No matter how John Masterson replayed his memory of last month’s events, he couldn’t figure out which of Michael Horton’s dinner guests the werewolf had bitten. But Judy was right—it had bitten one of them, and the full moon at nightfall would bring an horrific change. Was it Bartholomew or Elizabeth Spenser? Flip, the doctor, or his wife Lena? Kyle the reporter? The priest? James the reclusive bachelor? It could even be one of the Hortons—Michael, his wife Laura, or his sister Sarah.
John measured the distance of the sun to the horizon through the wide glass window of the dining room.
“Father,” said Michael. “The blessing.”
Father Bob pulled his eyes from Kyle, crossed himself and prayed over the meal. John suffered through it, anxious to get to the filet minion.
“Mr. Schumacher,” said Bartholomew. “Are you sure you should be here?” He pulled back his jacket enough to reveal a pistol strapped to his side.
A bite of meat halfway to his mouth, Kyle smiled. “There isn’t a reason in the world I shouldn’t be. You got silver bullets in that thing?” He took the bite. Bartholomew’s mouth fell open, then clamped shut.
“He’s acting pretty cocky,” whispered Judy.
John chuckled. “He’s always cocky,” he said, loud enough for Kyle to hear.
Lena, who hadn’t touched her food, took a drink with trembling hand. “What reckless and unthinking fool would come to dinner knowing the danger he brought?”
“Or she,” said John, pointing his fork at her.
“Here now, John,” said Flip. “What are you insinuating?”
John shrugged. “Just worried we have enough hairspray and barrettes. I find it more likely that our friendly neighborhood priest is the one.”
“How do you figure?” asked James.
John took a swig of wine. “Who else would operate under the delusion that he could control the curse?”
“I don’t tend to ignore my own weaknesses in the face of life’s potent hysterias,” said the priest.
“You were pretty defensive when you first came in,” said John.
“That’s ridiculous,” said James. “He spoke exactly like you would expect a priest to given the circumstances.”
“Who do you think it is, James?” asked Kyle.
“I wouldn’t dare to guess,” James said.
Michael smiled. “I can always count on your for a measured non-response, old friend. It always makes you seem like you’re hiding something.” He winked and stuffed a piece of bread roll in his mouth.
“That’s true,” said Elizabeth. “What about it, James?”
“If it were me, I’m sure I wouldn’t tell you,” he said.
“James,” Laura giggled. “You’re awful, and I love it.”
They argued back and forth, talking over each other with witticisms and one-upmanship, the overriding theme that whoever was bitten shouldn’t have come.
“What if he leaves before sundown?” asked Sarah.
“Or she,” said John. Everyone always hushed for Sarah. John didn’t understand why.
“Everyone was so anxious to see who wouldn’t arrive,” she said, “but maybe what they should note is who leaves early.”
“That’s a great thought,” said Father Bob. “Perhaps the cursed one seeks solace with his friends in the hours before his long, dark transformation.”
“He better hurry up,” said Bartholomew. “There isn’t much daylight left.”
“There’s enough for dessert and a postprandial,” said Michael. “I wouldn’t want any of you to miss the chef’s tiramisu.”
Michael’s warm tone seemed to calm them as they enjoyed coffee and dessert and spoke of more cheerful things, but as the sun neared the horizon, the tension grew palpable.
When they were finished, Michael raised a cognac and invited his guests to do the same. “To my friends,” he said. “May they support each other through every tribulation.”
They drank, subdued by his sober words.
“With that, my friends,” said Michael. “I take my leave for the evening. Please make use of my servants and entertain yourselves as long as you wish.” He departed with calm deliberation.
“Now we know,” said Flip.
“You can’t possibly think it’s Michael,” said Sarah.
“It’s like he invited us to dinner to reveal this to us,” said Bartholomew.
“Is that what you think?” said James.
Kyle scooted his chair back and stood up. “Well, I could use some air, and there’s not much reason to stick around now.”
“Stay for a time, Kyle,” said Sarah.
Kyle looked pained and declined, which gave John a laugh. He was so cocky in the crowd, he didn’t expect Kyle would be so shy with the ladies.
“I guess we can go, too,” said John. “It’s been so tense that we’re all boors tonight.”
He escorted Judy onto the front stoop and down to their Bentley, when he noticed Kyle walking the grounds. “Make yourself comfortable, dear. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He intended to give the young man a pep talk about Sarah, who clearly liked him, but before he caught up to him, Kyle entered the guest house. John peeked through the door, but the only light on came from the basement stairs, so he entered and took the steps down. As he cleared the stairwell he encountered Michael closing a shackle upon Kyle’s leg, his other leg and arms already secured, each chain affixed to the wall.
“Drat,” said John. “I thought for sure it was one of the ladies.”