Toby sprinted down the muddy pathway that led to the fairgrounds. The rows of oak trees lining the road afforded him sporadic cover from the rain. The midway was nothing but open ground with carnival rides placed here and there. These would be the perfect hiding places for someone planning an ambush.
From the moment he passed under the entrance gate, he watched vigilantly for any indication of the presence of armed men lying in wait. With his left ear, he heard nothing but rain. His right ear was stuffed with a tiny receiver allowing him to hear instructions from Jim Savage, who was parked nearby, but well out of sight. Attached to Toby’s tattered shirt and all but invisible, thanks to the motley state of his attire, was a micro camera. Just underneath his shirt, barely peeking through one of the many holes was a microphone. As soon as his hands stopped shaking, Jim Savage had wired Toby in hopes of recording something interesting. North Texas was about to learn the dirty dealings of Sheriff Jessie McGee and Toby Liberman’s innocence.
Once caught, cornered, and assured of his own safety, Savage was eager to hear Toby’s side of the story. The newsman required no convincing that the events looming on the horizon were well worth his attention. His only request was to be allowed to stay as far from the violence as possible. His request was more pragmatic than cowardly. He couldn’t very well assist in Toby’s vindication if he ended up dead.
“You are aware I’m going to lose my earpiece the minute I transform, right?” Toby asked during their very rushed preparation.
“No problem,” Savage assured. “Just try to get as much out of this guy as possible before it happens. When I have enough to break the story, I’ll bolt back to the station.”
“I hope this works,” Toby said. “If, by some miracle I don’t get shot, I’d sure hate to spend the rest of my life behind bars.”
“Don’t worry, man,” the reporter replied. “If they take you, they’re not going to take you alive. You’ve already shown them that a jail can’t hold you.”
“Well, thanks for the cold comfort, I suppose,” Toby said with a hint of sarcasm.
Unknown to Savage, Johnny Haynes decided to leave the confines of the mausoleum and join his brother-in-law on his quest for vengeance. He was strolling beside Toby and offering words of reassurance.
“Don’t worry, you’ve got this! You’re a freaking werewolf, and he’s an evil Sheriff! End of story!”
“That’s not going to matter much when they start firing at me from every direction, but thanks,” Toby said, speaking as softly as possible.
“Come on!” Johnny continued. “What are the chances these guys were smart enough to fill their guns with silver bullets?”
“Jimmerson told me it wouldn’t make any difference. Bullets are bullets. That’s just a bunch of science fiction nonsense.”
There was another crackle from the earpiece.
“I think I’m getting some kind of interference, Toby,” Savage said. “I’m picking up some type of conversation. You’re not talking to yourself, are you?”
“It’s another one of those long stories I’ll have to explain to you if I happen to live through this night. That is an entirely different news story,” Toby replied.
Now at the edge of the midway and no longer camouflaged by the trees, Toby prepared himself for fate. He was unexpectedly blinded by the overpowering flash of a police interceptor’s spotlight. This was it. The battle for his life and the life of his daughter had officially begun.
“Welcome back, Mr. Liberman,” the Sheriff announced. “Glad you could make it to my little party!”
“Daddy!” Katie screamed. “It’s a trap, Daddy! Run!”
“I know, baby. I know,” Toby quieted her. “Are you okay?”
“She’s fine, Toby. I’m not a monster. I just want justice! Turn yourself in and this is all over. No one else has to die!” McGee demanded.
Toby was wary of the Sheriff’s words. Jessie McGee was not exactly a man of integrity. Toby continued to listen intently with his left ear. He heard no footsteps and no rattling of weapons. Had McGee been so reckless as to show up alone? As he stepped toward the spotlight, he resisted the growing urge to make the change. The time wasn’t right. He would have to wait. He had to get McGee talking and keep him talking until Savage had enough material to work with.
“If we’re the only ones here, McGee, I don’t see why you’re still holding back. Drop the act!”
