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Small Favor, Page 8

Jim Butcher

Chapter 18~19

  Chapter Eighteen

  "A ll right," I said. "I hearby call this war council to order. "

  We were all sitting around my tiny living room, eating Burger King. Thomas and Molly had voted for McDonald's, but since I was paying, I sternly informed them that this was not a democracy, and Burger King it was.

  Hail to the King, baby.

  Murphy rolled her eyes over the whole thing.

  "War council?" Molly asked, wide-eyed. "Are we going to start another war?"

  "I sort of meant it as a metaphor," I said, as I made sure the ketchup-mustard ratio on my burger was within acceptable parameters. "I need to decide on my next step, and I've been hit in the head a few times lately. Figured my brain could use a little help. "

  "Just now worked that out, did you?" Thomas murmured.

  "Quiet, you," I growled. "The idea is to generate useful thoughts here. "

  "Not funny ones," Molly said, suppressing a laugh.

  I eyed her. She ate a french fry.

  Murphy sipped at her Diet Coke. "Well," she said, "I don't know how much advice I can give you until I know what you're up against. "

  "I told you in the car," I said. "The Knights of the Blackened Denarius. "

  "Fallen angels, old tarnished coins, psychotic killers, got it," Murphy said. "But that doesn't tell me what their capabilities are. "

  "She's got a point," Thomas said quietly. "You haven't said much about these guys. "

  I blew out a breath and took a big bite of hamburger to give me a moment to think while I chewed. "There's a lot that these things can do," I said afterward. "Mostly, the coins seem to allow their users to alter their physical form into something better suited for a fight than a regular human body. "

  "Battle shapeshifting," Molly said. "Cool. "

  "It isn't cool," I told her. Then I paused and admitted, "Okay, maybe a little. It makes them harder to hurt. It makes them faster. It arms them with various forms of weaponry. Claws, fangs, that kind of thing. Cassius looked like he might have had a poisonous bite, for example. Ursiel's wielder could shift into this huge bear thing with claws and fangs and horns. Another one turned her hair into about a million strips of living titanium blade, and they were whipping all over the place and shooting through walls. Stretched out like twenty or thirty feet. "

  "I have some customers like that," Thomas quipped.

  Murphy blinked and glanced at him.

  I cleared my throat and gave Thomas another glare. "Another one of them, Nicodemus, didn't seem to do any shapeshifting, but his freaking shadow could leap off the wall and strangle you. Creepy as hell. "

  "They don't all have, like, a uniform or something?" Molly asked.

  "Not even close," I replied. "Each of the Fallen seems to have its own particular preferences. And I suspect that those preferences adapt themselves differently to different holders of the coins. Quintus Cassius's Fallen had this whole serpent motif going, and Cassius's magic was pretty snake-intensive, too. But he was totally different from Ursiel, who was totally different from Mantis Girl from this morning, who was different from the other Denarians I've seen. "

  Murphy nodded. "Anything else?"

  "Goons," I said. "More like a cult, really. Nicodemus had a number of followers whose tongues had been removed. They were fanatics, heavily armed, and crazy enough to commit suicide rather than be captured by his enemies. "

  She winced. "The airport?"

  "Yeah. "

  "That it?"

  "No," I said. "Nicodemus also had these. . . call them guard dogs, I guess. Except that they weren't dogs. I don't know what they were, but they were ugly and ran fast and had big teeth. But all of that isn't what makes them dangerous. "

  "No?" Thomas said. "Then what is?"

  "The Fallen," I replied.

  The room fell silent.

  "They're beings older than time who have spent two thousand years learning the ins and outs of the mortal world and the mortal mind," I said quietly. "They understand things we literally could not begin to grasp. They've seen every trick, learned every move, and they're riding shotgun for each coin holder-if they aren't in the driver's seat already. Every one of them has a perfect memory, a library of information at his immediate disposal, and a schemer that makes Cardinal Richelieu look like Mother Teresa hanging around in his brain as an adviser. "

  Thomas stared at me very hard for a moment, frowning. I tried to ignore him.

