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Changes, Page 14

Jim Butcher

Chapter 34

  Chapter 34

  "Admittedly," Sanya said a few minutes later, "normally I do not storm headquarters buildings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And in broad daylight, too. "

  We were parked down the block from the FBI's Chicago office, where Toot had guided us, crouched on the dashboard and demanding to know why Sanya hadn't rented one of the cars that could fly instead of the poky old landbound minivan he had instead. Toot hadn't taken the answer that "cars like that are imaginary" seriously, either. He had muttered a few things in Russian that only made Sanya's smile wider.

  "Damn," I said, staring at the building. "Toot? Was Martin with her?"

  "The yellow-hair?" Toot sat on the dashboard facing us, waving his feet. "No, my liege. "

  I grunted. "I don't like that, either. Why wouldn't they have been taken together? Which floor is she on, Toot?"

  "There," Toot said, pointing. I leaned over and hunkered down behind him so that I could look down the length of his little arm to the window he was pointing at.

  "Fourth," I said. "That was where Tilly was talking to me. "

  Sanya reached down to produce a semiautomatic he'd hidden beneath the seat of the minivan and cycled a round into the chamber, his eyes glued to the outside mirror. "Company. "

  A bald, slightly overweight bum in a shabby overcoat and cast-off clothing shambled down the sidewalk with vacant eyes - but he was moving a little too purposefully toward us to be genuine. I was watching his hands with my shield bracelet ready to go, expecting him to pull a weapon out from beneath the big coat, and it wasn't until he was a few steps away that I realized it was Martin.

  He stopped on the sidewalk next to the passenger window of the van and wobbled in place. He rapped on the glass and held out his hand as if begging a handout. I rolled down the window and asked him, "What happened?"

  "The FBI did its legwork," he said. "They tracked our rental car back to my cover ID, got my picture, put it on TV. One of the detectives we shook down confirmed my presence and told them I'd been seen at your place, and they were waiting there when we came back to get you. Susan created a distraction so that I could get away. "

  "And you left her behind, huh?"

  He shrugged. "Her identity is genuine, and while they know she arrived with me and was seen with me, they can't prove that she's done anything. I've been operating long enough that the Red Court has seen to it that I'm on multiple international lists of wanted terrorists. If I were caught, both of us would have been taken. "

  I grunted. "What did you find out?"

  "The last of the Red King's inner circle arrived this morning. They'll do the ceremony tonight," he said. "Midnight, or a little after, if our astronomer's assessment is solid. "

  "Crap. "

  Martin nodded. "How fast can you get us there?"

  I touched a fingertip to my mother's gem and double-checked the way there. "This one doesn't have a direct route. Three hops, a couple of walks, one of them in bad terrain. Should take us ninety minutes, gets us to within five miles of Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢. "

  Martin looked at me for a long moment. Then he said, "I can't help but find it somewhat convenient that you are suddenly able to provide that kind of fast transport to exactly the places we need to go. "

  "The Red Court had their goodies stashed near a confluence of ley lines," I said, "a point of ample magical power. Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢ is at another such confluence, only a lot bigger. Chicago is a crossroads, both physically and metaphysically. There are dozens of confluences either in the town or within twenty-five miles. The routes I know through the Nevernever mostly run from confluence to confluence, so Chicago's got a direct route to a lot of places. "

  Sanya made an interested sound. "Like the airports in Dallas or Atlanta. Or here. Travel nexuses. "

  "Exactly. "

  Martin nodded, though he didn't look like he particularly believed or disbelieved me. "That gives us a little more than nine hours," he said.

  "The Church is trying to get us information about local security at Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢. Meet me at St. Mary of the Angels. " I handed him the change scrounged from my pockets. "Tell them Harry Dresden said you were no Stevie D. We'll leave from there. "

  "You . . . " He shook his head a little. "You got the Church to help you?"

  "Hell, man. I got a Knight of the Cross driving me around. "

  Sanya snorted.

  Martin studied Sanya with eyes that were a little wide. "I . . . see. " A certain energy seemed to enter him as he nodded, and I knew exactly what he was feeling - the positive upswing in his emotions, an electricity that came with the sudden understanding that not only was death not certain, but that victory might actually be possible.

  Hope is a force of nature. Don't let anyone tell you different.

  Martin nodded. "What about Susan?"

  "I'll get her out," I said.