“I’m not quite sure I understand what act you’re talking about, Mr. Liberman. I’m the Sheriff of this county, and I’ve sworn to uphold justice and ensure the safety of its people,” McGee began as if he were holding another press conference.
“Oh, come off of it!” Toby interrupted his speech. “Everyone here knows damn well you ordered Jessica’s murder. All I did was take out your chubby little assassin!”
“Look, I realize now that I had a loose cannon in my department. He wanted to put an end to all of this,” Jessie continued his charade. “He was directed to go there and take care of you, not her. I’m just as upset as you are, Toby.”
The plan wasn’t working. McGee was still pretending to be the savior of Twin Oaks. Toby had to turn up the heat a little to see if the Sheriff’s temper would loosen his lips.
“You’re just pissed off because she died loving me and not you. She took back everything she ever said to you, and she told you this to your face. I was there!”
Jessie McGee held his head low at the comment which set his blood to boiling. His attempt to coax Toby into giving himself up was not going as well as he’d hoped, and it was beginning to feel more like bloodshed was unavoidable. Breathing deeply to calm his nerves, he removed his service weapon from its holster and chambered a round. The echo of the sliding metal rang throughout the empty midway.
“Liberman, I didn’t want to have to do this, but I’m going to blow your daughter’s brains all over this field before you begin to understand that you’ve lost this battle. It’s a damn shame, too. She looks so much like her mother.”
Toby was getting somewhere. This was the reaction he’d hoped for, but he hadn’t expected it to be at Katie’s expense. “McGee, if you so much as look in her direction, I’ll rip you to shreds!” Toby threatened. “You’ve ruled this county with fear and death for far too long. It ends tonight!”
“No, Toby, it’s never going to end,” McGee vowed. “No one has been able to stop me so far, and I don’t foresee anyone coming along in the near future who can. Of course, you’re welcome to try.”
“You’ve killed everyone that’s gotten in your way or gone against your will,” Toby continued. “Someday soon, someone is going to find out, and I hope I’m there to see it when they slap the cuffs on you!”
The Sheriff laughed at the unlikely scenario being described.
“You’re wrong, Liberman!” the Sheriff’s angry voice growled from behind clenched teeth. “No one is ever going to find out because I’m shutting you up tonight!”
“If you can catch me,” Toby pushed.
Johnny Haynes reappeared at his friend’s side once again. During the heated exchange between Toby and McGee, he’d searched the perimeter. Able to move about completely unnoticed, he searched behind every tree, under every tent, inside every booth, and inside the carnival rides until he was satisfied there was nobody else present. He whispered to Toby it was time to take things to the next level.
“You’re clear, man. I’ve looked everywhere. It’s just you and him.”
“Savage,” Toby spoke underneath his breath into the hidden microphone. “Get ready.”
Stepping even closer into the spotlight, Toby went for broke. He’d tolerated enough of Jessie McGee’s tyranny over the previous week to want to quiet the man once and for all. He knew exactly how to do it.
“I’m going to make this just like old times, McGee,” Toby spoke calmly. “I’m going to kick your ass from one side of this place to the other, and there’s nothing you and your little peashooter can do about it.”
“Shut it, Liberman, or I’ll shut it for you,” came the angry response.
“What are you waiting for, lawman? Shut me up!” he said as he stepped forward to challenge his nemesis. “Shut me up the way that you shut Jessica and Johnny up! Shut me up the same way that you’ve shut them all up!”
Toby’s breathing began to intensify the way it always did just before an involuntary change. Slowing it back to normal and steeling his nerves, he resolved to wait for the right moment.
“Liberman, if you start sprouting fur, so help me, I’ll plug both you and your daughter!”
The earpiece crackled again.
“This is good stuff, Toby, try to keep it going but don’t get yourself or your kid hurt. This guy is a lunatic!” Savage instructed him.
Toby didn’t hear a word of Jim Savage’s direction because he was listening to someone else’s encouragement.
“Get him, Toby!” Johnny screamed for no one else to hear. “Wolf out and tear him apart!”
