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Fool Moon, Page 13

Jim Butcher

Chapter 14

  I woke up someplace dark and warm. But then I opened my eyes, and it wasn't dark anymore. Just dim.

  I was in a hotel room, a cheap one, lying on my back in a double bed. Heavy curtains were drawn, but cheap curtain rods sagged in the middle and let light in from outside. I felt that I had been lying there for a while. I took a deep breath and it made my shoulder begin a dull, pounding throb. I moaned, before I could think to keep quiet. I'm not a wimp; it just hurt that bad. My throat was parched, my lips chapped.

  I turned my head, which made my jaw ache where Murphy had socked me. My left shoulder was covered in thick, white bandages and wrapped firmly in tape. It looked clean and neat, except for the bruises that I could see spreading out toward my chest and down my arm from beneath the bandages. As a side note, I noticed that I was naked, and the list of candidates for who could have undressed me was awfully short.

  Beyond my shoulder, on the nightstand beside the bed, was a pile of miscellany. A book entitled SAS Survival Manual lay open to a page with several black and white illustrations of bandaging techniques. Beside it were some empty cardboard boxes whose labels declared them to have once contained cotton gauze wrapping, medical tape, that sort of thing. A brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide lay on its side atop a hacksaw with a nicked blade. A paper sack sat on the floor beside the bed, its top folded closed.

  I moved my right hand up to rub at my aching head. One bracelet of Murphy's handcuffs hung around my wrist, the chain swinging from the base of the bracelet, where it had apparently been severed by the hacksaw. The other bracelet was down on my left wrist. I could feel it as a dull, throbbing band around the lower part of my arm.

  I did my best not to move too much, but the pain didn't go away. After a few minutes, I decided that my wound wasn't going to start hurting any less, so I sat up. Slowly. Rising wasn't too much more trouble, though my legs shook a little. I made it to the bathroom and made use of the facilities, then splashed water on my face with my right hand.

  This time, she didn't surprise me. I heard her move out of the darkness of the back corner of the room. I glanced up into Tera West's amber-colored eyes in the mirror and said, "Tell me I didn't get lucky last night. "

  Her expression never blinked, as though the insinuation had flown past her. She was still dressed in the same clothes and still held herself with the same relaxed composure she had always displayed. "You were very lucky," she said. "The bullet went through the muscle and missed the bone and the artery. You will live. "

  I scowled. "I don't feel so lucky. "

  Tera shrugged. "Pain is to be endured. It ends or it does not. " I saw her consider my back, and then lower portions. "You are in reasonably good condition. You should be able to withstand it. "

  I felt a hot rush of blood to my face, and I fumbled for a towel and awkwardly slung it around my hips. "Are you the one who bandaged me? And, uh . . . " I made a vague gesture with the fingers of the hand that was holding the towel and preserving my modesty.

  She nodded. "I am. And I have procured clothing for you that is not soaked in blood. You must dress, so that we may help my fianc¨¦. "

  I turned to face her, and tried out my best glower. She didn't twitch an eyebrow. "What time is it?"

  She shrugged. "Late afternoon. The sun will set soon, and the moon will rise soon after. We have no time to waste if we are to reach him before the change. "

  "Do you know where he is?"

  She shrugged again. "I know him. "

  I let out a breath and slowly walked past her. I went to the paper bag on the floor next to the bed. Inside it, I found a pair of enormous purplish sweatpants and a white T-shirt with Old Glory flying on it in rippling, metallic colors, subtitled: INVEST IN AMERICA - BUY A CONGRESSMAN. I wrinkled up my nose at the sweatpants, liked the shirt, and fumbled myself into the clothing, ripping off price tags as I went.

  "Where are we?" I asked.

  "A hotel in East Chicago," she said.

  I nodded. "How did you pay for it?"

