Part 2: The Missing Girl

Reading Time Approx: 8 minutes

My phonecall to the Shepherdstown police was singularly lacking in useful information. They were polite but particularly uninformative about the missing Naomi. Ongoing investigation; pursuing a few leads; no comment.  Someone had just done a refresher course on how to deal with the press. Oh yes, I may have given them the impression that I was a reporter of some sort. It’s not technically true, but I hear everyone is a journalist these days.

Perhaps the total lack of information I received was nature’s way of paying me back for my white lie. Karmic retribution or not what was clear was that the only thing that was going to get me a solid lead to follow was going to Shepherdstown myself. Something I wasn’t very keen on doing until I had a better grasp on the whole werewolf thing.

Fortunately Mercedes was online and already working on my request.

Mercedes: Werewolves in Shepherdstown… lots of references. Silver bullets don’t work!

A bit vague, but certainly good to know. Not that I was likely to be shooting them with silver bullets anyway. I don’t own a gun and I’d probably just shoot myself in the foot if I did. Also, silver is kind of expensive. Anyway I was more interested in keeping them away than fighting them. Which is when I remembered something useful.

I hurried over to my spice rack and started hunting through it. Aconite, often used in homeopathic remedies and more commonly known as… Wolfsbane. Granted I wasn’t quite sure how I would apply it in this tiny pill form, but something was better than nothing.

And yes I keep pills in my spice rack. It’s hard to maintain fresh herbs all the time and while dried or processed may not be as powerful a suitably skilled wizard can always do something with it.

Pills in pocket, I started gathering the rest of my essentials kit. Flashlight, phone (mainly for the GPS, I get lost a lot) and jacket. Yeah it’s not much of an emergency kit I know. I must admit that I have a tendency to trust to luck and wing it rather more than is good for me. While I was getting myself ready Mercedes sent me another of her pearls of wisdom.

Mercedes: Notoriously short tempered. Do not provoke.

Now do I strike you as the sort of person who provokes people (or wolves)? Don’t answer that.

The drive to Shepherdstown takes a little less than thirty minutes from my house.  It follows the sort of road that can only exist if you just stick asphalt on top of cart tracks. Seriously there are less twists and turns in some rollercoasters than there are in that particular road. If you could drive straight, it would probably only take fifteen minutes.

The town itself is probably best described as picturesque. Apart from students, tourism is the next biggest activity. Amongst other things Shepherdstown claims to be the oldest town in the state of West Virginia. I ought to take enough interest in my surroundings some time to find out if that’s true. Sounds credible though. The point I’m trying to make is that the center of Shepherdstown is full of narrow streets, generally packed with pedestrians and featuring some attractive buildings. It’s quite pleasant if you don’t have to live there.

Fortunately a little further out you have the standard elements of American life. I’m talking about chain stores with large parking lots of course and even better strip malls with empty buildings. And that’s where I carefully parked my, well used, car before going to investigate Naomi’s living quarters. I’m not a complete idiot. You don’t park your car in front of the place you’re about to try and break into. Well… not if it’s a car you own anyway.

West Virginia in summer is hot. Sticky, humid, hot. So by the time I had walked to Naomi’s apartment I was distinctly sweaty and short tempered. I still didn’t know exactly what Steven had got me into and I was already coming up with dozens of reasons why I should just go home and not worry about it anymore.

Starting with the fact that her door was locked. But that’s a particularly feeble excuse when you’re a wizard. I didn’t waste time trying the buzzer. Mechanical things like locks are… suggestible. They are designed to do something and with a little encouragement, they can be made to do it. Placing my hand against the lock I concentrated for a moment and felt the mechanism through the metal. It opened with a click and I smiled with undeserved self-satisfaction. A child’s trick, but a very useful one.

I repeated the trick on the inner door and was in Naomi’s apartment in a matter of minutes. Honestly I’m surprised there aren’t more magically assisted burglaries.

I could tell immediately that she hadn’t been here for some time. There’s a stale smell that homes get when they aren’t being lived in or aired out on a regular basis. A thin layer of dust coated most of the surfaces, but that didn’t tell me much. In my experience students aren’t exactly renowned for their cleaning skills.

In this case, however, the apartment was in fact quite orderly. There were no dirty dishes in the sink. No clothes on the floor. Of course it was a girl’s apartment. That probably made a difference. There was nothing to suggest that Naomi had left in a hurry. The place looked as though she could be back at any moment. So just how long exactly had she been gone.

A quick check of the fridge and its contents confirmed that it had been some time since anyone was staying here regularly. Her closet was full of clothes though. The picture I was building in my head was a grim one. If this was not a planned absence or an unexpected trip that required a frantic departure, then what was it? Did she have an accident somewhere perhaps? Certainly there was plenty of countryside to get lost in round here. Quite a few spots without any cellphone signals even. Or did werewolves have her.

There wasn’t any evidence of werewolves. Any more than there was evidence of anything. Steven had been annoyingly vague about the werewolves. He just muttered something about emails and some book she had been reading. A book he wasn’t able to name. Perhaps it was still around here somewhere?

