The Dragon Done Itedited by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick



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Dead Wolf in a HatGraham EdwardsThe man in the hat burst through my office door, closely followed by the bullet that killed him.Don't you just hate that?Me, I kept my feet up on the desk. Sometimes it just doesn't do to move too fast. All the same, even before the big guy hit the floor I was reaching for the desk holster. I didn't release it though, not yet. I just held my finger over the lever and stared out the open door into the rain.It's hard to see much through the rain. Of course, it's always raining here, which is why I never use the door. There's more than one way in and out of this office. It's ten years now since I took over the business and I've already found eighty-nine exits. I figure that's around half. I use whichever one suits the case. The door I leave to the clients.So there I was, feet on top of the desk, fingers itching underneath it, with rain lashing in and a man with a hat on, breathing his last on the floor. I kept one eye on the rain and flicked the other towards my visitor."You all right, buddy?" I said.What came out of the guy's mouth was muffled, on account of his face being buried in the carpet. But I did catch two words: ". . . hilfe . . ." and ". . . knock . . ."Another bullet cut through the rain. Whining like a mosquito, it struck the steel sole of my left shoe and ricocheted into the coffee-machine. Like I said, it doesn't always do to move too fast.With a shriek, the machine shattered, spraying hot coffee up the wall. I ground my teeth in fury—that coffee-machine and I went back a long, long way. But still I didn't move.I let the next four bullets hit my feet before pulling the lever. The desk holster launched the little pistol into my hand. Then I moved.Rolling off the chair, I jumped the man in the hat and shouldered the door shut. Just in time: the invisible shooter had already reloaded. Six fresh bullets bounced off the glass, just below my nameplate. I told the door to stay shut, no matter what, and heard the satisfying clicking sounds as it dead-bolted itself into the floor.Knowing I was safe, I knelt down beside my visitor. The carpet he'd buried his face in was now soaked in blood as well as rainwater. Each time he breathed out he made little red bubbles. He made three more bubbles before giving up for good.Great. Now I had a corpse on my hands, my office was a crime scene and I had to get my carpet cleaned—again.And things just kept getting better.I was about to roll the stiff on to his back, so as to get a good look at his face, when he started to twitch. Undead, I thought at once. It was the obvious conclusion. Feeling in need of a little extra protection, I tucked the pistol into my shoulder holster and grabbed my coat off the wall. Some folk might think it odd that a guy like me should turn to his coat in times of trial but, trust me, that coat and I go back even further than the coffee-machine.I turned the coat inside-out four times until its lining was made of titanium (chain links, herringbone weave) and put it on.When I turned back to look at the dead man in the hat, he was already halfway through changing into a wolf.Okay, a word about werewolves. You've seen it all before. We all have. Feet stretching out to become enormous paws, fur exploding everywhere, this great, fanged muzzle punching out from inside the guy's jaw . . . all accompanied by a sound like a championship knuckle-cracking team making popcorn in a fireworks factory. Yeah, there was all that—there always is—but what most folk don't realize is that there's this weird kind of beauty to it all. No really, trust me, there is.It roots me to the spot, is what I'm trying to say. Always has done. Seeing a body change like that, whether it's alive or dead, is like getting a glimpse of something you're not meant to see. Not that I want to get all sappy about it—it just gets to me, you know?The thing is, it's not like it's really the body that's doing the changing. It's like the body is being changed from outside. Like there's this invisible sculptor picking things up and molding them into something else, rearranging them, whittling them like soft wood and pressing them like warm clay, only it's happening inside as well as outside. But, get this: it's gentle. The noise is moderately alarming, no question, but to look at . . . it's like poetry. And whenever I'm privileged enough to witness it, I get to thinking about who that sculptor might be, and where he might be, and what else he might get up to in his spare time . . . Enough already. The changeover routine got to me a little, that's all you need to know. I stood like a tree while the dead guy in a hat turned into a dead wolf in a hat. When it was over, I snapped myself out of it and went over to examine the remolded corpse.The first thing I did was check the beast's pulse. The last thing I wanted in my office was a gun-shot werewolf waking up and deciding lunch was served. I