Authors: Marcus Pelegrimas
Tags: #Fantasy, #Horror, #Occult & Supernatural, #Contemporary, #Fiction
“They also think your dreams are bullshit, right?” Cole guessed.
“Yep, but they’re more than willing to cash in their tickets when I give ‘em the right lotto numbers. Arrogant pricks. You know some of them got Nymar working for them?”
“Have you ever met Daniels?” Cole asked.
“I’m not talking about a science geek consultant. I mean Nymar actually being called Skinners. Sticks and everything.”
That one hit home. In the time that had passed since Cole’s introduction to a werewolf, he’d become accustomed to the weight of his weapon either in his hands or in the harness strapped to his back. It wasn’t often he was far from the specially treated wooden spear, and the scars its thorns had made were part of him. Creating it had been his first rite of passage. Learning to use it had been his introduction to the life of hunter. Killing with it forged him into a Skinner. “They’re teaching Nymar how to fight with our weapons?”
“I seen a few vampires carrying them,” Prophet replied. “Haven’t seen them fight with ‘em yet. Never seen the sticks change shape like yours or Paige’s either.”
“Then it’s even more important we keep this to ourselves. Daniels has proven himself, and I don’t even want him to know where Henry is buried. I’ll leave it up to Paige to decide how much we tell him about everything else. There’s something else I wanted to ask.”
“You want me to keep another secret from Paige?” Prophet asked. He gritted his teeth and pulled in a hissing breath while shaking his head. “I don’t know about that, Cole. Me and her go a ways back.”
“This isn’t a secret. It’s from Paige directly.”
Cole wasn’t lying about that, which Prophet could tell after staring him down for less than three seconds. Even so, he was reluctant when he nodded and said, “All right. Let’s
“She wants you to follow anyone that comes and goes from that house in Philly. Everyone but me and her, that is.”
“That could be rough. You guys have struck a deal with the nymphs, right? From what I heard, you’ve all been coming and going through that temple Lancroft slapped together in his basement.”
“She’s more interested in the locals for now. Can we count on you to start your surveillance soon?”
“Soon as you do that job Stanley’s been bugging you about.” When Cole started to groan in protest, Prophet added, “He’s my boss and he did bail you and Rico out of jail in St. Louis. Paige said she’d track down those fugitives in Denver that got turned into Nymar, and Stanley wants to collect before they disappear.”
“We’ll get on it.”
“How soon?” Prophet asked.
“As soon as you start that surveillance.”
“I got expenses, you know.”
“And we’ll pay them,” Cole was quick to reply. “You can take a chunk of money now or wait for a bigger chunk later.”
“I’m still not interested in becoming a Skinner.”
“And that’s the way, uh-huh uh-huh, we like it.”
Prophet’s stern exterior cracked into a friendly smile. “There’s the cornball Cole I knew from the Wisconsin days. But KC & the Sunshine Band? Ain’t that a bit before your time?”
“Not really. And Wisconsin wasn’t that long ago.”
“The hell it wasn’t,” Prophet said as he turned around to look back at the final resting place of a full-blooded werewolf. Both men gave the grave a wide berth as they headed for the truck. “I got cop friends in Wisconsin that still talk about that supposed gang fight in Janesville. You sure the local PD hasn’t figured out what’s going on down in that basement?”
Cole shrugged. “There was plenty of commotion for a week or two after the Mud Flu thing cleared up. After that, the police have had the same ol’ crimes to keep them busy. A fresh batch of witnesses stepped forward about Kansas City,
which I’m sure Paige and I will have to deal with.”
“You two are silencing civilians now?”
“No, but we need to find a way to keep things from getting out of hand. If we didn’t have some friends of our own in the KC Police Department, I’m sure Paige and I would have been dragged in already. I’ve been back and forth from there and Chicago so much that the mixture of barbecue sauce and pizza grease are starting to form a new kind of toxin in my bloodstream.”
Having arrived at the truck, Cole tossed his shovel onto the pile of tarps and garbage bags they’d used to carry Henry out of the basement. Without giving it a second thought, he’d reached into his jacket pocket for a small case designed for nail files, tweezers, or other toiletries that now contained little syringes filled with Nymar antidote and a healing serum brewed from an ever-changing Skinner recipe.
