LOVE AND DEATH IN THE BIG EASY
Bayou Country 2012
“They’re in the shed beside the main house,” I whispered to Kady through the microphone.
“I see them,” she muttered in reply from the FBI command vehicle a mile away. “Sometimes I wish I had your vision.”
I pictured my wife’s stare cutting momentarily from the eye pads of the night scope binoculars. With my enhanced shifter acuity, I peered across the cropped field from the shelter of a small grove, able to calculate the distance an approaching party could get before detection, maybe half way. The prospect of crossing the cold dark mud lurking under the corn stubble with who knows how many alarms and traps held no attraction. That’s why the bureau paid our agency so well.
“Okay, I’m ready.” I sighed.
“Sufi, I’d be honored for leave to take your place in this matter.” Jonathan, leader of the local shifter pack, spoke in the archaic vernacular of our kind. Sufi was my title as overlord of multiple alphas. I crouched with my faithful lieutenant in the cramped confines of a canvas lean-to, situated in a small cypress bog bordering the open area.
“The offer both pleases and tempts,” I replied in similar stilted turns of phrase. “But my dear friend, your transformation to timber wolf serves little purpose, for many hazards lie in the field ahead, made to harass and bedevil creatures of the formidable proportions you possess.”
Jonathan replied with downcast eyes. Whether he agreed or not, the Sufi had rendered judgment, after which debate ceased.
Having acknowledged my sovereignty in the matter, the hulking blond threw a rain parka over his shoulders. “I’ll be without.” He parted the canvas entrance of the cramped observation post and entered the misty chilly night.
Able to comfortably stand, I stripped naked and transformed to the animal persona of my shape shifter nature. In seconds, a Yorkshire terrier puffed up by a tan and gray winter coat stood on the dirt floor. In a morph, especially when downsizing, the process takes away the breath and carries the sensation of plummeting down a long tube. Coupled with the crunch of bones compressing and joints reversing, any shifter needs a moment to recover.
“Ready?” Jonathan asked from outside.
With a brief bark of acknowledgement, I pranced toward the entry flap making quick authoritative little goosesteps.
Jonathan pulled me close and attached a collar. At first glance, the small neckband appeared as any other, complete with the jingle of appropriate tags. The difference was a Velcro fastener. Shifters without prehensile claws such as terriers can’t remove collars. To avoid strangulation or decapitation when returning to human form, the restraint separated under the pressure of an expanding neck.
Strong fingers removed the dog tags, replacing them with a surveillance camera and receiver for instructions. “Sufi is reminded of Directoress’ admonishments. This mission is solely a gathering of information,” he said to my attentive triangular face. “We need only to identify the locations of alarm contrivances and confirm the drugs have been delivered.”
The “Directoress” was Kady Martin, my wife and Deputy Assistant Director for the FBI’s special operations intelligence division. Four Shifters Detective Agency was the main subcontractor. Our abilities made us ideal for surveillance or gathering evidence. In Yorkie form, I couldn’t speak but retained human intelligence. I snorted an understanding of her orders delivered by proxy and headed out. I may have been overlord of all shifter packs in North America shifters in the region, but Kady was boss for FBI jobs, a fact she loved to rub in when the opportunity afforded.
I broke into the open from the cloister of densely packed dark tree trunks. The glow of a rising crescent moon behind a thick cloud cover provided little light. From a height of six inches, none of the trip wires or traps escaped my notice. An advantage to being a small shifter, but with the other hand, Fate takes away. Unfortunately, bare terrier belly brushing across the stubble would probably raise a nasty rash. I always hated when that happened, and tonight I forgot to take the preventative antihistamine.
“Give me a close-up of the trap in the camera field,” Kady said into the mite of an earphone clipped to my large three-sided ear. While Kady controlled focus and illumination through the night scope, I’d learned from experience the best perspective to take. The images clearly depicted each device.
“That’s good,” Kady continued after I got closer. Her task would be to transfer the image’s position to a grid map near her station.
The wet, cold mud soaked through my fur to the skin by the time I reached the house. Paws and belly suffered most from the chill. The lighting from an inside room flung a rough parallelogram across the tattered grass. Three quick canine snorts, transmitted to Kady’s location, signaled I’d arrived.
