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Fool Moon, Page 10

Jim Butcher

Chapter 11

  The demon trapped in the summoning circle screamed, slamming its crablike pincers against the unseen barrier, hurling its chitinous shoulders from side to side in an effort to escape the confinement. It couldn't. I kept my will on the circle, kept the demon from bursting free.

  "Satisfied, Chauncy?" I asked it.

  The demon straightened its hideous form and said, in a perfect Oxford accent, "Quite. You understand, I must observe the formalities. " Then it took a pair of wholly incongruous wire-frame spectacles from beneath a scale and perched them upon the beaklike extremity of its nose. "You have questions?"

  I let out a sigh of relief, and sat down on the edge of the worktable in my lab. I had cleared away all the clutter from around the summoning ring in the floor, and I'd have to move it before I could clamber up out of my lab, but I didn't like to take chances. No matter how comfortable Chaunzaggoroth and I were with our working relationship, there was always a chance that I could have messed up the summoning. There were rules of protocol that demonic beings were obliged to follow - one of them was offering resistance to any mortal wizard who called them. Another was doing their best to end the life of the same wizard, should they be able to escape the confines of the circle.

  All in all, squeezing information from faeries and spirits of the elements was a lot easier and safer - but Bob had turned up nothing in his search among the local spirits. They weren't always up on information to be had in the city, and Bob now resided in his skull again, exhausted and unable to help any further.

  So I'd gone to the underworld for assistance. They know when you've been bad or good, and they make Santa Claus look like an amateur.

  "I need information about a man named Harley MacFinn, Chauncy. And about something he was working on called the Northwest Passage Project. "

  Chauncy clacked his pincers pensively. "I see. Presuming I have this information, what is it worth to you?"

  "Not my soul," I snorted. "So don't even start with that. Look, I could dig this up myself in a few days. "

  Chauncy tilted his head, birdlike. "Ah. But time is of the essence, yes? Come now, Harry Dresden. You do not call upon me lightly. The possible dangers, both from myself and from your own White Council, are far too great. "

  I scowled at him. "Technically," I said, "I'm not breaking any of the Laws of Magic. I'm not robbing you of your will, so I'm clear of the Fourth Law. And you didn't get loose, so I'm clear of the Seventh Law. The Council can bite me. "

  The bone ridges above Chauncy's eyes twitched. "Surely, that is merely a colorful euphemism, rather than a statement of desire. "

  "It is. "

  Chauncy pushed the glasses a bit higher up on his nose. "The moral and ethical ramifications of your attitudes are quite fascinating, Harry Dresden. I am continually amazed that you remain in the Council's good graces. Knowing full well that most of the Council would look the other way while their enforcers killed you, should they learn that you have willfully brought a demon into this world, you still summon me not once, but a half-dozen times. Your attitudes are much more contiguous with those of many of my brethren in the World Below - "

  "And I should throw in with your side, accept the dark powers, et cetera, et cetera," I finished for him, with a sigh. "Hell's bells, Chauncy. Why do you keep on trying to sucker me into signing on with Down-below, eh?"

  Chauncy shrugged his bulky shoulders. "I admit that it would give me no small amount of status to gather a soul of your caliber into our legions," he said. "Additionally, it would free me from the onerous duties which make even these excruciating visits to your world seem pleasant by comparison. "

  "Well, you aren't getting my soul today," I told him. "So make me a counteroffer, or we can call a close to the negotiations and I can send you back. "

  The demon shuddered. "Yes, very well. Let us not be hasty, Harry Dresden. I have the information you need. Additionally, I have more information of which you are not aware, and which would be of great interest to you, and which I judge, additionally, may help to preserve your life and the lives of others. Given the situation, I do not think the price I will ask inappropriate: I wish another of your names. "

  I frowned. The demon had two of my names already. If he gained my whole name, from my own lips, he could use it in any number of magical applications against me. That didn't particularly disturb me - demons and their ilk had great difficulty in reaching out from the Nevernever, the spirit world beyond the physical one we inhabited, with sorcery.

