“Can you tell me how it started?”

“Someone hit me with a chair,” Vik said. “That’s when I got into it.”

“A man came into the bar,” Toby said.

“What did he look like?”

“Tall. Big guy.”

Tall was a given. I’d gotten a good look at Joshua’s body while I was crawling around the parking lot. Joshua had been five-ten and his feet were about six inches off the ground. Whoever nailed him to that pole probably held him at his own eye level, which made our guy close to six and a half feet tall.

Cash disappeared for a minute and returned with five glasses. More whiskey.

“What did the big guy wear?”

The three men and Maggie knocked back their glasses. There was collective grimacing and clearing of throats. I sipped mine a bit. Like drinking fire spiced with crushed glass.

“A cloak,” Toby offered.

“Like this?” I fingered my own long plain dark gray affair. Most fighters wore cloaks. Used properly, the cloak could confuse the attacker by obscuring your movements. It could shield, smother, and kill. It doubled as a blanket in a pinch for the person or for the mule. Unfortunately it also made a dramatic fashion statement and was easy to make. Every two-bit bravo had one.

“His was one of those hooded cloaks, long and brown. And torn up at the bottom,” Toby said.

“Did you get a look at his face?”

Toby shook his head. “He kept the hood on the whole time. Didn’t see the face or the hair.”

Great. I was looking for the proverbial “guy in a cloak.” He was as elusive as the legendary “white truck” had been when cars still filled the roadways. All sorts of crazy driving accidents had been blamed on the mysterious white truck, just as all sorts of random crimes had been perpetrated by “some guy in a cloak” with his hood pulled over his face.

Toby cleared his throat again. “Like I said, I didn’t see his face. I saw his hands, though—they were dark. About this color.” He nodded at the whiskey in my glass. “He came in, stood at the bar, sized up the crowd for a while, and then came up next to Joshua. They said a few words.”

“Did you hear what he said?”

“I did,” Cash said. “He whispered. He said, ‘Do you want to be a god? I have room for two more.’ ”

Oh boy. “What did Joshua say?”

Cash’s eyes were mournful. “He said, ‘Hell yeah.’ And then the man punched him off his feet and the whole place went to hell.”

Hell yeah. Famous last words. Some guy sidles up to you in a bar and offers you godhood. And you say yes. Dumb. Over thirty years had passed since the Shift. By now every moron should know to watch their mouth and not accept bargains with random strangers, because when you said yes to magic, your word was binding, whether you meant it or not. A life wasted. All I could do now was to find the killer and punish him. Just once I would’ve liked to be there before this sort of shit happened so I could nip it in the bud.

“That’s when all the shapeshifters left,” Maggie said.

“That’s right.” Cash nodded. “They ran out of here like their tails were on fire.”

“These shapeshifters, do they come often?”

“Once a week for about a year now,” Cash said.

“They drink a lot?”

“One beer each,” Maggie said. “They don’t drink much, but they don’t cause any trouble either. They just sit by themselves in the corner and eat barrels of peanuts. We started charging them for it. They don’t seem to care. I think they all work together, because they come in at the same time.”

In times of trouble, shapeshifters snapped into an us-versus-them mentality. The world fractured into Pack and Not Pack. They would fight to the death for one of their own or to protect their territory. This was their hangout, their place. They should have waded into this fight, and in this case, the Pack Law would be on their side. Instead they took off. Odd. Maybe Curran had come up with some new order forbidding fights. No, that didn’t make sense either. They were shapeshifters, not nuns. If they didn’t blow their steam off once in a while, they’d self-destruct. Curran knew that better than anyone.

I filed this tidbit to puzzle over in the future. Right now the guy in the cloak was my primary concern.

Joshua was killed for a specific purpose. The guy had gone through a lot of trouble, starting a fight, busting walls, arranging Joshua to impersonate a human butterfly, and infecting him. It was unlikely he’d done it just for kicks, which meant he had some sort of a plan and he wouldn’t stop until he followed through with it. Nothing good could possibly come from a plan that involved turning a man into a syphilis incubator.

“We run a quiet tavern,” Maggie said. “Usually guys don’t want to fight here. They just want to get a drink, shoot some pool, and go home. If there is a fight brewing, they’ll talk shit for a while and wait for Toby and Vik to break them up. But this . . . I’ve never seen anything like this. That man threw one punch, and the whole crowd exploded. People were screaming and fighting, and growling like wild animals.”

I looked at Vik. “Did you fight?”

“I did.”

“And you?” I turned to Toby.


I glanced to Cash. He nodded. I could tell by their faces they weren’t proud of it. The bouncers were paid to keep a cool head, and Cash was the owner.

“Why did you fight?”

They stared at me.

“I was mad,” Vik offered. “Real mad.”

“Angry,” Toby said.


“Hell if I know.” Vik shrugged.

Interesting. “How long did the fight last?”

“Forever,” Toby said.

“About ten minutes,” Maggie answered.

That’s a long time for a fight. Most bar fights were over in a couple of minutes. “Did it get worse with time?”

She nodded.

“Did anybody see Joshua die?”

“It was all a blur,” Toby said. “I remember hitting somebody’s head against the wall and . . . I don’t even know why I did it. It’s like I couldn’t stop.”

“I saw it.” Maggie hugged herself. “The fight broke out.

Joshua was in the middle of it. He was a big man and he knew what he was doing. I was screaming for them to stop fighting. I was afraid they’d bust up the place. Nobody listened to me. Joshua was mowing people down with his fists and then that man grabbed him and they hit the wall. The man dragged Joshua to the pole, grabbed a crowbar, and stabbed. Joshua was wriggling on the crowbar like a fish. That bastard put his hand on Joshua’s face. A red light flashed and then he walked away. I saw Joshua’s eyes. He was gone.”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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