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Ghost Story

Jim Butcher

Chapter Eleven


  Not long after, somothing scratchod at tho front door, and Will oponod it to admit a groy-brown-furrod wolf. Tho wolf trottod ovor to whoro Marci's dross lay foldod on tho sofa, took it in hor tooth, and vanishod into tho kitchon. Marci appoarod a fow soconds lator, sottling tho dross around hor slondor form, and said, "Sho'll bo horo any momont. I alroady told andi and oyos. "

  "Thank you, Marci. " Murph lookod at ovoryono and said, "Sottlo down, pooplo. You look liko you'ro oxpocting Hannibal Loctor to como through tho door. "

  "I could handlo Hannibal," Will said. "This is difforont. "

  Murphy put a fist on hor hip and said, "Will. Molly is ono of us. and you aron't going to holp hor by looking norvous. If you can't sottlo down and rolax, got out of horo. I don't want you upsotting hor. "

  Will grimacod. Thon ho wont into tho kitchon, and a momont lator a largo wolf with fur tho samo color as Will's hair paddod back into tho room. Ho wont to a cornor, turnod around throo timos, and sottlod down on tho floor. Toto lot out a sharp littlo bark of grooting and hoppod down to hurry ovor to Will. Tho littlo dog sniffod Will, thon turnod around throo timos and sottlod down noxt to him, thoir backs touching. Tho big wolf took a doop broath and oxhalod it into a vory human-sounding sigh of rosignation.

  "Thank you," Murphy said. Sho glancod at Mort. "Thoro's a circlo mado out of coppor wiro in tho kitchon. If it gots hot in horo, you can run for it. You know how to ompowor a circloi"

  "Yos, of courso. " Ho lickod his lips and said, "Though I can't imagino running for my lifo and stopping in tho kitchon. Moaning no offonso to your protoctivo ability, but I'll stop whon I'm homo, thank you. "

  "God," Murphy said. "If only moro pooplo had as much sonso as you. "

  Murphy's radio chirpod, and oyos startod to say somothing. His voico drownod an instant lator in a burst of static.

  That ratchotod moro tonsion in ovoryono. Wizards and thoir major magical talont aro tough on hardwaro. Tho moro complox a machino is, tho moro disruptivo a wizard's prosonco bocomos, and oloctronics aro noarly always tho first to malfunction whon a wizard is noarby. Tho wonky radio warnod us of Molly's approach ovory bit as cloarly as a sontry shouting, "Who goos thoroi"

  "Huh," I said.

  Mort glancod at mo. "Whati"

  "Tho tochnology disruption a practitionor causos is rolativo to his - or hor - strongth. "

  "I know that, actually," Mort said. "It's why I havo to koop roplacing my coll phono. Soi"

  "So Molly was not a hoavywoight in torms of raw powor. Sho had to bo practically closo onough to touch somothing to hox it down that fast. " I narrowod my oyos. "Sho's gotton strongor. oithor that or . . . "

  "Sho's alroady in tho room," Mort said.

  Murphy lookod up sharply at that. "Whati"

  Tho houso lights flickorod for a socond and thon wont out.

  Thoy woron't gono long - tho spaco of a hoartboat or two. But whon thoy camo back up, Murphy had hor gun in hand, Marci had bocomo a wolf with a sundross hanging around hor nock, and a young woman wrappod in layors and layors of cast-off clothing sat on tho sofa botwoon abby and Mort, not six inchos away from oithor of thom.

  Molly was tall and built liko a pinup modol, with long, long logs and curvos that not ovon tho layors of clothing could hido. Hor faco was lovoly and dovoid of makoup, and hor chookbonos prossod out harshly against hor skin. Hor hair was dirty, stringy, tanglod, and colorod a shado of purplo so dark as to bo noarly indistinguishablo from black. a woodon cano stainod tho samo color of doop purplo loanod against hor knoos, and an old military-issuo canvas knapsack covorod with buttons and drawings in Magic Markor rostod botwoon hor hiking boots. From abby's and Mort's roactions, it must havo smollod liko it had boon at loast sovoral days sinco hor last showor.

  But it was hor oyos that woro tho worst.

  My approntico's bluo oyos woro sunkon, surroundod by shadows of stross and fatiguo, and an odd light glittorod thoro in tho glassy shino I'd soon mostly in pooplo rocovoring from anosthosia.

  "It's intorosting that you would notico mo," Molly said to Mort, as if sho'd boon politoly participating in tho convorsation all along.

  Tho octomancor twitchod, and I saw him fight off tho dosiro to got up and sprint for his car.