  Martin ducked his head in another nod. Then he took a deep breath and said simply, "Thank you. " He turned and shambled away drunkenly, clutching his coins.

  "Seems a decent fellow," Sanya said. His nostrils flared a little. "Half-vampire, you say? Fellowship of St. Giles?"

  "Yeah. Like Susan. " I watched Martin vanish into Chicago's lunchtime foot traffic and said, "I'm not sure I trust him. "

  "I would say the feeling is mutual," Sanya said. "When a man lives a life like Martin's, he learns not to trust anyone. "

  I grunted sourly. "Stop being reasonable. I enjoy disliking him. "

  Sanya chuckled and said, "So. What now?"

  I took the guns out of my duster pockets and stowed them beneath the minivan's passenger seat. "You go back to St. Mary's. I go in and get Susan and meet you there. "

  Sanya lifted his eyebrows. "You get her from in there?"

  "Sure. "

  He pursed his lips thoughtfully, then shrugged. "Okay. I suppose it is your funeral, da?"

  I nodded firmly. "Da. "

  I walked into the building and through the metal detectors. They went beep. I stopped and dropped all the rings and the shield bracelet into a plastic tub, then tried again. They didn't fuss at me the second time. I got my stuff back and walked up to a station in the center of the floor that looked like an information desk. I produced one of my cards, the ones that called me a private investigator. I had only half a dozen of them left. The rest had been in my desk drawer at the office. "I need to speak to Agent Tilly about his current investigation. "

  The woman behind the desk nodded matter-of-factly, called Tilly's office, and asked if he'd see me. She nodded once and said, "Yes, sir," and smiled at me. "You'll need a visitor's badge. Here. Please make sure it is displayed at all times. "

  I took the badge and clipped it to my duster. "Thanks. I know the drill. "

  "Fourth floor," she said, and nodded at the person in line behind me.

  I walked down to the elevators, rode them up to four, and walked to Tilly's office, which turned out to be right across the hall from the interrogation room. Tilly, small, dapper, and quick-looking, stood in the doorway, looking at a file in a manila folder. He let me see that there was a picture of Susan paper-clipped to the inside cover before he closed the file and tucked it under his arm.

  "So," he said. "It's Mr. Known Associate. Just as well. I needed to talk to you again anyway. "

  "I'm a popular guy this week," I said.

  "You're telling me," Tilly said. He folded his arms, frowning. "So. We got a car rented by a mystery man using a bogus identity, right outside a building that blows up. We got sworn testimony from two local snoops that this leggy looker named Susan Rodriguez was seen in his company. We got a pancaked Volkswagen Bug, belonging to Harry Dresden, and seventy thousand dollars' worth of property damage near the house of a local crooked IA cop who lied his ass off to point me at you. We got a file that says that Susan Rodriguez was at one point your girlfriend. Eyewitnesses that place both her and the mystery man at your apartment -
which seemed to be a little too clean of anything that could implicate you. But before we could go back and take a real hard close look at it for trace evidence, it burns to the ground. Fire chief is still working on the investigation, but his first impression is arson. " Tilly scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I don't know if you're current on investigative technique, but when there are this many connections between a relatively small number of people and events, it can sometimes be an indicator that they might be up to something nefarious. "

  "Nefarious, huh?" I asked.

  Tilly nodded. "Good word, isn't it. " He scrunched up his nose. "Disappoints me, because my instincts said you were playing it level with me. Close to the chest, but level. I guess you can always run into someone better at lying than you are at catching them, huh. "

  "Probably," I said. "But you didn't. At least not with me. "

  He grunted. "Maybe. Maybe. " He glanced back into his office. "What do you think?"

  "I think you're playing with dynamite again, Tilly," said Murphy's voice.

  "Murph," I said, relieved. I leaned around Tilly and waved at her. She looked at me and shook her head. "Dammit, Dresden. Can't you ever do anything quietly and in an orderly fashion?"

  "No way," I said. "It's the only thing keeping Tilly here from deciding I'm some kind of bomb maker. "

  Murphy's mouth twitched up at one corner, briefly. She asked soberly, "Are you okay?"

