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Fool Moon, Page 30

Jim Butcher

Chapter 31

  The barrel of Denton's gun looked bigger and deeper than the national debt as it swung to bear on my face. His grey eyes glittered down the sights at me, and I saw the decision to pull the trigger flash across them. Before he could, I met his eyes hard, shoved myself out toward him with a sudden screaming pain in my temples, and locked him into a soulgaze.

  There was a rushing sensation, as there usually was, a feeling of movement forward and then down, like being sucked into a whirlpool. I rode the sensation into Denton's head, a brief doubt crossing my mind. Maybe getting shot would have been better than wading heart deep into Denton's soul.

  I can't describe what I found there very well. Try to imagine a place, a beautifully ordered structure, like the Parthenon or Monticello. Imagine that everything is balanced, everything is in proportion, everything is smooth and secure. Stick in blue skies overhead, green grass all around, puffy white clouds, flowers, and children running and playing.

  Now, add a couple hundred years of wear and tear to it. Dull the edges. Round the corners a little. Imagine water stains, and worn spots where the wind has gotten to it. Turn the skies dirty brown with smog. Kill the grass, and replace it with tall, ugly ragweed. Ditch the flowers, and leave in their places only dried up, skeletal rose vines. Age the male children into adult winos, faces haggard with despair and self-loathing and flushed with drink, and the girls into tired, jaded strumpets, faces hard, eyes cold and calculating. Give the place of beauty an aura of rage and feral abandon, where the people who walk about watch the shadows like hungry cats, waiting to pounce.

  And then, after all of that, after all the cares and trials and difficulties of the world a cop inhabits have been fairly represented, coat everything in a thick, sticky black sludge that smells like swamps and things that attract dun-colored flies. Paint it on, make it a coating that emphasizes the filth, the decay, the despair all around, that brings out that painful decline to the utmost degree. The sludge makes things stronger, and more bitter, more rotten, more putrid all at the same time.

  That was Denton, inside. A good man, jaded by years and poisoned by the power that had taken control of him, until that good man had been buried and only the filth and decay remained. Until the existence of the man who had once been was only a bitter reminder that made the man who was now seem all the more downfallen by comparison.

  I understood Denton's pain and his rage, and I understood how the dark power he'd taken had pushed him over the edge. There was an image of him kneeling at someone's feet as a wolf-fur belt was passed into his hands, and then it was gone. Knowing the man he had once been made clear to me the beast he had become, all violence and hunger and craving.

  I felt tears on my cheeks, and violent shudders shaking down my spine. I could pity Denton, and the others with him, but now, more than ever, they scared the crap out of me. I had bought myself a few seconds, at least, with the soulgaze - but would it be enough to keep Denton from blowing my head off?

  Denton stared at me as the soulgaze broke and we were released. He wasn't reacting well to whatever it was he had seen inside of me. His face had gone white, and his hand was trembling, the barrel of the gun wavering every which way. He lifted his other hand to mop beads of cold sweat away from his face.

  "No," Denton said, white showing all around the grey irises of his eyes. "No, wizard. " He raised his gun. "I don't believe in hell. I won't let you. " He screamed then, at the top of his lungs. "I won't let you!" I tensed up, preparing for a futile attempt to throw myself out of the way of a speeding bullet.

  "Yes," said a calm voice. "You will. " A bright red dot appeared right on the middle of Denton's chest, cheerful as a Christmas light. I twisted my head around to see Marcone walking over the turf, his weapon pointed steadily at Denton, Hendricks looming to one side. Denton's lackeys were watching Marcone with bright, steady eyes. Murphy lay on the grass, her feet toward me, her head away. I couldn't see what condition she was in, and both fear and frustration leapt up into me, for her sake.

  "Marcone," Denton said. His back straightened and his eyes narrowed. "You treacherous scum. "

  Marcone clucked with his teeth. "Our bargain was that you would bring him to me alive. Not execute him. Additionally, you may want to rethink the wisdom of using your own weapons. Let MacFinn kill him when he arrives. "

  "If he arrives," Denton snarled.

