The eerie thing about Paige Adolpha wasn’t just that she turned up right when I was reading about her in the paper. It wasn’t her fame as the star witness in the big local werewolf trial. What brought on the gooseflesh, first time I saw her, was that she was the spitting image of her murdered sister. Identical twins, you know?
I was at the Britannia branch of the public library, absorbing what passed for Vancouver news and wishing the local papers would come up to the standards of the Edmonton Journal—even the Globe & Mail—when one of the regulars caught sight of her.
“It’s that lady from page three,” he stage-whispered.
“Don’t stare,” I murmured, peeking despite myself.
I flipped back to the two shots of Paige’s sister, Pamela. One showed them both, laughing together. The other was her corpse: long-limbed, blood-matted fur, all fang. Nobody was denying she’d been a lycanthrope.
Richard Deenie, her killer, was a brash American with one of those awful trophy necklaces of monster teeth. Fifteen years ago, he was barely getting by selling camping equipment. When humanity discovered monsterkind in 2002, he’d reinvented himself as a sleazoid Buffy type. Him and plenty of others. U.S. werewolves were getting thin on the ground, so he’d stalked Pamela to British Columbia and shot her with a silver bullet.
“Ya already read that page.” The old-timer was fidgeting; I’d beaten him to the last copy of the Sun.
I swapped him for the Province. It had the same trial coverage, written at an even more dumbed-down level. Deenie, a born media whore, got arrested at a press conference he’d called especially so he could crow about saving us wussy Canadians from a lycanthrope menace.
I hoped he was surprised when the Crown found a few cops willing to arrest him before he slithered back over the border. He was claiming self-defence. Paige insisted her sister had never bitten, much less killed, anyone.
Here she was in the flesh, staring at the glassed-in art installation that separated the library’s reading room from the chaos of the kids’ section. She had a baby papoosed on her chest. She looked about nine, underfed, bruised by fatigue.
Before I could look away, she was crossing the reading room. “You’re Jude?”
I nodded. She was brandishing a pair of home improvement books and a library receipt.
“The info woman says you’re a general contractor.”
I shot Lela—who’s dating my ex and disapproves of my staying single—a dirty look.
“Shhh!” said the old-timer.
Steer clear, I thought. But . . . “Come on, I’m done here.”
I do go for elfin blondes. Lela knows my type. And I was getting an answering vibe—baby or not, Paige looked available and, potentially, into me. But I wasn’t looking to be anyone’s stepmom. She’s vulnerable, I reminded myself. The pressure of a trial, plus grief . . . her sister’s been dead, what? Four months?
I set out on a path that winds between Britannia’s low, unmistakably institutional buildings. The community center is big and battered looking; almost an architectural blight, and yet I love it. It’s the backbone of my neighbourhood. The library’s attached to a high school, and the complex includes a pool and ice rink, tennis courts, youth outreach and senior’s center.
Britannia is where the working poor of the neighbourhood go to borrow books and recreate their kids, to take guitar lessons, study aikido and judo, to catch a yoga class that doesn’t cost twenty bucks an hour. It’s where they teach teen moms what they call life skills, like cooking something more nutritious than ramen; they bring me in to demonstrate how to unstop a toilet and install a baby gate. Now and then the Center will even bus people out to Golden Ears Park to hike or canoe or ride horses.
We came out behind the daycare into a green space known locally as Poverty Park. My house overlooks the park—I could see my front door—but instead of taking Paige home with me, I pointed at a bench under a double-flowering plum. The tree was thick with blooms, like it had been dipped in candy floss. Fifty feet over, near the tennis courts, three young guys with blond dreadlocks were beating on trashcan-sized drums.
I must have frowned, because she asked, “What is it?”
“You’re curious about something.”
“I suppose that happens all the time?”
“It’s okay,” Paige said, settling herself under the canopy of blooms. “You can ask me anything.”
“I was just thinking it had been four months since . . . They brought Deenie to trial pretty quick.”
Ghost of a smile. “The prosecutor’s a force of nature. And Deenie’s representing himself. He didn’t know the tricks they use to slow things down.”
Or he didn’t want to. “So, you want reno advice?”
Paige said, “I’m renting my basement out as a recording studio. I thought soundproofing, bars on the windows . . .”
“You have a house—I mean, you own it?”
“Pamela had some insurance.”
“You’re not planning to grow pot down there, are you?”
“Or a dungeon?”
“I haven’t got time for vanilla sex, let alone kink.” The baby was watching the birds with bright-eyed intensity.
I steered my gaze back to Paige. “You want to do the work yourself?”
She flinched. “I need advice on the soundproofing. It’s too complex.... The books don’t say anything.”
Don’t volunteer, I told myself. You can’t fix someone else’s life, and Lela’s opinions notwithstanding, I didn’t need this. A baby meant Paige was maybe no more than a year out of a relationship with some guy. “You want to DIY, even though you have money. You need to rent out your basement, but you’re a nurse, aren’t you? You have a kid, you’re the public face of a homicide trial, and now you want to get into futzing with soundproofing and—”
“What are you saying?”
“Look, maybe I don’t talk like a Rhodes Scholar, but I know when I’m being lied to.”
“Forget I said anything.” She scooped up her kid and stormed off, so mad she almost walked over two women who were hawking handmade jewellery over by the sidewalk.