held my breath until I was happy the werewolf didn't have any of its own left to hold, then I set about working out what pack it belonged to.They all belong to a pack, you see. Like a clan—it's a family thing. There are hundreds of packs scattered, mostly across Europe, although there's a big cluster in Siberia too. Each pack has its own badge. The badges are a kind of uniform, but they have a more important function too: without its badge, a werewolf can't change.Another little-known fact here.A werewolf needs the full moon to change, sure, but it also needs its badge. Without the badge: no cracking bones, no explosion of fur, no mystical sculptor doing the muzzle-stretch thing. Oh, and while I'm revealing trade secrets, I'll bet you didn't know that a werewolf is not a human who turns into a wolf. It's the other way round. So, when they die, it's different than what most folk expect. The old cliche of the werewolf melting back to human form the instant it's killed is all backwards. If you don't believe me, just remember what happened to the man in the hat when he finally breathed his last red bubble on my office carpet.So: pack badges. They vary. There's the Halskettewolfen pack, for example. They have to put on a gold necklace before they can change (they're closely related to the infamous Boxenwolfen, who use special belts). In Italy you have the Lupo-guanto with their metal gloves, in England the cravat-wearing Tyedogs, in Spain the Lobolengua, who can only change their form when they put in these crazy tongue-piercings. That's just grotesque, if you ask me.I set to work trying to identify the wolf on my floor.The words the man had spoken before he died had sounded German, and even through the carpet I knew I'd heard an eastern Bavarian accent. Which narrowed it down to three: my visitor was either a Ringhund, a Glasaugewolf or a Knopfw

lf. I checked: there were no rings on any of the beast's paws and both its eyes looked natural enough. Knopfwolf, then.I checked every button on that damned beast—trenchcoat, cuffs and, yes, even its fly—and every single one came up blank. Not a Knopfwolf then.I sat back, careful to avoid the red stain on the floor, and scratched my head. Then I had an idea.I took the hat off the dead wolf's head, looked inside the lining and saw the official seal of a werewolf pack I'd never heard of in my life: the Helmwolf Bruderschaft.I've had many strange visitors come out of the rain and into my office, but never a werewolf in a hat. I took time out then to clear up the mess the shooter had made of my coffee-machine. It wasn't as bad as I'd thought. The glass jug was history but the rest of the workings looked in good shape. The coffee had stripped the paint where it splattered up the wall, but I'd never really liked that wall in the first place. And at least now it looked like the other walls. Some folk call my office shabby; me, I call it my office."You'll be okay, buddy," I whispered to the coffee-machine as I set it straight on the filing cabinet again. "New jug, fresh grounds, you'll be right as rain in no time."It burped wearily and I turned my attention back to the dead werewolf."Okay, buddy," I said to the corpse. "Some questions. One. What brought you through my door? Two. Who shot you and why? Three. Hilfe I understand—that means help, but what did you want to knock? Four. Why have I never heard of the Helmwolfen?"In truth, I was feeling rattled. I'd thought I knew everything there was to know about werewolves. Call it pride if you like—I just call it knowing my trade. Not knowing about the Helmwolfen bugged me even more than having a corpse on my floor so, even though I knew I should be calling the cops, I did the next best thing: I started looking through the Big Dictionary.All the books on my shelf are for show except one: the Big Dictionary. Naked Singularities and Their Application to the Law I know by heart and Self-Defense in Dimensionally Unstable Environments is just for beginners. You'll occasionally catch me leafing through What to Look for in a Femme Fatale but, if I'm honest, that's only for the pictures. But the Big Dictionary . . . well, it's my Bible.I cracked the spine backwards until the cover read V to X, then turned it to W. All the werewolf packs were listed alphabetically but, surprise surprise, no mention of the Helmfwolfen. The list went straight from Hatchet-wolf to Hosenhund without taking a breath.I closed the book and cracked the spine again until it was an atlas. A quick scan of Bavaria gave me no clues, so I closed and cracked it a third time until it was a history of shapeshifters. Still nothing.I sighed, put the Big Dictionary back on the shelf and went to pick up the phone. What I saw outside my office door stopped me in my tracks.It was a femme, and she sure was looking fatale.She was tall—tall enough so I'd have had to stand on a box to meet her eye. A long, white sweater, soaked through by the rain, clung to her curves all the way down to her knees. Beneath it there was nothing but her. Water on the