Mind, Body, and Soul
We have a special treat this July, Keith Gouvei author of Animal Behavior and other Tales of Lycanthropy has offered up one of the tales from his book. You can purchase the full collection from Amazon here. Animal Behavior and other Tales of Lycanthropy is published by Coscom Entertainment.
Jesse Barnes awoke to darkness, his body racked with pain.
Where am I? Why am I tied up?
His body trembled with vibrations from the music that thundered in his ears. The soft glow of an emergency pull cord told him all he needed.
He remembered a strange man approaching him and asking for a light.
Someone must’ve hit me from behind while I was at the grocery store. But why? And where are they taking me? I haven’t done anything . . . except . . . the bank robbery. He looked at the pull cord. They’ve come for me.
At the time, he did know that the bank he worked at for seven years was owned by the Mafia.
All I wanted was a little payback. How did things get this bad?
Life had been great for Jesse; he was on the fast track to becoming the financial consultant to Chicago’s elite at one of the city’s most prestigious banks. The majority of the bank’s customers loved and requested him, no matter how many were in line before them. At his peak he averaged a twelve percent return on investment on the funds he recommended to his clients. No one was better.
Then the economy took a turn, all stocks plummeted and everyone lost. Corners were cut, jobs were downsized, companies restructured and there was no longer room for a fallen hotshot at Iniquity Bank of Chicago. He pleaded for at least a teller job, but job competition was fierce and he was overqualified, so they sent him packing.
When his daughter was born, his wife quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom. At the time, they were financially secure, but without steady income, their savings dwindled to nothing. Her job search was no better than his; a four-year absence from the workforce was not what companies were looking for.
With one of their cars already repossessed, the foreclosure notice on their suburban home was the final straw. He was the man of the house, the sole breadwinner, it was his responsibility to clothe, feed, and protect his family. So he devised a plan, and his former employer inadvertently made it easy for him by not changing any of the security codes upon his dismissal.
Had I known then what I know now, I would’ve understood why they felt it was not necessary. Who in their right mind would steal from Victor Bianchi?
During the most successful times people smoked, drank and gambled, and during the most trying times, people smoked, drank, and gambled. Victor Bianchi understood this and found a way to turn a profit in these industries.
The man was untouchable, the only crime boss left in Chicago. He and his crew seemed to be the only ones thriving in this economy. He shared his good fortune with the right people: police officers, whose hours had increased while their pay decreased; judges that ruled against overzealous District Attorneys that thought they could bring down the notorious Bianchi; and Building Commissioners that approved the plans and permits to build his empire—all of whom wanted to give their wives, children, and mistresses the things they wouldn’t normally be able to, but were able to with a supplemental income.
Jesse had recruited a couple of the other bank employees that had lost their jobs as well. He knew the risk he was taking by asking them, as they could have easily turned him over to the authorities, but he couldn’t do it alone and they were all too eager to help. Mitch Almeida had been one of three janitors employed by the bank, and on his paltry salary he was quickly put on the streets after termination. Rounding out the trio was Jake Holden, a rookie teller who lost out to his female supervisor when she agreed to take a demotion when her position was eliminated.
Without a flaw in the plan, Jesse had questioned the ease of the robbery, but having all that money in his hands distracted him.
The thought of his wife and daughter suffering for his mistake was too much. Jesse didn’t care about himself, but for his family he would fight. He struggled against the ropes binding his wrists behind his back, bit at the duct tape on his lips in the hopes of grabbing the pull cord with his teeth and disengaging the lock and jumping out, but nothing budged. Added to that, his breathing was becoming increasingly difficult as a soft haze of cigar smoke encompassed him.
I’ve got to get out of here!
When the car finally stopped, Jesse’s fidgeting did, too.
Wonder where we are? Did they bring me to Victor so he could be the one to dish out my punishment? What will he do to me? Boil me in oil. Give me a pair of concrete shoes. Carve my hide and feed me to his dogs. Oh God, don’t let him hurt my family. He can do anything to me, but let them live.
The trunk opened and two of the largest men Jesse had ever seen stood before him. Behind them, the full moon stood prominently in the dark sky.
“Let’s go,” one of them said as he grabbed Jesse under the arms.
The other grabbed his legs. They hoisted him up and he was draped over one of their shoulders and carried away from the car.
Jesse looked around, trying to figure out his bearings, but he didn’t recognize the wooded area around them. The men said nothing as they carried him deeper into the woods.
