"Next caller, hello. You're on the air."
"It-it's my girlfriend. She won't bite me."
Bobby from St. Louis sounded about twenty, boyish and nervous. A gawky post-adolescent with bigger fantasies than he knew what to do with. He probably wore a black leather jacket and had at least one tattoo--in a place he could cover with a shirt.
"Okay, Bobby, let's back up a little. Your girlfriend."
"Your girlfriend is a werewolf."
"Yeah," he said in a voice gone slightly dreamy.
"And you want her to bite you and infect you with lycanthropy."
"Uh, yeah. She says I don't know what I'd be getting into."
"Do you think that she may be right?"
"Well, it's my decision--"
"Would you force her to have sex with you Bobby?"
"No! That'd be rape."
"Then don't force her to do this. Just imagine how guilty she'd feel if she did it and you changed your mind afterward. This isn't a tattoo you can have lasered off. We're talking about an entire lifestyle change here. Turning into a bloodthirsty animal once a month, hiding that fact from everyone around you, trying to lead a normal life when you're not even human. Have you met her pack?"
"Then you really don't know what you're talking about when you say you want to be a werewolf."
"Bobby, I usually make suggestions rather than tell people flat out what to do, but I'm making an exception in your case. Listen to your girlfriend. She knows a heck of a lot more about it than you do, okay?"
"Uh, okay. Thanks, Kitty."
"Good luck to you, Bobby," I said, and clicked Bobby off. "And good luck to Bobby's girlfriend. My advice to her is dump the guy, she doesn't need that kind of stress in her life. You're listening to 'The Midnight Hour' with me, Kitty Norville. The last hour we've been discussing relationships with lycanthropes, bones to pick and beef to grind. Let's break now for station ID and when we come back, more calls."
I waved to Matt, my engineer, through the booth window. He hit the switch. The "on-air" sign dimmed and the show's theme song, CCR's "Bad Moon Rising," played. I pulled off my headphones and pushed the microphone away.
Everybody wants to be a monster. Or know a monster. Or at least say they do. Danger is enticing, and what can be more dangerous than a creature with the claws of a wolf and mind of a person? Or more alluring than the terror that seduces in the night. So many terrible and intriguing things happen at night, and the monsters control them all. How attractive, to be part of it. According to polling for the show, over three quarters of the people who listen aren't supernatural--werewolves, vampires, witches, psychics, necromancers, dowsers, rain makers, etc.--and have no contact with anyone supernatural. So they want a vicarious rush, to feel a sense of danger while they're safe at home, to imagine the danger out in the world, just outside their sturdy suburban walls, and feel a thrill. Maybe relive a primal memory of the days when people had no walls between them and the night. Of those three quarters, half think it's all a joke, a "mocumentary." Everyone knows there are no monsters.
The other quarter, though. I do the show for them. To let them know they're not alone.
The two minute break ended, Matt counted fingers down through the window. The "on-air" sign lit, the lights on my caller board lit. Headphones on, phone line punched.
"Welcome back to 'The Midnight Hour.' We have Sarah from Souix City on the line."
The woman was in tears. She fought not to cry, a losing battle. "Kitty?"
"Hi Sarah," I said soothingly, bracing myself for the onslaught. "What do you need to talk about?"
"My husband," she said after a long, shuddering breath. "I caught him last week. I mean, I spied on him." She paused, and I let her collect herself before prompting her.
"What happened, Sarah?"
"He--he turned. . .into. . .into a wolf. In the woods. . .behind our house. After he thought I'd gone to bed."
"And you had no idea he's a lycanthrope."
"No! I mean, I suspected. The business trips once a month during the full moon, eating his steaks rare. How could he keep something like this from me? I'm his wife! How could he do it?" The woman's voice quavered until she was nearly screeching.
"Did you confront him? Talk to him about it?"
"Yes, yes. I mean, I asked him about it. He just said he was sorry. He won't look me in the eye anymore!"
"Sarah, take a breath. That's a girl. I know this is a blow, but let's look at it together. How long have you been married?"
"And did your husband tell you how long he's been a werewolf?"
"Now Sarah, I'm going to ask you to look at the situation from his point of view. It was probably pretty traumatic for him, becoming a lycanthrope, right?"
"Yes. He was working a night shift alone, locking up the store when it happened. He--he said he was lucky he got away. Why didn't he ever tell me?"
"Do you think maybe he was trying to protect you? You had a good marriage and he didn't want to mess things up, right? Now I'm not saying what he did was right, Sarah. In a great marriage he would have told you from the start. But he's having to keep this secret from a lot of people. Maybe he didn't know how to tell you. Maybe he was afraid you'd leave him if he told you."