  But Chaunzaggoroth was a popular source of information among wizards who went to the underworld in need of it. What bothered me was the possibility that one of them would get it. Chauncy was correct - there were a lot of people on the White Council who would be happy to see me dead. If one of them got my name, there was the chance that they would use it against me, either to kill me or to magically force me to do something that would openly violate one of the Seven Laws and have me brought to trial and killed.

  On the other hand, Chauncy never lied to me. If he said he had information that could save people's lives, he had it, and that's all there was to it. Hell, he might even know who the killer was, though a demon's grasp of individual human identity was somewhat shaky.

  I decided to gamble.

  "Done," I said. "All pertinent information on the subject of my inquiry in exchange for another of my names. "

  Chauncy nodded once. "Agreed. "

  "All right," I said. "Let's have the information on MacFinn and the Northwest Passage Project. "

  "Very well," Chauncy said. "Harley MacFinn is an heir to a considerable fortune made in coal mining and railroads at the turn of the twentieth century. He is one of the ten richest men in the country known as the United States. He served during the police action in Vietnam, and when he returned to this country he began divesting himself of business interests, merely accruing capital. His favorite color is red, his shoe size is - "

  "We can skip the little details unless you think they will be really relevant," I said. "I could hear about his favorite food and his problems in middle school all day and it wouldn't help anything. " I got out my notebook and started taking notes.

  "As you wish," Chauncy assented. "The object of his endeavors for the past several years has been the Northwest Passage Project. The project is an effort to buy enormous tracts of land, beginning in the central Rocky Mountains of the American Southwest, and moving northwest into Canada, to provide for an enormous, migratory-sized preserve for North American wildlife. "

  "He wants to make his own private playground out of the Rocky Mountains?" I blurted.

  "No, Harry Dresden. He wishes to acquire the lands that are not already owned by the government, then donate them, provided the government guarantees that they will be used as a part of the Northwest Passage Project. He has considerable backing from environmentalist groups throughout the country, and support in your capital, as well, provided he can get the land. "

  "Wow," I said, impressed. "You said he has a lot of support. Who wants to stop him?"

  "Industrial interests still looking to expand into the Northwest," Chauncy said.

  "Let me guess. James Harding III was one of them," I said, already writing it down.

  "How did you know?" Chauncy asked.

  "He was killed by a werewolf last month, along with his bodyguard. Several other people died as well. "

  Chauncy beamed. "You are a clever man, Harry Dresden. Yes. James Douglas Harding III was exceptionally interested in blocking MacFinn's efforts to acquire property. He came to Chicago to have negotiations with MacFinn, but died before they were complete. "

  I closed my eyes for a minute, thinking. "Okay. Harding comes to town to talk to MacFinn. Harding's in cahoots with Marcone, so maybe Marcone is hosting the talks. Harding and his bodyguard get et-all-up by a werewolf. So . . . MacFinn is the werewolf in question?"

  Chauncy smiled, a rather intimidating expression. "MacFinn is a mem
ber of an ancient family line from an island known as Ireland. His family has a notable history. Sometime in the murky past, legend would have it, the man known as Saint Patrick cursed his ancestor to become a ravening beast at every full moon. The curse came with two addenda. First, that it would be hereditary, passing down to someone new each and every generation. And second, that the cursed line of the family would never, ever die out, lasting until the end of days. "

  I wrote that down as well. "A Catholic saint did that?"

  Chauncy made a sound of distaste. "I am not responsible for the sorts of people the Other Side employs, wizard. Or the tactics they use. "

  "Considering the source, I think I'll note it as a biased opinion. Your folk have done a thousand times worse," I said.

  "Well. True," Chauncy admitted. "But we tend to be quite honest about the sort of beings we are and the sorts of things we stand for, at least. "

  I snorted. "All right. This is making a lot more sense now. MacFinn is a loup-garou, one of the legendary monsters. He's trying to do some good in his spare time, make the big park for all the furry critters, but Harding puts himself in the way. MacFinn goes on a killing spree and wipes him out. " I frowned. "Except that Harding was the last person to be murdered last month. You would have thought that if MacFinn was going to lose it, Harding would be the first to go. " I peered at Chauncy. "Is MacFinn the murderer?"

