Turn CoatJim Butcher
Two hours and half a dozen attempted tracking spells later, I snarled and slapped a stack of notepads off the corner of the table in my subbasement laboratory. They thwacked against the wall beneath Bob the Skull's shelf, and fell to the concrete floor.
"It was to be expected," Bob the Skull said, very quietly. Orange lights like the flickers of distant campfires glittered in the eye sockets of the bleached human skull that sat on its own shelf high up on one wall of my lab, bracketed by the remains of dozens of melted candles and half a dozen paperback romances. "The parent-to-child blood bond is much more sympathetic than that shared by half siblings. "
I glared at the skull and also kept my voice down. "You just can't go a day without saying that you told me so. "
"I can't help it if you're wrong all the time yet continually ignore my advice, sahib. I'm just a humble servant. "
I couldn't scream at my nonmaterial assistant with other people in the apartment above me, so I consoled myself by snatching up a pencil from a nearby work shelf and flinging it at him. Its eraser end hit the skull between the eyes.
"Jealousy, thy name is Dresden," Bob said with a pious sigh.
I paced up and down the length of my lab, burning off frustrated energy. It wasn't much of a walk. Five paces, turn, five paces, turn. It was a dank little concrete box of a room. Work benches lined three of the walls, and I had installed cheap wire shelving above them. The work benches and shelves were crowded with all manner of odds and ends, books, reagents, instruments, various bits of gear needed for alchemy, and scores of books and notebooks.
A long table in the middle of the room was currently covered by a canvas tarp, and the floor at the far end of the lab had a perfect circle of pure copper embedded in it. The remains of several differently structured tracking attempts were scattered on the floor around the circle, while the props and foci from the most recent failure were still inside it.
"One of them should have gotten me something," I told Bob. "Maybe not a full lock on Thomas's position-but a tug in the right direction, at least. "
"Unless he's dead," Bob said, "in which case you're just spinning your wheels. "
"He isn't dead," I said quietly. "Shagnasty wants to trade. "
"Uh-huh," Bob scoffed. "Because everyone knows how honorable the naagloshii are. "
"He's alive," I said quietly. "Or at least I'm going to proceed on that assumption. "
Bob somehow managed to look baffled. "Why?"
Because you need your brother to be all right, whispered a quiet voice in my head. "Because anything else isn't particularly useful toward resolving this situation," I said aloud. "Whoever is behind the curtains is using the skinwalker and probably Madeline Raith, too. So if I find Thomas, I find Shagnasty and Madeline, and I'll be able to start pulling threads until this entire mess unravels. "
"Yeah," Bob said, drawing out the word. "Do you think it'll take long to pull all those threads? Because the naagloshii is going to be doing something similar to your intestines. "
I made a growling sound in my throat. "Yeah. I think I got its number. "
"I keep trying to punch Shagnasty out myself," I said. "But its defenses are too good-and it's fast as hell. "
"He's an immortal semidivine being," Bob said. "Of course he's good. "
I waved a hand. "My point is that I've been trying to lay the beating on it myself. Next time I see it, I'm going to start throwing bindings on it, just to trip it up and slow it down, so whoever is with me can get a clean shot. "
"It might work. . . " Bob admitted.
"Thank you. "
". . . if he's such an idiot that he only bothered to learn to defend himself from violent-energy attacks," Bob continued, as if I hadn't spoken. "Which I think is almost as likely as you getting one of those tracking spells to work. He'll know how to defend himself from bindings, Harry. "
I sighed. "I've got gender issues. "
Bob blinked slowly. "Uh. Wow. I'd love to say something to make that more embarrassing for you, boss, but I'm not sure how. "
"Not my. . . augh. " I threw another pencil. It missed Bob and bounced off the wall behind him. "With the skinwalker. Is it actually a male? Do I call it a he?"
Bob rolled his eyelights. "It's a semidivine immortal, Harry. It doesn't procreate. It has no need to recombine DNA. That means that gender simply doesn't apply. That's something only you meat sacks worry about. "
"Then why is it that you stare at naked girls every chance you get," I said, "but not naked men?"
