Chapter 1

The fact that John Marcone was the last to arrive at the meeting was not as surprising as the fact that John Marcone was the one attending for his side in the first place. Being less than popular with some of his allies, and being actively hunted for his open defiance by the Fomor and their allies kept the gangster on the move from safe house to safe house and even then still a target more often than he cared to be. That he was not in hiding and had come to this meeting instantly made everyone aware that something far more important than a normal coordinating session between reluctant allies was going to occur here at Murphy's house tonight. None of the others present panicked at this thought, but it was enough to ratchet up the tension in the room a bit as they all sat up to take note and stop their individual squabbles.

Murphy had decided on only having two of her own in the room, feeling it would make the other parties more comfortable and demonstrate that she did not fear any of the rival power bases. They may be few in number, but damn it her team got results and could work in locations that the others could not. She had picked her associates specifically for their calm demeanor, which she expected to need, and as a projection of what she could call upon.

Her first backup for this evening was an early twenties young man whose body looked like it had been forged from raw iron based upon the way his chest stretched his extra large t-shirt and left his pectorals highlighted. This shirt also showed that the young man had bandages wrapped around his mid-torso, perhaps holding a broken rib in place and some similar wrappings on portions of both arms. If any of these wounds caused the boy discomfort when he moved the kid's face did not show it. Instead he maintained a mixture of strong, unwavering determination, and a hint of honest concern as he looked to the other person out of the corner of his eye with which he shared the old and comfortable couch.

The second man also openly displayed bandages around his forehead and likely some inside his clothing by the stiff way he fidgeted trying to get comfortable that covered injuries he had acquired at the same time as his guardian. Unlike the boy he had only been released from the hospital today so his presence here was somewhat a shock to those aware of his condition. Like the young man next to him the older took as little note of these injuries as possible, maintaining a stoic appearance that seemed perfectly in line with the white collar he wore around his neck. If there were any other doubts as to his identify, the fact that the young man occasionally called him 'father' as he checked on his condition or offered to get him a cup of tea left no doubt as to the profession of the older man.

Murphy's other current male guest as they awaited the arrival of John Marcone was far more animated than either of her two; though some might argue that his Latino blood probably accounted for much of this. The third did not say much either, most likely following suit of the others and therefore did not want to appear weak in their eyes, that or open up conversations about people and areas he wanted to avoid for as long as possible. Weakness with a crowd of reluctant allies was never a good idea his superiors and experience told him, even if he wanted to think on some of them as friends. So instead he sat on the edge of his armless chair and let his hand wander to the hilt of his sheathed sword every few minutes. The motion was purposefully designed to be both comforting to himself and at the same time keep Murphy's only female guest off guard, intimidated, and therefore away from her natural tendencies and desires. Unfortunately that did not work as planned.

"If you wish to unsheathe that powerful sword of yours Warden Ramirez I could request from our hostess the use of one of her guest rooms." The female guest smiled as she looked upon the white caped warden with a mixture of amusement and undisguised lust with just enough apprehension at his weapon to be enticed further. She was inhumanly beautiful, with pale skin, dark hair, and pouting lips that seemed to draw eyes and therefore attention from the less than modestly concealed swells of flesh that lay scandalously exposed, though just legally acceptable, about six inches lower.

"No thank you Ms. Raith." Ramirez replied without looking at her and offering her any additional satisfaction at his discomfort where he kind was concerned. "I prefer my women a little less dead."

"From your aura I'd have thought you have no preferences at all where women are concerned." She smiled back turning it now to one of an undisguised predatory nature. "In fact as far as experience goes I'd say…"

This conversation's direction was enough for Murphy to call a halt before if caused problems for the meeting. She had expected something of the sort as they were awaiting Marcone's agent to arrive so she jumped in quickly to prevent issues from getting out of hand and distracting from the real reason they were meeting here.

"Felicia, the last time you were here I was forced to introduce your face to one of my favorite coffee tables." Murphy said staring the larger woman down without showing a hint of fear in her continence, just a cool detachment of renewed challenge. "If you make me ruin another of my grandmother's furnishings I assure you that your perfect skin and features will not return to normal this time and your cousin will be forced to send an ambassador more suitably trained in proper etiquette next time."

