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Moonwolf: Shadow and Cloud

Chapter 2:

A Scent in the Crowd


The Galaxy City Egress to Greater Rhode Island, its official name, was no
small concern.  As the main entry into the War-Walled security of Paragon
City, it handled hundreds of people per day, not to mention shipments of
goods from all over the world.  It had two tollway exits, a train station, a
bus depot, two dozen cab stands and over a thousand parking spaces.  The
Tunnel, as the whole operation was called, was 120 feet wide, 40 feet tall
and 65 yards long.  It was made of reinforced concrete 6 feet thick.  It was
secured at either end by two massive steel gates so heavy the hydraulics
used to open them required a generator the size of a boxcar.

Since the Rikti War the Tunnel’s commanding officer (as everyone knew) was
Colonel John Montgomery West, otherwise known as the crimefighter Watchdog.  
At 6’4” and a very fit 260 lbs. he was as intimidating as the giant black
gates he guarded.  Colonel West oversaw the arrival and departure of over
5,000 people and vehicles per day.  His jurisdiction may only have been the
size of a professional football stadium, but it was the most heavily guarded
area of Paragon City, boasting a security force of 200.  In addition to
Colonel West’s duties as the Tunnel’s commanding officer, he also saw to the
maintenance and security of each zone gate inside the city itself.  From
sunup to sundown he was a man in almost constant motion, with a full
complement of very serious responsibilities and a train of a dozen
assistants following, waiting to respond immediately to orders barked in
that (by now) very recognizable gravelly voice.

So it goes without saying that it took a lot to get Colonel West’s attention
and even more to hold it, but in the space of fifteen seconds West’s (or
more accurately Watchdog’s) enhanced senses not only spotted young Dexter
Mooney standing quietly amid the morning throng of commuters, they warned
him in the strongest terms not to allow Dexter Mooney to take one step
inside his beloved city.

On the outside Dexter was nothing special.  Skinny, but of average height
and weight, with an average amount of uncombed brown hair and a wrinkled set
of medium-sized clothes (except for an oversized coat which was clearly not
his), Dexter was almost remarkable in his unremarkableness.  But as Colonel
West paced quickly by the waiting crowd – businessmen and women, delivery
people, bike messengers, corporate mail carriers, and others – he picked up
something, a cloudy notion of trouble, and after one long look at the sea of
faces settled without doubt on slim, quiet Dexter Mooney.

“Him,” he said to Lieutenant Mike Crespi, his second in command.  “Don’t let
him in.  I want to talk to him.”

In five minutes Dexter found himself plucked from the throng, walked by
armed escort up seven flights of stairs, and seated in a large plain office
with a huge desk in front of him.  “I was scared,” Dexter recalled to me.  
“He was so big and he had his military uniform on and everything.  The
guards stood behind me with guns.  I didn’t want to move a muscle.  The
Minion sensed it too.  It sort of cringed into the back of my mind like it
was trying to make itself smaller.  It wanted to hide.”



“Welcome to Paragon City,” said West politely, but it wasn’t a greeting.  It
was the kind of politeness enemies offer one another before battle.
“I’m not feeling very welcome,” said Dexter sullenly.
West grunted a quick laugh.  “I suppose not,” he admitted.  “Do you know why
you were brought here?”
Dexter only shook his head.

West interlaced his fingers and put them on top of his desk.  He leaned
toward Dexter.  “Once upon a time I ran with the Heroes inside the walls of
this city.  I ran with the big boys – and girls.  Statesman himself mentored
me. For a short time anyway.  Back Street Brawler, Minotaur and I used to
clear the streets of King’s Row fifty Skulls at a time.”
“You’re a Hero,” said Dexter.
“Retired Hero,” West said.  “Took a point blank cannon shot from one of
Nemesis’ Warhulks and it put me out of the fight for good.  But I still have
some of my powers.  For example, I still know evil when I smell it.”

The word evil hung in the air between them like a noose.  Dexter felt
the Minion go still.

*Say nothing!* it whispered harshly in his head.

Dexter knew he had to think fast.  Saying nothing was only going to get him
a car ride right back home, and he couldn’t go home.  He said “Sir, I’m
sorry about the jacket.  I didn’t mean to steal it, but I was freezing and
far from home without any money.  If you want I’ll go back to the Salvation
Army and return it.  I swear.  I don’t want to go to jail.”
But West shook his head.  “I don’t mean guilt, though I can smell that, too.
  I mean evil.  Now why would I smell that on you? Can you answer that?”

