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"A Case Of Peaches"

I knew who it was before she’d even opened the office door, her trademark perfume having arrived twenty seconds before she did.
     Her name was Gemma Garrison, the prettiest girl in grade nine. I mean grade nine anywhere. You name a school any place on the continent and most likely, Gemma would be the prettiest girl in the ninth grade.
     And she knew it.
     She wielded her golden locks, porcelain skin, and ice-blue eyes like weapons. Even older students bowed to her prettiness, compelled by some unseen force—the universal law of pretty. To make matters worse, and solidify her rule as the “Mean Queen of Cadbury Prep,” Gemma was rich. Like, ridiculously rich.
     Gemma and I were classmates. We were not, however, friends.
     “Bane,” said pretty Gemma in a way that vaguely hinted I should feel flattered by the Mean Queen’s royal visitation.
     “Garrison,” I replied in a way that clearly hinted I could care less. “What brings you by?” 
     “I need your help,” said pretty Gemma.
     I could tell by the undercurrent of tension in her voice that she was telling the truth. She did need my help.
     Very briefly, my name is Madison Bane. I’m a fourteen-year-old girl who runs a small Private Investigation business after school, specializing in finding lost or stolen pets and property: dogs, cats, phones, laptops, bikes, scooters, that sort of stuff. Also, full disclosure: I’m a werewolf.
     Yep. A werewolf.
     Gemma’s dog was missing. It’s name was Peaches. Peaches was a 125 pound Rottweiler. Peaches was also a male.
     “Why name him Peaches?” I asked.
     “Because I wanted to,” replied Gemma, giving me a small glimpse into how the world bent to your bidding when you were that pretty.
     Two nights earlier, Gemma had let Peaches out into the backyard for his pre-sleep pee. She got distracted on her phone, and forgot about the Rottweiler for roughly an hour. When she finally called the big dog in, he’d disappeared.
     “Has he ever run off before?” I asked.
     “No,” replied Gemma.
     “That raises the possibility that he was stolen,” I said.
     “Impossible,” said Gemma.
     “He would’ve eaten their faces off,” said Gemma, with a casualness that was a little unsettling.
     Peaches, as it turned out, was not intended to be a pet. He was a trained guard dog, who, because of his extremely sweet personality, had become a pet. He was ferociously loyal to the Garrison family, especially to the two beautiful daughters. In fact, it was that devotion that turned Peaches’ absence into an emergency. Gemma’s older sister, Sapphire, was getting married at the house in two days. And apparently if Peaches was not there to pose for the family photographs, then: “The wedding would be ruined” in Sapphire’s words. It was an imminent catastrophe of such magnitude, that it had brought Gemma to the office I’d set up in my parents’ basement.
     I said I’d take the case, but couldn’t guarantee results.
     “Uh-uh,” said Gemma shaking her head, “failure is not an option.”
     “You don’t know the odds,” I said.
     “You don’t know my sister,” she replied.

I went with Gemma to her house in El Dorado. El Dorado is a gated community with a guard booth at the entrance. Behind the impressive gates were a cluster of mansions designed to look different, but only different enough.
     Gemma’s house was enormous. It was done in a Tudor Britishy-style, with exposed beams and plaster—but all new, so it looked totally fake. The house was buzzing with activity: people running around and arranging stuff for the upcoming wedding—all of whom were going to make my job a lot harder. There were too many scents cluttering things up.
     Okay, it’s now time for: Get To Know Your Werewolf Investigator. Or, An Introduction To All Things Lycanthropy.
     First of all, being a werewolf is not as big a deal as you might think. Once a month when the moon is full, I go all furry and fangy, and get an incredible urge to rip and rend. That’s about it. No biggee. My parents lock me in a reinforced, sound-proof room in the basement (I tend to howl), and then I’m good till morning.
     In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve become a little dangerous, as a result of the onset of, you know, puberty. When I was a kid, my parents used to have a blast with me, chasing my little fur-ball butt around the house. There are home movies of me hunting them down and play fighting (wolves love to play) and I have to admit, I was kind of adorable.
     To be honest, as far as I’m concerned, the benefits of being a werewolf far outweigh the costs. Yeah, you carry a giant secret around with you, and you can never get too close to people, but I’m a bit of a “lone wolf” anyway. Ba-da-boom. Dumb joke. I know.
