"Mwwmfff," he stammered, "may I speak to the Duke. This is the Wanderer, I have an important request for his highness." The young squire, he presumed that is what he was, ran off after a polite exchange and the Wanderer eyed another cheese fry and weighed the possibilities of the Duke returning in mid-chew.
Duke Maximmillion Immergrun, called the Beggar King, picked up the small comm unit and punched the opening notes of Funky Town on the keypad before realizing there was someone else on the line.
"My apologies. How may I be of assistance?" Max said.
"Max! Tis the Wanderer gettin' on with his bad self," greeted the alien. "Sorry to disturb you, but I am in need of some information. Hopefully it is nothing, but there is always a chance of some unforeseen trouble."
"I shall endeavor to help where I can," the Duke responded. "What do you need to know?"
The Wanderer cleared his throat, "Young Flex called me about some trouble underground. He wasn't forthcoming with much information so I don't have too many details, something about tracking a courier or something underground and losing him. He was hoping to use a tracking device of sorts, and naturally I didn't have one. I knew of no one who would have a better grasp on Flex's cryptic riddles than you."
"Underground, you say? Hmm. If he is talking figuratively, then he could be talking about any of the number of small criminal organizations that have flourished since the Devlinetti Family was taken down by the DA's Office years ago. If he means an actual physical underground location... That's a horse of a different color. He might have mistakenly followed one of my people and assumed they were involved in something shady because of the way they acted or dressed. That sort of thing happens all too often."
Max looked around his study. His eyes settled on the old map of the subway systems he scavenged a couple of years ago. "There are dozens of small, forgotten tunnels in this city. From the sewers to old access shafts and forgotten basements. After all, there's an entire city down here that Port Alexander knows nothing about. I've got one Marquis who does little more than explore the old, forgotten places. I can talk to him and see what he knows. I can also put the street folk on the alert to look out for... actually, I can't really put them on the look out for something I know nothing about. My Barons just checked in this week and none of them mentioned anything unusual. I'll make the round of my Marquises and Knights. Perhaps they might have seen something strange."
"Many thanks," said the Wanderer. "I will see if there is any more information I can milk from Flex the next time he phones, of course by that time everything may have just straightened itself out."
The Wanderer said his goodbyes and then thought of something, "Max, what do you know about werewolves here in Port Alexander?"
Max took the communicator from his ear and gave it a good shake. Obviously, Defender had given Max the broken one as a joke. He decided to double check before sending it back for a refund. "Did you say 'werewolves?'"
"Owwwwwwwwwwwww!" the Wanderer howled in to the communicator. "Why yes, yes I did. Would you like to go investigating with me?" The Wanderer proceeded to tell Max about an earlier conversation he had with a Hestor Cresvores who had seen aliens "walking bears," the Wanderer repeated. "And the latest claim I see here in the PA Town Scryer (the premier tabloid of the weird and sensational) is that werewolves are now bother Hester. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? If at first we don't succeed, Krai again."
Sting at that point came by after hearing the howl from Wanderer. "What's all this about werewolves?"
The Wanderer righted himself, slightly embarassed that Sting had walked past and seen the alien on all fours howling into the phone. "Ahem," he coughed, "I was just asking Max if he wanted to join me in hunting down a werewolf sighting." The Wanderer tossed the tabloid to Sting and punched the phone to speaker. "Max, it looks like a party, Sting is here."
Sting looked over the tabloid. "This 'werewolf'...are we talking Krai here, or something more traditional? Wolf-that-walks-like man kind of thing?" Sting asked.
The theoretical lightbulb burst over Sting's head like a strobe. "There could be a lot more to this than you realize, Wanderer."
Sting then began to relate to both Wanderer and Beggar King of his encounter with the mysterious Doctor and his guardbeast The Jackal. (see Interlude 18.2, "The Doctor is In") After going through the details, Sting added "Unfortunately, both the Jackal and the Doctor escaped. I'm thinking that this "werewolf" might be one of his creations."