"It's an aesthetic choice," Bob said loftily. "As a gender, women exist on a plane far beyond men when it comes to the artistic appreciation of their external beauty. "
"And they have boobs," I said.
"And they have boobs!" Bob agreed with a leer.
I sighed and rubbed at my temples, closing my eyes. "You said the skinwalkers were semidivine?"
"You're using the English word, which doesn't really describe them very precisely. Most skinwalkers are just people-powerful, dangerous, and often psychotic people, but people. They're successors to the traditions and skills taught to avaricious mortals by the originals. The naagloshii. "
"Originals like Shagnasty," I said.
"He's the real deal, all right," Bob replied, his quiet voice growing more serious. "According to some of the stories of the Navajo, the naagloshii were originally messengers for the Holy People, when they were first teaching humans the Blessing Way. "
"Messengers?" I said. "Like angels?"
"Or like those guys on bikes in New York, maybe?" Bob said. "Not all couriers are created identical, Mr. Lowest-Common-Denominator. Anyway, the original messengers, the naagloshii, were supposed to go with the Holy People when they departed the mortal world. But some of them didn't. They stayed here, and their selfishness corrupted the power the Holy People gave them. Voila, Shagnasty. "
I grunted. Bob's information was anecdotal, which meant it could well be distorted by time and by generations of retelling. There probably wasn't any way to know the objective truth of it-but a surprising amount of that kind of lore remained fundamentally sound in oral tradition societies like those of the American Southwest. "When did this happen?"
"Tough to say," Bob said. "The traditional Navajo don't see time the way most mortals do, which makes them arguably smarter than the rest of you monkeys. But it's safe to assume prehistory. Several millennia. "
Thousands of years of survival meant thousands of years of accumulated experience. It meant that Shagnasty was smart and adaptable. The old skinwalker wouldn't still be around if it wasn't. I upgraded the creature, in my thoughts, from "very tough" to "damned near impossibly tough. "
But since it still had my brother, that didn't change anything.
"Don't suppose there's a silver bullet we can use?" I asked.
"No, boss," Bob said quietly. "Sorry. "
I grimaced, did a half-assed job of cleaning up the mess I'd made, and began to leave the lab. I paused before I left and said, "Hey, Bob. "
"Any thoughts as to why, when LaFortier was being murdered by a wizard, no one threw any magic around?"
"People are morons?"
"It's damned peculiar," I said.
"Irrationality isn't. " Bob said. "Wizards just aren't all that stable to begin with. "
Given what I had done with my life lately, I could hardly argue with him. "It means something," I said.
"Yeah?" Bob asked. "What?"
I shook my head. "Tell you when I figure it out. "
I went back up into my living room through the trapdoor in its floor. The door was a thick one. Sound didn't readily travel up from the lab when it was closed. Luccio was loaded with narcotics and asleep on my couch, lying flat on her back with no pillow, and covered with a light blanket. Her face was slack, her mouth slightly
open. It made her look vulnerable, and even younger than she already appeared. Molly sat in one of the recliners with several candles burning beside her. She was reading a paperback, carefully not opening the thing all the way to avoid creasing the spine. Pansy.
I went to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich. As I did, I reflected that I was getting really tired of sandwiches. Maybe I ought to learn to cook or something.
I stood there munching, and Molly came to join me.
"Hey," she said in muted tones. "How are you?"
She'd helped me bandage the fairly minor cut on my scalp when I had returned. Strips of white gauze bandage were wound around my head to form a lopsided, off-kilter halo. I felt like the fife player in Willard's iconic Spirit of '76.
"Still in one piece," I replied. "How are they?"
"Drugged and sleeping," she said. "Morgan's fever is up another half of a degree. The last bag of antibiotics is almost empty. "
I clenched my jaw. If I didn't get Morgan to a hospital soon, he was going to be just as dead as he would be if the Council or Shagnasty got hold of him.
"Should I get some ice onto him?" Molly asked anxiously.
"Not until the fever goes over one hundred and four, and stays there," I said. "That's when it begins to endanger him. Until then, it's doing what it's supposed to do and slowing the infection. " I finished the last bite of sandwich. "Any calls?"
