INTERLUDE IN EAGLE FALLS
It was a bright, hot day, with the faintest of breezes and a clear, strong sun. Everywhere seemed touched with the hand of spring, and the busy, brisk New York streets seemed to have become somehow slower and lazier as a result.
"I can't believe it's so quiet." Standing at the window, gazing out onto the streets of the busy city, Tyrone Earl shook his head in confusion. "It just isn't right. Pardon me for sounding like a pessimist, but something's got to be going on out there somewhere."
"Undoubtedly," Jonathon Chase, the room's only other occupant, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "But we don't know about it, which is rather nice, don't you think?"
"Sure makes a change." Tyrone sat down opposite his friend. "Any minute now, somebody's going to walk in through that door, and tell us there's some bad guy we're supposed to be going after. This peace and quiet can't last."
"It can so long as we don't answer the door." Jonathon grinned and stood up, heading towards the refrigerator. "Do you want a drink?"
"Yeah, sure." Tyrone followed his companion and caught the bottle that was thrown towards him. The two friends wandered back towards the window to enjoy the view as they drank, savouring the cool liquid as much as they savoured the heat of the sun. It made a pleasant change after the dreary grey boredom of the last few weeks.
The knock on the door startled both men, and they glanced at each other and grinned.
"Told you." Tyrone smirked. His companion smiled back, already heading for the door, and reached it just as it opened. Brooke McKenzie, a tall, beautiful woman with wavy brown hair, swept into the room with her usual familiarity, and nodded at both men.
"Hi!" She announced brightly.
"Hi." Jonathon caught her briefly by the arm, and gave her a quick kiss in greeting. She smiled at him, somehow managing to look both businesslike and romantic as she pulled free and headed towards the nearest chair. She sat down, relaxing back in the soft depths of the furniture, and closed her eyes.
"This heat is murder," she declared. "How they can all carry on rushing about out there is a mystery."
"I like it." Tyrone sat down beside her, grinning up at Jonathon. "And he just turns into a lizard, or a snake or something, and goes sunbathing."
"Not since that woman across the street called the zoo I don't." Jonathon sat down on the arm of Brooke's chair and favoured her with an amiable smile. "So what's the news?"
"News?" She smiled. "What were you hoping for? Terrorists? Murderers?" She shook her head, feigning disbelief. "You two need a hobby."
"So what is it?" Tyrone pressed, earning another grin from the policewoman.
"Nothing. I just called by to say that I'll be unavailable for a day or two. Maybe longer. I'm being sent to pick up a suspect in a robbery case that the department is working on."
"Anything interesting?" Jonathon asked, his eyebrows raised in what could only have been hope. She smiled at his less than subtle line of questioning.
"Nothing interesting at all, no. I go there, pick up this woman, and bring her back. All very routine, and nothing that requires your sort of assistance." Her smile softened. "I'm just here to say goodbye, really."
"Oh." He nodded. "Of course, we could always come along as well, just as insurance..."
"You could." She smirked at him. "But correct me if I'm wrong here, and it's just a theory... But don't you two actually have jobs somewhere in this city? I mean, it's been so long since I've seen you working that I might be mistaken."
"Ouch." Tyrone sighed. "She doesn't need us, Jonathon. Can we live with this?"
"I doubt it." The Englishman rose to his feet, heading towards the window. "I would feel insulted, if it weren't so hot."
"I know the feeling." Sighing theatrically, Tyrone also stood, fetching Brooke a drink from the fridge. "Good luck," he said with feeling. "Don't take any unnecessary risks without us there."
"You know, I was actually a police officer long before you two walked into my life." She took the drink and joined the pair by the window. "But I will take care, I promise. And I'll see you soon." This last was directed at Jonathon, who smiled at her, raising his bottle slightly in response. Tyrone saw the look which passed between them and scowled.
"Would you like me to leave the room?" he asked, with more than a trace of wry humour. Brooke smiled. Her relationship with Jonathon Chase was so far restricted solely to such odd smiles and meaningful glances, and Tyrone's teasing was hardly going to help his shy friend to make his move. They were an odd pair, and as she stood between them beside the window, she realised that it was not the first time that she had reflected on their differences. It was hardly likely to be the last. Both men were tall and striking to look at, and were of a similar height, although Tyrone was of a more powerful build than his slighter friend. The differences were more noticeable than the similarities between them however. Jonathon Chase, with his dark blond hair and piercing eyes, was a well-spoken white Englishman, with the demeanour generally associated with aristocracy; albeit a wayward younger son. Tyrone, black, American and very much a New Yorker, was from an entirely different mould. Their two characters complimented each other perfectly.
"Who is this woman you're going to collect?" Unable to contain his curiosity, Jonathon turned away from the view outside the window to look back at Brooke. She shrugged.
"Just some woman. Her name is Sarah Holt. As far as we know, she used to be pretty tight with a bank robber by the name of Paul Ferro, and the word is that she can blow the lid on his gang. The local police picked her up for a traffic offence, in South Texas; some little place called Eagle Falls. We figure she was making for the border."
"To meet up with Ferro?" Jonathon looked thoughtful. "Could be that he already knows she's in custody. He might try to get her back."
"Somehow I doubt it. She was with somebody when she was arrested, so I think we can assume she and Ferro aren't together any more." Brooke sighed and finished her drink. "Well I'd better be off. I'll see you Thursday, provided I don't get hung up somewhere."
"Sure." Tyrone walked her to the door, grinning at her. "Don't talk to strangers, and be in bed by nine."
"I will. Bye." She went, disappearing down the corridor and out of sight. Tyrone walked back to the window, slapping his partner on the back.
"You worried about her old buddy?"
"Probably." Jonathon smiled. "Sorry Ty. I know that she can take care of herself. It's just that I've got this feeling..."
"Spider sense?" Tyrone grinned. "You know, that's one thing I've never seen you turn into."
"I can't say that I've ever had any great desire to be stamped on by somebody's size twelves." Jonathon shrugged. "Anyway, I don't mean that kind of feeling. I mean... a feeling."
"Oh. Right." Tyrone shook his head. "Forget about it, Professor. She'll be fine."
"I suppose so." Outside, Brooke McKenzie walked briskly along the street, soon vanishing among the other citizens of the huge and busy city. Jonathon watched her go, then sighed and turned away from the window, trying to put his misgivings aside. Somewhere inside of him, some vociferous intuition was struggling to put its point across, and he struggled to ignore it. Brooke would be fine, he told himself firmly. There was no need to worry. No need at all.
The lights were low, and they flickered at irregular intervals. The effect was maddening, and was rapidly giving Paul Ferro a headache, but he was too scared to suggest that they move to another room. He watched nervously as Jake Stevens paced up and down the room.
"There was nothing I could do," Stevens said, his voice filled with even more anxiety than it had been when he had first begun to repeat those words. "She was driving like a maniac. We were bound to be stopped."
"You should have made her slow down." Standing up slowly, and staring at Stevens with eyes of ice, the room's other occupant sounded deeply disdainful. "You should have remembered how important it is for us to get her here."
"I'm sorry." Stevens sat down in a rush, glancing towards Ferro with an open plea in his eyes. Ferro turned away. He knew only too well how dangerous it was to get on the wrong side of his employer, and he had no intention of risking the man's wrath by standing up for a miscreant like Stevens. "Look, Mr Joake, I can get her back. Give me another chance and I'll go and get her."
"How? By breaking her out of prison and making the situation even worse than it already is?" The big man shook his head. "No. We'll wait, and we'll get her when she's on her way back to New York. My sources say that she's being collected some time in the next couple of days by a policewoman. Sarah will be taken back for questioning, and you know as well as I do that she'll tell them everything she knows."
"It'll be okay, Mr Joake. Me and Paul will take care of it. Right Paul?" Desperate now, but clinging to this new hope, Stevens stared at Ferro, his eyes wide. "Right Paul?"