I watched her go, relieved. Then I took her abandoned library books inside so I could tell Lela to lay off the matchmaking.
Know what she said? “Oh, so you did like her?”
The thing about going for broken women is it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. So I kept busy: installed cabinets in a local rehab center, redid a couple bathrooms, volunteered to replace some vandalized tiles in Mosaic Creek Park. I let myself get talked into working a shift at the Italian Day festival, valet parking bicycles and chit-chatting with environmental activists as people from all the Drive’s overlapping communities ambled by.
At one time, East Vancouver was the bad part of town, which seems laughable now house prices have shot up. Sleek, well-off mommies, new to the area, pay my bills: I renovate the kitchens in their circa-1920 houses while they slurp up frappuccinos at Starbucks and plan the next battle in their bitter fight for control of Poverty Park. The area is upscaling; they want to drive out the homeless, the veterans, the street vendors and heroin junkies who’ve occupied the park—peaceably, for the most part—for decades.
None of which is to say I had mommies or motherhood on the brain. I put Paige and her troubles out of my mind, skipping the trial coverage, walking by fast when I saw her doe-eyed face in the newspaper boxes.
But a month after we first met she was back at Britannia, even more harried, obviously looking for me. The kid was in her pouch, lolling like a sailor after three days ashore.
I kept my eyes off him. “You got the soundproofing up? Barred your windows?”
She hesitated. “They vandalized them.”
“By ’they’ you mean . . .
“And by ’them’?”
“The soundproofing pads.”
She was clinging to the lie. I thought of calling her on it, again, but I’d had a month to feel guilty. Chivalry won out. “You ready to show me?”
A long sigh. “Should I make an appointment?”
“No, I’m between jobs. Lead on.”
Paige’s house was a few blocks south of mine. It was what we call a Vancouver Special—an ugly box clad in yellow aluminium siding and fake brick, square in shape, designed to max out the floor space ratio on its lot. Multifamily residences: idea being to shoehorn in a couple with three kids, both sets of in-laws, and maybe jam an unmarried sister in the basement. There’d been a toxic bloom of them in the eighties; nowadays, developers are knocking them down to build pretty, faux-heritage townhomes.
The place didn’t look Paige’s speed at all.
“Big basement,” she said, by way of explanation. I got a bit of a jolt; perceptive women are sexy. We shared a weird, edgy grin.
Past the front door was a rabbit hutch and a couple bags—one packed with scrubs, another a suitcase I’d seen in trial photos. She dropped the diaper bag beside them.
The rabbits shifted nervously.
“You hate animals too?” she asked.
“The baby. You make a point of ignoring him.”
“I keep fish.” I didn’t mention the cat; this was no time to sound like a nurturer.
“Downstairs.” She indicated a door. “You can leave your shoes on.”
I ducked under the overhang, heading into what had once been the in-law suite. Its interior walls were sledge-hammered away, the carpet torn up. All that remained was a vacant space with bare concrete floors.
“Why aren’t you on maternity leave?” I asked, thinking of the bag of work stuff—scrubs, shoes, protein bars.
“I take the occasional fill-in shift to remind myself I have more on the brain than the next loaded diaper.” She closed the door behind us.
Ever been somewhere where no sound gets in, none at all? Not the traffic outside, not the hum of the fridge, nothing but your own breath and heartbeat? It can be suffocating, almost claustrophobic; your ears ring and your brain insists there’s something wrong.
You can muffle a garage studio on the cheap by padding the walls with second-hand mattresses, but Paige had gone high-end. Her panels looked like they had come from a mental hospital—they were surfaced in a white quilted fabric and had been fitted with care, floor to ceiling, even covering the windows. They snugged up against the ceiling panels perfectly.
The air stank of bleach.
A baby cam and one big light were mounted in a corner of the ceiling, cords snaking between the soundproof boards.
“I figured they’d behave if I kept an eye on them,” she said, following my gaze to the camera.
‘They’ again, the fictional rock band. “This is good craftsmanship.”
“Impressed.” The nurses I know have decent mechanical skills, but this wouldn’t have been an easy job.
“The damage is here—” The fabric of the wall was torn at knee height in two places, the foam scattered in bits.
Foam and . . . I stirred the scraps, recognizing a tuft of animal fur.
She didn’t meet my eyes. “I’ll have to install something over the padding, won’t I?”
“You could frame and drywall. . . .”
“Drywall might be too fragile.”
“Clad the walls in sheet metal?”
“Sounds ugly.” She was close to weeping. “It has to be nice. It can’t . . . just be a big cage.”
My heart raced, loud in the silence. “Bamboo panels.”
“Bamboo wall panels. Natural-looking, eco-friendly, and very hard. We frame over your soundproofing, clad the whole thing in bamboo panels. Even if one or two of them do get roughed up, we just replace. No harm, no foul, okay?”
We. Damn, I said “we.”
“Seriously?” She pretended to scan the room, mastering her emotions.
“It’ll be easy, Paige.”
That’s when the drunken sailor baby opened his little mug and belched a river of chewed industrial foam, blood-laced baby formula, and a sticky hunk of bunny leather onto my steel-toed work boots.
I looked from the mess to Paige’s chalky face.
“Maybe we can find the bamboo in sort of a crimson lacquer,” I added.
* * *
It’s not what you think,” she said, twenty minutes later in the backyard. The baby was on a blanket under a tree, and she’d pulled out two beers. “Pamela didn’t bite him.”
