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Proven Guilty, Page 2

Jim Butcher

Chapter 3~5

  Chapter Three

  Between one heartbeat and the next, the passenger seat of the Blue Beetle was suddenly occupied. I let out a yelp and nearly bounced my car off of a delivery truck. The tires squealed in protest and I started to slide. I turned into it and recovered, but if I'd had another coat of paint on my car I'd have collided with the one next to me. My heart in my throat, I got the car moving smoothly again, and turned to glare at the sudden passenger.

  Lasciel, aka the Temptress, aka the Webweaver, apparently some kind of photocopy of the personality of a fallen angel, sat in the passenger seat. She could look like anything she chose, but her most common form was that of a tall, athletic blonde wearing a white Greek-style tunic that fell almost to her knee. She sat with her hands in her lap, staring out the front of the car, smiling very slightly.

  "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I snarled at her. "Are you trying to get me killed?"

  "Don't be such a baby," she replied, her tone amused. "No one was harmed. "

  "No thanks to you," I growled. "Put the seat belt on. "

  She gave me a level look. "Mortal, I have no physical form. I exist nowhere except within your mind. I am a mental image. An illusion. A hologram only you can see. There is no reason for me to wear my seat belt. "

  "It's the principle of the thing," I said. "My car, my brain, my rules. Put on the damned seat belt or get lost. "

  She heaved a sigh. "Very well. " She twisted around like anyone would, drawing the seat belt forward around her waist and clicking it. I knew she couldn't have picked up the physical seat belt and done that, so what I was seeing was only an illusion-but it was a convincing one. I would have had to make a serious effort to see that the actual seat belt hadn't moved.

  Lasciel looked at me. "Acceptable?"

  "Barely," I said, thinking furiously. Lasciel, as she appeared to me now, was a portion of a genuine fallen angel. The real deal was trapped inside an ancient silver denarius, a Roman coin, which was buried under a couple of feet of concrete in my basement. But in touching the coin, I'd created a kind of outlet for the demon's personality-embodied as an entirely discrete mental entity living right in my own head, presumably in the ninety percent of the brain that humans never use. Or in my case, maybe ninety-five. Lasciel could appear to me, could see what I saw and sense what I sensed, could look through my memories to some degree and, most disturbing, could create illusions that I had to work hard to see through-just as she was now creating the illusion of her physical presence in my car. Her extremely attractive and wholesome-looking and entirely desirable presence. The bitch.

  "I thought we had an understanding," I growled. "I don't want you coming to see me unless I call you. "

  "And I have respected our agreement," she said. "I simply came to remind you that my services and resources are at your disposal, should you need them, and that the whole of my self, currently residing beneath the floor of your laboratory, is likewise prepared to assist you. "

  "You act like I wanted you there in the first place. If I knew how to erase you from my head without getting killed, I'd do it in a heartbeat," I replied.

  "The portion of me that shares your mind is nothing but the shadow of my true self," Lasciel said. "But have a care, mortal. I am. I exist. And I desire to continue to do so. "

  "Like I said. If I could do it without getting killed," I growled. "In the meanwhile, unless you want me to chain you into a little black closet in my head, get out of my sight. "

  Her mouth twitched, maybe in irritation, but nothing more than that showed on her face. "As you wish," she said, inclining her head. "But if black magic truly is once more rising within Chicago, you may well have need of every tool at hand. And as you must survive for me to survive, I have every reason to aid you. "

  "A tiny black box," I said. "Without holes in the lid. Smelling like my high school locker room. "

  Her mouth curled again, an expression of wary amusement. "As you wish, my host. "

  And she was gone, vanishing back into the undeveloped vaults of my mind or wherever she went. I shivered, making sure my thoughts were contained, shielded from her perceptions. There was nothing I could do to prevent Lasciel from seeing and hearing everything I did, or from rummaging randomly in my memories, but I had learned that I could at least veil my active thoughts from her. I did so constantly, in order to prevent her from learning too much, too quickly.

  That would only help her reach her goal-that of convincing me to unearth the ancient silver coin buried under my lab and sealed within spells and concrete. Within the coin, the old Roman denarius-one of a collection of thirty-dwelt the whole of the fallen angel, Lasciel.

