It was fucking cold. The full moon was hanging overhead as Boo Summers walked home from the factory. She had an envelope full of cash that would keep the wolf away from the door for another week. It was a good feeling.
When she had first ended up in Bucharest, she had become a thief out of fear. She'd had a little money, but she'd been certain that it wouldn't be enough - that she'd end up on the street or worse. Boo had never been rich, but she'd always been safe, provided for.
The thought still scared her. It had scared her badly enough to make her just like everyone else . . . a stupid animal ruled by her instincts. Boo was better than that. She knew she was better than most people in the new age of absolutism. The trick was remembering it.
She'd barely escaped the new 'patriotism' of United America. In the good old days, patriotism meant things like loving your country. Saluting the flag. Respecting the soldiers who died to defend your freedom. Celebrating the Fourth of July.
Now, patriotism was everywhere. And it was absolute. It was reporting on your friends. It was supporting the government no matter what. It was paying for the police to billy-club and pepper-spray your ass into the ground. It was cheering and waving the -redesigned, mind you - flag when everyone was just a bunch of goddamn lemmings going off a cliff.
The street was thoroughly soaked by the recent rain that still hung in the air and the smell of garbage, fire and smoke hung lightly in the air. It hardly bothered Boo anymore. The crappy neighborhood she lived in with crack addicts, the newly revived prostitution industry and gang members almost looked pretty in the dreamy half light of the moon.
Boo slipped her packet of Honeyroses out of her purse. She didn't have many cigarettes left, but the herbals were soothing and sometimes the only way she had to kill the almost unbearable chill in their air. Russia was pissed and had cut off gas supplies again, so it was at a premium and well out of the reach of working stiffs like Boo.
She inhaled deeply and the scent of them soothed the perpetual tension ache in her gut.
She heard the flick of the switchblade first. It was a little hard to hear over the noise of the city, but Boo had been here long enough to learn.
"Money. Give me your money or I'll cut you. I know you have money." The filthy man in the beanie cap, white tank top and sweat pants that were too big for him held his blade out, knees bent, elbows bent. Wary. Most crackheads and druggies were. The world was out to get them, so they would get the world first.
And the hell of it was, he probably did know she had money. Every Thursday the workers at the jeans factory got paid, and a lot of crazy bastards like this had taken to stalking women all day long.
"No." Boo tilted her head, watching him carefully. She would send a clear message so there were no mistakes, but she wasn't going to provoke him either.
"Give it to me! Give it to me! I need it!" He darted forward to jab his blade out, then drew back a little when Boo took a step forward. "I need it," he whined, more begging this time.
"No." Book took a long drag and pinched the end out. No sense in taking chances and damned if she'd waste a precious cigarette because this poor bastard was dying inch by inch and couldn't help trying to take others down with him. She'd been attacked by men who were truly vicious, gangsters and criminals - but this guy was just desperate.
He came at her hard as she slipped the cigarette into her purse. She had to dodge sharply. Just because he wasn't truly evil didn't mean he wasn't dangerous. She felt the breeze from the nasty, little blade by her shoulder. She could take it out of play easily, but that would mean getting stuck and Boo really hated getting stuck. It ruined her clothes and it ached forever.
She caught another of his charges with a bong sau hook and palm strike to the face, putting him on his ass. Boo hadn't been able to stay at the Kung Fu Kwoon for more than a few months without screwing that up too, but a lot of it had stuck with her. She particularly liked martial arts, but she hadn't been able to stop from making trouble. From quitting. From getting bullied or overwhelmed.
Her next punch was harder. Angrier. The fire dragon in her gut stirred. It had gotten her in trouble more than once . . .
The growl had both of them freezing. It was strange, as if it were louder than anything had a right to be. It didn't belong to anything real.
The druggie was in terror, now. Addiction didn't make for the most stable mindset and monsters in the dark were just a little more than he could handle.
He screamed. He couldn't seem to move as he stared in the shadows, looking for the monster his feverish mind knew was there.
The animal that stepped out into the moonlight was - theoretically - a wolf. Dark, thick fur, a graceful, muscled body and powerful jaws lined with razor-sharp, white teeth. Paws. A Tail.
But Boo was fairly certain that this type of wolf hadn't been since since the last Ice Age. It was huge, bigger than a Saint Bernard. It prowled forward and that was all it took. The druggie decided that even the fix he was so desperate for wasn't worth being eaten alive. He shot out of the alley like he'd been propelled from a cannon, crashing into trash cans and boxes as he fled.
The wolf barely spared him a glance. It's huge, bright eyes - the color of emeralds cut to perfection, real freaking emeralds - were steady on Boo, emotionless and intent. She was careful not to move as it came closer.
And then it was gone. It was so sudden that Boo jolted - then felt a flush of reflexive anger. She hated being startled like that.
A wolf. A huge, prehistoric-sized wolf that had come perhaps within four feet of her - and she hadn't been eaten. Boo let out a shaky, delighted breath, her heart lighter as she made her way towards her apartment.
And he'd done the job of scaring away the druggie. Boo hadn't been looking forward to beating the man senseless - because that's usually what it took.
Boo's apartment was huge. It was ragged, it was drafty and musty, had no electricity and her next door neighbors were gang members and prostitutes, but the locks were solid and the landlord was ex-Spetznaz who hated the current rulers in Russia and would throw you out of the second story of the building if you caused trouble.
The mustiness was mostly taken care of by the borax and baking soda that was spilled around the corners of the room, the lack of electricity scooted around by a little woodburning oven that Boo kept out on the balcony and an old-fashioned icebox that she kept in the corner and Boo's bed was a perfect nest of an abundance of blankets to ward off the cold. There was clean water at least, hot when you needed it and plenty of it. The landlord had installed filters and pumps in a -technically - illegal jack into the city's water system.
Boo was never late with the rent. Ever.
Shedding her filthy clothes, she took a quick shower and after a look in the icebox, Boo decided on a plump chicken breast poached with some herbs, a fat, oatmeal cookie and a cup of raw milk that she bought from an old woman and her son who came down from Targoviste.
Boo wasn't rich by any means, but when she was safe at home, she could almost forget that she was living in a country far away from everything she knew and would never be able to go home unless she wanted to flirt with the United America Intelligence Service. Would never see her parents, her uncles or aunts or cousins. Boo'd had a lot to loose. Now, she didn't even know if her family was alive, especially her parents.
She liked to dream about all the places she had gone as a child. Universal Citywalk, Renaissance Faires, Chinatown, downtown Los Angeles. So many. She'd never be able to see them again. If she ever set foot on the North American continent again or even mainstream Europe, the Communist People's Security Service would pass her over to the UAIS and that would be that.
The beeswax candles she also got from the old lady from Targoviste was the only light she had. Her son specialized in making them and also brought the raw honey and clarified butter that she used in her cookies. He was plain, but doted on his bees and had a warm smile that could warm Boo right down to her bones, especially after a really lousy day.
The meal was soothing. The little battery-operated CD player that Boo kept by her bed played Clannad from the collection of music and DVDs that Boo had hoarded and the sweet scent of the beeswax lulled her off to sleep.
Her last thought was of the wolf. Such a strange thing - but Romania was one of the original lands of fairy tales, after all. Locals told stories of ghosts, of boogeymen and demons. And of course, vampires and werewolves.
Once upon a time, Boo had wanted to write stories like that.
She stumbled to her feet, pinched out the candles and fell back into bed, slipping into dreams of wolves, drug-addicted madmen with the face of demons and a glowing palace of gold and blood.