  "They burned down my house, Murph," I said. "Mister got out, but I don't know where he's at. I mean, I know that a lost cat isn't exactly a priority right now but . . . " I shrugged. "I guess I'm worried about him. "

  "If he misses his feeding," Murphy said wryly, "I'm more worried about me. Mister is the closest thing to a mountain lion for a few hundred miles. He'll be fine. "

  Tilly blinked and turned to Murphy. "Seriously?"

  Murphy frowned at him. "What?"

  "You still back him," Tilly said. "Despite all the flags he's setting off. "

  "Yeah," Murphy said.

  Tilly exhaled slowly. Then he said, "All right, Dresden. Step into my office?"

  I did. Tilly shut the door behind us.

  "Okay," he said. "Tell me what's going on here. "

  "You don't want to know," Murphy said. She'd beaten me to it.

  "That's funny," Tilly said. "I just checked in with my brain about an hour ago, and at that time, it told me that it did want to know. "

  Murphy exhaled and glanced at me.

  I held up both hands. "I hardly know the guy. Your call. "

  Murphy nodded and asked Tilly, "How much do you know about the Black Cat case files?"

  Tilly looked at her for a moment. Then he looked at his identification badge, clipped to his jacket. "Funny. For a second there, I thought someone must have changed it to say 'Mulder. ' "

  "I'm serious, Till," Murphy said.

  His dark eyebrows climbed. "Um. They were the forerunner to Special Investigations, right? Sixties, seventies, I think. They got handed all the weirdo stuff. The files make some claims that make me believe several of those officers were having fun with all the wonderful new psychotropic drugs that were coming out back then. "

  "What if I told you they weren't stoned, Till?" Murphy asked.

  Tilly frowned. "Is that what you're telling me?"

  "They weren't stoned," Murphy said.

  Tilly's frown deepened.

  "SI handles all the same stuff the Black Cats did. It's just been made real clear to us that our reports had better not sound like a drug trip. So the reports provide an explanation. They don't provide much accuracy. "

  "You're . . . standing there, right in front of me, telling me that when Dresden told me it was vampires, he was being serious?"

  "Completely," Murphy said.

  Tilly folded his arms. "Jesus, Karrin. "

  "You think I'm lying to you?" she asked.

  "You aren't," he said. "But that doesn't mean there are vampires running around out there. It just means that you believe it's true. "

  "Maybe I'm just gullible," Murphy suggested.

  Tilly gave her a reproachful look. "Or maybe the pressure is getting to you and you aren't seeing things objectively. I mean - "

  "If you make some comment even obliquely alluding to menstruation or menopause and its effect on my judgment," Murphy interrupted, "I will break your arm in eleven places. "

  Tilly pressed his lips together sourly. "Dammit, Murphy. Can you hear yourself? Vampires? For Christ's sake. What am I supposed to think?"

  Murphy spread her hands. "I'm not sure. Harry, what's actually happening?"

  I laid out the last couple of days, focusing on the events in Chicago and leaving out everything but the broadest picture of the White Council and the Red Court and their involvement.

  "This vampire couple," Murphy said. "You think they're the ones who got to Rudolph?"

  "Stands to reason. They could put pressure on him a lot of different ways. They wanted to remove him before he could squeal and sent their heavy to do it. "

  "I can't believe what I'm hearing here," Tilly said.

  "So when are you moving?" Murphy asked me, ignoring him.

  "Tonight. "

  "No one is moving anywhere until I get some answers," Tilly said. To his credit, he didn't stick any bravado into the sentence. He made it as a statement of simple fact.

  "Don't know how many of those I can give you, man," I said, quietly. "There's not much time. And my little girl is in danger. "

  "This isn't a negotiation," Tilly said.

  "Agent," I said, sighing. "There's still a little time. I'm willing to talk with you. " My voice hardened. "But not for long. Please believe me when I say that I can take Susan out of this building, with or without your cooperation. "

  "Harry," Murphy said, as if I'd just uttered something unthinkably rude for which I ought to be ashamed.

  "Tick-tock, Murph," I answered. "If he pushes me, I can't afford to stand here and smile. "

  "Now I'm curious," Tilly said, bristling almost visibly. "I think I'd like to see you try that. "

  "Till," Murphy said in exactly the same voice. "Mother of God, boys, would it kill either of you to behave like adults? Please?"

  I folded my arms, scowling. Tilly did the same. But we both shut up.

  "Thank you," Murphy said. "Till . . . Do you remember that tape that was on the news a few years back? After the deaths at Special Investigations?"

