White Night, Page 10Jim Butcher
"Are you sure?" Anna Ash asked Elaine. "Wouldn't we be better off at one of our apartments? They're all warded. . . "
Elaine shook her head firmly. "The killer knows where you each live. He doesn't know about this place. Stay here, stay quiet, stay together. Our killer hasn't attacked anyone who wasn't alone. "
"And my dog will let you know if there's anything you need to worry about," I added. "He'll probably sit on anyone who tries to mess with you, but if he does a Lassie act at you and wants you to leave, go with him - everyone, stay together and get somewhere public. "
Mouse nudged his head under Anna's hand and wagged his tail. Toto dutifully followed Mouse, walking around Anna's ankles looking up at her until she petted him, too. That got a smile out of her, at least. "If we leave, how will we get in touch with you?"
"I'll find you. "
"Just like you found the killer?" Priscilla spat.
I ignored her with lofty dignity.
She stepped up to Priscilla and loomed over her. "You ungrateful, insufferable, venomous little twit. Shut your mouth. This man is trying to protect you, just like I am. I will thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head while we do our job. "
Priscilla's face flushed. "We aren't paying you to insult or demean us. "
"You aren't paying me enough to get me to tolerate your rudeness, either," Elaine said. "Keep it up and you won't have to worry about my bill. In fact, I suspect that in short order you'll stop worrying about absolutely everything. "
"Is that a threat?" Priscilla snapped.
Elaine put a fist on her hip. "It's a fact, bitch. "
Anna stepped in. "Priscilla, please. You aren't the one paying her. I am. We need her. She's the professional. If she thinks it's smart to cooperate with Mister Dresden, that's what we're going to do. And we're going to treat them with professional respect. If you can't manage courtesy, try silence. "
Priscilla narrowed her eyes at Anna, then folded her arms and looked away in capitulation.
Elaine nodded at Anna and said, "I'm not sure how long we'll be gone. I'll get word to you as soon as I have a better idea. "
"Thank you, Miss Mallory. " After a beat she hurried to add, "And thank you, Mister Dresden. "
"Stay together," I said, and Elaine and I left.
We walked together to the parking lot, and on the way Elaine said, "Tell me you've gotten a new car. "
We rounded a corner, and there was the Beetle in all its battle-scarred glory.
"I like this one," I told her, and opened the door for her.
"You redid the interior," she said as I got in and started the car.
"Demons ate the old one. "
Elaine began to laugh, but then blinked at me. "You're being literal?"
"Uh-huh. Fungus demons. Right down to the metal. "
"Good God, you live a glamorous life," she said.
"Elaine," I said. "I thought you told me you were going to lie low until you were ready to come out to the Council. " . . . The friendly, teasing expression on her face faded into neutrality. "Is this relevant right now?"
"Yeah," I said. "If we're going after him together, yes, it is. I need to know. "
She frowned at me, and then shrugged. "I had to do something. There were people all around me getting hurt. Being used. Living scared. So I borrowed a page from your book. "
"And you lied to the Warden who came to check up on you. "
"You say that like you've always told the Wardens everything. "
"Elaine. . . " I began.
She shook her head. "Harry, I know you. I trust you. But I don't trust the Council and I doubt I ever will. I certainly did not care to be impressed into service as a brand-new foot soldier to fight their war with the vampires - which I would have been, if I had put my full effort into Ramirez's tests. "
We looked at each other for a moment, and I said, "Please? I'll go with you. I'll support you before the Council. "
She put one of her warm, soft hands over mine, and spoke in a quiet, firm voice. "No, Harry. I won't allow those men to direct the course of my life. I won't allow them to choose if I will or will not live - or choose how. "
I sighed. "You could do so much good. "
"I thought that's what I was doing here," she pointed out. "Helping people. Doing good. "
She had a point. "The Wardens would freak out if you went to them now, anyway," I said, "and revealed that you'd been hiding your talents from them. "
"Yes," she said. "They would. "
"Dammit," I said. "We could use your help. "
"I don't doubt it," she said. Her eyes hardened and her voice went suddenly cold. "But I will not be used. Not by anyone. Never again. "
I blinked and turned to her.
