Steed stalks dangerous game
Emma lures it in
I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s
Going to get himself a big dish of beef chow mein
Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon, 1978
Randy Stiles stifled a series of coughs with a fist over his mouth as he walked along the park path. The huge, waxing, silvery moon hovering low in the sky turned his surroundings into a high-contrast wonderland, but he hardly noticed as he concentrated on a developing headache. The familiar crunch of the gravel under his gum-soled shoes seemed dampened and he wondered if the cold he was fighting was moving into his ears. He was sure he’d picked it up from a patient at work. At least four times a year he caught some nasty virus from one of the elderly patients he nursed.
It took a moment for him to realize the low growling sound that he heard was not in his head but actually coming from the bushes to his right. Glancing over his shoulder at the dense park foliage, he moved to the center of the path and picked up his pace a little. Probably just a stray dog.
The shrubs edging the path shook with the passage of something large on the other side. Stiles glanced toward them again and let his gait break into a jog. It kept pace with him, the growl transitioning into a chilling snarl accompanied by a wheezing, breathy panting sound. He looked again, his upper body turning while his legs kept moving. In three more strides his left foot caught on an uneven patch and he tumbled forward. As his left shoulder slammed onto the path and skidded forward with the momentum of his run an enormous, reeking body hurdled onto him from the dark underbrush.
“Ahhh!” Mrs. Emma Peel quickly stifled a startled scream at the sight of a macabre wolf head, oversized yellow canines stained with blood, looming over her where she lay napping on her sofa. As she reached up to restrain it the jaws gaped open, revealing a crisp white card tucked inside the mouth.
“Mrs. Peel –,” Steed’s smooth voice pronounced the words printed on the card.
She tucked her fingers under the wolf’s lower jaw and pressed it shut, then struggled into a sitting position to look over the back of the sofa where he was crouching. He pulled off the mask to reveal his mischievous grin beneath twinkling grey eyes.
“It was found near the body of the sixth St. James’s Park victim,” Steed said, dropping the rubber and fur mask on her coffee table next to the tray of tea things she’d brought from the kitchen.
“Sixth?” Emma lifted the lid of the pot to check the tea. “I remember seeing two in the newspaper, at least two or three months ago.”
“There has been a total of six,” Steed said, taking a biscuit. “All in the same general area, all with similar details. After the first two the police suppressed them so as not to start a panic. There have been four more, and number six just occurred last night.”
Emma prepared the tea, adding his preferred sugar and milk before handing him his cup.
“Shouldn’t the public be informed if there’s a serial killer stalking the park?”
“The police have increased their patrols. But they decided to keep the nature of the murders secret,” Steed replied, glancing at the mask. Emma followed his gaze.
“The murderer wears a werewolf costume?”
He nodded, sipping his tea. “And has a pet wolf.”
“What do you mean?”
“Last night, a Mr. Randy Stiles was walking home from his shift at an elder care facility – he was a nurse – when he was attacked in the park. His attacker seems to have been a wolf.”
“A real animal?”
Steed nodded, watching her think about what he’d said. “The lab is certain based on the shape of the wounds and saliva found in them.”
“But the mask near the body suggests that there was a person involved.”
“And other victims have born a mixture of wounds, some obviously inflicted by a man – or human.”
“Interesting,” she pursed her lips, still contemplating the implications. “But still just a string of murders,” she finally said. “Why are we being involved?”
“Location, my dear. In three week’s time there’s to be a festival in the park in honor of his highness the Prince of Wales’s birthday. Since the Yard has not been able to put an end to this, we’ve been asked to step in.”
Steed had brought along the case files for all six murders, including the medical examiners’ reports with all their gory details. He had been through them all twice before seeking Emma’s assistance, so he sat back and sipped his tea and watched her read. He never tired of watching her. Just now he was particularly curious to see her nibble on a biscuit while reading the horrific details of six brutal murders. It was not, he knew, that she was immune to the violence described on the pages. In fact, she was particularly skilled at understanding the clinical language of the ministry coroner, and particularly sympathetic to the victims in their work. No, she was absorbing the horror, storing it for later analysis. When she was through they would go to the park to visit the scenes, and then over dinner she would begin to share her analysis of the facts of the six murders. Later still the horrors would bubble to the surface and he would be there to hold her.
Their tour of the park revealed little more than what was in the reports, particularly at the locations of the earliest murders. Only the location where Randy Styles had been attacked the previous night was still protected off by Scotland Yard and overseen by a bored looking patrolman. Emma crouched to examine scuffmarks on the path, then moved to the bushes nearby.
“Mrs. Peel?” Steed said, startled as she pushed through the underbrush.
“It attacked him from there,” the patrolman observed, nodding at the point where Emma had disappeared.
“This is where they found the wolf tracks,” Emma called out. The bushes beside the path rustled ominously and for a moment Steed could imagine how frightened Mr. Styles must have been. Emma reappeared presently from a spot further along and walked back toward them, her eyes on the gravel underfoot.
“Do you know how far they traced the tracks?” she asked the patrolman. “I could follow them that far, but I’m sure with the soft soil in there an expert could stay on the trail much further.”
Steed’s lips curled at the corners as the patrolman shook his head. It never failed: show Emma the scene of the crime and she would find the holes in the case.
“No idea Mrs. Peel,” the patrolman replied with a shrug. It seemed that his knowledge of the case only went as far as the edge of the path.
“I think we should find out, don’t you?” Emma turned her knowing smile on Steed.
Steed parked the Bentley in the street in front of Emma’s building, grateful that, as so often was the case, he could find such convenient parking for the old girl. He went round to the passenger side and opened the door.
“You will come in for a nightcap, won’t you?” Emma asked as she alighted from the car.
“I wouldn’t say no to a brandy,” Steed replied glibly as he followed her inside.
“What would you say to it then?” she asked equally lightly as she fished her keys from her bag.
Steed contemplated his response while she opened her door and led him inside.
“Come, intoxicating elixir. Sweeten my lips and warm my tongue.”
Emma stopped and turned to him, her face clouded with puzzlement.
“That’s what I’d say to a brandy,” he explained with a grin. She smiled back, rolling her eyes indulgently, and turned to the tray of decanters and glasses always ready on a side table.
They settled in on the settee with delicate brandy snifters in hand. They had reached the moment in a day spent together that Steed looked forward to the most: the easy transition from working partners and close friends to profound intimacy. They sipped their drinks and watched one another, frivolous conversation unnecessary, discussion of the case exhausted. Emma spoke volumes through her liquid eyes. Steed soon set aside his glass and took hers too, then pulled her into his arms. She came eagerly, quickly unbuttoning his suit coat to snake one lithe arm around him on the inside.
When she had first invited him into her bed, and even before that when they’d shared less-than-chaste kisses in the less intimate rooms of their apartments, he had grown accustomed to the sensation of falling into her deep, inviting eyes. He had learned to desire the moment of anxiety as he fell, Emma’s violation of his carefully constructed emotional barriers welcome, even needed. He had never allowed himself surrender in this way to any other woman, but Emma demanded it. Or perhaps it was just that he demanded it of himself in order to please her.
But then, in the last few weeks, he had learned that their emotional intimacy could be still more complete. As she stroked aside an errant curl from his forehead he plunged headlong into her inviting gaze. He did not hesitate, he felt no anxiety. He opened himself to her eagerly and, as if she knew that the last of his barriers was finally razed, she seemed to reveal herself wholly to him as well. It was an intangible change between them at an entirely emotional level. He knew there was no outward change in the way they went about making love. But he also knew it was there, enormous and powerful.
And then they were in her bed, the mechanics of undressing and moving accomplished without thought. Exploration led to a careful nurturing of mutual need and the gradual building of overpowering passion. Far too soon it passed to a level beyond consciousness and their souls blazed together as one.
And then they lay fulfilled in one another’s arms and Steed faced once more the second intimate revelation of his life with Emma. For in the past, with other women, in those moments when the overwhelming need was gone, the desire quenched, he had always felt embarrassment. How silly it all seemed in the aftermath to have been so desperate for the crass, messy physical joining of flesh to flesh. He would disengage quickly, offering up the necessary cuddles with fraternal good will, and escape as quickly as was politely possible. His carefully chosen lovers had always intuited his message and departed, or gracefully accepted his departure. He had thought his love life perfected.