  Murphy shook her head. "Let's sum up: an unknown number of enemies with unknown capabilities, supported by a gang of madmen, packs of attack animals, and superhumanly intelligent pocket change. " She gave me a look. "It's sort of tough to plan for that, given how much we don't know. "

  "Well, then that's what we do next, isn't it?" Molly asked tentatively. "Find out more about them?"

  Thomas flicked a glance at Molly and nodded once.

  "To do that we'd have to find them," I said.

  "A tracking spell?" Molly suggested.

  "I don't have any samples to work with," I replied. "And even if I did, somebody on their team was able to obscure Mab's divining spells. I'm nowhere close to Mab's league. My spells wouldn't have a prayer. "

  "If they've got that much of an entourage, they're going to stick out anywhere even vaguely public," Murphy mused. "A gang of toughs with no tongues? If the Denarians are in town, that should make them relatively easy to locate. "

  "Last time they were holed up in Undertown," I said. "Believe me, there's plenty of room for badness down there. "

  "What about the spirit world?" Thomas asked quietly. "Surely there's an entity or two who could tell us something. "

  "Possibly," I said. "I'm on speaking terms with one or two of the loa. But that kind of information is either expensive or unreliable. Sometimes both. And remember who we're talking about. The Fallen are heavyweights in the spirit world. No one wants to cross them. "

  Molly made a frustrated sound. "If we can't track them with magic, and we can't find them physically, then how are we supposed to learn more about them?"

  "Exactly, kid," I said. "Hence the whole 'war council' concept. "

  We ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Murphy said, "We're coming at this from the wrong angle. "

  "Eh?" I said wittily.

  "We're thinking like the good guys. We should be thinking like the bad guys. Figuring out what they had to face and get around. "

  I leaned forward a little and nodded at her to go on.

  "I don't know as much about the supernatural aspects of this situation," she said. "I don't know much of anything about these Denarians. But I do know some things about Marcone. For example, I know that even if he has some underlings who want to take over the franchise, he's got more who are personally loyal or who will figure that bailing him out will reap them some major profits. "

  "Yeah," I said, tilting my head at her. "So?"

  "So wherever they took him, it has to be somewhere Marcone's network can't reach. We can be virtually certain that they aren't hiding in plain sight. "

  I grunted. "Hell's bells, yeah. Not only that, but Marcone plans ahead. He had that panic room ready to go. In fact. . . " My eyes widened. "The location of your secret hidey-hole ought to be awfully secret, don't you think?"

  "Sure," Molly said. "What good is a hiding place if everyone knows where it is?"

  "The Denarians knew exactly where he was going," I said. "The spell they set up to tear down that building's defenses was no spur-of-the-moment magic-it was too complex. It had been planned out ahead of time. "

  "Son of a bitch," Thomas swore. "Someone inside Marcone's organization ratted him out. "

  "So if we find the rat. . . " Murphy said, catching on.

  "We might find a trail that leads back to the Nickelheads," I finished with a fierce grin. "Was this war council concept a brilliant idea or what?"

  Molly tittered. "Nickelheads. "

sp; "I have a gift," I said modestly. Then I added in a low voice, "And stop giggling. Wizards don't giggle. Bad for the image. "

  Molly buried her giggle in another mouthful of fries.

  I slurped on my Coke and turned to Murphy. "So, what we need to do is figure out who's going to backstab Marcone. Someone highly placed enough to know the location of the safehouse, and who will profit by Marcone's absence. "

  "You're assuming the informant was complicit," Murphy said. "That wouldn't necessarily be true. Someone could have inadvertently given information away, or been compelled to cooperate. "

  I paused to think about that. "True. So we'll have to start by looking at who could have given away the safe house. "

  Murphy raked her fingers through her dark-golden hair, frowning in thought. "To be honest, SI doesn't cross trails with the outfit all that often. I'd have to make some calls to find out. "

  Thomas drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "The FBI would have more, wouldn't they?"

  "And you know that guy Rick, right?" Molly said. "The one who was helping that jerk interrogate me?"

