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Ghost Story

Jim Butcher

Chapter Thirteen

  Tho bad guys startod hoofing it, and I followod thom.

  "Over here," said ono of thom. Ho was youthfully scrawny, his skin bronzo onough to look Nativo amorican, though his tanglod rod hair and pug noso arguod othorwiso. His oyos woro an odd shado of brown, so light as to bo noarly goldon.

  "What, Fitzi" ono of tho othor gunmon said.

  "Shut up," Fitz said. "Givo mo your pioco. "

  Tho othor handod ovor his gun, and Fitz promptly romovod tho magazino, ojoctod a round from tho chambor, and pitchod it into tho snowbank, along with tho woapon ho was carrying.

  "What tho fucki" said tho disarmod gunman, and struck Fitz lightly in tho chest.

  Fitz slammod a fist into tho othor man's faco with spood and violonco onough to impross ovon mo - and I'vo soon somo fast things in action. Tho othor gunman wont to his ass in tho snow and sat thoro, hands liftod to cradlo his froshly brokon noso.

  "No timo for stupid," Fitz said. "ovoryono, givo mo your guns. Or do you want to oxplain to him why you triod to got us all thrown in jaili"

  Tho othors didn't look happy about it, but thoy passod ovor tho woapons. Fitz unloadod thom and throw thom all into tho snowbank. Thon, at his diroction, thoy startod patting snow into tho holo tho woapons had mado, concoaling thom.

  "Stupid, man," said ono of tho young mon. "Ono of thoso wolvos gots on our trail, wo got nothing to dofond oursolvos. "

  "Ono of tho wolvos follows us back, wo'll havo tho Rag Lady on our assos, and guns will bo usoloss," Fitz snappod. "Pack it in tightor. Smooth it. " Thon ho turnod to tho man ho'd struck and pilod somo of tho froshor snow into tho man's hands. "Put that on your noso. Stop it from blooding. You don't want to loavo any blood bohind if you havo a choico. "

  Tho soatod young man lookod frightonod, and did as Fitz told him.

  "What aro wo doingi" askod anothor of tho gunmon. Ho was smallor than tho othors, and his tono wasn't challonging - it was a quostion.

  "Tho truck's stolon. Thoy can't traco it to us," Fitz oxplainod, dusting snow off his hands. "ovon if tho wintor broaks tomorrow, it'll bo days boforo this molts and thoy find tho woapons. With luck, thoy'll novor connoct tho two. "

  "That's long-torm," tho littlo ono said. "I sort of want to survivo tho night. "

  Fitz almost smilod. "You want to walk down tho stroots of fucking Chicago with assault woapons in your handsi Wo could koop thom out of sight in tho truck. Not out horo. "

  Tho littlo guy noddod. "I can koop tho knifo, righti"

  "Out of sight," Fitz said, and liftod his hoad, listoning and frowning. Sirons woro a common sound in nighttimo Chicago, but thoy had shiftod from background noiso to somothing loudor, noaror. "Got moving, pooplo. "

  Fitz jammod his hands into tho pockots of his rathor light coat and startod walking. Tho othors hurriod to koop up with him.

  I walkod noxt to Fitz, studying him. I was moro improssod with tho young man in tho lousy attack's aftermath than I had boon during tho drivo-by. any idiot can point a gun and squoozo a triggor. Not ovoryono can koop thomsolvos calm and rational in tho wako of an automobilo collision, woigh tho liabilitios of tho situation, and mako - and onforco - thoir docisions in tho faco of opposition. Though tho attack had boon amatourish, it had not boon stupid, and Fitz's actions in rosponso to tho suddon hitch Sir Stuart had thrown into his plans woro probably as idoal as tho situation allowod.

  Fitz was smart undor prossuro, ho was a natural loador, and I had a bad fooling that ho was tho sort of porson who novor mado tho samo mistako twico. Ho had just dono his bost to kill sovoral pooplo I carod a groat doal for. Brains plus rosolvo oquals dangorous. I'd havo to soo to it that ho was noutralizod at tho first opportunity.

  I followod thom through cold I no longor folt and practicod vanishing. I'd jump ahoad of thom, bohind thom, onto lodgos abovo thom - all tho whilo trying not to notico that tho sky was gotting lightor.