  "The werewolf thing?" Tilly asked. "Yeah. Blurry, badly lit, out of focus, and terrible effects. The creature didn't look anything like a werewolf. Only suddenly the tape mysteriously vanishes, so it can't be verified by anyone. Secondhand versions are probably on the Internet somewhere. " He mused and said, "The actress they had playing you was pretty good, though. "

  "That wasn't an actress, Till," Murphy said quietly. "I was there. I saw it happen. The tape was genuine. You have my word. "

  Tilly frowned again. He ducked his head down slightly, dark eyes focused on his thoughts, as if he were reading from a report only he could see.

  "Look, man," I said quietly. "Think about it like this. What if you'd never heard me say the word vampire? What if I'd said drug cartel or terrorists instead? And I told you that this group of terrorists was financed by shady corporations and that one of them had blown the office building to prevent their illegal data from being stolen and exposed to the world? What if I had told you that because I'd pissed them off, a bunch of terrorists had taken my daughter? That they were going to cut her head off and put the video on the Internet? That Susan and the mystery man were spooks from an organization I was not at liberty to divulge, trying to help me find and recover the girl? Would it still sound crazy?"

  Tilly cocked his head for a second. Then he said in a subdued voice, "It would sound like the plot of a cheesy novel. " He shrugged. "But . . . the logic would hold up. I mean . . . they don't call those assholes 'extremists' f
or nothing. "

  "Okay," I said gently. "Then . . . maybe we can just pretend I said it was terrorists. And go from there. It's my daughter, man. "

  Tilly looked back and forth from me to Murphy. He said quietly, "Either you're both crazy - or I am - or you're telling me the truth. " He shook his head. "And . . . I'm not sure which of the possibilities disturbs me more. "

  "You got a piece of paper?" I asked him.

  Bemused, he opened his drawer and got out a pad.

  I grabbed a pen and wrote on it:

  Susan,

  Tell him everything.

  Harry

  I tore off the page, folded the note, and said, "I guess Susan hasn't said much to you. "

  Tilly grunted. "Nothing, in fact. Literally nothing. Which is fairly hard-core, in my experience. "

  "She can be stubborn," I said. "Go give her this. You know I haven't seen her in hours. Get her story, off the record. See how well it matches up. "

  He took the note and looked at it. Then back at me.

  "Hard to know who to trust," I said. "Talk to her. Try to take the story apart. See if it stands up. "

  He thought about it for a moment and said, "Keep him here, Murphy. "

  "Okay. "

  Tilly left.

  There were two chairs, and neither looked comfortable. I settled down on the floor and closed my eyes.

  "How bad is it?" she asked me.

  "Pretty bad," I said quietly. "Um. I need to ask you a favor. "

  "Sure. "

  "If . . . Look. I have a will in a lockbox at the National Bank on Michigan. If something should happen to me . . . I'd appreciate it if you'd see to it. You're on the list of people who can open it. Listed as executor. "

  "Harry," she said.

  "Granted, there's not much to have a will about at the moment," I said. "Everything was in my house or office, but . . . there are some intangibles and . . . " I felt my throat tighten, and cut short my request. "Take care of it for me?"

  There was silence, and then Murphy moved and settled down next to me. Her hand squeezed mine. I squeezed back.

  "Sure," she said.

  "Thanks. "

  "There's . . . there's nothing in there about Maggie, obviously," I said. "But if I can't be there to . . . I want her in a good home. Somewhere safe. "

  "Hey, emo boy," she said. "Time to take a gloom break. Right? You aren't dead yet, as far as I can tell. "

  I snorted quietly and opened my eyes, looking up at her.

  "You'll take care of her yourself when this is done. "

  I shook my head slowly. "I . . . can't, Murph. Susan was right. All I can offer her is a life under siege. My enemies would use her. She's got to vanish. Go somewhere safe. Really safe. Not even I can know where she is. " I swallowed on a choking sensation in my throat. "Father Forthill at St. Mary's can help. Mouse should go with her. He'll help protect her. "

  Murphy looked at me, troubled. "You aren't telling me something. "

  "It isn't important for now," I said. "If you could find Mister . . . Molly might like to have him around. Just so long as he's taken care of. "

  "Jesus, Harry," Murphy said.