The combination of painful and embarrassing memory, the less than subtle reference to her cousin, and attack upon her propriety skills struck the pale woman nearly as well as a physical attack. This was just as Murphy expected it would, having grown accustomed to such dealings. The guest's eyes flashed in anger. Everything in Karrin's posture bespoke challenge, especially in the way it did not appear that she was tense or concerned in the slightest. It was standard dog dominance philosophy.

Felicia Raith of the White Court of vampires hesitated as she measured up her rival, obviously reminded of what the woman who was nearly a foot shorter and thirty pounds lighter had done to her last time they fought. Wisdom often comes at the price of experience. Unfortunately some people were slow learners.

"Last time you had not invited me in." Felicia replied in challenge. "I was weakened. This time you did not take the same precaution." Her offered smile was predatory.

"That is because last time I was still measuring you up." Karrin said without flinching at the challenge. "I now know I can take you. What is even more important is that you know it too." The words 'care to try me again bitch' went without being actually said for the sake of Father Forthill, though they were so obvious he undoubtedly picked them up as well.

To emphasize her point as the tension between the two women built, Karrin moved her hand slightly and unexpectedly causing Felicia to jerk back in response even though it was immediately obvious an instant later that Murphy had not offered her violence. The vampire's eyes darted around the room realizing that everyone understood what her response meant and like a good puppy she admitted defeat to the bigger (smaller) dog and settled back into her chair as a means of exposing her belly in surrender. All understood Karrin was the undeniable alpha bitch in this house.

"If those of you in the house are done playing games, the last guest is arriving." Will's voice came over the cheap walkie-talkie that sat on the conspicuously new coffee table right in front of everyone. There were a few guilty glances, by those who felt actually felt guilt of course, wondering if they had ignored earlier calls of heads up. Those feelings quickly changed to ones of apprehension with the next words. "Looks like the grey suit himself decided to grace us with his presence this evening."

Though those words were meant to disguise the identity of the last arrival to anyone who might be monitoring these frequencies, everyone on the receiving end understood at once who it referred to. Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the underworld crime boss who owned or gave tacit approval to almost every crime of consequence and not passion that occurred in the city.

"We copy." Daniel said as he acknowledged Will's over watch reporting to let the werewolf know they were taking precautions though there really were none to take.

They had as usual invited a representative from Marcone's organization to participate as his forces, influence, and intellect were vital to not losing Chicago to the Fomor. In the past he had only sent representatives on his behalf, and then rarely those from his inner trusted circle. The fact that he had come to this meeting himself could bode many things and almost all of them not good as far as those present ticked them off in their minds. However, only he knew for sure why he chose to attend and they would have to wait to find out the real reason.

Karrin let him ring the doorbell, which he did just exactly as the clock on her mantelpiece began to toll seven bells; the time they had designated for this meeting. She opened the door immediately and stepped back to allow him not only to come in if he so desired, but to see all those already in attendance in case he had any last minute concerns to address. His eyes swept the room and dismissed the occupants as a threat or perhaps even worthy of notice almost as fast as he stepped in.

"Thank you for your invitation lieutenant Murphy." He said with a charmingly devilish smile, heavy emphasis on the devilish part. "I hope I am not late." He said as the last chime rang as if responding to the question for him.

"You are not late Marcone and you also know it is not lieutenant anymore either." Karrin said with obvious annoyance at his use of her former rank and the fact that Marcone had undoubtedly called her by that merely to twist the knife over that loss some more.

"That was meant as an open offer Karrin, not an insult." Marcone said as he ignored the comfortable chair awaiting him and instead took one of those from around the dining table and reversed it to sit down with his arms crossed over the back and his head resting on his forearms. The image was probably meant to indicate weariness and put a feeble barrier between him and the rest. Karrin and the others knew at once the weariness part was probably an act, however, she sensed something about the crime boss, something worn thin from all the constant fights that bespoke actual fatigue hidden deep within. It would be just like John to hide the truth in plain sight behind an obvious act of the same.

"You have made this same offer before and I turned you down then." Karrin replied not flinching from his stare and still annoyed that he made so petty an attack at the outset of their meeting. He must not think much of her if he thought a few months away would make her come running to his side. "What makes you think any of that would have changed?"

He sighed in exasperation. "I would have hoped that eventually common sense would have beaten through your pride. I see that you have not yet reached that state." He shook his head.

