Read Wild Card Online

Authors: Mark Henwick,Lauren Sweet

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Paranormal & Urban, #Urban Fantasy

Wild Card (10 page)

BOOK: Wild Card
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“I’m reading it that I’m on my own here?”

“And I’m making a request to you to stand down. As I understand it, you’re there with no weapons, no backup, no vehicle. As soon as we take the others out, the guys you’re watching are going to get a message. They’ll assume they’re next and hightail it out of there. We’ll see what they do on traffic cameras and we’re going to try and get eyes aloft.”

“They won’t go straight back to wherever their command center is.”

“Likely not. But that’s the plan.”

“Okay.” Time for me to pull back a bit. “I’m with it. And thanks.”

“Yeah.” More sounds in the background. He was getting into a vehicle and joining the operation. “These unintended consequences,” he said after the noise of car doors closing, “they play on the whole project too. I’ve got too much to do to cover the rest of all the things I’m thinking you’re busting to tell me.”

“I can wait.” I couldn’t say I was busting to tell him, but I believed that he might provide as good a path for Diana to prepare for Emergence as the colonel would have.

“People can wait, but the FBI cannot.” He paused. “This project just got a whole lot bigger.”

I frowned. There were things he was carefully not telling me here, aware that he could be overheard on his end. The ‘project’ was Project Anthracite, the secret FBI team set up to investigate ‘anomalies’. That wide-ranging brief covered problems in the US Army like the Ops 4 group, but it also covered investigations of clusters of unexplained criminal incidences. Like the number of unsolved deaths in Denver which appeared to have an element of animal attack involved.

He was telling me that the FBI were putting more teams onto this.

Why?                                                                                     

I had to get him alone and find out.

Meantime, the Denver pack—meaning me—was under even more pressure to catch the rogue. I didn’t want to think about what would happen to Alex, Ricky, and the rest of the pack if the FBI found out about them. The thought of them caged in a place like Obs, or under arrest for murder, made me feel sick. These rogue attacks had to be stopped before the whole paranormal community risked the kind of exposure they’d been dodging for millennia—being hunted as monsters.

What were the FBI expecting to find? And what could I do to prevent them from stumbling onto the Were while I caught the rogue?

But all I could say was: “I hear you, Agent Ingram. I’ll call later. Good hunting.”

“I thank you, and good day to you, Ms. Farrell.”

 

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

 

Much later, I trotted away and down onto the Cherry Creek Trail that’d lead me back up toward Manassah. I knew the exact moment when the FBI had struck. It was the moment when the two vans I’d been watching had driven off hurriedly in different directions. I texted Ingram the license plates, but I already knew that was a waste of time. I hoped the FBI had been able to put up a helicopter to watch where the Nagas went, but even if they did, I expected the Nagas to abandon the vans and disappear.

The run was good. I needed the exercise and the time to think.

With his surveillance busted, what would Petersen’s next step be?

What if he worked out I was staying at Manassah?

I’d need to cut off contacts with anyone I cared about and couldn’t protect.

And how was I going to explain this to Mom?

Chapter 10

 

When I drove out that evening, I was scrubbed and changed and unhappy.

I’d made a promise to Jen never to refuse to answer a question from her, and that I’d never lie. She hadn’t been happy that I was going straight back out, and she’d been even less happy that I was seeing Alex. Outlining the job I had to do for the Denver pack might have made it clearer, but it didn’t make things better.

The worst thing was she didn’t say anything after I’d finished telling her. Somehow, I’d have preferred being yelled at.

I had to go.

Julie was being briefed by Pia and David. Victor’s guards were outside. I left it as smooth and secure as I could under the circumstances.

And Jen had passed on a request from the Denver PD to give a statement about Longmont at my earliest convenience. Sufficient to the day; I’d talk to them tomorrow.

 

The Sten Tallrik Restaurant turned out to be low and deep, squeezed between a sports shop and realtor down in SoCo, the area bounded by Capitol Hill and Speer Boulevard. It’d been part of my beat when I’d been in the police, but below my radar—not a place I’d had to visit.

Alex and Ricky were already sitting at table, waiting for me. I was surprised to see a third person there, with her back to me. From the spiky shock of red hair it had to be another of the Denver pack—Alex’s secretary, Olivia.

