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Proven Guilty, Page 16

Jim Butcher

Chapter 27~28

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  We plotted, the fallen angel and me. It went fast. It turns out that holding an all-mental conversation gets things done at the literal speed of thought, without all those clunky phonemes to get in the way.

  Barely a minute had passed when I opened my eyes and said very quietly to Rawlins, "You're right. They'll kill you. We have to get out of here. "

  The cop gave me a pained grimace and nodded. "How?"

  I struggled and sat up. I rolled my shoulders a little, trying to get some blood flowing through my arms, which had been manacled together underneath me. I tested the chain. It had been slipped through an inverted U-bolt in the concrete floor. The links rattled metallically as they slid back and forth.

  I checked Crane at the noise. The man kept speaking intently into his cell phone, and took no apparent notice of the movement.

  "I'm going to slip one of these manacles off my wrist," I told him. I nodded at a discarded old rolling tool cabinet. "There should be something in there I can use. I'll cut us both out. "

  Rawlins shook his head. "Those two going to stand there watching while we do all that?"

  "I'll do it fast," I said.

  "Then what?"

  "I kill the lights and we get out. "

  "Door is chained shut," Rawlins said.

  "Let me worry about that. "

  Rawlins squinted. He looked very tired. "Why not," he said, nodding. "Why not. "

  I nodded and closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, and began to concentrate.

  "Hey," Rawlins said. "How you going to slip your cuffs?"

  "Ever heard about yogis, out east?"

  "Yogi Berra," he said at once. "And Yogi Bear. "

  "Not those yogis. As in snake charmers. "

  "Oh. Right. "

  "They spend a lifetime learning to control their body. They can do some fairly amazing stuff. "

  Rawlins nodded. "Like fold themselves up into a gym bag and sit inside it at the bottom of a pool for half an hour. "

  "Right," I said. I followed Lasciel's instructions, sinking into deeper and deeper focus. "Some of them can collapse the bones in their hands. Use their muscles and tendons to alter tensions. Change the shape. " I focused on my left hand, and for a moment was a bit grateful that it was already so badly maimed and mostly numb. What I was about to do, even with Lasciel's instruction, was going to hurt like hell. "Keep an eye out and be ready. "

  He nodded, holding still and not turning his head toward either Crane or Glau.

  I dismissed him, the warehouse, my headache, and everything else that wasn't my hand from my perceptions. I had the general idea of what was supposed to happen, but I didn't have any practical, second-to-second knowledge of it. It was a terribly odd sensation, as though I were a skilled pianist whose fingers had suddenly forgotten their familiarity with the keys.

  Not too quickly, murmured Lasciel's voice in my head. Your muscles and joints have not been conditioned to this. There was an odd sensation in my thoughts, somehow similar to abruptly remembering how to tie a knot that had once been thoughtlessly familiar. Like this, Lasciel's presence whispered, and that same familiarity suddenly thrummed down my arm.

  I flexed my thumb, made a rippling motion of my fingers, and tightened every muscle in my hand in a sudden clench. I dislocated my thumb with a sickly little crackle of damaged flesh.

  For a second, I thought the pain would drop me unconscious.

  No, Lasciel's voice said. You must control this. You must escape.

  I know, I snarled back at her in my mind. Apparently nerve damage from burns doesn't stop you from feeling it when someone pulls your fingers out of their sockets.

  Someone? Lasciel said. You did it to yourself, my host.

  Would you back off and give me room to work?

  That's ridiculous, Lasciel replied. But the sense of her presence abruptly retreated.

  I took deep, quiet breaths, and twisted my left hand. My flesh screamed protest, but I only embraced the pain and continued to move, slow and steady. I got the fingers of my right hand to lightly grasp the manacle on my left wrist, and began to draw my hand steadily against the cold, binding circle of metal. My hand folded in a way that was utterly alien in sensation, and the screaming pain of it stole my breath.

  But it slipped an inch beneath the metal cuff.