  If I chose to ally myself with her, it would get me all kinds of strength. The power and knowledge of a fallen angel could turn anyone into a deadly and virtually immortal threat-at the low, low cost of one's soul. Once you signed on with one of the literal Hell's Angels, you weren't the only one in the captain's chair anymore. The more you let them help you, the more you surrendered your will to them, and sooner or later it's the fallen angel that's calling the shots.

  I'd grabbed the coin a heartbeat before a friend's toddler could reach down for it, and touching its surface had transferred a portion of the personality, the intellect of Lasciel into my head. She helped me survive several nasty days the previous autumn, and her assistance had been invaluable. Which was the problem. I couldn't allow myself to continue relying on her help, because sooner or later, I'd get used to it. And then I'd enjoy it. And at some point, digging up that coin in my basement wouldn't seem like such a bad idea.

  All of which meant that I had to stay on my guard against the fallen angel's suggestions. The price may have been hidden, but it was still there. Lasciel wasn't wrong, though, about how dangerous situations involving true black magic could become. I might well find myself in need of help.

  I thought about those who had fought beside me before. I thought about my friend Michael, whose kid had been the one about to pick up the coin.

  I hadn't seen Michael since then. I hadn't called. He'd called me a couple of times, invited me to Thanksgiving dinner a couple of times, asked if I was all right a couple of times. I had turned down his invitations and cut every phone conversation short. Michael didn't know that I'd picked up one of the Blackened Denar¨¹, taken possession of a token that could arguably make me a member of the Knights of the Blackened Denarius. I'd fought some of the Denarians. I'd killed one of them.

  They were monsters of the worst sort, and Michael was a Knight of the Cross. He was one of three people on the face of the earth who had been chosen to wield a holy sword, an honest-to-Goodness holy sword, each of them with what was supposed to be a nail from the Cross, capital C, worked into the blade. Michael fought dark and evil things. He beat them. He saved children and innocents in danger, and he would stand up to the darkest creatures imaginable without blinking, so strong was his faith that the Almighty would give him strength enough to defeat the darkness before him.

  He had no love for his opposites, the Denarians, power-hungry psychopaths as determined to cause and spread pain and suffering as Michael was to contain them.

  I never told him about the coin. I didn't want him to know that I was sharing brain space with a demon. I didn't want him to think less of me. Michael had integrity. Most of my adult life, the White Council at large had been sure that I was some kind of monster just waiting for the right time to morph into its true form and start laying waste to everything around me. But Michael had been firmly on my side since the first time we'd met. His unwavering support had made me feel a whole hell of a lot better about my life.

  I didn't want him to look at me the way he'd looked at the Denarians we'd fought. So until I got rid of Lasciel's stupid mental sock puppet, I wasn't going to ask him for help.

  I would handle this on my own.

  I was fairly sure that my day couldn't get much worse.

; No sooner had I thought it than there was a horrible crunching sound, and my head snapped back hard against the headrest on the back of the driver's seat. The Beetle shuddered and jounced wildly, and I fought to keep it under control.

  You'd think I would know better by now.

  Chapter Four

  I managed to get one wild look around, and it showed me someone in a real battleship of an old Chrysler, dark grey, windows tinted, and then the car slammed into the Beetle again and nearly sent me into a deadly spin. My head snapped to one side and hit the window, and I could almost smell the smoldering of my tires as they all slid forward and sideways simultaneously. I felt the car hit the curb, and then bounce up. I wrenched at the steering wheel and the brakes, my body responding to things my stunned brain hadn't caught up to yet. I think I kept it from becoming a total disaster, because instead of spinning off into oncoming traffic or hitting the wall at a sharp angle, I managed to slam the Beetle's passenger-side broadside into the building beside the street. Brick grated on steel, until I came to a halt fifty feet later.

  Stars swarmed over my vision and I tried to swat them away so that I could get a look at the Chrysler's plates-but it was gone in a heartbeat. Or at least I think it was. Truth be told, my head was spinning so much that the car could have been doing interpretive dance in a lilac tutu and I might not have noticed.

  Sitting there seemed like a really good idea, so I sat. After a while I got the vague notion that I should make sure everyone was all right. I looked at me. No blood, which was positive. I looked blearily around the car. No screaming. No corpses in my rearview mirror. Nothing was on fire. There was broken safety glass everywhere from the passenger-side window, but the rear window had been replaced with a sheet of translucent plastic a while back.

