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by Adrian Simmons

Inspector Hendrikson walked through the sterile hospital until he found room 325. He paused at the door and took a deep, slow breath. He hated to bring bad news.

He knocked, a weak voice bid him to enter.

Inside the room he found Mr. Danlo, as he had found him yesterday, resting, the tubes and wires and add-ons gathered around him.

They made small talk. No Danlo didn’t feel any better, yes his insurance covered all the injuries, no he still couldn’t remember the number of the headhunter, and yes he wanted to know what had happened to his daughter.

“Well, this is what I have.” Hendrikson began, leveraging his bulk into an ill-made plastic chair.

“The reason you had so much trouble finding the Krandall hotel is that no such place exists. There is no 1347 Red Oaks Street. Nor is there any record of the job placement agency that contacted you about the interview, and the brochures you had been mailed are all likely cunningly made forgeries as well. Probably printed out from one of those new copy shops somewhere.”

He didn’t say how lucky Mr. Danlo was, the east Red Oak district was a bad place. The rotten side of the city. Not a good place to be driving around in the dark and the rain. Mr. Danlo nodded, not caring anymore about those loose ends.

“Now, the men who attacked you have been identified as members of the Loco Diablos- the most notorious hispanic gang in the city. Now, mean hombres they may be but they aren’t smart- I don’t see any of them as the kind to lure a software engineer into their hood.”

“And the others?” Danlo slurred around his swollen lip.

Hendrikson shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “We’ve not heard of that gang. It may be new. But we found a mark-” he heasitated for a moment. There really was no need to sugar coat his speech, the man had nearly been beaten to death after all. “-we found marks cut into one of the bodies, a spiral pattern.”

“And that means?”

“We don’t know. We don’t know if it is an individual, a group, what. The gangs in the city call it the ‘mark of the beast’.”

“Wait a minute, I’ve heard something about that…”

“Yes, I guess the media just can’t keep it quiet. We think that this is the real thing. We think that you are the only person to have ever seen this murderer and live.”

“That murderer saved my life, and my daughter’s,” Danlo snapped.

“Deathwish this ain’t Mr. Danlo. He’s no do-gooder, no avenging angel. Gangs, accountants, lawyers, he’s not to damn particular.”

“Particular enough to lure software programs into the city?”

“We don’t know how he operates. We just find the bodies.”

“And this, person, has my daughter?”

Hendrikson shifted, pushed his hand through his hair, “Yes, I think he does.”

It was a middle class nightmare. Car failure, roving bands of ruffians, dilapidated buildings hulking in the rain. It was a nightmare that just wouldn’t end. She walked the confines of her prison again. It was, a mobile home of some kind. She had a room (what might have been a bedroom) with a cot and a tiny bathroom, and barred windows covered with cardboard and a locked door. The door was the worst part, she could hear people moving outside, not the shouts and screams of a lowlifes but the voices of decent, normal people. It only added confusion to her situation.

She could hear clanging in the kitchen. She had shouted and pounded on the door until her voice was. Whoever it was had ignored her.

Finally there was a hard knock on the door. She backed away, the door opened.

“Dinnertime!” said a horrible voice in cheery tone.

“Who the fuck are you-” she started, but fell silent with one look at her visitor. He was a white-trash poster boy, dirty blue jeans and some nameless work shirt hid his underweight frame. His face was the worst part, a pointed jaw covered in three days of stubble and a thick brow over cigarette reddened eyes that glared over a featureless nose. His dirty blond hair fell to just above his shoulders, and gave him a final look of what could only be called open hostility. The red rimmed eyes turned slowly to her and the thin lips curled up into a smile.

Her adrenaline pumped as she expected any moment for him to hurl the tray at her and begin to beat her savagely- he had the look.

“Boo.”

She jumped in her skin in spite of herself.

The lips curled back even further, his teeth were big white and mean-looking. “Easy, Jeanna, eating when your scared will give you the runs.”

