The Seventh Sons
Part 1 – The Sighting
“If you really want proof of werewolves, just put me in a room with a heavy door that locks and sit with me for twenty minutes.”
The man in the hospital bed tugged his left wrist. The handcuffs clinked securely against the bed’s aluminum frame.
Detective Maxim Dwyer scratched his three-day beard and considered the prisoner. He pulled his cell phone from his jacket and pressed the awkward button on the side. The screen flashed 2:45 a.m. and he returned it to his pocket with a sigh.
“Forget I asked,” said Maxim. “I didn’t arrest you because of local superstitions. I want to know what happened in Sycamore Lodge earlier tonight.”
The man glanced at the other two prisoners in the room.
This wasn’t a conventional hospital. It was a limited clinic that sat atop the marshal’s office, and the only care provider in Sanctuary. The small town wasn’t entirely isolated in the woods—it was only thirty minutes west of Flagstaff and its first class facilities—but it was quaint enough that the city services were crammed into a few buildings on Main Street. The fire department was staffed with emergency responders who had treated the prisoners at the scene, and this upstairs clinic had doctors who could handle most common treatments.
This was a special room. A secure room. It had four bunks, two guards posted outside, and a mesh of wired glass that served as the single fixed window. The only light, from a table lamp, cast a warm glow on the prisoners.
Four beds, four bikers, thought Maxim. Except one of the beds was empty. It wouldn’t be filled tonight.
A wiry blonde woman lay with a fresh cast on one arm and cuffs on the other. A rough-looking Indian man, also cuffed, had a cast on his leg. Neither had ID and both were sleeping, whether the result of drink or medication, Maxim wasn’t sure.
The third prisoner was the anomaly. He carried identification with a given name of Diego de la Torre. Twenty-seven-year-old Hispanic male, Michigan license. They had all crashed their motorcycles. The other two bikers had been lucky to only sustain minor lacerations and broken bones. Diego had been luckier still; somehow, he was mostly unscathed.
He was also the only one of the three who was currently coherent.
“You can’t keep me here, Detective,” murmured the man in a vaguely South American accent.
Maxim grinned. “From where I’m standing, that’s exactly what I can do.”
Diego’s eyes narrowed.
“No, I get it,” said Maxim, putting his hand up before the prisoner could argue. “Your motorcycle club is above the law, is that right?”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what? Is this a bad time for you, with the full moon and all?”
Maxim chuckled. The grotesque rumors shadowed the motorcycle club. They were the reason for its peculiar reputation. Whisperings of beasts were not uncommon among the criminals who frequented his jail, but this went further. Even some of the veteran officers in the station had similar wild claims. Word was, these bikers were wild animals inside.
Maxim wasn’t so sure about that. It wasn’t that he discounted the supernatural outright—rather, he thought of himself as an open-minded skeptic. Wait for proof, even look for it, but don’t believe something based entirely on talk or supposition. After all, his job was about following evidence.
“I know you don’t believe,” said Diego. “But I know you want to. Why else would you ask me about it?”
The detective shook his head dismissively. He didn’t know why he’d asked. It was a throwaway question before he went home for the night.
Diego nodded. “That is my offer then. I can show you proof if you take me to a separate room.”
It had already been a long night, and the prospect sounded more tiring than exciting. But again, Maxim thought about following the evidence. If a suspect offered to show him a wolf, how could he refuse?
“I can just wait here to get that proof,” replied the detective. He spun around with his hands in the air. “In fact, maybe I should get the video camera from the interrogation room downstairs for your big moment.”
“You have a small cell where you can lock me to the table,” rasped Diego, less a question than a statement. He gritted his teeth as if he’d made a decision. “Fine, let’s go there.”
“That room isn’t for tourists, Diego. I’ve got to fill out paperwork if I take you there. It’s a pain in the ass.” Maxim wasn’t lying, either. It meant the difference between leaving in twenty minutes or an hour, at least—not that he had any reason to make it home. Maxim caught himself rubbing his silver wedding ring with his left thumb, and then forced the thought out of his mind.
As always, the detective was willing to put the work in if he knew it would yield results. The department guaranteed overtime, but more importantly, Maxim had a reputation to maintain.
Going home on time was never his priority, but it didn’t hurt to play coy.
“Trust me,” Maxim asserted, “you and your friends will see the interrogation room in the morning when one of you flips on the others. My shift is over, and I’m on my way out.” The detective took a step backwards and lifted his cheeks in a playful smirk. “Although, if you’re willing to transform for me, I could give you a few extra minutes.”
Diego rubbed his free hand through his wavy black hair. He was balmy and distraught and appeared to be looking around the room for a means to escape. Fat chance in this situation, lycanthrope or not.
Maxim continued backing up into the open doorway.
“This is a serious matter,” insisted the prisoner, glancing at his unconscious friends. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I’m taking a risk trusting you. You’re a police detective. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen or heard anything suspicious. Strange signs, unexplained disappearances?”
The detective stopped hard as if he’d walked into a wall. His eyes instinctively moved once again to his wedding band. Diego’s plea hit too close to home. Maxim eyed the doorway to see if anyone else had heard.
“What do you know about disappearances?” demanded Maxim abruptly.
The prisoner shook his head. “Only signs. Trends.”
Maxim clenched his jaw. He wouldn’t let Diego control the interrogation. “I need you to understand the position you’re in. I have better things to do than stay here and talk all night.” The detective told the same lie often and well. The truth was the best thing going for Maxim was his career and his reputation as a closer. “However, if you want to tell me what happened in that roadhouse tonight, then I can find time for you.”
