Suspense Urban Fantasy R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
C arter's   a   bastard   but   that   has   little   to   do   with   being   a   wolf.   So   taking in   a   dying   nineteen-year-old   street   walker   provokes   polar   emotions   in him.   His   unusual   gesture   triggers   events   that   create   a   very   powerful enemy   in   the   vampire   hierarchy,   who   uses   Maggie   to   punish   him. Turned   without   Red   Court   sanction,   she   faces   an   automatic   death warrant.   Carter   refuses   to   accept   Maggie   must   be   put   down,   whether it's   the   law   or   not.   As   tensions   between   wolves   and   vampires   escalate, Carter's   life   becomes   more   complicated   when   he   falls   for   the   beautiful vampire   lord   sent   to   negotiate   an   end   to   the   month-long   war   his interference started.
Chapter One ~ W hat's   the   expression   about   suffering   fools?   Whatever.   I'd   rather   rip   their   heads   off.   I raised    my    hand    for    the    city    attorney    to    stop    his    rambling    commentary    and    the conference   room   quieted.   We'd   only   been   there   twenty   minutes   and   I   was   already   fed up. I   took   a   deep   breath   and   exhaled.   “I   know   you're   only   doing   what   the   council   chair ordered   you   to   do   but   it's   a   common   zoning   change.   I'm   not   going   to   pay   an   additional quarter   mil   over   the   next   five   years.   Continue   collecting   the   peanuts   for   your   vacant   lot. I can find another place to build.” I   stood   and   walked   out   before   I   did   rip   someone's   head   off.   I   pay   my   lawyers   to   put up with this. Traipsing down two halls and six flights of stairs didn't calm my frustration. The   air   outside   was   chilly   for   a   Tampa   February   morning.   Closer   to   fifty   than   the seventy   Floridians   expect.   I   don't   don   ski   parkas   at   sixty   degrees   like   the   crackers,   but after   living   in   southern   Louisiana   for   four   decades   before   this   latest   identity,   the   fifty   felt cool    to    me.    I    blamed    it    on    the    breeze    off    the    bay    swirling    around    the    downtown buildings. I stuffed my hands in my pockets as I strolled for my office. I   don't   know   if   it   was   the   suffering   of   fools,   or   just   my   wolf   wanting   to   run,   but   I opted   to   walk   a   couple   blocks   out   of   the   way   in   order   to   stroll   through   the   park.   That took   me   past   the   courthouse   and   annex   lockup.   As   ruffled   as   I   already   felt,   the   cops chastising   the   throng   of   females   they   ushered   out   of   the   building   raised   my   hackles more.   My   beast   wanted   to   attack.   Whatever   would   silence   them.   My   wolf   yearned   for   a dark place, to get away. I   sighed,   pressed   my   fists   deeper   into   my   pockets,   trying   to   ignore   the   gaggle.   It   was impossible.   I   was   going   to   cross   their   paths.   I   considered   the   avoidance   strategy   of jaywalking. Didn't. Call it stubbornness. My sidewalk too. My   eyes   locked   onto   one   of   the   females.   Why,   I   don't   know.   She   looked   as   though she   hadn't   eaten   in   a   decade.   Her   bones   rattled.   The   skirt   she   wore   barely   dipped   below her   crotch.   A   midriff   smock   looked   unwashed   another   decade.   Not   the   typical   attire   for   a forty-year-old. From   thirty   paces,   I   could   see   her   shoulders   shuddering   from   the   chill.   She   needed to get to the mission and get a free coat. A pair of jeans would be good. Not my problem. I   attempted   to   avoid   her   glance.   Wasn't   swift   enough.   Empty   eyes   shot   through   me as   though   I   wasn't   even   here.   She   stumbled.   Her   hands   shook.   An   image,   very   old   one, struck   me.   I'd   watched   many   men   dying   in   the   mud   with   guts   asunder   from   wobbling shot. They flinched the same way, as though avoiding the reaper grasping at their soul. “A blow job, mister?” It   was   nine-thirty   in   the   morning.   A   cop   stood   thirty-feet   away.   Her   question   didn't shock   me.   What   shocked   me   was   that   I   stopped   in   my   tracks.   Her   eyes   wobbled   as though focused on ghosts that wouldn't remain still, hovering about chest high. “I'm   guessing   you   just   got   out   of   jail   for   solicitation.”   My   wolf   sniffed   the   air.   He knew this pathetic creature would be dead soon. “Fancy word, huh?” she said. “So you wanna get off, or not? A girl's gotta eat.” “Didn't   they   feed   you   in   jail?”   I   couldn't   believe   the   words   floated   out   of   my   mouth. Why was I talking to this filthy creature? “I traded it for drugs.” Her eyes tried to reach mine, but didn't make it. She   wasn't   being   a   smartass.   Half-dead   already,   she   wasn't   lucid   enough   to   lie.   How could   they   have   let   her   out   like   this?   She   should   be   in   the   hospital.   But   the   judicial system isn't about charity work. “Follow   me,”   worked   out   between   my   lips   as   I   shivered.   It   was   the   smell,   not   the chill. “Ten bucks. Five for a hand job.” “Yeah,” I mumbled. I   pulled   my   money   clip   out,   slipped   a   hundred   out,   before   I   asked   myself   what   the hell   I   was   doing.   A   hundred   bucks?   She'd   buy   so   much   heroin   or   meth   or   whatever's popular   these   days   and   be   dead   tonight.   I   replaced   the   bill,   pulled   out   one   of   the   tens   I stash for tips, and tore it in half. She   struggled   to   keep   up   with   me.   I   slowed,   and   held   half   of   the   ten   out   to   her.   Her hand   fluttered,   grabbing   for   it.   She   might   have   gotten   something   in   lockup,   but   not   the hard stuff she needed. She was definitely in withdrawal. She   held   the   half-bill   in   front   of   her   for   a   moment   struggling   to   focus.   “This   doesn't look—it's torn in half.” “Yep. Stick with me for a while, and I'll give you the other half.” I   led   her   north,   toward   the   mission.   Maybe   with   luck,   after   something   to   eat   she'd drop   by   the   place   and   get   something   to   keep   the   breeze   off   of   her.   