Until Emma had taken him to her bed. The first time there had been no awkward moment, for the need had not faded after each miraculous climax. If anything it had deepened, and he’d been unaware of falling asleep with her, unembarrassed by the damp spots in the bed that exposed the mundane physical aspect of their lovemaking. And even in the harsh morning light he had still felt desire. He had reached for her to take her again and she’d come with him eagerly. She simply would not allow him to be uncomfortable with the physical residue of their intimacy.
Tonight, as every other night when they were sated, she caressed his face and kissed the tip of his nose. Yes, in its aftermath the overpowering physical need seemed silly, the act itself sometimes comical. But that did not make it embarrassing. It was a part of their intimacy and she valued it. Her amazing smile of knowing ingenuousness did not allow him to belittle it. He lay with her in a state of grace.
Shortly after they had become lovers she had confronted him – told him that if he did not want her to stay all night she would not enter his bed. He doubted she’d understood why he did not sleep over with his lovers, but she’d known it to be the case. That had shaken him – he’d had no idea that she’d been observing his casual love life. But casual had been the operative word. His relationship with Emma was anything but casual. Holding her, sated, knowing that he had satisfied her, he came to understand euphoria. And his need for it became almost as overwhelming as the earlier physical need. His rule about sleepovers had crumbled.
It helped that Emma was not a clingy sleeper. As she transitioned from post-coital daze to sleep she rolled away from him to find her own space. In addition to the difficulty of mornings after, he found sleeping tangled with a woman singularly un-restful. A man needed room to stretch out, and he did not need her head, arms, and legs pressed against him cutting off his circulation.
So while some men might characterize Emma as cold or unromantic, he found her sleeping habits completely in accord with his own. And she was not unreceptive to contact – if he rolled close to spoon with her she snuggled against him with a contented, nearly feline sigh. And when he eventually rolled away to lay on his stomach and clutch possessively at a pillow beneath his chin she stretched out contentedly on her own side of the bed. She was a woman with a man’s understanding of the difference between sex and sleep.
Steed awakened with a start and rolled over to face Emma. She had kicked him. He watched her shudder again and realized she was asleep. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as her legs flailed again.
“Emma,” he said, placing his hands on her shoulders to shake her gently. “Emma, darling, wake up.”
She cried out again, the fear in her voice palpable. He gathered her into his arms to try to still her spasmodic movements.
“Emma,” he repeated, his mouth near her ear.
She shuddered, then sucked in a long breath.
“What?” she said, pressing her hands against him. He loosened his embrace and looked into her open eyes.
“You were having a nightmare,” he explained. She frowned and shut her eyes for a moment.
“Yes. I was terrified. Of something.”
“You don’t remember?”
“No,” she shook her head slowly, looking annoyed at her faulty memory. He smiled fondly.
“Your mind is already suppressing it,” he said. He was certain that the grisly photographs combined with an afternoon and evening thinking about the murders had brought forth the nightmare. But if Emma did not realize it he was not about to suggest it to her.
“It’s gone now,” he added soothingly. “You’re safe in your bed and I’m here.”
“You’ll protect me from my own subconscious,” she said with a wry smile.
“I’ll protect you from whatever threatens you, darling,” he agreed, smiling back. “Go back to sleep.”
And she did. Steed might have felt flattered that his reassurance was enough to ease her mind so quickly — if he hadn’t fallen back to sleep as soon as she did.
Emma let her eyes flutter open to admit the golden morning light. She turned her head to look at Steed. He lay on his left side facing her, but his eyes were shut tight and his face looked angelic. He was definitely asleep.
She slipped out of the bed and went to perform her morning ablutions. When she returned Steed had rolled onto his back and flung his arm across her side of the bed, but he was still sound asleep.
Emma made a pot of coffee and sliced bread for toast. Steed wouldn’t eat anything more and she was not hungry after their hearty dinner last night. She had just poured her first cup and spread butter on her toast when Steed appeared dressed in last night’s trousers and a fresh shirt from the supply she had made room for in her dresser.
He leaned down to give her a kiss, smacking his lips as he straightened. “Toast?” he asked.
She smiled winsomely and took another bite.
Steed poured his coffee and put his own bread in the toaster, then sat down at the table across from her.
“No more nightmares?” he asked.
“You got back to sleep easily enough. So I guess you slept through.”
“What are you talking about Steed?”
“Last night I woke you up from a nightmare. Remember?” He watched her for a moment, head inclined. Then his toast popped and he rose to get it.
Emma pursed her lips, staring into the space where he’d been. And then she remembered.
Returning with his toast Steed saw her shudder. She covered her face with her hands and took a deep breath.
“Mrs. Peel?” Steed reached across the table to touch her wrist. She lowered her hands and took his. “Perhaps if you describe it.”
“I was running. Something was chasing me. It was dark and the trees were rustling. It was windy, and very cold.
“I was terrified of something. I know it doesn’t sound terribly frightening, but I was. Whatever was chasing me was panting, and it had claws that I could hear scratching on the ground.”
“Yes. No,” she frowned and released his hand, then stood up. “Not a wolf. A werewolf.”
“A what?” he half turned in his chair to watch her. She had gone into the sitting room, and she returned a moment later carrying a magazine. “Are you suggesting that there’s a werewolf roaming St. James’s Park?”
“Of course not,” she smirked at him as she sat back down and leafed through the magazine. “I think that part of my dream probably came from this article. I read it last week.”
She handed him the magazine. It was a psychology journal, one of many academic publications to which she subscribed.
“Lycanthropy. A psychological condition that some claim explains the werewolf myth. Most serious academics and practitioners say there’s no such thing.”
“Including this one, apparently,” Steed said, reading the skeptical title of the article and pointing to the author’s byline. Then he looked more closely at the article. “And according to his biographical note, Dr. Crispin Neff lives outside of London.”
Emma eyed him warily. She knew all too well what was coming next.
“Mrs. Peel, perhaps you should make the acquaintance of the good doctor this morning,” he said.
“Uh huh,” she smiled. “And what will you be doing?”
“Calling on some of the relatives and friends of our victims, and checking on Sir Lionel – the tracker.”
Emma braked to a stop at the bottom of a private drive and glanced again at the directions that she’d scribbled on the back of an envelope while consulting a local telephone directory in the nearest village. Second drive on the left. This is the one.
Easing out the clutch she caught glimpses of a quaint, white cottage nestled in a dense, English garden like a partridge on a nest. She could see that a careful gardener had designed the space. A canopy of colorful autumn blooms was interspersed with the still-green leaves of spring and summer blooming perennials and the darker hues of evergreens. This garden would be glorious in the spring, but it would be equally charming in the winter and lush in the summer. Smiling appreciatively, Emma parked in the narrow drive that ran along beside the garden, unavoidably blocking it. There was no other vehicle, but there was an old, faded wood frame garage, the closed doors decorated with a reinforcing wooden X.
As perfect as the rest of the garden, the path from a small white gate in the picket fence was delineated by large round pavers set into loose chippings. Emma tucked her small bag under her arm and used the heavy, lion’s head knocker on the door. The sound seemed enormous in the cozy garden space. For a moment the birds all fell silent as if waiting with Emma for the door to be opened. When nothing happened they resumed their song. Emma knocked again.
Over the sounds of the garden she heard a creak of the floor inside and a moment later the door opened, someone inside holding it at the halfway point.
“Dr. Crispin Neff?” Emma asked, squinting slightly to see the man standing in the shadowy entry.
“Yes,” came his reply, tentative but not alarmed.
“I’m Mrs. Emma Peel. I’m a freelance writer working on an article about a series of murders in St. James’s Park. I hope you can act as a source, Dr. Neff.”
“I don’t know anything about –.”
“No, I didn’t expect so. The details have been somewhat suppressed, so you might not have grasped the connection to your professional reputation. I must be honest, Dr. Neff – my article is for a magazine covering the occult. I have plenty of sources who say the killer is anywhere from a wild dog to a werewolf to a man suffering from lycanthropy. I know of your skeptical view of such things so I am hoping you can supply me with some quotes to counter theirs.”
While she spoke Emma studied the tall, lean figure before her. His unkempt dark brown hair hung in big curls all over his head and merged into an incongruously well-trimmed beard. His narrow shoulders were a little stooped, and his feet were angled outward in a pigeon-toed stance. She couldn’t make out his facial features, and she got the impression that he was intentionally staying in the shadows.
“I see,” he said. “Well, perhaps you should come in then.”
His speech had a cautious, measured tempo and an evenness of tone that chilled Emma.
