Excerpt: Raven Calls

Book Seven of the Walker Papers

Raven Calls front cover SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 9:53 A.M.

The werewolf bite on my forearm itched.

Itching was wrong. It wasn’t old enough to itch. It should hurt like the dickens, because I’d obtained it maybe six hours earlier. Instead it itched like it was a two-week-old injury, well on the way to healing.

Only I was quite sure it wasn’t healing. For one thing, I kept peeking at it, and it was still a big nasty slashy bite that oozed blood when the bandages were loosened. For another thing, my stock in trade was healing. Fourteen months, two weeks and three days ago—but who was counting—I had been stabbed through the chest. A smart-ass coyote—kinda my spirit guide—had given me a choice between dying or becoming a shaman. Even for someone with no use for the esoteric, like I’d been, it hadn’t been much of a choice. So now, nearly fifteen months on, a bite on my forearm was something I really should be able to deal with.

And it wasn’t that I hadn’t tried healing it, because I had. Magic slid off like oil and water, or possibly more like oil and gashed flesh, if oil slid off gashed flesh, which I assumed it did but didn’t want to actually find out. Either way, the magic wasn’t working. Normally that would be a bad sign, but my talent had taken both a beating and a boosting in the past twenty-four hours, and wasn’t behaving. It reacted explosively when I tried using it, and I didn’t want to explode my arm. So I was getting on a plane with absolutely no notice and flying to Ireland, because I’d had a vision of the woman who had turned werewolves from slavering beasties 100% of the time into part-time monsters, and in my vision, she’d been in Ireland. I figured if anybody could keep me human, it had to be the woman who’d bound the wolves to the moon’s cycle.

That’s what I was telling myself, anyway, because it was slightly better than a full-on panic attack in the middle of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. A day earlier I hadn’t believed werewolves existed. Now I was petrified that come the next full moon—which was tonight, the second of three—I would get all hairy and toothy. It was a dire possibility even without adding international air travel to the mix, which, who was I kidding, was possibly the worst idea I’d ever had. Turning into a werewolf was potentially bad enough. Doing it midflight presumably meant a plane full of handy victims, although I might get lucky and have an air marshal on board so it would just be me who got dead.

My life was a mess, if I considered that lucky. But I had this rash idea that because I’d be missing moonrise all the way around the globe, the magic shouldn’t trigger. And I could always lock myself in the bathroom if I thought I was about to get bestial. Locking myself in the bathroom wasn’t that bad an idea anyway. I was afraid of flying, and bathrooms didn’t have windows. That automatically made them less scary than the body of the plane. Either way, it wasn’t just the werewolf cure that had me wandering the duty-free shops at SeaTac. The other vision I’d had, the one of a sneering warrior woman, had made my healing magic respond as if a gauntlet had been thrown down. It felt like fishhooks in my belly, hauling me east. I was going to Ireland whether I liked it or not.

My personal opinion leaned heavily toward or not. There were places I’d rather be and things I’d rather be doing. Specifically, those things were Captain Michael Morrison of the Seattle Police Department, who up to about three hours earlier had been my boss. I’d quit, he’d kissed me, and the more I thought about him, the more I wanted to tear out of the airport, jump in a cab, and race back into his arms. The fishhooks pulling at my gut, though, weren’t about to let that happen. Their horrible prickle and tug had become familiar enough over the past year that I knew it meant something serious coming down the line, as if finding a cure for a werewolf’s bite wasn’t serious enough. Whatever awaited me in Ireland, I was not especially looking forward to it. So I was trying to distract myself by shopping, which wasn’t my favorite pastime in the best of circumstances. Still, I’d wandered the international terminal twice already. The shops hadn’t changed displays since my first pass, but the second time through I laid eyes on something I neither needed at all, nor was I sure I could I live without.

A not-helpful part of my brain whispered that I had a credit card. I mean, I was American. I didn’t think I’d be allowed to keep my citizenship if I didn’t have at least one rectangle of plastic money. But it was reserved for emergencies, like buying a plane ticket to Ireland on no notice.

An ankle-length white leather coat did not in any way qualify as an emergency.

