Fool Moon, Page 25Jim Butcher
Tera and I walked toward the shores of Lake Michigan. There, along Forty-ninth Street, idled a big old van, its engine rattling. Its headlights came on as we approached, and the driver got out to roll open the side door for us.
"Harry?" she said. "Oh, God. What did they do to you?" She hurried over to me, and then I felt Susan's warmth against me as she slid one of my arms over her shoulder and pressed up against my side. She was wearing jeans that showed off her long legs, and a dark red jacket that complemented her dark skin. Her hair was tied back into a ponytail, and it made her neck look slender and vulnerable. Susan felt soft and warm beyond belief, and smelled clean and delightfully feminine, and I found myself leaning against her. All the aches and pains that had faded into the background came throbbing back to the forefront of my awareness, in comparison to her soft warmth and gentle support. I liked the way Susan felt better than the way I did.
"They beat him," Tera explained. "But they kept him alive, as I told you they might. "
"Your face looks like a sack of purple potatoes," Susan said, her dark eyes studying me, the lines in her face deepening.
"You say the sweetest things," I mumbled.
They loaded me into the van, where Georgia, Billy, and the other Alphas were crouched. Two of the young people, a boy with blinking, watery blue eyes, and a girl with mousy brown hair, lay on their backs, gasping quietly. Clean white bandages had been wrapped around their wounds. Georgia had, evidently, been the attending medic. All of the Alphas were dressed in plain, dark bathrobes, rather than in their birthday suits, and I felt an oddly grateful feeling toward them for it. Things were weird enough without needing to ride around in a van with a bunch of naked, somewhat geeky college students.
I put my seat belt on and noted the bruises on my hands and forearms - ugly, dark purple-and-brown splotches, so thickly scattered over my skin that in places I couldn't tell where one stopped and the next began. I sat down and leaned against the window, pillowing my head on my right hand.
"What are you doing here with these people?" I asked Susan when she got into the driver's seat.
"Driving," she said. "I was the only one old enough to rent the van. "
I winced. "Ouch. "
"Tell me about it," she said and started the engine. "After you jumped out of the car, and I finished with my heart attack, we called the police, just like you said. Tera went to look for you and told me that the police had shown up too late, and that the Streetwolves had taken you. How did that truck crash like that?"
"Bad luck. Someone made all their tires explode at the same time. "
Susan gave me an arch look and started up the van. "Those bastards. Just lie still, Harry. You look like a train wreck. We'll get you to someplace quiet. "
"Food," I said. "I'm starving. Tera, can you keep track of moonrise?"
"I will," she said. "The clouds are moving away. I can see the stars. "
"Fantastic," I mumbled. And then I went to sleep, ignoring the jostling of the van. I didn't wake up until the smell of fried grease and charred meat made me look up at the drive-thru window of a fast-food burger joint. Susan paid for everything in cash, passing paper sacks to everyone. I snagged a golden paper crown from one of the bags and idly joined it into a circle and put it on my head. Susan blinked at me, then let out a brief laugh.
"I am," I intoned, with an imperious narrowing of my eyes, "the burger king. " Susan laughed again, shaking her head, and Tera gave me a serious, level gaze. I checked the status of the young people in the back of the van, and found them, even the wounded ones, hungrily wolfing (no pun intended) down the food.
Tera caught the direction of my glance and leaned toward me. "Puppies," she said, as though the word should explain more than it did. "They were not hurt so badly as they thought. They will hardly have scars to show for it. "
"That's good to know," I said and sipped at my cola and chomped down steaming-hot french fries. "But what I'm really interested in," I said, "is in knowing why your blood was in Marcone's restaurant the night before the full moon. "
Tera took the hamburger patty off of the bun and started nibbling on it, holding it in her fingers. "Ask another time. "
"No offense," I said, "but I'm not so sure there's going to be another time. So tell me. "
Tera took another bite of meat, and then shrugged. "I knew that the pack that had harassed my fianc¨¦ was about. I deduced where they might strike, and went there to attempt to stop them. "
"All by yourself?"
Tera sniffed. "Most of those who turn themselves into wolves know little about being wolf, wizard. But these had taken too much of the beast inside. I ran through the window glass and fought, but they outnumbered me. I left before I could be killed. "
"And what about these kids?" I said, nodding toward the back of the van.
She glanced back at them, and for a moment, I saw warmth and pride gleaming in her eyes, subverting the remote, alien lines of her face. "Children. But with strong hearts. They wished to learn, and I taught. Let them tell you their tale. "
"Maybe later," I said and finished off the french fries. "Where are we going?"
