IN THE WEREWOLF'S DEN
Chapter One only
Copyright 2005 by Rob Preece. All rights reserved. User may make a
single print copy for their own use. This is a work of fiction. Any
resemblance to actual people, places, or businesses, is strictly coincidental.
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(Note: the Prologue is deleted in this sample chapter.)
He didn't look like a werewolf.
Danielle straightened her uniform tunic, then continued to watch the Were, her eyes hidden behind her mirrored sunglasses. The Were stepped toward her, his tawny eyes staring as if they could pierce the protection of her shades and see into her soul. Even in his prison coveralls, he looked powerful, in control of the situation.
She knew he was young, in his early thirties, but a hint of silver dusted the jet black of his hair. His footsteps were silent on the hard concrete floor.
Danielle took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was in charge. She was the warder. He was just another impaired. Her prisoner.
"Dr. Carl Harriman?"
He stopped. "I'm Harriman."
"The courts have heard your appeal. Pending the results of your research, you are released from interment and remanded into my custody."
She was prepared for gratitude. For earnest shedding of tears. His curt nod was unexpected, chilling.
"About time they got around to it. And who the hell are you?"
Danielle drew herself to her full five foot eight. "Warder Agent Danielle Goodman. On temporary assignment as a herder." Very temporary assignment, she hoped. When Joe Smealy had called her in to his office, she'd expected to be commissioned as a vampire hunter, not relegated to the low-status position as herder. Joe hadn't had time to give her details, but she planned on getting them soon. She'd graduated first in her class from the Warder Academy. She'd taken special training in martial arts, in hypnotic resistance, in emergency transfusions. She had even bought the black-on-black casual dress uniform of a hunter-agent. That uniform took up half the space in the workout bag that held all of her possessions. Wearing it would have to wait until she proved herself once more.
"Wonderful. Danielle, is it? Well, I guess I'm stuck with you."
Discourage fraternization. She couldn't count the number of times that message had been beaten into their heads in the Academy. "My name is Agent Goodman, not Danielle."
Harriman's laugh was short--almost a bark. "If we're going to be living together, I really think we should be on a first-name basis."
She bristled. "We aren't living together, as you put it. I'm your herder. You are a late-arrival were, released on sufferance, thanks to the generosity of the people of the State of Texas."
"Very generous, indeed." He paused a beat. "Agent Goodman."
His sarcastic tone sent her hand reaching for the silver-tipped nightstick that all herders carried. She had to maintain dominance. Were, like the dogs many people had kept as pets before the return of magic, needed to know who was master. She pulled the stick slowly from her belt, slapped it against a gloved hand, and stared.
He looked back, unmoved by the threat that the silver represented. Didn't he know what it could do to him? Maybe he didn't. According to his documentation, he'd turned himself over to the authorities as soon as he'd been visited with his impairment. That quick decision had protected him from the fearful mob that would normally surround an impaired discovered living outside the zone.
He was only a were. Even so, Danielle decided his tone of voice was not enough to warrant using the nightstick.
"Let's get you situated in a lab," Danielle said. The sooner she could get him to work, the sooner he could discover whatever it was that had gotten him out of prison and the sooner she could move on to her next assignment. Preferably one involving hunting vampires rather than herding lowlife Were.
"I've been in prison for six months," Harriman observed. "I need a shower, something decent to eat, and real clothes rather than these paper things." He demonstrated the flimsiness of his prison garb by grasping the fabric and yanking. Sure enough, the woven material gave, exposing a muscled biceps beneath it. "Preferably food first."
Danielle swallowed hard. The Academy was full of hard-bodied males, but something about Harriman affected her. If she hadn't been wearing her silver-impregnated sunglasses, she might have suspected he was using some sort of enchantment spell on her.
She cleared her throat, then nodded. "All right. We'll get something to eat and some new clothes. Then we'll get you moved into the zone where the government has established your lab."
