Flesh Masks

The Ultimate Sin

Overkill, enough is enough,

There's nothing left of me to devour.

You've had your fill. I'm all I have left.

What can stop your hunger for power?

~Ozzie Osbourne


McAnally's was decently full that night. The smell of wood smoke and spices filled the room, wafted about by the low-hanging ceiling fans. Wooden tables were scattered amidst thirteen irregularly placed pillars. Mac himself stood behind the bar, flipping steaks, serving ale, and grunting replies at the occasional chatty customer.

Harry wove through the crowd and sat down at a small table in the corner. The bartender looked up and jerked his head in a greeting when he saw the wizard. Harry grinned and nodded back. Mac turned and plopped some fresh steaks on the grill and pulled out a bottle of his homemade brown ale. At the creak of the door, he glanced up and glared.

Sam and Dean, still in their suits, lingered in the doorway for just a second, surveying the room before sauntering in. They spotted Dresden sitting at a corner table and made their way over to him. Sam gave the ceiling fans a wary look as he passed under one. Dean and Harry both chuckled and the wizard signaled for two more ales and steak sandwiches.

"Good of you boys to join me," Harry drawled.

"Well, we aren't having much luck on our own," Sam sighed.

Mac caught Harry's eye and slid three plates across the oak bar.

"Just one sec, fellas."

Harry got up and retrieved the plates, because at Mac's, you got your own food, damn it. Soon, the three men were enjoying a hearty meal of steak sandwiches, potatoes, and green beans.

"Thish ish amazin'!" Dean mumbled happily through a mouthful.

"Yup. Mac's one hell of a cook," agreed Harry. "Now. What brings you to Chicago?"

"We got word of some weird killings," said Sam. "A brother and sister were found ripped to pieces in an apartment a few blocks down."

Harry winced and shook his head.

"Hell's bells," he muttered. "No one deserves to go like that. Any clues as to what did it?"

"Dunno," Dean took a swallow of ale. "We haven't been able to get access to the bodies, not even after Scully here gave 'em the ol' Puppy Eyes routine."

Sam glared at his older brother and took a rather vicious bite of potatoes.

"Thought you were posing as FBI. Aren't you hunters supposed to be good at that sort of thing?" Harry took a bite of his sandwich. "Well, if they do fall into the realm of the supernatural, you can bet I'll be seeing something soon, warrant or no."

Harry grinned at Dean, enjoying the other's scowl. Serves the little Han Solo-wannabe right. On the other hand, Murph's cases were rarely pretty and he'd lost his lunch more than once looking at her crime scenes. Remembering those instances turned his smirk into a worried frown. Lucky me.

"Yeah, well, bite me, Dumbledore," Dean snarled. "Seems the Lt. has a thing against FBI. Said that we'd need to show her a warrant to get anywhere near her case. Besides, that crime scene has already been cleaned up. All that's left to do is wait for the next killing. Unless you can scrounge up something with that mystic mumbo-jumbo of yours. Or do you just pull rabbits out of hats?"

Harry could feel his temper sizzle.

"Look here, hotshot, did you even read my ad? 'Harry Dresden — Wizard. Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties or Other Entertainment.' Ring any bells?"

"Any thoughts on what could have done this?" Broke in Sam, trying to return the conversation to its original purpose before his brother could antagonize the wizard further.

"Now, I never said we were working together on this case," the wizard frowned across the table at both of them. "I'm still getting a feel for what kind of people you two are. Right now, I'm not too thrilled to have you in my town."

Dean took a breath to verbally blast Dresden, but let it out with a grunt as Sam kicked him under the table. The younger Winchester looked earnestly at Harry, not quite able to achieve direct eye contact.

"Look. You've got every right to be suspicious of us. You don't know us. But we're gonna look into this whether you help us or not. Though, to be honest, I'd rather you help us – it'd get the job done a hell of a lot faster. So, any ideas on what we're hunting?"

"Lucky for you, you seem to check out where it counts," Harry didn't sound too happy, but he pushed himself back in his chair and sighed. "Our monster could be a lot of things. Loup-garou, warlock with the right set of spells…"

"Some sort of demon, maybe? Or a Wendigo."

"Oh, God forbid, Sammy! What about a Woman in White? Or pissed-off witches?" Dean paused and shrugged with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Could always be clowns."

"Clowns?" Harry raised a skeptical eyebrow as he began to chuckle.

Sam couldn't seem to make up his mind whether he wanted to look annoyed or terrified. He finally settled on a glare and growled,

"Don't ask."

The men sunk into silence as they pondered all the monsters that they knew of. Harry brooded over his ale while Dean ate the rest of his food. Sam fiddled with his badge and looked around, taking in the old world atmosphere.

"It'd help if we could get a look at the stiffs," grumbled Dean, pushing his empty plate away.

The eldest Winchester looked to be about to say more, but was interrupted by a jostling at his back. A rather nondescript man with a bad haircut had elbowed his way to the table. He peered over the top of Dean's head at Harry. The wizard nodded at him in greeting.

"What's up, Stallings?"

"Lt. Murphy wants you to come take a look at a crime scene. We're at a loss on this one."

