Okay. So things were…not good, on a variety of levels. Assuming they were here for me, specifically, and considering how they’d gone about it so far I thought that was a safe assumption, I had a very limited amount of time to think. They wouldn’t wait long before jumping right to the excessive force stage of handling an uncooperative criminal.
I put my hands in the air, mostly just to keep them happy while I ran through the options in my head. Fighting was a bad idea. Even if I wanted to fight the cops, which I sorta didn’t, it was a bad move. They’d had time to move people into position, and I believed them when they said I was surrounded. I was wearing armor, sure, but not a helmet, and I was guessing they’d brought the big guns. Anti-materiel rifles with armor-piercing rounds would probably do the job. Or, hell, they might have rocket launchers.
Running wasn’t a whole lot better. If I tried to bolt, I was guessing the snipers would start shooting, and I didn’t want to trust my luck against that. Not to mention the whole rocket launcher thing. It wouldn’t matter if I was invisible if they had those.
Which, I supposed, only left…actually playing along and letting them arrest me.
I briefly reconsidered getting exploded instead, then sighed. “Run,” I said to Aiko, keeping my hands in the air.
She opened her mouth, and I could tell she wasn’t about to agree, so I cut her off. “Run,” I said again, more forcefully. “We can’t win this, and it’ll be a lot easier if they only find one of us.”
She obviously wasn’t happy, but she was at least as capable of figuring out what this situation called for as I was. She bolted, veiling herself with magic as she went. It wasn’t quite perfect invisibility, but in the dark, against normal humans, it should be more than enough.
I held my breath for a moment, waiting to see whether that would bring violent retaliation, but nothing happened. Good; I’d been pretty sure they were only really concerned with me, but there are times when pretty sure isn’t nearly as comforting as you’d like it to be.
I stood there, keeping my hands high enough that nobody would be likely to think I was disobeying that instruction, and waited for them to figure out what to do. After maybe a minute of that, a group approached from the direction of the armored personnel carrier. They were wearing bulky body armor with SWAT printed on it, and carrying an awful lot of guns.
Funny. It had never occurred to me that Colorado Springs would have a SWAT team. It made sense—the city was large enough, after all—I’d just…never thought about it.
“What happened to the girl?” one of them asked brusquely. Their body language made it clear that he was in charge of the group, although he seemed ridiculously young to have such a position.
And how crazy was that? Seriously, since when did I start thinking people looked young? Hell, most of the people I interacted with looked young, including the ones who’d seen a few millennia.
He was clearly expecting an answer, though, so I smiled. “What girl?” I asked innocently. “You must have been seeing things, officer. It’s just me here.”
He frowned. One of the others, an older guy with a spectacular mustache, piped up, “Sir, we could send a team after her.”
“Think this one through,” I said. I was pretty freaked out by this point, but I managed to keep my tone fairly casual. “You really want to risk letting me get away so that you can chase some girl you may or may not even have seen, at a distance, at night? Through a residential neighborhood? When you’ve got no real reason to think this hypothetical girl is guilty of anything at all?”
The leader’s frown deepened, and he took a second to think before he responded. “Let her go,” he said. “And somebody get cuffs on this guy.”
Smart choice. He’d get flak for it later from the higher-ups, I was guessing, but it was the right decision. Between that and the obvious respect the others had for him, I was pretty sure he had some real leadership potential. He might not have been an Alpha, if he were a werewolf—he lacked the presence they had, the ability to walk into a room and have everyone turn to look without quite knowing why—but he would definitely be someone the rest of the pack looked up to.
They were surprisingly gentle about cuffing me. I’d been expecting them to rough me up at least a little in the process, but they just handcuffed my hands behind my back and herded me into an armored car. It almost made me wonder whether they were filming the whole thing, and they wanted it to look as good as possible for the news.
I got into the back of the car and then zoned out. Presumably someone was reading me my rights, or else whispering vague threats in my ear or something, but I wasn’t all that interested.
I was much more interested in where we were going, which is why I focused most of my attention on my magic. There were no owls in the area, unfortunately, but plenty of foxes, cats, and raccoons out prowling the nighttime streets. Each one only got a fragmentary glimpse of my little procession, but by jumping from one to the next I was able to put together a pretty good image of what was going on.
The car I was in was just one out of an entire convoy of armored vehicles, moving in a formation that put my car slightly to one side of the center. Presumably that was so that anyone trying to break me out wouldn’t be able to tell where I was without checking every vehicle.
