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Fool Moon, Page 5

Jim Butcher

Chapter 5~6

  Chapter 5

  I got out the lump of chalk I always keep in my duster pocket, and the circular plastic dome compass that rides a strip of velcro on my dashboard, then squatted down, my voluminous coat spreading out over my legs and ankles. I drew a rough circle upon the asphalt around me with the chalk. The markings were bright against the dark surface and almost glowed beneath the light of the nearly full moon.

  I added an effort of will, a tiny investment of energy, to close the circle, and immediately felt the ambient magic in the air around me crowd inward, trapped within the confines of the design. The hairs at the nape of my neck prickled and stood on end. I shivered, and took the shard of glass with its swiftly drying bloodstain and laid it down in the circle between the toes of my boots.

  I began a low little chant of nonsense syllables, relaxing, focusing my mind on the effect I wanted. "Interessari, interressarium," I murmured, and touched the plastic dome of the compass to the damp blood. Energy rushed out of me, swirled within the focusing confines of the circle I had drawn, and then rushed downward into the compass with a visible shimmer of silver, dustlike motes.

  The compass needle shuddered, spun wildly, and then swung to the bloodstain on the dome like a hound picking up a scent. Then it whirled about and pointed to the southeast, whipping around the circle to hover steadily in that direction.

  I grinned in anticipation and smudged the chalk with my boot, releasing the remaining stray energy back into the air, then took up the compass and returned to the Blue Beetle.

  The problem with this particular spell was that the compass needle would point unerringly at whomever the blood had come from until the sun rose the next morning and disrupted the simple magical energies I had used to make the spell; but it didn't point out the swiftest way to get to the target, only the direct direction in which he, she, or it lay.

  Traffic in Chicago isn't ever what any sane person would call friendly or simple, but I had lived there for a while and had learned to survive. I drove past Cook County Hospital, a virtual city of its own inside Chicago, and down past Douglas Park, then turned south on Kedzie. The compass needle slowly aligned to point hard to the east as I traveled south, and I wound up turning east on Fifty-fifth, toward the University of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

  It wasn't exactly a good part of town. In fact, as far as neighborhoods go in Chicago, it was pretty bad. There was a high crime rate, and a lot of the buildings were run-down, abandoned, or only infrequently used. Streetlights were out in a lot of places, so when night closed in, it was darker than most areas. It's always been a favorite haunt for some of the darker things that come crawling out of the Nevernever for a night on the town. Trolls lurked about like muggers some nights, and any new vampire that came through the city always ended up in this neighborhood or one like it, searching for prey until he could make contact with Bianca or one of the lesser vampire figures of the city.

  I pulled over as the compass swung to point at what looked like an abandoned department store, and I killed the engine. The faithful Beetle rattled to a grateful halt. I got the map of the city out of the glove box and squinted at it for a moment. Washington Park and Burnham Park, where four of last month's deaths had taken place, were less than a mile away on either side of me.

  I felt a little shiver run through me. This sure as hell looked like the place to find Murphy's Lobo killer.

  I got out of the car. I kept the blasting rod in my right hand, the dashboard compass in my left. My shield bracelet dangled on my left wrist. My gun was in the left pocket of my duster, within easy reach. I took a moment to take a deep breath, to clear my mind, and to clarify what I wanted to do.

  I wasn't here to bring the killer down, whoever he was. I was just locating him for Murphy. Murphy could put the guy under surveillance and nail him the next time he tried to move. Even if I did capture him, Murphy couldn't exactly bring him up on charges, based on the word of a professional wizard. Municipal judges would love having a cop appear before them and start spouting such crazy talk.

  I spun my blasting rod around in my fingers, grinned, and started forward. That was all right. I didn't need the justice system to recognize my power to be able to use it.

  There were boards over the front windows of the once department store. I tested each one as I went past and found one that swung in easily. I stopped and examined it carefully, wary of any alarms that might be attached to it.

  Such as the string tied across the bottom, lined with little jingle bells. If I had pushed the wooden sheet any further inward, I would have set it to jangling. Instead, I slipped the string off the head of one of the nails it hung by, lowered the bells carefully, and slipped inside the dim confines of the abandoned store.

  It was a skeletal place. There were still the bones of shelves, forming long aisles, but now barren of merchandise. Empty fluorescent light fixtures dangled in forlorn rows from the ceiling, and the powdered glass of shattered, tubular bulbs dusted the floor beneath them. Light seeped in from the street, mostly moonlight, but more light came from the back of the store. I checked my bloodstained compass. The needle was pointing firmly toward the light. I closed my eyes, and Listened, a skill that isn't hard to pick up, but that most people don't know how to do anymore. I heard voices, at least a pair of them, talking in hushed, urgent tones.