  Murphy's eyes narrowed. She made a noise that wasn't quite an agreement, but wasn't quite a denial, either. Murphy has issues with her ex-husband.

  It took Molly about half a second to figure out the expression on Murphy's face. She looked around the room somewhat desperately for a moment. "Uh, so, Harry, what's with Mister? He's been sleeping like a log the whole time we've been here. "

  "Which brings us to the second part of the problem," I said. "The hitters from the Summer Court. I think odds are good that they've got my place under surveillance. "

  Thomas arched an eyebrow. "I didn't sense anything coming in. "

  "You didn't sense anything walking through the front door of the pub, either," Murphy said archly.

  "I was circling the block," Thomas said crossly. "Middle of a damned blizzard and you still can't find a parking spot. I hate this town. "

  "I've got warning spells spread out all around this place," I said. "Anything gets within a block and I'll probably know about it. And you've got to get up early in the morning to sneak past Mouse. "

  Mouse, who was sitting in front of Molly making soulful eyes at her chicken sandwich, glanced at me and wagged his tail.

  "If they were very close, I'd know it. They're probably spread out in a loose ring, watching who comes and goes," I said. "The gruffs don't really want to kick my apartment door down-not yet, at any rate. They'd rather fight where there won't be collateral damage. But I've got a feeling that they aren't at their best in all this snow. "

  Molly frowned. "You think Mab is influencing the weather for you?"

  "Maybe the ongoing record snowfall is a coincidence," I said. "But if so, it's awfully convenient. "

  "Nothing's ever convenient with you, Dresden," Murphy said.

  "Exactly my point. " I rubbed at my jaw. I needed to shave, but my throbbing nose was bad enough without adding a couple of razor nicks to the mess. I didn't trust my hands to be steady. There were too many scary things moving around, and if I stopped long enough to think about how far in over my head I was getting, I might just crawl into a hole and pull it in after me.

  Don't think, Harry. You know too much about what you're up against.

  Analyze, decide, and act.

  "Okay. We can assume that the Summer crew saw us come in. As long as we don't leave, they'll assume that we're still here. "

  Molly said, "Aha. I wondered why you asked me along. "

  I winked at her. "Know thyself, grasshopper. Yeah. When we leave, I want you to make sure that the gruffs and their crew don't notice. Hopefully that will buy us some more time while they play patient hunter and wait for me to expose myself again. "

  "Heh," Thomas sniggered. "Expose yourself. "

  Murphy tossed an onion ring at him, which he caught and popped in his mouth.

  "Meanwhile, I've got a new toy for you to play with, Thomas. "

  My brother arched his eyebrows and focused his attention on me.

  I went into my tiny bedroom and came back out with a small figurine, a rough figure of clay that resembled Gumby more than anything. I lifted it to my mouth and breathed on it, then murmured a word and said, "Catch. "

  I tossed it to Thomas. My brother caught it and-

  - suddenly a tall man, too lanky to look altogether healthy and with too many rough edges to be handsome, sat in Thomas's chair, dressed in his clothes. His hair had short waves in it, and looked perpetually rumpled. His eyes were a bit sunken in a permanent state of too little sleep, but the line of his chin, strong and clean, made him look harder and sharper than he might otherwise have appeared.

  Hell's bells. Did I really look like that? Maybe I needed a makeover or something.

  Murphy sucked in a breath and looked back and forth between Thomas, in his new look, and me. Molly didn't bother trying to hide her reaction, and just said, "Cool. "

  "What?" Thomas asked. Though the figure speaking looked like me, the sound of my brother's voice was unchanged, and a spot of ketchup from his burger still speckled one side of his mouth. He looked around for a moment, then scowled, rose, and ducked into my bedroom to look at himself in the little shaving mirror in the drawer in my bathroom. "You've invented a doll that turns people into their ugly half brothers, eh?"

  "Get over yourself, prettyboy," I called.

  "If you think I'm letting you break my nose to complete the look, you're insane. "

  I grunted. "Yeah, that's a problem. I had to set it up to look like I looked the day I finished it. "

  "It isn't a problem," Molly said at once. "I'll get my makeup kit and fix up his eyes for him, at least. I don't know what we can do for his nose, but from a distance he should look right. "

  "If he looks like you, Harry," Murphy said, "doesn't that mean he's going to be attracting some sort of hostile attention?"