Most   businessmen would   cough   up   a   lung   rather   than   be   caught   dead   in   this   part   of   town.   I'm   not   a   typical millionaire.   I   might   not   have   been   in   Tampa   long,   but   to   survive,   a   lone   wolf   has   to know   the   local   changelings.   So   I   was   familiar   with   the   area   surrounding   the   mission because the vamps had not one, but two blood donation centers nearby. “Look,” she mumbled. “There's plenty of alleys. I'm used to doing it on my knees.” My   stomach,   a   wolf's   stomach,   actually   lurched   on   me.   As   unbelievable   as   that   is,   I found   my   eyes   looked   down.   Her   knees   bore   recent   road   rash,   old   bruises.   So   she'd fulfilled   a   guard   or   a   lockup   partner's   dreams   recently.   Vomit   worked   up   my   throat.   I almost   handed   her   the   other   half   of   the   bill   and   walked   away.   Why   I   didn't   I   have   no idea. She   continued   to   mumble.   Things   I   didn't   wish   to   hear.   I   tried   to   focus   on   the   diner half a block up. “Amazing   how   much   cum   you   business   types   carry   with   you.   I   should   charge   you extra.” Keep your mouth shut, Carter. “My stepdad took me so often I never had to worry about that.” I   cleared   my   throat   and   spit.   I   couldn't   block   the   sounds.   “How   old   are   you?”   That was intelligent. That'll encourage her to talk more. “Uh.” Instead,    she    shut    up    for    a    dozen    paces.    My    chest    tightened    to    understand    she couldn't   remember.   I   had   first   thought   she   was   forty.   Before   I   even   spoke   to   her   initially, I realized she was much younger. Early thirties. Late twenties? “I'm    from    Pennsylvania,”    she    said.    “I    kept    heading    south,    hoping    to    keep    from freezing.” I   stepped   behind   her,   opened   the   diner   door   for   her.   She   stopped,   glared   for   a   long moment. “You want to do it in there? What? Under the table? Like they won't notice?” “We're getting something to eat.” “I'd rather have the cash,” she said. “I'm sure you would. You'll get your ten bucks, don't worry.” She   hovered   a   moment,   as   though   it   took   more   brain   cells   than   she   had   left   to   get her   body   to   move   forward   again.   I   finally   got   her   in   the   door.   The   breakfast   crowd   had thinned   but   we   still   had   to   sit   at   the   counter.   To   get   there   we   had   to   pass   dozens   of glares.   I   don't   consider   myself   overly   worried   by   what   others   think   but   that   moment   I could understand why she was close to death. It   was   easier   to   despise   what   you   don't   understand   than   show   compassion.   And there   was   a   point   even   compassionate   people   preferred   the   pathetic   simply   found   a corner and died. I   brushed   away   the   menus   the   server   offered.   The   poor   women   looked   as   though   she would weep, me bringing in such trash where she worked. “Your beef stew, whole milk for her, coffee for both of us.” “Sure,” she said. “Can I get you a table in the back when one opens up?” I didn't blame her. Even my beast understood her concern. “Okay,” wisped out of my mouth. And   a   table   opened   up   quickly,   long   before   the   stew   came.   The   girl   sipped   at   the   milk after   we   moved.   It   was   quieter   in   the   back.   The   noise   from   the   kitchen   didn't   well straight   at   us,   though   my   beast   jerked   every   time   the   busboy   rushed   through   the   door   to or from the kitchen. “I can't remember the last time I tasted milk.” “So   you   made   it   through   the   winter,”   I   mumbled.   “Dressed   like   that.   Even   in   Tampa, that's amazing.” She blinked her eyes. “Oh, I've been in Tampa a couple years.” My coffee burned my throat, or was it more vomit? “In   Jacksonville   a   year.”   She   took   another   sip.   Her   hands   wrapped   around   the   glass as though she wasn't quite sure how to hold it. “Savanna a year.” Our server set down the bowl of stew, refilled our coffees, and fled without a word. “Before   that,   seems   like   a   month   at   every   truck   stop   all   the   way   down   Ninety-five. That first winter was the hardest.” She   picked   up   her   spoon   but   set   it   back   down.   She   cupped   her   hands   underneath   the bowl like she had her coffee cup. “Funny. After a while of being hungry, it goes away. You know?” During   the   War   of   Northern   Aggression,   I   had   eaten   raw   opossum.   Can't   say   my hunger   ever   went   away.   We   sat   for   five   minutes.   The   swirl   of   commotion   from   the   rush had died. The thud in my ears, my heartbeat, softened, and my breath came easier. “How long have you been on the street?” She   glanced   away.   Her   lips   moved.   I   think   she   was   counting,   or   at   least   trying   to.   Her eyes   turned   glassy.   She   shook   it   off   a   moment   later   and   picked   up   the   spoon,   which clattered as she worked to get it into the stew. “Not really sure,” she said. She   managed   one,   and   then   a   second   bite.   Frankly,   I   worried   it   might   make   her   hurl the way her shoulders curled with each taste. The next two bites were easier. The waitress slipped our check on the table without slowing down. “I   think   I'm   nineteen,”   she   said.   “The   second   abortion   was   enough   for   me   to   figger I'd die if I didn't get out of there.” She slurped, wiped her chin. A rasp made me jerk. I realized the noise she made was something of a laugh. “Never figgered the road would kill me as fast. I been dead a while now.” I   pushed   the   milk   toward   her.   She   took   a   gulp,   jerked   as   though   she   might   gag,   but remained quiet. Maybe she was expecting something else in the glass. “I   couldn't   tell   my   mom.   He   started   fondling   me   so   young,   after   everything,   what was   the   point?   I   didn't   know   it   was   wrong.   Until   I   did.   He   said   I   gave   good   head.   Gave me money. It was enough, for too long. I figger it was my fault.” My   stomach   twisted.   I'd   heard   bad   stories   in   my   long   life.   