“No heat signatures outside near you,” my lovely wife announced. “You may morph safely, little Precious.”
I still hated the name she so lovingly bestowed on me the first day we met. I was in Yorkie form, trapped at the local animal shelter, and my only salvation was Kady. Whenever she got bossy, she’d call me the dreaded name knowing I’d be irritated. As the boss, she got away with such lapses in bureau decorum. In a flash, I upsized to human. The collar holding the camera separated and fell to the ground. Standing naked and shivering in the dark coldness, I adjusted the earphone.
Inside the cozy warmth of the room, a couple sat in high-backed chairs each reading from a thin hardcover book. At observing the scene, all washed in an amber glow, I held up the camera collar to give a view of the inside.
“The picture isn’t clear. What do you see?” Kady asked.
“A couple reading in a small library,” I reported to the earphone, now pinching my human ear uncomfortably.
“Check the cellar window.”
The house, built into a rise, had a half basement, rare for structures on the edge of Louisiana bayou country where the water table lies inches below the surface in most places. As I walked the perimeter, a window appeared just above ground level on the side wall. Air and internal scents wafted through the raised pane. I peered into the darkened space. A lack of light seldom stymies shifter vision. Upon scanning furniture and objects inside, a battered table holding bricks of white powder wrapped in clear plastic caught my attention. From the interior, puffs of warm air taunted my cold human nakedness. To a shifter’s keen sense of smell, they also carried the unmistakable odor of high quality cocaine.
“I have it,” I muttered into the chilly night.
“Good, now get out.” Kady answered. “The cavalry’s on the way.”
After returning to Yorkie form, I trotted across the field, carrying the collar in my jaws. Halfway back to the lean-to, the shadow of a helicopter passed overhead. The machine flew with lights darkened and in silent mode, stopping in a hover above a portion of open land declared safe by the information I’d provided. Dark forms of men slid smoothly down lowered ropes. They hit the ground running, headed toward the house. Seconds later a confusion of light beams erupted in the darkness around the structure. Among shouts announcing FBI presence, a battering ram bashed in the front door with a resounding bang. After more chaotic tensely shouted orders, things settled down. By then I was dressed, sipping a warm cup of tea, brewed by Marta, Jonathan’s mate who arrived shortly after I’d left to scout.
“Sufi by his efforts has honored our enterprises this night.” The willowy tan-skinned Creole shifter, like Jonathan, preferred the old dialect.
A flush of modesty filled my cheeks. Protocol demanded a reciprocal compliment. “The efficaciousness of the sympathetic magic from your gris-gris contributed.”
Marta also practiced White Magic. The reputation of her potions reached into the finest homes of the New Orleans area. As the premiere Voodoo Queen in these parts, clients addressed her by the shorter less formal title of Maman.
Now her turn came to be embarrassed. The Creole shifter’s serene, wide-mouthed smile contained the assured confidence to soothe a beast like Jonathan, who could be surly at times. Her words, tinted by a Cajun accent, brightened the drab little space we occupied.
“True, my Sufi, yet many instances of possible danger you identified for those who will follow this night. While determination of success or failure in such endeavors rests with God, your efforts must be pleasing to His eyes.” Following in the tradition of the greatest Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, Marta possessed deep religious roots.
Such tedious customs as pack-speak were the main reason I had avoided pack life for so long, The exchange might have continued indefinitely, but Kady arrived with a couple of escorts. Her black SUV swerved to a stop with a spray of mud. A head of shoulder-length hair tinted to a chestnut color, pinned up to satisfy bureau grooming standards, led the rest of Kady from the dark vehicle interior. Under the loose updo, an oval face, elongated by the suggestion of a double chin, held two sapphire blue eyes. In a habitual unconscious motion, she attempted to press a minor jaw sag into place with a quick sweep of a hand.
At the arrival of my wife, the Sufi’s mate, Marta made a place for her out of respect, her svelte, shifter perfect, body gracefully moving aside. The ivory colored pleats of the skirt, hanging to mid-thigh on sculpted tan legs, swayed languidly in rhythm with the motion of the hips underneath. I turned from watching her to face Kady’s cool stare. As our eyes locked, she once again pressed at the small under chin bulge.
