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Prologue

BILLY LANNER stepped out of The Gaylord Street Bar and Grill, the warm August night air scented by a handful of smokers standing outside chattering. Billy turned left, his shoes scraping loudly on the gravel as he started searching for his car. He wasn’t drunk, he’d only had one beer, but he still looked around to make sure there wasn’t a pig parked nearby looking to fill his DUI quota for the month.

Billy played with his phone, posting status updates on various social sites and checked out what a few of his friends were up to. He slowed, hearing a car door open. He looked up the street and froze. A man was looking inside the back seat of Billy’s car. His heart began to pound, You idiot you knew this would happen! He turned, walking away and trying to step softer, cursing the gravel on the street and the late hour. There was almost no one around; the smokers were back inside the bar. He thought about ducking back in, but decided whoever it was at his car would just wait for him outside the bar until last call. Billy heard a distant car door shut; his car door, no doubt. He glanced over his shoulder and sure enough a figure was walking quickly in Billy’s direction. He swore under his breath, turning left down Mississippi. As he rounded the corner he broke into a jog, panting, not for the first time wishing he was a runner. Keep focused, moron he told himself.

His legs started to burn just a bit as he hung another left on York, aware of a sound from behind him. Does he just want to talk? Not likely. If Billy was lucky he’d just get beaten up, but if Billy was lucky he’d have never been found out in the first place. The late hour meant that no lights were on in the little brick houses he passed. He saw plywood covering the window of a small home to his right. He ran around back, breathing hard and dodging heaps of wood, the house was obviously under renovation. Billy found the back door and turned an old knob. Finally some luck! The door swung open and he entered.

He closed it softly and tiptoed his way to the front room, thankful that the shiny hardwood floor didn’t creek. He sat down in a closet, bringing his knees to his chest, a little plume of sawdust rising and catching in his throat. He tried rather vainly to calm himself. What was he going to do? Out front he thought he heard movement, the light sound of grass being walked on. Billy made sure his phone was on silent, knowing whoever it was wouldn’t be able to figure out where he was if he could keep quiet. And then he noticed it…a panting sound followed by a deep growl.

God no, not one of those! There was a sniffing sound at the edge of the plywood window and Billy moved deeper in the closet, praying in earnest for the first time in years. There was a snort and then nothing. Billy breathed out softly, and then heard the back door click shut.

A deep, raspy voice called out, “Billy…Billy, I can smell you Billy,” it chuckled.

Billy’s eyes stung as sweat dripped into them, his mouth dry as parchment. Don’t run, that’s what it wants, it wants the sport, don’t run, don’t run, don’t run…his ears were pierced by a howl. Deep in Billy’s brain, instinct took over. Fight or flight were his options and his terrified mind knew only one response to a wolf’s howl. Billy bolted from the closet without thinking. There was a guttural growl behind him and he turned to see two glowing eyes higher than his own and a flash of white teeth. Pain exploded on Billy’s left side as claws raked his ribs sending him flying.

Billy hit the floor twisting his ankle, his weight buckling the joint, taking him to the wood floor. He hit, landing on his side, the air knocked from him as the pain from his other side flared. He tried to crawl away, his rational mind only a faint whisper telling him it was all over, the scared animal in him reaching for safety.

Billy cried out as claws sank deep into his leg.

* * * * *

Detective Alison Kaur set her latte in her cup-holder, shut her door and put on her seat belt. She looked up to see two teenagers dressed in ratty hoodies in an alleyway exchanging a bag and money. Alison un-clicked the seat belt and a voice in her head said, You aren’t on vice anymore, it’s not your problem. What was her problem was the crime scene she was supposed to be heading toward, the one with a stiff, not a couple of kids with grass. She re-clicked her belt and started the car.

She turned out into morning traffic on Alameda, hanging a right on University, thinking about a world without rush hour. She looked around, seeing everything. Her uncle had told her this would happen when she decided to become a cop: you see everything. Like the kids at the coffee shop, or now the hookers getting off a bus from a long night’s work. Next to her a woman was texting, not looking at the road, and further up someone wasn’t wearing his seat belt. Another lady was dabbing at a bruise under her eye with makeup. This was just another morning drive. She saw the good around her too, like the young girl gazing at a diamond ring on her finger, though good didn’t seem to hold the same effect on Alison. She knew most people didn’t see what she did, it wasn’t their job, but it was hers. Well not everything, just homicide. She moved forward, turning on Mississippi.