"Just to get my badge back and then owe you a big favor John?" Karrin offered in rebuttal calling his bluff. "Thank you, no! I have enough devils to deal with. That is why I like having the priest here to watch over me." She waved in Father Forthill's general direction knowing that oddly enough Marcone respected religion.

He held her gaze as he let her rant finish and then turned off all emotion in his voice. "I could care less about you owing me a favor Ms. Murphy." Marcone replied lifting his head off his arms to stare at her in frank honesty. "What I care about is that the city's vast law enforcement resources are mostly sitting idle in our fight when we could be using them to help our side. Think of having SWAT teams actually using all that firepower to support our efforts against the Fomor. Think about the intelligence and eyes on the street the police patrols would give our side. Is your pride at losing your badge worth all the good you could be doing working from the inside rather than sitting here on the outside when all I would have to do is make one phone call?"

Karrin was dumbfounded by this assault because she had never even considered it. Sure it had hurt her to first be busted back to sergeant and then later to lose her badge but she liked to believe she had put that pain mostly aside for the good of the city. It was what she told herself every day since she was suspended and that was how she found her inner strength and was able to keep up the fight.

Now here was the biggest crook Chicago had ever seen, well perhaps at least of those who were not regularly elected, telling her that she was not only letting her pride blind her but also was putting the city in danger because of it. And as she stood there looking him back in the eyes she understood he was not completely wrong and waivered.

"You just want one of your pawns on the inside." Daniel took up for Karrin in her moment of weakness. "That way you can seed your corruption at will once this is fight is over."

"Boy, I respect your father for the man he was and the things he did so I will offer you some slack, but never take such a tone with me again. The last time I checked you had not been selected as his replacement as a Knight of the Cross no matter how badly you want to step into your father's shoes." Marcone said in a cold and deadly voice.

He drew a breath now that the threat and insult had made Daniel tense up until Father Forthill placed a restraining hand upon the young man's arm. When he saw the boy take a calming breath and knew he would not have to kill him he continued. "I have more of mine on the inside as you call it than I can count. In fact I have one of my accounting firms dedicated solely to tracking the monies paid out to those on the force, the district attorney's office, or in the courts and ensuring I know which ones I own and which I do not. I assure you there are many times more of the former than the latter. So you see I do not need Ms. Murphy to sow corruption into a department that breeds it just fine all on its own." He turned to look back at Murphy.

"Then get one of them promoted and leave me out of it." Karrin replied seeing an out of her moral dilemma.

"If any one of them had demonstrated even a smattering of talent in fighting what we are up against that you have I would do exactly that. Trust me from a personal basis I prefer you off the force and incapable of causing trouble to my interests, however, I cannot afford to act on my personal feelings like others are wont to do." Marcone replied staring her down and making no bones about the fact he was referring to her before turning to Daniel and Father Forthill who had the next biggest stake in Chicago's happenings. "I understand talent and Ms. Murphy is the right one for this job. Even if she is too pig headed to realize it."

"I will think about it." Karrin said immediately in response causing everyone in the room to stop and stare in her direction. It was like the Pope praising Darwin for his original thinking. But before anyone could say more she continued. "So is this the reason you came here tonight John, to offer me my job back?"

"In part, though that was merely a secondary reason, though I am pleased you will now consider it at least." He raised a hand before Murphy could respond. "The reason I am here tonight is that I had a source working on the inside of our foes, feeding me information on the Fomor, nothing too high up the chain, but I have often found even rumors and small details can be important if considered appropriately."

Karrin nodded her head in agreement. Many of the case she had worked that had not ended with some horrible bloodthirsty monster with a taste of authentic Chicago pizza were solved by similar seemingly small or inconsequential details. "And what is this source telling you now?" She asked for the group.

"He can say nothing anymore, unfortunately as he was killed two nights past on his way to see me." Marcone replied with a rising tone of accusation in his voice. "My agents tell me his body was taken to the city forensic center and that the medical examiner on the case, a friend of yours, believes he may have been the victim of a vampire." Marcone turned to look directly at Felicia without even a hint of desire but now accusation.

"I do not know anything of it." She said defensively but not too quickly to make her look guilty. "By the agreement we signed in alliance against the Fomor we are not feeding upon any except for those in our stables or those who are willing to sample what we can offer." She said looking back at the gangster and raising a single eyebrow for enticement. "That offer includes notorious crime bosses as well."

