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Fool Moon, Page 22

Jim Butcher

Chapter 23

  I clenched my teeth and kicked my legs. The duct tape around my ankles gave way, but it was too late to do me any good. I didn't have time to get my weight beneath me, to run, but I made the gesture in any case. Just one of those things you do when you're about to die, I guess.

  "Mr. Hendricks," came a very hard, very calm voice. "If Mr. Parker does not put down the tire iron in the next second or two, please shoot him dead. "

  "Yes sir, Mr. Marcone," Hendricks's rumbling basso answered. I looked over to my right, to see Gentleman Johnny Marcone standing at the door in a grey Italian business suit. Hendricks stood in front of him and a bit to one side, in a much cheaper suit, holding a pump-action shotgun with a short barrel, its stock worked into a pistol grip, in his meaty paws. The gaping black mouth of the barrel was leveled at Parker's head.

  Parker's face snapped around to focus on Marcone at the same time as mine did. Parker's jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed to furious slits. His weight shifted from one foot to the other, as though he were preparing to throw the tire iron.

  "That's a twelve-gauge riot gun, Mr. Parker," Marcone said. "I'm fully aware of your rather special endurance at this time of the month. Mr. Hendricks's weapon is loaded with solid-slug ammunition, and after several rounds have torn literal pounds of flesh from your body and ruptured the majority of your internal organs, I am reasonably certain that even you would perish. " Marcone smiled, very politely, while Hendricks clicked the safety off of the weapon and settled his feet as though he expected firing the gun to knock him down. "Please," Marcone said. "Put down the tire iron. "

  Parker glanced back at me, and I could see the beast raging in his eyes, wanting to howl out and bathe in blood. It terrified me, made me go cold, right through my gut and down through my loins. There was more fury and rage there than any of the other members of the Streetwolves had demonstrated. Their own berserk losses of control had looked like a child's tantrum next to what I saw in Parker's eyes.

  But he controlled it. He lowered his arm, slowly, and took two steps back from me, and I felt my breath whisper out in a sigh of relief. I wasn't dead. Yet. My kick hadn't quite dragged the blanket off of me, and I was still settled with my back against the steel post. They didn't know that I was loose underneath the rough wool. It wasn't much of an advantage, but it was all I had. I needed to find a way to use it, and fast.

  "My people are coming," Parker growled. "If you try more of that heavy-handed shit, I'll have you torn apart. "

  "They are coming," Marcone agreed placidly. "But they are not yet here. Their motorcycles have all suffered flat tires, quite mysteriously. We have time to do business. " I heard his shoes cross the concrete floor toward me, and I looked up at him. Marcone met my eyes without fear, a man in his mature prime, his hair immaculately greying at the temples, his custom-made suit displaying a body kept fit in spite of the advancing years. His eyes were the faded green of dollar bills and as opaque as mirrors.

  "Hi, John," I said. "You've got good timing. "

  Marcone smiled. "And you have a way with people, Dresden," he said, glancing at the silent Parker with unveiled amusement. "You must have read a book. I'm already reasonably certain as to your reaction, but I thought I would give you another chance. "

  "Another chance to what?"

  "I received a phone call today," Marcone said. "A Harley MacFinn somehow discovered my personal number. He was quite irate. He said that he knew that it was me who had destroyed his circle and set him up, and that he was going to deal with me tonight. "

  "I'd say you've had it, then, John. Harley can be fairly destructive. "

  "I know. I saw the news programs from the station last night. A loup-garou, is he?"

  I blinked. "How did you - "

  Marcone waved a hand. "The report you gave to Lieutenant Murphy. Such things have to be paid for, and thus copied and filed and copied and filed. It wasn't hard to obtain a copy for myself. "

  I shook my head. "Money isn't going to buy off Harley MacFinn. "

  "Quite," Marcone said. "And my parents, God rest their souls, were in no position to leave me anything, much less articles of silver, or I'd deal with him myself. I have no idea who told him that I had wronged him, or why, but it seems perfectly clear that he believes it. Which brings us to you, Mr. Dresden. " He reached into that expensive Italian jacket and drew out a folded sheaf of papers - the contract I'd seen before. "I want to make a deal with you. "

  I stared at him in silence.