“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside. At his inviting gesture she passed through the entry vestibule and into the sitting room beyond. Warm paneling, furniture upholstered in rich, tasteful fabrics, fresh flowers on a side table, and a beautiful painted screen in front of the fireplace gave Emma the impression of a cozy retreat. Steed would like this room, she thought absently as she heard the door close behind her and her host step into the room.
“I just put the kettle on,” he said. “Will you join me in a cup? I am a firm believer in elevenses.”
“I don’t want to impose,” Emma said, turning to him. Her eyes had adjusted to the low light inside the cottage. His ruddy complexion seemed as incongruous as his neat beard. His long, narrow nose pierced high cheeks and pointed to a narrow, thin-lipped mouth above a pointed chin. Like his skin, his lips were densely rouged. But it was his eyes that captured Emma’s attention: they were so light brown they were almost yellow.
“It would be an imposition if you prevent me from my tea, and I would be rude to take it if you don’t join me,” he replied in his measured, matter-of-fact way. Emma wasn’t sure if he was annoyed or if this was his idea of hospitality.
“Very well,” she surrendered. “I would enjoy a cup of tea.”
“Please make yourself comfortable. I’ll bring it in a moment.”
Emma watched him stride off down the hall, and then stepped further into the sitting room. For a moment she considered following him to the kitchen, but that was an intimidation technique she would use on a suspect. Unsettling as Neff was so far, he was not a suspect. What she wanted from him was cooperation and information.
She wandered around the room, dragging a finger over the surface of the side table out of habit to check for dust – there was none – and pausing in front of a tall barrister’s bookcase filled with dozens of volumes on psychology, sociology, and the occult. She turned to the mantel where a bronze figure sat in the place of honor at the center, flanked by silver candlesticks. It was a noble looking wolf, its cast face bright and intelligent.
“A gift from an uncle,” Neff’s voice came from the hall. He entered carrying a tray and headed for the cocktail table in front of the settee. The table bore several uneven stacks of books. Neff stood looking down at it for a moment as if trying to figure out how to fit a square peg into a round hole. Emma resisted the urge to go to his aid. He turned jerkily, first toward a stuffed chair, and then, apparently realizing that it was too small, toward the settee. He set the tray on the upholstered seat while he moved the books from the table to the floor.
Emma watched the proceedings from across the room. He appeared to be completely subsumed in the project – unaware of her presence. When the table was clear he moved the tray to it. And then he looked up at her.
“It’s a Swiss wolf – a European wolf.”
“It’s exquisite,” Emma observed, concealing her surprise at his abrupt resumption of the previous topic as she moved toward him. He indicated that she should sit on the settee and watched her do so. As she smiled up at him she felt the same little chill from his yellow gaze that his voice had inspired. And then, abruptly, he sat down on the chair across from her and reached for the teapot.
“I’ll play mother, shall I?” he said as he poured.
“I was able to backtrack your beast here Steed,” Sir Lionel Bridgewater, professional hunter and tracker, dragged aside dense willow branches and pushed through into a secluded open area in near the trunk. Steed followed him, hand on his hat to keep it in place as he passed through the narrow opening.
“You’re sure it’s a wolf, Sir Lionel?” he asked.
Bridgewater was crouching, forearms on knees, near the base of the willow tree. He pointed to a track in the soft soil. “Oh yes, no question it’s a wolf — a very big one. Quite remarkable.”
“That it’s so large?”
“No – that it’s here in the park. An animal that large needs a lot of territory,” he stood up. “But that could explain why it’s attacking humans. An ordinary wolf in the wild would stick to smaller, easier game.”
“So is this a nest?” Steed asked, poking at drifts of dead leaves and foliage on the ground.
Bridgewater shook his head. “A den,” he corrected. “No. It’s just the start of the trail. Your wolf started here, stalked through the woods out into the higher-traffic areas of the park, and eventually attacked Mr. Styles. But I can’t follow the trail back further from here.”
Steed frowned, looking around the open space beneath the tree.
“I know. It’s quite a puzzle,” Bridgewater acknowledged. “As if it materialized here. And there’s more. Look.”
He led Steed to the edge of the space under the tree and dragged aside the low-hanging foliage to point at the ground.
“Human footprints. Two sets, different types of shoes. See?”
“They both came in under the tree, although I have no way of telling if they were together or just within a few hours of one another. And over here,” he moved back to the area where they’d entered and pointed to a set of human prints. “That man went out with the wolf.”
“They went together?”
“Well,” Bridgewater put his hands on his hips and arched his back, then straightened and looked at Steed. “Based on the spacing of the prints, the wolf left here at a jog. The man’s footprints indicate that he was running – which would be about right to keep up with an animal that large. So yes, they left together.”
“The wolf could have been chasing the man.”
“No,” Bridgewater shook his head. “If that were the case, the prints would not be side-by-side, and the man would have been sprinting. And he would have been the wolf’s first victim that night.”
Their eyes met for a moment and then Steed turned back to scan the area under the tree. Leaving Bridgewater near the hanging foliage he paced slowly toward the tree trunk and then around it, looking down at the roots and up at the limbs that spread out like an umbrella above them. Dappled green light filtered through to create a luminous, watery feel.
The tracker came around the tree trunk, moving so carefully across the leaves and twigs his progress was nearly silent.
“Does this shoe match either of the prints?” Steed asked, using the point of his umbrella to flip over a cheap, rubber-soled canvas shoe that was half covered by a drift of leaves.
“My word Steed,” Sir Lionel exclaimed, picking up the shoe. “You do have a sharp eye.” He carried it back to the site of the two sets of human prints and held it next to one. Steed followed, already certain of the answer but awaiting the tracker’s confirmation. “Yes. It’s a match for this set,” Bridgewater held the shoe next to one of the prints. “But these are not the prints that exit with the wolf’s.”
“No,” Steed said thoughtfully. “They wouldn’t be, would they?” Above them a sudden gust of wind rustled the willow’s branches. The trunk creaked eerily.
“What are you doing here? You should not have come Bela!” Crispin Neff recoiled from the doorway, pursued by a man dressed in a threadbare sweater and blue denim trousers. Despite Neff’s generous height, the visitor seemed to tower over him.
“You said we need to talk doctor. I did not wish to do so over the telephone,” Bela replied gently.
Neff inhaled a short breath through his nose, his yellow eyes narrowing in a calculating expression for a moment as he looked at the visitor. Then he backed further into the house.
“Come in. Shut the door! Did you bring a car?” at this last he stepped sideways into the sitting room to look out of the front window.
Bela barked a quick laugh and followed him into the room. “Where would I have gotten a car?” he snapped.
Neff shrugged, turning back toward him, oblivious to the bitterness in Bela’s tone.
“I hitchhiked,” Bela growled, intent on making his point to the other man. “That’s all I can do, Doctor Neff. Beg for rides, beg for food, beg for treatment –.”
“And I have provided that last, Bela. But you have not progressed, have you?” Neff moved to the armchair and sat down, eyes never leaving his visitor. Bela crossed to the fireplace and stood looking at the wolf figure.
“You taunt me,” he muttered.
“You don’t believe in me, Doctor. How can you treat me?”
Neff shut his eyes for a moment as if to organize his thoughts, then they popped open and he focused on Bela, watching as he paced toward the bookcase.
“They are going to catch you Bela. I had a visitor this morning: a woman who claimed to be a writer. She was most certainly with the police.”
Bela faced him, a vicious grin on his face. “You mean they’re going to catch you, doctor,” he snorted. A low growl emanated from deep in Neff’s chest. He rose and lunged at Bela in a fluid motion, knocking aside a candlestand as his momentum slammed the other man into the glass-fronted bookcase. One of the glass panes shattered under the impact of Bela’s shoulder. He cried out in a long, keening wail and wrapped his left hand around his right upper arm.
The sound snapped Neff out of his rage and he stepped back, hands dropping to his sides.
“Go away, Bela. Go far away. Before they catch you. Find someone who can help you.” He sounded defeated, his words a final entreaty.
Bela turned eyes full of pain and anger on Neff.
“I’m bleeding,” he said. “Get me a bandage.”
Neff glared at him for a moment, then turned and left the room. Bela followed him down the hall and into the kitchen, standing silently while Neff looked in one cabinet and then another until he found a first aid kit. They both remained silent while Bela pulled his arm out of the now torn sleeve of his sweater. Neff wrapped and taped gauze over several slices from the broken glass on his upper arm. When he had finished Bela worked his arm back into the sleeve.
“It’s in tatters,” Neff observed, lightly touching the tears. “Let me give you something else.”
Bela waited while Neff disappeared up the stairs. He returned a few minutes later carrying a faded Manchester United jersey and a dark grey anorak.
