“You going to tell me why I’m standing in a vacant lot staring down into a hole?” Hank asked.
Nick nodded. “This morning Renard left the report on my desk about the guy they found burned up down in this hole. Body was likely a Drang-Zorn, holding part of a Wicked Donuts box. Drang-Zorn like to hide in burrows if they get stressed out.”
“The report said Drang-Zorn? No way.”
“No, of course not, but Renard had circled the place they found the body—and something on the coroner’s report. Unusual features on the stiff’s hand. Couple of fingernails like a sloth’s claws. Only I figure it wasn’t a sloth. They were more like badger’s claws. Sometimes a Wesen will woge under traumatic circumstances—and some part of the woge stays after they’re dead. Just a little telltale.”
“Renard and his sneaky little ways of talking about stuff we’re not supposed to talk about…”
“Yeah. And this lot is just two blocks from the last address for Buddy Clement.”
Hank glanced up at the sky and Nick followed the look.
“Starting to rain,” Nick said.
“Never worth mentioning in this town.”
“It didn’t rain for several weeks in August.”
Nick hunkered down, peering into the hole. It was about a yard wide, at the top, narrowing as it slanted down into darkness. A rich smell of mud, minerals, and animal rose from the shaft.
“You got a flashlight?” he asked Hank.
As a thin rain fell, Hank reached into his suit pocket, pulled out the small flashlight he always carried, handed it to Nick.
Aiming the light into hole, Nick could make out the packed mud and clay walls of the circular shaft. There were regular marks down the walls where it had been dug out—claw marks.
“That little hidey-hole,” Nick remarked, “is probably snugger than it looks, you go down far enough. Drang-Zorn pack the walls tight, work out some drainage, make a nice little apartment down there.”
“That hole is snug? You been watching that kids movie, what is it—The Wind in the Willows?”
“Not my brand of fairy tale.” Nick glanced around, saw that no one was watching. The lot was enclosed on three sides by a wooden fence. He leaned closer to the hole, and called down it, “Mrs. Clement! Ruby Clement! We want to help you! It’s Nick Burkhardt, from Portland Police! Could you come up and talk to us? I promise no one’s going to hurt you!”
There was no response—except, very faintly, Nick heard a scrabbling sound. And he had a Grimm intuition: he could often sense Wesen around. She was down there.
“Mrs Clement! They will excavate this hole! You may as well come out!”
He aimed the flashlight as deeply as the beam would reach…
After a few moments, two red eyes reflected back at him. He glimpsed a wedge-shaped head, the fur striped white on black. Then the Wesen appearance melted away—and it was a human woman’s face. She looked frightened.
Nick waved his badge. “Detective Burkhardt, ma’am! We want to help—we’ll protect you. I know about Drang-Zorn—it’s all right!”
“I… can’t get up there, like this!”
“Go ahead and woge,” he called. “We’ll move back. You come on up and shift back and we’ll talk.”
It took her a couple of minutes to make up her mind, and work her way up the shaft and out of the hole. Back in her human form she was a stocky little woman with a wide face, just faintly badger shaped; there was a white streak in her black hair. She wore a dirty raincoat, jeans, sneakers. Her hands were mucky from clawing at the dirt walls, fingernails caked in mud. A brown leather purse dangled from a strap over one shoulder. She was almost hyperventilating with fear as, wide eyed, she looked back and forth between Nick and Hank.
Her voice quavered as she asked, “You’re both really police?”
“Yes ma’am,” Hank said gently, showing her his badge.
“How do I know you’re not… not bad cops. Bought out by those people?”
“Which people, Mrs Clement?” Nick asked.
She hesitated, and gnawed on a soiled knuckle.
“Those men from the organization,” she said eventually.
“You know what the organization was called, ma’am?”
“I don’t know—Buddy said something about ice.”
She nodded, and her lips quivered. “Buddy…”
“You know how he died?” Nick asked. “What caused the burns?”
She pursed her lips, as if she was afraid to say it.
At last she whispered, “Dämonfeuer.”
“What’s that?” Hank asked.
“You remember that fire-dancing case?”
“Yeah. I knew there was something hinky in that one. It was a Wesen?”
Nick nodded. “Fire breather.” He looked at Mrs Clement. “How’d your husband run afoul of a Dämonfeuer?”
“It wasn’t exactly like that. The Dämonfeuer was working for someone else. The organization.”
“Some kind of… enforcer?”
Ruby Clement glanced past him at the place where the wooden enclosure became a hurricane-fence gate. Maybe worried someone might be out there on the street, watching and listening.
“Yes. Buddy and me, we always stayed on the right side of the law. Always! One of these people asked Buddy to do some special underground engineering, at a construction site. Well, that’s what Buddy does, so he thought it was just another job. But when he got there they wanted him to tunnel up under a warehouse of some kind. They want to put a hidden underground entrance, like a trapdoor, too, so they could go into this warehouse without anyone knowing. And—they wanted him to join their organization and… They said he had no choice.”
She began wordlessly crying, shaking her head, covering her eyes as if that would blot out the memory of her husband’s face melting in dragon fire.
“And he said no,” Nick said, softly. “And they sent the Dämonfeuer—to make an example of him.”
“Please. I can’t stay here. They’ll come for me next.”
“Did he mention any names?” Hank asked, putting a reassuring hand on her arm. “Anything that can help us?”
She shook her head. “He didn’t tell me anything else. He said we had to hide and… he dug this place out till we could think of something else…”
“Where was this warehouse?” Hank asked.