Although you’d have to be insane to try something like that. There were probably thirty armed guards with the convoy, and a lot of them were carrying what looked suspiciously like military weapons. And that wasn’t even counting the snipers. I noticed a few of them through the animals, mostly by scent or sound, but I was sure there were others.
I had to admit, I was almost flattered by the extremes they were going to. I could hardly even imagine the expenses involved with something like this—a dozen armored cars, including at least one that I was sure was military issue, thirty armed guards, snipers along the route…it was mind-boggling. And that wasn’t taking into account the road closures which must have taken place.
After maybe twenty minutes of driving at a snail’s pace through empty streets, the cars stopped outside of a police station. I returned my awareness to my own body just in time for one of the guards to open the door and nudge me.
I opened my eyes, blinked a couple of times, and looked around blearily. Pretending to have been asleep would be a convenient explanation for why I didn’t seem to have been paying attention.
And besides. I just couldn’t resist messing with their heads. They were just guys doing a job, sure, but that job was a hell of an inconvenient one for me. I wasn’t going to kill them for it, but I wasn’t above screwing with them a little. I figured making them think I was so relaxed and confident I could take a nap under those conditions was a decent way to start.
“Are we there?” I asked, yawning.
He frowned at me. “Yes. Get out of the car, please.”
I did so, and we started moving towards the police station. Having my hands cuffed behind my back threw my balance off more than I would have expected; I almost fell on my face a couple of times before the guard grabbed my elbow to steady me.
Inside the station, they led me downstairs to a small, windowless concrete room. Two guys with shotguns stood by the door, and a third walked into the room; the others either waited outside or left. I was guessing the latter. They might think I was scary, but they were looking at it from a human perspective, and even the scariest human is going to have a hard time doing much when they’re handcuffed and have two guys pointing shotguns at them from ten feet away.
The third policeman said, “Hands,” in a tone that was so blandly noncommittal you just knew he was hiding something. I turned around so that he could get at the handcuffs. He unlocked them and pulled them off, then said, “Strip.”
I complied, moving slowly enough that nobody could take it as a threat. I pulled my cloak off, making sure to keep it in the shape of a trench coat, and folded it neatly before setting it on the floor.
“Jesus,” he said, interrupting me. “Is that armor?”
He shook his head, looking somewhat bemused. “Who the hell wears armor to a restaurant?”
“I have reason,” I said dryly. “Or are you going to tell me you didn’t have orders to shoot me if I so much as talked back? Even though I’ve never been convicted or even formally accused of anything?”
A muscle in his jaw twitched, but he kept his composure pretty well. “You didn’t even know we were going to be there.”
I sighed, feeling very tired. “If you think the police are the only people who want to shoot me, you’re wrong.” I started undoing the various straps and buckles on the armor, making sure to keep my movements slow and steady. The guys with guns might not have been interested in participating in the conversation, but I was still very much aware of their presence.
The search that followed was predictable and thorough. I paid just enough attention to follow instructions, and left the rest of my mind in a cat outside. I was afraid that if I paid any more attention than that I’d do lose my patience and do something I would regret later.
The cat’s mind helped with that. It was soothing to use my magic, calming. It reminded me that I wasn’t helpless here. Plus there was a storm rolling in, and I’ve always loved the feeling of the wind in my fur. Even vicariously, it felt good enough to help offset the indignity of being strip searched in a tiny windowless room in the basement of a police station.
After what felt like an inordinate amount of time but was probably just a couple minutes, the guy doing the search finished, threw away the last pair of latex gloves, and left the room. That left me standing in the room with just the two guards, who’d exhibited no reaction the entire time. I almost wanted to make a smart comment just to see if I could get a rise out of them, but I resisted the impulse. It was a stupid one.
After a minute or two the third guy came back in, carrying a T-shirt and a pair of sweats. The shirt was a little too small and the pants comically overlarge, but they beat nothing and I couldn’t deny a certain feeling of gratitude. I’d been imprisoned a few times before, with varying degrees of legitimacy, but this was the first time I’d been given clothing.
“Will I get my belongings back when I’m released?” I asked as I pulled the clothes on.
The talkative officer gave me an almost pitying look, but all he said was, “Yeah. I’ll bag them and they’ll be set aside. Follow me, please.”
Out the door and down a hallway, we reached the cells. There weren’t very many of them, and all of them were empty. I was very aware, as we walked, of the guys with shotguns following behind. They still hadn’t said a word, either of them.
I had to wonder what the third guy had done to get this job. He was walking close enough to me that I could conceivably take him hostage, and he was in the line of fire of the other two. If I decided to start something, there wasn’t a chance that he’d get out unscathed. He probably wouldn’t get out at all.
