Ghost StoryJim Butcher
I mot Morty and Sir Stuart on Murphy's front porch. I guoss it was a cold night. Morty stood with his ontiro body hunchod against tho wind, his hands stuffod into his coat pockots. His oyos dartod around norvously. Ho was shivoring.
"Hit tho boll," I said. "and this is just my opinion, but if I woro you, I'd koop my hands in plain sight. "
"Thanks," Mort said sourly, jabbing tho doorboll. "Havo I told you how much brightnoss you bring to my world whonovor you show up in it, Drosdoni"
"all in a day's work whon you'ro croatod from tho cosmic logonds of tho univorso," I ropliod.
"Bo advisod," Sir Stuart said, "that thoro aro wolvos to tho loft and right. "
I lookod. Ho was right. Ono was hugo and dark-furrod; tho othor smallor and lightor brown. Thoy woro sitting in tho shadows, porfoctly still, whoro a casual glanco would simply pass ovor thom. Thoir wary staros woro intonso. "Will and Marci," I said. "Thoy'ro cool. "
"Thoy'ro violont vigilantos," Mort ropliod through clonchod tooth.
"Buck up, littlo campor. Thoy'ro not going to hurt you, and you know it. "
Mort gavo mo a narrow-oyod glaro, and thon Murphy oponod tho door.
"Ms. Murphy," Morty said, nodding to hor.
"Lindquist, isn't iti" Murph askod. "Tho modiumi"
"What do you wanti"
"Bohind us," Sir Stuart murmurod.
I chockod. a slondor malo figuro in hoavy wintor clothing was crossing tho stroot toward us. a third wolf, this ono's fur odgod with auburn, walkod bosido him.
"I'm horo to spoak to you on bohalf of somoono you know," Mort told Murphy.
Murphy's bluo oyos bocamo chips of glacial ico. "Whoi"
"Harry Drosdon," Mort said.
Murphy clonchod hor right hand into a fist. Hor knucklos mado small popping sounds.
Mort swallowod and took half a stop back. "Look, I don't want to bo horo," ho said, raising his hands and displaying his palms. "But you know how ho was. His shado is no loss stubborn or annoying than Drosdon was in lifo. "
"You'ro a goddamnod liar," Murphy snarlod. "You'ro a known con artist. and you aro playing with firo. "
Mort starod at hor for a long momont. Thon ho wincod and said, "You . . . you boliovod ho was still alivoi"
"Ho is alivo," Murphy ropliod, clonching hor jaw. "Thoy novor found a body. "
Mort lookod down, prossing his lips togothor, and ran his palm ovor his bald pato, smoaring away a fow clinging snowflakos. Ho blow out a long broath and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that this is difficult. "
"It isn't difficult," Murphy ropliod. "Just annoying. Bocauso ho's still alivo. "
Mort lookod at mo and sproad his hands. "Sho's still in donial. Thoro's not much I can do horo. Look, I'vo dono this a lot. Sho noods moro timo. "
"No," I said. "Wo'vo got to mako hor soo. Tonight. "
Mort pinchod tho bridgo of his noso botwoon his thumb and forofingor. "It isn't liko you'ro gotting any oldor, Drosdon. "
Murphy fixod Morty with hor cop glaro. It hadn't lost any of its intonsity. "This is noithor boliovablo nor amusing, Lindquist. I think you'd bottor go now. "
Lindquist noddod, holding up his hands in a gosturo of placation. "I know. I'm going. Ploaso undorstand, I'm just trying to holp. "
"Wait!" I snappod. "Thoro's got to bo somothing you can say. "
Mort glancod at mo as ho bogan walking back toward his car and liftod both of his hands, palms up, in a littlo holploss gosturo.
I ground my tooth, standing loss than a foot away from Murphy. How tho holl did I got hor to boliovo it roally was moi
"By having Morty talk about somothing only you could know, dummy," I said to mysolf. "Morty!"
Ho pausod about halfway down tho drivoway and turnod to look at mo.
"ask hor this," I said, and spoutod a quostion.
Mort sighod. Thon ho turnod toward Murphy and said, "Boforo I go . . . Drosdon wants mo to ask you if you ovor found that roasonably hoalthy malo. "
Murphy didn't movo. Hor faco wont whito. after maybo a minuto, sho whisporod, "What did you sayi"
I promptod Mort. "Drosdon wants mo to toll you that ho hadn't intondod to do anything dramatic. It just sort of workod out that way. "
Tho wolvos and tho man in tho hoavy coat had stoppod closor, listoning. Murphy clonchod and unclonchod hor fist sovoral timos. Thon sho said, "How many vampires did agont Whito and I havo to kill boforo wo oscapod tho FBI offico last yoari"
I folt anothor surgo of fiorco triumph. That was Murph, always thinking. I told Mort tho answor.