  I twisted my hand again, in exactly the same motion, never letting up the pressure, working to encompass the pain as something to aid me, rather than distract.

  I slipped an inch closer to freeing my hand. The pain became more and more intense despite my efforts to divert it, like an afternoon sun that burns brightly into your eyes even though they're closed. Only a moment more. I only needed to remain silent and focused for a few more seconds.

  I bore the pain. I kept up the pressure, and abruptly I felt the cold metal of the cuff flick over the outside of my thumb, one of the few spots on my fingers where much tactile sensation remained. My hand came free, and I clutched tightly to the empty cuff with my right hand, to keep it from rattling.

  I opened my eyes and glanced around the garage. Crane paced back and forth in conversation on his phone. I waited until his back was mostly turned to move. Then I rose and slipped the chain through the U-bolt on the floor, until the circle of the cuff pressed against the bolt. I was still tethered by a chain perhaps a foot long, but I moved as silently as I could and reached out with my throbbing left hand for the wheeled tool cabinet.

  I had trouble getting my fingers to cooperate, but I slipped the cabinet open. The tools inside it had been there for a long time-several years, at least. They were spotted with rust. I could only see about half the cabinet from where I crouched, and there wasn't anything there that could help me. I hated to do it, but I felt around the unseen portion of the cabinet with my clumsy fingers. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to feel a tool even if my fingers found it, and even more frightened by the knowledge that I might knock something over and draw attention.

  My hand shook, but I felt through the cabinet as quickly and lightly as I could, starting at the top and moving down.

  On the floor of the cabinet, I felt an object, the handle of some kind of tool. I drew it out as quietly as I could, and found myself holding a hacksaw. My heart leapt with excitement.

  I returned to more or less my original position, with my captors seemingly none the wiser, and took a grip on the saw. My distorted thumb hurt abominably, so I took the hacksaw in my right hand, took a deep breath, and then began slicing at the chain link immediately below the empty manacle.

  I could only cut in strokes eight or nine inches long because of the chain still attached to my right wrist, and it made a low, buzzing racket that could not be mistaken for anything but a saw. I was sure I would not have time to cut myself free-but the heavy-duty steel of the hacksaw's blade ripped into the silvery metal chain as if it were made of pine. Three, four, five strokes of the hacksaw and the link parted. I jerked hard with my right hand and the chain slid through the U-bolt, the broken link snapping as the cuffs struck the bolt.

  I rose, free.

  Crane let out a sudden, startled sound, dropped his cell phone, and went for his gun. There was no time to free Rawlins, so I tossed him the hacksaw and then threw myself to one side as Crane let off a shot. Sparks leapt up from the rolling cabinet's surface, and a rush of adrenaline made the pains of my body vanish. I kept my head down as low as I could and scurried to one side, attempting to put the bulk of an old, rusted pickup truck between Crane and me. I reached for my magic, but the cuff still attached to my arm reacted with that same burst of agony, splintering my concentration.

  I caught a glimpse of movement. Crane circled to one side, looking for a clear line of fire. I maneuvered like a squirrel, keeping the truck between us and crouching low to deny him a clean shot. I went for the passenger door, hoping to find something, anything I could use to defend
myself in the truck.

  Locked.

  "Glau!" Crane shouted. His second shot shattered the truck's passenger window, the bullet passing within a few inches of my head.

  I reached up, unlocked the truck's door, and swung it open. The cab was cluttered with empty cigarette packs, discarded fast-food wrappers, crushed beer cans, a heavy-duty claw hammer, and three or four glass beer bottles.

  Perfect.

  I clutched the hammer's wrapped steel handle in my teeth, scooped up the bottles, and threw one at the far side of the garage. It shattered loudly. I rose at once, another bottle ready, and hurled it with as much force as I could.

  The first bottle had caused Crane to snap his head to one side, looking for the source of the sound. He looked away from me for only a second, but it was distraction enough to allow me to throw.

