Madhouse, page 22
I tried my nose first. It felt safer.
Columbia is bigger than it looks, and it looked plenty big enough. We were concentrating on the Morningside Heights campus, where the students and employee had all disappeared. Nothing had yet happened at the med school and hospital fifty blocks up. There was Morningside Park bordering one side of the campus and Promise said she would inquire of any nonhumans within, a polite way of saying she’d ask the local yokels if they’d seen a new monster in the neighborhood.
I went from building to building, and first I thought it was going to be easy, because I smelled him right off the bat. But it wasn’t long before I realized that, yeah, his scent was present…everywhere. Rank and unmistakable. He was hunting here all right. From what I could tell he’d roamed every nook and cranny of the school. Keeping to the shadows, avoiding the security lights, but owning it…every inch.
Hot damn. We were finally on to something. From the smell of it he was here almost if not every night. Every night…but not that many students were missing. This couldn’t be it, could it? One of his possible locations? Or his new home? He liked caves, and there wasn’t much cavelike about this place. Still, something was going on. All we needed to do was find the bastard, slice off parts, and ask him what.
But finding him was a problem. With his smell literally everywhere, I wasn’t sure how to pinpoint it. It’s never easy, is it? “Well, shit.” I stopped and crouched on the long strip of grass between Broadway and Amsterdam that connected two sections of the campus.
“Pretty boy.” A hand tickled behind my ear. “Frustrated?”
“You could say that,” I grunted, surprised. I hadn’t heard her coming; she was Kin after all, but I’d smelled her behind me. Wolf and vanilla, but what in the hell she was doing here I had no idea. I turned my head and looked up at her as she twirled a lock of my black hair around her finger. “That son of a bitch Sawney.”
She wrinkled her nose, eyes turning new-penny bright. “He is here. He is everywhere. The stench of insanity.” Which was true. He definitely had the stink of crazy all over him. Of course he had the same to say about me. She sat beside me. “Rabid, but that is normal for him. Stop looking.” She shook her head disapprovingly. “He will eat you.” Her face, her mouth moved inches from mine. “Let me eat you”—her tongue touched my lower lip—“instead.”
Okay, that was even more of a surprise than her showing up—not so much the offer, as the timing. I wasn’t Robin—Jesus, who was?—but I knew when someone was interested in me or at least interested in parts of me. And my parts and I felt the same way about her, although half of that combo felt guilty as hell about it. Not that that mattered. This wasn’t the time or the place. Two students passed, girls, blond and brunette. They looked at us and hurried on, their long legs striding faster. I might look like a punk-ass twenty-year-old kid and Delilah a cross between a model and a kick-your-ass biker chick, but we still didn’t pass in the human world. Not really. Those girls wouldn’t know why they felt the way they did about us, but they sensed the difference in us somehow.
“Little girls,” Delilah said with a derisive toss of her ponytail. “Scared of monsters in the big bad woods.”
I hung my head for a moment. She didn’t mind being different. I wondered why I did. “How’d you know I was here anyway?”
She sat beside me, her own long legs clad in leather. She stretched and reclined on her elbows in the grass. “Called Promise. Puck answered. Says Columbia. From there.” She touched a finger to her small, straight nose. “I find your scent.”
“And what do I smell like?” I asked with a reluctant curiosity. “Flay didn’t seem to care for it, whatever it is.”
The copper of her eyes darkened back to light brown as she puzzled on the question. “Strange. Interesting. Good and bad. Right and wrong.” She gave an acquisitively hungry smile. “Sweet and sour.”
I reached over and ran a thumb along the lower curve of that smile. “I hope that’s about sex and not making me a meal. You wouldn’t be the first werewolf that tried to make me dinner, and you wouldn’t be the first one I killed.”
She wasn’t impressed, snorting. “Pups.”
“Not all of them. Cerberus was no Red Riding Hood reject.” Never mind that it had taken all three of us…Flay, Niko, and me…to take him down. We’d done it. I wasn’t sure anyone else could have.
“Cerberus.” The smile was completely different now, dark and gloating. She lifted the snug white shirt she wore to bare her scars. “Not fit to bear his cub. Flay and I, our family, to Kin Alphas we are not good enough. Not high enough in pack. Not pure. We are better than pure. We are Wolf.” She rested a hand on her flat stomach. “But Cerberus said there would be no cub.” Her lips tightened and she pulled the shirt back down. “No cubs ever now.”
I could think of absolutely nothing to say at first, although I’d suspected before from the extent of the damage that could be seen that she wouldn’t be making her nephew, Slay, any little cousins. Sorry seemed wholly lacking, and I finally went with my instinct. “He died painfully, in one god-awful bloody mess.”
It was the right thing. The smile returned, blazing bright as her eyes. “Sex. Now.” She took my hand, stood, and yanked me up with such strength that both of my feet almost left the ground.
Not that it wasn’t nice to be wanted, to be used and abused, but the screams that ripped through the air emphasized that some things have to wait. Hey, I’d already gotten laid once this year…okay, once in a lifetime. What was my hurry?
