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Fool Moon, Page 20

Jim Butcher

Chapter 21

  I rubbed at my eyes and mumbled some vague curse at whoever was following us. "Okay, okay. Give me a minute. "

  "Harry," Susan said. "I'm almost on empty. I don't know if we have a minute. "

  "It never rains," I moaned.

  Tera frowned at me. "It is raining now. " She turned to Susan. "I do not think he is coherent. "

  I snorted and looked around blearily. "It's a figure of speech. Hell's bells, you really don't know anything about humans, do you?

  "Are you sure there's someone following us?"

  Tera glanced back at the traffic behind us. "Two cars back. And three cars behind that one. Two vehicles are following us. "

  "How can you tell?" I asked.

  Tera turned those odd amber eyes back to me. "They move like predators. They move well. And I feel them. "

  I narrowed my eyes. "Feel them? On an instinctual level?"

  Tera shrugged. "I feel them," she repeated. "They are dangerous. "

  The taste of blood was still in my mouth, annoying input, like static on a phone. Of all the people who might be chasing me in cars, I could only think of a few who would trigger the supernatural senses of an inhuman being. I thought that it might be a pretty good idea to listen to what my dapper double had to say. "Susan," I said, "I want you to get off the expressway. "

  Her dark eyes flashed beneath the streetlights as she looked at me, then down at her fuel gauge. "I have to in the next couple of miles anyway. What do you want me to do?"

  "Pull off, and get to a gas station. "

  She flashed me another nervous look, and I had the time to note that she was gorgeous, like some sort of Latin goddess. Of course, I might have been a little less than entirely objective. "Then what?" she said.

  I checked my foot and idly took off my remaining boot, so that my hips would be parallel with the floor while I was standing. "Call the police. "

  "What?" Susan exclaimed and guided her car off the freeway and down an exit ramp.

  I felt around in the jumpsuit's tool pouch, until I came out with the little sports bottle with my second potion in it. "Just do it," I said. "Trust me on this one. "

  "Wizard," Tera said, her voice still utterly calm. "There is no one but you who can help my fianc¬®¬¶. "

  I shot Tera an annoyed glance. "I'll meet you where you hold your Cub Scout meetings. "

  "Harry?" Susan said. "What are you talking about?" She pulled the car down the exit ramp, onto a one-way access road.

  "I understand what you're doing," Tera said. "I would do the same for my mate. "

  "Mate?" Susan said indignantly. "Mate? I am most certainly not his - "

  I didn't get to hear the rest of what Susan said, because I grabbed my blasting rod in one hand, the potion in the other, opened the door to the car, unfastened my seat belt, and rolled out onto the shoulder of the road.

  I know, I know. It sounds really stupid in retrospect, even to me. But it made a sort of chivalrous, cockamamie sense at the time. I was pretty sure that Parker and his cronies in the Streetwolves were shadowing us, and I had a precise idea of how dangerous they could be. I had to assume that they were even worse during the full moon. Susan had no idea of the level of danger she was in, and if I stayed near her I would only draw her more deeply into it. And Tera - I still didn't trust Tera. I wasn't sure that I wanted her fighting at my back.

  I wanted to deal with my pursuers myself, to deal with my own mistake myself, and not to make an innocent bystander like Susan pay for it.

  So I, uh, sort of threw myself out of the passenger seat of a moving car.

  Don't look at me like that. I'm telling you, it made sense at the time.

  I held out my arms and legs in a circle, as though I were trying to hug a barrel, and then scrape, scrape, rip, bumpity-bumpity-bumpity, whip, whip, whip, and thud. Everything whirled around the whole while. I managed, somehow, to keep my sense of direction, to maintain my momentum largely in a roll, and to angle myself toward the dubious comfort of the thick weeds at the side of the access road. By the time I came to a stop, I was among freshly crushed plants, all damp and cold from the rain, the smell of mud and gas and asphalt and exhaust clogging up my nose.

  There was pain, pain everywhere, spreading out from my shoulder and my foot, whirling dizziness, blackness that rode on my eyelids and tried to force them down. I struggled to remember exactly what I had planned on doing when I had thrown open the door to Susan's car.

  It came to me in a moment, and I jerked the squeeze top of the sports bottle open with my teeth and then crushed the plastic bottle, forcing the potion inside it out through the narrow nozzle and into my mouth. Eight ounces of cold coffee, I thought, dimly. Yum.

  It tasted like stale cardboard and too-old pizza and burned coffee beans. But as it went down my gullet, I could feel the power in the brew spreading out into me, active and alive, as though I had swallowed a huge, hyperkinetic amoeba. My fatigue quite simply vanished, and energy came rushing into me, like it sometimes does at the end of a really good concerto or overture. The pain receded down to levels that I could manage. The soreness lifted out of my muscles, and my cloudy, cloggy thought processes cleared as though someone had flushed my synapses with jalapeno. My heart rate surged, and then held steady, and I came to the abrupt conclusion that things just weren't as bad as I had thought they were.