“No?” She couldn’t afford to have me—or anybody—thinking otherwise. If Deenie could prove Pamela had ever been a danger to others, he’d walk on the murder charge.
“She’s his mother. Was.” She rolled the beer bottle between her hands. “Lycanthropy’s been in my family since the Civil War. You can transmit it through the placenta.”
“You were in the womb together. Same placenta.”
“I’m not a werewolf,” she said. “Best guess is sometimes it takes, sometimes it doesn’t. Twins were a first for my family.”
“Papers don’t say he’s her baby.”
“We drove out to the middle of the province, switched IDs. At the hospital in Trail, nobody knew us.”
“Twins, right. Didn’t anyone notice that you—”
“I wore a padded belly to work for a few months.”
“You and Pamela must have been close.”
“I wasn’t so sure until she was gone. It was my job to take care of her, to cover, to cover up—”
“The good kid.”
She wiped her eyes.
“Me too. Eldest, right? Perfect attendance, good grades, come home and watch the little kids. . . .”
Again with that scalpel-sharp look of comprehension: “Your family’s not around anymore?”
“They’re alive. They’re pretty sure I’m going to hell.”
I wasn’t about to get into that. “So, you pulled a switcheroo with his birth certificate. But why?”
“To protect him. Deenie was already hunting Pammy.”
“And her boyfriend—he’s the father?”
“He doesn’t know. She left when she realized she was pregnant.”
The boyfriend had just testified. Deenie broke his fingers and pulled out one of his front teeth to get him to give up Pamela’s location. Poor guy damn near had a mental breakdown on the stand; since he was representing himself, Deenie got to cross-examine the man he’d tortured. He’d had a lot of fun with it.
“Deenie caught up with Pammy a couple weeks after the birth. She was weak, postpartum. Slow.”
“But you’d fixed things so the kid’s yours on paper.”
“It wasn’t that risky. We’d pass a DNA test . . . identical twins, remember?”
“Except Chase’d test positive for werewolf?”
The baby was waving at the tree, entranced by the moving shadows. Not that I was watching.
“The first three months were okay; I kept him in his playpen.”
“See that pile of playpen scraps over by the trash bin?”
“So you cage him in the basement every month until . . .” How long would he be a puppy? Sixteen years?
“Until he’s five. There’s a pack, in Surrey; they’ll take him in during the moon, teach him to hunt, to avoid people. It’s how Pammy was socialized. But he has to go to them good-tempered. He has to enjoy his . . . wild nights, they call them. If his temperament sours . . .”
“Then the pack won’t take him?”
“They’ll do worse than not take him.” She was tearing up again. “And all this depends on their being around when he’s five, which depends on Richard Deenie being convicted so he and his thug sidekick and all their sick monster-hunting pals know it’s serious, it’s illegal, that it’s not open season up here.”
I put my hand on hers. “Okay. So. Dog-proofing the basement.”
How hard could it be? He weighed, what, fifteen pounds?
Four weeks ran by in a blur.
By the time the full moon rolled around, we had the walls of her basement panelled. The rabbit hutch had spent a couple weeks downstairs, killing the bleach fumes with a dog-friendly aroma of barn. We’d left construction sawdust on the floor.
That evening, Paige took all but two of the bunnies upstairs. She threw toys, rawhide chew sticks, and pepperoni down on the concrete floor, along with an old moccasin. She dropped in a few two-dollar ivy plants from the garden store, without their plastic starter pots. So there’d be dirt?
Fifteen minutes before moonrise, she gave Chase a bottle, burped him, stripped off his footie pyjamas and diaper and lay him, nude, on the concrete basement floor.
“He’d eat it.” We stared at him, pale and small on the floor. He was playing with his toes. If he was cold, it didn’t show.
Then he was seizing.
Paige threw out an arm; I guess I’d taken an involuntary step into the room. She backed me out, closed the door, cutting off the sound of him strangling. Then she led me upstairs. “We can watch on the monitor.”
Ye gods. The strength it must have taken; I didn’t even like the kid and I didn’t want to walk away. She turned on the monitor. He’ll be a slavering, hideous monster. Scary and unlovable, I thought. I took a good look.
It was worse than I thought. He was all wobbling puppy butt and baby fluff. He had big eyes, long flirty lashes. He batted them at a chew toy, looking like some kid’s cartoon dawg—bink-bink.
A quiet “Aroo!” trickled through the baby monitor.
“Awww,” I said. Believe me, a dead cynic couldn’t have kept from saying “Awww.”
I was entranced until he caught the first rabbit.
Even baby-clumsy, he was fast. He shook the rabbit into a puddle, sending fur flying, then rolled in the pudding. He chewed one of the plastic toys to chips. The shoe went in stages; he’d run around with it for a while, settle in for a chaw, run some more.
And my God, the peeing. Every nook, every corner. All my lovely bamboo panelling.
“Boy dogs,” Paige said, by way of apology, or explanation.
“This was why the bleach, last month.”
“To kill the smell, yep.”
Okay, stop staring. I got up as he began dragging the first of the ivy plants around the room, spraying potting soil. His tail was wagging. It had only been an hour.
“He’s laying waste to the place.”
“As long as he’s happy.” She quirked a brow. “Speaking of which . . .”
