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Dec. 30 – Did He or Didn’t He?

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“He’s missing a patch from his chest.”

Bookworm hissed in a breath. Arnold blanched. “Where?!” he exclaimed. He looked down, feeling around his chest, looking first horrified, then relieved. “Here?” He indicated a spot on the center of his chest.

Dr. Sonnerstein looked at him keenly. “Yes.”

Relief overwhelmed him. “That hasn’t grown back since I was struck by lightning. That’s not fresh at all!”

“I see,” replied Dr. Sonnerstein.

Bookworm looked at Arnold, frowning a little. That was possible, certainly, and yet… Dr. Sonnerstein recaptured her attention, holding out a fingernail to her, on which was a small trace of dried blood. “If you’re looking for incriminating evidence of an attack of some sort, there would be traces of flesh as well. Feline claws have a groove underneath them that tends to wick up moisture on touch a bit. I would suspect he laid his paws on something, rather than clawed it.”

Arnold blinked, and then remembered. “I did put my claws into the corpse–to test the size and shape of the marks. Bookworm was there.”

She nodded, still frowning. Again, a reasonable explanation, yet… ‘The blood was frozen–how could it have been drawn up?’ she thought. ‘Unless… unless Arnold’s own body heat melted it just enough?’ She rubbed her head again, feeling a headache brewing. There just weren’t enough conclusive indications.

Dr. Sonnerstein tilted his head, glancing from Arnold to Bookworm. “So there has been some kind of animal attack?”

Bookworm nodded. “Two dead bodies. So far.” Somehow, she didn’t doubt there would be more before this was over.

“One of them worked at the asylum,” Arnold put in.  Bookworm looked at him, and said, “You should look at the other one, too.”

“Mind if I tag along?” Dr. Sonnerstein asked.

“Not at all.” Bookworm thought hoped he might have some extra insight.

They left the warm confines of Dr. Sonnerstein’s house, and Bookworm led them through the city gate and underneath the train line, to the place where the body still lay. They all looked down at the young man, face now frozen–literally–in death.

“This is Penny–err… Penn,” Arnold finally said. “He worked for Beatrixe. He was nineteen.”

Bookworm sighed. Too young for such a fate as this.

“So one from Cortman, and one from Beatrixe’s crew,” Arnold continued. “That’s not a coincidence. I would certainly *hate* to work for the asylum now. Oh, wait–I do,” he concluded sarcastically.

“Yes, you do,” Bookworm said significantly. If the asylum workers were being targeted… well, some people might think that also pointed to Arnold as a suspect, for who else would have a motive to attack only them?

“You had an escapee before, didn’t you?” Dr. Sonnerstein asked.

“Yes,” Arnold mused, “and we never found Rasend’s victim. Bookworm–” He glanced over at her.

Their words, though, had triggered her memory. “I remember. You mentioned a patient–a wolf-like patient–had temporarily escaped, and had attacked at least one person.”

“Yes… I told you then that it made the victims…rabid.”  Arnold said, as he looked at Bookworm, almost expectantly.

“I knew enough to read between the lines. But that was, what, two months ago? Why would we only start having attacks now?”

“Hmm. Generally it takes until the first full moon to cement an infection.,” Dr. Sonnerstein said. “But it’s not unheard of to miss one or two. We just passed a full moon not but a couple nights ago. It’s likely that was when this happened.”

“And why target the asylum staff?” Bookworm felt frustrated. So many hints, and possibilities, but nothing concrete enough to give her a clear direction.

“There was one other victim I do know about. I treated her arm. She became violent and angry, threatened Emerson and Junie with a sword.”

“Who was this?” Bookworm asked.

“Kenna. She’s been out of town though, so it couldn’t have been her this time. But…we never did know how many victims he had. There could be two or three more.” Bookworm rubbed at her head again as Arnold continued. “What I’m saying is that the victims get angry and lash out, even when they aren’t…the wolves. At least with Rasend’s particular strain. So if they had a grudge against the asylum, that might be reason enough to start picking us off. If you believe that kind of thing,” he finished wryly.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bookworm replied. Arnold and Dr. Sonnerstein wouldn’t know, of course, but she had actually seen a werewolf or two in New Babbage before, several years ago. She had no trouble believing that it was at least possible there was one here now. But without proof, there wasn’t a lot she could do at this point.

She sighed and looked soberly at Arnold. “I need to inform Commodore Dagger about this. All of it. I will tell her Dr. Sonnerstein’s opinions, and this other possibility. But I don’t know how much weight she’ll give them, vs. your patch of missing fur and your own claw spread.”

“She may insist on keeping me under lock and key,” he replied. She nodded. “I’m fine with that. It wouldn’t be my first stay in jail.”

Bookworm rather doubted that he *was* fine with it, and hoped it wouldn’t come to that. “All right. I just wanted to be sure you understood.”

“And as long as you’ve got a cell to yourself, you may as well treat it as a mini vacation,” Dr. Sonnerstein said with a small grin. “At the very least it would cement your innocence.”

“Will you be staying at the Asylum?” Bookworm asked.

“Not likely.” Though he had a room, it made him uncomfortable. “But I’ll be there while working.”

“Where would you likely be at other times?”

“Hiding,” he replied shortly. “I have spots I like to go to be alone, or with people and out of harm’s way.”

Bookworm opened her mouth, then sighed and smiled wryly. ‘I’ll let Jed get anything else out of him, if she needs to,’ she thought. She contented herself with saying, “I think we’d best tell Dr. Solsen, so he can warn the other employees.”

“Think it will truly help?” asked Dr. Sonnerstein skeptically.

Bookworm shrugged. “Forewarned is forearmed.”

Dr. Sonnersteing nodded, and Arnold agreed. “Yes, they might believe it and have silver weapons ready.” After a moment he continued, “Not that that might do them any good. They didn’t work on Rasend.”

“Shall we go, then?” Bookworm and Arnold began the long trek back to the asylum. When they got there, though, Dr. Solsen wasn’t in. Arnold took her first on a tour, showing her the added security measures installed over the past two months, then brought her to the office, where she scribbled a quick note to him explaining the situation, and asking him to get in touch with her if he had any questions… or suggestions.

While she was doing that, Arnold looked out the window and saw the raven watching him again.  He snarled a small curse as it flew away. Bookworm, busy with writing, didn’t hear him. She set the finished note in a highly visible place on the desk, and followed Arnold to the door. “I’ll be in touch,” she said as he opened it.

“I hope for good news,” he said.

“As do I.” She hurried outside and headed for Militia headquarters, not looking forward to making this report.

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