  The bottle tumbled end over end and smashed into the work lamp with a crash of breaking glass. Sparks showered up in a brief cloud of electric outrage, and then heavy darkness slammed down upon us.

  Now, I thought to Lasciel.

  Darkness vanished, replaced with lines and planes of silver light that outlined the garage, the truck, the tool cabinets and workbenches, as well as the doors and windows and the bolt on the wall where Rawlins was chained.

  I was not actually seeing the garage, of course, for there was no physical light for my eyes to see. Instead, I was looking at an illusion.

  The portion of Lasciel in my head was capable of creating illusory sensations of almost any kind, though if I suspected any tampering I could defend myself against it easily enough. This illusion, however, was not meant to deceive. She'd placed it there to help me, gleaning the precise dimensions and arrangements of the garage from my own senses and projecting them to my eyes to enable me to move in the dark.

  It wasn't a perfect illusion, of course. It was merely a model. It didn't keep track of animate objects, and if anything moved around I wouldn't know it until I'd knocked myself unconscious on it-but I wouldn't need it for long. I ran for Rawlins.

  "Glau!" Crane screamed, no more than ten or twelve feet away. "Cover the door!"

  I flung the third bottle to the floor at my feet. It was an exceedingly odd sensation, for the bottle was outlined in silver light until it left my hand. It vanished into the darkness, and shattered on the floor near me.

  There was a moment of frozen silence, broken only by the rasp of a hacksaw against Rawlins's cuffs. Crane took a couple of steps toward me, then hesitated, and though I could not see him, I could sense the hesitation. Then he moved again, away from me, probably assuming I was attempting another distraction. My lips stretched into a wolfish smile, and I padded to Rawlins, my steps sure and steady even in the total darkness.

  I reached the bolt on the steel beam, and found Rawlins standing beneath it, breathing hard, sawing as fast as he could. He jumped when I touched his shoulder, but I took the hammer in hand and whispered, "It's Harry. Get your head down. "

  He did. I looked up at the silvery illusion of the bolt, steadied my breathing, and drew the hammer back very slowly, focusing upon that movement and nothing else. Then I hissed out a breath and struck at the bolt with every ounce of force I could physically muster.

  I'm not a weightlifter, but no one's ever accused me of being a sissy, either. More importantly, years and years of my metaphysical studies and practice had given me considerable skill at focus and concentration. The hammer struck the bolt that held the other ring of Rawlins's cuffs. Sparks flew. The bolt, as rusted and ruined as the rest of the building, snapped.

  Rawlins dragged me to the ground a heartbeat before Crane's pistol thundered again from the far side of the garage. A bullet caromed off the metal beam with an ugly, high-pitched whine.

  "Come on," I hissed. I seized Rawlins's shirt. He grunted and stumbled blindly after me, trying to be quiet, but given his injuries there was only so much he could do. Speed would have to serve where stealth was not available. I hauled him directly across the garage floor, skipping around a mechanic's pit and several stacks of old tires.

  "Where are we going?" Rawlins gasped. "Where is the door?"

  "We aren't taking the door," I whispered-which was true. I wasn't sure that we'd have a way out of the garage, but we certainly wouldn't leave via the door.

  The Full Moon Garage had been abandoned since the disappearance of its previous owners, a gang of lycanthropes with a notable lack of common sense when it came to choosing enemies. It wasn't as big a coincidence as it seemed, that Crane was using the same building. It was old, abandoned, had no windows, was close to the convention center, and easy to get in and out of. More to the point, it had been a place where fairly horrible things happened, and the ugly energy of them still lingered in the air. I wasn't sure what Crane and Glau were, exactly, but a place like this would feel comfortable and familiar to many denizens of the dark side.

  I'd been held captive in the building before and my means of egress was still there-a hole beneath the edge of the cheap corrugated metal wall, dug down into the earth and out into the gravel parking lot by a pack of wolves. I got to the wall and knelt down to check Lasciel's mental model against the reality it represented. The hole was still there. If anything, the years had worn it even deeper and wider.