“Take these. It’s cold outside,” he said.
Bela snatched the garments but made no move to put them on. “Don’t forsake me, Doctor. I don’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t know how to stop,” he nearly pleaded.
Neff sighed as he repacked the first aid kit and put it away. When he finished he turned back to find Bela still standing there watching him.
“The exercises I’ve shown you – you must do them,” he said.
“I do them!” Bela’s expression darkened, the anger of a few moments ago returning.
Neff’s anger rose to meet it. “Do them more! You can modify your behavior if you really want to. And if you do not then you will be caught. Do you want to go to jail?”
Bela shifted the bundled clothes to one hand and reached for the knob on the garden door with the other. He paused in the doorway. Neff’s look of relief that his visitor was leaving froze on his face.
“Maybe I do,” Bela said. “It would be easier than living the way I do now.”
“And what about you doctor? It seems to me you have no hope. Certainly no hope of modifying your behavior!”
He slipped out and shut the door leaving Neff standing frozen in the middle of the kitchen.
“He’s rather odd, but he did provide me with some useful information,” Emma told Steed that evening. She was sprawled sideways across her armchair with her bare feet in the air and the telephone nestled against her shoulder.
“Oh?” Steed was stretched out on his sofa, a glass of claret on the small table near his head that also held the telephone.
“For example, the werewolf myth varies quite widely. Some say inflicted people only take the wolf form on the night of the full moon, while others say they transform for several nights around the full moon.”
“Fascinating,” Steed yawned.
“If we were looking for an actual werewolf, I would suggest that we match the murders to the lunar cycle,” Emma replied with a hint of annoyance at his boredom in her voice.
“We have,” Steed replied, wakeful again. “As a matter of fact. Each of the murders has been within three days on either side of a full moon.”
“Someone in research thought to check it.”
“Your researchers are nothing if not thorough. Dr. Neff said that if the murderer is a lycanthrope – a person with a mental disorder – he or she would attack during the full moon.”
“But I thought that your Dr. Neff didn’t believe in the lycanthropy,” Steed frowned.
“As a specific disorder,” Emma nodded. “But he does acknowledge that some people suffering from clinically proven psychoses manifest lycanthrope-like symptoms.”
“Forgive me, Mrs. Peel, but what’s the practical difference?”
“For our purposes? None, I suppose,” Emma conceded. “What about your big game hunter? Was he able to follow the tracks?”
“Right back to a dead end.”
Steed explained Sir Lionel’s discovery of the willow tree and his subsequent find of the shoes. He described the various sets of tracks entering and leaving the space.
“Steed, are you suggesting that there’s a werewolf prowling St. James’s Park?” Emma asked with a grin.
“Of course not, Mrs. Peel. But it was darned strange.”
“A trail your hunter lost and a pair of old shoes left under a tree?” Emma chuckled. Steed winced, knowing that he’d failed to convey the eerie atmosphere in the space under the willow.
“Perhaps your new friend Dr. Neff would examine some of the suspects – look for signs of lycanthropy – or whatever he cares to call it.”
“I’ll ask him when I see him at his party,” Emma replied pertly. She could practically hear Steed’s hackles rise.
“Oh?” was his only verbal response.
“It’s fancy dress. The day after tomorrow — in honor of All Souls Eve — Halloween. He said some of his associates and students would be there, so I could get some more interviews for my article. You should come.”
“I was not invited.”
Emma smiled indulgently, knowing his peevish tone was not genuine, but that he enjoyed playing at jealousy.
“In point of fact, you were – he said I could bring a guest.”
Emma rolled across the bed and peered through slitted eyes at the ringing telephone. On the fourth ring she managed to snake one arm out from under the covers to pick up the receiver and press it to her face. “It’s one o’clock in the morning.”
“Mrs. Peel, it’s Steed. Forgive me for waking you. There’s been another attack in the park.”
“Not a murder Steed?”
“No. The victim is alive. Can you meet me at the hospital?”
Thirty minutes later Emma, clad in a dark orange crepe wool pant suit and matching suede boots, strode along a bright hospital corridor and stopped at a wooden door guarded by a police officer. She smiled in recognition of the man who’d been in the park the day before yesterday. He nodded in acknowledgement as he opened the door to admit her.
“Here Mrs. Peel,” Steed’s warm voice offset the stark hospital whiteness. He was standing near the corner of the room watching a nurse adjusting a dressing on a heavily bandaged patient in the bed. She stepped over to stand beside him, tilting her head close to his.
“What’s his name?” she asked quietly.
“Her name,” Steed corrected, “is Miss Iris Mallon.” He held up a woman’s wallet in green leather, a driving license complete with bad photograph visible through a clear plastic window. “She’s a musician.” He patted a black violin case sitting a chair atop the woman’s other belongings.
“Have you spoken with her yet?”
“No. She has yet to explain why she was walking through the park at night.”
“What about her wounds?”
“You mean, are they wolf bites?”
“The doctor did not find any bites, but there are scratches on her chest and neck. Ah, let’s see what she has to say,” he nodded toward the departing nurse.
They separated to approach the bed on both sides.
Emma’s eyes locked with Steed’s and he nodded slightly. She spoke first: “Miss Mallon?”
The patient rolled her head toward Emma and opened her eyes. The top of her head was wrapped in a bandage and her right arm lay on top of the sheet in a sling. Bruises were already darkening on her chin and the left side of her face, and there was a dressing on her right cheek.
“Yes?” she whispered hoarsely.
“My name is Mrs. Emma Peel. This is Mr. John Steed,” Emma glanced up at Steed. “We would like to ask you some questions.”
“More police?” the woman asked, her eyes flicking from Emma to Steed and back, and then shutting.
“Something like that,” Steed purred. “Miss Mallon, what can you tell us about your attacker.”
Miss Mallon swallowed and licked her lips, then opened her eyes to look into Emma’s again.
“Would you like some water?” Emma asked.
“Can you describe him, Miss Mallon?” Steed asked while Emma poured water from a pitcher into a cup with a straw waiting on the bedside table.
“He was huge and very strong,” the patient said. Emma held the straw to her mouth and she took a long sip of water, then looked again at Steed. “He jumped on me from behind and got his arms around my shoulders. We both fell down – I landed on my wrist and my face hit the ground really hard. He scratched my neck so I thought he was going to choke me.”
“Did you see his face?” Emma asked, hope of identifying the attacker waning.
“He had a big nose,” Miss Mallon said. “And very bad teeth. His eyes were dark. His face was so close that’s all I could see.”
“You turned your head to look at him?” Emma asked, trying to visualize the struggle.
“Yes. He started breathing on my neck so that I was sure that he was going to – you know – rape me. But he opened his mouth and his breath stank and his teeth were gross, and he tried to bite me.”
Miss Mallon swallowed hard and took another sip of water. Emma glanced up at Steed to see a tiny smile curling the corners of his mouth.
“You’re certain, Miss Mallon?” he asked gently.
“Positive. I could feel his breath on my neck. It was horrible.” Her voice rose
“What happened next?” Steed asked. “The doctor didn’t mention any bites in his report.”
“Another man came along the path. I suppose he shouted when he saw us on the ground. Then the man attacking me got up and ran, and the second man ran after him.”
“The second man didn’t stop to check on you?” Emma asked.
“No, he chased the first man. I got up and went the other way and found a Bobby.”
“Can you describe the second man?” Steed asked, glancing at Emma.
“Um, he was big too – tall, but maybe not as big as the first man. He had a beard,” she paused, her gaze falling pleadingly on Emma. “I’m sorry. I was on the ground, and he was running so fast, practically doubled over.”
“You were very brave, Miss Mallon,” Emma assured her, for she could see that the woman was on the verge of tears. “Thank you for answering our questions.”
Emma and Steed stepped away from the bed toward the door. Steed opened and held it for Emma, then turned back toward the bed.
“What did the second man shout, Miss Mallon?” he asked.
“Um,” the patient frowned, “I’m not sure. It sounded like a name.”
“Bela. You know, like the composer – Bela Bartok?”
“Didn’t you say Dr. Neff has a beard?” Steed asked. Emma had followed him back to his apartment from the hospital. It was going on three o’clock in the morning, but her mind was racing with Miss Mallon’s information. Fortunately, Steed was as susceptible as she was to the excitement of new information. She poured them each a brandy while he took off his jacket and stretched out on the sofa.
“Yes,” she replied cagily, handing him his glass before taking a seat at the opposite end of the sofa. “As do many other men.”