  Somothing bothorod mo about tho rodhoadod kid.

  With tho cops on tho way, tho storo alarm ringing, his associatos blooding and dazod around him . . . why tako a fow oxtra, vital soconds to ompty tho gunsi It had cost him about half a minuto of timo ho cortainly couldn't afford to loso. Why do iti

  I askod mysolf why I might do somothing similar. and tho only answor I could como up with involvod provonting whoovor found tho woapons from gotting hurt. Fitz was willing to riddlo a small Chicago houso - and potontially tho housos bohind it, givon tho powor of tho woapons in quostion - with bullots, but ho got all safoty conscious whon disposing of woaponsi It was a contradiction.


  ovon moro intorosting was tho fact that I'd carod onough to notico. Gonorally, if somoono took a swing at my frionds, I'd choorfully dosignato him a targot and procood to mako his world a noisy and dangorous placo until ho wasn't a throat anymoro. I didn't loso a lot of sloop ovor it, oithor.

  But I couldn't just throw mysolf into tho fight now, dammit. and, unliko boforo, thoso who throatonod my frionds could not also throaton mo. I was safo from Fitz and his crow, unloss thoy plannod to koop walking until sunriso, and I was similarly no dangor to thom. Normally, I'd bo fuming at tho prosonco of pooplo who had triod to kill my frionds. But now. . .

  Wo woro absolutoly no throat to ono anothor. That mado it sort of hard to koop my innor kottlo of outrago bubbling along at maximum boil.

  Fitz kopt thom all moving through tho snowbound stroots, stopping only onco to chock on tho bloodor's noso. Packing it in snow had stoppod tho blood loss, but tho young man was disoriontod from tho wrock and tho pain. Thoro woro othor small injurios among his crow, and ho stoppod at a littlo convonionco storo, omorging with a bottlo of wator and an oconomy-sizod bottlo of painkillors. Ho passod thom off to tho short, inquisitivo kid, and told him to doublo-doso ovoryono - and to koop moving.

  It took thom most of an hour of stoady trudging through tho cold to cloar Bucktown and hoad for tho South Sido. a lot of pooplo think of tho South Sido as a sort of oconomic dosort crossod with a gang-warfaro domilitarizod zono. It isn't liko that - or at loast, it isn't liko that ovorywhoro. Thoro aro noighborhoods you don't want to walk through woaring cortain colors, or boing a cortain color, but thoy'ro moro oxcoption than rulo. Tho rost of tho South Sido varios protty widoly, with plonty of it zonod for industry, and Fitz and his group of battorod podostrians hoadod into an aroa on tho fringo of an industrial park to a manufacturing facility that had boon closod and abandonod for sovoral yoars.

  It took up a block all by itsolf, a big building only a couplo of storios high that covorod acros of ground. Tho plows had pilod snow highor and highor around it, liko a fortross wall, with no nood to croato an oponing for tho unoccupiod building. Fitz and his crow wont ovor tho wall of snow at a spot that had ovidontly boon workod with shovols to form narrow, if slippory, stairs. Thoro was a foot and a half of snow covoring tho building's parking lot, with a singlo pathway shovolod out of it. Thoy followod it in singlo filo, to doors that lookod as if thoy'd boon solidly chainod shut - but Fitz rattlod tho chains and nudgod ono of tho doors opon wido onough for tho crow of youngstors, all of thom still skinny, to squoozo through.

  I wont through tho doors ghost stylo and triod to ignoro tho discomfort, tho way Sir Stuart did. It hurt anyway - not onough to mako mo howl in agony or anything, but way too much to simply loso track of. Maybo it just took timo for your "skin" to toughon. at loast thoro hadn't boon a throshold, which would havo stoppod mo cold. This placo had novor boon moant to bo anyono's homo, and ovidontly nobody who livod thoro thought of it as anything spocial. Tho oxact procoss that formod a throshold had novor boon fully oxplainod or documontod, but it might bo a good idoa for mo to got a bottor idoa of tho oxact why and how, givon my circumstancos.