We walked to the end of the hall, where the talkative guy stopped and unlocked the door of the last cell on the left. “In you go,” he said, and I complied without argument. He closed the door, locked it, and checked to make sure that it wouldn’t open. “Sit tight,” he said. “It’s after business hours right now, but we’ll get you a lawyer in the morning.”
I watched the three of them go. Most of the lights turned off after they left, leaving just the security lights in my cell and the hallway. It was more dim than really dark, but it was also definitely more dim than bright. Looking out through the bars—and it seemed almost charmingly quaint, that they’d put me in a cell with literal bars rather than just a room with a locked door—the hallways was gloomy, full of ominous shadows. This place wasn’t a prison, per se, but it was still a place of confinement, and a place where bad things had happened. That history had seeped into the stones, tainting the energy of the area with a disturbing aura.
I did my best to ignore it, and laid down on the mattress instead. It had been a long day, and an eventful day, and somehow I didn’t think tomorrow was going to be a whole lot better. I’d rather get some sleep before I had to deal with it.
I woke up early, but didn’t move. I’d seen at least two cameras watching this cell, and there were likely more I didn’t know about. Considering how seriously they were taking this, I had to assume they had people watching the feeds around the clock. That meant that as soon as I moved they would know I was conscious, and I’d rather take a few minutes to think before then.
The first thing I did was survey the area using my magic. It was just after dawn, early enough that the city hadn’t really woken up yet, but even by those standards the neighborhood was quiet. Not empty, which meant it hadn’t been evacuated or anything; just quiet, a little subdued. A handful of people walking dogs gave me a good opportunity to look around, familiarizing myself with the locale. Not terribly useful right now, but it might be later.
That done, I turned my thoughts to what I should do. Escape was possible, but difficult. I still had access to Tyrfing, which meant that I could probably just cut myself an exit through the wall given a little time, or I could simply open a portal to the Otherside. Either of those would take time, though, and there were drawbacks. If a sword magically appeared and I started cutting a hole in the wall, I could pretty much count on there being guys with guns on the other side when I finished. If I tried to escape through the Otherside, I’d be taking a risk; prisons hadn’t been high on my list of places to visit, so I didn’t know any destination points that were thematically close to this one. A failed portal wasn’t something I wanted to take a chance on.
Of course, I could also call Loki.
I quashed that thought immediately, lest he notice me thinking about him. It wasn’t a good idea. It was very much a not good idea, in fact. Loki might seem friendly, but I hadn’t let that blind me to the fact that he was Loki. He was the sort of god that other gods were scared of, and there were reasons for that. There would be a price if I got him involved, and I didn’t think it would be as simple as trading in one of the answers I was owed. Not when he knew he had me over a barrel.
No, I decided. Escape wasn’t really a viable option. It was possible, but every way I could see to do it entailed one kind of risk or another. I was better off to stay where I was and see how things unfolded. They’d mentioned a lawyer the other night, after all, and while I didn’t think that would do me much good at this point, it was at least worth taking the time to check. They’d gotten obviously guilty people off in the past, after all.
Having made my decision, I sat up, yawning and trying to make it look like I’d just woken up. I wasn’t sure how well I did at that—I’ve never been a great actor—but I didn’t really care that much. Then I settled in to wait for things to happen.
It was, I had to admit, a singularly boring wait. My cell was small enough that I couldn’t even really pace, and the only furniture was a badly rusted toilet and sink. The bed was just a mattress thrown on the floor, no sheets, no pillow, one threadbare blanket.
I had to wonder whether they’d stripped the room specifically for me. The lighting was crap, but I could see the other cells a little, and it looked like they had actual beds in them. Maybe this was some kind of psychological thing, trying to push me over the edge.
If so, it was more effective than I wanted to admit. I mean, I’m not suited to captivity in the first place. I don’t do well with cages. But this…hell, even when I’d gone nuts and Conn had stuck me in the safe room for a few months, even then I’d at least had a window. This was the sort of thing that could drive a person out of their skull pretty quickly.
I ended up leaving half my attention there, just to make sure I wasn’t caught by surprise if and when something did happen, and letting the rest drift. It was a bit of a risk—it would make me slower to react, and if someone was watching then sitting there staring into space wasn’t exactly making me look saner—but less of one than anything else I could think of.
It felt like much longer, but from the sun I was pretty sure it was only half an hour before I heard the door open and then close. Still early, by business hours standards.
I returned my consciousness fully to my body and sat up straighter, waiting. A moment later a guy walked into view. He was tallish, heavyset but not really overweight. He was wearing a police uniform, and he smelled rather strongly of coffee and onions. His face was almost familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
“Good morning, Mr. Wolf,” he said.
