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Grave Peril, Page 12

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twelve

  I stopped outside the doorway. Micky Malone owned a nice house. His wife taught elementary school. They wouldn't have been able to afford the place on his salary alone, but together they managed. The hardwood floors gleamed with polish. I saw an original painting, a seascape, hanging on one of the walls of the living room, adjacent to the entryway. There were a lot of plants, a lot of greenery that, along with the wood grain of the floors, gave the place a rich, organic glow. It was one of those places that wasn't just a house. It was a home.

  "Come on, Dresden," Rudolph snapped. "The lieutenant is waiting. "

  "Is Mrs. Malone here?" I asked.

  "Yes. "

  "Go get her. I need her to invite me in. "

  "What?" Rudolph said. "Give me a break. Who are you, Count Dracula?"

  "Drakul is still in eastern Europe, last time we checked," I replied. "But I need her or Micky to ask me in, if you want me to do anything for you. "

  "What the hell are you talking about?"

  I sighed. "Look. Homes, places that people live in and love and have built a life in have a kind of power of their own. If a bunch of strangers had been trouping in and out all day, I wouldn't have any trouble with the threshold, but you're not. You guys are friends. " Like Murphy had said - this one was personal.

  Stallings frowned. "So you can't come in?"

  "Oh, I could come in," I said. "But I'd be leaving most of what I can do at the door. The threshold would mess with me being able to work any forces in the house. "

  "What shit," Rudolph snorted. "Count Dracula. "

  "Harry," Stallings said. "Can't we invite you in?"

  "No, Has to be someone who lives there. Besides, it's polite," I said. "I don't like to go places where I'm not welcome. I'd feel a lot better if I knew it was all right with Mrs. Malone for me to be here. "

  Rudolph opened his mouth to spit venom on me again, but Stallings cut him off. "Just do it, Rudy. Go get Sonia and bring her back here. "

  Rudolph glowered but did what he was told, going into the house.

  Stallings tapped out a cigarette and lit up. He puffed for a second, thoughtfully. "So you can't do magic inside a house unless someone asks you in?"

  "Not a house," I said. "A home. There's a difference. "

  "So what about Victor Sells's place? I hear you took him on, right?"

  I shook my head. "He'd screwed up his threshold. He was running his business out of it, using the place for dark ceremonies. It wasn't a home anymore. "

  "So you can't mess with anything on its own turf?"

  "Can't mess with mortals, no. Monsters don't get a threshold. "

  "Why not?"

  "How the hell should I know," I said. "They just don't. I can't know everything, right?"

  "Guess so," Stallings said, and after a minute he nodded. "Sure, I see what you mean. So it shuts you down?"

  "Not completely, but it makes it a lot harder to do anything. Like wearing a lead suit. That's why vampires have to keep out. Other nasties like that. If you give them that much of a handicap, they have trouble just staying alive, much less using any freaky powers. "

  Stallings shook his head. "This magic crap. I never would have believed it before I came here. I still have trouble with it. "

  "Yeah? That's good. Means you aren't running into it too much. "

  He blew out twin columns of smoke from his nostrils. "Could be changing. Last couple of days, we've had some people go missing. Bums, street people, folks some of the cops and detectives know. "

  I frowned. "Yeah?"

  "Yeah. It's all rumors so far. And people like that, they can just be gone the next day. But since I started working S. I. , stuff like that makes me nervous. "

  I frowned, and debated telling Stallings what I knew about Bianca's party. Doubtless, there would be a whole flock of vampires in from out of town for the event. Maybe she and her flunkies were rounding up hors d'oeuvres. But I had no proof of that - for all I knew, the disappearances, if they were disappearances, could be related to the turbulence in the Nevernever. If so, the cops couldn't do anything about it. And if it was something else, I could be starting a very nasty exchange with Bianca. I didn't want to sic the cops on her for no reason. I'm pretty sure Bianca had the resources to send them back at me - and she could probably make it look like I'd done something to deserve it, too.

  Besides that, in the circles of the supernatural community, an Old World code of conduct still ruled. When you have a problem, you settle it face to face, within the circle. You don't bring in the cops and the other mortals as weapons. They're the nuclear missiles of the supernatural world. If you show people a supernatural brawl going on, it's going to scare the snot out of them and the next thing you know, they're burning everything and everyone in sight. Most people wouldn't care that one scary guy might have been right and the other was wrong. Both guys are scary, so you ace both of them and sleep better at night.

  It had been that way since the dawn of the Age of Reason and the rising power of mortal kind. And more power to the people, I say. I hated all these bullies, vampires, demons, and bloodthirsty old deities rampaging around like they ruled the world. Never mind that, until a few centuries ago, they really had.

  In any case, I decided to keep my mouth shut about Bianca's gathering until I knew enough to be certain, either way.

  Stallings and I made small talk until Sonia Malone appeared at the door. She was a woman of medium height, comfortably overweight and solid-looking. Her face would have been gorgeous when she was a young woman, and it still carried that beauty, refined by years of self-confidence and steady reliability. Her eyes were reddened, and she wore no makeup, but her features seemed composed. She wore a simple dress in a floral print, her only jewelry the wedding band on her finger.

