CHAPTER FOUR - SCENT
Gareth lifted the handful of earth to his nose and drew in the scents it held. They were at the site of the second to last killing. It was the second to last, because the last had just occurred a few hours ago and the police and evidence technicians still swarmed there. Cassidy had reported the last killing to them when he, Jacob, Molly and Raj were on the road to Forest Glenn.
Gareth’s jaw had tightened letting out an audible crack as his teeth came together at the news. With all the grim faces in that car, he decided to tell the three pack members the one good thing that he knew, which was that there would be a new brother joining their pack soon.
“I was planning to tell you at the Circle tonight, but I do not believe we will be back in time,” Gareth had said.
“It would be even better if we could return with news of Mack’s death and a new brother among us,” Jacob had rumbled from the passenger seat of the Jeep.
“It would, but I do not want our new brother anywhere near Mack.” Gareth thought of those stunning red brown eyes. No, he did not want to such a one near Mack.
“It’s our first new member since … since Mack attacked us,” Molly said, her eyes barely visible through her curtain of hair. “It is a good sign, Gareth.”
“Yes, I hope it is,” Gareth answered.
His news had lifted the mood somewhat, but even with the knowledge of one good thing to come, the Jeep had remained silent during the remainder of the drive to Forest Glenn. Now as Gareth sniffed the earth where blood had flowed, searching for a week-old scent of his former Alpha, he held onto the thought of that new brother.
“Is it Mack?” Jacob’s asked. His rumbly deep voice was even deeper than normal. His massive arms were crossed over his broad chest and his tree-trunk like legs were spread wide apart as if he were a forbidding statue in the forest to warn people to come no farther. They would need Jacob’s strength if they were to go up against Mack and win.
Gareth let some of the dirt sift through his fingers and breathed in again. There was the rich, loamy smell of the forest floor and the sweet rot of vegetation and beneath that, faint but there, was the coppery tang of blood and beneath that …
“Yes,” Gareth said and he felt everyone around him tense.
He took in another deep breath. Mack’s scent had changed when he went Rogue going from a clean piney smell to a dank odor like something left in a moldy basement too long. He kept sniffing though, because he thought he caught wind of other scents there, too. He couldn’t quite figure out what they were, but they nagged at him. He felt he should know them, but somehow his mind was rejecting what he was picking up as impossible so he could not put his finger on the answer.
“One wonders why he needs so much meat. Is he just feeding on humans now?” Molly asked.
Her black hair hung down over her face with just the slightest parting in the very center to show a flash of intelligent gray eyes. She wore a simple sundress with green stripes and spaghetti straps. It made her already thin frame look almost emaciated. She appeared to all the world like some dreamy college student, which she was in a way. She was over one hundred years old and was working on her fifth PhD, but that hardly described her. For though Molly loved knowledge, she fought like no one else. Molly had gone up against Mack alone and survived. She had been so fierce that Mack had actually abandoned his fight with her to go after easier prey. Gareth had named her the new Scout of the pack, his old role, because of this indomitability.
“They say the desire for human flesh only grows in time for Rogues until it becomes all they can think about,” Raj remarked. “In some ways I am surprised that he has only killed six.”
Raj was dressed in a suit despite the heat and the location. Leaning against one of the trees with his arms elegantly crossed over his slender frame, he would have fit in far better on the streets of Paris, London or New York rather than in the middle of a forest. He actually preferred city life to the forest despite being a werewolf. He managed the pack’s investments, which included tea plantations in India, several wineries in Italy, restaurants in Tokyo, among many others. He often jetted around the world to make sure that all was going well with their investments. His ability to put people at ease as opposed to Jacob’s intimidating appearance and Molly’s fey one was one of the reasons why Gareth had asked Raj to come with them.
“He’s killed more than that,” Gareth answered neutrally. “But he hasn’t stayed in one place long enough – especially one place as relatively isolated as Forest Glenn – that it’s become obvious he’s been there. Also, I am guessing that his choice of victims has changed likely from those that society will not miss such as the homeless or prostitutes to those that can’t be ignored.”
“Why is he here though? Why is he staying in this place? It’s not as if Forest Glenn is a hot spot.” Raj waved a slender brown hand through the air. “It’s like he’s … held here in some way.”
Something clicked in Gareth’s mind at Raj’s questions. The scents that had eluded him, because they shouldn’t be, but somehow were there suddenly made complete sense. They were other werewolf scents, more than just Mack’s! He drew up sharply to his feet, which startled the others though their reactions were to go still rather than to fall back.