“Mmm?” I was already considering how to entertain the little bugger next time. He needed grass, more plants . . .
Paige kissed me.
It was awkward—disastrous. My head was elsewhere; she caught me by surprise. She was nervous, too, so the move came out a bit of a lunge. Our lips met for a second; then our teeth clacked, pinching my tongue. I pulled back, reflexively, tasting blood. And whatever she saw in my face . . . she turned bright red.
It might be for the best. I squelched the urge to apologize. “I should leave.”
“Hey—it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to date me either.”
“You’re plenty dateable, Paige—”
“What do you want me to say? You’re dead gorgeous. You’re funny, smart. But your sister’s newly dead, you got this murder trial . . .”
“I’m hot, but I’m a basket case? You don’t want to take advantage? I didn’t take you for old-school butch, Jude.”
“How could you not be a basket case?” I stared out the window. “You’re in mourning and there’s a rabid frigging monster in your basement.”
A faint “Aroo” trickled from the speaker.
“So? You think you’re such a catch?”
“I didn’t say that.” A flare of light in a truck, across the street, caught my eye.
“You’re freakishly tall, for one thing. And that librarian gave me your entire romantic history. You dare call me damaged goods when—”
“Someone’s watching the house,” I interrupted.
She cat-stepped across the living room, pissed, and looked sideways through the curtains.
“Reporter?” I whispered.
“Deenie’s sidekick,” she gritted. “Valmont Robb.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I’ll bundle up something kid-shaped and walk you to the door.”
“To the . . .”
“You were leaving anyway, weren’t you?”
A furious glint in her eye. “I may look like a mess to you, but believe me, I can handle myself.”
Ten minutes later I was out in the cold on the porch. Paige had a fake baby bundled in her arms, a fake smile plastered on her face. See, folks? Nothing going on here.
“Good night,” she said.
I gave the fake kid a pat. “I never set out to be a parent, Paige.”
“Funnily enough, neither did I.” She pivoted, closing the door in my face.
Well. I’d needed to back her off, right? Nicely done.
I walked home in the dark, past Robb’s truck with its Kansas plates, pretending I hadn’t seen him, my lip throbbing, my mind full of a strange mix of regret, sexual fantasy, revenge, and puppy eyes.
* * *
Next morning I couldn’t help myself; I called her.
“He’s overheating down there,” she said, before I could stumble half-assed into an apology.
“There’s no airflow in the basement. It was okay last month; I guess it was colder. But by two, he was roasting.”
A pulse of alarm. “He’s okay?”
“Yeah, but summer’s coming—look, I can’t talk now.”
“Sitter cancelled, and I need to see the Crown about Robb being here last night.”
“Can’t you call the police?”
“It’s complicated; Vancouver PD’s divided on the werewolf issue.”
“Well . . . I’m coming by to look at the air.”
“What if Chase bunny-barfs on a reporter? He ate that entire moccasin.”
“I have an ex-girlfriend who used to run a daycare. She’s broke and she has a one-year-old.”
“I can’t leave him with a stranger, not with Robb . . .”
“I’d be downstairs.”
“I thought you were done with me and my rabid frigging monster.”
“Cut me a break, Paige. He is a rabid frigging monster.”
“Well.” I could see her fighting a smile. “That’s true.”
“Listen. Maybe I was an asshole last night—”
“Let me make one call, sort out the ventilation issue, and clean up a bit while you put the law on Robb. Deal?”
* * *
“So how is it you’re once again with a woman with a kid?” Raquel, naturally, had said yes. Who could pass up a chance to give me a hard time and get paid?
So I’d chauffeured her over, made the introductions. She cooed over little Chase, who was sleeping off his wolfie binge. Paige, satisfied, had run off to court.
Once she was gone, Raquel demanded a complete rundown on her, for transmission to the entire East Van lesbian grapevine.
“I’m not with anyone. I’m fixing up her basement.”
“Is that what you’re calling it—Abby, no!” She darted across the room to strong-arm her toddler down from the TV stand, and I escaped the interrogation.
With the basement door safely locked, I could survey the damage in the ear-ringing silence.
The air was stuffy, as Paige had said; it also reeked of baby wolf pee. Dirt from the plants was everywhere, mudded in with bits of fur, dog toys, moccasin, sawdust. A rabbit eye stared at me from the floor.
What was I doing, cleaning up after a kid who would probably get himself shot by someone like Richard Deenie?
Apologizing for last night, that’s all.
Concentrate on the air. It was a problem—ventilation ducts are notoriously good conductors of sound. Best I could do was run a pipe to the garage, insulate the duct inside and out, and hope the noise of the intake fan would cover a certain amount of puppy howl.
Aroo, I remembered. It hadn’t seemed loud on the baby cam.
Which has a volume knob. And what about when he’s bigger?
One problem at a time.
The basement was depressing. Bare walls, bamboo or not, and a few bunnies weren’t enough. The kid needed things to climb up, jump on, destroy. Grass underfoot. He had to go to that pack good-tempered, Paige said.
Raised planters, maybe, something to lurk beneath . . . but plants meant lights. We’d—dammit, Paige would need grow lights for the plants.
I got absorbed in thinking about solar panels, and jumped a foot when my cell rang. It was Raquel, calling from upstairs.
“Why are you phoning me?”
“Because I’m whaling on the door and you damn well can’t hear me.”