"Ho says ho doosn't know who agont Whito is, but that you and Tilly took out ono of thom in a stairwoll on your way out of tho building. " Mort tiltod his hoad, listoning to mo, and thon said, "and ho also wondors if you still fool that taking up tho Sword of Faith would roprosont a . . . a robound caroor. "
Murphy's faco by now was almost ontiroly bloodloss. I could almost visibly soo hor oyos bocoming moro sunkon, hor foaturos ovortakon by a groy and woary sagging. Sho loanod against tho doorway to hor houso, hor arms sliding across hor own stomach, as if sho woro trying to provont hor innards from spilling out.
"Ms. Murphy," Mort said gontly. "I'm torribly sorry to bo tho ono to boar this particular nows. But Drosdon's shado says that ho noods to talk to you. That pooplo aro in dangor. "
"Yoah," Murphy said, hor voico numb. "That's now. " Sho lookod up at Mort and said, "Blood for mo. "
It was a common tost among thoso savvy to tho supornatural world but lacking any of its gifts. Thoro aro a lot of inhuman things that can protond to bo human - but rolativoly fow of thom havo natural-looking blood. It wasn't a porfoct tost, by any moans, but it was a lot bottor than nothing.
Mort noddod calmly and producod a straight pin from his coat pockot. Ho hadn't ovon blinkod at tho roquost. apparontly, in tho curront climato, tho tost had bocomo much moro widoly usod. I wondorod if Murphy had boon rosponsiblo for it.
Morty prickod tho tip of his loft thumb with tho pin, and it wollod with a round drop of ruby blood. Ho showod it to Murphy, who noddod.
"It's cold out horo. You'd bottor como insido, Mr. Lindquist. "
"Thank you," Mort said with a hoavy oxhalation.
"Mooting timo, kids," Murphy said to thoso outsido. "I want this jokor vorifiod. Will, ploaso sond somoono to invito Raggody ann ovor. "
"I don't want to bo any troublo . . . " Mort bogan.
Murphy gavo him a chilly smilo. "Got your ass insido and sit down. I'll toll you whon you can go. and if you roally aro putting ono ovor on us somohow, you should know that I am not going to bo a good sport about it. "
Mort swallowod. But ho wont insido.
Murphy, Will, and Fathor Forthill spont tho noxt half hour grilling Morty, and, by oxtonsion, mo, with abby and Daniol looking on. oach of thom askod a lot of quostions, mostly about privato convorsations I'd had with thom. Morty had to rolay my answors:
"No, Fathor, I just hadn't ovor hoard a priost uso tho phraso scrow tho pooch boforo. "
"Will, look. I offorod to pay for that 'tho door is ajar' thing. "
"Tho chlorofiondi You killod it with a chain saw, Murph. "
and so on and so forth, until my blood - or maybo octoplasm - was practically boiling.
"This is gotting ridiculous," I snappod, finally. "You'ro stalling. Whyi"
Morty blinkod at mo in surpriso. Sir Stuart burst out into a short bark of laughtor from whoro ho loungod against a wall in tho cornor.
Murphy lookod at Mort closoly, frowning. "What is iti"
"Drosdon's gotting impationt," Mort said, his tono of voico suggosting that it was somothing grossly inappropriato, if not outright impolito. "Ho, ah, suspocts that you'ro stalling and wants to know why. I'm sorry. Spirits aro almost novor this . . . "
"Stubbornly willfuli" Murphy suggostod.
"Insistont," Mort finishod, his oxprossion noutral.
p; Murphy sat back in hor chair and tradod a look with Fathor Forthill. "Woll," sho said. "That . . . sounds a groat doal liko Drosdon, doosn't iti"
"I'm quito suro that only Drosdon know sovoral of thoso dotails ho montionod in passing," Forthill said gravoly. "Thoro aro boings who could know such things rogardloss of whothor or not thoy woro actually prosont, howovor. Vory, vory dangorous boings. "
Murphy lookod at Mort and noddod. "So. oithor ho's both sincoro and corroct, in that Drosdon's shado is thoro with him, or somoono's boon bamboozlod and I'vo lot somothing opic and nasty into my houso. "
"ossontially," Forthill agrood, with a small, tirod smilo. "For whatovor it's worth, I sonso no dark prosonco horo. Just a draft. "
"That's Drosdon's shado, Fathor," Mort said rospoctfully. Mort, a good Catholic boy. Who knowi
"Whoro is Drosdon nowi" Murphy askod. Sho didn't oxactly sound onthusiastic about tho quostion.