"I wouldn't leave him! I love him!"
"But people do leave their partners when something like this happens. He's probably scared, Sarah. Listen, does he still love you?"
"He says he does."
"You know what I'd do? Sit down with him. Tell him that you're hurt, but you want to support him if he'll be honest with you from here out. Before you do that, though, you have to decide whether or not you can stay married to a werewolf. You have to be just as honest with yourself as you want him to be with you."
Sarah was calm now. She hiccupped a little from the crying, but her voice was steady. "Okay, Kitty. I understand. Thank you."
"Let me know how it turns out. Good luck, Sarah. All right, I've got lots of calls still waiting, so let's move right along. Cormac from Longmont, hello."
"I know what you are."
"I know what you are, and I'm coming to kill you."
I always had a few strange calls. I had to expect it, with this kind of show. That was why Matt screened the calls before letting me have them. This guy had said he had a question about lycanthropy and STDs.
I could have cut off the call right there. Probably should have. But the strange ones always interested me.
"Cormac? You want to tell me what you're talking about?"
"I'm a bounty hunter. I specialize in lycanthropes." His voice hissed and faded for a moment.
"Are you on a cell phone?"
"Yeah. I'm in the lobby of the building, and I'm coming to kill you."
Good Matt, he was already on the phone with security. I watched him on the phone, just standing there. Not talking. What was wrong?
Matt slammed the phone in the cradle. "No one's answering," he said loud enough to sound through the glass of the booth.
"I rigged a little distraction outside," Cormac said. "Building security is out of the building." At that, Matt picked up the phone and dialed, just three numbers after punching the outside line. Calling the cavalry.
Then he dialed again. And again. His face went pale. "Line's busy," he mouthed.
"Did you manage to tie up 911?"
"I'm a professional," Cormac replied.
Damn, this was for real. I heard the ping of the elevator on the ground floor, the slide of the doors. It was a scare tactic, calling me on the phone and walking me through my own assassination. It was a good scare tactic.
"Okay, you're coming to kill me while you warn me on the cell phone."
"It's part of the contract," he said in a strained way that made me think he was grimacing as he spoke.
"I have to do it on the air."
Matt made a slicing motion across his neck with a questioning look. Cut the show? I shook my head. Maybe I could talk my way out of this.
"What makes you think I'm a lycanthrope, Cormac the bounty hunter who specializes in lycanthropes?"
"My client has proof."
"Yes, I'm sure, video taken in the dark with lots of blurry movement. I've seen those kinds of TV shows. Would it hold up in court?"
"It convinced me."
"And you're obviously deranged," I said, flustered. "Have you considered, Cormac, that you're the patsy in a publicity stunt to get me off the air? Certain factions have been trying to push me off for months."
This time of night, Matt and I had the studio to ourselves. Even if some sharp listener called the police, Cormac would be here before they arrived. He'd counted on it, I'm sure.
Matt came into the booth and hissed at me in a stage whisper. "You can leave by the emergency stairs before he gets here."
I covered the mike with my hands. "I can't leave the show."
"Kitty, he's going to kill you!"
"It's a stunt. Some righteous zealot trying to scare me off the air."
"I'm not leaving. You get out if you want."
He scowled, but returned to his board.
"And grab one of the remote headsets out of the cupboard for me."
Matt brought me the headset, and I transferred the broadcast to it. I left the booth, removing myself from direct line of sight of the door. The next room, Matt's control room, had a window looking into the hallway. I moved to the floor, under the window, near the door. If anyone came in, I'd see them first.
Cormac would need maybe ten minutes to ride the elevator and get from there to here. So--I had to talk fast.
"Okay, Cormac, let me ask you this. Who hired you?"
"I can't say."
"Is that in the contract?"
He hesitated. I thought for a moment he wasn't used to talking and resented that part of the job he'd taken on. I didn't doubt he really was what he said he was. He sounded too controlled, too steady. I had an ear for that kind of thing.
"Professional policy," he said finally.
"So is this one of those deals where I can offer you more money to not finish me off?"
"Nope. Ruins the reputation."
Not that I had that kind of money anyway. "So just how much is my life worth?"
A pause. "That's confidential."
"No, really, I'm curious. I think I have a right to know. I mean, if it's a really exorbitant amount, can I judge my life a success that I pissed someone off that much? That means I made an impact, right, and that's all any of us can really hope to accomplish--"
"Jesus, you talk too much."
I couldn't help it; I grinned. Matt sat against the wall, shaking his head in a gesture of long-suffering forbearance.