“Sauce and grease,” Prophet mused. “That’s why you need that stuff?”
The syringes were about the size of a crayon, and held one dose of their prospective contents. The one Cole held over the meaty section of his upper arm went in with a quick jab. “Lancroft busted me up pretty good,” he said. “I’m still feeling it.”
“I bet you are. So what do you wanna hear from me where this job is concerned?”
“That you’ll do it.” Reaching into another pocket, Cole found a flat blue envelope that was about half the size of a comic book and tossed it over.
After snatching the envelope from the air, Prophet opened it and pulled out a greeting card with a dog’s face on it. It contained five hundred dollars and the words,
Sorry I forgot, but it’s been seven of my years since your last party. Happy Belated Birthday.
Cole put everything away and climbed in through the truck’s passenger door. “They were out of the ones that said ‘Congrats on being psychic.’”
“This’ll buy you two days of surveillance.”
“With a man like you on the job, that should be plenty.”
Prophet tucked the money away and walked around to the
other side of the truck. Despite the dented frame, the interior was in pristine condition. He sat behind the wheel with his keys poised in front of the ignition and asked, “Will I need to worry about some pissed-off Skinner coming after me for this?”
“If you’re sloppy enough to get caught, you deserve to get your ass kicked.”
“You guys ain’t exactly normal, you know. Do you have any spray or some other concoction that allows you to see when someone’s following you?”
“No, but if one of the others uses something like that, be sure to save some for us.”
Prophet turned the key and pumped his foot on the gas pedal. “Listen to that engine. It’s sweet enough to make me forget about working with difficult, foul-smelling, violent assholes like yourself.”
“You think you can work around that much dead shit and not get any on you?”
Rolling down his window, Cole looked out toward the spot where he’d buried Henry. It was a pleasant night in the latter portion of a hard summer, and the wind carried the river’s scent along with it. Although he hadn’t known Henry as much more than a crazy, rampaging freak, he thought the Full Blood would have approved.
“You think this is a good spot for a bunch of houses?” Prophet asked while looking at the same spot that had captured Cole’s attention.
“Why? You planning on sinking some roots next to a dead werewolf?”
“No, but some construction company might find that thing. I doubt they’ll make any sense of it, but still …”
“It’ll be just one more weird discovery that gets lost in the shuffle of all the other weird shit that’s been cropping up. We’ve seen people shrug off stranger stuff than that.”
crap? I’m the closest thing to a normal person you deal with on a regular basis, and we don’t stumble upon the kind of thing I just helped plant in a hole back there.”
Cole wanted to dispute that, but a psychic bounty hunter
truly was the closest thing to a normal person that he dealt with anymore. Just as he was about to get dragged down by that particular revelation, something else sprang to mind. “What about the MEG guys? Stu’s more normal than you by a mile.”
“Okay,” Prophet said. “Call them up and tell them about the possibility of Henry’s spirit tearing the hell out of whoever might disturb this spot. Wait for their happy squealing to die down and then tell me how normal they are.”
“Check and mate.”
When Cole was dropped off at the house formerly owned by Jonah Lancroft, he was greeted by a small party of neighbors and a few vaguely familiar faces. He only recognized the neighbors because the large men wearing football jerseys and polo shirts under denim jackets and flannel shirts had been camped out on their porch across the street and halfway down the block for the last several days. It was a cool night, but not enough to warrant the amount of layers they were sporting. So far the neighbors had been content to watch the Lancroft house with what they surely thought were intimidating scowls etched onto their faces. Now they strutted across the street and climbed the curb as if storming the beaches at Normandy.
When he’d been a video game designer, those men might have put a fright into him. After what he’d seen in the last several months, however, it would take a lot more than that. Judging by the impatient expressions on the faces of the Skinners gathered on Lancroft’s front step, they were equally unimpressed.
“What’s going on here?” Cole asked the neighbors as he climbed down from Prophet’s truck. “Block party?”