Harriman smiled. He had a nice smile, Danielle thought. With large, even, white teeth. It even looked like he had all of them--another positive result of his turning himself in before the mob could find him. Unusually for a Were, Harriman's canines didn't even look enlarged. He looked like a normal human--except sexier than any normal human she'd ever seen.
She reminded herself that nobody chose the curse. Harriman, her stepfather, and all those others were victims of the return of magic. Just because society needed to be protected from them didn't make them evil. Just dangerous. And Harriman was definitely dangerous.
"Let's go," Danielle finished.
"What about my things?" Harriman objected.
"Everything you had with you when you were arrested has been destroyed," Danielle told him. "Come on. Unless you want me to send you back to your cell."
He didn't move for a moment and Danielle wondered if he would actually call her bluff. If wouldn't look good on her record if she gave up on her job ten minutes into it. On the other hand, she needed to assert her authority--and remind Harriman that she had the power to return him to prison at any time. For any reason.
"Destroying perfectly good clothing is stupid," Harriman observed as he followed her through the silver-spiked doors that closed off this section of the Lew Sterret Justice Center. "But destroying my computer is a crime. It had records from years of research on it. Research I'll have to duplicate."
Danielle suspected that Harriman's things hadn't really all been destroyed. Some government official had probably nabbed Harriman's computer on the not unreasonable expectation that a prisoner wouldn't need it. Government computers were, by definition, a couple of generations behind the type of system a scientist like Harriman would have. By now that computer was lost in the system, sitting on some anonymous desk somewhere. There was no way she was going to admit that to Harriman, though. The system wasn't perfect. But it provided the small measure of safety that remained for the normal ninety percent of the human race. The alternative was unthinkable.
"Then we'd better get our butts in gear and get started on it, hadn't we?"
Harriman narrowed his eyes. "What's this 'we' stuff? Surely you don't think you're going to help with my research."
She hadn't, actually. She was his herder, not his assistant. On the other hand, Danielle had an insatiable curiosity. If she was going to spend the next couple of months with Carl Harriman, she might as well learn something. And biomedical research into the source of the magic that had so infected a large part of the world's population was something worth understanding.
"I'm stuck with you, impaired," she told him. "I might as well do something useful."
He gave her that look again. "Right. So, we were talking about food. After six months eating nothing but processed algae, I'm ready for a huge steak, a baked potato dripping with butter and sour cream, and a salad with real lettuce and vegetables. And a bottle of wine."
Danielle bit off her laughter. She was thinking of Harriman as a prisoner, as one of the thousands of impaired whose property had been confiscated when they'd been sent into the zone. But Harriman was different. He was a late arrival. His timely surrender to the authorities had protected his property. Even with what he'd spent on lawyers, he still had plenty of money in his bank account.
"All right." She pulled out her palmtop and punched in Carl's specifications. "There's a restaurant on Turtle Creek," she told him. "It looks pretty close. We'll go there first."
"You've got a date."
Danielle shuddered. She might have to work with him but she didn't have to like him. "I'll wait in the lobby, Were."
"Afternoon, Fred." Carl greeted the maitre d' at the Old Main Grill as if they were old friends. Well, maybe they were. The restaurant was the type that appealed to rich businessmen. Like Carl had been.
"Six months of prison slop would make cold oatmeal taste like a gourmet treat. I can hardly wait to taste your Tex-French cooking.
"I'm sorry, sir. We don't have any free seating."
Carl frowned. "It's me, Fred. Dr. Harriman." He looked around at the nearly deserted restaurant.
Danielle checked her palmtop. "I made reservations for one. Confirmation number seven zero--"
"I'm terribly sorry sir, ma'am" Fred broke in. "Our computer system must have suffered from a glitch. We won't be able to seat you today."
"Dr. Harriman is legally accompanied by a registered warder," Danielle said. "Under city ordinance two-C-seven, you are not allowed to discriminate against impaired if so accompanied."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I simply don't have the seating."
