by Kaye George
Retransformation won 1st place in a Mysterical-E contest for death at a convention in 2008.
Isabel Musik, former werewolf, knew she had to be on the right scent. Her nose was still keen even though she could not transform anymore.
There was no mistaking the odor that hung around that woman three stools away. Isabel eyed her, giving nothing away with her quick glance; a good-looking woman, with a mane of dark curly hair worn loose and to her shoulders. But the musk clung to her like dog hair on wool slacks.
Her name was Alice Jolie and she was the most famous author at the conference, since her last three children’s books had hit number one on the New York Times list. Soon, Isabel knew, she wouldn’t be doing these conferences. She would be charging whatever she wanted, wherever she wanted to go. Cruises, seminars in Hawaii, whatever.
The author leaned toward the handsome young man next to her and gave a tinkling little laugh. How cute, thought Isabel. I wonder what he would do if he could see her fangs.
She thought she’d better stay and see if anything bad happened to the young man. When a seat opened up she moved one stool closer.
Alice spoke softly, but not so low Isabel couldn’t hear. “It’s getting awfully late. Why don’t we go up to my room? I could show you some things.”
The young man said he’d like that. Isabel saw them as far as the elevator, but she couldn’t very well follow them into the hotel room. She hoped the guy made it through the night.
Nothing could touch Alice Jolie this afternoon. She was satisfied, sated. Her panel had gone well and people were lined up in the signing room fifteen deep for her signature. Alice signed with her usual flourish, put on her Famous Author Smile, and handed a copy of Wally Visits the Zoo to the shy girl. A mother pushed her pudgy little son forward and he thrust a copy of Wally Goes to the Dentist, her newest, at her.
“Say please,” urged the mother.
The boy murmured something that may have been “Please.”
“That’s all right.” Alice Jolie gave the little doughball her Understanding Author Smile and opened the book.
“We just love your books,” the mother gushed. “They’re not like other werewolf stories. They seem so real. Everyone says so.”
Alice put on her Grateful for Praise from the Little People Smile.
“The part in your last book where Wally is in front of the wolf cage in the zoo and they go crazy?”
The little boy chuckled. “Yeah. I like that.”
“You’ll like the scene where the dentist sees Wally’s fangs in this one, then,” said Alice.
But before she could sign, another woman shoved the little boy and his mother aside and planted herself in front of Alice, who lost all her smiles and gave her a genuine look of alarm.
“What did you do to my husband?” the woman demanded.
Alice couldn’t help but notice the woman hadn’t taken much trouble with her toilette. Although, she thought, if you’re going to dress off the rack like that, why bother? But, really, when was the last time this pathetic bitch had brushed her hair? It bunched in clumps. And those red-rimmed eyes. Surely she could have used drops.
But Alice was confused. “Um, who is your husband?”
“Don’t pretend with me.” Her voice rose with each word. Alice looked around. Half the people in the room were staring in her direction. “I saw you with him in the bar last night.”
Alice had met a lot of people at this conference, and several in the bar last night. She did remember one quite clearly, but he hadn’t told her he was married.
“His name is Brady Fox. You got drunk together.”
“I do not,” answered Alice, “get drunk.” Could this woman look any more like a hick? She was even chewing gum.
“Well he sure did. Where did he go? What did you do with him? He was drunk when he came to the room last night. But then he went out again and never came back. And now he’s dead. His body was found this morning in the alley behind the hotel.”
Yes, Brady was his name, but she sure wasn’t going to tell Wifey what she did with him. Her smirk and arched eyebrow drove the woman into high gear. The woman reached across the table and tried to grab her, but Alice jerked back and sprang to her feet, knocking her chair over.
Alice felt a tap on her shoulder. She whirled to see her agent, Kayley.
“Your time’s up,” said Kayley.
The unkempt woman backed up slightly.
“Thank God,” said Alice. But the autograph seekers were still there, and the pudgy little boy’s book lay on her table. She scribbled her name in the front without asking the boy his name, handed it back, and fled the signing room.
Wifey broke into sobs.
“Well,” said the pudgy little boy’s mother.
Danforth gritted his teeth as his ex-wife swept past him. She probably didn’t even notice he was there. And that was different than being married to her how? He stepped forward to comfort the poor woman whose husband had died. He knew dear Alice probably had something to do with it. He thought, not for the first time, that the world would be a better place without Alice Jolie in it.