The biker grimaced as he faced Maxim’s stern countenance. “Fine,” he relented. “You take me down there so I can confess. Then I’ll give you your proof.” Diego paused as he examined the analog clock hanging on the far wall, silently counting. “But only if we go now.”
Maxim smiled. Everyone had buttons to push, and he was good at finding them. This was just another night in the office. But as he looked into the solemn face of the man in bed, with pupils wide and almost pure black in the dim light, something didn’t feel right.
Three Hours Earlier
Before the vocals had a chance to start, Maxim switched the station. His wife loved that song, and she was the last thing he wanted to think about now.
He leaned back in his faded green sedan. The headrest scratched his head where the fake leather had cracked. It was a familiar feeling, and not entirely uncomfortable. Sitting in his car for long periods of time was part of the job.
These days, working was the only thing keeping him going. Even at night, when he was technically off the clock, when there was nothing going on, he desperately needed the distraction. But his world was filled with reminders.
A song. A memory. A glimmer of the full moon reflecting off his silver wedding band.
It was funny, he thought. As much as he avoided thinking about Lola, he still wore the ring. He supposed it was his last shred of duty. Like a string tied to his pinky, it was a reminder he told himself he needed. Even if it cut off his circulation. Even if it strangled him.
Finally, after two years of hitting the bottle pretty hard, the detective needed something else. So he sat outside the roadhouse and waited. For what, he wasn’t sure.
Was it resolve? Courage? Or was it just the bitterness of not knowing?
Maxim had only been a detective for a few years, but he’d taken to the job, heart and soul. Understanding all the angles was in his blood now. And he knew, however smoothly the twelve years of his career had gone, the Sanctuary Marshal’s Office was letting something slip by.
Sanctuary was a small town situated in an Arizona forest. Colloquially, the greater area was known as Sycamore: vast wilds of mountain highlands, thick greens, even open desert. It was a jumbled tapestry of landscapes, mostly free from human intervention, not untouched but unchanged. It was wild, as were its sparse inhabitants.
Sanctuary was on the edge of that, with a front row seat to the beauty. And the danger.
The Sanctuary Marshal’s Office enjoyed its outsider status. The department preferred to handle business internally, in its own way, and that’s what had recently piqued Maxim’s ire.
He wasn’t supposed to be here, outside Sycamore Lodge.
The biker roadhouse was a cesspit of tough guys and cheap beer and was known for the occasional brawl. It was only when matters crossed the line that the police even took notice. This was reinforced by the standing order from the marshal himself: no one was to interfere with members of the local motorcycle club, the Seventh Sons.
With them, a singular kind of discretion was paramount.
The Seventh Sons didn’t live or operate within town limits, but they were staples of Sanctuary nonetheless. They usually just passed through to commiserate and drink and fight at Sycamore Lodge. The roadhouse was far enough isolated that the noise and hooliganism weren’t major concerns for the citizens or the department, and the club historically enjoyed a lot of leeway.
Tonight, it was finally time to put pressure on them. So Detective Maxim Dwyer sat alone in his parked car, under the moonlight, and watched the raucous crowd inside and out.
A voice came over the police band. “Still a whole lot of nothing out here, sir.” It was Gutierrez, the rookie Maxim had posted on the only road out of town.
Maxim picked up the handset and replied. “I know. I got eyes on some of the club members at the Lodge. Are you set?”
“Stop sticks are ready to deploy if needed. You sure about this, though? I don’t think we’re supposed to be keeping tabs on the Seventh Sons.”
“Just follow orders, rookie. You won’t catch the heat. The sergeant said he didn’t need you tonight, so you’re all mine. Let me know if you see any other club members pass you by. Otherwise, let’s keep the radio clear.”
Maxim dropped the handset and sighed. Everything about the Sons was untouchable, from their shady dealings to the otherworldly rumors that had the citizens spooked. Police departments doling out special treatment was a harsh reality of life, but why let a motorcycle club benefit?
It didn’t make sense, and Maxim refused to be a drone any longer. The only thing he had was his job, and he didn’t know what would happen if it stopped making sense.
Eventually, Maxim’s patience paid off.
A commotion broke out in the heart of the roadhouse. It spread like a wave and spilled into the patio. The intense crowd made it difficult to source the problem, but the screams were urgent. Maxim skipped out of his car without bothering to turn it off.
As he pushed his way through the revelers, several bikers fled the ruckus.
“Marshal’s office!” screamed Maxim, holding up his badge. His right hand rested on the Glock at his belt. “Stop!”
He was sure he was heard above the noise, but the men ignored him. Maxim tried to cut through the panicking people, but their activity was too frantic to contain. As he shuffled one way, they shuffled the other, and the tide was difficult to overcome. By the time Maxim reached the lodge doorway, he lost sight of the bikers.
Fortunately, the hardened patrons of the bar settled down. The live band stopped strumming their instruments and the screams died down. A circle formed in front of the stage, revealing a bloodied stone floor.
That’s when Maxim heard the motorcycles rev up outside. He saw the four bikers again, rolling into the street with their headlights switched off. The detective cursed and raced back to his car. His foot was on the gas and the tires kicked up dirt before he closed the door.
“10-31,” he called into the radio. “This is it.” Maxim flicked his lights and siren on.
The motorcycles were difficult to keep up with. With their lights off, the detective had to rely on the ever further flashes of their brake reflectors. Maxim was considering his options when one of the bikes slid onto its side in a flurry of dirt.
