Cats and Dogs

by Christine Morgan

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are
used here without their creators' knowledge or consent. Special thanks to Dean
Koontz, whose "Twilight Eyes" and "The Funhouse" provided some inspiration
and research ; )
This story is for mature readers only due to sexual content, profanity, and violence.

(Cordelia St. John, voice over) Previously, on Gargoyles ... From "Ice Queen" --         "Didn't you hear me? Big Country Midway Attractions is the fourth largest carnival in America. I own three grab-joints, the equestrian show, and two kiddie rides. I'm also Madame Cassandra. Card readings, palm readings, fifteen bucks a pop for five minutes' work. Caleb is only twenty-three, and he owns the Amazing Oddities exhibit free and clear. We don't need your money, or his, or anybody's. Got it?"         "Fortune telling and a freak show," Cordelia sniffed. "I have to give you credit, Cassandra; I would have thought you ran away to become a kootch dancer."         Vivid red burst into Cassandra's sunken cheeks, but she managed to say, with strange dignity, "I gave that up after Corrinne was born."
        The woman in the long coat and hat drew plenty of looks as she walked along the midway.         It was late summer in southwestern Illinois and the fairgrounds were hot and dusty. The afternoon crowds were only a fraction of the numbers of fair- goers that would swell the midway as the evening cool set in and the lights on the rides and attractions set the night afire.         Most of those present, carny and mark alike, were dressed to beat the heat in shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, sandals. Sunburned or farmer-tanned, freckled, good wholesome Midwest stock, lots of sunbleached blond hair, lots of callused hardworking hands.         And among them, this one woman in her long coat, the collar turned up to nearly meet the brim of her hat.         The marks assumed she was one of the carnies on a late lunch break, not wanting to be recognized. No free shows.         The carnies eyed her with speculation. Not one of them, no, not now. Once, maybe. There was something about her that set her apart from the typical mark.         She drew plenty of looks, yes, but not much more than that. It was a carnival, after all. There was an abundance of things to look at, things to do. There were rides to be ridden, exhibits to view, midway games to be suckered into, junk food to be eaten, prizes to be won.         None of them had any idea there was a killer in their midst.         The woman smiled to herself, wondering what would happen if she suddenly threw off her coat and went on a rampage. Slashing, cutting, leaving a trail of bleeding bodies in her wake as she mowed her way through the throng. The thought of the screams sent a pleasant tingle through her. It would be nearly as good as a nice rough roll in the hay.         When you were horny and couldn't get laid, she mused, violence was a good way to let off some steam.         She reminded herself that she wasn't here to get either laid or violent. At least, not right away. First things first. She was on a scouting mission that could turn into a rescue mission if what she'd heard was true. After that, well, anything goes! Ya pays your money and ya takes your chances.         "Hey! You the tattooed lady under there?" a brat of a kid, maybe eleven years old, yelled at her. He was a porky little sonofabitch, face smeared with what looked like a combination of mustard, ice cream, and pink flecks of cotton candy. He had a cheap stuffed animal in one hand, an inflatable baseball bat in the other, and a pair of grinning doofuses (or was that doofi?) watching him.         She turned toward Porky.         Bravado puffed him up like a toad. "Maybe it's Alli-Gertie, the alligator girl from the freak show!"         The woman moved closer. "Little boy, you just made a big mistake."         He opened his sloppy mouth to unleash another pre-teen witticism, then the sunlight slanted beneath the brim of her hat and gleamed on planes of golden metal that extended down her cheeks. He froze, gaping.         She withdrew a gloved hand from her pocket and pointed at him with two fingers. Fast as a striking snake, two razor-sharp quills extended and retracted.         "I hear your momma calling," Hyena sneered.         Porky slowly looked right and left. His inflatable baseball bat was deflating like a giant drooping prick, and his stuffed animal had a gouged third eye smack through its head.         The kid's buddies stared, not sure what they'd seen. But when Porky squealed like a piggy and took to his heels, they were right behind him.         Laughing, Hyena continued on her way in higher spirits than before. Every so often, she would see that baseball bat in her mind's eye and be overcome with a fresh spurt of the snickers.         Big Country was one of the few remaining traveling carnivals that had a by-God girlie show, but in an age of lap dances, the hula-hula kootchie-kootchie girls were more a quaint amusement than anything else. They all looked so damn wholesome, waggling their grass skirts and coconut bras on the stage in front of the tent. Apparently, or so the sign and the barker boasted, there was much more to be seen inside.         Hyena shook her head and continued on. The combination of the ridiculous bobbing phallic baseball bat (going limp with a dismayed whistle) and the idea of exotic dancers made her think of her brother.         The continued humiliation and defeat by the gargoyles, now allied with their one-time leader Fox and her rich husband, had been much tougher on Jackal than herself. Something had snapped. A short circuit in his cybernetics, maybe. Who knew? But he'd gone and given up after his last stint in prison. Declared his crimefighting days at an end.         "And just what do you think you're going to do?" Hyena had demanded through the glass when he'd come to visit her after his release. "Most places won't even hire someone with a nose ring, cyber-boy!"         "I'll think of something," he'd growled.         And lo and behold, he had. She had just about croaked when she read his first letter detailing his new job at Club Victoria. My brother, the stripper. Tacky. Just plain tacky.         She'd known about his "upgrade;" hell, she had some downstairs modifications of her own. But the idea of him putting it on display, bumping and grinding for the benefit of lonely women ... she'd laughed so hard she blew a fuse and had to have the prison maintenance people call in a specialist from Cyberbiotics before all of her functions would work again.         It hadn't lasted, of course. Poor Jackal! Gargoyles again. And Fox, too. Pity he hadn't strangled the bitch when he had the chance. Left with a stub (well, okay, it was a 12-incher of a stub, but compared to the segmented few yards he'd had before ...). Cyberbiotics either couldn't or wouldn't tackle that project, and Xanatos' people refused to have any further dealings with their one-time masterpieces.         He'd lost it. Of that, she was sure. The sadistic spark that had been just one more similarity between twins had gone out. It had started in Egypt, after he briefly had the power of a god and then had it stolen from him. He'd gotten lazy and self-indulgent after that, and their subsequent trouncings had only made him worse.         It was sad, in a way. Except for prison time, they hadn't ever been apart for long. But in another way, it had been kind of nice not having him around all the time, making smartass remarks about any guy she happened to find appealing. She still stung over how he'd zapped Coyote. Robot or not, she'd really had a thing for the big gold war-machine. It was so hard to find guys who shared her interests.         She passed another tent, this one deep purple sewn with swirls and spirals of silvery thread. The flaps were open but cordoned off by a velvet rope. Within, she could see rows of folding chairs facing a small stage with a single chair upon it. The stage was backdropped by a canvas painted to look like a magical castle floating against a starry sky.         The sign propped in front of the velvet rope read "La Petite Morgana -- Seer and Mystic. Witness her Clairvoyant Powers at Work! Unravel the Secrets of the Ancients! Two shows nightly, 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Admission -- $4.00 adults, $2.50 children and seniors. Prepare to be Astonished!!!"         Hyena snorted scoffingly, knowing that the suckers would file in, pony up the bucks, just to watch some bimbo in a slinky dress "guess" what objects her assistant borrowed from members of the audience.         Up ahead, she caught a glimpse of her old pal Porky and his friends. They were hanging back a ways from a very large structure. At first, she thought it was the funhouse, but as she edged closer, she saw that it was the very place she'd been seeking.         "Amazing Oddities," the banner declared.         The freak show.         She knew there weren't many true freak shows left these days. Most had gone into static displays of jars containing malformed animal fetuses and the occasional live barnyard blooper such as a six-legged sheep or a pig with a forked snout. The days of the old-fashioned "ten-in-one" were passing. This one, Amazing Oddities, was one of the largest remaining. And, as the sign proudly proclaimed, "The Most Shocking, Appalling Exhibit in America!!!"         It seemed Porky and his pals were trying to work up the cojones to go in. Boasting to each other about how scared they weren't, pretending that it was insufficient funds making them pause to consider.         The barker noticed the trio of boys just as Hyena noticed the barker. A low revving hum came from her internal servomotors. Ooh, baby! Here was her kind of guy!         He was tall, not overly buff but well put-together. He was dressed like a traditional carnival barker, which was something of a turn-off, but the snug black pants did a good job of showing off his long legs and his tight, high butt. He had dispensed with the top hat, at least, and his thick dark-blond hair was slicked back into a widow's peak. His features were sharp but his mouth was full, that of a born sensualist. Lips made to savor.         Those lips were what really caught Hyena's attention. Those lips, and his eyes. Jade-green, and even from here, she could see that they glinted with a cruelty to rival her own.         His sensuous mouth curled into a harsh sneer as he watched the boys debating and daring each other. Was it just her, or did his teeth actually look sharp, predatory? It was the first time in a long time that she'd seen a man who wore such a palpable aura of danger.         Yum.         Just then, a fourth boy wandered past, alone. He was about Porky's age, the sort of kid that would instantly be tagged as a "wuss" and possibly a "queerboy" into the bargain by taunting peers. The sort of kid for whom recess was a living hell. Teacher's pet in the classroom, everybody's punching bag in the playyard.         It was to this boy that the barker directed his spiel. Hyena watched with growing admiration as the barker tried to lure the kid in, holding him spellbound even though the kid began to look sincerely unhappy. He didn't want to go, he was afraid to go, and the barker began to whittle at him, chip at him, cut him to pieces with his vicious tongue.         The kid didn't have enough money. The barker lowered the price.         The kid had to meet his mom. The barker insisted it would only take a few minutes.         The kid began to tremble, to glance around for someone to bail him out, but the only people around were Porky and company. Their response was to hoot and jeer and call him a sissy, a chicken.         Tears welled up in the sissy's eyes. The barker whapped the side of his podium with a riding crop (Ooh, baby, Hyena's mind whispered, I could show you some games to play with that!) and the kid jumped and squeaked and damn near wet his pants.         "I don't have all day, young man," the barker said. "Are you going to be brave and see these grotesque mishaps of nature, or are you going to run crying to your mommy?"         Now the kid's lip was quivering like crazy, and the tears overspilled. He broke into loud, braying bawls and fled. Porky stuck out a foot and the kid tripped, not quite losing his balance but knocking over a white plastic garbage can beside a grab-joint specializing in corn dogs and curly fries. He skidded through a greasy scattering of half-eaten food and discarded wrappers, bumped into the corner of the grab-joint, and was gone.         Porky and his friends just about busted a gut. Funniest thing they'd ever seen.         "I guess he was chicken after all," the barker said to them. "Not like you."         Hyena's grin widened. She hadn't missed the hidden wink the little blond kid had given to the barker, and knew a set-up when she saw one.         "Step right up and prove me right," the barker invited. As he gestured extravagantly, she noticed a heavy gold ring on his left hand, and her expression soured until she realized it was on the middle, not the third finger. "Only three dollars apiece. And what do you get for those three dollars, my friends? You'll see with your own eyes some of the most monstrous creatures ever to draw breath, but that's only the beginning. You'll be able to leave here knowing that you were brave enough to face nature at her worst, and live to tell the tale!"         No way were Porky and the others about to make themselves wusses like the other kid. They shelled out their money and proceeded into the building. Where, judging by the billowing canvas paintings along the front wall, they would see a dozen shocking deformities. Including Alli-Gertie herself, the alligator-girl to whom Porky had earlier referred. Along with such notables as the World's Fattest Man, the Two-Headed Dwarf, the Tattooed Lady, Mr. Starfish, the Bat out of Hell, and others.         But not the one Hyena was looking for. She scowled. If she'd come all this way for nothing, she was going to be seriously pissed.         She knew she'd have to check out the interior, but decided to wait until later when the crowds were thicker, the lighting was stranger, and the chances of someone noticing that she didn't have all her original parts decreased.         