  "My spotters," Marcone said, "tell me that the animals I sent out with them went mad with fear about two minutes ago, three miles west of here. I think it will not take him much longer to show up, Mr. Denton. " His smile widened, but his money-colored eyes grew harder. "Now. Shall we cease antagonizing one another and finish our business?" Marcone lowered the rifle and flicked the laser sight off.

  Denton looked from me to Marcone, and I saw the blackness rise up in his eyes, gather behind them, and get ready to come rolling out. "Marcone," I said. "Just shoot him now. "

  "I think we've both had enough of your attempts to divide and conquer, Mr. Dresden," Marcone said, his voice bored. "You're beaten. Acknowledge it with grace. "

  I watched a slow smile spread over Denton's face as he kept the gun pointed at my head. My voice rose by a couple notes of alarm. "I mean it, John. I really do, I shit you not. This entire thing is about them killing you. "

  "What a vulgar reassurance," Marcone said. "Agent Denton, we have a few details to attend to. Lower your gun and let us be about them. "

  "I don't think so," Denton said. And he pointed the gun at Hendricks and started pulling the trigger. The gun roared so many times, so quickly, that I couldn't tell how often Denton fired.

  Hendricks snapped back onto his heels and was driven flat onto his back by the force of the bullets slamming into him. He didn't have time to twitch, much less scream, and he dropped like a felled tree. I felt it in the earth when his massive body hit the ground.

  Marcone started to raise his gun, but Wilson and Harris hurtled at his back and dragged him to the ground, pounding on him with their fists. Marcone writhed like an eel and slipped away from them, but Denton stepped into his path and thrust the gun into Marcone's face.

  "That's enough," he said, his voice gone hoarse. "Get them all and take them to the pit. MacFinn will be here any moment. "

  I took the moment to roll to my hands and knees and attempt to slip away unnoticed, but was brought up short by a pair of bare, muscular, feminine legs. My gaze followed the legs up, past the skirt, to a magnificently bare-breasted torso encircled by a wolf-pelt belt, and then to a face dominated by eyes made eerie by the lack of anything recognizably sentient in them. Benn smiled at me, set her foot against my wounded shoulder, and with a sadistic twist of her ankle and a shove of her muscled leg, sent searing pain screaming through my body, making me crumple to the ground in agony.

  I remember them dragging me across the grounds. We passed into the ring of evergreens, and I remember thinking that any sounds originating in that circle of pines would be heavily muffled by their branches and needles, further muffled by the trees surrounding the property, as well as the high stone wall. Gunshots, for example, might not even be heard at all, off the property. It was the clearest thought I had while my shoulder exploded.

  The next thing I remember was being shoved roughly forward. I fell, straight and hard in the dispassionate grip of gravity, and after long enough for me to start to suck in a breath, I hit water. It was only about six or eight inches deep, and beneath it was swirling, soft mud. I had a brief pang for my leather duster and then I sank down into the water, my hands slipping into the mud and getting stuck there. Cold water burbled around my face, and felt nice, for a moment, on my aching shoulder.

  Someone grabbed me by the collar and hauled me out of the water, to sit on my butt. Hands steadied me, and I sat with my shoulder aching and my head whirling until I could squint up at who was there.

  Murphy dropped to one knee in the water beside me and smoothed back my damp hair. "Dresden," s
he said. "You okay?"

  I took a look around me. I was at the bottom of an enormous pit, a square maybe twenty feet deep and twice that across. Muddy water, maybe from the rain, covered the bottom of the pit, and the moon tinted its surface silvery brown. Directly above the pit's center, maybe forty feet above me, was a square made of wooden planks, maybe five by five. It was a hunter's platform, suspended by ropes leading from the circle of evergreens that surrounded the pit. I could see the tops of the trees against the moon and the clouds.

  "Dresden," Murphy said again. "Are you all right?"

