Paradigms Lost — Chapter 26
Chapter 26: Special Guest Appearance By…
“What was her reaction?”
“About what you’d expect.” Verne raised an eyebrow. “Well, she didn’t believe me, that’s for sure. But she also wasn’t comfortable not believing, either; the stuff Gorthaur’s been up to has already got them spooked.”
“And she let you go rather than have you examined by a specialist? Isn’t that a bit odd?”
“Not really. She’d already admitted she knew I hadn’t killed Jerome, and she wanted to trace me and find out who I met with and who I knew.”
“How do you know that, Jason?” asked Syl; her high boots with shining metal inlay rapped loudly on the wood as she crossed the floor with the coffeepot for herself and Renee.
“Simple.” I held up a small, silvery object that looked like a fat button. “She’d stuck this inside Mjolnir’s front bumper.” I dropped a few other tiny gadgets of varying color on the kitchen table where we were all seated. “And these were planted around the house.”
Verne reached out and picked one up, examining it carefully. “Monitoring devices? How very rude. I presume you have deactivated them?”
They all stared at me. “Why in the world not?”
“Because I’ve already told Winthrope everything we know, so I don’t have a thing to hide from her, and if I shut these off she could just put in some more that I’d never find. Right, Winthrope?” I said, addressing my words to the audio bug I’d removed from the business phone. “Besides, if Gorthaur tries to nail me, he’ll be doing it on prime-time with the NSA watching. That should make the bastard think twice.”
“Perhaps,” conceded Verne. “But perhaps not. Have you not realized the most important part of your latest adventure?”
I thought for a moment. “I guess not. What is it?”
“Our opponent was able to imitate you perfectly. While his powers are vast, they still do have certain limitations. In order to imitate anyone, he must at least have seen them at close range. That means that you have been close to him in the past few days.”
That made my skin prickle. “How close?”
Verne considered. “I would say no more than five feet. Werewolves can assume any form they can visualize, but to pick up on details as explicit as fingerprints would require them to be close enough for their aura to interact with yours.”
“And the Demon’s death shows he’s aware of your involvement,” Renee added.
I frowned. “So who… no, that question won’t work either. He doesn’t have to be a single person. He could have been a hacker watching the local boards and that’s how he got on to me; then all he had to do was be someone on the street bumping into me, or even a customer.”
The doorbell rang. I went to the door, looked out the peephole. “Agent Winthrope? Come in. I’ve been expecting you.”
“I rather thought so,” she said, her assistant Steve following her in. “Since you made it clear you wanted us to hear things, it seemed a waste of comfortable seating to hang around in a van trying to listen that way.” She glanced at Renee. “I thought we told you to stay out of this, along with the entire police department. Oh, never mind. I’ve been known to ignore orders on occasion myself.”
With two more people my house was too crowded; we all moved next door to Sylvie’s shop, which had a big conference-room style table in one room; Syl rented the room to various groups, usually psychic types for séances.
“So all of you people are in on this? What in hell happened to security, Lieutenant Reisman?” Winthrope demanded, the faint smile taking some of the edge off her question.
“Wood showed up before you classified the operation, ma’am,” she answered. “And the only way to get him to drop anything is to put him in jail, or shoot him.”
“Not practical solutions as a general rule, I’ll admit.” she said. “Okay. I know why you’re in on this, Domingo. I’m not sure I believe in it, but I know why. And I see why Jason had to brief Ms. Stake–”
“Sylvia, or Syl, please,” she broke in. “You understand why.”
“Hm. Yes.” She shifted in her chair, glancing around at the dark-paneled walls. “The important question is, how many others know about all this?”
Verne spoke first. “I assure you that I, at least, have told no one else. It would be a generally futile effort, and I need no advice on this subject.”
Renee gave Winthrope a look. “I’d like to continue a career. If I mentioned this to anyone else my only career’d be inside padded walls.”
“I’ve consulted with the Wizard–you remember him, don’t you, Jason?–on how to deal with werewolves,” Sylvie said.
“Really? And what did he say?” Winthrope asked. Her assistant Steve looked uncomfortable, probably either bored or wondering if he was trapped in a room of lunatics.
Syl made a face. “Not much. He said that most spirits can be controlled only if you know their origin, that is, what religious or spiritual discipline they belong to; otherwise you’re limited to whatever their classic weaknesses are.”
Verne agreed. “It is true. Vampires who believe in the Christian faith can perhaps be turned away by crosses and faith, or bound by a daemonic pentacle; but an enlightened nosferatu cares little for such things. There are certain mystical methods which work on all such… but even those are of no use against a Great Wolf. Silver, and silver alone, will suffice.”
