Jessie McGee slammed the outer door to the secured facility and headed down the darkened, damp hallways of the Myrtle County Sheriff’s Department toward his private sanctuary. The fluorescent lighting above him flickered on and off in sporadic bursts, revealing the age of the building and faulty wiring. The responsibilities of a Sheriff were astronomical but, at this exact moment, none of it mattered. There was no fear of anyone testing his authority, and all the problems with the building itself couldn’t diminish the joy and victory flowing through his veins. Toby Liberman, his lifelong enemy, was safely locked away in the jail, and life was complete. He already ruled the county. Now he had full, uninterrupted access to the girl who haunted his dreams since youth. His disturbing chuckle echoed off the walls in a way that would’ve frightened anyone close enough to hear.
As the youngest Sheriff ever elected in Myrtle County, he wasn’t planning on going anywhere. His rival during the election died mysteriously only a few weeks before the final vote, and the people had no choice but to place Jessie into the most powerful seat in the county. Within a few weeks, his subordinates fell in line out of fearful loyalty and the streets of Twin Oaks and back roads of Myrtle County began to miraculously transform into a place of family and safety. The crime rate dropped noticeably, but the jail remained almost empty of any locals at all times. The criminals weren’t being tried and prosecuted. They were just disappearing in anticipation of the wrath and power of Sheriff Jessie McGee. Damned he would be if a crazed lunatic like Toby Liberman was going to be allowed to remain free in his world.
The door to his office was gently opened and he was pleased to see the sparkling eyes of his beautiful Jessica Liberman gazing back at him. The feeling was soon washed away by the appearance of Mr. Johnny Haynes, his girlfriend Becky Lowery, and the young Katie Liberman who took seats next to her. His gleeful moment of triumph was officially over. As expected, Johnny was the first to speak.
“Damn, McGee, is this you with the Governor in this picture? I’m totally impressed to Hell and back. I want your autograph!”
McGee was not amused.
“Johnny Haynes, I have more than enough room downstairs for you, too. I’m sure you’ll be able to find somebody who could use a friend.”
Jessica frantically interrupted what was destined to become a fist fight.
“Jessie, what happened? What’s happening to Toby?”
McGee flinched in shock at the surprise and sincerity in her voice. Why was she suddenly so worried about him?
“Mrs. Liberman, is there any way we can speak in private about this matter? I don’t want to go into too much detail with the little girl present.”
“I’m not a little girl,” Katie informed him. “This is my Dad that we’re talking about and I have just as much right to be here as my mother does.”
“Game point, Katie Liberman,” Sheriff McGee said with half a smile. “I can see that unrestrained articulation obviously runs in the family. I guess it really won’t matter much what you hear today because the press is going to have a field day with the details soon enough.”
Becky was quickly tiring of the formalities and pointless banter.
“McGee, cut the crap. What happened?”
The Sheriff caught a momentary glimpse of Katie reaching behind her seat and giving Becky a little slap on the hand as though they considered irritating him to be a competitive endeavor. They were obviously close, and he was going to have to discover a way to sever that bond to be successful in what he had planned.
“Fine, you want me to be completely open?” McGee invited the discussion. “We have three slaughtered individuals: Ryan Weldon, age thirteen, Mr. Robert Green, age twenty-eight, and a Mr. Cody Christian, age twenty-six, who met their fates at the hands of your husband, Mrs. Liberman. The last two were Emergency Medical Technicians, public servants, which is going to up the ante even more.”
“Oh bullshit, McGee,” Johnny interjected angrily. “You know damn well that Toby couldn’t hurt anyone like that. Why don’t you quit blowing smoke up our asses and go do some cop work?”
“Mr. Haynes, the ‘cop work’ is over. We found Toby at the scene of the murders covered from head to toe in blood. Officially, my job is finished. Now, it’s in the able hands of the prosecutors and judges and, eventually, the hangman.”
Becky leaned over and held onto Katie tightly as she broke into hysterical tears, and even Johnny was at a loss for words or snappy comebacks. Jessica was in shock beyond words. An internal battle was beginning to develop between the weight of having the Sheriff for a lover and the fate of her child’s father.
She’d always been aware that Toby possessed an invisible mean streak inside him which built up to a crescendo on an average of once a year. He normally kept a tight lip, but this was beyond anything she imagined him capable of doing, even in her wildest dreams. In the period of a day, she’d transformed from cheating wife to spouse of a killer. The sobs of Jessica’s young daughter were enough to bring reality crashing back on top of her. In the back of her mind, putting Katie through a divorce was a thought that made her ill, but the mental images of her daughter watching her own father being executed for triple homicide were bringing on a blackout.
