Authors: Rob Cornell
Tags: #magic, #vampires, #horror, #paranormal, #action, #ghosts, #urban fantasy
The Lockman Chronicles #3
For Ethan, Ella, and Hayden—windows into the imagination.
The werewolves must have been nervous, because the room smelled like wet dog. They were sweating. Each one of their gazes stared at the fourteen year-old vampire at Lockman’s side. In the past six months, word had traveled fast. Most of the paranormal underworld had heard of Jessie, heard what she was, what she was capable of.
If the four werewolves hadn’t been in human form, Lockman guessed they would have all had their tails tucked between their legs. He allowed himself a tiny smile. His daughter had become such an intimidating force, even the wolves feared her.
In those same six months, Jessie had grown comfortable in her new role. She stared down the wolves as if they were a litter of puppies. Her skin was pale, dark veins lining her face underneath. Her eyes shone like polished onyx in the room’s dim light, which came from a pair of floor lamps and an austere chandelier. Beneath the chandelier was the green felt-topped table the wolves sat around. Stacks of plastic chips littered the table top along with the playing cards arranged for a game of Texas hold ‘em.
An incessant bass beat thumped the walls from the strip club outside the room. Research revealed that this particular wolf pack had cashed in big time on the Vegas skin trade. They owned over twenty clubs in and around Sin City. Surprisingly, however, they did not appear to have anything to do with the rampant prostitution in the area, and every inch of the “family” business looked legal.
Lockman tried to pin back his prejudice against the werewolves. After all, they weren’t here to pick a fight. They were here looking to recruit.
One of the wolves dropped his cards face down onto the table and stood, eyes still aimed at Jessie. He couldn’t have reached much higher than five-four, but the bulk of his muscles made him look almost as wide as he was tall. His hands looked as big as bear paws. “You got nerve coming in here with that.” He pointed at Jess.
“No objections to the ogre, though, huh?” Lockman tilted his head back in Adam’s direction.
Adam stood by the door they came in through with his arms folded across his chest and his fedora tipped low over his eyes, casting enough of a shadow over his face that you could miss his green skin if you didn’t take a closer look. The top of the door only came to his shoulder.
The wolf took his eyes off Jessie to glance at Adam, but only for a second. “Ogre’s a righteous breed.
,” he lifted his chin and snorted at Jessie, “is an abomination.”
“I can hear you, you know,” Jessie said and planted a hand on her cocked hip. “I’m standing right here.”
The standing wolf turned his attention to Lockman. “And you? Coming back here after what you did to one of our pack?”
Lockman was afraid that might come up. He had even tried to argue with Adam, who had chosen the Vegas wolf pack as their next in line to recruit, that they would never agree to side with someone who had smashed one of their pack members into a wall with a cargo van. Adam insisted the Vegas pack was the only one they had a chance of convincing to join their cause. They would only get others to join if they could get the Vegas pack first.
Lockman held his hands out at his sides. “That was strictly self-defense. Besides, he contracted to play hired goon for a mortal. Isn’t solo work like that against pack rules? Especially taking orders from a mortal?”
He growled from the back of his throat. The five o’ clock shadow on his cheeks thickened into a full beard right before their eyes.
A faint click came from Lockman’s left and slightly behind him. He looked over his shoulder and found Teresa with a pistol held down alongside her leg, her thumb on the hammer. She gave him a small nod, letting him know she was ready for action if it came to that.
He sure as hell hoped not. They just got there for Christ’s sake.
“Easy,” Lockman said. He noticed the other wolves getting a little more hairy around the jaws and down their arms. “We did not come here to fight.”
“That’s right,” the standing wolf said. “You came here because you want us to join your army against the vampires. Yet you brought one of them with you.”
“So I’ve heard.” He held out a hand to the wolf sitting next to him. He snapped and waved his fingers signaling for the other wolf to hand something over. “We’ll hear you out as long as you agree to our test.”
The wolf still seated reached under the table and pulled out a pouch that could have passed for a woman’s purse.
“What kind of test?” Lockman asked.
The sitting wolf opened the purse and held it up to the standing wolf, who then reached in and pulled out a large silver crucifix. Before Lockman could react, the wolf swung the crucifix out in front of him and held it with his arm locked straight and aimed directly at Jessie.
Jessie flinched, but it looked more from being startled at the wolf’s sudden movement toward her than from any effect of the crucifix. After she recovered from that initial start, she relaxed and stared at the cross without any other reaction. She shrugged. “No big.”
The wolf’s eyes went wide. He marched forward and pressed the crucifix against Jessie’s forehead.
She didn’t budge. No smoke. No searing skin. The silver had as much effect against her as it would have against Lockman, or any other mortal.
“Okay, you can stop that any second now,” Jessie said.
The wolf stepped back and dropped the crucifix. It thumped to the floor. “Impossible.”
A chill ran the length of Lockman’s spine. All this time, they had never thought to test Jessie’s reaction to silver or religious symbols. They had all made the unspoken assumption that these items would hurt her. In fact, they
have hurt her. At least according to all the intel Lockman had seen on vampires. But none of that intel had included vampires holding onto their souls after being turned either. Obviously, there was plenty they didn’t know.
Lockman tried his best to hide his own surprise. “Like I said. She’s different.” He glanced down at the crucifix on the floor. “You must have suspected it might not hurt her. Otherwise, why the test?”
The wolf shook his head as his beard faded back to stubble and revealed his ashen face. His lips moved, but no words came out.
“Would you like to start over?” Lockman asked. “Maybe do some introductions?”
The wet dog smell doubled in intensity. The bass beats from the club changed rhythm, but otherwise carried on in oblivious monotony.