He skidded his vehicle to a halt and sprang out of the car.
“Hands up!” he commanded, drawing his weapon.
As he closed on the suspect, his urgency melted away.
A moment of thought was all Maxim needed. He holstered his firearm, marched back to his car, and picked up the radio. This wasn’t about snooping on the motorcycle club anymore. Standard procedure no longer applied.
Maxim couldn’t let the Seventh Sons leave town.
“Deploy the spikes, Gutierrez. Take them down.”
Spike stripes were designed with a single purpose: to stop vehicles by shredding their tires. As a tactical surprise, in the dark with their headlights off, the bikers didn’t stand a chance.
Now, with their injuries stabilized, nothing was stopping Maxim from getting answers.
“Gutierrez!” he called out.
A young man in pressed blues entered the clinic room. He was a bit short, but the stocky sort, and combined with his crew cut gave him the appearance of a marine-turned-officer. The reality was that Gutierrez had never served and didn’t quite have the needed discipline. He was a bit of a joker, really. And tonight, of all nights, he’d decided to wear a triangle goatee with some kind of handlebar mustache.
“What is it, Detective?”
“Let’s take this one down to the box.” Maxim motioned lazily at Diego as he moved into the hallway and turned halfway around, waiting for them to take the lead.
As he stood there, the detective’s eyes scanned the rest of the short hall behind him. Recessed lights lined the ceiling, creating a bath of sterile illumination. An empty front desk with a sign-in sheet, a branching hallway for a wide service elevator and a set of bathrooms, and three other rooms with closed doors filled out the floor. Straight ahead, in the direction he motioned Gutierrez to go in, was an always-open pair of double doors and the staircase down to the marshal’s office.
At this time of night, after the doctors had gone home, the clinic’s skeleton crew amounted to a single nurse. Tonight it was Renee. Maxim smiled. He liked her the most because she always kept their conversations flowing, no matter his troubles. For the moment, however, she must have been attending another patient somewhere. Renee was nowhere in sight.
Too bad. Maxim again caught himself spinning the silver band around his finger. He immediately felt guilty.
The detective’s eyes moved to the other rookie guarding the ward. He sat across the doorway with his back against the wall, which would normally afford a great view of the prisoners—except he was playing a video game on a portable console.
“Kent, keep an eye on the other two, and let me know if they wake up and start talking.” The officer didn’t look up or cease his finger tapping, but he gave a quick nod of acknowledgement.
Gutierrez pushed the prisoner ahead of him as they passed through the doorway. Like the other suspects, Diego wore only a loose hospital gown. He had some bandages on his right forearm and hip to account for minor road rash and some bruising on his shoulders and knees. Because the floor was cold, the man had been allowed to keep his worn, yellowed socks on. Although the holes in the toes created a comical appearance, Maxim didn’t want to take the situation lightly.
“Listen, Diego. I won’t tolerate any surprises.” The detective brushed his right jacket back and placed his hand on his gun holster, more a signal of readiness than a threat. As the two shuffled by him, Maxim shook his head and addressed the rookie. “And, Gutierrez. Shave that damn mustache.”
“Sorry, boss,” the uniform chuckled, “but I don’t think there’s enough hair here to glue to your bald head.” He laughed and pushed the prisoner into the stairwell, wearing a stupid grin the whole way.
The detective sighed and rubbed both hands on his head, checking to see if Kent had noticed the quip. Ever since Maxim had shaved his hair close to his scalp, the rookie had been on him about it. So what if his hair was receding a bit? He surely wasn’t going bald at thirty-two.
Still, something had been bothering him, and he refused to call it an early mid-life crisis. As gifted as he was, he hadn’t managed to recover his wife after she disappeared two years earlier. Living without her created a void inside him that he was just beginning to comprehend. However easily work had come to him thus far in Sanctuary, there remained the nagging feeling that he needed to understand more. This determination, whether through carelessness or curiosity, brought him to consider the bikers an aberrant type of thorn.
In truth, Diego had him hooked the second he mentioned disappearances.
Trailing them downstairs, Maxim hit the ground floor, turned into the police lobby, and entered the marshal’s office. It was a large room littered with desks and outdated computers and had the old kind of fluorescent bulbs that buzzed. The far wall was exposed brick, and the ceiling tiles were still stained from the years when smoking was legal in government buildings. The only two officers in the room besides the rookie were Hitchens and Cole, two veterans who were as much a relic in these times as the office itself.
“Get out of the way, black,” said Gutierrez to Hitchens as he passed him by.
“You keep calling me black and I’m gonna file racial discrimination charges on your ass.” Hitchens tried to scowl but couldn’t hide his smirk. “Fucking spic.”
Maxim shook his head. If Gutierrez was an instigator, the two veterans were stock cartoon caricatures: Hitchens was heavy and bossy and loud and Cole was tall and muscled and reserved. The humorous moment did not last long.
“Dwyer, what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Hitchens always spoke plainly. He didn’t care if it got him into trouble, and it often did, but Maxim appreciated that nuance about the man. He was overweight and in his fifties but still dependable in most situations.
This wasn’t one of them.
“The marshal is going to flip his lid when he finds MC members in our jail!”
Barney Hitchens was the patrol sergeant, so he was accustomed to getting his way. He didn’t hold rank over the Criminal Investigation Unit but the marshal certainly did, and the marshal would not be happy that Maxim had chosen to observe and interfere with the bikers at Sycamore Lodge tonight. None of the police were cleared by the brass to monitor the club, and Hitchens and Cole, perhaps concerned with their pensions, never bent that rule. The two uniforms had responded to the motorcycle accident, but they wanted no part of locking up the Seventh Sons.