Steed grinned wolfishly at her, raising his glass in a silent toast as she stretched her legs out beside his facing him.
“Bela was not wearing a wolf mask,” she pointedly changed the subject. She wasn’t actually defensive of Dr. Neff, but she knew that Steed was just baiting her because she’d spoken favorably of him. She found Steed’s possessiveness endearing – mostly because it was combined with deep respect for her — but sometimes it could be distracting in the midst of a case.
“Because he lost it when he attacked Randy Styles,” he replied smugly.
“Have they had any luck finding the source of the mask?” Emma knew that
he had turned it over to the ministry’s researchers to find out where it had been purchased.
“A dozen variety stores in and around London sell that particular item at this time of year. Now that we have a description of the attacker, albeit vague, we can canvas all the stores.”
“Curious he didn’t just purchase another one, isn’t it?”
Steed took a sip of his brandy, stalling while he thought of a response.
“If you’d lost your mask while committing a murder, you would probably choose to change your disguise for the next one too,” he finally said.
“But tonight’s attacker chose to use no disguise at all,” she replied thoughtfully, sipping her own drink.
“We don’t really know that the mask was related to the previous murders at all,” Steed replied almost apologetically.
Emma shot him a fond smile. “Still, you should have someone take Miss Mallon’s description to the shops that carry them,” she said pointedly.
“I’ll call and arrange it in the morning,” he nodded, understanding her quite clearly. That kind of work was a waste of both their talents. They both sipped their brandies in silence for a few minutes, each lost in thoughts that gradually transitioned from the case to more personal notions. The tension of interviewing Miss Mallon was beginning to wear off.
“Do you really think the second man could have been Dr. Neff?” Emma asked after a while.
“I haven’t met him. What do you think?”
Emma sighed, picturing the eccentric psychologist with his tray of tea things. But then her memory focused on his shaggy head and yellow eyes and she shuddered involuntarily. But odd eye color and a bad haircut did not make him a criminal, and for that matter the second man had saved Iris Mallon, not attacked her.
“I can’t say,” she shrugged, then downed the last sip of her brandy and swung her feet to the floor. “He’s odd, and he knows a lot about werewolves. But that hardly means he’s involved with these murders or was in the park tonight.”
Steed was watching her as she spoke, a spark of desire smoldering deep in his warm grey eyes. She recognized it and indulged in a corresponding flicker of yearning. But she was also very tired. Stifling a yawn she stood up, took Steed’s nearly empty glass from him, and went to the kitchen. He followed, coming up behind her where she stood at the sink. His hands settled on her waist and his breath on her neck was a sensation nothing like the one she imagined Miss Mallon must have felt. Her body responded with a warm pulse of pleasure just as she stifled another yawn. Then he bit her neck gently with a playful growl and she couldn’t help giggling. She set the glasses on the drain board and turned to face him, placing her hands on either side of his face.
“Let’s go to bed darling,” she purred. “If you let me go to sleep, I promise to wake you up in the morning with a special surprise.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” he replied, his arms encircling her in illustration.
“I’m counting on it,” she purred, touching her lips to his and sighing at the attendant fizzle in her groin.
“Sure you can go to sleep?” he teased, releasing her and turning toward the stairs. She yawned again and followed him.
Steed brushed loose strands of auburn hair off of Emma’s temple and touched his lips to the delicate skin next to her eye. A smile curled her lips as she sighed contentedly. True to her word, she had awakened him more than an hour earlier in a most inventive manner. Afterwards they’d drifted in and out of sleep, holding one another, occasionally indulging in gentle caresses as if to reassure themselves that their lover was real. Steed cherished these moments when the dynamic, self-possessed Emma allowed herself to relax in his arms, disregarding the pull of responsibilities beyond their bed in favor of simply being held.
Emma cherished these times as well, knowing that although they did not speak of it these fleeting moments of quiet intimacy were the foundation of a powerful bond. She loved Steed – was in love with him – and she knew that even if he could not put that word to his regard for her, she had reached him on a deeper emotional level than the women who’d come before her. She did not flatter herself – he must have been in love with other women in the past. But she did allow herself to believe that the bond they shared was stronger than any other he had known recently.
Realizing that wakefulness was imminent, she shifted onto her side to face him, sighing again as he obligingly slipped his hand around her waist and stroked her back. She smiled into the blissful grey depths of his eyes a few inches from hers, then gave in to impulse and pressed her mouth to his in a tender kiss. He returned it, his lips parting slightly out of habit, but refraining from overt seduction. That was behind them for the morning. Now it was time to plan the day.
“What do you want to be for Halloween, John?” she asked as if speaking to a child.
“I thought I would wear that wolf mask,” he replied. A frown creased her brow and was rapidly replaced by a knowing smile.
“He might bolt if he’s at the party,” she said, referring to last night’s attacker. She thought she had followed Steed’s logic: If the second man last night had been Dr. Neff, then he knew the murderer and might have invited him to his party. But in fact she had misread Steed.
“I doubt that — it’s his party,” he said. Emma’s left brow arched in consternation and Steed grinned wickedly. “What about you? Shall we visit Mr. Schenck of Universal Costumes?”
“I already have what I need,” She replied rather regally. He could tell from her secretive smile that she was not going to reveal her costume plans. “You shall have to visit him without me. I asked Dr. Neff to visit the scene of Randy Styles murder with me this morning. I think I’ll take him to see where Miss Mallon was attacked too. It will be interesting to watch his behavior.”
“Very,” Steed said, then placed a light kiss on her forehead and eased his arm out from beneath her before sitting up. It never failed – drowsiness dissipated at the prospect of action. His two loyalties – his job and his lover – were much like addictions battling one another for his attentions. Only his lover was also his partner, so she played a roll in his job. She had, he realized when he cared to think about it, insinuated herself into most aspects of his life. The things he kept to himself – his family and his past principally – were the last holdouts, but they were also nearly inviolate. He simply would not allow himself to consider sharing them with anyone. Fortunately Emma seemed to understand his reticence. In fact, when he cared to think about it, he realized that his current work and personal life was as near to perfect as it could be.
Emma lay back and put one hand behind her head, watching the play of muscles under skin as he stretched and rolled his shoulders. He glanced back at her and smiled rakishly.
“Go ahead,” she said, reading his thoughts. “I can make a call or two and shower after you.”
“You could shower with me,” he suggested, knowing she’d decline. As expected, she chuckled and gave him a shove toward the far side of the bed.
“Maybe later,” she said, watching him stretch again once he was standing. He ignored the little flash of heat in his loins at her suggestion and headed for the bathroom.
“I’m afraid I can’t offer you an opinion here either, Mrs. Peel,” Dr. Neff said. He plunged his hands into his coat pockets, then pulled them out and scrubbed them together for a moment before dropping them to his sides. They were standing on the path in St. James’s Park at the spot where Iris Mallon had been attacked. It was their second stop after visiting the nearby scene of Randy Styles’s death.
The psychologist glanced furtively around, his yellow eyes flicking up and down the path, only pausing when they landed on Emma.
“Oh well,” she said, “I know it was a long shot – I appreciate your taking the time for me.” In fact, she had been surprised at his willingness – even eagerness – to join her in the park. She’d thought it meant he was innocent of any involvement with the murders, but watching him fidget she was revising her opinion.
“I am glad of the opportunity to spend a few moments with you, Mrs. Peel,” he replied. Emma was fortunate to have momentarily turned away from him, for her brows shot up at this overt flirtation. She schooled her features and turned to him with a warm smile.
“Mrs. Peel, would you join me for lunch?” he went on, his hands back in his pockets.
Emma knew that she was wading into treacherous waters. Neff had plainly developed a personal interest that she did not reciprocate. But lunching with him would give her more time to study him. She had hated deceiving male suspects in this way ever since the first time she’d done it working closely with Steed in Berlin. She knew it meant she could not be a professional agent, but she never wanted to become so hardened that using people would not bother her.
She checked her wristwatch – a pretense so that she could end the meal promptly. “I have an appointment this afternoon,” she said. “But I can join you for a quick bite.”
“No, Mrs. Peel, I cannot stress this often enough: lycanthropy is a myth. The man who attacked the woman last night may have been mentally disturbed, but he was not a werewolf.”
Neff had brought her to a café near the park where they had ordered a light meal and glasses of wine. The business of the meal taken care of Emma had returned to the subject at hand.
“Of course not Dr. Neff. But Miss Mallon seemed certain that the man behaved like someone who fancied himself an animal. Isn’t that possible?”