Isabel had been watching from just outside the signing room. She’d noticed three werewolves in the line to get copies of Wally the Werewolf books autographed. Then the hysterical woman had confronted Alice Jolie, after which Alice had left the signing room and headed for the bar.
She knew Alice would probably be in the bar at least an hour. Isabel needed to get to work. She reached into the pocket of her hotel maid’s dress for the passkey, took the elevator to the fourth floor, and entered Jolie’s room. The other maids had reported an unusual number of shampoo bottles missing on the fourth floor.
Since Isabel herself used to be a werewolf, she knew Alice would require lots more shampoo than the normal female. Isabel stepped into the bathroom. She didn’t see a wastebasket full of tiny empty shampoo and conditioner bottles, though. Isabel shoved back the shower curtain and saw Alice’s razor. She had expected it to be clogged with coarse, dark hair. Nope. Could Isabel be wrong? Was Alice not a werewolf?
Her organization had been tracking Alice Jolie on her last three book signing tours and young, single men had turned up dead in her vicinity about once a week. The widely-held myth that werewolves transformed once a month was simply not true. Some changed every week, some once a month, some only a few times a year. They weren’t little wolf robots, all the same. Each had their own unique quirks and foibles.
The job Isabel had held, ever since her undoing, was an important one in the werewolf community. She was a Retransformer, switching troublesome werewolves back into humans. Sometimes a werewolf would get out of control and need curtailing. And in extreme cases, they would have to be retransformed.
Isabel herself had been out of control at one point a few years ago, but had been rescued by another former werewolf. She would forever be grateful to him and, to show her appreciation, became an active member of his team.
Isabel returned to the hotel room and shook her head. She could have sworn Alice was a werewolf and had been overdoing it with the missing men, biting them so hard they died instead of merely being converted. Alice had been seen with several of the missing men, all of whom the Organization detected as werewolves at the time, but their deaths could never be pinned on her. There is, in real life, no way to tell whether a dead person was a werewolf when alive, unless the person dies while in wolf form.
Now what? There were still those missing shampoos and conditioners. And the odor. That werewolf smell was unmistakable. Isabel was puzzled.
She got her coat from the maid’s closet and threw it on over her uniform, then made her way to the bar to observe Alice. She sat at the counter. For once, Alice was not sitting with a handsome young guy. Two women sat on each side of her and the two on her left did not look happy.
Alice’s ex-husband, Danforth, sat in a shadowy corner booth observing.
The young woman beside Alice gave a short shriek.
Kayley, Alice Jolie’s agent, almost fell off the barstool. “You what? What are you telling me?”
“I’m speaking plain English,” snipped Alice. “I said my new agent has negotiated a contract.”
The paper Kayley had just slid over to Alice lay lifeless on the bar. It was the renewal of her contract with Alice, who was just about to hit the biggest of the big time. And Kayley had lost her. “But we agreed. Last month you said to bring my renewal here and you would sign it.”
“I changed my mind.” Alice turned away from her toward her new agent, who had the good grace to give Kayley a sheepish look.
Kayley turned to Barb, the editor of Haunted House, the publisher of the Wally Werewolf books. “Did you know about this?”
“Are you kidding? I would have killed her if I’d known,” whispered Barb.
Kayley was confused. “You would be that mad about her changing agents?”
“She’s changing publishers too, sweetie. Why do you think he’s sitting there?” Barb pointed to the man who was chief editor of Waywith Words, a big rival of Haunted House. “She gave me the news just before you sat down.” Barb knocked back her martini and raised her glass toward to bartender for another.
Kayley hadn’t started her glass of wine yet, but raised hers for another, too. This looked like a good night to get smashed. There went her dreams of living life one notch or two up from where she’d always been, which was scraping by. In fact, in her most extreme fantasies she had pictured a life of ease, brought about by her star client, the most celebrated children’s author in the world, Alice Jolie.
She’d seen that line in the signing room. A little over half were children and their parents, but many were grownups, who seemed to enjoy Alice’s books as much as the kids did.
“There goes our ship,” slurred Barb. “Sailing away on a Waywith Words contract. Lesh drink to that.” She tossed back another martini.
Kayley started in on her wine in earnest.
Isabel, once again in her maid’s dress, straightened when Alice Jolie got off the elevator and headed for her room, 413. Her steps faltered a couple of times and she concentrated on her feet, making her way down the hall.