“He’s building a pack. Two … no, three are with him,” Gareth said. “That’s why he can’t leave here. One of them must be very young unable to travel well. Likely needs the familiarity of this forest.”
“But Rogues don’t have packs,” Molly pointed out.
“There has never been a Rogue Alpha,” Jacob grunted and shook his mane of long black hair. “We have no idea what Rogue Alphas do. So he could have a pack.”
“But why?” Raj’s golden toned skin reddened with sudden anger. “Why create another pack when he sought to destroy the one he already had?”
Raj had been out of the country when Mack had attacked the pack. The guilt of not being there, of not being able to protect his family, still weighed heavily upon him. It was the second family he had lost. His birth family had been killed during flooding caused by a huge typhoon. Only he had survived and that had triggered the Werewolf Gene in him.
“Because none of us was going to eat human flesh,” Jacob said. “I’m betting it’s a pack of Rogues.”
The thought of a pack of Rogues chilled Gareth and he was sure that the others felt the same. For now it wasn’t just having to kill one Rogue, but four. Pack members are devoted to their Alpha, will give their lives for him, in normal circumstances. Would the Rogues be like that with Mack? Getting to Mack and killing him just got that much harder.
“We’ll have to kill them, too, won’t we, Gareth?” Molly asked. Her voice was inflectionless. He wondered what a person who didn’t know Molly would think of that flat statement of fact.
Gareth nodded. “We have no choice.”
“He is ruining young wolves!” Raj sounded aghast. His sing song cadence reaching new highs. “He teaches them to eat humans. They do not know it is forbidden! Can we truly just hunt them down and destroy them? Is there no way to -- to uncorrupt them?”
Gareth felt the waste of it, too. There were so few werewolves. To have to kill four, three new ones especially, felt wrong on all sorts of levels.
“They can’t come back, Raj,” Molly said, again that soft flatness in her tone. She was already placing those three unknown new werewolves in the dead column of her mind. It was a way for her to deal with what they had to do. Molly wasn’t a cold person. Not exactly. But her ability to kill those that were threats? That made her an asset as a Scout. She was the exact opposite of Raj in temperament who was a wonderful bleeding heart. “Rogues need to be dealt with for the sake of all of us.”
Gareth held up a hand, interrupting the nascent fight. “First things first. We must find them.”
“Is there enough of a scent to go by to track them?” Jacob’s furrowed brow told Gareth that his keen nose wasn’t catching the faintest of scents he had found in the earth.
Gareth stared into the forest. He listened to the birdsong. He heard the scamper of paws on earth and wood and stone. There was a burbling brook nearby and mice were rustling in the underbrush.
“No, The air here has long been cleared of their scent. But maybe from the fresh site though,” Gareth finally answered.
“But the police are there. They won’t allow us to come and muck up their crime scene.” Raj pointed out.
“They believe these are wolf attacks and nothing more,” Gareth responded. “They could be done with their investigation of the site now.”
“If they aren’t, we could wait until they’re gone and then check it out,” Jacob said.
But Gareth shook his head. “I do not think we can delay. New werewolf with him or no, Mack may decide to leave this area. We can’t wait for another cluster of dead to alert us to his location. No more humans must die.”
“So what do we do?” Raj asked.
Gareth answered, “I have another plan. Actually several plans.”
The plans were relatively simple. Raj and Jacob were to go into town and see what they could ferret out from the locals. People saw things. They might not recognize what they saw as a threat, but the presence of four Rogues would not have gone completely unnoticed. For those that wouldn’t respond to Raj’s charms, Jacob’s intimidation very well might make people more forthcoming.
“Keep a low profile,” Gareth cautioned them.
Raj put a hand on Jacob’s shoulder that was almost higher off the ground than his head. “With Jacob here, we will be quite the unobtrusive pair.”
Jacob rolled his eyes. “That Armani suit will draw more attention than my size will in a town like Forest Glenn.”
“People will recognize my good taste.” Raj straightened his tie.
Jacob snorted this time. “They’ll see a preening peacock while I’ll be invisible in my plaid.” He was wearing tan shorts, a white t-shirt and a red plaid shirt on top of that. He didn’t seem to mind the heat much in it.
“Work it to your advantage.” Gareth allowed a grin to alight his face.
“If the boys are going to town, are we going to the last death scene?” Molly asked.
“So what’s the plan for us?” she asked.