With a flourish he put the TV tray down. A small dirty-faced urchin slipped in and closed the door, trapping her with him.

“How do you know my name?” she demanded, summoning up the courage to not look away.

“From your driver’s license,” he said, “and your credit cards, and your checks.” He pulled the cover off her meal.

There on the Elvis (the young, healthy version) TV tray sat a circular rack of lamb ribs, peas, carrots, some kind of soup, bread that wasn’t from a store, a glass of wine, a glass of water. The meal was on fine china and the wine and water were in silver cups.

“You going to eat it or just look at it?” her host sneered.

“I don’t want food, I want out of here! I want to know where my father is, and I want-”

“What you want,” he snapped, “is to stay on my good side. What you want is to shut your pretty mouth and eat before I tire of you and send you back to the streets where I found you!”

His outburst, and the threat his physical presence exuded, stunned her into silence. “You- you can’t get away with this, the police-”

“The police can’t do anything,” he said, casually taking a rib from the platter, “This is between your father and me.”

He took a bite, his eyes fixed on her.

“What has my dad ever done to you?”

“Nothing, but I’ve done something for him. It was me and mine who rescued you both from the Locos.” He smiled cruelly, “You wander into my lands, stir up my enemies, and then expect to get away without proper payment? No. Your father owes me a boon, and I will hold you against that debt. When the time is right he will be contacted. Until then you’d best relax and enjoy my hospitality.”

He was crazy, had to be. She glared at him as he finished the rib and then turned and left.

Duncnivin fought off the urge to go see his prisoner for the whole night. Her second night under his roof. I the morning he paced the great hall. At long last one of his servants came down and announced that she was up and about.

He gave her ten minutes. Long enough to realize that something was horribly, horribly wrong. That the hovel she had been in before was a room in a castle two stories up. After he could stand it no longer he went up.

He gathered himself at the great wooden door and knocked three times. Loudly. Since he was lord of the place he tapped the keyhole and it unlocked and opened at his will.

She was standing by the window, like they always did. 

The city was out there, the rows and rows of cheap housing crowding like hills leading to the buildings that crowded the horizon like mountains. And between her and the hills he knew she could see the stone wall. Between her and the gate was a yard in which trailer homes and wooden buildings crowded. The smell of butane and sweat and hay and horses wafted through the windows, mixing with the scent of seasoned wood and clean linen sheets.

She turned and looked at him. He would look different too, thicker, broader, stronger. She took it well, all things considered. She stopped at his face. The face was the same, except his ears- they would look long and hairy, like a mule’s. His clothes had changed too, boots and gloves and a long red stocking cap, and around his body a tabard decorated with bright red swirl patterns.

She saw the pattern and drew back in horror.

“You, you’re that murderer, you killed all those people.”

“Good morning to you, too.” He looked at the remnants of the meal and a smile touched his face. He knew his smile looked dirty and cruel. Still, if there was one thing he liked more than cooking it was having people eat his fare.

“I don’t know what you put in that but I, you… you had better not do anything,” she warned. He sighed, pointed to the bed, “Sit, please.” It was hard for him to assume anything other than a threatening stance but he tried his best.

“Do you not see the walls, smell the horses? And me, can you not see with your own eyes that I too am different. More than I appear?”

She nodded, she may have thought it was a drug induced hallucination but she did see it. It was best to cut right to the chase.

“There are… things in the world. I am one such thing. There are others, we are old, and old things have strange ways, my pretty. When I say that your father owes me a boon, I mean it, it is beyond my ken to change that. One favor deserves another, such is the law of our kind, and of me in particular.”

Jeanna looked skeptical. “So why show me all this?”

“I have everything to gain and nothing to lose by it. Instead of a trailer it is now a castle that holds you. Safer for me and infinitely more comfortable and interesting for you. Besides, like a dream, after you leave you won’t remember it. Even my so pretty face will be lost in the mists of forgetfulness.”