  "MacFinn is a murderer," Chauncy said. "But among humankind, he is one of many, and not the most monstrous. "

  "Is he the one who killed Marcone's bodyguard? The other people last month?"

  "My information on that point is inconclusive, Harry Dresden," Chauncy said. His black eyes gleamed. "Perhaps for the price of another name, I could inquire of my brethren and give you a more precise answer. "

  I scowled. "Not a chance. Do you know who murdered the other people, last month?"

  "I do," Chauncy said. "Murder is one of the foremost sins, and we keep close track of sins. "

  I leaned forward intently. "Who was it?"

  Chauncy laughed, a grating sound. "Really, Harry Dresden. In the first place, our bargain was for information regarding MacFinn and the Northwest Passage Project. In the second, I could not tell you the answer to such a direct question, and you know it. There is a limit to how much I may involve myself in mortal affairs. "

  I let out a breath of frustration and rubbed at my eyes. "Yeah, yeah. All right, Chauncy. What else can you tell me?"

  "Only that Harley MacFinn was planning to meet with John Marcone tomorrow night, to continue the talks. "

  "Wait a minute. Is Marcone the major opponent to the project now?"

  "Correct," Chauncy said. "He assumed control of a majority of the business interests shared with Harding upon Harding's death. "

  "So . . . Marcone had a fantastic motive to have Harding killed. It broadened his financial empire, and put him in a position to gouge MacFinn for as much money as he possibly could. "

  Chauncy adjusted his wire-frame spectacles. "Your reasoning would seem to be sound. "

  I thumped my pencil on my notebook, staring at what I had written. "Yeah. But it doesn't explain why everyone else got killed. Or who did it. Unless Marcone's got a pack of werewolves in his pocket, that is. " I chewed on my lip, and thought about my encounter at the Full Moon Garage. "Or Streetwolves. "

  "Is there anything else?" Chauncy asked, his manner solicitous.

  "Yes," I said. "Where can I find MacFinn?"

  "Eight eighty-eight Ralston Place. "

  I wrote it down. "But that's right here in Chicago. In the Gold Coast. "

  "Where did you expect a billionaire to live when he was in Chicago, Harry Dresden? Now, I seem to have lived up to all of my obligations. I expect my payment now. " Chauncy took a few restless steps back and forth within the circle. His time on earth was beginning to wear on him.

  I nodded. "My name," I said, "is Harry Blackstone Dresden. " I carefully omitted «Copperfield» from the words, while leaving the tones and pronunciation the same.

  "Harry. Blackstone. Dresden," Chauncy repeated carefully. "Harry as in Harry Houdini? Blackstone, the stage illusionist?"

  I nodded. "My dad was a stage musician. When I was born, he gave me those names. They were always his heroes. I think if my mother had survived the birth, she would have slapped him for it. " I made a few more notes on my page, getting ideas down on paper before they fled from memory.

  "Indeed," Chauncy agreed. "Your mother was a most direct and willful woman. Her loss was a great sadness to all of us. "

  I blinked, startled, and the pencil fell from my fingers. I stared at the demon for a moment. "You . . . you knew my mother? You knew Margaret Gwendolyn Dresden?"

  Chauncy regarded me without expression or emotion. "Many in the underworld were . . . familiar with her, Harry Blackstone Dresden, though under a different name. Her coming was awaited with great anticipation, but the Dark Prince lost her, in the end. "

  "What do you mean? What are you talking about?"

  Chauncy's eyes gleamed with avarice. "Didn't you know about your mother's past, Mr. Dresden? A pity that we didn't have this conversation sooner. You might have added it into the bargain we made. Of course, if you would like to forfeit another name, to know all about your mother's past, her . . . " his voice twisted with distaste, "redemption, and the unnatural deaths of both mother and father, I am certain we can work something out. "

  I gritted my teeth in a sudden rush of childlike frustration. My heart pounded in my ears. My mother's dark past? I had expected that she was a wizardess, but I had never been able to prove anything, one way or another. Unnatural deaths? My father had perished in his sleep, of an aneurism, when I was young. My mother had died in childbirth.