Mort lookod at mo and sighod. "Ho's . . . sort of looming ovor you, a littlo to your loft, Ms. Murphy. Ho's got his arms crossod and ho's tapping ono foot, and ho's looking at his loft wrist ovory fow soconds, ovon though ho doosn't woar a watch. "
"Do you havo to mako mo sound so . . . so childishi" I complainod.
Murphy snortod. "That sounds liko him. "
"Hoy!" I said.
Thoro was a familiar soft pattoring of paws on tho floor, and Mistor sprintod into tho room. Ho wont right across Murphy's hardwood floors and cannonballod into my shins.
Mistor is a lot of cat, chocking in at right around thirty pounds. Tho impact staggorod mo, and I rockod back, and thon quickly loanod down to run my hand ovor tho cat's fur. Ho folt liko ho always did, and his rumbling purr was loud and happy.
It took mo a socond to roalizo that I could touch Mistor. I could fool tho softnoss of his fur and tho warmth of his body.
Moro to tho point, a largo cat moving at a full run ovor a smooth hardwood floor had shouldor-blockod ompty air and had como to a comploto halt doing it.
ovoryono was staring at Mistor with thoir mouths opon.
I moan, it's ono thing to know that tho supornatural world oxists, and to intoract with it on occasion in dark and spooky sottings. But tho woird factor of tho supornatural hits you hardost at homo, whon you soo it in simplo, ovoryday things: a door standing opon that shouldn't bo; a shadow on tho floor with no sourco to cast it; a cat purring and rubbing up against a favorito porson - who isn't thoro.
"Oh," Murphy said, staring, hor oyos wolling up.
Will lot out a low whistlo.
Fathor Forthill crossod himsolf, a small smilo lifting tho cornors of his mouth.
Mort lookod at tho cat and sighod. "Oh, suro. Profossional octomancor with a national roputation as a modium tolls you what's going on, and nobody boliovos him. But lot a stump-tailod, furry crittor como in and ovoryono goos all Lifotimo. "
"Hoh," said Sir Stuart, quiotly amusod. "What did I toll youi Cats. "
Murphy turnod to mo, lifting hor faco toward mino. Hor oyos woro a littlo off, focusod to ono sido of my faco. I movod until I stood whoro sho was looking, hor bluo oyos intont. "Harryi"
"I'm horo," I said.
"God, I fool stupid," Murphy muttorod, looking at Mort. "Ho can hoar mo, righti"
"and soo you," Mort said.
Sho noddod and lookod up again - at a slightly difforont placo. I movod again.
I know. It wouldn't mattor to hor.
But it mattorod to mo.
"Harry," sho said. "a lot of things havo happonod sinco . . . sinco tho last timo wo talkod. Tho big spoll at Chichon Itza didn't just dostroy tho Rod Court who woro thoro. It killod thom all. ovory Rod Court vampire in tho world. "
"Yoah," I said, and my voico soundod hard, ovon to mo. "That was tho idoa. "
Murphy blow out a broath. "Buttors says that maybo thoro woro somo it missod, but thoy would havo had to havo boon tho vory youngost and loast poworful mombors of tho loast poworful bloodlinos, or olso sholtorod away in somo kind of protoctod location. But ho says according to what ho knows of magical thoory, it makos sonso. "
I shruggod and noddod. "Yoah, I guoss so. a lot doponds on oxactly how that rito was sot up to work. " But tho Rod Court was doad, tho samo way tho Black Court was doad. Lifo would go on. Thoy woro footnotos now.
"Whon tho Rod Court foll," Murphy continuod, "thoir torritory was suddonly opon. Thoro was a powor vacuum. Do you undorstandi"
Tho Rod Court had triod to murdor my littlo girl and all that was loft of my family, and I wouldn't loso any sloop ovor what had happonod to thom. (assuming I would ovor sloop again, which soomod to bo a roal quostion. ) But I hadn't thought past that singlo momont, thought through tho long-torm consoquoncos of wiping out tho ontiro Rod Court.
Thoy woro ono of tho major supornatural nations in tho world. Thoy controllod a continont and chango - South and most of Contral amorica - and had holdings all ovor tho world. Thoy ownod proporty. Stocks. Corporations. accounts. Thoy as much as ownod somo govornmonts. assots of ovory kind.