  The Beetle, stalwart crusader against the forces of evil and alternative fuels, was still running, though its engine had acquired an odd, moaning wheeze as opposed to the usual surly wheeze. I tried my door. It didn't open. I rolled down my window and hauled myself slowly out of the car. If I could get up the energy to slide across the hood before I got back in, I could audition for The Dukes of Hazzard.

  "Here in Hazzard County," I drawled to myself, "we don't much cotton to hit-and-run automotive assaults. "

  It took an unknown number of minutes for the first cop to arrive, a patrolman I recognized named Grayson. Grayson was an older cop, a big man with a big red nose and a comfortable gut, who looked like he could bounce angry drunks or drink them under the table, take your pick. He got out of his car and started asking me questions in a concerned tone of voice. I answered him as best I could, but something between my brain and my mouth had shorted out, and I found him eyeing me and then looking around the inside of the Beetle for open containers before he sat me down on the ground and started routing traffic around. I got to sit down on the curb, which suited me fine. I watched the sidewalk spin around until someone touched my shoulder.

  Karrin Murphy, head of Chicago PD's Special Investigations department, looked like someone's cute kid sister. She was maybe a rose petal over five feet tall, had blond hair, blue eyes, a pug nose, and nearly invisible freckles. She was made all of springy muscle; a gymnast's build that did not preclude feminine curves. She was in a white cotton shirt and blue jeans that day, a Cubs ball cap on her head, reflective sunglasses over her eyes.

  "Harry?" she asked. "You okay?"

  "Uncle Jesse is gonna be awful disappointed that one of Boss Hogg's flunkies banged up the General Lee," I told her, waving at my car.

  She stared at me for a moment and then said, "Did you know you have a bruise on the side of your head?"

  "Nah," I said. I poked a finger at it. "Do I?"

  Murphy sighed and gently pushed my finger down. "Harry, seriously. If you're so loopy you can't talk to me, I need to get you to a hospital. "

  "Sorry, Murph," I told her. "Been a long day already. I got my bells rung pretty good. I'll be fine in a minute. "

  She exhaled, and then nodded and sat down on the curb with me. "Mind if I have one of the EMTs look at you? Just to be careful?"

  "They'd want to take me to a hospital," I said. "Too dangerous. I could short out someone's life support. And the Reds are watching the hospitals, putting hits on our wounded. I could draw fire onto the patients. "

  "I know that," she said quietly. "I won't let them take you. "

  "Oh. Okay, then," I said. An EMT checked me out. He shined a light into my eyes, for which I kicked him lightly in the shins. He muttered at me for a minute, poked me here and there, examined and measured and counted and so on. Then he shook his head and stood up. "Maybe a mild concussion. He should see a doctor to be safe, Lieutenant. "

  Murphy nodded, thanked the EMT, and looked pointedly at the ambulance. He sidled away, his expression disapproving.

  Murphy sat down with me again. "All right, spill. What happened?"

  "Someone in a dark grey Chrysler tried to park in my backseat. " I waved a hand, annoyed, as she opened her mouth. "And no. I didn't get the plates. I was too busy considering a career as a crash test dummy. "

  "You've got the dummy part down," she said. "You into something lately?"

  "Not yet," I complained. "I mean, Hell's bells, Murphy. I got told half a freaking hour ago that there's bad juju going down somewhere in Chicago. I haven't even had time to start checking into it, and someone is already trying to make me into a commercial for seat belts and air bags. "

  "You sure it was deliberate?"

  "Yeah. But whoever it was, he wasn't a pro. "

  "Why do you say that?"

  "If he had been, he'd have spun me easy. No idea he was there until he'd hit me. Could have bumped me into a spin before I could have straightened out. Flipped my car a few times. Killed me pretty good. " I rubbed at the back of my neck. A nice, all-body ache was already spreading out into my muscles. "Isn't exactly the best place for it, either. "

  "Attack of opportunity," Murphy said.


  She smiled a little. "When you weren't expecting the shot, but you see it and take it before the opportunity passes you by. "

  "Oh. Yeah, probably one of those. "

  Murphy shook her head. "Look, maybe I should get you to a doctor anyway. "

  "No," I said. "Really. I'm okay. But I want to get off the street soonest. "

  Murphy inhaled slowly and then nodded. "I'll take you home. "

  "Thanks. "

  Grayson came ambling over to us. "Wrecker's on the way," he said. "What do we got here?"

