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Fool Moon, Page 24

Jim Butcher

Chapter 25

  The wolf's fur was speckled with drops of blood that had beaded on it like rain. The gravel in the alley shone in the half-light from the distant street lamps. The wolf's muzzle, a little shorter and broader than I had seen on Wild Kingdom, was drawn back, black lips from fangs striped white and red like peppermints. Its eyes were blue, rather than any proper lupine shade, and gleamed with a sort of demented awareness.

  I had time to see all those details because I didn't need my eyes for what I wanted to do. I thrust my hands into the beast's pelt as he went for my throat, and wormed my way down between his forelegs with my buttocks, fingers digging, until I felt what I was looking for - the sharp metal edges of a belt buckle, down against the skin, almost flush to the surface. As the wolf's jaws came toward my throat, I furiously worked the buckle, feeling skin rip and tear from the wolf's hide as I jerked it open, and then threw my arm to one side, clutching hard at the trailing strap.

  And abruptly, a wolf-pelt belt was sliding out from beneath the grey suit jacket of Roger Harris, the forensic specialist for the local FBI office, the kid with the red hair and the big ears. He crouched over me for a second, blinking in stunned amazement at me, blood on his mouth and lips.

  "Hexenwulf jerk-off," I snarled and slammed my knee up into his groin. It hit home hard.

  Harris gasped and rolled off me, reaching into his jacket, but I didn't let him get his gun. I stayed with him, keeping too close to him to let him move his arms freely, grabbed him by those big ears, and started slamming his head repeatedly against the gravel. He struggled against me for a few seconds, but I'd taken him by surprise. His skull banged against the rocks over and over, and after a half-dozen solid blows, he stopped struggling.

  I released his ears with a little jerk and looked up at Tera and the wolves. They were closing in around him like a pack of sharks around a wounded dolphin, and I could read the blood in their eyes, in the bared fangs, and in the white-knuckled grip of Tera's hands on her lead pipes. I felt a sudden surge of frustration. Bad enough to have bloodthirsty animals roaming all over the city - I didn't need more of them on my team.

  "Everyone back off," I snarled.

  "He's ours," Tera answered me in kind. "He hurt those of the pack. "

  "Then why don't you get them some help instead of wasting your time on this guy?" I said.

  "His blood is ours," Tera said, and the wolves confirmed this with a chorus of angry growls.

  "He can't hurt you now. Killing him won't make your friends any better. And the lost time might finish them. "

  "You do not understand, wizard," Tera snarled, and the wolves echoed her in a chorus, white fangs showing. "It is our way. "

  I stood up slowly, to my full height. "I understand," I said in a very low and even voice, "that you do not want to make me any more angry than I already am. " I met Tera's eyes and stared, hard. My jaws ached from clenching. "There's been enough killing. Take him out now, and you're no different than he is. "

  "Wrong," Tera said. "I would be alive, and he dead. "

  "Not if you cross me, you won't be. "

  We held the tension for a moment, glaring at one another.

  I saw uncertainty waver across her face. She didn't know that I was out of gas, magically speaking, and she had seen me do too many impressive things with my powers to want to defy me lightly. She blinked first and looked away from me with a sullen sound in the back of her throat. "As you wish, wizard," she said. "We don't have the time to waste fighting one another. The rest of his pack is coming. And we have wounded to tend to. "

  I nodded and swept my gaze around at the three wolves around me. "Anybody else?" I challenged. They all backed away from me, and didn't meet my eyes. "All right, then," I said, and stooped to recover Harris's gun and the wolf-pelt belt. "Do you have transportation out of here?"

  "Yes," Tera said. "Georgia. "

  One of the wolves, a leggy, lanky, pale-brown beast shuddered and paced in a circle, making small, whimpering sounds. A moment later, there was a whisper of power. The she-wolf shivered, and went still, her head bowed. And then she shook herself, and all that pale-brown hair faded from paler skin, leaving me staring at the lanky, dark-blonde girl I had seen in the department store a few days ago, sans all the black leather. Georgia rose to her feet and said, "I'll have her bring the van around on the next street. Can you get them to it?" Her expression was tense, her eyes a little wide.

  "Yes," Tera said. "Everyone, come back to yourselves. " The other two ambulant wolves began to pace in a slow circle, gathered their own power, and their own transformations commenced, until they stood before me as a pair of naked young men - one of them the short, stout boy who had been arguing against Georgia - Billy - and the other a face I recognized but couldn't name.

  Tera took charge of the situation while I held Harris's gun and kept watch down the alley. She and the two young men made a litter for one of the wolves out of Harris's jacket, and the other Tera simply picked up with a flexion of wire-tight muscle and carried, though it must have weighed a hundred and fifty pounds. The wounded wolves yelped piteously, and Tera and the two young men cast dark glances at the downed Harris while they headed down the alley, and over toward the beach, leaving me alone with the kid.

