by Robert L. Sellers Jr
|part 3 of 3|
Bonnet returned to the window as he watched the activity of the trading post outside.
“What the hell is this?” Poe finally asked with clear irritation. The letter had spelled out officially that although he’d been severely injured, his career would continue; but only after he accepted a transfer to a new branch of the military.
Preparing himself for the usual reaction that came from the news he had been delivering to selected individuals for several years, Bonnet braced himself. “A few years ago, we discovered that there are people amongst us who are not exactly as they appear. At first we thought there was an epidemic of sorts, but then it became clear what was occurring, and why.”
Poe looked up from rereading sections of the paperwork he held. “You’re talking about that whore and her companions?”
Bonnet looked somewhat amused at the question. “In actuality those particular individuals represent the ilk of the people that I refer to. Consider them no different than the criminal element we have amongst our own kind.”
Poe put the papers down and glared at the Colonel. “Spit it out, Colonel, what exactly is the ‘our’ kind that your referring to?”
“Scientists tell us there are some fairly strange and bizarre turns that nature has taken as part of the evolutionary process. This includes people who can use magic after a fashion, as well as those inflicted with what we would call a pox of sorts rendering them mutated from their original form. After the pox has settled in to their systems, some require blood for sustenance while others apparently can shape-shift on occasion.”
Poe raised a brow at the last comment. “Please don’t tell me you mean werewolves, Colonel? That whisky may have gone bad and has caused you to lose your head.”
Bonnet smiled in amusement at the overly familiar reaction. “We’ve come to call them lycans, Mister Poe. Known lycanthropic types can change into things other than the usual werewolf form that you have described. I believe we’ve identified several variations that include werebears, but even they are fairly rare and unique as of yet.”
Poe’s eyes fell to the document before him as he grasped what the other man had just told him. Vampires existing were one thing, but these so-called lycans were entirely another. He looked up at the Colonel. “Does silver still kill them? Or have the adventure books gotten that part wrong like they did with vampires and sunlight?”
“Silver nitrate mixtures have proven very effective, although I believe a silver bullet to the heart of any man — or woman for that matter — will kill them quite adequately.” Bonnet smiled wryly. “I should add that there are differing flavors, for want of a better term, of vampires out there. Some of them actually do suffer in the sunlight as the adventure books you refer to have stated. Not all of which they write is as fictional as you might think.”
He held up a hand to stop Poe’s next question. “I know what you’re going to ask, others have as well. Yes, the lycans heal almost as fast as the vampires appear to. Vampires use blood they take to enhance the process, while lycans must change form for an extended period to heal their wounds.”
“My question was about what others you’ve made reference to Colonel, but thank you for that other information. It’s plenty helpful, too.”
“Ah, yes. The others. They have more to do with those papers you’ve been reading than the creatures we’ve been talking about.”
“It says here that I’ve been transferred to...” he paused, flipping through the papers. “To a branch of the United States Army, more exactly the Third Division, second Calvary under the command of General Armstrong Montgomery.”
“We call ourselves the General’s Secret Service. The other part is just bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to placate the accountants back in Washington.”
“Care to explain where I fit into this whole picture?” Poe asked evenly.
“As a member of the GSS you will be assigned as a sheriff to a town or city of our choosing. Once in place your job will not only be to enforce the law but to be on the lookout for variations of these creatures that might otherwise endanger the reputation of our country, or relations such as they may currently be with our more native friends.”
“Anything else I should know about?”
“This group and the specifics of its membership should be held in the strictest of confidence from any and all people not associated with it. Even those close to you outside of our group should not be aware of what it is that we do unless absolutely necessary; and then after much thought and consideration as to the result of their having such knowledge.”
“With all due respect, Colonel, this group of yours sounds more like some kind of twisted gentlemen’s club, than a service of the army.”
“The information we have on file tells me you’ve been a Freemason for several years, is that true, Mister Poe?”
Raising a brow at the mention of a group he’d been active in off and on, Poe was puzzled. “Yes I am; third degree and Past Master. I fail to see how that has anything to do with what you have described so far.”
Picking up his hat and smiling as he put it on, Bonnet ran his fingers along the brim to make it straight.
“We are all brothers of a sort in this new adventure, Mister Poe. You might call it a requirement of sorts, especially when working with men you have to be able to trust inherently. For, you see, I, too, have been known to pay attention to the man in the black hat sitting in the east on occasion.”