  "Hit and run," Murphy said.

  Grayson lifted his eyebrows and eyed me. "Yeah? Looked to me like you got hit a couple of times. On purpose-like. "

  "For all I know it was an honest accident," I said.

  Grayson nodded. "There's some clothes in your backseat. Looks like they have blood on them. "

  "Leftovers from last Halloween," I said. "It's costume stuff. A cloak and robes and such, had fake blood all over them. It looked cheesy as hell. "

  Grayson snorted. "You're worse than my kid. He's still got some of his football jerseys in his backseat from last fall. "

  "He probably has a nicer car. " I glanced up at the Beetle. It was a real mess, and I winced. It wasn't like the Beetle was a priceless antique or anything, but it was my car. I drove it places. I liked it. "In fact, I'm sure it's a nicer car. "

  Grayson let out a wry chuckle. "I need to fill out some papers. You okay to help me fill in the blanks?"

  "Sure," I told him.

  "Thanks for the call, Sergeant," Murphy said.

  "De nada," Grayson replied, touching the brim of his cap with a finger. "I'll get those forms, Dresden, soon as the wrecker gets here. "

  "Cool," I said.

  Grayson moved off, and Murphy stared at me steadily for a moment.

  "What?" I asked her quietly.

  "You lied to him," she said. "About the clothes and the blood. "r />
  I twitched one shoulder.

  "And you did it well. I mean, if I didn't know you. . . " She shook her head. "It surprises me about you. That's all. You've always been a terrible liar. "

  "Urn," I said. I wasn't sure how to take that one. "Thank you?"

  She let out a wry chuckle. "So what's the real story?"

  "Not here," I said. "Let's talk in a bit. "

  Murphy studied my face for a second, and her frown deepened. "Harry? What's wrong?"

  The limp, headless body of that nameless young man filled my thoughts. It brought up too many emotions with it, and I felt my throat tighten until I knew I wouldn't be able to speak. So I shook my head a little and shrugged.

  She nodded. "You going to be all right?"

  There was a peculiar gentleness in her voice. Murphy had been playing in what amounted to a boys-only league in her work with CPD, and she put off a tough-as-nails aura that made her seem almost as formidable as she actually was. That exterior almost never varied, at least out in the open, with other police officers nearby. But as she looked at me, there was a quiet, definite, and unashamed vulnerability in her voice.

  We've had our differences in the past, but Murphy was one hell of a good friend. I gave her my best lopsided smile. "I'm always all right. More or less. "

  She reached out and twitched a stray bit of hair from my forehead. "You're a great big girl, Dresden. One little fender bender and you go all emotional and pathetic. " Her eyes flickered to the Beetle again, and suddenly burned with a cold blue fire. "Do you know who did this to you?"

  "Not yet," I growled as the wrecker arrived. "But you can bet your ass I'm going to find out. "

  Chapter Five

  By the time we got back to my place, my head was starting to run at its normal speed, the better to inform me how much it hurt. I had a nice, deep-down body ache to go along with the bruised skull. The light of the afternoon sun stabbed at my eyes in a cheerfully vicious fashion, and I was glad when I shambled down the steps to my basement apartment, disarmed my magical wards, unlocked the door, and shoved hard at it.

  It didn't open. The previous autumn, zombies had torn apart my steel security door and wrecked my apartment. Though I was getting a modest paycheck from the Wardens now, I still didn't have enough money to pay for all the repairs, and I had set out to fix the door on my own. I hadn't framed it very well, but I try to think positive: The new door was arguably even more secure than the old one-now you could barely get the damned thing open even when it wasn't locked.

  While I was in home-renovation mode, I put down linoleum in the kitchen, carpet on the living room and bedroom floors, and tile in the bathroom, and let me tell you something.

  It isn't as easy as those Time-Life homeowner books make it look.

  I had to slam my shoulder against it three or four times, but the door finally groaned and squealed and came open.

  "I thought you were going to have a contractor fix that," Murphy said.

  "When I get the money. "

  "I thought you were getting another paycheck now. "

  I sighed. "Yeah. But the rate of pay was set in 1959, and the Council hasn't given it a cost-of-living increase since. I think it comes up for review in a few more years. "

  "Wow. That's even slower than City Hall. "

  "Always thinking positive. " I went inside, stepping onto the large wrinkle that had somehow formed in the carpet before the door.