It was a lie, of course. But no policeman would enforce that ordinance.
She shoved herself in the Maitre d's face and grasped his starch-impregnated shirt. "You'll damn-well find a seat for my ward or I'll toss some of your customers and make room."
"I'd better get the manager." Fred fled from her, leaving shirt buttons popping behind him.
"Let's get out of here," Carl said.
A couple, the man in his fifties, his date in her early twenties, walked into the restaurant and stopped suddenly when they saw Carl.
"Guess they aren't being as exclusive as they used to be. Imagine trying to bring one of them to a place like this."
Carl turned on his heels and strode out.
Danielle walked after him. She couldn't really blame the restaurant management or the customers. If her work didn't require her to spend time with the impaired, she'd feel a little queasy about sharing a restaurant with one, too. Especially a restaurant whose entrees started at more than a warder's weekly salary. The funny thing was Carl's surprise. He'd have to have been sleeping over the past decade not to be aware that the impaired were unwelcome anywhere outside of their zone.
"Perhaps we would be more comfortable if we went to the zone first, where they're used to dealing with the impaired."
Carl looked at his hands. "It's strange, but I don't feel impaired. I feel like I always did, except I have a capability now. I'm quicker, more aware of scents and sounds. And tastes, which was why I was looking forward to a well-cooked meal."
"The onset of magic is a legal impairment," Danielle reminded him. "Impaired individuals have limited self-control and need to be properly restrained. It's serious, all right."
"Let's stop by a super-store," Carl suggested. "I'll pick up some steaks and grill them myself. And I've got to get some clothes that don't make it obvious that I'm, uh, different."
Danielle shook her head. "Under Public Law 1627, it is unlawful to attempt to disguise your condition. Tell you what. Let's decide what you need and I'll order it on my computer. It'll be at your new lab by the time you get there."
If she'd needed the reminder of Carl's condition, his snarl gave it to her. "I've devoted the past ten years of my life looking for a cure, a way to bring life back to nature and away from the bizarrely supernatural. And for that, I've got to walk around with the sign of the beast on me. It isn't right."
"Let's go, Harriman," Danielle ordered.
Carl climbed into her warder-provided vehicle and stared straight ahead as Danielle pulled away from the curb and headed into traffic.
Her vehicle's tiny hydrogen motor provided enough power to climb Dallas's small hills and not much more. She made a quick U-turn and headed south.
The Trinity River had swelled with the warmer climate and melting icecaps. Where it had once been a trickle a child could jump over, it was now an impressive barrier between the north side of the city and the south. A barrier made more formidable by electric fencing, dynamited bridges, guard towers, and signs indicating that land mines had been laid.
Danielle stopped at a guard post and presented her credentials.
The guard looked at them closely, then glanced into the car. "Werewolf?" His voice held nothing but contempt.
Danielle glared at him. "Yeah."
The guard spat, the thick glob landing on the windshield in front of Carl's face. "Who'd you piss off to get stuck with it?"
"My first assignment out of the Academy."
The guard raised the barrier, then laughed. "You're an Academy grad and you're doing that? It usually takes years even for us unblessed to screw up bad enough to get stuck on herder duty. I got busted for drunk driving and this is as bad as they got to me. Another couple of weeks and I'm back to chasing."
Danielle sighed. Elf chasing. The guard was fat, probably slow, and if he was smart, he sure didn't look it. So why was he an elf chaser when Danielle was stuck herding? Admittedly, a chaser was not in the same class as a vampire hunter. Even so, Danielle would have given six months of salary to trade jobs with the guard.
She flipped on the windshield wiper to clean off the guard's goober and headed into the Dallas zone.
"Are they all like this?" For the first time, Carl's voice sounded tentative.
"The zones. I've never been in one before."
Late onset impairment was rare. For the most part, those who would receive the magical curse got it within months of the return of magic. Some in the government even held that late onset was a myth--that a few of the impaired were able to hide themselves for long periods of time, working surreptitiously to destroy normal humanity. Carl's ignorance would have cured Danielle of that theory, if she'd ever believed in it.