"Wrong." Joake turned away. "You made a big mistake letting Sarah get arrested, Jake. And you made an even bigger mistake coming back here to tell me about it." He clapped his hands together, and two men appeared in the doorway. Stevens shied away, doing all but covering his face with his hands in his desperation to be left alone.
"No..." he muttered hopelessly.
"What's up, boss?" one of the new arrivals asked. Joake smiled at him, his expression one of benevolence.
"Mr Stevens is leaving," he announced. "Help him to get his things together, would you?"
"Sure boss." The two men advanced on Stevens, pulling him from the room, and the terrified man did not resist. Ferro watched him go, wondering what the unfortunate man's fate would be. He did not feel particularly sorry for Stevens, but he was nervous that he might just be next. Joake saw the look of unease in the other man's eyes and smiled.
"You came very close to joining him, Paul." Keeping his voice gentle and reasonable, the big man stared at his companion with bright, intelligent eyes that showed little true feeling or compassion. "You should choose your girlfriends a little more wisely from now on."
"Sure Mr Joake." Ferro nodded hard, trying not look too much on edge. His headache was getting worse, and he was anxious to leave the room, with its flickering lights and its disturbing shadows. Joake smiled at him.
"Run along, Paul. Think about how you're going to get Sarah Holt for me, and how you're going to stop her from talking to that policewoman."
"Yeah. Yeah, right." Ferro stood up, hurrying to the door and fumbling to pull it open. He glanced back once, and saw Henri Joake standing by the window, his face obscured by thick cigar smoke. He was a tall man, standing several inches above six feet, with the powerful build of a man who had worked hard all his life. Even his silhouette held menace, thought Ferro bleakly, and he left the room quickly, pulling the door shut behind him. He rubbed at his head, wondering if the unpleasant feeling in his gut was remorse at whatever fate awaited Sarah, or if it was just fear for his own safety. He decided on the latter, and headed for his room. There was a bottle of whisky there which just might help.
Brooke McKenzie stepped off the plane feeling tired and hot. She had thought that New York had been warm, but further south it was hotter still, and she was glad that she had chosen to dress accordingly. One good thing about being miles away from home base was that it wasn't necessary to dress as though one was expecting to get called into work at any hour.
"Detective McKenzie?" A uniformed officer, young and clearly agitated by the heat, waited for her at the foot of the steps. She nodded a greeting to him. "My name's Bill Waters, detective. I'm here to give you a lift to the station."
"Thankyou." She followed him past the small airport building. "Is it a long drive?"
"About an hour from here. The Sheriff figured you'd want to report in and see the prisoner; he's not expecting you to want to head back with her till tomorrow though. We figured you'd want a night's rest."
"Good." Brooke glanced about at the uninspiring scenery of her present surroundings. "Is Eagle Falls anything like this place?"
"Eagle Falls? You kidding?" Waters laughed. "This place is like New York City compared to Eagle Falls."
"Really." Counting no more than three visible citizens, and no more than five shops with recognisable names, Brooke wrinkled up her forehead. Not her kind of town at all. She was beginning to wish that she had brought Jonathon and Tyrone along after all. At least then she would have had somebody to talk to who was used to civilisation. Something in this town had to be worthwhile, surely, or there would have been no point in building an airport?
"The whole town's been pretty much dead since the oil field dried up." As if guessing her thoughts, Waters filled her in on local history as he opened a car door for her. She climbed in, avoiding the old cigarette butts, and what looked like a week old sandwich. She wasn't sure what was in it, but it looked about ready to run away. "These days the airport doesn't do much business except what Mr Joake gives it."
"Mr Joake?" Trying to sound interested, Brooke settled herself on her seat, studiously ignoring the remains of somebody's breakfast on the dashboard in front of her. She only hoped that it was today's.
"Local businessman. Deals in all kinds of things." Waters shrugged vaguely, as though such things were not the concern of policemen. "I only met him once. Didn't like him, but then he's from out of town."
"Oh." Nodding politely, Brooke stared out of the window, wondering if she could will herself back to New York if she tried hard enough. She tried to imagine what could possibly have brought a city girl like Sarah Holt to a place like Eagle Falls, but came up with a blank. Presumably she had just been trying to find an out of the way place to cross the border into Mexico. There was no telling what sort of business she might have become involved with during her association with Paul Ferro.
"You want to hit the bars tonight?" Waters asked, startling Brooke back to the present. She frowned, wondering if she had heard him right.
"Er... I'll think about it," she told him, trying to sound genuine. "I'm pretty tired."
"Sure." Waters nodded, and she winced, staring out of the window. Now she was really missing New York. The sooner she got Sarah Holt out of Eagle Falls and into prison back home, the better.
Jonathon Chase leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Small words, all in his small, neat handwriting, were marching across his retinas, and he saw them even though his eyes were now closed. He groaned, trying to remember what in the world had convinced him that it was a good idea to become a professor. He didn't remember considering hard work and aching eyes to be high on his list of childhood ambitions.
The telephone rang and he grabbed at it eagerly, hoping that it wasn't just the head of the University department, telling him again that he was late with marking the assignments. A familiar voice greeted him.
"That you, Jonathon?"
"Lieutenant." Genuinely pleased to hear the voice, although whether that was just for the distraction it usually preceded he couldn't say, Jonathon smiled down the receiver. "Good afternoon."
"Yeah, good afternoon." A New Yorker to the core, Lieutenant Nick Rivera was not always sure how to respond to the polite, and at times verbose, salutations that he received from the professor. "You busy, Jonathon?"
"No." Telling himself that it wasn't really lying so long as it was in a good cause, Jonathon sat up, suddenly interested. "Can I help you with something?"
"Yeah, I kinda think you can." There was a silence. "Look, I'm rushed off my feet here. Can you come over?"
"Of course." Chase was on his feet before the sentence was completed. "I'll be there right away, lieutenant."
"I doubt it. The traffic is murder." Rivera sounded miserable, as though the heat were getting to him as well. "Just be as quick as you can."
"I will." Hanging up the telephone, Jonathon stared at it for several moments, thinking hard, then walked over to the window. Rivera had been right; the roads were packed. Everybody seemed to be trying to get out of the city, and they had all become jammed in the streets. Car horns honked impotently, and plumes of steam rose from over-heating engines. There was certainly no point in trying to drive to the precinct. He straightened his shoulders and stepped away from the window, spreading his fingers wide and gazing at the backs of his hands. Gradually the skin began to pulsate. The pulsing grew faster and faster, and in a matter of moments feathers were erupting from the lumps that appeared on his hands. He watched the feathers take over, until his real skin was lost from view. His shoulders were thrown back, and he felt the strange yet familiar sensation of his body taking on a new shape.
The door opened as Jonathon stepped back towards the window. Tyrone saw the eagle as it took flight, and he smiled. It was a beautiful bird, with a golden sheen to its feathers, and a wicked looking beak.
"Fly carefully," he told it as it spread its wings and began to gain height.
Nick Rivera heard the shrieking of the eagle outside, and locked his office door before opening the window. The eagle hopped inside, landing gracefully on the desk, and then jumped onto the floor. It was half human before it landed, and as he watched, the facial features of Jonathon Chase became recognisable again. Chase straightened up, tidying his shirt collar, and grinned at the lieutenant. Rivera smiled back. He was just about getting used to these unorthodox entries, but as long as knew Jonathon, he wasn't sure that he would ever come to understand what made them possible; or how Chase's clothes managed to join in the mutations. Strictly speaking he ought to be getting through more shirts than Bill Bixby.
"You wanted to see me, lieutenant?" Sitting down opposite the detective, Jonathon looked as relaxed and normal as though he had just walked in through the office door. Nick nodded at him, regaining his composure.
"Yeah. We've got a problem, Jonathon."
"Brooke." There was certainty in Chase's voice, and Rivera frowned.
"How'd you know about that?"
