Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Fool Moon, Page 16

Jim Butcher

Chapter 17

  Ever wish you had an almanac?

  I did, that night. I had no idea what time the moon was supposed to rise, and I hadn't exactly had time to run to the library or a bookstore. I knew that it was supposed to happen an hour or so after sundown, but the way the clouds rolled in had made it uncertain exactly when sundown had happened. Did I have twenty minutes? Ten? An hour?

  Or was I already too late?

  As I climbed the stairs, I thought about being alone in the building with MacFinn after he had changed. For all my vaunted wizard's knowledge, I had no real idea of his capabilities; although after seeing Kim's body, I had something of an idea of what he could do. Bob had said that loup-garou were fast, strong, virtually immune to magic. What could I do against something like that?

  I just had to pray that I would be able to get the circle up around MacFinn before I had to find out. I checked the bucket, to make sure I still had the chalk and the stones I would need to construct the greater circle around MacFinn. You didn't necessarily have to make them out of silver and gold and whatnot. Mostly, you just had to understand how the construct channeled the forces that were being employed. If you knew that, you could figure out how to make it out of less pure materials. The very best wizards don't need much more than chalk, table salt, and a wooden spoon to pull off some remarkable stuff.

  My thoughts were rambling now, panic making them scamper around like a frightened chipmunk. That was bad. I needed focus, direction, concentration. I drove my legs a little harder, went up the stairs as fast as I dared, until I came out on the fifth floor. The door to Special Investigations was ten feet away down the hall. The holding cells were down the hall and around the corner, and I started that way at once.

  "What do you mean, you can't find him?" Murphy's voice demanded as I walked past the office door.

  "Just that. The men on his apartment said that they kept a real good eye on the place, but that he got in and out again without them seeing anything. " Carmichael's voice was tired, frustrated.

  Murphy snorted. "Christ, Carmichael. Is Dresden going to have to walk right into the office before you can find him?"

  I hurried on past the door and down the hall. Tempting as it was to listen to a conversation about myself without the participants knowing, I just didn't have time. I wheeled my wobbling, squeaking bucket down the hall, half jogging in my hurry.

  Holding was set up, unsurprisingly, behind bars. There was a swinging barred door that the station guard had to buzz to open, if you didn't have the key. Beyond that was a sort of antechamber with a couple of wooden chairs and not much else besides a counter with a window made of bullet-proof glass. The jailer sat behind the glass at his desk, his expression baggy eyed and bored. Past the jailer's window was another door, made of steel with a tiny little window, which led into the row of cells. The jailer had the controls to that door at his desk as well.

  I went to the first barred door, kept my head down, and rapped on the metal slats. I waited for a while, but nothing happened, so I rapped on the bars again. It occurred to me that it would add a nice touch of irony if the same blending potion that got me into the building also kept me from being noticed by the jailer and let inside. I rapped on the bars again, harder this time, with the shaft of my wooden "mop. "

  It took some determined rapping to get him to look up from his magazine, but he finally did, and peered at me through thick glasses. His colors swirled and gained a bit of tint before settling back toward grey. He frowned at me, glanced back at a calendar on the wall, and then pushed the button.

  The barred door buzzed and I shoved it open with my bucket, wheeling inside with my head down. "You're early this week," the jailer said, his eyes back on the magazine.

  "Out of town on Friday. Trying to get done sooner," I replied. I kept my voice in a monotone, as grey and boring as I could manage. To my surprise, it came out as I intended it. I'm usually not much of a liar or an actor, so the potion must have been helping me on some subtle and devious level. One thing I'll say for Bob: He's annoying as hell, but he knows his stuff.

  "Whatever. Sign here," the jailer said in a bored tone, and shoved a clipboard and a pen at me through a slot at the base of the Plexiglas window. He turned a page in his magazine, showing me a picture of an athletic-looking young woman doing something anatomically improbable with an equally improbable young man.