  I hunkered down beside him and slapped his face until his eyes rolled open. He blinked once and then jerked, as though he was about to sit up. I stuck the barrel of the semiautomatic in the hollow of his throat and said, in a calm voice, "Hold still. "

  He froze, staring up at me with wide eyes.

  "I'm going to ask some questions, kid. I think I've got the answers already, but you're going to talk to me, quietly and honestly. Or I demonstrate point-blank bullet impact for you right here and now. Got it?"

  Harris's mouth twitched a few times before he managed to speak. "If you kill me," he said, "Denton won't stop until you're dead. "

  "Give me a break, Roger," I said back in a reasonable tone. "Denton wants me dead anyway. I could kill you now and it wouldn't make any difference in what he has to do. "

  Roger licked his lips and rolled his eyes about without moving his head, as though hoping for rescue. "How did you know? About the belt. "

  "I saw Denton's inside. And I saw that before you all changed, you had to reach inside your jackets for something. I figure that first night, Agent Benn was reaching into her jacket to touch the belt and tear Murphy's head off, when she got mad. But she managed to remember not to do it in time and drew her gun instead. Right?"

  Harris's head twitched in a slight nod.

  "The bargain," I said. "You're Hexenwulfen, so you've made a bargain with someone to get the power to change, to get the belts. Who is it?"

  "I don't know," Harris said, and his eyes widened. "God, I don't know. Denton handled all of it. "

  I narrowed my eyes at him and drew back the hammer on the gun.

  "Please," he squealed, breathless. "I don't know. I swear to God, Denton handled all of that. He just came to us, asked us if we wanted to back him, if we wanted to nail some of the scum that kept getting away from the law, and I told him I did. Jesus, I didn't know it was going to lead to this. "

  "Lead to what, Roger?" I asked, my tone frosty. "Start from the beginning, and make it quick. "

  "Marcone," he said, eyes on the gun. "It was all about Marcone. Denton wanted to take him down. "

  "You mean kill him. "

  His eyes flickered up to me. "He told us there was no other way to get to him. That he was doing more to poison this city than anyone alive. And he was right. Marcone's bought enough influence in this town to stay clear of city police forever, and he carries weight on the national level, too. The bureau has had more than one investigation on him called off. He's untouchable. "

  "So you planned to use the belts to kill him. "

  He nodded. "But there would be evidence. No one would believe he'd just been mauled by wild dogs. There would be a full investigation, fo
rensics, the works. "

  I understood and nodded. "So you needed someone to make it a neat package. Let me guess: the Streetwolves. "

  Harris showed his teeth. "A gang of felons and troublemakers with a wolf motif. Murder of a criminal figure by persons with a wolf motif. No one would bother to check the figures on that one. It's obvious. And we get one more dangerous group off the street. "

  "Yeah, Roger, except that they'd be innocent of that particular crime. Did you think of that? Innocent like those other people who died the nights around the full moon last month. You killed them. You and the rest of Denton's team. "

  He closed his eyes, his face going pale, and he shuddered. "The change. When . . . when you're changed, when you're a beast, it's so incredible. So much speed, power. Your body just sings with it. I tried coke once, in college, and it was nothing compared to this. The blood . . . " His tongue flicked out again over his bloodstained lips, a thirsty motion this time, rather than a nervous one.

  "I think I'm starting to see. Denton didn't tell you about that part. About how your thoughts are influenced. He probably didn't know himself. And when you've done it once . . . "

  Harris nodded emphatically. "You just can't stop, man. It gets to where you're pacing the room at night. And it's better than sleep, when you get finished hunting, you feel so alive. " He opened his eyes again, staring up at me, pleading. "I didn't mean to kill those people. We started off with criminals. Some gangsters dealing drugs. We were just going to scare them, but it was too much. They screamed and ran and we were after them, and . . . We killed them. And my God, Dresden, it was beautiful. "

  "And it happened again," I said. "A couple of times. Innocent people. Just poor schmucks in the wrong place at the wrong time. "

  Harris turned his head away from me and nodded. "Denton said that we could salvage it. He said that we could pin those killings on the Streetwolves as well. Make everyone think they had done it. And we just went along with him. "

  I shook my head. "That doesn't explain why you dragged MacFinn into this. "

  "Denton," the kid said. "It was all him. He said there was someone else we could also set up to take the blame, to be certain we'd be in the clear. That he had the man for it. We broke into MacFinn's house, and there was all this occult stuff. We messed up some of it and left. And . . . the next night, more people were dead. And more, the next night. That's when we went after that slime Marcone's business partner, and wasted the bastard and his goon. "

  "And then you laid low for a month. "

  Harris swallowed and nodded. "Denton took the belts. He hid them from us. He'd held out better than anyone. And my God, poor Benn was so far gone, it was like she wasn't even human anymore. Wilson wasn't much better. But we lasted out the month. "

  "And then you killed Marcone's bodyguard at the Varsity. "

  Harris's eyes flared. "Yes. You should see his record. The things we know he did, but that we can't get through a court. My God, Dresden, he had it coming. "

  "Maybe. Maybe not. Who are we to judge?"

