Prologue: Hell Night
I smoked my last cigarette. And, by last cigarette, I meant my last cigarette. I would never smoke again after tonight. There were lots of stuff I would never do again after tonight. Chief Wilde posed for his picture, the shit-eating grin of a world-class douche-bag plastered on his face. I needed this. Anthony Alphonse Avery was not my biggest fan right now. Understandable, seeing how I was the reason he was chained up.
Boss Avery snarled as Aarne and Thompson perp-walked him, the city's biggest and baddest crime-lord, through a flock of reporters. Boss Avery, outwitted and overpowered, hungered for sweet revenge. Only the leather muzzle on his face (and that quarter ounce of wolfs-bane in his system) stood between Boss Avery and the necks of every Geraldo Rivera wannabe in the city.
It'd have been quite the gush of blood and someone might have gotten fired over it. I knew that because I saw it happen, even though it did not happen in this continuity. One of the nicer perks of being a half-bred nagual. Reporters getting their throats ripped open wouldn't have even been an issue if Chief Wilde had honored his agreement not to get the press involved.
I tried not to make too big a deal out of this. I supposed, as long as the tomorrow's headlines didn't read, "Felix Froud nabs Boss Avery in Hell Night raid," I could endure a grand-standing session or two on the part of Chief Wilde. Being the best cops that money could buy, Goblin Bay Police Department could always use another boost to their public image. Still, anybody on the fence about Goblin Bay's Finest would not have been won over by this three-ring circus.
Luckily for everyone present, Boss Avery hadn't been packing mojo. It was the answer to a question I had been too stupid to ask. As a rule when it came to weapons, rugarus were not all that crazy about using hoodoo in the first place. The chances of Aarne and Thompson getting barbecued by a lightning bolt trident were slim. When rugarus dealt out death, they preferred tooth and claw with ordinary knives and guns thrown in where necessity dictated. Nonetheless, if Boss Avery had been the one exception to the rule, someone could have died here tonight.
Tonight was Hell Night. Tomorrow would have been the usual Halloween editorials about the corrupt and incompetent local PD's inability to keep every October 30 from turning into a city-wide bonfire set by drunken bastards. Instead, all of tomorrow's news would be about an invincible crime-lord, the furry devil nobody thought anyone could take down. It turned out to the biggest crime bust in the city's history.
Without the big bad wolf at the heart of the Avery machine, his whole damned pack of career criminals would sputter out and expire on the side of the road like a run-down jalopy. Chief Wilde had an army of industrious reporters, milling around him like ants piling atop this fresh carcass, eager to pick all the bones clean of any juicy bits. Aarne and Thompson did their best to run interference but they were in the middle of bringing in a prep with an absurdly high flight risk. It was like they were trying to rub their stomachs and pat their heads at the same time.
Besides, even if Aarne and Thompson could "no comment" their way through the crowd, they couldn't protect Chief Wilde from himself. He wanted to be the press' darling for a spell. Careful what you wish for. I snubbed my cigarette butt into a tall red brick wall. If I had known at the time that would be my last cigarette, I would have given it a more dignified burial. Tonight was all about what nobody saw coming.
The Mirkwood Club. Tony Avery loved this joint. He loved it even more when he wasn't being shadowed by his own muscle. He came here whenever he wanted to be alone. Which was exactly how Aarne, Thompson and Campbell found him. Alone. With the exception of holidays, this wolf in wolf's clothing came here every Thursday like clockwork.
Unlike the other scumbags in attendance, he didn't come to pick up chicks. He had a dealer who ran a small shop out of the back. Medicinal herbs, he said. Claude Hawthorne, the faun dealer, had seven priors for possession.
The newspaper in Goblin Bay were the worst kind of bipolar. Keeping pace with new media had driven all the heart out of the honor guard of the old newspapers. All they wanted was a blurb cooked to perfection and served with all the fixings to keep their circulation numbers up and their jobs intact. It all came down to name recognition. People remembered names, even if they didn't remember why they remembered them. It meant once the press got their hooks in someone, yesterday's hero could easily become tomorrow's villain in the space of few choice words.
