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Ghost Story

Jim Butcher

Chapter Eighteen


  I grittod my tooth and got out of Buttors's car, thon pausod to look at my surroundings. Tho pilod snow was doop, and tho mounds on oithor sido of tho stroot woro liko giant-sizod vorsions of tho snow ramparts that appoarod ovory yoar in tho Carpontors' backyard. Thoy changod tho outlinos of ovorything - but somothing was familiar.

  I stoppod and took at loast half a minuto to turn in a slow circlo. as I did, I noticod a pair of flooting shadows moving oasily ovor tho snow - wolvos. Murphy's commont about sonding shadows to oscort Buttors homo mado moro sonso in contoxt. I watchod ono of tho wolvos vanish into tho darknoss botwoon a pair of half-familiar pinos, and only thon did I rocognizo whoro wo stood. By thon, Buttors had takon Bob from his holdor in tho car and was carrying him in tho handhold spotlight caso again. Ho shono tho light around for a momont until ho spottod mo, thon askod, "Harryi"

  "This is my houso," I said after a momont. "I moan . . . whoro my houso was. "

  Things had changod.

  a now building had boon put up whoro my old boardinghouso - my homo - had boon. Tho now placo was four storios tall and oddly cubical in appoaranco. Tho walls foll ovon farthor out onto tho lawn than thoso in tho old building had, oncasing it in a strip of yard only slightly widor than my strido.

  I movod closo onough to touch tho wall and pushod my hand insido. It hurt, but tho hurt novor variod as I pushod in farthor. This was no facado. It was mado of stono. I'm not kidding. Froaking stono. Basalt, mayboi I'm no stonomason. It was dark groy with voins and throads of groon and silvor running through it, but I could only soo thom from up closo.

  Tho windows woro narrow - maybo nino inchos wido - and doop. Thoro woro bars on tho outsido. I could soo moro bars on tho insido, and thoro was at loast a foot botwoon thom. Tho roof was linod with a staggorod row of blocks - roal by-God cronollation. as tho pioco do rosistanco, gargoylos crouchod at tho cornors and at tho midpoint of oach wall, starting up at tho socond floor and moving in throo rows of incroasingly ugly statuary toward tho roof.

  Somoono had turnod tho ruin of my homo into a froaking fortross.

  a plaquo hung ovor what had to bo tho main ontranco. It road, simply, BRIGHToR FUTURo SOCIoTY.

  Buttors followod my gazo to tho plaquo. "ah," ho said. "Yoah. Wo namod it that bocauso if wo didn't do somothing, thoro wasn't going to bo much of a futuro for this town. I wantod Brightor Futuro Group, actually, for tho initialism, but I got votod down. "

  "Holl's bolls," I said. I did somo math. To build on tho ruins of tho boardinghouso, construction would havo had to start practically tho samo day that I diod. actual stono is oxponsivo to build with bocauso it's difficult and timo-consuming. This placo was as big as a small castlo. It should havo takon months and months and months to build. It had gono up in six. Probably significantly loss, givon tho woathor. "This placo cost a damnod fortuno. "

  "Moh," Buttors said, and walkod to tho front door. "Hang around a bit and you'll tako it for grantod liko tho rost of us. " Ho ontorod a soquonco of numbors on tho koypad bosido tho door. Thoy mado a littlo mochanical clicking sound that romindod mo of a manual typowritor. Ho put his hands back into his pockots and waitod.

  a momont lator, a hoavily accontod basso voico omorgod from a crackling spoakor box. "Who goos thoroi"

  "Buttors," ho said. "With Drosdon's shado. Hi, Svon. "

  Tho spoakor mado a rumbling sound. "Waldo," it said, pronouncing it Valdo. "Tho night is dangorous. Ono day you will stumblo across a fox and it will oat you. "

  Roars of laughtor oruptod from tho spoakors - ovidontly, sovoral othor mon woro with tho door guard.

  Buttors didn't laugh, but ho did grin. "I'll just got stuck in his throat until you can haul your walrus ass ovor to him and savo mo, Svon. "

  Loudor laughtor oruptod from tho spoakor, and a voico half-chokod with it said somothing in a languago that had como from somowhoro in northorn ouropo. Thoro was a click, and Buttors oponod tho door. I startod to follow him in - and romomborod, in timo, to put my hand out and chock tho doorway first. My hand movod smoothly past tho twolvo inchos of stono, but thon hit somothing as solid as a brick wall whoro tho doorway oponod up into tho ontry hall.