  Thomas snorted and appeared in the doorway to my bedroom, his face ketchup-free. "Harry walks around looking like this all the time. Now, that would be awful. I can handle it for a few hours. "

  "Don't get cute on me," I said. "Give us two or three hours' lead time, and then head out. Stay on the roads and keep moving. Don't give them a chance to surround you. You've got your cell phone?"

  "I suppose," he said. "But given how much I've been hanging around you two and the bad weather, I'd say the odds were against its working. " I grunted and tossed him my leather duster and my staff. He caught them and frowned. "You sure you don't want these?"

  "Just don't lose them," I said. "If the gruffs saw a double of me who wasn't wearing the coat, they'd know something was up in a heartbeat. The idea is to keep them from getting suspicious in the first place. The charm should be good for another six, maybe seven hours. Once it drops, get back here. "

  "Yeah, yeah," Thomas said, sliding into my duster. The illusion magic didn't make the thing fit him, and he had to fiddle with the sleeves, but it looked like it always did on me. "Karrin, don't let him do anything stupid. "

  Murphy nodded. "I'll try. But you know how he is. " She picked up her coat and shrugged into it. "Where are we going?"

  "Back to Gard," I said. "The Carpenter place. I'm betting Marcone left her a sample of his hair to use to track him down, for just such an occasion as this. "

  "But you said you couldn't get through the, uh. . . the obscuring magic that the Nickelheads have. "

  "Probably not. But if I know Marcone, he also collected samples of hair or blood from his people. To find them if they ever needed help or. . . "

  Murphy grimaced. "If they rated early retirement. "

  "I'm hoping Gard can give us an inside track on finding the leak, too," I said.

  Meanwhile, Molly hurried over to Thomas with her makeup kit and began modifying his face. Thomas's face was about level with the chin of the illusion-me, if not a little lower, but I'd taught Molly the basics behind my illusion magic-s
uch as it was. My skill with illusions was pretty basic, and it wouldn't stand up to any serious examination. Molly was able to scrunch up her eyes and see past it.

  Of course, you didn't have to make the illusion utterly convincing if you could manage to keep people from having a good reason to take a hard look at it in the first place. The illusion doesn't have to be fancy-it's the misdirection behind it that really matters.

  Molly had been caught in a Goth undertow of the youth culture, and it showed in her makeup. She had plenty of blues and purples and reds to darken Thomas's eyes with, and the illusion of my face assumed an appearance fairly close to my own, sans the swollen nose.

  "It'll do," I said. "Murph, you're driving. Molly, if you don't mind. "

  My apprentice grinned as she hurriedly pulled on her coat. Then she stuck her tongue between her teeth, frowned fiercely, and waved her hand at me with a murmur. I felt the kid's veil congeal about me like a thin layer of Jell-O, a wobbly and slippery sensation. The world went a little bit blurry, as if I were suddenly looking at everything through hazy green water, but Murphy's face turned up into a grin.

  "That's very good," she said. "I can't see him at all. "

  Molly's face was set with concentration as she maintained the spell, but she glanced at Murphy and nodded her head in acknowledgment.

  "Right," I said. "Come on, Mouse. "

  My dog hopped to his feet and trotted over eagerly, waving his tail.

  Murphy looked in my general direction, and arched an eyebrow.

  "If the gruffs don't buy it, I want all the early warning I can get," I told her.

  She lowered her voice and murmured, "And maybe you're a little nervous about going out without the coat and the staff?"

  "Maybe," I said.

  It was only a half lie. Insulting nickname or not, coat and staff or not, the more I thought about what we were up against, the more worried I became.

  I wasn't nervous.

  I was pretty much terrified.

