Wolf's Revenge By Mark E. Cooper
Copyright©2005 by Mark E. Cooper
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Chris eased the car around the corner, switched off the headlights, and coasted the last few hundred yards before slowing to a halt behind Baxter’s car. She could just see Jimmy’s silhouette in the front passenger seat as evening gave way to night.
“My turn,” she said, opening her door.
“Be my guest,” Ken mumbled around a ham roll. “Ask them if Flint is still giving them shit.”
“Save some for later. I’m not going to keep making them if you eat them all before midnight.”
“Have a heart, Chris. If you hadn’t joined the Department you could have opened your own restaurant.”
“Butt kisser,” she said with a grin and slammed the door.
She ambled along the rapidly emptying street; it had long since become familiar to her. A week of staking out Kirkwood’s store had garnered her precisely nothing except for Ken’s appreciation for her culinary skills; present him with food, and he was anybody’s.
She knocked on the passenger window of Baxter’s car, and Jimmy rolled it down. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She waved a hand in front of her face. “How many times do I have to say it, Jimmy? Bring some breath mints on these things.”
“I don’t like mints.”
She climbed into the back of the car. “Anything?”
Baxter grunted. “Squat. I know this is your show now—”
“That’s right, it is.”
“—but I think Flint is onto something. Ryder—that arsehole—isn’t coming. He would have to be a complete idiot to try for Kirkwood in front of us.”
“Or so confident he doesn’t care if we see him,” Jimmy added.
Or something they haven’t thought of, Chris mused. “Flint hasn’t done any better with her approach. I still think this is our best shot. Has she made an appearance round here?”
Baxter nodded. “She came to see Kirkwood again. She didn’t look pleased when she left.”
“Nah, she wouldn’t talk about it. She was seriously pissed, I can tell you that.”
She smirked. “Good.”
Jimmy laughed. “You really don’t like her do you? What is it with the two of you? Someone said…”
“Don’t make me hurt you, Jimmy,” she warned. “Give.”
“It’s nothing, just something making the rounds back at Central. If you must know, people are saying Flint made a play for Ken and you busted her chops for it. They reckon you’re jealous.”
Her jaw dropped and she felt her face grow hot. “Oh that’s just great. Perfect!”
Jimmy chuckled and even Baxter grinned.
“No truth to it is there? Ow!” Baxter glared and rubbed his shoulder. “What was that for?”
“Something to make me feel better,” she said grumpily. “I don’t need this on top of everything else. I thought the guys had some respect, if not for me, at least for a fellow officer. Ken is my partner. It would be like incest or something, and besides, I’m getting married in a couple of months.”
“Don’t take everything so serious,” Jimmy said with a pained sigh. “They’re only funning. They joke about me and Baxter all the time, and you don’t hear us complaining.”
“What?” Baxter said with a start. “What have those bastards been saying? I’ll—”
Jimmy waved his partner silent. “They do respect you, Chris. They know you’d kick their butts if they didn’t!”
“You bet I would.”
“And anyway, you’re not Ken’s type.”
“What the hell do you mean by that?” She said, wanting to suck in her gut. This week’s extra sessions in the gym had so far failed to show up on the scales.
Jimmy just chuckled and shook his head.
Her glare gave way under the assault of his laughter and she smiled. She was being ridiculous. She didn’t want to be Ken’s type.
“I want to know what they’re saying about me,” Baxter growled, and that set off another round of laughter.
She climbed out of the car still grinning and watched it pull away. Baxter was questioning Jimmy and threatening dire consequences for the rumour-mongers.
Chris watched the hurrying pedestrians heading home, and wondered what it was like being them living among monsters. The locals called the Waterfront District Monster Central, and with good reason. Compared with other cities Monster Central had the highest concentration of non-human residents and businesses bar none. The people living here cheek by jowl with the monsters had a unique perspective on the problem of non-human integration. She wondered what they thought about the proposed amendments to the Constitution.
She climbed back into her car to find Ken munching on a bag of chips reading his horoscope. He offered her the bag, and she took a generous handful. She ignored his indignant squawk, and pulled half of the newspaper out of his lap. She draped it over the steering wheel where she could read and keep an eye on the street at the same time.
“You really buy into that don’t you?”
Ken smiled without looking up. “You know I do.”
“But even the gifted say it’s bullshit.”
“There are many kinds of magic,” he said piously.
“Yeah, and that kind is bullshit,” she said with a grin. It was an old bone of contention between them, and always a good way to pass the time on a stakeout. “Ask a mage about the stars, and he’ll tell you all they’re good for is summer nights and poetry.”
“Ask a witch and she’ll tell you everything is connected. If you know how to look, the stars can tell you a lot.”
