Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(22) by Ilona Andrews
“Right now, nothing,” I said.
“I don’t believe you.”
Derek jogged up the street. He wore a gray hoodie and a pair of old jeans, and he was running in that particular wolf gait that looked unhurried but devoured miles. Nineteen, just under six feet, with dark hair and a muscular athletic body, Derek turned heads. Then people saw his face. A couple of years ago he tried to save a girl. The creatures who owned her caught him and poured molten metal on his face. He recovered, but his face looked different now. His features were rougher, their once-handsome perfection gone. His eyes made it worse. They were dark and hard, the kind of eyes that belonged to someone older, someone who’d been through the grinder of pain and suffering and come out of it damaged but unbroken. He leaned against our Jeep and slouched.
“Fine,” I said. “We have a missing shapeshifter and we’re trying to find him. We could use some help.”
Luther held up his hand. “Stop right there. Shapeshifters are Pack business. Unless they request our help in writing, I can’t do anything. I don’t even want to hear it.”
What a surprise. Hold me before my heart gives out from the pure shock of that surprise. “Wow, so nice of you to care.”
“The Beast Lord is an asshole,” Luther said. “I’ve dealt with his representatives before, and let me tell you, I don’t want to piss him off.”
I really wanted to look at Curran’s face, but I would have to turn and it would seem odd. “Tell me about the ghouls, Luther.”
“I can neither confirm nor deny.”
Seriously? “It’s a matter of public record. I can go down to City Hall and spend three hours digging through the Biohazard disclosures or you could just tell me. If I have to waste all that time, I’ll be irritated.”
Luther leaned back. “Be still my heart. And I suppose I should be terrified of that?”
“No, just pointing out that I don’t like to share when I’m irritated. You want to know why a horde of ghouls tried to enter the city. We also want to know why that happened. We will eventually figure this out and then we can take it to you or to your former bosses at PAD.”
He sighed. “No, we didn’t hire any new ghouls.”
“Have you talked to Mitchell?” I asked.
“He doesn’t want to talk.” Luther grimaced. “Something is going on with him.”
“He may talk to me.”
“That’s true.” Luther sighed again. “I tell you what, I’ll let you see Mitchell, but if he talks to you, you tell me what he said. I want to know what’s happening to him.”
“Deal.” I’d be an idiot not to take it. “Tonight.”
“No, tomorrow night. We fed him last night. He’s sleeping it off.”
Mitchell didn’t like the outside. He hid in his burrow most of the time, and getting him out of it after he ate would be impossible. I had tried before and gotten nowhere. “I’ll take tomorrow then.”
“Good. We’re done here, you are released, shoo, go, scram. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, kids.”
I started toward the cars.
“Wait,” Luther called.
He trotted over to me. “Does the city feel different to you?”
He dragged his hand through his hair. “Something happened in December. Something strange.”
Move along, nothing to see here, no city claiming people are on the premises. “Strange things happen all the time here.”
“No, this was different. It felt like a storm. A magic storm. It rolled through the city and now it feels different. Does it feel different to you?”
Lie, lie, lie. “No.”
Luther searched my face with his gaze. “I’m not crazy.”
No, you’re not. “That’s above my pay grade.”
“It’s like an itch I can’t scratch.”
“Maybe you should see a doctor for that,” Curran said.
Luther pointed his finger at him. “I don’t like you.”
“Bye, Luther.” I grinned.
He walked away. “I will figure it out! I’m not crazy!”
If he ever figured it out, I would have a lot of explaining to do.
• • •
“DOES EVERYBODY THINK I am an asshole?” Curran asked.
“Only people who know you or have met you.”
He looked at me for a long second.
“You were a zealous advocate of the Pack’s causes,” I said. “The Pack’s interests are often at odds with human interests. I still love you. Derek still thinks you’re the stuff.”
Derek was kneeling by the scrape on the pavement and inhaling deeply. “Three ghouls. One male and two females. The scent is about fifty hours old, give or take an hour.”
Fifty hours would be just about the time Eduardo would have come to respond to Mrs. Oswald’s phone call on Monday about the wolf griffin.
“Interesting timing,” I said.
“They came here and left along the same trail,” Derek said.
“How long were they here?” Curran asked.
“A few hours.” Derek pointed to a narrow spot between the side of the house and a wooden fence. “They hid there, behind the trash cans.”
Three ghouls just sitting there waiting while the residents of the house left for work. Don’t mind us, we’re just chilling here, behind your trash cans, rubbing our big sharp claws, while your delicious children leave for school. And that wasn’t creepy. No, not at all.
“Why?” I thought out loud. “If they were hiding, there are better places to hide.”
“Mm-hm.” Curran’s face told me he was thinking the same thing. “Bad place to hide but a good place for an ambush.”
I glanced back at Mrs. Oswald’s house. A couple of houses down, the street ended in a cul-de-sac. Only one way in or out.
“Any other scents?” I asked. “Any human scents? Anyone they attacked?”
Derek shook his head.
Curran looked at me. “Does this seem odd to you?”
“Everything about this seems odd to me. Ghouls are solitary. They live near cemeteries, they hide in burrows, and they travel at dawn or during the night. They don’t band into groups and prance about in broad daylight in a residential neighborhood. Unless the owner of that house is a serial killer and he’s got his victims buried in his backyard, there is no reason for them to be here.”
“There are no bodies in the backyard,” Derek said. “I would’ve smelled decomp.”
Sense of humor check, failed.
“The point is, it’s highly unlikely that these two odd things”—I pointed at the trash cans with one hand and at the corpse of the spider-scorpion with the other—“aren’t connected. I think they were waiting for Eduardo.” And I would give a year of my life to know why. “The ghouls we killed in Lawrenceville were answering someone’s call. They said someone was waiting for them. They don’t meet people for coffee or brunch. I think some being is using them for their own means.”
“That would explain their organization and unusual behavior,” Derek said.
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