  "I used cash. MacFinn told me that the police can track the plastic cards. "

  I squinted at her. "Yeah. They can. " I rubbed a hand over my head and went to the mirror again to study myself. I was walking more easily now - the pain wasn't any less, but I was beginning to get more used to it. "Do you have any ibuprofen, anything like that?"

  "Drugs," she said. "No. " She picked up a set of rental-car keys and turned toward the door.

  "Stop," I told her. She turned to me, her eyes narrowed.

  "We are going now," she said.

  "We are not going," I replied, "until I have a few answers. "

  Her eyebrows furrowed, and she glared at me. Then she turned and walked out of the room, letting in a brief flood of orange-tinted sunlight before the door slammed behind her.

  I considered the door for a moment. Then I sat down on the bed and waited.

  Perhaps three minutes passed. Then she reappeared. "Now," she said, "we will leave. "

  I shook my head. "I told you no. Not until I get some answers. "

  "MacFinn will answer your questions," Tera told me. "Now, you must leave this place. "

  I snorted and folded my arms over my chest. My shoulder took fire and I wobbled on the bed before I lowered my left arm again. I left the right one folded across my chest, but it just didn't have the same effect. "Where is MacFinn? Why did he kill Marcone's business partner and his bodyguard? Or did he kill them at all?"

  "You will leave this pl - " Tera began.

  "Who are you? Why did the pair of you mess up the first circle, the one in your basement? How did you know Kim Delaney?"

  Tera West snarled and seized me by the front of my shirt. "You will leave this place now," she said, glaring into my eyes.

  "Why should I?" I snarled, and for once I didn't avert my eyes. I stared into her gleaming amber eyes and braced myself for the impact of looking into her soul, and for her to peer into mine.

  Instead, nothing happened.

  That, in itself, was enough to make my jaw drop incredulously. I continued the stare, and she didn't blink, didn't turn away - and didn't fall into soulgaze with me. I shuddered in reaction. What was going on? Why didn't the 'gaze begin? There were only two kinds of people whose eyes I could meet for more than a second or two: the people who had already met my eyes in a soulgaze were one kind; inhuman beings from the Nevernever were the other.

  I had never looked upon Tera West's soul before. I remembered a soulgaze, every time it happened. The experience wasn't the sort of thing you could forget. That only left one conclusion.

  Whoever she was - whatever she was, Tera West wasn't human.

  "We will leave now," she growled.

  I felt a surge of defiant grumpiness course through me. "Why should I?" I whispered back.

  "Because I have called the police and told them that you are here, that you are acting irrational and dangerous, and that you possess a weapon. They will be here momentarily. I think that the police might be feeling threatened, given all the recent deaths. They will be likely to shoot you rather than take chances. " She let go of my shirt with a little push, and stalked out of the room.

  I sat on the bed for about five seconds. Then I rose and hobbled after her, taking time to snatch my duster from where it was draped over a chair. There were holes in the upper left arm, one in the front of the sleeve, one in the back, and it was crusty with dried blood that didn't much show against the black canvas. It was disgusting, but hey, it was mine. The boots and socks I had been wearing last night were next to it, and I snagged them, too.

  Outside, it was late afternoon. The streets and highways would soon be crowded with commuters going home from work. Tera had rented a beat-up old car, probably from an independent rental business, rather than from one of the major chains - good move on her part. It would draw things out while the police methodically went through agency after agency, looking for someone of he
r description, and they always started with the big places first.

  I studied her as she got in the car. She was tall and lean and pretty in a knife-edge sort of way. Her eyes moved around constantly - not nervously or randomly, but with the cool precision of someone making herself aware of everything surrounding her at all times. Her hands were scarred, long-fingered, and strong. The bruise on her head, where I had smacked her with my blasting rod the night before (no, two nights before; I had lost a day sleeping in the hotel room) was probably hurting like hell, but she didn't seem to notice it.

  She drove us out onto the streets of East Chicago, one of the distant suburbs of the big city, down at the south end of Lake Michigan, finally turning off into a quiet drive beside a sign that read WOLF LAKE PARK.

