Robby stood with his hands on his hips, glowering at the other werewolf Elder, Reanne Thompson. “Now why the heck would somebody in San Francisco's Chinatown want ME to mediate a dispute? Do they even know how old I am?”
Reanne said with a grin, “Ah, no, I think that's going to come as quite a surprise. But they've heard that there is a new Elder Healer available and they want a Healer because one of the disputants is an apothecary. We offered them doctors galore, but they want you and those in contact with them weren't aware of your age. They need a completely impartial Elder, since one of those involved in the dispute IS an Elder.”
“I hope they don't expect me to speak, Chinese.” Robby grumbled. “I assume they want me yesterday?”
Reanne nodded, telling him, “As soon as possible, until the dispute is settled they can't trust the Elder. We've talked to your parents and there's a flight booked for you tonight and you'll be in a good hotel. You'll be picked up at the airport by one of our contacts in San Francisco. Since it's a dispute among Chinese werewolves, he won't be Chinese, but he is Oriental, with the unusual name of Pierre Sato. The Pierre came from the fact that his parent's were honoring a friend. He's one hundred percent Japanese-American, his ancestors moving to the States in the 1890's.”
If Pierre was surprised to find out that his passenger was a pre-teen boy, he didn't say so, but from the way he was keeping his face fake Oriental inscrutable, Robby was sure that he was. “They didn't tell you how old I was, I gather?” Robby asked.
“No, Elder they didn't.” said Pierre. “I think the Chinese are going to be surprised as well.”
“Call me, Robby. Well if they want to be belligerent, that's fine with me. Right now I feel like slapping someone down.” Robby grumbled.
“I gather it was a surprise to you as well?” asked Pierre.
Robby said with annoyance, “You could say that. The Elder who spoke to me was waiting for me when I got home from school. When I agreed, they sent me by chopper to the airport where I just made the flight they had booked for me. I didn't even have time to pack any clothes, so you're going to have to get some stuff for me. I usually sleep in my underwear anyway, but you're going to need to get everything else, including some more underpants. Also I'll need a toothbrush and a brush and comb. They probably have some of that available at the hotel, but I prefer to have my own.
“Rose just had time to write down the sizes of the stuff I wear. Here's the card.” He said and Pierre, took the card handed to him. “If they want me so fast they can take me in jeans, because I don't intend to get dressed up.”
Pierre commented, “They might take that as an insult.”
Robby said, sarcastically, “I sincerely hope so. I was going to my friend Gary's birthday party tomorrow and was going to sleep over tomorrow night, so I'm somewhat pissed at them at the moment. If they're upset enough, maybe I can make an early flight and get back home in time for the party.”
Pierre laughed, maybe he was a pre-teen, but he was as crotchety as any of the Elders Pierre had met. The rest of the drive was quiet and he pulled up in front of the hotel. The back door was opened by a doorman, who was somewhat surprised to see a little boy jump out of the back seat dressed, in jeans, windbreaker and sneakers.
As he got out of the car Robby heard, *Hey, Mac, come 'ere.*
If it hadn't been in mind-speech, Robby would have ignored it, but as it was, he said, “Wait for a minute please, Pierre.” and he headed for the alley beside the hotel. He saw a small figure running toward him. He knew it wasn't threatening and instinctively he held out his arms, as he would have for his little brothers and a large black and gray striped cat landed in his arms. *A bond! At last!* and the cat began to purr.
Robby looked at him suspiciously, saying, “You're not what I think you are?” He felt what seemed like a click in his mind and he sighed, “You are. Aawww, nuts. Why now? What else can happen? I hope you don't mind a leash; we're in the big city? Now that I've got you I can't just let you run around loose.”
The cat considered, *Not my favorite things, leashes, but I've been on them before.*
Robby walked back to the car, carrying the cat, in one arm and rubbing the top of his head with the other. Making sure there was no traffic, he walked to the driver's side of the car and Pierre rolled down the window. He looked astonished. Robby said, “I've just been adopted, so I hope they take pets here.”
Regaining his composure somewhat, Pierre said, “At a thousand dollars a night, I doubt they'll object.”