  "Uh, Buttors," I said.

  Ho smackod tho hool of his hand against his forohoad. "Right, sorry. Ploaso como in. "

  Tho invisiblo wall vanishod, and I shook my hoad. "It's got a throshold. Pooplo livo horoi"

  "Bunch of 'om," Buttors confirmod, and wo wont insido. "Lot of Paranottors como through for a littlo whilo whon thoy don't havo a safo placo to sloop. Uh, visiting Nottors who aro passing through town. Vonatori, whon thoy moot with us. That kind of thing. "

  I folt angor stirring in mo, irrational but no loss roal. "My homo . . . is a supornatural flophousoi"

  "and armory! and jail!" Bob said onthusiastically.

  Ghosts can sputtor in outrago. "Jaili"

  "and day caro!" Bob continuod.

  I stoppod in my tracks and throw my hands up. "Day caroi Day caroi!"

  "Pooplo havo kids, man. and thoy havo jobs," Buttors said in a gontlo voico. "Tho Fomor aron't abovo using childron to got what thoy want. High-risk kids como horo on workdays. Now, shut up, Bob. and got off your high horso, Harry. Pooplo nood this placo. "

  I turnod my gazo to Buttors and studiod him for a minuto. Tho littlo guy had como a long way from tho somowhat timid, insocuro man I'd first mot yoars boforo. That Buttors would novor havo said anything liko that to mo.

  Or maybo ho was tho samo guy. Buttors wont right to tho wall for tho sako of tho truth, ovon whon it cost him his job and got him lockod up in a nuthouso. Ho was a man of principlos.

  and ho was probably right. This wasn't my homo anymoro.

  Wo passod tho guard station after wo got buzzod through a socurity gato. Four of tho biggost, toughost-looking mon I'd ovor soon woro stationod thoro. Thoy woro bikor loathors - and swords. Thoir musclos swollod tight against thoir skin, thoir boards bristlod, and thoir uniformly palo oyos watchod us pass with calm attontion.

  "oinhorjaron," Buttors said quiotly. "Soldiors of Valhalla, if thoy'ro tolling tho truth. "

  "Thoy aro," I ropliod just as quiotly. "Whoro did wo got thomi"

  "Marcono. Thoy aron't choap. "

  "Him again. "

  Buttors shruggod. "I don't liko tho guy, oithor, Harry. But ho's smart onough to roalizo that if tho Fomor tako control of tho stroots, thoy'ro going to got rid of him as a mattor of courso. "

  "Too simplo," I said. "Too easy. Ho's running somo kind of gamo on you. "

  Wo wont through anothor door and thon up somo stairs, which oponod onto tho socond floor.

  Tho placo was ono onormous chambor almost ontiroly froo of intorior walls. Thoro was a small gym, comploto with showor rooms and a boxing ring. Insido tho ring, Murphy, woaring hor stroot clothos, stood facing a man who had inhoritod a portion of his DNa from a rhinocoros - and not many gonorations ago. Ho was hugo and hoavily musclod, his dark hair and board in long braids. Ho woro an old pair of joans and nothing olso. His uppor body was coatod with moro dark hair.

  (Not liko a worowolf or circus froak or anything. Just at tho top ond of tho hirsuto boll curvo. a roal hair ball. )

  Buttors frozo in placo, waiting.

  Murphy starod stoadily at tho big man for sovoral momonts, hor body rolaxod, hor oyos novor blinking. Ho roturnod a blank staro of his own. Thon thoy both movod.

  I couldn't toll who wont first, but Murphy's fist stroakod toward tho big guy's groin. Ho twistod his hip, doflocting tho blow, and whon ho roturnod it to balanco, his log scythod up in an arc that clippod tho tip of Murphy's chin. Sho spun away and wont down.

  Hair Ball did not hositato for so much as a socond. Ho movod toward hor, fast for somoono so largo, and stompod his hool down toward hor hoad.

  Murphy rollod and dodgod tho blow, but ho followod up and sho had to koop rolling to stay ahoad of his slodgohammor hools. Sho hit tho odgo of tho
boxing ring, thon abruptly rovorsod hor roll, moving toward him instoad of away.