She produced a piece of notebook paper. "Georgia called. Here's where Andi is. They're still with her. "
I took the paper with a grimace. If I hadn't let Morgan in my door half an eternity ago, he wouldn't have been in Chicago, Shagnasty wouldn't have been tailing me to find him, Andi wouldn't be hurt-and Kirby would still be alive. And I hadn't even tried to call and find out how she was. "How is she?"
"They still aren't sure," Molly said.
I nodded. "Okay. "
"Did you find Thomas?"
I shook my head. "Total bust. "
Mouse came shambling over. He sat down and looked up at me, his expression concerned.
She chewed on her lip. "What are you going to do?"
"I. . . " My voice trailed off. I sighed. "I have no idea. "
Mouse pawed at my leg and looked up at me. I bent over to scratch his ears, and instantly regretted it as someone tightened a vise on my temples. I straightened up again in a hurry, wincing, and entertained wild fantasies about lying down on the floor and sleeping for a week.
Molly watched me, her expression worried.
Right, Harry. You're still teaching your apprentice. Show her what a wizard should do, not what you want to do.
I looked at the paper. "The answer isn't obvious, which means that I need to put some more thought into it. And while I'm doing that, I'll go look in on Andi. "
Molly nodded. "What do I do?"
"Hold down the fort. Try to reach me at the hospital if anyone calls or if Morgan gets any worse. "
Molly nodded seriously. "I can do that. "
I nodded and grabbed my gear and the key to the Rolls. Molly went to the door, ready to lock it behind me when I left. I started to do just that-and then paused. I turned to my apprentice. "Hey. "
"Thank you. "
She blinked at me. "Um. What did I do?"
"More than I asked of you. More than was good for you. " I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you, Molly. "
She lifted her chin a little, smiling. "Well," she said. "You're just so pathetic. How could I turn away?"
That made me laugh, if only for a second, and her smile blossomed into something radiant.
"You know the drill," I said.
She nodded. "Keep my eyes open, be supercareful, don't take any chances. "
I winked at her. "You grow wiser, grasshopper. "
Molly started to say something, stopped, fidgeted for half a second, and then threw her arms around me in a big hug.
"Be careful," she said. "Okay?"
I hugged her back tight and gave the top of her head a light kiss. "Hang in there, kid. We'll get this straightened out. "
"Okay," she said. "We will. "
Then I headed out into the Chicago night wondering how-or if-that was possible.
I don't like hospitals-but then, who does? I don't like the clean, cool hallways. I don't like the stark fluorescent lights. I don't like the calm ring tones on the telephones. I don't like the pastel scrubs the nurses and attendants wear. I don't like the elevators, and I don't like the soothing colors on the walls, and I don't like the way everyone speaks in measured, quiet voices.
But mostly, I don't like the memories I've collected there.
Andi was still in intensive care. I wouldn't be able to go in to see her-neither would Billy and Georgia, if they hadn't arranged for power of attorney for medical matters, a few years back. It was long after standard visiting hours, but most hospital staffs stretch rules and look the other way for those whose loved ones are in ICU. The world has changed a lot over the centuries, but death watches are still respected.
Billy had come to me on the down low to set up power of attorney for me, in case he should be hospitalized without Georgia being nearby to handle matters. Though neither of us said so, we both knew why he really did it. The only reason Georgia wouldn't be there is if she was dead-and if Billy was in no shape to make decisions for himself, he didn't want to hang around and find out what his world would be like without her in it. He wanted someone he could trust to understand that.
Billy and Georgia are solid.
I'd spent some endless hours in Stroger's ICU waiting room, and it hadn't changed since I'd been there last. It was empty except for Georgia. She lay on the sofa, sleeping, still wearing her glasses. A book by what was presumably a prominent psychologist lay open on her stomach. She looked exhausted.
I bypassed the waiting room and went to the nurses' desk. A tired-looking woman in her thirties looked up at me with a frown. "Sir," she said, "it's well after visiting hours. "
"I know," I said. I took my notepad out of my pocket and scribbled a quick note on it. "I'll go back to the waiting room. The next time you go past Miss Macklin's room, could you please give this to the gentleman sitting with her?"