But   I   had   never   sat   across the   table   from   it.   I   had   killed   humans,   ate   them,   and   felt   less   emotion   than   I   did   looking at this pathetic creature. Chapter Two ~ I t   took   me   three   calls   to   get   a   number   of   a   local   fixer,   a   professional   who   specializes   in cleaning   up   unusual   problems.   Our   kind   have   plenty   of   issues   that   must   be   buried   in   the middle   of   the   night,   so   to   speak.   Oddly,   the   man   I   was   finally   connected   with   wasn't associated   with   a   pack,   or   the   Lycan   Council.   But   I   didn't   anticipate   a   problem   bringing in an outsider for this particular problem. Each   of   my   attorneys   knew   someone   just   a   little   lower   on   the   food   chain,   and   Axle was   it.   He   said   he   could   handle   it.   I   stood   through   each   call,   not   wanting   to   sit   in   the room I had gotten her for the week. It seemed to help me disassociate myself from her. No it didn't. I   might   be   trying   to   do   something   for   her,   but   I   didn't   want   to   be   here.   Knew   the effort,   in   the   long   haul,   served   no   purpose.   More   than   likely   I   prolonged   her   suffering.   If I   was   a   humanitarian,   I   would   rip   her   throat   out   while   she   was   still   in   the   shower,   allow her to bleed out under the warm water. My   eyes   flicked   at   the   digital   clock   on   the   bedside   table   every   fifteen   seconds.   What the   hell   am   I   doing   here?   Fifteen   long   minutes   later,   the   shower   finally   turned   off.   She'd been   in   there   forty-five   minutes.   For   five   minutes   I   didn't   hear   the   shower   curtain   pull back. Did she die already? The jingle allowed me to breathe again. After   another   five   minutes,   she   stepped   out   of   the   bathroom.   She   didn't   bother wrapping   in   a   towel.   She   pressed   the   one   she   carried   into   the   stubby   hair   she   said   she got sheared off compliments of the county. Very practical. “What's next?” she asked, dropping her hands to her side, the towel to the floor. “I have someone coming to get you in clothes.” That didn't register. Her eyes blinked. Her head cocked. “I   haven't   fucked   anyone   in   a   long   time.   No   one's   been   willing   to   poke   me.   I   guess they   figger   I'm   probably   carrying   around   enough   to   kill   'em.   That's   what   I've   been   told.   I don't know what that means, though. But I guess I look a little—” The vomit snuck up again. “But if that's what you want, does twenty-five sound okay?” “You look like you could use some sleep.” Her   flesh   crawled.   Her   hands   moved   up   and   down   her   arms.   She   looked   at   the   bed for a three-count. Back up at me. “If that's too much—” “Sleep first. Then.” She   didn't   say   anything   for   a   half-minute.   “Decided   against   the   you-know,   huh?   I don't   blame   you.   I   wouldn't   do   me   either.   I   appreciate   the   food.   Really   I   do.   But   it   isn't what I need. You know what I mean?” I nodded. “I have someone coming by to help you with that.” That   didn't   register   either.   Her   eyes   blinked   again.   Her   head   cocked.   I   imagined   I would   get   used   to   that   mannerism   if   I   spent   any   time   at   all   around   her.   She   shuddered. Could she even sleep the way her skin crawled? Maybe not. What the hell am I doing here? Was   there   anything   that   could   be   done   for   her?   She   was   past   helping.   Giving   her more    cash    than    the    price    of    a    single    hit    of    dope    would    kill    her.    If    I    put    her    up somewhere, she'd wander away and sleep in the gutter, as long as she could get a hit. She   shrugged.   Otherwise   didn't   move.   I   counted   the   scars   that   traced   up   her   left side,   down   her   right.   She'd   been   beat   on   so   many   times   the   dents   folded   together. Reminded me of someone very close to me. My   eyes   glanced   down   at   my   own   wrist,   at   the   scar   of   the   bullet   hole   my   dress   shirt didn't   cover.   Every   business   meeting   I'd   ever   had,   invariably   I   caught   someone   glaring at   that   scar.   There   was   a   good   reason   I   rarely   wore   short   sleeves   even   on   the   weekend. And   that's   hard   living   in   Florida.   Sleeves   covered   up   my   abundant   sins.   I   looked   back   at the   girl.   Her   system   had   pretty   much   dissolved   any   muscle   tissue   she'd   ever   had.   My wolf wouldn't have bothered sniffing her bones. “Is a pimp going to be looking for you?” I asked. “Oh,   eventually.   I   used   my   call   to   let   him   know   I'd   been   picked   up.   That   was   in,   uh, December. What is it now?” “How can I find him? I'll make it right with him.” “Really.   That   would   be   swell.   But   he   isn't   that   nice.   I'm   used   to   it   anyway.   Don't worry about it.” She   cocked   her   head.   Her   mind   struggled   with   a   new   thought.   She'd   been   on   the street   since   she   was   maybe   fourteen.   It   wasn't   just   drug   addle.   Not   just   the   lack   of education. The girl probably didn't have an IQ of sixty. Seventy tops. I   asked   again.   After   assuring   her   I'd   make   it   so   he   gave   her   the   drugs   she   needed   and didn't rough her up, she told me how to find her keeper. “Like my stepdad said, I give—” “Sleep. I have to make some calls. Okay?” “Sure. Got nothing better to do.” She   pulled   at   the   bedspread,   struggled   with   the   sheet   and   blanket.   I   don't   believe   she understood   they   were   tucked   in.   I   couldn't   get   close   to   her   to   help   her.   She   finally   got   in bed, turned away from me. Ten   minutes   later   between   my   fifth   call,   I   heard   the   pattern   of   her   breathing   deepen. My   beast   made   me   tilt   my   head   and   sniff.   He   was   pretty   certain   she   was   passing   on.   The breathing continued, though. A   soft   knock   at   the   door   at   three-thirty   that   afternoon   startled   me.   I   had   gotten   past waiting    for    my    fixer    and    had    gotten    into    business    calls.    