Authors: Kathryn Thomas
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Wolf Among Sheep copyright @ 2015 by Kathryn Thomas. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
Book 1 of the
Roadside Angels Motorcycle Club
“Life calls the tune, we dance.” ― John Galsworthy
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Tammie! Happy birthday to you!”
The cheers that rose up around her made Tamara Gibbs smile widely. This was one of those exceptional days for her, and she could not remember ever having been as happy as she was right this second. To have achieved the goal she set out to achieve four years ago—and to do so with as much acclaim as she had won for herself—was beyond her wildest dreams. And to celebrate that triumph on her birthday was a double dose of sweetness.
“Thanks, you guys!” She let herself be hugged and kissed, enjoying the love and affection of her friends and the two people who meant the most to her in the whole world. They stood by the breakfast bar, waiting for her to come and blow out her candles. At twenty-four, she had had the choice of a grown-up dinner out with her friends or an old-fashioned birthday party at home with her grandparents, and she had chosen the latter. She could go out with her friends at any time, but her grandparents were returning to their lakeside home in Wisconsin, and she knew they would prefer not to go out for a late night shebang before their early flight the next day.
She made her way through the small knot of people to where her grandparents stood and hugged them each in turn, whispering her love and gratitude to them.
“Everyone, you all have made this the best birthday party I’ve ever had. Except maybe when I was sixteen, and Pop hired the hottest band in town to play.” She grinned at her grandfather, who chuckled softly. “But none of this could have happened without both my grandparents. And I have something for each of them.”
She stepped away from them to retrieve a gift bag she had hidden under the sink. Stepping up to her grandmother, she said, “Gran, this is for you.” She removed a small box from the bag and handed it to her grandmother, who opened it, and then put her hand over her heart. The older woman looked at her granddaughter with tears in her eyes. “I know how much you love peonies, so I had my friend make this pendant for you. I love you, Gran! Thanks for never giving up on me!” She hugged her grandmother hard while her friends all whistled and clapped.
Then, she handed her grandfather the other box in the bag. He looked at her and said gruffly, “This had better not make me cry, young lady. I don’t have the strength to put you over my knee any more.”
Everyone laughed as he unwrapped his gift, and when he looked up again, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. “How…?” He couldn’t finish the question but looked at the gold pocket watch nestled in soft tissue paper in the box. It had been in his family for four generations and had disappeared when he and her grandmother had moved to the apartment they now lived in. He hadn’t known where to begin looking after the movers said they didn’t have it. He hugged Tammie to his chest with trembling arms.
“I listen when you talk, Pop, even though you didn’t always think I did. I knew you were upset that this heirloom had apparently been lost. However, I’m an investigative reporter...well, I will be as soon as someone hires me!” she said with a laugh. “I went back to the movers, checked in with the man who did the job, asked around the old neighborhood, and found that someone had found it. A teenager had pawned it and was quite willing to take me back to where he had sold it. I was worried it wouldn’t still be there, but it was, and I negotiated a fair price with the pawnbroker to get it back.”
Her grandfather hugged her again, and then, as her grandmother wiped the tears from his cheeks, Tammie went to blow out her candles. The rest of the evening was spent in laughter at the gifts and cards her friends had brought her.
When they were finally gone, she shooed her grandmother to bed, reminding her of her early start the next day, kicked her stilettos off, and set about cleaning up. Her housemate helped, and she was glad for it as she was dead on her feet already.
She and Emily had been roommates their freshman year of college and had become fast friends. They had found this apartment in their last year in college and had decided that, as they weren’t leaving the area, it would be a smart idea to keep it. As they worked, they talked.
“That was a sweet thing you did for your grandparents, Tammie,” Emily said, wiping down the dining table.
“You know me, Em,” Tammie answered, fetching the mop to clean the vinyl floors. “I don’t do what’s expected of me.”
