Fool moon, p.29
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       Fool Moon, p.29

         Part #2 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
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Chapter 30

  If I ran, I would be seen and pursued, and likely torn apart. If I remained where I was hidden, I would be found and then torn apart, or shot, or tranquillized and given to Johnny Marcone. A poor set of choices, but I wasn't going to get any better ones by sitting on my ass. So I got my feet underneath me and started easing back into the woods, the confiscated semiautomatic still in my hand.

  "Hold it," Denton said. "Did you hear that?"

  "What?" Benn asked. I could hear the sudden, eager tension in her voice, and I struggled not to make any more noise as I hurried my pace back into the shelter of the deeper trees.

  "Quiet," Denton snarled, and I froze in place. Wind and rain were the only sounds for a few moments, in the chilly autumn night. "Over there," Denton said after a moment. "I think I heard it over that way. "

  "Could be a raccoon. Squirrel. Or a cat," Wilson suggested.

  "Don't be naive," came Marcone's voice, laced with scorn. "It's him. "

  There was the immediate sound of a slide being worked on a handgun, a round being chambered into place. "Move forward," said Denton. "That way. Fan out and we'll take him. Watch yourself. We don't know all of what he can do. Don't take any chances. " His voice came closer as he spoke, and I nearly bolted. There was a chorus of assenting sounds, and another couple of weapons being readied. Footsteps came toward me through the grass.

  After that, I did bolt, just stood up and ran bent over as low as I could. There was a shout from behind me and a bark of a gun being fired. I pointed the semiautomatic above me, afraid to fire back at them for fear of hitting Tera or one of the Alphas by mistake, and pulled the trigger twice. The gunshots must have surprised them, because Denton and the others scattered for cover behind the nearest trees.

  I ran deeper into the woods, marshaling my thoughts. I had gained a little time, but time to do what? Running would only put me up against a stone wall. I doubted I'd be able to climb it, with a bum foot and a wounded shoulder. And I could only play the rabbit in the woods for so long before I was found.

  Dammit, I thought. I'm no rabbit.

  It was about time the hunters became the hunted around here. I moved ahead, silent and intent now, and scanned around me, searching for the sort of place I would need. I found it almost at once, an inward-curving hollow at the base of a large tree, and slid into it, nestling into the wood's embrace. I put my head down, hiding the paleness of my face and the gleam of the whites of my eyes. And Listened.

  They came forward quietly, and without any lights flickering around at the edges of my vision. Maybe Denton and his cronies were getting used to the darkness. They were moving forward in a ragged line, twenty or thirty paces apart, and somehow keeping mostly parallel. They were all still on two feet, by the sound of the steps, thank my lucky stars. If they'd gone to wolf form they might have had me - of course, on two legs, they still had hands free to hold guns of their own. There are pros and cons to everything, I suppose.

  I held my breath when footsteps approached me. They came within ten feet. Then five. I felt the brush stir when someone walked past no more than a foot away, making leaves brush up against me. They stopped, right there, and I heard a little, whuffling sound. Sniffing. I thought of the aroma of my brand-new leather jacket, and clenched my jaws down slightly, tension thrumming through me and making my legs shake.

  About ten billion years went by. And then whoever it was began walking again, forward and past me. I would have let out a sigh of relief, if the most dangerous part of my plan wasn't still to come.

  I got up from my hiding place, stepped forward and jammed the barrel of the semiautomatic against the back of the neck of the person before me. It was Denton. His back arched and he sucked in a stunned breath.

  "Quiet," I whispered. "Don't move. "

  Denton hissed, but froze in place. "Dresden. I should kill you right now. "

  "Try it," I said, and thumbed back the hammer of the gun. "But after the loud noise, remember to keep going down the tunnel and toward the light. "

  Denton's shoulders shifted a fraction and I said, "Don't move your arms, at all. Reach for that belt and I'll kill you before you're halfway to furry, Denton. Drop the gun. "

  Denton moved his fingers enough to close the safety on his gun and let it fall. "Not bad, Dresden," he said. "But this isn't going to do you any good. Put the gun down, and we can talk about this. "

  "Smooth, polite, nice delivery," I said. "They teach you that at the FBI?"