"Ms. Raith, were I so inclined to seek companionship I could have a hundred women, each more beautiful and skilled than you think yourself to be, delivered to my apartment within an hour of making a phone call." He said dismissively and started to turn away from her wounded pride but then turned back to finish her off completely. "And if I had the desire to try one of your sort, I assure you I would sample from your illustrious cousin Lara's vintage and not accept some poor, cheap, second-rate substitute with an appalling lack of couture."

Very little can enrage a White Court vampire more than being denied something they desire when they have put forth an offer of liaison. Telling one they have no sense of style and that you prefer another of their kind over them are first and second most effective items on that particular list. Felicia bared her fangs as her eyes turned pale.

"Domino…espirito…" Father Forthill called out the first words of a prayer in Latin which struck the White Court vampire like a solid physical blow and gave her rage a chance to flee before she had done something stupid. Her eyes immediately noted that Murphy's hand was holding the cold iron fireplace poker and was obviously prepared to hit her with it until the priest had stepped in and therefore probably saved the vampire's life.

"Please accept my apologies for my actions." Felicia said swallowing her pride and looking away from Karrin's glare and the rest of those in the room who dropped the issue as they had more important things to consider.

"So I think we can agree that with the Red Court destroyed, the Black almost the same, it was therefore most likely a member of the White Court that killed my agent?" Marcone asked seeing if anyone wanted to offer another suggestion.

"No!" Felicia replied. Though she had been cowed she was still loyal to her purpose for being here. "Lara's law on this is absolute. Anyone who violates it is outcast." It was obvious from the tone of her voice that this was a far more devastating thing to a vampire than to mortals. It was likely that for immortals the need for family and connection was probably even greater than for those with limited life spans. "The Blacks still maintain a presence in the city. Perhaps it was one of them?"

"The coroner's reports said the body was not drained of blood." Marcone replied evenly not accepting the answer.

"Let's table it for now." Murphy interjected knowing the conversation was not going to go anywhere useful. "I will talk with Butters and see what he knows. After than we can decide if there is a new problem we need to deal with or not." She said looking at Felicia in such a way to suggest she was not ready to accept the White Court was innocent until it was proven to her satisfaction.

"I agree." Marcone replied ending the conversation. "That is all I require regarding this issue as the medical examiner is one of yours and therefore off limits to my process of investigation." Of course to Karrin that meant Marcone and his people were not allowed to pick up Butters and beat him within an inch of his life.

"Do you have anything else for the group Marcone?" Karrin said keeping the meeting going and on target. This was not some sort of social club. None of her current guests outside her team were particular favorites so getting them out of her house was her current priority.

"Only that before he died my inside agent confirmed that the Fomor have established themselves in the undercity out of someplace they are calling 'the Hive' if that makes sense to anyone." He looked at the faces of the others but obviously either they were better liars than he was or they were as equally in the dark as his own forces were on this issue.

Seeing nothing to be gained from waiting he dropped his last bit of news. "They are also supposedly implementing an effort to eliminate our resistance to their rule once and for all. It seems we have annoyed them enough that they are awaiting some outside help to arrive to deal with us. My man was bringing me data on their plans but he was not found holding anything so I must assume if he had knowledge or documents these are now lost to us as well."

"The undercity makes sense." Karrin replied. "It matches our reports on Fomor coming and going through the sewers and storm drains. Their damn gills of theirs let them go where we can't easily follow and probably protects their base of operations."

"Obviously this would be the Hive." Father Forthill injected. "That has an ominous ring for their stronghold and if it is protected by water it will not only make it difficult for us but it would be impossible for those beings who cannot handle running water."

Karrin had obviously not given that angle much thought and for about the millionth time in the past few months she found herself cursing the fact that Harry was not here offering this type of advice. She would need to talk to Butters about this as well and see what insights he could get from Bob the Skull about what the Fomor might be doing.

"Okay, so we can't currently take the fight to them." Karrin summed up. "Not a problem, it was not like we have the forces to do so presently anyway unless the White Council is going to get off its ass and send us some reinforcements before it's too late."

