Fool moon, p.15
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       Fool Moon, p.15

         Part #2 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
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Chapter 16

  I made it out of the park, exhausted and barely able to keep from screaming with pain. I stopped at the first gas station I could find, so I could take off my boots. Old and comfortable as they were, cowboy boots were not meant for running cross-country. I leaned against the side of the building by the pay phones, away from the street, and sat down on the sidewalk. My body throbbed with pain, slowing as my heart and breathing did.

  I gave MacFinn an hour, but he didn't show up. No one did.

  I got restless, fast. Could both MacFinn and Tera West have been captured? Murphy's cops may not have looked like much, but I knew they were tough and smart. It wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

  I rummaged in my duster's pockets, came up with enough change to make a phone call, then made my painful way to the phone.

  "Midwestern Arcane, this is Ms. Rodriguez," Susan said, when she picked up the phone. Her voice sounded tired, stressed.

  "Hi, Susan," I said. My shoulder twinged, and I gritted my teeth, pulling my duster around me a little more tightly. The evening was bringing a cold wind and grey clouds, and the sweats and cotton T-shirt Tera West had given me weren't enough to keep out the chill.

  "Harry?" she said disbelievingly. "My God. Where are you? The police are looking for you. They keep calling here. Something about a murder. "

  "Misunderstanding," I said and leaned against the wall. The pain was getting worse as chills soaked in and I started to shiver.

  "You sound terrible," Susan said. "Are you all right?"

  "Can you help me?"

  There was a pause on the other end of the line. "I don't know, Harry. I don't know what's going on. I don't want to get into any trouble. "

  "I could explain it," I offered, struggling to keep my words clear through the pain. "But it's sort of a long story. " I dropped a subtle emphasis on that last word. Sometimes it scares me how easy it is to get people to do what you want them to do, if you know something about them.

  "Story, eh?" Susan said. I could hear the sudden twinge of interest in her voice.

  "Sure. Murder, violence, blood, monsters. Give you the whole scoop if you can give me a ride. "

  "You bastard," she breathed, but I thought she was smiling. "I would have come to get you anyway. "

  "Sure you would have," I said, but I felt a smile on my own lips. I told her the address of the gas station and hoped that the feds hadn't taken the time to get a wiretap for Susan's phone.

  "Give me half an hour," Susan said. "Maybe more, depending on traffic. "

  I squinted up at the sky, which was rapidly darkening, both with oncoming dusk and heavy, brooding clouds. "Time's important. Hurry if you can. "

  "Just take care of yourself, Harry," she said, worry in her voice. Then she hung up the phone.

  I did, too, and leaned back against the wall. I hated to draw Susan into this. It made me feel cheap, somehow. Weak. It was that whole problem with chivalry that I had. I didn't want a girl to be riding to my rescue, protecting me. It just didn't seem right. And I didn't want to endanger Susan, either. I was a murder suspect, and the police were looking for me. She could get in trouble, for aiding and abetting, or something like that.

  On the other hand, I didn't have much choice. I didn't have any money for a cab, even if I could get one this far from the city. I didn't have a car. I was in no shape to walk anywhere. My contacts, in the persons of MacFinn and Tera West, were gone. I had to have help, and Susan was the only one I thought I could trust to do it. If there was a story involved, she'd go to hell itself to get it.

  And I had used that against her, to lever her into helping me. I didn't like it that I had. I'd thought better of myself. I ducked my head against the cold, and shivered, and wondered if I'd done the right thing.

  It was while I was leaning against the wall, waiting, that I heard a scrabbling sound around the corner of the gas station. I tensed and waited. The sound repeated itself, a definite pattern of three short movements. A signal.

  Warily, I made my way to the back of the building, ready to turn and run as best I could. Tera West was there, behind the building, crouched down between several empty cardboard boxes that smelled of beer and the garbage bin. She was naked, her body a uniform shade of brown, without an ounce of excess fat on her. Her hair was mussed and had leaves and bits of twig caught in it. Her amber eyes looked even more alien and wild than usual.

  She rose and came toward me, evidently unconscious of the cold. She moved with a feral sort of grace that made me all too aware of her legs, and her hips, even though I was battered, fatigued, and brooding.

  "Wizard," she greeted me. "Give me your coat. "

  I snapped my eyes back up to hers, then slipped out of my duster, though my shoulder screamed with pain as I pulled the coat off of it, and my body sent up an entirely different round of complaints as the cold wind gleefully cut through the thin clothes I wore beneath the duster. Tera took the coat and slid into it, wrapping it around her and buttoning it closed. The sleeves were too long, and the coat dangled to her ankles, but it covered her lean, strong body well enough. I found myself faintly regretful that I'd had it with me.