“Pick up a collar and a leash, nothing fancy and some cat food and a couple of bowls.” Robby said, then sighed, “I'll explain when you get back. I need a five for the doorman, I haven't got my expense money yet.” He took the fiver Pierre held out. “Thanks, see ya later.” and he stood back while Pierre drove off. Then he crossed to the sidewalk. He saw the doorman start to open his mouth. Robby shook his head, telling him tersely, “I wouldn't, I'm in a lousy mood and I've got your tip money.”
Seeing the five in Robby's hand, he shut, his mouth and ushered the boy and cat to the door and opened it. Robby handed him the five. The doorman tipped his cap. It certainly wasn't the largest tip he had gotten, but neither was it the smallest.
Robby walked across the large lobby, to the desk. There was a pretty young black woman, in her mid-twenties behind the desk and she watched Robby walk across the lobby. She'd seen much stranger sights and Robby seemed so confident, so sure that he was where he was supposed to be, that she didn't even question his right to be there.
“Yes, sir. May I help you?” she asked.
“You have a suite for me. Robby Hansen.” said Robby, quietly and confidently.
She looked up his name in the reservations book and found his name and the suite he had been assigned. Not the most luxurious or expensive suite they offered, but at a thousand dollars a night, the occupant certainly deserved respect.
“Yes, sir,” and turning the register around, “would you please sign in.”
Robby put the cat on the counter, where he sat majestically wrapping his tail around his legs. He said with a grin, “You can let the word get out that I prefer Robby, sir is sort of pretentious for a kid my age.”
He signed the register, putting his name and residence. She asked, “Would your cat mind if I petted him.”
“No go ahead. He's fine.” *And if you belie my words, I'll wring your neck, right here and now!* Robby vowed.
The cat said, *Don't worry, I'm tame. Well almost and besides, she smells nice,* responding to the woman's hand by purring vigorously.
Robby took out his wallet and pulled out one of the three credit cards he was carrying, a platinum MasterCard. “I'd like to get five hundred dollars in cash, please. Mainly twenties and smaller. People are suspicious if a kid shows up with fifties or hundred dollar bills.” he said with a smile.
Robby saw the cat's eyes bug out with disbelief but the young woman didn't notice. She was just running the credit card, which was under the name of Robby Hansen and wasn't even surprised when it went though easily. The cat asked, *Werewolf Healers must be more important than I thought. What's your credit limit on that?*
Robby informed him, *I'm an Elder, as well as a Healer and there's a one million dollar credit limit on that and on the two other cards that I carry. If I needed more than that I would go through a contact and if I needed it there's almost no limit to what I can spend in order to help werewolves.* He had never been concerned much with money and wasn't impressed with the amount that he had access to as an Elder.
The cat wasn't particularly impressed by money either he'd just been surprised, he knew about it, but since he couldn't spend it, it wasn't that important to him. To find out that the Healer he had bonded with was an Elder did impress him and he took a second look at the mind, which as a Healer had called, to him and he realized the strength inherent in it.
The young woman rang for a bellboy and when he came to the desk she handed him the cardkey to Robby's suite, she smiled at Robby, saying, “Darian, this is Robby Hansen and he asked me to let people know that he prefers being called Robby. He hasn't got any luggage, just one cat,” she grinned.
Robby said, “Who I'll carry myself, thanks. There'll be a man along in an hour or so, he'll be bringing me some clothes and a few other things.”
In the elevator, Robby asked, “What is your full name Gypsy Friend, though if you prefer I can just use your first name.”
The late teenaged boy took a deep breath, to recognize he was a Gypsy this werewolf had to be an Elder. He had never heard of an Elder so young before.
He said, “My name is Darian Lord, Elder.”
Robby told him, with a grin, “Robby, I'm here to settle a dispute in Chinatown, if I'm unlucky I'm going to get enough of Elder this and Elder that for the next two or three days, I don't need it from you as well.”
Darian said seriously, “We have heard of the argument, but we don't really fit into Chinatown so we don't know much about it, though we had heard that a Healer/Elder had been called in to mediate.”
“Unfortunately that's me.” said Robby, with some annoyance, rubbing the cat's head. He grinned, “But they're sure going to get a shock when I show up.”
Darian couldn't help but laugh. Robby continued, “I have a contact here, but he's a werewolf, so just in case I need some information outside the werewolf community, please inform your Elders that I may call on them, if I need help.”
“I would be honored to convey your message,” Darian said, sincerity in his voice, as the elevator stopped. He led the way to the suite and opened the door for Robby. Robby put the cat on the couch in the small living room and looked around, “Obviously they wanted to impress me. They didn't succeed.”