"She came to tell us she'd be out of town for a day or two." Suddenly Jonathon was on his feet. "What's going on, lieutenant?"
There was a silence, then the detective leaned back in his chair, gazing up at the younger man with concern on his face.
"The police in Eagle Falls found a body a couple of hours ago. A man named Jake Stevens. He was in the car with Sarah Holt when she was arrested."
"Was he murdered?"
"Definitely. People don't usually commit suicide by tying themselves up and then shooting themselves in the back of the head." Rivera sighed. "This was supposed to be routine, but it looks as though Holt is mixed up in something we didn't know about."
"Brooke mentioned a Paul Ferro," Jonathon asked. "Could he just have been jealous of this Stevens chap?"
"That jealous?!" Rivera shook his head. "No. This was too professional. All we know about Ferro suggests that he's a small time crook who wants to get into the big time."
"Ah." Chase nodded. "And you think he's managed that now."
"He must have got in with somebody big. My guess is Stevens was killed for letting the police get their hands on Holt. It would make sense that way." The lieutenant shook his head. "Problem is that we've got some bigwig politician due here later today for a state visit, and I need all the man power I can get for the security operation. I don't have anybody to spare."
"That's why I'm here, lieutenant." Jonathon's eyes narrowed. "Tyrone and I will get down there straight away."
"Thanks." There was a pause. "Be careful, Jonathon. I don't know for sure what I'm sending you into."
"We're quite capable." Jonathon smiled, holding his hands out to watch the transformation as it began again. "I'll be seeing you."
"Yeah. I hope so." Rivera watched as the mutation ended, and the eagle once more stood before him. It hopped back up onto the table, and he held out a fist for it, carrying it back to the window.
"I'm going to have to get a bigger window fitted," he told it, watching as the creature squeezed through the narrow opening. It flashed him a look that seemed to be in agreement, then squawked some unintelligible reply. He leaned out of the window to watch as it rose up into the air, and smiled at its majestic appearance. It was a strange world, and of all the people in it, Jonathon Chase was undoubtedly one of the strangest. Nick Rivera liked him a lot.
"Be careful," he told the disappearing bird; but it was already too far away to have heard him, and couldn't have answered anyway. He only hoped that he was not seeing it, or its human alter ego, for the last time.
Leaving her less-than-comfortable hotel room behind her, Brooke McKenzie climbed behind the wheel of her rented car and set off for the Sheriff's office, feeling a little more human than she had the previous day. After a shower and a good sleep, not to mention something surprisingly edible from a local café, she was beginning to get a better perspective on things. In a matter of hours she would have taken official custody of Sarah Holt, and they would be airborne, heading away from Eagle Falls and its general air of desolation. She hated the dilapidated buildings, the sullen locals and the encroaching vegetation. It was like something from a bad movie, where bad guys hid in the wild lands beyond the town's borders, waiting to strike. The sooner she was heading back for New York the better. Then she could leave Nick Rivera to his interrogation, and maybe get the chance to sneak off back to Jonathon's place. She was his liaison after all; it was about time that she started to do some more serious liasing. Fortunately Tyrone was likely to take an unspoken hint and leave them alone. She smiled. Some chance. Something would happen; a call from Nick Rivera for one or the other of them; or something at the University requiring Jonathon's immediate attention. Distractions of one kind or another were virtually a certainty.
Slowing to a halt outside the Sheriff's office, she climbed out of the car and exchanged what she hoped was a friendly smile with Bill Waters, who clearly still exercised hopes for entertaining her on the town. Quite what he thought she might be interested in doing in Eagle Falls she couldn't imagine. Maybe he thought that the air of desolation and decay leant the place character; or maybe he had just given up thinking altogether. Everyone else around here seemed to have done.
"Sheriff's waiting for you." He flashed her a smile that bordered on lustful, and swaggered off to his car. She raised her eyebrows as he drove away. Definitely a good reason for leaving quickly.
Sheriff Harmon was strictly business, a change for which Brooke was extremely grateful. He was about fifty, with greying hair and a powerful build. Most people in the area seemed heavily built to Brooke; indicative perhaps of the generally hard way of life that they led.
"Morning detective." Harmon handed her a sheaf of papers. "Numbers one and three in triplicate, the rest you can sign just the once."
"Thanks." She took the pile and sat down at a nearby desk. "Is Sarah all ready to go?"
"Ready as she'll ever be." Harmon laughed gruffly. "To hear her talk you'd think she wasn't ever expecting to reach New York. You really a contract killer in disguise, Miss McKenzie?"
"No." She smiled at him. "Maybe there's more to Paul Ferro than we thought, though. I'll have to check that out when I get home."
"Well call me if it turns out to be interesting. I've had that woman in my cell nearly a week now, and she hasn't said a word to me till today." He took the pile of forms and flicked through them. "Okay, that looks in order. You want someone to go with you to the airport?"
"No thanks. I think I'll make it okay." Brooke went with him to the cells and clicked her handcuffs around Sarah Holt's wrists. The woman glowered at this, but made no verbal complaint. "I'll be seeing you Sheriff."
"Huh." Pulling ahead, Holt walked to the door. "Let's get this over with, shall we?"
"Couldn't have put it better myself." Brooke guided her prisoner to the door and out into the street, settling her in the passenger seat before she climbed into the car herself. Harmon raised a hand in farewell, and she returned the gesture, then started the car up and began to move away down the street.
"You'll never make it out of this town alive you know," Holt said, as they turned a corner and lost sight of the Sheriff's office. Brooke smiled at her.
"You let me worry about that." She reached for the radio and began to try to tune it into a music channel. She was in the mood for something new, but all she seemed able to get was sixties music. "Damn local radio," she muttered. "You'd think it was nineteen sixty three, not nineteen eighty three."
"It still is 1963 around here." Holt sounded miserable. "You do like your man tells you, and he doesn't take too kindly to it if you try and go off."
"That so?" A trace of amusement showed in Brooke's voice. "That why you think Ferro will come after you?"
"Maybe." Sarah's eyes turned away to stare out of the window, and Brooke ignored her, switching off the radio and settling down to the drive. It was only a matter of time now, and then she would be home. This was turning out to be easier than she had hoped.
"Lovely place." Staring out of the window at the darkening streets, Tyrone spun the wheel of the car to avoid a large, stray dog wandering aimlessly down the middle of the road. "How far to Eagle Falls?"
"About an hour." Jonathon gazed at the map on his lap. "It's pretty much straight there, no turnings. There's only the one road in the whole area from what I can tell."
"Why am I not surprised." Tyrone sighed. "You choose a great place for a holiday, Jonathon."
"I know." Chase glanced up at the darkening sky. Their plane had landed at the same small, almost deserted airstrip that had greeted Brooke the previous day, and he was not encouraged by the constant assertions on the part of the staff there that nobody answering her description had been seen either arriving or departing. His sixth sense was in overdrive, and Tyrone now shared his concern. Rivera's warning had hardly been encouraging, especially now that their friend seemed to be missing.
"You reckon she got held up coming from Eagle Falls?" Tyrone asked. "A flat or something? No reason to just assume she's in trouble."
"She could have done. If so we'll meet her on the road." Jonathon scowled. "She should have been at the airport already by the time we got there, if she was running on schedule."
"Yeah, I know." Tyrone increased their speed a little. "We'll soon be there, buddy. She'll be fine."
"Of course she will." A loud rumble of thunder almost drowned out his words, and he blinked up at the sky in amazement. "Where did that come from?"
"You don't get warnings with a storm this far south." Tyrone scanned the skies, watching as thick black clouds scudded across in front of the fading sun. "Just what we need." The rain began to fall, gathering speed and power until it was a steady, raging torrent, that threatened to wash the road away. "It's gonna be hell driving through this lot."
"We'll manage." Jonathon settled back, trying to relax, and keeping anxious eyes on the powerful rain and the almost rhythmical lightning. The streaks were large and bright, and they forked across the sky, occasionally reaching down to the ground. The thunder drowned out the sound of the car engine. "Just keep your eyes peeled for Brooke."