  I hesitated. How in the hell was I supposed to sign in and out? I mean, Bob's potion may have been good, but it wasn't going to change a signature after I'd put it on the paper. I glanced at the inner door, and then at the clock on the wall. To hell with it. I didn't have time to hang around. I went over to the counter and scribbled something unreadable on the admissions sheet.

  "Have any trouble tonight?" I asked.

  The jailer snorted, turning his magazine to the right by ninety degrees. "Just that rich guy they brought in earlier. He was yelling for a while, but he's shut up now. Probably coming down off of whatever he was on. " He collected the clipboard, gave it a perfunctory glance, and hung it back up on its peg beside a bank of black-and-white monitors.

  I leaned closer to the monitors, sweeping my eyes over them. Each was apparently receiving a signal from a security camera, because each one of them displayed a scene that was exactly the same except for the actors in it - a small cell, maybe eight feet by eight, with bars serving as one wall, smooth concrete for the other three, a bunk, a toilet, and a single door. Maybe two thirds of the monitors had a strip of masking tape stuck to the lower right-hand corner of the screen, with a name, like HANSON or WASHINGTON, written in black marker. I frantically scanned the bank of monitors until, in the lower corner, I found the one that said MACFINN. I looked at his monitor. The video was blurred, flecked with snow and static, but I could see well enough what had happened.

  The cell was empty.

  Concrete dust drifted in the air. The wall of bars was missing, apparently torn from the concrete and allowed to fall away. I could see the scraps of MacFinn's denim shorts lying on the floor of the cell.

  "Hell's bells," I swore softly. There was a flicker of motion on another monitor, the one next to MacFinn's. The tape at the bottom of the screen read MATSON, and a starved-looking, unshaven man in a sleeveless white undershirt and blue jeans could be seen curled up on the bunk, his back pressed to the rear corner of the cell. His mouth was open and his chest straining, as though he was screaming, but I could hear nothing through the thick security door and the concrete walls. There was a flicker of motion, a huge and furry shape on the camera, out of focus, and Matson threw up his skinny arms to protect himself as something huge and quick shoved its way between the bars, like a big dog going through a rotten picket fence, and engulfed him.

  There was a burst of static and violent motion, and then a spattering of black on the grey walls and floor of the cell, as though someone had shaken up a cola and sprayed the walls with it. Then the huge form was gone, and left behind was a ragged, quivering doll of torn flesh and blood-soaked clothing. Matson stared up at the security camera, his dying eyes pleading with mine - and then he jerked once and was gone.

  The entire thing had taken perhaps three or four seconds.

  My eyes swept over the other security monitors as a sick sort of fascination settled over me. Prisoners were straining to the front of their cells, shouting things out, trying to get enough of a look to see what was going on. I realized that they couldn't see what was happening - they could only hear. They wouldn't be able to look out and see the transformed MacFinn until he was at the bars of their cell.

  Fear, sick and horrible and debilitating, swam over me and tangled up my tongue. The creature had gone through the bars of the cell as though they'd been made of cheap plastic, and it had killed without mercy. I stared at Matson's dead eyes, at the ruined mess of what had been his guts, at the detached pieces of meat and bone that had once been his right arm and leg.

  Stars above, Harry, I thou
ght to myself. What the hell are you doing in the same building with that thing?

  On another monitor, there was a replay of what had happened seconds before, and an aging black man named CLEMENT went down beneath the creature, screaming as he died. Seeing what was happening set off some primal, ancient fear, something programmed into my head, a fear of being found in my hiding place, of being trapped in a tiny space from which there was no escape while something with killing teeth and crushing jaws came in to eat me. That same primitive, naked part of me screamed and gibbered and shouted at my rational mind to turn around right now, to turn around and run, fast and far.

  But I couldn't let it go on. I had to do something.

  "Look," I said and pointed at the monitor. My finger trembled, and my voice came out as a ghost of a whisper. I tried again, jabbing my finger at the monitors and half shouting, "Look!" at the jailer.