I stood there staring at it through the shop window. The shoulders were subtly padded, just enough to give the mannequin a really square silhouette. It had a Chinese-style high collar and leather-covered white buttons offset from center straight down the length of the entire coat. It nipped in at the waist tightly enough to look pinned, but nobody would pin leather of that quality. There had to be a discreet belt on the back. Its skirts fell in wide loose folds, and looked like they would flare with wonderful drama.

No normal person would wear a coat like that. A movie star might. A tall movie star. A tall leggy movie star with really good sunglasses and enough confidence to shift the earth with her smile alone.

I stepped back from the window. Light caught just so, letting me see my reflection.

Nobody could argue that, at a smidge under six feet in height, I wasn’t tall and leggy. I had cool sunglasses, although I wasn’t wearing them. And that coat might instill enough confidence in the wearer that she could do anything.

Five minutes later I was eighteen hundred dollars poorer, but so pleased with myself I slept the whole flight to Ireland without once worrying about the plane falling out of the sky.

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 6:28 A.M.

I wasn’t a werewolf when I woke up. Fuzzy logic said I’d left the States on Sunday morning, flown all day, and arrived in Ireland early Monday morning, thus having skipped the night of the full moon entirely and saving myself from shifting into a monster of yore. That was very fuzzy logic, but then, the whole not being a werewolf thing supported it. Besides, who was I to say an ancient curse wouldn’t work that way, when magic by its very definition defied the laws of physics. I left the plane grateful to not be furry, and, aware of the advantages of having been born in Ireland, slipped through customs on the European Union passport holders side.

The insistent ball of magic within me wanted me to head west, but Irish roads were legendarily convoluted. I needed a car, a map, and a cup of coffee before I struck off into the sunset. Never mind that sunrise was in about half an hour, so I had many hours to wait before I could strike off into its sister darkness.

For a woman who’d slept the entire ten-hour flight across a continent and an ocean, I was certainly running on at the brain. I stopped just outside the arrivals area and scrubbed both hands over my face hard, trying to waken some degree of native intelligence.

“Hey, doll,” said a familiar voice. “Can I give you a lift?”


I left my hands where they were, covering my face, for a good long minute while I tried to understand how that voice—the voice of my best friend, a seventy-four-year-old Seattle cab driver—could possibly be addressing me in the Dublin International Airport. Last I’d known, Gary Muldoon had been in California for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, partying with old Army buddies in a yearly event he refused to give details on. Since it was now the twentieth of March and the weekend in question had just ended, my information was pretty up-to-date. It was therefore impossible in every way for Gary to be here. It had to be somebody else. Satisfied with my reasoning, I lowered my fingers enough to peer over them.

Gary leaned against a pillar, arms folded across his still-broad chest, and gave me a wink and a grin that from a man thirty years younger would set my heart a-flutter.

I rubbed my eyes again and squinted. Gary’s grin got wider. He looked like a devilish old movie star in a set scene, and like he knew damned good and well his presence was the culminating factor. After about thirty seconds’ more silence, I said “Sure,” and wished I’d been suave enough to just say that in the first place. And then because I wasn’t suave at all, I squeaked “What the hell are you doing here?!” in disbelieving delight.

Gary threw his head back and laughed out loud. He had suspiciously good teeth for a man his age who used to smoke. I suspected dentures, but had never been rude enough to ask. Then he stepped forward and swept me up in a bear hug, which put paid to any thoughts of his teeth as I grunted happily and repeated, “No, seriously, what the hell?”

“Mike called me. Told me to, and I quote, get my old ass on the next flight to Dublin and try to catch up to Joanne goddamned Walker who’s gone off again and needs somebody to keep her from doing anything stupid, end quote. So I got on the next flight outta L.A. Got in ten minutes ago. What’s going on?”

I pulled my head back far enough to look up at him. “Mike? Mike who? You mean Morrison? Morrison called you? Morrison sent you to Ireland after me? Morrison my boss? That Morrison?”

“That’s the one.” Gary set me back, hands on my shoulders as his grin faded. “‘Cept I hear he ain’t the boss anymore.”