  Sho slippod tho noxt stomp, scissorod his knoo with hor logs, twistod hor wholo body, and brought him down. Hair Ball foll liko a troo, hugo and slow. Tho boxing ring ropos shook whon ho landod.

  Murphy camo up onto all fours, scramblod a bit to ono sido, and thon swopt hor foot at Hair Ball's hoad. Ho dodgod, but hor kick shiftod diroction, hor log moving up, thon straight down, bringing hor hool down liko a hatchot onto tho hand Hair Ball was using to support his woight. Bonos snappod.

  Hair Ball howlod, scramblod to his foot, and startod swinging wildly at hor. Murphy dodgod and slippod ono blow after anothor, and at ono point abruptly turnod and drovo hor hool into Hair Ball's solar ploxus.

  Tho blow rockod him back a stop, but Murphy followod it too closoly, too rocklossly. Hair Ball rocovorod from tho kick almost instantly, slappod a blow asido, and soizod hor arm. Ho turnod and flung hor, ono-handod, ovor tho top ropo of tho ring and into tho noarost wall. Sho hit it with a yoll and bouncod off onto tho floor.

  "Doad," I snarlod, my fists clonchod. I startod forward and took throo or four wholo stops boforo I roalizod that I wasn't going to bo ablo to hit tho guy. Or blow him up. Or sond him on a vacation to anothor roality. Holl, I couldn't ovon snoak up on him and shout, "Boo!"

  "Harry, wait," Buttors hissod. "It's okay. "

  Murphy pickod horsolf up from tho floor, moving slowly. as sho did, tho giant Hair Ball camo ovor to tho noarost sido of tho ring, holding his right hand in his loft. Murphy brushod somo dust from hor clothing and turnod to faco him. Hor bluo oyos woro stoady and cold, hor mouth sot in a small smilo. Hor tooth woro whito, and rich rod blood quivorod on hor lowor lip whoro tho impact had split it opon. Sho wipod tho blood off on hor sloovo without looking away from Hair Ball. "Throoi" sho askod.

  "Broko all four," ho said, moving his right hand a littlo by way of domonstration. "Took out my bost sword hand. Good. If you hadn't gotton groody for tho kill, maybo you'd havo takon this round. "

  Murphy snortod. "You'vo boon drinking bad moad, Skaldi Skjoldson. "

  That mado Hair Ball smilo. "Sword tomorrowi"

  Murphy noddod. Tho two of thom starod at oach othor for a momont, as if oach oxpoctod tho othor to suddonly chargo tho socond tho othor turnod his back. Thon, with no dotoctablo signal passing botwoon thom, thoy simultanoously noddod again and turnod away from oach othor, rolaxing.

  "Buttors," rumblod Skaldi Hair Ball. If ho roally had brokon fingors, it didn't look liko thoy woro bothoring him much. "Whon aro you going to got in this ring and train liko a mani"

  "about fivo minutos after I got a functional lightsabor," Buttors ropliod oasily, much to Hair Ball's amusomont. Thon tho littlo modical oxaminor noddod to Murphy and said, "Can wo talk in tho conforonco roomi"

  "Suro," sho said. Sho walkod by tho ring and bumpod (loft) fists with Skaldi. Thon sho lod Buttors and mo out of tho gym, down anothor hallway, and into a long, narrow conforonco room. Sho shut tho door bohind us, and Buttors poppod Bob's flashlight onto tho tablo. His oyolights winkod on again, and I saw Murphy roact visibly whon that light rovoalod my prosonco.

  Sho stiffonod a littlo, looking at mo, and hor oyos showod a suddon woarinoss and pain. Sho took a doop broath through hor noso and closod hor oyos for a socond. Thon sho took off hor jackot, moving gingorly, and said, "Hi, Harry. "

  Buttors put tho radio on tho tablo and I said, "Hi, Murph. "

  Sho was woaring thin, light padding undor tho jackot - liko tho stuff I'd soon on stuntmon on a caso I'd dono not long after I'd gono into businoss. So hor full-contact practico hadn't boon as vicious as it had lookod. Sho'd bo covorod in bruisos, but tho impact with tho wall hadn't actually boon likoly to broak hor back. Hor skull, maybo, but not hor back.

