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"A man who seeks truth and loves it must be reckoned precious to any human society."

- Frederick the Great

Friday 12 October 2012

Crystal Meth and Silver Bullets

In case you have been wondering where I have been the past several months, the answer is simple: in a Sisterhood hospital recovering from bullet wounds.  How I got there is a rather long story.  It began in a London club and took me first to Estonia, and then to Venezuela and finally to the Mexican state of Michoacán, where I took three silver bullets.
That I wound up being shot was ultimately my own fault.  Following the unpleasantness in Libya last year, I had steadfastly refused all assignments to the Middle East – especially Syria – so my section chief at MI6 decided to deal with my intransigence by lending me to the organised crime unit of our domestic sister organisation MI5.  I considered this job to be well beneath my abilities and took the matter much too lightly, with nearly fatal results.
The task as assigned was ludicrous: I was to assist in tracing the origins of some particularly high-grade crystal meth which had been appearing recently in the London club scene.  The stuff was much more potent than what was usually cooked in amateur labs, and intel had suggested that the Russian mafia was involved.  As I was fluent in the language and had many contacts within the ex-KGB, it was argued, there was no one better qualified to support MI5 in this investigation.  Of course, if I chose Damascus instead, they would find someone else to play drug cop. 
Since I had little interest in spending another desert holiday fighting an Arab dictator, the next evening found me in an upscale West End club wearing a psychedelic miniskirt I had not worn since 1969.  The clubbers called me “retro girl” and I was soon the centre of attention.  It didn’t take long before they invited me into a back room to share some whizz, as they called it.
Take my advice and keep far, far away from crystal meth.  Don’t try this stuff even once.  It is probably the most dangerous substance humans have ever concocted.  Werewolves cannot be harmed by it, of course, but we are not immune to the effects.  After snorting a small amount of the innocuous-looking white powder, it required every ounce of self-control to restrain myself from shifting and tearing everyone in the room to shreds, and this after only one hit.  After recovering from the initial burst of aggressiveness caused by the drug, I managed to collect my wits sufficiently to ask how I could hook up for more.  They gave me an address in Brick Lane.
Needless to say, I didn’t visit the house directly.  Instead I planted myself on the roof of an adjacent building and eavesdropped.  Other MI6 agents would need special equipment for this, but my wolf ears proved quite adequate to the task.  After two days of surveillance, I had learned the names of several middle-level dealers (subsequently turned over to Metropolitan Police) and followed one of them back to a Georgian terraced house in Camden owned by a respectable Lithuanian businessman.  At a distance of thirty metres from the front door, I caught the scent of an Apostate.  It didn’t surprise me that they had taken to drug smuggling, as there are few professions too despicable for those beasts.

There was no question of eavesdropping here, as the Apostate could just as easily scent me if I approached too closely, so I requested a comms sniffer from Q Branch (where my cousin Desmond used to work).  The encrypted telephone calls I intercepted were most disturbing – and not because of the details regarding massive drug shipments expected to arrive within days from Estonia, but rather because I recognised the distinctively unctuous voice on the other end.  It was Antonio.
I hadn’t seen Antonio Buondelmonti since the 1780s.  He was an old adversary of Lysandra, having joined the Apostasy in the thirteenth century after being spurned by her as a lover.  The Sisterhood had not heard from Antonio since the Napoleonic Wars; therefore it was assumed that he had been killed at some point.  But here he was again, running drugs across the Baltic for the Russian mafia – appropriate employment for an extremely unpleasant fellow.  I decided to pay him a visit.
After my arrival in Tallinn, it didn’t take long to find Antonio.  It was only necessary to wait at a street café in the Raekoja plats until I picked up the scent of a passing Apostate, whom I approached directly.  Since we were in a crowded public place, there was little danger of mayhem, so I was surprised by his excessive apprehensiveness.
“You’re not American, are you?” asked the nervous Apostate.
“Of course not,” I answered.  “There’s no need to be insulting.  I’ve come from London to have a friendly chat with Antonio.  We’re old friends.”
“If you mean Anton Mikhailovich,” said the Apostate, “he never sees anyone, least of all one of your kind.”
“He’ll see me.  Just tell him that the Duchess of Caerfyrddin would like to meet him for tea.  Café Reval around the corner, four o’clock.  I’ll be unarmed.”
The appointed time came and went, and there was no sign of Antonio.  Just when I had decided to retrieve my twin Berettas from the hotel room and go hunting, I caught his distinctive scent, along with those of a half-dozen other Apostates.  They had surrounded the café at a discreet distance.  Something was not right, however, as all of them stank (more than usual) of nervous perspiration.