  Chapter Nineteen

  I t was dark by the time we got to Chez Carpenter, and we were beginning to slow down to turn into the driveway when Murphy said, "Someone's tailing us. "

  "Keep driving," I snapped at once, from where I was crouched down in the back of Murphy's Saturn. I felt like a groundhog trying to hide in a golf divot. "Go past the house. "

  Murphy picked up speed again, accelerating very slowly and carefully on the snowbound streets.

  I poked my head up just enough to peer into the night behind us. Mouse sat up with me and looked solemnly and carefully out the back window when I did. "The car with one headlight pointing a little to the left?" I asked.

  "That's the one. Spotted him about ten minutes ago. Can you see his plates?"

  I squinted. "Not through this snow and with his lights in my eyes. "

  Molly turned and knelt in the passenger seat, peering through the back window. "Who do you think it is?"

  "Molly, sit down," Murphy snapped. "We don't want them to know that we've seen-"

  The headlights of the car behind us grew brighter and began to sweep closer. "Murph, they saw her. Here they come. "

  "I'm sorry!" Molly said. "I'm sorry!"

  "Get your seat belts on," Murphy barked.

  Murphy began accelerating, but our pursuer closed the distance within a few seconds. The headlights grew brighter, and I could hear the roar of a big old throaty engine. I scrambled up to the backseat and clawed at the seat belt, but Mouse was sitting on the other side of the buckle, and before I could get it out from under him Murphy screamed, "Hang on!"

  Collisions are always louder than I expect, and this one was no exception. The pursuing car smashed into the rear of the Saturn at maybe forty miles an hour.

  Metal screamed.

  Fiberglass shattered.

  I got slammed back against my seat and then whiplashed into the back of the driver's seat.

  Mouse bounced around, too.

  Molly screamed.

  Murph swore and wrenched at the steering wheel.

  It could have been worse. Murphy had gained enough speed to mitigate the impact, but the Saturn went into a spin on the snowy streets and revolved in a graceful, slow-motion ballet.

  Slamming my nose into the back of Murphy's seat didn't feel very good. In fact, it felt so not-good that I lost track of what was going on for a few seconds. I was vaguely aware of the car spinning and then crunching broadside into an enormous mound of snow.

  The Saturn's engine coughed and died. My pounding heart sent thunder to my ears and agony to my nose. I barely heard the sound of a car door opening and closing somewhere nearby.

  I heard Murphy twist around in her chair and gasp, "Gun. " She drew her weapon, unfastened her seat belt, and tried her door. It was pressed into a solid wall of white. She snarled and crawled across a stunned Molly's lap, fumbling at the door.

  I lurched to the other side of the car and clawed at the door until it opened. When it did I saw a slightly smashed-up car in the middle of the street, idling with both doors open. Two men stalked toward us through the snow. One was holding what looked like a shotgun, and his partner had an automatic in either hand.

  Murphy threw herself out of the car and darted to one side. It wasn't hard to figure out why-if she'd started shooting immediately, Molly would have been in the line of any return fire. Murphy moved swiftly, crouched as close to the ground as she could get, but to do so cost her a precious second.

  The shotgun roared and spat fire.

  The blast smashed Murphy to the ground like a blow from a sledgehammer.

  At the sight my scrambled brain congealed. I drew up my will, flung out a hand, and screamed, "Ventas servitas!"

  Wind roared forth from my outstretched fingers. I directed it at the snow-covered ground in front of our attackers, and a sudden storm of flying bits of ice and snow engulfed the gunmen.

  I kept the pressure on them, maintaining the spell, as I shouted, "Molly! Get to Murphy! Veil and first aid!"

  Molly shook her head and gave me a glassy-eyed stare, but she climbed out of the car and staggered over to Murphy. A second later both of them vanished from sight.

  I let up on the wind spell. Moving enough air to keep a gale-force wind going is a lot more work than anyone thinks. The air went still again except for swirling eddies of wind, frost devils that danced about in half a dozen whirling helices of snow. The two gunmen were revealed, crouching low, their arms still upraised to shield their eyes from the wind and stinging flakes of ice.

  I missed my staff. I missed my duster. But I wasn't missing the. 44 revolver I drew from my coat's pocket and aimed at the bad guys, while I raised my left hand, shaking the shield bracelet there out from under the sleeve of my coat.