“Someone needs to account for the dead man, Hitchens. What else could I do?”
The grizzled officer was only half sympathetic. Gutierrez escorted the prisoner to the interrogation room and Hitchens watched them with uncertain eyes. “You should have just left it alone, that’s what. And on a full moon, no less.”
And there was the real reason no one interfered. Fear.
This was a small department and the veterans could get away with just about anything—but they were flat out afraid of the motorcycle club. Hitchens was bull-headed and coarse, but his superstitious nature had those qualities beat. Too many long nights in the woods, Maxim supposed.
Still, maybe the timing of the full moon had influenced Maxim’s decision to watch the bikers on this particular night. The veterans had reasons for their beliefs; if Maxim was to be convinced as well, tonight was a promising candidate.
Cole, ever diplomatic, attempted to ease the tension. He was a decade older than the sergeant, but that didn’t stop the taller man from hitting the gym and showing up his friend. “Just make sure when the marshal reads your report that it doesn’t involve us, ’cause we’re not here.”
Officer Cole wasn’t as abrasive as his counterpart, but his message was the same. For someone in such prime physical condition, Maxim thought it curious that he was afraid of the wolf stories too.
“You got it,” was all Maxim could get in before they marched toward the exit.
Hitchens, without looking back, left one last piece of his mind. “Make sure you know what you’re doing.” The two veterans left the marshal’s office for the night.
So it was to be a skeleton crew downstairs as well, then. Their gray hair may have been evidence of wisdom or cowardice, but neither rubbed off on Maxim.
The detective entered the small interrogation room as Gutierrez locked Diego’s left arm to the reinforced steel bar on the table.
“And his right arm too.”
Maxim wasn’t sure that he believed in werewolves, and he knew the man’s right arm was bruised, but it wouldn’t be said that he taunted the unknown. He gave Gutierrez his set of cuffs to keep Diego comfortable with stretching room and then slid a plastic chair across the dirty linoleum tiles to the front of the table opposite Diego. Maxim considered the empty chair for a moment.
“Don’t worry, Detective Dwyer, I won’t bite.” Diego spoke plainly between the thin mustache and goatee circling his lips. “I can guarantee your safety if you can guarantee mine.”
He looked calm in his seat, leaning forward on the table with his hands clasped together. For a man banged up in an accident and wearing nothing but tube socks and a hospital gown, he seemed strangely put together. He had a confident, strong jaw, a decent tan, and aside from his frazzled black hair, he was well groomed.
The rookie grabbed a camcorder leaning against the corner wall and unfolded the tripod. “Don’t tell me you buy into all this dog talk, sir.” Gutierrez positioned the camera to get a good view of Diego in the limited light, putting his hands up to block out a shot like a director might frame a scene. “Although this video could make the front page of Reddit if this guy did something crazy!”
Diego contemplated the young man with the waning patience of a father, eyes again appearing black as night. “You live in the middle of these beautiful woods, just south of the Grand Canyon, yet your computers…” he said, trailing off as if his amusement were enough explanation.
Gutierrez raised his eyebrows. “Don’t pretend like you’re too good for Facebook, bro. When you take pictures of your giant hole in the ground, you gotta post them somewhere.”
The prisoner blinked slowly and said, “I don’t like to carry my cell phone on me.”
The rookie scrunched his eyebrows together. “Why not? It’s called a mobile phone because you’re supposed to take it with you.”
It may have been the harsh yellow bulbs recessed in the low ceiling, but Maxim had no need for jokes or philosophical discussion at this late hour. He just stood there and gave Gutierrez an unwavering stare that conveyed the state of his sense of humor until the rookie retreated from the boxy room, closing the door behind him. Maxim’s gaze traveled from the video camera, making sure it was on, to the suspect, seated calmly and leaning on the table, and finally to his vacant chair. With everything in place, the detective gave a heavy sigh and melted into the seat.
“How’s my bike?” Diego’s slight Hispanic accent was well-integrated and hard to place.
“It’s fine,” Maxim replied. He wasn’t very familiar with motorcycles, but he did note the conditions of the accident vehicles for his report. “You laid it down and scratched it up but it’s good to go.”
The door opened meekly and Gutierrez popped his head in. “Yo, that’s another thing. Do you think I can ride that bike one day? It is dope.”
“Gutierrez!” Maxim glared and the rookie disappeared again.
Diego could not hide his smile. “It’s a beautiful machine, isn’t it? A brand new Triumph Scrambler. It really stands out from the pack.”
That was something else the detective had noticed. The other club members opted for old Harleys.
“Okay, let’s start this off. This is Detective Maxim Dwyer,” he recited in monotone, looking back at the camera although barely concerned if he was actually within frame, “interviewing suspect one in the Sycamore Lodge stabbing.” The detective nonchalantly turned to his companion and leaned in. “Please state your name, for the record.”
The prisoner’s face brightened ever so slightly, as if the game were afoot. Maxim recognized the sign as either deceptive or playful, thinking Diego didn’t realize the magnitude of trouble he was in. Did he think he could just walk away from all of this?
The man answered with a proud flair, exaggerating his accent as the name rolled off his tongue. “Diego de la Torre, sir.” The prisoner even bowed his head slightly, like he was the star in his own play.
Maxim rested his back against the inflexible chair and put his right foot on his knee. Where was he to start?
“You’ve previously mentioned arriving at Sycamore Lodge at about ten o’clock. Is that correct?”