I    hurried    the    current conversation short and answered the door. The   young   man   standing   there   was   not   what   I   expected.   I   assumed   the   person   I spoke   to   simply   had   a   young   voice.   But   he   wasn't   a   gnarly   old   fart   from   the   slum.   Suit. Nice haircut, clean shaven. Looked like an attorney. “I'm Axel,” he said. The   suit   was   expensive.   The   gentleman   standing   behind   him   actually   looked   like   a doctor,   and   carried   the   requisite,   black   bag.   I   waved   the   two   and   the   woman   standing behind them in. The   doctor   went   to   work.   The   girl   sat   up   with   no   surprise   on   her   face.   Didn't   bother holding    up    the    sheet,    showing    no    modesty,    allowed    him    to    poke    his    stethoscope everywhere he wanted, flick a light in her eyes, do the things doctors do. The   woman   must   have   seen   all   of   the   girl   she   needed.   She   approached   me   and   Axel and asked, “What did you have in mind for clothes?” I   cleared   my   throat.   “Simple,   but   tough.   Stand   up   to   living   on   the   street.   Just   what she   can   carry.   I   have   no   delusions   she   won't   be   back   where   she   was   in   another   couple days.” She   nodded,   as   though   she'd   gone   through   this   plenty   of   times.   Where   did   Axel   find someone   like   this?   There's   no   industry   to   support   this   kind   of   thing,   surely.   Maybe   there is. Families have to go to someone, when a loved one— “Stuff not worth hocking, or stealing?” she suggested. Made sense. “Yes, ma'am.” “I'll   get   her   a   shoulder   bag   and   outfit   it   with   the   necessities,   some   non-perishables, and gift cards that can't be used for cash.” She turned and left. I looked across at Axel. “She comes well recommended,” he said softly. I   stood,   numb,   as   the   man,   couldn't   be   a   real   doctor,   took   several   vials   of   blood,   and sent   her   off   to   piss   in   a   cup.   It   all   seemed   up   and   up.   Then   he   filled   a   number   of   pencil- thin syringes from bottles in his bag. Her   response   to   the   very   first   injection   was   obvious   enough   I   didn't   have   to   ask   what it   was.   The   Methadone   quieted   the   shakes   within   twenty-seconds,   and   she   sighed,   and   a hint   of   a   smile   covered   her   face.   The   following   injections   I   assumed   were   vitamins, antibiotics, I didn't really care. She didn't look or sound as though death was imminent. Thirty   minutes   later   after   more   thumping   and   seeing   to   recent   wounds,   he   packed up his black bag and stood. Axel told him, “I'll meet you outside in a sec.” We waited until he was gone. “What else?” Axel asked. She   sat   on   the   bed   where   the   doctor   left   her,   doe   eyes   staring   at   us,   bare,   flat   chest uncovered,   as   though   she   needed   to   be   told   to   cover   up.   I   flicked   my   hand   at   her.   She cocked her head like she does, and crawled back under the covers. “Someone   to   watch   her.   Keep   her   here.   Shifts.   After   I   take   her   to   dinner,   I   have errands.” “You know there's no fixing this? Hole only gets deeper.” I   nodded.   He   looked   too   young   to   know   about   deep   holes.   He   looked   as   though   he'd just   graduated   from   Yale,   still   studied   for   the   bar.   What   did   he   know   of   the   street?   And Axel wasn't his real name. “What's her name?” he asked. I hadn't asked. “Does it matter?” He   shrugged,   and   let   himself   out.   I   sat   down   to   make   more   calls,   and   to   wait   for   the lady with the Wal-Mart clothes. Chapter Three ~ I    hadn't   dressed   specifically   for   my   beast   in   longer   than   I   could   remember.   For   years, I've   thought   of   myself   as   a   businessman,   long   before   I   considered   myself   an   animal,   a lone   wolf.   It   helped   that   I   didn't   associate   with   other   changelings,   to   speak   of.   I   paid   my annual   tithe   to   the   council   and   kept   to   myself.   So   far,   the   local   packs   and   pencil   necks had left me alone in my new identity. Past   ten,   a   dark   night,   I   still   paused,   looked   around   the   parking   garage.   I   had   picked up   a   company   vehicle,   an   unmarked   one,   before   I   came   home   to   change   into   my   severe- baggies. I'd rather hose out a truck, than steam clean my Mercedes. When   I   hurried   to   get   in   I   jammed   my   knees   into   the   steering   column.   My   beast growled.   I   hurried   to   slide   the   seat   back   as   far   as   it   would   go.   His   impatience   pressed   in on   me.   I   had   shifted   enough   to   leverage   his   height   and   bulk,   still   enable   speech.   My claws   clicked   against   the   steering   wheel,   other   hand   struggled   with   the   key   ring.   My beast grew pissed. I   finally   got   the   truck   started.   The   tires   screeched   until   I   was   off   the   concrete,   onto the   asphalt.   He   was   making   this   more   difficult   than   it   needed   to   be.   I   tried   to   pull   him in. He fought me. The bastard. One day I'd get it across that I'm the master. One day. He wanted rock on the radio. Loud. I wanted country. Not so loud. He tends to win. I   have   to   admit   I   was   as   excited   as   my   beast.   I   rolled   down   both   windows   despite   the chilly   night.   Arctic   worked   for   my   beast.   The   scents   wafting   through   the   window   made my   wolf   ache   to   run.   The   low   tide   in   the   bay,   that   strong   fish-smell,   always   did   that   to him. I   crossed   downtown,   got   on   Nebraska   Avenue,   all   the   way.   The   narrow,   former   main drag   before   the   interstate,   had   a   lot   of   traffic   for   the   hour,   on   a   weeknight.   I   drove   for the   seediest   section   of   Tampa.   The   police   didn't   even   bother   the   hookers   here.   I   toyed with   the   idea   of   cleaning   it   up   a   little   myself.   My   beast   was   seriously   affecting   my thoughts. Bastard. Immediately   past   the   river,   I   pulled   into   the   cramped   lot   of   the   titty   bar,   the   blue, flashing   lights   of   its   neon   marquee   blasting   the   peace   of   the   pitch   black.   