  I crept toward the back of the store, using the barren shelves to keep myself from being seen. Then I held my breath and peeked up over the top of the last row of shelves.

  Gathered around an old Coleman lantern were several people, all young, of various shapes and sizes and both genders. They were dressed in all shades of black, and most wore jackets and bracelets and collars of dark leather. Some had earrings and nose rings; one had a tattoo showing on his throat. If they had been tall, muscular folk, they would have looked intimidating, but they weren't. They looked like college students, or younger, some still with acne, or too-oily hair, beards that wouldn't quite grow all the way in, and the thinness of youth. They looked awkward and out of place.

  Four or five of them were gathered behind and around a stout young man less than five and a half feet tall. He had thick glasses and pudgy fingers, and would have looked more at home with a pocket protector than with the spiked leather gloves on his fingers. He stood with his hands on his hips, glaring up at a rail-thin blonde girl at least a head taller than he, the lines of her willowy body all awkward, her long, sad face set in an expression of anger. Her hair fell about her face and head in a ragged mane, but her eyes sparkled with contained wrath. Another five or six of the young people were gathered behind her, and everyone seemed tense.

  "And I'm telling you," the young man snarled in a muted voice, "that we should be out there right now. We can't allow ourselves to rest until we've found them all and torn them apart. " There was a murmur of agreement from the people behind him.

  "I swear, Billy," the blonde said. "You're such a testosterone-laden idiot. If we were out there right now, they might catch on to us. "

  "Use your head, Georgia," Billy snapped back. "You think they haven't figured it out by now? They could take all of us out right this minute if they hit us. "

  "They haven't," Georgia pointed out. "She told us not to move again tonight, and I'm not moving. And if you try it, so help me, I'm going to tie your ankles to your ears. "

  Billy growled, actually growled, though it sounded posed and forced, and stepped forward. "You think you can handle me, bitch?" he said. "Bring it on. "

  Georgia's eyes narrowed. "I didn't sign on to this wolf thing to fight hapless losers like you, Billy. Don't make me start now. " She glared at the young people standing behind Billy. "You know what she told us. Are you going to start going up against her word?"

  "Listen, Alphas," Billy said, turning to look at those behind him, and then at those backing his opponent. "I've led you for all this time. I've done what I've promised to do. Are you going to stop trusting me?"
  I peered at the discussion and then lowered my head again, back into the shadows. Holy I-Was-a-Teenage-Werewolf, Batman. I checked my compass, and it pointed firmly at the lit room, the group gathered around the lantern. Were these the killers? They looked more like a group of computer nerds geared up for Leather Night.

  This was a start at least. I could clear out now, and let Murphy know what I had seen. I'd need to check around the building outside first, see if any of the group had any cars parked nearby, to be able to give Murphy the license plate numbers. Hell, we weren't far from the university. Maybe some of them would have parking passes.

  "What is the meaning of this?" came a clear, strident woman's voice.

  I craned my neck up to the edge of the shelf again. A dark-complected woman, as tall as the long-faced blonde, but older, solid with muscle and moving with an animal surety, had come into the room from a back door. Her brown hair was peppered with grey, and it took me only a second to recognize the woman from the car in the parking lot outside of McAnally's. My heart started to pound a little more quickly with excitement. She had been following Murphy and me, after all. She glared at the two groups of young people, her eyes an almost eerie shade of amber that could barely be construed as brown. "Have I taught you no better?" the woman demanded.

  Billy and Georgia were both looking down at the floor uncomfortably. The other young people had assumed similar postures, like a group of children caught planning to go out after curfew.

  "This isn't a game. Someone followed me here. They're on to us. If you start making mistakes now, you'll pay for them with your life," the woman said, stalking back and forth around the group. I checked my compass.

  The needle swung back and forth as she walked, pointing solidly at her. My heart leapt into my throat. I considered this woman, with her almost animal vitality, her commanding presence and force of will. This woman, I thought, might be a killer. And she knew she had been followed. How? How in the hell had she known I was after her?

  I looked up at her again, excited, only to find her staring intently at the thick patch of shadows around the shelves I hid behind. One of the young people started to say something, and the woman raised her hand for silence. I saw her nostrils flare as she breathed in through her nose, and she took a step in my direction. I held my breath, not daring to duck back down behind the shelves, lest the motion give me away.

  "Join hands," snapped the woman. "Now. " And then she turned to the Coleman lantern on the floor and snuffed it out, plunging the room into blackness.