The nurse relaxed a little, and gave me a tired smile. "Certainly. It will just be a few minutes. "
I went back to the waiting room and settled into a chair. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back against the wall, and drowsed until I heard footsteps on tile.
Billy entered with a rolled-up blanket under his arm, glanced around the room, and nodded to me. Then he went immediately to Georgia. He took her glasses off, very gently, and picked up the book. Georgia never stirred. He put the book on the end table, and her glasses on top of it. Then he took the blanket from under his arm and covered her up. She murmured and stirred, but Billy shushed her quietly and stroked his hand over her hair. She sighed and shifted onto her side, then snuggled down under the blanket.
I reached up a hand and flicked the light switch beside my head. It left the room dim, if not really dark.
Billy smiled his thanks to me, and nodded toward the door. I got up and we walked out into the hallway together.
"Should have tried to call you sooner," I said. "I'm sorry. "
He shook his head. "I know how it is, man. No apology needed. "
"Okay," I said, without actually agreeing with him. "How is she?"
"Not good," he replied simply. "There was internal bleeding. It took two rounds of surgery to get it stopped. " The blocky young man shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "They told us if she makes it through the night, she'll be out of the worst of it. "
"How are you holding up?"
He shook his head again. "I don't know, man. I called Kirby's folks. I was his friend. I had to. The police had already contacted them, but it isn't the same. "
"No, it isn't. "
"They took it pretty hard. Kirby was an only child. "
I sighed. "I'm sorry. "
He shrugged. "Kirby knew the risks. He'd rather have died than stand by and do nothing. "
"I'd have lost it without her. Pillar of strength and calm," Billy said. He glanced back toward the waiting room and a smile touched the corners of his eyes. "She's good at setting things aside until there's time to deal with them. Once things have settled out, she'll be a wreck, and it'll be my turn to hold her up. "
Like I said.
"The thing that did Kirby took Thomas Raith," I said.
"The vampire you work with sometimes?"
"Yeah. As soon as I work out how to find it, I'm taking it down. The vampires are probably going to help-but I might need backup I can trust. "
Billy's eyes flickered with a sudden fire of rage and hunger. "Yeah?"
I nodded. "It's part of something bigger. I can't talk to you about everything that's going on. And I know Andi needs you here. I understand if you don't-"
Billy turned his eyes to me, those same dangerous fires smoldering. "Harry, I'm not going to move forward blind anymore. "
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that for years, I've been willing to help you, even though you could barely ever tell me what was actually happening. You've played everything close to the chest. And I know you had your reasons for that. " He stopped walking and looked up at me calmly. "Kirby's dead. Maybe Andi, too. "
My conscience wouldn't let me meet his gaze, even for an instant. "I know. "
He nodded. "So. If I'd had this conversation with you sooner, maybe they wouldn't be. Maybe if we'd had a better idea about what's actually going on in the world, it would have changed how we approached things. They follow my lead, Harry. I have a responsibility to make sure that I do everything in my power to make them aware and safe. "
"Yeah," I said. "I can see your point. "
"Then if you want my help, things are going to change. I'm not charging ahead blindfolded again. Not ever. "
"Billy," I said quietly. "This isn't stuff you can unlearn. Right now, you're insulated from the worst of what goes on because you're. . . I don't want to be insulting, but you're a bunch of amateurs without enough of a clue to be a real threat to anyone. "
His eyes darkened. "Insulated from the worst?" he asked in a quiet, dangerous voice. "Tell that to Kirby. Tell that to Andi. "
I took several steps away, pinched the bridge of my nose between thumb and forefinger, and closed my eyes, thinking. Billy had a point, of course. I'd been careful to control what information he and the Alphas had gotten from me, in an effort to protect them. And it had worked-for a while.
But now things were different. Kirby's death had seen to that.