Shortly after FBI agent Kady Hartley re-entered my life, Linda Gifford, long-time employee, and family friend opined she “wasn’t as attractive as most women I dated.” Probably true, but a canine views love in a different manner than humans. Every night, I give thanks Kady recognized the distinction. Only when reminded she aged three times faster than shifters did gloom descend like a cold, wet blanket. Marta’s agile sensuality stood high among instances triggering such episodes.
As a professional, Kady could put aside such distressing thoughts. Moreover, deep down she understood the basis of my love. She shook off the negativity and announced, “We got them all,” thereby answering the unspoken question of each shifter in and out of the lean-to. “I imagine the Department of Homeland Security will be upset, again,” she added as a veneer of humor returned.
Before I responded, she pressed close. Two sleek heels rose from her shoes when she planted a colleague-to-colleague kiss on my cheek. The fresh aroma of her hair froze me as always. I didn’t give a shit about the darker, duller roots.
“What does DHS have to do with this operation?”
“Not much really. We both were working the case. They came at it from the terrorist connection side while we tracked the money and, through your efforts, the contraband.”
“They must be pretty tired of getting beat on a regular basis like this.”
Kady’s lips drew back exposing small gleaming, off-white teeth. “They don’t know about the shifters. You guys make the difference.”
“Aren’t they the big believers in technology conquering all?”
She brushed back a fallen lock of hair. “You’re right. They spend twice what we do on the latest equipment and still we ace them out. I love it.” Her smile widened, and she winked at me.
“Don’t rub salt in too much. There are stories, you know.”
Kady chuckled. By then we’d walked to the SUV and a ride home. “They’re tough enough at shutting down employees who speak out or harassing critics into silence, but this is the FBI. We’re too big for that to work.” I held the door, and she slid in. We took the back seat while the agents who accompanied her filled in the front.
“If we hurry we can pick up the baby.” She looked up from scrolling through the contact list in her cell, pressed in Linda’s number, and gave driving instructions.
Attention shifted when I heard Linda’s voice after the third ring. No mistaking the Texas accent. Shifter hearing pretty much guarantees an ability to understand speech coming from a phone, regardless of how close the other person holds the receiver. This is a quality Kady least appreciated at the time.
“Four Shifters Investigations,” Linda said from force of habit since work ended several hours ago.
“We’re finished here and on our way home.”
“How’d it go?”
“Like clockwork.” Kady glanced at me with a twinkle in her eye, and I melted inside. “How’s Rex doing?”
“Sound asleep with Tracy and Theo, snug as three peas in a pod.” Linda’s West Texas accent twanged. “Why don’t you leave him be and have an evening to yourselves?”
We turned onto the main highway, headed back to New Orleans. The clouds cleared out and a white new moon pinned to a starry black sky kept pace with our vehicle. I thought how clear things got out in the boonies. Illuminated by the high beams, the road stretched ahead, the only solid ground rising from the reeking swamp spreading to the horizon on either side.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Motherly apprehension laced Kady’s voice at the prospect of spending the first night away from our son since bringing him home seven months earlier.
“Dang girl, don’t you comprendo? If you take him, you’ll wake up my two and it’ll be hell getting them back down. You’ll actually be doing me a favor. Now don’t you fret none. He’ll be fine.”
With a quick sideways glance, Kady noted this boy’s enthusiastic silent support for the time alone. At length she relented. “Okay, if you don’t mind, I guess it’ll be all right.”
* * * *
The wrought iron gate to our home rolled back at the SUV’s approach. Near the center of the brick fenced yard a boxy four story house, dark except for a vestibule light and a foyer nightlight visible through the side panel, nestled between two mature magnolia trees. Soon we stood on the enameled planks of our covered front porch, waving good-bye to a pair of garnet tail lights dwindling into the night.
“Do you think Mom’s still up?” I asked fumbling for a door key.
Kady’s mother lived with us. To me she was Mom because of the twelve years I spent as her house pet.