  "Mr. Dresden," she said, politely. "Micky told me that you saved his life, last year. "

  I coughed and looked down. Though I guess that was true, technically, I still didn't see it that way. "We all did everything we could, ma'am. Your husband was very brave. "

  "Detective Rudolph said that I needed to invite you in. "

  "I don't want to go where I'm not welcome, ma'am," I replied.

  Sonia wrinkled up her nose and eyed Stallings. "Put that out, Sergeant. "

  Stallings dropped the cigarette and mushed it out with his foot.

  "All right, Mr. Dresden," she said. For a moment, her composure faltered and her lips began to tremble. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, smoothing over her features, then opened her eyes again. "If you can help my Micky, please come in. I invite you. "

  "Thank you," I said. I stepped forward, through the door, and felt the silent tension of the threshold parting around me like a beaded curtain rimed with frost.

  We went through a living room where several cops, people I knew from S. I. , sat around talking quietly. It reminded me of a funeral. They looked up at me as I went by, and talk ceased. I nodded to them, and we went on past, to a staircase leading up to the second floor.

  "He was up late last night," she told me, her voice quiet. "Sometimes he can't sleep, and he didn't come to bed until late. I got up early, but I didn't want to wake him, so I let him sleep in. " Mrs. Malone stopped at the top of the stairs, and pointed down the hall at a closed door. "Th-there," she said. "I'm sorry. I c-can't . . . " She took another deep breath. "I need to see about lunch. Are you hungry?"

  "Oh. Yes, sure. "

  "All right," she said, and retreated back down the stairs.

  I swallowed and looked at the door at the end of the hall, then headed toward it. My steps sounded loud in my own ears. I knocked gently on the door.

  Karrin Murphy opened it. She wasn't anyone's idea of a leader of a group of cops charged with solving every bizarre crime that fell between the lines of the law enforcement system. She didn't look like someone who would stand, with her feet planted, putting tiny silver bullets into an oncoming freigh
t train of a loup-garou, either - but she was.

  Karrin looked up at me from her five-foot-nothing in height. Her blue eyes, normally clear and bright, looked sunken. She'd shoved her golden hair under a baseball cap, and wore jeans and a white T-shirt. Her shoulder harness wrinkled the cotton around the shoulder where her side arm hung. Lines stood out like cracks in a sunbaked field, around her mouth, her eyes. "Hi, Harry," she said. Her voice too was quiet, gruff.

  "Hiya, Murph. You don't look so good. "

  She tried to smile. It looked ghastly. "I . . . I didn't know who else to call. "

  I frowned, troubled. On any other day, Murphy would have returned my mildly insulting comment with compounded interest. She opened the door farther, and let me in.

  I remembered Micky Malone as an energetic man of medium height, balding, with a broad smile and a nose that peeled in the sun if he walked outside to get his morning paper. The cane and limp were additions too recent for me to have firmly stuck in my memory. Micky wore old, quality suits, and was careful never to get the jackets messy or his wife would never let him hear the end of it.

  I didn't remember Micky with a fixed, tooth-baring grin and eyes spread out in that Helter-Skelter gleam of madness. I didn't remember him covered in small scratches, or his fingernails crusted with his own blood, or his wrists and ankles cuffed to the iron-framed bed. He panted, grinning around the neatly decorated little room. I could smell sweat and urine. There were no lights on in the room, and the curtains had been drawn over the windows, leaving it in a brownish haze.

  He turned his head toward me and his eyes widened. He sucked in a breath and threw back his head in a long, falsetto-pitched scream like a coyote's. Then he started laughing and rocking back and forth, jerking on the steel restraints, making the bed shake in a steady, squeaking rhythm.

  "Sonia called us this morning," Murphy said, toneless. "She'd locked herself into her closet and had a cellular. We got here right before Micky finished breaking down the closet door. "

  "She called the cops?"

  "No. She called me. Said she didn't want them to see Micky like this. That it would ruin him. "

  I shook my head. "Damn. Brave lady. And he's been like this ever since?"

  "Yeah. He was just . . . crazy mean. Screaming and spitting and biting. "

  "Has he said anything?" I asked.

  "Not a word," Murphy said. "Animal noises. " She crossed her arms and looked up at me, at my eyes for a second, before looking away. "What happened to him, Harry?"

  Micky giggled and started bouncing his hips up and down on the bed as he rocked, making it sound as though a couple of hyperkinetic teenagers were coupling there. My stomach turned. No wonder Mrs. Malone hadn't been willing to come back into this room.

  "You better give me a minute to find out," I said.

  "Could he be . . . you know. Possessed? Like in the movies?"

  "I don't know yet, Murph. "

  "Could it be some kind of spell?"

  "Murphy, I don't know. "

  "Dammit, Harry," she snapped. "You'd damned well better find out. " She clenched her fists and shook with suppressed fury.

  I put my hand on her shoulder. "I will. Give me some time with him. "

  "Harry, I swear, if you can't help him - " Her voice caught in her throat, and tears sparkled in her eyes. "He's one of mine, dammit. "

  "Easy, Murph," I told her, making my voice as gentle as I knew how. I opened the door for her. "Go get some coffee, all right? I'll see what I can do. "

  She glanced up at me and then back at Malone. "It's okay, Micky," she said. "We're all here for you. You won't be alone. "

  Micky Malone gave her that fixed grin and then licked his lips before bursting out into another chorus of giggles. Murphy shivered and then walked out of the room, her head bowed.

  And left me alone with the madman.