demand an answer.”

 

The man in the Suburban was unmoved by the Sheriff’s words, as he expected would be the case.  He had to put on a good show though.

 

“I am Colonel Robert Clay,  Deputy Director for Field Operations, CIA.  This is Field Supervisor of Special Operations Cromwell of the FBI.”  The man said as he motioned with an arm to his counterpart next to him. “As I am sure you have already figured out Sheriff, we will be taking over here now, and you will be leaving.”  The man said with a demeanor that said no questions would be tolerated.

 

“Fine.”  The Sheriff said with a blunt voice.  “Your men were loading some of my departments equipment into their cars, I want that equipment back.”  The Sheriff said.

 

The man looked over at the other man then back to the Sheriff.  He was a well built man, but not that tall.  He smiled a professional smile.  Sheriff Hanks knew from that smile, he wouldn’t be getting his equipment back.

 

“I assure you Sheriff, when we are done, your equipment will be returned to you.  Until then, it’s part of our investigation.”  With that the man waved his hand and one of the men behind the Sheriff closed the door to the Suburban, ending the conversation.

 

The Sheriff was tight lipped when the men escorted him around the front of the Suburban.  The chopper had finished landing, men in military styled uniforms and carrying automatic weapons came out from it, about a dozen in all.  They were followed by a man in a grey colored suit.  The Sheriff could tell it was not a cheap suit,  it shimmered in the light. 

 

The man looked around the area, he wore a political smile.  The soldiers were moving about, securing the area.  Several took position near the driveway behind where the Sheriff’s cruiser now sat alone.  He could see the silhouette of a man in the passenger seat.

 

“Keep walking Sheriff, nothing more for you to see here.”  One of the men walking him to his car said.

 

The Sheriff looked back over his shoulder towards the car where the body still lay.  The man in the suit was talking with Deputy Director Clay.  The man on the Sheriff’s left gave him a shove.  The Sheriff took the hint and looked back towards his cruiser and kept walking.  He could make out the face of James in the front seat.  James had a grim and angered look on his face.  The Sheriff felt the same way, but he was also glad to be leaving.

 

One of the men opened the cruiser door for the Sheriff then stood near the rear door of the cruiser.  The Sheriff stepped around the door and moved to get in when a voice called his name.

 

“Sheriff Hanks.”  The voice said, not in a questioning tone.

 

The man at the back of the car stood straight as though he were coming to attention.  When the Sheriff turned and looked in the direction of the voice, the man in the fancy suit was standing there.  The Sheriff didn’t say anything.

 

“Sheriff,” the man said in a polite voice “I just wanted to tell you good work here, thank you.”

 

“Who are you?”  The Sheriff asked but the man turned around and left, he had heard the Sheriff, he just wasn’t about to speak to him again. 

 

The Sheriff looked back at the man behind him, he moved his head towards the car indicating him to get in, his hands clasp in front of him.  The Sheriff climbed into his cruiser, the door was closed for him.  He started the car and backed up, slowly.  The man beside the car moved to join his counterpart and they both faced the Sheriff and watched as he turned the cruiser around and left.

 

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Snow had gone back down into the basement to observe more of what was going on.  She had only been there about ten minutes when she saw Duncan and Steve coming towards the house with a third man by their side.  She quickly made her way back upstairs in a bound, pausing only to make sure the vault door was closed before she left. 

 

She made her way to the library area of the house, turned on a reading light and grabbed a book off from one of the shelves and sat down under the light with the book open someplace near the front but deep enough in to give the appearance she had been reading it.  She listened for the sound of the front door opening.  She didn’t have to wait long, voices followed.

 

“Snow?”  She heard Duncan’s voice call.”

 

Snow posed with her book.  “In here, the library.”  She called back.

 

Footsteps grew closer.  She made her best pose for someone who was reading and just looking up from a book.  Though she hid it well, a keen eye would have caught the slight widening of her eyes as she looked at the guest with Duncan and Steve.

 

“Director, this is Snow.  Snow this is Deputy Director Colonel Robert Clay.”  Duncan announced introducing the two.

 

Snow nodded at the man.  “Nice to meet you sir.”  She politely responded, setting the book aside and rising to her feet. 

