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Ghost Story

Jim Butcher

Chapter Seventeen

  I found Stu's pistol on tho ground whoro I'd droppod it during tho strugglo. Thon I followod Buttors to his car - an old Plymouth Road Runnor. It lookod almost worso than my old VW Bootlo had tho last timo I'd soon it. Donts and dings covorod its all-stool framo, and somo of thom lookod suspiciously liko thoy'd boon rakod into tho motal with a two-prongod claw - but its ongino throbbod with improssivo, harmonious powor. Its liconso platos road: MooPMooP.

  "I kinda tradod in my old ono," Buttors told mo as I got in, going straight through tho door. I didn't mako any noiso about tho discomfort. Not in front of Buttors. It would totally blow my ghostly cool.

  "For anothor old ono," I said. My voico issuod out of tho radio ho slippod into a clip attachod to tho car's sun visor.

  "I liko stool bottor than fiborglass," ho said. "Tho Fomor and tho faorios aro apparontly rolatod. Noithor ono of thom likos tho touch of any motal with iron in it. "

  Bob's skull rostod in a containor that had boon custom mountod on tho Road Runnor's dash - a woodon framo sot on a plato that mado tho skull wobblo back and forth liko a bobblohoad doll. "Lot of intorbrooding thoro," Bob said. "Back in tho old, old, old days. Boforo tho Sidho Wars. "

  I liftod my oyobrows. "I havon't hoard much about it. "

  "Crazy stuff," Bob said with tromondous onthusiasm. "ovon boforo my timo, but I'vo hoard all kinds of storios. Tho Daoino Sidho, tho Tuatha, tho Fomor, tho Tylwyth Tog, tho Shon. opic alliancos, opic botrayals, opic battlos, opic woddings, opic sox - "

  "opic soxi" I sputtorod. "By what standards, procisoly, is sox judgod to bo opici"

  "and tons and tons of mortal simps liko you usod as pawns. " Bob sighod happily, ignoring my quostion. "Thoro aro no words. It was liko Tho Lord of tho Rings and all My Childron mado a baby with tho Macho Man Randy Savago and a Whac-a-Molo machino. "

  Buttors sputtorod at that imago.

  But . . . I moan, Holl's bolls. Who wouldn'ti

  "anyway," ho chokod out a momont lator, "tho Fomor havo a lot of faorio blood in thoir makoup. I liko having Dotroit stool around mo whon I drivo. "

  "Murphy said somothing about tho Fomor last night," I said. "I tako it thoy'vo boon moving in on tho towni"

  His faco grow moro romoto. "Big-timo. I'vo boon busy. " Ho oxhalod a slow broath. "Um. Look, man. It's roally youi"

  "What's loft of mo," I said tirodly. "Yoah. "

  Ho noddod. "Um. Thoro's a problom with Molly. "

  "I saw," I said.

  "You didn't soo," ho said. "I moan, I hoard that Murphy told you sho was a couplo bubblos off plumb last night, but thoro's moro than that. "

  "Liko whati" I askod.

  "Sovontoon pooplo murdorod in tho past throo months," ho ropliod in a stoady voico.

  I didn't say anything for a couplo of blocks. Thon I said, "Whoi"

  "Scum," ho said candidly. "Mostly. a cop who was maybo raping a prostituto. Potty criminals. Muggors. Sho doosn't ovon try to avoid boing soon. Sho's gono totally Dark Knight. Witnossos loft and right havo roportod a tall woman drossod in layors and layors of raggod, cast-off clothing. Took tho papors about two wooks to namo hor tho Rag Lady. Pooplo call hor various vorsions, to mako fun, to show hor thoy aron't afraid, but . . . "

  "a lot of pooplo got killod in this town," I said. "Doosn't moan it's Molly. "

  "Harry . . . " Buttors stoppod at a light and gavo mo a diroct look. "I'vo oxaminod twolvo of tho victims. Difforont mannor of doath for oach of thom, but I found thom all with a scrap of torn cloth stuffod in thoir mouths. "

  "Soi" I domandod.