Alex got a kiss, Ricky got a handshake. I was unsure how to greet Olivia. When I’d promised I would do everything I could to find a way to overcome her inability to change into wolf form, I’d been overdoing it on the vamp pheromones and practically seduced her. I guessed I had to stop claiming I was straight, given I’d taken Jen as my kin, but I didn’t want to mess Olivia around.

She bypassed all that wondering by jumping up and kissing me on the cheek. Friendly without overtones, if I read it right. Good. I didn’t need any more complications.

They’d got us one of the best tables, tucked away in an alcove. Between the music and the murmur of other diners, it was fine for our discussion.

There was a pitcher of beer on the table and Alex had apparently ordered for me. I’d have to whisper something in his ear next time I was nibbling it. I order my own food.

The prickly feeling I’d had earlier in the day had returned, which didn’t help my mood. But brushing that aside, I opened up the conversation on the rogue, telling them what Agent Ingram had said about the FBI’s special interest, and laying my cards on the table.

“Here’s the great news. I have no idea how to proceed, guys.” That got a chuckle from Alex and Olivia. “The thing that’s good about that is I have no pre-conceptions. We start from nearly nothing and work out how to do it right. Everything, every little scrap of information, every wacky idea, could make the difference.”

“Yeah. We’ve got to do this right, first time and in record time,” Ricky said. He wasn’t overjoyed at this, but I settled for him not being hostile and motivated to keep us ahead of the FBI.

“I don’t have much. Let me start. Challenge if you disagree. We’ll see where that gets us.”

They nodded.

I took a swallow of beer and waited while some appetizers were laid out. Little artichokes wrapped in bacon, speared with a cocktail stick. Great finger food.

“The rogue is a large werewolf. Based on paw size and jaw strength, I’d say equal in size to the largest of the pack.” More nods. “They’ve been in Denver at least six years, quickly escalating from a couple of non-fatal attacks to murder.”

“The bodies have all been found within a couple of hours’ drive of downtown. The locations seem to be random. The people were killed elsewhere. There’s no obvious race or gender bias in the victims. The oldest body was of a man estimated to be forty years old, the youngest about twenty. Of those identified, there was no pattern in their histories from the brief search I was able to do, although I guess the unidentified bodies would constitute a disproportionate group.”

“Ages twenty to forty. Are you suggesting there’s an age bias?” Ricky asked.

“Uh huh.” He’d been listening. “No teenagers or children. They would tend to attract much more notice from the police.”

“So he deliberately avoids kids as a precaution?” Olivia said.

“Possibly.”

“What about the top age?”

“I’m speculating here. The largest number of bodies look like they’re drifters. There’s an age profile for that, which I’m guessing matches our list.”

I let them think about that for a minute. Then I said, “You said ‘he’, Olivia. You have a reason?”

She frowned. “This is like a serial killer, isn’t it? They’re all male.”

“Is it like that?” I looked around the table. This is where all my previous experience went out the window—I needed their specialized knowledge. “Is a rogue like a serial killer? Could a female werewolf go rogue?”

“Rogues can be male or female,” Ricky said.

“Serial killers and rogues are completely different,” Alex said. “A psychopath behaves in specific ways, probably from childhood. A rogue becomes a rogue at a point in time and the wolf side goes first. The trigger may be the human side, but there might not be any evidence, on the human side, for some time.”

Or the trigger might be the Athanate side in my case.

“Some Were say you wouldn’t even be aware that your wolf was rogue for a while,” Ricky said.

 “Not this long, surely?” I asked, and he conceded the point.

 “Anyway, we don’t even know for sure that it’s not a pack of them,” Alex pointed out. “We can say ‘he’ to keep it simple, but we should keep our minds open.”

We thought about that while our main course was brought out. I forgave Alex for ordering for me. We all had steaks, raw, and cut into strips. We cooked them ourselves on hot, flat stones that the wait staff brought to the table on an iron tray, along with potatoes and salad.

“This rogue is behaving like a serial killer in what he does when he’s in human form,” Alex said, while the steaks sizzled. “He plans, he selects, he even has a secure procedure for dumping the bodies afterwards, given how long it’s taken to find some of them.”

