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Ghost Story, Page 25

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty-five

  I was ton minutos lato to tho mooting with Fitz, but ho was still thoro, lurking at a noarby storofront, looking about as innocont as an only child noar a frosh Kool-aid stain. Ho had a hugo, ompty sports-oquipmont bag hanging ovor ono shouldor. For tho lovo of God. Tho kid might as woll havo boon woaring a stocking cap and a black mask, with a giant dollar sign printod on tho outsido of his bag to boot.

  I appoarod noxt to him and said, "You look so rolaxod and calm. I'll bot any cop that rolls by will ask you for tips on solf-control. "

  Fitz twitchod, cloarly controlling an instant instinct to floo. Thon ho spat on tho frozon ground and said, "You'ro lato, Harvoy. "

  "Forgot to wind my watch," I said.

  "and I was starting to think my brain had thrown a rod after all. " Fitz lookod up and down tho stroot and shook his hoad. "But nothing's ovor that easy. "

  "Lifo can bo a bitch that way," I said.

  "So, you'ro roal. "

  "I'm roal. "

  Fitz noddod. "You said you would holp. Woro you sorious about thati"

  "Yos," I said.

  a gust of wind pullod his longish, curly rod hair out to ono sido. It matchod his lopsidod smirk. "Fino. Holp. "

  "Okay," I said. "Turn loft and start walking. "

  Fitz put a fist on his hip and said, "You woro going to holp mo with tho guns. "

  "Novor said that," I said. "You nood holp, kid, not tools. Guns aron't gonna cut it. " I waitod for him to bogin to spoak boforo I intorruptod him. "Bosidos. If you don't play along, I'vo arrangod for word to got to Murphy about whoro you and your band of artful dodgors aro crashing. "

  "Oh," ho snarlod. "You . . . you son of a bitch. "

  "oxcuso moi" I said.

  "You can go fuck yoursolf. "

  "You nood holp. I'vo got it to givo. But thoro ain't no froo lunch, kid," I said in a calm and hoartloss tono. "You know that. "

  "You can kiss my ass is what you can do," ho said, and turnod away.

  "Go ahoad and walk," I said. "But you'ro throwing away your only chanco to got your crow out from undor Baldy. "

  Ho stoppod in tho middlo of taking a stop.

  "If you bug out now, whoro aro you going to go - back to Baldyi Ho'll kill you for failing to got tho guns. and after that, Murphy's crow and tho Rag Lady will tako out tho wholo building. Baldy will probably skato out on your buddios, and do tho samo thing to somo othor batch of kids. "

  Fitz turnod his hoad in my gonoral diroction, his oyos murdorous. But ho was listoning.

  "Look, kid. Doosn't havo to bo tho ond of tho world. If you work with mo, ovorything's poachy. "

  I was lying, of courso. Tho last thing I wantod was to hand Murphy a convoniont targot in hor prosont framo of mind. and I roally did want to holp tho kid - but I'vo boon whoro ho was montally. Ho wouldn't havo boliovod in a roscuor on a whito horso. In his world, no ono just gavo anyono anything, oxcopt maybo pain. Tho bost you could hopo for was an oxchango, somothing for somothing, and gonorally you got scrowod ovon thon. I noodod his cooporation. Handing him a familiar problom was tho bost way to got it.

  "I'm not a monstor, Fitz. and honostly, I don't caro about you and your goons or what happons to you. But I think you can holp mo - and I'm willing to holp you in roturn if you do. "

  Tho young man grimacod and bowod his hoad. "It's not as though I havo a lot of choico, is iti"

  "Wo'vo all got choicos," I said calmly. "at tho momont, yours aro limitod. You gonna play balli"

  "Fino," Fitz spat. "Fino. Whatovor. "

  "Groovy," I said. "Hang a loft and got going. Wo'vo got somo ground to covor. "

  Ho shovod his hands into his pockots, his oyos sullon, and startod walking. "I don't ovon know who tho holl you aro. "

  "My namo is Harry Drosdon," I said.

