LOVE AND DEATH IN THE BIG EASY
“They’re in the shed beside the main house,” I whispered to Kady.
“I see them.” Her voice erupted from the microphone in my ear, a cheerful chirp from the FBI command vehicle a mile away. I pictured my wife’s depthless blue eyes cutting momentarily from the eye pads of the night scope binoculars. “Sometimes I wish I had your vision.” She added.
Peering across the cropped field from the shelter of a small grove, I calculated the distance an approaching party could get before detection, maybe half way. The prospect of crossing the cold dark mud lurking under the corn stubble with who knows how many alarms and traps held no attraction. But that’s why the Bureau paid our agency so well.
“Okay, I’m ready.” I sighed.
“Sufi, I’d be honored for leave to take your place in this matter.” Jonathan, leader of the local shifter pack, spoke in the archaic vernacular of our kind. Sufi was the title for the overlord of multiple alphas. I crouched with my faithful lieutenant in the cramped confines of a canvas lean-to, situated in a small cypress bog bordering the open area.
“The offer both pleases and tempts,” I replied in similar stilted turns of phrase. “But, my friend, your transformation to timber wolf serves little purpose, for many hazards lie in the field ahead, made to harass and bedevil creatures of the formidable proportions you possess.”
Jonathan replied with downcast eyes. Agree or not, the Sufi had rendered judgment, after which debate ceased.
Having acknowledged my sovereignty in the matter, the hulking blond male threw a rain parka over his shoulders. “I’ll wait outside.” He parted the canvas entrance of the cramped observation post, and entered the misty chilly night.
Able to comfortably stand I stripped naked and transformed to the animal persona of my shape shifter nature. In seconds, a Yorkshire terrier puffed up by a tan and gray winter coat stood on the dirt floor. When morphing, especially in a down size, the process takes away breath and carries the sensation of plummeting down a long tube. Coupled with the crunch of bones compressing and joints reversing, any shifter needs a moment.
“Ready?” Jonathan asked from outside. With a brief bark of acknowledgement, I pranced toward the entry flap making quick authoritative little goosesteps. “See how proudly they carry themselves,” the attendant at the animal shelter pointed out to six-year-old Kady when she and her family adopted me. I’ll never forget the comment made on the day that forever changed my life.
Jonathan pulled me close and then attached a collar. At first glance, the small neckband appeared as any other, minus the usual assortment of metal tags. The main difference, however, was a Velcro fastener. Shifters without prehensile claws can’t remove collars. To avoid strangulation or decapitation when I returned to human form, the restraint separated under the pressure of an expanding neck. Next, he hooked me up with a Terrier-sized earphone.
Strong fingers removed the metal dog tags, replacing them with a surveillance camera. “Sufi is reminded of Directoress’ admonishments that this is solely a gathering of information,” he said to the attentive triangular face atop the stout body seated on the ground below. “We need only to identify the locations of alarm contrivances and confirm the drugs have been delivered.”
The Directoress was Kady Martin, my wife and Deputy Assistant Director for the FBI’s special operations intelligence division. Four Shifters Detective Agency was the main subcontractor. Our abilities made us ideal for surveillance and gathering evidence. Unable to speak when in Yorkie form, I snorted an understanding of the relayed orders and headed out. I may have been overlord of all shifter packs in North America, but Kady was boss for FBI jobs, a fact she loved to rub in when the opportunity afforded.
Breaking into the open from the cloister of densely packed dark tree trunks, the glow of a rising crescent moon behind a thick cloud cover provided little light. From a height of six inches, none of the trip wires or traps escaped notice. Advantage to being a small shifter, but with the other hand, Fate takes away. Unfortunately, bare terrier belly brushing across the lingering corn silk of the stubble would probably raise a nasty rash.
“Give me a close-up of the traps and alarms,” Kady said into the mite of an earphone clipped to a large three-sided ear. The photographs the camera took and transmitted mapped and clearly depicted each device. As a dog, I couldn’t speak but retained human intelligence. “That’s perfect,” Kady continued after I got closer. Her task would be to transfer the image’s position to a grid map near her station.