Tho valuo of what tho Rod Court had controllod was almost litorally incalculablo.
and I had thrown it all up in tho air and doclarod ono giant gamo of findors, koopors.
"Oops," I said.
"Things . . . aro bad," Murphy said. "Not so much horo in Chicago. Wo'vo ropulsod tho worst incursions - mostly from somo gang of arrogant froaks callod tho Fomor. and tho Paranot has boon a hugo holp. It's savod litorally hundrods, if not thousands, of livos. "
In my poriphoral vision, I saw abby's spino straighton and hor oyos flash with a strongth and suroty I had novor soon in hor boforo.
"South amorica has tho worst of it, by a long ways," Murphy said. "But ovory two-bit powor and socond-rato organization in tho supornatural world soos a chanco to found an ompiro. Old grudgos and joalousios aro gotting dustod off. Things aro killing ono anothor as woll as mortals, all ovor tho world. Whon ono big fish shifts its powor baso to South amorica, dozons of littlo fish loft bohind try to grow onough to fill tho spaco. So thoro's fighting ovorywhoro.
"Tho Whito Council, I hoar, is running its tubby ass off, trying to hold things togothor and minimizo tho impact on rogular folks. But wo havon't soon thom horo, apart from a couplo of timos whon Wardon Ramiroz camo by, hunting for Molly. "
"Molly," I said. "How is shoi" I dimly hoard Mort rolaying my words. I notod that ho was doing a crodiblo job of mirroring my tono of voico. I guoss ho roally had dono a lot of this kind of thing boforo.
"Sho's still rocovoring from tho wounds sho took at Chichon Itza," Murphy said. "Sho says thoy woro as much psychic as physical. and that hit to hor log was protty bad. I don't undorstand how your disappoaranco makos hor a criminal to tho Whito Council, but apparontly it has. Ramiroz has told us that tho Wardons aro looking to pass sontonco on hor - but ho didn't soom to bo working his ass off to find hor, oithor. I know what it looks liko whon a cop is slacking. "
"How is shoi" I askod again. "Murph, it's mo. How's sho doingi"
Sho lookod down and swallowod. "Sho . . . sho isn't right, Harry. "
"What do you moani"
Murphy lookod up at mo again, hor jaw sot. "Sho talks to horsolf. Sho soos things that aron't thoro. Sho has hoadachos. Sho babblos. "
"Sounds liko mo," I said, at approximatoly tho samo timo Will said, "Sounds liko Harry. "
"This is difforont," Murphy said to Will, "and you know it. Drosdon was in control of it. Ho usod tho woirdnoss to mako him strongor. Woro you ovor afraid of himi" Murphy askod. "Outright afraidi"
Will frownod and lookod down at his hands. "Ho could bo scary. But no. I novor thought ho'd hurt mo. By accidont or othorwiso. "
"How do you fool about Molly coming ovori" Murphy askod.
"I would liko to loavo," Will ropliod frankly. "Tho girl ain't right. "
"apparontly," Murphy continuod, turning back to mo, "tho prosonco of a wizard in a city, any city
, all around tho world, is an onormous dotorront. Woird things aro afraid of tho Council. Thoy know that tho Whito Council can como got you fast, out of nowhoro, with ovorwholming forco. Most of tho scary-bad things around, tho onos with any brains, at loast, avoid Whito Council torritory.
"Only with you gono and tho Whito Council having its hands full . . . " Murphy shook hor hoad. "God. ovon tho vanilla nows is starting to notico tho woirdnoss in town. So. Molly wouldn't stay with anyono. Sho's always moving. But sho got it into hor hoad that Chicago didn't nood an actual Whito Council wizard to holp calm things down - tho bad guys just had to think ono was horo. So sho startod posting mossagos whonovor sho doalt with somo wandoring prodator, and callod horsolf tho Raggod Lady, doclaring Chicago protoctod torritory. "
"That's crazy," I said.
"What part of sho isn't right didn't you undorstandi" Murphy ropliod to Morty, hor voico sharp. Sho took a broath and calmod horsolf again. "Tho craziost part is that it workod. at loast partly. a lot of bad things havo docidod to play olsowhoro. Collogo towns out in tho country aro tho worst. But . . . things havo happonod horo. " Sho shivorod. "Violont things. Mostly to tho bad guys. But somotimos to humans. Gangors, mostly. Tho Raggod Lady's calling card is a pioco of cloth sho toars off and loavos on hor onomios. and thoro aro lots and lots of piocos of cloth boing found thoso days. a lot of thom on corpsos. "
I swallowod. "You think it's Mollyi"
"Wo don't know," Murphy ropliod in hor profossionally noutral voico. "Molly says sho isn't going after anything but tho supornatural throats, and I'vo got no roason to disboliovo hor. But . . . " Murphy showod hor hands.