“I don’t think so. She rarely gets past nine o’clock these days.” To be certain, Kady peeked inside through the sidelight. Beyond the potted fichus tree and carved tables holding wedding and baby pictures and into the darkness beyond, a pale gleam reflected off the closed door to her room. “No, she’s definitely asleep.”
I unlocked the deadbolt. “After you.” Stepping to the side I ducked around a hanging Boston fern, and held the door open. Once inside we crept, almost guiltily, up the stairs aware of each squeak and groan the wood made.
At the top of the landing we stood before the entrance to our room. I pressed lips close to her ear, uttering, “We can get an early start on your birthday celebration.” Her thirty-first birthday fell the following week.
Instantly, I regretted mentioning the passage of another year. “Please, Drake,” she squealed, evading my embrace. “I need to freshen up.”
With sinking heart, I recognized a veil from earlier return between us. Before I said another word, she entered the bathroom. The curt determined gait signaled I wasn’t invited to tag along.
After washing up in the hall bath, I changed clothes and waited for her on the edge of our mahogany sleigh bed. Soon the door opened. She wore a silk nightgown, one I brought back from Paris after a mission in France. The garment clung to her, revealing the underlying curvature with intricate detail.
After a brief smile, she pulled up the dainty white café chair to the vanity. “I want to look special for you.”
Embracing her from behind, my arms fit neatly around a pair of straight shoulders tapered to a waist, not corset or wasp skinny but soft, warm, and inviting. The nightgown featured supports in the bodice held up breasts filled with milk.
“You’re fine the way you are.” I answered, rubbing chin stubble against a creamy shoulder.
She didn’t exactly pull away. More like a contraction inside, as if she shrank a little, “No, I’m not. Every day I find more lines or wrinkles.” Tears glimmered in her eyes as she met my gaze.
These attitude attacks were not new. After taking a deep breath, I paraphrased the same explanation I offered the night she accepted me as well as what I was in the living room of her parent’s house. “Physical appearance has nothing to do with my love for you. It’s all about the character and soul I witnessed develop into a loving adult, and I came to appreciate more when we found each other again.”
“I still haven’t lost my baby fat from having Rex.” She patted her abdomen to make the point. “And these are always full and painful.” Palms covered her breasts, and she jiggled them.
“I’m aware of the extra weight you carry after the birth of our son, and the hair color you change every six weeks, but when I look at you all I see is love shared, given freely without selfish motive, going back to the day our eyes met in the animal shelter.”
I’ll never forget the comment made so many years ago, forever changing the rest of my life. “See how proudly they carry themselves,” the attendant at the pound had pointed out to six-year-old Kady about my Yorkie self when she and her family adopted me.
She turned to face the vanity mirror and its ring of lights. Her reflection hung, devoid of shadow, atop a slender tense neck. Slowly the tendons relaxed as a tentative smile crossed her lips.
“Tell me again how you won’t leave me, even when I’m eighty, sagging skin, blue-haired, blind, and deaf.”
In that moment, I understood the crisis had passed. “My sexy cougar, could I do any less than Old Sufi?” My predecessor remained faithful to his human wife until she died.
The scent of fresh lavender and jasmine soap filled every sense. My arms hugged her to my expectant chest. Before she could react, I took immediate advantage by thrusting my tongue between her lips to taste the sweetness inside. Despite the thousands of times we’d shared love, the experience revealed a new and different surprise. She jolted at first, but soon relaxed under my gentle touch.
I peeled down my jeans and stepped out of them, and then removed my shirt. I stood before her naked, with cock jutting forth to show Kady how much I wanted her, no matter how many gray hairs she thought she had or extra pounds she hadn’t shed. I offered her a wicked grin and raised an eyebrow. “All for you, baby.”
At first, her expression was nondescript as she lowered her eyes and surveyed my nakedness. Then, a small smile crossed her face. I had her.
I removed the nightgown in one quick pull of the hem over her head. I think the erection I sported doubled in size at the sight of her nude body. I never grew tired of gazing upon the beautiful Kady.