  "Don't make this any harder on yourself than it has to be, Dresden," Denton said, his voice toneless. "You can't get out of this. "

  "They always say that," I said and used my free hand, though it made my shoulder twitch, to take him by the collar and hold him steady. "My arm's feeling a little weak," I said. "Don't do anything to make me slip. "

  I felt his body tense at my words. "What are you doing, Dresden?"

  "You and me, we're going to turn around," I said with a little shove of the gun against his neck to emphasize the point. "And then you're going to order all of your people out of the trees and back into the light. They'll each call to you from there, so that I know they're in front of me, and then we're going to go see them. "

  "What do you hope to accomplish here, Dresden?" Denton said.

  I let go of his neck, pressed close, and reached around him to remove the wolf-pelt belt from around his middle. I saw his jawline shift as I took the belt away, but he remained still and quiet, his hands in the air. "I was just going to ask you the same thing, Denton," I said. "Now, call your buddies out of the trees. "

  Denton might have been a cool customer, maybe a treacherous sneak, maybe a murderer, but one thing he wasn't was a fool. He called out to the other three agents, and told them to get out of the trees.

  "Dent?" Wilson called. "Are you okay?"

  "Just do it," Denton answered. "It will all be clear in a minute. "

  They did it. I heard them move out of the woods and call to him from the cut, level grass of Marcone's estate. "Now," I said. "Walk. Don't trip, because I swear to God I would rather blow your head off over a misunderstanding than get suckered by a trick and killed. "

  "Maybe you should put the safety on," Denton said. "Because if you kill me, you'll never get out of here alive. "

  I hate it when the bad guys have a point, but I chose to err on the side of Denton getting blown apart, and left the safety where it was. I slung the wolf belt over my shoulder, took Denton's collar again, and said, "Walk. " He did. We walked out of the deep darkness of the woods and into the light.

  I kept at the edge of the darkness and put a tree's trunk to my back, keeping Denton between me and the bad guys. They were spread out, the three of them, in a half circle about thirty feet away, and they all had guns. It would have been one hell of a marksman who could get at me with Denton's broad, solid form in front of me, and the shadows veiling me, but I didn't take chances. I crouched down behind him some, leaving nothing but the corner of my head and one eye showing. At least that way, I thought, if they shot me, I'd never feel it.

  "Uh. Hi guys," I said a bit lamely. "I've got your boss. Put the guns down, take your belts off, and walk away from them nice and slow, or I kill him. " A part of me, probably the smarter part, groaned at my course of action and started cataloguing the number of federal and state criminal codes I was breaking into tiny pieces by taking a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage and threatening to kill him and attempting to take hostage three more. I stopped counting broken laws at ten, and waited to see the Hexenwulfen's response.

  "To hell with you," Benn snarled. The silver-haired young woman dropped her gun, and ripped off her shirt, revealing a torso that was impressive in a number of senses - and another wolf-hide belt. "I'll tear your fucking throat out myself. "

  "Deborah," Denton said, his voice strained. "Don't. Please. "

  "Go ahead, bitch," growled Harris. His big ears created little half-moon shad
ows of blackness on the sides of his head. "Denton buys it and we all get promoted. Hell, the wizard will probably shoot you, while he's at it. " Benn whirled toward Harris, lifting her hands as though she would strangle him, fingers clenching like talons.

  "Shut up," I said. "Both of you. Put your guns down. Now. "

  Harris sneered at me. "You won't, Dresden. You don't have the guts. "

  "Roger," Denton said very quietly. "You're an idiot. The man's in a corner. Now. Put down your gun. "

  I blinked, surprised at the unexpected support. It made me instantly suspicious. That Marcone was out of sight did not mean that he was out of mind, either. Where was he? Crouched somewhere, aiming that rifle at me? I kept an eye out for bright red dots.