"He tends to favor remote yet innocuous places, areas that wouldn't attract much attention, for his lab testing area. I've been trying to check into it here and there but between personal and Protector business, I haven't had much time. Is there anything else to this that you might know about, Wanderer?"
"I recognize it as a complete mystery to me," he responded. "But Hester is only half nuts, so there may be something to it. Max, does anything sound familiar to you?"
Max scratched his head. "I get the occasional strange sighting reported to me, but most times they turn out to be false alarms. I'll go over the most recent reports of my Barons and see if anything stands out. When do you want to begin the physical search? It will take me a few hours to read the transcriptions. After that..."
The Wanderer glanced first at his watch and then to Sting, "How about 9pm? that gives us four hours to prepare and it should be nearing werewolf hunting time by then. We can meet just up the street from where Hester's lives." The Wanderer rattled off the address and agreed on a rendezvous at a local bar which stayed open all night.
At 9 o'clock, a strange assemblage met at Rory's pub for an evening of werewolf hunting. There was the Wanderer dressed as a reporter, or at least as he thought a reporter should dress, Ka-Sador in his Starzkee Enhutch persona, the Beggar King dressed as conservatively as anyone had ever seen him and Sting in his costume.
They set out first to interview Hester Cresvores. Sting shrunk down and hopped in the Wanderer's pocket for the trip. The Wanderer stopped outside her building and politely pressed the buzzer for her apartment. A moment later the reply came, "Yes? Who is it?"
The Wanderer hunched over to talk into the speaker, "Ma'am," he bellowed. "Thish is Shteven Porter from the PortA.com inveshtigating your reportsh of werewolvesh. I'm here wiff an inveshtigator," he looked to Enhutch and then to Max, "and a photograffer." The Wanderer shrugged his shoulders as Max glanced to his empty hands to indicate no camera.
"Come in, young man." The door buzzed. "But I'm leaving my door open so my neighbors can hear, don't think you can try anything funny."
Hester lived on the third floor, a corner apartment. The heroes noticed a pair of binoculars on the window sill and a collection of esoteric literature leaning toward the sensational - including several issues of the local tabloid paper.
Hester herself was an old, sharp-faced, spry woman, who examined them closely then invited them in to sit down, have some tea and ask their questions.
The Wanderer complimented her on the apartment and asked the pointed question, "Can you tell ush about the werewolves, ma'am?" while whipping out a pencil and pad. Enhutch feeling a bit cramped, made his way gracefully over to the window to steal a glance at the area where Hester frequently looked.
Enhutch had a lovely view down both long streets, as well as one of the park across the way. It was a fine lookout for a lonely and nosey old lady.
He turned back into the conversation. "Strictly speaking, young man, I can only swear to one werewolf. But where there's one, there mayb be more. Big furry creature he was. I suspect he lives in the subway, probably eating the giant alligators."
"I doubt that," Max said, moving to the window Ka-sador had been looking out. "Giant alligators are in the sewer. Trust me on this one. Where did you see the beastie?"
Enhutch shuffled about and went toward the door, [CHECK OUTSYDE] was all he said as he left.
"A few blocks from here," Hester answered Max, pointed down the street. "I was watching the park there, when I saw him. He came out of the woods where that big tree is. There's a a PortRail stop on the other side, so you see it all makes sense. He ran up the block there and I lost sight of him." Below as they watched, Enhutch came out of the building and started walking toward the park. He felt relieved to stretch and began a slow walk in the sector mapped by Hester's view. Humans had a unique scent, he had learned, despite their penchant for trying to mask it by fruity and woodland fragrances. Hopefully there would be something to grab his attention; hopefully there would be Krai.
The Wanderer slurred, "What day was thish?" scribbing in his notebook.
"Last Thursday night," responded the spinster.
"Full moon?" he questioned. "About what time? this is good shtuff," the rumpled reporter asked.
"No, about three-quarters, I think," said Hester with a frown. "That means they can control it now! Good heavens!"
"Oh dear," he concurred. "Or worse, maybe what you saw was only three-quarters changed? Was the werewolf carrying anything?"
"Not when I saw it."