I scooped her in my arms, lifted her from the vanity stool and holding her close, carried her to bed, covering her mouth with mine as I did. She panted softly as I released the embrace and reclined beside her on the mattress. We had danced this erotic tango many times, hot and intense, but tonight something seemed different. Kady wasn’t the same. She jerked again when I ran a warm palm over her full breasts, swollen from lack of nursing our son. I hadn’t seen her so sensitive toward my fondling in a long time. I pulled back until she relaxed and returned the caresses.
Slowly deliberately, I kissed her forehead, her nose, and then crushed her lips beneath mine. This time she didn’t tense. The passion flowed, and she surrendered to my kiss, parting her lips, accepting me without hesitation. I sensed the excitement tingling through her, goose bumps rose on her creamy skin as my hands smoothed down her arms then stomach. My tongue trailed from her chin, down her neck to between her breasts, then laved over to one nipple and circled it.
“Oh, Drake. Please don’t. They’re so raw from the baby, and you might get a face full of milk.”
From the whimpers she made, I knew she wanted me to continue, but using a different line of approach. “Okay, but I’ll miss those girls.” I groaned as my cock strained tight against her naked thigh. I pulled off her and continued with the exploration of my tongue down over her abdomen. Tonight, the sole objective was to bring her pleasure.
As I slid a hand further down her lush body, the eager digits found and then teased her clit, before pressing a hard, thick finger into her vagina. The soft and firm flesh clung deliciously. Pulling and thrusting, circling and teasing, I drove her higher and higher.
“Oh, God, Drake,” she screamed, as I felt her orgasm building, ready to explode. She bucked against the vigorous probing as I inserted another digit, and her moist folds began to spasm around my fingers. I thrust faster and deeper, pulling every pleasurable sensation from her body.
“You’re so wet and hot.” My fingers probed deeper, as Kady teetered on the edge of orgasm.
A groan rumbled up from my chest. I slipped down her body, spreading her legs wide and positioning myself between her legs. Slowly, I kissed and licked along her inner thighs, moving higher to her waiting pussy. My tongue circled her clitoris. Eventually my mouth rested against the sensitive pearl. I nipped and tugged with my teeth until she gasped and jerked beneath me. She whimpered as I withdrew and slithered a fevered tongue down to the engorged folds to the entrance of her wet pussy. The oral exploration of my tongue as I parted her nether lips and dipped into her center, licking and plunging, brought shivers from Kady.
Working in and out as I opened her wider with each lick. Trembling fingers found their way to her clit and slowly rubbed in tiny circles attempting to keep her on the razor edge of orgasm. She arched her back as her body began to quake. Climax could wait no longer.
Within a few minutes, her orgasm exploded around me, as she thrust and ground her hips against my face. She clutched the sheets in tense fists, riding my tongue from one climax into another, each stronger than the previous.
I gripped her ass to hold her in place while I forced her to experience every last stroke I delivered. I lapped harder, as she squirmed from the pleasure and constraints I placed upon her.
“Oh, Drake! I…I…can’t take anymore!”
I dipped again and my fingers circle the little nub until her clit was hotter than her core, throbbing against my lips before I stopped and repositioned on my knees between her legs.
“You’re so ready for me, Kady. Tell me you want me.”
“Yes, oh yes, I want you inside me now.”
I fisted my dick in a firm grip and rubbed the tip along her wet folds several times before entering the molten sheath. I took her in one swift plunge and paused. She lifted her hips to meet me, and the inner muscles clenched down hard. I thrust vigorously, filling her, pulling back and thrusting again, slow at first, building to a faster rhythm. She burned with wet heat. So right.
I pounded into her over and over. The sensation of me inside her hot pussy gave rise to tightness in my balls. She met each thrust with a reciprocal and fluid movement. Her muscles caressed and milked my swelling erection, our bodies moving in perfect synchronization.
“Oh,” she cried. “Yes, more, please!”
“You’re mine, Kady.” I grunted, pumping harder as my orgasm poised on the edge of spilling over. “Now and forever.”
“Drake, just love me, please. I’m…I’m…” She didn’t finish before squeezing her legs around my waist, so tightly they quivered.
A growl low in my throat escaped between clenched teeth. The muscles in my chest flexed and tensed as I threw my head back. The climax rushed through me as hot seed flooded her insides. I drove into her a few more strokes until the last drop squeezed out. Exhausted, I made a controlled collapse, keeping the weight on my elbows. We lay there for what seemed like hours before I pulled out of her and rolled to my side, carrying her with me.