  He glanced up at me, tilted his head, and frowned. I saw some colors start to bleed into his face, but that didn't matter now. I continued to point at the monitors and tried to step closer to them. "Look, look at the screens, my God, man!" By now my voice was coming out in a high, panicky tone. I pressed as close to the monitors as I could, yelling, excited.

  I should have known better, of course. Wizards and technology simply do not mix - especially when the wizard's heart is pounding like the floor of a basketball court and his guts are shaking. The monitors burst into frantic displays of static and snow, flickering images sometimes visible, sometimes not.

  The guard gave me a disgusted look and turned around to glance at the monitors. He blinked at them for a second, while a man named MURDOCH died in flickering, poor reception.

  "What the hell is wrong with those things now?" the jailer complained, and took off his glasses to clean them. "There's always something going wrong with the damn cameras. I swear, it isn't worth the money they cost to keep on fixing them. "

  I frantically backed up from the monitors. "They're dying," I said. "God, you've got to let those men out of there before it kills them. "

  The man nodded. "Uh-huh. Tell me about it. Just goes to show you how smart the city is, right?" I stared at him for a second, and he put his glasses back on to give me a polite, bored smile. His colors had gone back to black and white, and I must have looked like a dull, humdrum old janitor to him once again. The potion had blended my words into something that the guard's brain would accept without comment, and let pass, just boring, everyday conversation like you have with people ninety percent of the time. The potion was fantastic. Way, way too good.

  "Look at the monitors," I screamed in frustration and fear. "He's killing them!"

  "The monitors won't stop you doing your job," the guard assured me. "I'll just buzz you in. " And with that, he pressed a button somewhere behind the Plexiglas window, and the security door that led into the hallway of cells made a humming sound, clicked, and swung three or four inches open.

  Screams poured out of the cells, high sounds that you wouldn't think could come from a man's throat, panicked and terrified. There was a horrible, wrenching sound, a screech of protesting metal, and one of the screams peaked at a shivering, violent point - then dissolved into a strangled mishmash of sounds, of tearing and snapping and popping, of gurgling and thudding. And when they were finished, something, something big, with a cavernous, resonating chest, snarled from not ten feet beyond the security door.

  I shot a glance to the guard, who had stumbled to his feet and was grabbing for his gun. He headed out of his station, opening a door that led into the antechamber, presumably to investigate.

  "No!" I shouted at him, and threw myself at the security door. I sensed, rather than saw, something else, on the other side of the wall, heading for the exit. I could hear its breath, feel its massive motion through the air, and I hurled my shoulder against the door, slamming it forward, just as something huge and strong thrust a paw through the doorway. The edge of the steel security door slammed forward onto the paw, a member that was neither wholly a paw nor a hand, but somewhere in between, tipped with huge black claws, and drenched in wet, dark, blood. I heard the creature on the far side of the door, only three inches of steel away, snarl in a fury and hatred so pure as to be painful to hear.

  Then it started shoving at the door.

  The first shove was tentative, but though I strained with all my strength, it still slapped me back a foot across the floor, my boots slipping on the tile. That paw-hand turned, and the talons sank into the steel door in a sudden, snapping motion as the thing took hold of it and started wrenching it back and forth in berserk anger.

  "Help me!" I shouted at the guard, struggling to force the door closed. The jailer blinked at me for a second, then flooded with color.

  "You!" he said. "My God. What is happening?"

  "Help me close this door or we're both dead," I snarled, continuing to push forward with every ounce of strength I could summon. On the far side of the door, the loup-garou gathered its weight and hurled itself against the door again just as the guard rushed forward to help me.

  The door exploded inward, throwing me back like a doll, past the guard, who stumbled back through the door that led behind the counter where he'd been sitting and fell to the ground. My upper back hit the barred door that led out into the hallway, eliciting an instant flash of hot agony from my wounded shoulder.