She shook her head and began reading her half of the paper. Ed Davis must surely have a contact in the Department. His latest story about the Shifter Slayings had pride of place on the front page and his information was spot on. She sighed and turned the paper over, determined not to read anything Davis had written.
The top story this time was about the Amendment Lobby and their efforts to push their agenda through congress. All kinds of interesting people had signed on and were using their influence to help things along. That so many non-humans had an interest in the proposed amendments wasn’t a surprise, but some of the names on the list were. NSPCL was high on the list of influential backers of course, and that meant Techtron—and its money—was too, but what was ex-president Irvine doing there? There was also a strong contingent of mages listed, though the Council itself had remained neutral. Perhaps the most surprising name on the list was Winterwing. Why did a dragon care whether non-humans got the vote or not? His place as presidential advisor was secure no matter the outcome.
“Do you ever wonder what the world would be like without magic?” she asked, turning the page.
“I think it would be better.”
“Different and better.”
Ken folded his half of the paper and tossed it on the back seat. “I don’t know about better. Easier on us though.”
She nodded. “No worrying about getting hexed.”
“You always bring that up, Chris. It only happened that one time.”
“Once was enough for me.” She shivered, feeling again that sense of desperation she had felt when the hex paralysed her. Unable to move or even breathe, she would have died if not for Ken. “What about this amendment business?”
“What about it?”
“No magic, no monsters.”
“Doesn’t follow. Didn’t your Dad teach you anything?”
Chris looked at him sharply, but he was grinning. “That’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
“Hand me the binoculars would you? I think I saw something up ahead.”
“You’re not getting out of it that easy, Ken. How did Flint find out about my Dad?”
“I didn’t tell her… I didn’t, I swear!”
“How did she know to ask about him then?”
“She already knew everything. I wouldn’t tell anyone about stuff like that behind your back. She already knew about your Dad being a witch when she brought it up with me. She must have read your file and did some digging. She did ask me how you felt about it, but I told her to ask you, which she did that day at Collard.”
Chris pursed her lips as if trying to decide whether to believe him, but she could tell he was sincere. What worried her was Flint’s interest in her background. If Flint was only after Ryder, why was she digging into her past? What possible difference could it make that her Dad was a witch?
“Okay, I believe you,” she said and Ken relaxed. “I still say no magic means no monsters.”
Ken shook his head. “You’ll never change.”
She glared. “That had better be a compliment.”
Ken grinned. He reached onto the back seat for another roll, and ate it in silence.
Less than an hour later it was too dark to read. They didn’t want to betray their presence by using a light, so they sat in darkness watching the empty street. Even this late, one or two people wandered into Kirkwood’s store. None of them matched Ryder’s description.
She snaked a hand onto the back seat and came up with an empty bag. “Tell me you didn’t eat everything I brought.”
“Of course not,” Ken said, exuding injured dignity.
She wasn’t sure she believed him, but she nodded acceptance when he reached over the seat and found the other bag she had packed. He stole another roll before she could get to it, but she let it go. While she was eating, Ken poured them both a coffee from the thermos and then took up the binoculars again.
The binoculars were fitted with a gizmo called a low light amplification module and were brand new tech. She and a few others were supposed to test them in the field and report back. They were clunky looking things—entirely non-magical in construction—and provided a fuzzy picture with a faintly greenish cast to it. Magical or not, the old ones in the trunk were a damn sight better, but she wasn’t in charge of the Department’s budget. Those who managed such things were always looking for ways to make cuts, and magic was expensive.
Chris ate a couple of rolls and drank her coffee. Remembering her advice to Jimmy, she popped a mint into her mouth. She didn’t want coffee breath. Ken passed her the binoculars and she studied the street. She watched Kirkwood’s customers coming and going and wondered what the hell they found to buy at this time of night. Why didn’t they—
She tensed. “Heads up.”
“Is it Ryder?” Ken said eagerly.
She shook her head. It wasn’t Ryder, but it was something. There were shadows running back and forth behind the windows of Kirkwood’s shop. She was about to suggest they take a look, when someone staggered out the door and collapsed onto the sidewalk.
Chris pulled her weapon and climbed out of the car. She scurried across the road to kneel next to the prone figure. Pressing her fingers to the man’s neck, she felt for a pulse and found one. It was faint but there. There was blood running down his face, but scalp wounds always bled a lot. The wound looked superficial. A shopping bag lay discarded on the sidewalk nearby, its contents strewn all over.
“He alive?” Ken asked, peering around the doorjamb into the store.
It was great, less paperwork.
“You see anything?” she asked, looking down the central aisle past bottles of shampoo and bars of soap.