  I shoved Rawlins's hands down to let him feel it. "Go," I whispered. "Under the wall and out. "

  He grunted assent and started hauling himself through it. Rawlins was built a lot heavier than me, but he fit through the time-widened hole. I crouched down to follow him, but heard running footsteps just behind me.

  I ducked to one side, my eyes now adjusting enough to let me see faint, ambient city light trickling through the hole. I saw a vague shape in the darkness, and then saw Glau's hands seize Rawlins's wounded foot. Rawlins screamed.

  I lunged forward and smashed the claw hammer down onto Glau's forearm. It hit with brutal force and a sound of breaking bone.

  Glau let out a wild, falsetto, ululating scream, like that of some kind of primitive warrior. The hammer jerked out of my hands. I heard a whirr in the air, and ducked in time to avoid Glau returning the favor. I twisted, swinging the chain still attached to the remaining manacle along at what I estimated to be Glau's eye level. The chain hit. He let out another shrieking cry, falling backward.

  I dove for the hole and wriggled through it like a greased weasel. Crane's gun went off again, punching a hole in the wall ten feet away. Running footsteps retreated, and metal clinked. I heard myself whimpering, and had a flashback to any number of nightmares where I could not move swiftly enough to escape the danger. Any second I expected to take a bullet, or for Glau to lay into me with the hammer or his sharklike teeth.

  Rawlins grabbed my wrist and pulled me through. I got to my feet, looking around the little gravel lot wildly for the nearest cover-several stacks of old tires. I didn't have to point at it for Rawlins to get the idea. We ran for it. Rawlins's wounded leg almost gave out, and I slowed to help him, looking back for our pursuers.

  Glau wriggled out of the hole just as we had, rose to a crouch, and threw the claw hammer. It tumbled end over end, flying as swiftly as a major-league fastball, and hit me in the ass.

  A shock went through me on impact, and my balance wavered as half of my lower body went numb. I tried to clutch at Rawlins for balance, but the hand I'd distorted wasn't strong enough to hold, and the force of the blow threw me down to the gravel. The impact tore open all the defenses I'd rallied against my body's various pains, and for a second I could barely move, much less flee.

  Glau drew a long, curved blade from his belt, something vaguely Arabic in origin. He bounded after us. It was hopeless, but Rawlins and I tried to run anyway.

  There were a couple of light footsteps, a blurring figure running far too swiftly to be human, and Crane kicked my functional leg out from underneath me. I dropped. He delivered a vicious blow to Rawlins's belly. The cop went down, too.

>   Crane, his face pale and furious, snarled, "I warned you to behave, wizard. " He lifted the gun and pointed it at Rawlins's head. "You've just killed this man. "

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  A dark figure stepped out of the deep shadows behind the stacks of tires, pointed a sawed-off shotgun at Glau, and said, "Howdy. "

  Glau whirled to face the newcomer, hand already lifting the knife. The interloper pulled the trigger. Thunder filled the air. The blast threw Glau to the gravel like an enormous, flopping fish.

  Thomas stepped out into the wan light of a distant streetlamp, dressed all in loose black clothing, including my leather duster, which fell all the way to his ankles. His hair was ragged and wind-tossed, and his grey eyes were cold as he worked the action on the shotgun, ejecting the spent shell and levering a fresh one into the chamber. The barrel of the shotgun snapped to Crane.

  Son of a bitch.

  Now I knew who'd been following me around town.

  "You," Crane said in a hollow-sounding voice, staring at Thomas.

  "Me," Thomas agreed, insouciant cheer thick in his voice. "Lose the gun, Madrigal. "

  Crane's lip lifted into a sneer, but he did lower the pistol and drop it to the ground.

  "Kick it over here," Thomas said.

  Crane did it, ignoring me completely. "I thought you'd be dead by; now, coz. God knows you made enemies enough within the House, much less the rest of the Court. "

  "I get by," Thomas drawled. Then he used a toe to flick the gun over to me.

