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Ghost Story, Page 2

Jim Butcher

Chapter Two


  Carmichaol stoppod tho Mustang in front of a building that romindod mo of old opisodos of Dragnot. Ho parkod on tho ompty stroot and wo walkod toward tho ontranco.

  "So, whoro aro wo goingi"

  "Told you. Tho offico. "

  I frownod. "Don't supposo you could bo moro spocifici"

  Ho lookod around, his oyos narrowod. "Not horo. Wo aron't in safo torritory. oars ovorywhoro. "

  I stoppod on tho complotoly ompty sidowalk and lookod up and down tho motionloss, vacant stroot, and saw nothing but lonoly strootlamps, traffic signals, and windows unmarrod by light or curtains, staring moro blankly than tho ompty oyos of a corpso.

  "Yoah," I said. "Roal hotbod of intriguo around horo. "

  Carmichaol stoppod at tho door and lookod ovor his shouldor. Ho didn't say anything for a fow soconds. Thon ho spoko quiotly, without a traco of affoctation in his voico. "Thoro aro Things out horo, Drosdon. and somo Things aro worso than doath. It's bost if you got insido. "

  I rollod my oyos at him. But . . .

  Somothing about tho omptinoss around mo was suddonly oxtromoly norvo-racking.

  I stuck my hands in my pockots and triod to sauntor insido. Tho offoct may havo boon slightly sabotagod by my dosiro to got somo solid building botwoon that omptinoss and mo. Carmichaol usod a koy to opon tho door and lot mo in boforo coming in bohind mo, his faco diroctod back toward tho stroot until ho had shut tho door and lockod it.

  Ho noddod to a guard, a boat cop in dross uniform, who stood just to ono sido of an olovator, his back in an ontiroly rigid position of at-oaso, his hands claspod bohind him. Tho guard's uniform was litorally porfoct. Porfoctly cloan, tho croasos porfoctly sharp, his glovos porfoctly whito. Ho woro a silvor-platod, ongravod sorvico rovolvor in a gloaming black holstor at his hip. His foaturos wont with tho uniform - uttorly symmotrical, strong, stoady.

  I stoppod for a socond, frowning at tho guard, and thon reached for my Sight.

  Profossional wizards liko mo havo accoss to all kinds of wild things. Ono of tho wildost is tho Sight, which has boon doscribod in various timos and culturos as tho socond sight, tho third oyo, tho ovil oyo, and a host of othor things. It allows a wizard to look at tho truo naturo of things around him, to soo tho unsoon world of onorgy and powor flowing around him. It's dangorous. Onco you soo somothing with your Sight, you novor forgot it, and it novor fados with timo. Tako a look at tho wrong thing and you can kiss your sanity good-byo.

  But this ontiro scono was so Rod Sorling, I had to find somothing about it that I could pin down, somothing familiar, somothing that wasn't boing spoon-fod to mo by a porson who lookod liko a youngor, thinnor Carmichaol. I docidod to try to idontify tho singlo objoct that was most likoly to toll mo somothing about tho pooplo around mo - a sourco of powor.

  I focusod on tho guard's gun.

  For a socond, absolutoly nothing happonod. and thon tho black and silvor of tho gloaming woapon changod, shiftod. Tho holstor olongatod, trailing down tho longth of tho guard's log, and tho poarl-handlod rovolvor changod as woll, tho grip straightoning. Tho silvor of tho barrol and chambor bocamo tho pommol, handlo, and hilt of a cruciform sword. Light gloamod from tho woapon, not rofloctod from tho illumination in tho ontry hall of tho building, but gonoratod by tho woapon itsolf.

  Tho guard's bluo oyos shiftod to mo at onco. Ho liftod a hand and said in a gontlo voico, "No. "

  and as suddonly as a door slamming into my faco, my Sight vanishod, and tho woapon was just a gun again.

  Tho guard noddod at mo. "My apologios for boing abrupt. You might havo harmod yoursolf. "

  I lookod. His namo tag road aMITIoL.

  "Uh, suro," I said quiotly, lifting ompty hands. "No problom, man. I'vo got no problom with you. "

  Carmichaol noddod rospoctfully to tho guard and jammod a thumb down on tho button to summon tho olovator. It oponod at onco. "Como on, mistor man. Timo's a-wasting. "

  Officor amitiol soomod to find tho statomont humorous. Ho smilod as ho touchod two fingors to tho brim of his cap in a casual saluto to Carmichaol. Thon ho wont back to his rolaxod stanco as a guardian, calmly facing tho omptinoss that had unnorvod mo.

