by T. P. Keating
The sound of scratching outside
my office door, followed by insistent low howling, could only mean one thing - the cubs had arrived. When I opened the door,
Joanne, Jodene, Jolene and Jojo ran past me. Behind them, Jo-Beth stood with a look of utter exhaustion on her face.
"Coffee?" I suggested.
"A bucket load, please. In
a very big bucket." She trotted in and I closed the door. The cubs were busy chasing each other around my desk, thoroughly
at home. "Cubs, play quietly for a while, would you?" From her mauve Bratz knapsack, Jo-Beth fetched out four headsets, goggles
and pairs of silver gloves. The cubs dutifully settled themselves on a corner of the carpet. Apart from when their gloved
hands interacted with virtual objects, they remained mercifully still.
I pressed a button on my desk.
"Please bring two Kimbercinos to my office. Grande. Don't hold back with the chocolate. Oh, and four Kindercinnos. No need
to worry, Jo-Beth, it's all milk foam."
"Thanks Kimberly." She sat
down with a sigh. "What's it like, having a drink named after you?"
"Good for the ego! Though
to be frank, my CEO duties keep me too occupied to consider it that much. All the Kimbercino promotion campaigns to organize,
the photo shoots to attend."
"Wow, and there was me thinking
that your little stay here in London meant sheer hard work." I smiled.
"How's the jet lag, Jo-Beth?"
"Well, it knocked the cubs
out for a whole day, which can't be bad. Kimberly, I dropped by for a reason. I'd like your opinion." As it was usually me
who asked for her opinion, this made for a pleasant change. Before she'd rung me to make the afternoon appointment, I didn't
even know about her visit to London. Naturally, I'd cleared my diary. After all, what are friends for? "Should I put them
on the wolf-suppressing magi-cation before they change, or wait until they've been a werewolf at least once?"
"Ouch. Tough question. Well,
when I became a werewolf for the first time, I was lucky to escape with my life, as you know. If that farmer in Bakersfield
had learnt how to aim, I'd be dead."
"Yeah, thank heavens you got
to his throat so quickly."
The door opened and Malcolm
Fairfax shimmied in with two large and four small cups on a bamboo tray, which he deftly set on the desk. A man somewhere
in his fifties, dressed in his habitual black.
"Jo-Beth, I'd like you to
meet Malcolm Fairfax. Malcolm, this is Jo-Beth Tyler, my friend from New York."
Malcolm shook Jo-Beth's hand.
"Charmed, Miss Jo-Beth."
"Kimberly has told me all
about your joint adventures, on behalf of New Emperor Coffee."
He raised an eyebrow, but
left without further comment. Jo-Beth leant forward. "Seriously, is he a member of the royal family with a secret day job?"
"Even the royals are allowed
their secrets." She laughed. If you wanted to get on my good side, it was advisable to laugh at some of my jokes. "Seriously,
did you fly all the way from JFK just to ask for my advice?"
"Give me a moment." She handed
out the Kindercinnos, then took a big gulp of high profile, top market share coffee, topped with chocolate that we made in-house
to a secret formula. "I've left Colby."
"And I need cheering up."
"Yippee! That's what I do
"Because Colby cheated on
me with that little tramp Opal."
"Not the Opal who burned down
the mall and escaped jail on a technicality?"
"The one and only."
"The Opal who married the
elderly judge from her trial, then inherited his fortune when his yacht sank in calm waters off Long Island?"
"The very same."
"The Opal who lost all her
inheritance in a bad stock market gamble, but sold the story rights to Hollywood for an absurd amount of money?"
"That's her. The way I see
it, they deserve each other. She can help Colby when he tests his revolutionary flame-proof suit."
We sat in silent contemplation.
"Tell you what," I said, brightly, "while Malcolm gives you a tour of the building, I'll ask Doctor Abrahams what dose of
my tablets I can give the cubs. A shame that I don't have a howl-suppressing talisman for each of them."
"Oh, don't worry about that.
I've already seen Doctor Abrahams. The game equipment they're wearing contains the same material from the same hidden Aztec
temple. I've got magi-cation for them too. According to the doc, 30-minutes after they've taken the tablets, I press the remote
control, and the program will send them to sleep for the 3 days of the full moon."
"If only you and I had equipment
like that, we might be able to avoid all the pain and discomfort."
Jo-Beth pulled out two adult
size headsets, goggles and pairs of silver gloves. "How long til the full moon rises?"
I consulted the Phasecaster
on my wall. The disk of the moon, on its circular path, was very close to entering the circle marked "Full Moon" at the top.
I read the dials at the bottom. "Four hours. You can stay at my place for the duration. It won't take long to walk to my apartment."
Jo-Beth tapped the cubs on
their shoulders. At this preset signal, they returned the apparatus to her. It was raining outside, and the need to huddle
under umbrellas kept them nicely subdued the whole way home through the fog.
Once in my first floor apartment
near Oxford Street, I made a large batch of porridge. The cubs looked doubtful. So did Jo-Beth. "It's the best for keeping
the pain at bay."
"But we wanted marshmallows,"
"This isn't a sleepover. Except
in a small way."
"What way is that?" asked
"In the minor way that you're
going to... stay overnight, as a guest." To avoid further questions, I filled six dishes with porridge and added milk. Jodene
took a bowl first, and soon got down to some serious eating. Jolene followed, and rapidly all the cubs relented. Jo-Beth added
a nip of brandy to her bowl from her emergency flask, "Because my pain never ends."
In various armchairs and seats
around my front room, the cubs and Jo-Beth donned their high-tech equipment, while I slipped on my howl-suppressing silver
talisman and switched on the television. With the sound turned down, I guess it produced the same brain-deadening effect as
the software. Images slipped by and began to melt into each other. Day became night. Idly, I raised the silver talisman, which
hung on a slight silver chain about my neck. Werewolves hated silver, didn't we? Bullets made of it could kill us. Yet, somehow,
this object relieved the pain, rather than induced it. Why?
What did those hard-to-see
petroglyphs mean, exactly? Was that a monkey? And that a flower? Or maybe it all said, "Made in Mexico"? Whatever their meaning,
Doctor Abrahams had given me clear instructions. The side with the petroglyphs must be turned to face me, while the smooth
side must face outwards. Whatever. I picked up my bottle of herbal painkillers. By comparison, the wording there held no mystery.
"Two to be taken at the full moon".
I got up to stretch. Had a
short walk. Well, look at that. Jo-Beth's knapsack contained a spare pair of the Doc's equipment. A doctor of medicine and
software design was quite a rarity combination. Curious, I slipped the paraphernalia on.
In a 3D forest at twilight,
nearby birds squawked. I saw a dismembered carcass in front of me. I reached out and swore I could feel it beneath my probing
fingers. A noise. A smell. Prey. Turning swiftly, I slunk between the trees towards my quarry. I saw him. He faltered. I raced.
Pounced. Spurting blood. No, this wasn't half as good. Disappointed, I removed the equipment and returned it to Jo-Beth's
Because it wasn't the kill
I relished. It was the competition. Where I used my innate skills to ensure that negotiations, during the full moon, always
led to the best possible deal for New Emperor Coffee. With Malcolm threatening to unleash me, if they didn't sign the contract
immediately. The TV rumbled on. Crime, war, weather, war, crime... I let myself be hypnotized by the calming predictability.
P. Keating 2006