  Crane's eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed.

  I picked up the revolver and checked the cylinder. My distorted left hand functioned, weakly, but it hurt like hell, and would until I could get enough quiet and focus to get everything back into its proper place. My headache intensified to a fine, distracting agony as I bent over, but I ignored that, too. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of trauma, I will fear no concussion.

  Crane's revolver held freshly loaded rounds, all six of them. I put them back and checked on Rawlins. Between the pain of his recent injuries and the strain of our flight and recapture, the big cop did not look well.

  "Isn't bad," he said quietly. "Just hurts. Tired. "

  "Sit tight," I told him. "We'll get you out of here. "

  He nodded and lay there, watching developments, his eyes only half aware.

  I made sure he wasn't bleeding too badly, then rose, pointed the gun at Crane, and took position between him and Rawlins.

  "How's it going, Dresden?" Thomas asked.

  "Took you long enough," I said.

  Thomas grinned, but it didn't touch his eyes. His gaze never left Crane. "Have you ever met my cousin, Madrigal Raith?"

  "I knew he didn't look like a Darby," I said.

  Thomas nodded. "Wasn't that a movie with Janet Munro?"

  "And Sean Connery. "

  "Thought so," Thomas said.

  Madrigal Raith watched the exchange through narrowed eyes. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but he looked paler now, his features almost eerily fine. Or maybe now that Thomas had identified him as a White Court vampire, I could correctly interpret the warnings my instincts had shrieked at me during our first talk. There was little but contempt in Madrigal's eyes as he stared at my brother. "You have no idea what you're getting yourself involved in, coz. I'll not surrender this prize to you. "

  "Oh, but you will," Thomas said in his best Snidely Whiplash villain voice.

  Crane's eyes flickered with something hot and furious. "Don't push me, little coz. I'll make you regret it. "

  Thomas's laugh rang out, full of scorn and confidence. "You couldn't make water run downhill. Walk away while you still can. "

  "Don't be stupid," Madrigal replied. "Do you know what kind of money he's worth?"

  "Is it the kind that spends in hell?" Thomas asked. "Because if you keep this up, you'll need it. "

  Madrigal sneered. "You'd kill family in cold blood, Thomas? You?"

  There are statues that don't have a poker face as good as Thomas's. "Maybe you haven't put it together yet, Madrigal. I'm banished, remember? You aren't family. "

  Madrigal regarded Thomas for a long minute before he said, "You're bluffing. "

  Thomas looked at me, a quality of inquiry to his expression, and said, "He thinks I'm bluffing. "

  "Make sure he can talk," I said.

  "Cool," Thomas said, and shot Madrigal in the feet.

  The light and thunder of the shotgun's blast rolled away, leaving Madrigal on the ground, hissing out a thready shriek of agony. He curled up to clutch at the gory ruins of his ankles and feet. Blood a few shades too pale to be human spattered the gravel.

  "Touche," grunted Rawlins, a certain satisfaction in his tone.

  It took Madrigal a while to control himself and find his voice. "You're dead," he whispered, pain making the words quiver and shake. "You gutless little swine. You're dead. Uncle will kill you for this. "

  My half brother smiled and worked the action of the shotgun again. "I doubt my father cares," he replied. "He wouldn't mind losing a nephew. Particularly not one who has been consorting with scum like House Malvora. "

  "Aha," I said quietly, putting two and two together. "Now I get it. He's like them. "

  "Like what?" Thomas asked.

  "A phobophage," I said quietly. "He feeds on fear the way you feed on lust. "

  Thomas's expression turned a bit nauseated. "Yes. A lot of the Malvora do. "

  Madrigal's pale, strained face twisted into a vicious smile. "You should try it some night, coz. "

  "It's sick, Mad," Thomas said. There was an almost ghostly sense of sadness or pity in his tone, so subtle that I would not have seen it before living with him. Hell, I doubt he realized it was there himself. "It's sick. And it's made you sick. "

  "You feed on mortal desires for the little death," Madrigal said, his eyes half closing. "I feed on their desire for the real thing. We both feed. In the end, we both kill. There's no difference. "

  "The difference is that once you've started, you can't let them go running off to report you to the authorities," Thomas said. "You keep them until they're dead. "

  Madrigal let out a laugh, unsettling for how genuine it sounded given his situation. I got the sneaking suspicion that the vampire was a couple of Peeps short of an Easter basket.