  "Who are we not to?" Harris demanded. "The power was in our hands. We had a responsibility to use it for the good. To do our jobs. Hell, Dresden. If you're such a do-gooder, you should be helping us, not getting in the way. These men are untouchable and you know it. "

  I shifted my weight uncomfortably. "I don't agree with your methods. With setting people up to take the blame for your killings. "

  Harris sneered. "Like MacFinn has never killed anyone. Hell, he's a murderer now, isn't he? After that scene at the police station, anyone would be convinced he was a killer. "

  "Except me," I said. "MacFinn would never have been there if you hadn't messed up the circle that held him. "

  "Yeah," Harris said, a spiteful, frustrated edge to his tone. "Except you. You got to poking around in our business. Christ, that crazy report to Murphy even talked about the belts. That was when Denton started taking you seriously. If you had any brains at all, you'd pull that trigger and get the hell out now, before Denton and the others come out of the haze and come after you. Because you know way too much. "

  "Why the Streetwolves?" I said, instead of shooting him. "Why send me off to check them out?"

  "Denton figured they'd kill you," Harris spat. "And get you out of our hair. "

  I nodded. It figured, that someone else had been trying to kill me the whole while, and I hadn't really noticed. "And he knew that they were after me, after I got away from them the first time. "

  "Yeah. And had me tailing them, so we could find you and make sure you were dead. When I saw you in the back of that car, I figured you were. So we planned the hit on the Streetwolves to go down tonight, before MacFinn went after Marcone. "

  "How'd you know about that?" I asked.

  Harris snorted. "Marcone told us. The snake called asking for police protection. "

  I almost smiled. "Did he get it?"

  "Hell, no," Harris answered me. He lifted his chin, and balled his hands into fists, and I felt him tighten up beneath me. "I'm done talking," he said. "If you aren't going to sign on with us, then get the hell out of here. Or pull the trigger. But quit wasting my time. "

  "I'm not done talking," I said, and I jammed the gun crosswise over the kid's throat, strangling him. "You're going to give Denton a message for me. I'm sick of dancing around. Tell him that he'll get his shot at me at moonrise, at Marcone's place. "

  Harris squirmed beneath me, making rasping, gagging sounds. His eyes widened at my words. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out that he'll try to be there when MacFinn shows up," I said. "That he'll want to make sure everyone there is dead so that he's the only one who can report what happened. You tell him that I'll be there. And tell him that he's not going to get away with it. Do you understand me, kid?"

  I let up on the pressure, and Harris croaked out a vague affirmative. I rose away from him, keeping the gun in one hand and the belt in the other. I saw his eyes flicker to the belt, tracking its movement with a tense, strained sort of hunger.

  "Why tell me?" the kid asked. "Why warn us?"

  I stared down at him for long seconds before I answered him in a quiet voice. "Because I don't like what you're doing. What you are. You aren't using the power you've been given. It's using you. You're turning into animals. You're using savagery and fear to try to uphold the peace. Now it's your turn to see what it's like to be afraid. "

  Harris rose to his feet, his red hair askew, blood drying on his mouth, and backed several paces from me, his eyes darting around. "My belt," he said. "I want my belt. "

  "Forget it, kid," I told him. "The smartest thing you can do is go lock yourself in your room, and stay there until all of this is over. Because one way or another, you aren't using this belt again. "

  His face whitened, and he took a step toward me. I pointed the gun at him, and he froze, his hands balling into fists. "You won't get away with this," he said, his voice thick with tension.

  "Moonrise," I told him, then turned on my heel and walked quickly from the alley, although my sock feet on the gravel, combined with my limp, probably spoiled the badass image.

  Thirty feet down the alley, Tera appeared from the shadows and fell into step beside me, close enough to support me if I should fall. "You were wrong, wizard," she said.

  I looked down at her, and she met my gaze with her soulless amber eyes. "How so?"

  "They have not become animals. " She looked over her shoulder, her eyes narrowed. "Animals do not do what they have done. Animals kill to eat, to defend themselves or their own, and to protect their territory. Not for the joy of it. Not for the lust of it. " She looked back up at me. "Only humans do that, wizard. "

  I grimaced, but couldn't really refute her. "I guess you're right. "

  "Of course," Tera said. We walked in silence for a moment. "You will try to help my fianc¬®¬¶?"

  "I'll try," I said. "But I can't let his curse claim any more lives. "

p; She nodded, her eyes dark. "He would want it that way. He thinks of others before himself. "

  "He sounds like a good man. "

  She shrugged, but there was a sudden, worried weight in her shoulders. "And these others. The FBI. They will try to stop you. "

  "Yes. "

  "And when they do?"

  "I can't let them go on like they have. They're out of control. I don't think they can stop themselves from killing, now. " I didn't look down at Tera, just focused on taking steps, one at a time. "When they do . . . " I said. "When they do . . . I guess I'm going to need to get very human. "