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"The Werewolf Gambit"

by Robert Silverberg



Vol. 1, No. 12,  1957

          Some time after the fifth martini, when the barkeep was mixing them eight or nine to one and the little heap of discarded olives in the ashtray was beginning to look untidy and Keller felt his nerves starting to fray in frustration, he said: "You should see what happens when the moon is full."
     The bored girl across the table yawned delicately. "What happens to the moon or you, darling?"
     "To me. I turn into a wolf."
     "Of course," she said. "You don't even need a full moon for that."
     Keller frowned, flicked ashes from hi cigarette, fitfully sipped his drink. This evening had long since begun to look like a blank--a dead, useless, wasted evening. He hadn't communicated his purposes at all. Lora, sitting at the other end of the table as if there was a wall between them, was all glitter and polish, and had a marvelous way of consuming a man's money during the course of an evening--but Keller was having serious regrets about having offered to take her out. The evening's investment promised to have no returns whatsoever.
     The werewolf gambit was the finale. Keller thought of it as a wry jest, an ultimate variation on the customary etchings, a desperate tactic he was employing as a final sardonic gesture toward seduction before he abandoned the night's quest.
     "You don't understand," he said quietly. "Je suis un loup-garon. A lycanthrope. Bristles and fangs, gleaming yellow eyes. You know?"
     The waxen mask of Lora's pale face seemed to show animation for the first time that evening. "You're sure you haven't had too many drinks, darling?"
     "Quite on the contrary; if I'd had too many, I assure you I'd be raging on all fours up and down the cabaret this very moment. I've got myself quite thoroughly under control, though. I won't begin to change until...until..."
     Arched eyebrows flickered. "When, dear?"
     "In my flat. Later tonight, perhaps." He leaned backward, craned his neck to peer through the clinging lace of the curtains. A bright shaft of moonlight sparkled against the window. "Yes...tonight is the beginning. It lasts three nights. I feel it stirring within me now."
     Hastily, he finished his drink. The bartender glanced inquiringly at him, but Keller signaled quickly with his left index finger that the evening's drinking was over. His campaign would stand or fall on what had already been consumed. Keller saw no reason to expend further cash in what looked like a fruitless pursuit. Besides, Lora's thirst was immense; alcohol didn't seem to satisfy at all.
     The girl leaned forward. her clinging wrap fell away from her pale throat, creating a delightful view. "I suppose it take five martinis to extract these confidences, darling. If you had told me earlier..."
     "We could have skipped that dreadful play. We could have gone straight to your place."
     "What?" For the first time within his adult memory, Keller's self-composure utterly deserted him.
     "I'm terribly interested in things like this," Lora said eagerly. "Luopgarous! How fascinating!" Seizing his hand with a passion she had failed to show all evening, she said, " Would it be asking too much...for you to show me?"
     I'll be eternally cursed, Keller thought in quiet wonderment. How To Get A Girl To Your Apartment, he thought. Technique 101a: The Werewolf Gambit.
     It had been only a joke to cap a wasted evening, and abruptly it had transformed a remote, passionless girl into a keenly curious and receptive woman. Someday I must write my memoirs, Keller thought, as he paid the check. If only to tell about this!