"You're sure you don't want to back out?" I asked. "Once you're part of the scene, you aren't getting out of it. " I clenched my jaw for a second. "And believe it or not, Billy, yes. You have been insulated from the worst. "
"I'm not backing off on this one, Harry. I can't. " Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him fold his arms. "You're the one who wants our help. "
I pointed a finger at him. "I don't want it. I don't want to drag you into what's going on. I don't want you walking into more danger and getting hurt. " I sighed. "But. . . there's a lot at stake, and I think I might need you. "
"Okay, then," Billy said. "You know what it will cost. "
He stood facing me solidly, tired eyes steady, and I realized something I hadn't ever made into a tangible thought before: he wasn't a kid anymore. Not because he'd graduated, and not even because of how capable he was. He'd seen the worst-death, heartless and nasty, come to lay waste to everything it could. He knew in his heart of hearts, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it could come for him, take him as easily as it had taken Kirby.
And he was making a choice to stand his ground.
Billy Borden, kid werewolf, was gone.
Will was choosing to stand with me.
I couldn't treat him like a child anymore. Will was ignorant of the supernatural world beyond the fairly minor threats that lurked around the University of Chicago. He and the other werewolves had been kids who learned one really neat magic trick, almost ten years before. I hadn't shared more with them, and the paranormal community in general is careful about what they say to strangers. He had, at best, only a vague idea of the scope of supernatural affairs in general, and he had not the first clue about how hot the water really was around me right now.
Will had picked his ground. I couldn't keep him in the dark and tell myself that I was protecting him.
I nodded to a few chairs sitting along the wall at a nearby intersection of hallways. "Let's sit down. I don't have much time, and there's a lot to cover. I'll tell you everything when I get a chance, but for now all I can give you is a highlights reel. "
By the time I got done giving Will the CliffsNotes version of the supernatural world, I still hadn't come up with a plan. So, working on the theory that the proper answers just needed more time to cook, and that they could do so while I was on the move, I went back to my borrowed car and drove to the next place I should have visited sooner than I had.
Murphy used to have an office at the headquarters of CPD's Special Investigations department. Then she'd blown off her professional duty as head of the department to cover me during a furball that went bad on an epic scale. She'd nearly lost her job altogether, but Murph was a third-generation cop from a cop clan. She'd managed to gain enough support to hang on to her badge, but she had been demoted to Detective Sergeant and had her seniority revoked-a dead end for her career.
Now her old office was occupied by John Stallings, and Murphy had a desk in the large room that housed SI. It wasn't a new desk, either. One leg was propped up with a small stack of triplicate report forms. It wasn't unusual in that room. SI was the bottom of the chute for cops who had earned the wrath of their superiors or, worse, had taken a misstep in the cutthroat world of Chicago city politics. The desks were all battered and old. The walls and floor were worn. The room obviously housed at least twice as many work desks as it had been meant to contain.
It was late. The place was quiet and mostly empty. Whoever was on the night shift must have been out on a call of some kind. Of the three cops in the room, I only knew one of them by name-Murphy's current partner, a blocky, mildly overweight man in his late fifties, with hair going steadily more silver in sharp contrast to the dark coffee tone of his skin.
"Rawlins," I said.
He turned to me with a grunt and a polite nod. "Evening. "
"What are you doing here this late?"
"Giving my wife ammunition for when she drags my ass to court to divorce me," he said cheerfully. "Glad you made it in. "
"Murph around?" I asked.
He grunted. "Interrogation room two, with the British perp. Go on down. "
"Thanks, man. "
I went down the hall and around the corner. To my left was a security gate blocking the way to the building's holding cells. To the right was a short hallway containing four doors-two to the bathrooms, and two that led to the interrogation rooms. I went to the second room and knocked.
Murphy answered it, still wearing the same clothes she'd been in at the storage park. She looked tired and irritated. She grunted almost as well as Rawlins had, despite her complete lack of a Y-chromosome, and stepped out into the hall, shutting the door behind her.
She looked up and studied my head for a second. "What the hell, Harry?"
"Got a visit from Shagnasty the Skinwalker when I went to talk to Lara Raith. Any trouble with Binder?"
She shook her head. "I figured he'd have a hard time doing whatever he does if he can't get out of his chair or use his hands. I've been sitting with him, too, in case he tried to pull something. "
I lifted an eyebrow, impres
sed. There hadn't been time to advise her how to handle Binder safely, but she'd worked it out on her own. "Yeah, that's a pretty solid method," I said. "What's he in for, officially?"