The man at the front of the group had a shaved head, clean face, and a gut that marked him as the source of a good portion of the empty beer bottles scattered along his side of
the street. He wore an Eagles jersey. It was a custom order, unless the NFL had drafted someone named Madman and given him the number 69. “Yeah,” he said as he shifted a cocky eye toward Cole. “Welcome to the fucking neighborhood. Maybe you should have a word with your bitches over there. They’re not too friendly.”
If Paige was within earshot, there was about to be one hell of a block party indeed. Fortunately for everyone involved, she wasn’t. The Skinners in attendance were some of the local crew. Jory was a big guy who looked to be somewhere in his fifties. He was solidly built and hadn’t spoken more than half a dozen words to Cole since introducing himself. His face looked as if it had been molded from too much clay behind a curtain of gray whiskers sprouting from his chin.
Abel was a skinny kid in his mid-twenties with a Mohawk long enough to cover half his scalp.
At the head of the Skinner group was a short blond woman whose face was too tanned for its own good. Her eyes were always bright, but were practically flaring after hearing herself referred to as one of the “bitches.” Before she could say anything about it, though, she was shoved aside by another woman.
If the blonde’s eyes were flaring, Maddy’s were about to explode in their sockets. “What did you call us?” she demanded. Her dark brown hair formed a single braid that hung down past her shoulder blades. The structure of her face struck Cole as Asian, but her accent and complexion could have been Cuban or maybe Puerto Rican. When she was through laying into Madman 69, her hand was drifting toward the leather harness wrapped around her waist that kept her weapon pressed against the small of her back.
One of the other neighbors wore a sweatshirt with the collar and sleeves torn off in a fashion that might have been trying to fool people into thinking he was a beast. All it really did was put him at the top of the list of suspects who’d thrown all the little skinny cans of energy drink next to the empty beer bottles on the lawn. “Just chill, bro,” he said while ambling over to pull Madman back, as if he was sparing the Skinners a grisly fate. “Let ‘em think it over.”
And just when it seemed the storm was about to pass, the dude in the sweatshirt looked over to the dark-haired woman and said, “These ladies know where to find us when they get lonely.”
The blonde knew better than to get in Maddy’s way, so she stepped aside. Cole was barely fast enough to put himself between her and the neighbors. “Come on, now,” he said. “We don’t really want to make a big deal out of this, do we?”
Maddy glared at him as if she still had every intention of drawing her weapon. Her dark green eyes narrowed and she grit her teeth when she told him, “Step aside before you get the same thing I’m about to give them.”
“Ooooh,” Madman sighed. “Sounds great. Come on. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” With that, he led the rest of his boys across the street and down the block.
Once the neighbors’ laughing had sufficiently faded, Cole asked, “What the hell was this about?”
Maddy moved her hand from behind her back and shoved Cole back with it. “Those pricks came by to see what’s going on in our house.”
“Hey, Cole!” Prophet shouted from the curb. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. You can take off.”
Like any other man with a functioning brain and any experience with the opposite sex, Prophet knew when to clear out of a bad situation. If that meant abandoning a friend, so be it. He pulled away and drove down the street.
When she leaned to look past Cole, Maddy’s braid swung behind her. If not for the fact that she seemed ready to strangle him with it, he would have found it very appealing. She and the rest of the Skinners were covered in several layers of sweat that had soaked through dirty clothes. Maddy wore a dark gray wife beater that clung to her gritty skin like a coat of paint. Even though Cole was able to keep his eyes from wandering, she looked disgusted with him all the same. “You take that Full Blood meat out of here?” she asked.
“Did you see me take anything out of here?”
Without any proof to use as ammunition, Maddy stormed
into the house.
Cole shifted his focus to the remaining three Skinners standing outside the front door. “You guys are from around here, right?”
“So do you know those meatheads across the street?”
Abel turned his back on him before grunting, “Do you know everyone in your territory? I’d guess probably not, since you and Paige were supposed to be watching KC when it fell.”
Cole stepped up to the guy with the Mohawk. Since he’d never gone toe-to-toe with him, he hadn’t realized how much taller he was than Abel. “Right, but you’re the ones who had Lancroft living in your own damn city. Couldn’t you have kept a closer eye on things before they went
far into the shitter?”