Turn Coat, Page 8Jim Butcher
The portal in my hideaway opened three steps from the trail in the Nevernever, all right, but those three steps weren't handicapped-accessible. Molly and I each had to get under one of Morgan's arms and half carry him to the trail. I left Molly and Mouse with him, went back half carry him to the trail. I left Molly and Mouse with him, went back and got the wheelchair, and dragged it up the frozen slope to a path that was all but identical to the one I'd been on earlier.
We loaded Morgan into the wheelchair again. He was pale and shaking by the time we were finished. I laid a hand against his forehead. It was hot with fever.
Morgan jerked his head away from my fingers, scowling.
"What is it?" Molly asked. She had thought to grab both coats I'd had waiting, and had already put one of them on.
"He's burning up," I said quietly. "Butters said that could mean the wound had been infected. "
"I'm fine," Morgan said, shivering.
Molly helped him into the second coat, looking around at the frozen, haunted wood with nervous eyes. "Shouldn't we get him out of the cold, then?"
"Yeah," I said, buttoning my duster shut. "It's maybe ten minutes from here to the downtown portal. "
"Does the vampire know about that, too?" Morgan growled.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That you'd be walking into an obvious trap, Dresden. "
"All right, that's it," I snapped. "One more comment about Thomas and you're going body sledding. "
"Thomas?" Morgan's pale face turned a little darker as he raised his voice. "How many corpses is it going to take to make you come to your senses, Dresden?"
Molly swallowed. "Harry, um, excuse me. "
Both of us glared at her.
She flushed and avoided eye contact. "Isn't this the Nevernever?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Obviously," Morgan said at the same time.
We faced each other again, all but snarling.
"Okay," Molly said. "Haven't you told me that it's sort of dangerous?" She took a deep breath and hurried her speech. "I mean, you know. Isn't it sort of dumb to be standing here arguing in loud voices? All things considered?"
I suddenly felt somewhat foolish.
Morgan's glower waned. He bowed his head wearily, folding his arms across his belly.
"Yeah," I said, reining in my own temper. "Yeah, probably so. "
"Not least because anyone who comes through the Ways from Edinburgh to Chicago is going to walk right over us," Morgan added.
Molly nodded. "Which would be sort of. . . awkward?"
I snorted quietly. I nodded my head in the proper direction, and started pushing the wheelchair down the trail. "This way. "
Molly followed, her eyes darting left and right at the sounds of movement in the faerie wood around us. Mouse fell into pace beside her, and she reached down to lay a hand on the dog's back as she walked, an entirely unconscious gesture.
We moved at a steady pace and in almost complete silence for maybe five minutes before I said, "We need to know how they found out about you. "
"The vampire is the best explanation," Morgan replied, his tone carefully neutral.
"I have information about him that you don't," I said. "Suppose it isn't him. How did they do it?"
Morgan pondered that for a time. "Not with magic. "
He sounded like it.
"Your countermeasures are that good?" I asked.
I thought about that for a minute. Then it dawned on me what Morgan had done to protect himself from supernatural discovery. "You called in your marker. The silver oak leaf. The one Titan-" I forced myself to stop, glancing uneasily around the faerie forest. "The one the Summer Queen awarded you. "
Morgan turned his head slightly to glance at me over his shoulder.
I whistled. I'd seen Queen Titania with my Sight once. The tableau of Titania and her counterpart, Mab, preparing to do battle with each other still ranked as the most humbling and awe-inspiring display of pure power I had ever witnessed. "That's why you're so certain no one is going to find you. She's the one shielding you. "
"I admit," Morgan said with another withering look, "it's no donut. "
I scowled. "How'd you know about that?"
"Titania's retainer told me. The entire Summer Court has been laughing about it for months. "
Molly made a choking sound behind me. I didn't turn around. It would just force her to put her hand over her mouth to hide the smile.
"How long did she give you?" I asked.
"Sundown tomorrow. "
Thirty-six hours, give or take. A few hours more than I'd believed I had, but not much. "Do you have the oak leaf on you?"
"Of course," he said.
"May I see it?"
Morgan shrugged and drew a leather cord from around his neck. A small leather pouch hung from the cord. He opened it, felt around inside, and came out with it-a small, exquisitely detailed replica of an oak leaf, backed with a simple pin. He held it out to me.
I took it and pitched it into the haunted wood.