“Ah, my dear Andronica,” oozed Antonio in an affected Russian accent, “you look as lovely as when last we met.  I can’t seem to recall the details.  Wasn’t it somewhere in France?”
“Paris, June 1786.  Your henchmen had just tried to murder the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson.  We were less than diplomatic in dealing with them.”
“Always meddling in affairs which are none of your business.  But you always had a soft spot for the humans.  I assume that’s why you’ve come to Tallinn, because you don’t like our drug business.  An ill-advised move to venture here alone, as the city is firmly under my control. 
“Is it?  Then why are your dogs trembling so?  One of them asked me earlier if I was American.  Have the Yanks been giving you trouble?  If you’re this spooked, I can only surmise that Wendigo must be involved.  That would explain your why your pooch thought I might be one of them, as their most fearsome warriors are female.”
“Well, if you must know, the Wendigo have taken over one of the major drug cartels in Mexico, and apparently have plans to expand into our territory.”
“I couldn’t care less about your sordid business, Antonio, but the Sisterhood certainly can’t have Wendigo invading Europe again.  It seems that we have a common interest in this respect.  Therefore I’ll make you an offer.  The Sisterhood will contain the Wendigo in America.  In return, you will keep your drugs off the streets in Britain and the rest of the European Union.”
“You ask too much, Duchess Llewellyn.”
“Would you rather have another war with the Wendigo?  Your mutts seem to have more sense than you where those brutes are concerned.  Obviously, they have heard the stories about the last time…”
Antonio grew pale.  He had seen their savagery first-hand.
“Very well,” he said finally.  “We have a deal.”
“Then put an immediate stop to the meth transport bound for London.”
“I’ll see to it later.”
“No, you’ll do it now,” I said, handing him my mobile.  “Here, use this.  MI5 is monitoring the IMEI and will verify the communication.”
Antonio took the handset and punched in a German mobile number.  After issuing a few curt orders in Russian, he passed the phone back to me.  I held up my hand, motioning that he should dial again.
“And now you will recall all shipments currently en route to the EU.”
After three more phone calls, I was satisfied.  “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Antonio.”
“All too often, our ‘business’ is conducted according to your terms,” he shrugged, “but I admit that it has been good to see you again.  Please give my special regards to Lysandra.  I have not seen her since Austerlitz.”
My pained expression at the mention of her name must have suggested to Antonio that something was wrong, as his expression changed to one of genuine concern. 
“Lysandra has been missing since February 1945,” I explained.  “There are unconfirmed rumours that a woman matching her description has been seen recently in Siberia, but my ex-KGB contacts have been unable to locate her.”
“I will make some enquiries,” said Antonio.  “We have resources beyond those of even the KGB.”
“You would do this for me?”
“I do it for Lysandra,” said Antonio softly.  “Don’t forget that I once loved her too.  My condition is that you uphold our bargain.  Keep the Wendigo out of my territory, and I will see what can be done to locate Lysandra.  By the way, the most recent shipments of South American drugs to reach St Petersburg have come from Venezuela, so you might want to start there.”
My superiors at MI6 were pleased with the outcome of my mission, but the liaison officer from MI5 was frankly sceptical that I could have stopped the Estonian connection singlehandedly, when their own people had spent months on the case without significant progress.  Nevertheless, they had traced the calls made from my mobile and had observed the results.  I mentioned having obtained several leads regarding cartel activity in Venezuela, the chief suppliers of South American cocaine to the European market, and offered to pursue the matter.  This suggestion surprised my section chief, but MI5 readily agreed, as they could not argue with success.  Arrangements were made for travel to Caracas, where I arrived at the beginning of August.
A few days of sniffing around the Venezuelan capital revealed no sign of Wendigo there, but I was put onto the trail of a major new producer of crystal meth in the Mexican state of Michoacán.  According to rumour, a cartel called the Cabelleros Templarios was expanding rapidly and making war on its rivals.  This organisation had apparently been formed by Nazario Moreno, a notorious trafficker known as El Mas Loco for his extreme brutality, who had reportedly been killed in a gunfight with the Mexican authorities in December 2010.  Since then, a bizarre cult has arisen among his followers, who erect altars to “Saint Nazario” and pray for his protection.
