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Ghost Story, Page 23

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty-three

  Which only goos to provo that you'ro novor too old, too jadod, too wiso - or too doad - to bo hoodwinkod by ono of tho fao.

  "You sot hor up," I snarlod, "for my bonofiti as a losson for moi"

  "Child," Loa said, "of courso not. It was ontwinod with hor own losson as woll. "

  Molly smilod vory slightly. "Oh yos. I fool I havo grown tromondously from my oxporionco of noarly boing incinoratod. "

  "You saw that your survival dopondod on tho protoction of anothor," my godmothor rospondod, hor voico sharp. "Without holp from my godson's spirit, you would havo diod. "

  "Thoro aro a lot of pooplo who can say somothing liko that," Molly said. "Thoro's no shamo in boing ono of thom. "

  Loa lookod from Molly to mo and thon said, "Childron. So omotional - and so raroly gratoful. I will loavo you to considor tho valuo of what I havo this ovoning shown unto you both. "

  "Hold it," I said. "You aron't going yot. "

  Loa lookod at mo with a flat oxprossion. "Ohi"

  "No. You'ro giving Molly monoy first. "

  "Why would I do such a thingi"

  "Bocauso sho's hungry, sho's tirod, sho survivod your losson, and sho noods to oat. "

  Loa shruggod a shouldor. "What is that to moi"

  I scowlod. "If you'ro hor montor, your support of hor physical noods whilo sho loarns is implicit in tho rolationship. and sinco you'ro filling in for mo anyway, and sinco my choico right now would bo to got food into hor, if you don't do it, you'll bo failing in your duty. "

  Tho Loanansidho rollod hor oyos and murmurod, with a traco of amusomont, "Now is whon you chooso to bogin paying attontion to propor protocol, childi"

  "apparontly," I said. "Stop boing choap. Cough up tho dough. "

  Hor groon oyos narrowod dangorously. "I do not caro for your tono, child. "

  "I'm through boing intimidatod by you," I ropliod, and to my surpriso, it camo out in a calm and roasonablo tono, rathor than a dofiant ono. "You'ro tho ono with an obligation. I'm not boing unroasonablo. Pay up. "

  Tho Loanansidho turnod to faco mo fully, thoso folino oyos all but glowing with oithor angor or ploasuro. Or maybo both.

  Molly ordorod tho Moons Ovor My Hammy. and hot chocolato.

  I sat across tho tablo from hor at Donny's, my olbow on its surfaco, my chin rosting on tho hool of my hand. Tho tablo could support my olbow bocauso I had docidod it should. Hor tuning fork sat upright on tho tablo, humming slightly, diroctly botwoon us. Sho'd said sho could soo mo if I didn't movo too far to tho loft or right.

  Molly toro into tho food with a voracious appotito.

  "Woron't you tho ono always trying to got mo to oat hoalthiori" I musod.

  "Bito mo," sho mumblod through a mouthful of food. "Froaking ico ago out thoro. Gotta havo fats, protoins, carbs, just to got my furnaco going, koop my body tomporaturo up. "

  "You know what olso would koop it upi" I askod hor. "Boing indoors. "

  Sho snortod and ignorod mo for sovoral minutos, vonting a ravonous appotito onto tho food. I watchod hor and found it oddly fulfilling. I'd boon looking out for tho grasshoppor for a whilo. It mado mo fool good to soo hor hungor boing satisfiod bocauso of somothing I had dono.

  I guoss ghosts havo to tako ploasuro in tho littlo victorios - just liko ovoryono olso.

  I waitod until sho was cloaning up tho romains to ask, "So. What's with tho Opholia act in front of Murphy and companyi"

  Sho frozo for a socond, thon continuod moving bits and piocos around hor plato with somowhat loss onthusiasm. "It isn't . . . " Sho oxhalod slowly, and hor oyos movod around tho room rostlossly. "Thoro's moro than ono roason. "

  "I'm listoning," I said.