Taking out his wallet, he took out forty dollars. He said, “I assume that the hotel has kitty litter and a box available, or the young woman at the desk wouldn't have been so complacent about my cat's presence. Would you please get both for me, Darian.”
Darian would have refused the money, but Robby said, grinning, “Don't be silly, this is a hotel at which you work and I'm a guest and everything is being charged to the Chinese werewolf community, so I'll be getting anything I need.”
Darian had come and gone with the kitty litter and cat box. Robby had taken his sneakers off and was lying on the sofa, facedown head on hands talking to his new, well he wasn't actually a pet.
He asked, “Do you have a name?”
*Normally they just yell, 'Hey you', when they're chasing me. Salem from Sabrina and Garfield are my idols.* the cat said.
Robby rubbed the cat's head, saying, “Act too much like either and I'll swat you down. I like them too, but not as a companion. So, you don't have a name. Okay I'll call you Blue, if you don't object.”
*Why such a dumb name?* objected the newly named Blue.
Robby grinned, saying heartlessly, “Because it's as far away from Salem or Garfield as I could think of. Take it or leave it. I can always call you Hey You if you insist.”
*Oh, I guess it's not that bad.* conceded the cat.
There was a knock on the door and Robby went to answer it and it was Pierre Sato as he expected. He had a small carryall. Pierre told him, “I figured you might as well take the stuff back with you, when you go home. Some cat food and a dish for food and one for water, a can opener and a leash and collar.”
“I've given him a name. It's Blue, from now on.” Robby said, looking at the cans of food. *I hope you're not a picky eater, Blue, lets see, how's tuna.*
Blue said, *Put it in front of me and watch it disappear. You learn not to be a picky eater where I've lived.*
Robby went into the small kitchenette and washed out the bowls and filled one with water and opened the tuna can and put the contents in the other. After putting the newspaper that had been on the coffee table down on the floor put the two bowls on it. Blue took a little drink of water and then attacked the food and as he said they watched it disappear.
“What's with the cat?” asked Pierre.
“Change into wolf form and say hello.” said Robby.
Looking surprised Pierre did so, *Hello, Blue.*
*Hello, my dear sir, unfortunately Robby hasn't used your name in my presence so I can't address you by it.* replied Blue, beginning to groom himself after his meal.
Pierre changed back into human form. He said, bedazzled, “He answered me.”
“Not an ordinary cat.” commented Robby, wryly, “obviously. In fact, he's a witch's familiar. All of the witches left when the Elves left and they took the race of familiar cats with them, but every century there are about five or six born. Since they no longer had witches to bond to, they began to bond to werewolf Healers. Once a familiar bonds and Blue has bonded to me, he will live as long as I do. Aside from mind-speech and the ability to see auras, they have no powers of their own, though they can give their partner additional capabilities. What they do is skim off excess energy from the Healer, or once upon a time from the witch and store it. Then it's available to the Healer, in this case me, to use, so I can use more power and finish things much more quickly.”
He explained, “Once the Healers disappeared, as well several generations ago, they had no one to bond too. Now Healers are back and I can read down to the genetic level if necessary and mine is slightly different from any other werewolf. My grandfather is a doctor and he figures that the trait is dominant and will be passed on to any of my children, so they'll have a chance to bond again. The problem will be finding the others, but since I'm only going to be twelve in just under two weeks, we don't have to worry about that for a while.”
Robby said, with a grin, “Getting back to the subject of clothes, which we hadn't gotten to in the first place, what type of good clothes did you get me? I hope you didn't bother with a tie. I hate tight collars.”
Pierre looked surprised and guilty and Robby giggled, “I'm not dumb, I'm an Elder remember. I knew when you left that you'd get some good clothes, in spite of what I said.”
Pierre grinned, saying, “Guilty as charged, just good gray pants and a short sleeved white shirt and black shoes to go with them. No tie.”
*I really don't like a leash,* said Blue.
“Oh, shut up, you agreed to it in the first place, I could have left you at the hotel.” said Robby. “Here just to compensate, have a couple of these.” and he offered Blue, a couple of cat treats. Blue sniffed at them then eagerly gobbled them down.
*Yummy.* said Blue.
“Yeah I bet, I won't try any if you don't mind.” Robby said, sardonically. “At least not in this form, as a wolf they'd probably taste fine.”