glass obscured her face. One hand was perched on her hip, the other was holding a handgun—a big one—up against the door. As I watched, she fired a bullet at point-blank range into the glass.The door rang like a bell and I saw the bullet ricochet, carving a thin trail of vapor through the rain. It missed the dame's left ear by an inch, maybe two."Hey, lady . . ." I began. Then she fired again.This time, when the bullet ricocheted, it took a chunk out of the sidewalk. It also took a chunk out of the glass."Hey," I said again, "what's with the—?"Another bullet. Another sliver of glass.The dame fired four more bullets, reloaded quickly and calmly, then started firing again.The door was tough enough to take this kind of punishment for a while, but not forever. I shot a glance at the filing cabinet—I have my own arsenal of weapons in the second drawer up—but something made me slide my gaze up to the drawer above.Another bullet hit the door, then she wiped the glass clean and peered inside, showing me her face for the first time. As a rule I don't gasp. Not unless somebody gives me good reason. She did."Of all the dames!" I gasped. "It had to be you."I picked up the hat. Then, without thinking, I strode over to the filing cabinet and did something I hadn't done for nearly ten years: I opened the top drawer, folded myself in half and fell inside. It was just as bad as I remembered.I was falling through dark, bitter air. Icy winds tried to grab me with angry fingers. Way in the distance I could see flashes of what looked like lightning, but what sounded like a giant clearing its throat.I fell like this for what felt like a day. During that time I only blinked my eyes once.Then, slowly, something began to materialize out of the gloom: a pair of parallel silver lines, writhing like two snakes that had been shackled together but which hated each other's guts. They weren't snakes, of course; they were railroad tracks.The tracks came closer. The lightning still flashed, but now there was another light smearing its way towards me. It was centered on the tracks, and followed their jitterbug routine like it was glued to them. Which, in a way, it was.Soon I heard a rumbling sound, more metallic than the throat-clearing, twice as loud and getting louder all the time. The wind gusted, blasting into me from the same direction as the approaching smear of light. Then I heard a whistle, long and glutinous, and suddenly it was on me, an immense iron lobster with two hundred wheels, all interconnected with rods and dripping sinews and sprung cables and grinding cylinders. Brakes engaged and the mammoth train screeched to a halt. Steam erupted from a thousand greasy sphincters, oil oozed through toothsome grilles, chains with links as thick as my arm cracked like whips and flaming coals spilled from a great brazier perched high behind the funnel, half a mile above my head.And there I stood, just as amazed and daunted as I had been the first—and last—time, before the Search Engine.There was a sudden movement, halfway up, right behind the boiler. Something emerged, a little like a head, a little like a shadow."You comin' up?" The voice rolled down to me like syrup, with an afterbite of cheap bourbon.A ladder made from what looked like human thighbones rattled down in its wake. Reluctantly, I started to climb."I need to find something," I shouted when I was nearly at the top."Don't they all!" screamed the shadow. Inside the great cylindrical boiler, something crashed like an ocean liner hitting an iceberg.The Search Engine started to move again, quickly, all at once. The ladder was hurled backwards; grimly I clung on, crawling hand-over-hand along the last few rungs until something like a claw grabbed my shoulder and hauled me inside the cab.The thermometer dangling outside the cab read ten degrees shy of absolute zero. I watched as a tiny bird made from cosmic string perched briefly on the bracket before darting off into the void. Inside the cab it was hot as a furnace.The driver turned to me and spoke with something like a mouth."So, pilgrim, what ya searchin' for?"I shivered. If I'd stuck the thermometer into that voice the mercury would have dropped another six degrees.I held up the hat."I need to know where this came from," I said, working hard to keep my voice level. I am a professional, after all.The driver threw me something like a grin and bore down on a lever the size of a small crane. The Search Engine barrelled left, towards a nearby darkness."That everything ya want to know, pilgrim?" shouted the driver, standing suddenly tall on something like legs. With a mighty inhalation the Search Engine plunged into the blackness of the Tunnel of All Ends. Okay, so I'd seen the dame before. We went back a long way, she and I. Not as far as the coffee-machine, and she couldn't even compete with the filing cabinet. But it was a long way, all the same.It was seven years ago she first walked into my office. Same curves, different sweater. She must have seen the look on my face because the first thing