A story about the most famous werewolf investigation in history. A killer is on the loose in the German countryside, and an investigator is tasked with finding who--or what--the killer is. Along the way, he gains the help of a strange hunter, a conflicted priest, and a farmer's daughter. Together, these four divergent souls must navigate the volatile political and religious landscape of 16th century Germany, fighting for their sanity, and their lives.
1588 - Near the town of Bedburg, Germany
It had been some time since Investigator Heinrich Franz had inspected a murder scene, and he relished the opportunity. As he removed his black gloves to inspect the body, a tingle ran down his spine.
The victim's body was situated near a tree, tucked away from any trails or passing eyes.
"Our killer wanted to make it difficult to identify the victim, but not to find her," Heinrich said to his right-hand man and bodyguard, Tomas.
He crouched over the body. Her exposed entrails had been dragged around the trunk of the tree, separating her legs from her torso. Her right foot was missing three toes, and her left arm was missing altogether. Her mangled face was a canvas for flesh-eating insects. He could only tell the victim was female by the tattered blue dress she wore and the stringy blonde hair plastered against her head.
Heinrich glanced at the dress. Maybe it will help to identify her, he thought, and then looked at her face. Because that certainly won't.
Heinrich prodded beneath the dress, but found no signs of defilement. The stench of decay was not yet overwhelming, but still strong enough to offend his keen nose.
"She's been dead for less than twenty-four hours," the investigator said. He turned to the frightened farmer standing behind him. "And you found her when?"
"This morning, sir." The farmer held a grimy cap close to his chest. "I was walking my dogs when the wind brought her smell right to me. Then I saw crows circling--"
"I didn't ask how," Heinrich said, "just when."
The investigator circled the tree and bent down to examine the torso with a magnifying glass. Flies and maggots crawled over her body and through her deep cuts. Heinrich put a finger to one of her small, exposed breasts. It was cold and clammy.
"She was killed in broad daylight, sir?" the farmer asked.
Heinrich ignored the man. He pocketed his magnifying glass, stood up with creaking knees, and wrestled his hands back into his gloves. "Judging by the size of her breasts and feet, I'd say she was no more than fifteen years of age."
"Just a child," the farmer murmured. He started fidgeting with his cap, and then stammered. "There wouldn't perhaps be any kind of . . . reward for finding the body, would there, sir?"
Heinrich gave the man an icy glare and spat on the grass. Heartless swine, he thought, shaking his head. Trying to profit on the death of a child. He started pacing in front of the farmer, and then stroked his chin and twirled his thin, wispy mustache. He stared at the man's fat, doughy face. He was middle-aged, with a patchy gray beard. His eyes were soft, and he looked harmless, but Heinrich knew that appearances never made the man, nor told the whole story.
"The real question I have," Heinrich said, "is what was a young girl doing out here alone, so far from any roads?"
"Perhaps she was lured here?"
The investigator eyed the farmer. "A fine observation," Heinrich said with a disingenuous smile. Then it vanished. "My next question is what were you doing out here so far from the trails?"
The farmer scratched his scalp, and then his face slowly distorted and his mouth fell open. He stammered some more. "Y-you can't believe that . . . that I . . ." he trailed off. "I told you, sir, I was leading my dogs--"
Heinrich nodded and Tomas came to the farmer's side and grabbed his arms. The farmer shouted and squirmed and tried to break free.
"You can't do this, sir! I came to you only trying to help!"
Yes, trying to help your purse.
Tomas looked pale and queasy as he wrestled with the farmer.
"Take him to the jail," Heinrich ordered. "I'll be by a bit later. Find out whatever you can."
Tomas nodded and turned away.
"And Tomas," Heinrich added. The soldier spun on his heels, and Heinrich stared into his eyes. "Whatever means necessary."
Tomas nodded again. "What are your thoughts, sir?"
Heinrich sighed and put his hands on his hips. "I'm thinking the Werewolf of Bedburg has returned."
The search for the Werewolf of Bedburg had gone cold over the previous two years. Prior to that, the terrible beast rampaged across the German countryside for a decade, unopposed.
When he vanished, no one knew why.
There hadn't been any definitive sightings since. Sometimes a peasant clamoring for fame would claim to have seen the beast, and it would stoke the flames of fear around Bedburg all over again. The sightings were always unfounded--a Protestant minority trying to scare the Catholics, or the other way around.
This latest discovery, however, could not be ignored. In the past, Heinrich had seen wounds as grotesque as those on the latest victim.
Finally, the hunt was on again, and Heinrich felt the hair stand on the back of his neck.
He made his way back to the town of Bedburg, and decided to postpone his interrogation until the morning, to let the farmer stew in the dank cellars of the jail for a while.
The investigator decided to stop in at the local tavern on the east side of town. He meandered through the muddy roads of Bedburg until he came to a stone building with a brick-tiled roof. As he arrived, the sun was setting behind the trees to the west. He opened the front door and was greeted by a stale wave of heat across his face.
Inside, the place was bustling. Travelers and peasants and tradesmen alike sat at circular wooden tables, drinking, laughing, and telling stories to each other as they ogled the passing bar wenches.
A large hearth was lit on the left wall, and the bar was located opposite the hearth. Heinrich took a seat at the bar, next to a broad-shouldered man. He took off his gloves, rubbed his eyes, and ordered a mug of ale. Within seconds of sitting, a short-skirted, redheaded girl with freckles dotting her nose sashayed over to him and gave him a coy smile. She opened her mouth to speak, but Heinrich waved her off before any words came out. She frowned and stormed off to a nearby table.
"If you don't take her, I might have to."
Heinrich faced the big man sitting next to him. He had a leathery face, and a long, dark beard. His tunic was ragged, and he had scars on his thick arms. The most telling sign was his eyes--the hardened eyes of a man who had seen many horrors in his life. Heinrich deduced that the man was a soldier.
"Have at her," the investigator said.
The man let out a raspy, rumbling noise that sounded somewhere between a laugh and a battle cry. He took a large pull from the mug in front of him, belched, and then stuck out his hand. "Georg Sieghart," he said.
Heinrich paused, stared at the man's bear-like hand, and noticed an iron ring around his fourth finger. He took Georg's hand--the man had an iron grip--and said, "Heinrich Franz." Then, with his chin, he gestured to the ring on Georg's hand, and then to the redheaded girl nearby. "What would your wife think of that?"
A smirk formed beneath Georg's long beard, and he shrugged. "She wouldn't mind. Haven't seen her in some time."
He looked at Heinrich's hands, noticed a similar ring, and said, "Is that why you resist the temptation of a good time?"
"You could say that."
Georg lifted his mug. "To chivalry," he said with a smile.
Heinrich bumped mugs with the man and took a large gulp. "Have you just returned from warring?"
Heinrich spoke of the Cologne War, which had ravaged the state for nearly seven long years.
"How did you know?"
"It's my job to know. You haven't seen your wife for some time, and you sit like a soldier."
Lines formed on Georg's forehead. "How does one sit like a soldier?"
Heinrich looked Georg up and down. "Slumped shoulders, but still with a disciplined posture. You hold your mug with both hands, as if it's going to run away, and your eyes dart around, looking for the nearest threat."
Georg frowned. "You've known me for two minutes, and you gathered all that? What are you, a Protestant spy?"
Heinrich looked over his shoulder and then leaned in conspiratorially. "I'm the chief investigator of Bedburg," he said in a low voice.