  "Thomas, Thomas," Madrigal murmured. "Always the self-righteous little bleeding heart. So concerned for the bucks and does-as though you never tasted them yourself. Never killed them yourself. "

  Thomas's expression went opaque again, but his eyes were flat with sudden anger.

  Madrigal's smile widened at the response. His teeth shone white in the evening's gloom. "I've been feeding well. Whereas you. . . well. Without your little dark-eyed whore to take-"

  Without warning, without a flicker of expression on Thomas's face, the shotgun roared again, and the blast took Madrigal across the knees. More too-pale blood spattered the gravel.

  Holy crap.

  Madrigal went prone again, body arching in agony, the pain choking his scream down to an anemic little echo of a real shriek.

  Thomas planted his boot on Madrigal's neck, his expression cold and calm but for the glittering rage in his eyes. He pumped the next shell in, and held the shotgun in one hand, shoving the barrel against Madrigal's cheekbone.

  Madrigal froze, quivering in agony, eyes wide and desperate.

  "Never," Thomas murmured, very quietly. "Ever. Speak of Justine. "

  Madrigal said nothing, but my instincts screamed again. Something in the way he held himself, something in his eyes, told me that he was acting. He'd maneuvered the conversation to Justine deliberately. He was playing on Thomas's feelings for Justine, distracting us.

  I spun to see Glau on his feet just as though he hadn't been given a lethal dose of buckshot in the chest from ten feet away. He shot across the parking lot at a ful
l sprint, running for the van parked about fifty feet away. He ran in utter silence, without the crunch of gravel or the creak of shoes, and for a second I thought I saw maybe an inch and a half of space between where he planted his running feet and the ground.

  "Thomas," I said. "Glau's running. "

  "Relax," Thomas said, and his eyes never left Madrigal.

  I heard the scrabble of claws on gravel and then Mouse shot out of the shadows that had hidden Thomas. He flashed by me in what was for him a relaxed lope, but as Glau approached the van, Mouse accelerated to a full sprint. In the last couple of steps before Glau reached the van, I thought I saw something forming around the great dog's forequarters, tiny flickers of pale colors, almost like Saint Elmo's fire. Then Mouse threw himself into a leap. I saw Glau's expression reflected in the van's windshield, his too-wide eyes goggling in total surprise. Then Mouse slammed his chest and shoulder into Glau's back like a living battering ram.

  The force of the impact took Glau's balance completely, and sent the man into a vicious impact with the van's dented front bumper. Glau hit hard, hard enough that I heard bones breaking from fifty feet away, and his head whiplashed down onto the hood and rebounded with neck-breaking force. Glau bounced off the van's front bumper and hood, and landed in a limp, boneless pile on the ground.

  Mouse landed, skidded on the gravel, and spun to face Glau. He watched the downed man for a few seconds, legs stiff. His back legs dug twice at the gravel, throwing up dust and rocks in challenge.

  Glau never stirred.

  Mouse sniffed and then let out a sneeze that might almost have been actual words: So there.

  Then the dog turned and trotted right over to me, favoring one leg slightly, grinning a proud canine grin. He shoved his broad head under my hand in his customary demand for an ear scratching. I did it, while something released in my chest with a painful little snapping sensation. My dog was all right. Maybe my eyes misted up a little. I dropped to one knee and slid an arm around the mutt's neck. "Good dog," I told him.

  Mouse's tail wagged proudly at the praise, and he leaned against me.

  I made sure my eyes were clear, then looked up to find Madrigal staring at the dog in shock and fear. "That isn't a dog," the vampire whispered.