     Be it ever so humble," Keller said, throwing open the door to his apartment.
     Lora stepped inside and uttered a little gasp of delight. 'It's a lovely room," she said. "A little austere, but lovely!"
     "I like it, " said Keller. "I've lived here three years."
     "It's in marvelous taste," she exclaimed enthusiastically, looking around at the paneled walls, the ceiling-high ebony bookcase laden with Keller's extensive library, the kidney-shaped swirl of a dark coffee-table, the low bulk of the phonograph-tape recorder sprawling along the far wall. She slipped lightly out of her evening jacket; Keller hung it up in the hall closet and tiptoed happily into the little kitchen.
     "Drink?" he asked, a little tensely.
     "No...thanks," she said. She was at the bookcase, tugging at the ponderous red-bound volume that was his copy of Rites and Mysteries of Goetic Theurgy. "You have strange tastes in books," she said.
     "Strange? Is it so strange for a werewolf to be reading Arthur Waite? Not at all." He was determined to carry the joke along as far as he could.
     She chuckled lightly. "Of course not. I apologize."
     He emerged from the kitchen with two oliveless martinis and set them down on the little inlaid end-table near her. As he moved toward the phonograph, he observed with professional pleasure that she had lifted one of the drink to her lips. It was a rule he had long followed with great success in the past: If a girl you've brought to your apartment refuses a drink, bring one anyway. She'll drink it.
     "Putting on a record?" she asked, still busy at the bookcase.
     "Vivaldi. It's good music for late at night."
     He turned the volume low, and as if from a great distance there issued the bright sheen of violin music accompanied by the silvery tinkle of a tiny harpsichord. "There," he said. "just perfect."
     He glanced at his watch in the dim light of one lamp. It was a quarter to three. Barring unforeseen happenings, they should be safely bedded down before four-fifteen.
     He crossed the room, reached agilely around her to snare his drink from the table, brushed the nape of her neck lightly with the tip of his nose as he straightened up. "Care to join me on yonder divan?" he asked, indicating the couch.
     She smiled and nodded. Keller gave her his hand in formal fashion and escorted her to the couch. She kicked off her shoes and drew her knees up to her bosom, wrapping her arms around her kneecaps and letting her head droop broodingly.
     "I'm not in the habit of visiting men's apartments this late at night," she remarked. "Or at any hour."
     "That's obvious," he said. "I can tell by the luminous purity of your eyes that--" He let his voice trail off, then tacked on the coda: "But there's always a first time, of course."
     "Of course. About this affliction of yours, this lycanthropy--"
     "Oh, that. we can talk about that later." There would be plenty of time for explanations, he thought, in the morning. "Mind if I come a little closer? It's cold in here, at this distance."
     Without waiting for her reply, he edged up next to her and slid one arm suavely around her bare, cool shoulder. It seemed to him that she quivered faintly at the contact, but he decided it was just his imagination.
     "They say only virgins can ride unicorns," he observed softly, letting his fingertips graze the lobe of her ear.
     "There's some truth in that," she admitted, intercepting his hand neatly as it began to slide further down her shoulder. "Unicorns have an unerring way of telling, I hear."
     "It's too bad we're not all unicorns."
     "Yes," she said, sighing. "It's too bad."
     Through the drawn blinds, a single beam of moonlight wandered and glistened momentarily against Keller's onyx cufflink. 'the moon is full," she pointed out. "You must be fighting a terrible struggle within yourself. But we're alone, now. You can change over, if you like."
     "Do you really want me to?"
     "Unless it's dangerous, of course. Can you control yourself when you're--you're changed?"
     "I don't know. I never really know what I do when I'm--changed."
     "Oh," she said. "I'll have to risk it, then. I must see it. Please? What are you waiting for?"
     HE fingered his suddenly sticky collar uneasily. The record ended; Vivaldi faded with an abrupt click and was replaced by a Schubert quartet. Moonbeams continued to pour into the room.
     The girl was carrying the thing too far. "Let's not talk about lycanthropy now, my lovely," he whispered harshly. There had been enough talk of werewolvery; the time had come to forget the introductory gambit and get down to the main business of the evening.
     He crushed up closely against her, and this time he sensed a definite shudder of repugnance as his body came in contact with hers. She was cool and distant, but permitted his caresses almost absently.
     After a few moments, she wiggled away. "You promised to show me--"
     Keller began to laugh, coldly at first and then almost hysterically. "Lora--darling--for a sophisticated girl, you're incredibly gullible! Can't you recognize a spoof when you fall for it?"
     She drew back. "what do you mean?" she said acidly.
     "This werewolf business--did you really believe it?"
     There was a stunned pause. Then: "I should have known you're were lying. I could have told you that you were no loup-garon...but yet I trusted you. I came up here to see--to see--"
     The edge of a tear glittered brightly in the corner of one eye. She had the cheated look of a maiden wronged. Keller scowled; this evening was turning into the most unmitigated fiasco he has experienced since the age of sixteen. Determined to make one last try in a valiant attempt to recoup his honor and capture hers, he took her cold hand in his.
     "Lora honey, I just did it because I love you so damn much!" The words nearly stuck in his throat, but he got them out with as much sincerity as he could muster. "I wanted you so bad I'd tell you anything. Just so I could be with you for a while. Do you understand? We can go home now...if you like."
     Her eyes pierced his. "You're not a werewolf, then? It was all pretense?"
     Exasperated, he said, "I'm not even a ghoul, darling. I'm disgustingly mortal...and disgustingly enamored. You know that?"
     "Of course I know that," she said suddenly, moving closer to him. She seemed to grow warmer; to his astonishment, Keller realized that he was going to succeed after all. Her arms touched his shoulders, drew his face near hers.
     Looking up into his eyes, she said, "You're really not a werewolf?"
     Her lips were only inches away, and triumph now seemed near. Smiling sadly, Keller shook his head. "It was all a game...a game men play some time. No, I confess I'm not and never have been a werewolf, darling. I hope I didn't disappoint you too much. I'm not even a vamp--"
     The sentence was never finished.
     He felt the sudden hot sting of tiny needle-sharp fangs meeting in the flesh of his throat, and Lora's passionate arms gripping him tightly, as she slaked her fearful, furious thirst.


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