Once they were in a clearing he was tossed to the ground. The two men took turns kicking him. His hands were still behind his back leaving his midsection exposed. Most of the kicks landed there, breaking several of his ribs, but a couple landed against his face and skull. Darkness engrossed his vision, but the removal of the duct tape snapped him back to consciousness.
“What do you want?” he asked, barely able to get the words out through the pain and the fire now lit inside his chest.
“Our boss wants his money back. Where is it?” one man said.
“We’ve got your whole crew. If you don’t talk, one of them will,” said the other
Jesse swallowed. His mouth was dry. “We divided it up. I don’t have—” A low growl followed by a tug on the ropes behind him stopped him in mid-sentence.
“What’s that doing here?” one of the big boys said.
“I don’t know. Grab it!” the other said.
“I’m not touching it. It could be rabid.”
“Do I have to do everything?” The man grabbed the wolf pup by the scruff and lifted it toward his face. “It’s cute. Think I could keep it?”
“Could be intimidating?”
“Believe me,” Jesse said, “you’re intimidating enough. Let it go. It was just playing.”
“Thank you, but flattery isn’t going to help you. And don’t tell me what to—Ow!” The man dropped the pup. As the pup scurried away, he aimed his gun and fired. The pup yelped and toppled over. The man walked over to it and finished the job with his massive boot. Jesse heard bone crunch beneath the heel.
Two more growls, this time coming from the right.
“Look what you did,” the other man said as two adult wolves walked out from the underbrush.
Before the wolves could pounce, two shots rang in Jesse’s ears. Without a sound, the wolves fell.
The big man towered over Jesse. “Let’s get this over with. You were going to tell us where the money is.”
Jesse prepared himself to speak. Taking a breath with his ribs broken felt like his lungs were expanding against iron bars. “I want to know if my family’s safe first.”
“Our boss sent us and our buddies out to get you and your crew. They’re being interrogated elsewhere and if none of you tell us what we want to know, then our orders are to ask your loved ones.” The man grinned then raised his eyebrows up and down a couple times like some kind of hotshot.
Michelle, Lisa. “I’ll tell you where my share is,” Jesse said. “It’s buried in my backyard under the birdbath, but I don’t know where the others stashed theirs.”
“That’s not your concern. Frankie, I’m callin’ it in. Keep an eye on him.”
“A’right.” Frankie’s gun was trained on the center of Jesse’s forehead.
The other goon dialed as he walked away.
What is he talking about that he can’t say in front of me? I’ve got to get out of here. My family needs me. He tested his bindings. That pup, I think he loosened the rope. Jesse fidgeted a moment more. Yes! He wiggled his hands free.
“I think that wolf is still alive,” Jesse said.
Frankie turned to look and squinted against the dark. “I don’t think so.”
As he turned back, Jesse grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it in Frankie’s eyes.
“Son of a—”
Jesse stood, aiming the top of his skull at the goon’s head. The blow landed, knocking both of them to the ground. The world around him spun and he was forced to close his eyes. An image of Michelle and Lisa being terrorized by the two goons that kidnapped him flashed before him. Rage burst within.
A gun fired.
Jesse fell to the ground, heat radiating at the center of his chest.
The big guy who had been talking on the phone came up to them. “Frankie, what are you doing? You let this runt overpower you?”
“I’m sorry, Moe.”
“Get to the car, we’ve got orders.”
“What about him?”
“I’m taking care of it.” As Frankie walked away, Moe knelt down beside him. “Nice try. I understand why you fought. I’d fight, too, so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to let you bleed to death here while we go meet up with some friends to go dig up Mr. Bianchi’s money and have a little fun with your girls. Orders are to leave no witnesses.”
“No . . . please . . .” Breathing was near impossible, making talking difficult. Blood spilled from the corners of his mouth. A chill swept over him as his warm blood pumped out of the hole in his chest. No. It can’t end like this.
“You think about all the nasty things we’re going to do to those precious to you,” Moe said.
Jesse reached out to try and grab Moe by the ankle, but his arm fell limp before he could latch on. Moe just laughed and walked away.
This is it. I’m going to die alone and my family is going to be tortured.
There was a rustle in the nearby bush; he strained to turn his head in order to see what it was. He feared it was another wolf, hungry and intent on feasting on an easy meal.
It’s still alive. It’s going to finish me off, he thought as the wounded wolf crawled toward him.
He tried to speak to scare it off, but only a gurgling sound came out. The wolf crawled on top of his chest; excruciating pain shot through his body from the weight.