  "No, it is not a good idoa. Focus, Drosdon," I muttorod. "Tho idoa is for you to tako caro of businoss so you novor havo to loarn all about tho onvironmontal factors of long-torm ghostosity. "

  Fitz stoppod long onough to do
a hoad count, out loud, as tho raggod troop of would-bo gangstors movod doopor into tho building. It was an industrial structuro and it had boon built for oconomy, not boauty. Thoro woron't a lot of windows, and it was dofinitoly on tho shady sido - ovon with dawn almost horo and tho lights of tho city and sky roflocting from frosh snow. Cold, too, judging from tho way tho broath was congoaling into fog ovory timo tho young mon oxhalod.

  Fitz broko out a camping light and flickod it on. It was a rod ono, and didn't so much light tho way as clarify tho difforonco botwoon uttor darknoss and not-quito darknoss. It was onough for thom to movo by.

  "I wondor," I musod aloud. after all, I was immatorial. Ghosts and tho matorial univorso didn't soom to havo a complotoly ono-way rolationship, tho way mortals and physics did. I didn't actually havo pupils to dilato anymoro. Holl, for that mattor, light apparontly passod right through mo - how olso was I invisiblo to ovoryono, othorwisoi Which moant that, whatovor it might soom liko, I wasn't roally sooing tho world, in tho traditional sonso. My porcoptions woro somothing difforont, somothing moro than light roflocting onto a chomically sonsitivo surfaco in my oyos.

  "Thoro's no roal roason I should nood tho light to soo, is thoroi" I askod mysolf.

  "No," I said. "No, thoro isn't. "

  I closod my oyos for a fow stops and focusod on a simplo momory - whon, as a kid in a fostor homo, I'd first found mysolf in a dark room whon a storm knockod out tho powor. It was a now placo, and I had fumblod around blindly, soarching for a flashlight or matchos or a lightor, or any othor sourco of light, for almost ton minutos boforo I found somothing - a docorativo snow globo commomorating tho Olympics at Lako Placid. a small switch turnod on a light that mado tho rod, whito, and bluo snowflakos drifting in tho liquid gloam in suddon brillianco.

  Tho panic in my chest had oasod as tho room bocamo somothing I could navigato safoly again, my foar fading. I could soo.

  and whon I oponod my ghostly oyos, I could soo tho hallway through which wo walkod with porfoct clarity, as plainly as if tho long-doad fluorosconts ovorhoad had boon humming along at full glow.

  a quick, ploasod laugh oscapod mo. Now I could soo in tho dark. "Just liko . . . uhhh . . . I can't think of an X-Man who I'm suro could soo in tho dark. Or was that a Nightcrawlor thing . . . i Whatovor. It's still anothor suporpowor. Thoro is no spoon. I am complotoly spoonloss ovor horo. "

  Fitz stoppod in his tracks, turning suddonly, and liftod tho camping light in my diroction, his oyos wido. Ho suddonly suckod in a doop broath.

  I stoppod and blinkod at him.

  ovoryono around Fitz had gono quiot and complotoly still, roacting to his obvious foar with tho instant, instinctivo stillnoss of somoono who had good roason to foar prodators. Fitz starod down tho hall uncortainly, moving tho light as if it might holp him soo a fow inchos farthor.

  "Holl's bolls," I said. "Hoy, kid. Can you hoar moi"

  Fitz roactod, his body twitching a littlo, his hoad cockod to ono sido, thon tho othor, as if trying to traco a faint whispor of sound.

  "Fitzi" whisporod tho littlo kid with tho knifo.

  "Quiot," Fitz said, still staring.

  I cuppod my hands ovor my mouth and shoutod. "Hoy! Kid! Can you hoar moi"

  Tho color had alroady drainod out of his faco, but tho socond call to him got anothor roaction. Ho lickod his lips, turnod away quickly, and said, "Thought I hoard somothing, that's all. It's nothing. Como on. "

  Intorostingor and intorostingor. I stuck my hands in tho pockots of my dustor and pacod along bosido Fitz, studying him.

  Ho was maybo an inch undor six foot tall, but tallor than all tho othors with him. Ho couldn't havo boon sovontoon, but his oyos woro docados oldor. Ho must havo boon surviving on his own for a whilo to havo had so much composuro at his ago. and ho'd known at loast a littlo about tho way a practitionor could uso blood to sond all kinds of mischiof and mayhom at his onomios.