she'd done was flash me the ring on her left hand, warning me off. But she'd also flashed me her legs when she sat down. And all through the conversation her eyes had bored into mine. Sometimes you just know, you know?The case had been simple enough. Her husband, who'd spent most of their marriage using her as a punching bag, had gotten himself locked away for his part in one of the biggest vault heists this side of the River Lethe. I knew his gang—everyone in the business did. They'd knocked off a score of places before finally coming unstuck at the Silverlode. The Silverlode is just the other side of the street from the Still Point of the Turning World, which is why they wanted to get into it so bad. A haul from the Silverlode is a good enough haul, but nobody's ever broken their way into the S.P.T.W.—I mean nobody. This gang figured if they could break into the Silverlode, maybe they could tunnel their way across the street into the S.P.T.W. Nobody knows what they might have come out with if they'd succeeded but one thing's for certain, they'd have been treated like gods. Well, maybe not gods. Titans, at the very least.They didn't even make it as far as the end of the street.All these places are on the Street of Fools and there's not many get past a Fool. No sooner had Cerberus started barking (and barking, and barking) than the tall guy who puts down pennies on the sidewalk sniffed them out and called down the thunder-birds. After that, they practically handed themselves in. Cerberus you probably know, but there's not many have heard of the guy with the pennies. I'll tell you about him another time; suffice it to say, if you ever see a penny lying on the sidewalk, my advice is to ignore the old rhyme and cross to the other side of the street. Preferably move to another town. Don't, whatever you do, pick it up.But I was telling you about the dame, the getaway driver's wife. He got life in Wulan Pen, naturally, but she told me he'd found a loophole, a way of getting to her at weekends. She couldn't prove anything because it was a temporal loophole, so he always managed to leave her apartment and get back to the pen fifteen minutes before he'd arrived, which meant he never showed up on any of the security cameras. But the bruises he gave her showed up all right. All the way up her legs, right up to her pantyhose. I never forgot those bruises.So I staked out the apartment, caught the husband and closed the loophole. Closed the case too. Open and shut, just the way I liked it.She liked it the same way as me, so we spent the night in the sack. Okay, maybe it was unprofessional, but a guy's got needs, right?Next morning, while she was making chicory coffee, I saw something under the mattress. It looked like a photograph, and here's one thing you should know about me: I'm never off-duty. Call it dedication, call it a curse. In this case, call it trouble.The picture showed the getaway car on the day of the heist. The guy behind the wheel wasn't the husband. It wasn't even a guy. It was the dame.She came through with the coffee, saw me with the photo and laughed."You can't prove anything," she said."You framed your own husband," I replied."My alibi's cast-iron.""What about the photo?""A sentimental reminder," she said, drawing a tiny gun from the garter around her right thigh. She wasn't wearing anything else so there was nowhere else she could have hidden a weapon.The gun held one bullet and she used it to shoot a hole in the photo, right where her face was. I tossed the ruined photo aside through a cloud of gunsmoke and chicory."You used me," I said. "Now that loophole's closed your husband's never getting out of there. And you're walking around free as a bird.""As an eagle," she laughed.As I brushed past her she pulled me close and kissed me once, brutally."See you around, mister," she whispered.And she did. Most years she came to me with some scam or other. Every time I told myself I wouldn't get involved. Every time I told myself she was a ruthless, heartless dame on the lookout only for herself. And every single time I fell for it. And her.Except this time.This time, I told myself, things were going to be different. The Tunnel of All Ends is the place to go when you want to find something out. Everything's down there, and I mean everything. Everything that ever happens gets recorded and filed away in some or other side alley and it stays there forever. Don't ask me how it works—something to do with a quantum inseparability link to a place called Stone—but the paperwork must be catastrophic because everything's there, categorized and cross-referred and waiting to be found. You just have to know where to look.Which is where the Search Engine comes in. It's ugly and terrifying but it's fast and it never fails.Unfortunately, the fare can be on the high side."There," said the driver, pointing out a long, shabby passage with something like a finger. At the far end, a tired-looking station platform sagged beneath flickering fluorescents. "Lycanthropia Terminus."Then the driver turned