  My apartment isn't huge. There's a fairly roomy living room, with a miniature kitchen set in an alcove opposite the door. The door to my tiny bedroom and bathroom is on the right as you come in, with a redbrick fireplace set in the wall beside it. Bookshelves, tapestries, and movie posters line the cold stone walls. My original Star Wars poster had survived the attack, though my library of paperbacks had taken a real beating. Those darned zombies, they always dog-ear the pages and crack the spines the minute they're done oozing foul goop and smashing up furniture.

  I have a couple of secondhand sofas, which aren't hard to get cheap, so replacing them wasn't too bad. A pair of comfortable old easy chairs by the fire, a coffee table, and a large mound of grey-and-black fur rounded out the furnishings. There's no electricity, and it's a dim little hole, but it's a dim, cool little hole, and it was a relief to get out of the broiling sun.

  The small mountain of fur shook itself, and something thudded against the wall beside it as it rose up into the shape of a large, stocky dog covered in a thick shag of grey fur, complete with an almost leonine mane of darker fur around his neck, throat, chest, and upper shoulders. He went to Murphy straightaway, sitting and offering up his right front paw.

  Murphy laughed, and grabbed his paw briefly-her fingers couldn't have stretched around the offered limb. "Hiya, Mouse. " She scratched him behind the ears. "When did you teach him that, Harry?"

  "I didn't," I said, stooping to ruffle Mouse's ears as I went past him to the fridge. "Where's Thomas?" I asked the dog.

  Mouse made a chuffing sound and looked at the closed door to my bedroom. I stopped to listen for a moment, and heard the faint gurgle of water in the pipes. Thomas was in the shower. I got a Coke out of the fridge and glanced at Murphy. She nodded. I got her one too, and doddered over to the couch to sit down slowly and carefully, my aches and pains complaining at me the whole while. I opened the Coke, drank, and settled back with my eyes closed. Mouse lumbered over to sit down by the couch and lay his massive head on one knee. He pawed at my leg.

  "I'm fine," I told him.

  He exhaled through his nose, doggie expression somehow skeptical, and I scratched his ears, to prove it. "Thanks for the ride, Murph. "

  "Sure," she said. She brought out a plastic sack she'd carried in and tossed it on the floor. It held my robe, stole, and cloak, all of them spattered with blood. She walked over to the kitchen sink and started filling it with cold water. "So let's talk. "

  I nodded and told her about the Korean kid. While I did that, she put my stole in the sink, then started washing it briskly in the cold water.

  "That kid is what wizards mean when they talk about warlocks," I said. "Someone who has betrayed the purpose of magic. Gone bad, right from the start. "

  She waited a moment and then said, in a quiet, dangerous voice, "They killed him here? In Chicago?"

  "Yes," I said. I felt even more tired. "This is one of our safer meeting places, apparently. "

  "You saw it?"

  "Yes. "

  "You didn't stop it?"

  "I couldn't have," I said. "There were heavyweights there, Murphy. And. . . " I took a deep breath. "I'm not sure they were completely in the wrong. "

  "Like hell they weren't," she snarled. "I don't give a good God damn what the White Council does over in England or South America or wherever they want to hang around flapping their beards. But they came here. "

  "Had nothing to do with you," I said. "Nothing to do with the law, that is. It was internal stuff. They would have done the same to that kid, no matter where they were. "

  Her movements became jerky for a moment, and water splashed over the rim of the sink. Then she visibly forced herself to relax, put the stole aside, and went to work on the robe. "Why do you think that?" she asked.

  "The kid had gone in for black magic in a big way," I said. "Mind-control stuff. Robbing people of their free will. "

  She regarded me with cool eyes. "I'm not sure I understand. "

  "It's the Fourth Law of Magic," I said. "You aren't allowed to control the mind of another human. But. . . hell, it's one of the first things a lot of these stupid kids try-the old Jedi mind trick. Sometimes they start with maybe getting homework overlooked by a teacher or convincing their parents to buy them a car. They come into their magic when they're maybe fifteen or so, and by the time they're seventeen or eighteen they've got a full -grown talent. "

  "And that's bad?"