Morgan actually did growl, this time. "Why?"
"Because the Summer Queen bugged them. Last year, her goon squad was using mine to track me down all over Chicago. "
Morgan frowned at me, and glanced out toward where I had thrown it. Then he shook his head and rubbed tiredly at his eyes with one hand. "Must be getting senile. Never even considered it. "
"I don't get it," Molly said. "Isn't he still protected, anyway?"
"He is," I said. "But that leaf isn't. So if the Summer Queen wants him found, or if someone realizes what she's doing and makes her a deal, she can keep her word to Morgan to hide him, and give him away. All she has to do is make sure someone knows to look for the spell on the oak leaf. "
"The Sidhe are only bound to the letter of their agreements," Morgan said, nodding. "Which is why one avoids striking bargains with them unless there are no options. "
"So Binder could have been following the oak leaf?" Molly asked.
I shrugged. "Maybe. "
"It is still entirely possible that the Summer Queen is dealing in good faith," Morgan said.
I nodded. "Which brings us back to the original question: how did Binder find you?"
"Well," Molly said, "not to mince words, but he didn't. "
"He would have found us in a matter of moments," Morgan said.
"That's not what I mean," she said. "He knew you were in the storage park, but he didn't know which unit, exactly. I mean, wouldn't tracking magic have led him straight to you? And if Thomas sold you out, wouldn't he have told Binder exactly which storage bay we were in?"
Morgan started to reply, then frowned and shut his mouth. "Hngh. " I glanced over my shoulder at the grasshopper and gave her a nod of approval.
Molly beamed at me.
"Someone on the ground following us?" Morgan asked. "A tailing car wouldn't have been able to enter the storage park without a key. "
I thought of how I'd been shadowed by the skinwalker the previous evening. "If they're good enough, it would be possible," I admitted. "Not likely, but possible. "
"So?" Morgan said. "Where does that leave us?"
"Baffled," I said.
Morgan bared his teeth in a humorless smile. "Where to next, then?"
"If I take you back to my place, they'll pick us up again," I said. "If someone's using strictly mortal methods of keeping track of our movements, they'll have someone watching it. "
Morgan looked back and up at me. "I assume you aren't just going to push me in circles around Chicago while we wait for the Council to find us. "
"No," I said. "I'm taking you to my place. "
Morgan thought about that one for a second, then nodded sharply. "Right. "
"Where the bad guys will se
e us and send someone else to kill us," Molly said. "No wonder I'm the apprentice; because I'm so ignorant that I can't see why that isn't a silly idea. "
"Watch and learn, grasshopper. Watch and learn. "
We left the trail again, and for the second time in a day I emerged from the Nevernever into the alley behind the old meatpacking plant. We made two stops and then walked until we could flag down another cab. The cabbie didn't seem to be overly thrilled with Mouse, or the wheelchair, or how we filled up his car, but maybe he just didn't speak enough English to ably convey his enthusiasm. You never know.
"These really aren't good for you," Molly said through a mouthful of donut, as we unloaded the cab.
"It's Morgan's fault. He started talking about donuts," I said. "And besides-you're eating them. "
"I have the metabolic rate of youth," Molly said, smiling sweetly. "You're the one who needs to start being health-conscious, O venerable mentor. I'll be invincible for another year or two at least. "
We wrestled Morgan into his chair, and I paid off the cabbie. We rolled Morgan over to the steps leading down to my apartment, and between the two of us managed to turn his chair around and get him down the stairs and into the apartment without dropping him. After that, I grabbed Mouse's lead, and the two of us went up to get the mail from my mailbox, and then ambled around to the boardinghouse's small backyard and the patch of sandy earth set aside for Mouse's use.
But instead of loitering around waiting for Mouse, I led him into the far corner of the backyard, which is a miniature jungle of old lilacs that hadn't been trimmed or pruned since Mr. Spunkelcrief died. They were in bloom, and their scent filled the air. Bees buzzed busily about the bushy plants, and as I stepped closer to them, the corner of the building cut off the traffic sounds.
It was the only place on the property's exterior that was not readily visible from most of the rest of the buildings on the street.
I pressed past the outer branches of the lilacs and found a small and relatively open space in the middle. Then I waited. Within seconds, there was a buzzing sound, like the wings of a particularly large dragonfly, and then a tiny winged faerie darted through the lilacs to come to a halt in front of me.
