Salsa's on the trail of a local killer, but why has he been shutting Taketo out of his investigation? Taketo wants answers, but he may not like what he learns. (slash!)
Naturally, Salsa's first response after he'd tracked down Taketo had been, "Wolf?! You bastard, what the hell are you doing here?" Ginsei and Taketo both had to tackle him to avert the fight.
Later, after Taketo had calmed him down and explained the situation, "Guess I missed some excitement," Salsa said. "You asshole, cut it out!" he snarled at Wolf, prying apart the jaws that had just closed on his arm. Wolf's response to that made Taketo's ears burn. So maybe "calm" was an overstatement.
Still later, as Karasuma puttered with his equipment, Wolf finally deigned to answer the question everyone had been asking him. "So Takahashi went to some England place," Wolf was saying impatiently. "That old geezer paid for it. He's going to be gone three whole months!"
Taketo exchanged a worried glance with Salsa, both wondering how long Makoto Takahashi was really going to be gone; three was simply the highest number Wolf could count. Takahashi, who as a boy had rescued Wolf from an animal trap, was the only creature Wolf classified as both "friend" and "fun," which meant he was the only one who could exert any influence over Wolf's behavior. Not that Takahashi's sway over Wolf had always been an unqualified benefit, Taketo recalled with a shudder.
"This 'old geezer'," Ginsei interjected, "you don't mean the head of the Abe corporate group?"
"Yeah, that guy," Wolf said, derisive. "Now that Takahashi doesn't belong to him anymore, he makes nice. Stupid -- Takahashi is Wolf's. But Tahakashi's people say they're obligated because the geezer raised him." Gratitude had always been a foreign concept for Wolf, Taketo recalled. But then, Takahashi's life as 'Shouhei Abe', the adopted heir of the Abe family, hadn't been very pleasant, which would have been the blackest mark against Abe-san by Wolf's accounting. "Then Takahashi said Wolf couldn't go to that England and have a good time, too. Huh, like Wolf couldn't take a plane if he wanted."
Everyone stiffened, knowing he meant that literally. Taketo's mind obligingly produced a newscast in which the announcer was stating gravely, "The hijacker's demands have included 'takahashi,' mixed drinks with small umbrellas, and karaoke."
"Takahashi said Wolf had to have lots of fun until he comes back," Wolf griped. "But Wolf gets bored in the woods -- so Wolf decided to go back to work." He stretched, satisfied. "Yeah, the business is pretty exciting, but Wolf's gotta reestablish his credentials first."
Taketo guessed that somewhere in that neighborhood would be a harried shop-owner now dreading Wolf's arrival to collect his fee. Wolf's so-called 'jack of all trades' line had taken on anything entertainingly criminal. Taketo's brain dutifully switched to a new channel, where the host was saying brightly, "Today's Mystery Entrepreneur's interests include robbery, intimidation, extortion, and assassination," with Wolf seizing the microphone to add, "Yeah, kicking ass! Blowing shit up! All the fun stuff!"
He noticed that Salsa was studying Wolf narrowly now. Taketo wished again he could hear more of what Salsa was thinking these days; he could almost feel suspicion radiating off him. Suddenly it dawned on Taketo /why/, and the idea made him feel a little ill as well. "Say, Wolf," Salsa said casually, "how long have you been in town, anyway?"
"Not long," he said, yawning.
Salsa still looked tense. Taketo was glad Karasuma interrupted the conversation at that point.
"First, the good news! I've finished," Karasuma said, waving an arm and bushing off several test tubes in the process. "Whoops!"
As Ginsei rushed over to help Karasuma pick up the floor, Wolf took the opportunity to leap off the table -- or he tried. Taketo had stepped in to take Ginsei's place in the Wolf Restraint Brigade, so he heard Salsa as he leaned over and said lowly, "Listen, you moron. This isn't fun for any of us, but he said he's done prodding at you." In a more grudging tone, he added, "And he's actually a really good vet, and he's got bad enough taste to like /you/. So why don't you just shut up and listen to what he has to say?"
"Huh. Wolf would rather hear whatever it is you aren't saying," Wolf countered.
Salsa hesitated, then said, "It's nothing important. Just forget that I asked."
Wolf harumphed and stuck up his muzzle. But to Taketo's relief, he was no longer putting up a fight, so they gave him a little room.
Adjusting his glasses, Karasuma continued serenely, "Next, the bad news. You've got two problems that are working together to result in a serious case of anemia."
"What's that?" Wolf said. He pushed himself up on his haunches to glare at everyone.
"It's a blood problem," Karasuma told him. "I believe you already had a low-grade form of it, but it was exacerbated by something more recent."
"Like what?" Taketo said, interested. "You said there were two things?"
Karasuma nodded. "Wolf has a blood-borne parasitical infection that's not uncommon with dogs in rural wooded areas, but not something we see a lot in the city." Wolf scowled at the "dogs," but otherwise said nothing.
Taketo knew what Karasuma meant, so he rushed in to change the subject. "Sensei, you mentioned a second --"
"Oh my," Ginsei interrupted, expression concerned. "But wait. What causes it, Kaoru?"
"Well, it's carried by ticks," Karasuma said.