“You need to change,” he said.
Her eyebrows rose and a smile curled her lips. “I’m assuming you don’t mean change into another outfit.”
Molly was to change into her wolf form and she was to pretend to be a tracker dog in the event the police were still on the scene. Gareth would offer their services, but even if the police turned him down – which they likely would – they would get near enough to find a scent before they were turned away.
“Do you need us to drive you to the last site?” Jacob asked after Gareth had tossed him the keys to the Jeep.
Gareth shook his head. “The location isn’t far away and I want to get a feel for this forest.”
Jacob and Raj started to trundle off towards the Jeep, still poking at one another good naturedly when Molly called them back.
“I need you to take my things and keep them in the car,” she explained.
Molly then began to undress. She stepped out of her sandals and unashamedly pulled off her sundress and handed both to Raj. Her bra and panties followed. She tossed those on top of the pile that Raj already carried.
Unlike what was shown in the movies and on television, the change into one’s wolf form wasn’t painful. It didn’t involve the breaking of limbs, the tearing of skin, or the rearranging of organs. Instead, a mist obscured the person for a moment and then the person was replaced by their wolf. That is exactly what happened with Molly. She was there and then a gray and white wolf was standing on four paws in her place. Besides being his Scout and being naturally more attuned to tracking, he had chosen Molly to accompany him, because she wasn’t as large as most werewolves were. She almost could be mistaken for a dog by the uneducated. Almost.
“I’ll call you when we’re ready for a pickup,” Gareth said and waved Raj and Jacob off as Molly padded to his side.
The two of them walked silently through the forest. The light slanted through the treetops, leaving little pools of sunlight in their path. He cast his senses out. Each forest had its own feel, even those as similar as the one here and the one that surrounded Fallowmere. These two forests could be as different as night and day. In this case, the forest felt silent and stripped of life unlike by Fallowmere where the forest pulsed with life. This made sense with four alpha predators on the loose. Gareth sensed the forest’s fear and he did not like it.
Molly often roamed ahead of him, protecting him, he knew. But she appeared by his side as they neared the site of the last killing. He saw a flicker of yellow ahead of them and a line of blue-gray that sliced through the forest like an artery. The yellow was a piece of crime scene tape stretched between two trees while the slice of blue-gray was the highway. He saw Molly’s ears twitch as she took in how close the kill site was to civilization.
Bold. Mack is being bold … or sloppy. Why leave a kill so near to the road that people could find it? It is almost as if he is taunting the humans. Look what I’ve done! Find out what I am! Come and get me!If this is true then it just shows how far he’s fallen from the man he was before.
“Gareth,” Mack had said after one of the younger werewolves in the pack had changed too near a group of campers and had almost been seen. “If the humans ever find out about us, the luckiest of us will be killed. The others will be experimented on and never see the light of day. Even if we manage the way we introduce ourselves to humanity, there are huge risks.”
Gareth focused back on the present moment as a large deputy with the name tag identifying him as Reynolds caught sight of him. The man immediately scowled and stomped towards him, bellowing something about what he was doing there and who was he and didn’t he see this was a crime scene. To some people this show of aggression would have had them retreating or getting angry in return. But Gareth saw where it came from. Despite his size, Reynolds was no Alpha. He wasn’t a Beta either. He was middle of the pack, but felt somehow because he’d been born big that he should be more and had been disappointed all his life about not meeting his own expectations. That caused him to lash out and bully all he could. Gareth knew this because he’d met many a man like Reynolds.
Gareth stood perfectly still as the deputy got up into his personal space.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Reynolds shouted into Gareth’s face.
He had asked so many questions and made so many contradictory commands like stay and leave that even if Gareth had been willing to comply, he wouldn’t have been able to.
“I hear you,” Gareth kept his voice very low. Not dangerous. He didn’t need to be.
Molly moved a little to the side so that she could take Reynolds down in one leap. He made the faintest movements with the fingers of his left hand to let her know not to attack. He made another movement to indicate she should creep over to the crime scene and scent the area. Already, his nose was filled with a myriad of smells. He was sorting through them as the deputy addressed him.
“Then why are you not answering my questions?” Reynolds scowled.
“Because you are not the one in charge,” Gareth answered. “And I do not wish to repeat myself.”
Reynolds’ face purpled and he tried to loom over Gareth. “I am a deputy and you will respect –”
“I respect your badge, but you are not the one who makes the decisions here.” Gareth was shorter than Reynolds by a couple of inches, but he was far broader and in much better shape. Even if he were not an Alpha and a werewolf he would have no concerns about this man’s attempts to dominate him.
