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Fool Moon, Page 8

Jim Butcher

Chapter 9

  A block from the Forty-ninth Street Beach there was a run-down garage, the sort of place you only find in the worst sections of big cities. The building consisted of corrugated metal on a steel frame, oxidating in the rain and the mist rising off the lake so that gobbets of rust ran down the walls in streaks and pooled on the sidewalks in uneven puddles. On one side of the garage was a vacant lot; on the other, what looked like the sort of pawn shop where crooks traded in their spare guns and knives for a few extra dollars when things were tight. A faded sign hung askew over one of the garage doors, reading FULL MOON GARAGE. I pulled the Beetle into the gravel parking lot, and parked a few feet from the building.

  "Thank God it's not too obvious or anything," I muttered, and killed the engine. It died with a new, moaning note to its usual rattle. I got out of the car, squinted at the building, and headed toward it. I didn't have my gun with me, but I did have my blasting rod, my shield bracelet, and a ring on my right hand in which I had stored up about as much energy as someone twice my size could put into a solid punch. Gravel crunched under my shoes as I walked, and rare autumn sunshine glared in my eyes and cast a long shadow behind me.

  I wasn't sure who to expect inside, if anyone. The people I'd seen with the dark-haired woman the night before, the rather nerdy bunch of young people clad in imitation biker-leathers, didn't seem to be the sort of folk to inspire fear in other criminal toughs as the Streetwolves apparently had. But maybe there was a connection. Maybe the dark-haired woman from last night was linked with the Streetwolves, somehow, as well as with the young people I had seen. What had the stout young man, Billy, called them? The Alphas.

  What, then, had the Alphas been? Biker thugs in training? That sounded ridiculous, even to me. But what if those young people had been lycanthropes, like the ones Bob had told me about? What if they were being trained, somehow, as junior members of the Streetwolves until they could be brought in as full werewolves? Presuming the Streetwolves themselves were lycanthropes or werewolves, that is. Sometimes, a biker gang is just a biker gang. There might be no connection to the Alphas at all. My head spun a little, trying to sort out the possibilities.

  All in all, it was far better to hope that the building was empty, and that I wouldn't have to deal with anyone, werewolves or otherwise. I would much rather just poke around and find something incriminating inside, something that I could bring back to Murphy and Denton that would point them in the correct direction.

  There was a regular door beside the pair of big, roll-up garage doors. Both of them were closed. I tried the regular door, and it opened easily enough, so I went on inside. There were no windows, and the only light in the garage fell into it from the open door behind me.

  "Hello?" I called into the darkness. I tried to peer around, but saw nothing other than dim shapes and outlines, what might have been a car with the hood up, a couple of those rolling tool-cabinets. There was a dull reflection of glass windows off to one side, where there might have been an office. I stepped to one side of the doorway, squinting, and waited for my eyes to adjust.

  There was a quiet sound, a dull rustle of clothing.

  Dammit. I reached a hand into my duster, wrapping my fingers around my blasting rod, and Listened. I could hear the sound of breathing in the room, from multiple sources in a variety of directions. There was a scuffling sound, shoes on the concrete floor.

  "I'm not a cop," I said into the darkness. I had the feeling that might be important for them to know. "My name is Harry Dresden. I just want to speak to the Streetwolves. "

  The room dropped into dead silence. No moving. No breathing. Nothing.

  I waited, tense and ready to run.

  "Take your hand out of your jacket," a male voice said. "And keep your hands where I can see them. We've heard of your kind, wizard. We've heard of you. You're with the cops. "

  "You're late on the gossip," I said wryly. "I'm playing doubles with Johnny Marcone now. Didn't you know?"

  There was a snort from the dark. "Like hell. That's just Marcone's story. We know the real deal with you, wizard. "

  Christ. I wished the police were as savvy as these ne'er-do-wells. "I've heard a few things about you all, too," I said. "Not much of it is too friendly. Some of it might even be considered a little weird. "

  There was a rough laugh. "What do you think they say about you, Dresden? Get your hands where I can see them. Now. " There was the click-clack of a pump shotgun's action.

  I swallowed and took my hand slowly off my blasting rod, then held both of my hands innocuously out in front of me, palms up. I willed strength through my shield bracelet as I did, drawing its protective energies about me. "All right," I said. "Come up where I can see you. "

  "You don't give the orders here," the male voice snarled. "I do. "

  I pressed my lips together and drew in a breath through my nose. "I just want to talk to you. "

  "About what?" said the voice.