For the first time, Danielle really looked at the Dallas zone.
It felt quiet. A few beat-up hydrogen-fueled cars roamed the streets, but mostly the residents traveled by foot or bicycle. The hum of air conditioning, ever-present in the north side of Dallas where normal humans lived, was missing here. Beyond that, the general air of dilapidation was impossible to ignore. Buildings leaned to the side, curtains blew in and out of broken windows, and huge potholes turned the streets into an obstacle course that challenged the limited horsepower in her official vehicle.
Hunters, she teased herself, got to drive gasoline-powered vehicles. They, unlike herders, spent most of their time outside the zones because vampires often used their magical talents to escape the ever-expanding defensive rings guarding the normals from the evils of the zone.
An elf woman with a missing arm pressed against the thin plastic of Danielle's car, her remaining hand held out in supplication.
Danielle fought down her reflexive sympathy. They have no pride, she reminded herself, mentally reciting one of the thousands of creeds that had been drilled into her head in the Academy.
Although the zone lacked normal sounds of machinery, the quiet was not complete. Screams of happy children sounded from a lot where an aging strip mall had deteriorated into a dangerous-but-fun-looking playground. A vendor pedaled by on a three-wheeled bicycle selling frozen fruit bars from an insulated box. Two old men whispered to each other as they played a slow game of chess and drank aromatic black coffee in front of what Danielle would have guessed to be an abandoned diner. If she hadn't seen the hint of a tail hanging below one's coat, they could have passed as normal.
"This one looks a bit nicer than the Los Angeles zone," she said. "In the return-of-magic riots there, the impaired burned about a third of the entire zone. Doesn't look like you had that kind of problem."
Damn. Danielle had forgotten that the censors had decided the L.A. riots had never taken place. She backpedaled quickly. "A few rowdy kids got carried away. Did some damage to the zone before the warders could intervene."
Carl eyed her suspiciously. "I'd always heard that city services are fully available in zones. Doesn't look like the street crews have been out here lately."
Danielle maneuvered her car around another huge pothole.
"It's hard to offer services to the impaired," she gave the explanation she'd always heard. "They attack city workers, refuse to pay their taxes. You know things have been tough since the return, and since the ice caps started melting."
Carl nodded grimly. "That's what I've been telling the courts for the past six months. If we could just get a grip on the virus, we could dedicate all of our efforts to getting the country back on its feet. Magic is just another disease. We whipped smallpox when the bioterrorists re-introduced it. We finally controlled AIDS and SARS. We were even making progress against cancer before all this started.
"Do you have any idea how much of our resources are wasted in controlling the magical outbreak?" he continued, warming to his topic. "Not even including the ten percent of our population directly affected, how many thousands of warders do we have? Not to mention the concrete and steel we pour into the walls we built around the zones. It's worse than the war on drugs back in the twentieth century. The war on magic is ruining our economy. But unless my research results were anomalous, we can whip this."
When he spoke, Danielle felt herself carried away in the excitement of his vision. Carl truly believed he could eliminate the curse of magic's return, and his personal magnetism made him persuasive. His was the kind of message that could transform the world. Best, he sounded like he knew what he was talking about rather than simply spouting a pipe dream. Except the number of warders wasn't measured in the thousands. It was millions. The nation, the world, was bankrupting itself to control the return of magic. If Carl could pull off a complete cure, returning the impaired to productive life, he could write his own ticket--including getting back into that fancy restaurant.
She pulled onto a residential street and pushed the remote to open the radio-controlled gate.
"I didn't think they had electricity here."
"Your place has its own fuel cell," she explained. "Many of your tools are electronic so, when they equipped your lab, they made sure they would run."
Carl nodded. "Got it. Well, why don't you drop me off and you can get back to whatever warders do when they're not playing chauffeur to local scientists?"