She drove up York and got out of her car, sipping on her latte. On the right-hand side of the road was a small two-story house with taupe bricks that was undergoing a renovation. She ducked under yellow tape and greeted one of the many uniformed officers.

She gave him a once-over. “You look a little worse for the wear, Charley,” she said.

Charley smiled grimly. “Yeah, and you will too in about five minutes ma’am, it’s…ah…pretty bad in there,” he said.

“Peachy.”

She took deeper sips on her coffee as she walked up the lawn and porch. She gently pushed open a red front door to a scene of organized chaos. CSIs were fluttering around the front room of the house dusting for prints and snapping pictures of everything. She turned and winced.

“What happened here?” she asked in disgust.

Alison was far from being squeamish, but the mess in front of her made her stomach turn. Blood pooled around a corpse whose head lulled against half-finished drywall. Gore spattered the drywall like someone had been spraying a hose, the droplets soaking into the material, the body of the victim shredded.

“Pretty nasty, isn’t it?” a voice asked.

She turned to her partner, Sean Hughes. His sandy hair was carefully disheveled, his tie just barely loose, the picture of what every city girl thought a trendy detective should look like. His blue eyes seemed unaffected by the remains before him.

“Yeah, it’s bad,” Alison said in response. “What do you think?”

“Do I look like an ME to you?” Sean asked, sardonic.

She ignored him and spoke to a CSI examining the body. “What do you think?” she asked.

He looked up, his face distorted by a plastic shield, his voice slightly muffled, “We’ll have to wait for the official autopsy, but I’d say blood loss.” He pulled at some of the man’s tattered clothing. “Not too many deep wounds here on the chest and abdomen.” He paused, “I think it was a dog that did it. I haven’t seen an animal attack like this before, and I’ve been doing this for some time detective. At any rate, this cherry wood floor is ruined.” His tone was almost sullen for the lost flooring.

“Animal attack? That’s what this is?” Sean asked, irritated. “Why are we here? We are homicide detectives not animal control! Why were we called here? And wood floors are resilient, sand it and stain it with something other than our stiff’s blood and it will be right as rain,” he said.

“Does he look like dispatch to you, Hughes?” Alison asked in the same sardonic tone he’d used a few minutes ago.

“Funny. So, do you know why we are here?” he asked, a bit more respectful this time.

Alison looked at her phone. “The vic’s car was found down the street from here and this isn’t his home, and unless Fido can open the back door or ransack cars I’d say this is a homicide.”

Sean cursed, “Freak used a dog as a murder weapon, that’s just wrong.”

The CSI was back to work, holding a little device that looked like an electric razor over one of the many wounds on the victim. He paused, “Detectives, I think I know what did this…”

“What?” Alison asked.

The CSI held up the device. “There’s Vis residue here.”

“Vis?” Sean asked.

The CSI rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Vis or magic; it matches that of a Werewolf.”

A cold feeling crept into Alison’s veins. “Are you sure?” she asked, her voice a little weaker than normal.

“Sorry ma’am, but I’d say so.”

* * * * *

Sean Hughes shook his head. He hated magic. All it’d done was cause problems since it’d come out in the open three years back. He leant over, picking up a blood-soaked wallet from the floor. He flipped it open in a gloved hand and read the victim’s name.

“So why did the big bad wolf attack Mr…William Lanner here? He sure doesn’t look like Red Riding Hood, now does he?” Sean asked the CSI.

The CSI scowled, Sean didn’t care for CSIs either; they were all just geeks on power trips as far as Sean could tell.

“I don’t know detective, I guess that’s for you to figure out, now isn’t it,” the man said icily.

“Thanks, we’ll be on our way,” Alison said, giving Sean a look. “Let’s walk the house.”

She led him away, both of them looking around for any clues they could find.

“Ya know, maybe if you weren’t such a dick to the folks in the lab they might not hate you,” she said. “Just sayin’.”

Sean snorted. “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t be so hard on them, but those nerds just get on my nerves. I never liked the smart kids.”