I bolted for the stairs. “Kid okay?”
“He’s asleep.” She snapped her phone shut in my face. “That guy’s back. You said a red truck?”
I closed the padded door, eased past Raquel, and checked on the bassinet before peeking outside. The truck with the Kansas plates was parked half a block away.
“What’s this about?”
“The trial. He’s trying to scare Paige.”
“Should we call the cops?”
“She was gonna talk to that Crown attorney.”
“Stalkerman’s here now.”
“Some of the police think we should be allowed to shoot werewolves—a lot.”
“We call, we get the wrong cop, we make things worse?”
I nodded. “They see ’em as an enforcement problem, go figure.”
“Gotcha.” She sighed. “Let’s get a picture of him. Document the stalking. Maybe Paige can go door to door, insinuate to the neighbours he’s hanging around waiting to break into their houses or molest their kids.”
“Good idea,” I said.
She put a hand on my back. “Don’t worry, Jude.”
“I’m just doing her basement,” I repeated. Chase cooed from inside the bassinet. I felt cobwebby threads of affection, sticking, somewhere deep and internal.
“Cut it out,” I growled, and he beamed.
Raquel had her camera zoomed in on Robb’s unshaven mug. “What’s Paige doing down there, anyway? Holding mini-raves?”
Her eyes flicked to the baby monitor. So much for secrecy. I’d been on camera all morning.
“Orchids,” I said. “We’re setting her up to grow orchids.”
“When Pammy was five, she began spending a couple days a month on my uncle’s farm near Cheyenne,” Paige told the packed courtroom. “He and a local fellow were werewolves, the friend’s daughter too.”
“They ran in a pack?”
“Yes. The adults socialized the girls.”
“They learned to avoid people and domesticated animals.”
“Mr. Deenie says lycanthropes are untameable beasts.”
“What does he know? He learned the truth with the rest of the world, in 2002, and he’s no scientist. My family had generations of experience in dealing with this.”
The Crown had done a decent job of making out Deenie as a sadist and misogynist. The jury seemed to dislike him heartily. In response, he was playing on that thread of . . . was it racism? Not in my backyard-ism? We like to think we’re liberal out here on the West Coast. Still, the idea of having werewolves for neighbours wasn’t sitting well.
Rabid frigging monsters, right?
Courtrooms always look impressive on TV. In my experience, the real thing never measures up: the taxpayer’s dime won’t pay for the kind of glitz you get on even a crummy lawyer show. Everything’s set up in the same place Judge’s bench, jury box, witness stand—but it all looks run down. The people involved don’t come up to TV standards either; they’re real, and as a result they look fake, like they’re auditioning for parts in a community theatre production. The sheriff’s uniforms look badly fitted, and the air smells dusty.
But Paige had gone all out. She was wearing a brand-new cream-colored suit; her hair was newly cut, her nails buffed. Her make-up was subtle, emphasizing her fragility. She looked like a rosebud wrapped in white chocolate.
If she couldn’t convince the jury her sister hadn’t been a threat, it was Game Over. Worse. It would be open season.
“There has been some research since monsterkind was discovered,” the Crown said. “None of it indicates that lycanthropy is in any sense controllable.”
“We aren’t talking about taming anyone,” Paige said.
“As humans encroach on forest habitat, mother bears keep their young with them for longer periods of time. There’s more to teach them, you see, about how to cohabitate with humans. The cubs learn it, and nobody says they’re domesticated. They’re living smarter, avoiding people, increasing their chances of survival.”
“This is the same?”
“If bears can do it, of course lycanthropes can. In all the time we lived near Cheyenne, there wasn’t one human disappearance on a full moon. No pet slaughters either, by the way. In fact, towns benefit from the presence of an active pack.”
“A well-socialized lycanthrope pack keeps the rest of monsterkind away.”
Deenie was scribbling furiously, probably planning to follow up on that in his cross-examination.
“This werewolf uncle of yours, where is he now?”
“Richard Deenie’s so-called mentor, Kevin Solve, shot him in 2003.”
“The family friend?”
“His house was burned . . . with him in it.”
“And his daughter? ”
The skin around her eyes pinkened.
“He murdered her. Her and . . . everyone I love.” Not one tear fell. “Because he hates werewolves, and he thinks it’s fun.”
“Objection,” Richard Deenie drawled.
“He likes being patted on the head for being a serial killer. He shot my sister and bragged about it, and she never hurt anyone.”
“She was no danger to him.”
“You’re one hundred percent certain of that?”
Not a sound in the courtroom. The kid reached over from Raquel’s lap, tugging my sleeve. I pulled free.
“I had a newborn. Would I have let Pammy move in with me if I wasn’t sure it was safe?” Paige said.
Everyone—reporters, spectators, jury—looked at Raquel and little Chase. And me.
The Crown acknowledged this with a nod. “Your witness.”
Deenie had been drooling over the prospect of getting his shot at Paige, and his cross-examination was brutal, the questions fast and furious. How did Paige know her sister never killed anyone? Could she prove it? How many werewolf maulings were there in Canada each year? Wasn’t living in the middle of a big city a bit different from keeping Pammy on the country fringes of Cheyenne? Neighbours ten feet away, close quarters . . .
“I grew up with Pammy. How’s that for close quarters?”
