"You have got to be kidding me!" Inquisitor Lassiter's voice was even more angry than usual. The subject of his ire stood across from him in a muddy fenced in pasture. Shawn Spencer, court wizard and fraud, stood with the primary murder suspect. The crime scene was ringed by armed constables, who were keeping any of the locals from getting too close. Gasps and cries of horror could be heard from the onlookers.
"I am not kidding. The cow is innocent!" The cow in question stood next to Shawn, completely still. It stared up at the two men with large dark eyes.
Lassiter waved his hands around at the scene around him. “The pasture is completely torn up. The fence is knocked down in multiple places. The body is crushed and covered in hoof prints and that cow has blood on it. It may not be the only one that killed him but it obviously was part of the stampede!”
Carlton’s voice had risen to a shout, but Shawn seemed to be paying no attention. He was leaning down next to the cow as if listening to the animal speaking.
"Right Lassie. Right. Except the part where you’re completely wrong." He stood up and leveled his gaze on the stern inquisitor. “This cow isn’t a suspect. He’s a witness.”
Shawn had already done a thorough observation of the scene and had gotten a pretty good idea what had happened. Shawn’s best friend, Gus stood on the opposite side of the fence, his expression cycling through amusement at Shawn’s antics, anger at Lassiter's attitude, and disgust. He never did well with blood and there was a lot of blood. The body of a famer lay face-up in the mud with his chest and head almost completely crushed by the heavy hooves of his herd.
Shawn glanced around until he spotted Juliet. Their eyes met as she walked up beside her partner and gave Shawn a very slight nod. With a setting so grim, there was little chance of a smile from her but her eyes were bright and eager. Lassiter grumbled and spoke in a harsh whisper. "If you try to tell me this is the work of vampires again, I am going to put you in the stocks."
"Lassie! Not in front of Jules and the others. They might get the wrong idea about us! And what would you do if those kinds of rumors got back to Marlowe?" Lassiter lunged toward Shawn with murder in his eyes but Juliet placed a hand on his chest and leaned into him.
"Carlton, relax. I'm sure we can all get to the bottom of this and hopefully this will have a simple, normal explanation." She looked pointedly at Shawn and nodded again.
Shawn nodded back with a placating expression. Then he cleared his throat and raised his voice. "The killer is…" he paused dramatically before continuing. "A werecow!"
Lassiter actually growled and dropped his hand to the large knife sheathed at his waist. Juliet stared at Shawn in open-mouthed astonishment so she didn't see what her partner was up to. A few of the constables in the area fought to suppress smiles and laughter.
Shawn did notice the head inquisitor's movements and worked quickly to diffuse the situation. "Let me explain, Lassitude. It’s some kind of shapeshifter, something that can change into a cow." Lassiter didn't seem to be placated by the explanation, but he glanced over at Gus when he began speaking as well.
"Some form of lycanthropy? The most common type of lycanthropes is werewolves, but I've heard tales of people that change into other animals as well.” As he finished speaking, he glanced around the area at the carnage and turned a distinct shade of green which was impressive on someone with dark skin. “I’ve never heard of cows before.”
Shawn was still standing next to the lone cow. He looked up suddenly with a gleeful expression and said proudly, “Lycowthropy!” Juliet and Gus both winced at this while Lassiter turned away in disgust. The cow even gave a shiver and shook its head.
Before the head inquisitor could leave the pasture, Shawn called out. “Look again at the fence.”
Lassiter stopped and looked around. Juliet and Gus did as well, trying to spot what Shawn was talking about. Before either of them could respond, Lassiter froze and spoke in a tight voice. “That part of the fence is broken inward.”
“Exactly.” Shawn said in an uncharacteristically serious tone. “And check out the footprints over there.”
Carlton looked at the ground and moved around carefully. “What in the nine hells?” Gus and Juliet came over as well, careful not to disturb the tracks. On the ground, there was a distinct set of barefoot human-like prints, except the size was almost twice that of a normal human.
“Shawn! Are these the tracks of a sasquatch?” Gus couldn’t contain the mix of excitement and terror in his voice. “Do we finally have proof of their existence?”
Juliet patted him on the back, “Sorry Gus. Unless your Sasquatch can change into a cow, I don’t think this is it.” She pointed at where the tracks ended suddenly. “The prints get deeper here and it looks like they change to hooves. Then it dropped down to all fours. See? A new set of hoof prints appear here.” She pointed to another set of prints, similar to the other tracks all around the pasture.
“Gold star Jules!” Shawn announced. “It’s like the huge man thing changed into a cow and charged the farmer. Then it changed again and the rest of the herd went crazy, broke through the fence and ran away.”
Lassiter turned to Shawn and asked, “What do you mean, ‘it changed again’? How do you know that?”
“Turn the body over. You’ll see what I mean.” Shawn placed his hands gently over the cow’s eyes as Carlton, carefully rolled the body over. He gasped out loud at what he found. Juliet moved quickly forward to see and inhaled sharply as well. Gus took one look and ran out of the pasture, one hand on his stomach and one over his mouth.
The back of the body was covered in bite marks. Hunks of flesh had been torn out by large predator-like teeth. What was most disturbing was that the back of his skull was crushed and it was clear that a portion of the brain was missing as well.
“What kind of animal did this?” Lassiter asked in a hushed voice.
“This was no animal,” replied a gruff voice from the main pasture gate. Henry Spencer, retired inquisitor stood there with a grim look. “This was an attack by a skin-walker.”