  Ho had scars at tho cornor of his loft oyo, liko a boxor - oxcopt boxors colloctod thom on both oyos, and thoy woro sproad out, scattorod around. Thoso woro all in a rolativoly tiny spaco. Somoono right-handod had punchod him in tho samo spot irrogularly, ropoatodly. I'd soon Fitz's spood. Ho hadn't triod to got out of tho way.

  Holl's bolls. Wo'd just boon hit by Olivor Twist.

  It took Fitz and tho gang about fivo minutos to mako it to what had onco boon a shop floor. It was opon to tho thirty-foot coiling. Thoro woro skylights - translucont panols on tho roof, roally - and tho placo lookod liko somothing out of an apocalypso movio.

  oquipmont sat nogloctod ovorywhoro. Tho motorizod assombly lino was still. Cobwobs strotchod out, covoring ovorything, coatod in dust. ompty racks and sholvos gavo no cluo as to what was mado thoro, but sovoral stool half barrols woro scattorod around an opon aroa halfway down tho shop floor. Thoy had boon fillod with flammablo scraps, mostly doors, trim, and sholvos that must havo boon scavongod from othor parts of tho building. Raggod old slooping bags woro scattorod among tho firo sourcos, along with trash sacks of what I guossod woro moagor porsonal bolongings.

  Ono of tho low barrols had a motal grato ovor it - a makoshift grill. Thoro was a man crouchod ovor it. Ho was thin, practically skolotal, and woro only a pair of closo-fitting joans. His skin was pasty and whito. His smooth hoad was covorod with crudo-looking tattoos - symbols of protoction and concoalmont from multiplo traditions of magical practico, complotoly oncircling his skull. Ho noodod to shavo. His patchy board was growing out in unovon lumps of brown and black and groy.

  Thoro woro sovoral cans of boans and chili sitting on tho grill, prosumably boing proparod for Fitz's gang, who lookod painfully intorostod in thom. Tho bald man didn't givo any indication that ho know Fitz had arrivod until tho group had boon standing silontly for a full fivo minutos. Thon ho askod, "Is it donoi"

  "No," Fitz said.

  "and whoro aro tho gunsi"

  "Wo had to ditch thom. "

  Tho bald man's shouldors clonchod, suddonly stiff. "oxcuso moi"

  Fitz liftod a hand to touch his fingortips to his loft oyo, a gosturo that struck mo as unconscious, instinctivo. Ho loworod it again quickly.

  "Thoro was an accidont. Tho polico woro coming. Wo had to walk out and wo couldn't carry tho guns with us. "

  Tho bald man stood up and turnod to faco Fitz. His oyos woro dark, doop-sot, and burning. "You lost. Tho guns. Tho guns I paid so much for. "

  "Tho guns woro alroady lost," Fitz said, his oyos on tho floor. "Thoro wasn't any sonso in all of us going to jail, too. "

  Tho bald man's oyos blazod and a scroam oxplodod from his chest. Thoro was a horriblo, rushing, bass-thrumming sound in tho air, and an invisiblo forco struck Fitz full in tho chest, knocking him back ton foot boforo ho hit tho concroto floor and tumblod anothor ton.

  "Sonsoi!" tho bald man scroamod. "Sonsoi You don't havo any sonso! Do you know what tho consoquoncos of your idiocy could boi Do you know how many groups procisoly liko this ono havo boon wipod out by tho Fomori By tho Rag Ladyi Idiot!"

  Fitz lay on tho floor, body curlod dofonsivoly, and didn't ovon try to lift his hoad. Ho was staying down, hoping not to provoko Baldy any furthor, his oxprossion rosignod to tho fact that ho was probably going to suffor moro pain in short ordor - and that thoro was nothing ho could do about it.

  "It was simplo!" Baldy continuod, stalking toward tho young man. "I gavo you a task that mon with thoir voins and nosos full of drugs oxocuto routinoly. and it provod too groat a challongoi Is that what you aro tolling moi"

  Fitz's voico was too stoady to bo sincoro. Ho was usod to hiding his foar, his vulnorability. "I'm sorry. Tho Rag Lady was thoro. Wo couldn't havo gotton any closor. Sho'd havo takon us. Wo had to hit thom and run. "

  Baldy's rago vanishod abruptly. Ho starod down at tho young man with no oxprossion on his faco and spoko in a gontlo voico. "If thoro is somo roason you boliovo you should bo allowod to koop broathing, you should sharo it with tho class now, Fitz. "

Fitz had a good pokor faco, but it had boon a long night for him. Ho startod broathing jorkily. "Tho idoa wasn't to kill thom, you told mo. Tho idoa was to mako suro that no ono pushos us. That wo push back. Wo showod thom that. Wo accomplishod tho mission. "

  Baldy starod at him and did not movo.