He was simply enormous for a pixie, one of the Wee Folk, and stood no less than a towering twelve inches high. He looked like an athletically built youth dressed in an odd assortment of armor made from discarded objects and loose ends. He'd replaced his plastic bottle-cap helmet with one made of most of the shell of a hollowed-out golf ball. It was too large for his head, but that didn't seem to concern him. His cuirass had first seen service as a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and hanging at his hip was what looked like the blade to a jigsaw, with one end wrapped in string to serve as a grip. Wings like those of a dragonfly buzzed in a translucent cloud of motion at his back.
The little faerie came to attention in midair, snapped off a crisp salute, and said, "Mission accomplished, my lord of pizza!"
"That fast?" I asked. It hadn't been twenty minutes since I'd first summoned him, after we'd gotten donuts and before we'd gotten into the cab. "Quick work, Toot-toot, even for you. "
The praise seemed to please the little guy immensely. He beamed and buzzed in a couple of quick circles. "He's in the building across the street from this one, two buildings toward the lake. "
I grunted, thinking. If I was remembering right, that was another boardinghouse converted into apartments, like mine. "The white one with green shutters?"
"Yes, that's where the rapscallion has made his lair!" His hand flashed to his waist and he drew his saw-toothed sword from its transparent plastic scabbard, scowling fiercely. "Shall I slay him for you, my lord?"
I very carefully kept the smile off of my face. "I don't know if things have escalated to that level just yet," I said. "How do you know this guy is watching my apartment?"
"Oh, oh! Don't tell me this one!" Toot jittered back and forth in place, bobbing in excitement. "Because he has curtains on the windows so you can't see in, and then there's a big black plastic box with a really long nose poking through them and a glass eye on the end of the nose! And he looks at the back of it all the time, and when he sees someone going into your house, he pushes a button and the box beeps!"
"Camera, huh?" I asked. "Yeah, that probably makes him our snoop. " I squinted up at the summer sunshine and adjusted the uncomfortably warm leather duster. I wasn't taking it off, though. There was too much hostility flying around for that. "How many of your kin are about, Toot?"
"Hundreds!" Toot-toot declared, brandishing his sword. "Thousands!"
I arched an eyebrow. "You've been splitting the pizza a thousand ways?"
"Well, lord," he amended. "Several dozen, at any rate. "
The Wee Folk are a fractious, fickle bunch, but I've learned a couple of things about them that I'm not sure anyone else knows. First, that they're just about everywhere, and anywhere they aren't, they can usually get. They don't have much of an attention span, but for short, simple tasks, they are hell on wheels.
Second-they have a lust for pizza that is without equal in this world. I've been bribing the Wee Folk with pizza on a regular basis for years, and in return they've given me their (admittedly erratic) loyalty. They call me the Za-Lord, and the little fair folk who take my pizza also serve in the Za-Lord's Guard-which means, mostly, that the Wee Folk hang around my house hoping for extra pizza and protecting it from wee threats.
Toot-toot was their leader, and he and his folks had pulled off some very helpful tasks for me in the past. They had saved my life on more than one occasion. No one in the supernatural community ever expected everything of which they were capable. As a result, Toot and his kin are generally ignored. I tried to take that as a life lesson: never underestimate the little people.
This was a job that was right up Toot-toot's alley. Almost literally.
"Do you know which car is his?" I asked.
Toot threw back his head, Yul Brynner style. "Of course! The blue one with this on the hood. " He threw his arms out and up at an angle and stood ramrod straight in a Y shape.
"Blue Mercedes, eh?" I asked. "Okay. Here's what I want you to do. . . "
Five minutes later, I walked back around the side of the house to the front opposite the street. Then I turned to face the house where the snoop was set up and put on my most ferocious scowl. I pointed directly at the curtained second-floor windows, then turned my hand over and crooked my finger, beckoning. Then I pointed to the ground right in front of me.
One of the curtains might have twitched. I gave it a slow count of five, and then started walking briskly toward the other boardinghouse, crossing the busy street in the process.
A young man in his twenties wearing khaki shorts and a green T-shirt came rushing out of the converted boardinghouse and ran toward a blue Mercedes parked on the street, an expensive camera hanging around his neck.
I kept walking, not changing my pace.
He rushed around to the driver's door, pointing some kind of handheld device at the car. Then he clawed at the door but it stayed closed. He shot another glance at me, and then tried to insert his key into the lock. Then he blinked and stared at his key as he pulled it back trailing streamers of a rubbery pink substance-bubble gum.