Warmth spread through his body like wild fire as their blood mixed together.
The wolf’s flesh melted into his.
Where’s he going? Why’s he falling into me? What—We’re becoming one.
Hair sprouted from every pore. Jesse’s fingers lengthened and tapered off into vicious claws. The sound of bones cracking and reforming echoed in his ear. The pain in his chest faded. He stood on his haunches.
Finally whole, the beast slowly approached its fallen pup. Jesse lifted it up and cradled it against his chest, feeling the loss of a child, then carried it over to his mother and laid him beside her. He looked to the moon high in the sky and let loose a bloodcurdling howl before chasing after the two men. The wolf inside him had a new family that needed protecting. Jesse could sense its rage, both man and beast united with the same goal—revenge.
With the heightened senses of the wolf, Jesse tracked the Italian thugs through the woods with ease, guided by the aroma of the cigar smoke. Frankie stood by the car and Moe traversed the hill toward the road. Jesse jumped onto a nearby tree and catapulted off it.
Moe turned around. A clawed hand arc downward. The razor sharp nails of the beast sliced through skin and muscle, decapitating his head. It plopped into a pile of fallen leaves and the body rolled down the hill.
Frankie ran to the body; Jesse assumed he needed the keys. He dropped to all fours and charged, running at him headlong.
“Stay away!” Frankie drew his gun and fired a barrage of bullets.
The beast zigzagged, dodging most of the bullets. Jesse pushed through the pain, staying the course. He leaped into the air and drove his body into the goon’s. As they fell to the ground, he clawed at his midsection, disemboweling him.
Frankie rummaged with his small intestine, trying to shove them back inside. When he spoke, blood spurted from his mouth in thick glops. “What have you . . . done? . . . . What are . . . you?”
Jesse lowered his muzzle toward Frankie. The goon’s scream turned into a gurgle as his throat was ripped apart with a single bite. Blood geysered as the body convulsed, then all functions ceased.
Blood dripping from his mouth, Jesse sniffed the air. He approached the car, took in the scent of the tires, and followed the road. He kept to the shadows as he made his way back.
At such a late hour, few cars appeared on the road and Jesse struggled to keep the beast in line. Each passerby teased the creature. The wolf wanted to hunt, to feed, to answer the call of the wild and show its dominance, but Jesse’s will overpowered the animalistic urges and kept the beast on course.
Please let me be in time, he thought as he turned down his street and his house came into sight.
From this distance he couldn’t hear any screaming but he could see three men: two in the living room and one in the kitchen. The beast approached the ranch-style house with stealth, hopped over the picket fence and stared into an adjacent window.
Michelle and Lisa were bound and gagged by the fireplace. The men appeared to be waiting for something, their guns at the ready.
Must be waiting for Frankie and Moe. Thank you, God. Now if only I could get in there without Michelle and Lisa seeing me like this. Guess it’s unavoidable, but I need to at least draw those two away from them.
The beast leaped through the kitchen window, tackling the lone goon standing beside it and immediately tore the flesh from his bones. Blood splashed on every wall; tendons and muscle clung to the beast’s claws. The man screamed, then fell silent.
“What the hell?” asked one of the other two men as Jesse came into the room. The man opened fire, the other joining his side. The bullets pierced Jesse’s hide and hurt only for a second, and then the bullets were pushed out as the wounds healed.
The men trembled. “It can’t be. It just can’t.”
“We’ve got to get out of here.”
“What about the money?”
“Screw the money!”
In a single leap the beast knocked both retreating men to the ground. One of the men was directly under him and the other just ahead of him. Jesse heard his wife and daughter’s muffled screams of terror. His heart broke. He wanted to tell them it was all right, to hold and coddle them, but first he needed to eliminate the threat.
He bit into the back of the neck of the man underneath him. The head separated from the body and toppled over. A rush of blood painted the floor, then the flow tapered off to a slow trickle. He feared this vision would haunt his daughter for the rest of her life, but knew because of it, she would live a fulfilled one.
“Get away!” The last thug thrashed his legs at the beast, kicking it repeatedly in the head, only infuriating it further.
As another blow attempted to connect, Jesse clamped his massive jaw on to the man’s calf. The man screamed and fired a shot point blank, right between the beast’s eyes. Jesse yipped as the force of the bullet sent his head backward.
Freed, the man staggered out of the living room and into the hallway toward the front door. The beast growled as it got to all fours. It charged, leapt on to the right wall of the hallway, then leapt to the ceiling, bounced off and landed on the man.