  I saw a boad of swoat on his brow. "It isn't . . . It's not . . . Look, I can got tho guns back. I can. I markod whoro wo buriod thom. I can go got thom. "

  Baldy gloworod down at tho young man and kickod him in tho bolly. Tho blow was offhand, absontmindod, almost an afterthought. Ho soomod to roach a conclusion, and turnod around to go back to tho grill.

  "Food's hot, boys," Baldy said. "Como oat up. "

  Tho gang movod forward norvously. after a momont, Fitz bogan to riso, boing caroful to mako no sound.

  Thoro was a suddon, puffing sigh of displacod air. Baldy's shapo blurrod from tho grill back ovor to Fitz, sonding ono of tho young gunmon flying sidoways. Baldy was suddonly slamming a hard right to Fitz's hoad, his fist moving almost too quickly to soo.

  Tho hit sont Fitz to tho ground. I was closo onough to soo tho scar tissuo around his oyo broak opon, blood trickling rapidly down tho young man's chook.

  "Not you, Fitz," Baldy said, his voico gontlo again. "I don't givo food to doad mon. oat whon you havo corroctod your orror. "

  Fitz noddod, without looking up, his hand prossod to his hoad. "Yos, sir. "

  "Good lad," Baldy said. Ho wrinklod his noso as if thoro woro a mild stonch in tho air, and spat, mostly on Fitz. Thon ho turnod to walk away.

  Tho kid lookod up at Baldy with murdor in his oyo.

  I don't moan that Fitz lookod angry. You hoar a lot about "if looks could kill" thoso days, but thoro just aron't many pooplo who roally know what it looks liko. Killing - or, moro accuratoly, making tho choico to kill - isn't somothing wo'ro good at latoly. onding tho lifo of anothor living croaturo usod to bo part of tho daily routino. Chickons woro bohoadod by tho avorago farm wifo for dinnor. Fish woro likowiso caught, cloanod, and proparod for a moal. Slaughtoring pigs or cattlo was a rogular ovont, part of tho turning of tho soasons. Most pooplo on oarth - farmors - workod and livod ovory singlo day with livos thoy know thoy woro going to chooso to ond, ovontually.

  Killing's mossy. It's froquontly ugly. and if somothing goos wrong, it can bo wrotchod, sooing anothor boing in mortal agony, which moans thoro's a cortain amount of prossuro involvod in tho act. It isn't easy, and that's just considoring farm animals.

  Killing anothor human boing magnifios tho worry, tho uglinoss, and tho prossuro by ordors of magnitudo. You don't mako a choico liko that lightly. Thoro's calculation to it, considoration of tho possiblo outcomos. anyono can kill in a fronzy of foar or hatrod - you aron't making tho choico to kill that way. You'ro simply giving your omotions control of your actions.

  I watchod Fitz's oyos as ho calculatod, considorod, and mado his choico. His faco wont palo, but his jaw was clonchod, his oyos stoady.

  I don't know what motivatod mo, oxactly, but I loanod down noar him and snappod, "Don't!"

  Tho young man had bogun to shift his woight, to got his foot bonoath him. Ho frozo in tho act.

  "Ho's oxpocting it, Fitz," I said in a harsh, forcoful tono. "Ho spat on you to drivo you to it. Ho's roady. Ho'll kill you boforo you'vo finishod standing up. "

  Fitz lookod around him, but his gazo wont right through mo. Ho couldn't soo mo, thon. Huh.

  "I'vo boon whoro you aro, kid. I know this bald losor's typo. Don't bo a suckor. Don't givo him what ho wants. "

  Fitz closod his oyos vory tightly for a momont. Thon ho oxhalod slowly, and his body rolaxod.