  I recognized one of the two gunmen, the one with the brace of pistols. His name was Bart something or other, and he was muscle for hire-cheap muscle, at that, but at least you got what you paid for. Bart was the kind of guy you called when you needed someone's ribs broken on a budget.

  The other guy was familiar, too, but I couldn't put a name to him. Come on, it wasn't like I hung around in outfit bars, getting to know everyone. Besides, all I really needed to know was that he'd shot Murphy.

  I started walking forward, straight at them, and stopped when I was maybe fifteen feet away. By the time I got there they were finally getting the ice and snow out of their eyes. I didn't wait for them to get their vision back. I aimed carefully and put a bullet through shotgun boy's right knee.

  He went down screaming, and kept screaming.

  Bart turned toward me and raised both guns, but my shield bracelet was ready. I made an effort of will, and a hemisphere of shimmering, translucent silver force flickered to life between Bart and me. He emptied both automatics at me, but he might as well have been shooting water pistols. My shield caught every shot, and I angled it to deflect the rounds up into the air rather than
into one of the houses in the neighborhood around us.

  Bart's guns clicked empty.

  I lowered the shield and lifted my revolver as he fumbled at his pockets for fresh magazines. "Bart," I chided him, "Think this one through. "

  He froze in place, and then slowly moved his hands away from his pockets.

  "Thank you. Guess what I want you to do next?"

  He dropped his guns. Bart was in his late thirties and good-looking, tall, with the frame of a man who spent a lot of his time at the gym. He had little weasel eyes, though, dark and gleaming. They darted left and right, as if seeking possible avenues of escape.

  "Don't make me shoot you in the back, Bart," I said. "Bullet could hit your spine, paralyze you without killing you. That would be awful. " I moseyed over to him, keeping the gun trained on him and making sure I always had a clear view of the other gunman. He was still screaming, though it had a hoarse, thready sound to it now. "Do you know who I am?"

  "Dresden, Jesus," Bart said. "Nothing personal, man. "

  "You tried to kill me, Bart. That's just about as personal as it gets. "

  "It was a job," he said. "Just a job. "

  And I suddenly remembered where I'd seen the other guy before: unconscious in the hallway outside Demeter's office at Executive Priority. He was one of Torelli's flunkies, and he did not appear to have much more savvy than his boss.

  "Job's gonna get you killed one day, Bart," I said. "Maybe even right now. " I called out, "Molly? How is she?"

  Murphy's voice came back to me instead of Molly's. "I'm fine," she said. The words were clipped, as if she were in pain. "Vest stopped all but one of the balls, and that one isn't bad. "

  "Her arm is bleeding, Harry," Molly said, her voice shaking. "It's stopping, but I don't think there's anything else I can do. "

  "Murph, get back to the car. Stay warm. "

  "Like hell, Harry. I will-"

  I completed the sentence for her. "-go into shock. Don't be stupid, Murph. I can't lug your unconscious body around and keep these guys under control. "

  Murphy growled something vaguely threatening under her breath, but I heard Molly say, "Here, let me help you. "

  Bart's beady eyes were all but bugging out of his head as he searched for the source of the sound of Molly's voice. "What? What the hell?"

  By now, I was sure, people in the houses around us had called the police. I was sure that the cops would be a few moments longer than usual arriving, too. I wanted to be gone by then, which meant that I didn't have much time. But Bart didn't have to know that. Just like Bart didn't have a clue what he'd gotten himself involved in.

  I most likely didn't have time to grill even one of the gunmen. Torelli's goon was hurt and probably mad as hell at me. He was probably more loyal to Torelli, too, if he was a personal retainer. That really left me only one smart option for gathering information.

  I stepped forward, shifting my gun to my left hand, and held out my right. I spoke a quiet word and a sphere of fire, bright as a tiny sun, kindled to life in the air above my right hand. I turned a slow stare on Bart and stepped close to him.

  The thug flinched and fell onto his ass in the snowy street.