She glared at him, which was typical.

“Speaking of which,” he said, “ you may want to run through your memory and see if, now that you have the sight, you can recall any others of my kind. You’ve probably been in our company before.”

“So, does your kind also delight in murder or is kidnapping your particular forte?”

“So, if I am so bad why haven’t I been caught?”

She glanced around, “I don’t know, but-”

“Surely you’ve heard rumors?” he prodded.

“I don’t know… I’ve heard that the killer is a cop…”

“Ah, close, nearly there. Look out the window. Do you see the people there, the trailer trash? They are mine, my people. Uneducated, superstitious, prejudiced bordering on racist, but solid enough and not deserving of the lot I found them in.”

“And what was that?”

“There was a group of bad men who liked to take advantage of these people. The landlord of this place was in on it. With some lawyer friends, an accountant, a dentist, and yes, even the cops. They had a deal going. The landlord would evict someone, and they would go seeking legal aid and find their way to the lawyer. Of course they didn’t have the money to pay for his services, oh no.”

He paused. He really didn’t have to go into this. He could just close the door and wait. But no, he hated when people judged him. Hated when they drew conclusions because of the way he looked.

“So this lawyer, he’d take other things in trade. Children, usually, he liked little boys the best, but a girl would do in a pinch. And if one were to go to the police, well guess what? They were in it too, paid off for it, and sometimes paid off in trade.”

He grinned his worst grin, “I, of course, put an end to such things. I don’t have time for special investigative probes. Not for me, thanks. The landlord, he was the first. I took his lands, I turned them into my own. I took the victims, sometimes the families too and gave them a choice. Some choose to come with me. I’m like a hero to these people. It was I who drove the Loco Diablos beyond 57th street, and the Cherry Road hammerskins beyond the river. I turned the wounded children into soldiers, warriors.”

Yes, she had seen the Locos, at least, and had seen him and his fight them. They had roughed her up pretty good by the time he got there. Of course, like most people there was doubt in her eyes.

“Here, take a look at these, the lawyer fancied himself a photographer.” He produced the pictures, He hated them, hated to touch them, but sometimes it was the only way. He tossed them casually on the bed.

She tentatively picked one up and looked. She quickly put it down.

“And you thought I was ugly,” he said.

He stood and looked out of a window for a moment, his face set in a cruel smile.

“I think I’ve got most of them. I’m still working on the police. I’m not sure who it is. Hard to tell with those kind. Anyway, enjoy the hospitality of my house.”

With that he turned and left her.

Officer Hendrickson was surprised at how fast the FBI got back to him. Paint chip analysis, they had it down to a science and could tell you the brand name of up to seven layers of auto paint. From there a good cop could start to trace things back. The Danlo’s car- check, the Locos stolen van- check. Then there was the yellow. A yellow paint used by the Harley Davidson Corporation on one of its older models. He had made his calls, the waiting was all.

“So, why do these people look the way they do?” she asked on the sixth day.

“Oh, it is a bit of a holdover,” her host answered, “Your kind has power as well, some a little, some a lot. You have quite a bit yourself.”

She had learned from talking to people that Duncnivin allowed no mirrors on the premises. She had to make due with his explanation.

She was actually a little proud of herself, after the first day she had decided that she wasn’t in a drug induced hallucioogenic state. Once she had gotten over that hump it wasn’t that hard to walk down the stairs to take a look about. From there it hadn’t taken long to notice that the people here all looked odd. It was hard to describe, some seemed too strong, or too pretty, or too ugly. It had, she guessed, something to do with magic- as everything else around here seemed to be.

He had been true to his word, she was free to roam about. She was treated kindly.

“Oh, I do remember some other creatures,” she said suddenly, “ A bicycle cop at my college- I can remember him now being huge, and blue.”

“A troll. Solid sort, that.”

“And the kid that we nearly hit in our car. I can remember now that he looked funny, looked like a big rat."

“A big white rat?” Duncnivin asked suddenly.