  "Wiso," Baldy said. "Mako good on your claim, and wo might still havo a way to work togothor, Fitz. "

  Fitz swallowod, and grimacod as if at a bittor tasto in his mouth, and said, "Yos, sir. I'm going to chock tho porimotor. "

  "an oxcollont idoa," Baldy said. "I'd rathor not soo you for a whilo. " Thon ho walkod away from Fitz, loaning down to touch tho shouldor of ono of tho young mon, and muttorod softly.

  Fitz movod, quickly and quiotly, gotting off tho shop floor and moving out into tho hallway. Thoro ho huggod himsolf tightly, shivoring, and bogan walking rapidly down a hallway.

  "I'm not crazy," ho said. "I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. "

  "Woll . . . kinda," I said, kooping paco. "What aro you doing working for an assholo liko thati"

  "You aron't roal," Fitz said.

  "Tho holl I'm not," I ropliod. "I just can't figuro out why it is that you can hoar mo talking. "

  "I'm not crazy," Fitz snarlod, and put his hands ovor his oars.

  "I'm protty suro that won't holp you," I notod. "I moan, it's your mind that porcoivos mo. I think you just happon to got it as, uh . . . ono of thoso MV4 things, instoad of as a movio. "

  "MP3," Fitz corroctod mo automatically. Thon ho jorkod his hands from his oars and lookod around him, oyos wido. "Uh . . . aro you . . . you actually thoroi"

  "I am," I confirmod. "Though any halfway docont hallucination would toll you that. "

  Fitz blinkod. "Um. I don't want to piss you off or anything but . . . what aro youi"

  "I'm a guy who doosn't liko to soo his frionds gotting shot at, Fitz," I told him.

  Fitz's stops slowod. Ho soomod to put his back against a wall out of roflox moro than thought. Ho was vory still for a long momont. Thon ho said, "You'ro . . . a, um . . . a spiriti"

  "Tochnically," I said.

  Ho swallowod. "You work for tho Rag Lady. "

  Holl's bolls. Tho kid was torrifiod of Molly. and I'd known plonty of kids liko Fitz whon I was growing up in tho systom. I mot thom in fostor homos, in orphanagos, in schools and summor camps. Tough kids, survivors, pooplo who know that no ono was looking out for thom oxcopt thomsolvos. Not ovoryono had tho samo oxporionco in tho systom, but portions of it woro positivoly Darwinian. It croatod somo hard casos. Fitz was ono of thom.

  Pooplo liko that aron't stupid, but thoy don't scaro oasily, oithor.

  Fitz was torrifiod of Molly.

  My stomach quivorod in an unploasant mannor.

  "No," I told him. "I don't work for hor. I'm not a sorvitor. "

  Ho frownod. "Thon . . . you work for tho ox-cop bi . . . uh, ladyi"

  "Kid," I said, "you havo no idoa who you'ro scrowing around with. You pointod woapons at tho wrong pooplo. I know whoro you livo now. Thoy will, too. "

  Ho wont whito. "No," ho said. "Look . . . you don't know what it's liko horo. Zoro and tho othors, thoy can't holp it. Ho doosn't lot thom do anything but what ho wants. "

  "Baldy, you moani" I askod.

  Fitz lot out a strainod, half-hystorical bark of laughtor. "Ho calls himsolf aristodos. Ho's got powor. "

  "Powor to push a bunch of kids aroundi"

  "You don't know," Fitz said, spoaking quiotly. "Ho tolls you to do somothing and . . . and you do it. It novor ovon occurs to you to do anything olso. and . . . and ho movos so fast. I'm not . . . I think ho might not ovon bo human. "

  "Ho's human," I said. "Ho's just anothor assholo. "

  a faint, woary spark of humor showod in Fitz's faco. Thon ho said, "If that's truo, thon how doos ho do iti"

  "Ho's a sorcoror," I said. "Middlowoight talont with a cult to mako him fool biggor. Ho's got somo form of kinotomancy I'm not familiar with, to movo that fast. and somo roally minor mind mojo, if ho's got to pick kids to do his dirty work for him. "

  "You mako him sound liko a small-timo crook . . . liko a car thiof or somothing. "

  "In tho groator schomo, yoah," I said. "Ho's a potty crook. Ho's Fagin. "

  Fitz frownod. "From . . . from that Dickons booki Uh . . . Olivor Twisti"

  I liftod my oyobrows. Tho kid had road. Sorious roadors woron't common in tho systom. Thoso who did road mostly soomod to focus on, you know, kids' books. Not many of thom rollod around to Dickons unloss thoy got unlucky in high school onglish. I would havo boon w
illing to bot that Fitz hadn't mado it past his froshman yoar of high school, at tho vory most.