"If she's here we'll find her." Tyrone frowned through the windscreen, cursing the wipers for not being nearly efficient enough. The road had already turned to mud, and the wheels were starting to spin too much. "I think we ought to stop here for a while, until the weather eases off. Much more of this and we're not going to get anywhere at all."
"We can't stop in the middle of the road. Look for a lay-by." Chase turned his head to look out of the side window, trying to see through the raging rain. "Over there."
"I see her." Tyrone turned the steering wheel about, but at that moment a violent streak of lightning struck at a tree directly in front of them. It fell towards the car, and Tyrone spun the wheel to get out of the way. The car skidded, its back wheels unable to find any purchase on the slippery, muddy road.
"Hold on, buddy!" Trying to turn into the skid, Tyrone struggled with the wheel, but felt it slipping away from him. The edge of the road left them behind, and they hit a sharp slope which led down into darkness. With a loud crunching of metal, the car landed heavily on its side, rolling over twice and jerking to an unsteady halt the wrong way up. It stayed where it was, silent and still, and nothing moved inside it.
Tyrone groaned and rubbed his head, undoing his seat belt with an unsteady hand. He felt dreadful, and was sure that he probably looked it too. There didn't seem to be any blood on his head, which was good news, but the pounding inside his skull felt bad.
"Jonathon?" Looking about, Tyrone realised that he was alone in the car, and he struggled out of the dented door, hoping that his friend had not been thrown from the vehicle during the crash. He could see no sign of his comrade anywhere. "You there Jonathon?" A loud whinny answered him, and he looked up into the bright eyes of a large, chestnut horse. "Hey buddy. Where'd you get to?" The horse made odd snuffling noises, pawing at the ground.
"Yeah, I'm worried about Brooke too, pal." Tyrone shook his head, gesturing at the car. "Changing into a horse was a nice idea, but even if you can flip this baby over, we're not going anywhere in it. I doubt all the mechanics in the state could get her running again."
The horse nodded seriously, and butted at Tyrone's shoulder with its head.
"Are you kidding?" Tyrone stepped back. "Uh uh. No way, pal. I haven't ridden a horse since I was a kid, and there's no way I'm going bareback now." He frowned, looking awkward. "And it sure wouldn't feel right putting a saddle and a bridle on my best friend."
"Glad to hear it." Appearing from up on the road, Jonathon slipped and slithered down the muddy slope, grinning at his friend.
"Oh very funny. I hope you're pleased with yourself. Do you know how long I've been standing here talking to this creature?" Tyrone scowled, and Chase laughed at him.
"You were getting along so well I didn't like to interrupt." He stood beside his friend, eyeing the battered car. "Is she really not going anywhere?"
"Never." Tyrone shrugged. "Still, at least the rain's stopped, huh. Should make it a little less painful walking all the way into town."
"It's pitch black and the road is a sea of mud. We wouldn't get very far on foot." Rubbing a bruised head, Jonathon glanced up at the sky. There were still several hours to go until dawn. "I'll go and get some help."
"On that?" Tyrone gestured at the horse. "Rather you than me."
"Would I split you two up, just when you're getting acquainted?" Jonathon grinned. "I'll find my own way. Soon as I reach Eagle Falls, I'll send someone out to pick you up, and then I'll call into the Sheriff's office and see if I can get anything out of him. I'll see you in an hour or two."
"Sure." Unhappy at being left behind, Tyrone folded his arms, leaning against the car to watch as Jonathon turned to head back up to the road. "One thing."
"Yes?" Jonathon looked back, nearly losing his footing on the treacherous ground.
"Don't try turning into an eagle this time. In a place like this you'd get blasted out of the sky before you could make it a mile."
"I'll bear that in mind." They grinned at each other, then Jonathon turned around and was gone. Moments later Tyrone heard the sound of hooves on the road above him, fading away into the distance. He looked up at the chestnut which had remained behind, and tried to ignore its persistent tugging on his shirt sleeves. A friendly horse was more trouble than an unfriendly one, from what he could see.
"Looks like it's just you and me, pal," he told the animal, and it whinnied in sympathetic agreement. Moments later another roll of thunder crashed above them, and rain began to pour from the sky once again. Tyrone sighed and climbed into the upturned car, slamming the door behind him as loud as he could. After a moment the horse trotted away, evidently going in search of shelter. It felt oddly lonely in the car once it had gone, and Tyrone tried to get comfortable. So far he didn't think very much of Eagle Falls.
The car lay at the side of the road, the right side up but the windscreen smashed. It had clearly been forced off the road by some larger vehicle, and the marks on its front left hand wheel suggested that there had been some gunplay. Sliding back into human form, Jonathon Chase tried the driver's side of the car and found it unlocked. He saw what he was looking for almost straight away; Brooke's warrant card, lying on the floor of the car, almost under the seat. He sighed, staring at the small picture of the policewoman, shaking his head in anger. He could imagine what had happened here; all the signs were there. He could only hope that whoever had done this had decided to keep Brooke alive, for a while at least. There might still be a chance of rescuing her. He glanced back through the darkness and the rain, thinking about Tyrone, and wondered whether he should seek help in the town before going after Brooke. His instincts told him that he couldn't take the risk. He should at least make sure that she was alright before he did anything else.
"Hold on, Brooke." Following the tyre tracks which led away from the car, Jonathon guessed that the vehicle responsible had gone back towards the town. Presumably there was some kind of a hideout in these parts, somewhere in all of the trees and jungle-like roughlands. He was tired from the long canter along the road, but as an animal he had greater speed and stamina than he had in his human form. He stretched his arms out, waiting for the familiar sensation of transformation. It came as always, and his skin began to pulsate. Fur formed along the backs of his hands; smooth, yellow fur, marked with spots. He would have to hope that nobody saw him, but the speed he had as a cheetah was worth the risk of being seen. Leaping forward, he broke into a run, and began to race along the mud covered road.
Brooke woke with a groan, and coughed loudly. Her lungs hurt, and her chest felt stiff. She opened her eyes, not entirely sure if she wanted to find out where she was. Her memory was still a little jumbled, but she clearly remembered the truck which had come up behind them. She had tried to move aside to give it room to pass, and there had been the sound of a gunshot. Then she thought she remembered crashing. After that there was a bit of a blank, except for a clear image of a man that she had recognised as Paul Ferro. He had smashed a hole in the windscreen, and thrown some kind of a gas grenade into the car. Then everything had gone blank.
"Sarah?" Remembering the girl with a jolt, Brooke sat up and glanced around. She found that she was in a small, stone room, with one window set high up above her, and a door that looked solid enough to restrain most rhinos. Her hands were cuffed, but in front of her, which was a blessing. Sarah Holt, similarly bound, lay on the floor nearby. Brooke crossed to her and helped her to her feet. The girl hit out with her cuffed wrists, before recognition came and she pulled free, determined to stand alone.
"See." She sounded almost glad to have been proved right. "Told you they'd come after us."
"So you did. Any idea where we're likely to be?" Brooke tried to get a look out through the window, but it was far too high.
"Yeah, sure. This will be Henri Joake's place. He's in charge of the operation. Paul was stealing for him."
"Henri Joake?" Feeling left behind, Brooke sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall. "Who's he?"
"A local businessman. He's a drug dealer. He buys abroad, has the stuff shipped in here, and then sells it on to people from the cities."
"Then what does he need bank robbers for?" Fingering the cuffs at her wrists, and wondering if she could find a way to pick the lock, Brooke glanced up momentarily. Sarah shrugged.
"He keeps small, legitimate businesses going as a front; here in Eagle Falls. I guess he steals money to use as capital for them, so he doesn't have to risk using drug money. He's a pretty smart guy."
"Sounds it." Giving up on the cuffs, Brooke tried to look for something to be cheerful about. "So why are we still alive?"