The less than subtle accusation had Warden Ramirez squirming in his seat but only slightly. These were his friends but he also had a duty and loyalty to the White Council and their interests were by necessity focused beyond just the Windy City.

"We are spread just as thin as you are." Carlos said shaking his head in obvious regret. "We don't even have the forces for stand up fights anymore. We have had to break down into hunter-killer teams of three to five agents and send them out usually against much bigger forces. I've lost two teams in the past month and lost contact with another one of my junior wardens just this week. We are battling the Fomor too, not to mention quite a few other rather nasty powers, all across the globe so I'm sorry if Chicago is not on the top of the White Council's 'to do' list anymore."

Karrin's eyes flashed red at Carlos and he stared right back while the others looked on in either horror or shock. "Karrin…" Father Forthill began trying to calm tensions once more which was the reason she wanted him at these meetings in the first place. "Warden Ramirez was merely…"

"I know what Warden Ramirez was trying to do." Karrin held his gaze. "And he is correct. I'm sorry. It is easy to get too wrapped up in my own problems and forget about the rest of the world."

Carlos's anger deflated just as fast as Karrin's did. "But there is much to be said about supporting those places that are still putting up resistance. Maybe we could make Chicago a safe zone and start working our way out from here instead of trying to fight everywhere at once. I'm not sure the ancient robes would go for it but since I am the lead Warden for North America I have a bit of influence on where to send resources. I can't promise anything but I will try and break some forces free and get you some backup."

"Anything would be appreciated Carlos." Karrin replied. "Anything else you have to report from your side?"

"Only that we sensed something big and powerful came through San Francisco two nights ago out of Asia." Carlos added. "We are not sure what it was because we did not have eyes on target but we think whatever it was may have hitched a ride on a redeye flight to Chicago. Did you guys get any indication of a new player in town?" The others shook their heads though they all understood none of them had time going out looking for new enemies when they were overrun with current ones.

"This visitor must be the forces the Fomor are marshalling against us." Daniel offered.

"That is speculation kid." Karrin replied knowing the difference between a fact and a theory. "However, it is certainly something we need to consider. Carlos are you sure whatever it was moved on and is not planning anything big out your way? Maybe they want to take you out of the game as well and have a freer run over North America."

"That makes sense with what I have to report." Felicia piped up without waiting. "Lara sent my cousin Erik out there as punishment for feeding on one of Lara's stable favorites and he has now gone missing as well. Erik last reported that he had tracked down some Fomor agents and was going to try and take one over to give us some insight as well." She looked in Marcone's direction to show that their tactics were similar. "He would not have been easy to kill but we have not heard from him since then, which was more than a week ago. Pehaps he crossed your mysterious new player."

"That is doubtful." Carlos said. "We only know something powerful came through because he or she shorted out all the airline ticketing systems in the airport. If your vampire went missing a week ago that was five days before our new arrival made this appearance so I doubt the two events are connected." Felicia seemed ready to protest but Karrin's nod seemingly agreed with the Warden's analysis. "I will however see if we can turn anything up on our side about your cousin's disappearance. I will pass back whatever I get through Murphy."

"That will be fine." Murphy said before this could degenerate further into issues outside of Chicago. She understood these were important, but for those assembled here the city was their battleground.

"What is the White Council's current view on rogue wizards?" Murphy said staring Carlos down and making him uncomfortable. Although the comment was worded generally there was little doubt in the minds of anyone present who this was truly referring to.

Carlos shifted then slowly scanned around the room just barely avoiding the eyes of most of those present, pausing last with Father Forthill, Daniel, and then Murphy. "The laws of the White Council remain inviolate in this area. Rouges receive the death sentence to be carried out by the head warden or their representative, which for America is currently me." He said without emotion. He paused and took a breath.

"That said for the foreseeable future I do not expect my Wardens or any of the White Council has the time or energy to hunt down rogues no matter where she might be hiding." Carlos offered as a concession. "Our focus remains on the Fomor and the other nasty players trying to take over the world and my troops all know that I expect their full commitment to this endeavor. When things get settled again, maybe then we can pick up on the general policing activities once more."