  There was a moment of confused murmuring, a commanding hiss from the woman, and then there was nothing but silence and the sound of shoes and boots moving over the tiles, toward the back of the store. They were getting away. I rose, blind, and headed around the shelves toward them as quickly as I could, trying to follow.

  In retrospect, it wasn't the smartest decision, but I knew that I couldn't afford to let them get away. The spell I'd wrought on my compass wouldn't last long, not long enough to find the woman again, much less any of her pack of young people. I wanted to follow them out, to get the license plates on their cars, anything that would let me help Murphy locate them after they'd run.

  I miscalculated the length of my stride and bounced into the wall at the end of the aisle. I sucked in a hiss of pain and reoriented myself, following them, using the darkness to conceal me as much as they did. I could have made some light for myself - but as long as no one could see, no one would start shooting, either, I reasoned. I moved out carefully, Listening, and following the sounds.

  I had only a second's warning, the sound of claws sliding on the old tile, and then something large and furry slammed into my legs below the knee, taking them out from under me and sending me heavily to the floor. I let out a shout and swung my blasting rod like a baseball bat, feeling it crack down solidly on something hard and bony. There was a snarl, a deep, animal sound, and something tore the rod from my hand and sent it flying away. It clattered hollowly on the tile floor. I dropped my compass, scrabbled for my gun, and got my feet underneath me, backpedaling, yelling my fear out into a wordless challenge.

  I stood still for a moment, staring at nothing, breathing hard, my gun heavy in my hand. Fear made my heart pound, and as always, anger followed hard on the heels of fear. I was furious that I had been attacked. I'd half expected something to try to stop me, but in the dark whatever had been snarling had scared me a lot more than I'd thought it would.

  Nothing happened after a minute, and I couldn't hear anything. I reached into my shirt and drew out the silver pentacle that had been my mother's, the five-pointed star upright within a circle, the symbol of order, symmetry, balance of power. I focused my will on it, concentrating, and the pentacle began to glow with a faint, gentle light - hardly the blinding luminescence that came as the result of focusing power against a being of the Nevernever, but adequate enough to navigate by, at least. I moved toward the back room, blue-white light like moonlight pooled around me.

  It was definitely stupid to keep going forward, but I was angry, furious enough to bumble my way through the back room of the department store, until I saw the dark blue outline of an open doorway. I headed for it, tripping over a few more things along the way that I couldn't quite make out in the werelight of my amulet, angrily kicking a few things from the path of my feet, until I emerged into an alley behind the old building, breathing open air, able to see again in dim shapes and colors.

  Something hit me heavily from behind, driving me to the ground, gravel digging into my ribs through my shirt. My concentration vanished, and with it the light of my amulet. I felt something hard and metallic shoved against the back of my skull, a knee pressed into the small of my back, and a woman's voice snarled, "Drop the gun, or I blow your head off. "

  Chapter 6

  Call me crazy, but I'm not big on defiance when I've got a gun rammed against my skull. I carefully set the. 38 in my left hand down and moved my fingers away from it.

  "Hands behind your back. Do it," snarled the woman. I did it. I felt the cold metal of the handcuffs around my wrists, heard the ratcheting sound of the cuffs closing around them. The knee lifted off of my back, and my attacker shoved me over with one leg, snapped on a flashlight, and shone it in my eyes.

  "Harry?" she said.

  I blinked and squinted against the light. I recognized the voice now. "Hi, Murphy. This is going to be one of those conversations, isn't it?"

  "You jerk," Murphy said, her voice harsh. She was still only a shadow behind the flashlight, but I recognized the contours now. "You found a lead and followed it, and you didn't contact me. "

  "Those who live in glass houses, Lieutenant," I said, and sat up, my hands still held tightly behind my back. "There wasn't time. It was hot and I couldn't afford to wait or I might have lost it. "

  Murphy grunted. "How did you find this place?"

  "I'm a wizard," I told her, and waggled my arms as best I could. "Magic. What else?" Murphy growled, but hunkered down behind me and unlocked the cuffs. I rubbed at my wrists after they were freed. "How about you?"

  "I'm a cop," she said. "A car tailed us back to McAnally's from the murder scene. I waited until it was gone and followed it back here. " She stood up again. "You were inside. Did anyone go out the front?"

  "No. I don't think so. But I couldn't see. "

  "Dammit," Murphy said. She put her gun away in her coat. "They didn't come out the back. There must be some way up to the roof. " She stood up and peered around at the closely packed buildings, shining her flashlight around the roofs edge. "They're long gone by now. "

  "Win some, lose some. " I got to my feet.