*You don't know what you're missing, but that means more for me.* said Blue.
“Greedy. Well it looks like we've arrived.” said Robby.
“You know if I wasn't accustomed to driving Elders around that one sided conversation would have driven me nuts.” Pierre said.
“I don't usually do it on purpose,” said Robby, humor glinting in his eyes, “Usually, but its very handy for driving parents crazy and I wouldn't be a kid if I didn't take advantage of it every once in a while.”
Pierre said with a sigh, “I've got twins and they almost seem able to read each others minds in human form, I know exactly how frustrating that kind of thing can be.”
“Oh, good,” said Robby with amusement, as he opened the front door and got out, “I certainly wouldn't want you to be deprived of all the fun things kids can do to you.”
“Lee's Apothecary Shop.” read Robby out loud.
Pierre said with a grin, “His name is Bruce Lee. No kidding, but he certainly wasn't named after the actor, he's only a few years younger. He's the Elder. The disputants have been claiming that they've been getting sick after they've come from his shop. The doctors could tell they were sick, but they haven't been able to find anything causing it.”
“All right, let's go inside and give them the surprise of their lives.” Robby said, walking to the door, Blue trotting calmly at his side, tail high. He opened the door. There were a dozen people inside. The Lee's, husband and wife were behind the counter. and there were six women and four men in front of it.
One of the women, probably in her early forties, said shrilly, “Who are you? Where's the Elder?”
Robby looked at Pierre a feral grin on his face, *Oh good, someone obnoxious. I was hoping for something like that.*
*Oh, I don't intend to hurt her… Much. She'll just have a headache for a couple of hours.* Robby said.
He struck at the woman's mind very lightly and she shrieked with pain. Robby looked at her with disgust, broadcasting to everyone. *Oh, come on. I didn't hit you very hard. If that's the type of reaction you have, I'm almost inclined to believe that your accusations are completely phony, before I even start.*
She said, her voice moderated both by the headache and respect for an Elder. “I apologize Elder. I am inclined to overreact, but I assure you, the illness was real.”
Robby nodded, saying, “All right, apologies accepted. Take it from me, you got what you asked for, an Elder and a Healer. I'll have a look around.” He had already spotted something unusual, but he would look at everything. As he did so, he realized that he was seeing things much differently than usual. He could actually see the virtue in the medicines and how much each herb had. Directing a thought at Blue, *Is that your doing?*
Blue told him, *I think so, Robby, but you have to remember, we haven't bonded with a Healer for generations, so I don't know what my addition to your power will do.*
“May I see your storeroom, Mr. Lee?” Robby asked politely. The man led him back to a door and showed him inside, the other people crowding into the door. Looking around, he found a couple of things. He put his hand on one of the herbs, “This one has lost almost all of its virtue, Mr. Lee, you will need to replace it and no,” he said, addressing everyone, “It's not something that could cause you illness. We can go back into the store now.”
Back out at the counter he picked up one of the open jars of candy, which sat on the counter. He told them, “This is what is causing your illness. I saw in the back that Mr. Lee has a couple of boxes of these. He doesn't prepare them himself. He gets them from a candy company. There's a trace element of some kind of drug in the bottles. It wouldn't affect normal humans at all and it would be very hard to detect in the bloodstream, but you know how sensitive we are to drugs.”
He told them, “One of the stronger illicit drugs, like heroin or cocaine, is very likely the culprit. I would say either the candy company is a front for a drug processing lab, or one or more of the employees is using the equipment to do some drug processing. I can't really see the latter being the case. I would say it's something that at least the manager knows about. I see it's a Taiwan company, so there's nothing that we can do personally. Pierre, would you make sure that the Taiwan police know about this, also the San Francisco Police, since the distributor should be investigated as well.”
Pierre nodded and taking the jar, took out a pad and pen, wrote down the company and the lot number.
Robby turning to the store owner asked him, “Mr. Lee would you spread the news around Chinatown, that anyone who has any candies with this lot number, from this company to return them to you. Since it mainly affects werewolves, the Council will pick up the tab, but since we don't know if there's someone else out there that it might affect, you'll have to ask everyone to return it.”
“Also you're probably the best one to distribute the information to other apothecaries and health food stores, that might have these candies. If you don't have a database, as an Elder, you should.” Robby said grinning.