     The point is, people tend to think of lycanthropy (“werewolfism”) as an all or nothing deal. Like, you’re all human, or you’re all wolf. But like anything else in life, it’s a lot more fluid. There’s a spectrum. When I’m in wolf-mode, there’s part of me that’s still slightly human. And when I’m in human-mode, there’s part of me that’s still slightly wolf.
     …And those are the cool parts.
     For example: I can see very well in the dark; my hearing is about five times better than the average person; and my sense of smell is off the charts. I have incredible reflexes, and can run all day without tiring much. And I’m strong for a girl my size. Like, unbelievably strong. Oh, and I generate about 500 pounds of pressure with my bite, which comes in handy at Christmas if the nutcracker’s gone missing.
     There are some downsides: my hair is kind of an ash-brown unmanageable mop, with weird tufts of black in it (that I’m finally starting to embrace), and my eyes are a slightly disconcerting shade of amber that make people stop and stare. Also, I do have pretty thick eyebrows, which kids called caterpillars when I was growing up. But since that look is in now, I get to mark them as a “win.” Also, I tend to go bonkers-berserk when I’m threatened, pace back and forth when I’m anxious, and I occasionally lick my parents’ faces when I’m happy. But that’s about it.
     So all in all, I don’t think getting locked in a reinforced furnace room one night of the month is that big a price to pay.
     Furthermore, it occurred to me about a year ago, that my super-duper sense of smell could be used to make a little extra cash by tracking down missing items. So I made an office in the basement, put up some flyers, got a website, and business has been gangbusters. If this keeps up, paying for college is going to be a breeze.
     But back to the case…
     Gemma said in a complaining/proud way that her sister’s wedding was costing their father a fortune. However, she added, it was going to be the social event of the season.
Her sister was marrying Eugene Folgert, of the Folgert Industries family, and their union would create an unrivaled business dynasty.
     “Sounds a little medieval,” I said. “You know: Let us unite our kingdoms.”
     “You wouldn’t understand,” replied Gemma as though the burdens of being a pampered, beautiful princess were far beyond my meager comprehension. And she was totally right.
We came into the living room. It was a hustle and hive of wedding activity. In the center of the madness, giving orders like the conductor of a symphony, was a man: the wedding planner.
     No, not just a man. That wouldn’t be fair. Let me put it this way: I don’t know who the most handsome man on the planet is, but this guy was definitely second. My heart jumped, my breath stuck in my throat, as the perfect man saw us and broke into the most dazzling smile I’d ever seen. It was at once warm and inviting, but also said: Thank goodness you’re here, life has been so tedious without you!
     “Ma chérie!” he said to Gemma, arms out wide. She came to him with a coy smile. He took her hands, kissed her on both cheeks, and took a step back to marvel at her, a look of mock-concern growing on his face. “I fear, ma petite,” he said in a silken French accent, “that with your beauty, no one will notice all my hard work.”
     “I doubt that very much, Antoine,” replied Gemma, blushing.
     Then she turned to me. “Antoine, this my fr—” She stopped herself from saying “friend,” correcting it to: “This is my classmate, Madison Bane. She’s here to find Peaches. I was told she’s the very best at that sort of thing.”
     Antoine turned to me.
     Now, just to be clear: I’m not the boy-crazy type. Never have been. Growing up, they didn’t really like me because I was faster, threw a ball farther, and was a lot stronger. Whatever. Be insecure. But the second Antoine looked at me and smiled, my entire insides became a gelatinous glop melting in the hot sun. Our future life together flashed through my head—the wedding, the kids, the growing old together.
     Unfortunately, the blissful imaginings were immediately swallowed by the sudden rise of a crippling self-consciousness: my stupid hair, my weird eyes, my ridiculous eyebrows. I wanted to flee. But I also wanted to stay forever.
     “Enchanté,” he said, offering his hand.
I tried desperately to think of a smart-alecky response to hide my terror, like: And chanté to you too. Which was completely lame. So I just took his hand like a mute goon…
     …And screamed.
     Aahh!” I cried, jumping back, as searing pain shot across my hand.
     “What is it?!” asked Antoine, genuinely concerned.
I looked down. Smoke rose from ugly red welts on the skin of my hand. “Uh,” I said, “have you been touching silver recently?”
     “Silver?” said Antoine.
     “Silver?” said Gemma.
     Now, full disclosure: Yes, the legends are true—silver kills werewolves. However, in my human form, it just really, really hurts.
     “Yeah,” I said. “I’m allergic to it.”
     “To silver?” said Gemma in a way that said: How could you possibly embarrass me like this in front of Antoine?! Oh, wait, right—because you’re a loser.