“Really, that’s what has you so on edge? Hmm, and to think I thought it was because magic was involved,” Alison said.

She was dead on, but he wasn’t going to admit it. Instead he walked into the kitchen of the house, the back door ajar. Another geek was dusting for prints but Sean would be surprised if they found anything of use. A month ago Sean had been forced to sit through a lecture about magic; about Wolves in particular. They didn’t leave prints, not due to any skills per se but because they didn’t have normal fingers. He walked out the back, trying to find anything of use but couldn’t. They gave a few orders to the CSIs on site and he turned to Alison.

“Shall we check out the car?” he asked, bored.

Alison agreed and added, “Did you catch a ride down here?”

He said he had and followed her to her car. Mr. Lanner’s car wasn’t far away. Sean tried not to bother the nerds as they worked and went to the trunk of the car and looked around.

“What do you think it was looking for?” Sean asked, looking into the trunk, the fabric was torn apart, metal was turned up in areas. He leaned in, Alison next to him, looking at bent metal. “Man, what kind of freak can do that?”

“Bright side is maybe it cut itself on something tearing the car apart,” Alison said.

Sean breathed out, the lab would find more but he said, “We have to tell the Sergeant about the magic.”

Alison looked serious for a moment, “Rock, paper, scissors?”

Sean won, sparing him from having to tell Sergeant Montoya that the department would need to contract with witches and wizards. But he could hear the Sergeant swear, even with the phone to Alison’s ear.

“He sounds chipper today,” Sean noted.

Alison smiled brightly. “Yeah the picture of joy, we have to go back in when we are done here, Sergeant said not to follow any leads until he contracts with Mages.”

“I hate magic,” Sean complained.

They spent a few more hours getting anything done they could before having to leave. Sean sat in the passenger seat as Alison drove down Colfax back to the station. Alison stopped on the way back to get another cup of coffee.

“That junk will kill you, ya know,” Sean pointed out.

“How is coffee going to kill me?” she asked with a chuckle.

“OK, so for most people it wouldn’t but you drink what, like a gallon a day?” Alison opened her mouth to respond and shut it. Sean laughed, “Ha! Yeah, what you got to say to that one?” he taunted.

Alison smirked, “Whatever. Like you’re one to talk.”

“What? I don’t even drink coffee,” Sean said.

She pointed at him, “But you have enough product in your hair to style a beauty pageant! That junk must be soaking into your brain.”

“Really? That’s the comeback? I use too much hair gel? Wow, it’s a good thing you’re good at catching killers because comedy…not happening.”

They continued to talk trash as they entered the station and made their way to their floor. They came in the office laughing and for just a moment forgetting the morning. That changed when they entered the office. Everyone was silent, all either standing or sitting, looking at the Sergeant’s office.

Inside, the Sergeant was talking to a girl with brown hair and thin features. Sean came up next to someone he didn’t know. “Is that the witch?” he asked.

The man’s face reddened. “Yeah that’s it,” the man said softly.

Sean looked at the woman; she glanced out into the office from behind glasses. She looked uncomfortable.

* * * * *

Heidi Decor looked out of the office window at the gathered police officers outside in the neat rows of desks. None looked happy to see a Mage in the office. She turned back to Sergeant Montoya. He was a little short for a man, maybe 5’7” and in his early fifties, his hair short black bristles. His dark eyes looked up from his paperwork. She focused more Vis into her glasses, reading his emotions. Fear, anger, curiosity and even awe were visible. Fear and anger were the strongest emotions. Part of her figured he wanted to kick her out. She didn’t blame him, normal humans had only known about Mages for a few years. Most people still hung onto their silly superstitions, and after all, her kind had killed many people in the recent years. No, she didn’t blame him or any of them for not wanting her around.

The Sergeant looked out his window. “No one wants you here,” he said as a matter of fact.

She looked out again using Vis this time, true no one wanted her there. She saw murder in the eyes of one man and wondered if she shouldn’t have taken Gabriel up on his offer to come with her to the meeting.

“You requested a Pactum, not us,” she pointed out, not letting her own fear color her tone. She could affect the Sergeant’s emotions, she could affect everyone’s but that was against the Pactum.

“Pactum?” he asked.

“Yes, the Pactum or contract, if you will; it’s our agreement. You requested this meeting, didn’t you?” she asked.