 

When she did, she turned to face them and stood straight legged with her feet together, arms at her sides, fingers curled and shoulders back.  To Duncan it looked as though she had come to attention.  This struck him as rather odd, but he assumed due to his introduction of the man and his position she was trying to show some proper respect.

 

The man identified as Clay leaned forward and whispered to Duncan.

 

“Sure, no problem.”  Duncan replied to the unheard question from Snow’s vantage point.  Even with her sensitive hearing, she was unable to make out what was said.

 

“Snow,” Duncan began, “would you mind coming with us to the kitchen?”

 

“Not at all sir.”  She responded. 

 

Duncan noticed she was talking to Clay and not him.  Duncan wondered briefly about this, and assumed since she saw him talk to Duncan, she knew he had asked they come to the kitchen.  Snow was acting oddly.  He pushed his mind aside and noted he would ask her about this later. 

 

Once in the kitchen the four of them sat down.  Duncan and Snow on one side of the island in the kitchen, with Steve and Deputy Director Clay on the other.

 

The Director had Mr. Rheineer documenting the things they talked about.  The questions were mostly related to development of her new identity, where she would be coming from, what back stories would need to be created and such.  They were about twenty minutes in when the door opened and unannounced, another man walked in. 

 

All in the kitchen looked to see who was entering.  Clay went stiff, stood,  and did come to attention.  He didn’t speak.  Duncan looked between Snow and Steve.  They gave no indication they recognized this individual.  Clay obviously did.

 

Duncan looked the man over as he approached the kitchen.  He was very well dressed.  Suit was tailor made.  Shoes were high end quality.  His fingernails were manicured, clean shaven, a shave only a straight razor could give, hair styled in place.  All professionally done.

 

The man waved his hand at about waist level, fingers curled, palm down, telling Clay to go on with his business.  Duncan was only half listening as Colonel Clay and his former partner Steve talked with Snow. 

 

Though he wasn’t looking directly at him, Duncan was keeping an eye on the newcomer to the party.  The man walked into the living room at the front of Duncan’s house.  He looked at items on the tables, above the piano and the pictures on the walls.  Finally he made his way into the kitchen. 

 

Duncan looked to the side where the man was without turning his head.  The man continued to look around Duncan’s home.  Colonel Clay looked up at the man only a couple of times.  At one point the man stopped his idle walking around in front of a clock on the wall across the entry into the hall that lead into the library. 

 

He stood by the refrigerator and looked at the clock for some seconds.  Then he looked back towards the living room.  He was considering something.  He looked back to the clock on the wall across from him, then around the room.  Clay looked towards the man several times while he stood there.  Clay seemed a bit anxious. 

 

Then the man moved through the entry into the hall towards the library, that was when Duncan spoke to him.

 

“Can I help you with something?”  He said to the man’s back as he slowly walked down the hall, looking around as he went.  The man gave no indication he knew Duncan even existed.

 

“Excuse me, you in the suit, can I help you?”  Duncan said loudly.  Again the man kept moving as though he hadn’t heard Duncan speaking to him.  Duncan realized the talking in the room had stopped. 

 

When he looked around at the others in the kitchen, Steve and Snow were looking at him with looks that questioned who the man was and what he was doing.  Their eyes supported Duncan.  When he looked at Colonel Clay, his eyes were hard. 

 

Clay was leaning over the island, he was supporting himself on his elbows and had been looking at details Steve was writing down.  Now his gaze was formidably on Duncan.  The message in Clay’s eyes was clear. 

 

Duncan didn’t like the man nosing around his house, but he understood whoever this well dressed man was, Duncan was expected to say on a leash.  Duncan let the matter drop with a look at Snow.  He softly smiled at her.  Snow smiled back and the discussion at the island resumed.

 

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It was about fifteen minutes later when the man returned from his self imposed tour of Duncan’s home.  He walked behind where Clay and Steve were, when he was near Clay the two men looked at each other, the man passed slowly.  Clay returned his attention to the work on the island.  The man moved around the end of the island nearest to the living room. 

 

Duncan had turned his attention to the man openly, turning in his direction with one arm on the island.  He waited. 