“And what were you doing there?”
“Oh,” Diego said, shaking his head as if the reason were unclear. “I suppose the same as everybody else.”
“Meaning you were looking for trouble?”
Diego chuckled. “Trouble, perhaps, but not the sort you’re interested in.”
Maxim studied the man’s body language. Diego had appeared very frayed before, and back in the clinic, he’d had an insistence about him, almost like some of the drug addicts the detective had occasionally arrested. But locked up down here, the prisoner was the perfect model of composure. Maxim hoped this change in demeanor didn’t reflect a shift in the man’s desire to be forthcoming.
“According to eyewitnesses, the two we’ve got upstairs were drinking for hours before you showed up. They both exceeded the legal limit of alcohol in their blood, but you tested completely negative.”
“Maybe I don’t drink,” posited the suspect.
“They say it’s hard to trust a man who doesn’t drink—”
“Would you trust me more if I admitted to lying about it?”
Maxim sighed as he watched the upturned corners of Diego’s mouth open into a wide grin. Not only was the suspect wasting the detective’s time, but he was having fun doing it. Maxim should have known this wasn’t going to be an automatic confession.
“Diego, I would trust you more if you didn’t hide behind clever banter. You told me you wanted to confess. So what is it exactly that you have to say to me?”
The suspect had no immediate answer. He looked at the bare walls, examining all four of them. Maxim closed his eyes and rubbed them as he realized what Diego was searching for. The detective reached into his jacket’s breast pocket and placed his phone face up on the table. “Five minutes till three.”
“Then we still have about ten minutes.”
“Good. How about we drop the werewolf thing until then and keep talking about the case?”
Diego’s lips covered his large teeth as they closed to form an inquisitive pout. “Aren’t you at all intrigued?”
Maxim didn’t blink. “If this is all you want to offer me, then I’ll lock you back to your bed and head home.”
The prisoner’s black eyes drilled into the detective’s face. Maxim’s abiding stare was all that returned. After a moment, the steadfast will of the officer proved stronger. Diego couldn’t hide his agitation briefly and pulled his head down to his hands so he could brush his hair back.
“Fine, Detective Dwyer, ask your questions.”
Now they were getting somewhere.
“What was the fight in the bar about?”
“Some guys were having a conversation when they were interrupted. I heard shouting over the music. The place erupted and people started punching people.” Diego looked straight into Maxim’s eyes earnestly. “I wasn’t involved. I just wanted to get out of there.”
“Wrong place, wrong time, huh?” The detective snickered. “Listen, I’ll believe the werewolf thing before I buy that story. All of you sped down the road into the woods in complete darkness to elude me. Everything that involves one Seventh Son involves them all, and you were right in the middle of it.”
“So that’s it. You think I’m in their gang?”
Maxim stopped himself before he asked his next question. He’d thought the biker would at least afford him that much. The motorcycle club wasn’t allowed to wear jackets or other gang paraphernalia within Sanctuary town limits. Because of the department’s operational procedures, they didn’t have a definitive list of all the members.
Still, Diego’s ID was from out of state. While these bikers came from any number of places, it was possible he was telling the truth. Maxim would track the man’s credit cards in the morning to be sure, but for the moment he would humor him. He saw where this was going.
“What are you telling me, that you don’t know the other bikers at all?”
Diego flashed his hands out with a magician’s flourish, as if something had disappeared. By Maxim’s account, it was his leverage.
“That is what I’m telling you, Detective. I don’t live in Sanctuary. Haven’t been here longer than two nights. You can check with the Motel 6.”
Maxim cocked his head to regroup his thoughts. A stranger from out of town on a different kind of motorcycle—maybe these pieces were part of the same puzzle.
“So, if you didn’t know any of the others,” Maxim spoke deliberately, making sure to lay his trap perfectly, “why did you chase them out of the bar?”
“I wasn’t chasing anybody.”
“So why didn’t you pull over when I lit you up?”
“What did you expect me to do? You can’t prosecute me for not stopping while being chased by two gang members!”
“Ah!” Maxim crossed his arms over his chest in a practiced motion. “So you were involved then?”
Diego paused, realizing he’d given more information than he had intended. He let out a measured breath and looked down at the cell phone sitting on the table. The screen was off.
“I don’t know, Detective. They thought I stabbed their friend, perhaps.”
This was the path that Maxim wanted to venture down. The fight didn’t matter, the DUIs would be charged—all Maxim really cared about was finding out who stabbed the fourth biker. The lodge could keep its scofflaw clientele, but the detective was determined to prevent any more incidents from spilling into the streets.
“Who attacked the victim?”
“I told you I didn’t see it happen, Detective.” Diego’s repetition of the formal title meant he was regulating his dialog, being careful about every word he revealed. “You’re the Sanctuary resident. You know how petulant those bikers are. We got into words because I spilled some beer on someone. But the stabbing happened later.”
“So what are you saying, Diego? A fight breaks out, you don’t see anything, but you get chased from the bar for no real reason?”
“That’s what I am saying, yes.”
“You and the two bikers?”
Diego’s eyes darted to the side as he searched for meaning to the clarification. He appeared to be aggravated by his confusion and let out a stern reply. “Yes.”
“And what about the fourth man—the one who was stabbed? Why was he chasing you?”
Diego gawked at Maxim incredulously. “He made it outside?”
“The stabbing victim was the last one outside. He was on his motorcycle a few hundred feet until he collapsed, leaving you three ahead. By the time I got to him, he was dead.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“That’s right.” Maxim reiterated the question to emphasize how ridiculous it sounded. “So this man, the victim who got stabbed, also incorrectly identified you as his attacker and gave you chase?”