Bonnet turned toward the door and paused. “Heal those wounds and have Mister Labbo wire us when you’re ready for your assignment. We’ll expect notice by spring at the latest. I will leave it entirely up to you if you wish to bring that woman with you. However, I might suggest a change of dress to lessen her impact on the locals, if I were you.”
“I’ll let you know first thing, Colonel Bonnet, if I’ve made my decision.”
“No hurry, and welcome to the GSS. Your friend Tombs speaks highly of you and looks forward to having you in the fold, as it were.”
“I’ll bet he does.” Poe muttered to the empty room after Bonnet had left. He heard a sharp whistle outside followed by the snap of a whip and the clatter of hooves as the Colonel made his way out of town.
“Just what the hell have you gotten yourself mixed up in now, Poe?”
* * *
By the end of the week, with Running-Deer off in search of herbs and Labbo tending to other patients, Poe looked up to find the ample bulk of his friend Sheriff Franklin Tombs filling the doorway as he casually leaned against the door jam.
Arms crossed, Tombs smiled around the toothpick clenched in his teeth as he took stock of his old partner.
“When they tried to tell me that you were dead, I simply told them that there was no goddamn way some half baked vampire whore would have taken the legendary Marshal Augustus Poe off that mountain. Simply couldn’t happen.”
Poe couldn’t help but smile at his friend’s sense of humor. “She almost did, Franklin. If my horse hadn’t gotten spooked and run off as it did, she just might have.”
At six-foot six, Tombs still had the thick muscled build of someone who could easily wrestle a bull to the ground barehanded. His ample bulk often serving as simple intimidation rather than the twin six-shooters he wore. The unnerving part of their last meeting was the apparent respect that bordered upon fear the big man had shown the whore Poe’s posse had been hunting up on that ridge.
Tombs spotted the bottle of whiskey and walked over to pour himself a glass. “Labbo mentioned something about medicine not mixing real well with this fire water or I’d offer you a share.”
Snapping his head back, Tombs drained the glass. “Damn trail and this heat can make a man awful goddamned dry.” Putting the glass down, Tombs pulled a chair over and straddled it in reverse; a practiced habit of most lawmen leaving their pistols exposed and ready if they were suddenly in need of them.
Reaching into his pocket Tombs pulled out a bullet and tossed it to Poe. Looking at it, the bullet had the appearance of a pistol round. “Your Indian friend gave that to Labbo. It was in your saddle and probably did what that brace aims to fix.”
Poe closed his eyes, realizing just how close he had come to not making it off that damned mountain as he clenched his fist around the bullet. “Where did they go, Franklin? We might yet be able to catch them.”
Tombs smiled and shook his head. “Can’t be done, we’ve been trying. They must have gone west through the mountains, but they’re a damned sight better than the Indians are at covering their back trail. Hell, they may have learned that from them, for all we know.”
Poe put his head back against the wall in frustration. “So that’s it then. They’re just gone?”
“Afraid so. However, they do have a history of reappearing in areas they’ve been in before. We suspect they don’t realize yet that there are people now making sure they’re remembered.”
“This GSS group I’m supposed to be transferring to.”
Tombs nodded, resting his bulking arms on the back of the chair. “Remember old Pierre Beautouxe? Scrawny Frenchman who was better at cheating at cards than he was at trapping?”
“Among your last felons, if I recall. Found him dead from a bear attack or something didn’t you?” When Tombs looked at Poe without a word and a wry smile, Poe suddenly understood what had happened. “Wasn’t no bear was it?”
“No, it was a bear; just not a black, brown or grizzly. Chased that son of a bitch up onto the ridges and over to a cabin a lot like the one up on Mason Ridge, only much higher on the mountain. Poor Beautouxe had no idea a lycan was waiting out the weather when he ran into him.”
“Did you get a shot off at him? The lycan I mean.”
“Bit more than that, we tousled a bit after I found that bullets didn’t exactly work as well as I might have expected. Damned thing threw me off the back of that lodge into the valley below. The drop was quite the experience. If I hadn’t landed on the branch of a big pine, it might have killed me. As it was I lay there for over a day before I figured my way down.”
Poe smiled picturing something getting the best of his friend.
“Poe, those things are as strong as ten men. Only thing that keeps them and vampires apart is they can whoop each other just about equally.”
“Did you track him?”
“After I found what he left of Beautouxe, I tried, but a storm came in and I lost him. Bonnet came calling a few days later with the same offer he had for you.”
“You wired Danna to tell them about the attack, didn’t you?” Poe said evenly, finally understanding how this new group was keeping track of these creatures when they appeared.