The barker glanced her way, and as much as she would have liked to meet that jade gaze with her own smoldering reply, she turned and made for the grab-joint. So named, she recalled, because there weren't any seats provided, so you grabbed your chow and ate it on the go.         Moments later, with a crisp, greasy corndog (and she successfully resisted the urge to turn back to the barker and take a big old suggestive chomp out of it), Hyena did her best to melt into the growing crowd.         Pitchmen called to passing marks, exhorting them to try their luck, test their skill, win a prize for the lady, step right up, three darts for two dollars, ten rings for a dollar, ring the bell and win. The good prizes prominently displayed and the signs telling how many wins were actually needed written in small letters; one win usually netted the mark something junky.         Nostalgia made Hyena smile. Or maybe it was the combination of thrills and risk inherent in the carnival atmosphere. The marks poured in knowing they were going to be suckered, knowing there was a chance that the Tilt-O-Whirl or the Bungee Tower would be improperly maintained. The rodeo or the stock car race might erupt into sudden terror and injury. That defiant risk-love ran as a heady undercurrent beneath the jangling chaos of lights and noise.         It almost made her a kid again. Even at a young age, she'd thrived on danger. Been addicted to it. Realized the power that came from the ability to inflict fear and pain.         She lingered as the evening's long shadows trailed across the midway and the lights outlining every ride blazed into brightness. A breeze sprang up and whisked away the dust that had been hanging steady in the air. For one shared moment, everyone in the fairgrounds seemed to pause and take a renewing breath, and then the activity began at a more frenzied pace than before.         It was ten till seven when she passed the purple-and-silver tent again, where a stream of marks were hurrying in to catch the first act of La Petite Morgana. Thinking it would be a way to pass a little time before going back to Amazing Oddities, Hyena peeled off a few bucks and went in.         She took a seat in the back row, and stretched out her legs. Built-in gold icepick heels were what she'd always wanted, and while she could no longer bitch about sore feet, they did leave her with aching ankles and calves after a long day of walking.         Some jerk in a tuxedo got up in front of the crowd, prattled on for a while about the Mysteries of the Orient, did a few card tricks and produced a few doves. Warm-up act. He lured a giggling redhead onto the stage and pulled a knotted string of scarves from her blouse, with a lacy bra at the end, surprise, surprise. All part of the show.         Hyena grumbled and pulled her hat low. If the rest of the act was this bad, she might as well catch a nap, recharge a little, and wave farewell to four wasted bucks.         She almost was dozing when the main attraction was announced.         "Fifteen hundred years ago," the jerk in the tuxedo said, "in the time of King Arthur, there was one name that struck awe and fear into the hearts of all. That name was Morgan Le Fay, Morgan of the Fairies, the greatest sorceress the world has ever known. Her fate remains a mystery, but this one thing I can tell you -- wherever she went, she left behind her magical legacy! Mother to daughter, this bloodline has stretched uninterrupted down through the centuries. Some say that the soul of Morgan is reborn every few generations into the body of one of her descendants. And so, my friends, I give you ... La Petite Morgana!"         Oh, Christ, it's just a kid, Hyena thought sourly. Reincarnation and fairies, my butt.         La Petite Morgana couldn't have been more than seven years old. Soft brown hair hung to her waist, her face was cherubic and serene, and her eyes were wide and milky-green. Sightless eyes, an alert posture that spoke of keen hearing.         Blind or not, they still covered her eyes when she got to the part of her act where she would supposedly use her clairvoyant powers to divine objects possessed by members of the audience. But rather than have her assistant go through the crowd, coaching with his words just what it was he was holding, La Petite Morgana in her soft yet carrying voice started describing individuals.         "There is a man in a blue shirt," she said. "A blue shirt and a belt with a racecar on the buckle. In his wallet, behind a picture of his mother, is a piece of paper with a phone number on it ..."         And so on. By the reactions of the audience, she was eerily accurate. And there were too many "volunteers" for them all to be shills.         "There is a woman in a long coat," La Petite Morgana began, and frowned. "She ... she ... is like a robot --"         Those words gave Hyena a nasty little start, and she realized she better make herself scarce. Quick. But she couldn't just get up and walk out, not without getting the attention of every loser in the audience. They were already looking around for this "robot-woman."         The guy next to her, luckily, was a big halfwit farmboy who didn't seem to know what was going on. She sidled sideways, worked her legs past him (at this, he gave her a goofy grin like he thought she was coming on to him, but the last thing on her mind was getting into his overalls), and eased behind her chair.         Maestro Mysterioso was heading for the back of the room, squinting into the dimness. Hyena moved fast, slipping under the wall of the tent and letting it fall back into place behind her.         "Shit," she muttered, hurrying down the alley between tents. "That was weird."         Unnerved, she decided the best thing to do would be forget about it and come back later tonight. She was too jittery now to stage any sort of break-out from a freak show, thanks to that spooky-ass little girl.                 *               *         The twin peridot gemstones winked mellow green fire from the eyes of the leopard-head ring on his left hand as Caleb St. John handed the cash box over to Elliot Graves, the bookkeeper/lawyer he and his mother shared.         "Not bad for a Thursday," he said.         "The weekend will be a good 'un," Elliot replied, patting the cash box affectionately. "They're forecasting sunny, but not too hot."         Elliot was loyal, honest (at least to other carnies), and was hopelessly in love with Cassandra St. John. He even believed that he was Morgana's father, a belief that none of the St. Johns had either encouraged or shot down. Let him think what he would.         The same went for Devon Chase, otherwise known as Maestro Mysterioso. Cassandra had been involved with them both at about the same time, and less than a year later, Morgana had been born. Devon was particularly fervent about his role in Morgana's parentage. She had, he swore, inherited not only her mother's incredible psychic gifts but his own incomparable magic powers.         Caleb always had to struggle not to laugh when Devon went off on one of those rolls. His mother, he knew, had all the psychic gifts of a schoolmarm. Her expertise came solely from years of experience in conning and manipulating the marks. Her kids were the gifted ones, each of them in their own strange ways, but Cassandra herself wasn't.         At least, that was what he'd thought before Cassandra got her crystal ball. All of a sudden, she'd gone mystical on him, claiming the ball that she'd gotten only as a prop to lend her act some verisimilitude, really was enchanted. Gave her visions.         His personal response to that was the same one he had for Elliot and Devon. Let her think what she would. It had added a spark to her act, that much was true. Madame Cassandra had never been hotter as a psychic advisor.         Mother dear was currently off in New York, mending fences or burning bridges with her estranged rich-snob relatives. Caleb himself didn't give a damn one way or the other. His real family was here, the people he'd grown up with, the mentors who had taught him and raised him in the carny life. Not that they meant a whole lot to him either, but he felt more comfortable around them than he would in the white-bread world of so-called society. Only here, only among carnies, would the ... peculiarities ... of himself and his siblings be overlooked or accepted.         Elliot was right. Tomorrow would be even better. Payday, the weekend, hoards of marks willing and eager to be parted from their hard-earned cash. And the dirty truth was, although they might go on about how horrible and demeaning and disgusting it was to have a freak show in this day and age, they would be burning hot to gawk at his employees.         The marks had gone home, jostling their cars in line to get out of the wide field put into use as a parking lot. The carnies were tidying up, getting ready for the next day. All Caleb had left to do was make sure everyone was settled for the night, and check in on his newest acquisition. See if he was adapting yet, ready to talk reason.         As he approached the row of trailers, he mentally ticked through his roster.         Gordan Applebee would be home, maneuvering his massive bulk around his specially-built, reinforced trailer with extreme care. He'd taken a bad fall three years ago, just before Caleb bought the show, and it had taken six roustabouts to get him on his feet again.         Targo would be home too, of course. Dwarves were common enough that they didn't make for much of a draw in a freak show, but Targo was blessed or cursed with an additional twist -- God had meant for him to have a twin, but they'd never separated properly. A bulbous eyeless knob of a second head protruded from high on Targo's chest and a three-fingered extra arm grew from his ribcage. Targo's wife Leila was a perfectly-proportioned midget, and of their three sons, the two oldest were of normal stature and the youngest had taken after his mother.         Rainbow's trailer was dark. Unsurprising. She had been going with the carnival boss' right-hand-man lately, who evidently enjoyed tracing her tattoos. A man could lose himself for hours following the gaily colored ribbons of ink that wound around firm flesh like a close cocoon.         As he approached the next trailer, he saw a tall, spindly form appear out of the shadows. Elasto started, then nodded at Caleb with pathetic eager greeting.         "Good night, Mr. St. John," the old man fawned. He had a grocery bag in one hand and a milkshake in the other.         "Good night, Elasto," Caleb said indifferently.         He turned away, not missing the despairing look that came over the old man's face. Elasto knew his stint on the road was nearly over. It was well past retirement time for the Rubber Man. He could barely manage his contortions anymore. Maybe not this summer, but soon. Next year, perhaps. The carnival would move on and Elasto would remain in Gibtown, an active performer no longer.         Caleb knew it too, but no sympathy warmed his heart. Carnies looked after their own, but when someone got too old to keep drawing the marks, they had to step aside and let the young take over. That was the lesson Balthazar had ingrained in him from an early age.         Balthazar, one-time owner of Amazing Oddities as well as star of the show, was himself retired now. Caleb missed his dry cynical wit, missed his guidance. Balthazar had been the closest he'd ever known to a father. Stepfather, according to carny tradition. He and Cassandra had married by riding the carousel together, about six months before Corrinne was born.         From the time Caleb was four, he'd been fascinated by the misshapen souls who worked for the ten-in-one. His mother, who had been struggling to get by as a dancer at the time, hadn't minded that her young son spent all his spare time hanging out at the freak show. Odd jobs when he got a little older, eventually as an apprentice, then partner, then successor. They had retained their close relationship even after Balthazar and Cassandra's divorce.         He passed the trailer where Li and Tao were arguing with each other. Their real names weren't Li and Tao, of course, but somehow nobody was going to want to pay good money to see so-called "Siamese" twins named Herman and Wilbur Potter. The topic of their argument was, as usual, women. Li fancied himself a ladies' man; Tao preferred working on his model railroad. The railroad took up most of another trailer and was damn near a wonder of the modern world; Caleb sometimes thought they could bring in an extra few grand a night charging admission to that miniature countryscape.         The next trailer belonged to a demure young woman with the evocative name of Katerina Wyrmischlass, better known as Drei Augen for the third eye that peered just slightly off-center from her forehead. It was as blue and guileless as its lower siblings, mostly concealed by Katerina's ink-black bangs until she parted that glossy curtain of hair to give the marks what they paid for. Parted them with her feet, for in addition to her ocular irregularity, Katerina had been born without arms. She was more adept with her toes than many people were with a full complement of hands and fingers.         Mrs. Dandridge was still up, taking in the wash. She regarded Caleb with a wary, weary expression that told him he was still, in her opinion, not filling Balthazar's shoes. Mrs. D. was quite possibly the hardest-working carny with Big Country, though she ran no concessions and starred in no shows. She had her hands more than full looking after her middle-aged daughter Mary Ellen, who, as Giganta the Giant Woman, was one of Caleb's star attractions.         Giganta was nine feet tall, gormy and gawky as a giraffe. Thin as she was, her long legs still could not support the weight of her body for more than a few steps at a time. She got to and fro in a custom-built motorized wheelchair. Her mother took care of her, serving as a combination housekeeper, cook, nurse, and all-around attendant.         Caleb nodded at Mrs. D. and continued on. There was only one trailer left to check, the trailer with fake windows over reinforced steel, with thick and soundproofed walls, with more locks and bars on the door than a paranoid's apartment.         This was where he kept the ones he thought of uncharitably as "the real freaks," defined as the ones who didn't or weren't able to cooperate. Who didn't appreciate the good money and fortune that could be theirs. Who would escape, if they were able or allowed.         "Hey! Big brother!"         He paused at the bottom of the fold-down steps, his keys in hand. "There you are, Chris. Good job tonight!"         His brother came up, the grin he wore now completely different from the terrified/tearful expression he used when shaming bigger kids into braving Amazing Oddities. Chris was twelve but could have (and had on occasion) passed for as young as eight.         "Mr. Zwick says the inspectors are coming by tomorrow morning," Chris said. "Around seven."         Caleb groaned and looked at his watch, which read 2:13. "Seven? Bastards."         "One of them's a social worker or something," Chris went on, his voice hard-edged and disdainful. "Wants to make sure the 'differently abled' are being treated with the dignity and compassion they deserve."         "Ah, for the good old days when we could call a freak a freak," Caleb sighed. "It's the politically-correct Pollyannas like that who make me ill, little brother. They'd rather see people like my staff rotting away in a care home someplace, getting forty bucks a month spending green and not bothering anybody. Being 'taken care of' and safely out of sight. God forbid they should be proud of their freakhood, making more money a year than the average mark will see in ten."         "Singing to the choir, big brother." Chris balled up a fist and thumped on the trailer door. From within, a muffled and barely-audible enraged voice answered him. "I'll be here at six-thirty, okay?"         Caleb looked at his watch again. "Four hours of sleep. Joy. Well, I guess my charges can wait that long. I'll check them in the morning."         "Hey," Chris said, turning around. "Did you hear something?"         "No."         "Weird. Sounded like ... like a windup toy."         Caleb pointed to a discarded pinwheel, cheap painted foil on a plastic stick. It was stuck in the diamond-shapes of the chain link fence that separated the trailer lot from a wild, brambly field. "There's your windup toy, little brother. Some mark's kid is out two bucks."         Chris went over and pulled the pinwheel out of the fence, giving it an experimental spin. "No ... it wasn't this ... it was more like a vacuum cord being retracted."         "Since when do you know about vacuums?" Caleb chuckled.         "Somebody's got to keep our place clean while Mom's away," Chris protested defensively. "It's not like Morgana can do it."         "It's not like Mom does it either. I thought Sonia was taking care of that."         "Sonia doesn't like us," Chris said sullenly. "Without Mom here, she hasn't done shit."         "Language, little brother."         "Shit-shit-shit," Chris chanted viciously. "She hates Mom. How come Mom doesn't see it? Morgana knows, and I do too."         "Maybe Mom just doesn't care. What's Sonia going to do? So what if Mom took over the fortune-telling gig from Sonia's aunt? It's not like _she_ could do it. She couldn't make a mark believe the sun was going to rise in the east."         Caleb knew there was more to the story, much more, but kept silent about it. No need for Chris to know that there had been a time when Sonia and Cassandra had been hot for Balthazar, back when they'd both been dancing in the hootchie-kootchie show.         That rivalry (which Cassandra had won) combined with Sonia's fury that her aunt, crazy old Madame Zena, had snubbed her niece in favor of an apprentice who hadn't even been a carny until she was almost sixteen, had ended any and all chance at friendship between the two.         Now untalented Sonia, too old and dowdy to dance, too peevish and sour to marry, had to make her living as Big Country's all-purpose domestic. Worst of all, she'd ended up working for the woman she'd always been in competition with.         "I'll talk to her," he promised Chris now. "Just because Mom's away doesn't mean she can shirk her duties."         "I'm old enough to take care of myself," Chris said.         Caleb clapped a hand on his shoulder. "I know. But you shouldn't have to be cleaning up if someone else is being paid to do it. That's all Sonia's good for anyway. Now scoot, and get some sleep. Six-thirty's going to come awful quick."                 *               *         Crouched in the bramble-bushes, ignoring the thorns, Hyena tucked her extendable ear-cup back into the socket. She winced at the loud, grating click it always made when it was firmly set in place, a click that seemed to reverberate through her skull and down her spine.         So, inspectors were coming tomorrow morning, hmm? And there was something the stud with the cruel jade-green eyes didn't want them to see in that big ugly trailer.         Hyena was no fool. She could tell just by a quick scan that the trailer was a facade, made to look normal but really a tank on wheels. Probably strong enough to hold a whole clan of gargoyles. If he couldn't break out, she might not be able to break in.         She might be able to cut her way in, or sear through the door with a laser, but that sort of noisy lightshow would attract every carny in the lot.         He had to be there. It was the only likely place.         She'd followed Green Eyes on his rambling tour, getting a free peek at some of his employees through the windows of their trailers. Poor saps.         "Dingo should see this," she'd murmured at one point. He got all over their asses about how she, Jackal, and Wolf had gotten themselves remade. At least they had been able to choose and dictate exactly what they'd wanted. Self-made freaks, rather than being at the whim of that all-time champeen bitch, Mother Nature.         Still, that didn't give Green Eyes the right to buy and sell them like property. Giving up one's essential humanity didn't mean giving up one's human rights.         She nearly laughed out loud. What the hell kind of a thought was that, coming out of her head? She could just see herself and her Pack-mates marching, picketing, demonstrating. Cyborgs Are People Too. Mutates Against Discrimination.         Never mind.         How was she going to get into the damn trailer?         Disguise herself as an inspector? Never work.         Apply for a job? Yeah, right.         Steal a truck, hook the whole thing up, and tow it away? That had possibilities ...         But first, before she started making any plans, she knew she better pay her admission, check out the freaks, and make sure the one she was looking for actually was here.                 *               *         She was making the noise again.         A low, mournful, glottal cry.         Fang crouched at the back of his cage, clenching his fists, telling himself that he wasn't going to yell at her this time. It didn't do any good anyway. She would just keep on, only louder and sadder.         From the cage on his left, a low voice snarled. "What the fuck is wrong with her?" That voice was nearly unintelligible, filtered as it was through a mouth no longer approximating human shape, filled with overlarge teeth that made speaking chancy at best.         "She's miserable, okay, what's it to you?" Fang shot back, all the more pissed because now he was suddenly in the position of defending her instead of telling her to shut up, which he dearly wanted to do.         On the other side of the trailer, in the opposite row of cages, the scaled woman rustled in the straw and kept on with her terrible moaning wail. They called her Alli-Gertie, Fang knew. A silly, cheery, almost chirpy name for one pathetic wretch of a woman.         He could see her just fine in the dimness. His pupils were fully dilated, taking in every bit of light from the single bulb at the far end, next to the partition leading to the storage area. She was sprawled on her belly, arms and legs moving sluggishly as if she imagined herself creeping through the bayou.         "What's it to me?" his neighbor growled. "She's keeping me awake, that's what."         "You got an appointment with your stockbroker in the morning or something?" Fang sneered.         "I'll give you an appointment with the undertaker, asswipe!"         A rank, furry body slammed against the bars, but these cages were designed so the unlucky inhabitants couldn't get at each other. There was sufficient space between them to prevent even unnaturally long arms from making contact. Still, the smell enough was almost enough to knock Fang unconscious.         "You and what army, dickhead?"         He almost regretted his bravado as his neighbor raised his shaggy head, eyes gleaming yellow-green in the gloom, fangs shining with frothy saliva.         "Me and this army." He thrust a vaguely humanoid hand through the bars and flashed his claws. They weren't hideously long, but they looked like they could get the job done. He ended the gesture by saluting Fang with the middle one.         "Screw you, Wolfman," Fang said, tempted to zap the s.o.b. hard enough to leave him looking like a cartoon character who just French-kissed an electrical outlet. But he knew from painful experience that his cage was constructed to shunt the energy back at him.         "It's Wolf!" he insisted, spit flying from his jaws.         A standard witticism from Fang's high-school days popped out. "Say it, don't spray it; we want the news, not the weather."         To this, Wolf only replied with an inarticulate bellow of rage, throwing himself against the bars until he finally slumped, battered and exhausted. The only effect it had was to make Alli-Gertie fall silent in frightened shock, and to wake Mr. Starfish, who could normally sleep through anything.         "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Fang said, unimpressed. "Another badass makes the scene."         Wolf only glared, his head hanging low between his hunched shoulders. Fang wondered what the hell St. John had been thinking. Wolf belonged in a zoo, not a freakshow. Or, better yet, Wolf belonged in a shallow grave after a midnight execution.         The marks were going to get the holy piss scared out of them if St. John ever put his "Wolf Man of Madagascar" on display. That, combined with Wolf's utter refusal to cooperate, had delayed his debut week after week. Now Fang was beginning to think they never would add him to the roster.         "Fifty thousand smackers down the tube," Fang murmured to himself, having overheard the final price when Caleb was gloating to his sister.         He said it not without some bitterness, aware that he himself had been purchased for less than half that amount. It was a stupid thing to be insulted over, but then outlaws used to get tweaked when the price on their heads was less than they felt it oughtta be.         It had been a long, strange road from his cell in the Labyrinth below Manhattan to his mobile cell in the carnival. Imprisoned by damn-him-to-eternity Talon, freed by a pair of gargoyles, given a brief taste of revenge, and then swept away on a tidal flood of water, sewage, and the wretched refuse population of the Labyrinth. He'd washed up on one of those lovely New York beaches that was always picked when the news crews wanted to show medical wastes littering the sand.         From there, he'd made his wounded, half-drowned and miserable way to the trainyards, seeking shelter. He'd found it with a bunch of stewbums so plastered they would have offered the Devil a place at their trashcan fire and a swig from a brown paper bag without twitching an eyelid.         He'd hung out with them for a few weeks, entertaining thoughts of becoming their leader and making a proper gang out of them. But then his luck had taken another spectacular turn for the worse. Raiding a boxcar for food, they'd been interrupted by a bunch of stick-wielding thugs. Fang's "gang" had scattered in a display of self-serving cowardice, leaving him to face the music.         Despite zapping half of them and pounding the others good, someone got in a lucky crack with a stick and put him down for the count. When he'd revived, he'd been wrapped in chains up to his neck, in a rattling swaying old train car.         Turns out that the bastard who'd conked him knew someone who knew someone who knew this freak show operator who paid good hard cash for "oddities."         He'd tried to reason with them, bargain with them, but he'd never been known for his people skills. Plus, the fact that he'd first tried to break out and beat the crap out of them might have put a negative spin on his subsequent negotiations.         So, here he was. Months later and lots richer, because it turned out that St. John believed in giving all his freaks a share of their earnings. Once he'd begun putting Fang in the show, billing him as the "Bat out of Hell, yes, ladies and gentlemen, a Genuine Demon conjured from the Fiery Pit," he'd been bringing in the bucks.         There was a catch, of course. In order to get the cash, he had to come around. Had to sign on, join the team. He'd get a snazzy trailer like the others, could hire somebody to shop for him and bring him the things he wanted.         But it had to be sincere. Once he'd heard the deal, he'd instantly pretended to go along with it, privately thinking that he would snap St. John's slavetrading neck the minute he was out and be over the hills and far away.         Why shouldn't they have believed him? He'd always been a convincing liar. But all it took was that creepy little girl called Morgana turning her big blind eyes toward him. Damn, had that given him a chill! Like she'd been running her fingers over the surface of his brain, reading it with Braille telepathy.         She'd known. Known as plainly as if he'd said it out loud. So she'd turned to her brother and told him in that soft yet carrying voice that he was lying, and Fang, so shaken by the naked and exposed feeling, hadn't even been able to muster a token indignant objection.         Months later, he was coming to realize that maybe they had the right idea after all. He was making more, for doing less, than he'd ever done in his life. He was in a place where he didn't have to hide in the sewers and put up with Talon's self-righteous attitudes. In the Labyrinth, he'd been a nobody, a jailbird, an outcast. Here, he could be a star.         He wasn't like Alli-Gertie and Mr. Starfish. He could take care of himself. Didn't need to be fed, bathed, cleaned up after. Wasn't about to take a high dive if left to his own devices.         