  I pushed myself up using my bad arm, just to spite the injury that Agent Benn had dealt me, and brushed myself off. My jumpsuit was torn and there was fresh blood on it, scrapes from the asphalt and darkening bruises on my arms and legs that I could already see - annoying little bastards. I held them in contempt.

  I shook my shield bracelet loose around my left wrist, took my blasting rod in my right hand, and turned toward the access road. I drew in a breath, smelling the odor of the rain on the asphalt, and more distantly the crisp, clean scent of autumn, almost buried by Chicago's stink. I considered how much I loved the autumn, and composed a brief poem about it as I watched traffic force Susan's car along and out of sight. I turned my head to view a pair of cars cut frantically across traffic and cruise down the access road. The lead car was a two-ton pickup, one of the really big ones, and Parker sat behind the wheel, looking around wildly until his eyes lit upon me, standing there in the tall weeds beside the road.

  I smiled at him and contemplated his shocked expression to my own satisfaction.

  Then I drew in a breath, and my renewed will with it, lifted the rod in my right hand, murmured a phrase in a language I didn't know, and blew the tires off his fucking truck.

  They all went at once, in one satisfying THUMP, complete blowouts resulting from a sudden heating of the air inside the tires - a pretty slick spell to pull on the fly, heating up the air inside of the tires of a moving vehicle. The truck slewed left and right, and I could see Parker frantically rolling the steering wheel in an effort to maintain control. Two people sat in the cab with him, faces I didn't recognize from here, and they evidently didn't believe in seat belts. They were tossed about the inside of the truck like toys. The truck careened off the road in a spray of gravel, went past me into the weeds, hit some sort of ditch, and went into a ponderous roll.

  There was an enormous crunching sound. Car wrecks, when they happen for real and not on television, are surprisingly noisy. They sound like someone pounding empty trash cans out of shape with a sledgehammer, only louder. Parker's truck tumbled over twice, crunched into the side of a hill, and lay on its passenger side.

  "Well then," I said with a certain amount of professional pride. "That should take care of that. "

  I spoke too soon. There was a brittle, grinding sound, and the windshield of the truck exploded into a hectic spiderweb pattern. The sound repeated itself, and the safety glass shattered outward, followed by a foot wearing a heavy black combat boot. More glass flew outward, and then people started crawling out of the pickup, battered and bloodied. Besides Parker, there was th
e lantern-jawed lout whose nose I had flattened a few days ago, his nose now swollen and grotesque, and the bloodthirsty woman who had led the group into their berserk fit of lust. They were all dressed in the same variants of denim and leather, and cuts and bruises from the tossing they'd had were much in evidence.

  Parker led them out of the truck, looked back at it, stunned - and then he looked at me. I saw fear flicker in his eyes, and it brought out a satisfied surge within my own pounding heart. Served him right, the jerk. I spun my rod around once in my fingers, started whistling a bit from the overture to Carmen, and walked toward them through the grass, annoyed that I was limping and that I was dressed in a ridiculous blue jumpsuit that left inches of my arms and legs bare.

  Flatnose saw me and grunted out some sort of Neanderthal noise of surprise. He drew a handgun from inside his jacket, and it looked tiny in his hands. Without preamble he started squeezing off shots at me.

  I lifted my left hand, forced more of my boundless energy through the shield bracelet, and sang a few phrases in what I supposed could have been taken for Italian to verbally encase the spell. I continued walking forward as bullets bounded off the shield before my hand in cascades of sparks, and I even had enough breath left over to keep on whistling Carmen.

  Parker snarled and slashed at Flatnose's wrist with the edge of his hand in a martial-arts-style movement. I heard a bone break, very clearly, but Flatnose only jerked his hand back toward his body and flashed Parker a scowl.

  "Remember why we're here," the shorter man said. "He's mine. "

  "Hello there, Mr. Parker," I called cheerfully. I suppose that the image I presented as I walked toward them would have been comic - except for all the blood, and the big smile I felt spreading over my face. It seemed to have a somewhat intimidating effect on the Streetwolves at any rate. The woman snarled at me, and for a second I could feel a wild, savage energy, the same that had surrounded the frenzying lycanthropes at the Full Moon Garage, starting to build in the air around me.

  I gave the bitch an annoyed look and slashed my hand at the air, drawling, "Disperdorus. " I forced out an effort of will I might have found daunting on another night, one when I was feeling a little less all-powerful, and the woman jerked back as though I had slapped her in the mouth. The energy she had been gathering fractured and flew apart as though it had never been. She stared at me, growing tense and nervous, and reached a hand toward a knife in a case at her hip.