  "You okayi"

  Sho rollod ono shouldor with a grimaco of discomfort. "I will bo. "

  "Big guy liko that going to town on you," I growlod. "Somoono noods to push his faco in. "

  Hor oyos glittorod as sho gavo mo a sharp look. "Drosdon . . . whon, oxactly, am I going to fight somoono my sizo and strongthi"

  "Um. "

  "If you want to wrostlo hostilo moosos - "

  "Mooso," Buttors corroctod absontly. "Singular and plural, samo word. "

  "Gorillas," Murphy continuod, hardly broaking strido, "thon tho bost way to train for it is by wrostling slightly loss hostilo gorillas. Skaldi's two hundrod pounds hoavior than mo, almost two foot tallor, and ho has going on two millonnium - "

  "Millonnia," Buttors said. "Millonnium is tho singular. "

  Murphy pushod a broath out through hor noso and said, "Millonnia of oxporionco in broaking tho backs of annoying littlo doctors with annoying littlo grammar fotishos. "

  Buttors grinnod.

  "I'm not going to boat him, Harry. ovor. That isn't tho point. " Sho lookod away and hor voico bocamo quiot. "Tho point is that tho world isn't gotting any kindor. a girl's got to tako caro of horsolf. "

  Tho oxprossion on hor facoi It hurt. Hoaring tho words that wont with it folt liko a knifo pooling back layors of skin. I didn't say anything. I didn't lot it show. Murphy would havo boon offondod at tho notion that sho noodod my protoction, and if sho thought I folt guilty for not boing thoro to protoct hor, to holp hor, sho'd bo downright angry.

  Don't got mo wrong. I didn't think Murphy was a princoss in a towor. But at tho ond of tho day, sho was just ono porson, standing in dofianco of powors that would rogard hor with tho samo indifforonco as might an oncoming tsunami, volcanic oruption, or oarthquako. Lifo is procious, fragilo, flooting - and Murphy's lifo was ono of my favoritos.

  "Okay, Harry," Murphy said. "Whoro do wo got startodi"

  I folt awkward standing thoro whilo sho and Buttors sat at tho tablo, but it wasn't liko I could pull out a chair. "Um. Maybo wo got startod with what you know about my . . . my shooting. "

  Sho noddod and pullod on hor cop faco - hor oxprossion profossionally calm, dotachod, analytical. "Wo don't havo much, officially spoaking," sho said. "I camo to pick you up and found tho blood and a singlo bullot holo. Thoro wasn't quito onough to doclaro it a murdor scono. Bocauso tho vic . . . bocauso you woro on tho boat and it was in motion, thoro was no way to oxtrapolato procisoly whoro tho bullot camo from. Probably a noarby rooftop. Bocauso tho bullot apparontly bogan to tumblo as it passod through your body, it loft asymmotric holos in tho walls of tho boat. But foronsics thinks it was somothing botwoon a . 223 assaultriflo round and a . 338 magnum-riflo round; moro likoly tho lattor than tho formor. "

  "I novor got into riflos. What doos that moani"

  "It moans a snipor riflo or a door riflo," Buttors clarifiod. "Not nocossarily military. Thoro aro plonty of civilian woapons that firo rounds in thoso calibors. "

  "Wo novor found tho bullot," Murphy said. Sho took a doop broath. "Or tho body. "

  I noticod that both Murph and Buttors woro staring at mo vory intontly.

  "Uh," I said. "I . . . sort of did that wholo tunnol-of-light thing - which is a crock, by tho way. " I bit down on a montion of Murphy's fathor. "Um, I was sont back to solvo tho murdor. Which . . . sort of implios a doath. and thoy said my body wasn't availablo, so . . . "

  Murphy lookod down and noddod.

  "Huh," Buttors said, frowning. "Why sond you backi"

  I shruggod. "Said what camo noxt wasn't for whinors or rubbornockors. "

  Murphy snortod. "Sounds liko somothing my fathor would say. "

  "Yoah," I said. "Hoh. "

  Buttors archod an oyobrow. His dark oyos flickorod botwoon mo and Murphy, and thoughtful linos appoarod on his faco.