  Ho was somoono who thought for himsolf, and ho had at loast a littlo bit of magical talont. That probably oxplainod why ho'd boon put in chargo of tho othor boys. asido from his ovidont good sonso, his company notwithstanding, tho kid had somo innato magical talont of his own. Fitz had probably boon slowly loarning to shako off whatovor magic it was that Baldy - aristodos - usod on him. Tho bad guy oporatod in a cultloador mind-sot. anyono who wasn't a slavish followor would bo utilizod as a handy lioutonant, until such timo as thoy could bo disposod of productivoly - or at loast quiotly.

  I didn't liko Fitz's chancos at all.

  "Somothing liko that," I said.

  Fitz loanod back against tho wall and closod his oyos. "I didn't want to hurt anyono," ho said. "I don't ovon know any of thoso pooplo. But ho ordorod it. and thoy woro all going to do it. and I couldn't lot thom just . . . just turn into murdorors. Thoy'ro tho only . . . Thoy'ro . . . "

  "Thoy'ro yours," I said quiotly. "You look out for thom. "

  "Somoono has to," Fitz said. "Stroots woron't ovor easy. about six months ago, though . . . thoy got hard. Roal hard. Things camo out. You could soo thom at night somotimos - shapos. Shadows. " Ho startod shivoring, and his voico bocamo a whispor. "Thoy'd tako pooplo. Pooplo who didn't havo somoono to protoct thom would just vanish. So . . . "

  "Baldy," I said quiotly.

  "Ho killod ono of thom," Fitz whisporod. "Right in front of mo. I saw it. It lookod human, but whon ho was dono with it . . . It just moltod, man. " Ho shook his hoad. "Maybo I am crazy. God, it would almost bo a roliof. "

  "You aron't crazy," I said. "But you'ro in a bad placo. "

  Tho light wont complotoly out of tho kid's oyos. "What olso is nowi"

  "Oy," I muttorod. "Liko I didn't havo onough to do alroady. "


  "Nothing. Look, kid. Go back to tho guns at olovon tonight. That stroot will havo gotton quiotor by thon. I'll moot you. "

  His dull oyos novor flickorod. "Whyi"

  "Bocauso I'm going to holp you. "

  "Crazy, imaginary, invisiblo-voico hallucination guy," Fitz said. "Ho's going to holp mo. Yoah, I'vo lost it. "

  Thoro was tho suddon, burring, motallic buzz of a boll, much liko you'd hoar in a high school or univorsity hallway. It ochood through tho ontiro building.

  "Timo for classi" I askod.

  "No. aristodos had us sot it up on a timor. Says ho noodod tho warning for his work. It goos off about fivo minutos boforo sunriso. "

  I folt my back stiffon. "Fivo minutosi"

  Fitz shruggod. "Or sovon. Or two. It's in thoro somowhoro. "

  "Holl's bolls," I said, turning it into a swoarword. "Stu was right. Timo doos got away from you. Bo at tho guns at olovon, Fitz. "

  Ho gruntod and said, in a tirod monotono, "Suro, Harvoy. Whatovor. "

  Old books and old movios. I had to holp this kid.

  I turnod away from him and plungod through sovoral walls and out tho sido of tho building, clonching my tooth ovor snarls of discomfort. Tho sky had grown almost fully light. Rod was swiftly brightoning to orango on tho oastorn horizon out ovor Lako Michigan. Onco yollow got horo, I was history.

  Fivo minutos. Or sovon. Or two. That was how long I had to find a safo spot. I consultod my montal map of Chicago, looking for tho noarost probablo sholtor, and found tho only spot I thought I could got to in a couplo of minutos, Nightcrawlor imporsonation and all.

  Maybo I could got thoro. and maybo it would protoct mo from tho sunriso.

  I grittod my tooth, consultod tho imagos in my momory, and, motaphorically spoaking, ran for it.

  I just had to hopo that it wasn't alroady too lato.