  "Let's have none of that nonsense. As I was saying," I continued, "hello there, Mr. Parker. I know why you're here. Heard about the ruckus on a police scanner and came down by the station looking for me, right? Hate to disappoint you, but I'm not going to allow you to kill me. "

  Flatnose scowled and said, "How did you know th - "

  Parker shoved the heel of his hand across Flatnose's mouth in a sharp blow, and the big man shut up. "Mr. Dresden," Parker growled. He eyed me up and down. "What exactly makes you think you can stop me from killing you?"

  I had to smile at the man. I mean, you have to smile at idiots and children. "Oh, I don't know," I chuckled. "Maybe because the second you step out of line, I'm going to wreck you a whole hell of a lot worse than that truck. And because in just a couple of minutes, the police are going to be arriving to sort you out. " There was a momentary flash of dimness, where the streetlight seemed to fade, the rain to grow very cold, and then it was gone again. I blinked a little blood out of my eyes, and renewed my smile. Mustn't let the children see weakness.

  Parker snarled his thin lips into a smile. He had bad teeth. "The cops are after your ass too, Dresden," he said. "I don't believe you. "

  "Once they're here, I'm going to mysteriously disappear," I said. "Just like, well, gosh, magic. But you guys are . . . " I forgot what I had been going to say for a moment. There was something nagging at the back of my mind, a detail I had forgotten.

  "I can smell your blood, wizard," Parker said, very quietly. "God, you got no idea what it smells like. " Parker didn't move, but the woman let out a little mewling sound and pressed against Flatnose's side. Her eyes were focused intently on me.

  "Get a good whiff," I managed to say. "It's the last time you'll smell it. " But my smile was gone. A creeping vine of uncertainty was beginning to crack the wall of confidence I had been enjoying. The rain was getting colder, the lights dimmer. My extended left arm began to ache, starting at the wounded shoulder, and my hand shook visibly. Pain started leaking in again, from every part of my battered body.

  Sanity returned in a rush. The potion. The potion was giving out on me. I had pushed myself way too hard while the first euphoria was going over me. Dispelling the intimate aura of rage and lust that the woman had begun to gather over them had been a feat I would never have considered in a stable frame of mind. There were too many unknowns. My heart was laboring along now, and I started panting. I couldn't get enough breath to slow down my rocketing heartbeat.

  Parker and his two companions grew tense together, all at once, with no visible signal passing between them. I could feel that wild energy again, coursing down to the lycanthropes from beyond the rain clouds overhead. I swear to you, I could see the cuts on their body, from the crash, closing up before my eyes. Flatnose rolled the wrist that had just been broken, flexed his fingers at me, and gave me a grim smile.

  Okay, Harry, I told myself. Keep calm. Do not panic. All you have to do is to hold them here until the cops get here, and then you can bleed to death in peace. Or get to a doctor. Whichever hurts less.

  "You know, Parker," I said, and my voice had a fluttering quaver to it, a fast, desperate quality. "I didn't really mean to show up at your garage. Hell, I wouldn't have been there at all if Denton's goon hadn't turned me on to the idea. "

  "That doesn't matter now," Parker said. His voice had a quiet, certain tone to it, and he had visibly relaxed. He smiled at me, and showed me more of his teeth. "That's all in the past. " Then Parker took a step forward, and I panicked.

  I jammed the rod at him and snarled, "Fuego. " I funneled my will through it, and to hell with what the Council thought of me killing someone with magic.

  Nothing happened.

  I stared in disbelief, first at Parker, and then at the blasting rod. My fingers went numb as I looked at them, and the rune-engraved ash rod fell to the ground, though I tried a clumsy grab to catch it. Instead, my weight came down on my torn foot, and the ripped muscles went into a sudden cramp that sent fresh agony up through my leg. It buckled and pitched me forward into the weeds and the mud. The last wisps of my shield vanished as I fell. My magic had failed me altogether.

  Parker laughed, a low and nasty sound. "Nice trick. Got another?"

  "One more," I rasped, and fumbled at the jumpsuit's tool pouch. Parker walked slowly toward me, confident, relaxed, and moving like a man thirty years younger than he. My fingers were aching with cold, torn from the asphalt, numb from all the pain and scrapes and bruises. But the handle of my Chief's Special was easy enough to find.

  I drew it out, thumbed back the hammer, and pointed it up at Parker. His eyes widened and his weight settled back on his heels - not quite retreating, but not coming any closer, either. From three feet away, even down in the mud, it would be tough to miss him, and he knew it.

  "I didn't pick you for the kind to carry a gun," he said. The rain plastered his greasy hair down over his eyes.

  "Only on special occasions," I said back. I had to delay him. If I could hold him in place, just for a few minutes, the cops would show up. I had to believe that they would, because if they didn't I was dead meat. Maybe literally. "Stop where you are. "

  He didn't. He took a step toward me.