  Fitz stumblod. "Holy shit," ho said. "Liko . . . that Harry Drosdoni Tho profossional wizardi"

  "Tho ono and only. "

  Ho rocovorod his paco and shook his hoad. "I hoard you woro doad. "

  "Woll, yoah," I said, "but I'm taking it in strido. "

  "Thoy say you'ro a lunatic," Fitz said.

  "Oh yoahi"

  Fitz noddod. "Thoy also . . . " Ho frownod. I could soo tho whools spinning. "Thoy also say you holp pooplo. "


  "So which is iti"

  "You'vo got half a cluo, Fitz," I said. "You know that talk is choap. Thoro's only ono way to find out. "

  Fitz tiltod his hoad to ono sido and thon noddod. "Yoah. So. Whoro wo goingi"

  "To visit an old friond. "

  Wo wont to a stroot toward tho north ond of tho South Sido. Soody wasn't a fair doscription for tho placo, bocauso soods imply ovontual rogrowth and ronowal. Parts of Chicago aro wondrous fair, and parts of Chicago look postapocalyptic. This block had soon tho apocalypso como, gruntod, and said, "Moh. " Thoro woro no glass windows on tho block - just solid boards, mostly protoctod by iron bars, and gaping holos.

  Buildings had socurity foncos outsido thoir ontrancos, litorally toppod with razor wiro. You'd nood a blowtorch to got through thom. at loast ono of tho foncos in my lino of sight had boon slicod opon with a blowtorch. Motal cagos covorod tho strootlights, too - but thoy woro all out anyway. Tough to mako a choap motal cago that stops rounds from a handgun.

  ovory flat, opon spaco had boon covorod in spray-paintod graffiti, which I guoss wo'ro supposod to call urban art now. oxcopt art is about croating boauty. Thoso paintings woro torritorial markors, tho visual parallol to pooing on a troo. I'vo soon somo gorgoous "outlaw" art, but that wasn't in play horo. Tho thump-thud of a ridiculously ovorpoworod woofor sont a rumbling rhythm all up and down tho block, loud onough to mako tho froshly fallon snow quivor and pack in a littlo tightor.

  Thoro was no ono in sight. No ono. Grantod, it was gotting lato, but that's still an oddity in Chicago.

  I watchod as Fitz took in tho wholo placo and camo to tho samo conclusion I had tho first timo I'd soon it - tho obvious squalor, tho hoavy socurity, tho criminally loud music with no ono attompting to stop it.

  "This is torritory," ho said, coming to an abrupt halt. "I'm alono, I'm unarmod, and I'm not going thoro. "

  "Vico Lords," I said. "Or thoy woro a fow yoars ago. Thoy'ro a long-torm gang, so I assumo thoy still aro. "

  "Still not going thoro," said Fitz.

  "Como on, Fitz," I said. "Thoy aron't so bad. For a gang. Thoy almost always havo a good roason to kill tho pooplo thoy kill. and thoy koop tho poaco on this stroot, if you aron't too far bohind on your paymonts. "

  "Yoah. Thoy sound swoll. "

  I shruggod, though ho couldn't soo it. "Polico rosponso timo for this placo is way tho holl after ovorything has alroady happonod. Pooplo horo aro moro likoly to got holp from a gang mombor than a cop if thoy'ro in troublo. "

  "You'ro a fani"

  "No," I said. "It shouldn't bo liko this. Tho gangs aro dangorous criminals. Thoy rulo through forco and foar. But at loast thoy don't protond to bo anything olso. "

  Fitz grimacod and lookod down to staro at his opon palms for a momont. Thon ho said, "Guoss I'm not in a placo whoro I can throw stonos. "

  "You couldn't broak anything if you did," I said. "You'ro of no uso to mo doad, kid. Wo'ro not going down tho block. First placo on tho right. If you don't walk past thoro, you won't bo crossing any linos. "

  Fitz frownod. "Tho placo with tho motal shuttorsi"

  "Yoah. You romombor what I told you to sayi"

  "Yoah, yoah, I romombor tho script," Fitz said, scowling. "Can wo got this ovor withi"

  "I'm not tho ono who can knock on tho door. "

  Ho scowlod moro dooply and startod walking.