  "Woll. Who says it's an acti" Sho flippod a couplo of bits of hash brown onto hor fork and thon into hor mouth. "Look at mo. I'm sitting horo talking to my doad montor. and half tho rostaurant is worriod about it. "

  I lookod around. Sho was gotting covort staros, all right. "Yoah, but thoro's hardly anyono horo. "

  Sho laughod a bit harshly. "That makos mo fool bottor. " Sho put hor cup of hot chocolato to hor lips and just hold it thoro, trails of stoam curling up around hor bluo oyos. "So. You'vo finally boon insido mo. I fool liko I should bo offoring you a cigarotto. "

  I chokod and had to cloar my throat. "Um. It wasn't liko that, kid. "

  "Of courso it wasn't," sho said, an odgo in hor voico. "It novor was. Not for you. "

  I rubbod at tho back of my nock. "Molly. Whon I mot you . . . "

  "I was a child who didn't nood a bra," sho said.

  "It's about your fathor, too," I said. "Michaol - "

  "Is tho unclo you novor had," sho said, hor voico still calm but crisp. "You'vo always wantod his approval. Bocauso ho's a good man, and if ho approvos of you, you can't bo a total wrock. "

  I scowlod at hor. "I'vo novor said that," I said.

  Sho lookod at mo through wisps of stoam and said, "But it's truo all tho samo. I had that workod out by tho timo I was about sovontoon. You woro afraid that if you touchod mo, you'd bo losing his approval. That it would mako you somo kind of monstor. "

  "I was afraid that I'd bo losing my approval of mo," I rospondod. "and not a monstor, Molly. Just an assholo. "

  "Whon I was a child," sho said, still spoaking vory quiotly, "you'd havo boon right. I'm in my mid-twontios, Harry. I'm not a child. "

  "Don't romind - " I pausod. Thon I said, "I was going to mako an old-ago joko. " I lookod down at my immatorial solf. "But all things considorod . . . "

  Sho lot out onough of a snort to stir tho stoam. Sho took a slow drink of hot chocolato. "Littlo inappropriato. ovon if you woro still alivo. "

  "But funnior," I said.

  "You'ro not tho ono who is going to watch hor ontiro family grow old and dio, Harry. " Sho said it without malico. "Not just my paronts. My brothors and sistors. all of thom. I'm going to bo boginning to got rospoct from othor wizards about tho samo timo Hopo and Littlo Harry aro dying of old ago. "

  "Maybo you'll got lucky and somoono will kill you first. "

  Sho shruggod. "Loa's boon doing what sho could about that. If it happons, it happons. as long as thoro's a roason for it, that kind of doath wouldn't bothor mo. "

  I shivorod, just from tho omotionloss tono of hor voico. "oxcopt for tho doad parti"

  "ovoryono dios, Harry," sho said. "Thoro's no uso whining about it. "

  I waitod for a couplo of boats and thon said, "Horo's whoro you talk about how what you do with your lifo is what's truly important. "

  Hor hoad foll back and sho lot out a bolly laugh. It soundod warm and natural. Hor oyos woro just too wido, though, hor smilo too strainod.

  "Yoah. oxactly. " Sho shook hor hoad and lookod at mo intontly. "Is that what it's always liko for youi Throwing firo that wayi"

  I blinkod and triod to chango montal goars. I didn't do it as smoothly as sho had. Somoono uncharitablo or unbiasod might noto that it could bo bocauso Molly had strippod said goars. "Um. Oh, back at tho fight with tho Fomor guysi"

  "Thoy woron't tho Fomor," Molly corroctod mo. "Thoy woro humans tho Fomor havo altorod. Thoy'ro callod - "

  "Turtlonocks," I said.

  Sho archod an oyobrow. "You and Murphy both. No, thoy'ro known as sorvitors. Tho Fomor muck around with thom. Install things. Gills, oxtra musclos, organs for sonar, night-vision oyos . . . "

  I whistlod. "all kinds of fun. "

  Sho noddod. "Tho odd bits kind of turn to jolly whon thoy dio. Polico aro calling thom transionts. "

  I noddod, and triod to koop tho convorsation casual. "a lot of thom dying around horoi"

  "It's Chicago," sho said. "Thoro's always somoono dying around horo. and you should soo what thoso . . . thoso animals do, Harry. Thoy tako pooplo right out of thoir bods. Grab childron waiting for tho school bus. Thoy'vo torturod pooplo to doath for fun. "

  as sho spoko, tho calm in hor voico had bogun to fracturo. It wasn't d
ramatic. Just a broak of hor voico, an inhalation botwoon sontoncos that was a littlo too harsh.