"He'll want to know what I've told you, and who you've told. Then he'll kill us." Sarah sounded almost blasé, as though none of it mattered to her. Brooke could cheerfully have throttled her, such was her irritation at the young woman's inability to look on the bright side. The sound of a key in the lock stopped her from snapping back at her former prisoner, and they both glanced up as two men appeared in the doorway. Both were large, and wore torn jeans and work shirts. Underlings, Brooke decided, convinced that neither man was this Henri Joake character. She allowed them to pull her to her feet and lead her out of the cell, and wondered where she was being taken.
"Nice place you have here," she commented, and received no answer. "Who's your interior designer?" Again there was no answer, and she sighed. She was led through a series of dark, musty corridors, which smelt of damp and mice, and eventually was led out into the early light of dawn. It had evidently been raining, although she could not remember it being at all wet before the crash.
"Detective McKenzie!" Striding towards her with hands outstretched, a bulky man dressed in a suit smiled merrily at her, his eyes twinkling brightly. "Did you sleep well?"
"Obviously well enough." Brooke stared back at him, unnerved slightly by his good cheer. She was a good enough judge of character to be able to see through to what lurked beneath the surface. "You must be Joake."
"Indeed I am." He smiled at her again. "I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you in this way, Miss McKenzie. You have to understand that I needed to make sure that my investments were being protected, and Miss Holt has a curious way of showing her loyalties."
"Oh, right." Her eyes caught by some object a few feet away, Brooke tried not to be too obvious about the way that she stared past Joake, looking towards it. It proved to be a cat, nothing more than an ordinary domestic animal, and coloured a familiar shade of gold. It looked up, catching sight of her, and trotted over with its tail held high in welcome.
"What is that animal doing here?" Joake aimed a kick at the creature, which dodged aside with a hiss and leapt up onto the roof of a nearby building. Brooke watched it go, feeling an oddly warm sensation inside her. Help was close at hand, she told herself. Tyrone must be nearby as well, and maybe one or two policemen. Jonathon would never have come here alone.
"Where was I? Oh yes." Joake was smiling again, his momentary brutality towards the cat put aside. "I was apologising for the inconvenience. You see, I need to know what Sarah has been saying, and in all honesty, I don't need you for that." His smile did not waver. "I'm inclined to think that you're surplus to requirements."
"You mean you're going to kill me?" Too surprised to be either angry or scared, Brooke stared at him. "Are you mad? You'll have every cop in the States looking for you."
"Somehow I doubt it." Joake shook his head. "No, my dear. I rather think that the whole incident will be forgotten very quickly. You see, I own this town, and I can do what I like. Most of the people in the area are on my payroll, one way or the other. I only need to raise my hand and they come running. Nobody is going to say anything about one little dead police officer. Even one as beautiful as you."
"Thanks." Brooke glanced about at the group of men standing around her. "Is this open to discussion?"
"If you like." Joake smiled at her, his expression deeply patronising. "I'm afraid I'm likely to take some convincing though."
"How about this." Seeing some shape move on the roof of the building, Brooke hurled herself to one side, catching the man closest to her with a double punch in the stomach. He collapsed onto his knees, and in the same instant, a large shape hurled itself from the roof, crashing into Joake and knocking him to the ground. There was a wild snarl, and Brooke caught a glimpse of an Alsatian dog, its teeth bared in a fearsome snarl. It grabbed at the arm of the nearest thug, causing him to drop his gun, then swung around to leap at another of the men. Brooke climbed to her feet, backing away from the men, reaching out for the gun that lay on the floor at her feet. The dog turned towards her, checking on her progress, its growls filled with menace. Behind it she saw one of the men raising a rifle like a club.
"Jonathon, look out!" Even as she screamed the words, the dog began to turn, but it was too late to dodge the rifle. It swung through the air, crashing against the animal's side, and knocked it to the ground. The dog yelped, struggling to get back on its feet. Brooke tried to run forward, but suddenly she was being held by strong arms. She struggled, but could do nothing but watch as the man hit the dog again. It growled and snarled, but when the rifle fell for the third time it lay still.
"You call your dog Jonathon?" Turning to Brooke in amazement, the man with the rifle raised it again for a killing blow, but Joake, back on his feet and looking less than amused, caught the weapon before it could strike.
"Maybe she wasn't calling the dog. Maybe she was calling somebody else. Like whoever owns that thing." The big man aimed a heavy kick at the unconscious animal and then glanced about, as though expecting the unseen Jonathon to appear at any moment. He nodded at Brooke. "Get her inside, and chain that thing up. Then post a double guard." He stared at Brooke, his eyes showing his true colours for the first time, instead of hiding behind the façade of gentility. "Well done, detective. You seem to have won that stay of execution."
"Lucky me." Deciding that Jonathon was safe for the time being, Brooke allowed herself to be led back inside. She tried to look calm, but inside her pulse was racing. She wondered what the plan was, and where Tyrone was hiding himself, and hoped that her friends had a plan. Whatever it was, it had better be a good one; otherwise they were all in trouble.
The rain eased off and Tyrone clambered out of the car, gazing up at a sky that would soon be light. He had fallen into an uncomfortable sleep since taking shelter in the battered vehicle, and he was sure that several hours had passed since Jonathon had left. Everywhere was silent and still, and there was no sign of approaching help. He sighed, and began to scramble back up to the road.
With a higher vantage point from which to see in all directions, Tyrone had to accept that there was nobody coming, for a while at least. If there had been anyone within five or six miles, he was sure that he would have seen them. He wondered what had delayed his friend, and sighed.
"Probably got himself stolen by horse rustlers," he muttered, kicking at the ground. At the sound of his voice, the chestnut horse from the previous night appeared, talking to him in sympathetic whinnies, and butting at him with its large head. He stroked it, beginning to realise that there was no alternative.
"Okay, animal. Listen carefully. I'm going to climb up on your back, okay? I want you to stand real still, and don't jump around. Got that?" The horse whispered something in its own language, and he sighed, rubbing his hands together. "Alright, here goes nothing." Gripping the animal by the back of the neck, he vaulted up onto it, startling it slightly with his sudden landing. It danced about, and he held on grimly, trying to calm it with words that were decidedly strained.
"Take it easy!" he shouted, finally getting his balance on the big creature's back. "Okay, I want you to follow Jonathon. Can you follow scents?" The lack of response was frustrating; when Jonathon was an animal he might not be able to speak English, but at least he could understand it. "Forget it. Just go where I tell you, okay?" The horse seemed happy with this arrangement, and started off down the road, slowly at first but soon gathering speed. Tyrone clung on, trying to think relaxing thoughts. When he caught up with his friend, he was definitely going to have something to say to him.
They had been riding for less than an hour when they came upon the wreck of Brooke's car. Tyrone slithered to the ground, landing untidily, and ran over to it. He saw the warrant card just as Jonathon had done, and groaned loudly.
"Where are you Jonathon?" As if he needed an answer, the horse's hooves which became human prints, and then became those of a large cat, told him what he needed to know; Jonathon had gone after Brooke.
"Great, Now where do I go?" Climbing back onto the horse, Tyrone set it off in the direction that the big cat had taken. He could only hope that the mud on the road would hold out long enough for him to follow his friend to wherever he had gone. The rain had washed many of the prints away, but there were still enough to tell more or less where Jonathon had gone. Tyrone hurried the horse along, wishing he had a saddle, and something to hold onto other than the animal's mane. It was not easy going, and low hanging branches tried to knock him from the creature's back, but he hung grimly on, following what remained of the tracks to wherever they were going.
Jonathon stirred uncomfortably, wishing that the pain in his side would go away. His ribs felt as though they were on fire, and something was restricting his breathing, hurting his throat. He seemed to be lying on his side, and the ground around him was cold and damp. There was mud everywhere, and his clothes were wringing wet.