  "That's right," I appended to Denton's statement. "You are an idiot. Drop the gun. You too, Wilson," I added, glancing at the overweight agent. "And you and Benn, take the belts off, too. Leave them on the ground. "

  "Do it," Denton confirmed, and I got a little more nervous. The man was relaxed now, not resisting me. His voice was solid, confident, unimpressed. That was bad. Denton's pack obeyed him, if reluctantly. Benn dropped the belt to the ground in the same way Scrooge might have let fall a string of diamonds, a visible ache in the motion. Wilson grunted as his belt came unfastened, and his belly flopped out a little as the catch released. He left it on the ground by his gun. Harris glared at me, but he lowered his gun, too.

  "Now, step back. All of you. "

  "Yes," Denton said. "Harris, Wilson. Step back to the trees and bring out what we left there. "

  "Hey," I said. "What the hell are you talking about? Don't move, any of you. " Harris and Wilson smirked at me, and began walking toward the trees. "Get your asses back here. "

  "Shoot at them, Mr. Dresden," Denton said, "and you will have to take your gun off me. I think I can reach it, if you do that, and turn this into a fight. You are resourceful, and intelligent, but you are also wounded. I don't think you could overcome me in hand to hand. "

  I glanced between the two men and Denton. "Dammit," I said. "What are you up to, Denton? You try anything funny, anything at all, and you're not going to live to regret it. "

  "I'm with the FBI. I don't do anything that could be construed as funny, Mr. Dresden. "

  I swore quietly, and could all but feel Denton's mouth stretch into a smile. "Why?" I asked him. "Why did you get involved with these belts? Why are you doing this?"

  Denton began to shrug, but evidently thought better of it. "Too many years of seeing men like Marcone laugh at the law. Of seeing people hurt by him, death, misery brought on by him and people like him. I was tired of just watching. I decided to stop him. And men like him. "

  "By killing them," I said.

  "I was given the power. I used it. "

  "What gives you the right to mandate their deaths?"

  "What gives them the right," Denton asked, "to kill? Should I stand by and let them slaughter, Dresden, if I can stop it? I have the power, and the responsibility to use it. "

  I felt a little shiver run through me, as the words struck close to home. "And the other people? The innocents who have died?"

  Denton hesitated. His reply was quiet. "It was unfortunate. An accident. It was never my intention. "

  "The belts do more than make you fuzzy, Denton. They change the way you think. The way you act. "

  "I can control my people," Denton began.

  "Like you did last month?" I asked.

  He swallowed, and said nothing.

  "And you knew, didn't you? You knew that I'd find out. That's why you sent me to the Full Moon Garage. "

  The vein on his forehead pulsed. "After the deaths, I was warned about a governing body. A sort of magic police. The White Council. That you worked for them. "

  I almost laughed. "Yeah, well someone told you part of the story, anyway, Denton. That's why you messed up MacFinn's circle, isn't it? You needed a patsy and you turned MacFinn loose knowing that the Council would suspect him. The Streetwolves for the cops, and MacFinn for the Council. "

  Denton snarled. "Necessary sacrifices. There was work to be done, Dresden. "

  "Oh yeah? As one of the aforementioned sacrifices, I don't find myself agreeing with you," I said. "To hell with the law, right? That's what you're saying - that you're above the law. Like Marcone. "

  Denton grew tense again and turned his head a bit toward me. Like he might have been listening.