She lifted her chin slightly, green eyes bright with unfallen tears. "No, Harry. "
I turned my hand under hers, and we intertwined our fingers with the careless ease of an old habit. "Elaine. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push. I hadn't realized. . . "
She blinked several times and looked away from me. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm going all neurotic on you, here. I don't mean to be. " She stared out the window at the city. "After you killed DuMorne, I spent a year having a nightmare. The same one, every single night. I was sure that it was true. That he was still alive. That he was coming for me. "
"He wasn't," I told her.
"I know," she said. "I saw him die just as you did. But I was so afraid. . . " She shook her head. "I ran to the Summer Court because of it. I ran, Harry. I couldn't face it. "
"Is that what you're doing, going public?" I asked. "Facing your past?"
"I have to," she said, her voice growing firmer. "It scares the crap out of me, all the time. And over the years. . . I've had problems with crowds. With enclosed spaces. With heights. With wide-open spaces. Night terrors. Panic attacks. Paranoia. God, sometimes it seems like there's nothing I haven't had a phobia about. "
What Elaine had described was about what I would have expected from someone whose mind had been invaded by an outside will. Magic can get you into someone's head, but if you decide to start redecorating to your tastes, there is no way to avoid inflicting damage to their psyche. Depending upon several factors, someone who has been put under that kind of control can be left twitchy and erratic at best - and at worst, totally catatonic or completely dysfunctional.
And there was the utterly normal element of emotional pain to consider, too. Elaine had, in the course of a single evening, lost absolutely everything she loved. Her boyfriend. Her adopted father. Her home.
Losing a home means a lot more to an orphan than it does to most other people. I'm in a position to know. Like me, Elaine had spent most of her childhood bouncing around from one foster home to another, one state-run orphanage to another. Like me, being given a real home, a real house, a real father figure had been a desperate dream come true. It had been a terrible loss to me, and Justin hadn't gotten any hooks into my head. For Elaine, that series of events had been infinitely more painful, infinitely more frightening.
"I let fear control one part of my life," Elaine said, "and it took root and started growing. I had to get involved, Harry. I have to use what I know to change things. If I don't, then all I'll ever be is DuMorne's tool. His terrified little weapon. I will not allow anyone to take control of my life away from me. I can't. " She shrugged. "And I can't stand by and do nothing, either. I threw the tests. I don't regret it. I sure as hell am not going to apologize for it - not to you or to anyone. "
"Well?" she asked.
"I think I get it," I said.
"Are you willing to work with me, then?"
I squeezed her hand a little. "Of course. "
The tension in her shoulders eased, and she squeezed my hand back. "My turn," she said.
"Your turn?"r />
She nodded. "You recognized the killer when you looked at the photo. "
"What?" I said. "No, I didn't. "
She rolled her eyes. "Come on, Harry. It's me. "
I sighed. "Yeah, well. "
"Who is he?" she asked.
"Thomas Raith," I said. "White Court. "
"How do you know him?"
"He's. . . " Not many people knew that Thomas was my brother. It was safer for both of us to keep that information limited. "He's a friend. Someone I trust. "
"Trust," Elaine said quietly. "I notice you use the present tense. "
"Thomas isn't hurting anyone," I said.
"He's a vampire, Harry. He hurts someone every time he feeds. "
He'd been doing quite a bit of that lately. "I know Thomas," I maintained. "He isn't the killer. "
Elaine frowned. "Treachery hurts, Harry. Believe me, I know. "
"Nothing has proved Thomas is behind these killings," I said. "It could be someone else, or something else, masquerading as him. It isn't as if there aren't plenty of shapeshifting things around that could do it. "
"Little bit of a reach, though," Elaine said. She nodded at the photos, where I'd set them on the dashboard. "The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. "
"Sooner or later," I said, "I'll have a case where everything is simple. But I don't think this one is it. "
Elaine exhaled slowly, studying my face. "You care about him. "
No point in denying that. "Yeah. "
"He trusts you in return?"