The thought had crossed Danielle's mind--repeatedly. Once Carl was in the zone with all of the other impaired, why would he need a full-time herder? What happened inside was normally a matter for whatever local mob ran a particular section of the zone. If the impaired wanted to kill each other, not many normal humans would complain and, while it might be technically illegal, the warders had more important things to do than look into an impaired getting killed.
After hearing Carl speak, however, she knew her answer. Carl's work was important enough to make protecting him a priority. Important enough that she was stuck in the zone, stuck with a dangerous Were, for the duration.
She forced herself to look at the bright side. Joe hadn't assigned her to a trivial case. Its importance meant he trusted her abilities. If she didn't screw this job up, she just might get the promotion she craved.
"You don't understand, Dr. Harriman, I'm part of the package. The government wants what you're working on and I'm here to make sure you keep your nose to the grindstone." And to make sure he really was doing what he'd promised. How many impaired had promised wonderful things, only to disappear once they'd gotten what they wanted from normal human society?
"You're going to be with me for months?"
Months? Living in the zone? Danielle took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. Maybe it would be faster than months. For sure, she would hold Harriman's feet to the fire and make him work his tail off.
"However long it takes."
Danielle wished she knew more about the technical equipment Carl used in his work. If she could believe Carl, the government had provided him with outdated and inefficient equipment. She suspected that he was telling the truth. The return of magic plague had made everyone tighten their belts and nobody was about to give the best equipment to an impaired, even if he did promise to work miracles.
"But they're not giving me anything," Carl argued when she explained that to him. "They've charged my account for the most current equipment and given me this dreck."
"At least you're out of prison."
He didn't seem grateful. "It'll take me twice as long to get the job done if I have to work with this stuff. And I'll need twice the staff."
She hadn't thought about staff. Somehow she'd had the idea of Carl working alone in his lab with her, weapons in hand, making sure that he didn't try anything. Reality was getting in the way again.
One thing for sure, she wanted him to get the job done quickly. "Get me a list of what you need; I'll see what I can do."
That seemed to cheer him up some. "Right."
While Carl calibrated his equipment, checked out his supplies, and did whatever scientific things people like him did, Danielle checked out the rest of the facility.
She suspected that Joe must have helped specify the requirements, because there were two rooms for bedrooms, one for a gym, and another for a kitchen. She'd be able to maintain her training and not fall too much behind her peers when she finally had a chance to make Vampire Hunter.
Since Carl looked like he would be messing with refrigeration units, DNA sequencers, and fermenting vats for hours, Danielle switched from the stiff and ugly brown uniform of a warder-herder to a pair of running shorts and sports bra to get some exercise in.
"I'll be in the gym," she told him. "Don't leave here without letting me know."
"Fine," he told her. "Want to go for a run afterwards?"
"In the zone?" Any time she'd been in the zone before, she'd been in a vehicle with her weapons ready.
"Can we run in the normal side of the city?"
She shook her head. "Only if I put you on a leash."
He gave her a half-smile as if he thought she was joking. But she wasn't. Before his transformation, Carl had obviously kept his eyes firmly closed. Which meant she was stuck explaining reality to him.
His smile faded slowly as the truth sunk in.
"The zone it is, then."
She hit the weight machines in the gym, pushing herself to failure on every set. Some of her fellow-students had been lackadaisical about their strength and unarmed combat training exercises, but every time she thought about slacking, memories of the vampire stooped over her mother surged.
Carl puttered around outside and she used his presence to motivate herself further. She couldn't stay awake all the time. Yet Carl needed to be certain she could handle anything he could throw at her.
She'd finished her three sets for each muscle group and was running through a Kata, one of her martial arts routines, when Carl appeared, dressed in a pair of shorts, an M.I.T. T-shirt, and running shoes.
He grinned, cocky and full of confidence. "Ready for that run?"
"Think you can keep up?"
He laughed. "Trust me, I can keep up with anything you throw my
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