I’M BOUNCING around at my post. Lightly, on the balls of my feet. I’ve got energy to burn. I can’t help it. If we don’t finish up soon, I’m going to bounce right out of my skin. My partner just looks at me, cocking a dark red eyebrow at me.
“Damn, Aaron. Would you calm the fuck down already? They’re almost done setting up,” Bernie says, a little exasperated.
“Look, Bernie. You know I can’t help it. I’m not made for downtime.”
“Did Gracie give you some of that magic tea or something?”
“You know she wouldn’t give me anything like that.” I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I avoid caffeine. And sugars most of the time. At least I try to, anyway. I don’t need any of the extra stimulants. I’m a monkey. A spider monkey. What can I do?
“Nah, I mean the other stuff. To calm you down?”
“I was saving it for later.” I pick up the thermos and head into a dark corner and pour a cup of Aaron’s Angle Down mix. Gracie always takes care of me. She’s a lifesaver. Literally. She’s on the Were Council, but her passion is healing. She works at the zoo as a veterinarian. The administration lets her use the clinic to patch up weres that need help. The Council helped arrange it so we have a safe place to get medical attention. It’s a whole lot more comfortable to be around someone who knows what you are than to hope you don’t accidentally shift in the middle of a busy emergency room. When your doctor is an elephant, suddenly you’re not so self-conscious about being a monkey. She’s always creating herbs and potions to patch us up.
I squat against the wall, sniffing the steam, feeling the soothing vibes already. After a couple of breaths, I take a sip of the tea, savoring the flavor. She sweetens it with orange and honey. A couple of more sips, and the cup is empty. I feel better already.
“Dude, you needed that.” Bernie comments. “Now, can you just sit there and be calm while Jeff does his thing?”
This is my first investigation. I’ve only been on the police force for six months, working patrol. Someone has been selling drugs that induce a shift, making your average rave even more insane. Nothing like having your dance partner suddenly change into a raccoon and run off.
I was on the squad that got sent out to a disturbance call. Someone reported a wild animal was loose at a party. We found a lot of wide-eyed, shocked kids. Believe me, that interrogation had been fun.
“She was, like, grinding up on me and shit, then, BAM! She’s a moose!”
“Naw, man. She was like an elk or something.”
“I think she was a doe.”
“A female deer?”
It turned into giggling show tunes sung by stoners after that. Poor Eden. She was so embarrassed. She admitted drinking something her date had given her, but she didn’t remember much else. A frantic night roaming the woods and a naked walk of shame to a friend’s house followed. She called me, I called Jeff, and here we are.
Since Jeff quit the bookstore and went to work full-time with the Were Council, he’s been coordinating investigations involving were creatures in public settings. He followed up with a few of his friends on the force, while Brad, Jeff’s lover, followed a few leads of his own. Jeff is technically an enforcer for his snake pit, and Brad’s an enforcer for his wolf pack. Nothing solid turned up on either side. The Chief knows about weres, but most people don’t have any idea we really exist. He authorized a joint investigation because he doesn’t want us exposed any more than we want it. Imagine a city full of people suddenly finding out their neighbors can turn into wild animals on demand. The panic would be overwhelming. The Chief and Jeff agreed that sending someone in undercover would be the best idea. I had to do a lot to convince them I could handle it, even though “clean cut college student” is practically what it says on my license. I know I’ll make a great target for these guys.
Jeff is downstairs, making sure the cameras and microphones are in place. The idea is to wire up the bar and allow the rave to happen. With any luck, I’ll get approached by one of the dealers, and he can lead us to the cook.
I start bouncing around again, and Bernie sighs. “Enough! Jeff! We’re good up here. You ’bout done?”
“Yeah. We got the bar mic’d and the door wired up. Come on down and we’ll walk through it one more time.”
I can’t help myself. I shift and use my tail to grab the light fixture, then swing from it over the balcony and across to the bar. I’m flipping up in the air when Brad reaches up and catches me to pull me into his arms and hold me still.
“Simmer down, simian boy.”
He puts me down, and I shake my head after I shift back. “Always the nickel words with you.”
“Yeah, and because of your little stunt there, we have to re-adjust the cameras, and you’re standing there naked.”
Oops. He’s right. I blush and run back up the stairs to grab my clothes. I suppose that’s one reason why I have to work so hard to get people to take me seriously. I get dressed and run back down the stairs to where Jeff’s standing.
“Okay, Aaron. Are you ready? Let’s hook you up.” His tongue flicks out as he attaches a small wireless camera to my shirt and adjusts the antenna to look like a thread wrapped around the button. I guess he’s tasting the air. “We’ll be outside, watching your feed. We’ll have eyes and ears on you, but you won’t be able to respond. Just trust us to be there.”
“I do, Jeff.”