As   I   got   out   of the   truck   the   taste   of   more   blood   saturated   my   mouth.   He   had   forced   more   of   himself   on me. His expanding canines ripped into my gums. “Can   you   understand   me,”   I   practiced.   Sounded   more   Russian   than   Tennessee   hick. I strained to push him down a tad. The   door   of   the   bar   opened   and   I   jerked,   flashed   fangs,   before   I   got   him   under control.   I   took   deep   breaths.   If   only   I   had   a   switch   I   could   use   to   curb   him.   As   though they   were   perfectly   appropriate   food   I   glared   at   the   two   men   who   walked   for   a   car   in   the dark.   God,   I   was   glad   there   was   no   moon.   I   stood   still,   until   the   car   pulled   out   onto Nebraska. I   hurried   for   the   bar,   threw   the   door   open   using   more   strength   than   I   intended.   The explosion   as   it   banged   into   the   wall   echoed   enough   inside   to   be   heard   over   the   R&B playing   on   the   juke.   Thirty   black   faces   turned   my   way,   eyes   darting   up   and   down.   Hadn't they ever seen a white guy in overalls before? I scanned the room. “Looking for Tony,” I announced. A   lanky   punk,   late   twenties,   over   six-foot,   with   hair   that   made   him   seven,   strode toward   me.   He   held   his   right   hand   in   his   jacket   pocket.   Excitement   roiled   in   my   chest, like a fire being bellowed. I turned and led him outside. “Where ya gawin?” Tony shouted from the door. He   had   waited   to   draw   my   attention,   as   though   I   didn't   notice   the   other   two   sneak past   him   and   run   into   the   shadows.   I   continued   toward   the   rear   of   the   parking   lot.   The flashing   blue   neon   seemed   to   expand   my   lungs   with   every   burst.   I   hadn't   felt   so   flush with life in decades. I struggled to swallow down the saliva, rich with my blood. “You   honky   bitch.   You   'fraid   yo   momma   catch   you   here   at   a   black   oak   strip   club?”   He cackled. I   smiled,   my   canines   pulling   at   my   lips.   I   smelled   the   smoke   and   alcohol   soaked bodies   of   his   companions   edging   their   way   to   my   left,   toward   the   dark   of   the   trees.   The putrid   stink   from   all   three   made   my   wolf   want   to   retch.   And   humans   call   wolves   dirty beasts. The   lucrative   offer   I   made   Tony   on   the   phone   made   him   follow,   even   if   he   didn't   like that I drew him further from the door, into the dark. “What the fuck you want, honky? I got better things to do.” I   stopped,   turned,   and   waited   for   him.   I   pushed   my   hand   in   my   pocket   to   draw   out my   money   clip.   His   hand   whipped   a   cheap   thirty-eight   revolver   out   of   his   coat   pocket. He screeched, “Don't fucking make any quick moves out here in the dark, bitch.” The   neon   flashed,   and   he   evidently   made   out   the   bills   I   pulled   out   of   my   money   clip, which I held high to ensure he could see it was fat. “Okay.   I   see   green.”   He   took   five   more   steps   closer,   the   gun   making   him   feel   a   tad braver. “What do you want? A young one? Something different? I don't handle boys.” “Maggie.” He   drew   his   head   back   in   that   confused   fashion.   The   blue   neon   glimmering   off   his picked   hair   reminded   me   of   the   afros   of   the   seventies,   when   they   trimmed   them   neat   as cue balls. Now the look is ragged, wild. For Tony, it fit. “Oh. Maggie. She be gone so long I thought she dead.” I   drew   another   bill   from   the   clip,   slowly.   “She'll   be   on   the   street   next   week.   I   want you to leave her be.” “Can't   be   doing   that.”   He   hefted   the   thirty-eight.   “But   I'll   take   your   stash.   You   shit, walking    into    my    neighborhood    with    a    wad    like    that.    I    should    kill    you    for    general reasons.” “General purposes,” I said softly, slipping the lose hundreds back into the clip. “I said, give it to me.” Again, he poked the night air with the snub nose. I extended my hand with the money clip. He took another step nearer. “Hand it over,” he hissed. I   raised   my   hand   higher.   He   twisted   to   reach   for   it.   I   drew   him   closer   to   me,   his   eyes glued   on   the   wad.   He   didn't   realize   for   a   full   heartbeat   that   my   left   hand   clasped   over   his gun   hand.   When   his   face   lengthened   in   recognition,   I   sensed   pressure   of   the   revolver's hammer press into my palm, which made me grin. I   casually   slipped   my   money   clip   into   my   pocket,   smelling   the   terror   seep   out   of   his pores.   He   opened   his   mouth.   Blue   neon   glinted   off   the   gold   caps   of   his   teeth,   but   he didn't form any words. “I hoped you wouldn't take my offer,” my beast hissed as he took control. Tony's face dipped below me as my human's clothes pressed hard into my flesh. “Need some help!” Tony shouted. I   looked   forward   to   him   bringing   his   buddies   into   this.   I   ground   his   hand   into   the thirty-eight   and   he   twisted   in   pain.   The   bones   in   his   hand   disintegrated   into   mush, penetrating   his   flesh.   I   let   his   scream   slice   the   night   for   a   three-count   to   raise   the   fear   in his buddies, before I clamped down on his throat with my other hand. My   claws   embedded   into   the   back   of   his   neck.   “You   piece   of   shit.”   But   I   was   full   beast now,   unable   to   speak.   It   came   out   as   a   snarl.   Tony's   legs   dangled,   kicked.   I   lightened   my grip.   I   didn't   want   him   to   pass   out.   I   wanted   him   to   feel   a   little   of   the   pain   he   inflicted   on others over the years. The   black-dialect   of   the   two   running   at   us   didn't   penetrate   my   thoughts,   but   I   still allowed   enough   of   my   human's   persona   to   help   me   understand   how   my   enemy   would react.   They   would   be   shooting   at   me.   So   I   pulled   Tony   close,   and   his   body   jolted   as thunder cracked, lightening flashed. I felt a sting in my shoulder. It made me smile. I   released   Tony's   stump,   lunged,   ripping   the   throat   out   of   the   first   buddy,   the   braver of   the   two.   