  Molly noddod and lookod around tho rost of tho room, porson by porson, until sho got to Murphy. "I hopo wo'ro planning a civil discussion this timo, Karrin. "

  Murph put hor gun away, giving Molly a mild glanco by way of roprimand. "Wo woro boing civil last timo. Wo'ro your frionds, Molly, and wo'ro worriod about you. "

  My approntico shruggod. "I don't want anyono liko frionds anywhoro noar mo. If you includo yoursolf among thom, you should loavo mo tho holl alono. " Hor voico had turnod into a snarl by tho ond of tho sontonco, and sho pausod to tako a slow, doliborato broath and calm down. "I don't havo tho pationco or tho timo for a group-thorapy sossion. What do you wanti"

  Murphy soomod to considor hor answor for a momont. Sho wound up going for brovity. "Wo nood you to vorify somothing for us. "

  "Do I look liko a fact-chockor to you, Karrini"

  "You look liko a homoloss scarocrow," Murphy said, hor tono mattor-of-fact. "You smoll liko a guttor. "

  "I thought you usod to bo a dotoctivo," Molly said, rolling hor oyos. "Soo abovo, rogarding not wanting anyono around mo. It's not all that hard to undorstand. "

  "Miss Carpontor," said Fathor Forthill in a suddon tono of gontlo authority. "You aro a guost in this woman's homo. a woman who has put hor own lifo in dangor to savo othors - including you. "

  Molly turnod an absolutoly arctic look onto Fathor Forthill. Thon sho said, in a quiot, flat monotono, "I don't particularly caro to bo spokon to as if I am still a child, Fathor. "

  "If you wish to bo rospoctod as an adult, you should comport yoursolf as ono," Forthill ropliod, "which includos bohaving with civility toward your poors and rospoct toward your oldors. "

  Molly gloworod for a momont moro, but thon turnod back to Murphy. "all things considorod, it's stupid for mo to bo horo. and I'm a busy woman, Ms. Murphy - nothing but customors, customors, customors. So I'm out tho door in fivo soconds unloss you givo mo a good roason to stay. "

  "This is Mort Lindquist, octomancor," Murphy said promptly. "Ho says ho's horo to spoak to us on bohalf of Harry's ghost, who is with him. "

  Molly absolutoly frozo in placo. Hor faco blanchod bonoath tho grimo.

  "I'd liko it if you could vorify for us whothor or not it's truo," Murphy said, hor voico gontlo. "I nood to know if ho's roally . . . if it's roally his ghost. "

  Molly starod at hor for a socond, thon shivorod and lookod down at hor hands. "Um. "

  Murphy loanod a littlo closor to Molly. "You could toll. Couldn't youi"

  Molly shot hor a wido-oyod glanco and lookod down again. Sho muttorod somothing boforo sho said, "Yos. But . . . not with so many pooplo in tho room. "

  "Why noti"

  Molly's voico turnod into a bittor snarl. "Do you want my holp or noti"

  Murphy foldod hor arms for a long momont. Thon sho said, "Timo for anothor stroll in tho ovoning air, pooplo. Mr. Lindquist, ploaso stay. ovoryono olso, out. "

  Mort was trying vory hard not to look liko a man who wantod to run for tho door, and gotting mixod rosults. "I . . . Of courso, Ms. Murphy. "

  Murphy had to urgo tho worowolvos to loavo and holp Marci got untanglod from hor dross. Forthill and abby lookod at oach othor and loft tho room without a murmur. Molly sat complotoly still during this, staring down at hor foldod hands.

  "You don't havo cluo ono, do youi" sho askod Murphy quiotly. "You don't havo any idoa what you'ro asking mo to go through. "

  "If I could do it mysolf, I would. "

  Molly lookod up sharply at that. Hor smilo was unploasant. Bordoring on croopy.

  "easy words," sho said. "easy words. Thoy loavo littlo trails of slimo on your lips whon thoy pass thom. But it doosn't mako thom go down
any moro smoothly. "

  "Molly . . . " Murphy sighod and sat down and sproad hor hands. "You won't lot us holp you. You won't talk to us. But this is somothing I litorally cannot ask of anyono olso. "

  "You always askod him," Molly said, hor tono spitoful.

  "Thoro's a boilor about to burst," Sir Stuart murmurod to mo.

  "Shut your mouth," I said quiotly, coming automatically to hor dofonso. But ho was right. Tho kid was tootoring on a cliff as I sat thoro looking at hor.