“The sky is falling!” we hear someone yell off to the left of us. A big brown chicken comes running through the room. I guess it’s more proper to say he’s a rooster. Anyway, we glance up at the ceiling, where a shade on the fixture I had just swung from is shaking. Bernie jumps out of the way as it shudders for a second, then comes crashing to the floor, breaking into pieces right where he had been standing.
“Thanks, Thompson!” Bernie calls out. He gets a cluck in response. We look around at each other, shaking our heads.
“Okay, where were we? Ah. What’s the signal?” Jeff grills me.
“If I need help, I’ll say ‘Where’s Batman when you need him?’ and if I’ve been given any drugs, I’ll say ‘Look. Party favors’ and someone will come by to get it from me.”
“If we need to contact you, or get you out of there, we’re sending Deacon in. He’ll vary his cover, depending on what’s going on, so just go with him, no matter what. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it. Jeff—” I take his hand to stop him.
“Thanks for trusting me on this. I know I’m a hard sell.” I look up at his eyes and try to let him know how much I do appreciate his support on this. He tilts his head and gives me a soft smile.
“No sweat. Besides, Brad’s the one who stood up for you on this one.”
That shocks me. Jeff has always been a good friend to me. He tutored me through high school, sitting patiently as my attention wandered. He helped get me keep my grades up so I could graduate, and then he helped me pass the academy tests. Brad has always intimidated the stuffing out of me. He’s literally the Big Bad Wolf. Six and half feet worth of tall, dark, and gorgeous werewolf enforcer is enough to intimidate anyone, especially this little monkey boy. He’s got a foot on me and probably a hundred pounds as well.
I look across the room to where he’s standing, towering over Bernie, those huge arms of his crossed in front of his massive chest. He’s stroking his goatee with one large hand. It’s like he knows we’re talking about him. He looks over, winks one powder-blue eye, and gives us a little grin. The big, bad wolf manages to look like a gentle, playful lamb. Who could still rip your arms off.
“Don’t let him down, huh?” Jeff says.
“No worries.” Except for the one in the pit of my belly over letting down the wolf who stepped up for me.
“OH, LOOK. Party favors.” Within seconds, there’s a young-looking guy dancing up to me and holding out a small plastic baggie as he grinds in close. It’s the seventh bag tonight, and the rave has only been going on for an hour.
I lean in close to return the grind. “Seems like it’s going to be a long night,” I say to the mic attached to my button. The runner just nods and leans back, encouraging me to nibble on his throat. I lean in to cover him as he closes the Ziploc. He winks at me and boogies back toward the door.
“Can I special order those? Or do you just have a buffet out there for me?”
Just then, another runner grinds up behind me and nibbles my ear. I turn around and smile at Terron.
“Hey, Mr. Owl!” I pull him close to me. He must have volunteered to help out tonight. I’m glad to see him. Since his class load is so full, we hardly ever hang out anymore. His long, dark bangs are combed over to one side and flopping over his round glasses. The pink T-shirt he’s wearing is about two sizes too small, and it says “Hoot! Hoot! I’m Cute!” in big letters. He must have gotten it in the children’s department, because as small as I am, I seem huge next to him. “How many licks is it again?”
“Door,” he whispers to my chest. I spin us around just in time to see Deacon stalk in, looking every inch the jealous boyfriend. His dark eyes lock onto me, and he storms through the room. The dancers part for him like the Red Sea.
“You! I told you to stay away from what’s mine!” Deacon shouts as he grabs me by the collar, pulling us apart.
“No, Baby! Don’t!” Terron is screaming and selling it for all he’s worth. I almost lose it, but the glare Deke cuts my way kills the giggles in my mouth. He grabs Terron around the waist and marches both of us out the front door. A few revelers make to follow us, but he spins on them, eyes glaring daggers at them. I wiggle in his grasp.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re gonna go? And what the fuck are you staring at?” he yells at a stoned kid who’s watching. The kid shakes his head and scurries away.
Deacon whirls back around and prowls across the parking lot and down the alley toward our van, dragging me along. Terron shifts to his owl form and takes off, hooting loudly as he flies overhead, leaving a pile of clothes and glasses. Deke picks them up and waves at him before shoving me into the van, slamming the door behind us.
Brad and Jeff break out into laughter, and Deke grins.
“Well, that made an impression,” I say when they settle down.
“Yeah, sorry,” Brad says with a chuckle. “We wanted to beef you up a little. We’re not getting too far tonight. The same dealer kept sending you the drugs. One of the officers followed his delivery man back and apprehended him.”
“We’re going to work on a new cover for you. We’ll keep an eye on the party, but we’re keeping you out of sight tonight. We’ll send you back out tomorrow with a bigger rep,” Jeff says as Brad watches the screen, following one of the partiers across the room.
“The nerd who lived?” I ask.
“Something like that.” Brad lays his huge hand on my shoulder and winks. “You did good.”
Brad rolls his eyes at Jeff correcting his grammar and winks again. “Ya done good, kid.”