  Tera West made me nervous. She had appeared from nowhere to save me from the back of a police car, true, but what were her intentions? Was she really trying to help her fianc¨¦ keep from falling victim to his family curse again? Or were the two of them working together to remove anyone who could rebuild the magical circle that could contain MacFinn and render him harmless? That would make sense, given that once Kim Delaney was dead, they came after me.

  On the other hand, that didn't fit with a lot of the other facts. MacFinn, if he was truly a loup-garou, changed into a beast only during the nights of the full moon. At least half a dozen people had been killed when the moon was waxing full, but not yet all the way there, or after it had been full for three nights already and was waning back toward half full again.

  And Tera West wasn't a werewolf. A werewolf was a human being who used magic to turn into a wolf. She had looked upon my eyes and not been drawn in. Therefore, she wasn't a human being.

  Could she be some kind of shapeshifter from the Nevernever? MacFinn's partner in crime, killing on the off nights to keep suspicion from falling on him? Some sort of being with which I was unfamiliar? Most of my background on the paranormal was Western European in origin. I should have been reading more books on Native American beliefs, South American spooks and haunts, African legend, East Asian folklore - but it was a little late for such regrets. If Tera West was a monster, and wanted me dead, she could have killed me already - and she surely would not have bothered to clean and dress my injury.

  Of course, that begged the question: What did she really want?

  And that question led the way to many more. Who were the young people I had seen her with that first evening? What was she doing with them? Did she have some kind of cult of followers, like vampires sometimes built up? Or was it something else entirely?

  Tera pulled over onto a little gravel lane, drove a quarter mile up it, and pulled off into the weeds. "Get out," she said. "He will be here, somewhere. "

  The bouncing car ride had come to an end, mercifully, and the sun was still solidly above the horizon, with moonrise not for at least an hour after sunset. So I ignored the pain and pushed my way out of the car, to follow her into the woods.

  It was darker underneath the ancient oaks and sycamores, and quiet. Birdsong came to us, but from far away, as though the birds were choosing the better part of valor in remaining where the sun could still touch the tree branches. The wind sighed through the woods, sending leaves spinning down in all shades of gold and orange and russet, adding to the thick, crunchy carpeting under our feet. Our steps sounded out distinctly as we moved ahead through the leaves, and the cool wind made me grateful that I had thought to drape my duster over my shoulders.

  I studied the usually quiet Tera. She was walking with exaggerated motions, planting her feet down solidly with each step, as though intentionally trying to make noise. Once or twice, she stepped out of her way to tread on a branch, snapping it with a dry popping sound. I was too tired and sore to go to any such effort. I just walked, and it made more noise than she did. Who says I can't do anything right?

  We hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards when Tera abruptly tensed, crouching, her eyes scanning all around. There was a whistling sound, and then a bent sapling jerked upright, dragging a noose around Tera's ankles and hauling her across the rock- and leaf-covered floor of the woods with a yelp of surprise.

  I blinked at her, and then something came up out of the leaves, rose right up like Hamlet's dad from the stage floor. But instead of bemoaning his fate and charging me with avenging him, he slugged me across the jaw (on the same side of my face that already sported dark purple bruises) and sent me spinning to the ground, stunned.

  I landed badly, but on my unwounded side, and rolled out of the way as a muddy, naked foot stomped down at my head. I grabbed on to it and jerked with more desperation than strength, and the foot's owner fell down beside me. Instead of being slowed, he slapped his arms at the ground as he hit it, in much the same way Murphy did when practicing falls. Then he rolled as I struggled to my hands and knees, and slid a hard, strong forearm beneath my throat, locking it there with the other hand and pressing back against my windpipe.

  "Got you. I got you," snarled my attacker. I struggled against him, but he was bigger than me, stronger than me. He had me down, and he hadn't been shot or beaten up anywhere near as often as I had in the last fifteen hours or so.

  I didn't stand a chance.