 

“I assume the Lady Snow will be staying with you.”  The man said.  He didn’t look at Duncan when he spoke, not until he finished.

 

Duncan paused for a moment before responding.  The mans attention was fully on him.  “We hadn’t really discussed that yet.”  Duncan started.  He glanced over at Snow.  “She only just recently dropped herself on my doorstep, but I suppose so, yes.”  Duncan finished. 

 

The man hadn’t asked a question, he was issuing an order.  Duncan read that in the tone and choice of words and the way they were spoken.  This was a man who didn’t make deals or negotiate things, he said what he wanted and expected it be done, no questions asked.

 

Duncan stood up and walked the few steps over to where the man was.  He heard the conversation behind him stop again.  The man in front of him looked over towards Clay.  His eyebrows raised slightly, then he looked back at Duncan.  The conversation resumed.

 

“Nice suit.”  Duncan said.

 

“Thank you.”  The man said and brushed his hand across the front of his suit jacket.

 

“Now that is a fine suit, hand made, Italian.  Shoes look hand made too.  Imported?”  Duncan asked.

 

“Yes,  Italian also.”  The man replied giving Duncan his time.

 

“Suit has a New York look to it, imported fabric, nice tie, now that is a fine tie.  English?”  Duncan asked.

 

“Hm.”  The man murmured.  “French designer, made in England.”

 

“Wow!”  Duncan said as he went close to the man and gently put his hand on the mans tie clip. “Now ‘that’ is a tie clip.”  Duncan stated.  This time his tone was sincere.  “This had to be cast in a hand carved mold, hand finished, such detail.  This really is a handsome tie clip.”  He finished, taking his hand away.

 

“Thank you.”  The man said.  “You clearly have an eye for finer things.”  The man said.  His voice never changing, no emotion showing, calm and metered.  “You’re point Duncan?”  The man ended.

 

“The point is, you’re no field agent, nor a director in either the CIA or the FBI.  Clearly you’re much higher than that.  I’m wondering what a man of your level is doing here and if you’d care to introduce yourself to me since you’re here in my home?”  Duncan said, not hiding his disapproval of the liberties the man had taken and the way he had ignored Duncan.

 

The man in the suit smiled at Duncan, a polite, metered smile.  He turned towards Colonel Clay. “Finish up here Robert, make sure the Lady has everything she needs and take care of it ASAP.”

 

“Yes sir.”  Robert Clay responded crisply.

 

Then the man turned his back to Duncan and headed towards the front door.  “I’ll leave my soldiers here, should you need them.”  The man said, then he opened the door and started out, as he turned to close the door behind him he smiled at Duncan again.  “Have a good morning Duncan.”  Then he close the door.

 

He has to be part of some unidentified part of the Secret Service’ Duncan thought to himself as he returned to the island with the others.  Or some other cloak and dagger outfit.  Duncan didn’t say a word about the man to either of the other two men with him.  That was an interesting tie clip though.

 

The activities in the kitchen continued for another several hours.  Finally satisfied they had all the information they needed, Colonel Clay began rounding up all the papers they had created, shuffled them into a neat pile then opened his briefcase.  He pulled several manila folders from it. 

 

Thumbing through the papers he quickly sorted them into different folders.  Once all the papers were in the selected folder he picked them up and dropped them on their spine end to jog all the papers inside to a neater alignment.

 

“Thank you for your assistance agent Rheineer.”  Colonel Clay said to Steve.  “I’ll be in touch should we need any further information.”  Then he stood, Steve stood with him, the two men shook hands and Steve retrieved his own briefcase from next to the island on the floor.

 

Steve moved around the living room end of the island over to where Duncan sat.  He patted Duncan on the shoulder. “Thanks for the fun evening.”  He said with a smile.  Duncan stuck out his hand and shook hands with Steve.

 

“See you in the funny papers.”  Duncan said as he rose and saw Steve to the door.

 

After Steve was out the door and the door closed, Duncan stopped with his hand on the knob and took a deep breath, eyes cast down to the sill plate.  He gathered his resolve and as he did he realized how tired he was.  Roster crowing time was approaching fast.  Slowly raising his head he turned on his heal and pushed himself back into the kitchen. 