  I released the sphere of fire, and it drifted closer to Bart. "Look, big guy," I said in an amiable tone. "I've had a tense couple of days. And I've got to tell you, burning someone's face off sounds like a great way to relax. "

  "I was just a hire!" Bart stammered, scooting back on his buttocks from the little sphere of fire. "Just a driver!"

  "Hired to do what?" I asked him.

  "I was just supposed to put you off the road and cover the shooter," Bart half screamed. He pointed a finger at the wounded man. "Him. "

  I spread my fingers a little wider, and the flaming sphere jumped a few inches closer to the goon's face. "Bart, Bart. Let's not change the focus here. This is about you and me. "

  "I'm just a contractor!" Bart all but screamed, writhing to get his face farther away from the fire. "They don't tell guys like me shit!"

  "Guys like you always know more than you're told," I said. "So you've got something you can give the cops to keep yourself out of jail. "

  "I don't!" Bart said. "I swear!"

  I smiled at him and pushed the fire sphere a little closer. "Inhale blue," I said. "Exhale pink. Hey, this is relaxing. "

  "Torelli!" Bart screamed, throwing up his arms. "Jesus, it was Torelli! Torelli wanted the job done! He's been getting ready to move on Marcone!"

  "Since when?" I demanded.

  "I don't know. Couple of weeks, maybe. That's when they brought me in! Oh, Jesus!"

  I closed my hand and snuffed out the sphere of fire before it could do more than scorch the sleeves of Bart's coat. He lay there on the ground breathing roughly, and refused to lower his arms.

  The sound of sirens ghosted through the streets. It was time to go.

  "He been talking to anyone lately?" I demanded. "Anyone new? Setting up an alliance?"

  Bart shook his head, shuddering. "I ain't one of his full-timers. I ain't seen nothing like that. "

  "Harry!" Molly screamed.

  I'd gotten too intent on the conversation with Bart, and I'd been too worried about Murphy to remember to take everybody's guns away. The gunman on the ground had recovered his shotgun and worked the action, ejecting a spent shell and loading a new round. I spun toward him, raising my shield bracelet. The problem was that my spiffy redesigned bracelet, while better in a lot of ways than the old one, took a lot more power to use, and as a result I could bring it up only so fast. I threw myself to the ground and tried to put Bart between me and Torelli's hitter. Bart scrambled frantically to clear the line of fire, and I knew that I wasn't going to get the shield up in time.

  Mouse must have darted off to the side at the beginning of the confrontation, because he appeared out of the shadows and came bounding through nearly three feet of snow as if he'd been running on racetrack turf. He was moving so fast that a bow wave of flying snow literally preceded him, like when a speedboat cuts through the water. He hit Torelli's hitter just as the man pulled the trigger.

  Shotguns are loud. Bart screamed an impolite word.

  Mouse seized Torelli's man by his wounded leg, the one I'd shot a minute ago, and began wrenching him around by it, shaking him as easily as a terrier shakes a rat. The goon had another ear-piercing scream left in him, a high-pitched thing that sounded like it had come from a slaughterhouse hog. The shotgun flew from his fingers, and he began flopping like a rag doll, unconscious from the pain.

  The sirens grew louder, and I pushed myself back to my feet. Bart lay on the ground, rocking back and forth and screaming. The wild shotgun blast had hit him right in the ass. There was a lot of blood on his jeans, but he didn't seem to be gushing anything from a major artery. Granted, depending on how much of the shot he'd caught, the wound could potentially maim, cripple, or maybe even kill him if there was any internal bleeding. But there are worse places to get hit, and with all the adrenaline surging through me, it seemed pretty hilarious.

  Cackling, I called to Mouse and ran for the car.

  Molly already had Murph buckled into the passenger seat. I had to crawl across her to get to the driver's side. She let out a blistering curse as I accidentally bumped her arm. The driver's chair was practically touching the steering wheel, and for a second I thought I was going to have to push down the pedals with one hand and drive with the other, but I managed to find the lever that made the seat slide back, and the car started on the first try.