“What are you doing here?” asked Alice when she finally looked up and saw Isabel leaning on her door.
“I’m waiting for you. I have some questions.”
“I don’t need to answer the questions of a hotel maid.” Alice laughed at the thought and slipped her card into the slot.
“Yes you do. I’m not a hotel maid. Appearances can be deceiving.”
Alice looked truly puzzled. She pushed her door open and Isabel followed her into the room.
“Who are you then?” asked Alice, plopping onto the bed and pulling her shoes off.
“I work for the Organization, which has been checking you out for some time now,” began Isabel.
“Oh please. What organization?” Her tone sneered at the last word and she began to rub her feet.
“WWF. The Worldwide Wolf Federation.”
Alice grew still. She set both feet on the floor, her skin pale. Even though the only light turned on was the one by the door, Isabel hadn’t lost the night vision when she retransformed.
“You’ve heard of us?” asked Isabel.
“Uh, no. I haven’t. And what would you want with me?”
“We’re concerned about the deaths accompanying your travels. Our leaders are afraid you’re responsible. Several men, new werewolves, have been found dead after being seen in your company. The one found early this morning, not far from here? I’m sure he’s the young man you were in the bar with last night. And I smell werewolf in this room.”
Alice jumped up. “I’m not! Test me or something. I’m not a werewolf.”
“Why have you been seen in the company of them?”
“Research. I do research for my books. I use them for research.”
“You use them for research? How do you infect them?”
“I don’t do it myself.”
Isabel perked up. If she’d been in wolf form her ears would have pricked.
“I mean, I mean,” stuttered Alice, “I mean I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t,” said Isabel very slowly, “do it yourself?”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant.”
Isabel marched out of the room, rode the elevator down, and left the hotel. On the street she made a cell phone call. “Have her house checked,” she said, barely above a whisper. “Her home in Lycopolis. See if there’s one there.”
Kayley, the former agent of Alice Jolie, sat very still. She and Barb, the former editor of same, had moved to a booth when they could no longer balance well enough to stay on the barstools. Alice, her new agent, and her new editor had left. Kayley didn’t think she’d be able to get to her room tonight. She’d never been quite this drunk. She shushed Barb with a wave of her hand and pointed behind her. She wanted to hear the conversation in the next booth. She’d caught her name.
“Yeah, can you imagine her being that stupid?” Kayley recognized the New York accent of one of the male thriller writers.
“Oh, I don’t know if she’s stupid. Just oblivious, I think.” This was probably that chubby woman, a romance suspense author from the south.
“Whatever. Who would want her for an agent? She must have pissed off old Alice.”
“Well, Alice is pretty pissy herself. But, I see what you mean.”
“And that editor.” This much louder voice was unrecognized, but just as annoying as the other two. “How can you let someone like Jolie get away from you like that? Haunted House hasn’t even signed any new authors since Jolie started producing for them. That ship might just sink.”
She looked at Barb and mouthed, “We’re through.”
Barb took hold of her hands. “Sweetie, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always something you can do.”
They stumbled out together.
At the bar, Nannette, wife of the deceased Brady, blinked back her tears.
Danforth patted her arm. Even with her eyes red and in her disheveled state she was pretty. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “You must have loved your husband very much.”
“Well, not when he went off with people like your wife.” She spit her gum into a bar napkin.
“I’m not going to cry anymore.” Nannette wiped her eyes with another bar napkin. “It doesn’t do any good. I’ll get over it. I know she’s responsible. But no one will ever prove it.”
Danforth wondered if he should tell her she was probably right. That happened to a lot of men Alice hung around with. The cops had had their eye on her for a while, but nothing could ever be proved against her. Just that she’d been with them before they were found dead. It had taken law enforcement a long time to get wise to her, though, because no one missed any of them. Until now they’d all been unattached. She’d made a mistake with Brady Fox, though, Danforth thought. But could she be nailed for his death?
“I’m so tired,” said Nannette. “But I don’t think I can face my room. I haven’t been back since…since they had me identify his body.”
“Would you like me to come to your room with you?” He could see her consider that. He wasn’t sure himself whether it was a proposition or not. Something about Nannette made him feel protective. He wanted to keep her safe.
She nodded. Danforth slapped a couple of bills on the bar and steered her to the elevators.
When they reached her room on the sixth floor she fumbled for her keycard, then stuck it in the slot. Nothing happened. The light stayed red. She tried again.