Thinking of everyone who had it in for me was an exercise in futility--so many did, after all. I went through the list anyway: the Witchhunters League, the Right Reverend Deke Torquemada of the New Inquisition, a handful of anti-supernatural politicians including the President, the Christian Coalition, everyone who believed supernatural beings couldn't be a part of mainstream society. . . .
The elevator pinged, one, two. . .two more to go. "So let's back up a bit, Cormac. Most of your jobs aren't like this, are they? You go after rogue wolves. The ones who've killed, the ones whose packs can't control them. Am I right?"
"That's about right."
"You have any idea of how few wolves actually fit that description?"
"Not too many."
"Right. In fact, no one has any idea how many lycanthropes there are in America because most of them are anonymous. Most certainly aren't going to announce themselves." Most, including me. I did the show, but no one knew. Oh, sure, there was all kinds of speculation, including theories that I was a vampire, a voodoo queen recruiting dark minions for her army, an alien invader inciting paranoia, a lycanthropic vampire. . . But even I wasn't brave enough to make my condition public knowledge. I had too much respect--all right, fear--for people like Cormac.
Cormac's assertion about my identity, on the air, demanded some response. Denial. Claims of innocence, wrongful accusations--until he shot me, killed me, and they did an autopsy. Or until he tried to shoot me and I defended myself. I hope it didn't come to that.
He probably expected me to make denials--you can't shoot me, I'm not a werewolf. But it was a little late for that. Denials now would sound a bit lame. And if he really did have photographs--where could he have picked up photos? Only thing left was to brazen it out. So this was it. The big revelation show. My ratings had better pay off for this.
"So here I am, a perfectly respectable law-abiding werewolf--must be kind of strange for you, tracking down a monster who isn't going to lift a claw against you."
"Come on, Norville. Go ahead and lift a claw. I'd like the challenge."
There it was. I said it on national radio. Didn't feel any different--Cormac was still riding the elevator to my floor. But my mother didn't even know. She'd find out by tomorrow, and then. . .and then. . .I'd worry about that tomorrow. I heard a series of metallic clicks over the headphones. Guns, big guns, being drawn and readied.
"Is this really sporting, Cormac? You know I'm unarmed. I'm a sitting duck in the booth here, and I have about a million witnesses on the air."
"You think I haven't had to deal with that shit before?"
Okay, wrong tack. I tried again. "If I shut down the broadcast, would that void the clause in your contract saying this has to be on the air?"
"My client believes you'll stay on the air as long as possible. That you'll take advantage of the ratings this would garner."
Damn, who was this employer? Whoever it was knew me too well. So maybe it wasn't the usual list of fanatics. Somebody local. Arturo, the local master vampire who always felt I was stepping on his authority. Carl, my own pack leader who wanted me to quit the show before I said something foolish. Like revealing my nature on national radio. But heck, if Carl felt that strongly, he'd do me in himself. He could get me cowering on the floor in ten seconds, alpha male that he was. Arturo, on the other hand, couldn't do me in himself. Carl'd find out. Carl'd get pissed off.
He'd have to hire someone. He wouldn't even have to do it himself. He'd work through an intermediary and Cormac would never know. Arturo had the means to get photos of me during full moon nights.
I heard elevator doors hiss open. Boot steps on linoleum.
"I can see the window of your booth, Norville."
"Hey Cormac, have you pissed off any vampires lately?"
"What do you think I do when I'm not hunting werewolves?"
So he did in lycanthropes and vampires. I really wanted to get on this guy's good side, impossible as that seemed at the moment.
Then I heard the sirens. A window looked from my studio to the street outside. I didn't have to move to see the red and blue lights flashing. The police. The last few minutes had dragged mercilessly, but even if an intrepid listener had called the cops as soon as Cormac announced his intentions, they couldn't get here this quickly.
"You hear that, Cormac?"
"Shit," he muttered. "That's too quick."
Hey, we agreed on something. "It's almost like someone called ahead of time, that they knew you were going to be here. Are you sure you don't want to rethink my patsy theory?"
Arturo could get me via Cormac, and with the cops downstairs he could get Cormac, too, if he had it in for the bounty hunter.
"You can't be serious."
"Arturo, master of the city, wants me off the air. I can assume you've pissed him off, correct?"
"I helped put his human servant behind bars for soliciting prostitutes."
Ah, now we were getting somewhere. I knew Arturo's oft-denied taste for, um, less refined indulgences was going to get him in trouble someday. "Let's pretend he hires you through a third party, calls the cops on you as you're doing the job. You may have it in for werewolves on principle, but I haven't done anything. You can't justify the hit on me. The minute you pull that trigger, the cops bring you down. How does this sound for a theory?"