 

Snow was watching him.  Her eyes smiled kindly at him.  When Duncan sat back down, Snow inched her stool closer to him and gently lay her head on his arm.  She was breathing rapidly.  He could tell she was tired also.  Tense situations wore a person out fast, even someone who was used to being a night owl.

 

Colonel Clay cleared his throat. “Mr. Galt,”  He began, and clasped his hands together on the top of the island. “ when you left the company, you were close to retirement, you only had a few years and you would have had your twenty in.  You could’ve collected a pension, medical.”  His eyes moved over to Snow then back to Duncan. 

 

Colonel Clay took a breath.  “You left the company, your file says you left to ‘pursue other interests’.  Then you raised some funds through private investors and started Galt Labs.”  Clay pulled his hands off the island top into his lap and straightened.

 

“Joined the military when you were eighteen, arranged a deal to go to college, all on the government’s dime, time counted towards your pension, earned multiple degrees, spent some time as a street cop then went into the CIA.  During your time with us, you earned two more degrees.  Then you just up and quit after a unique event.”  Clay’s face had become reserved. 

 

His demeanor indicated he was about to put Duncan on the spot and in a corner.  “Why did you leave, a man with your background and training doesn’t just up and leave simply to start a business, just before he could collect on his time.  Another two, three years?  Tell me why.”  Clay finished finally spelling out his interest in Duncan.

 

Duncan stared back at Clay, his face showed he was considering the man, and his response to him.  Deciding what and how much he would speak, what he would cover.  Would he speak openly and honestly, or tell the man something convenient?  Clay seemed to read this on Duncan’s face.

 

“I am aware of what happened to your wife and why, two weeks after that, you quit.”  Clay stated.

 

Duncan’s face tightened slightly.  Clay had to be well connected to know the unfiled details the CIA ordered him not to remember or speak of ever again.  It was time to shit, or get off the pot he figured. 

 

Duncan took a deep breath. “I’d had enough.  The company wasn’t the same, it was too political.”  He said.

 

“Too political?”  Clay ejected and guffawed.  “We’re a government agency, we’re all about politics.”

 

Duncan nodded slightly.  “Yeah, but we used to be more than a political tool of the flavor of the month.  We used to have a well defined mission.  We backed our own, we didn’t hang them out to dry just because it was convenient for some administration.  We weren’t the bad guys.”

 

Clay’s eyes wandered off.  Duncan’s words had an effect on him.  The Colonel understood all to well what Duncan meant.  His eyes betrayed his opinion of changes in the company.

 

“Sometimes Colonel, you have to walk away from something you love, something you believe in before you get lost in the mix and become part of the problem.”  Duncan added.

 

Clay returned to Duncan. “What if you could be a part of the company and be part of a tight knit group, outside of political influences?  Somewhere where the administration couldn’t find you?”  He asked.

 

Duncan looked over at Snow, her breathing was short and fast.  She was sound asleep on his arm.  Exhausted.  Duncan looked back to Clay.  “Exactly what do you mean by outside of political influences?”  He asked.

 

“I mean a separate division within the CIA, one that doesn’t answer to the President or the Director, funded covertly and that doesn’t answer to the normal chain of command.  We keep the nation safe our own way.  As far as anyone is concerned we don’t exist, formally.  We are division W.  We keep no official records, we make no reports to anyone outside, only to those of us in the group.”  Clay said.

 

Duncan looked intently at Clay.  His eyes wandered to the island then off to the living room.  Covert operations within covert operations’ Duncan thought to himself.   He looked back to Clay. “Alright, you have my attention, exactly what would I be doing?”  He asked.

 

A smile came to Clay’s face, a secure and assuring smile. “Taking care of problems that don’t exist.”  Clay answered.  “Can I count you in?”

 

Duncan smiled, shaking his head, disbelieving that he was actually considering this.

 

“You get to keep your business, stay on your research, and be a card carrying member of the Company.”  Clay told him.  “Can I count you in?”  He asked again, making the time for commitment now.  He understood Duncan.  He could tell he wasn’t happy being on the outside, he was the type of man who wanted to be free to do his job and not have to worry about prestidigitation. 