I resolved to quit smoking as soon as all this went away. Despite shamanic visions of alternative continuities, nagual package didn't exclude that very real possibility of early death from lung cancer. Besides, I promised Conrad that I would take care of Penny. That would be awful hard, even without the significant handicap of being dead. The rookie, What's-Her-Name Lopez, had this weird idea about being my new partner.
Obviously, she had heard the rumors around the station and took it as a challenge. "Felix Froud burns partners." An overstatement if you ask me. Brass often tried to pair me up with rookies. Even back when Conrad Weaver was still around, brass wanted to promote him and leave me holding the bag. Perhaps, they thought I'd go easy on a female rookie. I could care less if they were male, female or some new third gender.
For me, partnership came down to one thing: solidarity. Partners had each other's backs. Not just some of the time, or even most of the time. All of the time. Rain or shine, hell or high water, partners stuck it out until the bitter end. That was what Conrad had done for me. To expect anything less from his replacement would be an insult to his memory. If none of them noob rookies had the stones to put up with me and to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were, in fact, my new partner … Well, the rookies should have tried harder. No skin off my nose.
"Where to?" Lopez said with the characteristic shoeshine of a rookie. I could give you the skinny on ninety percent of all rookies from here to the end of time. They take the late jobs, skip meals and never call in sick. Rookies were always fresh-faced and eager to please. In short, rookies made ten-year fellows like me want to grab them by the shoulders and shake that gee-golly attitude out of them. I nodded in the direction of the station. "Right away, sir." I chuckled. Lopez shot me a crooked eyebrow, her only sign of defiance (read: free will) since we'd teamed up.
Out of charity and to end this awkward moment, I let her in on the gag. "Nobody's ever accused me as being a 'sir' before. Because I'm not. So don't call me that. And I'm not 'Detective Froud' either. That was my old man. I'm Felix." It felt like I was introducing myself for the first time. Then again, there was the off chance that maybe I was. After all, Felix Froud was legendary for the chilly reception he gave to his new "partners."
Lopez smirked. "Like the cat?"
I shrugged. "Sure, like the cat." Lopez couldn't tell but I was in shock. I'd nigh forgotten that the thing in Moldova had happened only four years ago. Not enough time for everyone and their grandmothers to know about the Fae. If Lopez had even the slightest clue what I was, I'd strongly doubt she would have had the stones to make that whole cat crack. My heart had fluttered a bit. For a second, I thought Lopez here had shown a little backbone. Alas, it was her ignorance (and not her bravado) that had driven her to compare a nagual to this fictional feline.
Lopez's attempts at small talk were interesting insofar as her inexhaustible supply of awkward silences. Conrad knew better than to spoil this or any other quiet moment. Connie cherished the quiet moments between the bad ones. He knew how to let his partner ruminate and process what had just happened without making them feel alone. This was the worst of both worlds. I couldn't process what had happened at the raid and I could not have felt anymore alone than I did just then. Lopez pulled into the secure parking lot. Press would be arriving to interview someone.
Lopez had one trait none of the other rookies had. An inexplicable ability to cling to my ass with the suction of an adult lamprey eel. Mom's ancestors had been phenomenal trackers who could evade the attention of the most wile of prey right up until the fatal blow. And here was I, having trouble ditching one overly eager academy grad. Somewhere in the great beyond, my nagual ancestors were either weeping or laughing.
As I entertained (half-serious, of course) the notion of gnawing my arm off coyote style to evade Lopez, I remembered what it had been like to be the new meat. I had been a boot lick myself once. If it hadn't been for Conrad taking me under his wing, I might still be the perpetual puppy dog mascot for this station, the one with the waggly tail, doing anything and everything, to get one of those higher-ups to notice me.
Ralph Castle, the captain of our division, paced back and forth outside the Chief's office. I jerked my thumb at the leech. "Could you do me a solid and give the kid here something to do? I need to talk to the Chief." Ralph gave a "get in line" look. "Trust me, Chief is gonna wanna to talk to me first." Chief Wilde opened his door and gestured for me to come in. "Sorry, man." Ralph shook his head in disbelief and pulled Lopez aside. I straightened out the ragged edges of my uniform. Chief had already returned to his desk. I sighed. Time to nut up or shut up.