Both Sam and Dean perked up. Must be connected to the case they're working on, Harry thought. He sighed as the brothers turned matching gazes on him.

"Sure, I'll take a look. Anything you can tell me now?"

Stallings looked skeptically at Sam and Dean. Harry nodded and the cop shrugged and continued.

"It's bad, Dresden. A lot like the Lobo victims, but no claws or prints or anything this time."

Harry winced, stood, and began stacking the dishes. At the wizard's pointed stare, Sam plopped a few bills on the table. The four men hurried outside the pub and began walking towards their various vehicles. Stallings stopped a few feet away from an unmarked van and looked back at Harry apologetically. Harry raised his hands and grinned.

"You write down an address and I'll follow you in the Beetle."

"Thanks, Dresden. Rudy still hasn't forgiven you for blowing out the stereo last time."

Stallings scribbled an address on a scrap of paper while Harry rolled his eyes, muttering about little punks and professional hazards. Before the detective could walk away, Harry stopped him and jerked his thumb towards Sam and Dean.

"Mind if my buddies tag along?"

"The Lieutenant probably won't like it," Stallings began doubtfully.

"Let me deal with Murphy."

As the three men headed towards Harry's car, Sam opened his mouth to speak, but Harry waved him away.

"Call it a favor. You owe me. Don't go turning this into a buddy-cop thing."

At the wizard's insistence, the three men took his car down to the crime scene. Dean couldn't quite hide his pained expression as he laid eyes on what Dresden called a car. The battered VW Bug seemed to have been put together piecemeal from whatever scrap cars could be found – the hood, doors, and even the trunk were all different colors. With a muttered curse, he squeezed into the back while Sam and Harry settled themselves in the front.

Sam pretended not to notice how shabby the car was, but Dean was nowhere near as polite; he kept looking about him with an air of horrified disgust. Dresden shook his head in amusement and peeked in the rearview mirror.

"The Blue Beetle doesn't look like much, but he has what it takes in a pinch."

"Really." Dean tried to look like he believed him.

"Modern technology in general hates Magic; the Beetle is old enough that there are no delicate circuits to fry, and my mechanic can keep it running nine days out of ten."

With a rattle and a cough, the trusty car started and they followed the police van to an apartment complex several blocks away. Police cars surrounded the entrance. Next to one stood a short blond. She began heading their way as Harry parked the car.

The wizard graced her with a formal bow and a smirk.

"Why, Lt. Karrin Murphy, so good of you to meet us here."

"Can it, Dresden," the woman glared, but there was no heat behind it, as if she were participating in a long-established ritual.

"It's like getting out of a clown-car," muttered Dean as he unfolded himself out of the backseat of the Beetle. Seeing Murphy, his scowl morphed into a suave grin as he looked her up and down. "Well, hello there. You've gotta be lost, 'cuz you are too hot to be a cop."

Sam and Harry both choked back laughter as Murphy returned Dean's insolent stare, sizing him up from head to toe.

"Keep it in your pants, Shorty, if you want to keep it at all." Her eyes flicked to Harry and Sam. "Didn't know you were getting cozy with the FBI, Harry" she said coolly. "Aren't these the two agents who came sniffing around earlier today?"

"Actually, ma'am," Sam began, but Harry cut him off.

"They're hunters, Murph. Posing as law enforcement is kinda their thing – y'know, Mulder and Scully to your X-Files. Lets them talk to people less understanding than you and not seem crazy."

"They in your line of work, then?"

"Kinda," Sam shrugged.

"More stabbing, less flash'n'bang," Dean growled. "And we don't get paid for it."

"You trust them, Harry?" Murphy pointedly ignored Dean's interjection.

"I did some digging within the community and contacted a few sources. They check out, at least, in the monster-hunting areas."

"But, let me guess, I don't want to look too closely in the non-monster-hunting areas?" She turned to Sam and Dean, fixing them with a stern glare. "You cause any trouble in my town, I will lock you up. Clear?"

The brothers nodded sheepishly and Harry found himself chuckling. It's like watching a pair of Great Danes back down from kitten, he thought, though all comparisons to kittens ended with size. Tiny as she was, with her martial arts training, she could probably give either of the Winchesters a run for their money in a hand-to-hand fight.

"All right then, let's head in."

With that, she turned and headed for the apartment building. As the three men followed, Sam turned to Harry.

"You said you checked us out earlier too," he said in a low voice. "How'd you find out anything about us so quickly?"

Harry looked pityingly at the young hunter.

"I'm a private investigator. It's kinda what I do for a living. Besides," he raised an eyebrow, "I'm a wizard on top of that. You think I don't have ways of finding things out quickly?"

Sam rubbed the back of his neck and coughed as Harry chuckled.

"Oh yes, I am the Spymaster." He wiggled his fingers in what he hoped was an appropriately spooky and arcane manner.

"You're a nerd is what you are, Harry," Murphy called from the doorway. "Now hurry up!"

They rode the elevator up to the fourth floor. Nobody said much as they braced themselves for the foray into the grisly crime scene. The doors dinged open and they filed out. As Sam was leaving, a young man with a neatly trimmed brown beard hurried up, carrying a basket full of laundry. Dean paused to size him up.

