To Die Fur (A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mystery)By: Dixie Lyle
Of course, by “Native American” I don’t mean what most people do. Ben Montain’s descendants may have looked just like the Cowichan tribe they interbred with, but they were actually supernatural beings that could assume human form. Generations later, those same supernatural abilities had surfaced in Ben’s family, and he was still learning how to deal with them. Ben Montain was a Thunderbird, and not the kind you drive. The kind that could make weather sit up and beg.
“Ben?” I said. There was just a touch of worry in my voice; the last time I saw him looking all dreamy and unfocused like that, he was in danger of losing control of a freak storm he’d just whipped up.
“Hmm?” He blinked and turned to look at me, his eyes alert.
I relaxed; false alarm. “Have you seen Tango around?”
“Not since I fed her this morning. Why?” His voice was casual, but I sensed something else underneath it.
Ben, the truth, and I had an odd relationship. Even though he was a supernatural being, and I had a supernatural occupation, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone—including him—about the details of my job. Some things he knew, others he didn’t: For instance, he knew it was my job to protect the graveyard, but not that Whiskey was a ghost or Tango a reincarnated feline. He didn’t know about Whiskey’s shape-shifting or Tango’s ability to talk to other species, or that I communicated with both of them telepathically. I was dying to tell him, but you know how it is when your boss wants one thing and you want another: You get away with as much as you can and hope you don’t get fired.
But Ben wasn’t stupid. Animal graveyard, supernatural weirdness, sudden arrival of two animals who spend a lot of time hanging around me: He knew they weren’t quite what they seemed. So far he’d been good about accepting my explanation of not being able to explain—but I could tell he was getting a little impatient.
“They’re not zombies, are they?” he asked, giving Whiskey a calculating look.
“Whiskey and Tango? No, they’re not zombies.”
[You could ask me to play dead. I can do that.]
“You sure? I mean, they don’t smell like they’re dead, but—”
“They’re not zombies, Ben.”
“Weresomethings? Like what? One’s a dog, one’s a cat. You think maybe they swap when the moon is full?”
He shrugged. “I was thinking more like they change into human form. I mean, that’s what my ancestors apparently did.”
“Yes, Ben, they’re werepeople. Please don’t call the police if you see a naked man rooting through the garbage or a nude woman up in a tree.”
[Please. As if I’d indulge in such boorish behavior.]
Ben shook his head and grinned ruefully. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t grill you, but—well, I’m just trying to figure this whole thing out, you know?”
I did know. Just like I knew Ben and I had skated right up to the edge of maybe seeing each other when both our lives got turned upside down and we were both too discombombulated to add a new relationship to the mix. I hadn’t even figured out if I wanted to give it another try, let alone how. Or if he felt the same.
“I’m working on that, okay? Believe me, I don’t like all this secrecy, either.”
“I know, I know. Not your call. Starting to get that, more and more.”
“Oh? How so?”
He sighed and leaned back against the counter. “Been doing some reading. And I finally tracked down my sister—she’s in Australia. We talked some.”
Anna, Ben’s sister, was the one who’d triggered his Thunderbird abilities before catching the next plane out of the country. She didn’t seem like the outback type, though—more like the slingback. “I thought she’d gone to Europe. What did she have to say for herself?”
“She apologized, for starters. For Anna, that’s a big deal—she’s not exactly what you’d call gracious. More like a get-out-of-my-way-before-I-knock-you-over kind of personality.”
“A force of nature?”
He chuckled. “Pretty much. You could pick just about any weather-related word and apply it to her at some point or another: icy, stormy, scorching, blustery … her being a Thunderbird makes a crazy kind of sense. To her, too—that’s why she took off in such a hurry. She was afraid she’d lose control and call up a hurricane or a blizzard or something.”
“So she flicked your on-switch and left?”
“That was never the plan. Her powers came to her gradually, over a period of weeks, and started when she got obsessed with the sky. She figured the same thing might happen to me, but she wasn’t sure. Thought it sounded crazy. Came here to warn me more than anything.”
“Then why’d she take off?”
Ben shook his head. “She had to. After our little visit, her powers came on stronger than ever. She panicked, took a cab straight to the airport, and tried to get as far away from me as possible. She thought distance might help both of us—all she could think of was what happens when warm and cold fronts collide in the atmosphere.”