The girls laughed at that, and Emily added, “Yeah, that’s what got you that story and made your name a household word around campus when we were in college!”
“Well, that and a whole lot of luck,” Tammie conceded. “Imagine if Garth had found out how I was using him? He’d have had my head!”
find out, didn’t he?” Em stopped wiping down the kitchen counter to peer at her friend. “How did that go?”
Tammie sighed. “Not well,” she answered, leaning on her mop. “We had a nasty row, and he basically told me I was the last thing—yeah, that was his word—he would ever want to be seen with in town.” For a brief moment, her brow was furrowed, as she thought of what might have been if she had kept her mouth shut and had not published that article. Garth would have been at her party, and she might even have finally become a full woman.
Shrugging her shoulders, she said, “Hazards of the job, I guess. It’s my fault for letting myself get as close to him as I did. He always made it clear that all he really wanted from me was sex, and I thought if I let him work for it, he’d appreciate me more.”
“But even if he did, when he found out that you used him to get into the coach’s good graces, do you think he would have stuck around?”
Tammie sighed again, heavily. “Probably not. I really messed up on that one. He’s a nice guy—even if he’s not into anything more committed that wild sex as often as possible. Given my record to date, that would have been a marked improvement.” She finished the mopping and went to get her night things while Emily had a shower.
She opened the sofa bed and prepared it for when she had her own shower. Emily called out to her when she was done, and Tammie hurriedly showered. Almost as soon as she fell into bed, she was asleep.
Next morning, Tammie had a second round job interview scheduled, and after saying a tearful goodbye to her grandparents at the airport, she hurried back to the small apartment to change and get to her appointment. The first interview had been a week earlier, and she discovered that she was applying for a job with a weekly newspaper with a bonus news feature.
Not what she wanted, ideally, but given the complete lack of other offers, also not one she could lightly ignore. Their specialty, news of the weird and woohoo kind, would normally itself have made her laugh. However, a job was a job, and she needed to pay off her debts, as well as meet her part of the expenses for the apartment she shared with Emily. So, she prepared herself—in the event she was offered the job—to grin and deal with stories about UFO sightings and other such nonsense. If she wanted to make a name for herself as an investigative journalist, she’d have to do a damned sight better than finding her grandfather’s heirloom fob watch or discovering grade inflation and tampering for the football team.
The building she found herself in front of, once she was off the bus, was a tall, thin affair stuck uninspiringly between two much larger, taller structures. Its facade was dark and uninviting, but she couldn’t afford to be choosy as to the location of her employment. It was close to the bus stop and on a well-lit and highly-populated street. That would have to do. Hurrying in through the front door, she informed the doorman of her destination, and he called up to announce her arrival.
Indoors, the building was brightly lit and unexpectedly spacious. The lines were clean, which made her feel better about the prospect of working there. On the top floor, she walked out of the elevator into a loft space, divided into a small open reception area, a few cubicles, and an enclosed office at the rear. Clutching her slender pocketbook tightly to her thigh, she approached the receptionist.
“Good morning. I’m here for an interview with Mr. Featherstone,” she said, and waited to be shown to his office. The young woman who led her back was as tall as she was short, with an easy grace that Tammie envied.
“Mr. Featherstone, Ms. Gibbs.” Her introduction was sparse, but the man who stood to shake her hand didn’t seem to mind.
He motioned her to a chair in front of his desk, and when the young woman closed the door quietly behind her, he said, “You come highly recommended, Ms. Gibbs, and to be perfectly frank, we need some new blood. Our most experienced reporter has had a major health crisis, and he won’t be around for a while. We were already short-staffed, so you can imagine how tight things are now. So, let’s get down to brass tacks. How did you get the story you broke?”