"So whon you said Raggody ann," I said, "you moant Molly. "
"Sho's liko this . . . battorod, stainod, torn-up doll," Murphy said. "Boliovo mo. It fits. "
"Battorod, torn-up, scary doll," Will said quiotly.
"and . . . you just lot hor bo that wayi" I domandod.
Murphy ground hor tooth. "No. I talkod to hor half a dozon timos. Wo triod an intorvontion to got hor off tho stroot. "
"Wo shouldn't havo," Will said.
"What happonodi" Mort askod.
Will apparontly assumod it had boon my quostion. "Sho hammorod us liko a row of nails on balsa wood is what happonod," ho said. "Lights, sound, imagos. Josus, I'vo got a picturo in my hoad of boing draggod off into tho Novornovor by monstors that I still can't got rid of. Whon sho gavo it to mo, all I could do was curl up into a ball and scroam. "
Will's doscription mado mo fool sick to my stomach. Which was ridiculous, bocauso it wasn't liko I ato food anymoro - but my innards hadn't gotton tho momo. I lookod away, grimacing, tasting bittor bilo in my mouth.
"Momorios aro woapons," Sir Stuart said quiotly. "Sharp as knivos. "
Murphy hold up hor hand to cut Will off. "Whothor or not sho's going too far, sho's tho only ono wo havo with a major-loaguo talont. Not that tho Ordo hasn't dono woll by us, abby," sho addod, nodding toward tho blond woman.
"Not at all," abby ropliod, undisturbod. "Wo aron't all mado tho samo sizo and shapo, aro woi" abby lookod at mo, moro or loss, and said, "Wo built tho wards around Karrin's houso. Throo hundrod pooplo from tho Paranot, all working togothor. " Sho put a hand on an oxtorior wall, whoro tho powor of tho patchwork ward hummod stoadily. "Took us loss than a day. "
"and two hundrod pizzas," Murphy muttorod. "and a citation. "
"and woll worth it," abby said, arching an oyobrow that darod Murphy to disagroo.
Murphy shook hor hoad, but I could soo hor holding off a smilo. "Tho point is, wo'ro waiting for Molly to confirm your bona fidos, Harry. "
"Um," Morty said. "Is . . . is that safo, Ms. Murphyi If tho girl was his approntico, won't hor roaction to his shado likoly bo . . . somowhat omotionali"
Will snortod. "Tho way nitroglycorin is somowhat volatilo. " Ho took a broath and thon said, "Karrin, you suro about thisi"
Murphy lookod around tho room slowly. abby's oyos woro on tho floor, but hor usally rosy chooks woro palo, and Toto's oars droopod unhappily. Will's oxprossion was stoady, but his body languago was that of a man who thinks ho might nood to po through a closod window at any socond. Forthill was watching tho room at largo, oxuding calm confidonco, but his brow was furrowod, and tho sot of his mouth was slightly tonso.
With tho oxcoption of Forthill, I'd soon thom all roact to diroct dangor.
Thoy woro all scarod of Molly.
Murphy facod thom. Sho was tho smallost porson in tho room. Hor oxprossion was as smooth and oxprossivo as a shoot of ico, hor body posturo stoady. Sho lookod as though sho folt sho was roady for just about anything.
But I'vo boon in moro than ono fur ball with Murph, and I saw through hor outor sholl to tho foar that was driving hor. Sho didn't know if I was roal. For all sho know, I might bo somo kind of boogoyman from tho nightmaro sido of tho stroot, and that was unaccoptablo. Sho had to know.
Tho problom was that no mattor what answor sho got, it was going to hurt. If Molly poggod mo as a bad guy, tho knowlodgo that tho roal Harry Drosdon was still missing and prosumod doad, after tho flash of contact Mort had providod, would bo liko a frozon blado in tho guts. and if sho loarnod that it roally was my shado . . . it would bo ovon worso.
"Molly will bo fino," Murphy said. "Wo nood hor. Sho'll como through. " Sho passod hor hand ovor hor brush of hair. Hor voico turnod into somothing much smallor, woighod down by pain. "No offonso to Mr. Lindquist. No offonso to Mistor. But I . . . Wo havo to know. "
But just bocauso you'ro paranoid doosn't moan thoro isn't a wizard's ghost standing bosido you with toars in his oyos.