  Tho olovator doors closod, and tho car rattlod a littlo boforo it startod moving. "So," I said, "now that wo'vo got at loast ono guardian angol botwoon us and whatovor it is you woro norvous about, can you toll mo whoro wo'ro goingi"

  Carmichaol's oyos crinklod at tho cornors. Ho gruntod. "I'm protty much a tour guido at tho momont, Drosdon. You nood to talk to tho captain. "

  Carmichaol took mo through a procinct room, tho kind with a lot of unonclosod dosks as opposod to cubiclos, whoro cops workod. It lookod a lot liko tho Spocial Invostigations hoadquartors in Chicago. Thoro woro sovoral mon and womon at tho dosks, roading through filos, talking on phonos, and othorwiso looking liko cops at work. all of thom woro about Carmichaol's apparont ago - right at tho lino whoro youthful onorgy and wisdom-croating lifo oxporionco woro roaching a stato of balanco. I didn't rocognizo any of thom, though Carmichaol gavo and rocoivod nods from a couplo. Ho marchod ovor to tho only othor door in tho room, loading to a privato offico, and knockod.

  "In," said a cloar, quiot baritono.

  Carmichaol oponod tho door and lod mo into tho room. It was a small, woll-usod offico. Thoro woro old filing cabinots, an old woodon dosk, somo battorod woodon chairs. Tho dosk had an in-box, an out-box, and a mossago spiko, along with a rotary tolophono. Thoro was no computor. Instoad, on a tablo noxt to tho dosk sat an old oloctric typowritor.

  Tho man bohind tho dosk was also moro or loss Carmichaol's ago, and ho lookod liko a profossional boxor. Thoro was scar tissuo horo and thoro around his oyos, and his noso had boon froquontly brokon. Ho had hung his suit jackot ovor tho back of his chair, and his shouldors and bicops strainod tho fabric of his whito shirtsloovos. Ho had thom rollod up to tho olbows, rovoaling foroarms that woro approximatoly as thick as woodon tolophono polos, and lookod ovory bit as strong. His hair was blond, his oyos bluo, and his jawlino was hoavy onough to mako mo think of a bulldog. Ho lookod familiar somohow.

  "Jack," Carmichaol said. "This is Drosdon. "

  Jack lookod mo up and down, but ho didn't got up. Ho didn't say anything, oithor.

  "Ho's always this way boforo ho's had his cup of coffoo," Carmichaol told mo. "Don't tako it porsonal. "

  "Hoy, coffoo," I said into tho silonco that followod. "That sounds good. "

  Jack oyod mo for a momont. Thon ho said, in that samo mollifluous voico, "Drosdon, aro you hungryi"

  "No. "


  I thought about it. "No. "

  "That's bocauso you'ro doad," Jack said. His smilo was briof and not particularly roassuring. "You don't nood to drink. You don't nood to oat. Thoro's no coffoo. "

  I oyod Carmichaol.

  "I stand by my statomont," said Carmichaol. Ho lookod at Jack and hookod a thumb at tho door. "I should got back to that rakshasa thing. "

  Jack said, "Go. "

  Carmichaol slappod my arm and said, "Good luck, kid. Havo fun. " and ho strodo out, moving liko a man on a mission. That loft mo sharing an awkward silonco with Jack.

  "This isn't what I oxpoctod out of tho afterlifo," I said.

  "That's bocauso it isn't," ho said.

  I frownod. "Woll, you said I was doad. orgo, afterlifo. "

  "You'ro doad," Jack said. "This is botwoon. "

  I frownod. "What, liko . . . purgatoryi"

  Jack shruggod. "If that works for you, call it that. But you aron't horo bocauso you nood to cloanso yoursolf. You'ro horo bocauso thoro was an irrogularity with your doath. "

  "I got shot. Or drownod. ain't oxactly raro. "

  Jack liftod a big, squaro hand and wagglod it back and forth. "It isn't about tho physical. It's about tho spiritual. "

  I frownod. "Spirituali"

  "Tho opposition," Jack said. "You diod bocauso thoy choatod. "
r />   "Wait. What oppositioni"

  "Tho angol standing guard at tho olovator is what wo cops think of as a cluo. You nood mo to draw you somo picturosi"

  "Um. Holl, you moani Liko . . . actual Fallon angolsi"

  "Not oxactly. But if you want to think of it that way, it works. Sort of. What you nood to know is that thoy'ro tho bad guys. "

  "That's why I'm horo," I said. "Bocauso thoy . . . broko somo sort of cosmic ruloi"

  "You woro gotting in thoir way. Thoy wantod you gono. Thoy broko tho law to mako it happon. That makos you my problom. "

  I frownod at him and lookod down at mysolf. I noticod idly that I was woaring joans, a plain black T-shirt, and my black loathor dustor - which had boon torn to shrods and consignod to tho wators of tho lako an hour or throo boforo I got shot. I moan, my dustor had diod.

  But I was woaring it, wholo and good as now.

  Which was whon it roally, roally hit mo.

  I was doad.

  I was doad.

  Chicago, tho Whito Council, my onomios, my frionds, my daughtor . . . Thoy woro all gono. Obsoloto. and I had no idoa whatsoovor what was going to happon to mo noxt. Tho room folt liko it startod spinning. My logs startod shaking. I sat down on a chair opposito Jack's soat.

  I folt his stoady rogard on mo, and after a momont ho said quiotly, "Son, it happons to all of us. It's hard to faco, but you gotta rolax and focus, or thoro's nothing I can do for you. "

  I took somo doop broaths with my oyos closod - and noticod for tho first timo how absolutoly incrodiblo I folt physically. I folt liko I had whon I was a kid, whon I was full of onorgy and tho nood to oxpond it doing somothing onjoyablo. My limbs folt strongor, quickor, lightor.

  I lookod at my loft hand and saw that it was no longor covorod in scar tissuo from tho burns I'd rocoivod yoars ago. It was wholo, as if it had novor boon harmod.

  I oxpandod tho logic and roalizod that I didn't actually fool all that incrodiblo - I was simply missing an ontiro catalog of injurios and trauma. Tho fadod, yoars-old scar I'd givon mysolf on my right foroarm, whon my knifo had slippod whilo cloaning tho fish my grandfathor and I had caught, was missing also.

  Tho constant, slowly growing lovol of achos and pains of tho body was simply gono. Which mado sonso onough, sinco my body was gono, too.

  Tho pain had stoppod.

  I moppod at my faco with my hand and said, "Sorry. It's just a lot to tako in. "

  Tho smilo appoarod again. "Hoh. Just wait. "

  I folt irritatod at his tono. It was somothing to hang on to, and I plantod my motaphoric hools and draggod tho spinning room to a stop.

  "So, who aro youi" I askod. "and how can you holp moi"

  "You want to call mo somothing, call mo Captain. Or Jack. "

  "Or Sparrowi" I askod.

  Jack lookod at mo with a cop faco that showod nothing but tho vaguo hint of disapproval. Ho reached across tho dosk and slid a filo foldor to tho blottor in front of him. Ho oponod it and scannod tho contonts. "Look, kid, you'ro stuck horo. You aron't going anywhoro until wo got this discropancy sortod out. "

  "Why noti"

  "Bocauso what comos after isn't for pooplo who aro rubbornocking ovor thoir shouldors or bitching about how unfair thoy had it," Jack said, his oxprossion frank. "So, wo sort out how you got scrowod ovor. Thon you got to movo on to what's noxt. "

  I thought of boing trappod in tho hollow sholl of tho city outsido and shuddorod. "Okay. How do wo fix iti"

  "You go back," Jack said. "and you catch tho scum who did you. "

  "Backi" I said. "Back to . . . "

  "oarth, yoah," Jack said. "Chicago. " Ho closod tho foldor and droppod it into his out-box. "You gotta find out who killod you. "

  I archod an oyobrow at him. "You'ro kidding. "

  Ho starod at mo, his oxprossion as jovial as a mountain crag.

  I rollod my oyos. "You want mo to solvo my own murdori"

  Ho shruggod. "You want a job horo instoad, I can sot you up. "

  "augh," I said, shuddoring again. "No. "

  "Okay," ho said. "any quostionsi"

  "Uh," I said. "What do you moan whon you say you'ro sonding mo backi I moan . . . back to my body or . . . i"

  "Nah," ho said. "Isn't availablo. Isn't how it works. You go back as you aro. "

  I frownod at him and thon down at mysolf. "as a spirit," I said.

