Kate Daniels 03 - Magic Strikes
and age. Roland possessed immense power. He was also the man I had been training all my life to kill.
I circled a big pot hole in the old pavement, turned onto Dead Cat, and saw the crime scene under a busted street lamp. Cops and witnesses were nowhere in sight. Gauzy moonlight sifted onto the bodies of seven shapeshifters. None of them was dead.
Two werewolves in animal form swept the scene for scents, carefully padding in widening circles from the narrow mouth of Dead Cat Street. Most shapeshifters in beast form ran larger than their animal counterparts, and these proved no exception: hulking, shaggy beasts taller and thicker than a male Great Dane. Past them, two of their colleagues in human form packed something suspiciously resembling a body into a body bag. Three others walked the perimeter, presumably to keep the onlookers out of the way. As if anyone was dumb enough to linger for a second look.
At my approach, everything stopped. Seven pairs of glowing eyes stared at me: four green, three yellow. Judging by the glow, the shapeshifter crew hovered on the verge of going furry. One of their own was dead and they were out for blood.
I kept my tone light. “You fellows ever thought of hiring out as a Christmas lights crew? You’d make a fortune.”
The nearest shapeshifter trotted to me. Bulky with muscle but fit, he was in his early forties. His face wore the trademark expression the Pack presented to the outsiders: polite and hard like the rock of Gibraltar. “Good evening, ma’am. This is a private investigation conducted by the Pack. I’m going to have to ask you to please move on.”
Ma’am . . . Oy.
I reached into my shirt, pulled out the wallet of transparent plastic I carried on a cord around my neck, and passed it to him. He glanced at my ID, complete with a small square of enchanted silver, and called out, “Order.”
Across the street a man congealed from the darkness. One moment there was only a deep night shadow lying like a pool of ink against the wall of the building, and the next there he stood. Six-two, his skin the color of bitter chocolate, and built like a prize fighter. Normally he wore a black cloak, but today he limited himself to black jeans and T-shirt. As he moved toward me, muscles rolled on his chest and arms. His face inspired second thoughts in would-be brawlers. He looked like he broke bones for a living and he loved his job.
“Hello, Jim,” I said, keeping my tone friendly. “Fancy meeting you here.”
The shapeshifter who had spoken to me took off. Jim came close and patted Marigold’s neck.
“Long night?” he asked. His voice was melodious and smooth. He never sang, but you knew he could, and if he decided to do it, women would be hurling themselves into his path.
“You might say that.”
Jim was my partner from the days when I worked exclusively for the Mercenary Guild. Some merc gigs required more than one body, and Jim and I tackled them together, mostly because we couldn’t stomach working with anybody else. Jim was also alpha of the cat clan and the Pack’s chief of security. I’d seen him fight and I would rather take on a nest of pissed-off vipers any day.
“You should go home, Kate.” A sheen of faint green rolled over his eyes and vanished, his animal side coming to the surface for a moment.
“What happened here?”
The wolf on the left let out a short yelp. A female shapeshifter ran over to him and picked up something off the ground. I caught a glimpse of it before she stuffed the object into a bag. A human arm, severed at the elbow, still in a sleeve. We had just gone from code green seven to code green ten. Shapeshifter murder. Accidental deaths rarely resulted in detached limbs strewn across the intersection.
“Like I said, Pack business.” Jim glanced at me. “You know the law.”
The law said that the shapeshifters were an independent group, much like a Native American tribe, with the authority to govern itself. They made their own laws and they had a right to enforce them, as long as those laws didn’t affect nonshapeshifters. If the Pack didn’t want my help on this investigation, there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. “As an agent of the Order, I extend an offer of assistance to the Pack.”
“The Pack appreciates the Order’s offer of assistance. As of now, we decline. Go home, Kate,” Jim repeated. “You look worn-out.”
Translation: shoo, puny human. Big, mighty shapeshifters have no
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