“Here, let me,” said Danforth. But the light would not turn green. “Looks like you got a bad card.”
Nannette fished a stick of gum from her purse and chomped it.
“I’ll take it to the desk,” he said.
“Oh, don’t leave me alone.”
He touched her cheek. Her skin was so soft.
“Come on down with me.”
In the elevator he had an idea and punched 4.
“What are you doing?” asked Nannette.
“It’s all right. I want to try something.” She looked afraid. “I’ll never hurt you, Nannette. I just want to see something. Your husband drank with my ex-wife. If one of them went to the other one’s room at any point, the keys might have gotten switched. Let’s see if this fits Alice’s room.”
The elevator doors opened on the fourth floor. Danforth had been keeping track of Alice. In fact he had been following her from conference to conference, hoping to uncover some evidence the police could use against her. He knew her room was 413.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” said Nannette. She chewed her gum faster.
“Why not? If this fits—”
“That’s not legal, is it? To go into someone else’s room?” He started down the carpeted hallway. It was late and the rooms were all quiet. Most of the occupants were probably asleep.
She grabbed his sleeve. “No, don’t do that. Don’t go into her room.”
He still held the keycard. Nannette made a grab for it, but he slid it into the slot on the door to room 413. The light turned green.
“Just a minute.” He pushed the door a few inches and looked inside. She wasn’t far from the door. Danforth gave Nannette a curious look. Alice Jolie lay sprawled on the floor in an awkward position. He stepped to her and rolled her over to see if she could be revived.
This was something new, thought Kayley. An honest-to-god crime scene at a mystery conference. But she felt awful. Though she had sobered up as soon as the cop announced Alice was dead and that he would question her as soon as he finished with Alice’s new agent and editor, a pounding headache was making it hard to hold her head up and keep her eyes open.
The police had commandeered the signing room. The overhead lights glared unnecessarily. Did they have to have all of them on?
“Tell me again when you last saw her.”
“Right after?” His voice was growly and echoed off the insides of her sore head.
“Right after she told me about her new contract.”
“She changed agents, right?”
“I’m sure you already know that. Could you speak a little more softly please?”
“Don’t go anywhere.”
“I’m not sorry she’s dead, but I didn’t kill her.”
She watched him interrogate Barb. It looked like he suspected her, too. Was it possible he thought they did it together?
Danforth shifted in his seat.
“I’m not sorry she’s dead.”
“That’s what everyone has said so far,” said the policeman with the five o’clock shadow that looked like it needed shaving every hour. Danforth wondered if he was a werewolf. “Were you out of the hotel at all yesterday? Last night or this morning?”
“No, I’ve been inside since the conference started.”
“That’s not what the desk clerk says.”
The cop waited. Danforth fell into the silence. “Oh, I did step out last night for a moment.” Damn, that’s what the cop wanted him to do, fill the empty spaces. “I just needed a breath of air.” There, he was doing it again. Now he would shut up.
Another detective approached and drew Bluebeard aside. After a brief conversation the grilling resumed. “And where have you been tonight?”
“I’ve been with, um, with…”
“Yeah? Nannette Fox? The wife of the dead guy? Did you help her?”
“What? Help her what?”
“Her chewing gum was found underneath the body. It looks like Nannette Fox killed Alice Jolie.”
“But I–” He thought he’d scraped it all up. He must have missed some.
Isabel still had her maid uniform on. It came in very handy, especially the passkey in the pocket. The more she thought about the smell in Alice’s room, the harder she thought. She took the elevator up to four and stood outside 413. There was no way she could go in now. The crime scene tape sealed the door and they would surely be able to tell if she entered.
Nannette Fox had admitted bashing in the head of Alice. But how had Alice Jolie managed to kill Nannette’s husband, Brady? And why did the room smell of werewolf?
Isabel closed her eyes and pictured the room: king bed, dresser, desk, and door to the–
Wait! There was an adjoining room. The bolt had been thrown, the door locked from Alice’s side, but what about the other room?
Isabel opened the next door room, 411. The stench assaulted her. Her eyes adjusted to the dark quickly and her heart sank at what she saw.
A large collapsible cage occupied much of the floor space. And inside, curled in the corner, was a very angry werewolf. He snarled at Isabel and his fangs glistened with blood, Brady Fox’s blood, Isabel felt sure.
She got busy. This guy needed a retransformation.
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