I   had   to   run   a   few   steps   to   catch   the   other   one.   I   couldn't   let   him   get   away, after   all.   The   Changeling   Pact   and   Lycan   law   is   very   clear.   No   witnesses   to   our   other persona. I watched the door of the bar for a moment. No one exited to investigate. I   drew   Tony   over   my   shoulder,   enjoying   that   he   still   jerked,   gagged,   despite   the number   of   bees   that   had   stung   him   in   the   back.   He   wouldn't   be   with   me   long.   Humans are fragile creatures. I   glanced   across   the   street   at   the   two   panel   vans   that   had   pulled   up   a   few   minutes before.   The   council's   cleanup   crew   is   expensive,   but   allowed   me   to   take   these   three   shits into   the   river   where   I   could   chew   them   into   bits   for   the   turtles   and   crabs,   and   forget about the blood and any body parts I left behind. I   slipped   the   straps   of   my   bib-overalls   off   my   shoulders   and   stepped   out   of   the   pants. I   hated   my   human's   need   to   be   covered.   I   stretched   a   moment,   enjoying   my   freedom. My eyes turned for the sky. No moon. Too bad. Chapter Four ~ S he   was   curled   up   on   the   bed   with   her   chin   on   her   knees   watching   a   Charlie   Chan movie,   a   character   I   was   actually   familiar   with.   In   the   forties   I   had   hung   out   with   what we   called   in   those   days   a   ditzy   dame   who   loved   the   cinema.   I   tried   to   remember   her name.   We   were   together   over   a   year.   Shame.   Not   only   could   I   not   remember   her   name,   I couldn't place a face. Maggie   wasn't   in   a   talkative   mood,   riveted   by   the   black   and   white   movie's   plot.   I   told her   jailor   she   could   go   early.   She   didn't   argue,   but   asked   first   if   she   got   paid   for   the   full shift. I gave her a smile, and a nod. I    don't    smile    a    lot.    I    need    to    butcher    evil    men    more    often.    It    had    me    buzzing, probably   a   little   like   the   Methadone   did   to   Maggie.   The   door   closed   and   I   found   myself sitting   down   on   Maggie's   bed,   leaning   back   against   the   headboard.   She   didn't   seem   to mind.   I   couldn't   believe   I   felt   so   good.   It   wasn't   the   long   shower   I   took   a   few   minutes earlier at my place. What am I doing here? Still   didn't   have   an   answer.   Maggie   giggled.   Something   about   the   eyes   of   Charlie's number   one   son,   I   think.   Neither   said   anything   funny.   But   I've   never   been   one   to   pick up on street humor. Sarcasm is my language of choice. A   commercial   came   on,   and   Maggie   acknowledged   me   for   the   first   time.   “So   what have you been up to?” “Business.” “Late for business. It's past four.” “The parties work late hours.” “It have to do with me?” she asked. That surprised me. “Why do you ask?” “You talked about Tony. Remember? I'm confused why I'm here.” I   didn't   say   anything.   What   could   I   say?   I   didn't   know   why   she   was   here   either   and   I brought her here. “Are you cleaning me up to make me your sex slave?” she asked. “No.” “You want that blow job.” “No.” “You   don't   say   much.   Most   guys   can't   shut   up   telling   me   about   their   shitty   wives   or boyfriends   who   won't   take   it   in   the,   you   know,   patootie.   Does   that   really   feel   good   for you guys? It doesn't from my end.” She was quickly bringing me down from my high. She   blathered   for   a   couple   more   minutes   until   the   commercials   ended   and   she   was riveted   to   the   screen   for   the   next   nine   minutes,   when   she   turned   her   attention   back   to me. “You   look   casual-like   in   jeans   and   a   pull   over   the   head   shirt.   I   figgered   you   never   got out of a suit.” “Don't, often.” “You a fancy businessman? People say sir to you a lot.” “Not fancy. But successful.” “So.”   She   chewed   on   a   fingertip.   Not   a   nail.   She   didn't   have   any   of   those.   “You   figger to set me up to do your partners and such?” “No.” “Then why we here?” Detective   Chan   thankfully   returned,   because   I   didn't   have   any   answers   for   open- ended   questions.   I   studied   her   profile   for   a   full   minute   as   she   glowed   and   shadowed according   to   the   action   on   the   screen.   She   reminded   me   of   the   pictures   of   the   starved survivors   of   the   Nazi   camps.   It   wasn't   just   the   hair.   There   was   a   shadow   of   terror   in   her soul I knew would never go away. What am I doing? I   need   to   create   an   answer   for   her   question,   if   not   for   her,   for   me.   I   fought   my   own blather   that   I   didn't   have   time   for   this.   Not   necessarily.   I'm   never,   not   working.   I   have veeps who would kill to get a little extra responsibility for a couple weeks. This wouldn't be over in a couple weeks, if there was any good to be done for her. I   scrunched   down   a   little,   balled   a   pillow   under   my   head.   What   drew   me   to   this particular   female,   of   all   the   pathetic   creatures   I've   seen   in   my   life?   There   was   nothing special    about    her.    She    didn't    ask    me    for    her    help.    She    disgusted    me    with    a    pitiful proposition. A   commercial   was   on.   I   sensed   her   looking   at   me,   but   I   kept   my   eyes   closed.   My   wolf allows   me   to   get   by   for   days   without   sleep,   when   necessary,   but   a   new   sensation   pressed me into the mattress. Was it connected to the high, from grinding up those three punks? I   didn't   think   so.   That   sort   of   thing   should   still   have   me   buzzing.   Instead,   I   felt   that exhaustion before sleep. Maggie whispered, “Thank you for the food and nice place to sleep.” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Saving Maggie Chapter One ~ W hat's    the    expression    about    suffering fools?   Whatever.   I'd   rather   rip   their   heads off.   