  There was a snarl, and then the creature that had been Harley MacFinn came through the doorway. The loup-garou was a wolf, in the same way that a velociraptor is a bird - same basic design, vastly different outcome. It must have been five or five and a half feet tall at the tip of its hunched shoulders. It was wider than a wolf, as though a wolf had been squashed down with an extra five or six hundred pounds of muscle. Its pelt was shaggy, jet-black and matte, except where fresh blood was making it glisten. Its ears were ragged, upright, focused forward. It had a muzzle that was too wide to belong to anything natural, a mouthful of teeth, and MacFinn's blazing eyes done in monochrome grey, the whole stained with blood that looked black beneath the influence of the blending potion. Its limbs were disproportionate, though I couldn't say whether they looked too long or too short - just wrong. Everything about it was wrong, screamed with malice and hate and anger, and it carried a cloak of supernatural power with it that made my teeth hurt and my hair stand on end.

  The loup-garou came through the door, swept its monochrome gaze past me, then turned to its left with unholy grace and flung itself at the jailer.

  The man got lucky. He looked up and saw the creature as he was regaining his feet, then convulsed in a spastic reaction to the sight of the fanged horror. The reaction threw him a few inches out of the loup-garou's path. He scrambled back, behind the counter and out of my sight.

  The loup-garou turned to pursue the jailer behind the counter, slowed because it had to shoulder its way between the counter and the wall, making the counter buckle outward into the room. The jailer got to his feet, gun in hand, took a creditable shooting stance, and emptied the pistol's clip into the loup-garou's skull in the space of maybe three seconds, filling the little antechamber with the sound of thunder and drowning out the cries of the prisoners in their cells in the hall beyond.

  The monster kept coming. The bullets bothered it no more than a fly ramming the forehead of a professional wrestler. It rose up as the guard screamed, "No, no, no, nonononononono!" And then it fell upon him, claws and fangs slashing. The jailer tried to turn, to run where there was no place left to go, and the thing turned its head and sank its jaws into the small of the man's back, releasing a spray of blood. The jailer screamed and grabbed frantically at the console, but the loup-garou shook its head violently from left to right, tore him from the console, and hurled him to the floor behind the counter.

  I didn't see the guard die. But I saw the way the blood flew up over the hunched, gnarled shoulders of the loup-garou, to decorate the walls and the ceiling. I felt silently grateful when the bent and
warping panes of Plexiglas became obscured with scarlet.

  It was sometime right around then, as paralyzing agony seared through my shoulder and terrified prisoners screamed and cried out to God or Allah to save them that I noticed that a new noise had been added to the din. The guard had tipped off the alarm when he had scrambled at the console, and it was hooting enthusiastically. Cops were going to come running, and one of the first was going to be Murphy.

  The loup-garou was still savaging the jailer's body, and I hoped for his sake that the man wasn't still alive. My best option would have been to slip into the cell block, close the security door behind me, and hope the creature went out into the building at large. Within the cell block, I would have time to put up a warding barrier, something that would keep the monster from coming through the door or the walls to get at me and the prisoners in there. I could fort up there, wait for morning, and live through the night, almost certainly. It was the smart thing to do. It was the survivable thing to do.

  Instead, I turned to my staff, at the other side of the little room, and held forth my hand. "Vento servitas," I hissed, forcing out tightly focused will, and a sudden current of air simultaneously threw my staff to me and slammed shut the door to the cells, giving the trapped prisoners what little protection it offered. I caught the staff in my outstretched hand and turned to the barred gate that held me shut in the antechamber with the loup-garou.

  I thrust my staff in between the bars and leaned against it as though to pry the bars apart. Had it been only wood and muscle involved, I might have snapped the ancient ash. But a wizard's staff is a tool that helps him to apply forces, to manipulate them and maneuver them to his will. So I leaned my will and my concentration on the staff at the same time I did my body, and worked on multiplying the force I was applying to the steel bars.

  "Forzare," I hissed. "Forzare. " The metal began to strain and buckle.