“The mayor thinks whenever magic is involved in a crime we should contract wizards and the likes,” he hedged.

“Mages, we are called Mages and it’s not magic; it’s called Vis. Your mayor is right, Werewolves are some of the most dangerous Mutari. But be that as it may Sergeant, you contacted the North American Pactum Guild and requested this meeting. If you do not want to contract with us, you are not obligated to do so.”

He waved his hand. “Like I said I don’t have a choice, now in our Pactum here it says that we owe you half upfront in gold or silver minted bullion. Do you want that now?” he asked.

She frowned. “Don’t you want to talk the terms of the Pactum?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Nope, now do you have something to take this with?” he said dumping a handful of coins on his desk.

Heidi placed the coins in a velvet pouch and then looked out at the people in the office again. Cops or not, some of them would like to hurt her, and Mage or not she was no Paladin; she couldn’t take them. No, she wasn’t going to add any more incentive for them to hurt her.

“My people will take it tomorrow,” she said.

“People? As in more than one?” he asked, not looking happy.

“Yes people, as in two of them. Your Pactum is with Gabriel, and his sister Faith will be assisting him.” She stood. “Now, I think I should be on my way, thank you for your time Sergeant.”

He walked her to his door and pointed the way back to the elevators. She made her way across the office, fighting the urge to panic as she received cold glances. A portly man standing next to a rather well-groomed one stepped in her path just a bit. She stopped. His emotions were boiling.

Before the man could speak, a woman with long brown hair came forward. “My name is Detective Kaur, let me show you out,” she said, leading Heidi safely through the office.

* * * * *

Alison Kaur walked the Mage out of the office before turning back to find Sean. She found him standing with the man who had blocked the Mage.

“What was that?” she demanded.

“What?” the officer asked.

“Are you trying to get us a bad mark with the Pactum Guild?!” a different voice said.

Alison turned to look at Steven Lee, the head of the crime lab.

He went on, “What was your plan? Take a swing at a Mage? What would that do?”

“I wasn’t gonna do nothin’, besides who cares if we get a bad mark with this guild of theirs?” the man said puffing up.

“I do!” Sergeant Montoya’s voice rang. “Don’t be stupid here, people, Denver is one of three cities contracting with Mages on a regular basis. The Mayor’s office has made it clear we aren’t to screw this up! Now Hughes and Kaur get in here,” he said closing the subject.

Alison walked into the Sergeant’s office with Sean in tow.

“You’re going to have two Mages with you tomorrow and until you solve this case,” the Sergeant said.

“Sir…” Sean started.

“I don’t want to hear it Hughes, we don’t have a choice. I don’t like it either. Any questions?” he asked.

“What is their role?” Alison asked.

“They are here to protect you from other Vis users only; they won’t assist or get in your way. You don’t even have to talk to them if you don’t want to, got it?”

“We are getting babysitters?” Sean asked.

The Sergeant changed tack, sitting down and motioning for them to do the same before he spoke. “Look…I’ve talked to other departments with experience with Werewolves…and you two are my best people. This year Denver has already lost four people to Wolves alone. I’m not happy about the Mages being here, but I have to admit they could be handy to have around.”

Sean calmed down. Alison knew that Sean was a bit of a hothead but he deeply respected the Sergeant as did she. “We won’t mess up sir,” she said.

“Yeah I know. OK, what do you have so far?”

Sean spoke, “One victim, a William Lanner, friends knew him as Billy. He was a white male in his early thirties. He was a CPA with a clean record, other than that we don’t know yet.”

“The victim’s car was ransacked and the killing took place a block away, so I think it’s safe to assume this wasn’t a random act of violence,” Alison added.

The Sergeant looked off into the distance. “No, it’s not. Let me know when the drug screen comes back. I want to know why a Wolf was after this guy and looking around in his car.”

“What are you thinking, Sarge?” Sean asked.

“Well, from what we know Werewolves don’t attack at random. For centuries Mages have kept them along with all the other magical races in check, but now that magic is in the open…and, I don’t know about you, but having a Werewolf as an enforcer sounds like a good plan to me.”

“Right sir,” Alison said.

They talked for a while longer before they were dismissed. Alison spent the rest of her day profiling William Lanner’s life.