I’d come to that conclusion, but it was reassuring to hear someone else reach it. “That probably means there are more bodies out there.”

“And he must have a place he uses for killing,” Ricky said.

“A vehicle to take the bodies out to the dumping area? Some disguise so he wouldn’t attract attention?” Olivia said.

We kept throwing in suggestions while we ate the steaks and I made mental notes.

All of the things they came up with were good investigation points, but I needed more help on the paranormal side of the case.

“Is there a connection between the size and strength of the wolf and the human?” I said.

Ricky stirred.

“Yeah,” Alex said. “Changing is not a fixed rule, but this person is big and strong.”

“Give me an idea of how big a person you think the rogue is in human form.”

“At minimum, Alex’s size,” Ricky said. “And the biggest I’ve seen is Silas. He’s about six-ten.”

Ricky himself was about six-six, and Alex six-two. Neither of them were people who disappeared in a crowd.

“Bigger human, bigger wolf,” Ricky said. “Although there’s some variation. Two guys exactly the same size might end up different-sized wolves.”

“What makes the difference?”

“Ego,” Olivia said, and laughed. Ricky scowled at her, but she went on. “An alpha ends up bigger than a beta who was the same size as a human.”

“Dominance?” I said, and Alex waggled his hand—he didn’t think it was that straightforward. Anyway, it made no difference to what I needed, which was a basic description of a human form of the rogue. Big and strong. Very basic, but a start.

“Okay,” I said when it was obvious the suggestions had dried up. “I’ll be at the police station tomorrow to give a statement about Hoben kidnapping Jen. I’ll visit Morales and see if there’s anything more. CSI may think some things are unrelated when they’re not.”

“We’ll need a base,” said Alex. “Somewhere we can meet and store evidence. I’ve got a small meeting room at the office we don’t use, and Olivia can coordinate for us.”

“Felix won’t like that,” Ricky said. His eyes flicked to me.

“Where then?” Alex asked.

“I think Jen would allow us to use a room at Manassah,” I said.

Ricky nodded, but Alex growled.

I ignored the subtext. “You have any experience in this kind of work?” I asked Olivia.

“Not police work, but I did work in a lab once. I reckon I can handle basic forensics.”

I was happy for the offer of help, but I didn’t think experience in a lab made her capable of a forensics investigation. I had already gotten used to working with the Athanate, who seemed to have experts on tap in any field that was needed. Obviously, the Weres’ resources were a bit more limited. It was going to take some adjusting.

 “One last thing I want to say. We need to keep this investigation close. This rogue has been careful and clever to get away with this for so long, right under the noses of the pack and the police. It’s a slim advantage, but he doesn’t know we’re hunting him. He doesn’t even know we’re aware of him. If he does find out, he might disappear or hide his tracks even better.”

“A rogue’s dangerous and unpredictable,” Alex said. “If he finds out we’re hunting him, his reaction may be to eliminate the threat. Or attack any point of weakness.”

Whether Alex meant it that way or not, it meant Jen was a vulnerability for me. Alex could take care of himself. Pia and David were tougher than they appeared, but Jen’s battles had all been fought in boardrooms. Julie’s role as close protection was becoming more vital to my sense of balance. I’d have to keep her briefed on this hunt as well as what was happening with Matlal remnants and Nagas.

I wanted to help her get Keith back, but how would I hold on to her after that?

And what about Mom and Kath?

I finished my main course lost in thought, while the others talked, but when my plate was cleared away, the only conclusion I had reached was that getting the rogue off the street needed to be done faster.

The staff were trying to tempt me with the dessert menu when Alex and Ricky politely excused themselves: Alex stepped outside to return a business call, Ricky to wander around to the other tables, talking to the customers.

“It’s his place,” said Olivia, when I asked. “That’s where the nickname Ricky comes from, the name of the place—y’know, Tallrik, tall Ricky. Sten Tallrik actually means Stone Plate; it’s the signature dish. The pack loves coming here.”

Even while she was talking to me, her eyes were following Ricky. I smiled.

“You two an item?”

BOOK: Wild Card
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