“That’s what they train us to do. Never knew why until then.”
“Franklin, the name Labbo seems familiar, ever run across it?”
“He has an Uncle in Texas with the Rangers. Drew Labbo I believe. Somewhere in south Texas, last I heard. He came up looking for a couple men many years ago.”
Poe nodded when he remembered the name now. “Knew I’d met a Labbo somewhere before.”
“Entire family goes way back in law enforcement. Matthew here tried to get into doctoring, but after treating a wounded lycan, he made the mistake of sending a wire to Danna, and here he is wearing the badge he was trying so hard to avoid. I believe he often refers to it as either ironic or a family pox of sorts. You know doctors and those terms they use.”
Poe could only shake his head. “They have this figured out pretty good then. Why would they need me?”
“Not all lawmen are as clear about this problem as they would like them to be. Once you heal up, come spring they will find one and make him scarce for you to replace.”
Poe looked at his friend and raised a brow. “They do that?”
The comment amused Tombs. “They’re the goddamned government Poe. There’s a lot of shady folks out there wearing badges that go missing all the time, and no one gives a damn how they went gone.”
“Will it be in the territories or further west?”
Tombs thought about it. “Territories, most likely. Seems the folks we’re on the lookout for enjoy the comforts of city life, and for that they need money. But they don’t like getting into trouble with crowds. When that happens, they need wide open spaces for quick getaways and mountains to hide in.”
“Doesn’t sound like I’m going to have much of a choice about this, am I?”
“I kinda doubt they will let you say no. They have a knack of making things interesting enough for any man to try for a while. It’s all they ever ask.”
“Mary Jane,” Poe said with a resigned sigh.
Tombs actually laughed. “I met her after I settled in Poe, and it really was love at first sight. They’re good, but not that good.”
Poe smiled. “Does she know?”
Tombs nodded. “Figured I had no choice, had to tell her; especially after the kids.”
“How’d she take it?”
“I don’t go running after those things any more, I just report them. Sort of a deal, we worked out between us. That squaw is awful easy on the eyes, you and her working things out?”
“Her spirits tell her to watch over me, and I’m not as ready as you to settle down quite yet.”
“Damned shame, you ask me. She’d make a man a fine bride, dark skin or no. Might even be able to defend herself properly, if called upon.”
It was time for Poe to laugh, even with the pain it brought. “Did you happen to notice a couple ne’er-do-wells when you came in?”
Tombs thought about it. “Scrawny, long brown hair, half pint tall on one over the other with the taller walking like he’d been kicked by a mule one too many times?”
“She was the mule and it was only once.”
“He underestimated her once, and I doubt he’ll be back for seconds.”
Poe looked down at his brace and frowned as he tried to bend it. “So what do we do now?”
“Well, I brought a couple Spencer carbines along that you can use for target practice while you heal, or to learn that Indian how to shoot them.”
Poe hadn’t thought about that until his friend mentioned it. “Suppose I might as well teach her how to handle a pistol as well.”
“That would be why Danna sent a couple new pearl-handled Colts as a welcome present; something about you having lost yours up in those woods. May as well have her break them in; might keep her from getting bored waiting for you to get up and around, old man.”
Poe sighed, realizing he had made his decision and wasn’t entirely happy about having made it.
“I better talk to that woman at the store. She and Running-Deer don’t exactly see eye to eye. If she’s going to need clothes I doubt there isn’t anyone else around that could fit her into some.”
“You leave that to me. Mary Jane is pretty handy at fashion and can still carry a needle with the best of them.”
Poe looked at his friend incredulously. “I thought she was a teacher?”
“If I told you that I married the local seamstress, I knew I’d never hear the end of it.”
Tombs stood and put the chair back. “Heal up and let me know if you need anything out here. Might even be able to rustle up some steaks for a proper meal and will keep them cooked well enough not to attract vampires.”
“You’re a funny man, you son of a bitch.” Poe replied with a painful chuckle.
As they shook hands, Tombs looked at him seriously. “Glad you’re going to join us Poe.”
“You didn’t think you were going to get rid of me that easily did you?”
“I doubt that Indian is the only one anyone is going to underestimate from now on.” Tombs replied with a smile.
Sitting alone in the room, Poe began to exercise his knee, knowing he had work to do if he was going to be up and around before winter arrived or the spring that would mark the beginning of his new career.
Maybe Running-Deer was right, the spirits knew what was coming and thought he’d need her to help watch his back. With a smile, he wondered how the locals would take to an Indian deputy, let alone a woman.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr