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Fool Moon, Page 19

Jim Butcher

Chapter 20

  I awoke in a dark place. It was like the inside of a warehouse, or a big, underground garage, all black, with a smooth, even floor, and a pool of bleak, sterile radiance in the middle of it that came from a source I could not see or identify. I felt like hell, and looked down to see myself covered in scratches, bruises, welts, blood, bandages, and ill-fitting clothing. I wore none of my implements or devices, and there was a curious sense of distance between me and the pain of my injuries - I was more than aware of them, but they seemed to be something that was merely noted in passing, and unimportant to my life as a whole.

  I stood just outside the circle of light, and it seemed to me proper that I move forward into it. I did. And as I did, there appeared in the circle opposite me . . . me. Myself. Only better groomed, dressed in a mantled duster of black leather, not the sturdy, if styleless canvas that I wore. My double's pants and boots and shirt were all black as well, and they fit him as though tailor-made, rather than off-the-rack. His eyes were set deep, overshadowed by severe brows, and glittering with dark intelligence. His hair was neatly cut, and the short beard he wore emphasized the long lines of his face, the high cheekbones, the straight slash of his mouth, and the angular strength of his jaw. He stood as tall as I, as long limbed as I, but carried with him infinitely more confidence, raw knowledge, and strength. A faint whiff of cologne drifted over to me, cutting through my own sour sweat and blood smells.

  My double tilted his head to one side, looked me up and down for a long minute, and then said, "Harry. You look like hell. "

  "And you look like me," I said, and limped toward him, peering.

  My double rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Hell's bells, you make me sick with how thick skulled you are, sometimes. " He took steps toward me, mirroring my own movements. "I don't look like you. I am you. "

  I blinked at him for a few seconds. "You are me. How does that work?"

  "You're unconscious, moron," my double said to me. "We can finally talk to one another. "

  "Oh, I get it," I said. "You're Evil Harry, lurking inside Good Harry. Right? And you only come out at night?"

  "Give me a break," my double said. "If you were that simple, you'd be so insufferably boring you'd probably blow your own head off. I'm not Evil Harry. I'm just Subconscious Harry. I'm your inner voice, bub. Your intuition, your instinct, your basic, animal reactions. I make your dreams, and I decide which nightmares to pop in the old psychic VCR at night. I come up with a lot of the good ideas, and pass them along to you when you wake up. "

  "So you're saying you're wiser than me? Smarter than me?"

  "I probably am, in a lot of ways," my double said, "but that's not my job, and it's not why I'm here. "

  "I see. So what are you doing here, then? You're going to tell me how I'm going to meet three spirits of Harry Past, Present, and Future?" I asked.

  My double snorted. "That's good. That really is, the banter thing. I can't do the banter very well. Maybe that's why you're in charge. Of course, if I was in charge more often, you'd get laid a lot more - but no, that's not it, either. "

  "Can we speed this along? I'm too tired to keep on guessing," I complained.

  "No joke, jerk. That's why you're asleep. But we don't have long to talk, and there are some issues we need to work through. " He said «issues» in the British manner, iss-ewwws.

  "Issues to work through?" I said. "What, am I my own therapist, now?" I turned my back on my double and started stalking out of the lighted circle. "I've had some weird dreams, but this has got to be the stupidest one yet. "

  My double slipped around me and got in my way before I could leave the circle of light. "Hold it. You really don't want to do this. "

  "I'm tired. I feel like shit. I'm hurt. And what I really don't want is to waste any more time dreaming about you. " I narrowed my eyes at my double. "Now get out of my way. " I turned to my right and started walking toward the nearest edge of the circle.

  My double slipped in front of me again, apparently without needing to cross the intervening space. "It isn't that simple, Harry. No matter where you go, there you are. "

  "Look, I've had a long night. "

  "I know," my double said. "Believe me, I know. That's why it's important to get some of this out now, before it settles in. Before you blow a gasket on your sanity, man. "

  "I'm not worried about that," I lied. "I'm as solid as a brick wall. "

  My double snorted. "If you weren't getting pretty close to crazy, would you be talking to yourself right now?"

  I opened my mouth. Closed it again. Shrugged. "Okay. You've got a point. "

  "I've got more than that," my double said. "Things have been happening to you so quickly that you haven't had time to think. You need to work through some of this, and then you need to do some hard thinking, fast. "

  I sighed and rubbed at my eyes. "All right, then," I said. "What do you want to hear?"

  My double gestured, and there was Murphy as she had appeared in the hallway of the police station, the flesh of her bicep tented out by the broken bone, her face pale, spotted with blood, and streaked with tears and hopeless anguish.

  "Murph," I said, quietly, and knelt down by the image. "Stars above. What have I done to you?" The image, the memory, didn't hear me. She just wept silent, bitter tears.

  My double knelt on the other side of the apparition. "Nothing, Harry," he said. "What happened at the police station wasn't your fault. "

  "Like hell it wasn't," I snarled. "If I'd have been faster, gotten there sooner, or if I'd told her the truth from the beginning - "

  "But you didn't," my double interjected. "And you had some pretty damned compelling reasons not to. Ease up on yourself, man. You can't change the past. "

  "Easy for you to say," I snarled.

  "No, it isn't," my double said quietly. "Concentrate on what you will do, not what you should have done. You've been trying to protect Murphy all along, instead of making her able to protect herself. She's going to be fighting these kinds of things, Harry, and you won't always be there to baby-sit her. Instead of trying to play shepherd, you need to play coach, and get her into shape to do what she needs to do. "

  "But that means - "

  "Telling her everything," my double said. "The White Council, the Nevernever, all of it. "

  "The Council won't like it. If I tell her and they hear about it, they might consider her a security risk. "

  "And if you don't make her able to understand what she's fighting, something's going to eat her face some dark night. Murphy's a big girl. The Council had better be careful if they decide to go messing with her. " My double considered Murphy for a moment. "You should ask her out sometime, too. "

  "I should what?" I said.

  "You heard me. You're repressing big time, man. "

  "This is all getting way too Freudian for me," I said, and stood up, intending to walk away again. I was confronted with an image of Susan, as she had appeared on the steps to the police station, tall in her heels and dress suit, elegant and beautiful, her face stretched with worry.

  "Think she's going to get a good story out of this?" my double asked.

  "Oh, that's below the belt. That's not why she's seeing me. "

  "Maybe, maybe not. But you're asking yourself that question, aren't you?" My double gestured to himself and to me, demonstratively. "Shouldn't that make you ask a few more questions?"

  "Like what?" I asked.

  "Like how come you don't trust anyone," my double said. "Not even someone like Susan who has been going out on a limb for you tonight. " He lifted a long-fingered hand and stroked at the short beard with his fingertips. "I'm thinking this has to do with Elaine. How about you?"

  And then there she was, a girl of elegant height, perhaps eighteen or nineteen years of age - gawky and coltish, all long legs and arms, but with the promise of stunning beauty to add graceful curves to the lean lines of her body. She was dressed in a pair of m
y blue jeans, cut off at the tops of her muscled thighs, and my own T-shirt, tied off over her abdomen. A pentacle amulet, identical to my own, if less battered, lay over her heart, between the curves of her modest breasts. Her skin was pale, almost luminous, her hair a shade of brown-gold, like ripe wheat, her eyes a startling, storm-cloud grey in contrast. Her smile lit up her face, made her eyes dance with secret fires that still, even after all the years, made me draw in a sharp breath. Elaine. Beautiful, vital, and as poisonous as any snake.

  I turned my back on the image, deliberately - before I could see it change into the Elaine that I had last seen - naked, festooned in swirling paints that lent a savage aura to her skin. Her lips had been stained brilliant, wet red, curving around twisting, rolling phrases as she chanted in the midst of her circle, its sigils meant to focus pain and fury into tangible power that had been used to hold a foolish young man helpless while his mentor offered him one last chance to sip from a chalice of fresh, hot blood.

  "That's been over for a long time," I said, my voice shaking.

  My double answered me quietly, "It isn't over. It isn't over yet, Harry. As long as you hold yourself responsible for Justin's death and Elaine's fall, it still colors everything you think and do. "

  I didn't answer myself.

  "She's still alive," my double said. "You know she is. "

  "She died in the fire," I said. "She was unconscious. She couldn't have lived through it. "

  "You'd have known if she died. And they never found a second set of bones. "

  "She died in the fire!" I screamed. "She's dead. "

  "Until you stop pretending," my double said, appearing before me, "and try to face reality, you're not going to be able to heal. You're not going to be able to trust anyone. Which reminds me . . . "

  My double gestured, and Tera West appeared as I had seen her crouched behind the garbage bin at the rear of the gas station, naked, her body lean, feral, leaves and bits of bracken in her hair, her amber eyes gleaming with cold, alien intelligence. "Why in the hell are you trusting her?"

  "I haven't had much choice," I snapped. "In case you haven't noticed, things have been sort of desperate lately. "

  "You know she's not human," my double said. "You know she was at the scene of the crime, at Marcone's restaurant, where Spike was torn up. You know she has some kind of hold on a group of young people, the favorite targets of the creatures of the Nevernever. In fact, you can be pretty damn sure that she is a shapeshifter of one kind or another, who isn't telling you the whole truth, but still comes asking for your help. "

  "Like I can throw stones for not telling the whole truth," I said.

  Hngh, my double said in answer. "But you haven't confronted her about what she isn't telling you. Those kids. Who the hell were they, and what were they doing? What is she getting them into? And why was she keeping it a secret from MacFinn? He didn't recognize the names when you dropped them. "

  "All right, all right," I said. "I was going to talk to her anyway. As soon as I wake up. "

  My double chuckled. "If things are that leisurely. These murders are still happening, and they're starting to pile up. Are you serious about doing something about them?"

  "You know that I am. "

  My double nodded firmly. "I'm glad we agree on something. Let's look at some facts. MacFinn couldn't have committed all the murders. Most particularly, he couldn't have committed the most important murder - the industrialist, Marcone's partner. He and his bodyguard were killed the night after the full moon. And Spike was wiped out the night before the full moon. MacFinn doesn't have any control over his shapeshifting. He couldn't have been the one to pull off those murders. "

  "So who could have?" I asked.

  "His fianc¨¦e. The men were ripped apart by an animal. "

  "But the FBI lab said that it wasn't a true wolf that did it. "

  "Werewolves are slightly different from real wolves," my double said.

  "How do you know that?" I demanded.

  "I'm the intuition, remember?" my double said. "Think about it. If you were going to change yourself into a wolf, do you think you could hold that image in your head, perfectly exact? Do you think you could make all the millions of subtle, tiny changes in skeletal and muscular structure? Magic doesn't just work - a mind has to direct it, shape it. Your emotions, your feelings toward wolves would color it, too, change the image and the shape. Ask Bob, next chance you get. I'm sure he'll tell you I'm right. "

  "Okay, okay," I said. "I'll buy that. But the FBI said that there was more than one set of tooth marks and prints, too. "

  "MacFinn explains some of them. During last month's full moon, he probably killed some people when his circle went ka-blooey. "

  "And the group Tera had - they called themselves the Alphas - could explain the rest of them, if they were shapeshifters. "

  "Now you're catching on," my double said, approval in his tone. "You're smarter than you look. "

  "Do you think they were behind spoiling MacFinn's containment circle? The fancy one with all the silver and stuff?"

  "They had the knowledge to do it, through Tera. Tera could have let them in, providing opportunity," my double said.

  "But they didn't have a motive," I said. "Why would they have done it?"

  "Because Tera told them to, maybe?"

  I frowned and nodded. "She is a creature of the Nevernever. Who knows what's going through her - its head. It doesn't necessarily have to be understandable by human logic. "

  My double shook his head. "I don't buy that. I saw the way she looked at MacFinn - and how she sacrificed herself to divert the FBI and the police so that he could escape. Your instincts are telling you that she is in love with MacFinn, and that she wouldn't act against him. "

  "Yeah. You told me that about Elaine, too," I shot back, another pang of memory going through my chest.

  "That was a long time ago," my double said defensively. "I've had time to get keener since then. And less easy to distract. "

  "All right," I sighed. "So where does that leave us?"

  "I don't think we've run into the real killers yet. The ones who ruined MacFinn's circle and whacked the mob guys on the non-full-moon nights. "

  I squinted at my double. "You think so?"

  He nodded and stroked his beard again. "Unless the Alphas are doing it without Tera knowing, and they look a little too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to be doing that. I think it's someone else entirely. Someone trying to set up MacFinn and take him out of the picture. "

  "But why?"

  "Maybe because they didn't want him putting the Northwest Passage Project through. Or, gee, maybe because he's a freaking werewolf, Harry, and someone caught on to it and wanted him dead. You know that there are organizations who would do that - some of the Venatori Umbrorum, members of the White Council, others who are in the know. "

  "But you don't think I've seen them, yet?"

  "I don't think you've picked them out from the background," my double said. "Keep your eyes open, all right? Which brings us to the next topic of discussion. "

  "Does it?"

  My double nodded. "Threat assessment. You've got all kinds of things staring you right in the face, and you're not noticing them. I don't want you to get killed because you're too distracted. " He glanced to one side, frowned, and said, "We're almost out of time. "

  "We wouldn't be if you weren't such a wiseass. "

  "Bite me," my double said. "Don't forget Marcone. You pissed him off by not taking the deal he offered you. He thinks the killers are coming after him next, and he might be right. He's scared, and scared people do stupid things - like trying to off the only man in town who has a chance of stopping what's going on. "

  "Let me worry about Marcone," I said.

  "I am you, and I'm worried. Next is the cops. Some of Murphy's people are dead. There is going to be hell to pay once she gets that arm fixed - and someone is going to remember that you
were around, and with your luck, they won't remember that you kept even more people from dying. You see Murphy and the police again, you'd better be careful or you're going to get shot to death resisting arrest. "

  "I'll be careful," I said.

  "One more thing," my double said. "You have forgotten about Parker and the Streetwolves entirely. Parker needs you dead if he's going to remain in control of his people. "

  "Yeah. You'd have thought he'd have been more on the ball than this. "

  "Exactly," my double said. "You've been hiding and away from your apartment for a while - but you show up in public again, and you can bet that Parker will be on your trail. And think. He knew the real deal between you and Marcone, and he's a petty thug in Chicago. There's probably a connection between them, and you've been too dumb to think of it. "

  "Stars above," I muttered. "It's not as if the situation is very complicated. No pressure, right?"

  "At least you're willing to deal with it now, instead of just closing your eyes and pretending that they can't see you. Be careful, Harry. It's a real mess, and you're the only one who can clean it up. "

  "Who are you, my mother?" I asked.

  My double snapped his fingers. "That reminds me, right. Your mother - " He broke off, glancing up and around him, an expression of frustration coming over his face. "Oh, hell. "

  And then someone was shaking my unwounded shoulder, shaking me roughly awake. I blinked open my eyes in shock, and all the pains of my body came flooding back into me with renewed energy and agony. My brain reeled for a few minutes, trying to shift gears.

  I was sitting in the passenger seat of Susan's car. We were rolling down an expressway, somewhere, but rain was clouding the view of the skyline so that I couldn't orient myself to where we were. The glowing numbers of the dashboard clock said that it was only a few minutes after nine. I'd had less than half an hour's sleep. There was an old beach towel wrapped around my wounded foot, and my face felt cool, as though someone had wiped it clean.

  "Is he awake?" Susan said, her voice high and panicky. "Is he awake?"

  "I'm awake," I said blearily, blinking open my eyes. "Sort of. What? This better be good. "

  "It is not good," Tera said from the backseat. "If you have any power left, wizard, you should prepare to use it. We are being followed. "