towards me, brandishing something like a hole punch, but more like a surgical instrument, and said the words I'd dreaded hearing this whole trip: "Tickets, please." By the time I folded myself back out of the filing cabinet, the dame had shot herself a neat, round hole in the door. She was about to reach through the hole to undo the latch. Dropping the hat, I marched over and did it for her. Her fingers brushed mine and our eyes met through the rain-streaked glass. Her lips parted and, so help me, I felt my heart do that familiar high-wire plunge.I pulled away from the door and slumped myself down behind the desk."You can let yourself in," I growled."I already did," she replied, her voice husky, maybe from the cold, maybe not. "May I sit down?"I shrugged. "Please yourself. You usually do."She sat down, smoothing her soaked sweater over her knees. I tried not to watch her doing this, without much success."I'll come straight to the point," she began. "This man . . ." she pointed to the corpse on the floor, ". . . I mean, this creature, has been blackmailing me."I kept my eyes fixed on hers. It wasn't hard. "Looks like he just stopped," I said."Are you going to turn me in?" She leaned across the desk and clasped her hands around mine. Her touch was cold and electric. "Are you?""Is that why you shot your way in here? To plead your innocence before I figured it was you?""How long would it have taken you to find out?"I shrugged. "Would have taken me a minute or two to get the slug out of the stiff. As for tracing it—that depends who I went to.""Give me a for instance.""Deke the Rip could do it in a half hour. Twenty minutes to get to his place and back.""So you'd have been knocking on my door within the hour."Again I shrugged. "It's what I do.""You think I don't know that?""You know it. So why shoot the werewolf on my doorstep? Why not choose somewhere more discreet? And why was he blackmailing you?"She pressed her shoulders back in the chair and crossed her legs. Water squeezed from the soaked fabric and puddled beneath the desk. "You're asking a lot of questions—no, you don't need to tell me: it's what you do."I raised my eyebrows. "You got that right. So, you want to answer some of them?"Lowering her eyes, she began her story."I hooked up with him a couple of months ago. He was kind of mysterious and that fascinated me. He only let me see him two nights a week and never at all around the full moon. I suppose I should have guessed his secret but . . . well, with some folk, just being around them makes you blind to the obvious, you know what I mean?""Yes, ma'am," I murmured, watching what was left of the rain trickling through her hair. "I know.""He was big on casinos so we did the strip. He won a lot of dough; he was lucky that way.""Not so lucky now," I said, eyeing the corpse. "So, why the blackmail, if he was on such a winning streak?""Because his luck ran out. He ran himself up a tab he couldn't pay off and got the heavies on his back—I'm talking about the real heavies now. He owes a lot of money to a lot of very ugly people. I mean owed, I guess.""The Tartarus Club?" I hazarded. She nodded her head and shuddered. The movement did remarkable things to the curves beneath that damned sweater. "Are you telling me the Titans were after him?""Yes. Only I got to him first.""So what did you have that he wanted?""Money, what else? I inherited a packet from my third husband.""How did he die?""In tragic circumstances.""I'll bet.""Are you cross-examining me?""Is that an invitation?""Since when did you wait to be invited?""Stick to the story, ma'am."By now her eyes were locked back on mine. That was just the way I liked them."I'm a rich widow these days," she went on, "and that's all you need to know. So, the wolfman got wind of my billions . . .""Pardon me—did you say millions?""No. Now where was I? Oh yes, he found out I was rich and decided I was the one to pay off his debts and buy his ticket out of hell. Only I'd already found out he was cheating on me, so it was no deal. That's when I got the first blackmail note.""What did he have on you?"She held my gaze and said quietly, "There were two photos taken that day."I closed my eyes and all at once I was back in that apartment. Damn it all, I could even smell the gunsmoke and chicory."Why didn't you destroy all the evidence?" I said. "You were quick enough to shoot a hole in the photo I found."I could sense this whole thing was getting out of hand, maybe even getting dangerous. The dame still had a gun in her hand, after all. I knew I had to keep her talking. Besides, I was curious: why had she kept the one piece of evidence that could have put her away for life? Why run the risk?To my astonishment, a tear was spilling from between her perfect black lashes."Sentimental reasons," she said. "My first husband—the one they locked away, the one I framed, the one who spent every spare hour of the day beating the bright blue hell out of me . . . I . . .""You still love him," I said. "Sweet mother of mercy! Now I've heard it all."I rocked