It was not the best possible answer, but all things considered better than the one any of them expected to hear. "Karrin, if I can send you support they will all understand that she is off limits." Everyone knew the 'she' in question was Molly or the Rag Lady, depending upon how you thought of her. It was also an unexpected offer and could legally get Carlos declared as a rogue as well if certain White Council member's found out about it. He was smart enough to understand that none of this was going to matter if the Fomor won. The White Council was a mere shadow of the strength it had before the war with the Red Court, and while those who still survived were mostly the toughest of their breed, there were quite a few less wizards wearing white robes than there had been a few short years ago.

A significant voting block among the Council still blamed Harry Dresden's actions for causing this result. Had he not challenged the balance of power between the Red Court and the White Council, or at least had the good sense to be killed by their agents very early in the war, then the uneasy truce that had existed between these groups would likely have continued on for another century at least. But because of his unsanctioned action now the Red Court was no more but it had cost the White Council much of its strength; a price this group did not agree with.

A smaller rival faction, but more intellectually honest, understood that the war between the Red Court and White Council had been inevitable and that the longer the White Council avoided it the worst it would have been for their side. Wizards had to be born and grow into their power, and maybe one child out of a hundred thousand kids born were gifted with enough magic power that was necessary to join the Council. That was also of course if the Wardens did not end up killing them as a rogue in their teen years.

On the other hand a single Red Court vampire could create dozens or even hundreds of its kind in the course of a single year. True, these would be relatively weak beings, primarily nothing more than thralls, especially at first until they gained experience and power. Still by sending even these weak troops against the wizards of the council in waves as the Red Court had done during the war, the vampires had an incredible effective tactic that cost them almost none of their true power. Even the most powerful wizards were forced to use their limited wells of magic to defend themselves against such waves and while they demonstrated ninety percent victories, that still mean ten percent losses compounded over time for the White Council. Those were not as easy to replace.

"Anyone got anything else for the group?" Murphy asked looking around at the players once more and judging who was ready to leave and who was still holding onto things. No one was going to share operational data of course. It was generally understood that each group would not share plans or tactics for fear of compromising each other's efforts if they fell into the wrong hands. Security meant allies had to operate independently.

When no one took her up on this question the tension built up in the room dissipated as each guest began thinking now about returning to their own bases of operation and focusing upon their own issues. There were no tearful goodbyes.

Felicia Raith was the first to leave and without the pomp and attention she normally demanded from any other place she departed from. Her focus was completely devoted on what to tell her cousin Lara so not to lose face if the events of this evening leaked out. Keeping face was keep to keeping her current position of power as the internal struggles of the White Court played out around her. Felicia was in her Porsche, a white one of course, within sixty seconds of the breakup of the meeting, gunning the engine and squealing the tires on the pavement down the block from Karrin's house in an attempt to put the night's events behind her at last. No one, especially Warden Ramirez, was particularly sad to see her go.

Warden Ramirez did seemed hesitant to leave, especially before Marcone departed, but a look from the crime boss was enough to tell the warden that he had something else he wanted to say to Murphy without the other factions listening in. That seemed all the more reason for Carlos to want to delay his departure but the cool attitude that Karrin offered him did not provide any justifiable reasons for him to stay. He made another verbal promise to look into sending some forces to Chicago if he could spare them; now realizing that having these ears on the inside would be a benefit to the White Council as well as those fighting here.

Karrin nodded her thanks and held the door for him as he departed to a waiting, unobtrusive rental car that would get him back to one of the magical pathways through the Nevernever that would lead him safely back to California. He tried to catch Murphy's eye one last time but she had already turned away letting the door close and leaving him standing alone on the front step until he finally shrugged it off and moved on to focus once more on his own responsibilities.

"Cloak has departed." Will's voice crackled over the walkie-talkie informing those still present of the warden's final departure.

"Satisfied now Marcone?" Murphy asked as Father Forthill brought some sandwiches and glasses of lemonade out and placed them on the coffee table that sat between those who remained. The priest had thought to offer them earlier when people showed up but none of the early arrivals had claimed to be hungry, well in Felicia's case at least not for food.

"You must understand that I am never satisfied Ms. Murphy." Marcone said taking a proffered sandwich; not the one on the top but rather the second one down everyone noted. The quirky act was quickly chalked up to a reflexive survival technique Marcone had probably developed to avoid the potentially poisoned cup when it was offered. He took a bite of the sandwich he selected and seemed to savor the taste of the simple fare before washing it down with a sip of lemonade.