He stood close enough to breathe on her. He asked about Pamela’s sexual habits, alleged she was a boozer, dug into her spotty job history. Had Paige ever had to drug Pamela, to protect herself or others? Did she know how to get rid of a body? If Pammy killed someone, would she cover it up?
Paige sat there and took it. She looked sweet and young, harmless and delicate and exactly like her sister, and she didn’t crack. The longer it went on, the more it felt as though everyone in the room wanted to throttle Deenie.
Chase was getting restless: moonrise was seven hours away. I was about to suggest Raquel take him home when the judge adjourned for the day.
We met Paige just outside the courtroom.
“That looked gruelling.” Raquel kissed her on the cheek and handed over the baby.
“I’ll do a year in that witness box if that’s what it takes.” She was checking her make-up, thinking ahead to the next tangle: with the media. Adjusting her young mom costume.
“I gotta pick up Abby from her play date. You guys’ll be okay?”
“Fine,” Paige said. “Thanks, Raquel.”
“Ciao.” She waved and was gone.
I gave Paige a long look. “Want me to disappear, too?”
“You want to?”
“You probably look more harmless without a freakishly tall bodyguard—”
That’s when Valmont Robb popped around the corner and tried to rip out a pinch of the baby’s hair.
I’ve never seen anyone move so fast. Paige had his sweaty mitt between her jaws before I could draw breath. Without hesitating, she bit, growling, into the meat of his hand.
Robb jerked free with a shout, blood running down his wrist, and grabbed for her throat.
I half caught his fist with mine. Pain, a bruising clash of knuckles . . . Then Paige shoved the baby, snuggly and all, into my arms.
“Get him away!” Sheriffs were wading in to collar them both.
I staggered clear of the scrum, flailing my way into the snuggly to free up my hands. I got my forearm between the crowd and the kid’s head. Chase was goggling at me, emitting a low growl. Would he change if he got upset?
I pulled him close, whispering, “It’s okay, it’s okay. Everything’s cool, little guy.”
He had that intoxicating baby smell: new life, baked bread, talcum. Nobody else tried to get a sample off him as the sheriffs dragged Paige and Valmont Robb off.
The crowd stayed clear of me, babbling: “Is Paige one of them?”
“What’d he do?”
“. . . tried to grab the baby . . .”
“She broke the skin, he was bleeding, that makes him one of them now . . .”
“Only if she is. If she is, her sister bit her . . .”
“Socialized my ass.”
“Grrrr . . .”
“It’s all cool, junior,” I said. “All okay. What are we gonna do?”
He did that thing where they put an itty-bitty hand on your cheek and your heart tears itself to shreds.
“Cut that out,” I said.
He welled up.
“Okay, okay. Sorry.” Wait, watch, think. I bounced him, pacing the government-issue carpet, glaring at anyone who got within five feet. Down the hall, a VPD constable was watching alertly; from her expression, she was anti-lycanthrope. This was out of control. . . .
Maybe twenty minutes passed. Chase calmed; the bystanders milled for a while, until they were sure the show was over. I waited for Paige.
Instead, Paige’s hero, the fire-breathing Crown attorney who’d brought Deenie to trial, appeared.
“Paige and Valmont Robb are being charged with assault,” she said. “They’ll be locked up until morning.”
“It’s in case Paige is a werewolf, in case she’s infected Robb.”
“They’ll run tests?”
She frowned. “Full moon’s tonight. That’s test enough.”
“Oh.” It was neatly done; Robb wouldn’t be out and about while the kid was wild-nighting in the basement. Then again, Paige was locked up, too.
The lawyer served up a tight, feral smile. “They’re desperate. Deenie can keep badgering Paige on the stand, if he wants, but by now he must know he can’t make her look bad. His best chance is to prove Pamela was a biter.”
“Right. But with Robb locked up for the night, they’ve lost their shot.”
“Have they?” She said this with typical lawyer neutrality, glancing down the hall. The female VPD officer had been joined by an equally hostile male partner. Not even bothering to give me a significant look, the attorney click-clacked away.
“Crap,” I said, and Chase stole the opportunity to baby-pat my face again.
* * *
I called up Helene—she’s another ex-girlfriend of mine, who cleans houses—and drove her over to Paige’s with instructions to clean the basement like it was a crime scene. She didn’t ask questions. She did, however, take a phone picture of me with the snuggly on my chest. “Change your ways at last, Jude?”
“Woman’s in a jam.”
“You couldn’t leave him with Raquel?”
“No.” Not tonight.
“Yeah. You don’t have a maternal bone.”
“Can the sarcasm, please?”
“Now you sound like my mother.”
“Why is it the business of every goddamn lesbian in British Columbia to give me a hard time?”
“You reap what you sow. Mommy.”
No winning here, I thought. “Clear out by sunset, okay? I expect the place to get busted and searched.”
Helene nodded. “Rabbit hutch goes here, plants go there, leave the lights on. I was listening.”
Would it make a difference? Who knew? I hugged her swiftly. “Thanks.”
“Where are you gonna go?”
“I’m not awash in options.” I’d fantasized about turning Chase loose on some well-fenced stretch of open prairie, me with a rifle in case a coyote showed up. As if I had a prairie field in my back pocket. As if I could shoot.
“Check into the transition house for the night. His mother’ll be out tomorrow, right? You know they wouldn’t let the cops in.”
How bad were things that I was tempted to take the rabid monsterchild to a house full of battered women? “I’ll be okay, Helene.”