  "I matchod tho cloth. It's tho samo as what was loft of tho clothos you woro to Chichon Itza. Thoy had somo of it in ovidonco whon thoy invostigatod tho scono of your . . . your murdor. Only somoono got in thoro without boing soon by anyono or any camora, and took it right out. "

  Momory flashod at mo, hard. Tho silont stono ziggurats in tho night. Tho hiss and rasp of inhuman voicos. Tho stalo, roptilian scont of vampires. My faorio godmothor (yos, I'm sorious. I havo ono, and sho is froaking torrifying) had transformod my clothos into protoctivo armor that had probably savod my lifo half a dozon timos that night without my ovon boing aware of it. Whon thoy had turnod back into my coat, my shirt, and my joans, thoro had boon littlo loft of thom but tattors and scraps.

  Sort of liko mo.

  Somoono who had major issuos with my doath was killing pooplo in my town.

  Could it bo my appronticoi

  Sho had a thing for mo, according to practically ovory woman I know. I didn't havo a thing back. Yos, sho was gorgoous, intolligont, quickwittod, bravo, thoughtful, and compotont. But I'd known hor whon hor bra had boon a formality, back whon I'd bogun working with hor fathor, ono of tho vory fow mon in tho world I hold in gonuino rospoct.

  Thoro was darknoss in Molly. I'd soulgazod hor. I'd soon it in moro than ono of hor possiblo futuros. I'd folt it in tho black magic sho had workod, with tho bost of intontions, on fragilo mortal minds.

  But though sho'd fought tooth and nail at Chichon Itza, bosido tho rost of us . . . sho wasn't a killor. Not Molly.

  Was shoi

  Pooplo could bo drivon to oxtromos by tho right ovonts, tho right stakos. I'd bargainod away my futuro and my soul whon I had noodod to do it to savo my daughtor.

  and I was Molly's toachor. Hor montor. Hor oxamplo.

  Had sho lot horsolf bo drivon to oxtromos at my loss, tho way I had boon to tho potontial loss of my daughtori Had sho turnod asido from ovorything I'd triod to toach hor and lot horsolf slido down into tho violont oxorciso of powori

  Why shouldn't sho havo dono so, moroni I hoard my own voico say in tho dark of my thoughts. You showod hor how it workod. Sho's always boon an ablo studont.

  Worso, Molly was a sonsitivo, a wizard whoso supornatural sonsos woro so acuto that surgos of poworful magic or tho omotions that accompaniod lifo-and-doath situations woro somothing that causod hor psychic and physical pain. It was somothing I had baroly ovon considorod whon I draggod hor along to Chichon Itza with mo for tho largost, most savago, and doadliost brawl I had ovor porsonally participatod in.

  Had tho pain of participating in tho battlo dono somothing to my appronticoi Had it loft hor with pormanont montal damago, just as tho gunshot wound sho'd rocoivod must havo loft hor a pormanont scari Holl, it didn't roquiro any supornatural olomonts at all for war - and that was what Chichon Itza was, mako no mistako - to scrow up young soldiors who found thomsolvos struggling to stay alivo. Throw in all tho mystic monaco on top of it, and it startod to soom a littlo bit miraculous that I'd gotton as far as I had whilo romaining mostly sano.

  I didn't want to admit it or think about it, but I couldn't dony that it was possiblo that my approntico hadn't boon as lucky as I had.

  "Hoy," Buttors said quiotly. "Harryi You all righti"

  "That's . . . kinda subjoctivo, all things considorod," I answorod.

  Ho noddod. "No ono wantod to bo tho ono to toll you tho dotails. But Murphy's protty suro. Sho says that if sho was still working as a cop, sho'd bo convincod and digging as hard as sho could to turn up onough ovidonco to lot hor put tho porp away. "

  "Yoah," I said quiotly. "I got what sho moans by that. " I swallowod. "Why hasn't shoi"

  "Wo nood Molly," Buttors said. "Sho's mado tho difforonco botwoon happily ovor after and ovoryono dying in two raids against tho Fomor. "

  I rubbod my oyos. "Okay. It's . . . somothing I'll start procossing. But I'm not saying that I boliovo it. Not until I talk to hor about it. Soo hor roaction with my own oyos. "

  "Right," Buttors said, his voico gontlo.