“Not the boss of me, anyway.” I wrinkled my nose. “I’m not six, really.”

“What happened, doll?” Real concern was in my big friend’s gray eyes. I’d gotten into Gary’s cab over a year ago, on the very morning my shamanic powers had been violently awakened. He’d been at my side, backing me up, ever since. Gary was the sort of person I wanted to grow old to be: vital, fascinated by the world, and always up for an adventure. At twenty-six, when I’d met him, I’d been none of those things. At pushing twenty-eight I was just getting on the bandwagon. I couldn’t have a better role model.

“It’s okay, I quit. I mean, I didn’t get fired. Everything’s cool. I just…” It turned out I had other things to not think about besides a werewolf bite. The enormity of what I’d done—quit my detective job on the police force with no notice and with no prospects for other employment in the future—hit me, a mere twelve hours after the fact. Or a full day, counting elapsed travel time. Either way, I felt myself go colorless and the insistent pit of magic in my belly turned to just a boring old pit of sickness for a moment.

Gary put a hand under one of my elbows and crooked a smile. “Don’t worry, Joanie. I can always get you a job at Tripoli Cabs.”

If Gary was calling me Joanie, I looked even worse than I suddenly felt. Usually he went with Jo, a nickname I’d never liked until he used it. Still, rough laughter bubbled up from somewhere beneath the ook in my tummy. “Petite would never forgive me if I took to driving another car most of the day.”

“You better not tell her ’bout your plans to get a winter vehicle, then.”

“She’d understand,” I said unconvincingly. “Classic Mustangs aren’t meant to weather the winters Seattle’s been having lately. She’s got no clearance. I’ll just get her a boyfriend. A 1936 Dodge pickup. In red.”

“They got no clearance either, darlin’,” Gary said with the confidence of a man who’d been there and done that, never mind that he’d been only four years old in 1936. “‘Sides, you get that sweet young thing an old fella like a ’36 Dodge and you’ll start giving me ideas.”

Laughter won again, this time because half the people I knew were convinced I had a Thing going on with Gary. Even Morrison thought so, despite it being fairly clear that I was hopelessly, idiotically, madly in love with him. “Petite’s older than I am,” I pointed out, like it made a difference.

“And I’m older than a ’36 Dodge. You all right, Joanie?”

“Stop that. It makes me think I’m falling apart.”

“Are you?”

“A w—” I nearly swallowed my tongue. I hadn’t even told Morrison a werewolf had bitten me, and there I was about to confess all to Gary. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like sharing. Mostly I just figured they couldn’t do anything about it, so there was no point in worrying them. I said, “A wee little bit,” instead, in honor of being in Ireland, where one adjective was never enough if three would do. “It’s been a really long day. Weekend. You missed a lot.”

Childish dismay splashed across Gary’s face. “One weekend, Jo! I went to California for one weekend, and you had to have adventures without me?”

“You have no idea. I can shapeshift now,” I said almost idly. The weird thing was, learning to shapeshift really did come low on the totem pole of what had gone on the past three days. No wonder I’d slept so hard on the plane. I was pretty sure the last time I’d napped had been in the shower a couple of days earlier.

Gary’s eyes bugged and he pointed imperiously to the door. “We gotta get out of here so you can show me.”

A tug in my gut wiped away the last of my job-related nausea. My boiling-over magic thought getting out of there was an excellent idea. We made mad rushes for different car rental agencies, eying each other to see whose line moved more quickly. I beat Gary to a counter by thirty seconds, and he came to loom over me as I filled out paperwork. “Second driver?” the woman asked, and Gary muttered, “Don’t you dare think I ain’t doin’ some of the driving, Jo.”

I obediently put him down as the second driver. He snagged the keys out from under my fingertips and in retaliation I grabbed his carry-on suitcase as well as my own. He looked ever so slightly smug and I suspected I had gotten the raw end of the deal, but he flashed me another one of his legendary grins. “Hey, Jo?”

I muttered, “What?” about as graciously as an angry alligator, and the big lug of an old man earned a lifetime’s forgiveness with two words as we headed out the door:

“Nice coat.”

March 2012

Raven Calls

CE Murphy