Yeah, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. His anger had gotten him nowhere. So he was in a cell. Big-goddam-whoopee. He'd been in a cell before Sevarius came along with his offer -- early release if you'll consent to this experimental treatment, just sign here -- and he'd been in a cell after, imprisoned and set apart by his new mutate body even before getting locked up by King Talon. By now he should be used to it.         He roused himself from his musings to notice that Alli-Gertie had finally fallen asleep. Which meant her hideous moaning was replaced by her thick chuckly snore, almost as bad. Mr. Starfish rustled in his crib, turning his head to peer up at the pictures tacked to his wall. Pictures gleaned from National Geographic or something, vistas of exotic beaches and mountains, places he'd never visit.         Depressing. De-friggin-pressing.         In the next cage over, Wolf sat slouched against the back wall. Just looking at him was enough to give Fang a case of the jim-jams. He was no expert on genetics, despite trying to read up on the subject back when he'd first agreed to this happy lifestyle change (and most of what he'd tried to read was written by Sevarius himself, his style so florid and self-congratulatory that Fang would have just about liked to puke), but even he could tell that there was some weird stuff going on with Wolf.         Fang knew about unstable mutation. He'd experienced it himself along with the rest of his so-called "clan" when their tails gradually receded or their ears and facial features changed. But that had ended years ago, stabilized. Wolf looked like a bad experiment run amok.         His face had pushed out into a muzzle so crowded with curving teeth that he couldn't close his mouth all the way. His eyes were sunken, cunning sparks of yellow beneath a heavy brow. And his bod ... to Fang he looked like a kids' drawing of the monster in the closet. Yet for all his misshapenness, he looked damned fast. Strong, too.         Fast and strong, whoopee-dink, didn't matter when the expensive Wolf Man of Madagascar was locked up tighter than a virgin's box.         Fang yawned and went to his cot, which was on the far side of his cage from Wolf. Just how he liked it. He stretched out, wrapped his wings around himself, and went to sleep.                 *               *         Hyena waited patiently as the sun rose. Dawn of a midwest day. How poetic.         The fairgrounds looked magical and strange as the light grew and a hanging mist that wasn't quite fog softened the angular spokes of the Ferris Wheel. All was silent except for the twittering of birds. Somewhere, faint and distant, a rooster crowed.         As if that was some cue, a ripple of stirring life went through the sleeping lot. Here a door opened and closed, there a child cried. Someone's clock radio buzzed its alarm. A tall, husky man emerged from the roustabouts' tent, shirtless, and Hyena watched appreciatively as he stretched, then looked away as he scratched his armpit with one hand and his crotch with the other.         Then there was a new noise, an engine. A chocolate-brown sedan appeared, the only moving thing on a road that would later be crammed with cars. The inspectors. And right on time.         She stayed in her hiding place, concealed but with a perfect view of the fortress-on-wheels where she believed Wolf was being kept.         Wolf. What a laugh! Of all the places she'd expected to find him ...         A plump man in a canary-yellow suit and cowboy boots went out to meet the official-looking types getting out of the sedan. Probably Zwick, she thought. The carnival boss. Time to give them the tour, reassure them that the rides were safe and the girlie show was clean, that no E. coli was breeding in the grab joints. Time, also, to slip them a bribe of free passes. Just a friendly gesture of goodwill. Yeah, she knew how the game was played.         Closer, she saw Green Eyes emerge from his trailer. He moved like a cat as he crossed the lot, now wearing tan pants and a cream-colored shirt. The kid, Chris, she remembered, came to meet him. They were too far away for her to hear without extending her ear cable, but she could guess.         The brothers disappeared inside the big blocky trailer for a few minutes, then came back out. The kid sat on the steps, looking very small and neat in jeans and a T-shirt, while his big brother went to wait for the inspectors. Neither of them seemed horribly happy at being awake so early.         Although she had only slept three hours, Hyena wasn't the least bit tired. Her microspheres were efficient at refreshing and recharging her body. Her metabolism ran at a different speed now. She didn't need much sleep. Probably could have gotten by without any at all, but old habits died hard.         She was hungry, though. Still needed fuel, lots of it. She could now digest things that would have killed her before, but she preferred a nice big plate of ham and eggs to scrounging a breakfast of dew-damp grass and brambles from the field.         That could wait. Time enough later to go into town.         She waited and watched as the inspectors made their rounds and asked their questions. Eventually, they came to the section where the freaks lived. Hyena noticed that Chris sat up straighter, and screwed his face into an expression of concentration like a kid trying to solve a complicated math problem.         Green Eyes made a big show of introducing the uptight-looking social worker guy to the pathetic female giant as she sat in her wheelchair outside with her long homely horsy face hanging out. Then on to Munchkinland, meeting the dwarf and his tiny wife.         Hyena started to glance toward Chris, then changed her mind. There was nothing to see over there. No reason to look that way.         What the hell?         She turned her head that way again, then changed her mind again. Nothing to see. Better things to see anyplace but there.         Her neck began to ache and she realized she was trying to force herself to look at the trailer, but at the same time was trying just as hard to force herself not to.         The inspectors weren't looking that way either. She focused on them instead, and saw right away that there was something truly bizarre going on. Every time one of them swept his or her gaze in a natural way that would and should have encompassed the trailer, that person would look away. As if distracted, as if bothered by grit in the eye, something. Or their gazes would do a funny little skip.         Apparently satisfied, the inspectors shook hands all around and headed back for their car. The carnies lingered a while longer talking among themselves.         As the sedan started up and drove away, Hyena tried again to look at the trailer.         There it was. No neck ache, no weird feeling of aversion, nothing. Just the trailer, with the kid sitting on the steps. Now instead of that concentrating frown, he was pale and weary and breathing like he'd just sprinted a mile.         The kid ...                 *               *         Caleb St. John put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "You okay, Chris?"         "Yeah, just tired."         "You did great, as always."         "Thanks." He offered a wan smile.         "Go on and get some sleep," Caleb ordered, helping him up.         Chris staggered, righted himself. "How come Morgana makes it look so easy?"         "She's different," Caleb explained. "Just as we all are. She only _sees_. She can't broadcast like you do."         "I guess." Too worn out to argue, Chris let himself be led back to the trailer that he and Morgana shared with their mother.         The youngest of the St. Johns was still curled in her bed. Nothing eerie or mystic about Morgana now, Caleb thought. Not while she slept. Not while those other-seeing eyes were closed and she walked in dreams like any other little girl.         Chris was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. Caleb removed the boy's shoes and drew a blanket over him.         Rather than return to his own place, he settled down on the couch for a nap. His mother's trailer was one of the largest and most comfortable in the carnival. Only Mr. Zwick's was fancier. Cassandra's had a small bedroom at each end, one for herself and one for Chris and Morgana, with a spacious living area in the middle.         Of course, tired as he was, he couldn't sleep. The energy from the inspectors was still running through him, giving him a mild morning buzz. It was nothing compared to the steady flow he got during the evening shows, but the restless thrill prevented him from nodding off.         Instead, he just leaned back and closed his eyes to savor the energy the way someone else might savor his first cup of coffee.         The inspectors had tried to mask their emotions with polite efficient concern. Not at all like the marks, who might hide their true feelings behind jeering and mockery. Either way, it didn't matter. He could sense it, could draw on it, no matter what outward face they presented. Their fear and horror fed the restless beast that was his soul.         At some point, the energy must have worn off and let him descend into sleep, because the next thing he knew, Morgana was gently shaking him, reminding him that the fairgrounds would open for business soon.                 *               *         Wolf prowled his cage, a low snarl rumbling at the back of his throat.         He hated it when they left him alone like this. Alone, locked up in this dungeon. Without even that bigmouthed bastard Fang for company.         He hadn't been out of the trailer since getting turned over to this traveling zoo. Barely had enough room to pace, let alone exercise. He was getting flabby and out of shape. He wanted to run wild and free through the night, the pale moon riding the sky overhead. Wanted to hunt, God, how he wanted to hunt! The alluring scent of terrified prey. Flesh tearing. Hot blood spurting.         His memories had gotten patchy. The last thing he remembered clearly was the island. There had been prey then, damn straight! That had been the last, best hunt. All the men, so secure in their store-bought gear until they ran into real danger. Even the ones who were supposedly trained soldiers, not wanna-be's like the rest, had gone down under his jaws.         Then there had been the woman. Dark hair, tawny skin, an exciting body. Feisty. Fighting him. But just when he thought he'd won, that he'd overpowered her, the old gargoyle had gotten in the way. After that, his memories came apart into a confusion of falling, flames, and turbulent water.         One clear instance stood out, of being hauled in a net aboard a fishing trawler. The crew had all been Oriental, jabbering excitedly in a way that made him think of Godzilla movies.         Had he gotten loose? He recalled a stormy rainswept night, slick decks beneath his feet, screams and blood.         Somehow, he'd gotten from there to here. And apparently more than a year had passed. Time was so tricky now, tricky and slippery. He could never keep track of what day it was anymore. It seemed to be too much trouble to bother. Now was all that mattered.         But now was stuck in this goddam cage. Being fed instead of hunting down his own fresh meat. Soon they meant to put him on display. People staring at him. Pointing.         Let them try. First thing he was going to do was rip out a few throats. They'd see it was useless to keep him. They'd let him go.         Or kill him.         He growled at the thought. If he was going to die, he was not going to do it in a cage. He would take some of them with him. Especially the man who thought he could cage and own Wolf. Death would be worth it if the last sight he saw was that asshole staggering around screaming while his guts spilled in loops and coils down his legs.         The image made him hungry, so he nosed around in his dish and found a scrap of meat he'd overlooked. Down it went.         The door opened. Not the door in the side of the trailer where the norms came and went, but the sliding garage-style door at the end. Showtime was done, now the freaks went beddie-bye.         Two roustabouts led Fang in. The winged mutate joshed and joked with them. Tame. Weak. Loser. He let them uncuff him without even a hint of fighting back, went along with it as they ushered him into his cage and locked the door. Wolf saw at least six openings where Fang could have taken them down and escaped.         "Man, what a night!" Fang said. "Must've been four hundred marks come through. You'll see, Wolfman."         "Shut up," Wolf said. He barely recognized his own voice these days, and it was getting harder and harder to make his mouth form regular speech.         The roustabouts brought in Alli-Gertie next, and she went obediently into her cage just like Fang had. Not that she could have gotten away even if she'd tried; she was a scrawny thing and she didn't have any useful claws or teeth. Just those scales, plated over every visible inch of skin. Wolf figured she wouldn't feel a cigarette stubbed out on her, though he doubted she was bulletproof.         "Hey, maybe next week," Fang went on jovially. "Mellow out and it could be your big debut! You should see the poster they've got for you. Wolf Man of Madagascar. Cracks me up. Full moon in the background, and you get to carry a babe in a torn dress. Just like something off of a monster movie ad!"         "I said shut up. Shut the fuck up. Got it?"         "Your conversation tonight lacks a certain je ne sais quoi." Fang laughed. "As my brother used to say. Or, to put it my way, up yours."         Mr. Starfish was brought in next, in a contraption that looked like an oversized baby buggy made out of an orange crate. He crept over the side and into his crib, reaching and pulling with the flat tapering paddle-like appendages that replaced his arms and legs.         Now they were all locked in, the jolly foursome of them. Alone with just each other for company. Alli-Gertie crawled into a corner of her cage, her scales rasping against the floorboards. Mr. Starfish slithered around until he was as comfortable as he could be.         Fang had brought a snack, a giant drippy hamburger and a paper dish of half-raw, all-grease curly fries. He kicked back on his bunk and started scarfing it down.         