 

Duncan looked at the Colonel, his head slightly cocked.  His eyes slightly narrowed.  He gave a short exhale.  “What about Snow?”  He asked.  Inside he thought it odd that she was so strong in his consideration.  In this short time he had become attached to her.

 

Clay shrugged.  “Thought that was made clear, she’s your new partner, if  you accept.”

 

“And if I don’t?”  Duncan asked.

 

The Colonel didn’t answer, instead he leaned forward and reached his open hand out to Duncan.  He knew Duncan was in. Duncan shook his head again.  Was it that easy to see?

 

“Deal.”  Duncan said as he put his hand in Clay’s and sealed the deal with the shaking of hands. Clay opened his briefcase and reached into a sleeve on the lid and pulled out two small books.  The insignia of the CIA on their covers.  He set them on the island and slid them towards Duncan. 

 

The Colonel stood, closed his case and took it in hand.  Duncan humped his shoulder that Snow was sleeping on in an attempt to wake her.  The second time he did it she roused. 

 

“I must be leaving now Duncan, I’ll be in touch soon.”  Deputy Director Clay said.  Then he turned and walked towards the door, Duncan and a groggy Snow followed. 

 

Clay opened the door and looked out.  The events of the night left no trace now.  The yard was mopped clean by the men, and even they were gone.  Only the helicopter remained with the pilot patiently waiting inside.  Clay smiled on the rising sun.  “Looks like it’s going to be a good day.”  He said, then he turned and looked at Snow.

 

“Be sure to bring him up to speed Snow.  See to it he knows what he needs to.”  Clay told her.

 

Snow nodded.  “Yes sir.”

 

The sound of the chopper coming to life whined from the yard.  Clay left the two of them and the noise from the chopper droned inside the house, which muffled the sound mostly.  In a few short minutes it was gone leaving Snow and Duncan alone.

 

They stood looking at each other for a long minute.  Snow ran her hand through her hair and then looked up at Duncan.   “So, I take it I’m staying?”  She asked him in a somewhat timid voice.

 

Duncan laughed and reached out to her and pulled her in and hugged her.  She put her arms around him, a smile filled her face.

 

“Yeah, my pretty little werewolf, you’re staying.”  Duncan let go of her and backed up a bit to look at her. “Partner.”  He said. 

 

He didn’t fully understand everything that transpired, or how Snow fit into all of it.  But what had started out as a bad situation grew to be a silver lining.

 

“I’m going to bed.”  Duncan said to Snow.  “See you in the evening.”  Then he went over and secured the house.  Snow went up to her room.  Her room.  She smiled at that thought.  It was the last thing she expected to happen, sometimes fate works things out.  No more living in the woods, for now.

 

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Snow woke to the smell of seasoning and herbs.  The distinct smell of grilling meat encompassed by the multitude of aromas.  Was that oven baked potato she smelt?  It had been so long, yes by George it was.  Fresh orange was in the air too, and wine? 

 

Snow stretched and tossed back the covers.  She slept well for a change.  She had slept pretty good the night before, but this time she slept with security.  She was staying here now.  A comfortable feeling.  She hadn’t had a real place she could call home for almost ten years now.  She was home now.  She felt herself smiling at the thought. 

 

She rose from the plush bed, arranged the pillows and put the sheet and covers back in order.  She hadn’t done that last time, now however, she wasn’t a guest anymore.

 

Snow went to the bureau where the only clothes she had with her were piled on the top.  She pulled off her night shirt and looked in the mirror and messed with her hair.  The mirror was the width of the bureau, edged in scroll cut wood with a dark stain.  It was a good four foot high and from the back of the bureau it almost reached the ceiling. 

 

She looked at her round white face.  Then she bared her teeth at the image in the mirror and sighed as the image did the same back at her.  She took in the image of the upper half of her body that reflected in the mirror.  She placed her hands under her breasts and pushed them up, trying to make them appear bigger.

 

“Even a pushup bra wouldn’t help these little girls.”  She said to the mirror.