  Behind me, the loup-garou started thrashing around. I heard the shattering of Plexiglas and shot it a look over my shoulder. The scant protection offered by the potion collapsed, colors flooding my vision. The black of its muzzle warmed to a scarlet-smeared wash of dark brown, stained with wet scarlet. Its fangs were ivory and crimson. Its eyes became a brilliant shade of green. It cut through the blending potion with the ferocity of its stare, and focused on me with an intensity that sent every instinct in my body screaming that death was here, that it was about to jump down my throat and rip me inside out.

  "Forzare!" I shouted, shoving against the staff with every ounce of strength I had. The bars bowed out in the middle, parted to an opening perhaps a foot wide and twice as long. The counter exploded outward as the loup-garou came through it, showering me with debris and minor, painful cuts.

  I dove through the opening, heedless of my shoulder, conscious only of the beast closing in behind me. My body sailed through with more grace than I could have managed under less panicked circumstances, almost as though the rush of air moving before the charging creature had helped lift me through. And then something closed on my left foot, and I simply lost all sensation in it.

  I fell short, to the floor, bumping my chin hard enough to draw blood from the corner of my tongue. I looked over my shoulder to see the loup-garou with one of my boots held in its jaws, its broad head shoved through the opening in the bars and caught there. It was shaking its body back and forth, but its paws were smeared with scarlet blood, and its feet slipped left and right on the tile floor. Incredible strength or no, it couldn't get the leverage it needed to tear the bars apart like tissues.

  I heard myself making desperate animal sounds, struggling in a panic, writhing. The alarm was howling all around me now, and I could hear shouts and running footsteps. Dust was falling down around the edges of the bars, and I could see that the loup-garou was slowly tearing them from their mountings in the floor and ceiling, despite its bad footing.

  I twisted my foot left and right, horrid images of simply losing it at the ankle flashing in my mind, and then abruptly shot forward several feet along the floor. I glanced down at my leg and saw a bloodstained sock before I scrambled up and started running for my staff.

  Behind me, the loup-garou howled in frustration and began to throw itself about. It must have scraped enough of the blood off of its paws, because it then tore through the wall of bars in two seconds flat and rushed after me.

  I took up my staff and spun to face the creature, planting my feet on the floor, holding the ash wood before me. "Tornarius!" I thundered, thrusting my staff upward, and the thing threw itself at me in a rush of power and mass.

  My aim was to reflect the loup-garou's own power and momentum back against it, force equals mass times acceleration, et cetera, but I had underestimated just how much power the thing had. It overloaded my limits and we split the difference. The creature slammed against a solid force in the air that canceled its momentum and flung it to the floor.

  Approximately equal force was also applied to me - but I was probably a fifth of the mass of the loup-garou. I was flung back through the air like a piece of popcorn in a sudden wind, all the way to where the hall turned the corner to lead down to Special Investigations. I hit the floor before I hit the wall, thankfully, bounced, rolled, and slapped into the wall at last, grateful to be at a stop and aching all over. I had lost my staff in the tumble. The tile floor was cool against my cheek.

  I watched the loup-garou recover itself, focus its burning eyes on me, and hurtle down the hallway. I was in so much pain that I could appreciate the pure beauty of it, the savage, unearthly grace and speed with which it moved. It was a perfect hunter, a perfect killer, fast and strong, relentless and deadly. It was no wonder that I had lost to such a magnificently dangerous being. I hated to go, but at least I hadn't gotten beaten by some scabby troll or whining, angst-ridden vampire. And I wasn't going to turn away from it, either.

  I drew in what was to be my last breath, my eyes wide on the onrushing loup-garou.

  So I could clearly see as Murphy looked down at me with crystal-blue eyes that saw right through the potion's remaining effects. She gave me a hard glance and placed herself between me and the onrushing monster in a shooter's stance, raising up her gun in a futile gesture of protection.

  "Murphy!" I screamed.

  And then the thing was on us.