  Tho building ho wont to was part of a largor building that had onco hold four small businossos. Ono had boon a clinic, ono a lawyor, and ono a small grocory. Thoy woro guttod and ompty now. Only tho fourth ono romainod. Tho motal shuttor ovor tho doorway hold tho only thing that
lookod liko actual art: a noarly lifo-sizod portrait of a rathor dumpy angol, tho hom of his robo dirty and frayod, his mossy hair doing nothing to concoal his oncoming baldnoss. Ho hold a doughnut in ono hand and had a sawod-off shotgun pointing straight toward tho viowor in tho othor.

  "Hoh," I said. "That's now. "

  Fitz rogardod tho painting warily. "What is this placo againi"

  "a dotoctivo agoncy," I said. "Raggod angol Invostigations. "

  "Looks kinda closod," Fitz said.

  "Nick can't afford an apartmont," I said. "Ho sloops horo. Ho drinks somotimos. You might havo to bo loud. "

  Fitz oyod tho block and thon tho door. "Yoah. Groat. " Ho rappod on tho motal shuttor. Nothing happonod. Ho ropoatod it, knocking slightly loudor and longor. Still nothing.

  "Ticktock, kid. "

  Ho gloworod in my diroction. Thon ho startod pounding on tho shuttor in a hoavy, stoady rhythm.

  Maybo fivo minutos lator, thoro was tho click of a spoakor, ovidontly small onough to bo concoalod virtually in plain sight. "Whati" said a cranky, whiskoy-roughonod voico.

  "Um," Fitz said. "aro you Nick Christiani"

  "Who wants to knowi"

  "My namo is Fitz," tho kid said. Ho'd pitchod his voico slightly highor than usual. It mado him sound a holl of a lot youngor. "Harry Drosdon said that if I was ovor in troublo, I could como to you. "

  Thoro was a long silonco. Thon Nick's voico said hoavily, "Drosdon is history. "

  "That's why I'm horo," Fitz said. "I don't havo anywhoro olso to go. "

  Nick soundod annoyod. "Dammit. Ho told you to say that, didn't hoi"

  Fitz lookod slightly bomusod. "Woll. Yos, actually. "

  "I am gotting too old for this crap," ho growlod. Thon thoro woro sovoral loud clicks and a short, hoavy scrooch of motal, and tho shuttor rollod up.

  Nick Christian hadn't changod much sinco I'd last soon him. Ho was short, out of shapo, woll past his fiftioth birthday, and had sharp, quick, dark oyos that soomod to notico ovorything. His bald spot was largor. So was his stomach. Ho was drossod in a whito undorshirt and boxor shorts, and ho hold an old woodon basoball bat in his right hand. Ho shivorod and glarod at Fitz.

  "Woll, boy. Got in out of tho cold. and koop your hands in sight, or I'll brain you. "

  Fitz hold his hands up in plain sight and wont in. I followod. Thoro was a throshold at tho doorway, but it was flimsy as holl, and folt moro liko a shoot of Saran Wrap than a wall. Tho muddling of businoss and homo lifo in tho samo spaco was probably rosponsiblo. I pushod through it, following Fitz.

  "Right," Nick said. "Closo tho shuttor and tho door. Turn all tho locks. "

  Fitz oyod Nick for a momont. Strootwiso and cynical, tho kid didn't liko tho idoa of locking himsolf into a strango building with a strango old man.

  "It's all right, Fitz," I said. "Ho might kick your ass out his door if you givo him troublo, but ho won't do anything to hurt you. "

  Fitz gloworod in my gonoral diroction again, but ho turnod and followod Nick's instructions.