Only Toby could hear and see Johnny, but it didn’t matter. Johnny was lost in the moment and pumping Toby up with every word he spoke. “He killed me. He killed Jessica, and now he says he’s going to kill Katie! Get him now!”
“Step back, Liberman!” the Sheriff ordered. “Step back now, or I’ll do it!”
“Daddy, get him now!” Katie screamed.
“Yeah, Daddy, get him now, you Jewish hairball!” Johnny echoed.
To the surprise of everyone present, Jessie McGee holstered his weapon and crossed his arms confidently. Having grown frustrated with the back-and-forth with Toby, he unbuttoned his uniform shirt and removed his duty belt. It came crashing to the ground with the sound of rattling keys as a deafening clap of thunder shook them all. Finally, he spoke.
“You know, Johnny Haynes, when this is all over I’m going to find a way to resurrect you and kill you all over again.”
Toby halted his advance toward the Sheriff as he processed the terrible realization. Johnny’s dancing and taunting immediately gave way to standing and staring in disbelief.
“He just acknowledged me, didn’t he?” Johnny asked Toby.
“Yeah, he did,” Toby replied, still stumped.
Toby wondered why McGee seemed so unshaken when he witnessed his transformation earlier in the evening. It hadn’t made much sense that everyone except the Sheriff seemed terrified of his supernatural abilities. He’d remained calm, to a point, and hadn’t once flinched at the fact Toby could transform at any moment. Jessie McGee was obviously familiar with some elements of Toby’s new reality. Johnny’s, too. He was the one. Breathing deep and praying that Jim Savage would get clear video and audio of the next few moments, Toby asked the question.
“It was you, wasn’t it? You’re the one that Jimmerson told me about.”
“You could say that, Mr. Liberman, but it would depend on which version of the story he told you,” Jessie McGee spoke with conviction. “He’s told so many over the years that I tend to get them confused from time to time.”
“He told me that you were the one that changed him and murdered his family. He told me that you were the reason he came back to Twin Oaks to put an end to it all.”
The Sheriff walked closer to Toby. His smug swagger was almost a strut. “Well, there is some truth in that,” McGee explained. “I am the reason that he keeps coming back to Twin Oaks year after year, but the rest? Lies. Like the ones he’s told the others before you.”
“What do you mean ‘others,’ Jessie?” Toby asked in bewilderment. “How many more of our kind are there around here?”
“Now?” McGee laughed. “Now there are only you and me. I’ve taken care of each one of them the same way I’m going to take care of you. Better men than you have grown fur and sprouted claws and tried to put me in my place. You won’t find any of them now, Liberman.”
McGee’s revelations sapped every ounce of Toby’s confidence. This was the reason McGee had come alone. This was exactly why he wanted no witnesses. It explained his bravado. Toby was sure it somehow explained McGee’s successful campaigns for re-election. Never had an opposing candidate even come close to defeating Jessie McGee at the polls.
“You see,” McGee continued. “He found me. I got into a little trouble straight out of high school. I was touring universities in New York when it happened, and I needed an attorney to put the trouble behind me. One night, Jimmerson was in a drunken stupor and he revealed to me what he was. I didn’t believe him, but the drunk bastard actually changed right in front of me. After what seemed like an eternity of pleading with him, he changed me from the pathetic weakling you all remember into what you are about to see. He has a soft spot for people with Irish heritage. I have no idea why he started targeting Jews.”
“I’m not Jewish, and you’re lying, McGee!” Toby defended Kurt. “You’re lying through your damn teeth!”
“No, Toby, he lied to you,” the Sheriff argued. “He comes here year after year on some personal mission to ‘stop what I’ve become,’” McGee rolled his eyes as he spoke the last four words in a mocking voice. “He recruits idiots like you and gets them all fired up about standing up to me. Then I drop them, one by one. He’s too old to match my strength anymore, so he found you, changed you, and signed your death warrant.”
“This doesn’t make any sense at all, McGee!” Toby interrupted him. He needed answers. “If this was the case, why did you have him arrested and thrown in jail? Why didn’t you kill him if he’s such a pain in your ass?”
