Hellhound Page 2

The bullhorn voice took advantage of the moment. “Go home. Proceed in an orderly fashion.” A pause. “Sunrise will occur in less than eight minutes.”

Around me, several zombie heads snapped up toward the pale gray sky. Here, the buildings were tall enough that it was still as dark as midnight on the ground, and most of the rioters weren’t dressed for daytime. Zombies don’t burst into flame or anything in sunlight. Instead, they’re afflicted with zombie sunburn: orange skin, pocked with deep pits. Zombies aren’t exactly pretty to begin with, but zombie sunburn hurts. And zombies don’t heal.

The crowd had surged toward Boston as a single force, but now it dribbled away as the zombies returned to Deadtown. It seemed to shrink around the edges and thin at the center. A few zombies stood their ground, but no one continued the push toward human-controlled Boston.

“Excuse me,” muttered a zombie. I recognized him as one of the looters, but now his hands were empty as he shoved them into his pockets. He stepped around me and, head down, hurried toward Deadtown.

I turned, watching him weave through the crowd, but I soon lost sight as others joined him. The gates of the checkpoint into Deadtown stood wide open; the guards were letting everyone through without running their IDs. Within minutes, I was the only person standing in the street.

Smoke blew past. I checked to make sure Creature Comforts had survived unscathed. Axel saw me and raised one giant hand in silent greeting. Then he went inside and closed the door. As far as I could tell, there was no damage. But few of the other buildings in the Zone had fared as well. The door of a convenience store hung askew, boxes and broken bottles spilling out into the street. Conner’s Tavern had a couple of broken windows, and smoke billowed from one of them. I hoped the sirens screaming our way came from fire trucks.

What were those zombies thinking? They weren’t sticking it to the norms; they were demolishing paranormal-owned businesses. But rioters aren’t practicing their logic skills. They’re out for the thrill of destruction: the crack and give of splintering wood, the shriek of a hinge letting go, the blast and roar of hungry flames.

The demon mark on my right forearm buzzed. I knew—too much—about the high of letting go, of giving into rage and smashing whatever stood in your path. Even now, the demon mark urged me to pick up a rock, find an intact piece of glass, and hurl it through. Just for fun. Just to hear that sweet, sweet music of the crash and clatter.

Do it, a voice whispered inside my mind. The mark’s buzzing ran up my arm like an electrical current. No one’s watching. Of its own accord, my arm started to reach for a brick that lay near my feet.

“Stop it,” I said out loud. I pulled my arm close to my chest and held it there, flexing my fingers, pushing out the feeling. That voice might be inside my head, but it wasn’t mine. It was the voice of the Destroyer, the Hellion that had marked me, and I wasn’t going to listen to its insinuations and commands.

I would not let the Destroyer rule me.

I looked around. The Zone was a mess, and I made myself see it for what it was. Not beautiful chaos, but needless waste. Waste that hurt those trying to scrape out a living here. I wasn’t going to add to their misery.

Anyway, I had a job to do. As my demon mark subsided, I walked away from Deadtown, toward the checkpoint into human-controlled Boston.

I hadn’t gone more than a dozen steps before four Goons in riot gear blocked my path.

“The border is closed.” The Goon’s riot helmet muffled his voice. “Go home.”

Nobody pointed a gun at me—thank heaven for small mercies—but two Goons rested their hands on their batons. The fingers of the one who’d spoken to me twitched.

So did my demon mark. I took a couple of deep breaths to stay calm. Starting a fight with four armed Goons would not resolve the situation, unless the resolution I wanted was getting the crap kicked out of me.

“I’m a consultant for Boston PD,” I said, wishing I had a badge or something to prove it. “I’ve been called to a crime scene. Contact Detective Daniel Costello. Homicide. He’ll tell you.”

The Goons didn’t budge. Twitchy Fingers took a firmer grip on his baton.

I stepped back and raised my hands, palms out, to show I meant no harm. I opened my mouth to try to reason with them, but Twitchy Fingers advanced menacingly, his baton half drawn.

“Okay, calm down. I’m going home,” I said. Daniel was a nice guy, but when doing him a favor meant getting my skull split open by an overzealous Goon, there was no question. I walked backward, unwilling to take my eyes off Twitchy Fingers, who matched me step for step.

A fifth Goon trotted over. “Is there a problem, gentlemen?”

Gentlemen. Hah.

Twitchy Fingers stopped and turned toward the new Goon, who was taking off his helmet. No, make that her helmet, I realized, as she adjusted her long blonde ponytail. I knew this cop: Pam McFarren, one of only two female zombies on the Goon Squad.