A pause, long enough for my palpitating heart to beat a half-dozen times. "You're insane."
I couldn't hear footsteps, couldn't hear weapons. He'd stopped moving. Was I nervous? I hadn't seen these guns yet. I didn't have to, I could smell Cormac's body odor, taut nerves with a spicy underlay of aftershave. I could smell the gun oil. I could smell--silver. He had silver bullets. Any doubts about the truth of his claims and intentions vanished. He hunted lycanthropes and vampires, and if he was alive enough to use the plural on that, he knew what he was doing.
I was still on the air. I was getting the show to end all shows, interviewing my own potential killer live on national syndicated radio. So was I nervous? I talked faster. Words were my weapons, like Cormac's guns were to him. I could only hope my aim was as deadly.
"Hey Cormac. You ever have to deal with a PMSing werewolf?"
"Well, it's a real bitch."
He was right outside the door. All he had to do was lean in and pull the trigger. My fingers itched; my bones itched. I wanted to Change; I wanted to run. I could feel the wolf clawing at my rigidly held control, in self-defense, self-preservation. I could fight--but I wouldn't. Squeezing my trembling hands into fists, I held my breath. Matt crouched in a corner, his eyes wide.
Cormac chuckled. The sound was soft, almost indiscernible even to my heightened sense of hearing. The next sound I heard was a click--the safety of a handgun snapping back into place.
"Norville. Can I ask you a question?"
Was I going to live? Die? What? "Sure."
"What the hell kind of name is Kitty for a werewolf?"
My breath hissed. "Gimme a break, the name came first."
"I have a deal for you, Norville. I call off the contract if you don't press charges."
"All right," I said quickly. I was more interested in keeping my skin intact than pressing charges.
Cormac continued. "Your theory seems sound. But I'm going to do some checking. If you're wrong, I'll come back for you."
I swallowed. "That seems fair."
"And if you're right, we can both rub Arturo's face in it. Now, I suggest we both wait here for the cops to find us, then we can all explain things like reasonable people."
"Um, can I finish the show?"
Matt scrambled to the board. "Forty seconds left," he said.
Perfect timing. "Hey, listeners, I haven't forgotten about you. Seems this was all a misunderstanding, I think Cormac the bounty hunter and I have worked things out. The police are coming up the stairs as I speak. If this were a movie, the credits would be rolling. So that's it for 'The Midnight Hour.' Next week I have as my guest Senator Joseph Duke, sponsor of a bill in Congress that would require lycanthropes to register with the government and live in specially designated communities--read ghettos. I can't promise that it'll be nearly as exciting as it was tonight, but you never know. I'll do my best. Until then, this is Kitty Norville, voice of the night."
Matt started the closing credits, featuring a long, clear wolf-howl rich with the full moon. It was my own howl, recorded for the show when I first started out.
I pulled off the headset and rubbed my eyes. I should quit doing this. So much trouble. Was it worth my life? I should just quit. Naw. . . .
The hair on my neck tingled; I turned to see a man standing in the doorway, leaning on the frame. Even without the magnum in the holster strapped to his thigh, gunslinger style, he was scary: tall, six three, and broad, dressed in a black leather jacket, black t-shirt, worn jeans and thick, steel-toed biker boots. His mouth smirked under a neatly trimmed moustache. He held a shotgun tucked under his arm.
"That you?" he asked, indicating the last fading note of the wolf howl. He was about my age, mid-twenties. His eyes glinted, matching the humor of his suppressed grin.
I nodded, climbing to my feet, propping myself against the wall. Big, dangerous werewolf--yeah, that was me. I wanted a hot shower and a nap.
Cops were pounding down the hallway now, shouting something about weapons down and hands up. Cormac followed instructions, gun down and hands up, like he'd done this before.
"Norville, I hope you don't ever give me a reason to come after you," he said, before the police flooded the floor.
My smile was frozen and my knees were weak as the uniformed men arrived, surrounded him, and led him away.
I was the victim in this, and once the officers arrived and sorted things out, they treated me like it. Blanket, coffee, the works. They'd get a good mention on the show next week. The detective in charge escorted me down the emergency stairway himself. He very politely explained to me how I'd have to go the station, make a statement, sign the report, etc. I was a celebrity, I realized suddenly. Hey.
"By the way, there's a guy downstairs looking for you. Name of Carl? I told him he can talk to you after you go the station. This might take awhile, though."
Carl. Carl, that bastard. Took him long enough to figure out I was in trouble. And he called himself an alpha.
"That's fine. Take as long as you like. Carl can wait."
I smiled so my teeth showed.