“Yeah, I think so. His hair was white, and stuck up at funny angles. We met him a few minutes before we met the Latino gang.”

“Did he touch your car?”

“Well, yeah. He wasn’t looking where he was going, dad had to put on the brakes and almost hit him. He slapped the hood of the car and flipped us off. Didn’t think it was any big deal at the time. Why does it matter?”

“Billy Whiteface, he can do things to machines. Not like me, I can make things look different. My motorcycle looks like a horse, the trailer looks like a keep, rooms and chambers and things- I can make them look different. Whiteface can change machines, can make them work or not.”

“So he was the one who caused the car to stall? Why? Does he get his kicks this way?”

“Not usually,” Duncnivin said, his bloodshot eyes narrowing in thought.

For a pooka he did a good job not showing how afraid he was.

“What have you been up to, Billy?”

“As little as possible, you know that.”

The redcap surged forward, grabbing the pooka by his collar.

“You had a hand in this mischief. You did something to their car, you knew something was going to happen. They may have been killed. What is your game?” He had never told Jeanna that the pooka ‘knew’ things.

Jimmy shrugged, “It’s a pooka thing, you probably wouldn’t understand.”

Duncnivin shook him savagely, “YOU OWE ME AN EXPLANATION, AND I AM LOOSING MY PATIENCE!” he boomed. Shouting and screaming was commonplace in the run down rat-trap that served as the Whiteface’s apartment.

“Alright! Alright! By the far ports look at me, brother!”

He didn’t look good, his fae mien was faded and stretched. Whiteface wasn’t a rat but an opposum, never a pretty animal to begin with he looked especially bad now.

“Its catching up with me, time and the mists. There are days when all I do is wonder why I dropped out of school. Days I can’t remember what its like to change! Don’t you see?” “I’m not one to be turned by cries of mercy, Whiteface, you know that- what is she, why her, why me?”

“Like your newborn innocent!” the pooka snapped back, “ You enchanted her didn’t you? Gave her that whole dark-knight shit didn’t you? I’m sure you told her all about your life before you stumbled into the city. Knock over any gas stations for beer money lately?” A solid punch to his pointy nose silenced Billy.

Duncnivin drew his wrench out of his boot. To Whiteface it looked like a three-headed flail.

“I’ve never broken the escheat, but I’m tempted to start on you, Billy,” the redcap warned. “You know what the best part is?” the pooka shouted, “ I don’t know!” his black eyes shined with a bit of the old light. “I just know that you and her, and, and something big, something important happens.”

Whiteface laughed, his whiskers shaking convulsively, “Kill me if you want, cut your mark into me, it won’t change anything,. The joke’s on you!! I’ll be remembered for it! You should be happy that you get to play a part!”

Duncnivin paused. It felt good to hit the pooka, and would feel good to hit him again. But he was gone, far gone.

Abruptly whiteface stopped laughing and got a glazed look, the redcap could feel the surge of magic, “The cops are coming for you, Duncnivin. The bad cops,”

They moved quick for bad cops. They had been watching Hendrickson, waiting to see if he could do any better than they had on tracking the Beast. He had, and they had maybe a ten minute head start on him. They were the last of the ring. They had to move, to protect themselves, fuck everyone else. No more sleepless nights, no more looking over their shoulders.

It was a sloppy plan, get to him for some reason- parking violation if they had to, and then put an end to him. Claim he drew first, whatever it took.

She felt it coming, a shockwave as the two worlds reconciled each other. She heard the police bark out to open the door. Her would-be rescuers paused for just a moment then kicked the flimsy door in. They stepped in with guns drawn, drawn at her. They looked horrible, predatory with jagged teeth and narrow slits for eyes.

“Is that the girl?” one of them muttered.

“Where is he?!” demanded another.

“I, don’t know, I-”

“Come on! Let’s get you out of here,” he ordered. Grabbing her non-to-gently and pulling her toward the door.