"I see," Ginsei said, smiling gently. Taketo slumped; he could see exactly where this was heading, and he wasn't certain even the promise clubbing was going to be enough.
"Anyway," Salsa said, picking up on Taketo's anxiety, "you said there was something more recent?"
"Right," Karasuma said, "but that's one I'm puzzled about. Wolf has reduced red cells, classic for the hemolytic anemia that results from ingesting onions. But I don't know where he would have --"
"But," Ginsei cut in, "didn't Taketo say that Wolf was picked up by the police over on the west side of town?"
"Uh, yes?" Taketo confirmed, hesitant.
"I see. Kaoru," Ginsei said, "isn't that where Cataloni-san lives?"
"Yes, she has the two little white dogs," Karasuma said. "Yes yes, I've eaten at her restaurant with --"
"Her Italian restaurant, which features garlic and onion special dishes?" Ginsei mused.
Taketo interrupted, "At any rate --"
"With all those trash bins in the alley where some stray dog from the countryside who didn't know any better might gorge himself?" Ginsei continued, his expression saintly.
Salsa leapt to intercept Wolf, even as oblivious Karasuma slapped fist to palm. "Yes, yes," he said, "that could be it!"
"Hmm, yes," Ginsei said gravely, cradling his chin in his palm. Taketo, Salsa, and Wolf all clutched each other and shrank back from his blinding halo of sincerity. "Do correct me if I'm wrong, Kaoru, but won't this require injections? And pills? And a nice, long medicated bath to deal with the vermin?"
Moved beyond words for a moment, Karasuma seized Ginsei's hands in his own. "My, my Ginsei! So intelligent!"
Wolf howled, "He's a sadist!"
After Wolf had finally submitted with ill-grace to a series of injections and an infusion, Ginsei had drifted from the room to "find a lovely floral shampoo."
"Wolf's not staying here," Wolf snapped. "Not. Staying. Wolf's going to Taketo's place. He has a nice smell like Takahashi."
Salsa growled, and Taketo protested quickly, "But Sensei wants to keep you overnight for observation. And, uh, doesn't he . . . uh, smell nice too?"
"Taketo isn't your nice smell," Salsa snarled. "Just stay here, you idiot. You can't even change your form yet."
"We'll be back first thing in the morning," Taketo promised, ignoring Salsa's glare. "Sensei and Ginsei make great do--, uh, wolf food. You'll like it." After Salsa's quiet, sharp reminder to Ginsei that -- in spite of everything else he'd done -- Wolf had once saved Karasuma's life, Taketo thought that Wolf would probably be safe from too much overnight vengeance. Probably. "So how was the park today?" Taketo asked, changing the subject before Wolf or Salsa could launch another volley at the other.
"Same as last week," Salsa said. "Idiots lined up to bother Wild Half about the situation, and give him the heads up about how suspicious their loud neighbors or their nosy in-laws are."
"Those murders," Taketo said.
"They're bringing out the worst in people," Salsa said, frustrated.
"Murders?" Wolf commented brightly. "That sounds fun." Taketo didn't want to know whether Wolf meant the murdering or the investigating -- he really, really didn't want to know.
Salsa leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, staring at the ceiling. "Only one person today showed up to talk about something that wasn't related to those killings. Said there'd been break-ins in an empty shop near her," Salsa said, absently rattling off the location.
"What are you supposed to do about it?" Taketo said. "Hasn't she called the police?"
"They wouldn't be interested either," Salsa said. "She was lying."
"Hunh?" Taketo stared. "Lying about what?"
"That I don't know," Salsa admitted. "I could smell it. When I pressed her to find out more than she'd told me, she got angry and left. Smart move: I wasn't in any position to follow her just then. It bothers me that --"
"Murders," Wolf cut in again, "like humans killing each other."
"Yeah, that would be the usual definition," Salsa said, annoyed.
"Hnn," Wolf said, lifting a hind paw to scratch behind his neck. "Like that guy today."
Taketo and Salsa stared at him. "What guy today?" Salsa said carefully.
"Wha-at? Is that Dog interested in that kind of thing?" Wolf said innocently. "Does he like to see bodies before the police do then?"
"Taketo, is there any silver in this place?" Salsa said. "I might try a little homicide myself."
"Huh," Wolf snorted, amused. He flopped back down on the table, and rested his head on his paws. "Wolf already felt like shit, then Wolf used a lot of seimei-ryoku healing up after that fight. So then that guy flooded the whole block with his damn stupid shrieking feelings. Too strong," he admitted, looking pissed.
"Where?" Salsa and Taketo shouted at the same time.
"Dunno," Wolf said, shrugging. "Ask your loud cop brother where they picked me up. Wolf would say," he paused, considering, "guy was getting killed maybe a block from there. Blood was pretty smelly. Hnn, probably won't have any problem finding it from there, even with a lame dog nose."
"I'll call my brother," Taketo said, darting for the phone.
"Well?" Wolf demanded, smug.
"We'll pick you up very, very early tomorrow," Salsa said grudgingly.
"Could it be," Wolf wondered aloud, "that Dog is thinking Wolf might know even more?"
"Bastard." Shuddering at his huge sacrifice, Salsa said, "I'll give you all my soup bones while you're here."
"Good enough," Wolf said, flicking an ear.