Rolling over onto his side seemed to take forever, but he made it, blinking up at a bright, clear sky and a hot sun. He groaned, struggling into a sitting position, and rubbed his chest. His arms hurt too. He remembered a man with a rifle, but the details were blurred. All that he was sure about was that his attempt to rescue Brooke had been somewhat less than successful.
Shaking his head to clear it, Jonathon forced himself to take stock of his surroundings. There was something fixed around his neck, rather too tightly for comfort, which on closer inspection proved to be a chain. It was not long, and seemed to be attached to a nearby wall by means of a sturdy looking iron ring. He tugged experimentally on the chain, but found no relief. Still; it was no real handicap. He had been chained up before, and it had never been too difficult to break free. All that he needed to do was to transform himself into an animal with a smaller or a much larger neck. He relaxed back against the wall, trying to gather his strength.
"What the hell-?" The sound of a human voice startled Jonathon back to a full state of wakefulness, and he opened his eyes, staring around. In the split second that remained to him, he was forced to make the decision that it was be foolish now to mutate back into a dog. He tensed, ready to make whatever move proved to be necessary, but found himself suddenly grabbed by strong arms which forced him to his feet, causing the chain to tug painfully on his already bruised neck.
"Where did the dog go?" Holding the chain so as to force Jonathon to look up at him, a heavily built man in ripped jeans and a denim work shirt appeared as if from nowhere. There was the smell of cheap tobacco in the air, and the distinct scent of whisky.
"Dog?" Deciding to play it innocent, Jonathon blinked up at the man. "What dog?"
"You know damn well." Letting go of his prisoner, the man unfixed the chain from the wall and then used it to drag Jonathon across the small yard. The men still holding his arms forced Chase to follow on. He clenched his teeth, annoyed that the opportunity to transform was gone. He could certainly not do anything now.
Inside it was dark, with a musty feel to the air that suggested the building was old and un-cared for. Down a long corridor they reached a section which had a more lived-in look, and Jonathon was pushed through a door into a large room; clearly an office. At a desk at one end of the room sat a big man, wearing an expensive suit that looked tailored. He sat uncomfortably in it, as though he would have preferred to wear the jeans and work shirts of the men around him. Brooke stood before the desk, along with another woman that Jonathon was sure had to be Sarah Holt. Both women wore handcuffs, but they seemed to be unhurt.
"What is this?" Joake rose to his feet, staring from his men to the new arrival. He recognised the chain that he had ordered be used to restrain the dog, but instead of a four-legged animal he saw a man; young and quite tall, and decidedly bedraggled. He was soaking wet and splashed with mud, and there seemed to be blood on his shirt, as though he had been hit with something.
"Jonathon!" Stepping forward, Brooke tried to go to her friend, but was held back. He smiled at her with characteristic good cheer.
"This is Jonathon?" Joake looked the man up and down, remembering how the detective had called for a man by that name earlier on. He frowned. "Where did you find him?"
"Outside boss." The man who had spoken to Jonathon before shook his head. "Like somebody's idea of a weird joke. He was chained up right where we left the dog."
"He was what?" Joake looked around at his other employees, all standing around in the room. "Anybody responsible for this?" There was no answer, and he turned back to Jonathon again. "Interesting. What have you got to say about this, Mister...?"
"Chase. Jonathon Chase." Pulling his arms free from the men who were holding them, Jonathon straightened his shirt, trying to look as respectable as possible. "And you are?"
"Henri Joake. I own these buildings, along with half of the county." Joake folded his arms. "And that includes the people in it. Now what were you doing chained to my outhouse?"
Jonathon smiled. "I really have no idea, Mr Joake, I can assure you. The last thing that I recall, I was sinking my teeth into somebody's arm. Then all of a sudden I'm waking up with a chain around my neck. It was terribly off-putting."
Joake's face transformed into an unpleasant scowl, all traces of his former affability draining away. He seized the chain, dragging the professor towards him.
"Who sent you? Who do you work for? Are you another cop?"
"A police officer? Jonathon?" Stepping forwards, not liking the turn of the conversation, Brooke raised her voice. "He's a scientist. A friend of mine. That's all."
"A scientist." Disbelief filled Joake's voice. "And what exactly is a British scientist doing chained to my wall? I want to know what's going on here." He pushed Jonathon away, sending the slighter man stumbling backwards across the room, and rounded on Brooke. "It's time I got a few answers out of you, Miss McKenzie."
Backing out of sight, trusting the drama currently unfolding before him to keep the attention of Joake's men, Jonathon spread his fingers, searching through his mind for the best shape to take. It came to him in a flash, and he gritted his teeth, feeling them grow within his head. He felt the fur grow around him, felt his body become large, bulkier; and abruptly the chain around his neck broke open, sending torn links scattering about the floor. He growled, a low, rumbling growl. One by one, Joake's men turned to face him.
"What in Heaven's name...?" Stepping back from the fully-grown and very angry grizzly bear, which had appeared from out of thin air in his office, Joake scrabbled for a gun. He caught hold of a rifle lying on his desk, only to find that Brooke had beaten him to it. She pushed him aside, just as another man drew a hand gun from a shoulder holster. He took shaky aim at the fearsome and furry apparition before him, and the bear struck out with a huge arm, catching the man across the shoulders. He flew backwards, taking several of his comrades with him.
"Get back!" Pointing the gun at Joake, Brooke backed away from the table, her eyes telling Sarah Holt to do the same. Holt stared at her as if she had gone mad, looking from Joake to the bear, trying to decide which was the lesser of the two evils.
"Trust me!" Hurrying towards the bear, Brooke waved her rifle threateningly at the men around her. None of them tried to stop her, their eyes fixed on the huge creature currently taking up a large section of the room. It growled at them, baring its magnificent teeth.
"You're crazy." Keeping one eye on the bear and one on the women, Joake began to back around his desk, thinking of the pistol hidden in his top drawer. It would have little effect on a giant bear, but it should at least take care of the two women, and the alleged scientist. The thought made him wonder what had happened to Jonathon Chase, and he frowned. This was all getting ever so slightly weird.
"I'll take my chances." Keeping them all in her sights, Brooke backed away towards the door, pushing Sarah through it. The bear joined them, crashing through the flimsy wooden walls and smashing its way down the corridor. A gunshot echoed in the room behind them, and Brooke fired once, sending a small gun flying out of Henri Joake's fingers.
"Come on! We can still get after them." Running for the door, one of Joake's men drew a gun from inside his shirt. Joake held up his hand.
"Leave them, Taylor."
"Are you kidding?" Taylor looked back. "With all that they must know by now?"
"Do what you're told." Joake wandered across the room, bending down to pick up a broken chain link which was lying on the bare wooden floor. There were several others lying around, scattered all over. "Hmm."
"You got a plan, boss?" another of his men asked him. Joake was silent for a second, turning the link over in his hands; then he turned to the man and nodded.
"I'm formulating an idea or two, yeah. Get a jeep. We're going after our three friends."
"Three? You hoping for some bear steak tonight boss?"
"Maybe, Harris. Maybe." Joake put the broken link into his pocket and left the room.
As soon as they were far enough away from the cabins, the bear slowed to a halt, rising up onto its back legs again. It growled at Brooke, and she held out her cuffed wrists towards it. Sarah stared at her as though she were insane, but the bear, leaning close to the policewoman, broke open the cuffs with surprising gentility, and then turned to Holt. Blanching an extreme shade of pale, she held up her own wrists, and found the cuffs torn easily away. She massaged her wrists, blinking up at the bear in astonishment. It looked from her to Brooke, and almost seemed to shrug; then before her eyes it appeared to shrink. Gradually it lost height until it was no bigger than a man. Its shape changed and its fur began to fade, until finally all trace of the bear was gone, and in its place stood Jonathon Chase.
"Oh boy..." Holt took a step backwards, almost as though she were more afraid of Jonathon now than when he had been a grizzly bear. She looked from him to Brooke and back again, disconcerted by the policewoman's apparent lack of concern at this sudden change.