  "The same stipulations as before," Marcone continued. "In addition, I will promise you, give you my personal oath, that I will see to it that the pressure is taken off of Lieutenant Murphy. I do have some friends in the mayor's office, and I'm certain something could be worked out. "

  I started to tell him to go to hell, but bit back the words. I was trapped, at the moment. If I ran, Parker would probably lose it and tear me apart. And if he didn't, Marcone would just point his finger and the hulking Mr. Hendricks would put me down with a twelve-gauge slug.

  And Murphy, in spite of recent misunderstandings, was my friend. Or maybe it was more accurate to say that in spite of what had gone on lately, I was still Murphy's friend. Saving her job, getting the pressure from the politicians off of her - isn't that why I had gotten involved in this to begin with? Wouldn't Murphy thank me for helping her?

  No, I thought. Not like that. She wouldn't want that kind of help. Magic, she could accept. Help from money generated by human suffering, graft, and deception was a different story. Marcone looked good in his grey suit and his perfect hair and his manicured hands, but he wasn't.

  My own hands weren't clean - but they were free. Things were desperate, and getting worse the longer I waited. Maybe I could pull off enough magic to get myself out of this.

  I drew in a breath, and focused on a pile of loose tools and metal parts on a workbench twenty feet away. I gathered together threads of will, feeling the pressure build with a sort of skewed intangibility to it, something I hadn't ever felt before. I focused on my goal, on the rush of air that would lift the tools and parts and hurl them at Marcone, Parker, and Hendricks like so many bullets, and I prayed that I wouldn't catch myself in the edges of it by accident and get myself killed. I'd be breaking the First Law of Magic if one of them died, and I might have to deal with the White Council later; but hell's bells, I did not want to die on that concrete floor.

  My head pounded, but I pushed the pain aside, focused, and breathed out, "Vento servitas. "

  The energy I had gathered whispered out of me. The tools jumped and rattled in place - and then fell still again.

  Fire erupted behind my eyes. The pain was blinding, and I sucked in a breath and bowed my head forward, struggling not to fall to one side and reveal my lack of duct-tapedness. Oh, stars, it hurt like hell, and I clenched my teeth to keep from crying out. My chest heaved and strained to give me enough breath.

  I blinked tears out of my eyes and straightened again, facing Marcone. I didn't want him to see the weakness. I didn't want him to know that my magic had failed.

  "Interesting," Marcone said, glancing at the workbench, and then back at me. "Perhaps you've been working too hard," he suggested. "But I'm still willing to make the offer, Mr. Dresden. Otherwise, you understand, I have no interest in your well-being, and I will be forced to leave you here with Mr. Parker and his associates. If you do not come to work for me, you'll die. "

  I glared up at Marcone and gathered in a breath to spit out a curse at him. To hell with him and his whole stinking breed of parasites. Polite and smiling bastards who didn't care about the lives they ruined, the people they destroyed, so long as business continued as usual. If I was going to die here, I was going to lay out a curse on Marcone that would make the grimmest old fairy tales you ever heard sound like pleasant daydreams.

  And then I glanced at Parker, who was glaring suspiciously at Marcone, and stifled the curse as well. I lowered my head, to hide my ex
pression from Marcone. I had an idea.

  "He dies anyway," Parker growled. "He's mine. You never said anything about him leaving with you. "

  Marcone stood, his mouth settled in a tight smile. "Don't start with me, Parker," Marcone said. "I'll take what I want to take. Last chance, Mr. Dresden. "

  "This wasn't part of the deal," Parker said. "I need him. I'll kill you before I let you take him. " Parker put one hand behind his back, as though scratching at an itch. I glanced over, toward the office door behind him, and saw Flatnose crouched there in the doorway, mostly shielded by the door and unnoticed. Perfect.