  "What happened?" I asked her.

  She shook her head. "The police do not know how game runs, or how to chase it. One grabbed me. I made him let go. " She glanced around us warily, and raked her fingers through her hair, trying to comb out leaves and sticks. "I led them away from you and MacFinn, changed, and made my way back to the camp. I followed MacFinn's trail. "

  "Where is he?"

  She bared her teeth. "The federal people caught him. They took him away. "

  "Hell's bells," I breathed. "Do you know where?"

  "Into a car," she responded.

  "No," I said, growing frustrated. "Do you know where the car went?"

  She shook her head. "But they had an argument with the one called Murphy. Murphy had more people with her, more guns. MacFinn went where Murphy wanted him to go. "

  "Downtown," I said. "Murphy would want him in holding down at the station. Hell, it's on the same floor as Special Investigations. "

  Tera shrugged, her expression hard. "As you say. "

  "We don't have much time," I said.

  "For what? There is nothing more to be done. We cannot reach him now. MacFinn will change when the moon rises. Murphy and the police people will die. "

  "Like hell," I said. "I've got to get to the station before it happens. "

  Tera studied me with narrowed eyes. "The police are hunting for you as well, wizard. If you go there, you too will be locked in a cage. You will not be allowed to go to MacFinn. "

  "I wasn't planning on asking permission," I said. "But I think I can get inside. I just have to get to my apartment. "

  "The police will be watching it," Tera said. "They will be waiting for you there. And in any case, we have no car and no money. How will you reach Chicago before moonrise? There is nothing more to be done, wizard. "

  There came the crunch of tires around the side of the gas station, and I peeked around the corner. Susan's car was just coming to a halt. Raindrops were starting to come down and to make little impact circles on her Taurus's windshield. I felt a little surge of defiant energy.

  "There's our ride," I said. "Follow. " I relished throwing the terse command at Tera, and she stared at me. I turned my back on her and stalked over to the car.

  Susan leaned across and threw open the passenger door, then blinked at me in surprise. She blinked again when Tera slipped in front of me, threw the passenger seat forward, and slid into the backseat with a flash of long, lean legs, then regarded Susan with unreadable, distant eyes.

  I pushed the seat back and settled into place. It was a real effort to shut the door, and a small sound of discomfort escaped my mouth. When I looked at Susan, she was staring at me, and at my arm. I looked down and found that the bandage, and a part of the T-shirt's sleeve were soaked through with blood. The
purple bruises had spread a few inches, it seemed, and showed beneath the shirt's sleeve.

  "Good Lord," Susan gasped. "What happened?"

  "I got shot," I said.

  "Doesn't it hurt?" Susan stammered, still stunned.

  "Is this female always so stupid?" Tera asked. I winced. Susan turned in the seat and glowered at Tera, and I looked back to see Tera narrow her eyes and bare her teeth in what one could hardly say was a smile.

  "It hurts," I confirmed. "Susan, take us to my place, but don't stop when you get there. Just drive past slowly. I'll tell you everything on the way. "

  Susan gave Tera one last, skeptical glance, particularly taking in my bullet-torn duster and Tera's bare limbs. "This better be good, Dresden," she said. Then she slapped the car into gear and started driving with irritated haste back toward the city.

  I wanted to collapse into sleep, but I made myself explain most of what had happened over the past couple of days to Susan, editing out mentions of the White Council, demons, that sort of thing. Susan listened, and drove, and asked intent questions, fastening gleefully on to the information concerning the Northwest Passage Project, and Johnny Marcone's links to the businesses opposing it. Rain started coming down in a steady, murky veil, and she flicked on the windshield wipers.

  "So you've got to get to MacFinn," Susan said, when I was finished, "before the moon comes up and he transforms. "

  "You've got it," I said.

  "Why don't you call Murphy? Tell her what's going on?"

  I shook my head. "Murphy isn't going to be in the mood to listen. She busted me and I fled arrest. She'd have me in a cell before I could say abracadabra. "

  "But it's raining," Susan protested. "We won't be able to see the moon tonight. Won't that stop MacFinn from changing?"

  I blinked at the question and glanced back at Tera. She was watching the buildings pass out the side window as the streetlights started flickering on. She didn't look at me, but shook her head.