“I’ve gotta get out of here!” Jessica announced, breathing heavily. “I don’t know how much more of this I’m going to be able to take today.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” Johnny agreed, still attempting to grasp the current state of affairs. “Becky, take Katie and Jessica home and lock the freaking door. If my dope freak sister tries to leave, shoot her in the leg. We’ve got to get her up to par for what’s coming.”
Johnny noticed a slight growl of disapproval from Sheriff McGee, and Becky paused, looking back at him for permission.
“Becky,” Johnny continued. “This guy isn’t part of the family, yet, and you don’t need his blessing. I’m going to stay here with him and have a little chat. Go.”
Becky nodded in compliance, grabbed Jessica and Katie by the arms, and led them away from the rising tension beginning to form in the Sheriff’s Office.
As casually as possible, Johnny walked to the Sheriff’s chair behind his antique oak desk and had a seat, kicking his feet up. In his mind, he was the only involved party with enough intestinal fortitude to still manipulate McGee into providing some answers, and he wasn’t leaving until he got some. He still viewed the man behind the badge as the creepy little kid he used to punk out in gym class, and he wasn’t going to let all the success and power intimidate him. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d ever spent the night in lockup. It would, however, be the first time he’d ever done so in a state of complete sobriety. Sheriff McGee wasn’t even remotely amused, and Johnny could see this intolerance in the Sheriff’s fiery eyes. It was exactly where he wanted him to be. An angry man always seemed to reveal more than a calm one.
“Haynes, this is the one and only time I’m going to say this. Get the hell out of my chair!”
“Oh, pipe down, turbo, I’m not going to fart in it or anything,” Johnny announced cynically.
“Besides, I pay my taxes every year, so I’m almost certain some of that money went toward this.”
McGee cut his eyes at him in crazed anger.
“Fine!” Johnny expressed loudly as he sprung from the chair. “I’ll just sit in one of these pieces of crap over here that I’m sure a lot of people have farted in over the years, and we can get down to business.”
“And exactly what kind of business would that be, Johnny Haynes?” the Sheriff said calmly, reclaiming control and his chair. “You’re just the brother-in-law to the accused. Why should I have to tell you anything?”
“The accused?” Johnny fired back. “Come on, man. I know you hate the guy for tagging and bagging the love of your life, but I think, after the events of last night, you could at least give him a name…regardless of how often he used to kick your ass back in the day.”
The Sheriff found no humor in Johnny’s words and continued to stare at him blankly. Johnny was beginning to poke at sore spots, and he was doing it deliberately.
Johnny continued. “Other than the three stiffs found, there had to be three other people in those woods last night: you, Toby, and the person responsible for this. I was out there for a little bit, but the rain started again, and I gave up before I could find either of you. I know that Toby didn’t do it which leaves you and the other guy.”
“What the hell are you saying, Johnny Haynes?” McGee began with a sour look of disbelief on his face. “Are you saying that I went out and killed a kid and two of my fellow public servants?”
“No,” Johnny explained. “I’m saying that there is a fifty percent chance that you went running into the woods last night and killed a kid and two of your fellow public servants. If you didn’t do this, then I suggest you get off your ass, round up all your ‘good old boys,’ and find that third person; otherwise, the newspapers are going to be getting a totally different story from me.”
The tone in the room changed almost immediately.
“Is that some kind of threat, Johnny?” McGee asked in sudden shock.
“No, it’s not a threat, Sheriff. I’m not much of a person for threatening others. You should know by now that I’m a finisher. I’m promising you that I’ll run to the papers as fast as I can with anything I feel is important to my friend’s freedom.”
Jessie settled back in his comfortable, plush chair and placed his feet up where Johnny’s had recently been.
“What are you suggesting, Haynes?”
“I know this is a little unorthodox, but it’s a very unorthodox town and you’re a very unorthodox guy. I’m going to go with you, and we’re going to drive out to those woods and track down the person responsible.”
Jessie laughed in disbelief.
“You mean you and I are going to go on a hunt for a killer together? I don’t think so, Johnny Haynes. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the perpetrator locked downstairs in my jail.”
Johnny was no longer in a mood for playing games. The time to talk and be talked to was over.
“Okay, here’s the deal then. I’m going to go home, grab a couple of guns, and go to the woods. If I were you, I’d go with me because I’m going to shoot the guy when I find him. That’s the end of my story and my final answer, unless you count the fact that I actually did fart in your chair before I got out of it.”