One of the girls who’d walked past us came running back. She was alone this time, with blood on her face and jacket. I didn’t bother to ask what had happened. It was self-evident enough. Sawney or a revenant had come creeping out of the shadows for an evening snack. She kept running past us with white-rimmed, unseeing eyes. I ran in the direction she had come from. Delilah followed, more out of boredom than any desire to save a human, I thought. She stayed in human form, but kept up with me easily regardless. As we ran, I pulled out my cell phone, gave Nik the terse facts, and tried for more speed.
We passed several students going in both directions. They veered away from us; it was obvious we weren’t jogging for our health. We covered the length of the grass-covered walk, vaulted the small iron pole and chain fence that framed the grass, and followed the blood. It was the only way we found her…by the smell of her blood. It was thick in the air, as thick as the inescapable scent of Sawney and revenants.
And it was a revenant that had her, not Sawney. While Sawney’s spore was hours old, that of the revenant was as fresh as the girl’s blood. Both came from a building of red brick, narrow windows, and chimneys. It looked like a house, not a campus building. It was surrounded by low hedges and that’s where we found them—the victim and three revenants. In a crook of hedge and building, shadowed and protected from a casual glance, they were feeding on her. One was at her throat, one at her chest, and one at her stomach, and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do for her. The revenants had made scraps of her in a matter of minutes. It was the dark-haired one. Her short cap of hair didn’t show the blood, but what strips of skin remained did.
I growled and kicked the head of the revenant from her throat. I wasn’t wearing sneakers today. I was wearing scuffed black combat boots, thick-soled and heavy, and I broke the bastard’s neck instantly with the blow. Not that that stopped him. His body staggered up and toward me while his head was bent at an acute angle. I’d broken the bone, but the spinal cord was still intact. Damaged probably, but not enough to make a difference in the primitive organism that was a revenant. Delilah, apparently forgoing the wolf this time, took one out with a knife. Took him down, out, and had him in pieces within seconds. Why worry about losing a perfectly good set of clothes in the transformation for a mere three revenants—I could see her point. The leather pants…and what they contained…yeah, that would be a crime…shit.
I worried less about my hormones and m
“And you leave me nothing. You are an inconsiderate brother, to say the least.”
I looked over my shoulder at Niko, who stood with katana drawn. “You’re getting slow, old man. Get a scooter and we’ll talk about saving you some ass to kick.”
I barely saw the swat, but I certainly felt it. Resisting the urge to rub the back of my shoulder, I looked down at the dead girl, then away. “Our new boss isn’t going to be happy.” I didn’t blame him one bit. I wasn’t happy either.
“No, he won’t be. They’re getting bolder.” Niko knelt beside the girl. “They dragged her off the path, but where did they come from? Here?” He looked up at the building.
“Kinda small,” I commented and it was true. It simply wasn’t large enough. If revenants and Sawney had set up shop there, someone would’ve noticed. It wasn’t like they could hide out in ye olde attic like first cousins’ flipper kids.
“Yes, it is,” he said absently, standing. “But seeing is not always believing. Tell me what you smell.” He glanced over at Delilah. “You as well.”
I inhaled deeply as Delilah did the same. It reeked. The whole goddamn place stunk to high heaven of Sawney and the revenants, far more so than any other place on campus, which was saying something, and far more than any other place he’d been: the warehouse, the sewers, the Second Avenue subway. That was it for the sewers, then. It was kind of a relief that there’d be no more trudging through water. “This is it all right,” I confirmed, trying not to gag.
Delilah agreed with a nod. “The Den. They come here. Go from here. Live here.”
Not exclusively, but from the sheer concentration of odor, here more than anywhere else.
“Well then, Alexander Sawney Beane.” Niko smiled, that rare, anticipatory smile that didn’t bode well for whoever was at the end of his sword.
We had left campus before any students or security spotted us. Promise and Niko notified Dr. Nushi of the events and the bodies—which I suspected would soon disappear. Sawney or more revenants could come for them or that mysterious whatever that seemed to have a license in body collection. Nik and Promise went back to our apartment for research and other things. And for once, other things were in my schedule as well. Damn, twice in a year—where were the Guinness people when you needed them?
Delilah had an apartment…of sorts. Wolves weren’t really all that good at things like rent and damage-deposits and utilities. Not your average wolf anyway. That’s what Alphas were for. Alphas took care of the pack. Told them where to live, found the food to take down…the members of an Alpha’s pack were, in a way, his children. In werewolf society, especially in the Kin, the Alpha of a particular pack would buy up a building or two—yeah, they had that kind of money—and take care of the power and water. Then their pack would move in. They might settle in one corner of a warehouse or they might settle in a series of apartments, moving from floor to floor every month or so. It depended on the wolf.
They always looked abandoned from the outside with blackout curtains or blinds on the windows to keep up the impression. The doors were also kept chained, but if any homeless happened to be smart enough to find another way in…well, yummy manna from doggy heaven.