The standing wolf clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides. He breathed deeply in through his nose and his nostrils flared when he exhaled. “I’m Marka,” he said. He pointed to the three other wolves in turn and rattled off names for each. “Kurtz. Alvarez. And Stokes.” Stokes was the one with the bag the crucifix came out of. He had since dropped the bag on the table and folded his arms across his chest. The others still held onto their cards as if they expected to pick the game back up any second.
“Nice meeting you,” Lockman said. He patted his chest. “I’m Lockman, and this is Jessie.”
The corner of Marka’s mouth curled. “Yeah, we know you two.”
“Teresa’s on my left. The ogre is Adam.”
Marka’s gaze moved from one face to the next as if trying to memorize their features. Then his attention returned to Lockman. “Lots of rumors going around about your gang here.”
Lockman had no interest in the rumors. He’d heard them all. “How did you know the cross and silver wouldn’t hurt Jess?”
Marka hitched a shoulder. “Some of us still believe in prophecies.”
Jessie shook a lock of hair off her face. “What’s your prophecy say about me?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Lockman said before the wolf could answer. “We don’t believe in prophecies.”
Jessie turned to him and wrinkled her brow while curling her lip. “We don’t? ‘Cause I thought we’d decided Marty’s prophecy was legit.”
“Quiet,” Lockman growled through his teeth.
Marka looked back and forth between them. “She acts mortal enough.”
“She’s still just a teenager.”
Jessie muttered something, but Lockman ignored it and carried on with the wolf.
“Whatever predictions you have aren’t important to our goals. We need you to fight the vampires. Nothing more or less.”
“Because they supposedly have an army now, right?”
“There’s no ‘supposedly’ about it. They’ve swelled their numbers with mortal turns. They even anointed a king, who kept them organized and united. Until we killed him.”
Marka shared skeptical glances with his companions. He smirked. “So if this king’s what was keeping them together and he’s gone now, what have we got to worry about?”
Teresa spoke up. “All it takes is a new leader and we’re facing thousands of vamps, organized and ready to suck their way through anything that bleeds.”
“It’s only a matter of time before a new king takes over,” Lockman added.
“So what’s your strategy?” Marka asked. “Put together an army and wait for the vamps to attack?”
“We already have strike teams hitting any concentrated groups. But for every nest we take down, three more pop up. King or no king, they are still building their numbers. Not just in the United States, either. This has gone global.”
“You got any other wolves joined up?”
“You’re the first we’ve approached.”
“Because you thought we’d be easy to sell.”
“Nothing easy about it. Word is your pack is more reasonable than most, that’s all.”
Marka laughed. The others joined him. They stretched it longer than necessary. The light shined on their sweaty foreheads. Nerves. “Sorry to disappoint,” Marka said when he’d finished his chuckle. “But the only reason we agreed to meet was so we’d have the pleasure of your company.”
Lockman tossed a scowl over his shoulder at Adam. “I told you this was a bad idea.”
Adam tilted the brim of his hat back. His glassy ogre eyes stared Marka down from under his bushy red brows. “They wouldn’t dare try a thing.”
Marka pointed at Adam. “We don’t have a problem with you, ogre.” He turned his eyes on Jessie. “Or you, for that matter. We want Lockman. The rest of you can walk out of here, no problem.”
Teresa brought her pistol up and aimed at Marka. “No, that
be a problem.”
The three other wolves all stood in unison. The two still holding cards tossed them on the table. The backs of their hands grew thick with fur.
Lockman clamped down on his nerves. Forced his body to stay calm, his heartbeat level, his breathing even. He reached behind him and pulled his gun out of his waist band. No one had bothered to pat them down when they were let into the club. Either these wolves were incredibly stupid, or incredibly self-confident. They had yet to strike Lockman as stupid.
He trained his weapon on Marka as well. “You really want to do this?”
“I really do.” And with that, all four of them shifted. Fur engulfed every inch of bare skin. Their clothing ripped apart as their bodies changed shape. Their eyes glimmered over the snouts that grew from their faces. The change couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds. One moment they were men. Now they were wolves.
Lockman opened fire. He heard Teresa do the same. A second later Adam joined in with blasts from the sawed-off shotgun he had carried in under his trench coat. The sound thundered so loudly in the small room, Lockman’s eardrums rang and stung.
A pair of .45 rounds tore chunks off of Marka’s back even as the wolf charged forward. Blood sprayed from the wounds, but Marka kept coming. Next to him, the wolf who had brought out the crucifix took a hit from Adam’s shotgun square in the face. The shot obliterated any recognizable features, turning most of the wolf’s visage into hamburger and shattered bone. He dropped, and momentum carried him the last couple of feet to his final rest.
The two remaining wolves reached Lockman before any more shots were fired, with Marka close behind.
Adrenaline rushed through Lockman and fed his senses. The wolves seemed to move in slow motion. Lockman could smell not only wet dog now, but burning fur and the metallic tang of blood. He could hear the wolves panting as clearly as he could the bass thunder against the walls. He felt the heat of their breath as they tackled him, knocking his gun loose, and forcing him back off his feet. The air whistled out of his lungs when he hit the floor and one of the wolves landed on top of him.
Two more shots from Teresa went off, but Lockman couldn’t tell what, if anything, they hit with this wolf’s growling snout in his face. The wolf’s lips peeled away from especially white teeth that looked almost bleached. A string of drool dripped from the wolf’s mouth onto Lockman’s chin.
Lockman tried to struggle loose.
The wolf’s paws had him pinned by the shoulders. The beast opened his jaw and cocked his head. He meant to sink his teeth into Lockman’s throat. Like that, this whole thing would be over. All the work recruiting, forming alliances with creatures most mortals didn’t know existed, or didn’t believe in. An unprecedented gathering of diverse beasts with a common goal.