  "I'm not planning a suicide run, if that's what you're thinking," I said. "But there's a possibility that I won't come back from this. If that happens, I need someone I can trust to know my wishes and carry them out. In case I can't. "

  "I'll do it," Murphy said, and let out a short laugh. "For crying out loud, I'll do it, just so we can talk about something else. "

  I smiled, too, and Rudolph entered Tilly's office and found us both on the floor, grinning.

  Everyone froze. No one looked certain of how to react.

  "Well," Rudolph said quietly. "I always figured this for what it was. But, boy, did you have everyone at your headquarters fooled, Murphy. "

  "Hi, Rudy," I said. "You've got a beautiful home. "

  Rudolph gnashed his teeth and drew an envelope out of his pocket. He flicked it to the floor near Murphy. "For you. A cease-and-desist order, specifying that you aren't allowed within two hundred yards of this case or anyone involved in the active investigation, until your competence and noncomplicity have been confirmed by a special tribunal of the Chicago Police Board. Also a written order from Lieutenant Stallings, specifying that you are to have nothing to do with the investigation into the explosion, and relieving you of duty forthwith if you do not comply. " His eyes shifted to me. "You. I haven't forgotten you. "

  "Shame," I said. "I'd almost forgotten you, but you've ruined that. Walking into the room and all. "

  "This isn't over, Dresden. "

  I sighed. "Yeah. I've been having that kind of week. "

  Murphy opened the envelope and read over a pair of pages. Then she looked at Rudolph and said, "What did you tell them?"

  "You have your orders, Sergeant," Rudolph said coldly. "Leave the building before I relieve you of your weapon and your shield. "

  "You mosquito-dicked weasel," she said, her voice coldly furious.

  "That remark is going into my report for the tribunal, Murphy," Rudolph said. There was a vicious satisfaction in his voice. "And once they read the rest, you're done. With your record? They aren't paying you any more slack, bitch. You're gone. "

  Something dark and ugly stirred in my chest, and the sudden image of Rudolph pinned to the wall by a ton of crystalline ice popped into my brain.

  "Bitch?" Murphy said, rising.

  "Whoa," I said, drawing out the word as I came to my own feet, and speaking as much to myself as to the furious woman. "Murph, don't play his game here. "

  "Game?" Rudolph said. "You're a menace, Murphy, and a disgrace. You belong behind bars. Once you're out, it'll happen, too. You and this clown both. "

  "Clown?" I said, in the exact same tone Murphy had used.

  And the lights went out.

  There was a sudden hush all around us, as FBI headquarters was plunged into powerless darkness. After several seconds, the emergency lights still hadn't come on.

  "Harry," Murphy said, her tone annoyed.

  I felt the hairs on the back of my neck crawling around. I lowered my voice and said, "That wasn't me. "

  "Where are the emergency lights?" Rudolph said. "Th-they're supposed to turn on within seconds. Right?"

  "Heh," I said into the darkness. "Heh, heh. Rudy, old buddy, do you remember the night we met?"

  Tilly's office was adjacent to the elevator. And I distinctly heard the hunting scream of a Red Court vampire echoing around the elevator shaft.

  It was followed by a chorus of screams, more than a score of individual hunting cries.

  Lots of vampires in an enclosed space. That was bad.

  The heavy, throbbing beat of a hideous heart underlay the screams, audible four stories up and through the wall. I shuddered.

  Lots of vampires and the Ick in an enclosed space. That was worse.

  "What is that?" Rudolph asked in a squeaky whisper.

  I willed light into my amulet, prepared my shield bracelet, and drew my blasting rod out of my coat. Beside me, Murphy had already drawn her SIG. She tested the little flashlight on it, found it functional, and looked up at me with the serene expression and steady breathing that told me that she was controlling her fear. "What's the play?" she asked.

  "Get Susan and get out," I said. "If I'm not here and she's not here, they've got no reason to attack. "

  "What is it?" Rudolph asked again. "What is that noise? Huh?"

  Murphy leaned her head a bit toward Rudolph, questioning me with a quirked eyebrow.

  "Dammit. " I sighed. "You're right. We'll have to take him with us, too. "

  "Tell me!" Rudolph said, near panic. "You have to tell me what that is!"

  "Do we tell him?" I asked.

  "Sure. "

  Murphy and I turned toward the door, weapons raised, and spoke in offhanded stereo. "Terrorists. " r />