The suspect’s cuffs rattled against the steel bar as he pulled his hands to lean back. Diego looked up at the ceiling and slowly shook his head in wonder. “I don’t know. I didn’t think that dude was getting up.”
Maxim had caught the man off guard and hoped to leave him scrambling to regain his footing. People were usually more honest when they weren’t in control. A nudge here, a shove there, and Diego would slip up. He’d already practically admitted to witnessing the stabbing.
“You see, Diego, there’s something that confuses me. I keep going over it again and again in my head.” Maxim stood up and flipped his chair around, holding the plastic back in front of him as he straddled it and sat down again, assuming a more aggressive posture.
“The three of you were ahead of me when you crashed. Those two upstairs, they sustained broken bones and got cut up pretty bad.
“But you…” Maxim stressed the words as the prisoner once again focused on him, unsure of where he was being led. Maxim thought it a good sign that he commanded the man’s attention and let the words hang in the air for a moment longer before continuing. “Besides a few minor scrapes not even worth mentioning, you were miraculously unharmed in the accident.”
Diego leaned forward and reached for the detective’s phone, fumbling to turn it on, frustration slowly marring his cool. Maxim stared into the man’s eyes with a fierce intensity, enjoying the hunt. As the screen lit up and illuminated the prisoner’s face with cold light, the detective didn’t waver his gaze. After a moment, Maxim grabbed his phone from Diego’s hands and put it back into his pocket without even looking at it.
Maxim wouldn’t be seeing any werewolves tonight. He knew what this was about now—the prisoner was stalling for time.
“If those bikers were chasing you, then you would’ve been the first to hit the spikes and go down. Do you know why you didn’t get hurt in the accident, Diego?”
The man scowled as he got angry at Maxim’s inference. He stood up and pushed forward against the chains defiantly. Still, despite the hostile display, Diego made no move to attack the detective. Nor, noticeably, had any words escaped his lips to defend himself.
Not to be outdone by dramatics, Maxim jumped backwards out of his seat and kicked his chair to the side. It skipped against the tiles and bounced harmlessly off the two way mirror, ringing loudly through what Maxim knew was the entire first floor. Maxim stepped forward to meet Diego’s stance.
“The reason you didn’t hit the spikes, Diego, is because you were behind the other two bikers on the road!” The man’s eyes pressed into a cold stare as Maxim kept pounding on the point. “You saw them hit the strips and wipe out, so you laid your bike down to avoid the accident! You were chasing them, Diego. That’s why your bike was okay! That’s why the tires weren’t shredded! That’s why you weren’t hurt!”
Diego rocked from side to side nervously. Maxim didn’t let up.
“You stabbed the man, Diego, didn’t you? And you attacked the other two. That’s why they ran from you.”
“Damn it, Maxim!” Diego lashed out as if he was familiar, even comfortable, with conflict. “What do you think is going on here?” The man’s shoulders heaved up and down as he panted hard. He was getting worked up again, either because of the adrenaline of the interrogation or because all the events of the night were finally catching up with him. “What do you think is happening in Sycamore?”
The two men stared at each other in silence. Maxim was unsure how to respond, but he was done with the supernatural theories. Seeing was believing—not stories, not talk.
The detective thought he heard some murmuring on the other side of the window, but he threw his hand up to signal them to stop any interference. Maxim was a little more heated than he wanted to be but he was still in control. He didn’t want any interruptions now.
Instead, he slowly walked to the door and leaned his back against it to hold it closed. With a sly smile on his lips, Maxim simply stared at the harried prisoner.
For some time Diego de la Torre, in his hospital gown and tube socks, was a figure of resolute determination. But Maxim waited and the man’s heaving slowed, his posture softened, and he eventually sucked his lips into his mouth and shook his head.
“Maxim,” he said in a muzzled voice, “we’re going about this the wrong way.” Diego reclaimed his seat and ended the standoff. The resigned man touched the tips of his fingers together as he pondered his next words. Maxim stood up straight, off the door, eager for what came next.
“You might have your theories about what went down tonight, but you need to understand that these people, all of them, are very dangerous.”
Maxim brushed his wedding band with his other hand. “Now you’ve finally said something I do believe.”
Diego continued in a somber tone. “How can a man judge what actions are appropriate without knowing the truth?”
The detective put his hands on his hips and sighed sympathetically. “Our actions come back to haunt us, Diego.” Although Maxim was trying to gain the man’s trust, he almost believed in what he said. “In a way, all I really do is make sure karma holds up. We need to, all of us, be accountable for the things we do.”
Diego stared down at the table, subdued. This was the moment, Maxim thought, for the truth to come out. The prisoner opened his mouth and stopped midway through, mulling over his next words carefully. He wiped the hair on his lips and swallowed hard. Maxim began pacing around the room in a circle as he watched the man come to terms with his current situation.
“What do you know of the supernatural, Maxim?”
The detective rolled his eyes as he stepped around the table. He expected a confession. “I don’t.”
Diego raised his head and said, “Sycamore has a problem with werewolves.”
Maxim slowed to a stop behind the sitting prisoner. He leaned his head down and whispered into Diego’s ears, “You’re the one with the werewolf problem.”
Diego blinked. “And what does that mean?”
Already prepared for the question, Maxim had his cell phone in his hand. He turned the screen on and gently placed it on the table in front of the suspect. Diego glanced down as 3:19 a.m. illuminated the glass for several seconds before reverting to black.