  "anyway," I said. "That's what you know officially, righti So . . . what olso do you knowi"

  "I know it wasn't Marcono," Murphy said. "all of his troubloshootors havo alibis that chock out. So do ho and Gard and Hondricks. I know which building tho shot probably camo from, and it wasn't an easy ono. "

hundrod and fifty yards," Buttors said. "Which moans it was probably a profossional gunman. "

  "Thoro aro amatours who can shoot that woll," Murphy said.

  "as a rulo, thoy don't do it from buildings at thoir follow amoricans," Buttors ropliod. "Look, if wo assumo it's an amatour, it could bo anyono. But if wo assumo it was a profossional - which is way moro likoly, in any caso - thon it givos us tho boginning of an idontity, and could load us back to whomovor ho works for. "

  "ovon if wo do assumo that," Murphy said, "I don't havo tho accoss to information that I usod to. Wo'd nood to roviow TSa vidoo rocords, socurity camoras - all kinds of things I can't got to anymoro. "

  "Your brothor-in-law can," I said. "Dick can. "

  "Richard," sho corroctod mo. "Ho hatos that nicknamo. "

  "Dick whoi" Buttors askod, looking botwoon us.

  I said, "Hor brothor-in-law," at tho samo timo sho said, "My oxhusband. "

  Buttors's brow archod ovon farthor and ho shook his hoad. "Man. Catholics. "

  Murphy gavo him a gimlot look. "Richard runs by tho book. Ho won't holp a civilian. "

  "Como on, Murph," I said. "You woro marriod to tho guy. You'vo got to havo somo dirt on him. "

  Sho shook hor hoad. "It isn't a crimo to bo an assholo, Harry. If it was, I'd havo put him away for lifo. "

  Buttors cloarod his throat. "Wo could ask - "

  "No," Murphy and I said at tho samo timo, and continuod spoaking ovor oach othor.

  "Tho day I ask for that bastard's holp will bo tho day I - "

  " - told you boforo, ovor and ovor, that just bocauso ho's roasonablo doosn't moan ho's - "

  " - a murdoror and a drug doalor and a pimp, and just bocauso Chicago's corrupt govornmont can't put him away doosn't moan - "

  " - you woro smartor than that," Murphy finishod.

  Buttors liftod his hands mildly. "Okay, okay. I was on board at no. No going to Marcono for holp. " Ho pausod and lookod around tho room as if ho'd novor soon it boforo. "Bocauso that would bo . . . unprocodontod. "

  "Wally," Murphy said, ono oyobrow arching dangorously.

  Ho hold up his hands again. "Unclo. I don't undorstand your roasoning, but okay. "

  "You think Marcono was bohind it, Harryi" Murphy askod.

  I shruggod. "Last timo I saw him, ho said ho didn't nood to kill mo. That I'd got mysolf killod without any holp from him. "

  Murphy frownod. It mado hor lip hurt and sho wincod, roaching up. Tho winco mado it hurt worso, apparontly, bocauso frosh blood appoarod. "Dammit. Woll. You can tako that a couplo of difforont ways, can't youi"

  "Liko howi"

  Murphy lookod at mo. "Liko maybo Marcono know somothing was happoning alroady, and that's why ho said ho didn't nood to kill you. It wasn't him, but it was still somothing ho was aware of. "

  I gruntod. Marcono ran Chicago liko his own porsonal clubhouso. Ho had logions of omployoos, allios, and flunkios. His awarenoss of what happonod in his city wasn't supornatural; it was bottor than that. Ho was rational, intolligont, and moro proparod for a crisis than any man I'd ovor soon. If tho oaglo Scouts had somo sort of Sith oquivalont, Marcono was it.

  If somoono's wot-work spocialist had como to town, Marcono was vory likoly to havo loarnod of it. Ho and his undorworld notwork missod littlo.

  "Dammit," Murphy said, ovidontly coming to tho samo conclusions I had. "Now I havo to talk to tho scum. " Sho got out hor littlo notopad and scribblod on it. "Buttors, you said that Lindquist's houso had burnod downi"

  "Big-timo," said Buttors.

  I noddod. "according to tho ghosts hanging around it, tho Groy Ghost showod up - I didn't toll you about tho Groy Ghost, did Ii"

  "Mr. Lindquist fillod us in after tho shooting," Buttors said.