McGee could see the determination in Johnny Hayne’s eyes and knew there would be no swaying him from what he believed to be his sole task in life at that exact moment. A plan was beginning to take shape in the back of Jessie McGee’s mind. If he could prove to Johnny beyond a shadow of a doubt that Toby was indeed responsible for the carnage about to hit the media like an unimaginable storm, then perhaps he would have the support of the family when it came to his secret plans after Toby Liberman was finally swept underneath the rug of justice forever. The plan Johnny irrationally concocted could actually serve McGee’s agenda. If not, there were a lot of spots in the woods to hide another body.
“Okay, Haynes,” the Sheriff spoke after careful pondering. “I’ll amuse you if it will make you happy. We’ll go out and see what we can find, but the moment you fail to do as I say, or I sense any form of hostility or shadiness from you, it’s game over.”
“You’re serious?” Johnny expressed in surprise. “Hell, I was just talking out of my anus and trying to get you riled up enough to get up off your posterior and do something cop-like.”
“Well then, Johnny Haynes,” the Sheriff began to inform him “It looks like for the very first time in my life, I called your bluff.”
“Oh no you don’t, badge boy,” Johnny objected suddenly. “You didn’t call anything. Grab your pistols and your goofy hat because we’re going now. I’ll be damned if you show me up, although this will probably teach me to keep my mouth shut on more serious occasions. I doubt it though.”
Through some careful wording and the advantage of knowing exactly how to push the buttons of his former bully, Jessie McGee was now in full control of the situation and his destiny. Even though Johnny Haynes could easily overpower him at any moment in a physical sense, Jessie had the advantage of intimidation, not to mention the fact he was carrying two nine-millimeter Berettas at his side that showed no fear should circumstances begin to get out of hand. He grabbed his black Stetson cowboy hat from the rack which stood near the entrance to his office, opened his door and bowed deeply, swinging his hand in a gesture of welcome to the smart-mouthed man who would accompany him on the evening’s quest for dominance within his kingdom.
“After you, Johnny Haynes,” Jessie McGee said with a hint of sarcasm. “I’ve got a feeling you’re going to learn more about me during tonight’s bonding experience than you ever would on your own.”
“What the hell does that mean, McGee?” Johnny cut as he walked out the open door. “I already know you’re not gay. My sister can vouch for that, unless she’s some kind of jacked up cover for what you really do with your spare time.”
“Oh, trust me Mr. Haynes,” McGee replied. “There’s not a hint of gay in this body. As a matter of fact, your sister…”
Johnny immediately interrupted him. “Save it, man. Save it for your memoirs. It’s bad enough knowing my best friend bangs her in between whatever it is you’re doing to her. Tonight isn’t about Jessica. It’s about Toby, and I plan on keeping it that way.”
“As you wish,” McGee said in agreement. “As you wish.”
The Sheriff shut the door firmly behind them causing an echo to reverberate throughout the stone walls of McGee’s makeshift dungeon. It triggered a familiar uneasiness in Johnny’s stomach. McGee was up to something sinister, and he had to be ready for anything.
Toby paced wall to wall frantically in the holding cell like a feeder mouse awaiting his demise in a python’s aquarium. The man playing the part of the evil snake said nothing, which made him more uncomfortable. He was slightly older, possibly mid-forties, and well-dressed for a potential killer. Even though he smelled like he’d been sleeping in a brewery, his stare was sober and penetrating, peering into Toby’s soul and seemingly drawing strength from Toby’s hopelessness. Finally, when he could take no more, Toby backed himself into the corner furthest away from the man with the occasional glowing eyes and prepared for the worst.
“Who in the hell are you? I know you’re the guy from last night so why don’t you just kill me and get it over with?” Toby yelled at the stranger with eyes tightened for fear of what fate was to befall him.
The stranger slowly raised an eyebrow at the careless comment and spoke as calmly as he could to the frightened man, clinging to what remained of normalcy in the corner of the holding cell.
“Mr. Liberman, you have nothing to fear from my direction,” the stranger spoke. “I don’t plan on harming you any more than I already have, nor did I kill anyone else last night.”
Toby fell to his knees in sudden realization.
“Oh God! It was me, wasn’t it?” Toby cried at the thought. “I really did kill those people, didn’t I?”
Shrugging visibly, the man answered.
“I haven’t the slightest idea what happened last night, Mr. Liberman. I left shortly after our encounter,” the man said matter-of-factly. “I went to have a few beers and that Deputy Reed caught me stumbling down the road. I should be out of here shortly with my time served, which is why you need to calm down, listen to me, and keep an open mind.”
“What do you mean by ‘keep an open mind?’” Toby asked him in confusion as one of the jail guards passed by performing a cell check. “And what did you mean by ‘harming me anymore than you already have?’”