  I tried to come up with something, something believable - but I'm not much of a liar. So I told them the truth. "Some dead people last month. More dead last night. "

  The voice didn't answer me for a moment. I licked my lips and kept going.

  "There were fake wolf tracks around the murder scenes. And the feds think someone used a weapon lined with wolf teeth to tear the victims up. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

  There was a flurry of mutters around the room, low voices in hushed tones all around me. A dozen, maybe. More. I got a sudden, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. If these people were the murderers, if they were responsible for last month's deaths, I was in big trouble.

  And if they were real werewolves, if they could shapeshift and come after me before I could clear out of there, I was as good as dead, shield bracelet or no. I choked down a surge of panic and forced myself not to turn and run for the door.

  "Kill him," someone said from the darkness, off to my left, a female voice with a deep, growling tone to it. There was an answering chorus of mewling sounds from the dark around me, repetitions of "Kill him, kill him, kill him. "

  My eyes were starting to adjust to the lack of light. I could see them now, the shapes of people restlessly pacing. Their eyes glowed like dogs' eyes in the glare of headlights. Both men and women moved around me, though I couldn't tell their ages. There were blankets and pillows made into pallets on the floor, thrown aside while their occupants had risen. The female voice I had heard continued to chant, "Kill him, kill him, kill him," while the others followed her lead. The air grew tight and heavy with a kind of energy I had never sensed before, a power that was gaining momentum as they chanted, a feral, raging current.

  Directly in front of me, not fifteen feet away, stood the large shape of a man holding a shotgun. "Stop it," he snarled, turning his head toward the others in the room. I could see his body responding as the energy grew, growing tenser, more ready. "Fight it. Hold it in, dammit. You can't let it loose here. There will be cops all over us. "

  When his head turned, I darted toward the doorway. I kept my left palm up and turned out toward the leader, the one with the shotgun, and held on to my shield as hard as I could.

  My motion triggered a frenzied howl from the others in the room and they came surging toward me like a dozen creatures with one controlling mind. The shotgun roared and threw a flash of white light over the room, showing me a frieze of half-dressed or naked men and women hurtling toward me, their faces twisted with grimaces of berserk anger. The force of the blast slammed into my shield. It wasn't quite enough to shatter the protective field, but it made my bracelet grow warm and shoved my opposite shoulder hard against the wall.

  I stumbled, thrown off balance. One of the men, a heavy-set fellow with his shoulders covered in tattoos, got between me and the door. I ran at him, and he spread his arms to grab me, assuming I would try to go past him.

  Instead, I drove my fist at his nose as hard as I could. I don't carry
a lot of power on my own when I punch. But when I added in the kinetic energy stored in the ring, my fist became a battering ram of bone and flesh, flattening the man's nose in a gout of blood, and sending him sprawling to the ground six feet away.

  I was through the door in a flash and felt the sun's welcome heat on my back. I pelted toward the Beetle, my long legs covering the ground quickly.

  "Stop! Stop!" the leader shouted, and I cast a glance over my shoulder to see him, an older man with greasy hair beginning to go grey. He planted his feet in the doorway, facing inside, holding the shotgun across his body and shoving at the people trying to get past him.

  I threw myself into the Beetle and jammed my key in the ignition.

  The car wheezed and rattled, but didn't start. Dammit.

  My hands were trembling, but I kept trying to get the car going, using every trick I knew to coax the engine to life, while watching the door. The leader of the Streetwolves was still there, fighting to hold the frenzied group inside. They were screaming and howling, but he shoved them away, clubbed them down with the shotgun like wild dogs, the muscles in his shoulders and back straining. "Parker!" screamed one of them, the woman who had begun the killing chant, "Let me through!" He swatted her down with the butt of the shotgun without hesitation.

  Then Parker turned his head toward me, and I met his eyes. There was a swimming moment, and then I was past his eyes, to what lay behind them.

  Fury overwhelmed me, naked lust for meat, for the hunt. I needed to run, to kill. I was invincible, unstoppable. I could feel the power in my arms and hands, feel the raw energy of the wild coursing through me, sharpening my senses to animal keenness.

  I felt his emotions like they were my own. Fury beneath rigid control, the ocean beating at a tide wall. The fury was directed at me, Dresden, at the man who had invaded his territory, challenged his authority, and driven his people out of control, endangering them. I saw that he was the leader of the lycanthropes called the Streetwolves, men and women with the minds and souls of beasts, and that he was aging, was not as strong as he once had been. Others, like the woman earlier, were beginning to challenge his authority. Today's events might tear him from leadership, and he would never live through it.