McFarren balanced her riot helmet on her hip and gave me a sharp nod. She turned back to the Goons. “Situation?” The way she barked the word sounded more like a command than a question.

Twitchy Fingers’s baton went back into its holster. His arm dropped to his side. He hesitated, and then removed his helmet, too. The face inside was human. Figured. Most norms who join the Goon Squad don’t do it because they want to “serve and protect” us monsters; they want to prove their toughness on Boston’s meanest streets. “The subject refused to return to DA-1,” he said, his voice sulky, as though McFarren had spoiled his fun. DA-1 was short for Designated Area 1, the bureaucratic name for Deadtown.

“And did it cross your mind to ask her why? Or was your plan to beat her into the ground and then make inquiries?”

The Goon looked at his feet, his lips pressed tightly together.

“I’ll handle this,” said McFarren. “You boys return to headquarters.”

Twitchy Fingers shot her a hate-filled glare, but he nodded. He stared at me as though assessing which spot on my skull he would have whacked first, then turned away. He and the other three Goons shuffled toward the Boston checkpoint.

“Asshole,” McFarren muttered when he was out of earshot. “We were sent in to prevent or contain a riot. We did the job, minimal violence. And he’s disappointed he didn’t get to break any heads.”

“Thanks for calling him off.”

She blinked and refocused on me, as though she’d forgotten I was there. “So why won’t you go home?” She glanced toward Conner’s, where firefighters hauled a long hose to the smoke-spewing window. “Bars are all closed.”

“I’m not out for a drink.” I explained that Daniel had called and requested my help. “I tried to tell that to the Goo—er, the officers, but they weren’t interested.”

“Yeah, why make a simple phone call when you can give your favorite weapon a workout instead? Sheesh.” She snorted, then unclipped a cell phone from her belt. A couple of calls later, she motioned to me. “You’re cleared,” she said. We walked toward the Boston checkpoint. “There are a couple of uniforms waiting for you on the other side of the checkpoint. Costello sent them to vouch for you, but word never got through to my boys.”

“You’ve been promoted?” The way she’d sent those other Goons packing was a classic demonstration of pulling rank.

“To sergeant.” She raised her chin with pride, but then her forehead creased in a scowl. “’Course, some of the guys say it’s affirmative action bullshit. Promoting a PDH who’s also a woman nails two birds with one stone.” PDH, or previously deceased human, was the politically correct term for zombie. “But I deserve it. I worked hard for my promotion. I have to be three times as tough, or they think I’m soft.”

Looking at McFarren in her riot gear—her broad shoulders, her narrowed eyes, the determined set of her jaw—soft was the last word that came to mind.

She sighed. “All this unrest in Deadtown lately. It’s really split the squad in two. Half the guys sympathize with the zombies. The other half would like to bomb Deadtown into oblivion. The split isn’t even along human-PDH lines.” She shook her head. “But here’s the thing about being a cop: You can’t take sides. All you can do is uphold the law.”

“Even if the law is unfair?” A zombie had killed some norms, and now every single Deadtown resident was guilty by association.

McFarren shrugged again. “I never said the law was perfect. Sometimes it’s necessary to tilt the balance a little to keep the peace or ensure the greater good. I can live with that.”

“But what if it tilts too far?”

“That’s the day I leave the force.” The steel in her expression suggested that would be the day after hell froze over. “In the meantime, I have to keep knuckleheads like that guy”—she jerked a thumb over her shoulder, toward where Twitchy Fingers and I had faced off—“from beating the crap out of innocent people, just because he can. I think I see your escort.”

We’d reached the checkpoint. On the other side, two uniformed cops waited. McFarren went over to speak to them, then she motioned me to come through. The guard swiped my ID and handed it back. The gate went up, and I stepped into human-controlled Boston.


THE LEATHERWORKERS WHO GAVE THE LEATHER DISTRICT its name are long gone. Their old factories have been converted into trendy lofts, bars, boutiques, and restaurants. The galaxy of flashing police lights and yellow crime scene tape seemed out of place here. The faces peering from windows reinforced the sense of novelty.

As soon as I ducked under the crime scene tape, Daniel was there. It had been a few months since I last saw him, but there was no mistaking his curly, tousled blond hair or that high-wattage smile. He gave me a quick, one-arm hug. When he let go his smile lingered, but his blue eyes were full of worry.

“So what happened?” I asked.

“I’ll walk you through and tell you what we’ve learned.” When I nodded and turned toward the scene, he put a restraining hand on my arm. “It’s not pretty.”

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