"Officially, I haven't charged him yet," she said. "If I need to stick him with something, I can cite trespassing, destruction of property, and assault on a police officer. " She shook her head. "But we can't keep this close an eye on him forever. If I do press charges, it won't be long before he's under lighter security. I don't even want to think about what could happen if he got to turn those things loose inside a precinct house or prison. "
"Yeah," I said, nodding. "Long term, I don't think you can hold him. "
Her mouth twisted bitterly. "Hate it when I have to let pricks like that walk. "
"All the time," she said. "Legal loopholes, incorrect procedures, crucial evidence declared inadmissible. A lot of perps who are guilty as hell walk out without so much as a reprimand. " She sighed and twitched her shoulders into something like a shrug. "Ah, well. It's a messed-up world. Whatcha gonna do?"
"I hear that," I said. "Want to compare notes?"
"Sure," she said. "What did you get?"
I gave her the rundown of what had happened since I'd last seen her.
She grunted again when I finished. "Isn't that sort of dangerous? Involving the vampires?"
"Yeah," I said. "But it's Thomas. I think Lara is probably sincere about getting him back. Besides. Why worry about smoking in bed when your building is already on fire?"
"Point," she said. "I got the photos. They don't tell me anything new. I ran those account numbers you gave me through the system to see if anything came up. Brick wall. "
"It was a long shot anyway," she said.
"Binder give you anything?"
Her mouth scrunched up as if she wanted to spit out something that tasted terrible. "No. He's a hard case. Career criminal. He's been grilled before. "
"Yeah," I said. "And he knows that you can't do anything but make him sit still for a little while. If he gives us anything on his employer, he'll lose his credibility with clients-assuming that he lives that long. "
She leaned her shoulders back against the wall. "You say this Shagnasty thing has Thomas's cell phone?"
"Yeah. Think you can track it?"
"As part of what investigation?" she asked. "I don't have the kind of freedom to act that I used to. If I wanted to get what amounts to a wiretap, I'd have to get approval from a judge, and I don't know any of them who would take 'my friend the wizard's vampire brother was kidnapped by a demonic Navajo shapeshifter' as a valid justification for such a measure. "
"I hadn't really thought of it like that," I said.
She shrugged. "Honestly, I suspect Lara's resources and contacts are better than mine, given the time constraints. "
I couldn't quite suppress a growl of frustration. "If she learns anything. If she's honest about what she learns. "
Murphy frowned, scrunching up her nose. "Where was Thomas taken from?"
"I'm not certain, but I think he was at the storage park. His rental van was there, and he said something about not being able to handle all of them on his own. "
"Them? The grey suits?"
I nodded. "Most likely. But since Thomas never pitched in during the fight, I figure Shagnasty probably snuck up on him and grabbed him while he was being distracted by Binder and his pets. "
"And you can't track him down with magic. "
"No," I growled through clenched teeth. "Shagnasty is countering it somehow. "
"How is that possible?"
I took a moment to assemble my thoughts. "Tracking spells are like any kind of targeted thaumaturgy. You create a link, a channel to the target, and then pour energy into that channel. In the case of a tracking spell, you're basically just setting up a continuous trickle of energy, and then following it to the target-kind of like pouring water on a surface when you want to see which way is downhill. "
"Okay," she said. "I get that, mostly. "
"The way to stymie a tracking spell is to prevent that channel from ever being formed. If it never gets created, then it doesn't matter when the water gets poured. There's nothing to cause it to start flowing. And the way you prevent the channel from forming is to shield the target away from whatever focus you're using to create the link. "
"Well, for example. If I had one of your hairs and wanted to use it as part of a tracking spell, you might beat it by shaving off your hair. If the hair in my spell doesn't match up to an end somewhere on your head, no link gets created. So, unless I had a hair that had been torn out from the roots, and fairly recently, you'd be hidden. "
"And that's the only way to beat a tracking spell?"