"Then why hasn't he explained himself to you?" she asked. "Why hasn't he gotten in touch with you?"
"I don't know. But I know he's not a killer. "
She nodded slowly. "But there he is, with Olivia. "
"Then I think you should agree with me that we need to find him. "
"All right, then," she said, and put on her seat belt. "We'll find him. We'll talk to him. I'll try to keep an open mind. " She looked at me. "But if it turns out to be him, Harry, he's got to be stopped - and I expect you to help me. "
"If it turns out to be him," I said, "he'd want me to. "
I've been working as a detective in Chicago for a while now, and there's one thing you do a lot more than almost anything else: You find things that get lost. I'd first designed my tracking spell to catch up to the house keys I kept losing when I was about fourteen. I'd used it a few thousand times, now. Sometimes, it had helped me find things I really didn't want. Mostly, it helped me get into trouble.
This time, I was fairly sure it would do both.
I could have used my blood to trace Thomas's, probably, but I could use my silver pentacle amulet too. My mother had given me the one I habitually wore, and she'd given one to Thomas, too. I knew that he wore it just as habitually as I wore mine, and unless someone had taken it away from him, he'd be wearing it now.
So I revved up the spell, hung the amulet from the rearview mirror of the Blue Beetle, and headed out onto the Chicago streets. I kept an eye on my amulet, which leaned slightly, drawn as if by a light magnetic field toward Thomas's amulet. That wasn't a perfect way to track something down - the spell had no concern for streets and traffic flow, for example - but I'd been finding things like this for a good while, and I piloted the Beetle through the maze of buildings and one-way streets that make up the fair city.
Elaine watched me in silence the whole while. I knew that she was wondering what I had used to lock on to our apparent abductor/murderer. She didn't push, though. She just settled down and trusted me.
When I finally parked the car and got out, I brought my amulet with me and stared grimly at the necklace, which continued to lean steadily to the east, toward the Burnham Harbor piers that stretched out over Lake Michigan. An entire cove had been built into the lakeshore and decked out with an array of docks for dozens and dozens of small commercial boats, pleasure craft, and yachts.
"Boats," I muttered. "Why did it have to be boats?"
"What's wrong with boats?" Elaine asked.
"I haven't had a good time on boats," I said. "In fact, I haven't had a good time this close to the lake in general. "
"It smells like dead fish and motor oil," Elaine noted.
"You never did like my cologne. " I got my staff out of the car. "You need a big stick. "
Elaine smiled sweetly at me, and drew out a heavy chain from her purse. She held both ends in one fist, leaving a doubled length of heavy metal links about two feet long. Each of the links glittered with veins of what might have been copper, forming sinuous text. "You're a prisoner to tradition, big guy. You should learn to be a little more flexible. "
"Careful. If you tell me you've got bracelets and a magic lariat in there, I may lose control of my sexual impulses. "
Elaine snorted. "You can't lose what you've never had. " She glanced up at me. "Like the new shield, by the way. "
"Yeah. Sexy, huh?"
"Complex," she replied. "Balanced. Strong. Sophisticated. I'm not sure I could have made a focus for something like that. It took real skill, Harry. "
I felt myself actually blush, absurdly pleased by the compliment. "Well, it isn't perfect. It takes a lot more juice than the old shield did. But I figured getting tired faster is far preferable to getting dead fester. "
"Seems reasonable," she said, and squinted at the docks. "Can you tell which boat it is?"
"Not yet. But once you get two or three hundred yards over the water, that spell would have grounded out. So we know it's one of these at the docks. "
Elaine nodded. "You want to lead?"
"Yeah. We should be able to run it down fairly fast. Stay about ten or fifteen feet back from me. "
Elaine frowned. "Why?"
"Any closer than that and we'd be a dandy target. Someone could take us both out with one burst from a machine gun. "
Her face got a little pale. "I thought you trusted him. "
"I do," I said. "But I don't know who might be there with him. "
"And you've learned this kind of thing on the job? Machine guns?"