“I’m a rock, I’m an island,” she mocked, waving a mop at me as she descended the stairs. “Night. Mommy.”
* * *
“It’s not that I hate kids,” I said from atop my kitchen table, four hours later, as Chase gnawed my TV stand to slivers and my old queen manx, Fairytail, yowled disapprovingly from atop the bookshelf. “I was keen, even, in my twenties. My sister Alonsa had a baby, Hal—”
My breath snagged. Years were gone, but it hurt to say his name.
“Another blue-eyed cherub—not all that different from you. Well, except the obvious. I’d have done anything for that kid. But it was the eighties. People could toss a queer out on her ass without the least bit of censure. Alonsa’s husband got born again, and . . . shit, doesn’t matter.”
“Aroo to you too.” I saluted. “I go to Toronto, come out, fall in love. She’s got a kid. A girl, Michaela.”
Chase hurled himself at Fairytail’s perch. A book teetered and fell—just Camille Paglia, thankfully. He chewed her spine, keeping a hopeful eye on the cat.
“Three years together, we paid lip service to coparenting. After we broke up, I had the kid Tuesday and Friday. Then she finds a new partner. I offered to move to Duluth, not with them, you know, just in the orbit. Made the commitment, did the responsible thing. But then it was ‘Michaela needs to bond with Aster, you’re confusing her.’ Well, she’s not mine, I got no rights, I’m not saying I should have rights, but you don’t get it, furball, I can’t—Hey!” I threw a rubber ball into the kitchen before he could go after Susan Faludi.
He boiled after it with a lusty howl. Claws skittered on the lino and there was a thump as he puppy-bounced against the wall.
“You’d think I’d stop at two, right? But no, I had to fall again, about a year later. I thought a friend . . . no romance, see? And I tried to tell her, this has to be for keeps or I’m out, it’s too tough, and it was oh yes, oh yes, Jude, of course, Jude. She was so alone, so damned grateful for the childcare. My judgment that time . . . stupid. It got bad, I had to walk away. The shame I still feel over that . . .
“I know it’s my fault, okay? I know you can’t go half-assed, have a kid on the fringes, can’t play Auntie and assume it’ll go your way, but it’s so hard. . . .”
Pathetic, Jude. Up on the dining room table, all self-pity, who’s really the basket case here? The kid padded into the living room with a triumphant look in his adorable cartoon eyes. I’d thought he’d have the ball, or what was left of it, in his jaws. But no, he’d found my oven mitts.
I started bawling like an old drunk, because it was too late. I was caught again, the hooks deep as ever they’d been, barbed through all the scar tissue and old hurt, and as he lifted his tiny leg and damn well made widdle on my oven mitt, I swear it was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen.
* * *
At about two thirty, Paige got to a phone.
She was panicking. “Can you hide the door to the basement? Make a secret panel or something?”
“Deenie’s befriended some police who think lycanthropes are dangerous. They’re going for a grow op warrant on the house. They’ll say they’re looking for pot and then—”
“Let ’em search, Paige. We’re not there.”
“Oh! Good. Is he okay?”
“Getting up his second wind. In fact, his little ears have pricked up. Say hello to Mommy, kid.”
Chase struggled to his paws. “Arrooo?” It came out a question; then he flopped again.
Her voice came through the speaker. “Hi, baby, hi, baby. Thank God.”
“Who told you about the raid?”
“One of the guards. Gloating.”
I’d been on the table for hours. Now I stood and stretched. Hell, Chase was torpid, and I had my boots on. I stepped down to a chair, then the floor. The littlest werewolf didn’t move.
“So where are you?”
“You took him home?”
“What could I do, take a pet suite at the Hilton?” I splashed water onto my face, ran a comb through my hair.
“What if they go there next?”
“They can’t get a warrant to search for pot here, in the dead of night, on the grounds that I’m your . . .”
Weighted pause. “Your friend, Paige.”
“All they have to do is shove their way in and bag him. They can apologize to the skies once they have video of him changing back at dawn.”
Bust in first, consequences later. She was right. “It’s not gonna happen. Paige . . .”
“Shit, my time’s up.”
“It’ll be okay.”
“Don’t screw this up, Jude.” She was gone before I could promise anything.
A scritch. I opened the bathroom door. The kid was there, tail thumping, couch upholstery dangling from his fang. He tried out a growl on me.
“Don’t even think it,” I said. Stomping past him, I found my work gloves. He wobbled a step behind, exhausted but game. “Tearing around takes it out of you, huh kid?”
Bink-bink. Cartoon puppy eyes. Cuddle me; I’m not dangerous at all.
“You’re not gonna bite me,” I told him.
Bending, I extended my gloved hands. He growled.
“No!” Deep voice: he did me the honor of looking awed.
I got him by the scruff and under his chest, holding him arms-out away from me. His body was hot, and I could feel the wham-wham of his heart through the leather as I carried him upstairs.
Then he shocked a bit, twisting.
The smart thing would’ve been to drop him; instead, my arms pulled inward, protecting. I felt hot puppy breath on my neck, a touch of nose. He was alert, almost quivering.
“Easy. Easy.” My mouth was cottony. I turned sideways, checking the mirror. He was staring bug-eyed up over my shoulder, through the skylight in my bedroom . . .
. . . at the moon.