"Are you alright Brooke?" Holding her at arm's length Jonathon looked her over, then hugged her. The movement hurt his ribs and he winced.
"Am I okay? What about you? The way that man hit you last night..."
"I'm fine." He grinned. "Nothing that won't heal nice and quickly, anyway. I'm not like you."
"You don't say." She looked around. "So what now? We don't have a chance on foot. Not if Joake and his men decide to come after us. They have cars."
"Ty's nearby. My first priority is to get back to him, in case our friends back there should happen to find him." Jonathon glanced over at Holt. "Whose side are you on?"
"My own." She stared at him for several long moments, then shrugged. "Yours, if it'll get me away from Joake and the others."
"Fine." Jonathon turned to walk away, but froze at a sudden noise. Brooke raised her rifle, pointing it towards the sound, her body suddenly tense.
"Hooves," she said. Jonathon nodded, ushering both women back into the trees. Brooke levelled the rifle, resting it on her shoulder, her eyes focussed unwaveringly in the direction from which the sound had come. Moments later a horse broke into the clearing, a man on its back. He looked unsteady, as though he were uncertain how he had made the horse go so fast, and was equally uncertain about how to stop it. Jonathon breathed a sigh of relief, leading the way back out into the clearing. As the horse passed, he grabbed at its reins, pulling it to a gentle halt. The man on top breathed a sigh of relief, and slid to the ground.
"Brooke," he said, by means of greeting, giving Holt a polite nod of acknowledgement. "Jonathon, what happened to you last night? I sat in that car all on my own, worrying about you, and then I nearly broke my neck riding a wild animal to your rescue..." He broke off, cheerfully hugging his friend in greeting. "You look like you got dragged through a hedge backwards, buddy."
"Thanks." Jonathon returned the embrace, then tried to look a little less bedraggled. "I had a minor skirmish with some gentlemen during the night."
"You mean you got beat up, huh." Tyrone grinned, turning to Sarah. "This must be Sarah Holt. Hi. I'm Tyrone C. Earl."
"Hi." She smiled back, clearly wondering how many more insane people she was going to meet that day. "Um... Are we going to stay here all day?"
"Not a good plan." Tyrone glanced at Jonathon and Brooke. "Who are we running away from this time?"
"I'll fill you in on the way." Brooke took his arm, leading him on through the forest. Sarah followed on and Jonathon wandered along behind, leading the horse. He kept a wary eye on the trail they left behind them, and listened hard for sounds of pursuit. Much though he hoped that they were heading for forest that was too thick for cars to follow them, he suspected that Joake and his men knew the area well enough to be able to take a short cut, and still head them off before they got much further. He kept his concerns to himself, and walked on.
"Boss, if we take this road we won't catch them before it gets dark." Harris, his forehead wrinkled into a frown, shook his head. "It just doesn't make sense. If we go north here we'll be ahead of them in an hour, and we can take them out. I want to bag me a bear."
"You're not thinking, Harris." Climbing back into the jeep, Joake indicated that his underling should do the same. Harris did so, sliding behind the wheel and starting the engine up again.
"No." Joake pulled the broken chain link from his pocket and weighed it in his hand, before dropping it into Harris' lap. "Think. We find a dog. You beat it up pretty bad, right? Then we chain it to a wall, and what happens?"
"We find some guy there instead," Harris told him, trying to retrieve the link and still keep an eye on the road. "So?"
"So that guy had been knocked about. If I didn't know better I'd say someone had hit him with a rifle. He had a chain around his neck, right? And then we take our eyes off him and next thing we know there's a bear there instead; the guy has gone, the chain is bust open, and the bear has some marks on him, just like somebody had hit him with something. Like a rifle."
"Huh?" Harris finally succeeded in picking up the link, and he stared at it. "Boss, you can't be serious. I mean a dog turning into a guy? That doesn't happen."
"Doesn't it." Joake rubbed thoughtfully at his chin. "I reckon it does. That woman called that guy Jonathon; and that's just what she shouted at the dog last night. Then she goes off with the bear, happy as you please. Just like they were best friends."
"Yeah, but a guy? Turning into a bear?" Harris shook his head. "Come on, boss."
"She did say he was a scientist." The third man in the jeep, Taylor, looked towards them. "Maybe he invented something."
"Whatever." Joake leant back in his seat, gazing past Harris at the road up ahead. "Either way, I want to talk to him. Something weird is going on here, and whatever it is, I want to know about it."
"Then we take them alive?" Harris sounded almost disappointed, but Joake ignored him, nodding slowly to himself. He was formulating a theory, and pondering over its possibilities. There was sure to be something here that he could use to his advantage; and if he was wrong about Jonathon Chase it would be easy to correct the mistake. A quick bullet in the back of the head worked wonders for correcting errors. It had certainly worked with Jake Stevens. Smiling to himself, he reached for his car-phone.
"So what did you see in this Paul Ferro guy?" Striding along beside Sarah, Tyrone chatted merrily to her, acting as cheerfully as if they had met during a night on the town. She smiled up at him, appreciating his distracting conversation.
"He was there," she said after a moment's pause. "Nobody else was. He had money, and nobody else did; least of all me. Next thing I know I'm an accomplice to a bank robbery, and he's telling me that he'll kill me if I run away." She shrugged. "I never was a very good judge of character."
"Rough luck." Coming to a sudden halt, Tyrone held up his hand to alert the others. "Am I the only one who's hearing things, guys?"
"I hear it." Hurrying to catch up, Jonathon looked about. "Car engine, close by."
"That's the baby." Tyrone frowned, trying to look through the trees. "Can you see anything?"
"Nothing." Edging forward, Jonathon made as though to investigate the noise, but found himself prevented from doing so by Brooke.
"I'm the police officer," she told him firmly. "You're the civilian. Stay here." He held up his hands in compliance and she moved ahead, vanishing into the thick bushes. Moments later they heard a shout.
"Guys? It's okay. It's the Sheriff." Tyrone and Jonathon exchanged a relieved look, hurrying towards her. She stood in a small clearing, where a rough dirt track led away out of sight. An official police jeep stood by the side of the track, with two men inside it. One wore the badge of a Sheriff, the other a creased uniform. Both men held automatic rifles.
"Sheriff, this is Tyrone Earl and Jonathon Chase." Brooke was smiling, her relief clear. Now all that they had to do was to drive back to town, and then she could call the State police for assistance. "Boys, this is Sheriff Harmon and this is Bill Waters, one of the deputies." She grinned at the Sheriff. "We are really glad to see you."
"I'm glad to see you too." The Sheriff smiled at her, his eyes glittering behind his sunglasses. "I've been looking for you for a couple of hours now, ever since I got the call from Henri Joake."
"Henri Joake?" Brooke took a step back, her rifle moving slightly in her hand. "Why would he be calling you?"
"Well, it's like this see." Harmon grinned at her, raising his own rifle and pointing it directly at Tyrone, who happened to be nearest. "I have four ex-wives, all wanting alimony payments, and a Sheriff's salary doesn't begin to cover it. Mr Joake just offered to clear all my debts, and then some." He shrugged. "I couldn't rightly refuse, now, could I?"
"You sold out to a drug dealer?" Incredulous, Brooke considered whether or not it was possible to make a move, but had to decide that it wasn't. She glanced across at Jonathon, and he shook his head. She nodded slowly.
"Throw your gun down, Miss McKenzie. I really am sorry, but that's the way it's gotta be." The Sheriff climbed out of his jeep and gestured to Waters to retrieve the weapon. He did so, grinning at Brooke the whole time.
"How about you, Bill?" she asked him. He laughed.
"I've been on Mr Joake's payroll on and off for a couple years." He shrugged. "What can I say? Life is tough in Eagle Falls, without somebody paying the bill." He gestured with his rifle. "Turn around, all of you, and stand in a line. Get your hands up." They complied without question and he grinned, pleased by his success. "Okay, one at a time, put your hands behind your backs. You first, Sarah." One by one their hands were cuffed behind them, then he herded them back to the jeep, ordering them to sit on the ground.