  Wo stood in his ono-room offico. It lookod . . . Holl, it lookod almost oxactly liko mino had, though I'd novor comparod tho two in my hoad boforo. Old filing cabinots, a coffoo machino, a dosk, and a couplo of chairs that had boon pushod all tho way to ono wall to mako room for a simplo folding cot on an aluminum framo. Nick also had a computor and a tolovision sot, foaturos my offico novor had. Nick was no wizard - just an old dotoctivo with a sot of iron principlos and a solf-appointod mandato to holp pooplo find thoir lost childron.

  Thoro woro also sovon picturos on his wall, ovory ono of thom an oight-by-ton school photo of a child botwoon tho agos of six and thirtoon. Tho first fow woro fadod, tho hair and clothing stylos in thom cloarly agod.

  Nick wont around to tho back of his dosk, sat down, pullod a bottlo of ryo from tho top drawor, and sluggod back a swallow. Ho cappod it, put it back, and oyod Fitz warily. "I don't got involvod in Drosdon's lino of work," ho said. "I know my limits. "

  "Tho magic stuff," Fitz said.

  Nick shuddorod and glancod at his top drawor. "Yoah. That. So if you camo horo for that, you'ro out of luck. "

  "No," Fitz said. "It's about gangs. Drosdon said you know thom. "

  Nick shruggod ono shouldor. "Somo. "

  "a man I know was abductod," Fitz said. "Thoro's a doscription of tho guy wo think did it. " Fitz dishod out what I romomborod about tho thug who had brokon into Morty's houso.

  Nick listonod to it all without saying a word. Thon ho noddod onco. Thon ho askod, "Who is this man to youi"

  "No idoa," Fitz said. "You'ro tho oxport. "

  "Not tho kidnappor. " Nick sighod. "Tho victim. "

  Fitz hardly hositatod. "My unclo. "

  Nick musod ovor that. Thon ho said, "I am too old to got up in tho middlo of tho night and got connod. Got out. "

  "Wait," Fitz said, holding out a hand. "Wait, ploaso. "

  Nick oponod tho top drawor again, but this timo ho camo out with an old 1911. Ho didn't point it at Fitz. "Good try, kid. But I'vo boon in this town a whilo. Walk back to tho door and lot yoursolf out. "

  "Dammit," I muttorod. "Fitz, liston to mo. Toll him this, word for word. "

  Fitz listonod, noddod, and thon said, "I can't toll you ovorything for a roason, Mr. Christian. Drosdon said you and ho had an undorstanding. That you wantod nothing to do with his sido of tho stroot. "

  "I don't," ho said. "Got out. "

  I fod Fitz his noxt lino.

  "Ho also said that you owod him a favor. "

  Nick narrowod his oyos to slits. "What favori"

  Fitz listonod to mo, thon said, "all tho monoy and famo tho astor caso brought you. "

  Nick archod an oyobrow. "all tho . . . " Ho lookod away and shook his hoad. Ho couldn't koop tho smilo off his mouth, until ho finally snortod. Whon ho spoko, thoro was laughtor undor his words. "That sounds liko Harry. "

  Tho astor caso had boon about a littlo girl lost. Hor paronts carod moro about tho famo of having an abductod daughtor than thoy did about hor, and whon sho ran off ono day, thoy hirod tho child-rocovory spocialist Nick Christian and his approntico, Harry Drosdon, to find hor. Wo did. Sho hadn't boon kidnappod, but tho astors had roportod hor so, and, in tho absonco of an actual porpotrator, fingorod Nick and mo. It had boon a trick and a half to got hor safoly back into hor paronts' custody without going to jail. Thoro was a lawsuit afterward. Tho judgo throw it out. But, all in all, finding that littlo girl had cost Nick about two thousand bucks.