All of this should have put me on my guard – especially the name Caballeros Templarios, since the Knights Templar were a notorious Apostate order in medieval Europe – but I foolishly decided to pursue the investigation without assistance.  I didn’t want to request backup from the Sisterhood in North America, as I have not been on particularly good terms with them for quite some time.  Livia has never really forgiven me for opposing her on the matter of Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, and rather than having to listen to another of her perhaps justifiable but tiresome tirades about eighteenth-century colonial politics, I decided to go it alone.  This was my first mistake.
I arrived in Mexico City on 13 August and took a connecting flight to the small coastal city of Lázaro Cárdenas, the main port of entry for illegal pseudoephedrine, the key raw material in the synthesis of methamphetamine.  My plan was simple.  After dark, I would scour the few square kilometres of the city proper searching for any sign of Wendigo activity, before paying a visit the following day to the port authority, where I would present myself as a representative of a British pharmaceutical company to avoid arousing undue suspicion. 
To cover the territory more quickly, I decided to risk running through the deserted streets in wolf form.  Of course, this meant leaving my pistols behind at the hotel, as wolves are notoriously poor in handling firearms.  My second mistake.
It was shortly before two o’clock in the morning that I picked up the musky odour of a Wendigo.  I had not encountered one of these indigenous New World lycanthropes since 1793, but one never forgets the scent.  The spoor was old, however, so I sensed no immediate danger and went to investigate.
The scent led to a house in one of the few well-to-do residential neighbourhoods of Lázaro Cárdenas, at the western end of town.  The reports I had read concerning the cult of El Mas Loco had not been exaggerated.  One room in this house had been converted into a veritable shrine to the outlaw.  Strangest of all was the metre-high figure on the altar.  Dressed in the robes of a Templar was the likeness of a hideous lycanthrope.  Beneath the statue was the inscription "Give us holy protection, through Saint Nazario, Protector of the poorest, Knight of the people, Saint Nazario, give us life."
As I was contemplating this bizarre scene, a noise at the back door attracted my attention.  By the sound, three or four armed men had just entered the house, but no scent of Wendigo could be detected.  There was no exit from the altar room except directly through the intruders.  Naturally I assumed that they could not harm me with their weapons, so I assumed wolf form again and charged them, hoping to startle the humans sufficiently to effect a quick escape without unnecessary bloodshed.
The gunmen seemed to have been expecting me.  One of them shouted “Lobizón!” and the party opened fire without hesitation.  I was hit three times.  The searing pain told me at once that these were silver bullets.  Two had struck my left hind leg, disabling it, while a third had penetrated my left lung.
The crippling leg injury precluded effective flight, so there was nothing for it but to kill the humans as quickly as possible.  By now I was in their midst, which prevented any further use of firearms.  Silver knives were drawn, but I was able to dispatch my assailants without suffering anything more than a few painful scratches.
Shifting back to human form, I assessed my situation.  One bullet had shattered my ankle and another the fibula.  Walking on two legs was impossible, though I would be able to hobble on three.  More serious was the chest wound.  The pleural cavity was already filling with blood, and I judged that the lung would soon collapse.  Treatment by human doctors was out of the question, as my rapid healing would confound any attempt at surgery with conventional steel implements.  My only chance would be to call upon the Sisterhood.
At this point, I had no opportunity to contemplate why humans would be armed with silver bullets, because the sound of gunfire had aroused the neighbours and there was no telling whether others might be carrying similar ammunition.  It was time to go.
Limping on three legs, I soon realised that death would overtake me long before I reached the hotel to call for assistance.  My only chance therefore would be to steal a car, preferably one with an automatic transmission, since my left foot was entirely useless.  The best I could do turned out to be a VW Beetle, which I managed to drive using the old crashbox trick of shifting without using the clutch.  Back at the hotel, I reasoned that the sight of a naked woman bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds might draw unwanted attention, so I managed to drag myself up the fire escape to my room before collapsing.  The last thing I remember was calling Livia in New York.
I awoke in a safe house of the Sisterhood in Miami three days later, attended by a young Sister whom I had never met before.  She introduced herself as Rebecca and said that Livia would return shortly.
“You are lucky to be alive,” observed Rebecca.  “The bullet missed your aorta by just three centimetres.  As it was, you had lost a great deal of blood, and they called me to give the transfusion after Livia performed the surgery.  I have Welsh ancestors, and they hoped that we might have a common blood line, which fortunately proved to be the case.”
I tried to sit up in bed, but winced from the pain in my foot and leg.