“Just what did you tell this Wizard character?”
“Actually not that much; I didn’t want to get him involved, so I just asked about werewolves.”
“And you, Mr. Wood?”
I shrugged. “No one outside of this room knows any of the weird stuff. A couple of the BBS users know I’m poking around in a classified investigation, but no more.”
Steve smiled suddenly. “Thanks. That’s all we needed to know.”
His teeth glinted sharply as he lunged.
Winthrope moved faster than anyone I’d ever seen, even Elias Klein. Her hand blurred and came up holding a 9mm automatic. Before she could fire, though, the werewolf’s hand grabbed her arm and pitched her like a horseshoe straight into Verne Domingo. “Steve” was no longer human at all, but a shaggy, lupine nightmare with crystal-sharp claws and razor fangs. If the monster hadn’t been delayed by its quick attack on the agent, it would have got us all in the momentary paralysis of shock. Chairs crashed to the floor as we all rolled, sprang, or ducked away from the huge, monstrous thing that had appeared in the place of Steve Dellarocca.
Verne caught Winthrope, set her aside. “You must be a fool, Virigar. Though this mortal was not prepared for you, the rest of us have expected to deal with your sort. And our prior duel seems to have rendered you less than what you were. Against us you stand little chance.”
It smiled, showing glittering rows of crystal teeth. “Not so. My name is Shirrith. I am honored that you mistake me, even for a moment, for the Great King, yet I am but His servant. And we are not unprepared ourselves.” It gave an eerie howl.
In a shower of glass, two more werewolves crashed in through the large windows. One sank claws into Verne’s shoulder, but Verne smashed it aside with a tremendous backhand blow that sent it back through the wall into the night. Verne shoved Winthrope towards me. “Run!” he shouted. His face showed shock and, chillingly, the same fear I’d seen before.
Shirrith began to dash after us, but Verne Domingo dove across the room and caught him. The third werewolf almost reached Renee, but she had her gun out and pumped three shots into him. The .357 magnum slugs drove the creature back enough for her to jump out and slam the door between the conference room and the Silver Stake’s main floor. The werewolf tore the door off its hinges and threw it at us. The impact knocked me and Renee down, sending my 10mm with its silver bullets skittering out of my hand. The creature lashed out, caught Sylvie, and bent its muzzle towards her throat.
Silver inlay flashed as the toe of her right boot slammed into the werewolf’s groin. Its eyes bulged; a ludicrously tiny whine escaped its lips, and it staggered back a step. As it folded in pain, Sylvie grabbed a large silver candlestick from a shelf and clobbered the werewolf over the head; it crumpled to the floor.
A tremendous crash shook the building as the battle in the conference room escalated. The second werewolf came flying out of the broken doorway; it rolled and came up, slashing at Sylvie. She swung the candlestick but it just glanced off the thing’s arm; the claws left long trails of crimson across her dress. I had the pistol now; before the creature could lunge again, I put three shots into it. The wolflike face snapped back, glaring at me in astonishment. Then it sagged and fell.
“Syl! Jesus, are you okay?” I ran to her. Blood was soaking her dress, spreading quickly.
“I’m fine,” she said weakly. “Help Verne!”
I hesitated, looking around. Renee had hit her head when the door got us; she was still dazed. Winthrope was just backed up against the wall, staring at the two bodies and repeating, “Oh crap… oh crap …” She cradled her right arm, which hung limply; Shirrith’s grip had crushed it like a paper cup.
Another crash echoed through the Silver Stake. I heard Verne cursing in some Central European tongue. With one more agonized look at Sylvie, I charged back into the conference room.
I had the gun ready; then I stopped. “Son of a bitch!”
Verne Domingo looked back at me… Twice.
Two Vernes were locked together, straining against each other. They were identical, down to the tears on their clothing. The damn thing could even emulate clothing? That really sucks. There was simply no way to tell them apart; their curses sounded the same, and both were calling each other “Shirrith.” One was faking… but which?
I could have kicked myself. How stupid can you get? I raised the gun and fired twice.
The one on the left twitched as the bullet hit; the one on the right screamed and tore itself away from the real Verne Domingo, its disguise fading away.
There was a clack as the gun jammed, trying to eject the last shell. “You bugger!” I said, as the werewolf dove out the window, a perfect target if I could only have fired.
I cleared the jam, but it was too late. Shirrith was long gone.
Verne gazed out the broken window, then turned away.
I shoved past Winthrope, who was coming in muttering apologies, ran to Syl. “How’re you doing, Syl?”
She tried to smile; she failed miserably. “Not so good.”
Blood was pooling on the floor.
“Verne, call the hospital, quick! Get an ambulance!”