The man squealed as he was tackled to the floor. The beast plunged its paw into his back, grabbed his spinal cord and yanked. Tendons and nerves popped as they snapped. Discs separated under the pressure and the spinal cord was tossed aside as the man’s last breath exited his body.
Sighs and whimpers from the other room caught the beast’s attention and it turned back down the hallway, still hungry for the kill. Something shifted inside and Jesse wasn’t sure if he remained in control.
No. You mustn’t. Not my Wife. Not my daughter.
The beast continued its approach.
They’re your family too now.
Michelle scooted her body in front of Lisa’s. Jesse’s heart ached. He didn’t understand why the beast was disobeying him.
Stop, damn you!
Michelle trembled as she pushed against her daughter. The beast sniffed the air around them and reached out its clawed hand.
I’m sorry. I tried. I love you both.
The bindings around Michelle’s wrist fell to the floor with the flick of a finger.
She quickly pulled the gag out of her mouth, turned around and went to work on Lisa’s bindings. “Run!”
The beast’s head swiveled as the little girl ran passed him.
“Leave her alone!”
The beast lay at her feet, whimpering.
“Honey, wait.” She looked upon the creature, confusion written on her face.
Jesse felt the beast’s rage subside and the transformation reversed. The brown, wiry hair covering his body fell away, exposing his naked flesh. His canine teeth returned to normal. The claws retreated into his flesh and his fingers shortened.
“Jesse?” Michelle said.
“Yeah,” he said softly.
“I don’t understand. What happened to you? You’re a . . . a . . .”
“I can’t explain it and we don’t have much time.”
“Daddy!” Lisa ran to him and he scooped her into his arms.
“I’ll get you some clothes,” Michelle said.
“What’s wrong?” he asked Lisa as she started to sob.
“You lied, Daddy. You said there were no such things as monsters.”
He released his hold and looked into her blue eyes. “I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay,” she said, wiping a tear away. “The monster saved us from the bad men.”
“Yes, he did.”
“Where did he go?”
“He’s gone for now. Go check on your mother for me.”
As she bolted away, Jesse went outside, not caring if a neighbor saw him in the buff. He knew someone had to have alerted the authorities to the gunshots and he needed to move quickly.
He scanned the yard. Doesn’t look like they dug up the money yet. Good! He kicked over the birdbath and tore into the soft earth. As Michelle came outside with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, he uncovered the duffle bag and pulled it free.
“What is that?” she asked.
“I want you to take this and you and Lisa go visit your mother.”
“What did you do?”
“There’s no time to explain. The cops are—”
“What did you do?” she asked again, shoving her palms into his chest and almost knocking him over.
I really screwed up, he thought. He felt ashamed. The tears in her eyes caused him heartache. “I only wanted what was best for us.”
Michelle shook her head as if knowing what he’d done. “No.”
“Take this. There’s almost a half a million in here.”
The tears came on stronger. “No.”
“Go to your mother’s. I’ll be there after I clear this whole mess. I promise.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed . . . or worse. What if you don’t come back to me, or you don’t come back as you, but that—”
“Don’t worry. I don’t fully understand what’s happened to me, but I know it had no desire to hurt you or Lisa. It’s still me. I swear. Now go, before the cops come and ask questions you don’t have the answers for.”
“Promise you’ll find us.”
“I promise. I love you guys too much.”
She kissed him, long and passionate. Though he wanted nothing more than to stay and kiss her longer, he pushed her away.
“When will you be back?”
“I don’t know. A few days tops.”
“I’ll see you then.” She stole another kiss, then left him to fetch Lisa and be on her way.
He got dressed in time to wave them off. He could see Lisa’s teary eyes as she and Michelle pulled down the driveway and he knew she didn’t understand what was happening, but he also knew she was young and once he saw to it they were protected, she’d forget all about this night. Several of his neighbors were outside on their porches trying to get a glimpse of what was going on. He ignored them as he walked down the street.
I’ve got to get to Jake’s. There might still be time.
Jake was forced to move back in with his parents after losing his job and they lived a half a mile away from them. As he approached their house he caught the faint scent of cigar smoke, the same cigar he smelled when he was locked in the trunk.
Can’t be the same goon. He’s dead. Bianchi must have shared his cigars with his whole crew. That’s the only explanation, but either way, it means I’m too late.
With caution he approached the front door and tried to open it.
Locked. I’ll go around.