I   raised   my   hand   for   the   city   attorney to   stop   his   rambling   commentary   and   the conference   room   quieted.   We'd   only   been there   twenty   minutes   and   I   was   already fed up. I   took   a   deep   breath   and   exhaled.   “I know   you're   only   doing   what   the   council chair   ordered   you   to   do   but   it's   a   common zoning   change.   I'm   not   going   to   pay   an additional   quarter   mil   over   the   next   five years.   Continue   collecting   the   peanuts   for your   vacant   lot.   I   can   find   another   place to build.” I   stood   and   walked   out   before   I   did   rip someone's   head   off.   I   pay   my   lawyers   to put up with this. Traipsing     down     two     halls     and     six flights       of       stairs       didn't       calm       my frustration. The   air   outside   was   chilly   for   a   Tampa February   morning.   Closer   to   fifty   than   the seventy   Floridians   expect.   I   don't   don   ski parkas   at   sixty   degrees   like   the   crackers, but   after   living   in   southern   Louisiana   for four    decades    before    this    latest    identity, the   fifty   felt   cool   to   me.   I   blamed   it   on   the breeze    off    the    bay    swirling    around    the downtown   buildings.   I   stuffed   my   hands in my pockets as I strolled for my office. I   don't   know   if   it   was   the   suffering   of fools,   or   just   my   wolf   wanting   to   run,   but   I opted   to   walk   a   couple   blocks   out   of   the way   in   order   to   stroll   through   the   park. That    took    me    past    the    courthouse    and annex   lockup.   As   ruffled   as   I   already   felt, the   cops   chastising   the   throng   of   females they   ushered   out   of   the   building   raised   my hackles   more.   My   beast   wanted   to   attack. Whatever    would    silence    them.    My    wolf yearned for a dark place, to get away. I   sighed,   pressed   my   fists   deeper   into my   pockets,   trying   to   ignore   the   gaggle.   It was   impossible.   I   was   going   to   cross   their paths.   I   considered   the   avoidance   strategy of         jaywalking.         Didn't.         Call         it stubbornness. My sidewalk too. My     eyes     locked     onto     one     of     the females.   Why,   I   don't   know.   She   looked   as though   she   hadn't   eaten   in   a   decade.   Her bones   rattled.   The   skirt   she   wore   barely dipped   below   her   crotch.   A   midriff   smock looked   unwashed   another   decade.   Not   the typical attire for a forty-year-old. From    thirty    paces,    I    could    see    her shoulders   shuddering   from   the   chill.   She needed   to   get   to   the   mission   and   get   a   free coat. A pair of jeans would be good. Not my problem. I   attempted   to   avoid   her   glance.   Wasn't swift    enough.    Empty    eyes    shot    through me    as    though    I    wasn't    even    here.    She stumbled.    Her    hands    shook.    An    image, very   old   one,   struck   me.   I'd   watched   many men   dying   in   the   mud   with   guts   asunder from    wobbling    shot.    They    flinched    the same   way,   as   though   avoiding   the   reaper grasping at their soul. “A blow job, mister?” It    was    nine-thirty    in    the    morning.    A cop   stood   thirty-feet   away.   Her   question didn't   shock   me.   What   shocked   me   was that    I    stopped    in    my    tracks.    Her    eyes wobbled   as   though   focused   on   ghosts   that wouldn't     remain     still,     hovering     about chest high. “I'm   guessing   you   just   got   out   of   jail   for solicitation.”   My   wolf   sniffed   the   air.   He knew   this   pathetic   creature   would   be   dead soon. “Fancy   word,   huh?”   she   said.   “So   you wanna get off, or not? A girl's gotta eat.” “Didn't     they     feed     you     in     jail?”     I couldn't   believe   the   words   floated   out   of my   mouth.   Why   was   I   talking   to   this   filthy creature? “I   traded   it   for   drugs.”   Her   eyes   tried   to reach mine, but didn't make it. She   wasn't   being   a   smartass.   Half-dead already,    she    wasn't    lucid    enough    to    lie. How   could   they   have   let   her   out   like   this? She    should    be    in    the    hospital.    But    the judicial system isn't about charity work. “Follow   me,”   worked   out   between   my lips   as   I   shivered.   It   was   the   smell,   not   the chill. “Ten bucks. Five for a hand job.” “Yeah,” I mumbled. I   pulled   my   money   clip   out,   slipped   a hundred   out,   before   I   asked   myself   what the   hell   I   was   doing.   A   hundred   bucks? She'd    buy    so    much    heroin    or    meth    or whatever's    popular    these    days    and    be dead    tonight.    I    replaced    the    bill,    pulled out   one   of   the   tens   I   stash   for   tips,   and tore it in half. She    struggled    to    keep    up    with    me.    I slowed,   and   held   half   of   the   ten   out   to   her. Her   hand   fluttered,   grabbing   for   it.   She might   have   gotten   something   in   lockup, but    not    the    hard    stuff    she    needed.    She was definitely in withdrawal. She   held   the   half-bill   in   front   of   her   for a     moment     struggling     to     focus.     “This doesn't look—it's torn in half.” “Yep.   Stick   with   me   for   a   while,   and   I'll give you the other half.” I    led    her    north,    toward    the    mission. Maybe   with   luck,   after   something   to   eat she'd   drop   by   the   place   and   get   something to     keep     the     breeze     off     of     her.     Most businessmen     would     cough     up     a     lung rather   than   be   caught   dead   in   this   part   of town.    I'm    not    a    typical    millionaire.    I might   not   have   been   in   Tampa   long,   but to   survive,   a   lone   wolf   has   to   know   the local   changelings.   So   I   was   familiar   with the   area   surrounding   the   mission   because the    vamps    had    not    one,    but    two    blood donation centers nearby. “Look,”   she   mumbled.   “There's   plenty of    alleys.    I'm    used    to    doing    it    on    my knees.” My   stomach,   a   wolf's   stomach,   actually lurched   on   me.   As   unbelievable   as   that   is, I   found   my   eyes   looked   down.   