Tammie happily related the events leading to her discovery of grade-fixing for her college’s football team. A friend of hers had complained that she got a lower grade than the captain of the football team, whom she knew had done none of his own work. Tammie had befriended the young man, Garth Crosby, and through him, she had been able to position herself so she could hear conversations between the coach and faculty members. She had also gotten into the coach’s own office, where she had found evidence of the fixing. She told him how it became a major project her senior year and how it helped her graduate summa cum laude. He seemed impressed by her ingenuity in gaining access to what would otherwise have been a restricted area and then asked her if she was ready to begin.
Tammie gulped but nodded. This was her chance. The other jobs she had applied for, starting two months earlier, had not panned out, and she needed to begin working as soon as possible, to finish paying off her college debts, for starters. She was willing to do anything to make it as a journalist, and this was where she would begin. She signed the paperwork he passed across the desk to her and then followed her new boss to a cubicle at the front of the office space, where he called the two other people currently in the space over for introductions. She shook hands with a short, greasy-haired older guy named Tom Braxton, and a thin-as-a-rail woman with a beak nose and pouty lips named Iris Marsh. Then, he told Tom to show her the ropes and went back to his office.
She would be working with Tom, who was the news and features editor. He explained to her briefly what her tasks would be. For starters, she was given stories and a deadline for editing them, and then, she was left alone in her cubicle. She looked around her, and it hit her that she was a full-time working girl again, after four grueling years of college and part-time work to fund her way. She let herself feel proud for a minute, then she sat down and began to work.
“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.” ~ Emily Dickinson
Ray Featherstone’s staff meetings were usually brief and to the point. This one was no different. In fact, it was even briefer than usual. The news was not good. Despite their best efforts,
was fast running out of money. The reasons were clear. They had not had a winning story in over a year, and despite Tammie’s best efforts to bring in good news, the larger news agencies got there first. And it didn’t help that they were also competing with television and the other Internet news agencies. They needed a big story to get them noticed, to get them back in the game. They needed the equivalent of a
New York Times
front page story.
Ray made it clear when he said, “If we can’t come up with something big in the next month, we’re out of the Internet news business. And I don’t have to tell you what would happen to the paper weekly. I can’t get any more extensions on the lease, and our sponsors won’t pay out funds when our readership is dwindling daily. And in case you haven’t noticed, we’re almost out of supplies.” He looked around at his staff and added, “Our priority from now on is to sniff out the big news, write it well, and sell it fast.” He looked around the loft space, and then he turned on his heel and walked away. Over his shoulder, he said, “Gibbs, you’re with me.”
That had been six hours ago. Tammie was home again, sitting in front of her laptop trolling the newsfeeds, looking for anything that had even a hint of interest. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Her eyes were tired, and she took the glasses off her face and laid them down beside the laptop, rubbing her eyes tiredly. Leaning back in the swivel chair, she ran over the short conversation she had had with her boss.
“I know you’re the newest member of this team, Gibbs,” he had said, “and it probably isn’t fair of me to expect this much from you. But you need to know that I’m counting on you to bring in the goods. You have the nose for news. The pieces you’ve worked on this past year have been stellar.” When she opened her mouth to thank him, he had motioned her to silence. “You need to make like a magician and pull one out of the hat for me again. You did it with the last three stories you reported. I have faith in you. Just tell me what you need, and if we can afford it, it’s yours.”
Tammie hid her surprise and asked instead, “What if we can’t afford it?”
Ray steepled his fingers on the desk in front of him. “Then you’ll have to figure out a way to get the story on your own.”
She had promised to keep looking, and now, after three hours of searching, she was as empty-handed as she had been when she had left work. She, above all the staff, needed the job. Her student loans weren’t going to wait for her to find another job. Without this job, she couldn’t continue to live with Emily because she wouldn’t be able to afford the rent. She knew that
was a community-based Internet and paper magazine, but it had broken some interesting—even wacky—stories in the past, and she was determined to do her part to help it survive these lean times.
She took a much-needed break and made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, downed a glass of milk, and returned to scrolling the newsfeeds, hunting for odd news to investigate. When Emily came in at midnight from her date, Tammie was still up, looking for anything that might be something.