The strange man took a deep, cleansing breath and lowered his head.
“You just looked like a guy who could use my help, Toby, so I intervened. Perhaps I shouldn’t have but perhaps, just perhaps, I also saved your life last night.”
Toby’s anger was being fueled by his confusion about what was being explained.
“Exactly how did you try to help me? You jumped on top of me wearing some kind of freaky wolf costume and knocked me unconscious!”
“No, Mr. Liberman, I bit you,” the man whispered, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry. That was no costume either. That was my curse.”
Toby was paralyzed with disbelief. Although he had a slight idea of where the stranger was coming from, he didn’t want to believe it, not even for a second. What was being placed on the table before him was unbelievable; movie producers and novelists had run the entire concept into the ground because of pure amazement of fiction. He snickered a little bit before laughing hysterically.
“Laugh, if you like, Mr. Liberman,” the man interrupted. “But I’m a werewolf, and so are you.”
Toby paused his laughter, shocked at what the man had mustered the nerve to say. “Oh, give me a freaking break, you crazy old fart,” Toby said angrily. “I’m in here as a suspect for murdering three people, and you’re trying to tell me I’m some kind of monster now. Let’s get real here for a second because this situation is damn real to me. Besides, it wasn’t even a full moon last night.”
The pleasantries and calm demeanor of the strange individual melted away with Toby’s last attack. He stood up and pointed his finger straight at Toby as though it was a loaded weapon. The glowing in his eyes returned more powerfully causing Toby to curl up in the fetal position on the jailhouse floor. Finally, the man spoke with a growl which made Toby wish he was already tried, executed, and gone forever.
“Now listen here, you know-it-all bastard,” the man barked angrily at Toby. “Don’t even begin to tell me what I am and what I’m not. I freaking know what I am. You watch too many damn movies and this is probably the most serious situation you’ve ever been in since your unwanted birth. Now, shut up and listen to me!”
“Okay, okay!” Toby returned in fear. “Just turn off the demon eyes and the voice!”
The stranger sat and slowed his breathing, and an uneasy, yet copacetic feeling enveloped the room. The piercing yellow glow of his eyes gave way to a more human shade of brown. He spoke with the voice of a normal human being again.
“Mr. Liberman, I’ll say it again, we don’t have much time. Come sit down, shut up, and let me do about ninety percent of the talking. With any luck, I can help you out of this mess and grant you more control over your destiny.”
Toby crawled to the top of the jail cell bench like a frightened puppy who’d been scolded too many times. The strange man began again.
“My name is Kurt Jimmerson. I’m from New York City. I’m a werewolf.”
“Hi, Kurt,” Toby attempted in humor, as though it were an Alcoholics Anonymous greeting.
“Mr. Liberman. Lethal injection,” the man interjected.
“Right, sorry, go on,” Toby continued. “I’m just trying to calm down. I tell jokes when I’m nervous.”
Kurt gave a sort of semi-smile and continued his story.
“Now is the time to be nervous, maybe even scared, but keep the joking to a minimum, please. As I was saying before I was so humorously interrupted, I’m a werewolf / lycanthrope / big freaking monster / lunatic. Contrary to popular belief and poorly directed cinema, it has nothing to do with the cycle of the moon or death by silver bullets.”
“NO SHIT!” Toby interrupted again. “A silver bullet can’t kill you?”
The man sighed deeply again and bowed his head.
“Mr. Liberman, so help me God if you don’t shut up and let me finish, I’m going to continue the rest of our conversation with my eyes glowing.”
Toby could tell he was serious.
“Continue,” he offered.
“We don’t have giant wars with vampires, not even the ‘sparkly’ ones and, yes, silver bullets can kill us. All bullets can. So can garbage trucks and knives and anything else that would normally kill a regular human being. We’re not immortal or anything and we couldn’t care less about the moon, although it’s fun and cliché to howl at sometimes.”
Toby’s mind was swimming with a million questions and, by the look in the strange man’s eyes, he knew it also. Time was of the essence.
“If you’re from way up north, why were you in the woods down in nowhere, Texas, and why did you attack me?”
“Toby, I don’t like killing but, unfortunately, it’s my way of life. There’s no steak in the world that’s going to satisfy my hunger. To keep from attacking people when the hunger begins to become unbearable, I come down here to hunt animals. On average, that’s about once a year.”
“Don’t they have animals in New York?” Toby inquired sarcastically.