  "A lot of times," I said. "Think about how men that age a
re. Can't go ten seconds without thinking about sex. Sooner or later, if someone doesn't teach them otherwise, they'll put the psychic armlock on the head cheerleader to get a date. And more than a date. And then more girls, or I guess other guys if I'm going to be PC about it. Someone else gets upset about losing a girlfriend or a daughter getting pregnant and the kid tries to fix his mistakes with more magic. "

  "But why does that mandate execution?" Murphy asked.

  "It. . . " I frowned. "Getting into someone's mind like that is difficult and dangerous. And sooner or later, while you're changing them, you start changing yourself, too. You remember Micky Malone?"

  Murphy didn't exactly shudder, but her hands stopped moving for a minute. Micky Malone was a retired police officer. A few months after he'd gotten out of the game, an angry and vicious spiritual entity had unleashed a psychic assault on him, and bound him in spells of torment to boot. The attack had transformed a grandfatherly old retired cop into a screaming maniac, totally out of control. I'd done what I could for the poor guy, but it had been really bad.

  "I remember," Murphy said quietly.

  "When a person gets into someone's head, it inflicts all kinds of damage-sort of like what happened to Micky Malone. But it damages the one doing it, too. It gets easier to bend others as you get more bent. Vicious cycle. And it's dangerous for the victim. Not just because of what might happen as a direct result of suddenly being forced to believe that the warlock is the god-king of the universe. It strains their psyche, and the more uncharacteristically they're made to feel and act, the more it hurts them. Most of the time, it devolves into a total breakdown. "

  Murphy shivered. "Like those office workers Mavra did it to? And the Renfields?"

  A flash of phantom pain went through my maimed hand at the memory. "Exactly like that," I said.

  "What can that kind of magic do?" she asked, her voice more subdued.

  "Too much. This kid had forced a bunch of people to commit suicide. A bunch more to commit murder. He'd turned a whole gang of people, most of them his family, into his personal slaves. "

  "My God," Murphy said quietly. "That's hideous. "

  I nodded. "That's black magic. You get enough of it in you and it changes you. Stains you. "

  "Isn't there anything else the Council can do?"

  "Not when the kid is that far gone. They've tried it all," I said. "Sometimes the warlock seemed to get better, but they all turned back in the end.

  And more people died. So unless someone on the Council takes personal responsibility for the warlock, they just kill them. "

  She thought about that for a moment. Then she asked, "Could you have done that? Taken responsibility for him?"

  I shifted uncomfortably. "Theoretically, I guess. If I really believed he could be salvaged. "

  She pressed her lips together and stared at the sink.

  "Murph," I said, as gently as I knew how. "The law couldn't handle someone like that. You couldn't arrest them, contain them, without some serious magic to neutralize their powers. If you tried to bring an angry warlock into holding down at SI, it would get ugly. Worse than the loup-garou. "

  "There's got to be another way," Murphy said.

  "Once a dog goes rabid, you can't bring him back," I said. "All you can do is keep him from hurting others. The best solution is prevention. Find the kids displaying serious talent and teach them better from the get-go. But the world population has grown so much in the past century that the White Council can't possibly identify and reach them all. Especially with this war on. There just aren't enough of us. "

  She tilted her head, staring at me. "Us? That's the first time I've heard you reference the White Council with yourself included in it. "

  I wasn't sure what to say to that, so I drank the rest of my Coke. Murphy went on washing for a minute, set the robe aside, and reached for the grey cloak. She dropped it into the sink, frowned, and then held it up. "Look at this," she said. "The blood came out when it hit the water All by itself. "

  "It's like that kid never died. Cool," I said quietly.

  Murphy watched me for a moment. "Maybe this is what it feels like for civilians when they see cops doing some of the dirty work. A lot of times they don't understand what's happening. They see something they don't like and it upsets them-because they don't have the full story, aren't personally facing the problem, and don't know how much worse the alternative could be. "

  "Maybe," I agreed.

  "It sucks. "

  "Sorry. "

  She cast me a fleeting smile, but her expression grew serious again when she crossed the room to sit down near me. "Do you really think what they did was necessary?"

  God help me, I nodded.

  "Is this why the Council was so hard on you for so long? Because they thought you were a warlock about to relapse?"