Mr. Lee smiled back, saying, “I do. In fact, I also have a list for Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong. I'll send emails to as many as I can and have them forward the information to any others in the Orient they know of that don't have computers.”
Robby said with a sigh, “The police probably won't be happy about this, but we can't risk any lives. If the company stays in business and is a front for drug dealers, then the Elders will have to think of something a little more drastic. We can't afford to let them continue to operate if they allow trace elements of drugs to enter their candies. We can deal with the name we know about, but if they are a supplier for other candy distributors, who use other names, we'd have no way to know about it. Agreed, Elder?” he said grimly.
“Agreed, Elder!” said an equally grim Mr. Lee. The others began to file out of the store, satisfied that Mr. Lee wasn't the one at fault and to start passing the word around about that and about the candies. Mr. Lee would get in touch with other contacts to also spread the news.
Robby looked at the cat cage beside him on the seat. He said, “Oh, quit complaining, it won't be for that long and this is only the fourth flight that I've ever made, so hopefully I won't have to make many more.”
Blue said tensely, *That's supposed to reassure me. Suppose they lose pressure in the pet section, suppose they have to dump the cargo, suppose....*
Robby pointed out, “You're the one that refused the sleeping pill. The only thing you would have remembered about this trip would be going to sleep in this cage and waking up in Benson.”
*Sure, die and not be able to worry about it!!* said Blue.
“Is he still complaining?” asked Pierre, with humor in his voice.
“He hasn't stopped since we left the hotel,” Robby sighed. “It's too bad this Sunday morning flight, was the earliest we could get. I might have been able to get to Gary's party. You'll probably like Gary, Blue, he's always liked cats, unfortunately since he began changing into a wolf, he keeps chasing them instead of petting them.”
Blue turned his back on Robby. He grinned, saying, “Finally shut him up. But probably not for long enough. Seriously, he does like cats. You know Pierre, it's a wonder that cats and werewolves have never had the type of natural animosity that sometimes exists between cats and dogs.”
“It's just as well don't you think, how many did you say were at your house?” Pierre asked.
Robby told him, “Well, there's six on a regular basis, seven with Gary who's there quite often and a baby in about six months.”
Blue turned around, *I've always liked babies. More than some boy I can name.* he said pointedly.
Robby opened the cage door and reached in and began fondling Blue's head and neck, caressing him with his mind at the same time. Blue began to purr, loudly. “Don't worry, we'll get through the flight just fine.” said Robby.
It was just about noon when Robby's city contact pulled up outside the Hansen-Wilson household. Robby got out and lifted out the carryall that Pierre had gotten him and Blue's cage.
Robby shook hands with his Contact, Edward Franco and gave a wave as he drove off. Picking up the cage and carryall headed for the door, which was abruptly opened by Teddy. Teddy looked at the cage, Barry peering under his arm. “What did ya bring?” Teddy asked with curiosity.
“Here, get out of the way and I'll show you.” Robby said
They moved to the side, letting Robby in, then Teddy closed the door behind him. Robby dropped the carryall, then set the cage on the couch and unfastened the door, letting Blue out. He sat regally as the two little boys, oohed and aahed, then came closer to pet him, accepting it as his due.
Robby told them, “Teddy, he's a different kind of cat, if you change you can talk to him. Barry you'll have to wait until Friday, until you change to talk to him.”
Hary and Paul had come out of the kitchen by then and Hary said, “Robby, a cat, now...”
Robby shook his his, “Not really a cat, Mom, I call him Blue and he's a witch's familiar.” He explained about the original familiars and the ones that still were born. Teddy had changed into wolf form and was talking with obvious interest to Blue, Robby not trying to listen in, since this was their conversation and he tried not to listen to private conversations. “He's as intelligent as a human. Unfortunately, he's also arrogant, sarcastic, belligerent, demanding and... endearing. All in all, your typical cat, but one who can talk to werewolves, when in wolf form.”
The manager of the Taiwanese company was found dead, his body dumped on a city street. Since it happened the day before Robby left for San Francisco, while it might have had something to do with what Robby had found, it wasn't caused by his findings. The police exonerated the company and a careful examination by investigators sent by werewolves also showed their innocence. Since they really didn't care about the manager, who had endangered werewolf lives, even though it was inadvertent, no werewolf investigation was made into his death.