“Psychological defects manifest themselves in many ways,” Neff said, patting his mouth with his napkin although he had not consumed anything. “Some unfortunate victims do indeed fall prey to a sort of wolfish delusion.”
“I see,” Emma said thoughtfully, but withheld her full response. So what’s the difference?
“And did he explain the difference?” Steed asked a while later.
She had caught up with him at the ministry morgue where Dr. Mildred Booth had completed her report on Randy Styles’s corpse. He was seated at a stainless steel counter with the report open in front of him. Emma leaned against the counter beside him, her arms folded, as she described her meeting and lunch with Dr. Neff.
“I decided not to press the point,” Emma replied. “I could see the distinction is very important to him. And I did not want to antagonize him.”
“No?” Steed asked, turning a page in the report and then glancing up at her. She smiled at his sparkling eyes.
“No. He was very edgy in the park, and over lunch he seemed intent on convincing me. It seemed wise to let him.”
At that Steed half turned to really look up at her.
“He was very – intense,” she went on.
“Intimidating?” he asked with a puzzled frown. He had trouble imagining Mrs. Peel being intimidated.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Emma said. “But I think he was close to being very upset. And something told me I should not upset him.”
“So do you think he’s involved with the murders, or does he just have a bad temper?”
“I think that we should have a look around his cottage – unescorted. I’d like to see if he has any patient files or notes.”
Steed grinned eagerly up at her as he shut the autopsy file and stood up.
“We can’t go until after dark,” she added.
“Yes,” he drawled, retrieving his hat, umbrella and the file. “I was just thinking about all the things we could do between now and then.”
“That’s it?” Steed asked as he and Emma approached the cottage drive. She had parked her Lotus a little way back down the road and led him on foot the rest of the way. The moon had not yet risen and the night was very dark. Emma caught herself peering into every shadow and noticing every rustling leaf and branch.
“It’s charming, isn’t it?” she whispered back to Steed, focusing on the normal to dispel the sense of menace in the night.
“Quaint,” he agreed, following her up the drive. Half way along he paused, looked around, and hopped over the low white fence onto the small manicured lawn on the other side. Emma cast an indulgent smile at him, his playful antics further calming her strange nervousness. She made her way through the little gate and up to the front door.
“No car in the drive,” Steed observed, coming up close behind her.
“There was none the other day either – he may keep it in the garage.
“What if he’s here?”
“At lunch he mentioned that he was going out this evening.” Emma knocked on the door as she spoke.
They waited in silence, the small sounds of the night hushed in anticipation along with them. Emma and Steed exchanged a look, and then she produced a half rake from an invisible pocket in her royal blue catsuit and bent to manipulate the lock. Steed stood with his back to her watching the yard and the road until the door clicked open. She took his hand as she entered and he backed in behind her, shutting the door. He turned and nodded as she gestured toward the parlor.
They each produced a small torch and started on opposite sides of the room, carefully opening drawers and looking behind pictures, replacing everything much as they had found it.
“Look at this,” Emma murmured. Steed looked up from across the room. She was standing in front of the barrister’s bookcase. The glass pane in the cover of the shelf just below eye level was missing. Frowning slightly, she lifted the empty frame. A few bits of shattered glass remained on the shelf in front of the books.
“This was not broken when I was here the other day. And whoever cleaned up wasn’t very thorough,” she said.
“Could have been an accident,” Steed whispered.
“Could have been a scuffle,” Emma countered, studying the floor and other furniture in the area. Focusing her light on the floor she crouched and examined chips in the veneer of the delicate feet of a candlestand. Working her way up she examined the rim of the table top and found another chip. The table actually held a candle in a holder. Emma picked it up and the top half of the creamy wax taper slumped sideways.
“Poor thing,” Steed whispered, appearing at her elbow. “It’s gone limp.”
Emma rolled her eyes at him and set it down. “I think this table was knocked over,” she said, turning to survey the room. “What’s that?” she noticed that Steed was holding a small portfolio.
“Checkbook,” he opened it and pointed his light at the stubs still attached to the binding. “Your Dr. Neff has written three checks in the last six months to a Bela Zeklos. A total of ninety-eight pounds.”
“Bela,” Emma repeated, eyes locked with Steed’s.
Just above their heads a floorboard creaked.
Their eyes widened as the sound was repeated. Emma switched off her torch and moved toward the front door while Steed rounded the sofa to replace the checkbook where he’d found it. There was a scraping sound near the top of the stairs, and then the house filled with an unearthly, vibrating moan. Emma inched back from the stairway, feeling her way along the hall to the front door, eyes riveted on the shadows at the top of the stairs.
Her hand landed on the doorknob just as the moan became a menacing, throaty growl. She was certain something moved in the shadows at the top of the stairs.
“Mrs. Peel,” Steed was beside her nudging her hand off the doorknob to open it himself. He guided her out, pausing to look back and aim his torch up the stairs. The growl became a howl as the small beam of light cast hazy, undefined shadows. And then there was a flash of unearthly yellow and the shadows formed into a large creature bounding down the stairs. Steed slammed the door and grabbed Emma by the arm, dragging her with him along the path to the gate.
Behind him something slammed into the door as the bloodcurdling howling went on and on.
They pelted up the drive and onto the road, their sharp-edged shadows cast ahead of them by the newly risen moon. They covered the distance to the Lotus in less than a minute. Emma started the engine, maneuvering the car in a jagged, high-speed “K” turn before roaring away so fast Steed clutched at the dashboard.
“I think you’ve outrun it, Mrs. Peel,” he said after a few minutes of careening around the bends of the serene country road. He looked over at her, noting the set of her jaw and her tight grip on the steering wheel. “Emma, it’s all right to be spooked sometimes,” he added.
He had read her correctly. She inhaled a sharp breath, then eased up on the accelerator and her grip. When the car had slowed to a more appropriate speed she took another long breath and then glanced at him, her expression embarrassed.
“What was it?” she asked.
“A dog, I suppose,” he replied. “A very big dog.”
“The data confirms it, Steed. There is a ninety-eight point nine six chance of another attack tonight,” Humphrey Ellis of the ministry’s research department pointed to a graph projected on the wall. Steed stood up and moved closer, peering at it from the side so as not to block the projector.
“Ninety-eight point nine six,” he repeated, his head snapping around toward Ellis.
“The graph shows the pattern. The frequency of attacks has steadily increased, but only within five day windows around the full moon each month. The attack two nights ago was at the apex of the lunar cycle. Tonight is the outer range of this window.”
“And there was no attack last night,” Steed added, moving away from the wall so he could see the big picture. Not, in any case, in St. James’s.
“And,” Ellis paused until Steed turned his head to look at him, “Tonight is Halloween. No self-respecting werewolf could resist.”
Steed tucked the wolf mask into his trouser pocket, adjusted his flowing black cape around his shoulders, and tapped the head of his walking stick on Mrs. Peel’s front door. It opened an instant later and he caught a glimpse of bare arm and leg before she spun on away on her heels, her own black cloak swishing into place to conceal the rest of her costume. She paused and looked back over her shoulder at him with a flirtatious smile.
“Ready Mrs. Peel?” he asked with a sense of anticipation. He suspected that he knew what she was wearing. He was surprised on several levels – that she would put it on again considering its source, that she actually still had it – and beneath his surprise was an undeniable buzz of excitement.
Emma turned slowly, grasping the sides of the cloak near her waist to hold it open. It was just as he remembered it when she’d worn it at the Hellfire Club: bare shoulders and décolletage drew his eye to the deceptively sheer black merrrywidow that clung to her curves. A small fringe around her hips implied modesty that was belied by the sexy, elbow-length gloves and sleek boots.
“Vixen,” he muttered with a salacious grin. She smiled victoriously and stepped closer to him, lifting her chin defiantly. The gesture drew his eye to the three-inch spikes on the dog-collar around her neck. He lifted one careful finger and touched the tip of one and then even more carefully reached over it to caress the side of her face.
“We have work to do, Steed,” she said, her voice full of mirth. His mouth curled in a crooked, wistful smile as he lowered his hand and offered her his arm.
“More than you know, my dear,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
“After the party, we’re needed in the park. Our analysts insist that tonight is the night. Our man will attack, and I intend to be there.”
Emma stopped them at her apartment door. “In that case I’ll need to bring a change of clothes.”
“Must you?” he asked wistfully as her stiletto-heeled boots tapped across the floor toward her bedroom.