  "No such luck," I told Susan. "And with these clouds, I can't even tell if the sun has gone down yet, much less how much time we have before moonrise. "

  Susan breathed out slowly. "How are you going to get to MacFinn, then?"

  "I've got a couple things at my apartment," I said. "Drive on by. Let's see if there's anyone watching the old place. "

  Susan turned the car down my street, and we rolled slowly through the rain. The old boarding house huddled stoically beneath the downpour, its gutters gurgling and spouting streams of water. The streetlights glowed with silver haloes as the rain came down. A bit down from my building, a plain brown sedan was parked, and a couple of shadowy forms could be seen inside it when Susan drove past.

  "That's them," I said. "I recognize one of them from Murphy's unit. "

  Susan let out another breath and drew the car around the corner, parking it along the street. "Is there any way to sneak into your place? A back door?"

  I shook my head. "No. There's only the one door in, and you can see the windows from here. I just need the police to not be looking for a few minutes. "

  "You need a distraction," Tera said. "I will do it. "

  I looked over my shoulder. "I don't want any violence. "

  She tilted her head to one side, her expression never changing. "Very well," she said. "For MacFinn's sake, I will do as you say. Open the door. "

  I stared at her fathomless eyes for a second, searching for any signs of deception or betrayal. What if Tera was the killer? She had known about MacFinn, and was able to transform in one fashion or another. She could have committed the murders last month, as well as the one two nights past. But if so, why had she seemingly sacrificed herself so that MacFinn and I could escape? Why had she come to find me?

  Then again, MacFinn had been captured. And her words at the gas station may have been calculated to make me give up trying to help him, if one looked at them from a certain point of view. What if she was trying to take care of both MacFinn and me by throwing us to the mundane legal system?

  My head spun with pain and weariness. Paranoid, Harry, I told myself. You've got to trust someone, somewhere - or else MacFinn goes furry and Murphy and a lot of other good people die tonight. There wasn't much choice.

  I opened the door, and we both got out of the car. "What are you going to do?" I asked Tera.

  Instead of answering, the amber-eyed woman stripped off my duster and handed it back to me, leaving herself nude and lovely under the rain. "Do you like to look at my body?" she demanded of me.

  "Careful how you answer this one, buster," Susan growled from the car.

  I coughed, and glanced back at Susan, keeping my eyes off of the other woman. "Yeah, Tera. That will work fine, I guess. "

  "Wait for twenty slow breaths," she said. There was a note of amusement in her voice. "Pick me up at the far end of this block. " Then she turned on a bare heel and glided into the darkness between streetlights in a graceful lope. I frowned after her for a moment, and then drew my duster back on.

  "You don't have to look quite so hard," Susan said. "Is she the human-interest angle for this story?"

  I winced, holding my wounded arm close to my side, and leaned down to meet Susan's eyes. "I don't think she's human," I said. Then I stood and started walking down the street, slowing my steps so that I didn't round the corner until Tera's prescribed time limit had elapsed. Even when I did, I walked quickly, like someone hurrying home out of the rain, my hands in my pockets, keeping my head down against the grey downpour.

  I crossed the street toward my apartment building, glancing at the sedan as I did.

  The cops weren't watching me. They were staring at the pool of light beneath the streetlight behind them, where Tera spun gracefully through the steps of some sort of gliding dance, moving to a rhythm and a music I could not hear. There was a primal sort of intensity to her motions, raw sexuality, feminine power coursing through her movements. Her back arched as she spun and whirled, offering out her breasts to the chill rain, and her skin was slick and gleaming with water.

  I tripped over the curb on the far side of the street and felt my cheeks start to flame as I hurried down the steps to my apartment. I unlocked the door and went inside, shutting it behind me. I didn't light any candles, relying upon my knowledge of the house to move around.

  The two potions were in their plastic sports bottles on the counter where I had left them. I grabbed up my black nylon backpack from the floor and threw the bottles into it. Then I went into my bedroom and grabbed the blue coveralls with the little red patch over one breast pocket stenciled with MIKE in bold letters. My mechanic had accidentally left them in the trunk of the Blue Beetle the last time the Beetle was in the shop. I added a baseball cap, a first aid kit, a roll of duct tape, a box of chalk, seven smooth stones from a collection of them I keep in my closet, a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, and a huge bottle of Tylenol, zipped up the backpack, and headed back out again. At the last moment, I took up my wizard's staff from the corner by the door.