"I forget how satisfying something simple like fresh deli meat can be for the soul." He said as he finished the half sandwich in another two bites making sure not to leave any crumbs on his tailored suit.

"Actually it's Oscar Meyer and Wonder Bread." Father Forthill said without letting the smile in his eyes reach his lips as Marcone tried to tell if the priest was pulling his leg, and then transferred to wondering if priests were even allowed to joke at all. "I have heard, however, that confession works wonders in that regard as well."

He let the comment hang there as Murphy snorted. "Can I offer you anything else Mr. Marcone?" The priest asked playing on words then reaching down and taking one of the half sandwiches for himself after Daniel Carpenter took two full ones from the plate. He was still a growing boy with a big appetite it seemed.

Marcone drew his hand back from the platter that still had six more full sandwiches on it. "Maybe later Father." He said trying to be polite and not play the old man's game.

"Feel free to call upon me whenever. Karrin?" Father Forthill turned away from Marcone and drew Murphy's attention to the food. "You need to eat as well child."

"Maybe later, after Marcone gets down to explaining whatever business he still has with us." Karrin replied turning her attention from the table and others squarely on the crime boss.

John sat unwavering under her intense gaze and finally at his own decision deigned to speak his mind. "I am concerned that the 'Rag Lady' has lost control and is therefore a danger. She has been leaving far more bodies in her wake than is prudent and this is likely to bring down upon us those very forces I was hoping you could enlist to our side."

"You have nothing to worry about." Karrin said trying to brush off the comments but it was obvious that all four of those present shared some level of similar concern.

"So you told my troubleshooter weeks ago." Marcone replied. "Then we tripped over half a dozen of her victims, or at least what was left of them, lying outside one of my business ventures. I am not sure if these six were looking for me and she took care of the problem or if instead she placed them there as some sort of warning to me, but it was only fortunate happenstance that my people found them and the illegal weapons they had been carrying and disposed of them before the authorities got wind of these events. Either way that action is incredibly sloppy work and potentially counterproductive. Therefore I ask you again are you certain we can continue to trust her judgment?"

"She is one of mine, not yours." Karrin said defensively. "And therefore I say we can trust her."

Marcone hesitated and then responded. "I will agree only in so far as she does not compromise my interests. I…"

"You will leave her alone. She is fine." Daniel jumped into the conversation even as the priest sought to calm him once more.

Marcone turned to look at the younger man with a stare that might make Death himself flinch. "Of the six bodies she left at the scene three were barely more than hamburger. The three most recognizable as having been human had only been disemboweled and then propped up together in such a way as to allow her to take the time to braid their intestines together like she was playing with some doll's hair. Do you truly wish to tell me that this qualifies as 'fine' in your world?" He said allowing the image he painted to set Daniel sinking back into the couch without an effective defense. Father Forthill sitting beside the young man made a sign of the cross at the visual image then Marcone turned back to face Murphy one more time.

"So I ask you again, are you certain you can trust the Rag Lady when we have so many other issues of concern to deal with?" He said without emotion in his voice.

Karrin looked torn for only a moment then met his eyes. "Yes, I trust her." She said, but her tone of voice was less than fully convincing to any of those sitting around the table.

Marcone seemed about to respond more when the walkie-talkie crackled unexpectedly. "Stand by in the house; we may have someone or something moving at your location." Will's voice sounded both surprised and uncertain since they should have sensed anyone's approach long before they got near the house. Surprise and uncertainty were never a good combination of emotions for most people, and less so for a werewolf.

Karrin looked at Marcone. "One of yours?" She asked hoping he would be able to explain.

He shook his head. "Mine have orders to stay with the car." He replied standing up and adjusting his clothing but obviously also checking the weapons he had concealed on his person.

"Play it cool that is why we have eyes out there." Murphy said to him as she tapped her own shoulder holster and looked toward the door.

"What we need right now is…" She said then paused with an instant of confusion then seemed to stagger back just as everyone else around the table did before their eyes brightened in a ferocious intensity looking from one to the other then to the coffee table.

"FOOD!" They screamed as one then all four lunged for the remaining sandwiches and knocking the walkie-talkie to the ground as they began gorging themselves with animalistic grunts that sounded less than human. It would have surprised them to know their sounds were being echoed from the other side of the radio as well.