  I pressed him, hard, desperate to reach him. If I could, I might get out of this situation after all. "These belts, man, the power they've given you. It's bad. You can't handle it. It's gotten into your head and you aren't thinking straight. Give them up. You can still walk away from all of this, do the right thing. Come on, Denton. Don't throw away everything you fought for all those years. There's a better way than this. "

  Denton was silent for a long time. Harris and Wilson disappeared into the thick ring of pine trees. Benn watched us, her eyes bright, her body muscled and firm in the moonlight, her breasts rather pretty and distracting as she breathed. She looked from the pair of us to the fur belt on the ground, alternately, and her breaths became ragged. "Look at her," I said. "Those belts are like a drug. Is this the kind of person she was? Is this the kind of person you want to be? Wilson, Harris, were they always like they are now? You're turning into monsters, man. You've got to get out of this. Before you're all the way gone. "

  Denton closed his eyes. Then shook his head once. "You're a decent man, Mr. Dresden. But you've got no idea of how the world works. I'm sorry you've gotten in the way. " He opened his eyes again. "Necessary sacrifices. "

  "Dammit," I said. "Don't you see that this won't do you any good? Even if you do get away with wiping out everyone here tonight, Murphy is going to piece together what happened. "

  Denton glanced at me and said, like a mantra, "Necessary sacrifices. "

  I swallowed, suddenly more cold than I had been. It was eerie, the way Denton said the words - so matter-of-fact, calm, rational. There was no doubt in him, when he should have been afraid. Only fools and madmen know that kind of certainty. And I had already noted that Denton was no fool.

  Harris and Wilson emerged from the trees, carrying something between them. Someone, hooded, arms and legs bound. Harris had a knife in one hand, and it was against the base of the hood, which looked to be a pillowcase. His big ears and freckles were at sharp odds with the arrogant competence with which he held the knife.

  "Damn you," I said quietly. Denton said nothing. Benn's eyes glittered in the moonlight, bright and vacant of anything but lust and hunger.

  The two agents brought the prisoner over, and Wilson dropped the legs. Harris kept the knife steady, while the overweight man went to remove the hood, but I had already seen the cast on the prisoner's arm.

  Murphy's face was pale, her golden hair bleached to silver by the moonlight, and falling down around her eyes. Her mouth was covered in cloth or duct tape, one of the two, and there was blood clotted at the base of one nostril, a bruise purpling over one eye. She blinked for a moment, and then kicked at Wilson. With her legs bound, it was ineffective, and when Harris snarled and pressed the knife against her throat, she stopped struggling. Her blue eyes glared in fury at Harris and then Wilson. And then they settled on me and widened.

  "Kill me, Mr. Dresden," Denton said quietly, "and Harris will cut the Lieutenant's throat. Benn will go for her gun, as will Wilson. Likely, they will kill you. And then they will kill these wolves you brought with you, your allies. But even if you get all of us first, Murphy will be dead, and you will be holding the weapon that killed four agents of the FBI. "

  "You bastard," I said. "You cold-blooded bastard. "

  "Necessary sacrifices, Mr. Dresden," Denton said, but it wasn't a calm phrase anymore. It was eager, somehow, warmth curving around and through the words like a lover's hands. "Drop your gun. "

  "No," I said. "I won't. " He wouldn't kill ano
ther cop. Would he?

  "Then Murphy dies," Denton said. "Harris. "

  The redhead's shoulders bunched, and Murphy tried to scream, through the gag. I cried out and swung the barrel of the gun toward Harris.

  Denton's elbow came back into my gut and then his fist snapped up into my nose, casting a field of stars across my vision. The gun went off, pointed somewhere, but then Denton slapped it from my hand and drove another blow into my throat that sent me sprawling to the ground, unable to breathe or to move.

  Denton stooped to recover the gun and said, "You should have shot me while you had the chance, Mr. Dresden, instead of moralizing. " He pointed it at me, and I watched his lips curve into a slow, hungry smile. "Beautiful moon tonight," he said. "Sort of reminds me of a story. How did it go . . . ?"

  I tried to tell him where he could stick the moon and his story, but it came out a strangled gasp. I still couldn't move. It hurt too much.

  Denton thumbed back the trigger, sighted down the barrel at my left eye, and said, "Ah, yes. 'And I'll huff. And I'll puff. And I'll blow your house down. Good-bye, wizard. "

  Death by nursery tale. Hell's bells.