The Sheriff laughed heartily into the pouring rain. He’d regained control of what had been a very problematic situation. He was going to foil another one of Kurt Jimmerson’s attempts to end his reign and kill Toby Liberman in one swift stroke. After that, he would dispense with the only witness and the last member of Toby’s family.
“Man, he really did a number on you, didn’t he?” McGee continued. “He just bit you, then ran off and left with the rule book!”
“What do you mean, McGee?”
“Toby, he changed ME!” Jessie McGee pointed at himself. “If I killed him, I’d be just regular, pathetic Jessie again! This is why I let him live and send him back to New York year after year with a black eye and his tail between his legs. If I kill him, then I lose my ability to transform!”
Toby never felt so betrayed and helpless. Not only had his life been forever altered, but Jimmerson lied to him and then turned tail to run when he knew Toby would need him the most. Even their confrontation with Archie Weldon was a well-played charade. Everything Toby believed about his new abilities was contradicted, and his plans seemed doomed to fail. If, by some miracle, McGee was speaking truths, then Toby was just a pawn in a longstanding rivalry between the Sheriff and Kurt Jimmerson. He felt his stomach sink to his feet as he realized it was unlikely he or Katie would live to see sunrise. Seeming to never tire of his own voice, McGee continued with his disclosure.
“This time, I guess he followed me to your house to try and catch me with my pants down, no pun intended, but he stood down when he saw you busting through the door! You saved him the trouble of perusing the bars looking for drunks with delusions. You practically presented yourself to him on a silver platter. Hell, chances are that he was at the American Legion with you and Johnny when Archie Weldon ratted me out! What luck this guy has!”
The Sheriff began to pace back and forth in the teeming deluge, leaving deep footprints in the mud as he walked. He was becoming a little too sure of himself for Toby’s liking. It was almost as though his rationality left him, and he was entering a state of frenzied insanity as he continued to shout his story.
“And then you passed out like the wimp you are, and you were almost discovered by that damn Weldon kid and those idiots in the ambulance! I couldn’t let them find you, so I had to put an end to them as well. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it tends to get easier with time. Killing people who haven’t done anything wrong, but that stupid kid’s dad worked for me at the drug lab and was pretty darn good at what he did. I couldn’t afford to lose him, so I made it look like you did it instead!”
Toby’s head was swimming in disbelief at the way things were falling into place. Everything that happened to him, the loved ones who lost their lives, was because of Kurt Jimmerson’s selfish vendetta against Jessie McGee. Toby’s stomach turned as he thought of the souls he’d taken. Sure, some of them deserved it, but that was empty consolation now he knew it was grounded in lies.
“And then you broke out of my jail cell shortly after I released him. That’s when I began to wonder what was really going on. I didn’t know for sure he’d chosen you to be one of his little minions until you fell out of that tree.”
McGee seemed anxious for Toby to reply, but Toby could find no retort. There was silence, but only for a moment. It was soon interrupted by the screeching of tires on the wet pavement as Jim Savage brought the news van to life. He was off to reveal his findings to the world. With a renewed sense of triumph, Toby smiled as he removed his earpiece and threw it to the ground at the Sheriff’s feet. He watched McGee’s cocksure grin give way to a very troubled grimace as he came to grips with the fact that he’d been lured into a confession.
“That’s right, Jessie,” Toby spoke solemnly. “Everything that you just said will be broadcast to the masses first thing in the morning. It’s over.”
“I’m going to kill you, Liberman!” the Sheriff growled.
“There is nothing you can do to either of us that will change what happens to you when the sun comes up.”
“And I’m going to kill your damn daughter, too!”
Toby found McGee’s threats carried much less weight now the tables had turned. He welcomed whatever McGee chose to try to do to him. Granted, the Sheriff would probably kill him, but Toby wasn’t going down without a fight. His renewed confidence was bolstered by the fact McGee failed to keep an eye on Katie during his lengthy oration. She’d managed to wriggle out of the wet chains while McGee ran his mouth. A small, delicate, hand pulled the Sheriff’s weapon from the holster he’d so theatrically dropped to the ground. Toby smiled at his daughter.