"To a safe place, to arm and prepare ourselves. "
"Myself," I contradicted her. "To prepare myself. I'm not taking you with me. "
"You are incorrect," Tera said. "I am going with you. "
She fastened her amber eyes on mine. "You are strong, wizard. But you have not yet seen my beast. The men you will oppose would take my fianc¨¦ from me. I will not allow that. I will be with you, or you will kill me to stop me. "
This time, it was I who looked away first. I sipped at my drink, scowling, while Tera placidly ate more of the hamburger patty. "Who are you?" I asked her finally.
"One who has lost too many of her family already," she said. And then she settled back on the seat and withdrew from the conversation, falling silent.
"One who has lost too many . . . " I grumbled, frustrated, mocking her beneath my breath. I turned back to the front of the van and hunched my shoulders over my burger. "Put some clothes on, you weird, yellow-eyed, table-dancing, werewolf-training, cryptic, stare-me-right-in-the-eyes-and-don't-even-blink wench. "
There was a hissing sound from the back seat, and I flicked a scowl back over my shoulder. Tera was chewing on her meat. Her eyes were shining, her mouth was curved at the corners, and her breath was puffing out her nostrils in near-silent laughter.
The safe place we were going to turned out to be a big house up near the Gold Coast, not far from Marcone's own minipalace. The house wasn't large, by the neighborhood's standards, but that was like saying that a bale of hay isn't much to eat, by elephant standards. Susan drove the van up through a break in a high hedge, up a long driveway of white concrete, and into a six-car garage whose doors rolled majestically up before us.
I got out of the van, in the garage, and stared at the Mercedes and the Suburban also parked in it. "Where are we?" I said.
Tera opened the side door of the van, and Georgia, Billy, and the other young man emerged, assisting the two wounded werewolves. Georgia stretched, which did interesting things to the dark bathrobe, and drew her mane of tawny hair back from her lean face with one hand. "It's my parents' place. They're in Italy for another week. "
I rubbed a hand over my face. "They aren't going to mind you having a party, are they?"
She flashed me an annoyed look and said, "Not as long as we clean up all the blood. Come on, Billy. Let's get these two inside and into bed. "
"You go on," he said, fastening his eyes on me. "I'll be along in a minute. "
Georgia looked like she wanted to give him an argument, but shook her head instead, and with the help of the other young man, took the two invalids inside. Tera, still naked and supremely unconcerned about it, followed them, glancing back over her shoulder at me before she disappeared. Susan promptly stepped in front of me, somewhat obstr
ucting the view, and said, "Five minutes, Dresden. Come find me then. "
"Uh," was my rapier reply, and then Susan went into the house, too.
I stood in the dark with Billy, the stout, short kid in thick glasses. He had his hands stuffed into his bathrobe pockets, and he was peering at me.
"Do all wizards," he said, "get the kiddie crowns and wear them around? Or is that only for special occasions?"
"Do all werewolves," I shot back, snatching the crown from my head, "wear glasses and too much Old Spice? Or is that only for full moons?"
He grinned at me, rather than taking umbrage. "You're quick," he said. "I always wanted to be that way. " He stuck out his hand toward me. "Billy Borden. "
I traded grips with him wearily, and he tried to crush my hand in his. "Harry Dresden," I told him.
"You look pretty beat up, Mr. Dresden," he said. "Are you sure you can handle going out again tonight?"
"No," I answered, in a spurt of brutal honesty.
Billy nodded, and pushed his glasses up higher onto his nose. "Then you need our help. "
Oh, good grief. The Mickey Mouse Club of werewolves wanted to throw in on my side. Werewolfkateer role call: Billy. Georgia. Tommy. Cindy. Sheesh.
"No way," I said. "Absolutely not. "
"Why not?" he said.
"Look, kid. You don't know what these Hexenwulfen can be like. You don't know what Marcone can be like, and you sure as hell have never seen anything like MacFinn outside of a movie theater. And even if you had the skills to deal with it, what makes you think you have a right to be going along?"
Billy considered the question seriously. "The same thing that makes you think that you do, Mr. Dresden," he said.
I opened my mouth. And closed it again.
"I know I don't know a lot, compared to you," Billy said. "But I'm not stupid. I've got eyes. I see some things everyone else tries to pretend aren't there. This vampire craze sweeping the nation. Why the hell shouldn't there be some genuine vampires in it? Did you know that violent crimes have increased nearly forty percent in the last three years, Mr. Dresden? Murder alone has almost doubled, particularly in heavy urban areas and isolated rural areas. Abductions and disappearances have gone up nearly three hundred percent. "
I blinked at the kid. I hadn't really read the numbers. I knew that Murphy and some of the other cops said that the streets were getting worse. And I knew myself, on some deep level, that the world was getting darker. Hell, it was one of the reasons I did idiotic things like I was doing tonight. My own effort to lift up a torch.