  Something flashed past my legs, moving out into the night, and I almost jumped out of my skin. Mister paused at the top of the stairs to look back at me, his cat eyes enigmatic and irritated, and then vanished into the darkness. I muttered something under my breath and locked the door behind me, then headed out once more, my heart rattling along too quickly to be comfortable.

  Tera was on her hands and knees in the middle of the pool of light behind the sedan, her damp hair fallen all around her face, her lips parted, facing the two plainclothes officers, who had gotten out of the car and were speaking to her from several feet away. Her chest was heaving in and out, but having seen her in action, I doubted that it was merely from the exertion of her dancing. Looked nice, though. The policemen were sure as hell staring.

  I gripped my staff in hand, along with the backpack, and walked away down the street again. It didn't take long to make it back to Susan's car, and she immediately
wheeled the vehicle around the block without comment. Susan hardly had begun to slow down when Tera appeared from between a couple of buildings and loped over to the car. I leaned forward, opened the door, and she got into the backseat. I threw her the extra clothes I had picked up, and she began to dress without comment.

  "It worked," I said. "We did it. "

  "Of course it worked," Tera said. "Men are foolish. They will stare at anything female and naked. "

  "She's got that right," Susan said, under her breath, and jerked the car into motion again. "Oh, we are going to talk about this one, mister. Next stop, Special Investigations. "

  * * *

  Outside the battered old police-building downtown, I pulled the baseball cap a little lower over my eyes, and drank the blending potion. It didn't really have any taste to it at all, but it twitched and bubbled all the way down my gullet until it hit my stomach.

  I gave the potion a few seconds to work and shifted my hands on the handle of my wizard's staff. Even though the end of it was shoved into a wheeled bucket, it still didn't look much like the handle of a mop. And even though I was dressed in the dark blue coveralls, they were ridiculously short on me. I did not look much like a janitor.

  That's where the magic came in. If the potion worked, I would look like background to any casual observers, a part of the scenery that they wouldn't glance at twice. So long as they didn't give me an intense scrutiny, the potion's power should be able to keep me from being noticed, which would let me get close to MacFinn, which would let me put the containment circle around him and keep his transformed self from going on a rampage.

  Of course, if it didn't work, I might just end up studying the inside of a jail cell for a few years - provided the transformed MacFinn didn't tear me apart first.

  I tried to ignore the pain in my shoulder, the nervous tension in my stomach. I was rebandaged, Tylenoled, and as reasonably refreshed as I could possibly have been without drinking the potion I had brewed just for that purpose.

  If I could have had both potions going in my system without them making me too ill to move, I would have downed the refresher potion the moment I got my hands on it, but without the blending potion, there was no way I could get inside to MacFinn. I could only hope that I'd find a use for it eventually. I'd hate the effort to go to waste.

  I waited impatiently in the rain, sure for a moment that I had messed something up when making the potion, that it wasn't going to have any effect at all.

  And then I felt it start to work.

  A sort of grey feeling came over me, and I realized with a start that the colors were fading from my vision. A sort of listless feeling came over me, a lassitude that advised me to sit down somewhere and watch the world go by, but at the same time the hairs on the back of my neck prickled up as the potion's magic took effect.

  I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs of the building with my bucket and my "mop," pulled open the doors, and went inside. Shadows shifted and changed oddly, all greys and blacks and whites, and for a second I felt like an extra on the set of Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon.

  The solid old matron of a sergeant sat at the front desk, thumbing through a glossy magazine, a portrait done in colorless hues. She glanced up at me for a second, and tinges of color returned to her uniform, her cheeks, and her eyes. She looked me over casually, sniffed, and lowered her face to her magazine again. As her attention faded, so did the colors from her clothing and skin. My perceptions of her changed as she paid attention to me or did not.

  I felt my face stretch in a victorious smile. The potion had worked. I was inside. I had to suppress an urge to break into a soft-shoe routine. Sometimes, being able to use magic was so cool. I almost stopped hurting for a few seconds, from sheer enjoyment of the special effects. I would have to remember to tell Bob how much I liked the way this potion worked.

  I kept my head down and moved past the desk sergeant, just one more janitor coming in to clean up the police station after hours. I picked up the bucket and my «mop» and went up the stairs, toward the holding cells and the Special Investigations offices on the fifth floor. One cop passed me on the stairs and didn't so much as look at me. His uniform and skin remained entirely devoid of color. I grew more confident and moved with more speed. I was effectively invisible.

  Now all I had to do was find MacFinn, trick my way into seeing him, and save Murphy and all the other police from the monster MacFinn would become - before they arrested me for trying to do it.

  And time was running out.