“Me neither. I go first, you back me.”
She crept through the door and met frightened eyes. Another customer, this time lying facedown to one side of the door. The woman looked up when she heard help coming.
“How many?” Chris whispered.
The woman didn’t answer with words, instead she held up a single finger.
Only one. That was good. Chris scurried down an empty aisle and finally found what she was looking for, or rather she heard it. There were voices raised in anger toward the back of the store. A storeroom? She moved forward and Ken took her place at the end of the aisle to cover her. She kept low and made it to the door leading to the storeroom.
Two men were inside. One wore a shirt with the store logo on it—Ben Kirkwood—the other wore a nice-looking suit, but she couldn’t see his face clearly. He carried a gun loosely in his right hand aimed at the floor. Kirkwood chose that moment to move and obscured her shot. She scowled and shifted to the other side of the doorway just as Ken arrived. He crouched next to the cash register and covered her.
The perp shoved Kirkwood against his desk with a crash, and Chris was able to see his face clearly for the first time. It was Ryder. How the hell had he got by them without being seen? It didn’t matter; she had him dead on.
“Ryder!” Chris shouted. “Drop the—”
Ryder spun pulling Kirkwood in front of him.
“—gun!” He had moved so fast that she nearly missed it. One moment she’d had Ryder in her sights, the next Kirkwood. Lucky she hadn’t pulled the trigger. “Drop the gun!”
“Ah, Lieutenant Humber finally arrives. How kind of you to join us. I hear you’ve been entertaining the delightful Miss Tolliday. Did she tell you what her friends did to me? Did she tell you why they did it?”
“Let Kirkwood go, and we can talk about it.”
Ryder grinned. “Oh, I do like you.”
“The feeling is not mutual,” she said, easing to the right a little more. Ryder followed the move and she gained nothing. “You’re not walking out of here… Douglas isn’t it?”
“You’re not walking out, Douglas, not this time. You had your freebie at my expense at Area 51. How did you do that by the way?”
“It surprises you? It shouldn’t you know. How many times have you heard of shifters vanishing into a crowd? It’s not even magic really, just a part of what we are.”
“There were no crowds that day.”
“Drop the gun. We can’t stand here all night.”
“No, I suppose not.”
Ryder seemed to think about it, but then he tightened his grip on Kirkwood’s neck and shook him a little. “If only you knew what this man’s son and his friends put me through, you would help me.”
“Don’t bet on it. Drop the gun, I won’t ask again.”
“This weapon will stay where it is thank you. You drop yours.”
“Not happening,” Ken said.
Chris estimated her chances of getting a shot off without hitting Kirkwood. They weren’t good. “You can still come out of this ahead. I don’t want to kill you.”
Ryder chuckled. “How do you know I want to live?”
She moistened her lips. “There’s no need for this. You said I might help if I knew. Drop the gun and tell me about it.”
“Okay,” he said, throwing the gun down.
She winced but it didn’t go off. “That’s good. Now let him—no!”
Ryder threw Kirkwood at her and made a dash for the door. Ken fired and so did she, but her shot went wild.
She killed a can of coffee and not Kirkwood. Lucky.
“Get off me, lard arse!” she yelled, trying to get out from under Kirkwood.
Ken pulled her to her feet. She ran along the aisles and into the night. Damn! She had lost him again... no wait. A shadow darted across the road and into an alley. She pursued.
“Don’t, Chris!” Ken shouted at her back. “I’m calling for backup!”
“Bring the car around!” she yelled over her shoulder. She sprinted across the road and stopped at the mouth of the alley. She ducked her head forward and then back. Ryder was still going. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” she cried at the sprinting man. “Damn!”
She held her fire and gave chase, gasping for breath as she sprinted down the fetid alley. Lady bless her, she was out of condition, but she would not give up. No one gave her the slip this easy; not a second time.
It made her look a fool and she didn’t like that.
She skidded around a corner and caught sight of Ryder ducking into another alley. She ran to the mouth of it and stopped to peek around the corner into the darkness. The shadows tried to trick her eyes into seeing what wasn’t there. Her gun was pointing at a stack of garbage before she knew what it was. Panting and shaking with adrenaline rush, she eased into the darkness with her gun leading the way.
“There’s no need for this!” she shouted.
A chuckle to her left made her duck and spin in place. She stared at a Dumpster full of stinking refuse; it smelled as if something had crawled in and died. The laughter came again. She fumbled in her jacket pocket and pulled out her little flashlight. She’d bought it when she joined the Department, and it had cost a fortune, but it was worth it. She raised it to her lips and whispered one word.