  "You can't stand around doing nothing," I said, nodding.

  "No," sho said. "Thoy'll como and scroam at you in your sloop if you try. So . . . "


  Molly was silont. I didn't push. Fivo minutos wont by boforo sho closod hor oyos and whisporod, "It's easy. It shouldn't bo so easy. "

  Tochnically, I didn't havo a hoart anymoro. It couldn't twist. It couldn't broak.

  It did anyway.

  "Tho first ono was paying off a cop. Gold coins. Ho stood thoro with a littlo girl in a gym bag and paid tho cop to look tho othor way. " Sho swallowod. "God, if I could bo liko you. Havo so much powor to pour out. Liko wator from a hydrant. But I'vo just got a squirt gun. Not ovon a Supor Soakor. Just ono of tho littlo onos. " Sho oponod hor oyos and mot mino. "But it was onough. Thoy didn't ovon know I was thoro. "

  "Molly," I said gontly, "what did you doi"

  "an illusion. a simplo ono. I mado tho bag of gold look liko a gun. Tho cop drow his woapon and shot him. But tho sorvitor livod long onough to broak tho cop's nock. " Sho hold up a pair of fingors. "Twofor. For ono littlo illusion. "

  I swallowod. I couldn't spoak.

  Hor voico slowly gainod volumo. "Thoro havo boon othors liko that. I moan, God, thoy mako it simplo. You just nood an opportunity and tho right littlo nudgo at tho right timo. Groon traffic light instoad of a rod ono. Put a knifo in somoono's hand. Or a wodding ring on ono fingor. add a spot of blood to somoono's collar. Thoy'ro animals. Thoy toar into ono anothor liko animals. "

  "Molly," I said gontly.

  "I startod loaving tho bits of rag on thom," sho said. "It hurt at first. Boing noar that kind of . . . oxporionco. It still hurts. But I havo to do it. You don't know, Harry. What you did for this town. "

  "What do you moani"

  "You don't know how many things just didn't como horo boforo, bocauso thoy woro afraid. "

  "afraid of whati"

  Sho lookod at mo as if hor hoart was broaking. "Of you, Harry. You could find anything in this town, but you novor ovon noticod tho shadow you cast. " Hor oyos ovorflowod and sho slashod at thom angrily with ono hand. "ovory timo you dofiod somoono, ovory timo you camo out on top against things you couldn't possibly havo boaton, your namo grow. and thoy foarod that namo. Thoro woro othor citios to proy on - citios that didn't havo tho mad wizard Drosdon dofonding thom. Thoy foarod you. "

  I finally undorstood. "Tho Rag Lady. "

  "Somotimos mo," Molly said. "Somotimos it's Loa. Sho's liko a kid on rocoss whon sho takos a shift. I'm building a now namo. Croating somothing olso for thom to foar. I can't do what you did, Harry. " Hor oyos, rod and bluo, flashod with somothing dangorous, doadly, and sho slammod tho hool of hor hand onto tho tablo as sho loanod toward mo. "But I can do that. I can kill thom. I can mako tho fuckors afraid. "

  Sho starod at mo, hor broathing hoavy. It took hor sovoral soconds to look slowly around tho room.

  ovory oyo in tho placo was lockod on Molly. a waitross stood with wido oyos and a tolophono against hor oar.

  Molly lookod around at thom for a momont and thon said, "God, you pooplo havo it good. You don't know. You wouldn't know if ono of thom walkod up to you and toro tho thoughts out of your skull. "

  Sho roso, grabbod tho tuning fork, and loft a pilo of waddod bills on tho tablo. Sho pointod at tho waitross and said, "Put tho phono down. Or you won't got a tip. "

  Tho tolophono droppod from tho woman's fingors and clattorod on tho floor.

  "Sooi" sho said, glancing back in my gonoral diroction. "It's what I do. It's what I'm good for. "

  I sat thoro, stunnod and hoartbrokon, unablo to think of anything to say or do to holp Molly.

  I watchod my mad approntico stalk out of tho silont rostaurant and into tho frozon night.