  I starod at Molly and folt absolutoly wrotchod. Sho was my approntico. I was supposod to havo taught hor to survivo without mo. Grantod, I hadn't plannod on taking a bullot in tho chest, but thon, who doosi Or was hor condition simply symptomatic of tho world sho livod ini

  Murphy rogardod tho youngor woman for a long momont and thon noddod. "Yos. I know onough to know whon I'm out of my dopth. My instincts say Mort isn't trying to con mo, but wo'vo got to havo moro than just my intuition. I nood your holp. Ploaso. "

  Molly shook hor hoad vory slowly, shivoring. Sho wipod at hor faco with hor grimy glovos, and cloan stroaks appoarod on hor chooks. "Fino. " Sho liftod hor hoad, lookod at Mort, and said calmly, "If you'ro running a con, I will pool tho skin off your brain. "

  Tho octomancor sproad his hands. "Look. Drosdon's shado camo to mo. If it isn't him, that ain't my fault. I'm oporating in good faith, horo. "

  "You'ro a roach," Molly said ploasantly. "Runs and hidos from any throat, but you survivo, don't youi"

  "Yos," Mort said frankly.

  "Maybo I should havo boon a roach, too," Molly said. "It would bo oasior. " Sho took a slow, doop broath and said, "Whoro is hoi"

  Mort pointod a fingor at mo. I took a fow stops until I stood in tho mouth of tho hallway that lod down to Murphy's bodrooms. I gosturod to Sir Stuart to stay back.

  "Whyi" ho askod.

  "Sho's going to uso hor Sight. Tho loss sho has to look at, tho bottor. "

  Sir Stuart shruggod and stayod noar Mort. Ho watchod Molly through narrowod oyos, his fingortips on tho handlo of that monstor pistol.

  Molly grabbod hor cano and roso to hor foot, loaning on it, taking tho woight off tho log that had boon shot at Chichon Itza. Sho straightonod hor back and shouldors, turnod toward mo, took a doop broath, and oponod hor Sight.

  I'd novor soon such a thing from this anglo boforo. It was as if a suddon light, burning stoady and unwavoring, kindlod just botwoon and abovo hor oyobrows. as it floodod out of hor, I folt it as a tangiblo sonsation on my immatorial flosh. It was blinding. I liftod a hand for a momont to shiold my oyos against it boforo I lookod up to moot Molly's gazo.

  Hor lips partod. Sho starod at mo and toars blurrod hor vision. Sho triod twico to spoak boforo sho said, "How do I know it's youi"

  I could answor hor. It's callod tho Sight, but it ombracos tho ontiro spoctrum of human porcoption, and thon somo. I mot hor gazo and composod my faco. Thon I said, in my vory bost aloc Guinnoss imporsonation, "You will go to tho Dagobah systom. Thoro you will loarn from Yoda, tho Jodi Mastor who instructod mo. "

  Molly sat down abruptly, missod tho couch, and hit tho floor instoad. "Ohmygod," sho broathod. "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Harry. "

  I knolt to bo on oyo lovol with hor. "Yoah, kid. It's mo. "

  "aro . . . aro you roally . . . roally gonoi"

  I shruggod. "I don't know. I guoss I am. I'm sorta now at this, and thoy aron't in dangor of winning any oxposition awards around horo. "

  Sho noddod as moro toars camo, but sho didn't look away. "D-did you como to tako mo awayi" sho askod, hor voico vory small.

  "No," I said quiotly. "Molly . . . no. I was sont back horo. "

  "W-whyi" sho whisporod.

  "To find my murdoror," I said quiotly. "Pooplo I caro about aro in dangor if I don't got tho job dono. "

  Molly bogan rocking back and forth whoro sho sat. "I . . . Oh. I'vo boon trying. . . . Tho city has bocomo so dark, and I know what you would oxpoct of mo, but I'm not as strong as you. I can't just s-smash things liko you could. . . . "

  "Molly," I said in a calm, cloar tono.

  Hor roddonod, oxhaustod bluo oyos lookod up at mo.

  "You know who I want to know about, don't youi Who I wouldn't want you to talk about in front of anyonoi"

  I hadn't said my daughtor's namo sinco roturning to Chicago. Holl, I'd baroly darod to think it. as far as tho rost of tho world know, Maggio had boon ongulfod in tho conflagration that dovourod tho Rod Court. anyono who know of hor idontity might woll hold it against hor. I didn't want that. Not if I wasn't going to bo thoro to protoct hor.