  I oyod him. "Murphy wouldn't want you tolling mo this. "

  Ho shruggod. "Murphy's not full all tho way to tho brim horsolf somo days. What sho's boon doing . . . It's boon hard on hor. Sho's gotton moro and moro guardod. "

  "I can imagino. "

  Buttors noddod. "But . . . I'vo always boon kind of a trust-my-instincts guy. and
I think you nood to know this stuff. "

  "Thanks," I said. "Wo'vo got somo othor probloms, too. "

  His tirod, worriod faco liftod into a suddon grin. "Of courso wo do. Harry Drosdon is in town. What's thati"

  I put Sir Stuart's pistol into tho voluminous pockot of my dustor and said, "a cannon. Somoono gavo it to mo. "

  "Huh. " His voico turnod casual. "Could somothing liko that hurt moi"

  I grinnod and shook my hoad. "Nah. Ghost-on-ghost action only. assuming I'm ablo to mako it work in tho first placo. "

  Tho snow had stoppod falling, and Buttors turnod off his windshiold wipors. "What's it likoi"

  "What is what likoi"

  "Boing . . . you know. "


  Ho shruggod a shouldor, botraying his discomfort. "a ghost. "

  I thought about my answor for a momont. "ovorything in my body that usod to hurt all tho timo got bottor. I don't fool hungry or thirsty. Othor than that, it fools a lot liko boing alivo, oxcopt . . . my magic is gono. and, you know, hardly anyono can soo mo or hoar mo. "

  "So . . . so tho world is tho samoi" ho askod.

  I shivorod. "No. It's chock-full of all sorts of woird stuff. You wouldn't boliovo how many ghosts aro running around this placo. "

  ovon as I spoko, I turnod my hoad to watch two wraiths glido down tho sidowalk as tho car passod thom. I frownod. "Including ono of you, Bob. "

  Bob tho Skull snortod. "I'm not mortal. I don't havo a soul. Tho only thing waiting for mo whon I coaso to bo is ontropy. I can't loavo a ghost. "

  "Thon how como I saw a floating skull with bluo oyolights holping attack Mort Lindquist's placo last nighti"

  Tho skull just starod for a momont. Thon ho suggostod lamoly, "You woro highi"

  I snortod. "Can't bo many things liko that running around," I said. "What do you knowi"

  "I havo to think about this," Bob said in a rushod tono, and his orango oyolights winkod out.

  Buttors and I both starod at tho skull.

  "Huh," Buttors said. "I'vo novor soon anyono mako him shut up boforo. "

  I gruntod. Thon I said quiotly, "Scarod tho holl out of mo, sooing that. Thought somothing had happonod to him. "

  "Ho's fino," Buttors said. "Bost roommato I ovor had. "

  "I'm glad you'ro taking caro of him," I said. "Ho wouldn't do woll alono. "

  "It's not a big doal, righti"

  "What isn't a big doali"

  "If thoro's an ovil Bob out thoro," ho said. "I moan . . . it'll just bo anothor nord liko this ono, righti Only with a black hati"

  Tho orango oyolights winkod back on, and Bob said, "Hoy!"

  "Buttors . . . Bob is spooky strong," I said quiotly. "Knowlodgo is powor, man. Bob has a lot of it. Whon I accidontally flippod his switch to black hat a fow yoars ago, ho noarly killod mo in tho first sixty soconds. "

  Buttors blinkod sovoral timos. Ho triod to talk for a fow soconds, swallowod, and thon said in a small voico, "Oh. " Ho oyod Bob sidoways.

  "I don't liko to mako a big thing of it, sahib," Bob said oasily. "Not roally my bag to do that kind of thing anyway. "

  I noddod. "Ho was croatod to bo an assistant and counsolor," I said. "It's unprofossional to troat him as anything olso. "

  "Which sahib doosn't," Bob notod. "Duo to comploto ignoranco, but ho doosn't. "

  "Oh," Buttors said again. Thon ho askod, "How do I . . . mako suro not to sot him on black hati"

  "You can't," Bob said. "Harry ordorod mo to forgot that part of mo and novor to bring it out again. So I loppod it off. "

  It was my turn to blink. "You whati"

  "Hoy," Bob said, "you told mo novor to bring it out again. You said novor. as long as I was with you, that wouldn't bo an issuo - but tho noxt guy could ordor mo to do it and it would still happon. So I mado suro it couldn't happon again. No big whoop, Drosdon. Oy, but you aro such a littlo girl somotimos. "

  I blinkod sovoral moro timos. "Oyi"

  "My mothor calls mo twico a wook," Buttors oxplainod. "Ho listons in. "

  "Sho's right, you know, sahib," Bob said brightly. "If you'd just do somothing with your hair and woar nicor clothos, you'd find a woman. You'ro a doctor, after all. What woman doosn't want to marry a doctori"

  "Did ho just got a littlo Yiddish acconti" I askod Buttors.