Reynolds purpled even more. Clearly, he knew that Gareth was right, but didn’t know how Gareth knew that. “I am in charge –”
“No, she is.” Gareth tipped his head to the side to indicate the female officer that had approached almost silently.
“Reynolds, I do think this is a record day for you being rude to our citizenry,” the woman with ginger hair and startling green eyes said. She was small, but she was an Alpha. He could scent it on her.
Reynolds stood for half a second more in Gareth’s personal space. They both heard her open her mouth to say his name again, but before she could, Reynolds stepped back a few feet. Gareth slowly took his gaze off of Reynolds and turned it to the sheriff.
She was looking at him warily. She, too, recognized an Alpha. He was not someone that would accept her protection and she knew it. But to her credit she didn’t allow her wariness to turn into unnecessary aggression.
“Now, my name is Sheriff Fairweather, and yours?” she asked crisply.
“Gareth,” he answered simply.
“What brings you over here, Gareth?” He could feel her desire to ask him his last name, but she didn’t have cause to really.
“I’m here to help,” he said.
Reynolds sneered, “What help could you give us? You’re not law enforcement.”
“No, I’m not,” he answered. His appearance would have told them both that. “I’m a tracker.”
“A tracker?” the sheriff repeated curiously.
“Another hunter who thinks he can run our wolf problem down? As if we don’t already have our own –” Reynolds began and then he noticed Molly who had just returned. Her tail was up and he knew that she had a scent trail. Reynolds literally jumped away from her even as she glided up beside Gareth and stayed by him, making no aggressive move.
“Molly and I can help you,” he said, which was true, but in the unlikely event that they took up his offer of help he and Molly would lead them well away from where the scents actually led. They couldn’t have law enforcement finding a werewolf den.
“That’s – that’s a pretty big dog!” Reynolds swallowed and edged towards the sheriff. “We have leash laws you know!”
“In town there are laws, but we aren’t in town,” Gareth answered civilly. Mack had always made it a habit to know the laws in regards to animals in a 100 mile radius from Fallowmere and Gareth had followed suit. Mack had been considering telling them to all wear collars when they changed so that if people caught sight of them they’d think they were pets. But no one in the pack was keen on having anything around their necks.
The sheriff stared at Molly speculatively. “That’s not a dog. That’s a wolf.”
Reynolds literally danced behind her and his hand went to the butt of his gun. “A WOLF?!”
“Yes, she is, but not the one you’re look for,” Gareth answered.
“Having a wild animal as a pet is unwise.” The sheriff’s grass green eyes rose to his face.
“Only if you don’t respect what they are,” he answered her even as Molly stayed perfectly still by his side, more obedient than the most domesticated dog.
“Well, we appreciate your offer, but we have a tracking team ourselves,” she said quietly. “Are you staying in town?”
“Don’t know yet,” he admitted.
“The hotel’s full so you won’t have much luck finding a bed for the night in Forest Glenn,” she offered. “The nearest town’s about 20 miles away. You might get something there, but you might not. Best to leave now and see if you can find a spot for yourself.”
He read between the lines that she wanted him to leave Forest Glenn and not return. She sensed that he was not only not under her protection, he didn’t need to be a part of her “pack”, but would likely cause trouble. She was right though not in the way she thought about the last part.
“Thank you for the advice,” he responded neutrally.
She gave him a long stare and then dropped her gaze to Molly. “You might want to put a leash on her even if it isn’t required, Gareth. People are very edgy about wolves around here. Don’t want her mistaken for the one causing all the trouble.”
He tipped his head to her and turned on his heel, walking slowly deeper into the woods. He felt both of their eyes on him and Molly, but he did not turn around. Molly had the scent and he thought he might have found it, too. There was a rotten musk that drifted just underneath the scent of flowers. He was about to call Jacob and let him and Raj know about finding a scent when the phone in the back pocket of his jeans vibrated. He pulled it out. It was Jacob.
“What’s going on, Jacob?” he asked the moment he put the phone to his ear.
“You need to get to town,” Jacob’s voice was cast so low that it would have been hard to hear him without his werewolf senses.
“Can’t. Molly’s found a scent trail –”
“You must, because the scent trail will lead here. To town,” Jacob’s voice was nearly frantic. “Gareth, we just saw Mack head into the damned local grocery store.”