“You look dead on your feet, so to speak,” Emily said, coming over to bid her goodnight. “How’s the search going?” Tammie had told her housemate about the trouble the agency was in before she went on her date.
“I have scrolled through hundreds of newsfeeds. Nothing. Unless Ray is willing to fork out the funds for a trip to Afghanistan to investigate a story about Afghani children of aliens—no, not Afghanis, aliens from outer space—looking to migrate to the States, or some other foreign voodoo story, there is nothing that hasn’t already been picked up by the big papers.”
She sighed and bid her friend a quiet goodnight.
“Don’t stay up too late,” Emily urged her. “The newsfeeds will still be there in the morning.”
Tammie nodded, but she knew there wasn’t a whole lot of time to get something worthwhile. Her mind wandered to the movie she had gone to see with her grandparents when she was a teenager.
it was called, about the gray whales trapped in the ice in the Arctic and about the photojournalist who had helped to break what became a worldwide news event. Something like that was what she needed, what
needed, just in the unusual or paranormal realm. Casting her eyes one more time over the newsfeeds which all seemed to be bleeding together, something caught her attention. A wolf attack in Arizona.
Wait a second... Arizona? Since when did wolves inhabit the southwest?
She sat up, suddenly wide awake and fully alert. The town was Rojo Arroyo, and according to the newspaper there, the mayor’s grandson had been saved from serious injury and possibly death after being attacked by a black wolf. She searched in Google for “wolves in Arizona” and found that there had been wolves there at one time, Mexican wolves; but, they had been wiped out. A government program to reintroduce them had not fared as well as it might have because people were still killing them. She searched further and found that the wolves being reintroduced were gray wolves, not black wolves, which she also discovered were not native to the hot desert.
Maybe a story about wolves in the desert might get people’s attention—especially because although the child’s rescuer, some guy named Alexander Cole, had saved him, he had not been able to kill the wolf, and it had escaped. Now, the people in the town and its environs were riding a wave of hysteria.
She looked at the picture that accompanied the story. The man who had saved the boy was a giant of a man, large in every way. He was carrying the boy in his arms into the clinic, so she couldn’t see his face, but she imagined he was a confident man if he could take on large black wolves and live to tell the tale.
There had been more than one wolf, it seemed, but only one had attacked the boy and been frightened off by Cole. They had all escaped—though the boy had a couple of broken bones and deep scratches from being clawed by the creature.
She kept reading. The child’s rescuer was a member of a biker gang called the Roadside Angels. She did a search and found that the gang apparently was tolerated by the locals because the members managed to stay out of trouble, and even helped out with keeping trouble—in the form of the neighboring town’s motorcycle gang—at bay. This Alexander Cole was a leader in his gang, and as she gazed at his photograph with the little boy, she wondered how someone so tough and uncompromising, someone who was probably even a criminal, could seem as gentle as he seemed in the picture.
Maybe there was something to be done with this. She opened a blank document and wrote furiously for fifteen minutes. Questions about the appearance of black wolves in an area where the original wolf population had been killed off, about biker gang activity in Rojo Arroyo, about Alexander Cole, about who brought the black wolves to the area.
There had even been a suggestion, which she noted as she typed, that the attempt on the mayor’s grandson’s life was meant to send a message to the Roadside Angels.
What kind of message
? she wondered.
And how were the wolves involved?
The thing that made her think this might be worth a second look though was the suggestion by a few of the older townspeople that the wolves were shifters. That would need to be the angle she used as her trump card, if none of the others worked. Ray would not refuse that.
Finally, exhausted, she flopped onto the sofa and fell asleep immediately. When Emily shook her awake the next morning, she was groggy and achy from having slept on the sofa without unfolding the bed.
“You look trashed, sweetie!” Emily commented, bringing her a cup of coffee.