back in the chair and reminded myself there are two things man was never meant to know: what happened before the big bang singularity and why dames do what they do."So," I said heavily, "your boyfriend, the werewolf, stole the photo and used it to blackmail you, to pay off his gambling debts."Wide, tear-filled eyes trembled in her pale, cold face as she nodded, her bottom lip trembling."It's just a coincidence we were in your neighborhood when I finally got him cornered. And that's the honest truth," she said, her voice breaking.Rising from my chair, I slammed both fists down on the desk and lunged towards her, my own lips pulled back from my teeth, and with the most ferocious growl I could muster I said, "Liar!"Her tears stopped abruptly. I held my breath and waited for the gunshot. I wished I'd put my feet up on the desk—that would at least have given me a fighting chance. But no, I faced her down, knowing my only hope was to outstare her.Only when she looked away did I allow myself to breathe again. How much time had I bought myself? I didn't know. What I did know was I'd knocked her off-balance. I had to keep her that way, so I went over to the wolf's corpse and picked up the hat."Interesting badge," I said, fingering the lining. "The Helmwolfen Bruderschaft. Not a very well-known pack.""I wouldn't know," she said listlessly. The big handgun lay on her lap; her fingers lay on the big handgun."It's not well-known for one very simple reason," I continued. "It isn't a wolf pack at all.""Isn't it? But I thought all werewolves belonged to packs.""They do. But our friend here isn't a werewolf."I whipped off my coat and made ready to turn it inside-out. The intense heat of the Search Engine's cab had prompted me to turn it into comfortable but penetrable sealskin. Right now it was about as bulletproof as a wet paper towel. I was quick, but the dame was quicker. Throwing back the chair, she stood in a lithe, economical movement and pointed the big handgun right at the center of my head. Since that's a part of my anatomy I'm particularly fond of, I froze."Drop the coat," she hissed."It's just a coat.""Drop it!"I dropped the coat."What do you know?" she snapped."I'd never heard of the Helmwolfen. There was no mention of any such pack in the book. But not everything gets into the Big Dictionary." I smiled. "You're not in there, for instance, but you exist all right.""You can be sure of it. Go on.""When I dug a bit deeper I discovered there's a secret society called the Helmwolfen, but they're not werewolves.""They're not?""No, ma'am, although they move in similar circles. Turns out the Helmwolfen are gamblers. What they do is kind of weird: they take ordinary articles of clothing and lace them with lycanthropia . . .""Lycanthropia? What's that?" She looked puzzled, but I wasn't convinced the expression was genuine."Essence of werewolf. Musk. Distilled hound-juice. Whatever. It's intense stuff, very, very powerful. You don't even want to think about how they get their hands on it. Anyway, it does pretty much what a werewolf badge does to its owner.""What do you mean?""Put it this way, you put on an outfit laced with lycanthropia and it won't be your own face you see next time you check the mirror.""It can turn anybody into a werewolf?""Not necessarily a wolf. Could be anything. Tiger, bear, stoat, you name it. It's usually a mammal, usually a carnivore. But not always. There's records of wereparrots. One poor bastard turned into a wereshark and suffocated in his own front room.""So where does the gambling come in?""The Helmwolfen bet on what the victim—and these are victims, make no mistake—will turn into. Big money changes hands. It's not a game for the squeamish. Wereism isn't a stable condition. Unless you're born to it, chances are the transformation will only be successful one way.""One way?""Yeah. When you change back, all the different parts of your body go back in the wrong order.""How do they get the . . . victims . . . to do it?""Gambling again. There are Helmwolfen behind most of the big casinos in most of the big towns. Including the Tartarus Club. They see some poor sucker laying down more than he can afford and make him an offer he can't refuse. 'Try this game,' they say. 'Survive, and we'll wipe the slate clean.'"The gun wavered in her hand."You're the one who owes the money," I said, seizing the advantage, "aren't you? I'm just telling you what you already know. Because the truth is that you're the one they made the offer to, not this poor schmuck."For a moment I didn't know which way she'd tip. Then she collapsed like a bunch of wet noodles into the chair, bent her head to the desk and sobbed her wretched little heart out.Me, like the poor sap I am, wrapped my arm around her shoulders. Beneath the sodden sweater she felt hot and alive. I told myself to keep my mind on the job."I'm s-sorry," she wept. "I didn't know w-what else to do. I w-was so d-desperate. Can you forgive me?""I don't know," I said. "I'll need to get it all straight in my head first. Without a guy like me on the case this could all get mighty confusing.""You can work it out," she said, touching my cheek with ten thousand volts of fingertip. "I know you're the man for the job.""Okay," I said. "Let me see. You start visiting the Tartarus Club, maybe thinking you'll get hooked up with some rich widower, maybe just to kid yourself you still got a life. Instead you get hooked on the gaming tables—blackjack's my guess. Am I right so far?"Sniffling, she nodded."So, you run yourself deep into debt. You go to the management, flash them your legs, maybe a little more. They decline your offers and make you one of their own. 