Wolf nearly gagged, partly from the stench of the charred meat and onions, partly from his neighbor's table manners. And they said he was a sloppy eater. He aired his opinion on the subject. to which Fang responded by turning toward him and gaping his mouth wide to show a mass of chewed food.         The side door inched open and a shadow slipped inside.         Wolf was about to unleash another obscene remark to Fang, but Fang abruptly lost all interest in their exchange and his dinner. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial hiss.         "Hey, Wolfman, can it and watch this action!"         He caught the scent then, and forgot whatever he'd been going to say.         Female.         Young, healthy female.         She lit a single candle and placed it on the floor at the end of the trailer where a litter of cardboard boxes, crates, and other assorted junk was piled.         The woman revealed in the candlelight couldn't have been more than twenty. Face of a pouting child angel, body of a slut. Wavy blond hair fell just past her shoulders. As she turned to regard the cages, Wolf saw unsettling eyes, as dark and shadowed as a secret forest glen.         She removed a mini boom box from one of the crates and turned it on. Wolf's keen ears detected slow, jazzy music. If he'd been more into weird intellectual television, he might have recognized it as the soundtrack to a show from the 80's called Twin Peaks.         "Who is she?" he hissed out of the corner of his mouth like a con in a prison movie.         "Corrinne St. John," Fang replied in kind, wiping his mouth with one furry forearm. "The boss's sister. Ain't she a piece?"         "What the hell's she doing?"         "Watch and see." Fang grinned.         Corrinne began to undress, swaying to the music. She unbuttoned her top, exposing perfect milky breasts lifted by a plum-colored satin bra.         "What is this, some kind of joke?" Wolf demanded.         Fang waved irritably at him to be quiet. Corrinne ignored him and started peeling off her faded jeans. Matching satin undies. Too sleazy to be anything but Frederick's.         "She gets off on giving us a show," Fang whispered. "Shut up and enjoy it; it gets better!"         There was a folded canvas director's chair leaning against the wall. Corrinne set it up, then sprawled gracefully in it. Her fingertips traced circles over her breasts and moved lower, skimming the waistband of her panties. The tip of her tongue flicked out and wet her full lips. Wolf could smell her arousal, her heat.         "Talk about cruel and unusual punishment, huh?" Fang's greedy gaze was fixed firmly on the woman, bopping his head along with the music. He wasn't quite drooling, but it was close. "One more reason why I haven't signed on and got my own trailer. I'd miss this!"         "You're sick," Wolf opined, but he, too, couldn't look away.         If Corrinne was listening, she gave no sign. She was wrapped up in herself and her performance. She slung one leg over the wooden arm of the chair, a move which drew the fabric of her panties tight against her crotch. Her hips rolled as she rubbed herself in lazy motions.         "I'd love to get a bite of that," Wolf heard himself say.         "Oh, yeah!" Fang agreed enthusiastically.         She sucked her fingers and then held them out to show the glisten of her saliva before sliding them under the waistband. Her face was flushed, her chest rising and falling, bulging against the confining bra cups.         Wolf grabbed the bars and shook them. No good. If they hadn't given way when he was at his most enraged, he knew they weren't going to give now just because he was horny enough to take a jab at the crack of dawn.         Corrinne smiled smugly. Wolf knew Fang was right; she was getting off on it. Tormenting the freaks. She was one disturbed bitch, all right, and he wanted to flip her over and do her until she begged for mercy.         She took off her panties without getting out of the chair, somehow making it look easy. The bush between her legs was dark gold and neatly trimmed.         "Let's see some pink!" Fang called ribaldly.         "Got a dollar bill to wave at her?" Wolf snapped sarcastically.         She obliged, hooking both legs over the arms of the chair this time and opening herself wide, her fingers working busily. She reached down and brought up something he hadn't noticed before, a length of wood sanded smooth and polished to a dark walnut sheen.         Wolf felt dampness on his chest and only then realized that a pendulum of drool was dripping from his jaws.         Corrinne moaned as she slowly pushed the length of wood into herself and began pumping it in and out. Within moments, the unmistakable shudders of a climax seized her.         Fang had quit his remarks, just staring so intently that his eyes nearly blazed. His fists were clenched around the bars as tight as Wolf's own were.         Barely pausing, Corrinne moved around so she was kneeling with her head to the floor and her ass in the air, giving them a different view as she continued to masturbate herself with the wood. She brought herself off again and then withdrew it, leaving it indifferently on the seat of the chair as she rose and moved closer to the cages.         Wolf's fingers twitched. If she came close enough ...         But no, she knew just where the limit was, and stayed an inch beyond his longest reach as she passed. He noticed Alli-Gertie huddled in a ball, hands over her ears, wracked with those strange glottal sobs, but Corrinne didn't even glance that way. Instead, she proceeded, naked except for her bra, to the straw- filled crib that housed Mr. Starfish.         "This chick could teach Hyena a few things about kinky," Wolf muttered.         Mr. Starfish whimpered feebly. He was cataclysmically retarded as well as horribly deformed, so he had no idea what was happening to him as Corrinne started pleasuring herself with the appendages that passed for his limbs.         "Hey!" Fang called good-naturedly. "Hey, you want some of this?"         Wolf grimaced. "Put your peanut-dick away, dumbshit! Nobody wants to see it!"         "Over here!" He waggled it at Corrinne. "Come and get it while it's hot, baby!"         Wolf snatched up his water dish and chucked it at Fang. It rebounded off the bars just in front of his nose with a sound like a dinner bell.         Corrinne, startled, jumped away from Mr. Starfish. Her foot caught on the leg of his crib, upending it. Mr. Starfish pitched headlong into the straw. Corrinne didn't fall but stumbled toward Wolf's cage.         His gnarled claws shot out and seized her by the hair. "Gotcha, bitch!"         No scream, just an indrawn rasp of breath, and he realized she hadn't said word one. Mute, maybe. A shame. Screaming and begging had turned him on even before his upgrade.         Goddamn bars!         He pulled Corrinne's lush body tight against them, the smell of her maddening in his nostrils, his spit raining on her upthrust tits. Their faces were only inches apart, her dark green eyes staring up into his feral yellow ones.         The terror and pleading he wanted to see weren't there. She snapped her teeth at him playfully, and stuck her hand between the bars to unerringly find the furry sheath between his legs, and the slick column of red flesh poking out of it.         Her touch took Wolf so by surprise that he let go. Even as he realized the mistake, she whirled away from him with a mocking smirk.         She stood a few feet away and bent over, facing away from him, thrusting her butt toward the cage. Mooning him, squirming her hips, reaching back to spread her cheeks. Her taunting eyes told him that all she had to do was back up, jut a couple of steps, and she could be pressing that firm ass against the bars, letting him get into her from behind. Just the way he liked it.         Wolf howled in fury and threw himself against the cage.         His hard-on slammed straight into one of the bars.         His howl turned into a strangled yelp as he recoiled, crumpling to the floor with his hands clamped firmly over his crotch. He hurled his supper and writhed painfully in the mess.         "I've seen people stub their toes before," Fang observed with malicious good humor, "but I've never seen anybody stub his dick. Smooth move, Wolfman!"         Corrinne's laughter was a breathy silent chuffing that made her breasts dance. She waved one finger at Wolf -- naughty, naughty. Even Alli-Gertie had raised her head enough to see what was going on, her pebbled lips stretched into a wide grin.         "That's it," Wolf said when the pain subsided enough to make speech possible. "There's gonna be blood. If it's the last thing I do, asswipe, I'm going to garrotte you with your own intestine."         "Me?" Fang feigned innocence, badly. "What'd I do?"         "And you." Wolf pointed at Corrinne with one wavering claw. "You ... you ..." he couldn't come up with a vile enough threat.         She pursed her lips and blew a big Marilyn-Monroe-type kiss at him while she dressed, still laughing silently, and left Wolf to stew in his rage and humiliation.                 *               *                  Hyena was getting mighty damn tired of sleeping in the field.         She'd braved the freak show earlier tonight, doing her best to remain inconspicuous. Which was a joke; even as a kid, she'd thrived on attention be it good or bad, so trying not to be noticed was a new, unpleasant experience.         The hat and the coat were just too out of the ordinary, so she'd made do with jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt -- tres hick -- and a mask from one of the concessions booths. Cheap ripoffs and Disney imitations. She was now the proud owner of a rubber full-head mask made to look like a cartoon hyena with a lolling warty tongue. It had done the trick, though, concealing the metal sheen on her face and neck. All she'd had to do was keep her hands in her pockets as much as possible.         Since she'd gotten something of a peek at the freaks last night, she hadn't been all that surprised by what she found inside. Fat dude, tall chick, short dude, tattooed chick ... the alligator woman and the gross thing billed as Mr. Starfish were by far the worst of the lot.         And the furry winged demon, that had been a shock. On closer inspection, she'd understood that it wasn't one of those pesky gargoyles, but if he was a natural freak, she would eat her mask, warts and all. She remembered some of the video clips and brochures Coyote had shown them and figured this was another creation of the "hard-working men and women of Xanatos Enterprises."         Thinking of Coyote bummed her out. He'd seemed like the perfect guy. Except for his distressing tendency to keep getting blown up, dismantled, or turned to rust.         She put it out of her mind and concentrated on the freak show. No Wolf. Her source had seemed reliable, not likely to mistake a cat-mutate for a wolf-mutate, but if so, where was he?         Wolf was her last shot. Jackal had wimped out on her, Dingo had gone legit, and Fox had thrown everything away in favor of the wife-and-mommy gig. She hated working alone, and her experiences trying to sign on with someone else had so far been unsuccessful. She still owed Tony Dracon a kick in the groin; nobody but nobody called her "sugarbuns."         A string of failed attempts to get in good with other criminal gangs had left her nearly broke. Holding up liquor stores and quickie-marts was getting old. Wolf would be company as well as brawn. So she'd endured a gruellingly long bus ride (commercial airlines were out of the question; the idea of trying to pass through a metal detector ...). She wasn't going back without making absolutely sure it was a dead end.         She supposed she could have gone into town and found a motel room, but she'd planned to try and sneak into that trailer after everyone went to bed. Just when she'd been about to make her move, some blonde babe had sauntered inside, and Hyena didn't want to risk getting caught.         It was Saturday morning. The gates opened at noon today, so there was already activity on the fairgrounds. Hyena was just about to go scrounge up some breakfast when she saw Green Eyes with the babe from last night.         A little dagger of hateful envy sank into her when she saw how close and companionable they walked. It dulled a little as she noted the resemblance and realized they were brother and sister, then sharpened as she thought of Jackal. That, she knew, was the real reason he never had anything good to say about the men she dated. Jealousy.         Some stiff in a suit, a mark or townie by the look of him, came to meet them. Their location, hidden from all but her prying eyes, and the furtive way the suit-clad man glanced around, piqued Hyena's larcenous interests. Something dicey was going on here.         A fat envelope changed hands. Cash, lots of it. The suit was nervous but eager, probably sweaty-handed with anticipation. Buying drugs? Renting the blonde slut for a night?         Nothing else was exchanged except a handshake. Green Eyes tucked the envelope into his pocket and they parted ways, Suit heading for the exit, the other two going into the trailer.         She took a chance and crept closer, until she was crouched behind the thick metal wall. Even with her ear pressed right up against it, she could only barely make out the murmur of voices. A normal trailer, she would have been able to hear a flea fart.         "Hey! You! What are you doing there, girl?"         Hyena whirled. A beer-bellied but tough-looking roustabout stood there, hands at his belt as if he'd been about to tap a kidney when he noticed her. The sight of her exposed face froze him with shock.         No time to screw around. She pronged her fingers at him and the index and middle ones extended, just as she'd done at Porky. Instead of going one to either side of his head, she nailed him in the face. She'd been going for the eyes, but he jerked his head and her quills wound up punching through his brow and into his brain.         "Frontal lobotomy," she said, and hissed a malicious chuckle. "Betcha needed that like you needed a hole in the head!"         He fell, not dead yet but quaking all over, blood bubbling up and streaming down the sides of his skull. One of his flailing hands whumped the side of the trailer.         