Like any good Debating team member, Dexter considered his options.  He
needed to get into the city if he was to have any chance of finding the
Circle of Thorns and getting the Minion out of his body, but he couldn’t be
locked up in jail with it in his head the rest of his life.  So how does he
convince West to let him enter the city?  He knew he had to convince West he
wasn’t a threat, but how?  Then it hit him.  “I think I can answer that,
sir,” he said.

The Minion pushed forward and its raspy voice whispered harshly in his head:

*Foolish boy!  You will condemn us both!*

Dexter pushed back.  Shut up!  I trying to save us, you idiot!  To
his surprise and great satisfaction the Minion retreated, its voice
momentarily silent.  Dexter turned to Colonel West.

“I traveled here on foot.  Three days ago I got caught in a thunderstorm and
spent the night in a cave.  In that cave I found a tunnel leading back into
the hills.  I followed it.  At the end was a room.  It was carved out of the
rock.  It was lit by a strange green light.  When I entered the room I saw a
golden crystal formation in the middle of the floor.  It was about the size
of my folks’ Taurus.  It hummed to me, made my stomach vibrate.  If you want
to know the truth it made me kind of sick.  I’m not sure what it was and I
don’t care, all I know is I’ve felt sick ever since.  Whatever it was, it’s
probably what you smell on me.  What you smell is the evil of that thing.  
And Colonel West?”
“Yes?”
“If you can smell evil and guilt, then my guess is you can tell when
someone’s lying.  Do you think I’m lying?”

West paused and stared at Dexter for a long silent moment.  “No,” he said
finally, “You’re not lying.  What you’re saying is the truth, or at least
what you think is the truth.  And I’ll tell you something else: I know
you’re not telling me the whole truth.  But I don’t think you’re evil.  I
think you rubbed up against something evil.  I think it’s invaded your body
like a sort of virus.”

“That’s exactly what it feels like, sir,” Dexter agreed.  “And believe me, I
didn’t want to come here.  I wanted to go to Florida.  But then this…  It
changed my plans.  I’m here now because Paragon City is the place where
anything can happen.  Everyone in the country knows that.  I came here
because I didn’t know where else to go.  I figure, if there’s a place where
I can find someone or something that can get this sickness out of me, it’s
here.  Can you help me?  I swear, once this thing is gone – this sickness –  
I’ll leave and never come back.”

“West was silent for what seemed like an hour.  Dexter could see he was
weighing his options.  Finally West said, “Part of my job is to prevent
criminals and malicious entities from leaving the City.  I have designed the
operation of the Tunnel and the Zone gates to do just that.  But in my eight
years as commander of the Paragon City Egress I have never once considered
that evil would want to simply walk in with the morning commuter crowd.  Not
once.  You, Mr. Mooney, have done something in the last fifteen minutes that
no criminal organization or malicious entity has been able to do in the last
eight years.  You have surprised me.  What’s more, you have prompted me to
do something else, something that I will not likely ever do again.  In spite
of the scent of evil on you and in you, I am going to let you enter my
city.”

A warm wave of immense relief coursed through Dexter.  “Thank you, sir.  
Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Mooney,” replied Colonel West.  “I’m not going to let
you just walk in and disappear.  It so happens that I know someone who may
be able to help you with your problem.  Her name is Azuria and she’s the
M.A.G.I. director in Atlas Park.  I’m sending three of my security
regiment--” (he motioned and nodded to one of the men standing nearby and
the man nodded and quickly left the room) “--to escort you to her.  If they
have any problems with you – any problems whatsoever -- they are
under strict orders to bring you back to me and I will personally kick your
skinny white butt out of my city.  You understand?”
“Yes, sir.”

The door opened and three Guardsmen tromped in.  Their heavy black military
boots sounded like drums as they marched in perfect unison.  Colonel West
addressed the tallest, the one he had sent out a minute earlier.  “Sgt.
Milgard, you will escort this young man inside the city.  You will take him
to City Hall in Atlas Park.  You will take him to Azuria and you will stand
by.  If she vouches for his conduct you will leave him in her custody and he
will be her responsibility.  If she cannot vouch for his lawful conduct in
my city you will return here with him immediately and I’ll escort him out of
the city limits myself.  Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir!”
“Very well.”  He turned back to me.  “Do you have any I.D.?”
“Yes, sir.  I have my driver’s license.”
“Fine.  Give it to me.”

Dexter did.  West took it and eyed it like he was trying to memorize every
line and letter on it.  Then to Dexter’s complete surprise he leaned toward
me and took a long loud sniff.  He looked hard at Dexter and handed the
license back.  “Thank you.  Now I’ll be able to find you if I need you.  
Don’t make me need to find you.”
“Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”
“Now get out of my office.  And Mooney?”
“Yes, sir?” said Dexter as he rose to leave.
“Good luck, son.”


TO CHAPTER 3 >



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