 

Taking a couple steps back so her entire body showed in the mirror she turned sideways and looked at herself.  Her build was taunt and lean, her belly flat and sculpted, her butt round and firm.  The lines of muscles in her legs, well defined. 

 

She sighed when she looked at her breasts again.  She thought her nipples looked oddly out of place on the small rounds of her breasts.  They were large and dark and protruded from her chest more then her actual breasts she thought.  She was old enough now that she was fully developed.  This was all the bigger things were getting.  She turned back square with the mirror.  He face showed her disliking for her build.  At least for the bust line part of it and her face.

 

“I’m practically androgynous.”  She said to her reflection. 

 

Her hair made her face look more girlish she felt.  The scares though, distracted from the femininity of her mug.  The boys in her clan growing up, to her, seemed to go after the more shapely and developed girls.  When she left her clan most of the others her age were already mated.  Only a scant few were not yet, but they were soon to be with ceremonies planned for the mating of several members well underway. 

 

No suitors ever looked her direction.  Snow looked at the clothes.  She decided to change and go downstairs.  She opened the door to the bedroom and let it swing wide open.  Then she stepped back to change.  She could hear music coming from downstairs and the sounds of Duncan in the kitchen.

 

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Duncan was cooking up a storm.  A Cesar salad was freshly tossed and sitting in the center of the island in the kitchen where he was putting the finishing touches on it.  The great Satchmo Louie Armstrong was singing on the Bose and Duncan was humming along with the words to ‘What a Wonderful World’.  A bottle of merlot was sitting on the one end of the island, uncorked, and two long stemmed clear crystal goblets stood near the bottle.

 

Duncan looked up towards the stairs when he saw movement.  A large mostly white wolf was descending the stairs.  The wolf looked briefly at him as she passed then turned to head into the bathroom.

 

“Afternoon Snow.”  Duncan said.  “Would you like me to open the door so you can use the woods?”  He asked.

 

Snow turned her head and looked at him.  One side of her mouth raised up and curled  showing the sides of her teeth and her head bobbed some.  ‘Very funny’ he thought she would say had she been able.  Looking back to where she was going she trotted into the bathroom.  Duncan heard a paw scrap on the door as she closed it.

 

Shortly thereafter Duncan heard the door of the bath open.  There was a short delay then the wolf returned.

 

“You know, if you used the robe you wouldn’t have to change.”  Duncan said to her.

 

Snow stopped almost at the stairs and looked back at him over her shoulder.  One of her eyebrows was raised.  Even in wolf form the look worked.  She yipped once at him then proceeded upstairs.

 

“There is a bathroom upstairs if you remember.”  He announced to her backside as she went up. “Nice tail.”  He said lowly as he turned to stir the contents of a pan on the stove.

 

When Snow returned Duncan was no longer in the kitchen.  She turned her nose in the direction his scent lead off in, which also was the same as the direction the smell of grilled meat was coming from.  She smiled to herself.  A man is cooking for me!  She thought.

 

Duncan returned and was greeted by the smiling face of Snow, dressed and politely sitting on the far end of the island near the wine and glasses.  He approached her and took the bottle in hand and poured from it into the two glasses.

 

“Dinner will be in just a few minutes.”  He said.  “I have the dining room table set, would you care to join me?”

 

Still smiling Snow took the two glasses and handed one to Duncan then followed him into the dining room. 

 

“Thank you kind sir.”  She said as they walked.

 

“Oh, you’re welcome.”  Duncan said turning his head towards Snow.  “It’s an imported merlot.  Very full, thought you might enjoy it.”

 

Snow chuckled softly.  “I was referring to the ‘nice tail’ comment.”  She clarified as they reached the dining room.  Duncan pulled out a chair for her, waited for her to move to sit and pushed the chair fully under her then took a chair next to her at the corner of the table.

 

“Well, I’m no pro on wolf tails, but I liked it.  The black tip and light grey tones.  As far as wolves go, I would say you are a most striking one.”  Duncan said as he held up his glass, Snow taking the cue raised hers and the two clinked their glasses together.

 

“Thank you.”  Snow said.  “I wish my mother thought so, she always said I wasn’t very well colored, said I looked more like a white German shepherd than a wolf.”  Her smile faded.  She drank from the glass and looked a bit misty.