Her   knees bore    recent    road    rash,    old    bruises.    So she'd     fulfilled     a     guard     or     a     lockup partner's   dreams   recently.   Vomit   worked up    my    throat.    I    almost    handed    her    the other    half    of    the    bill    and    walked    away. Why I didn't I have no idea. She    continued    to    mumble.    Things    I didn't   wish   to   hear.   I   tried   to   focus   on   the diner half a block up. “Amazing   how   much   cum   you   business types   carry   with   you.   I   should   charge   you extra.” Keep your mouth shut, Carter. “My   stepdad   took   me   so   often   I   never had to worry about that.” I   cleared   my   throat   and   spit.   I   couldn't block    the    sounds.    “How    old    are    you?” That   was   intelligent.   That'll   encourage   her to talk more. “Uh.” Instead,   she   shut   up   for   a   dozen   paces. My    chest    tightened    to    understand    she couldn't    remember.    I    had    first    thought she   was   forty.   Before   I   even   spoke   to   her initially,   I   realized   she   was   much   younger. Early thirties. Late twenties? “I'm   from   Pennsylvania,”   she   said.   “I kept   heading   south,   hoping   to   keep   from freezing.” I   stepped   behind   her,   opened   the   diner door    for    her.    She    stopped,    glared    for    a long moment. “You    want    to    do    it    in    there?    What? Under the table? Like they won't notice?” “We're getting something to eat.” “I'd rather have the cash,” she said. “I'm    sure    you    would.    You'll    get    your ten bucks, don't worry.” She    hovered    a    moment,    as    though    it took   more   brain   cells   than   she   had   left   to get    her    body    to    move    forward    again.    I finally   got   her   in   the   door.   The   breakfast crowd   had   thinned   but   we   still   had   to   sit at   the   counter.   To   get   there   we   had   to   pass dozens   of   glares.   I   don't   consider   myself overly   worried   by   what   others   think   but that   moment   I   could   understand   why   she was close to death. It   was   easier   to   despise   what   you   don't understand   than   show   compassion.   And there    was    a    point    even    compassionate people     preferred     the     pathetic     simply found a corner and died. I   brushed   away   the   menus   the   server offered.     The     poor     women     looked     as though   she   would   weep,   me   bringing   in such trash where she worked. “Your    beef    stew,    whole    milk    for    her, coffee for both of us.” “Sure,”   she   said.   “Can   I   get   you   a   table in the back when one opens up?” I    didn't    blame    her.    Even    my    beast understood her concern. “Okay,” wisped out of my mouth. And    a    table    opened    up    quickly,    long before   the   stew   came.   The   girl   sipped   at the   milk   after   we   moved.   It   was   quieter   in the    back.    The    noise    from    the    kitchen didn't   well   straight   at   us,   though   my   beast jerked     every     time     the     busboy     rushed through the door to or from the kitchen. “I   can't   remember   the   last   time   I   tasted milk.” “So   you   made   it   through   the   winter,”   I mumbled.    “Dressed    like    that.    Even    in Tampa, that's amazing.” She   blinked   her   eyes.   “Oh,   I've   been   in Tampa a couple years.” My   coffee   burned   my   throat,   or   was   it more vomit? “In     Jacksonville     a     year.”     She     took another   sip.   Her   hands   wrapped   around the   glass   as   though   she   wasn't   quite   sure how to hold it. “Savanna a year.” Our   server   set   down   the   bowl   of   stew, refilled    our    coffees,    and    fled    without    a word. “Before    that,    seems    like    a    month    at every   truck   stop   all   the   way   down   Ninety- five. That first winter was the hardest.” She   picked   up   her   spoon   but   set   it   back down.   She   cupped   her   hands   underneath the bowl like she had her coffee cup. “Funny.   After   a   while   of   being   hungry, it goes away. You know?” During        the        War        of        Northern Aggression,    I    had    eaten    raw    opossum. Can't   say   my   hunger   ever   went   away.   We sat      for      five      minutes.      The      swirl      of commotion   from   the   rush   had   died.   The thud   in   my   ears,   my   heartbeat,   softened, and my breath came easier. “How     long     have     you     been     on     the street?” She   glanced   away.   Her   lips   moved.   I think   she   was   counting,   or   at   least   trying to.   Her   eyes   turned   glassy.   She   shook   it off    a    moment    later    and    picked    up    the spoon,   which   clattered   as   she   worked   to get   it   into   the   stew.   “Not   really   sure,”   she said. She   managed   one,   and   then   a   second bite.   Frankly,   I   worried   it   might   make   her hurl    the    way    her    shoulders    curled    with each taste. The next two bites were easier. The   waitress   slipped   our   check   on   the table without slowing down. “I   think   I'm   nineteen,”   she   said.   “The second    abortion    was    enough    for    me    to figger   I'd   die   if   I   didn't   get   out   of   there.” She slurped, wiped her chin. A    rasp    made    me    jerk.    I    realized    the noise she made was something of a laugh. “Never   figgered   the   road   would   kill   me as fast. I been dead a while now.” I   pushed   the   milk   toward   her.   She   took a   gulp,   jerked   as   though   she   might   gag, but     remained     quiet.     Maybe     she     was expecting something else in the glass. “I    couldn't    tell    my    mom.    He    started fondling    me    so    young,    after    everything, what   was   the   point?   I   didn't   know   it   was wrong.   Until   I   did.   He   said   I   gave   good head.   Gave   me   money.   It   was   enough,   for too long. I figger it was my fault.” My    stomach    twisted.    I'd    heard    bad stories   in   my   long   life.   But   I   had   never   sat across    the    table    from    it.    I    had    killed humans,   ate   them,   and   felt   less   emotion than     I     did     looking     at     this     pathetic creature. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017