I spun round scanning the apartment for likely drawers to investigate. It was a two room affair kitchen/livingroom plus bedroom. If the book was that interesting to her she’d probably have kept it out here somewhere. Pulling open a drawer I started to rummage through it.

It was at this moment that the apartment door swung open. I should probably have locked it again, but I’m not much of a detective. I turned to face the new arrival, a blonde haired girl, maybe twenty at most and clearly a student from the way she dressed.

“Ah… hi!” I said. I’m known for my snappy dialogue.

“Who are you?” She demanded, clearly suspicious. I tried to casually stuff the contents of the drawer back in a non-suspicious way. I’m not sure I pulled it off.

“Douglas Brodie.” I offered up a smile as I walked towards her, hand extended. She backed away slightly and I hastily stopped realizing that this friendly gesture might come across rather differently if I was a lone woman facing off against an unknown intruder.

“I’m a friend of Steven’s…” I tried hoping that a familiar name would set her at ease. To my relief she seemed to relax at least slightly. “He’s very worried about Naomi.” I pressed on. “I’m trying to find out what happened to her. Are you a friend of hers?”

She shook her head. “Not really. I live across the hall. We talked… sometimes. I’m Julia.”

I nodded in what I hoped was an understanding fashion. “When did you last see her?”

“Maybe a couple of weeks ago now.” She pushed her hair back off her face with a nervous gesture “I thought she’d just gone home until the cops showed up.”

“Was she talking about going home?

“Well… no. But she had stopped going to class. I figured she was… homesick or something. You know?”

“Thanks.” I smiled as I offered her one of my business cards. “If you happen to see or remember something. Would you let me know?”

“Sure.” She nodded, taking the card in that half-hearted fashion of a person who has no intention whatsoever of even reading it but doesn’t want to be so rude as to refuse it.

I glanced around the apartment again wondering if there was anything else to be found here. But now didn’t seem like the time. Stepping past Julia I stood in the hallway and waited determinedly until she also left Naomi’s apartment. At which point I grasped the door handle and pulled it closed. The lock clicked audibly.

Giving Julia a last smile I headed back out onto the street.

Back at my car, and even more sweaty than before, I let out a curse. Julia had interrupted me before I could properly search the apartment to find that book. Or, indeed, apply some of my other talents to the situation. Sure I could go back, but no doubt she would be keeping an eye or an ear open for me now. Maybe she believed me, but probably not. I wouldn’t have.

But there was still the whole business about werewolves. A quick check on my phone confirmed that no, tonight was not a full moon. Tomorrow would be though. Which meant I should get back into that apartment tonight.

I drove home with the casual recklessness of someone who has made this particular drive a few times too often and wants to get back to his house. There was time for food and maybe a nap before I had to play burglar. Hunger won out over taste and I stopped at McDonalds on the way home to stuff some reprocessed meat and freeze dried potatoes into my stomach. Nutritious no, but it kept me going.

Mercedes was online when I got home, and she’d been doing her research.

Mercedes: There have been 237 reported werewolf sightings in Jefferson County within the last 10 years!

DBrodie: That seems… high.

Mercedes: Very. I’m plotting them all on Google Maps and guess where the center is?

DBrodie: Shepherdstown?

Mercedes:  Man you really live out in the sticks don’t you?

DBrodie: I’ve never seen any werewolf reports in the local papers.

Mercedes: There aren’t any. I’m pulling police reports.

DBrodie: That’s a little… suspicious.

Mercedes: Very. Be careful.

The careful thing to do would clearly have been to stay at home. And believe me I did consider it. But I couldn’t do it. That damn geas. It’s like a compulsion. And besides with all this talk of werewolves, now I was curious to find out exactly what was going on in Shepherdstown and who was going to so much trouble to cover it all up.

But if I couldn’t do the careful thing, I could at least do the smart thing and go prepared. I’m not what you’d call a powerful wizard. I haven’t been doing this for very long and it’s quite difficult. But I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. And one of the first things I learned was to prep some spells. Because it’s hard to do complex magic under pressure. The trick is to set it all up and key it to a simple word or gesture.

In this particular situation, the camouflage spell seemed ideal. You can’t make yourself invisible. The laws of physics apply to magic. Well, sort of. But you can discourage people from looking at you. In effect you just become part of the scenery. It’s a fairly simple spell that relies mainly on not attracting people’s attention. Basically if you start shouting someone will notice.

There are more sophisticated variations, but they’re also more difficult to pull off. Plus I had all the components for the basic spell and it only took half an hour to prepare.

I followed the steps meticulously, refusing to let myself get distracted or weaken the spell in any way. All I needed was an anchor object. Something to tie the spell to me for as long as I needed. Glancing around my eyes landed on a 20-sided die left over from one game or another. A perfectly innocuous looking object. I bound the spell and slipped the die into my pocket.

Just enough time for that nap before I set off on the night’s adventures.





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