"Hold the door, please!" he called, closing the distance as quickly as he could.

Sam obliged, propping the door open with one hand and nodding as the man ducked under it.

"Much appreciated, Sir," the man bobbed his head in thanks. His brows creased suddenly into a frown as he peered down the hall in the direction that Murphy had gone. "Hey, you here with the cops? Is this about the young lady down in 427? Such a shame, that. She was a good neighbor."

"You see anything?" Dean kept his voice neutral as he flashed his badge.

"Nope. I was out when it happened. Came home to caution tape and paramedics." He lifted his laundry a little higher. "Well, thanks for holding the elevator. Good luck to you, Agents."

"We'll be in touch if we have more questions," Sam took his hand off the door. "What did you say your name was?"

"Oh, I didn't. I'm James. Delacourt," he added as an afterthought.

He nodded and the doors dinged shut. With a shrug and a sigh, the boys hurried to catch up with Murphy as she strode down the narrow hall. With their much longer stride, they caught up to her and the wizard before either had noticed that they hadn't followed. As they approached the door covered in crime scene tape, Harry tapped the short cop on the shoulder.

"Anything we should know before going in?"

"Stallings said you ate?" Her mouth thinned in a grim line as they nodded. "You might be sorry you did."

She pushed open the door and gestured for them to go in ahead of her.

It had been a nice room once – pale blue walls hung with modern art meant to remind the viewer of bubbles, a nice white couch and a glass-topped oval coffee table set in front of a bay window to form an inviting tableaux, and stainless steel floor lamps framing the scene.

But those walls were splashed with blood, dried now to a rusty brown. The artwork had been slashed and the shreds of canvas tossed about the room. The couch was overturned and covered with its own layer of blood and what looked like globs of raw meat mixed with shards of glass from the shattered coffee table. Half a floor lamp lay on the floor next to a crushed vase.

Harry felt his gorge rise as he stepped into the room. The carpet crackled beneath his feet, crispy with dried blood. He had once been in a room where the carpet was so saturated with fresh blood that it squished. This is worse, he thought, swallowing. The only thing that was preventing him from puking his guts out right there was the fact that the destroyed bay window let in a breeze that kept the cloying, coppery smell of blood from becoming overpowering.

A muttered curse from another corner of the room caused him to turn. Sam crouched beside what looked like a human arm. Ragged bits of ligament and bone showed where it had been ripped off at the shoulder. A short ways away, a human torso leaned obscenely against that wall as if it had been flung there. The sternum and ribs splayed outwards through the graying flesh, disconcertingly clean.

"Looks like someone had a snack," Dean remarked, gingerly prodding the edges of the wound with a pencil as he peered in. "Jane Doe's plumbing's been scooped out."

"Meet Allison Callahan," Murphy said from the door, thumbing through a file. "Events coordinator at a local recreation center just a few blocks away. Twenty-four. No criminal record of any kind, but she did go through the foster care system as a child."

Harry straightened up from where he had been examining the couch. Glass crunched as he picked his way through the debris to the broken window, grateful for the cool breeze. Looking down, he frowned and fished a handkerchief out of his pocket as he stooped down to pick something up.

"Curses." He sighed.

"What'd you find, Gandalf?" Dean straightened and walked over, followed closely by his brother.

A small black bag sat on the white square of cloth in Harry's hand.

"A hex bag," Sam rolled his eyes heavenwards and sighed.

"Freakin' witches, man! If they can't spew their own bodily fluids, they gotta go around spewing somebody else's!" Dean swung his arms to indicate the carnage on the walls. "I hate witches!"

Leaving the brothers to confer between themselves for a moment, Harry went over to Murphy and dropped the hex bag into the evidence bag she held out for him. As she sealed it up, he ushered her into the relatively un-splattered kitchen.

"Han and Chewie over there said that there had been another killing like this?"

Murphy didn't quite meet his eyes as she nodded.

"Stars and stones! Karrin, why didn't you call me?"

"S.I. doesn't call you in for every case, Harry," she sighed. "You know how my bosses get if I rely too much on your 'consulting'. Besides, we initially thought this was a werewolf attack like the Lobo killings. Since we knew how to handle that, we figured we'd take this on ourselves. But now…"

Harry nodded and put a hand on her shoulder before turning back to the brothers.

"I'm assuming you're not going to let us handle this one alone?" At their negative response, he continued, "then I'm going to need to put you somewhere safe. For my own peace of mind."

"We're staying at a local motel. We'll whip up some protective hoodoo of our own, sleep with a knife under the pillow. This isn't our first rodeo, Glinda. We'll be fine, thanks."

"Not gonna cut it. There's an under-the-radar place I know, caters to our crowd and then some. I set up all the wards on the building and called in a few favors for a little extra protection. We'll set you up there."

Both Sam and Dean opened their mouths to protest, but Harry rolled his eyes and cut them off.

"I'll reimburse you for the motel fee and cover the new one. Call it a business expense." He turned to Murphy. "I'll add it to my fee." She glared at him, but he ignored her.

Sam finally shrugged and Harry nodded.

"Let's head out then."

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