  "But he'll do anything for a Scooby Snack," I said. "Spill it, Madrigal. What are you doing in town? How are you involved with the attacks?"

  He licked his lips and shook his head. "I don't have to talk to you," he said. "And you don't have time to make me. The gunshots. Even in this neighborhood, the police will be here soon. "

  "True," I said. "So here's how it's going to work. Thomas, when you hear a siren, pull the trigger. "

  Madrigal made a choking sound.

  I smiled. "I want answers. That's all. Give them to me, and we go away. Otherwise. . . " I shrugged, and made a vague gesture at Thomas.

  Mouse stared at him and a steady growl bubbled from his throat.

  Madrigal shot a look over at the fallen Glau, who, by God, was moving his arms and legs in an aimless, stunned fashion. Mouse's growl grew louder, and Madrigal tried to squirm a little farther from my dog. "Even if I did talk, what's to keep you from killing me once I've told you?"

  "Madrigal," Thomas said quietly. "You're a vicious little bitch, but you're still family. I'd rather not kill you. We left your jann alive. Play ball and both of you walk. "

  "You would side with this mortal buck against your own kind, Thomas?"

  "My own kind booted me out," Thomas replied. "I take work where I can get it. "

  "Pariah vampire and pariah wizard," Madrigal murmured. "I suppose I can see the advantages, regardless of how the war turns out. " He watched Thomas steadily for a moment and then looked at me. "I want your oath on it. "

  "You have it," I said. "Answer me honestly and I let you leave Chicago unharmed. "

  He swallowed, and his eyes flicked to the shotgun still pressed to his cheek. "My oath as well," he said. "I'll speak true. "

  And that settled that. Pretty much everything on the supernatural side of the street abided by a rigid code of traditional conduct that respected things like one's duties as a host, one's responsibility as a guest, and the integrity of a sworn oath. I could trust Madrigal's oath, once he'd openly made it.

  Probably.

  Thomas looked at me. I nodded. He eased his boot off of Madrigal's neck and took a step back, holding the shotgun at his side, though his stance became no less wary.

  Madrigal sat up, wincing at his legs. There was a low, crackling kind of noise coming from them. The bleeding had already stopped. I could see portions of his calf, where the pants had been ripped away. The skin there actually bubbled and moved, and as I watched a round lump the size of a pea formed in the skin and burst, expelling a round buckshot that fell to the parking lot.

  "Let's start simple," I said. "Where's the key to the manacles?"

  "Van," he replied, his tone calm.

  "My stuff?"

  "Van. "

  "Keys. " I held out my hand.

  Madrigal drew a rental-car key ring from his pocket and tossed it to me, underhand.

  "Thomas," I said, holding them up.

  "You sure?" he asked.

  "Mouse can watch him. I want this fucking thing off my arm. "

  Thomas took the keys and paced over to the van. He paused to idly check his hair in the reflection in the windshield before opening the van. Vanity, thy name is vampire.

  "Now for the real question," I told Madrigal. "How are you involved with the attacks?"

  "I'm not involved," he said quietly. "Not in the planning and not in the execution. I've been scheduled here for more than a year. "

  "Doesn't scream alibi to me," I said.

  "I'm not," he insisted. "Of course, I thought them entertaining. And yes, the. . . " His eyelids half lowered and his voice went suddenly husky. "The. . . storm of it. The horror. Empty night, so sweet, all those souls in fear. . . "

  "Get off the creepy psychic vampire train," I said. "Answer the question. "

  He gave me an ugly smile and gestured at his healing legs. "You see. I've fed, and fed well. Tonight, particularly. But you have my word, wizard, that whatever these creatures are, they are none of my doing. I was merely a spectator. "

  "If that's true," I said, "then why the hell did you grab me and bring me here?"