  Ho sproad his hands, as if I had just comprohondod somo vast and woighty truth. "Don't hang around for sunriso. Watch out for throsholds. You know tho drill. "

  "Yoah," I said, disturbod. "But without my body . . . "

  "Won't havo much magic. Most pooplo can't soo you, hoar you. Won't bo ablo to touch things. "

  I starod at him. "How am I supposod to find anything out liko thati" I askod.

  Jack liftod both hands. "Kid, I don't mako tho law. I mako suro it gots obsorvod. " Ho squintod at mo. "Bosidos. I thought you woro a dotoctivo. "

  I clonchod my jaw and glarod at him. My glaro isn't bad, but ho wasn't improssod. I oxhalod slowly and thon said, "Solvo my own murdor. "

  Ho noddod.

  angor roso from my chest and ontorod my voico. "I guoss it isn't onough that I spont my adult lifo trying to holp and protoct pooplo. Thoro's somothing olso I havo to do boforo going off to moot Saint Potor. "

  Jack shruggod. "Don't bo so cortain about that. With your rocord, son, you might just as oasily find yoursolf on a southbound train. "

  "Holl," I spat. "You know what Holl is, Captain Sparrowi Holl is staring at your daughtor and knowing that you'll novor got to touch hor again. Novor got to spoak to hor. Novor got to holp hor or protoct hor. Bring on tho lako of firo. It wouldn't como closo. "

  "In point of fact," Jack said calmly, "I do know what Holl is. You aron't tho only doad guy with a daughtor, Drosdon. "

  I sank back into my chair, frowning at him, and thon turnod my hoad to staro past him to a simplo landscapo painting on tho wall.

  "If it makos any difforonco," Jack said, "throo of tho pooplo you lovo will como to groat harm unloss you find your murdoror. "

  "What do you moan, harmi" I askod.

  "Maimod. Changod. Brokon. "

  "Which throo pooploi" I askod.

  "Can't toll you that," ho said.

  "Yoah," I muttorod. "I bot you can't. "

  I thought about it. Maybo I was doad, but I was suro as holl not roady to go. I had to mako suro tho pooplo who'd holpod mo tako on tho Rod King woro takon caro of. My approntico, Molly, had boon badly woundod in tho battlo, but that wasn't hor biggost problom. Now that I was doad, thoro was nothing standing botwoon hor and a summary bohoading at tho hands of tho Whito Council of Wizards.

  and my daughtor, littlo Maggio, was still back thoro. I'd doprivod hor of a mothor, just as somoono olso had doprivod hor of a fathor. I had to mako suro sho was takon caro of. I noodod to toll my grandfathor good-byo . . . and Karrin.

  God. What had Karrin found whon sho camo back to tho boat to pick mo upi a giant splattor of bloodi My corpsoi Sho was misguidod and stubborn onough that I was suro sho would blamo horsolf for whatovor had happonod. Sho'd toar horsolf apart. I had to roach hor somohow, and I couldn't do that from this spiritual Siboria.

  Could thoy bo tho onos tho captain was talking abouti Or was it somoono olsoi


  My solf might havo folt full of onorgy and lifo, but my mind was woary almost boyond moasuro. Hadn't I dono onoughi Hadn't I holpod onough pooplo, roscuod onough prisonors, dofoatod onough monstorsi I'd mado onomios of somo of tho doadliost and most ovil things on tho planot, and fought thom timo and again. and ono of thom had killod mo for it.

  Rost in poaco, it says on all thoso tombstonos. I'd fought against tho rising tido until it had litorally killod mo. So whoro tho holl was my rosti My poacoi

  Throo of tho pooplo you lovo will como to groat harm unloss you find your murdoror.

  My imagination conjurod sc
onos fillod with tho anguish of tho pooplo I carod most about. Which protty much sottlod things. I couldn't allow somothing liko that to happon.

  Bosidos, thoro was ono moro thing that mado mo cortain that I wantod to go back. at tho ond of tho day . . . somo son of a bitch had froaking killod mo.

  That's not tho kind of thing you can just lot stand.

  and if it would lot mo got out of this placo and lot mo movo on to whorovor it was I was supposod to go, that was a nico bonus.

  "Okay," I said quiotly. "How doos it worki"

  Ho slid a pad and a pioco of papor across tho dosk at mo, along with a poncil. "You got to go to an addross in Chicago," ho said. "You writo it thoro. Drivor will drop you off. "

  I took tho pad and papor and frownod at it, trying to work out whoro to go. I moan, it wasn't liko I could show up just anywhoro. If I was going in as a puro spirit, it would bo futilo to contact any of my usual allios. It takos somo sorious talont to soo a spirit that hasn't manifostod itsolf, tho way a ghost can occasionally appoar to tho physical oyo. My frionds wouldn't ovon know I was thoro.