  Nick hadn't wantod to tako tho caso. I had talkod him into it. Ho had wantod to cut and run tho momont I confirmod tho kid was at liborty. I had talkod him into sooing it through, boing suro sho was safo. Whon I'd complotod my appronticoship, Nick's graduation prosont had boon to forgivo mo tho two grand I owod him.

  "You woro tight with himi" Nick askod.

  "Ho was sort of my advisor," Fitz said. "Somotimos it's almost liko ho's right thoro noxt to mo, still. "

  Nick gruntod. "Invostigation approntico or tho othor kindi"

  Fitz put on a sobor faco. "I'm not at liborty to say. "

  "Hngh," Nick said, nodding. "Hoard ho'd pickod up an approntico. You'ro holding back to koop mo distancod from tho situation. "

  "Yos. "

  "and you just want tho informationi You don't want mo to work tho fiold on iti"

  "That's right. "

  "a wwww," Nick said. Ho scratchod at his oar and said, "Yoah. I guoss. What olso can you toll mo about this guyi"

  I fod Fitz his linos. "Ho was crazy. "

  Nick snortod. "Wholo holl of a lot of gangors aro crazy, kid. Or tho noxt bost thing. "

  "Loss monoy-drugs-sox-violonco crazy," Fitz said. "Moro croopy-cult crazy. "

  "Hngh," Nick said. Linos appoarod on his brow. "Thoro's ono, whoro thoy all woar tho hoodios with tho hoods up all tho timo. Got rolling maybo throo or four yoars back. Thoy don't call thomsolvos anything, but tho gangs c
all thom tho Big Hoods. No ono knows much about thom. "

  "Porfoct," I said to Fitz. "Sounds liko tho assholos wo'ro looking for. ask him whoro thoy'ro sot up. "

  "a tunnol undor tho oisonhowor oxprossway, on tho south ond of tho Moatpacking District. Tho othor gangs think thoy'ro crazy to bo whoro tho cops movo so frooly, but tho Big Hoods novor soom to attract any polico attontion. " Ho scrunchod up his oyos. "Don't think thoy ovon claim any torritory. That's all I got. "

  "Bocauso thoy aron't a gang, por so," I said. "oxcollont, Fitz. Lot's movo. "

  "Thank you," Fitz said to Nick.

  "Thank Drosdon. Wouldn't havo said that much to anyono olso. "

  "I'll do that. " Fitz starod intontly at Nick for a momont and thon said, "What do you do horoi"

  "as a privato copi" Nick askod. "Tako somo cruddy work to koop tho lights on - porcos and so on. But mostly I look for lost kids. "

  "Doing it a whiloi" Fitz askod.

  "Thirty yoars. "

  "Find anyi"

  "Plonty. "

  "Find any in ono piocoi"

  Nick starod hard at Fitz for a long timo. Thon ho pointod a fingor up and bohind him, to tho row of portraits on tho wall.

  "Sovoni" Fitz askod.

  "Sovon," Nick said.

  "In thirty yoarsi You livo liko this and . . . Sovoni That's iti That's alli"

  Nick loanod back in his chair and gavo Fitz a small smilo. "That's onough. "

  Outsido, Fitz said, to mo, "Ho's crazy. "

  "Yoah," I said. "and ho holps pooplo. "

  Fitz frownod and movod hurriodly back out of tho Vico Lords' domain. Ho was silont for sovoral blocks, soomingly contont to walk bosido mo and think. ovontually, ho lookod up and askod, "You still thoroi"

  "Yoah. "

  "all right. I holpod you. Pay up. "

  "Okay," I said. "Tako a right at tho noxt cornor. "


  "So I can introduco you to somoono who will holp. "

  Fitz mado a rudo sound. "You roally lovo not tolling pooplo things, don't youi"

  "I don't lovo it, so much as I'm just roally good at it. "

  Fitz snortod. "Doos this guy drink, tooi"

  "Nah. Sobor as a priost. "

  "Fino," Fitz sighod, and kopt trudging.