“Oh — oh – almost there. Yes! Yes! Oh Yes. Perfect Mrs. Peel. Incredible! Who would have suspected such a lovely lady capable of such knife work?”
Emma set aside the paring knife and held up the peel that she had removed, on a dare, in one long strip from an apple. The party guests standing around the sofa where she was seated clapped politely as Dr. Neff’s strange yellow eyes met hers over the cocktail table.
“Judging by her costume keen knife work is exactly what I’d expect,” one of the other guests said.
Emma smiled impishly and took a bite out of the peeled apple.
“No no my dear, the peel,” Neff said with a chuckle. “Toss the peel over your shoulder and the spirits will make it will land in the shape of your beloved’s initial. That’s the tradition.”
Emma arched one brow skeptically, setting the peeled apple on a paper napkin on the table. She gathered the length of peel into one hand and stood up. “Just toss it on the floor?” she asked.
Neff nodded, an encouraging grin splitting his long face. Emma could not help noticing that his teeth seemed unnaturally large.
She squared her shoulders, tried for the sort of serious expression that seemed appropriate for this mystical rite, and tossed the peel over her shoulder.
“Hello? Is this the party?” a new crowd of guests tumbled from the entry hall through the parlor doorway. Emma turned around at the sound just as Steed came from the other direction carrying mugs of mulled wine. He held them high, rotating in place as the newcomers split to pass around him and make their way to greet their host.
“Oops, what’s this?” Steed asked, looking down when the crowd had thinned. Before Emma could react he switched both mugs to one hand and scooped up the apple peel. “Dangerous,” he tsked. “Someone could slip.”
Emma’s mouth curled into a smile as he straightened and handed her one of the mugs. “Silly tradition,” he murmured near her ear.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dr. Neff had moved to the hearth. “Friends, it’s time for the costume contest,” his gaze drifted across the room and came to rest on Emma. “In keeping with tradition, I shall be the judge.
“Hardly seems fair,” Steed whispered, observing Neff’s gaze.
“Shhhh,” Emma hissed.
“Please take a moment to adjust your costumes – if you need it,” Neff went on, glancing over the room and returning to Emma, his expression indicating that he could not find anything about her that needed fixing.
Around the room guests adjusted collars and checked one another’s wigs, props, and makeup. Steed pulled the wolf mask from his pocket, unfolded it, and pulled it on over his head. Emma watched with interest as Neff’s roving gaze returned to her – as she’d known it would – and then darted to Steed by her side. He visibly stiffened, his hands plunging into his pockets and then back out. Emma could see his jaw grind beneath his dense beard.
A crash in the hall drew her attention away from their host. She rotated on the balls of her booted feet, balanced for action. Steed, she saw, was already facing the hallway. Beyond him a figure in the hall dressed as Count Dracula stood with a shattered glass in a puddle of red wine at his feet, his gaze frozen on Steed’s mask.
“Bela?” Neff’s voice was strained. Emma’s eyes flicked to Steed and although she could not see his eyes behind the wolf mask she knew he had shot her a victorious look.
“Forgive me Crispin,” Bela the vampire took a step back and hit the far wall, his eyes riveted to the shattered glass. “I am very clumsy.”
“Never mind!” Neff replied with unnatural good cheer. “Someone mop up that mess. Let the contest begin!”
“The contest was rigged,” Steed grumbled a bit later as he opened the passenger side door of the Bentley. Emma patted him on the cheek before she climbed in. While he rounded the car she reached behind his seat for her bag.
“It was perfectly fair,” she replied when he was in his seat.
“Of course you would say that,” he quipped, starting the engine. Emma produced her black catsuit from the bag, then lifted one foot to unzip her boot. “What are you doing?”
“Changing into my ‘patrolling the park’ kit,” she replied, reaching for the other boot. “Besides, who would you have awarded the prize for best costume to?”
Steed glanced over at her, his gaze lingering on her too long as she wiggled around, working her legs into the catsuit over the lacy merrywidow. He looked back at the road just in time to maneuver around a curve.
“Steed?” Emma prompted.
“Perhaps it was fair,” he replied, glancing at her again to see her smoothing the left sleeve over her arm. She gave him a fond smile, then wiggled her right arm into the other sleeve.
Steed had arranged for Sir Lionel to meet them at the park with equipment for their vigil. He was pacing the sidewalk along side a camouflage green Range Rover with his hands resting on a rifle slung across his shoulders when they drove up. Steed parked the stately old Bentley in front of the rough-and-tumble all-terrain vehicle.
Emma had finished donning her catsuit and put on rubber-soled ankle boots during the drive. She stepped out the car, leaving her cloak on the seat. Steed tossed his cape on the back seat, the wolf mask on top of it. Emma smiled inwardly as she realized that his remaining attire – a neatly tailored black suit with a crimson ascot and stylish black ankle boots – was not a costume at all, but attire he might wear on any day.
Steed introduced Emma to Sir Lionel, whose eyes widened in appreciation when she inquired about the make and model of his rifle. He responded to her interest, then shot Steed an impressed look. Steed smiled genially, proud, as usual, of Emma’s competence in any situation and with any kind of person. Then he turned his attention to the Range Rover and their equipment.
“Use your best judgment about where to patrol, Sir Lionel, but please try to wound, not kill.” Steed said as they walked along a path into the forested part of the park. “Mrs. Peel will be at location alpha and I will be at beta. We will check in via radio every fifteen minutes.”
“Well planned Steed. I shall begin at the willow tree,” Sir Lionel replied, and then turned off of the trail and started through the underbrush making remarkably little noise.
“Be careful,” Emma called after him softly.
Steed touched her hand and looked up the path, indicating that they should keep moving. She followed, stepping quickly to catch up and lean her head close to his.
“You should be at position alpha Steed,” she teased.
“No no, my dear. I always reserve that position for you,” he countered with a flirtatious smile. She returned it, then focused her attention on their surroundings.
A few minutes later Steed left her at “position alpha” – a bend in the path that offered a good view in both directions for a long distance. He kept going, and Emma caught herself thinking about Iris Mallon, who’d been attacked near here the night before last. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms to ward off a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature and paced her stretch of path. The night was pitch black, with the moon not due to rise for another thirty minutes. High tree limbs rustled in a light, autumn breeze. Small creatures made small creature noises in the woods. Just going about their business, she assured herself.
And then, finally, her radio crackled and Steed’s velvety voice brought her back to the middle of London.
“Everything secure, Mrs. Peel?” he asked.
“Quite, Steed. And Sir Lionel?”
“I’m here,” the hunter’s voice sounded surprisingly hollow over the radio. “The willow is all clear. Nobody here. I’m commencing a search grid.”
“Very well. Standing by,” Steed replied. And then there was just the quiet of the forest again.
Steed settled on a large rock at the edge of the path and opened the small valise he’d brought with him. He was surprised Emma hadn’t questioned it – she had probably guessed that it wasn’t surveillance equipment. He took out a small Thermos and unscrewed the cup from the top. He smiled in anticipation at the rich aroma of the steam seeping out as he removed the pressure cap.
“Check in please,” Steed’s voice crackled in Emma’s ear.
“All’s quiet here,” she replied.
“Working my way toward your positions,” Sir Lionel’s voice was barely more than a whisper. “I’m not alone out here.”
“Sir Lionel, do you need assistance?”
Emma could hear the excitement rising in Steed’s voice and it made her smile. His unswerving devotion to his work – and the courageous way he went about it – never failed to bolster her own bravery.
“Just radio silence if you please, Steed,” the hunter whispered back.
Emma focused on the forest along the side of the path, listening for sounds made by something larger than a vole. She paced a few yards in one direction, and then back around the bend the other way. Gradually she realized that she could see more details in the trees. The moon had risen and although it was still low on the horizon it was illuminating her surroundings.
By the time the next fifteen minutes had passed she could make out the trunks of trees several yards into the forest and the path seemed as bright as daylight.
“Check in,” Steed’s request came right on schedule.
“All quiet, but brighter,” Emma replied.
“Yes. But you know what moonrise means, Mrs. Peel.”
Emma rolled her eyes, unwilling to admit any possibility of a real werewolf roaming the park. Before she could formulate a response, Sir Lionel broke in.
“Keep a sharp eye,” he whispered. “It’s heading your way.”
“Is it our wolf?” Steed asked.
“Yes – I think so. It’s on the move. I haven’t been able to get a clear shot.”
Emma paced her stretch of path again scanning the forest for the first sign of a four-legged attacker.