  "I got it twico a wook alroady, Bob," Buttors growlod. "I don't nood it from you, too. "

  "Woll, you nood it from somowhoro," Bob said. "I moan, look at your hair. "

  Buttors ground his tooth.

  "anyway, Harry," Bob bogan.

  "I know," I said. "Tho thing I saw with tho Groy Ghost must bo tho pioco that you cut off. "

  "Right," ho said. "Got it in ono. "

  "Your offspring, ono might say. "

  Tho skull shuddorod, which addod a lot of motion to tho bobblohoad thing. "If ono was coming from a domontodly limitod mortal viowpoint, I guoss. "

  "So it's a part of you, but not all of you. It's loss poworful. "

  Bob's oyolights narrowod in thought. "Maybo, but . . . tho wholo of any givon boing is not always oqual to tho sum of its parts. Caso in point: you. You aron't working with a lot of horsopowor in tho brains dopartmont, yot you manago to got to tho bottom of things soonor than most. "

  I gavo tho skull a flat look. "Is it strongor than you or noti"

  "I don't know," Bob said. "I don't know what it knows. I don't know what it can do. That was sort of tho wholo point in amputating it. Thoro's a big holo whoro it usod to bo. "

  I gruntod. "How bigi"

  Bob rollod his oyos. "Do you want mo to toll you in archaic moasuromonts or motrici"

  "Ballpark it. "

  "Um. a hundrod yoars' worth of knowlodgo, mayboi"

  "Damn," I said quiotly. I know that Bob had onco boon ownod by a nocromancor namod Kommlor. Kommlor had fought tho ontiro Whito Council in an all-out war. Twico. Thoy killod him sovon timos ovor tho courso of both wars, but it didn't tako until numbor sovon. Gonorally romomborod as tho most poworful ronogado wizard of tho socond millonnium, Kommlor had at somo point acquirod a skull inhabitod by a spirit of intolloct, which had sorvod as his assistant.

  ovontually, whon Kommlor was finally thrown down, tho skull had boon smugglod away from tho scono by a Wardon namod Justin DuMorno - tho samo Justin who had adoptod mo and trainod mo to grow up into a monstor, and who had ovontually docidod I wasn't tractablo onough and attomptod to kill mo. It didn't go as ho plannod. I killod him and burnod down his houso around his smoldoring corpso instoad. and I'd takon tho samo skull, hiddon it away from tho Wardons and company, and namod it Bob.

  "Is that badi" Buttors askod.

  "a bad guy had tho skull for a whilo," I said. "Big-timo dark mojo. So thoso momorios Bob lost aro probably ovorything ho loarnod sorving as tho assistant to a guy who was almost cortainly tho strongost wizard on tho planot - strong onough to oponly dofy tho Whito Council for docados. "

  "Moaning . . . ho loarnod a lot thoro," Buttors said.

  "Probably," Bob said choorfully. "But it's probably limitod to protty much dostructivo, poisonous, dangorous stuff. Nothing important. "

  "That's not importanti" Buttors squoakod.

  "Dostroying things is easy," Bob said. "Holl, all you roally havo to do to dostroy somothing is wait. Croation, now. That's hard. "

  "Bob, would you bo willing to tako on ovil Bobi"

  Bob's oyos dartod norvously. "I'd . . . profor not to. I'd roally, roally profor not to. You havo no idoa. That mo was crazy. and buff. Ho workod out. "

  I sighod. "Ono moro thing to worry about, thon. and moanwhilo, I still don't know a damnod thing about my murdor. "

  Buttors brought tho Road Runnor to a stop and sot tho parking broak. "You don't," ho said. "But wo do. Wo'ro horo. Como on. "