“Freaking sewer rats, Liberman!” the man barked at him again for interrupting. “It takes a big animal to keep me from going berserk and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t see a lot of damned deer and things prancing through Times Square! The community tends to get a little nosey when animals start disappearing from the zoo!”
The irritated Kurt Jimmerson glanced through the tinted windows of the holding cell with the best of his abilities and noticed the clock on the far wall of the administration area ticking ever closer to his departure.
“They’re coming for me, so let me finish without you saying a damn word, please.”
Toby was still suffering from stunned disbelief, not to mention the unbelievable explanation the formidable man offered. He buckled down with all his restraint and listened attentively to the only person in his whole world who was convinced of his innocence.
“Well, hurry then!” Toby insisted.
“The answer to your second question is that you had no idea of who you were dealing with. That damn Sheriff is a dangerous man. If he found you, there would’ve been no hope of your survival. I had to help you. Your wife needs you. Your kid needs you. Regardless of what’s going on in all your personal lives, you needed the power to be able to leave here and the power to fix things. You couldn’t do that without my help. This is fate, Mr. Liberman. Besides, you’ll be all over the news soon. My paperwork is probably being shredded as we speak.”
“Shredded?” Toby inquired.
“Jesus, man, do you not have any idea where you live?” Jimmerson laughed in amazement. “Sheriff Jessie McGee has showed me time and time again that he can get away with whatever he wants. If you were actually paying attention over the last twenty-four hours, you would know this already. That is why you need to get out of here.”
Toby sighed with a mixture of belief and denial at what the man was telling him. If it was all completely true, he would still be laughed out of the courtroom and probably stuck with two lethal injection needles instead of one, just to make sure they killed the crazy man properly.
“Keep in mind, Mr. Liberman, I’m keeping things concise due to time restraints. You’ll get the whole story soon. When you get out of here, find a good hiding place and I’ll find you. I’ll explain everything to you and train you the best I can while I’m still around. The rest will be up to you.”
Toby’s sense of sarcasm returned momentarily.
“Thanks for the advice, Obi Wan, but there’s one big problem with that plan you didn’t take into consideration. I just happen to be locked up for triple homicide.”
Deputy Reed opened the door, surprising both of them, and motioned for Kurt to come with him. He turned to look at Toby with an air of disgust making Toby want to curl up again in the corner of the cell.
“Jimmerson,” the deputy announced with authority. “Your time is up, let’s go.”
“Toby!” the stranger ordered, whispering as he stood to face the officer. “You’ve got to change. You’ve got to break through that wall and get out of here. It’s an outside wall and it will lead you back through the woods. Go hide, I’ll find you!”
“You two can kiss the next time you’re here, Jimmerson. He ain’t going anywhere. Freaking killer,” the deputy scolded him. “Now, come on. I’ve got shit to go do.”
Toby was now in a state of desperation. His only source of guidance was now leaving his side. His heart began to race at a high speed, and he could feel the pulse in his arms beating madly as though the veins were going to burst through his skin. He needed answers, and he needed them now.
“Kurt! How? How do I do it? I can’t even see the damn moon to do anything!”
Kurt Jimmerson walked back toward Toby and cornered him with eyes glowing.
“Dammit, Liberman!” the stranger yelled into his face. “In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it doesn’t have a thing to do with the damn moon. It’s controlled by emotion!”
“Are you freaking deaf, old man? I said it was time to go! Don’t think for a second that I won’t leave you in here,” the deputy ordered once again.
Kurt Jimmerson calmed his breathing and cleared his throat as gracefully as possible. He turned toward the deputy while brushing the jail cell debris from the shoulders of his sport coat. Glancing back at Toby, he could tell his story was in danger of coming to an end.
“What if I can’t get angry enough to do it?” Toby asked as he exited the cell. “What if I can’t get out of here?”
Kurt looked at him with serious eyes and said the only thing he knew could possibly trigger something extreme enough to give Toby a fighting chance of surviving.
“Mr. Liberman, in case you don’t remember, there’s a guy upstairs in a cowboy hat who’s going to be screwing your wife a lot more since you’re out of the picture!”
The deputy giggled in agreement and shut the door hard, leaving Toby to himself and his thoughts.
As it was, the comment had been more than enough to trigger what Toby needed, and he dropped to his knees in unbearable pain. Every object in the jail cell turned from shades of cold grey to the bright red hue of rage. It hadn’t been just a dream or some maniacal hallucination he’d experienced while locked away in the back seat of the Sheriff’s car. It was real. The old man knew exactly how to control it, and Toby was determined to know more, if not all. The only thing standing between him and the answers he craved was a cinder block wall. If he had anything to do with it, the wall wouldn’t be there much longer.
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.