  So I shot him.

  The gun roared, and the bullet smacked into his right kneecap. It exploded in a burst of blood and flying chips of bone, and the leg went out from under him, hurling him to the muddy ground. He blinked once, surprised, but the pain he must have been feeling didn't seem t
o register. He scooted back a couple of feet and stared at me for a second, reassessing me.

  Parker then drew his legs beneath him, and ignoring his ruined knee, hunkered down on his heels and rested his elbows on his thighs as if we were old friends, keeping his hands in plain sight. "You're tougher than you look. We tried to catch you at your apartment, you know," he said, as though I hadn't just shot him. "But the cops were all over it. Police band said you'd gotten arrested, but I guess you got away. We paid the jailer to let us know when they rounded you up. " He grinned his snaggletoothed grin and looked almost friendly. "Hell, kid. We were hanging around in a bar two blocks from the station for almost two days, just hoping to be there when they brought you up the steps. Drive-by. " He pointed his finger at me in a bang-bang motion, and let his thumb fall forward.

  "Sorry to disappoint you," I mumbled. I was working hard not to give in to the shakes, the cold, or the darkness. I knew he was up to something, but there was too much to deal with - too much injury, too much exhaustion, too much blood on my hands. I squinted past him to see Flatnose and the woman still in the same spot, both of them watching me with the intent look of hungry animals.

  Parker chuckled. "And instead, everything goes to hell at the station. Gunshots, explosions, sounds like a war inside. Which was fun to watch. And then we see you stumbling out of the middle of it, right there in front of the cop station, with a cute little piece on either side helping you down the stairs. We just rolled out right after your ass. "

  "I hope you're insured. "

  Parker shrugged. "Truck wasn't mine. " He plucked up a long blade of grass and traced it over the ruin of his knee, painting it red with his blood before crushing it up in his fingers. "Most of my people are out by the lake tonight. They got to let off some steam during the full moon. Damn, but I want to take you out right there in front of all of them. You got a real badass reputation, kid. "

  "Can't have everything you want," I said. I blinked rain, or blood, from my eyes.

  Parker's smile widened. "You know, kid. I think there's something you don't know. "

  In the distance, I could hear the sound of sirens speeding down the freeway toward me. Hot damn, I thought. I finally did something right. "Oh yeah?" I asked, daring to feel a satisfied thrill of victory.

  Parker nodded and looked off to one side. "There were two cars behind you. "

  And something smashed down on my right hand, making it go numb, and sending the gun to earth. I looked up and had time to see another of the lycanthropes from the garage lift a lead pipe wrapped in electrical tape, and bring it down hard at me. The woman screamed and rushed toward me. She had steel-toed boots. Flatnose lumbered after her, and was content to use the barrel of his pistol as a dumb club.

  Parker just sat there, squatting on his heels, and watched them. I could see his eyes. My blood spattered onto his cheek.

  I don't like thinking about what they did. They didn't want to kill me. They wanted to hurt me. And they were good at it. I couldn't fight. I couldn't even curl up into a ball. There wasn't that much spirit left in me. I could hear myself making choking sounds, gagging on my own blood, sobbing and retching in pathetic agony. I would have screamed if I could have. You hear stories about men who keep silent through all the torture and agony that anyone inflicts on them, but I'm just not that strong. They broke me.

  At some point, the mind says "no more" and it gets the hell away from all that pain. I started going there, to that away-place, and I wasn't sorry to do it at all.

  I could dimly hear Parker shoving people off of me, once I stopped moving. He broke a few more of their bones, and they backed off with snarls of rage. He was walking on the leg again already, though my shot must have torn the joint to pieces. At his orders, they picked me up and carried me to another car, just lugged me along like a sack of broken parts. Duct tape went around my wrists and ankles, knees and elbows and mouth. Then they threw me in the trunk.

  Parker reached up to close the lid. I didn't have enough energy to move my eyes. I just stared out, letting them focus wherever they would.

  I saw a face behind the wheel of a car going past on the access road - just a sedan, something that would blend in with all the other cars in the city. The face was young, strained, sprinkled with freckles, the hair red, the ears big.

  Roger Harris, FBI. Denton's redheaded lackey.

  The sedan rolled by without even slowing, and Harris didn't look over at me, didn't break his surveillance. I wasn't the only one, it seemed, who was being followed that night.

  Parker slammed shut the trunk, leaving me in darkness. The car started going just as the sirens began to arrive at the access road. My captors' car bounced along and made a casual getaway, leaving me in an agony more thorough, sickening, and acute than any I had felt before.

  And, behind the gag, I started laughing. I couldn't help it. I laughed, and it sounded like I was choking on raw sewage.

  The pieces had all fallen into place.