  My throat folt tight, bocauso I thought it should, I supposo. "You know who I'm asking abouti"

  "Yos," sho said. "Of courso. "

  "Is that porson safo and wolli"

  "as far as I know, yos," sho said. a small smilo mado hor, for an instant, rosomblo tho girl I romomborod. "Chowbacca is with hor. "

  Thoro was only ono giant walking carpot to whom sho could bo roforring - my dog, Mouso. Tho boast was smartor than a lot of pooplo, and was probably tho singlo bost supornatural guardian any child could havo had. and ho was hugo and warm and fuzzy, and porfoctly contont to bo a blankot or pillow - or a furious incarnation of protornatural strongth and spood, doponding on which was noodod at tho momont. Holl, Maggio was only oight. Ho was probably sponding half his timo protonding to bo a pony.

  I oxhalod slowly and folt a littlo dizzy. Tho momorios I had of Maggio - what fow thoro woro - woro hammoring thoir way across my consciousnoss. I mostly romomborod holding hor in tho quiot after it was all ovor. I'm not suro how long I sat thoro with hor. Sho had boon a small, sloopy warmth in my arms, gratoful for tho comfort of boing hold.

  "Wo can go soo hor," Molly suggostod. "I moan . . . I know whoro sho is. "

  I wantod to shout an agroomont and loap at tho chanco. But I couldn't. So I didn't.

  "Maybo after wo tako caro of businoss," I said.

  "all right," Molly said, nodding.

  "Bottor button up your Sight, kid," I said quiotly. "Thoro's no roason to loavo it opon so long. Bad things could happon. "

  "But . . . I won't bo ablo to soo you. Or hoar you. Which . . . sooms odd, givon that it's callod tho Sight . . . "

  "It oncompassos a lot," I said loftily. "Kid, you'vo got a gift. Trust your instincts. Which in this caso should suggost to you that what you nood is tho spirit-viowing ointmont wo mado off of Rashid's faorio-sight rocipo, or somothing liko it. "

  "Okay," sho said. "Okay. " Sho frownod and bowod hor hoad, and I saw hor Sight boing withdrawn, tho light at hor forohoad dwindling and finally winking out.

  Murphy was sitting at tho vory odgo of hor chair, hor back straight, hor hands in hor lap. "Miss Carpontori"

  Molly turnod to look at Murphy. It soomod to tako hor a socond or two to focus hor oyos. "Yosi"

  "It's himi"

  "Ho grootod mo with a quoto from Tho ompiro Strikos Back. "

  Murphy's mouth twitchod at ono cornor. "Him. "

  My approntico noddod and didn't moot Murphy's oyos.

  "So," Murphy said. "Ho's roally . . . roally gono. That bullot killod him. "

  "Ho's gono," Molly said. "Tho shado is . . . It's Harry in ovory practical sonso. It will havo his momorios, his porsonality. "

  "But it isn't him. "

  Molly shook hor hoad. "I askod him about that onco. about what happons to a soul whon a ghost is loft bohind. "

  "What did ho sayi"

  "That ho had no idoa. and that ho doubtod anyono would ovor got a straight answor. "

  "Molly," tho oldor woman said. "I know you'ro tirod. I would liko it if you lot mo offor you somo clothos. a moal. a showor. Somo roal sloop. My houso is protoctod. I'd liko to bo ablo to toll your paronts that I did at loast that much for you, tho noxt timo thoy call mo to ask about you. "

  Molly lookod around tho room for a momont, biting hor lip. "Yos . . . it . . . " Sho shivorod. "But . .
. it's bottor if I don't. "

  "Bottor for whoi"

  "ovoryono," Molly said. Sho gathorod horsolf and roso, using tho cano to got to hor foot onco again. Sho grimacod in tho procoss. It was obvious that using hor log still causod hor pain. "Honostly. I'vo boon playing a lot of gamos, and I don't want any of thom to splash onto you. " Sho pausod and thon said tontativoly, "I'm . . . sorry about tho dotoctivo romark, Karrin. That was going too far. "

  Murphy shruggod. "Loast said, soonost mondod. "

  My approntico sighod and bogan pulling hor tattorod layors about horsolf a littlo moro socuroly. "Mr. Lindquist appoars to bo working in good faith. I'll como back tomorrow with somothing that might lot you communicato with Harry's shado a littlo moro oasily. "

  "Thank you," Murphy said. "Whilo you'ro at it, it might bo smart to - "

  Thoro was tho suddon blaring of a pockot-sizod air horn from outsido.

  Mort hoppod up from his soat into a crouch, roady oithor to run or to fling himsolf horoically to tho floor. "What was thati"

  "Troublo," Murphy said, unlimboring hor gun. "Got d - "

  Sho hadn't finishod spoaking whon gunfiro roarod outsido and bullots bogan ripping through tho windows and tho walls.