I felt my left hand twitch. "Actually, I learned it with flamethrowers. But it applies to machine guns, too. "
She took a deep breath, green eyes flickering over the docks and ships. "I see. After you, then. "
I readied my shield bracelet, got a good grip on my staff, and wrapped my amulet's chain around the first two fingers of my right hand, holding it up and out a little so that the amulet could dangle and indicate direction. I stepped out onto the docks and followed the spell toward the outermost row of moored boats. I was acutely conscious of Elaine's light, steady footsteps behind me, and the little slapping sighs of water hitting hulls.
The summer sky was overcast with lead, and occasional thunder rumbled through the air. The docks weren't nearly as crowded as they could be, but there were a couple of dozen people around, walking to and from boats, working on decks, getting ready to cast off or else just now securing their lines. I was the only one wearing a big leather coat, and got a few odd looks.
The amulet led me to the last slip of the dock farthest from shore. The boat moored there was a big one, at least for those docks, and looked like it might have been a stunt double for the boat in Jaws. It was old, battered, its white paint smudged to a faded, peeling grey, the planks of its hull often patched. The windows on the wheelhouse were obscured with dust and greasy smudges. It needed to be sandblasted and repainted - except for the lettering on its stern, which had apparently been added only recently in heavy black paint: WATER BEETLE.
I walked ten feet away and rechecked the amulet's indication, triangulating. The Water Beetle was the right boat.
"Hey!" I called out. "Er, uh. Ahoy! Thomas!"
Silence met my hail.
I checked over my shoulder. Elaine had moved away, to where she could see the little ship's entire deck while still standing a good twenty feet down the dock from me. What was the military term for that? Establishing a cross fire? Maybe it was creating a defilade. The point being, though, that if anything came gibbering up out of the boat's hold, we'd tear it up between us before you could say boogity-boo.
Of course, if anyone on the boat had hostile intent and an ounce of brains, they'd probably realize that, too.
"Thomas!" I shouted again. "It's Harry Dresden!"
If someone on that boat meant me harm, the smart thing to do would be to stay quiet and tempt me out onto the boat itself. That would minimize my chances of avoiding an attack, and give them their best shot at taking me out in a hurry - which is just about the only reliable way to do it, when you're dealing with wizards. Give one of us time to catch our breath, and we can be a real handful.
"Okay," I said to Elaine, not taking my eyes off the boat. "I'm going aboard. "
"Is that smart?"
"No. " I glanced at her for a second. "You got a better idea?"
"No," she admitted.
"Cover me. "
"Cover you. " Elaine shook her head, but she let one end of the chain slip loose from her hand, and caught it in the other. She took a grip on it, leaving a couple of feet hanging from her left hand. Little flickers of light played along it - subtle enough that I doubted anyone would notice if they weren't looking for it. "I thought I was here on a job. Now it turns out I'm half of a buddy-cop movie. "
"Uh-huh," I said. "I'm the zany yet lovable one. You're the brainy conservative. "
"What if I want to be the zany one?"
"Then you can hop out there on the boat. "
"Stop throwing the regulations out the window," she said, as if reciting a hastily memorized grocery list. "We're supposed to catch the maniacs, not become them. Don't do anything crazy, because I've only got two and a half seconds to go until I retire. "
"That's the spirit," I said, and hopped from the dock to the deck of the Water Beetle.
I crouched, ready for trouble, but nothing came hurtling at me. One of the boats down the dock started up an engine that could not possibly have passed any kind of emissions test, including one for noise. Even so, though, I heard a thumping sound come from below the deck. I froze, but there was no further sound beyond the nearby rumbling engine, which, from the smell of it, was burning a lot of oil.
I tried to move silently, pacing around the wheelhouse. It was a tight squeeze between the deckhouse and the rail as I sidled by to peer around the corner and down a short flight of stairs that led into the ship's cabin hold. I was aware of a presence: nothing specific, really, beyond a sudden, intuitive certainty that someone was down there and aware of me in return.