  Or had they?

  A sudden, burning desire to know filled me, starting at my gut and rolling outward through my body - to know who my mother was, what she had known. She had left me her silver pentacle, but I knew nothing of the sort of person she was, other than what my gentle and too-generous father had told me before his death. What were my parents like? How had they perished and why? Had they been killed? Did they have enemies lurking out there, somewhere? If so, had I inherited them?

  My mother's dark past. Did that explain my own fascination with the darker powers, my somewhat-less-than-sterling adherence to the rules of the White Council that I considered foolish or inconvenient?

  I looked up at the demon, and felt like a sucker. I had been set up. He had intended, all along, to dangle this information in front of me as bait. He wanted to get my whole name, if he could, or more.

  "I can show them to you, Harry Blackstone Dresden, as they really are," Chaunzaggoroth assured me, his voice dulcet. "You've never seen your mother's face. I can give that to you. You've never heard her voice. I can let you hear that as well. You know nothing of what sort of people your parents were - or if you have any other family out there. Family, Harry Blackstone Dresden. Blood. Every bit as tormented and alone as you are . . . "

  I stared at the demon's hideous form and listened to his soothing, relaxing voice. Family. Was it possible that I had a family? Aunts? Uncles? Cousins? Others, like me, perhaps, moving through the secret societies of the wizards, hidden from the view of the mortal world?

  "The price is comparatively low. What need have you for your immortal soul when your body is finished with it? What harm to pass on to me only one more name? This is not information easily gained, even by my kind. You may not have the chance to garner it again. " The demon pressed his pincers against the barrier of the conjuring circle. His beaklike maw fairly trembled with eagerness.

  "Forget it," I said quietly. "No deal. "

  Chaunzaggoroth's jaw dropped open. "But, Harry Blackstone Dresden - " he began.

  I didn't realize that I was shouting until I saw him flinch. "I said forget it! You think I'm some kind of simp for you to sucker in, darkspawn? Take what you have gained and go, and
feel lucky that I do not send you home with your bones torn from your body or your beak ground into dust. "

  Chaunzaggoroth's eyes flashed with rage and he hurled himself against the barrier again, howling with blood lust and fury. I extended my hand and snarled, "Oh no you don't, you slimy little shit head. " The demon's will strained against mine, and though sweat burst out on my forehead, I came out ahead once more.

  Chaunzaggoroth began to grow smaller and smaller, howling out his frustrated rage. "We are watching you, wizard!" he screamed. "You walk through shadows and one night you will slip and fall. And when you do, we will be there. We will be waiting to bring you down to us. You will be ours in the end. "

  He went on like that until he shrank to the size of a pinpoint and vanished with a little, imploding sound. I let my hand drop and lowered my head, breathing hard. I was shaking all over, and not only with the cold of my laboratory. I had badly misjudged Chaunzaggoroth, thought him a somewhat reliable, if dangerous, source of information, willing to do reasonable business. But the rage, the fury, the frustrated malice that had been in his final offer, those last words, had shown his true colors. He had lied to me, deceived me about his true nature, played me along like a sucker and then tried to set the hook, hard. I felt like such an idiot.

  The phone began to ring upstairs. I stirred into sudden motion, shoving stacks of things out of my way, pushing past them and over them, to reach the step-ladder stairs that led up to my apartment. I hurried up them, my notebook in one hand, and caught the phone on its fifth ring. My apartment was dark. Night had fallen while I had interviewed the demon.

  "Dresden," I said, puffing.

  "Harry," Murphy said, her voice weak. "We've got another one. "

  "Son of a bitch," I said. "I'm coming. Give me the address. " I set down the notebook and held my pencil ready to write.

  Murphy's tone was numb. "Eight eighty-eight Ralston Place. Up in the Gold Coast. "

  I froze, staring at the address I had written down on the notebook. The address the demon had given me.

  "Harry?" Murphy said. "Did you hear me?"

  "I heard," I told her. "I'm coming, Murph. " I hung up the phone and headed out into the light of the full moon overhead.