  If Parker was to live, I had to die. He had to kill me, pure and simple, and he had to do it alone to prove his strength to the pack. That was the only thing that kept him from coming at my throat that very second.

  Worse, he didn't know a damned thing about the last month's killings.

  And then the moment was past, the soulgaze over. Parker's face was stunned. He had seen me in much the same way I had seen him. I don't know what he saw when he looked upon my soul. I didn't want to know what was down there.

  I recovered from it before he did and fumbled at the keys again. The Beetle coughed to life, and I pulled out and onto the street, swerving wildly before gathering speed and heading back uptown as quickly as I could.

  I shook the entire way, my shoulders so tight with fear and reaction that I could hear my collarbones creaking with strain. I could still hear the mewling chants of "Kill him, kill him," in my head. Those things in that garage had not been people. They had looked like people, but they weren't. And they scared the hell out of me.

  While sitting at an intersection, I slammed my hand on the steering wheel, abruptly angry. "Stupid, Harry," I said. "How could you have been so stupid? Why in the hell did you go wandering in there like that? Do you realize how close those Neanderthal freaks came to tearing you apart?" I glared ferociously out my side window, at an old lady in a business suit who was staring at me as though I were a ranting madman. Which, I suppose, was what I looked like.

  I stopped myself from glaring at her, took a deep breath, and tried to calm down. A couple of blocks later, I was able to start thinking straight again.

  Parker and the Streetwolves were not responsible for the murders last month. That didn't make them any less dangerous. They were lycanthropes, the kind Bob had told me about, and I could see now why they had been feared. People with the souls of beasts, possessed of a ferocity so great that it could transform them into something inhuman without altering a single cell of their bodies.

  They lived in a pack, and Parker was their leader. I had challenged his dominance in my clueless, bumbling way, and now he couldn't afford to let me live, or he would be killed himself. So now I had to worry about someone else coming after me, trying to kill me. Not only that, all of this trouble had come gratis, without giving me any lead on the true culprit of the Lobo killings.

  Maybe it was a good time to leave town for a while.

  I brooded over that for a block or so, and then shook my head. I wouldn't run. I had made this trouble for myself, and I would get out of it myself. I had to stay, to help Murphy find the killer, and to help save lives before the full moon rose again. And if Parker wanted to kill me, well - he'd find that doing in a full-fledged wizard is no easy task.

  I gripped the steering wheel grimly. If it came to it, I would kill him. I knew I could do that. Technically, I suppose, Parker and his lycanthropes weren't human. The First Law of Magic, Thou Shalt Not Kill, wouldn't necessarily apply to them. Legally, I might be able to make a case for the use of lethal magic to the White Council.

  I just wouldn't be safe from myself. I wouldn't be safe from the loathing I would feel, using a tool made of life's essence, its energy, to bring an end to life. Magic was more than just an energy source, like electricity or petroleum. It was power, true, but it was a lot of other things as well. It was all that was deepest and most powerful in nature, in the human heart and soul. The ways in which I applied it were crude and clumsy in comparison to magic in its pure form. There's more magic in a baby's first giggle than in any firestorm a wizard can conjure up, and don't let anyone tell you any different.

  Magic comes from what is inside you. It is a part of you. You can't weave together a spell that you don't believe in.

  I didn't want to believe that killing was deep inside of me. I didn't want to think about the part of me that took a dark joy in gathering all the power it could and using it as I saw fit, everything else be damned. There was power to be had in hatred, too, in anger and in lust, in selfishness and in pride. And I knew that there was some dark corner of me that would enjoy using magic for killing - and then long for more. That was black magic, and it was easy to use. Easy and fun. Like Legos.

  I parked the Beetle in the lot of my office building and rubbed at my eyes. I didn't want to kill anybody, but Parker and his gang might not give me any choice. I might have to do a lot of killing, if I was going to live.

  I tried not to think too much about what sort of person it might be who survived. I would burn that bridge when I came to it.

  I would go up to my office and hold business hours for the rest of the day. I would wait for Murphy to call me, and give her any aid that I could. I would keep my eyes and ears open in case Parker or any of his gang came after me. There wasn't much more I could do, and it was frustrating as hell.

  I went up to my office, unlocked it, and flipped on the lights. Gentleman Johnny Marcone was seated at my desk in a dark blue business suit, and his hulking bodyguard, Mr. Hendricks, was standing behind him.

  Marcone smiled at me, but it didn't touch the corners of his eyes. "Ah, Mr. Dresden. Good. We need to talk. "