Hyena curled her pinkie like she was making an ASL letter "j", the razor-sharp quill carving a paper-thin and backbone-deep line across his throat just below the adams' apple. An amazing flow of scarlet poured out that thin gash. His heels drummed one last time, and then he went limp all over.         She pressed her ear to the side again. That flailing hand hadn't made barely a sound, but she couldn't take chances. Not now that the killing had begun.         No signs of anyone being disturbed.         "Hmm." She regarded the roustabout. Broad daylight, the fairgrounds due to open in less than an hour, and here she was with a warm corpse. She shoved him under the trailer, then scuffed dirt and dead grass over the stain.         Under the trailer.         She slithered under and was just about to insert her ear cup through a narrow opening when something roared overhead. A heavy impact whammed the floor. Dirt and dried flakes of oil showered down on her.         She knew that roar, muffled though it had been. Wolf was here, and he wasn't happy. She hastily worked her ear cup through.         Above, Green Eyes laughed. "Have a fit if you like. It won't do any good. My sister tells me you're uncooperative, so I doubt you'd make a good employee. Still, I have to make my money back somehow."         Another male began to chant merrily. "Thun-der-dome! Thun-der- dome!"         "How the fuck does she know?" Wolf snarled. His voice had gotten more gravelly than ever, barely understandable.         "Corrinne has a ... way with animals," Green Eyes said. "She can tell whether one is tameable or not just by looking. Some, like Fang here, can be domesticated. Others can't."         "Hey!" the Thunderdome-chanter interrupted himself, insulted.         "I'd rather fight for my life than live in a cage!" Wolf said.         "Glad to hear it. The Brock Association will be, too. They look forward to their entertainment. And they always tip very well, not that it will matter to you."         The Brock Association. Hyena knew about that bunch. Chicago businessmen, wealthy and jaded, for whom normal thrills didn't do the trick anymore. They got their jollies watching weird spectacles, exercising their power over others by making them perform degrading or deadly things for money. Their leader, Danforth Brock, wore a public face of benevolence and charity, but behind the scenes he would have been right at home belly up to the rail at some Roman gladiatorial bout.         Hyena could understand the attraction. Her own tastes tended to run that way. Her favorite TV programs these days were the ones focusing on actual video footage of gory events. When Housepets Attack, or World's Messiest Disasters.         "Two freaks enter, one freak leaves!" the chanter resumed. "Hey, who's the lucky opponent?"         "How about you, Fang?" Green Eyes said.         "Whoa! Hey! Hold on a minute, Caleb!"         "All right!!!" Hyena heard Wolf's powerful fist smack into his palm. "Now you're talking!"         "The carnival moves on tomorrow," Green Eyes -- Caleb -- said. "We'll make a little side trip, just the three of us."         "Why me?!" Fang demanded. "I don't want to fight this bozo!"         "Where else am I going to find a suitable challenge? The Brock Association want a real show, not an instant kill. Besides, Fang, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but we might not be able to keep you on as a member of the Amazing Oddities family."         Hyena smothered a snort of mirth. Family!         "What? Why not? Hey, I've been good!"         "I know, I know," Caleb soothed. "There's a ... legal complication."         "What are you talking about?"         "According to my lawyer, a landmark decision has just been made in New York. You've been patented."         "Huh?"         "You're the legal property of some outfit called Gen-U-Tech. Just our luck, someone related to a high muckety-muck in that firm saw you at a show a couple weeks ago and reported it. They want you back."         "Hey, screw that!" Fang protested, anger and fear jostling for place. "They can't do that! Can they?"         "They can and they have, and they're not willing to sell. Something about you being the only subject left, and more tests."         A cougar's hissing snarl filled Hyena's ear cup with static. By the sounds of it, Fang was having a conniption. He spat curses and slammed his fists against the wall hard enough to sift more dirt and oil flecks on her.         "So here's the deal," Caleb continued. "Double or nothing. You and the Wolf Man --"         "Wolf!"         "-- face off for the Brock people. You win, and you're out of here. On your own. With everything I've been holding in trust for you and an extra hundred grand to sweeten the pot."         "Yeah, but I lose and --"         "You're mine," Wolf said with great satisfaction.                 *               *         As they left the trailer, Corrinne paused and scented the air.         "Something wrong?" Caleb asked.         She ignored him, closing her eyes and opening her mouth to catch more of the scent on her tongue.         Blood.         Recently spilled blood. So much that it could only mean death.         Had she ... done something?         She couldn't remember.         If she investigated now and found something, Caleb would see. He would know. She'd promised him that she wouldn't do it any more. No more deaths. Not on site. Not among carnies and friends.         He would be disappointed in her.         If she'd done something, wouldn't she remember? All of the other times were clear in her memory. Townie roadhouses, truck stops. Letting herself get picked up by men looking for a little quick action, men who got much more than they bargained for.         But then, how would she know if she remembered them all?         She tried to keep her urges under control by having her fun, like last night. Toying with them, tormenting them, was almost as satisfying as her other favorite pastime.         It couldn't have been her.         She didn't want to chance Caleb finding out, so she forced it out of her mind though the alluring scent tickled in her nose. She shook her head at him, smiled, gave him a teasing look to let him know how much she'd appreciated his lies.         "Made him mad, didn't it?" he said smugly. "Scared, too. He didn't want to show it, but I could feel it coming off him like sparks. When those two fight ..." he trailed off, contemplating it.         She plucked at his sleeve and put on her poutiest pouty-angel expression.         "You want to come along and watch?" His grin was hard and savage. "I'm sure Brock wouldn't mind. You put on a hell of a show for them last year. They'd be glad to see you again, I bet."         Corrinne smiled, and relaxed as an eddy of breeze carried the odor of blood away from her.                 *               *         "Well, hell," Hyena muttered to herself (or to the corpse she still shared her hideaway with, but she doubted he was listening). "Now what?"         On the one hand, it would be kind of cool to tag along, sneak in, and watch Wolf and Fang duke it out. Wolf would win, she was sure. Fang, who had to be the winged fuzzball from the freak show, might look fierce but he sure came across as a sniveling chickenshit.         On the other hand, though, she didn't know if she could risk it. Wolf might get himself killed, and all her trouble would have been for nothing. Besides, even if Wolf won, he hadn't been offered the same deal. He'd be back in his cage, back in the trailer.         Be easier, she mused, to wait until the rest of the carnies moved on. But if Green Eyes was confident enough to handle both mutates by himself, he must have a trick or two up his sleeve. And the more she was around him and his creepy family, the less she wanted to tangle with them without knowing all the particulars.         There was some weird stuff going on here. Magic or something. She hated having to deal with magic.         Take the gargoyles, for instance. Bad enough on their own. Okay. Fine. She'd gotten used to the fact that they existed. Turned to stone during the day. No good explanation for that, but okay. Then, along come those Incas or Mayans or whatever they were, with their magic amulet.         Or Anubis -- talk about weird! She still shivered when she thought of how her impulsive idiot brother had siphoned up the spirit of a death-god and turned her into a baby. She was lucky her cybernetics had shrunk too, or else she would have been sliced and diced from the inside out.         No, she was in no hurry to go up against unspecified magic or psychic powers. Just thinking about it made her skin creep like someone was watching her.         That meant busting Wolf out before his side-trip to Chicago. And _that_ meant doing it tonight while the carnival was going on, because she knew that once the last mark was out the gates with his kewpie dolls, the carnies would start tearing the place down. Slough night. Tomorrow, they'd hit the road.         In the meantime, she had to get rid of the corpse. Would not do to have things complicated by an ongoing murder investigation. Missing was fine, no big deal. Having someone stumble over a stiff was bad news indeed.                          *               *         "What do you know?" Caleb said softly. "Morgana was right."         "Isn't she always?" Chris murmured.         "That's the thing about oracles and seers. No one ever believes beforehand. Ah, well, chalk it up to hindsight being 20/20."         Neither of them had paid much attention Thursday night when Morgana was talking about what her other-seeing eyes had found during her show, but when she told Caleb that she'd "seen" the same woman hiding under the trailer, next to Andy Wilcox's dead body, they had been inclined to check it out.         And sure enough, there she was. The brothers watched from concealment as the "robot lady" slunk along the side of the trailer.         Caleb recognized her right away. She'd been hanging around the carnival, had even visited his tent. Her mask might have hidden her face, but he was sure to remember anyone who walked around in a cloud of that much directionless anger.         Tasty.         He'd gotten Elliot to play barker for the night, which would mean a dip in admissions since despite being a lawyer, Elliot didn't have the sharklike instincts and loathing of humanity that Caleb did. He couldn't shame marks into buying a ticket. But it freed him up to investigate this little matter, and with what he would make tomorrow from Brock, he could afford a slow night of ticket sales.         "What are we going to do?" Chris asked. "What if she's got ... weapons and stuff?"         "I'm sure she does." Caleb savored the nervousness coming off of Chris. "But we can't let her mess with our exhibits, now, can we? And if we can capture her ..."         "Could we even hold her?"         "That's why we're going to wait and see, little brother. If she can bust in, we'll know. We'll know what she wants, we'll know what she can do. We'll be ready." He patted the modified rifle lying beside his leg. "We'll be ready."                 *               *         Hyena examined the locks. These guys were taking no chances.         She'd been given the upgrade option of having a "Lock Gun" installed in her left thumb, similar to what the cops used. But, regarding it as too subtle and a waste of her time, she'd opted instead for something a little flashier.         A blue-white laser erupted from a raised barrel in the back of her hand. She used it to cut effortlessly through the locks. So what if they'd notice the damage. They'd tip to the fact that something was up the minute they noticed their Wolf Man gone anyway.         All she had to do was hope nobody saw the beam and resulting shower of sparks and smoke. As an extra precaution, she unfolded the short glider-type wings built into her back, hoping they would shield some of the glow.         In a matter of seconds, the locks were so much molten slag. She opened the door, did a fast infrared scan to make sure Wolf was the only warm body around, and darted inside.         "What the -- Hyena!?!"         "Surprise," she said dryly, popping twin hooded bulbs out of her shoulders and training their light on his cage.         He shrank back, squinting.         She stared. "When did you grow a tail?"         Wolf's hunched shoulders shrugged unevenly. The white ponytail she remembered was gone; in its place was a manelike straggle of ivory hair from which triangular ears poked up alertly. His face had changed so much that even his former Pack-mate could hardly see the man he'd been. The way he was shaped now made him look like he would be more comfortable on all fours, like a bear that could rise to its hind legs on occasion.         "Never mind," she said. "Come on. I'm busting you out of here."         "Where's Jackal?"         It was her turn to shrug. "Working at Jiffy-Lube, how should I know? Back off, I've got to cut through the bars."         "Hurry up! These crazy fuckers want to --"         "I know. Like a cockfight, only uglier." She powered up to an intense red-violet laser and melted a huge hole in the bars.         Wolf squeezed through. "I owe you one."         "Later," she said. "Let's get out of here; these people are nuts."         Wolf stopped just outside to take a deep chest-expanding breath of the cool air of freedom. Hyena nudged him sharply.         "Move it, wouldja?"         "That's far enough," Caleb St. John said, moving into view. He was holding a souped-up rifle like he knew how to use it, aiming right at them.         Hyena laughed. "I knew I liked you, Green Eyes. Too bad it had to turn out like this."         "You!" Wolf's fur bristled. "I've been waiting for this!"         "Oh, knock it off!" Hyena thumped him in the head. "We're leaving!"         "Not without a little ... action," Wolf said, crouching to spring.         "I don't have the time," Caleb said as if bored.         Wolf leaped. Caleb fired.         fwhut!         A long skinny cylinder struck Wolf in the meaty part of the thigh. Hyena reacted a fraction of a second too late, slicing at it and only succeeding in shearing through glass. The tuft of feathers that had been on the end of the dart fell at her feet like a dead parakeet. Thick yellowish fluid dripped from her razor-claws.         