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Grave Peril

Jim Butcher

Chapter Eleven

  An unmarked car sat in my driveway with two nondescript men inside.

  I got out of the taxi, paid off the cabby, and nodded at the driver of the car, Detective Rudolph. Rudy's clean-cut good looks hadn't faded in the year since he'd started with Special Investigations, Chicago's unspoken answer to the officially unacknowledged world of the supernatural. But the time had hardened him a bit, made him a little less white around the eyes.

  Rudolph nodded back, not even trying to hide his glower. He didn't like me. Maybe it had something to do with the bust several months back. Rudy had cut and run, rather than stick it out next to me. Before that, I'd escaped police custody while he was supposed to be watching me. I'd had a darn good reason to escape, and it wasn't really fair of him to hold that against me, but hey. Whatever got him through the day.

  "Heya, Detective," I said. "What's up?"

  "Get in the car," Rudolph said.

  I planted my feet and shoved my hands in my pockets with a certain nonchalance. "Am I under arrest?"

  Rudolph narrowed his eyes and started to speak again, but the man in the passenger seat cut him off. "Heya, Harry," Detective Sergeant John Stallings said, nodding at me.

  "How you doing, John? What brings you out today?"

  "Murph wanted us to ask you down to a scene. " He reached up and scratched at several days' worth of unshaven beard beneath a bad haircut and intelligent dark eyes. "Hope you got the time. We tried at your office, but you haven't been in, so she sent us down here to wait for you. "

  I shifted Mort Lindquist's books in my arms. "I'm busy today. Can it wait?"

  Rudolph spat, "The lieutenant says she wants you down there now, you get your ass down there. Now. "

  Stallings gave Rudolph a look, and then rolled his eyes for my benefit. "Look, Harry. Murphy told me to tell you that this one was personal. "

  I frowned. "Personal, eh?"

  He spread his hands. "It's what she said. " He frowned and then added, "It's Micky Malone. "

  I got a sickly little feeling in my stomach. "Dead?"

  Stallings's jaw twitched. "You'd better come see for yourself. "

  I closed my eyes and tried not to get frustrated. I didn't have time for detours. It would take me hours to grind through Mort's notes, and sundown, when the spirits would be able to cross over from the Nevernever, would come swiftly.

  But Murphy did plenty for me. I owed her. She'd saved my life a couple of times, and vice versa. She was my main source of income, too. Karrin Murphy headed up Special Investigations, a post that had traditionally resulted in a couple of months of bumbling and then a speedy exit from the police force. Murphy hadn't bumbled - instead, she'd hired the services of Chicago's only professional wizard as a consultant. She was getting to where she had a pretty good grasp on the local preternatural predators, at least the most common of them, but when things got hairy she still called me in. Technically, I show up on the paperwork as an investigative consultant. I guess the computer records system doesn't have numerical codes for demon banishment, divination spells, or exorcisms.

  S. I. had gone toe to toe with one of the worst things anyone but a wizard like me was ever likely to see, only the year before - a half-ton of indestructible loup-garou. They'd taken some serious casualties. Six dead, including Murphy's partner. Micky Malone had gotten hamstrung. He'd gone through therapy, and had come along for one last job when Michael and I took down that demon-summoning sorcerer. After that, though, he'd decided that his limp was going to keep him from being a good cop, and retired on disability.

  I felt guilty for that - maybe irrational, true, but if I'd been a little smarter or a little faster, maybe I could have saved those people's lives. And maybe I could have saved Micky's health. No one else saw it that way, but I did.

  "All right," I said. "Give me a second to put these away. "

  The ride was quiet, except for a little meaningless chatter from Stallings. Rudolph ignored me. I closed my eyes and ached along the way. Rudolph's radio squawked and then fell abruptly silent. I could smell burnt rubber or something, and knew that it was likely my fault.

  I opened one eye and saw Rudolph scowling back at me in the mirror. I half-smiled, and closed my eyes again. Jerk.

  The car stopped in a residential neighborhood near West Armitage, down in Bucktown. The district had gotten its name from the number of immigrant homes once there, and the goats kept in people's front yards. The homes had been tiny affairs, stuffed with too-large families and children.

  Bucktown had been lived in for a century and it was all grown up. Literally. The houses on their tiny lots hadn't had much room to expand out, so they'd grown up instead, giving the neighborhood a stretched, elongated look. The trees were ancient oaks and sycamores, and decorated the tiny yards in stately majesty, except where they'd been roughly hacked back from power lines and rooftops. Shadows fell in sharp slants from all the tall trees and tall houses, turning the streets and sidewalks into candy canes of light and darkness.

  One of the houses, a two-story white-on-white number, had its small driveway full and another half-dozen cars parked out on the street, plus Murphy's motorcycle leaning on its kickstand in the front yard. Rudolph pulled the car up alongside the curb across the street from that house and killed the engine. It went on rattling and coughing for a moment before it died.

  I got out of the car and felt something wrong. An uneasy feeling ran over me, prickles of sensation along the nape of my neck and against my spine.

  I stood there for a minute, frowning, while Rudolph and Stallings got out of the car. I looked around the neighborhood, trying to pin down the source of the odd sensations. The leaves in the trees, all in their autumn motley, rustled and sighed in the wind, occasionally falling. Dried leaves rattled and scraped over the streets. Cars drove by in the distance. A jet rumbled overhead, a deep and distant sound.

  "Dresden," Rudolph snapped. "Let's go. "

  I lifted a hand, extending my senses out, pushing my perception out along with my will. "Hang on a second," I said. "I need to . . . " I quit trying to speak, and searched for the source of the sensation. What the hell was it?

  "Fucking showboat," Rudolph growled. I heard him start toward me.

  "Hang on, kid," Stallings said. "Let the man work. We've both seen what he can do. "

  "I haven't seen shit that can't be explained," Rudolph growled. But he stayed put.

  I drifted across the street, to the yard of the house in question, and found the first body in the fallen leaves, five feet to my left. A small, yellow-and-white furred cat lay there, twisted so that its forelegs faced one way, its hindquarters the opposite. Something had broken its neck.

  I felt a pang of nausea. Death isn't ever pretty, really. It's worst with people, but with the animals that are close to mankind, it seems to be a little nastier than it might be elsewhere in the wild kingdom. The cat couldn't have reached its full growth, yet - maybe a kitten from early in the spring, roaming the neighborhood. There was no collar on its neck.

  I could feel a little cloud of disturbance around it, a kind of psychic energy left by traumatic, agonizing, and torturous events. But this one little thing, one animal's death, shouldn't have been enough to make me aware of it all the way over from my seat in the police car.

  Five feet farther on, I found a dead bird. I found its wings in two more places. Then two more birds, without heads. Then something that had been small and furry, and was now small and furry and squishy - maybe a vole or a ground squirrel. And there were more. A lot more - all in all, maybe a dozen dead animals in the front yard, a dozen little patches of violent energies still lingering. No single one of them would have been enough to disturb my wizard's sense, but all of them together had.

  So what the hell had been killing these animals?

  I rubbed my palms over my arms, a sickly little feeling of dread rolling through me. I looked up to see Rudolph and Stallings following m
e around. Their faces looked kind of greenish.

  "Jesus," Stallings said. He prodded the body of the cat with one toe. "What did this?"

  I shook my head and rolled my shoulders in a shrug. "It might take me a while to find out. Where's Micky?"

  "Inside. "

  "Well then," I said, and stood up, brushing off my hands. "Let's go. "