"I wouldn't bother," I said as I got closer. "Look at the tires. "
The young man glanced from me to his Mercedes and stared some more. All four tires were completely flat.
"Oh," he said. He looked at his gum-covered key and sighed. "Well. Shit. "
I stopped across the car from him and smiled faintly. "Don't feel too bad about it, man. I've been doing this longer than you. "
He gave me a sour look. Then he held up his key. "Bubble gum?"
"Coulda been superglue. Take it as a professional courtesy. " I nodded toward his car. "Let's talk. Turn the air-conditioning on, for crying out loud. "
He eyed me f
or a moment and sighed. "Yeah. Okay. "
We both got in the car. He scraped the gum off of his key and put it in the ignition, but when he turned it, nothing happened.
"Oh. Pop the hood," I said.
He eyed me and did. I went around to the front of the car and reconnected the loose battery cable. I said, "Okay," and he started the engine smoothly.
Like I said, give Toot-toot and his kin the right job, and they are formidable as hell.
I got back in the car and said, "You licensed?"
The young man shrugged and turned his AC up to "deep freeze. " "Yeah. "
I nodded. "How long?"
"Not long. "
"In Joliet," he said.
"But not now. "
"Didn't fit. "
"Why are you watching my place?"
He shrugged. "I got a mortgage. "
I nodded and held out my hand. "Harry Dresden. "
He frowned at the name. "You the one used to work for Nick Christian at Ragged Angel?"
"Nick has a good reputation. " He seemed to come to some kind of conclusion and took my hand with a certain amount of resignation. "Vince Graver. "
"You got hired to snoop on me?"
"You tail me last night?"
"You know the score, man," Graver said. "You take someone's money, you keep your mouth shut. "
I lifted my eyebrows. A lot of PIs wouldn't have the belly to be nearly so reticent, under the circumstances. It made me take a second look at him. Thin, built like someone who ran or rode a bicycle on his weekends. Clean-cut without being particularly memorable. Medium brown hair, medium height, medium brown eyes. The only exceptional thing about his appearance was that there was nothing exceptional about his appearance.
"You keep your mouth shut," I agreed. "Until people start getting hurt. Then it gets complicated. "
Graver frowned. "Hurt?"
"There have been two attempts on my life in the past twenty-four hours," I said. "Do the math. "
He focused his eyes down the street, into the distance, and pursed his lips. "Damn. "
He nodded morosely. "There go the rest of my fees and expenses. "
I arched an eyebrow at him. "You're bailing on your client? Just like that?"
" 'Accomplice' is an ugly word. So is 'penitentiary. ' "
Smart kid. Smarter than I had been when I first got my PI license. "I need to know who backed you. "
Graver thought about that one for a minute. Then he said, "No. "
"I make it a personal policy not to turn on clients or piss off people who are into murder. "
"You lost the work," I said. "What if I made it up to you?"
"Maybe you didn't read that part of the book. The 'I' in PI stands for 'investigator. ' Not 'informer. ' "
"Maybe I call the cops. Maybe I tell them you're involved in the attacks. "
"Maybe you can't prove a damned thing. " Graver shook his head. "You don't get ahead in this business if you can't keep your teeth together. "
I leaned back in my seat and crossed my arms, studying him for a moment. "You're right," I said. "I can't make you. So I'm asking you. Please. "
He kept on staring out the windshield. "Why they after you?"
"I'm protecting a client. "
"Old guy in the wheelchair. "
Graver squinted. "He looks like a hard case. "
"You have no idea. "
We sat in the air-conditioning for a moment. Then he glanced at me and shook his head.
"You seem like a reasonable guy," Graver said. "Hope you don't get dead. Conversation over. "
I thought about pushing things, but I've been around long enough to recognize someone who was genuinely tough-minded when I see him. "You got a business card?"
He reached into his shirt pocket and produced a plain white business card with his name and a phone number. He passed it over to me. "Why?"
"Sometimes I need a subcontractor. "
He lifted both eyebrows.