'Just try this hat on for size,' they tell you. 'We got ourselves a little game going back here. Big Iapetos thinks you just might be a swan.' 'Can I think about it?' you say. 'Sure,' they say. And again, when you ask if you can keep the hat while you chew it over, they say, 'Sure.' Because they know you won't dare get rid of it, for fear of what they'll do to you. And you won't dare try it on. You'll just stare at it and stare at it until you run back to them screaming to get it over with. Am I still on the eight ball here?"Her eyes had glazed a little and she looked ready to cry again. I felt bad, like I was rubbing her nose in it, but if I was going to help her . . . Was I going to help her? Sweet mother of mercy!"Am I right?" I repeated."Huh? Oh, yes. On the button.""So, tell me where you found the dog."She drew the back of her hand across her mouth, sat up and stared into at the rain. "At the pound," she said. "I picked the one that looked most like a wolf—German shepherd it said on the cage. I told the superintendent I was going to give it a good home, then I brought it here.""Did you know what would happen when you put the hat on it?""No. I was guessing. Luckily for me I guessed right.""Not so lucky for the German shepherd.""The hat turned him into a wereman.""Most dangerous werebeast of all. So it's said.""I did it in the alley that runs down the side of your office. Once the transformation was complete, it was easy enough to herd the wretched creature into your doorway and . . . and . . .""And shoot it in cold blood at point-blank range."She buried her face in her hands. "It was just a dog," she sobbed."Not a werewolf at all," I mused, "but a wereman. An Alsatian in a lycanthropia hat. Now I've seen it all. All you need to tell me now is why.""I told you, I was desperate. If I go back to the Titans they'll turn me into something horrible and I'll never get back in one piece. If I try to run they'll track me down and kill me anyway. You don't know what those Titans are like."I stopped rubbing her shoulders for a moment. An old scar on the back of my hand throbbed suddenly. Remember me, it seemed to be saying."Oh yes," I muttered, "oh yes I do.""You do?" she looked at me curiously."Another story," I said. "Another time. You were telling me why you shot the dog.""So you could get me put away," she said. Then she added, "Could you rub my shoulders again? It feels kind of nice."Dumbstruck, I obliged."You?" I said when I could speak again. "The woman who framed her own husband to avoid the clink . . . and now you're framing yourself!""It was the hat that gave me the idea. I sat there staring at it, just like you said, when the idea came to me. If I could commit what looked like a murder on the doorstep of someone I could trust, I could get myself into safe custody before the Titans even got a sniff of what was going on. Nobody can touch you once they put you in Wulan Pen, not even the Titans. But only a murder would guarantee me a life sentence. I could never kill anyone, not for real, and that's when I thought up the trick with the dog.""And when the dead body turned back into what looked like a wolf, everyone would assume you'd killed a shapeshifter. Even me. Making it, in the eyes of the law, first degree murder.""I really thought you'd believe the blackmail story," she said sulkily. "The whole thing would have worked if you hadn't been so damned keen on following up the clues."I adopted my best hurt expression."Ma'am," I said, "it's what I do."Pressing herself into my embrace, she said softly, "Now you know the truth. So what are you going to do? Take me back to the Titans? Or turn me over to the cops?"Her eyes flashed, once, twice, and my heart did the high-wire thing again. Then, so help me, I said, "Hold tight, lady. I got a better idea." We stood beside the dancing railroad tracks: me, the dame and three Titans. Winter wind howled into our flesh. Lightning flashed above us, beneath us, inside our heads. In the far, far distance, a familiar smear of light came galloping out of the gloom.The great lobster shape of the Search Engine crashed to a halt just inches from our faces, spilling its load of noxious gases and lubricants into the noisome filth of its wake. Even the Titans had the good grace to look impressed.Something like a head emerged from the cab. Following it out, moving with sidewinder speed, came something like a body. This time, instead