"I'm sort of a pessimist, Mr. Dresden. I think that people are almost too incompetent to hurt themselves so badly. I mean, if criminals were trying, they couldn't increase their production by three hundred percent. And I hear stories, read the tabloids sometimes. So what if the supernatural world is making a comeback? What if that accounts for some of what is going on?"
"What if it does?" I asked him.
Billy regarded me steadily, without looking me in the eyes. "Someone has to do something. I can. So I should. That's why we're here, the Alphas. Tera offered us the chance to do something, when she met us through the Northwest Passage Project, and we took it. "
I stared at the kid. I could have argued with him, but there wouldn't be much point to it. I knew his argument, backward and forward. I'd worked it out myself. If I was ten years younger, a foot shorter, and a couple of pounds heavier, that could have been me talking. And I had to admit, the kid did have power. I mean, turning yourself into a wolf is no cheap parlor trick. But I did have one angle to play, and I took it. I didn't want this kid's blood on my hands.
"I don't think you're ready for the big leagues yet, Billy. "
"Could be," he said. "But there's no one else in the bull pen. "
I had to give the kid credit. He had resolve. "Maybe you should sit this one out, and live to fight another day. It could all go bad, and if it does, those Hexenwulfen we took on down by the beach are going to be coming for you. Someone will need to stay with your wounded people, to protect them. "
"More likely, if they go through you, they're going to go through us, too. It would be smarter to pile on everything we've got in one place. With you. "
I chuckled. "All your eggs in one basket?"
He shook his head. "All the money on the most likely winner. "
I studied him in silence for a long minute. I was confident of his sincerity. It just oozed out of him, in a way that only the really inexperienced and idealistic can manage. It was comforting, and at the same time it was the most frightening thing about him. His ignorance. No, not ignorance, really. Innocence. He didn't know what he would be going out to face. If I let him go along, I'd be dragging him down with me. Despite what he'd seen tonight, I'd be exposing him to a whole new, violent, bloody, and dangerous world. One way or another, if I let Billy Borden and his buddies go with me, these innocent children wouldn't live to see the sunrise.
But, God help me. He was right about one thing. I needed the help.
"Everyone who's going takes orders from me," I said, and he drew in a sharp breath, his eyes gleaming. "Not Tera. You do what I say, and you do it when I say it. And if I tell you to leave, you go. No questions. You got it?"
"I got it," Billy said, and gave me a cocky grin that simply did not belong on the face of a geeky little college nerd in a black bathrobe. "You're a smart man, Mr. Dresden. "
I snorted at him, and just then the automatic light on the garage door opener went out, leaving us in darkness. There was a disgusted sound from the doorway, and then the lights came on again. Georgia, in all her willowy, annoyed glory, was standing in the doorway to the garage.
"Billy Borden," she said. "Don't you have any better sense than to stay here in the dark?" She stalked out toward him, scowling.
He looked up at her calmly and said, "Tell everyone we're going along. Dresden's in charge. If they can handle that, they're in, and if not, they're staying here to guard Cindy and Alex. "
Georgia's eyes widened and she gave a little whoop of excitement. She turned to me and threw her arms around me for a moment, making my shoulder scream in pain, and then whirled to Billy and bent down to do the same thing. He winced when she did, and she stood up and jerked back his black bathrobe, clearing it off of one side of his pale chest. To give the kid credit, his stoutness was the result of what looked like quite a bit of solid muscle, and along the line of his chest there was a thickly clotted wound, still trickling blood in a few places.
"What's this?" Georgia said. "You idiot. You didn't tell me you'd gotten hurt. "
Billy shrugged, and pulled his robe straight again. "It closed. And you can't bandage it and keep it on me when I change, anyway. "
Georgia clucked her teeth, annoyed. "You shouldn't have gone for the hamstring on that wolf. He was too fast. "
Billy flashed her a grin. "I almost got him, though. "
"You almost got yourself killed," she said, but her voice had softened a few shades. I noticed that she hadn't moved her hand from the other side of Billy's chest, and he was looking up at her with an expectant expression. She fell silent, and they stared at one another for a minute. I saw her swallow.
Please, help me. Young werewolves in love. I turned to walk into the house, moving carefully.
I had never much believed in God. Well, that's not quite true. I believed that there was a God, or something close enough to it to warrant the name - if there were demons, there had to be angels, right? If there was a Devil, somewhere, there had to be a God. But He and I had never really seen things in quite the same terms.
All the same, I flashed a look up at the ceiling. I didn't say or think any words, but if God was listening, I hoped he got the message nonetheless. I didn't want any of these children getting themselves killed.