“It looks to me like we’ve gone far over your twenty minutes. If there was a shred of sincerity in you, shouldn’t you be transformed by now?”
Diego appeared slightly confused, scrutinizing the blank screen. “It should have been now,” he stuttered, “but planetary alignment varies from—”
“Enough with the stalling! I haven’t seen a werewolf in thirty-two years, and that’s not changing tonight.”
Maxim hovered over Diego’s back and the man turned his head awkwardly to face him. “If you don’t believe me, then what are we doing here?”
The detective’s open hand quickly struck the table, his silver ring making a loud thump on the cheap wood. “The confession, Diego! You said if I took you down to the interrogation room you would give me a confession!”
The suspect turned to face forward again, leaning back comfortably in his chair. “Yeah, I said that,” Diego started slowly, “but if I admitted to committing a crime, then you’d put me in prison.”
“That,” said Maxim as he circled the table, standing where his chair used to be, “is precisely the point.”
Diego pressed his closed fist into the table softly to stress the matter. “Unless I’m not guilty of anything.”
Maxim crossed his arms. “Then why say you’re going to confess?”
Suddenly, muffled gunshots shattered the peace of the night.
Maxim instinctively squatted down for cover, looking left to right, but it was hard to pinpoint the source of the shots. The interrogation room was sound resistant and at the end of a hallway, so most noise funneled from that direction anyway.
As the startled detective reached for his firearm, he backed into the corner and got an encompassing view of the door, the window, and Diego de la Torre all at once. The prisoner sat quietly stern, hands in fists, looking both calm yet ready to strike at any instant.
The detective pointed his Glock 22 at Diego.
“Those were police discharges,” Maxim said. “What are they firing at?”
The prisoner did not waver under the gun but his voice did ease up to sound more soothing. “Do not shoot me, Maxim.”
A cacophony of metal thrashed above and wild footsteps scampered overhead. Maxim’s experienced hands did not falter.
“If anyone comes for you, to try to break you out, I will make sure you don’t step a single foot outside this room.” The barrel of his pistol aimed squarely at the prisoner’s center mass.
Diego raised both of his arms carefully, empty palms facing the detective. This time there was no magic trick. The prisoner was still calm under pressure but at least appeared to be taking the threat seriously.
Suddenly the door swung open with a heavy urgency. Both men quickly turned to face the intruder. It was Gutierrez, except instead of his usual lackadaisical grin, he wore an expression of pure panic.
“Sir! The prisoners upstairs, they’re escaping!”
“Shit!” Maxim quickly stood up straight, pointed his gun at the ground, and tried to regain his composure. A sideways glance at Diego confirmed he was sitting attentively in his chair, still safely chained to the table.
Gutierrez, however, was spooked. Without Hitchens and Cole, he needed a senior officer to lead him through this. “Where’s your weapon, rookie?”
“What?” he said, confused by the question. “Right here.” Gutierrez pointed at the gun holstered to his waist.
“Well get that firearm into your hand and cover my back!”
Diego stopped him as they took a step to the door. “Maxim, I said I would guarantee your safety. I can only do that if you stay here with me!”
Gutierrez stared at the prisoner with uncertain eyes and looked to Maxim.
“I have an officer up there, Diego.”
“Then at least uncuff me. Let me go up there with you. I can help.”
The rookie ran his eyes between both men. He had a skeptical expression but not one of disapproval.
Maxim, however, knew that winging things in these situations got people hurt or killed. There was a right way and a wrong way to do things, and he needed to set the example if no one else would.
“That’s not happening.”
The detective shoved Gutierrez out of the interrogation room with him, slammed the door shut, and locked Diego de la Torre in with the company of a table, two plastic chairs, and a video camera.
Upstairs, a quick series of pistol discharges rang out.
The two policemen sprinted through the main office. Seeing no other officers in sight, they continued up the stairs to the clinic. Maxim took the lead, only slowing near the top of the steps, pointing his gun forward towards the double doors. The rookie behind him did as he had been trained and stayed a few steps back on the opposite wall, occasionally making sure no one was behind them.
“Sir, if we get through this, I swear I’ll shave my face!” Gutierrez shook his head nervously. “I really don’t want to die with this stupid gringo mustache!”
At the threshold of the clinic, Maxim surveyed the scene and slowly advanced. The light in the hallway was nearly blinding after emerging from the duskiness below. The reception desk was still empty, and Kent’s chair, once leaning against the wall supporting the officer, was lying on its side in the same spot. Next to it on the floor was his handheld device, still playing a chiptune.
He couldn’t see anything else, but Maxim heard coarse breathing from within the hospital room.
The detective signaled Gutierrez to stop and inched to the left side of the hallway, opposite the open door. Maxim stepped to the left once, then again, and again until the innards of the bedroom were revealed to him.
It was dark inside but there was enough ambient light to see. Three of the beds had been thrown around the room. The two that had held the prisoners were bent in haphazard twists and had their aluminum bars broken off. The clay table lamp was shattered, its pieces strewn about the floor, and Maxim noticed crumbled pieces of plaster casts interspersed with the debris.
Kent was in the far corner, sitting against the wall, holding his neck and spitting out ragged breaths. Renee, the clinic nurse, was also present, kneeling down, attending to his wound.
Above the two of them, what was left of the glass in the window framed a jagged portrait of bent wire and open air. Both prisoners were gone.
“Not possible,” hissed Maxim in a state of bewilderment. He stepped forward with his weapon raised and heard the crunch of clay under his feet until he reached the window. The gap in the ripped wire mesh was wide enough to afford egress to the prisoners.