Commissioner Manfred Wilde smiled as he sifted through the mountains of paperwork on his desk. "Just the man I wanted to see." The phone on his desk had been ringing off the hook less than a minute ago. The Chief must have unhooked it. The mayor and the district attorney would not appreciate that one bit. After he heard what I had to say, I doubt I would be on the Chief's Nice List for that much longer. "Your tip, right on the money. Avery was too out of it to put up a fight." Cops had tried to bring down the Big Bad Wolf in the past. Being a rugaru with deep pockets, Tony bought off the ones that were for sale and turned the friends and family of the ones who weren't into slices of deli fresh meat.
Luck had been quite the lady this evening. Like any decent dragon, Boss Avery's weak spot was his heart. The old wolf was getting long in the tooth and the pressure to perform often got the best of him. So every Thursday, he slunk away to indulge his secret vice, wolfs-bane. For humans, aconite was a deadly poison. For rugarus, it was still poison but it felt good. Like every cell in one's body dancing to the beat of an angelic choir good. Boss Avery took hits of the stuff at the Mirkwood Club at the corner of Graham and 4th across from the Eternal Springs Mall. Rugarus considered wolfs-bane users the lowliest of the low. To compare them to crackheads would have been an insult to crackheads.
Despite the extreme potency of aconite, it lost its edge with repeated use just like any habit-forming addiction. Even in his drug-addled state, Boss Avery had put Officer Campbell in the hospital when they came to serve his arrest warrant. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In a pinch, the Media Relations Office had to throw the reporters a bone. A wounded cop at Goblin Bay General was that bone. While the media were gnawing on the juicy bits, the boys at the station got some much needed breathing room. A few sweeps of the locations I gave the Chief would reveal decades of buried and submerged secrets, wrapped in the decaying flesh of the violently slain. Plenty of ammunition for court.
Indeed, the organized crime division had enough dirt on the Big Bad Wolf to send him away for a long time. Wilde tightened his fists in that gesture of absolute triumph he had the day he got promoted to Commissioner. "We got that son of a bitch now." Indeed, if the trial of Tony Avery were held tomorrow, the bastard would get life without parole. "Let's have a drink." If Wilde saw this as anything less than cause for celebration, that bottle of vintage wine he kept in the bottom drawer for special occasions would be the furthest thing from his mind. I let my game face show how serious I was. Wilde stiffened up. "What is the matter with you? It's over. Good guys won for a change."
Good guys, bad guys. Kids' stuff. When two pigs wrestled around in the mud, there was no good pig or bad pig. Just two pigs, in the mud. "Boss Avery cannot go to trial." The Chief's face went sullen, killing the last spark of congeniality in the room. "I know the rugaru mind." I, for one, hated playing the race card when it came to police procedure but being the last Fae cop standing carried certain responsibilities. "An alpha like him might act all calm and collected when he's in charge. Take away his keys to the kingdom and he will make sure you suffer to your last for it." Wilde still did not get it. "Every word he says in any courtroom will be a matter of public record." He still was not getting it.
I explained using an analogy. "One Big Bad Wolf down doesn't make the Black Forest free of monsters. DA will try to cut a deal with him. He will name names. The usual list of malefactors who had worked for him over the years. Then, he will talk about the corrupt elite, bigwig officials who got rich, looking the other way. Anyone who had ever taken even one thin dime of his dirty money. Public will crucify them."
I held up my hand as the Chief tried to explain himself. "I do not give a damn why you took his money, Chief. And you had better get used to that because no one else will either. No matter how you spin it, you'll look dirty. Even if you are spared jail time, your career will be truly and completely over. And, even if the deal falls through, he'll drag half of Goblin Bay down with him and that is if he is feeling generous."
I didn't need to mention how the ACLU would do their damnedest to make this out to look like a hate crime. It would be like O.J. Simpson and the LAPD all over again. Anyone who had ever been slighted by a cop in this city would hold up this murdering bastard as their patron saint, a martyr to their cause. That wolf was a lot of things but a martyr wasn't one of them. Avery was a monster who deserved to be seen as such.