“My eyes are as sharp as they can –.” The man who lunged out of the trees from the other side of the path took her completely by surprise. She dropped her radio — the earpiece popping out as it clattered to the ground – and raised her hands to fend him off. But he had already moved inside her guard and now he wrapped his arms around her torso. She locked her hands on his shoulders at the base of his neck and used her considerable strength to push him away, at the same time landing a sharp kick on his shin. And then she recognized him – not that his identity was a surprise. It was Bela, the vampire from Dr. Neff’s party.
Her kick was effective. Unfortunately, as Bela lost his balance he carried her down with him. They rolled across the path, Emma kicking relentlessly as she slipped her hand from his shoulder to his face. Her hand cupped his chin and she pushed with all her might, forcing his head back at an uncomfortable angle.
His hold around her loosened slightly. And then a gunshot exploded nearby and they both froze.
“Mrs. Peel?” Steed pressed the earpiece to his ear. “Mrs. Peel?”
He was already on the move, sprinting up the path toward her position.
Emma took her other hand from his shoulder and chopped at the side of his head. The blow seemed to thaw him from his momentary freeze. He heaved up, loosening his grip with one arm in order to lift himself. Emma landed another blow, this time to his neck. His responding growl was drowned out by a much louder, eerier one emanating from somewhere behind him. And then he was off of her, bowled over by a dark, furry figure that catapulted across the path.
Emma scrambled away on her hands, feet, and butt, eyes riveted on the man and beast tangled into a single, wrestling mass. And then the beast was on top, forelegs stiffening over paws planted on the man’s shoulders. The man lay still.
Emma found herself looking into familiar, weird yellow eyes. He blinked once, and Emma had the distinct impression of regret in its open-mouthed expression. And then he glanced into the forest, sniffing the air, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. Suddenly he bounded off into the woods and vanished in a few strides. An instant later Sir Lionel stepped onto the path from the forest, his arrival nearly silent. He surveyed the tableau on the path – Emma’s attacker lay unmoving while Emma herself was getting to her feet. She pointed after the wolf.
“He went that-a-way. Go on. I’m all right.”
Sir Lionel nodded to her, then plunged into the trees after the wolf.
Emma stumbled over to Bela. He lay on his back, one arm stretched out to the side. The other lay across his chest, the skin and muscles of his forearm torn in a deep, bleeding wound. She crouched and pressed two fingers to his neck, feeling a weak pulse.
Running footsteps crunched along the path. She rose and spun around, relaxing her defensive posture when she saw Steed sprinting toward her. She met him with a warm smile as he stopped a few feet away, eyes darting from her down to Bela and back.
“Alive, but bleeding. Sir Lionel went after the wolf.”
“Here Steed,” she held out a hand to him, “Do you have anything we can bandage him with? And did you bring some handcuffs?”
He frowned at her clumsy change of subject, but opened his case and removed a pristine cloth napkin. Then he dug into his trouser pocket and pulled out a set of handcuffs. As she crouched to bandage the wound and secure Bela’s hands Steed’s radio crackled to life.
“Steed?” Sir Lionel sounded out of breath.
“Here Sir Lionel.”
“I lost it. I only had that one clear shot, but it went wide.”
“It’s all right, Sir Lionel. At least we’ve got Bela.”
“I’ve never seen canis move that fast. Darned odd. I’ll be there in a moment.”
Steed pocketed his radio and watched Emma checking Bela’s pockets.
“Anything?” he asked. She shook her head and stood up.
“Oh well. We have him for this attack, and we can have Miss Mallon identify him. I think we’ll be able to prove that he’s Bela Zeklos, and link him to Dr. Neff. Have some Irish coffee, Mrs. Peel?” Steed held out his Thermos to her.
“Have a look at this, Mrs. Peel,” Steed stepped into Emma’s apartment and handed Emma a creamy white envelope.
Emma left him to shut the door while she strolled back across the room and examined it.
“Very good stationary, neat hand – the address is written with a fountain pen loaded with indigo ink. Very discerning.”
“The note inside, Mrs. Peel,” Steed urged, moving to the drinks tray to pour himself a sherry.
The envelope had been sealed with black wax impressed with the letter N. Emma’s brows rose as she noted this before removing the note.
“My dear Bela, I have granted your wish at last,” she read the letter aloud. “May your soul be saved from eternal damnation, for now mine is truly lost. C. Where did this come from?”
“It was mailed from a central London post box yesterday and delivered to Bela Zeklos in the hospital this morning. Any idea what it means?”
Emma returned the note to the envelope and looked again at the outside.
“No return address,” she observed, then looked up at Steed. “Dr. Neff is claiming to be the alpha wolf. He bit Bela, making him the beta wolf. He’s implying here that Bela’s is the first human blood he’s drawn. A werewolf is only eternally damned when it draws human blood, before that it has a chance of salvation. I did some research.”
“Mrs. Peel, are you suggesting that you believe Dr. Neff is a werewolf?”
Emma took a deep breath and tried for the hundredth time since the events in the park two nights ago to reconcile her understanding of reality with what she’d seen. The supernatural, no matter how compelling, simply could not win out in her mind.
“No. Perhaps he has a trained wolf. Perhaps it was a costume and the darkness and eeriness of the night affected my judgment. I thought I saw a wolf. But I do not believe in werewolves. However, Dr. Neff clearly does.”
Steed studied her through her speech, her inner conflict clear on her face – at least to him. He knew she’d soon overcome her doubts and stand fully on the side of science. He was rather pleased to see this moment of weakness, this suggestion that she was capable of indulging in a flight of fancy. He could think of several flights he’d like to take her on.
“I was thinking of paying a visit to Dr. Neff. Want to come along?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she replied.
“Afterwards I was thinking of a hearty game dinner at a remote little inn. Someplace with two or three rooms to let and an inviting hearth.”
Emma nodded. “And how long do you imagine staying at this delightful location?”
“A day or two?”
She smiled and turned on her heel, heading for her bedroom. Steed sipped his sherry and enjoyed the combined warmth of the beverage and his anticipation of the next few days.
She packed a small bag and secured her apartment in a quick thirty minutes. She had learned the art of being able to go on very short notice from him.
The afternoon was waning as the Bentley rolled to a stop on the road in front of Dr. Neff’s cottage. Emma frowned as she looked at it. Overnight the idyllic garden had gone from autumn bounty to dreary winter. The summer perennials and fall blooms had faded, and the evergreens seemed to have paled in mourning for their loss. Shaking her head to clear it of such notions, Emma climbed out of the car and stood by Steed’s side. The same thing had caught both their eyes. A pert red and white sign planted in the lawn near the front door.
“For Lease,” Steed read it.
They examined the house, gaining entry once again through Emma’s quick lock picking. It was empty.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” Emma said when they met near the front door. “Not even a note.”
“You were hoping for a love letter?”
“Stop it Steed. I will admit that he was flirting with me. But honestly, you can’t think he left on my account. In any case, he’s obviously mad. It’s ignoble of you to be jealous.”
“Jealous!” Steed’s eyes widened in apparent horror. Emma smirked at him, then turned to the front door.
“Will you have him found, do you think?” she asked.
Steed followed her out, checking to be sure the door was secure, and tapping his hat firmly onto his head. Jealous indeed.
“For questioning,” he confirmed.
Steed settled back down onto the settee next to Emma, stretching his legs out toward the fire as he handed her a fresh hot buttered rum from the bar in the other room.
“Ummmm,” she sighed as she sipped it. As she did he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, his body’s warmth combining with that of the fire and the drink to make her deliciously, drowsily content. They had the inn to themselves, except for the innkeeper, and he seemed extremely discrete. “This is a delightful place, Steed,” she said, turning her face to him. He turned his as well, their lips meeting in a light, lingering kiss that presaged much more to come.
“I did think I might have to defend your honor the other night, Mrs. Peel,” he said softly, watching her reaction. He had neither admitted nor denied the jealousy that she’d accused him of earlier.
“You know I’m quite capable of defending myself,” she pointed out, the hint of playfulness in her tone assuring him that she was not insulted.
“But it’s a gentleman’s duty. Won’t you allow me, should the need arise?”
“You will always be my knight in shining armor, Steed,” her mouth curled in a fond, indulgent smile that drew him back into their kiss.
On a chilly heath in southern Scotland a dark form paused to sniff the air, then ran on four legs to the top of a hill. The gigantic, near perfect orb of the waning moon hung low in the sky. The wolf’s haunches dropped to the cold ground and it raised its muzzle to its sovereign, howling out its loneliness and pain in a single, sustained note.