 

“Well, your mothers a bitch.”  Duncan said, causing Snow to burst into laughter and coughing a bit.  She enjoyed the play on words Duncan did, her face showed it.

 

“She is at that.”  Snow agreed as her laughter and Duncan’s subsided.

 

“Steaks should be done now.”  Duncan said as he stood up.

 

He started towards the back door where the deck was when Snow stopped him with her words. “Would it be alright Duncan, if we dined outside?”  She asked.

 

Duncan turned and looked back at her.  His eyes smiled, then his mouth. “Sure, grab the plates and silverware and bring them to the table.  I’ll get the rest of the stuff.”  He said.  Snow did as she was asked and followed after Duncan to the deck.

 

Once out on the deck Duncan turned the steaks, reduced the flame of the gas grill then went inside.  Snow was back and fourth brining the settings from the dining table to the patio table on the deck. 

 

When they passed as they worked together Snow brought a smile to Duncan with the glee in her eyes and the solid happiness on her face.  His last trip was with the salad and bottle of wine.  Snow was already seated, crunching a celery stick.  She rose and took the salad from Duncan’s hands and giggled lightly as she placed it on the table.

 

“It’s beautiful out here.”  She said as she sat back down.

 

Duncan looked around at the view.  He had to agree, it was very scenic.  He was taking in the view briefly when the snap and sizzle of the grill reminded him of the steaks.  He turned his attention to the grill, it emitted a plume of flavorful smoke when he opened it and retrieved a steak, placing it on Snow’s plate.  After his was on his plate he looked over at Snow who was inhaling the aromas around her. 

 

Her face told him she was content, happy and relieved.  He was glad she was here.  The last years here had been lonely, it was nice to have pleasant company to share the day with.  They ate in silence for the most part, only asking for something to be passed, more wine, the usual dinner requests. 

 

When they had both finished Snow complemented Duncan on the meal. “You’re a fine chef Mr. Galt, Duncan.”  She said, her face glowing.

 

With a warm expression Duncan bowed his head slightly, “Thank you.”

 

Snow had stopped taking in the view.  Duncan was looking at his empty plate. Finally he broke the silence.  “Is that the only set of clothes you have with you?  You said you had worked at a clothing store to build up a wardrobe.  What happened to that?”  He asked. 

 

Several days now in the same clothes, even though she showered, the use was evident in the air.  Snow seemed to perceive his hidden implication.  She looked at her clothes. “These are getting a bit ripe aren’t they.”  She said then cleared her throat.  “I still have my wardrobe, it’s in some duffel bags locked up at the bus station.”  She said.

 

“Well,” Duncan said rubbing his face, “I suppose we should probably get them out of there before the station clears out the lockers.  They do that about once a week.”

 

There was another question he had on his mind to ask.  Seemed the time had come.  The mood had changed.  They both knew the other had things to say, they had yet to talk about the previous days, and early mornings events.

 

“Director Clay said you needed to bring me up to speed.  You recognized him when you saw him.”  Duncan said. 

 

Snow nodded her head.  Time to get to business’ she thought to herself.  She had sensed the change in Duncan.  The time was appropriate.  He needed an education.  Wives tales and old world lore weren’t enough for what they would be doing.

 

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“Colonel Clay, Robert Clay, is known as Robert in his clan.  He is part of the Clay clan.  They are a clan above mine, mainly because clan Frost is in dishonor.  The patriarch of the Clay clan is a member of the Clan of Elders, the group of learned werewolves that oversee the governing and duties of all the various clans here in the Americas.”

 

Snow made a face.

 

“Robert is who clans typically go though to procure new identities for members who’s current identity is no longer fitting.  Considering our lifespan is an average of five hundred or so years, we need to change our identity about ten to twelve times in a lifetime.”

 

She smiled at Duncan.  “It doesn’t work to look in your forties and have your records say you are near a hundred.  So we have people in place to ensure we can be provided clean identities.  That’s where I frelled up.”  Snow said with a look in her eyes that spoke of how much she was kicking her own ass right now. 