  "You needn't worry, Parker," Marcone said, his tone satisfied. "He won't accept my offer. He'd rather die. "

  I lifted up my head, and kept my expression as blank as I could. "Give me a pen," I said.

  Marcone's mouth dropped open, and it was an intense pleasure to see the surprise on his face. "What?" he said.

  I enunciated each word carefully. "Give me a pen. I'll sign your contract. " I glanced aside, at Parker, and said more loudly, "Anything to get away from these animals. "

  Marcone stared at me for a moment and then reached toward his pocket. I could see his eyes, see him searching my expression. The gears were spinning in his head as he tried to work out what I was doing.

  Parker let out a sudden scream of rage and hurled the tire iron at Hendricks, who dodged to one side, too quickly for a man his size, and lifted his weapon. The office door exploded open, and Flatnose threw himself onto the big man. They both went down to the concrete, struggling for possession of the shotgun.

  "The wizard's mine!" Parker howled, and threw himself at Marcone. Marcone moved like a snake in his zillion-dollar business suit and made a curved knife appear in his hands. He swept it in an arc that was followed by a spray of blood from Parker's wrist, and the lycanthrope howled.

  I got up and ran like hell toward the door. My legs were shaky, and my balance wasn't great, but I was moving again, and I thought I had a fair chance of getting away. Over to my left, there was the roar of the shotgun going off, and a wet, red spray that went all over one wall and the ceiling. I didn't stop to see who had been killed, just jerked open the door.

  Agent Phillip Denton stood five feet away from me, in the cold mist of autumn rain. The veins in his forehead were throbbing, and his short hair was frosted by the mist. He was flanked by the potbellied Agent Wilson, in his rumpled suit, his mostly bald head shining, and by the lean, savage-looking woman, Benn, her dark skin even darker in the evening's gloom and the glow of streetlights, her sensuous mouth peeling back into a startled snarl.

  Denton blinked in surprise, and then narrowed his intensely grey eyes. "The wizard mustn't escape," he said, his voice calm and precise. "Kill him. "

  Benn's eyes gleamed, and she hissed something under her breath while reaching a hand into her jacket. Wilson did the same. I brought my forward momentum to a sudden halt, fell, and started scrambling back into the building.

  But instead of drawing guns out of their jackets, they changed. It happened fast, nothing like you see in the movies. One moment, there were two human beings standing there, and the next there was a flicker of shadow and a pair of enormous, gaunt wolves, one the grey of Benn's mane, one the same brown as Wilson's receding hairline.

  They were huge, six feet long not including the tail, and as high as my belly at their shoulders. Their entirely human eyes shone, as did their bared fangs. Denton stood between them, his eyes gleaming with some dark breed of joy, and then he hissed, throwing his hands toward me. As though thrown by the motion, both wolves hurtled forward.

  I flung myself back through the door and slammed it closed. There were heavy thuds as the wolves hit the door behind me. I saw a motion to my right and threw myself down just before Hendricks pulled the trigger. The riot gun belched forth flame and huge sound and blew a hole the size of my face in the door behind me. I could still hear Parker's furious snarling somewhere in the dark, and I scrambled forward, behind the bulk of a car, and then ran toward the back of the cavernous garage, staying low.

  Outside, there was the sudden thunder of a dozen engines, and the sharp, heavy sounds of gunfire. Evidently, the Streetwolves had returned.

  I stumbled through the darkness and tried not to make enough sound to give someone a chance to shoot me. The door flew open at the front of the garage, letting in a flood of dim light that didn't help me much. I heard people screaming.

  I reached the back corner and sank down into it, then grabbed at something that turned out to be a toolbox. I came out with a heavy wrench and gripped it tightly. I was alone. I'd hurt myself using too much of my magic while on the go-go potion, and I didn't have anything left to throw now. Except for the wrench in my hands, I was unarmed. All around me, in the garage, there were the sounds of gunshots and screams and thuds of flesh as the animals fought for control of the jungle, and it was only a matter of time before one of them stumbled across a weakened and exhausted wizard named Harry Dresden.

  Talk about frying pans and fires.