  "I'm alive," I said. I blinked at her for a second and then said, "I thought they killed you. "

  Her blue eyes sparkled briefly. Her hair was a mess, and her jeans and flannel shirt were rumpled and soaked with muddy water. She was shivering from the cold. "I thought they had, too. But they stopped as soon as Denton took you out, and tossed me down here. I can't figure why they didn't do the deed themselves, instead of leaving it to MacFinn. "

  I grimaced. "Trying to cover their tracks from the White Council," I said. "Denton wants MacFinn to take the fall for all the deaths. I think he's lost it. "

  "I always wind up in the nicest places when I hang with you, Dresden. "

  "You were tied up," I said. "How'd you get loose?"

  "She had help," someone said in a slurred, heavy voice. "For all the good it will do her. " I turned my head to see a naked and dirty Tera West, sitting with her back against another wall of mud. There were five soggy, motionless forms lying around her, the Alphas in their wolf-shapes. Tera held their heads upon her lap, up out of the water. She looked bedraggled and anguished, touching each of them in turn, very gently. Her amber eyes were dull.

  "I don't get it," I said. "Why did they stick us down here? Marcone just keeps a pit trap dug in his yard?"

  "He was planning on trapping MacFinn down here until morning. " Tera said. "When he would be vulnerable. "

  "Whoa, whoa," Murphy said, face pensive. "You're saying Denton was responsible for the deaths? All of them?"

  "One way or another. Yeah. " I gave Murphy the rundown on Denton. The way he'd gotten the belts for him and his people, lost control of the power they'd given him, and set up the Streetwolves and then MacFinn to take the blame.

  Murphy broke out into acidic swearing. "That was the angle I was missing. Dammit. No wonder Denton was so hot to keep you off of the case and out of the way, and why he wanted to find you so bad after the scene at MacFinn's place. That's how he kept showing up everywhere so fast, too - he already knew that someone was dead. "

  There were shouts from above, and we looked up to see Marcone swing out from the edge of the pit. He hung limply from a rope. His eyes were closed. I watched as he was drawn up in a series of short jerks until his bowed head bumped the bottom of the hunter's platform above and then was left there.

  "What the hell?" Murphy said, her voice soft.

  "Bait," I replied. I closed my eyes for a moment. "Denton's stringing him up as bait for MacFinn. The loup-garou comes in, jumps up to get Marcone, then Denton cuts the rope and drops MacFinn down in here. "

  "With us," Murphy said quietly. I felt her shivers grow a little more severe. "They're going to drop that thing into this pit with us. Oh, God, Harry. "

  "Denton or one of his people must have gotten some silver bullets made," I said. "They'll just let MacFinn slaughter us, then shoot him from up there. " I squinted up at the edge of the pit. "Pretty good plan. "

  "What can we do?" Murphy asked. She hugged herself, hard.

  I shook my head. "I don't know. "

  "Nothing," Tera said quietly. Murphy and I turned to look at her. One of the Alphas was stirring, Billy maybe, and wobbled and fell when he tried to sit up. But at least he could hold his head up out of the water. "Nothing," she repeated. "We are beaten. "

  I closed my eyes and tried to order my thoughts, to push the pain and fatigue back down and put together some sort of plan. Murphy settled beside me, a shivering spot against my side. The cast on her arm pressed against my ribs. I opened my coat, more a polite gesture than anything else, given that it, too, was soaked, and slipped the edge of it around her shoulders with my arm. Her back stiffened and she flashed me a look of indignation, but after a second just pressed as far under the coat as she could.

  After a moment, she spoke. Her voice came out quiet, uncertain - a far cry from her normal, brisk tones. "I've done some thinking, Dresden. I've decided that there's a reasonable chance you aren't involved with the killings. "

  I smiled a little. "That's real big of you, Murph. Doesn't what Denton did to you sort of prove I'm not involved?"

  She half smiled and shook her head. "No, Harry. It just means that he wants to kill you and me both. It doesn't mean that I trust everything you're saying. "

  "He wants me dead, Murph. That should mean something in my favor, shouldn't it?"