“Your ankle will take six or eight weeks to heal,” she continued, “the same as with humans.  There are four screws fixing it in place.  Two are stainless steel, and two contain three per cent silver, so that they can later be removed easily when the bones have mended.  Until they come out, it’s crutches for you.”
“Can you tell me what happened?  Why would humans be armed with silver bullets?”
“Livia will answer all of your questions when she returns this evening.  I don’t know the entire story myself.”
I had not seen Livia since 1989, when we worked together to thwart what might have come to be called the “Leipzig Massacre”, had the Sisterhood not intervened to prevent East Germany’s peaceful revolution from ending in tragedy.  That had been one of the rare occasions when Livia had been persuaded to return to the Old World (as she continued to call it), which she had left so reluctantly after the Apostates had taken Rome in 1757.  Despite our frequent disagreements, I have the greatest respect for Livia, as she has been almost singlehandedly responsible for establishing the Sisterhood in North America against the fierce resistance of the Wendigo.
“So, I hear you have been up to your old tricks again,” said Livia as she basked in the cool breeze from the air conditioner.  “Wilful and careless, as always.”
“Please spare me the lecture,” I groaned.  “But thank you for saving my life.”
“I’ll remind you that it wasn’t for the first time.  Just protecting my investment.  You can be expected to make a full recovery, but you must keep off the leg until the transverse fixing screws are removed, otherwise they might break, releasing silver into the bloodstream.”
“Speaking of which.  Have you any idea why those humans were packing silver ammunition?”
“Yes, I do, and if you had told me in advance that you were planning to visit Michoacán, I could have saved you a great deal of trouble.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” I said impatiently.
“In fact, I have.  I know precisely why those gunmen carried silver bullets, but the situation in Mexico is only of concern to the Sisterhood in North America, and is none of your business, unless of course you have decided to be cooperative.”
I pondered this for a moment before speaking.  “Several weeks ago I met Antonio in Estonia.  The Apostates are concerned that the Wendigo have set their sights on Europe again.  I promised him to do everything possible to prevent that.  And if I’m willing to work with Antonio, then I can certainly cooperate with you.”
“Nice to think we mean at least as much to you as a pack of mangy Apostates,” harrumphed Livia.
“I don’t want Wendigo in Europe either.  We had enough trouble with them the last time.”
“Of course.  Very well, here is what we know.  In the aftermath of the battle with the Mexican army two years ago, Nazario Moreno was presumed dead.  His body was never found, however, and we have since learned that he was taken by his followers into the hills.  He would have died there, had not a Wendigo pack found him first.  Moreno was turned and quickly learned to take advantage of his new situation.  Lycanthropy has only served to heighten his natural brutality.  First he created the legend of Saint Nazario and the Templar cult, then proceeded to turn hundreds of new followers, creating a veritable Wendigo army to defend his criminal enterprises.  In the meantime, Moreno’s former associates – who call themselves La Familia – have become his chief rivals.  Somehow they learned the truth about their erstwhile comrade, and are superstitious enough to believe the stories about werewolves at face value.  That’s why they carry silver bullets.”
“One of the men who attacked me shouted ‘lobizón’ before they opened fire.”
“It’s a South American word for werewolf which the locals use when referring to the Wendigo.  Your assailants were most likely Familia soldiers making a sweep through the villages.  Since they found you in a Templar shrine, they must have assumed that you were one of Nazario’s female followers.”
“If the Familia already know about the Wendigo, perhaps we could enlist their aid in fighting them.”
“Are you suggesting that we form an alliance with a drug cartel?”
“Stranger things have been known to happen.  Besides, I’m very good at infiltrating human organisations.”
Livia looked at my damaged leg sceptically.
“I’ll take it under advisement, but it will be months before you are fit enough to do anything but lie around with your foot on a pillow.  For now, I suggest you go back to publishing your ridiculous memoirs.  We will call if and when we require your help.”
* * *
The screws were removed from my ankle last week, and I am now back in London, walking with the assistance of a cane for the time being.  Livia’s contacts in the US Drug Enforcement Agency sent a message through MI5 thanking me for bringing several members of La Familia to justice, and requesting permission to call upon my services again should the need arise.  MI6 accepted this without question, which should keep me out of Damascus for the foreseeable future.  Livia has yet to call me, so it remains to be seen whether another Mexican holiday is immanent.  I have heard nothing from Antonio about Lysandra’s whereabouts.
Next weekend I will spend at my house in the Black Forest, which should allow me to catch up with Brian and provide him with another chapter or two from Memoirs of an Eighteenth-Century Werewolf.  Stay tuned.

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