They heard the roar of a motorcycle, the cops looked out, looked at her and saw the look in her eyes. “That’s him.,” door-kicker said.

“Suspect is on the premises,” the other growled into his radio, “He’s armed and dangerous, repeat, armed and dangerous.”

Without another word they turned and fired.

She lunged, knocking the closest gunman over, his shoots went wide.

She caught a glimpse of Duncnivin as his horse went down. He crashed to earth and struggled to get to cover.

“Run! Run!!” she shouted until a sudden swing from the policeman caught her on the jaw. “He’s rolling behind the patrol car- cover me!” shouted the radio-cop. He took a cautious step outside and a thunderous blast echoed through the courtyard as someone fired a shotgun.

There was cry and a desperate wave of Duncnivin’s people surged from their hiding places and charged toward the trailer.

“We’ve got a riot situation here! Send in SWAT! Send in SWAT!!” he cried into his radio, stumbling back to the steps. Both cops began firing.

She could see three of the captains, Duncvinvin’s best, cover the distance to the trailer. The bullets took two of them down, the last reached radio-cop and began to pound at his head with a pipe. A shot from door-kicker brought him down.

Two more patrol cars roared up, sirens blaring. The officers leaped out, shouting warnings. Someone fired a gun into the air.

Door-kicker grabbed the door of the trailer and began to pull it too. With a howl Duncnivnin start an uneven run to catch him. He took half a dozen steps and threw a spear through the air. It cut through the thin metal of the door, slashing door-kicker in the shin.

“Fuck me!” he shouted, then pushed the door open. He leveled his revolver.

She swung at him, her fist connecting right below his ear. He swung his gun around, smacking her in the face before turning and firing.

She could hear thump home. Not the wet sound of flesh but a dull thwack like it had hit a tree.

Duncnivin yanked the door open, nearly pulling it off its hinges. He stepped in and she realized that up until now she had never really seen him angry before. This was anger, madness, unreasonable, intolerable, unstoppable. His face was built for the look. Door-kicker pointed his gun at the monster’s face and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber.

On his two good legs door-kicker moved back, running into her. His hands flew to his belt, his baton was in one hand and his pepper spray in the other. Before he could bring the chemical to bear she jumped on him.

They tore at each other, Duncnivin and the cop, baton versus large socket wrench. Jeanna was in the middle for a few heartbeats and then fell back into the kitchen area, the pepper spray rolled at her feet.

She snatched it up and pointed it. They were too close together!

The blows reigned one from another the cop swung a savage strike that landed on the gunshot wound on Duncnivin’s leg. The redcap stumbled and faltered falling to one knee. A blow aimed at his head he met with his bare forearm, and again. Something in his arm gave with a crack.

She felt the pull of magic, the working of some deviltry. As the third blow was raised Duncnicin’s wrench shuddered and changed, and in the Changeling’s hand was his three headed-flail. His good arm snaked out slamming chains and balls into door-kickers bad shin. A quick yank had him faltering back and then down on the ground. Duncnivin got halfway up before brining the brutal weapon down on his enemy. Once, then a second time. Door-kicker was a mass of spasaming arms and legs under the wild blows.

There was serious conflict in the trailer, shouting and screaming and thudding about. Officer Hendrickson shouted, again, for the man inside to come out. He could see movement through the half-open door. He considered his gun but there were too many risks. Risks to the girl, risks to fellow officers.

Instead he fired his tazer- the two needles trailed their tin wires and struck home. He could feel the crackle of electricity fly from the hand unit into the perpetrator, could see him jolt, then turn. He did a short, gimpy dance at the head of the steps before falling out to the ground.

Jeanna Danlo ran to the open door and he moved quickly to get her. Officers were waving guns and trying to cover gang members and the prone man. It wasn’t a safe place, people were on edge, cops had been injured, possibly killed.

“You okay, Danlo?” he shouted, moving himself between her and the bulk of his excited co-workers.