“Morning. Hey, do I know you from somewhere? You seem familiar.”
He seemed a little taken aback by the question, but he nodded. “I suppose you wouldn’t remember,” he said. “Just one more person you screwed over. I’m Albert Jackson, Colorado Springs Chief of Police.”
“Oh,” I said, nodding. I’d spoken with him once before, a few years earlier. Not surprising that I hadn’t recognized him. “I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about, though. When did I screw you over?”
“The last time we talked, I took your deal,” he said. “I took the werewolves seriously, I treated them with respect. Which was fine at the time, but once they told everyone it was a ‘hoax,’ and the public went back to thinking they were a myth?” He smiled. It wasn’t a very pleasant smile. “It’s not so good for your reputation, having everyone know that you fell for a hoax. I damn near lost my position.”
I nodded again. “Fair enough,” I said. “I honestly didn’t have anything to do with that, though. Believe me, I was as surprised as you when they took it back. I wouldn’t even have guessed that was possible.”
“Maybe,” he said. I couldn’t tell whether he’d believed me or not. “Anyway, that isn’t really significant to why you’re here.”
“Right,” I agreed. “Speaking of, why here? I mean, sticking me in solitary in the basement of some random police station…it isn’t quite what I was expecting, I guess.”
“The entire building’s been locked down. As of today, the only business being conducted here is keeping you where you are.”
I blinked. “Seriously? Why?”
“Officially? It’s for your own safety. It was felt that placing you with other prisoners would possibly escalate to violence.”
He smiled, a wry, crooked sort of smile. “Unofficially, a lot of people had to work very hard to catch you, and they very much don’t want to have to do so again. It was felt that a controlled environment like this would make that easier.” He shrugged. “And also the first reason. With what you’re accused of, there’s a very real chance that even other criminals wouldn’t be willing to tolerate you. Nobody wants to go to all this work and then have you die before trial.”
“What I’m accused of,” I said, ignoring the bit about other criminals. “What might that be, exactly?”
“Blowing up a decent chunk of the city,” he said promptly. “We put you in like normal, maybe your cellmate knew somebody that died in the blast. He gets upset, you get killed, we have to answer some awkward questions. This is better for everyone.” He paused a beat, then casually asked, “So, did you do it?”
I hesitated, then sighed. “No,” I said. “I didn’t do it.”
“You hesitated. Why’s that?”
“I didn’t do it,” I repeated. “But I knew some people that I think might have been involved with that whole mess. I guess I feel like I should have seen it coming, turned them in to the police or something.”
“Interesting,” he said, smiling again. This one was a more natural smile, although I was guessing it was still an act. “Where might these people be?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. Haven’t heard from them since then. That’s part of why I think they might have been involved.”
He looked at me for a moment, then sighed. “I want to believe you,” he said, and I almost thought he might be telling the truth. “But I can’t just take your word for it. Put your hands through the bars, please.”
“Going to handcuff me to the bars?” I asked, not moving. “That sounds a bit excessive, Chief. Can’t lie down, can’t go to the bathroom. I think that might even qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.”
As answer, he produced what looked like a pair of bracelets. They were large and heavy, more like manacles than modern handcuffs, except that they weren’t connected by a chain.
I looked at them for a moment, perplexed. Then I caught a familiar scent, and involuntarily snarled a little. The feeling was muted, so I was guessing it wasn’t on the surface, but there was silver in those things. Quite a bit of it, for me to notice it that quickly at a distance.
“These are tracking bracelets,” he said quietly. “They’ll make sure we don’t lose you.”
I regarded him for a moment, and when I replied my voice was equally soft. “I think,” I said, “that we both know that’s not what those are for. Lie to the guards if you want, but I think I deserve to know the truth.”
He sighed. “Rossi told us something about what you’re capable of,” he said, sounding very old and very tired. “”No details, but enough to get the point across. And he designed these as a countermeasure, before you killed him.”
Enrico had designed these things? For me, personally?
I’d known that he hadn’t been entirely honest with me. I’d know that he’d seen me as a threat, that our friendship had largely been an excuse to keep an eye on me. But this…to design something like that, knowing firsthand how painful silver was to werewolves, knowing what long-term exposure could do, that was something else. This went beyond just lying to me. It was a betrayal, in so many ways.
Apparently Loki was telling the truth, way back when. I really couldn’t trust Enrico.
Pity I hadn’t believed that when he was still alive, and it might have done some good.
I slumped against the cell door, and stuck my arms through the bars.