     “Why, yes,” said Antoine, a little confused, “I… I have been touching silver. I’m so sorry. Forgive me. I had no idea.”
     Then he took out a small tube of clear green gel from his jacket pocket. “Aloe,” he said, squeezing some out, and letting it fall onto the back of my hand “It will help with the pain. Rub it in.”
     I began to massage the green goo into my hand, and sure enough, the burning subsided. “Thanks,” I said.
     He smiled warmly. “Allergic to silver,” he said. “You are a very unique young woman.”
With those words my heart exploded and I knew he was my soulmate and we should be together forever and ever and nothing would ever tear us apart but I needed to ask him to wait for me until I was at least out of high school.
     Unfortunately Sapphire entered the living room, and any chance of weird little me having a life with Antoine came crashing to a halt.
     Where Gemma was painfully pretty, her older sister, the bride-to-be, was just straight-up otherworldly beautiful. She was tall and slim, with almost white-blond hair, arctic-blue eyes, and high, aristocratic cheekbones. She looked like an ice goddess that had stepped out of an ancient Nordic legend. She did not enter a room, so much as pass through it on her way back to Valhalla.
     “Antoine, I need a word,” she said, with a distant formality.
     “Madame,” he replied, mirroring the formality, bowing his head like an old-world servant.
     “Oh, hello, Gemma” she said, noticing her sister, then noticing me. “Is this one of your friends?” she asked in a way that said clearly: Don’t tell me this is one of your friends.
     “No,” said Gemma reassuringly. “This is Madison Bane. I’ve hired her to find Peaches. Apparently, she’s the best there is.”
     Then something odd happened. Sapphire’s coldness dropped, and a look of vulnerability washed over her face, making her even more impossibly beautiful. “You can help?” she said, hopefully, desperately. “Please, please, find him.” And in that moment, the ice queen thawed and I saw that she genuinely loved the missing Rottweiler.
     Antoine took her hands and said, “Wherever Peaches is, I am sure he is safe.”
     Sapphire looked at him, the same vulnerability in her eyes. Then she quickly disengaged her hands and resumed her aloof distance. “I’m sure he is. Now we have a problem. Father is complaining about the cost of the organic, locally sourced produce. You have to talk to him.”
     They left, discussing the importance of creating an organic, all-natural, locally-sourced, holistic, wedding event.
     …But I’d heard it. I heard Sapphire’s heart race wildly when Antoine touched her hands.

I asked to see where Peaches slept. After all, a dog’s bed is a concentrated scent bomb. So Gemma took me to her father’s study. It was all oak paneled bookshelves with sets of leather-bound books, whose pristine spines revealed they’d never been opened.
In front of a gas fireplace was Peaches’ bed. I picked it up and inhaled deeply.
     “What are you doing?” asked Gemma, a grossed-out look on her face.
     “Stress pheromones have a distinct smell,” I replied. “If Peaches was stressed, he may have run away.”
     “Don’t be crazy,” responded Gemma. “He’d never leave. Peaches is devoted to me and Saph.”
     “Then why did he sleep down here? He’d want to be near you, in your bedroom.”
     “Security,” replied Gemma with a hint of duh on her face. “My mom’s—” She stopped herself. Then: “My parents keep some valuables in here.”
     I went to the french doors that opened out onto the backyard, and looked out the windows.
     My parents do quite well. My dad’s a chartered accountant and my mom’s a lawyer. We have a big home and a big yard—way more space than we need for the three of us…
     …You could have put ten of my parents’ homes in the Garrison’s backyard.
     Workers were busily setting up tables and chairs inside an insanely massive marquee tent. An ornate wedding bower was being constructed on a stage that backed on to a dance floor. This was going to be an expensive wedding.
     I noticed thick, heavy, sound-dampening curtains pushed to the side of the french doors. “Was Peaches aggressive?” I asked.
     “With us? No,” replied Gemma. “With anyone else—yes. We lock him in here when we entertain. Why?”
     “It’s possible a rabbit or a fox came on the property, and he gave chase.”
     “I hadn’t thought of that,” said Gemma.
     “That’s why you’re paying me,” I replied.


I spent the rest of the afternoon cycling around the neighborhood, trying to catch Peaches’ scent, but had no luck. So the next day, being a Saturday, I biked down to the dog pound. Not to see if Peaches was there—he had a microchip tracker and dog tags—but to get information.