I could probably dance around, listening and lurking in hopes of finding some other indication of who was below - but not for long. People would notice me crouching and taking cover on the ship's deck for no apparent reason. Some of them would ignore it. Hell, most of them would ignore it. But inevitably, one of them would think it odd enough to give the cops a ring.
"Screw it," I said. I made sure my duster was covering my back, brought my shield up before me, and stepped quickly down the stairs and into the hold.
I had maybe half a second of warning when someone came swinging down the stairs behind me - he must have been lying flat and out of sight atop the wheelhouse. I started to turn, but two heels hit my right shoulder blade in a double-legged kick and propelled me forcefully down into the hold.
The duster was hell on wheels for stopping claws and bullets, but it did me less good against the blunt impact of the kick. It hurt. I threw up the shield in front of me as I fell, and cut it again in an instant, since impacting a rigid plane of force would be much like slamming myself into a brick wall. The fluttering energy of the shield slowed me enough to control my fall and turn it into a roll. I came to my knees facing the stairway, as Thomas came hurtling down it with mayhem evidently in mind.
He crouched on the stairs with one of those crooked knives the Gurkhas use clutched in one fist, and a double-barreled shotgun with maybe six inches of barrel left to it in the other and pointed directly at my head. My brother was a little bit shy of six feet tall, slim, and made out of whipcord and steel cable. His eyes were alight with fury in his pale face, faded from their usual thundercloud grey to an angry, metallic silver that meant that he was drawing upon his power as a vampire. His shoulder-length dark hair was bound back under a red bandanna, and his 'do still looked more stylish than mine.
"Thomas," I snarled. "Ow. What is wrong with you?"
"You get one chance to surrender, asshole. Drop the spells and face the wall. "
"Thomas. Stop being a dick. I don't need this right now. "
Thomas sneered. "Give it up. It's a good act, but I know you aren't Harry Dresden. There's no way the real Dresden would have come here with a woman like that instead of his dog. "
I blinked at him and dropped my shield. "Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?" I glared at him and added in a lower tone, "Hell's bells, if you weren't my brother, I'd paste you. "
Thomas lowered the shotgun, his expression startled. "Harry?"
A shadow moved behind Thomas.
"Wait!" I screamed.
A length of heavy chain whipped around his throat. There was a flash of greenish light and a crackling explosion almost as loud as a gunshot. Thomas jerked into an agonized arch and was flung free of the chain to come hurtling into me. For the second time in sixty seconds, I got hit with my brother's full weight and slammed to the floor. My nose filled with the sharp scent of ozone and burned hair.
"Harry?" called Elaine's voice, high and loud. "Harry?"
"I said to wait," I wheezed.
She came hustling down the stairs and over to me. "Did he hurt you?"
"Not until you threw him on me," I snapped. Which wasn't true, but being repeatedly bashed about makes me grumpy. I touched a finger to my throbbing lip, and it came away wet with blood. "Ow. "
Elaine said, "Sorry. I thought you were in trouble. "
I shook my head to clear it and glanced at Thomas. His eyes were open and he looked startled. He was breathing, but his arms and legs lay limp. His lips moved a little. I leaned over and asked him, "What?"
"Ow," he whispered.
I sat up, a little relieved. If he was able to complain, he couldn't have been too bad off. "What was that?" I asked Elaine.
"How do you refill it?"
"Thunderstorm. Or I just plug it into any wall socket"
"Cool," I said. "Maybe I should get one of those. "
Thomas's head moved, and one of his legs twitched and began to stir.
Elaine whirled on him at once, her chain held taut between her hands, and little flashes of light began flickering through the decorative metal embedded into the links.
"Easy, there," I said, firmly. "Back off. We came here to talk, remember?"
"Harry, we should at least restrain him. "
"He isn't going to hurt us," I said.
"Would you listen to yourself for a second?" she said, her voice sharpening. "Harry, despite heavy evidence to the contrary, you're telling me that you like and trust a creature whose specialty lies in subverting the minds of his victims. That's the way they all talk about a White Court vampire, and you know it. "
"That isn't what's happened here," I said.