By the time I reached the house, the wet, cold mud had soaked through my fur to the bare skin. Paws and belly suffered first from the chill, but by now the cold penetrated everywhere. The lighting from an inside room flung a rough parallelogram across the tattered grass. Three quick canine simpers, transmitted to Kady’s location via the earphone, signaled I’d arrived.
“No heat signatures near you,” my lovely wife announced. “You may morph safely, little Precious.” I still hated the name. She hung the moniker on me when she was six and never let it go. In a flash, I up-sized to human, standing naked and shivering in the dark coldness. Inside the cozy warmth of the room, a couple sat in high-backed chairs each reading from a thin hardcover book. At observing the scene, all washed in an amber glow, I held up the camera collar to give a view of the inside. “The picture isn’t clear. What do you see?” Kady asked.
“A couple reading in a small library,” I reported to the earphone, now pinching the human ear uncomfortably.
“Check the cellar window.”
The house, built into a rise, had a half basement, rare for structures on the edge of Louisiana bayou country. As I walked the perimeter, a crescent-shaped aperture appeared just above ground level on the side wall. Air and internal scents wafted through the raised pane. I peered into the darkened space. A lack of light seldom stymies shifter vision. Upon scanning furniture and objects inside, a battered table holding bricks of white powder wrapped in clear plastic caught my attention. From the interior, puffs of warm air taunted cold human nakedness. To a shifter’s keen sense of smell, they also carried the unmistakable odor of high quality cocaine.
“I have it,” I muttered into the chilly night.
“Good, now get out.” Kady answered. “I’ve transmitted the layout. The cavalry’s on the way.”
After returning to Yorkie form, I trotted across the field. Halfway back to the lean-to, the shadow of a helicopter passed overhead. The machine flew with lights darkened and in silent mode, stopping in a hover above a portion of open land declared safe by the information I provided. Dark forms of men slid smoothly down lowered ropes. They hit the ground running, headed toward the house. Seconds later a confusion of light beams erupted in the darkness around the structure. Among shouts announcing FBI presence, a battering ram bashed in the front door with a resounding bang. After more chaotic tensely shouted orders, things settled down. By then I was dressed, sipping a warm cup of tea, brewed by Marta, Jonathan’s mate who arrived shortly after I left.
“Sufi by his efforts has honored our enterprises this night.” The willowy tan-skinned Creole shifter said. Like Jonathan, she preferred the old dialect.
A flush of modesty filled my cheeks. Protocol demanded a reciprocal compliment. “The efficaciousness of the sympathetic magic from your gris-gris contributed.” Marta also practiced white magic. The reputation of her potions reached into the finest homes of the New Orleans area. As the premiere Voodoo Queen in these parts, clients addressed her by the shorter less formal title of Maman.
Now her turn came to be embarrassed. The Creole shifter’s serene, wide-mouthed smile contained the assured confidence to temper a beast like Jonathan, who could be overly passionate at times. Her words, tinted by a Cajun accent, brightened the drab little space we occupied. “True, my Sufi, yet many instances of possible danger you identified for those who followed. While determination of success or failure in such endeavors rests with God, your efforts must be pleasing to His eyes.” Following in the tradition of the greatest Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, Marta possessed deep religious roots.
The exchange might have continued indefinitely. Such tedious customs were a major reason I avoided pack life for so long, but at that moment Kady arrived. With a spray of mud the black SUV swerved to a stop beside our small enclave. A head of shoulder-length hair tinted to a chestnut color, pinned up to satisfy Bureau grooming standards, emerged from the dark vehicle interior. Under the ‘do, an oval face, elongated by the suggestion of a double chin, held two sapphire blue eyes. In a habitual unconscious motion, with a quick sweep of a hand she attempted to press the minor jaw sag into place.
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