BOOK 7: UNTITLED
TUESDAY / NOVEMBER 28
“Sire, there’s an Offerling on line one.”
Johnny Newman jerked the tape-gun across the top of the moving box, sealed it, and sat it with the others along the wall.
The calls made to the main office of a wærewolf den were rarely from vampires, let alone from their minions. However, tonight would be the full moon, with the moonrise following the sunset by only a few minutes, so clearly whatever the vamps wanted—and they wanted something if making a call—it needed to be addressed before the whole den was furry.
Johnny picked up the receiver and hit the button for line one. “This is John.”
“Hello Mr. Newman,” a sultry voice purred. “I’m Silhouette. I’m calling on behalf of the new Haven Master, Goliath, whose acquaintance I’m told you have already had the pleasure of making?”
Pleasure? Hardly. “I’ve met Goliath.”
“He would like to hire you.”
“Hire me?” The sound was more growl than words. The plastic of the receiver cracked in his tightening grip. The Domn Lup of the wærewolves was not up for hire. That the damn vamp would even think—
“Well, your band, to be exact. Lycanthropia.”
“We aren’t booking any dates at this time.” His arm straightened as he moved to hang up.
Before he could complete the action, his better-than-average ears heard her add, “He wants you to perform at the Grand Opening of the new Haven. This Friday.”
He brought the phone back up. “You’re opening in three days? Don’t you have to hype this shit for a few weeks first?”
“We thought that considering your current circumstances it was unlikely you were playing anywhere, and that you would find our opening a suitable event.”
He noticed she hadn’t answered his questions. “A suitable event?”
“We pay top dollar, Mr. Newman.”
“For a last minute gig, you bet your ass you do.”
“There will be numerous high profile faces in every corner of our establishment that night. I assure you, you will find the undercurrents of unspoken politics here intriguing. Additionally, this show of solidarity between your kind and ours would benefit both sides.”
She had a point. But. “What kind of performance will Goliath give in return? My coronation is coming up. I’m sure I’ll want to throw a party to celebrate that.”
Silhouette gave a warm, alto laugh. “I’m not negotiating for the Haven Master, only booking for the event. If you want reciprocity, you’ll have to take that up with Goliath personally. That said, I’m sure some satisfying agreement can be reached. May I proceed and announce the band?”
He hesitated a moment. “What’s happened to bring on the rush to open?”
“There is no rush.” The note of her voice had risen. “We are ready. So there’s no reason to wait.”
The pitch change could be a product of defensiveness, or indication of a lie. He snorted into the receiver. “Riiiight.”
“May I announce the band?” she pressed.
His gut warned him to say no. His head argued that the political exposure, and having the local vamp master owing him a favor, would be more valuable than the risk of being seen as ‘working’ for vamps. Once there, he could make certain to play the situation to his advantage. “Sure. I’ll tell my band mates they now have the Haven Master in their debt. They’ll dig that.”
“Touché, wolf king. For what it’s worth, though, we’d love to host your coronation party at the Haven. Friday is going to secure us as the hot spot downtown.” She hung up.
Johnny taped another box together, and started filling it. He thought about the conversation he'd just had and tried to reason a few guesses together, but he couldn't keep his mind on the vamps, not when tonight would be the last time the pack would kennel at this den.
Known historically as the Cleveland Cold Storage building, the Ohio Department of Transportation had laid claim to this building, seizing it via Imminent Domain laws, and intended to demolish it and make way for their new I-90 project.
Johnny's very first change, or the first one he remembered anyway, had been here in a kennel beside the former pack leader. It was more than sentimentality over a building that left him angry about the situation. He had intended to fight to keep it.
But three days ago, due to intervention—and some not-quite-veiled threats—made by the high-ranking wærewolf mediator, the negotiations ended with that mediator forcing ODOT to give them another historic downtown site, Gray’s Armory. The transfer had been accomplished in quick time and without media coverage. The pack had begun moving and modifications were already being made to the formidable castle-like structure. The office was set to be transferred tomorrow.
He opened a deep desk drawer and removed a bottle of Laphroaig. He hadn’t opened it yet. He laid it in the box, then lifted it again, having had a better idea.
“It’s five o’clock, boss,” Kirk called from the outer office.
The full moon would rise in fourteen minutes, according to the almanac. Gripping the neck of the bottle, he strode from the office. “Everyone upstairs?”
“Almost. A few stragglers are running late.”
“Are the gates secure?” Each floor had reinforced metal gates as a secondary security measure. During transformations the only way in or out was the elevator.