“Aroo,” I agreed. For some reason I was near tears.
I set him down like a bomb, leaving him in the shaft of moonlight, up on my bed, in my loft with all my good stuff, everything I’d pulled off the ground floor that afternoon. I rescued the urn with my mom’s ashes, threw a last apologetic look at the fish tank. “Enjoy the change of locale, kid.”
Weak-kneed, I stumbled downstairs and started making calls.
* * *
The police didn’t turn up until four.
By then, I had thirty people downstairs. Saffron had awakened most of the local women’s chorus, and there was a big ol’ overtired koombaya going on in the remains of my living room. Alison was shooting the gathering in Super-8, while a baby dyke named Kathleen Ph34rless exhorted her to get into the digital age, man. Jennifer was doing henna tattoos on Freddie May, who was bare-chested and on his back on the table. Helena had swept the shreds of Camille Paglia off my floor. Raquel lay by the hearth with her one-year-old, Abby, and the baby’s father, the three of them half asleep, watching a Disney movie on an iPad.
Upstairs you could hear the occasional thunk, awoo, smash—Chase had gotten his second wind.
Long as he’s happy, I thought, as I answered the bang-bang-bang of the front door.
“Hey, Officers,” I said, not too smartass, not too perky. Through the chain, I saw the female constable I’d seen that afternoon.
“We have a report of screams at this address.”
“Just a party.”
“Mind if we look around?”
“I do mind, yeah.” I spoke clearly, for the pick-up mike.
“I hear another scream now.” She gave me a push, trying to swing my door wide, only to get hung up on the steel-toed boot I’d accidentally-on-purpose jammed in it.
Her partner helped. The boot and the chain both gave, and I stumbled backward into my foyer.
One of the leather kids, Roman, caught me.
“Hey there, Officer,” he swished. “This a bust? Wanna borrow my cuffs?”
“What’s going on here?”
“Full moon party,” I said. “In honor of Pam Adolpha.”
She scowled. “Where’s the kid?”
“Do I look like a babysitter?”
Junior chose that moment to let go with a little “Aroo!”
“What the hell was that?” The female officer’s hand drifted to her pepper spray. Then she paused; Alison had moved in with her camera. The choir broke into four-part harmony, drawing her eye. They were parked on a couch I’d propped in front of the door to the stairwell. At their soprano edge, singing along while giving her best glower from a scary high-tech wheelchair, was the city’s best-known civil rights lawyer.
You stay in one place for a while, you make friends. They make friends. They’ll dissect your love life and your dietary habits behind your back, but some days it pays off. That’s how it works in my neighbourhood. Most of my guests lived walking distance from here.
An “Aroo!” upstairs ruined the otherwise golden moment.
“I asked you . . .” The constable kept her voice calm. “What is that?”
“It’s the dog,” I said, straight-faced. “What do you think?”
She spent another second thumbing her pepper spray, weighing her odds—the film crew, the legal lioness, the sheer number of witnesses. Little Kathleen Ph34rless had her phone out, no doubt Tweeting events in real time.
The constable slumped. “Keep the noise down.”
Nobody was so dumb as to start cheering before they were gone. But we spent the next few hours giving each other sleepy high-fives, carrying on like we’d faced down the armies of Rome.
* * *
Paige showed up at my place about two hours after dawn.
“Your kitchen ceiling is dripping,” she said.
I’d just put down a bucket to catch the leak. “Baby boy got to my fish tank. You should’ve heard it.”
“And there are twenty women in your living room.”
“It’s hot out, Paige. By the way, you officially owe favours to every cool person in East Van.”
“Just tell me you haven’t slept with all of them.”
I pretended to count heads. “Only five. Well, six.”
She chose—conspicuously, I thought—to ignore my attempt at charm. “Where’s my son, Jude?”
Baby Chase was snoring in the wreckage of my bedroom. Paige squelched across the carpet, crunching broken aquarium glass, and scooped him into her arms.
“Oh, Jude. All your stuff,” she murmured, head down against his.
“It’s what they do, right?”
“You never wanted to be a mom,” she said.
“That was kind of a half-truth.”
“You weren’t wrong. He is a monster, and I am a basket case.”
“A victorious basket case.”
“By next month they’ll have convicted that fucker Deenie, right? The sidekick’ll go off home and make trouble for someone else?”
“What are you saying? All’s well that ends well?”
“You’re not damaged goods, Paige. When you bit Robb yesterday, I realized. You’re anything but fragile. You’re tough. And that’s . . .”
“It’s your strength I’m attracted to.”
She stirred the dampened shreds of my buckwheat pillow with her toe. “So no more bullshit?”
“There’s always more,” I said. “But not that flavour.”
“Your sales pitch could use some work.” She patted the empty space on my bed.
“You dig honesty.” I slipped into the nook, curled around the baby, and kissed her properly.
The kid waved a fist, belching fish.
“Da,” he said to me. Bink-bink. The hook sank deeper.
I faked a cringe. “Tell me he’s already said Mumma, once at least.”
“Nope.” She twinkled. “Gonna tell him to cut it out?”
“I’m gonna say keep it up, Chase,” I told them both, and planted a kiss on his little feral head as my hand wound into hers.
Copyright 2010 AM Dellamonica
Art copyright 2010 Marcos Chin
Acquired and edited for Tor.com by Stacy Hague-Hill.