When he reached the back patio, he noticed the door was ajar. He tilted his head and leaned closer to hear movement within, but there was none. He sniffed the air and the scent of blood filled his nostrils.
Looks as though they’ve already come and gone.
He pushed the door aside as he entered. Nothing was out of the ordinary in the living room so he moved forward through the house, the scent of blood growing stronger. He followed it to the upstairs bedroom where Jake’s parents were bound and gagged at the foot of their bed in a puddle of blood, their throats slashed.
I’m too late. “I’m sorry,” he said, hoping somewhere, somehow, they could hear him.
Off in the distance Jesse caught the sound of a siren. Fearing they were coming here, he leapt out the window. He landed safely on his feet, broken glass scattering around him.
There’s no time for this. He rushed the uniformed cop. He managed to fire off a shot, but Jesse twirled his body and maintained his momentum. The bullet grazed his left shoulder and only burned for a second before his superior healing went to work. He rammed the man with the right side of his body. The cop went down and Jesse continued to run.
“You can’t run forever. Victor Bianchi will find you,” the cop shouted after him.
Jesse stopped. The sirens were getting closer. “You work for Bianchi?”
The man nodded.
Jesse approached the man and helped him to his feet. “You can take me to him?”
“Yes, but we need to go now.”
He’s not supposed to be on the scene. That’s why he didn’t use his siren. He’s only working for Bianchi right now. Better be careful. “Let’s go.”
“My car’s parked on Mailer.”
Good. We can get out of here undetected. “What are we waiting for?”
Jesse walked side-by-side with the crooked cop, his eyes never leaving the pistol trained on him, though he knew by now ordinary bullets were a minor annoyance at best.
Victor Bianchi won’t know what hit him, he thought with a smile.
He climbed into the backseat of the patrol car and kept quiet. He wanted the man to believe he was in control and not the other way around. This was his chance to meet Victor face-to-face and put an end to the mob so he and his family could live in peace.
The officer called Victor and set up a delivery location. He explained how he singlehandedly captured Jesse, and all he could do was smile at the over exaggeration.
Someone’s trying to get a bonus.
Within fifteen minutes they were at the building where Jesse’s life had begun to spiral out of control. The cop ushered him inside the bank and there was Victor Bianchi sitting in the center of the lobby surrounded by his goons, the smug look on the crime boss’s face stirring the beast within. Jesse felt it scratching under his skin, begging for release.
“Seems I’ve underestimated you,” Bianchi said. “You’ve proven very resourceful.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have fired me.”
“I have no control over who comes and goes here. I pay people to handle that part of the business for a reason. You’re friends are dead and the money they took from me is back in the vault where it belongs. Now . . . where’s the rest of my money?”
Victor nodded to the cop and the man pointed his gun down and fired. The bullet went straight through Jesse’s right knee. Hot, searing pain shot through him as his leg buckled, but he remained on his feet.
“Where’s Frankie and Moe? What did you do to them?”
“I’ll show you.” Jesse released himself to the wolf.
Victor and his men watched wide-eyed as man transformed into beast. The cop beside Jesse took a step backward as he aimed his gun at the beast’s head. Victor stood and his men circled around him.
With the transformation complete, the beast stretched out its arms and roared. The crooked cop bolted for the door and Jesse let him go for he would soon be unemployed anyway. Besides, killing a cop, crooked or not, would rain down a new kind of terror onto his family.
“Kill it!” Victor ordered and his men opened fire.
The beast leaped into the air and into the center of the circle the men were forming around their boss. Victor ducked. The beast pulled back its clawed hand and spun. Several heads fell to the floor, followed by the decapitated bodies. The men who survived the attack dropped their weapons and ran for the door.
Victor tried to run as well, but he was grabbed from behind and lifted off his feet. “Please . . . no. I’ll give you anything. Anything!”
The beast brought him face-to-face and growled.
“You think this’ll be over when you kill me? Well, you’re wrong. Another will rise to take my place and he’ll want the money you stole. You’ll never be safe unless you join me.” With a cheap grin, he added “I could use someone like you.”
He’s right. We’ll constantly be looking over our shoulder. On the run. What kind of life is that? My girls deserve better. Besides, it’s not like I couldn’t use the money, and it would give me the chance to see the extent of Victor’s reach. Wipe out the threat completely.
Gently, Victor was put down. “You’ve made the right decision. Consider the money you stole from me a down payment.”
The transformation reversed.
“This is the beginning of a beautiful partnership,” Victor said with a twisted smile.
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