Wolf roared and plucked the needle from his leg.         Hyena karate-chopped her left hand at Green Eyes and quills flew in a widening spray. One caromed off the barrel of the rifle with a metallic squeal, one pierced his sleeve, one hit him in the ribs, and the last etched a shallow cut along the side of his neck.         He fell back a step and she sprang down the stairs, half-dragging and half-shoving Wolf with her. The stuff in the dart had been fast-acting, but most of it had ended up on the ground instead of in Wolf, so he was only logy and not flat on his ass.         St. John fired again, a clean miss this time. Their little spat hadn't gone unnoticed; already a bunch of roustabouts were headed this way. Unlike most folks, carnies tended to hurry toward the source of the disturbance instead of away. They were chummy, had to look after their own because society as a whole saw them as outcasts.         One had the bad luck to round a corner and come face to face with Wolf and Hyena. She swung at him reflexively. The angle was awkward and her claws only grazed him, but they were still wet with the sedative, and the dose meant for Wolf dropped the man instantly.         So much for any chance at doing this quietly. Her forearm laser cannon popped up and she sent a series of short pulses gunning at the carnies. They scattered, yelling in alarm.         Wolf reeled dazedly.         "Run, dammit!" Hyena extended a prong like a tuning fork from the base of her palm and goosed Wolf. There was a snap and sizzle, the reek of singed hair. Wolf jumped and yelped, that dopey look left his eyes.         Where was the fence? Over the fence and into the field, and they would be home free.         Where was the fence? It should be ...         No, don't go that way.         Bad idea.         Nothing to see over there.         "Son of a whore!" she shouted, realizing what was going on. "You little bastard, quit it! It's there and I will find it!"         fwhut!         The needle went through Wolf's ear, sticking clean through so the sedative squirted down his muzzle. He yanked at it, ripping his ear into notched flaps.         "This way!" Hyena cornered and raced between two trailers, pulling Wolf. He was too heavy for her to lift, or else she would have triggered her jets and blown this popcorn stand.         His legs went noodly on him and he stumbled. Even as Hyena turned, he was back up and charging after her.         A ghost flapped at her out of the shadows, and she blurted a brief scream before seeing that it was just a sheet, belling outward in the breeze. Someone had hung out their wash on a few rows of ropes stretched between a trailer and the fence.         She hacked one down, hinged her back to speed-limbo under the next, and heard Wolf cry, "Glurk!" as he was quite literally clotheslined. His feet flew up, his head jerked back, and he landed with a big enough thud to jar her to her knees. The line snapped and laundry heaped atop the struggling Wolf.         Spitting curses, Hyena crouched and started flinging clothes, trying to unbury him.         "I've got her!" an old man's voice called excitedly, and skinny, wiry arms grabbed her from behind.         She whirled in his grasp and before he knew what happened, had him in a headlock. But to her surprise, he only laughed and wiggled free with amazing dexterity. He yanked her arms behind her back.         "Careful, Elasto!" St. John called from the other side of the trailer.         "Elasto," Hyena echoed, smirking. "Of course, the rubber man! Hey, rubber man, can you do this?"         She swiveled her hip joint until she could tap him on the shoulder with her spiked heel. When he gasped, she bent her elbows backward, locked her hands behind his back, and flipped completely over. They made a pretzel-shape to the tune of cracking bones and then Hyena was standing with one foot braced on either side of Elasto as the old fool crawdaddied and whined in the dirt.         Wolf had struggled to a more or less upright position, but he was all wrapped up in a colossal floral-print dress. By the size of the garments strewn about, Hyena knew they had blundered into the Giant Woman's laundry.         "Over here!" More voices, converging.         Wolf swore and snarled and flailed about until his muzzle poked out the collar. One arm was caught in a sleeve, the other bound to his side.         The absurdity made Hyena scream with laughter. "Why, Gramma! What a big --"         fwhut!         Sudden sharp pain. She looked down and saw the feathery end of a dart jutting out of her middle, just below the bottom tip of the breastbone.         "Oh, shi ..."         Blotto.                 *               *         "We're very much looking forward to tonight's entertainment, Mr. St. John."         "I'm sure you'll enjoy it, Mr. Brock."         "What do you have for us tonight?" Brock's gaze flicked quickly but lasciviously to Corrinne, who was standing beside Caleb in a clinging leopard- print catsuit and a rhinestone cat's-eye mask.         "A battle to the death," Caleb replied.         "Oh, not this enchanting creature, I hope!" Brock clasped Corrinne's hand in both of his own. "To lose you, my dear, would be a genuine shame."         She smiled up at him but, of course, said nothing.         "Corrinne won't be performing tonight," Caleb said.         "In that case, I would be delighted if you would sit with me." He tucked her arm through his and, beaming, led them from the ornate marble foyer.         Caleb grinned. Last year, Brock had seen with his own eyes just what sort of "creature" Corrinne really was. He'd watched her take on two hulking Neanderthal bikers busted on trumped-up drug charges and seen her lick the blood from her hands when it was all over. Yet he still wanted her. Caleb supposed that in many ways, to a man like Brock, his sister was the perfect woman. One-third his age, jump-back gorgeous, uninhibited, and mute so she couldn't talk back or complain. Never mind that she was in her own way just as much a freak as the rest of Caleb's staff.         Freaks, all of them. Her, Chris, Morgana, even Caleb himself. Which just goes to show you, sometimes it's what's inside that counts.         But, speaking of freaks ...         "If you'll excuse me, Mr. Brock, I should go check on the stars of tonight's show."         Brock glanced around as if he'd forgotten Caleb was there. His desire was rolling off of him like sweat. Caleb could sense it, cloying and nauseating, the empathic equivalent of eating Crisco with a spoon. It would have been different if Brock just wanted to nail Corrinne, use her hard and fast and selfishly. But the older man had romantic notions all mixed in, making his passion something useless to Caleb.         "Of course," Brock said. He patted Corrinne's arm possessively. "We'll be fine, won't we, dear?"         Beyond them, Caleb could see the plush interior of the Brock Association Coliseum. A grand name for a round room the size of a miniplex movie theater, with rows of cushy leather seats rising in tiered ranks around a clear sand-filled space. This space was shielded by a thick, clear, glasslike substance to make sure none of the members got splattered or attacked or in any other way interfered with by the evenings' lineup of thrills.         Many of the seats were already occupied. The dark side of Chicago's elite was here. Men who by day were wealthy, respected, touted for their great generosity and humanitarianism. By night, they gathered here with brandy and cigars to wallow in vicarious sex, death, and depravity.         There were a few women also present, perhaps one in ten, and it had been Caleb's experience that these society matrons and businesswomen made up for their minority status by being even more inventfully bloodthirsty than the men.         He passed others who lingered in the library or hall, all of them finely- dressed and chatting as if they were waiting for an opera to begin. The Brock Association was housed in one of those fine old homes that looked so stately and reserved behind ivy-covered wrought-iron gates. He couldn't help but wonder how many of them housed similar or even worse practices.         His stars were waiting below, in a chamber beneath the Coliseum. Like gladiators of old, they would enter through arched doorways that would bring them to their place in the sand.         The Wolf Man and the Bat Demon were sullen and silent, each of them having exhausted their supply of profanity and threats on the way up. The "robot lady" was still out, a necessity because every time they'd let her come around, she'd demonstrated yet another mechanical marvel and damn near escaped.         "Fantastic," he said, shaking his head admiringly. And he'd thought Rainbow, with her reproductions of many great works of art permanently tinting her flesh, was the ultimate devotee of self-made freakism. Rainbow's living museum, though, couldn't hold a candle to this.         She groaned and opened her eyes. Puzzlement swiftly turned to fury, and that turned to incensed rage as she realized she was clamped to a metal device reminiscent of the one that had once imprisoned Anthony Hopkins in his role as murderer extraordinaire, Hannibal Lecter.         Caleb welcomed her anger, so fresh and vivid. It revived him, erasing the weariness that had settled into his bones during the long drive.         She opened her mouth and said something so vehement and disgusting that he was struck speechless. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw both the caged mutates gape in shock.         "Nice!" Caleb finally said. He felt like a teetotaller who'd just been given a shot of 180-proof. It hit him like a meteor, rocking him from head to heels. "You are going to give us one hell of a show! What's your name?"         "Hyena," she said, following it up with an insult that blistered the wallpaper.         "Why," he said, regaining his mental footing, "I got the impression earlier that you liked me."         "I don't like men who chain me up!" she snarled. "I prefer it the other way around!"         "Maybe the problem, then, is that we're too much alike." Caleb smiled. "You'd hate it if I took you like this, wouldn't you? Chained, helpless. I could do anything I wanted, and you couldn't stop me."         She said something about his mother that would have aged Cassandra St. John twenty years, had she been here to hear it.         "I could bring anybody in, let them have you. Too bad my sister killed those bikers from last year; they'd be perfect."         "Go on and try it, then!" She thrust her hips challengingly at him, as far as she could move. From somewhere in her pelvis came a muffled noise -- kshuunk! "But tell me, Green Eyes, you familiar with the phrase 'do not back up, severe tire damage'?"         His grin widened even as he winced. "What a hellion! Oh, but there's fear in you now. Can't hide it from me. You've been victimized before, haven't you?"         "I don't know what the fuck you're talking about!"         "Interesting choice of words."         She tore at her prison, tried to use her lasers, and went berserk in horror when she found out they didn't work.         "One of the Association knows a thing or two about cybernetics," Caleb informed her. "Just enough to disable your weapons."         "I don't need lasers to fry your ass!"         "I could offer you as prize to those two," he said thoughtfully. "Winner take all?"         "No thanks!" his Bat Demon cut in hastily.         "Hyena? Are you kidding?" The Wolf Man snorted. "Not if you paid me."         Hyena told them, at length and in great detail, what they could do to each other.         "As fun as this is," Caleb said when she'd finished her tirade, "we have a show to put on."                 *               *         "Ladies and gentlemen!" For the occasion, he'd worn an old-fashioned ringmaster's getup -- shiny black knee-boots, breeches, red coat, top hat, whip, pistol. The spotlight shone down harshly upon him, kicking up sparkles from the sand that covered the floor. "Tonight we bring you a Battle to the Death!!!"         They ate it up, not cheering yet but sitting eagerly forward with glittering eyes. Their bloodlust baked at him like heat.         "Not just one, not just two, but _three_ of the world's most Amazing Oddities!" Caleb went on. "Here for your viewing pleasure in an apocalyptic fight to the finish! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these three will be pitted against each other in a contest for the ultimate prize -- Life! Only one of these combatants will leave the ring alive!"         Hotter now, the fevered urge. Sex was good, but Sex could be bought or downloaded just about anyplace. Death, though, and Her handmaidens Pain, Mutilation and Terror, those were the whores these people couldn't easily purchase.         "With no further ado, I give you ..." a drum roll swelled from the hidden speakers and Caleb swept his arms in a flourish. "The Wolf Man of Madagascar! The Bat out of Hell! And seen here for the first ... and possibly last! ... time ever, the Robot Woman from Mars!"         Applause thundered. Six men, all wearing black bodysuits and cowls wheeled in the cages on wooden ramps laid over the sand. Brock and his cohorts murmured in greedy approval at the sight of the creatures contained within.         Wolf in his fury was spitting and frothing and throwing himself against the bars. Fang, a true ham, made a few mock-fierce lunges, then clasped his hands and shook them above his head before flashing the crowd Nixon's double- V-for-Victory. Hyena thrashed in her device, shouting vile threats at the top of her lungs.         Caleb turned up the volume on his microphone to drown her out. "I'll have you know, ladies and gentlemen, that there was a time when the Wolf Man and the Robot Woman were partners! They might be thinking they could team up against the Bat out of Hell --" here Fang gnashed his teeth in legitimate annoyance, because he knew they would. "But let me assure you, even partners will become relentless killing machines in this Arena of Doom! How, you wonder? Let me show you."         He gestured, and the unseen controller in the booth threw a switch. Sand shifted and ran as a metal grid rose from beneath it.         "This grid carries an electrical charge. At the moment, the charge is nil." He tapped it with his foot to prove it. "But it can be dialed up to anything ranging from a painful shock to a lethal volt. Our combatants, should they refuse to fight, will all suffer the consequences! So they'll have a choice -- do their best to kill one another, or die together in shared agony!"         Now there were cheers, vicious and hungry. Caleb strode from the arena, his boots hardly seeming to touch the floor, so abuzz was he with the focused emotions.         "Seal the Pit!" Caleb took his seat beside Brock. Corrinne, on Brock's other side, leaned forward to smile at him.         Overhead in the control room, more switches were thrown. Thick steel doors slid closed and magnetically locked. A clear dome came down and fitted along the top of the shielding wall. The barrier looked flimsy, but Caleb had seen it withstand terrible punishment without cracking.         "The Pit is sealed!" the controller replied, his magnified voice like that of God.         "Release them!" Caleb ordered.         The cages fell open. Hyena's bonds snapped loose. All three were free. The tension among them was palpable.         Caleb sat back and lowered his mental defenses. His job was done. It was feeding time. With his defenses down, the negative energies now exploded into him, flowed through him. Better than any drug. Better than orgasm. He feasted on the cruel delight from those around him, on the hatred and fear from the combatants.         The usual run of horror and revulsion he got each night from the marks in the freak show tent was satisfying in a meat-and-potatoes manner. This was a banquet, a Roman orgy to go along with the gladiatorial contest. There was more here than he could ever use, but he gorged anyway.         Fang made the first move, knowing that his life was the cheapest one in the ring. He unleashed twin sizzling bolts of blue-white, sending the others catapulting back. Hyena jerked like someone having an epileptic seizure as the current raced through her circuits, but she retaliated with a flick of her wrist that turned her fingers into bladed nightmares. Fang dodged, saving his skin but forfeiting several clumps of hair that had been shaved off close as a Gillette commercial.         Wolf recovered from the burst and charged, coming in low on all fours. His powerful hind legs propelled him upward. His hunched shoulders slammed into Fang's gut and drove him wings-first against the shield hard enough to shake the room.         Hyena slashed again. Fang saw it coming and tried to put Wolf's body between himself and her claws, and was only partly successful. Both males bellowed in pain and their blood rained to the sand from long, deep cuts.         Wolf's jaws stretched wide, going for the throat. Fang got an arm up just in time. Wolf shook his head roughly side to side like a dog with a rag.         Fang pistoned a foot into Wolf's midsection, losing more hunks of meat from his arm as Wolf flew backward. Wolf's head bonged briskly into Hyena and they both went down. Cradling his mangled limb to his chest, Fang used his other hand to launch another zap. His laughter sounded more like an insane scream.         Hyena sprang up and the bolt fused sand into brown smeary glass. It also struck part of the metal grid. A *pow* like a backfire echoed through the room. All three of them jumped as they got a strong shock. The lights flickered. The grid went dead.         Wolf bounded partway up the wall and from there onto Fang's back, driving him face-first into the sand. His teeth sank into Fang's wing with a hideous gristle-popping noise. They rolled in a gnashing, pummeling tangle.         In an almost-dainty motion, Hyena extended first one foot and then the other, like a woman donning nylons. But the purpose was made clear as long barbed blades clicked out of her toes. She took two big strides, her hip dislocated out on its axle, and she wheeled her whole leg in a spinning windmill than ended in a solid kick to Fang's ribs. The blade tore a gaping hole along his side and under his arm.         The blood drenching his face made Wolf crazy. He shoved his muzzle into that hole, biting in a frenzy. Fang's shriek was high as a young girl's. He struck Wolf in the head and shrieked again as Wolf reeled back with shreds of inner organs hanging from his jaws.         Fang's grasping hands found Hyena almost by accident. He lifted, sparks dancing down his arms and along her body. She kicked again, one-two, a short sharp blow to each leg. His femoral arteries laid wide open, Fang hurled her against the Hannibal-Lecter device that had bound her. A protruding spur of metal punched into her skull, pinning her.         "Kill him! Kill him!" the wild crowd, on their feet now, demanded as Wolf approached the weakened, terribly wounded Fang.         They got something even better as Wolf instead fell upon Fang and began devouring him alive, ripping off pieces of flesh while Fang struggled feebly.         Hyena levered herself off of the device, tottered, almost fell. Her left arm flopped uselessly, her left leg seemed stiff and locked. There was an ugly bulge of gouged flesh on the right side of her head where the spur had gone in. Oily red-black fluid leaked from the wound.         She looked at Wolf, an easy target as he concentrated on his meal. Then she turned to look at the audience.         "Kill! Kill!" they chanted.         Her eyes found those of Caleb. Her dark and twisted lusts had interesting flavor. No mushy-gushy romantic ideations. Raw lust, lust and hate, intermingled.         Rather than attack Wolf, she moved with a speed that took them all by surprise. Her hand folded down off her wrist, revealing a dark hollow stump from which emerged something that looked like a chisel-tipped jackhammer. She threw herself at the shielding wall and that jackhammer became a blur.         The supposedly-indestructible wall gave way like a sheet of spun sugar.         Hyena was in the audience, right in front of Caleb and Brock.         "I still have a few tricks up my sleeve!" she screeched. Her shoulder extended, a slit opened in her forearm, and a whirling circular saw blade emerged. She swept it at Brock, who happened to be closest, and before anyone had fully come to grips with what was happening, the leader of the Association's severed head landed in Corrinne's lap.         The flaring nova of sadistic glee in the room was instantly engulfed by a Big Bang of panic. For Caleb, who still had his defenses down, it was like a shotgun blast to the head. He actually flipped backward in his chair from the spasming influx of negative emotion. That saved his life, for Hyena's next swipe sheared off the legs of his upended chair rather than decapitating him.         Wolf leapt through the broken shield wall, drawn by the screaming, stampeding prey. They were bottlenecked at the door, beating and clawing at each other in their frenzy.         Hyena tossed Caleb's chair aside and stood over him, gloating as well as she could with half her face paralyzed. He, still numbed and dazed by the assault on his empathic senses, remembered his gun but couldn't make his body work in concert with his mind.         She gloated just a second too long. A sleek, furry form hurtled into Hyena and they crashed through ranks of chairs.         "Corrinne!" Caleb shouted, his voice lost in the din. He rolled onto his side and groped for the pistol.         His sister had transformed. Her leopard-print catsuit had torn away as her body changed, but leopard-print fur sprouted from her skin to replace it.         Hyena twisted and saw her attacker, saw the gleaming green eyes with their vertically-slit pupils, the mouthful of sharp teeth. She yelled and tried to use her sawblade on Corrinne, but the leopard-woman braced her now-tripled weight on Hyena's arm.         A ringing roar of challenge heralded Wolf's leap. He tackled Corrinne, knocking her off of Hyena. But Wolf's intent wasn't fighting. He bore Corrinne to the floor and attempted to mount her.         Caleb found the pistol and drew it.         "I don't think so!" Hyena threw herself on him. A six-inch spike sprang from her kneecap and as she landed, she brought it up in a hard thrust.         Caleb was able to move just enough to prevent the spike from impaling his scrotum. It skidded along his thigh. Hyena was on top of him now. He caught her arm with both of his, losing the pistol in the process, and sweat broke out on his brow as he fought to keep the whirring, spinning sawblade away from his face.         Corrinne's caterwaul announced Wolf's triumph. He battered into her, his furry body humping frantically. Corrinne crouched low, her ears flat against her head, her haunches driving back to meet him.         Hyena slammed that knee-spike into Caleb's thigh again. Her rage hammered his senses. The breeze from the blade made his eyes water as she forced it down.         He pushed with all his strength, then let go and dodged to the side. Hyena's sawblade dug into the floor, momentarily holding her in place. Caleb grabbed the pistol and shot her in the head. As she fell, twitching like a marionette with tangled strings, he scrambled away from her and took aim at Wolf.         The gun and Wolf went off at the same time. His climactic howl was cut short as the bullet plunged into his heart. The death throes added to his convulsive thrusting and made Corrinne shriek in savage pleasure.         Caleb collapsed, aware now of the gored and bleeding agony that was his leg. He dropped the gun. His sister crawled out from under Wolf's slumped, lifeless body. She crept to him, nuzzling him worriedly.         He patted her to reassure her, and then slid down a frictionless inclined plane into darkness.                 *               *         "I'm getting damn tired of visiting hospitals," Cassandra St. John said, her tough whiskey-and-cigarettes voice not quite able to conceal the relief she felt at the sight of her oldest son.         Caleb grinned. "Hi, Mom. How was your visit?"         One pale, thin, be-ringed hand fluttered dismissively. "I'm more concerned about what you've been up to while I was off putting up with my prissy sissy."         "It's okay."         "Okay? Danforth Brock and seven of his associates dead, you in the hospital, the papers screaming about werewolves and monsters attacking a gentlemen's club, and you tell me it's okay?"         "Lucky for all of us, the rest of the Association were just as eager as I was to keep the real story out of the news."         "Lucky you got paid in advance," she added. "You did, didn't you?"         He nodded. "More than enough to cover our losses and my hospital bills. Kind of a shame about Fang --"         "The Bat Demon?"         "Yeah. But I never could have trusted him, and it only would have been a matter of time before he escaped. The trailer just wasn't built to hold anybody with that kind of power."         "When do they let you out?"         "The stitches come out tomorrow, and then I'm free. And about time, too. Devon's been going nuts trying to look after Chris and Morgana. Not to mention the havoc Elliot's playing with my profits. He may be a good lawyer, but he's a rotten barker."         "How's Corrinne?" Cassandra asked, frowning. "Is she ...?"         "The test results haven't come back yet. But don't worry, Mom. We'll take care of it."         She sighed. "Yes, I know. We're carnies. We look after our own."                 *               *         *click*         *whirrr*         "Did you hear something?" the coroner asked his assistant.         "Sorry, what?"         "Never mind."         His arm was still in a sling, his face still partly covered with a bandage, but he was the only one who could handle this.         Something had to be done with the bodies, though he hated even touching them. The memories were too vivid. The wolf-thing had gone over him while chasing someone else, and he counted himself fortunate to have suffered only minor injuries.         He zipped up the thick plastic, closing the wolf-thing's ghastly frozen snarl from the light forever. "Okay, he's bagged. Is the other one done yet?"         His assistant peered into the hellfire blaze of the incinerator's window. "Looks like."         "Help me load this one in. Then we'll start on --"         *click-click-click*         " ... what was that?" he finished.         "What was what?"         "You are deaf as a post, Billy," the coroner complained. They wheeled the gurney over and dumped the plastic-wrapped corpse down the chute.         "One more. Wow, that must have really been a show," Billy, the assistant, said wistfully. He knew about the Association, because these weren't the first bodies he'd helped dispose of, but they were by far the weirdest. In time, he knew he might even be allowed to attend.         The coroner shuddered. "I --"         *whirrrrrrrrrrrrr*         "I do hear something!" Billy leaned over the robot-woman, just as her eyes snapped open.         "Pretty sucky last words," she said, her words slow and draggy like a record played on the wrong speed. Her gold-tinted hand shot up and clenched tight around his throat.         "Nuh-nuh-nuh ..." the coroner babbled, backing away.         "Glahh!" Billy said urgently.         Hyena sat up jerkily. Caleb's bullet had struck her upgraded skull, skimmed around under the scalp, and exited on the other side near the spongy mess where she'd run into the metal spur. Self-repairing or not, it had taken a while for her systems to overcome that damage.         She squeezed.         "Glik!" Billy got out before his windpipe collapsed. She let go, and he strutted around the room like a headless chicken, scratching at his neck, his face going plum-colored.         Hyena swung her legs over the side. They both worked now, though the left was still sluggish and her knee didn't want to bend.         The coroner yammered with fear as she got up from the stark metal table. She extended her hands as if inviting him to admire her nail polish.         *tssszzziiiiiiiip!*         A spreading stain soaked the front of his pants, and at first he thought he'd pissed himself. Then he felt something heavy and sodden splat onto his shoe, and looked down. Down at the surgically-neat incision that opened him from sternum to groin.         "Please --" he said, and died.         "As last words go," Hyena said, her voice approaching normal, "that one's a little better."                 *               * The End

Page copyright 1998 Christine Morgan (