The flashlight activated and light speared the darkness. She played the beam over the alley. Nothing. He must be hiding behind the Dumpster. It was the only thing large enough. She kept both her gun and her flashlight on it and prayed for Ken to hurry.
She tried to moisten her lips but her mouth was dry. “You didn’t kill him and that’s good. We can still talk.”
The muted sound of traffic in the distance greeted her offer. She would have preferred him to have a chat with a hollow point round, but Cappy had warned her before about things like that. She was supposed to bring them in not execute them.
Where the hell is Ken?
“Come out before you make it worse for yourself.”
She edged forward a little, trying to pierce the shadows around the Dumpster. Laughter greeted her; manic, hysterical, laughter. Seconds later, silence slammed down over the alley, shearing the hair-raising sound off mid-breath.
Chris flinched and edged back.
“I couldn’t possibly make it worse for myself,” Ryder said, his voice full of anger. “You don’t know what it’s like. You really don’t... or do you? Of course you don’t. How could you? Only someone who has been through it can know how it feels to lose everything.”
Chris swallowed shakily. How could she have been so stupid? How many times had she warned Ken never to chase a monster without backup? She had broken one of her own cardinal rules. Lady what a fool she was. She snaked a hand behind her back and pulled the Defender II from her waistband. She transferred it to her right hand before dropping the Remington into her jacket pocket.
Ryder chuckled. “You should have brought Flint with you. She and I go back a ways, did you know that? Where is she… where is your backup, Lieutenant?”
Ryder’s insane laughter battered her ears again. Sweat trickled down her spine. Her legs were shaking and her knees felt wobbly. She tried to force herself to breathe evenly. She took a careful step back, and then another. The laughter pursued her. She backed faster, keeping her gun trained on the Dumpster where it sat trapped in the beam of her flashlight. Her heart was thudding loudly in her chest; surely it was loud enough to be heard down the alley.
The laughter ceased and a rustle of movement broke the sudden silence. She aborted her plan to flee. If she fired the instant he appeared, she might get lucky and… it was too late to plan.
“Should I show her?” Ryder muttered. “Do you think she’ll be impressed? All right then.”
Before she could think about what he had said, the monster Ryder had become came for her in a rush of speed no man or woman could match. It was huge. A four-legged and furred creature bigger by far than any dog she had ever seen. It wasn’t a dog, but neither was it a wolf. A pair of golden eyes glared at her malevolently from a wolf-like head, but its muscular body made it appear a twisted caricature—part man, part wolf. It was a creature out of nightmare, neither one thing nor the other but both. He was almost on her before her brain caught up and sent the signal to her finger.
Two shots rang out and hit Ryder in the chest, but he kept coming. He was on her in less than a heartbeat. His golden eyes were fixated upon her vulnerable throat. He snarled revealing a mouth full of sharp fangs.
She crashed to the ground under his weight and fired twice more into his chest. “Please don’t…” she whispered just as his huge jaws clamped down.
Pain beyond anything she had ever felt erupted in her neck and shoulder. She screamed long and hard, beating frantically on its head with her gun. The beast shook her in its massive jaws as if annoyed at her defiance, and flung her aside. She crashed into something and flopped to the ground.
Still screaming at the burning agony in her wounded shoulder, she fired until her gun clicked empty.
Blaam! Blaam! Blaam! Blaam! Click, click.
Her head rolled from side to side as she tried to focus bleary eyes on Ryder. She was in shock. She knew what it was like from past experience. Her good hand, still holding her gun raised, shook so badly she almost dropped it. Sweat suddenly burst out all over her, but her teeth were chattering. She was hot and cold—her senses reeled.
Blood loss. Got to stop the bleeding… oh Lady, where is he… it?
She ignored the bleeding and fumbled one handed for her spare magazine, but her pocket was empty. It must have fallen out. She reached awkwardly for the Remington, but her fumbling fingers couldn’t seem to grasp it. She blinked sweat out of her eyes trying to see Ryder. Her flashlight lay discarded upon the ground, but its beam still faithfully illuminated the alley… and what it contained. She watched Ryder approach with a grin of fear and pain locked on her face.
“AEiiiiiiiiii!” she screamed as his jaws clamped down on her arm.
Ryder started to drag her up the alley, and she kicked him as hard as she could in the ribs with the pointed toe of her boot. He howled and raked her with his talons. Her clothes were ripped apart, and fresh agony seared through her as his claws buried themselves in her belly. She screamed and screamed as the monstrous creature went into frenzy at the smell of her blood, but such pain could not be endured forever. Silence fell over the alley. She was floating; there was no pain, no sense of anything except floating upward.
She stared unblinking past the golden-eyed monster as he shook her to and fro.