“Gregor got level seven and up. I’m going to get ground level through six now.”
“Wait. Just get up to three. Beau will get four through six after we’re all in.”
“Beau’s not here.”
Johnny stopped. “Not here? What about William?” Beau was a Bindspoken witch, meaning his power had been cut off from him. He could do no magic, so he was not a threat. His son, however, was a wære who'd gotten stuck half-formed. For two decades, they had housed him on the upper floor of the den, with a few others caught mid-transformation.
Eleven days ago, Persephone Alcmedi had performed a forced-change spell on certain members of the pack. It was a spell she had used once before and the result had been curious. The people involved, at their next cyclical change, retained their man-minds while transformed into wolves. She was in debt to Beau for a charm he'd loaned her, so when he asked her to include his son in hopes of getting him back to normal, she hadn’t refused. William had regained his human form, but his mind was gone. He’d been catatonic ever since.
Johnny didn't want to take any chances. "Is Beau bringing him?"
“Call him. William will change no matter what.”
“A catatonic wolf isn’t dangerous.”
“Call him. I want William here.”
“You got it boss.” He reached for the phone.
“Kirk.” When he looked up, Johnny wagged the bottle in the air. “Don’t be late.” Kirk smiled and started punching numbers on the phone base.
Taking the stairs, Johnny arrived on the fifth floor barely winded. The men, women and few children of his pack had gathered in the open area near the elevator and the chatter amongst them was loud.
He paused atop the steps and observed his pack. People from every walk of life, some he knew well and some he had only recently met. He saw a group of women surrounding a scared-looking young girl, about fourteen. One of the women had her arm around the girl’s shoulders. He could tell by the nodding that they were comforting the girl; it was to be her first transformation.
He remembered the dossier about her. She’d gotten lost from her scout troop in Yosemite. She had been attacked, then left for dead after most of her upper arm had been eaten. In the month since, the muscle had completely regenerated and her family, fearful, had abandoned her. A Cleveland couple, both wæres and distant cousins of the girl’s mother, had gotten custody of her.
There was also a trio of younger kids, preteens, playing tag around the edges of the area. A boy raced around a group of men and nearly slammed into Johnny. He would have, if one of the men he’d just passed hadn’t been Gregor Radulescu. A Captain in the Omori—wærewolf equivalent of secret service—and Chief of Security for this pack, Gregor had been part of elite forces long enough that quick, aggressive action was second nature to him. His long arm snatched the boy’s shirt collar and jerked him back with enough force to startle him, and enough strength to keep him on his own feet.
Eyes wide, the boy swallowed hard and sheepishly turned to face Gregor.
“Careful there, Alan,” he said to the boy. “Can’t have you crashing into the king.”
Alan’s head snapped around to Johnny, whom he looked up and down. The boy paled. “S-sorry, Sire.”
Seeing him reminded Johnny of his own son, Evan, who, with his grandmother, Toni, had been taken to secret lodgings for the night. He gave Alan a single nod.
Gregor released the boy who slipped into the crowd. He reached for the bottle. “What’s this?”
“It’s our last shift here. Thought we should each have a swallow.”
Gregor turned and shouted, “All hail the king!” The words were repeated three times in a chant by the assemblage.
Johnny was about to speak when he was smoothly hefted onto the shoulders of two Omori so everyone could see and hear him.
“Tonight,” he said, “is the last time we will shift in the CCS building, the last time these walls house us while we are wolves. This was Ig’s fortress.” He felt a lump swell in his throat at the mention of his father-figure’s name. “Everything good about what we have here in the building, and I mean more than the security measures…I mean the sense of family we have here…Ig created that. He protected it. I pledge to you, as we move, that it will be a move forward, a move that remembers and honors the past, a move that nurtures the bonds that have made us powerful. Though we reach for a new future, we will not forget what made us a pack.”
Cheers filled the room. When it subsided, Gregor raised the bottle and his voice. “Drink, brothers and sisters! Let us toast to honor this fortress we leave behind, and to celebrate the castle we have claimed. The castle of our King!” The cheering renewed, he removed the lid of the bottle and handed it to Johnny. He upended it for the first drink, then passed it to Gregor.
The two Omori sat him down and the bottle was passed around the crowd. The noisy chatter resumed. It was only a few seconds, though, before a tall, lean man slipped from the crowd. Erik Randolph was Johnny’s best friend and the drummer for his band. Currently, his mouth was a firm, straight line. “What’s this about us playing for vamps?”
Johnny steered him towards the corner with a friendly hand on the shoulder. “Word’s out already?”