I never tired of making love to Kady. No woman had ever affected me as she did, no woman until the end of my lifespan could ever touch my soul the way she routinely did. I was blessed to have her, and the son she bore for us. I could make love to her for all eternity if God allowed, pleasuring her even on nights like this when she felt insecure. Whatever time we had, I’d never tire of her, stop loving her, and never leave her.
“I love you,” I said, gazing into the blue eyes.
“I love you too.”
Tears slipped down her cheeks. I saw the love in her beautiful face. She expressed her emotions openly. Under the tough exterior of her professional façade hid a woman of great feelings. Tonight, I tapped into that side again and showed her how much I loved her for who she was. We attained a new level in our love relationship. It felt damn good. And right.
Without any more tentativeness, I pulled her close, running hands down her back. She wove her fingers through my hair. While recovering, we lay intimately embraced. Later, accompanied by the gentle swooping sounds of the bedroom’s ceiling fan, we took full advantage of the reprieve from parental duties, several more times, falling asleep in the wee hours of morning.
In the dream, an invisible weight too heavy for shifter strength pinned me to the bed. Upon release, I awoke. Still groggy, I sat up. The muted half-light of dawn crept in through the curtain sheers. Shapes of potted plants and furniture on the balcony outside our room took shape in the declining night. A powerful sensation of some fundamental change having just occurred burned inside my brain. The digital clock turned six-sixteen.
The brass of the handles and trim to the his and her bureaus gleamed dully in the feeble light. My gaze passed on to the dark shape of the lamp on Kady’s side table, then to the stark whiteness of the comforter with rising apprehension.
Kady wasn’t there.
The familiar profile of back descending to rounded hip, typical of Kady sleeping on her side, was absent, replaced by a much smaller bulge. I ripped the covers off to find a Russian Blue Maltese cat. Startled awake by the sudden uncovering, the creature bolted away to the comparative safety atop a tall chest of drawers. Wrinkling a small blunt nose, the feline surveyed the room with enameled blue eyes. While not typical of the breed, over the intervening years, I thought of them as a concession of Fate to allow the animal to have Kady’s human eye color.
To be sure I was awake. I actually slapped the back of my neck.
At the first step I took toward her, the blue-gray back arched as the hair stood on end. The ferocious feline visage baring teeth at me presented no surprise. Canine shifters never forget their human persona, probably why so many alphas are dogs or wolves. Domestication of our species over millennia most likely explained that awareness. The other species learn over time. Until they do anyone approaching could be attacked. For some, like reptiles, the road to enlightenment is long. To this day Marta, in water moccasin form will strike at everyone within reach.
I gasped at the square-jawed face with the pointed ears, trying to call the frightened and hostile bundle’s attention to her reflection in the mirror over the “her” bureau. “You’re a shifter too.”
After a quick glance of confirmation, Kady, the cat, dropped to the floor and became human. The taut muscled form rising from the carpet spoke quietly but sounded unnaturally loud in the silence of oncoming dawn. The first words out of her mouth expressed agitation, yet wonderment.
“You forgot to mention how unpleasant this transforming is.” Without another word, she bounded to the full-length mirror in her walk-in closet. “Oh, Drake, look at me. I’m perfect.”
That she was. Not an ounce of excess fat, sagging jawline, or off-color hair root remained. The transformation cleared away the mole on the newly sculpted back, even repairing the chipped front tooth. The image of Kady created in my mind with my love for her had become flesh.
“Do I get to choose your name for you like you did for me?”
New Kady turned from the reflection. “Tabitha would be nice.”
I remembered Precious,the horrible tag she gave me and I endured from all those years ago. An urge to return the favor welled up inside. Maybe Peggy, a name she despised because it belonged to her worst tormentor in high school. Then, warm memories of all the good she brought to me flooded in and my intention dissolved.
“Tabitha it is.”
With a tease in her voice she replied. “And please don’t call me Tabby.”
Watching the newborn demi-goddess approach, wearing nothing but wanton smile, I thought how I already missed the old Kady.
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