  "Like hell," she said and turned and started into the building.

  I hurried to catch up with her. "Where are you going?"

  "Inside. To look for stairs, a ladder, whatever. "

  "You can't follow them," I said, falling into step beside her as she went into
the darkened building. "You can't take them on, not with just you and me. "

  "Them?" Murphy said. "I only saw one. " She stopped and looked at me, and I explained to her in terse terms what had happened since we parted in the parking lot. Murphy listened, the lines at the corners of her blue eyes serious.

  "What do you think happened?" she asked when I was finished.

  "We found werewolves," I said. "The woman, the dark one with the grey in her hair, was their leader. "

  "Group killers?" Murphy said.

  "Pack," I corrected her. "But I'm not so sure that they were the killers. They didn't seem . . . I don't know. Cold enough. Mean enough. "

  Murphy shook her head and turned to walk outside. "Can you give me a good description?"

  I kept up with her. "Good enough, I guess. But what do you want it for?"

  "I'm going to put out an APB for the woman we saw, and I want you to describe the kids you heard talking. "

  "What do you need that for? Don't you have the plates off the car she was driving?"

  "I already called them in," Murphy said. "Rental. Probably taken out under a false ID. "

  "I think you've got the wrong people, Murph," I said. "Don't put out that APB. "

  "Why shouldn't I?" Murphy asked. "Someone follows me back to town from the scene of a murder. Not only that, but you can confirm to me that they were the killer from the scene. Not in a court of law, I know, but you can give it to me, and that's enough. Standard investigation will turn up the rest if we know where to look. "

  I held up my hand. "Hold on, hold on. My spell didn't tell me that the woman was the killer. Only that it was her blood at the scene. "

  Murphy folded her arms and glared up at me. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

  "You still don't get it, Murphy," I said, my own temper rising a little. "You don't start something with the kind of people who live in boogety-land unless you're willing to take it all the way, right there, right then. If you start harassing a pack of werewolves, setting the police after them, you've just declared war. You'd better be ready to fight it. "

  Murphy thrust her jaw out. "Don't worry about me. I can handle it. "

  "I'm not saying you can't," I said. "But whatever it was that tore apart Spike back at Marcone's club wasn't the same thing that was with me in the dark back there. " I jerked my head at the main room of the department store.

  "Oh yeah?" Murphy said. "Why not?"

  "Because it could have killed me and it didn't. "

  "You don't think you could have taken care of yourself against a wolf, Harry?"

  "In the dark?" I said. "Murphy, it's been nearly a hundred years since the wolf went extinct in most of the United States. You've got no idea, none at all, of how dangerous they can be. A wolf can run faster than you can drive a car through most of Chicago. His jaws can snap your thighbones with one jerk. A wolf can see the heat of your body in the complete dark, and can count the hairs on your head from a hundred yards off by starlight. He can hear your heart beating thirty or forty yards away. The wolf that was there in the dark with me could have killed me, easy. It didn't. It disarmed me, even after I'd hit it, and then it left. "

  "That doesn't mean anything," Murphy said - but she folded her arms over her stomach and glanced at the shadows around us with a little shiver. "Maybe the killer knows you. Maybe it didn't want to risk killing a wizard. Maybe, just maybe, the wolf did it to throw you off. Maybe it spared you just so you would react in this way, just to avoid suspicion. "

  "Maybe," I admitted. "But I don't think so. The kids I saw . . . " I shook my head. "Don't put out the APB, yet. Hold off on it, until I can get you some more information. Look, you pay me to give you my advice, to be your consultant on the supernatural. I'm your expert, right? Listen to me. Trust me. "

  She stared up at my face, her expression intent, looking away quickly when her eyes met mine. Murphy had known me for a while. You don't go looking into a wizard's eyes without a darned good reason. Wizards see too much.

  "All right," she said finally. "I'll hold off on it - but only until tomorrow morning, when I have that report. If you can't show me anything by then, I'm going ahead after the people we saw tonight. " Her mouth quirked in a fierce little grin. "I'd have a hell of a time explaining what I was doing out at the crime scene in Rosemont, anyway. " The grin vanished, leaving only ferocity. "But you will have that information for me, Dresden, bright and early. Make no mistake. I will catch the killer before anyone else dies. "

  I nodded to Murphy. "In the morning," I said. "You got it. "

  Murphy's flashlight flickered and then went out as the filament burst with an audible pop.

  Murphy sighed in the darkness. "Nothing ever works right when you're here. Sometimes, Harry," she said, "I really hate hanging out with you. "