"Now what?" Tyrone asked. Waters shrugged.
"We wait for Mr Joake." He grinned. "We got orders to keep a close watch on you. Especially this guy." He nudged at Jonathon with his rifle. "Mr Joake's got plans for you all." He frowned. "He was only expecting three of you though."
"I'm your bonus prize." Tyrone flashed him a grin that went largely unappreciated, then edged closer to Jonathon, lowering his voice to a whisper. "You got any plans, buddy?"
"In front of two hostile witnesses? Are you kidding?" Jonathon shook his head. "We'd do better to wait and see what they're planning; they could have killed us by now if they'd wanted to."
"What are you talking about?" Dragging the pair apart so that they could no longer whisper, Sheriff Harmon settled himself on the edge of the jeep between them, resting his rifle on Jonathon's shoulder. The group lapsed into an awkward silence, listening to the silence of the forest, and waiting for their host to arrive.
"Good work, Sheriff." Striding up to the small group of prisoners, Henri Joake beamed merrily about, his façade of good cheer once more in place. "And we have a new guest. Good evening."
"Good evening." Tyrone nodded a greeting. "Name's Tyrone C. Earl. I'd shake your hand, but that'd be kind of tough right now."
"So true. It pains me to use such measures, but a man can't be too careful, can he." The drug dealer pulled Jonathon to his feet. "And here we have the star guest."
"Me?" A frown chased its way across the professor's face. "Why?"
"You have an interesting way with animals." Joake smiled at him, apparently filled with benevolence. "Skills I would love to learn, my boy."
"Animals? Me?" Jonathon shook his head. "I think you're mistaking me for someone else Mr Jest. I'm allergic to animals."
"It's Joake." The mask of kindness drained away in the blink of an eye. "And I think we both know what I mean, Mr Chase."
"Oh." As though excepting the inevitable, Jonathon nodded. "Fine." His eyes narrowed. "How did you know?"
"I got lucky." Joake held out the broken chain link. "Let's just say that some weird things have been happening since you turned up. And I want to make sure that I can use them to my advantage."
"Fine by me." Chase shrugged. "This isn't easy though. First of all we have to form a group to focus the energy. A triangle is best. Plus we need to be away from disbelieving influences. Sceptics, you know?"
"I think I understand." Joake's eyes glimmered with the possibilities of this new find, and he gestured at Harris and Taylor. "Go and wait in the forest."
"Huh?" Taylor shook his head. "Are you crazy, boss?"
"Just do it." Joake looked across at the Sheriff and his deputy, deciding that since they didn't know anything, they couldn't be sceptical. "Okay, Mr Chase. What next?"
"Close your eyes, all three of you; and think of an animal."
"Something small, and easy to handle." Joake shrugged. "A dog, maybe."
"A dog, fine." Jonathon squared his shoulders, as though in preparation. "Alright. Think hard; really hard. Concentrate completely. You mustn't let anything distract you."
"Don't worry about us. You just do your stuff." Joake closed his eyes. Jonathon grinned.
"A dog," he said quietly. "Let's see what we can do."
Sitting on the ground, three pairs of eyes stared up at Jonathon, as slowly his body began to change. Fur grew from his hands and body, and with a sharp click, the chain connecting his handcuffs broke apart. His body slid smoothly into its new shape; and standing in the midst of the enemy was not a dog, but a bear. It rose up on its back legs, and with a low, rumbling growl, it swatted Waters aside. The deputy flew backwards into the police jeep, crashing into it with a dull thump, and lapsed into unconsciousness. Sheriff Harmon opened his eyes, staring up a huge creature which appeared to be wearing the remnants of a pair of official issue handcuffs. He gulped.
"What the-?" was all that he could spit out, before he too met the side of the jeep with a loud thud. He collapsed on top of Waters.
Joake's eyes snapped open, his face showing his rage at being betrayed. He raised his rifle, pointing it directly at the bear, which lowered itself back down onto all fours, glaring at him through wild, yellow eyes.
"Get back." Joake levelled the rifle, his finger hesitating on the trigger. "One move and you're a dead man." The bear rumbled menacingly, and he took a step back. "I mean it."
"Boss?" The voice was Taylor's, coming from a short distance away in the forest. "Is everything okay?"
"Get over here!" Joake shouted, momentarily taking a fraction of his attention away from the bear. It proved to be a fatal mistake.
With a turn of speed that seemed impossible for so large a creature, the bear leapt forward, knocking Joake to the ground and sending his rifle flying. The big man gasped at the sudden weight on his chest, flailing about with his arms in a useless attempt to try and cause some damage to the huge creature. It barely seemed to notice his blows, and merely rolled aside, changing back into human form as it did so. Joake watched as Jonathon Chase got to his feet, retrieving the fallen rifle. As Taylor and Harris burst into the clearing, he pointed the gun at Joake, and smiled at the pair.
"Nice of you to join us."
"Boss?" Startled, Harris took a step forward, jerking to a halt as Joake gestured for him to remain still.
"Stay where you are." Afraid that Chase would shoot him if his men made a move, the drug dealer stumbled to his feet, wavering on unsteady legs. "Throw your guns on the ground."
"Do it!" Joake raised his hands. "Don't shoot, Mr Chase. I won't stop you and your friends from leaving."
"Of course you won't." Jonathon gestured with the rifle. "Get the handcuff keys from the Sheriff, and free my friends."
"Sure, if you like." Joake's eyes narrowed. "But if you put down the gun for a moment, and listen to me, I could make you a rich man Mr Chase."
"I'm sure you probably could." Jonathon nodded at the unconscious lawman. "Get the keys."
"You know Jonathon, any time you decide you want to join the force, I'm sure I could have a word with immigration for you." Nick Rivera, a lazy grin on his face, leaned back in his chair. Jonathon laughed. He was sitting on the corner of Rivera's desk, once more neat and tidy, with all traces of the mud and rain of Eagle Falls gone; hopefully for good.
"Thanks lieutenant, but I think I'll pass on that. Too much paperwork."
"Shame. It'd save the city a lot of money getting an officer, a police dog and a police horse all in one." Tyrone, who was sitting in a chair nearby, grinned up at his friend. "You should think about it, buddy. Great health insurance scheme."
"You join up then." Brooke, who was sitting in a chair beside Tyrone, smiled. "I like him just the way he is. Fur, claws and all."
"Thanks." Jonathon glanced back at Rivera. "So what's going to happen to Sarah Holt?"
"The usual. She was an accomplice to several robberies, but she's also a material witness, and she's been a big help to us. Thanks to her we've rounded up half of Joake's men; including Paul Ferro. Between them there are sixteen armed robberies and three murders to account for. The DA is grateful enough to let Sarah go scot-free."
"Good." Tyrone smiled. "I kind of liked her."
"I'm very happy for you." Rivera gestured towards the door. "Go on, hop it. All of you. I've got work to do."
"We're going." Brooke stood up, ushering the others out of the door. She hesitated before she left the office, and Nick smiled up at her.
"It's good to have you back in one piece," he told her. She nodded.
"Thanks. Does that mean I get to take it easy for a while?"
"Are you kidding? There's a file on your desk. Word is a major gang of car thieves has just moved in on our territory. I want you on the case, as of yesterday. Watch yourself. They're a rough bunch."
Brooke grinned. "Thanks lieutenant."
"Don't mention it." She turned to leave, and he smiled after her, then turned back to his paperwork.
"So what's the score?" Tyrone asked, as Brooke joined them again in the outer office.
"Back to work." She sat down at her desk, picking up the file. "And I've got plenty."
"Anything we can help with?" Jonathon asked. She smiled, and opened the file.
"Sure," she told him, glad to have them both there. "Pull up a chair and I'll fill you in."