"Uh Missh Cresvoresh, do you believe thish event is connected with the vampires you saw sheveral months back?"
"Possibly. Possibly. It would seem a natural alliance, would it not?"
"Indeed, do you remember where the vampiresh were? a descriptshun and what they were carrying would really help. Just think," the Wanderer threw his hands out in headline fashion, "Vampires and Werewolves Join to Terrorize Port Alexander!...thish is big, real big."
"Strange, I always thought the werewolves hated the vampires. Or was that the wraiths and the faeries." To his credit, Max was not smirking. Then again, he might have actually believed it himself.
Hester either didn't hear Max, or ignored him. "The vampires were in Old Town, near Sandbar Street," said Hester. The heroes recognized Sandbar Street as the site of numerous nightclubs.
The Wanderer paused and tried gently to probe Hester as to why she believed they were vampires, Atlantean no less the reports said, without seeming too condescending. "Shandbar Street, with the way the kidsh dressh these days what makes you think it washn't some of those Goth kids?"
"Goth kids?" asked Hester, apparently genuinely puzzled.
"Yeah, a bunch of kids that dress like the undead...not the real one's of course. How did you know they were vampires?"
"Well, they looked like vampires. And one said they were vampires, he was talking to another one. And they talked about going under the sea, that's how I knew they were from Atlantis."
The Wanderer looked over to Max through the putty that disguised his features as if to say 'Maybe she really is crazy!' Hester told outlandish tales, but there was a kernal of truth in some of them. This seemed to be beyond the pale.
"They said specifically 'under the sea?'" Max asked, exchanging glances with the Wanderer.
"They said they would meet under the sea, yes," said Hester.
"Were they carrying anything or wearing any unusual clothing?" the Wanderer asked.
"Yes," said Hester looking at him like he was an idiot, "They were dressed like Vampires!"
"Ah, obviously." The Wanderer continued, "did these vampires talk to anyone else? maybe we can get a lead on them and the werewolves."
"I thought it was odd that no one else was worried by them. They passed several groups on the street, including a policeman, but they were just ignored - they must have been fogging their minds! I followed them down the street until they went into a nightclub, the man at the door could see them, I suppose, but they mind controlled him, too. He just nodded and let them in, except for a few who stood outside like they were waiting for someone," said Hester.
"We should get some pictures," Max said. "Then I think I should follow the ancient traditions of the Van Helsing line and try to track down these vampires. You can look for the werewolves."
Outside, Enhutch sniffed around the park. There was a strange scent there, part man-part beast, but very faint. He catalogued it, but didn't think he could track it at the time. Of the krai scent, there was no sign.
The trenchcoated man known as Starzky Enhutch retraced his steps back to Hester's apartment. Unfortunately, this lead had grown cold but it did corroborate her story, there was something unnatural in Port Alexander and it was confirmed that it had been in the park. He looked up at the nearby PortRail station and reasoned that the man-beast could go anywhere and be anywhere, but it had been here -- of that he was certain.
Outside Hester's, Enhutch waited patiently for his friends to return and tried to be inconspicuous. A group of street toughs out for late night mischief thought twice about bothering him as he leaned against the apartment building.
The Wanderer turned to Max, "It looks like you know exactly where to start. Port Alexander has vampires who disregard the loitering ordinances." Returning his attention to Hester, "Thank you for your help," producing a card 'Steven Porter' handed it to the old woman. "If you see or hear anything else, please let me know. And don't worry, it is a secure line. There are always those who like to listen in, you know."
The heroes left Hester's apartment and rejoined Enhutch below. Then, as a chill wind blew, they returned to the various homes and destinations.
"That woman is a crackpot," Max said as they began to part. "I should know. We can smell our own. However, I'd like to check out these... vampires. I suspect they are simple Goth kids. We see them all the time. If there were vampires on the streets of Port Alexander, I would know about it. Unless... unless there was some sort of conspiracy of vampires controlling the most powerful members of the city! Oh, wait. That would be stupid. Wouldn't even make a fun game. Off to chase Goth kids. I'll be in touch." Max drifted off into the night.