The concrete plaza in front of the building was a twenty foot drop below. From there it was only a short distance to the street. One of the faux-antique light posts made of plastic resin had been snapped in half; its illuminated dome, still lit, rested on the sidewalk. Further yet, lying aflutter in the middle of the wide road, was a hospital gown.
Maxim projected a path past the well-lit town square and jerky movement caught his eye. Racing up the cross street in the distant darkness, he saw two large blurs retreat behind a building. Then the small town of Sanctuary, partially illuminated by the elemental light of the full moon, returned to its normal lull.
Maxim cursed to himself as he turned away, still incredulous at what had just occurred. He had seen it with his own eyes. How was that possible?
Kent spoke up, suddenly forcing the detective to return to the present moment. “I got some shots in them, sir.” He sounded weak.
Maxim put his free hand up, motioning for silence from the wounded officer. “Don’t strain yourself. Is he going to be okay, Renee?”
The nurse was strangely cool considering the crimson on her hands. “I’ll need to call the doctor back for stitches but it looks minor.”
Relief swept over Maxim as he allowed himself to breathe out. He holstered his weapon and nodded at Gutierrez, who was standing in the doorway, to do the same. With his right hand, the detective leaned down and patted Kent on the shoulder. He was unsure of what to say. He had questions but now wasn’t the time. Gutierrez pulled a phone from his pocket and dialed the doctor.
For a moment, the world around Maxim was frozen. It was a surreal experience as the truth dawned on him. He wasn’t sure if Sanctuary felt larger or smaller, but somehow it seemed as if he was standing in the middle of a giant car crash. Then something tugged at him, reminding him that he was the only thing not in motion.
Suddenly the detective remembered Diego locked up downstairs and had a sinking feeling. Maxim broke out into a sprint and dashed by Gutierrez, past Kent’s toppled chair, through the double doors, and down the steps.
After the recent commotion, all Maxim could think about was how empty the police station seemed by comparison. He rushed through the large office and into the back hallway, fumbling with his keys. The seconds ticked by in slow motion as the lock turned and Maxim sprung the interrogation room door open.
Not sure what to expect, he burst in, his hand resting on the butt of the pistol on his belt.
Diego de la Torre sat upright with a reserved stillness, wearing an amused expression on his face, his hands firmly secured to the table.
“Maxim. Good to see you are still alive.”
The detective let out a nervous chortle, relieved that Diego was still in custody. “What the hell happened up there?”
The prisoner looked at Maxim with admonishment. “Really, what have we been talking about this last half hour?”
The detective’s breaths still came quickly. As he waited to recover himself, he stared at Diego and envied his composure. “And what about you?” said the detective, exasperated.
“Well,” he began nonchalantly, as if this were routine, “I told you I would give you proof of werewolves, and I also said that I would guarantee your safety. But most importantly,” said Diego, a smile crossing his lips, “I made sure I wasn’t anywhere near those two when they turned. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, we aren’t on friendly terms.”
Maxim could not ignore the man’s smug satisfaction. But how could he be angry? Yes, he had been manipulated, but Diego’s actions probably ended up saving both their lives.
Gutierrez walked up to the open door of the interrogation room, scratching the back of his head. “The doctor is on his way, and Kent looks like he’ll be good.”
Diego interjected. “If anyone has been bitten, make sure they get a full rabies vaccine regimen.” Both officers looked at each other with furrowed brows.
“What is it you do exactly, Diego?” asked the detective. “Are you chasing these wolves then?” The prisoner sat silently as he pondered the questions. “Did you stab that man?”
“Why, Detective Dwyer, I was not involved in that incident in any way.” Diego, mixing his accent with a hint of playful wit, continued. “I’d read that biking through these lush woods was a majestic experience, and after a long day of exploration, I figured I would stop at a dive bar and meet some of the local color.”
The prisoner stared deadpan at the two officers. Maxim knew what was happening. He had seen this before. Without the other two prisoners to question, Diego’s account of victimhood would be unchallenged. What’s more, with the other bikers actually having attacked Kent and escaping police custody, that scenario even appeared likely. If Diego’s records came back verifying that he didn’t live in Sanctuary, and without proof of him having committed any crimes, he would likely be set loose without charges.
The thing was, Maxim wasn’t sure if that bothered him anymore. He now knew that the rumors about the werewolves had some foundation. He had proof the Seventh Sons were dangerous. It was hard to fault Diego if he had somehow drawn their ire. The man would need to spend the night here, probably, but would almost surely be released in the morning.
Diego de la Torre was a free man, and he knew it.
“Maxim, when can I pick up my bike?”
The detective’s left hand cupped his temples as he tried to knead away the stress.
“Just tell me this first. The man that died…” The detective was going to ask a question, but he got tripped up by the phrasing. What could he ask that Diego would actually answer truthfully?
“He was one of them,” the prisoner jumped in with, seeming to actually confide in the officers. “And very dangerous.”
Without removing his hand from his face, Maxim closed his eyes. “Get him out of here, Gutierrez.”
As the prisoner was unlocked from the table and shuffled out, Detective Maxim Dwyer took a few extra moments to compose himself. How could he have been so blind? But the reflection of light on his wedding band energized him with renewed purpose. There was more going on in Sanctuary than he had allowed himself to acknowledge and it had taken a stranger to show that to him.
With a calloused sigh that indicated the weight of the work ahead, Maxim reached over to the video camera and hit the stop button. This one would get erased.