     I had a funny feeling about this case. Gemma was right: Peaches was not a flight risk. He was a trained guard dog, and devoted to his family. And if he had been dognapped—something very hard to do to a 125 pound, highly aggressive Rottweiler—then there would have been a ransom demand by now. Yet there wasn’t.
     No, my fear was that his size and aggression had made him a target. So, I had to talk to Tick.
     I entered the dog pound. Sarah was at the front desk. She asked me if I was on a case. I said yes, so she waved me through to the restricted area in back. They were used to me at Animal Services, and liked that I made their jobs a little easier by reuniting people with their lost pets.
     As I walked through the pens, I could smell the anxiety bursting around me. Being in a shelter stresses a dog more than most humans can imagine. A dog who finds itself on its own will seek the protection and structure of a pack. But here there were so many dogs, and no way to establish a hierarchy. They were isolated and couldn’t do what their instinct asked of them: sniff and growl and fight and build a pack. Instead they just shouted and challenged, with no way to connect and ultimately calm themselves. Still, it was for their own safety, so this was the way it had to be.
     For the most part, dogs like me. They sense what I am: some distant, weird cousin of the canine family. Occasionally I get an aggressive alpha who throws out a challenge, but by and large, they try to get along with the big bad wolf.
     I found Tick in the back area, cleaning out the pen trays with a hose. He was wearing rubber gloves, and a bright orange vest with the words “Community Service” printed on the back.
     Bob Tikevitch, or Tick, was my first case. He was a smalltime crook who ran a dognapping ring. When our neighbors, the Edelsteins, got their prized cockapoo, Mr. Binky, pinched, and a ransom letter demanding $700, I decided to help.
     Canvassing the neighborhood, I discovered that a suspicious white van had been trolling the streets for days. I went to the place where it had been idling opposite the Edelsteins’ home, and found a patch of engine oil that had leaked from the van. I sniffed it, and that was that. I tracked the scent all the way to Tick’s house, found an open window, popped my head in, and caught a whiff of Mr. Binky. Then I called the police.
     Yes. My nose is that good.
     The Edelsteins were so grateful to have Mr. Binky back, they gave me a $200 reward… which gave me the idea to open my little “finder” business. So in a weird way, I owed Tick. And in a weird way, he owed me. Tick got two years probation and 400 hours of community service. He decided to turn his life around, and started going to night school, where he was studying to be a Veterinary Assistant. Outside of the crime thing, he was actually a pretty decent guy—you could sense that. And sometimes, a case needed information that I could only get by consulting Tick’s shady past.
     “Mr. Tikevitch,” I said.
     “Ms. Bane!” he beamed. “How ya doin’?”
     “Same old. You?”
     “Can’t complain. Taking my exam in two weeks. Little nervous.”
     “You’ll ace it. You have a way with animals,” I said, and meant it. He did.
     “You’re too kind,” he replied. “So, you workin’ something?”
     I explained the situation with Peaches: no ransom, no runaway, and probably targeted for his size and aggression.
     “The pit,” he said, a heavy sadness suddenly weighing on him.
     The pit was another term for the dog fighting arena: the highly illegal activity of pitting dog against dog, then betting on the bloody and vicious fight; a fight that usually ended in death for one of the dogs. It was horrible and cruel, and worst of all, very profitable.
     A problem for these sub-humans who ran the fights, was getting a steady supply of “fighters” and “practice” dogs. The humane services kept a data base of people who continually adopted or bought big, aggressive breeds. That meant they had to go outside the system. If a dog was spotted that might be a candidate for the pit, they’d steal it. Peaches was big and aggressive—fatally so, if necessary. It wouldn’t take much abuse to turn him into an effective pit dog.
     “Listen,” began Tick carefully, “I know of a local ring, but…” he stopped, concerned. “These are bad people, Bane. Like, baaaad. They tried to get me to steal bait dogs for them, you know, to keep the fighters bloodthirsty. No way, I said. I wanted no part of it. So they busted a couple of my ribs. Told me if I went to the authorities, they’d do a lot worse—like, permanent worse. You don’t want to mess with these people.”
     I told Tick I’d be extra careful and got the address. I thanked him, and started to leave.
     “Bane,” he called after, “It’s been driving me crazy. I gotta know: I only walked the Edelstein dog late at night—like, two in the morning. There’s no way you could have seen him. How’d you know I had him?”
     He was smiling; wasn’t angry, just genuinely curious. I smiled back. “Sorry, Tick. Trade secret.”
     “I swear, I’ll figure it out someday,” he replied.
     I hope he never does.

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