  "Yeah. Except for the part where you're using the past tense. " I leaned forward, chewing on my lip for a second. "Murph, this is one of those things the cops can't get involved in. I told you there would be things like this. I don't like what happened anymore than you do. But please, don't push this. It won't help anyone. "

  "I can't ignore a dead body. "

  "There won't be one. "

  She shook her head and stared at the Coke for a while more. "All right," she said. "But if the body shows up or someone reports it, I won't have any choice. "

  "I understand. " I looked around for a change of subject. "So. There's black magic afoot in Chicago, according to an annoyingly vague letter from the Gatekeeper. "

  "Who is he?"

  "Wizard. Way mysterious. "

  "You believe him?"

  "Yeah," I said. "So we should be on the lookout for killings and strange incidents and so on. The usual. "

  "Right," Murphy said. "I'll keep an eye out for corpses, weirdos, and monsters. "

  The door to the bedroom opened and my half brother Thomas emerged, freshly showered and smelling faintly of cologne. He was right around six feet in height, and was built like the high priest of Bowflex-all lean muscle, sculpted and well formed, not too much of a good thing. He wore a pair of black trousers and black shoes, and was pulling a pale blue T-shirt down over his rippling abs as he came into the room.

  Murphy watched him, blue eyes gleaming. Thomas is awfully pretty to look at. He's also a vampire of the White Court. They didn't go in for fangs and blood so much as pale skin and supernaturally hot sex, but just because they fed on raw life force rather than blood didn't make them any less dangerous.

  Thomas had worked hard to make sure that he kept his hunger under control, so that when he fed he wouldn't hurt anyone too badly-but I knew it had been a difficult struggle for him, and he carried that strain around with him. It was visible in his expression, and it made all of his movements those of a lean, hungry predator.

  "Monsters?" he asked, pulling the shirt down over his head. He smiled pleasantly and said, "Karrin, good afternoon. "

  "That's Lieutenant Murphy to you, Prettyboy," she shot back, but her face was set in an appreciative smile.

  He grinned back at her from under his hair, which even when wet and uncombed was carelessly curling and attractive. "Why, thank you for the compliment," he said. He reached down to scratch Mouse's ears, nodded to me, and seized up his big, black gym bag. "You have some more business come to town, Harry?"

  "That's the scuttlebutt," I said. "I haven't had time to look into it yet. "

  He tilted his head to one side and frowned at me. "What the hell happened to you?"

  "Car trouble. "

  "Uh-huh," he said. He slung the bag's strap over his shoulder. "Look, you need some help, just let me know. " He glanced at the clock and said, "Gotta run. "

  "Sure," I said to his back. He shut the door behind him.

  Murphy arched an eyebrow. "That was abrupt. Are you still getting along?"

  I grimaced and nodded. "He's. . I don't know, Murph. He's been very
distant lately. And gone almost all of the time. Day and night. He sleeps and eats here, but mostly when I'm at work. And when I do see him, it's always like that-in passing. He's in a hurry to get somewhere. "

  "Where?" she asked.

  I shrugged.

  "You're worried about him," she said.

  "Yeah. He's usually a lot more tense than this. You know, the whole incubus hunger thing. I'm worried that maybe he's decided appetite control was for the birds. "

  "Do you think he's hurting anyone?"

  "No," I said at once, a little too quickly. I forced myself to calm down and then said, "No, not as such. I don't know. I wish he'd talk to me, but ever since last fall, he's kept me at arm's length. "

  "Have you asked him?" Murphy said.

  I eyed her. "No. "

  "Why not?"

  "It isn't done that way," I said.

  "Why not?"

  "Because guys don't do it like that. "

  "Let me get this straight," Murphy said. "You want him to talk to you, but you won't actually tell him that or ask him any questions. You sit around with the silence and tension and no one says anything. "

  "That's right," I said.

  She stared at me.

  "You need a prostate to understand," I said.

  She shook her head. "I understand enough. " She rose and said, "You're idiots. You should talk to him. "

  "Maybe," I said.

  "Meanwhile, I'll keep my eyes open. If I find anything odd, I'll get in touch. "

  "Thank you. "

  "What are you going to do?"

  "Wait for sundown," I said.

  "Then what?" she asked.

  I rubbed at my aching head, feeling a sudden surge of defiance for whoever had run me off the road and whatever black-magicky jerk had decided to mess around with my hometown. "Then I put on my wizard hat and start finding out what's going on. "