of inviting us up, the driver was coming down.We backed away. Even the Titans backed away. We had to, to give the driver room to stand.The Titans, I noticed, had dipped their massive, horned heads in respect."Which one of you's brought it?" said the driver, with something like anticipation.The dame took one step forward and handed it over. When she stepped back, I slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close."Don't worry," I whispered in her ear. "It'll all work out."Raising something like an arm, the driver put on the hat. We sat in my office: me, the dame and the two remaining Titans."I'd offer you coffee," I said, "only the machine's busted."Hyperion, the bigger of the two, waved away the offer with one gargantuan hand."Who'd have thought it?" he rumbled in a voice like boulders in a tumble-dryer."Ah well," drawled Oceanus. "We lost a bet. So what?""We lost Iapetos, is what we did. We shouldn't have bet him.""He was noisy. You never liked him.""Yah."Then Hyperion turned to me and said, "We got you to thank for showing us that place, buddy.""Interesting place," Oceanus put in."Sure enough. Strange fellow though, that driver. Who'd have thought he'd turn into something with so many teeth?""Yah. Poor Iapetos.""Who'd have thought it?" I agreed. "So you didn't mind my, er, client making the substitution? Not putting the hat on herself.""Nah," said Oceanus, picking a piece of driftwood from between his teeth. "It can get pretty dull, you know, being a Titan. Everything's smaller than you are. Even most worlds.""Especially most worlds," put in Hyperion."Yah. And it isn't every day we get to see a place we've never seen before.""Especially one that's bigger than we are.""And that driver.""One weird character.""Yah. And just a little . . . would you say . . . ?""Scary?" I put in."Yah. Scary. We don't get scared much."They sat silent for a minute or two, considering fear with eyes like turning worlds."So," I said, "my client's debt?""All paid," said Hyperion, swiping that mighty hand again. "No bother. You guys, you did something today nobody's done for a long time.""An eon," put in Oceanus."An eon," Hyperion agreed.The dame pressed some of my favorite parts of her body close to me. I relaxed back in the chair and said, "What did we do?""You surprised us." "It's a long time since I surprised a god," I said when the Titans had left."They aren't gods," said the dame."Next best thing," I replied. I pointed to the footmarks on the carpet. "The size they are, they might as well be.""You know, that's always puzzled me. They must be, what, a thousand miles high? But they always manage to fit in an ordinary room. How do they do that?""Search me," I said. "I still don't know how we got them inside that filing cabinet. I never folded a Titan before."We both stared at the cabinet."Is the world inside that top drawer bigger than this one?" she asked."Bigger than all of them put together," I said. "At least, that's what the guy in the market said when he sold it to me. I've only been inside it three times now but, from what I've seen so far, I think he may be right.""It impressed the hell out of the Titans.""That was the idea.""What about the one who, um, stayed behind? What do you think will happen to him?""Iapetos? Search me. I'm just glad I got him down there in the first place. I promised the driver I would, you see. That was the ticket price we agreed on, you see, when I was down there hunting werewolves. That was the fare: one Titan.""What does the Search Engine driver want with a Titan? Especially one in so many pieces.""Who knows? Maybe they burn well."Slithering off my lap, she danced across the office. The Titans had been good enough to clear away both the corpse of the poor Alsatian and the mess it left behind, so she had room to pirouette. She'd taken off the sweater and hung it over the stove to dry, which improved the view no end."You knew all along, didn't you?" she said, reaching a breathless halt. "All that time you were just keeping me talking and watching me dig myself deeper and deeper."Enjoying the sight of her chest rising and falling, I nodded."I didn't work it out all at once," I said. "The information I gathered at Lycanthropia Terminus just confirmed the hunch I got when I worked out what that pooch had really said while it was dying on the carpet.""And what was that?""When the poor critter turned into a man, it absorbed just enough human vocabulary to ask for help; of course, being a German shepherd, it came out as hilfe. After that, I thought it said knock.""Knock?""Yeah. Only I think what it was really trying to say Knochen.""What does that mean?""Brush up your German, sweetheart. It means bone. The poor mutt was just looking for his lunch.""You're so clever, my own little poor mutt. Have you got a bone?""Why don't you come over here and find out for yourself?"She came over and, funny, all that German went right out of my head. Like I said: femme, yes; fatale, most definitely. Ooh la la. 

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