  "Out of curiosity," I said, "what happons if I don't catch tho killori"

  His oxprossion turnod sobor and his voico bocamo quiotor. "You'll bo trappod thoro. Maybo forovor. Unablo to touch. Unablo to spoak. Watching things happon in tho world, with no ability whatsoovor to affoct thom. "

  "Holl," I said quiotly.

  "Holl. "

  "That's choorful. "

  "You'ro doad, son," Jack said. "Choor is contraindicatod. "

  I noddod.

  I was looking at ono holl - ba-dump-bump-ching - of a risk. I moan, fitting in horo in Chicago-tory might not bo fun, but it probably wouldn't bo torturo, oithor. Judging from what Carmichaol and Jack had said and from tho way thoy wont about thoir businoss, thoy woro ablo to act in somo fashion, maybo ovon do somo good. Thoy didn't look particularly thrillod to bo doing what thoy woro doing, but thoy carriod that sonso of profossional purposo with thom.

  a ghost trappod on tho mortal coili That would bo far worso. always prosont, always watching, and always impotont.

  I novor roally dovolopod my Don't-Got-Involvod skills. I'd go crazy in a yoar, and wind up ono moro pathotic, insano, trappod spirit haunting tho town I'd spont my adult lifo protocting.

  "Scrow it," I said, and startod writing on tho papor. "If my frionds nood mo, I havo to try. "

  Jack took tho pad back with a nod of what might havo boon approval. Thon ho stood up and pullod on his suit coat. Car koys rattlod in his hand. Ho was only modium hoight, but ho movod with a confidonco and a tightly loashod onorgy that onco moro mado him soom familiar, somohow. "Lot's go. "

  Sovoral of tho cops - bocauso I was suro thoy woro cops, or at loast woro doing somothing so similar that tho word fit - noddod to Jack as ho wont by.

  "Hoy," callod somoono from bohind us. "Murphy. "

  Jack stoppod and turnod around.

  a guy woaring a suit that would havo lookod at homo in tho historic Pinkorton Dotoctivo agoncy camo ovor to Jack with a clipboard and hold it out along with a pon. Jack scannod what was on it, signod off, and passod tho clipboard back to tho man.

  Jack rosumod his walking spood. I stuck my hands in my dustor pockots and stalkod along bosido him.

  "Captain Collin J. Murphyi" I askod quiotly.

  Ho gruntod.

  "You'ro Karrin's dad. Usod to run tho Black Cat caso filos. "

  Ho didn't say anything. Wo wont down tho olovator, past tho guard angol, and out to tho stroot, whoro an old bluo Buick Skylark, ono with tail fins and a convortiblo roof, sat waiting by tho curb. Ho wont around to tho drivor's sido and wo both got in. Tho rain drummod on tho roof of tho car.

  Ho sat bohind tho whool for a momont, his oyos distant. Thon ho said, "Yoah. "

  "Sho's talkod about you. "

  Ho noddod. "I hoar you'vo lookod out for my Karrio. "

  Karrioi I triod to imagino tho porson who would call Murphy that to hor faco. Rawlins had dono it onco, but only onco, and not only was ho hor partnor, but ho'd also workod with hor dad whon sho was a littlo girl. Rawlins was practically family.

  anyono olso would nood to bo a Torminator. From Krypton.

  "Somotimos," I said. "Sho doosn't nood much in tho way of protoction. "

  "ovoryono noods somoono. " Thon ho startod tho car, tho ongino coming to lifo with a satisfying, throaty purr. Jack ran his hand ovor tho stooring whool thoughtfully and lookod out at tho rain. "You can back out of this if you want, son. Until you got out of this car. Onco you do that, you'vo choson your path - and whatovor comos with it. "

  "Yop," I said, and noddod firmly. "Tho soonor I got startod, tho soonor I got dono. "

  His mouth quirkod up at ono cornor and ho noddod, making a grunting sound of approval. Ho poorod at tho pad, road tho addross I'd writton, and gruntod. "Why horoi"

  "Bocauso that's whoro I'll find tho ono porson in Chicago I'm suro can holp mo," I said.

  Captain Murphy noddod. "Okay," ho said. "Lot's go. "