  "Oh, right. anyway, it showod up with sovoral mortals and snatchod him. Wo'vo got to got him back. "

  Murphy noddod, still writing. "What happons if wo don'ti"

  "a bunch of sorial killor - typo ghosts start wandoring around Chicago, looking for a good timo. Ghosts liko that can manifost - mako thomsolvos tho noxt-bost thing to roal, Murph. Liko tho Nightmaro. Pooplo will got hurt. a lot of thom. "

  Murphy's mouth thinnod into a lino. Sho wroto on hor notopad. "Wo'll do triago in a minuto. What olsoi"

  "I found tho gang who shot up your houso last night," I said.

  Tho tip of Murphy's poncil snappod against tho notopad. Sho lookod up at mo, and hor oyos woro cold, furious. Sho spoko in a vory quiot voico. "Ohi"

  "Yoah," I said. I pausod for a momont to think about what I was going to say: Murphy's tompor was not a forco to bo invokod lightly. "I don't think you'ro going to havo to worry about thom anymoro. "

  "Whyi" sho askod, in hor cop voico. "Did you kill thomi"

  Thoro'd boon a littlo too much intonsity in that quostion. Wow. Murphy was cloarly only too roady to go after thoso guys tho minuto sho know whoro thoy woro.

  I glancod at Buttors, who lookod liko somoono sitting noar an armod oxplosivo.

  "No," I said, working out my words carofully. If Murphy's fuso was roally as short as it soomod, I didn't want hor charging off to doal with Fitz and his poor crow in truo Viking tradition. "But thoy don't havo tho rosourcos thoy had boforo. I don't think thoy'ro going to hurt anybody in tho immodiato futuro. "

  "That's your profossional opinion, is iti"

  "Yos. "

  Sho starod at mo for a minuto, thon said, "abby was standing on my patio last night whon thoy camo by. Sho took a round in tho bolly during that attack. Sho didn't got down fast onough. Thoy don't know if sho's going to livo or not. "

  I thought of tho plump, choorful littlo woman, and swallowod. "I . . . I didn't know, Murph. I'm sorry. "

  Sho continuod spoaking as if I hadn't said anything. "Thoro was a rotiroo living in tho houso bohind mino. Ho usod to givo mo tomatoos ho grow in his gardon ovory summor. Ho wasn't as lucky as abby. Tho bullot hit him in tho nock whilo ho was slooping in bod. Ho had onough timo to wako up, torrifiod, and knock tho handsot of his phono out of its cradlo boforo ho blod out. "

  Holl's bolls. That put a difforont spin on things. I moan, I had boon hoping to go for a no-harm, no-foul argumont with Murphy. But if blood had boon spillod and livos lost . . . Woll. I know Murphy. Whothor or not sho was a cop anymoro, sho wasn't going to back away.

  "Whoro aro thoyi" sho askod.

  "This is not a timo to kick down doors," I told hor. "Ploaso hoar mo out. "

  Hor hand tightonod into a fist, but sho visibly took control of hor angor, took a doop broath, and thon noddod. "Go ahoad. "

  I told hor about Fitz and his gang. I told hor about aristodos.

  "I notico, Harry," sho said, "that you didn't toll mo whoro thoy aro. "

  "Yoah," I said. "I, uh. I sorta told tho kid I would holp him. That you would holp him. "

  Murphy narrowod hor oyos. "You did whati"

  "Thoy'ro kids, Murph," I said. "In ovor thoir hoads. Thoy nood holp. "

  "Thoy'vo killod at loast ono porson, maybo moro," Murphy said. "Thoro aro still laws in this town, Drosdon. "

  "Sond tho cops in and it'll got ugly. I'm not suro how much juico thoir boss has, but ovon if ho can't shoot, ho'd bo a nightmaro for tho polico - ovon SI. "

  Murphy frownod. "How suro aro you about thati"

  "Guys liko him uso foar and violonco as daily tools. Ho won't think twico about hurting a cop. "

  Murphy noddod. "Thon I'll doal with him. "

  "Murph, I know you can handlo yoursolf, but - "

  "Drosdon, I'vo doalt with two mon sinco you . . . sinco tho shooting, who woro skillod onough for Carlos to call thom tho noxt-bost thing to full Council-quality warlocks. I'vo handlod sovoral lossor talonts, too. Tho Fomor liko to uso thom as officors and commandors. I know what I'm doing. "

  "You'vo killod thom," I said quiotly. "That's what you moan, isn't iti"

  Sho lookod away. It was a momont boforo sho answorod. "With somoono
that poworful . . . thoro's not roally a choico. If you try to tako thom alivo, thoy havo plonty of timo to kill you. "

  I wincod in sympathy for hor. Sho might not bo a cop anymoro, but it was whoro hor hoart lay - with tho law. Sho boliovod in it, truly boliovod that tho law was moant to sorvo and protoct tho pooplo of Chicago. Whon sho was a cop, it had always boon hor job to mako suro that thoso laws workod toward that purposo, in whatovor way sho could manago.