"They say that , too," Elaine insisted. "I'm not saying any of this is your fault, Harry. But if this thing has gotten to you somehow, this is exactly how you'd be responding to it. "
"He's not a thing," I snarled. "His name is Thomas. "
Thomas took in a deep breath and then managed to say, in a very feeble voice, "It's all right. You can come out now. "
nbsp; The forward wall of the cabin creaked and suddenly shifted, swinging out on a concealed hinge to reveal a small area behind it, not quite as large as a typical walk-in closet. There were several women and two or three very small children huddled in that cramped space, and they emerged into the cabin warily.
One of them was Olivia the dancer.
"There," Thomas said quietly. He turned his head to Elaine. "There they are, and they're fine. Check them out for yourself. "
I stood up, my joints creaking, and studied the women. "Olivia," I said.
"Warden," she said quietly.
"Are you all right?"
She smiled. "Except for a muscle cramp I got in there. It's a little crowded. "
Elaine looked from the women to Thomas and back. "Did he hurt you?"
Olivia blinked. "No," she said. "No, of course not. He was taking us to shelter. "
"Shelter?" I asked.
"Harry," Elaine said, "these are some of the women who have gone missing. "
I digested that for a second, and then turned to Thomas. "What the hell is wrong with you? Why didn't you tell me what was going on?"
He shook his head, his expression still a little bleary. "Reasons. Didn't want you involved in this. "
"Well, I'm involved now," I said. "So how about you tell me what's going on. "
"You were at my apartment," Thomas said. "You saw my guest room wall. "
"They were being hunted. I had to figure out who was after them. Why. I got it, at least well enough to be able to figure out who they were planning to kill. It became a race between us. " He glanced at the women and children. "I got everyone I could out of harm's way, and brought them here. " He tried to move his head and winced. "Nnngh. There are another dozen at a cabin on an island about twenty miles north of here. "
"A safe house," I mused. "You were taking them to a safe house. "
Elaine just stared at the women for a long moment, then at Thomas. "Olivia," she asked. "Is he telling the truth?"
"A-as far as I know," the girl answered. "He's been a perfect gentleman. "
I'm pretty sure nobody but me caught it, but at her words, Thomas's eyes flashed with a cold and furious hunger. He may have treated the women gently and politely, but I knew that there was a part of him that hadn't wanted to. He closed his eyes tightly and started taking deep breaths. I recognized the ritual he used to control his darker nature, and said nothing of it.
Elaine talked quietly with Olivia, who began making introductions. I leaned against a wall - unless maybe, since we were on a ship, it was a bulkhead - and rubbed my finger at a spot between my eyebrows where a headache was coming on. The damned oily smoke smell from the nearby ship's sputtering engine wasn't helping matters any, either, and -
My head snapped up and I flung myself up the stairs and onto the deck.
That big ugly boat had been moved from its moorings - and now floated directly beside the Water Beetle, blocking it from the open waters of the lake. Its engine was pouring out so much blue-black oil smoke that it could not have been anything but deliberate. A choking haze had already enveloped the Water Beetle, and I couldn't see beyond the next row of docks.
A figure hurtled from the deck of the boat to land in a tigerish crouch on the little area of open deck at the rear of the Water Beetle. Even as I watched, its features, those of an unremarkable man in his midthirties, began to change. His jaws elongated, face extending into something of a muzzle, and his forearms lengthened, the nails extending into dirty-looking talons.
He faced me, shoulders distorting into hunched knots of powerful muscle, bared his teeth, and let out a shrieking roar.
A ghoul. A tough, dangerous opponent, but not impossible to beat.
Then more figures appeared on the deck of the other ship, half veiled by the thick smoke. Their limbs crackled and contorted, and a dozen more ghouls opened their mouths in earsplitting echo of the first.
"Thomas!" I shouted, half choking on the smoke. "We've got a problem!"
Thirteen ghouls flung themselves directly at me, jaws gaping and slavering, talons reaching, eyes gleaming with feral bloodlust and rage.
Fucking boats .