  "For gain," he said. "And for enjoyment. I don't let any buck talk to me as you did. Since I'd planned on replying to your arrogance anyway, I thought I might as well turn a profit on it at the same time. "

  "God bless America," I said. Thomas returned with my magical gear- staff, backpack, a paper sack with my various foci in it, and an old-fashioned key with big teeth. I popped it in the slot on the manacles, fumbling with the stiff, uncooperative fingers of my left hand, and got the thing off my arm. My skin tingled for a moment, and I reached experimentally for my magic. No whiteout of pain. I was a wizard again.

  I put on my amulet, bracelet, and ring. I felt the backpack to make sure Bob's skull was still in there. It was, and I breathed a mental sigh of relief. Bob's arcane knowledge was exceeded only by his inability to distinguish between moral right and wrong. His knowledge, in the wrong hands, could be dangerous as hell.

  "No," I said quietly. "It isn't a coincidence that you're there, Madrigal. "

  "I just told you-"

  "I believe you," I said. "But I don't think it was a coincidence, either. I think you were there for a reason. Maybe one you didn't know. "

  Madrigal frowned at that, and looked, for a moment, a little bit worried.

  I pursed my lips and thought aloud. "You're high-profile. You're known to feed on fear. You're at war with the White Council. " Two and two make four. Four and four make eight. I glanced up at Thomas and said, "Whoever it is behind the phage attacks, they wanted me to think that Darby, here, was it. "

  Thomas's eyebrows went up in sudden understandi
ng. "Madrigal's supposed to take the fall. "

  Madrigal's face turned even whiter. "What do you-"

  He didn't get to finish the question.

  Glau screamed. He screamed in pure, shrieking terror, his voice pitched as high as a woman's.

  Everyone turned in surprise, and we were in time to see something haul the wounded Glau out of sight on the other side of the van. Red sprayed into the air. A piece of him, probably an arm or a leg, flew out from behind the van and tumbled for several paces before falling heavily to earth. Glau's voice abruptly went silent.

  Something arched up from behind the van and landed, rolling. It bumped over the gravel and came to a stop.

  Glau's head.

  It had been physically ripped from his body, the flesh and bone torn and wrenched apart by main strength. His face was stretched into a scream, showing his sharklike teeth, and his eyes were glazed and frozen in death.

  Orange light rose up behind the van, and then something, a creature perhaps ten or eleven feet in height, rose up and turned to face us. It was dressed all in rags, like some kind of enormous hobo, and was inhumanly slender. Its head was a bulbous thing, and it took me a second to recognize it as a pumpkin, carved with evil eyes like a jack-o'-lantern's. Those eyes glowed with a sullen red flame, and flashed intensely for a moment as it spied us.

  Then it took a long step over the hood of the van and came at us with strides that looked slow but ate up yards with every step.

  "Good God," Rawlins breathed.

  Mouse snarled.

  "Harry?" Thomas said.

  "Another phage in a horror movie costume. The Scarecrow, this time," I murmured. "I'll handle it. " I took my staff in hand and stepped out to meet the oncoming phage. I called up the Hellfire once more, as I had against the other phage, until my skin felt like it was about to fly apart. I gathered up energy for a strike more deadly than I had used earlier in the night. Then I cried out and unleashed my will against the creature, hitting it as hard as I possibly could.

  The resulting cannonball of blazing force struck the Scarecrow head-on while it was twenty feet away, exploding into a column of searing red flame, an inferno of heat and light that went off with enough force to throw the thing halfway across Lake Michigan.

  Imagine my surprise when the Scarecrow stepped through my spell as if it had not existed. Its eyes regarded me with far too much awareness, and its arm moved, striking-snake fast.

  Fingers as thick and tough as pumpkin vines suddenly closed around my throat, and in a rush of sudden, terrifying understanding, I realized that this phage was stronger than the little one I'd beaten at the hotel. This creature was far older, larger, stronger, more dangerous.

  My vision darkened to a star-spangled tunnel as the Scarecrow wrapped its other hand around my left thigh, lifted me to the horizontal over its head, and started to rip me in half.