"One who knows how to keep his teeth together. " I nodded to him and got out of the car. I leaned down and looked in the door before I left. "I know a mechanic. I'll give him a call and he'll come on out. He's got a compressor on his truck, and he can fill up your tires. I'll pay for it. "
Graver studied me with calm, intelligent eyes and then smiled a little. "Thanks. "
I closed the door and thumped on the roof with my fist. Then I walked back to my apartment. Mouse, who had waited patiently in the yard, came shambling up to greet me as I stepped out of the street, and he walked alongside me as I went back to the apartment.
Morgan was lying on my bed again when I came back in. Molly was just finishing up changing his bandages. Mister watched the entire process from the back of the couch, his ears tilted forward, evidently fascinated.
Morgan nodded to me and rasped, "Did you catch him?"
"Yeah," I said. "A local PI had been hired to keep track of me. But there was a problem. "
I shrugged. "He had integrity. "
Morgan inhaled through his nose and nodded. "Pretty rare problem. "
"Yeah. Impressive young man. What are the odds?"
Molly looked back and forth between us. "I don't understand. "
"He's quitting the job, but he won't tell us what we want to know about his client, because he doesn't think it would be right," I said. "He's not willing to sell the information, either. "
Molly frowned. "Then how are we going to find out who is behind all of this?"
I shrugged. "Not sure. But I told him I'd get someone to come by and put the air back in his tires. Excuse me. "
"Wait. He's still out there?"
"Yeah," I said. "Blue Mercedes. "
"And he's a young man. "
"Sure," I said. "A little older than you. Name's Vince Graver. "
Molly beamed. "Well, then, I'll go get him to tell me. " She walked over to my icebox, opened it, pulled out a dark brown bottle of micro-brewery beer, and walked toward the door.
"How you gonna do that?" I asked her.
"Trust me, Harry. I'll change his mind. "
"No," Morgan said fiercely. He coughed a couple of times. "No. I would rather be dead-do you hear me? Be dead than have you use black magic on my behalf. "
Molly set the beer down on the shelf by the door and blinked at Morgan. "You're right," she said to me. "He is kind of a drama queen. Who said anything about magic?"
She pulled one arm into her T-shirt, and wriggled around a little. A few seconds later, she was tugging her bra out of the arm hole of her shirt. She dropped it on the shelf, picked up the bottle, and held it against each breast in turn. Then she turned to face me, took a deep breath, and arched her back a little. The tips of her breasts pressed quite noticeably against the rather strained fabric of her shirt.
"What do you think?" she asked, giving me a wicked smile.
I thought Vince was doomed.
"I think your mother would scream bloody murder," I said.
Molly smirked. "Call the mechanic. I'll just keep him company until the truck gets there. " She turned with a little extra hip action and left the apartment.
Morgan made a low, appreciative sound as the door closed.
I eyed him.
Morgan looked from the door to me. "I'm not dead yet, Dresden. " He closed his eyes. "Doesn't hurt to admire a woman's beauty once in a while. "
"Maybe. But that was just. . . just wrong. "
Morgan smiled, though it was strained with discomfort. "She's right, though. Especially with a young man. A woman can make a man see everything in a different light. "
"Wrong," I muttered. "Just wrong. "
I went to call Mike the mechanic.
Molly came ba
ck about forty-five minutes later, beaming.
Morgan had been forced to take more pain medication and was tossing in a restless sleep. I closed the door carefully so that we wouldn't wake him.
"Well?" I asked.
"His car has really good air-conditioning," Molly said smugly. "He never had a chance. " Between two fingers, she held up a business card like the one I'd gotten.
I did the same thing with mine, mirroring her.
She flipped hers over, showing me a handwritten note on the other side. "I'm worried about my job as your assistant. " She put the back of her hand against her forehead melodramatically. "If something happens to you, whatever will I do? Wherever shall I go?"
She held out the card to me. "And Vince suggested that I might consider work as a paralegal. He even suggested a law firm. Smith Cohen Mackleroy. "
"His job-hunting suggestion, eh?" I asked.
She smirked. "Well, obviously he couldn't just tell me who hired him. That would be wrong. "
"You are a cruel and devious young woman. " I took the card from her and read it. It said: Smith Cohen Mackleroy, listed a phone number, and had the name "Evelyn Derek" printed under that.
I looked up to meet Molly's smiling eyes. Her grin widened. "Damn, I'm good. "
"No argument here," I told her. "Now we have a name, a lead. One might even call it a clue. "
"Not only that," Molly said. "I have a date. "
"Good work, grasshopper," I said, grinning as I rolled my eyes. "Way to take one for the team. "