Erik shrugged away from the touch and kept his voice low. “Look John, king or no king, you taking a gig without clearing it through me and Phil is a douche move. Taking one on short notice without clearing it is worse. This is the second time. We played the Witches Ball for you and now we’re playing for vamps…being their fucking ‘entertainment’ is bullshit. What the fuck man?”
“Short notice pays better.”
“So the fuck what?”
Johnny noted that though Gregor kept his distance, he had a displeased look on his face as he eyed Erik, whose back was to him. “Coming to the rescue of a local Haven Master means he owes you a favor.”
“You mean he owes you a favor. What’s a vamp gonna do for me?” He didn’t give Johnny time to answer. “In a regular venue, the worst we can expect is a fight in the crowd. First you had us play the Witches Ball—and the fey used it to attack Seph. Now you have us playing for the vamps. What if they’ve got something against you being king? We’re out numbered on their turf! Did you think of that? Did your Omori? You keep raising the stakes with no thought for whether or not me and Phil want to be a part of it. Are your Omori able to save us from the danger your ego won’t see?”
“In a regular venue the normal humans outnumber us. You never complained about that.”
“I ain’t scared of the mundanes. Not even outnumbered by hundreds to one.”
“Now who’s got the big ego?” Regardless of the dispute, Johnny understood Erik’s resistance. He himself had spent many years resenting and avoiding vampires. He shook his head. In the past, he could win his band mates over by citing the perks of a short-notice gig. But things weren’t like they used to be. He wasn’t a random private citizen anymore.
At this gig, the world would be watching.
He hadn’t considered the added pressure his friends might feel. He conceded. “You want me to cancel?”
“I want you to admit you did this because you need it. Politically. I want you to admit you didn’t consider me and Phil.”
Johnny’s chin lowered. “Yeah.” He sighed. “I have more to gain here than band exposure and some cash in my pocket.”
“Dude,” Erik said. “You were just talking about nurturing the family aspect of this pack. Me and Phil are your band, and you’re ours. We’re your brothers, and you’re ours. I don’t care what power you’re ‘vested’ with, we’re not your fucking minions.” He gripped Johnny’s arm just above the elbow.
Johnny saw Gregor’s expression blank. He began easing closer. He knew the Omori had seen Erik take hold and was coming to remove him. He faced Erik. "You're absolutely right."
“You were my friend for a long-ass time before this king shit came to be. A douche-bag move is still a douche-bag move and I will always call you on it.”
Considering his drummer’s words, however, Johnny found himself smiling. “That’s what friends, what brothers, do.” He pulled Erik close and gave him a single slap on the back. It was a heartfelt gesture as well as a signal to Gregor that all was well. When he pulled away he again asked, “You want me to cancel?”
Erik’s mouth remained a firm line for a long moment, then it cracked. “Hell no! They announced it already. We’ll look like punks if we don’t play.”
Gregor arrived beside them and had the Laphroaig in hand. “Did you get to toast, Mr. Randolph?”
Erik accepted the bottle, drank, and handed it back with an appreciative nod. To Johnny he said, “Besides, our Facebook page is blowin’ up with hits and new page ‘likes’.” He paused. “And I’ve been wanting to bang on my drums.”
Near the elevator, Kirk’s voice lifted. “Five minutes, people. To your kennels!” He ended with a look at Johnny who mouthed the word, ‘Beau?’ Kirk gave him the thumps up and patted the elevator doors.
Johnny watched everyone shuffle toward their respective cages, either on this floor or the one just above or below when he noticed the elevator’s arrival indicator light up. The doors rolled open and through the crowd he saw Beau’s head and shoulders emerge as he hobbled forward. His eyes were wide with concern. His gaze found Johnny.
“Help me,” Beau called.
Johnny moved and the crowd parted to make a way for him.
“I don’t know where you want him,” Beau said. “Upstairs in his usual kennel or here?”
“We don’t have time to take him up.” Johnny pointed down the main aisle. “He can have my kennel.”
“No, Sire,” Gregor said. “Give him mine. I will kennel with my men.”
Kirk grabbed Beau’s cane from where it dangled on the wheelchair handle and offered it to the old man. Then he pushed the wheelchair forward. In the seconds that their verbal exchange took, the area had cleared, and the clang of closing kennel doors echoed concussively. The five of them moved into the kennel area at a fast pace.
Abruptly, William twitched in his seat. His arms stiffened and began to sprout white fur.
“Shit!” Kirk started running.
Johnny and Gregor raced behind him.
Beau couldn’t keep up. “What’s happening?”