Delilah’s place had once been a school. There was a rusty chain-link fence and graffiti everywhere. Old graffiti. Any newer aspiring artists wouldn’t do any better than the homeless. She used the key to open the chains and relocked them through a small hole fashioned in the steel-bar-enhanced safety glass. Sniffing me quickly, she nodded. “Come.”
Before we’d gotten within ten blocks of the place, she had produced a small spray container, like a tiny perfume bottle, and squirted me liberally with it. “From the puck,” she had said. And I remembered it from our previous run-in with the Kin. “Will make you smell different. Not like you. Not human food. Not Auphe.” Not human, because someone might want to join in on the meal. And not Auphe, because…hell, that didn’t need explanation.
She had chosen a room on the third floor and we made our way quietly up darkened stairs, stopping if she heard any other wolves. I might not have the scent of a human or an Auphe, but I had to be something, and if they saw me, they would know it wasn’t wolf. Managing to avoid that, we reached her place. It was a big room that had once been two. A wall had been knocked down with a sledgehammer from the looks of the ragged concrete frame. The institutional walls had been painted an umber color, smoldering in the low light of the occasional lamp. The shades were light reddish brown glass run through with hundreds of random fractures, Tiffany in a postmodern world.
There was no couch, only cushions. A nest of six large cushions made up what I guessed to be the equivalent. Three feet by three feet, they were forest green, deep brown, rusty red.
“Nice place,” I said politely and then got to the point. “You don’t eat people, do you?” For nutrition, I meant. I knew the vast majority of the Kin did as well as some non Kin wolves. “I might have issues with that.”
“People.” She slipped off her jacket, then her shirt. She wasn’t wearing a bra and suddenly people pitas seemed a little less important than they had been. But I held on, because it was important. I wasn’t Auphe and I wasn’t sleeping with someone who would do the things Auphe would do. “No challenge,” she dismissed. “I am a hunter. Hunter. I am not jackal like some Kin.”
Okay, that was good to know. There was another pile of cushions, slightly larger across the room, and they were white, every one of them—the barest shade paler than Delilah’s hair. “You sleep as a wolf, don’t you?”
She peeled my jacket off me in one smooth motion. “Wolf dreams.” Her eyes were bright. “They are richer, sharper. You taste, smell, hear, touch. The very same as this world here.” She shrugged, which did interesting things to very interesting parts of her.
“Maybe that is the world. Maybe this is only the dream.”
“Dreamtime.” I considered the holster, then slipped out of it. Robin would no doubt say she’d like me to keep it on. Kinky and all, but shooting off your own balls during sex is more kink than I cared to think about. And was I babbling in my head nervously? Yeah. So what? It was my second goddamn time. I could be nervous if I wanted. “Sounds similar to something that Aborigines in Australia believe. Nik told me about it once, said it was…” Great, I was babbling outside my head now.
But it was the last word I said that night as I was tackled to the floor. Last string of coherent words anyway. I did say a few single explosive ones. Delilah was no nymph. She wasn’t soft and slow, meandering and mild. Delilah was a whirlwind of wants and needs and demands, and before the night was over, she taught me how to be the same.
I was glad, though, that she couldn’t smell me through Robin’s concoction. Couldn’t smell the lingering doubt under the savagely sharp pleasure. The faint remorse beneath the sheer holy shit spine-knotting euphoria.
The touch of guilt behind every bite, thrust, and caress.
The New York Metropolitan Museum was big. I knew that. But it was something I knew in the back of my head…like that the sky is blue. That fire burns. That a man can’t get it up in fifty-degree water no matter what Robin thought. Basic, commonsense knowledge.
So while I knew the museum was big, I never thought about it—not until early the next morning when I was lost in the basement under the main building. I had gotten Sangrida’s permission over the phone to be there, just checking for more sirrush, I’d said, and she’d made sure the same door to the basement was unlocked, but that was it. And it wasn’t as if I could request a sec
I didn’t think pissing off the mummy would be a good idea. I’d seen the cold rage lurking behind the yellow glow that filled those eye sockets. He hadn’t tried to kill us, but he still wasn’t what I’d call an easygoing guy. And if he lost his home, I damn sure didn’t want him sleeping on my couch.
Robin had led us confidently through a maze of stacked crates and dusty, forgotten exhibits. I’d paid attention, but apparently not enough. And now, lacking a trail of bread crumbs, I was thoroughly lost. The lights were back on this time, and I wandered through row after row of delicate gilt furniture covered with heavy plastic drapes, canvases of all shapes and sizes, marble statuary, dramatic black-and-white masks, and grime-covered case after case of weapons. Swords, daggers, even axes. It was amazing. You didn’t even need to be a puck to get itchy fingers at the sight of it.
But that would be wrong, and, more importantly, difficult to smuggle out past the guards at the entrance. Now, that was a Robin thought and it brought me back to the reason I was there. Time to stop window-shopping and get to it.
Neither he nor Nik would be happy to know where I was or what I was doing. Robin because I was poking my nose where he’d made it very clear he’d as soon chop it off. Nik…Nik would not be enthusiastic—strongly not enthusiastic—about the fact I was roaming around the location of a sirrush attack. There could be a hundred of those damn things down here; there was room.
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