She looked at him in a dazed way before her eyes focused past him to the perp. She tried to push her way past.

“They’ll kill him…” she said wretchedly.

He hooked her around the waist and yanked her back. “No,” he guessed, “they’ll cuff him and he’ll be out of you life.”

He turned in time to see the perp, one hand cuffed surged forward, dragging the uniformed officer at the other end of the chain down. With one arm the four surrounding police pulled out their batons.

Hendrickson pulled the girl hard, hopefully putting himself between her and what he knew would be about to happen. The sooner he got Jeanna Danlo away from the whole scene the better.

He practically had to drag her to his car, he fumbled with the door. Her shouting and screaming subside.

“I’m alright. I’m okay… just, just get me back to my father,” she said, pulling away.

“Right,” he relaxed his hold on her and opened the door, “Seeing you will do him a world of-”

From two feet away she pepper sprayed him.

Duncnivin hurt, he hurt all over. His leg felt all wrong and wet. He had been shot in the thigh, or maybe he had just pissed on himself. Piss wouldn’t HURT like this, though… it had to have been a bullet.

His wrist was by far the worst. It was broke, it had to be to sing out so painfully. Where was he? A coach? A coffin? Had they raised a mound over him? Who was that? What the hell was she saying?

“-car! Can you change the car?”

It was the woman. Danlo? Danlo? Pretty face. She looked good desperate. What was wrong with his arm?

Some bastard had clamped handcuffs down on his broken wrist. He could see the flesh swelling around the tight steel.

“The car, Duncnivin, can you hide the car? They’re chasing us.”

He bit through the chain but it didn’t help the pain. He gnawed messily through the hinge on the cuff until it finally broke. His efforts were rewarded with a few blissful moments of relief before the swelling re-doubled its efforts.

“Still with me?” Jeanna demanded, half turning, “The car, can you work your magic and hide the car?”

“I guess I was trying to impress you… I hope I have,” he said, figuring his last words should be truthful.

He leaned over the back of the seat, catching a glimpse of himself in the rearview. He had seen car accidents that looked better. Whoever the cop was who was in his keep had looked much worse. That memory made him feel a little better.

Andrea breathed deeply, “I’m impressed, OK? I’m more than impressed!”

“I don’t know if I can or not. The car, I mean.”

He was thinking a bit clearer now. He had spent a lot of glamour already. He had brought his spear and his flail into the autumn world, he had empowered his phantom armor to take a bullet. He didn’t have much left.

But he hurt, he was tired. There was no end to the pain in sight.

“Best to stop, let them take me.”

She thumped the steering wheel, “No! NO!! I can’t do that. If they get you most likely the papers will read ‘shot while trying to escape’ whether you try to escape or not. “So be it.” He’d get back in the game eventually.

“I’ve made my choice, Duncnivin.,” she said. Then she leaned over and kissed him. Suddenly he didn’t feel quite so bad. He watched as her face shifted, her sorority girl face shifted into a cruel-eyed feral mask. A face to match his.

Officer Hendrickson felt bad. Two weeks and his eyes and throat still hurt from the pepper spray. The Beast had gotten away with the girl. Mr. Danlo wouldn’t speak to him. His own co-workers had tried to screw him out of solving the case. The police department’s reputation was in complete tatters. A badly handled riot, one officer dead. Allegations of bribery and child prostittuion were flying left and right. Then there was the box of home-made kiddie porn that was found at the scene. Thus far all the adults in them had been victims of the Beast. Already the media was having a field day with it.

He rubbed his eyes. If the media wanted a freak show they would soon get it. Somebody had killed Officer Dunlap in the hospital, cut a swirl pattern on his chest and left a basket of flowers for Mr. Danlo. Somebody had also put the leader of the Loco Diablos six feet closer to hell. His body was found in an ally. He too had the marks. Lab tests put the time of death of the two bodies at almost the same time.

Two Beasts roamed the city now.

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