"Nah," I said. "A good circle of power could probably screen you off, if you took the time and money to give it serious juice. Theoretically, you could also cross into the Nevernever. Thaumaturgy originating on the earth doesn't cross into the spirit world very efficiently-and before you ask, yeah, I tried it from the Nevernever side, too. It was failed spell number three. "
Murphy frowned. "What about Justine?" she asked. "Justine was able to find him once before. "
I grimaced. "She was able to give us a vague direction a few hours after Thomas had ripped most of the life out of her. It isn't the same this time. "
"Because she wasn't sensing Thomas so much as the missing part of her own life force. They haven't been together like that in years. Thomas-digested, I guess you could say-all of that energy a long time ago. "
Murphy sighed. "I've seen you do some neat stuff, Harry. But I guess magic doesn't fix everything. "
"Magic doesn't fix anything," I said. "That's what the person using it is for. " I rubbed at my tired eyes.
"Speaking of," she said. "Any thoughts as to why these wizards didn't seem to be using magic?"
"Not yet," I said.
"Any thoughts as to the nature of our perpetrator?"
"A couple," I said. "There are all these disparate elements in play-Shagnasty, Binder, Madeline Raith. There is serious money moving around. And if we don't find this cockroach and drag him into the light, things are going to be bad for everyone. I don't know what that tells us about him. "
"That he's really smart," Murphy said. "Or really desperate. "
I arched an eyebrow. "How do you figure?"
"If he's superbrilliant, it's possible that we haven't even seen the shape of his plan yet. All of this could be one big boondoggle to set us up for the real punch. "
"You don't sound like you think that's the case. "
She gave me a faint smile. "Criminals aren't usually the crispiest crackers in the box. And you have to remember that even though we're flailing around looking for answers, the perp is in the same situation. He can't be sure where we are, what we know, or what we're doing next. "
"Fog of war," I said thoughtfully.
She shrugged. "I think it's a much more likely explanation than that our perp is some kind of James Bond super-genius villain slowly unfolding his terrible design. They've shown too much confusion for that. "
"Shagnasty was following you a couple of nights ago, right?"
"Well, so was this PI you told me about. Why stick you with two tails? Maybe because the right hand didn't know what the left one was doing. "
"Hngh," I agreed.
"From what you say, Shagnasty isn't exactly an errand boy. "
"No, it isn't. "
"But it's apparently coordinating with the perp, taking orders. It didn't absolutely need to deliver its demand in person. I think it's pretty obvious that it smashed its way into the Château to provide a distraction so that Madeline could make her getaway. "
I blinked. Once I'd alerted Lara to the probability of Madeline's treachery, she most cer
tainly would have taken steps to detain her. Madeline must have known that. I tried to remember how long it had been between the time Luccio and I arrived, and when the naagloshii attacked. Time enough for Madeline to hear about our presence, assume that the worst had happened, and make a phone call for help?
Murphy peered at me. "I mean, it is obvious, right?"
"I got hit on the head, okay?"
She smirked at me.
"Hell's bells," I muttered. "Yes, it's obvious. But not necessarily stupid. "
"Not stupid, but I don't think it would be unfair to call it a desperation move. I think Shagnasty was the perp's ace in the hole. I think that when Morgan escaped, the perp figured out where he was headed, the pressure got to him, and he played his hole card. Only when Shagnasty found you, you weren't actually with Morgan. He got spooked when you and the werewolves nearly pinned him down, and ran off. "
"The perp grabs one of his other tools," I said, nodding. "Madeline. Tells her to find me and take me out, make me talk, whatever. Only Thomas beats her senseless instead. "
"Makes sense," Murphy said.
"Doesn't mean that's how it happened. "
"Had to happen some way," she said. "Say we're in the right ballpark. What does that tell us?"
"Not much," I said. "Some very bad people are in motion. They're tough. The one guy we've managed to grab won't tell us a damned thing. The only thing we're certain we know is that we've got nothing. "
I was going to continue, but a thought hit me and I stopped talking.
I gave it a second to crystallize.
Then I started to smile.
Murphy tilted her head, watching, and prompted, "We've got nothing?"
I looked from Murphy to the door to the interrogation room.
"Forget it," she said. "He isn't going to put us on to anyone. "
"Oh," I drawled. "I'm not so sure about that. . . "