“Do you have a good bead on him, honey?” Toby asked her, causing the Sheriff to turn in surprise.
“He’s all mine,” she replied. “I don’t think he’s going anywhere tonight without a big hole in his ugly head.”
“No, you can’t kill him, baby. We need him to be alive when everything hits the fan. It’s over McGee. Give it up.”
Toby’s words fell on deaf ears. Katie Liberman had been through enough, too much in fact. She had no knowledge of this Jimmerson who her father and the Sheriff seemed so well-acquainted with. She did know the man standing before her was responsible for the murders of her mother and uncle. After all, Katie promised him only hours earlier that she would be the one to kill him if everyone else failed. She’d tired of all the talking.
“He killed Mom and Johnny, and then chained me to a pole in the rain,” Katie explained to her father. “I’d say that’s worth a good killing.”
“You see,” Johnny’s ghost finally spoke after a long period of silence. “You can’t underestimate these Liberman women, McGee. I’ve trained both thoroughly over the years just in case we ever had to fight some asshole for control of our destinies. You never believed me that this kind of thing would happen, Toby, but I told you, didn’t I?”
Katie struggled not to fall to her knees in despair at the realization she’d been holding an unloaded weapon. McGee’s earlier loading of the weapon was mere theatrics. The balance of the playing field shifted yet again. Her feelings of dominance quickly retreated as the fear returned. Throwing the useless weapon to the saturated ground, she began to cry, unable to maintain a brave face as she accepted the end.
“You’re right!” the Sheriff laughed once again. “You can never underestimate a Liberman. They’re always picking up empty guns. I’m not stupid, Liberman.”
Jessie McGee had not brought a loaded weapon to the confrontation, knowing what might happen if he lost control of the situation and it fell into the wrong hands. After all, he had the powers of the animal on his side, and it was about time to reveal it to his enemies. He ripped his shirt away from his body, letting everyone know the fighting was about to commence.
“Katie, run! Now!” Toby yelled at his daughter.
Katie was sprinting through the pouring rain before Toby even finished his warning. She understood she was, quite literally, running for her life. McGee was right behind her. He reached out and grabbed her soaked shirt then pulled her toward him with a violent jerk. Toby completed his hastiest transformation thus far. He leapt forward and hit the Sheriff across the face with a devastating blow, knocking him to the ground and causing him to release his grip on Katie. Slowly rising to his feet, McGee wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth and flung it onto the ground where it disappeared into a puddle of rain and mud. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine the final showdown between him and his childhood bully would take place on these terms. It was almost poetic.
“Time to die, Toby Liberman!” he announced surely. “When you do, be sure to say ‘hello’ to that whore wife of yours, ok?”
The savage cracking of bones and ripping of clothing echoed in the rainy night. Hair began to appear on Jessie McGee’s face. That face now displayed none of the fear revealed earlier. There was really no detectable expression behind the yellowish glow of his animal eyes. Slowly, his fingers became razor-sharp claws and his legs stretched his torso upward. He was a good two feet taller than Toby. Raising his head high, Jessie McGee let out a deafening howl which reverberated for miles and caused an electric shock of fear to tear its way down Toby Liberman’s spine. Finally, his transformation was complete. The towering image of the Sheriff’s own alter-ego stood before Toby’s, breathing visibly into the chilled air of the October night. Silence returned. Only the rain and Toby’s frantic, pounding heartbeat could be heard.
“Oh, shit!” Johnny spoke to Toby underneath his breath. “He is way bigger than you!”
Toby was struck motionless by the uncontrollable fear that had plagued him since the beginning of his ordeal. He desperately wanted to distract the Sheriff’s attention from his fleeing daughter, but he was frozen to the spot. Finally, Johnny spoke again.
“Run, you dumb bastard!” Johnny ordered Toby. “Run!”
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.
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