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ChicagolandThe Joe Mack Shadow Council Files #3

Gail Z. Martin Larry N. Martin

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Afterword

About the Authors

Falstaff Books

1

I hate wendigos. They’re fast. They’ve got sharp teeth, bad breath—and they stink like roadkill.

This particular wendigo looked and smelled like he’d been sleeping in a Chicago dumpster. For all I knew, he had. Fighting one of these creatures isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. Add holding my breath so I didn’t puke while having my eyes water from the stench—which made everything blurry—and this wasn’t my best day.

“Watch out!” Federal agent Jack West yelled. I knew he wasn’t shouting to warn me. But our new buddy, Eliot Ness, had stepped a little too close to the monster’s long arms and wicked claws. Neither of us wanted the guy to survive sending Al Capone up the river only to get gutted by a shaggy-assed monster with a taste for human flesh.

Ness jumped back out of the way, and the wendigo’s claws swiped close enough to rip the buttons off his shirt.

“Hey, asshole!” I yelled in my usual, subtle way, and while I wasn’t sure the creature remembered enough about being human to understand the insult, the noise drew his attention off West and Ness and right onto me.

That would have been a dumb move—if I were still mortal. But those days were long gone. I said a silent prayer to Krukis, god of blacksmiths, and felt his power wash over me, making me stronger, faster, and nearly impossible to kill. The wendigo slashed at me with his claws and then howled in pain and fury when they splintered against my temporarily metallic skin.

While he cried over breaking a nail, I moved in for the kill, with a flare gun I’d modified just for times like this. I shot the creature nearly point-blank, and the flare set its matted, filthy pelt on fire, turning him into a crunchy critter and a pile of ash right there in the alley.

“Everyone alright?” I didn’t see blood, but that didn’t guarantee safety. The wendigo had ambushed us, and we’d danced around those claws for too long before I could get a good shot.

Ness stared at me. Then I realized that my shirt had been slashed by the wendigo’s razor-sharp claws, and my “skin” had four long gouges that looked more like creases in a piece of sheet metal than gashes in a human body.

Because I wasn’t completely human anymore either.

“What are you?” Ness asked, wide-eyed. It figured that I’d managed to spook the guy who nabbed Capone.

Then again, West mentioned Ness was still a bit wet behind the ears at the tender age of twenty-seven. West had a decade on him. I looked about the same age as West, but looks were deceiving. I just hadn’t aged since I died and called on an ancient Slavic god to make me his champion.

“Tired and grumpy,” I replied, sidestepping the question for now. “And I really want to know how that wendigo got to downtown Chicago. They’re a Canadian monster, usually from the far north woods.”

I didn’t feel like getting into the whole story of my death, although I figured Ness would pry it out of me at some point. Obviously West hadn’t spilled my secrets, which I appreciated. Besides, I didn’t want the government taking an interest in me. Been there, done that—which is how I ended up dead in the first place.

Blame it on the Pinkertons. I had been a steelworker in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, where I’d come to start a new life with my wife and son, fleeing our native Hungary. Fever took Agata and Patryk from me, leaving me alone. I stood on the riverbank beside my friends, neighbors, and co-workers in the Homestead Strike, cut down by government agents who far outgunned us. As I lay dying, I called out to the Old Gods, wanting vengeance. Krukis heard my prayer, and now I fight on his behalf for the little guys and take out supernatural monsters.

Trusting West is a stretch, but he’s made it clear he disavows the Pinkertons. He vouched for Ness. I hoped his trust wasn’t misplaced.

Ness’s eyes narrowed slightly, enough to let me know he hadn’t missed my non-answer. “Capone had plenty of Canadian ‘business’ partners. It’s not a stretch to think that Rocco Perri or one of his other rum-running pals either sent the creature as a ‘present’ or meant for it to get rid of Capone.”

West kicked at the pile of ashes, like he expected the wendigo to spring to life. “You knew a monster was loose in the city. That’s why you reached out to me and wanted me to bring in Joe. This isn’t a surprise to you.”

Ness blew out a breath like he was trying to figure out what to say. I got that he didn’t like having to ask for help. I vaguely remembered being his age, young and strong, full of myself, thinking I was always going to have luck on my side. That was a long time ago for me, and life had made a point of proving me wrong. I hoped Ness didn’t have to learn his lesson the hard way like I did.

“We think Capone was controlling the wendigo somehow, using it as a weapon,” Ness said. “That hit against the North Side Gang that the press loves to call the ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’? We let the reporters assume they were killed with bullets, but they were clawed to shreds. Same with the murder of Ben Kerr, one of Capone’s Canadian connections who had a falling out with him in the same month. Shredded.” He looked a little green around the gills at the memory, and I figured it must have been really bad.

“And now, with Capone in jail, the pet monster got loose?” West didn’t look happy, and I agreed. It would have been nice to know some of these

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