  "Not really," she said, and squinted up at the top of the pit. "From what I can tell, Denton wants pretty much everybody dead. And you could still be lying to me. "

  "I'm not, Murph," I said, my voice soft. "Cross my heart. "

  "I can't just take your word on it, Harry," she whispered. "There are too many people dead. My men. My people. Civilians, the ones I'm supposed to protect. The only way to be sure is to take you all, everyone involved, and sort things out with you behind bars. "

  "No," I said. "There's more to it than what you can prove, Murph, more than what's going to stand up in court. Come on. You and me, we've known each other for years. You should be able to trust me by now, right?"

  "I should be able to," Murphy agreed. "But after what I've seen, all the blood and death . . . " She shook her head. "No, Harry. I can't trust anyone anymore. " She half smiled and said, "I still like you, Dresden. But I can't trust you. "

  I tried to match her smile, but my feelings were in too much turmoil. Pain, mostly. Physical pain, and a deeper heart hurt, both for Murphy's sake and for the sake of our friendship. She was so alone. I wanted to go to the rescue, somehow, to make her hurting go away.

  She'd have spit in my face if I'd tried. Murphy wasn't the sort of person who wanted to be rescued, from anything. That she accepted as much comfort as my wet coat offered her came as a surprise to me.

  I looked around the pit again intently. The other Alphas were recovering, enough to sit up, but apparently not enough to move. Tera just sat with her back against the wall, defeated and exhausted. Marcone swung from the platform high above me, not moving, though I thought I might have heard a moan from him at one point. I felt a pang of sympathy for him. However much of a heartless bastard he might be, no one deserved to dangle like bait from a hook.

  The Alphas, Tera, Marcone, Murphy. They were all where they were because of me. It was my fault we were there, my doing that we were all about to die. Carmichael, the poor jerk, was dead, also because of me. So were other good cops. So was Hendricks.

  I had to do something about it.

  "I need to get out of here," I told Murphy. "Get me out of here, and maybe I can do something. "

  Murphy turned her head toward me. "You mean . . . ?" She waved the fingers of her unbroken arm in a vaguely mystic gesture.

  I nodded. I still had my ace in the hole. "Something like that. "

  "Right. So how do we get you out of here?"

  "You going to trust me, Murph?"

  Her jaw clenched. "It doesn't look as though I have much choice, does it?"

  I smiled back at her, and rose to my feet, sloshing around in the water. "Maybe we could dig into the walls a bit. Make climbing holes. "

  "You'll probably get shot once you get to the top," Murphy said.

  "No," I said, "I don't think they'll want to hang around the pit with MacFinn coming. They're bloodthirsty, but not stupid. "

  "So," Murphy said. "All we need to do is get you up to the top of the pit, and then you're going to go one-on-four with a bunch of arme
d FBI agents-cum-werewolves and beat them in time to go up against the loup-garou that we couldn't stop before with all of your magical gizmos and a building full of police officers. "

  "Essentially," I answered.

  Murphy looked up at me and then shrugged and let out a short, defiant laugh. She stood up too, flicked her hair back from her eyes with a toss of her head, and said, "I guess it could be worse. "

  There was a soft sound from above and behind me. Murphy froze, staring upward, her eyes becoming almost impossibly wide.

  I turned my head very slowly.

  The loup-garou crouched up at the lip of the pit, huge and gnarled and muscled and deadly. Its foaming jaws were open, showing the rows of killing teeth. Its eyes gleamed with scarlet flames in the moonlight, and they were fastened on the dangling figure of Gentleman Johnny Marcone. I quivered, and the motion made a slight sound against the water. The beast turned its head down, and when it saw me its eyes narrowed to glowing slits, and it let out a harsh, low growl. Its claws dug into the earth at the edges of the pit, tearing through it like sand.

  It remembered me.

  My heart started ripping a staccato rhythm in my chest. That same raw, sharp, primitive fear I'd felt before, the fear of simply being jumped on and eaten, returned in full force and for a moment swept away all thoughts and plans.

  "You had to say that," I said to Murphy, my voice wan and pale. "Happy? It's worse. "