Her friend was dressed for work already, and Tammie asked worriedly, “What time is it?”
“It’s just turned 7:30, and I have to get out of here.” She turned away to pick up her purse then turned back to add, “I hope this exhaustion means you got something. Good luck, Tam! Later!”
The coffee woke her up, and Tammie hurried through her shower and dressed without too much attention to fashion. She got to work on time and went immediately to Ray’s office. It was clear to her that he had not gone home the night before, and she hoped her idea would give him hope.
“Morning, Ray. What do you think of this idea?” she asked as she sat down, and immediately began to speak, not waiting for him to answer. On her way in, as she rode the bus, she had added to the ideas, including now a story about biker bad boys who were really teddy bears in disguise. When she finally fell silent, Ray stared at her, his face expressionless, but she knew the wheels were turning in his tired brain.
“The strongest angle, it seems to me, is this whole business with the wolves not where they’re supposed to be. And you said no one else has done anything with this story?”
“No. I searched for a good hour and came up empty. Everything is either about the bikers or about the attack. Nobody seems to care that we may have a new environmental crisis on our hands if these wolves are breeding and pose a danger to humans. I mean, what if these wolves were brought in illegally as pups and then got out of control and escaped as adults? Does anyone in Arizona know how to control black wolves? Aside from this guy? And then, you have to wonder how they’re feeding or who is feeding them. And what’s the whole rival biker gang angle?”
Tammie warmed to her subject, feeling in her gut that somewhere in all her questions and notes was a really fascinating story waiting to be told, a mystery needing to be solved, even if there was nothing supernatural about it.
Ray seemed to agree with her, but when he still seemed discouraged, she stopped and asked, “Ray, I thought this would make you happy. What’s wrong? Don’t you like this? Don’t you think we can run with this?” She tried not to let her anxiety bleed into her voice. She was aiming for enthusiasm.
“I don’t know, Gibbs. This could potentially be dangerous.” Ray looked at her steadily, no expression on his face. “You haven’t done anything quite like this before.”
“All the more reason to give me a shot, Ray. Look, I’ll even pay my own way, especially since you say we’re low on funds. Just give me a chance to find out if there’s anything here. It won’t cost you anything, and Tom can carry my load till I get back. He owes me.”
When Ray seemed ready to speak again, she interrupted him to add, “There’s even some hint that the attack on the mayor’s grandson was orchestrated by the rival gang to set the community against the local bikers. Gang warfare in Arizona, with wolves and children thrown in for good measure. Don’t tell me it doesn’t stir something in you, Ray!” She waited a tick, and then added her trump card, “And some of the old folk think the attack was made by werewolves.”
She stopped speaking, hoping Ray would take the bait. After all, this was supposed to be the news outlet that exposed the inexplicable and brought insight into the mysteries of the world.
Now was not the time for her to question the wisdom of spending money to search out werewolves, which is why it was the last thing she said. The rest of her spiel was on point, and real, and doable.
Tammie had no particular interest in finding werewolves or any other supernatural beings anywhere, but she
interested in getting whatever story her gut was telling her was in that little Arizona town. She may not be a seasoned reporter, but she had been living with her gut instincts since she was a very little girl, and she knew well by now not to ignore them.
Ray looked up suddenly, as though he had made a decision. “Okay, Gibbs. I’ll give you till Monday to see if anything worth doing is in Arizona. You’ll have to foot the bill, but if we make anything off this, at least I can promise you your money back.” He sat back in his chair and added, an enigmatic smile on his face, “And who knows? Maybe you’ll find some werewolves.”
Tammie fought but could not keep from rolling her eyes, and for the first time in a long while, Ray laughed. It was a truly amused sound. “I know you don’t believe in the supernatural, Tammie. Neither do I. I believe that everything has a reasonable and logical explanation. What makes it supernatural is the level of secrecy around it. If the level of secrecy around these wolf attacks is high, there’s something big going down. And
where the story will be.”