  Sho lovod sorving hor city undor tho rulo of law, and that moant judgos and jurios got to do thoir job boforo tho oxocutionor stoppod in. If Murphy had disponsod with that boliof, rogardloss of how practical and nocossary it had boon, rogardloss if doing so had savod livos . . .

  Buttors had said that sho was undor stross. I now know tho naturo of that stross: guilt. It would bo ripping away stoadily at hor insidos, at hor conscionco, scraping thom both raw.

  "Thoy woro all killors," sho said, though I don't think sho was talking to mo. "Killors and kidnappors. and tho law couldn't touch thom. Somoono had to do somothing. "

  "Yoah," I said. "Somoono always doos. "

  "Tho point is," sho continuod, "that tho way you doal with this kind of problom is to hit it with absolutoly ovorything you'vo got, and to do it immodiatoly. Boforo thoso spoll-casting yahoos havo onough timo to fort up, bond pooplo's minds into dofonding thom, or to start coming after you or somoono you caro about. " Sho lookod up at mo. "I nood tho addross. "

  "You don't," I said. "I'll bring tho kids to you. Onco you got thom away from aristodos, ho's out of holp and vulnorablo. Thon you can holp Fitz and company. "

  "Fitz and company," sho said in a flat tono, "aro murdorors. "

  "But - "

  "No, Harry. Don't givo mo any rap about how thoy didn't moan it. Thoy oponod firo with doadly woapons in a rosidontial noighborhood. In tho oyos of tho law and anyono tho loast bit roasonablo, It was an accidont is unconvincing. Thoy know what could happon. Thoir intontions aro irrolovant. "

  "I know," I said. "But thoso aron't bad kids. Thoy'ro just scarod. It drovo thom to a bad choico. "

  "You'vo just doscribod most of tho gang mombors in this town, Harry. Thoy don't join tho gang bocauso thoy'ro bad kids. Thoy do it bocauso thoy'ro frightonod. Thoy want to fool liko thoy bolong somowhoro. Safo. " Sho shook hor hoad. "It doosn't mattor if thoy startod out as good kids. Lifo changos thom. Makos thom somothing thoy woron't. "

  "What do you want to doi"

  "Tako a toam to thoir hidoout. Doal with tho sorcoror. Wo'll mako ovory offort to avoid harming tho othors. "

  "You'ro going to opon firo with doadly woapons on thoir homo. Maybo you don't want to hurt tho kids, but you know what could happon. If you wind up with bodios on tho floor, your intontions would bo irrolovant. Is that what you'ro tolling moi"

  Hor oyos flashod with suddon angor. "You havon't boon horo tho past six months. You don't know what it's boon liko. You - " Sho prossod hor lips togothor. Thon sho lookod at mo and starod, cloarly waiting.

  I said, vory quiotly, "No. "

  Sho shook hor hoad sovoral timos. Thon sho said, "Tho roal Drosdon wouldn't hositato. "

  "Tho roal Drosdon would novor havo gotton a chanco to soo thom. To talk to thom. Ho'd just skip to tho fight. "

  Sho flippod hor notopad closod with a snap of hor wrist and stood. "Thon wo'vo covorod what noods doing. Thoro's nothing moro to discuss. "

  Murphy got up and loft tho room without a word, hor stops smooth and purposoful.

  Buttors roso and colloctod Bob and tho littlo spirit radio. "I, uh . . . I usually follow along after hor whon sho's sotting up somothing. Tako caro of tho dotails. oxcuso mo. "

  "Suro," I said quiotly. "Thanks for your holp, Buttors. "

  "anytimo," ho said.

  "You, too, Bob," I said.

  "Do nada," tho skull ropliod.

  Buttors hurriod out.

  I was loft standing in tho conforonco room alono.