 

She sighed.  “I should have changed my identity before I left.  This identity will last me about twenty years now, it will be reset once, changing the birth date and other relative dates.  We try and keep a clan member with the same identity as long as we can.”

 

Duncan was absorbing what Snow said.  They were well organized it sounded.  He wrestled with accepting werewolves had their people in places of high office and within agencies such as the CIA, and apparently the FBI too.  It made perfect sense, it was a little hard to grasp and believe the reality of it.  Thinking back to the events of recent, they apparently had their own agency hidden inside the CIA.

 

“So, that man that was here with Clay, the one in the suit, he’s a werewolf I take it?”  Duncan asked.

 

“Don’t know."  Snow said. 

 

She picked up on the look on Duncan’s face.  “Have never seen him before.  Couldn’t sniff him out.  Couldn’t tell if he was human or werewolf.  He was wearing a scent neutralizer.  I would be guessing yes since we use that to keep our presence hidden from the vampires.”  Snow said filling in the unknown for Duncan.

 

Duncan nodded, again, it made sense.  Still seemed far fetched, but considering why he was in hiding out here in the country and what he actually knew, it wasn’t as hard to accept as he thought it would be.  And he did now have living proof of werewolves living with him.  The hard part would have been trying to deny things now, had he wanted to.

 

“So, you came here to get my help in your hunting of vampires?”  Duncan asked, his tone suggested he was feeling proud of his abilities and what he had done.  “You want to learn my hunting techniques and teach me yours?”  He said smugly. 

 

Snow burst into laughter when he finished.  Apparently she had been trying to hold that in when he started the topic of him being a hunter.

 

“Please!”  Snow exclaimed.  “A hunter you’re not!”  She laughed.  “Barely a rank armature at best.”  Seeing Duncan’s face sink helped her contain herself.

 

“Duncan, I had no intention of getting you involved in any of this.  I was assigned to keep you safe.  The coven you almost destroyed has rebuilt itself, and the coven leader had you on his hit list.  He still does.  He was feeling you out, seeing what he was up against.” 

 

Her face went to a more serious look.  “What you destroyed last night was only his recon minions.  They were here to gather information.  He saw what he needed through them.  Vampires aren’t all that smart.”

 

“You’ve said that before, what do you mean they aren’t that smart?  I’ve always understood they were quite intelligent, more so than humans.”  Duncan said a bit vexed.

 

Snow looked at him, her face softened but still held a serious edge.  “In your tales, are zombies intelligent?”  Snow asked.

 

“Zombies?”  Duncan asked, somewhat confused by the question, hoping she wasn’t going to tell him they existed too.  “No, they’re mindless undead.”

 

“Right, being dead has it’s drawbacks.  Vampires choose their victims cautiously.  They look for humans with above average intelligence that are greedy or power hungry, they make the best targets.  They pick these people because when they have the light driven from them they lose some of their intellect.  The dumber the human, the dumber the vampire.” 

 

She rocked her head as she considered what she would say next.

 

“You take a person with say… a hundred twenty IQ and make a vampire, you’d be lucky to get a 70 IQ after the turning.  You might end up with a vampire with only a 50 IQ.  The higher IQ you start with, the less of a chance you have of getting a retarded vampire.  The reason they seem smart is because they have a hive mentality, they communicate minds to one another.”

 

Duncan poured the rest of the wine into their glasses as he listened.

 

“When a human is turned, their memories are absorbed by the coven leader and by the minion he serves.  They only know what they absorb.  They think as one, the more vampires you have together in a group, they better they are.  Get a vampire alone, out of range of coven members, they revert to animal instinct.  They need others to help them think.”  Snow finished.

 

Duncan’s eyes were wide.  There was nothing about the hive mentality in anything he had read.  Absorbing the knowledge of its victims was common in most vampire lore.  The rest was news to him.  It looked like class was in session.  He needed to unlearn everything he thought he knew about vampires.

 

“And as far as you being a hunter, Duncan,”  Snow went on, “hunters go out and pursue  their quarry, not sit inside a fortress and wait for it to come to them.  That’s not hunting Duncan, that’s hiding.”  Snow ended with a critical note.

 

 

 

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