“Gresham Industrial Park, he said. A drug warehouse. You know—pharmaceutical drugs.” She looked toward the gate again, lips compressed thin with fear. “I don’t like to be out in the open like this. They could be looking for me. Oh God, I don’t want to die like that. It was so awful. It breathed fire on him and burned him and he screamed and his eyes…”
“I don’t think they’re looking for you,” Nick said, “or they’d have been back by now. You have any relatives you can stay with?”
“Yes. I have a sister in Woodburn.”
“I’ll have a policewoman come and give you a ride down there. You’ll be all right, Mrs. Clement. I’m sorry about your husband. We’ll do what we can to… bring them to justice.”
“How can you? Without telling people? I mean—without telling them about… Wesen?”
“We have ways, Mrs Clement…”
As Nick and Hank walked into Portland Police headquarters, Hank asked, “You and Juliette wanna do a double date thing, this weekend? I can get free tickets to Princess.”
“Prince cover band, man. Girl singers. Maya Rudolph. It’s awesome.”
“Prince? You’re old school! I’m up for it if Juliette is.”
I’m up for it if Juliette is. Nick smiled. That covered a lot of territory. Nick would be up for marriage, if Juliette was. Only, since she found out about the Grimm thing—and how he’d kept it from her—there was still some distance between them. Be awhile before she’d trust him enough to consider it.
Maybe stupid to get married anyway, being a Grimm. Tough enough to marry a homicide detective. Always a high risk that the next time she sees him after that last kiss goodbye, he’ll be in a body bag. But a Grimm? The risk was even higher. And it was risking Juliette’s life, too. She’d already almost gotten killed because of her association with Nick.
As they rode the elevator up, Hank asked, “What’s this damon thing Mrs Clement was talking about?”
“Dämonfeuer—a Wesen that’s kind of a dragon man. They can incinerate their own fat, inside, breath flames out. Tough and nasty. You wouldn’t like ’em.”
Hank did a short leg squat, grimacing, as the elevator door opened.
“My legs are cramped from that damned car. They want to discipline me, they can talk to the police union. But I’m not getting inside that thing again.”
Nick chuckled, leading the way down the hall.
“I hear you. You know, Renard could’ve picked a lot of guys to drive that thing. But he picked us. Like he was trying to kind of… send us a message.”
“Yeah? That we’re clowns?”
“That we shouldn’t get too big for our boots, maybe. That he’s still got his thumb on us. He’s always had a Napoleon complex. Even looks like Napoleon some.”
“You’re right, he does! Remember that press conference, the way he was talking as if he was going to conquer the town to bring order? He had a whole megalomaniacal thing going on, man.”
“Yeah. About that…” But they’d just reached the door of Renard’s corner office. Through the office windows NIck could see Renard at his desk. “Tell you later.” Nick hadn’t briefed Hank on the Coins of Zakynthos—and Renard’s period of being under their influence.
Nick knocked on the captain’s door.
“Come in,” came Renard’s voice. They entered but Renard didn’t even glance up from the report he was scanning on his computer. “Shut the door and sit down.”
“Yes sir,” Hank said, a hint of rancor in his voice, as they sat.
“About that car you wedged us into, Captain,” Nick began. “Message received, but we—”
“Not going to argue about your vehicle assignments,” Renard interrupted snappishly. “I want to know what you found out this morning.”
“You mean at the donut shop?” Hank asked. “Found out the price has gone up on the jellied fire hydrants.”
Captain Renard looked coldly up at him. His face looked distinctly Napoleonic in that moment.
“You have any Bonaparte blood, Captain?” Nick asked, to head off more friction between the two men.
Renard looked at him in mild surprise.
“Some. How’d you know that?”
“Just wondered. What we found out this morning—if you were hinting at Drang-Zorn in that report, you were right. Burned body in the morgue is probably a Drang-Zorn named Buddy Clement—same guy who broke into the donut shop. He was hiding in that hole from some organized crime outfit. His wife says they tried to strong-arm him into tunneling up under a pharm warehouse in Gresham. She says he was killed by a Dämonfeuer.”
“A Dämonfeuer!” Renard leaned back in his chair, and tented his hands. “Thought it might be. They’re rare. Didn’t think we had any more in town. But then…” He glanced at the computer screen. “Looks like there’s a big influx of Wesen, lately.”
“How do you know?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve got my sources…” Renard picked up a coffee cup, looked in it, apparently found it empty and put it back on his desk. “What organization was it?”
“She didn’t know. Her husband said something about ice. That’s it.”
“Ice.” Renard nodded to himself. “Here.” He pushed a folder on his desk toward them. “This is for your eyes only. It’s all I’ve got on The Icy Touch. Ever hear about them?”
“Nope.” Nick looked at Hank, who shook his head.
“Not likely you’d have heard much,” Renard said. “They were out of business, for a long time. And when they were active they were smalltime, compared to the mafia. Kind of an offshoot of the Hasslich, going way back.”
“The Hasslich…” The name struck a chill through Nick. It was an organization that existed only to kill Grimms. “Great.”
“Grimms aren’t an Icy Touch priority, especially now,” Renard said. “They’ve got some other agenda. I keep reading between the lines on FBI reports, and Interpol—I suspect it’s gone Wesen.”
Hank snorted. “The feds know about Wesen?”
Renard shook his head. “They don’t have a clue what they’re dealing with. They just know Icy Touch is a growing organized crime outfit making a big move. Extortion, drugs, sex slavery, major stolen goods. But Icy Touch is Wesen—and they could have a much bigger agenda than just cashing in on crime.”
“How many of them are there?” Nick asked.
“Don’t know. More than I’d thought, judging by these reports. Looks like they’re making a move on Portland. I’m putting you two on it, so start digging. But report only to me. Keep your mouths shut—and your heads down…”