  "Dammit, Dresden," Murphy wheezed. "There were weapons involved. We have to go back. "

  Mouse sailed into the backseat through the open door, and Molly closed both doors on that side of the car. I rocked the steering wheel and wiggled the Saturn loose from the snow, then started off down the street. I still had an irrational smile plastered on my face. My cheeks hurt. "Not a chance, Murphy. "

  "We c
an't just let them go. "

  I suppressed another round of adrenaline giggles. "They aren't going anywhere. And I'm persona non grata, remember? You want to get caught at the scene of a shooting with me mixed up in it?"


  "Dammit, Murphy," I said, exasperated. "Do you want me to go to jail? If we go back now, Torelli's goon tells them I shot him. They take my gun, and if they can find the bullet, or if it's still in his leg, it's assault with a deadly weapon. "

  "Not if you were defending yourself," Murphy grated.

  "In a fair world, maybe," I said. "As it is, if there's no one but outfit goons there, two guys with records and a known association, both of them wounded, the cops are going to assume that they quarreled and shot each other. Two bad guys go away, you keep your job, and I don't get pulled off of this case-which is the same thing as getting killed. " I glanced aside at her. "Who loses?"

  Murphy didn't say anything for a moment. Then she said, "Everyone loses, Harry. The law is there to protect everyone. It's supposed to apply equally to everyone. "

  I sighed and paid attention to the road. I'd drive for a few minutes to be sure we were in the clear, and then circle back to Michael's place. "That's wishful thinking, Murph, and you know it. Pretty sure Marcone's lawyers love that attitude. "

  "The law isn't perfect," she replied quietly. "But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to make it work. "

  "Do me a favor," I said.


  "Hold your nose shut, put on a Philadelphia accent, and say, 'I am the law. '"

  Murphy snorted and shook her head. I glanced aside at her. Her face was pale with pain, her eyes a little glassy. Her left arm was wrapped up in what looked like strips torn from Molly's T-shirt.

  I checked the rearview. My apprentice was, indeed, wearing nothing but a green lace bra under her winter coat. She was crouched down with both arms around Mouse, her face buried in his snow-frosted fur.

  "Hey, back there," I said. "Anyone hurt?"

  Mouse yawned, but Molly checked him over anyway. "No. We're both fine. "

  "Cool," I said. I looked over my shoulder for a second to give Molly a smile. "Nice veil back there. Fast as hell. You did good, grasshopper. "

  Molly beamed at me. "Did my face look like that when you did that little ball-of-fire thing to me?"

  "I prefer to think of it as a little ball of sunshine," I said. "And you were stoic compared to that guy, grasshopper. You did a good job too, furface," I told Mouse. "I owe you one. "

  Mouse opened his mouth in a doggy grin and wagged his tail. It thumped against Molly, scattering a little snow against bare skin. She yelped and burst into a laugh.

  Murphy and I traded a look. If the gunman had squeezed the trigger a hundredth of a second sooner or later, Murphy would be dead. The blast could have taken her in the head or neck, or torn into an artery. Without Mouse I'd probably be dead, too. And if they'd gotten me and Murphy, I doubted they'd have left Molly behind to testify against them.

  That one had been close-no supernatural opposition necessary. Molly might not realize that yet, but Murphy and I did.

  "How's the arm, Murph?" I asked quietly.

  "Just hit muscle," she said, closing her eyes. "It hurts like hell, but it isn't going to kill me. "

  "You want me to drive you to the emergency room?"

  Murphy didn't answer right away. There was a lot more to the question than the words in it. Doctors are required by law to report any gunshot wound to the authorities. If Murph went in for proper medical treatment, they'd report it to the cops. And, since she was a cop, it would mean that she had to answer all kinds of questions, and it would probably mean that the truth of what happened behind us would come out.

  It was the responsible, law-abiding thing to do.

  "No, Harry," she said finally, and closed her eyes.

  I exhaled slowly, relieved. That answer had cost her something. My hands had started shaking on the wheel. Generally speaking I'm fine when there's a crisis in progress. It's afterward that it starts getting to my nerves. "Sit tight," I said. "We'll get you patched up. "

  "Just drive," she said wearily.

  So I drove.