I took a deep breath. I hated seeing the Chief like this, all broken up inside. Booking the big boss himself should have been the crown jewel of his illustrious career and it still could be with a few minor alterations. "Chief, I'm not trying to bust your balls here. I'm telling the truth. If you let him go, your career's over. If you let him go to trial, your career's over." I pulled out my Glock. "That's why I am proposing a third option."
The vision of that moment was always the same. There wasn't a single continuity where Commissioner Manfred Wilde welcomed my idea. "Let's say, someone got past the security detail down the hall and disabled about a dozen cameras along the way. A power outage, perhaps. Simple and effective. He might be a beat cop whose afraid of being outed as a dirty badge or an enforcer who wishes to remain anonymous. It's not important who he is as long as all the evidence points to a lone gunman. One very special bullet will make damned sure Boss Avery never talks."
My plot to save his career wasn't going over as well as I had hoped. I needed to pull rank on the Chief. "Listen, I was fine being your go-to guy on all things Fae. I never complained when you ignored my advice. You asked me what I thought was best in situations involving Fae crooks and I answered truthfully." I looked the Chief in the eyes. "I know what I'm asking of you is Terrible with a capital T but it's the only way."
The Chief eyeballed me like I was an amoeba under an electron microscope, trying to figure out just what the hell he was looking at. After a minute that took years off my life, he relented. "Fine." The glint in his eye wavered. "Your badge." The words startled me. "Now." He did a double take at how quickly I tossed my badge onto his desk. I couldn't let him think a little thing like losing my job would change my tune on the subject. Between the two of us, I was the only one who understood the gravity of the situation. Boss Avery was a ticking time bomb. He was ready to go off at any minute. This Glock pistol was the bomb squad. "Clock's ticking," Wilde said in a voice right above a whisper.
Looking back, there were a hundred things I had wanted to say to the Chief. Most of them involved trying to explain to him (and myself) why Boss Avery's life had to end this way. I doubt I would have said anything that would have changed his mind about taking my badge. Heck, I was just lucky I had played my cards as well as I did. Chief Wilde might just as well have thrown me in a cell right next to Avery's. Then, I guess he'd have gotten his chance to fall on his sword. It would have ended badly for everyone and I didn't need nagual sight to see all that.
I knew what it was like to always be on the look-out for another way. I understood that compulsion to search for a Plan C, when Plan A and Plan B looked equally repulsive. That urge was basically hardwired in my DNA. Still, I could spend my whole lifetime looking for alternate routes and shortcuts, second-guessing all the decisions I had made before all the facts were in. It would have been a waste of life anyhow. Being a cop was about instincts and listening them and learning from them and trusting them, even in the worst-case scenarios. My game face vanished as I stepped out of Commissioner Wilde's office. I holstered my Glock pistol as the Chief made all those arrangements for me. "Chief's ready to see you."
I said those words to Captain Castle with a smile on me. The guy looked me like I was losing my marbles. Nonetheless, Ralph was none the wiser as to what had gone down in Wilde's office. As far as he knew, me and the boss had spilled a little bubbly and patted each other on the back. There was no sign that I handed over my badge or that I was headed down to the cell-block to shoot the boss of bosses as he waited in a six-by-eight box of brick and steel for a court date that would never come. Getting away with my crimes was what separated me from him.
When my day of reckoning came, I'd be pleased as punch if it came down to a single bullet from a single gun. It was more than that bastard deserved and I was bound by my honor to do it, because he was too much of a little bitch to just take his licks. Even worse, in doing what had to be done, I had to jeopardize the few things in this world I had left. Freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Sad to say, they were the only three things I had left. If I lost them, I would be lost. Then, nothing I'd done would matter after all that. Nothing really could.
Losing my job was one thing. Going to jail was something else. Never being able to wear the uniform and feel that sense of purpose that I'd savored in place of material comfort was a kick to the nuts. No doubt about it but it beat prison by a country mile. At least with my precious liberty, I could land a cushy job as a security guard. Or maybe even a private eye. For obvious reasons, cops do not fare too well locked up.