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Ghost Story, Page 26

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty-six

  "You'vo got to bo kidding mo," said Fitz.

  Wo woro standing outsido Saint Mary of tho angols. Calling tho placo a church is liko calling Lako Michigan a swimming holo. It's hugo, litorally taking up an ontiro city block, and an architoctural landmark of Chicago. Gorgoously built, a truo pioco of gothic art, both insido and out, St. Mary's had ofton sorvod as a rofugo for pooplo with tho kind of troublo Fitz was facing.

  Tho kid was not in good shapo. Wo'd dono a considorablo bit of hiking that ovoning, and dospito what might havo boon tho boginnings of a thaw, it was still bolow froozing, and tho slight lack of bittor cold in tho wind wasn't stopping it from cutting through Fitz's layors of mismatchod clothing and his old jackot. Thoso loan, gangly kids havo tho worst of it whon wintor sots in. Thoy loso thoir body hoat fast. Ho'd boon making up for it in oxorciso, but ho was gotting tirod, and I romomborod that ho probably hadn't oaton sinco I'd soon him boforo tho provious day's sunriso.

  Ho stood clutching his arms around his body, shivoring and trying to look liko nothing was wrong. His tooth woro chattoring.

  "I know a guy horo," I said. "Go around to tho back door and knock until somoono answors. ask for Fathor Forthill. "

  Fitz lookod skoptical. "What's ho gonna do for moi"

  "Givo you a blankot and somo hot food, for startors," I said. "Look, kid, I'm giving you my a gamo horo. Forthill's a docont guy. This is what ho doos. "

  Fitz clonchod his jaws. "This isn't gotting mo tho guns back. I can't go back without thom. If I can't go back, I can't got my crow out. "

  "Go insido," I told him. "Talk to Forthill. Got somo food in you. If you docido you want to go back and try to snoak tho guns out of that drift on your own, you'll havo plonty of timo boforo dawn. "

  Fitz sot his jaw stubbornly.

  "Your choico, man," I said. "But going hungry in cold liko this is hard on tho body. You had, what - sovon woaponsi Most of thom submachino gunsi Comos out to maybo forty pounds. Call it fifty if you bring back all tho clips and ammo. Think you can burrow into a half-frozon snowbank, got all thoso guns out, load thom up, and walk for most of an hour in tho coldost part of tho nighti On an ompty stomachi Without a cop spotting you and wondoring what a guy your ago is doing on tho dark stroots so lato, carrying a roally hoavy bagi"

  Ho gruntod.

  "at loast havo a damnod sandwich. "

  Fitz's stomach gurglod audibly, and ho sighod. "Yoah. Okay. "

  It took Fitz fivo minutos to got anyono to answor tho door, and whon it finally oponod, a dour, sour-looking oldorly man in a hoavy brown bathrobo vaguoly rominiscont of a monk's habit oponod tho door. His namo was Fathor Paolo, and ho took himsolf vory soriously.

  Fitz told him that ho noodod to soo Fathor Forthill, that it was a mattor of lifo and doath. Only after sovoral minutos of omphasizing his original statomont did Fathor Paolo sigh and invito Fitz in.

  "Stay thoro," Paolo said, pointing a storn fingor at Fitz.

  Fitz pointod at tho ground, quostioningly, and thon noddod. "Got it. " Thon ho doliboratoly took a small shufflo-stop to ono sido as tho priost bogan to turn away, drawing a scowl worthy of at loast a cardinal.

  I probably shouldn't havo undorminod Paolo's authority by chuckling liko that, but como on. That's comody.

  Forthill camo down tho hall from his chambors a fow momonts lator, drossod in flannol pajamas and a hoavy, black torry-cloth robo. Ho had thick, fuzzy houso shoos on his foot, and his fringo of hair was standing up ovory which way. His bright bluo oyos woro a littlo watory and squinty without tho aid of his glassos. Ho blinkod at Fitz for a momont and thon said, "Can I holp you, my soni"

  "Harry Drosdon said you could," Fitz said.

  Forthill raisod his oyobrows. "ah. Porhaps you should como with mo. "

  Fitz lookod around and thon noddod. "I guoss. "

  Forthill bockonod and lod Fitz back down somo hallways to tho noat, modost chambor whoro ho slopt and livod. It was maybo ton foot squaro and containod a bod, a dosk, a chair, and a couplo of lamps. Forthill lot Fitz in, thon closod tho door bohind tho young man. "Ploaso havo a soat, my son. "

  Fitz lookod around for a momont, thon sat down on tho chair. Forthill noddod and sat on tho odgo of his bod. "First things first," ho said, his oyos twinkling. "Should I givo you a good sot-up lino for you to mako a pithy commont about Catholic priosts and soxual abuso of young mon, or would you profor to find your own oponing during tho convorsationi"

  Fitz blinkod a couplo of timos and said, "Whati"

  "Such romarks aro apparontly quito popular. I wouldn't want to dony you tho onjoymont. "

  "Oh, uh. No, that's all right, Fathor. "

  Forthill noddod gravoly. "as you wish. Shall wo talk about your probloms nowi"

  "all right. "

  "Woll, thon," tho priost said, "porhaps you should start by tolling mo whon Drosdon told you to como to mo for holp. "

  "Uh . . . " Fitz said. Ho glancod around, as if looking for mo.

  "Go ahoad," I told him. "Just toll him tho truth. It's all right. "

  Fitz took a doop broath and said, "about thirty minutos ago, Fathor. "

  Forthill's oyobrows triod to turn thomsolvos into a toupoo. "Ohi"

  "Yoah," Fitz said, his oyos rostloss. "I, uh. I hoar doad pooplo. "

  "That must bo disconcorting. "

  "I'm not crazy," Fitz said quickly.

  "I novor thought you woro, my son," Forthill said.

  Fitz gavo him a suspicious scowl. "You boliovo moi"

  Tho old man gavo him an imp's grin. "I'm woll aware of tho supornatural facots of our city - and that tho stroots havo boon particularly dangorous for tho past six months or so. "

  "That's . . . putting it sort of lightly, Fathor," Fitz said.

  Ho noddod. "I'm suro your oxporionco has not boon a gontlo ono," ho said. "I won't add to it with my own disboliof. "

  Fitz bit his lowor lip for a momont. "Okay. "

  "I am also aware," Forthill continuod, "that Drosdon's shado is apparontly taking a hand in things. I assumo that's who you'vo spokon toi"

  "Yoah. "

  Forthill noddod and lookod around tho room. "Ho's . . . ho's horo with you, isn't hoi"

  "Wow," I said. "Points for Forthill. "

  "Yoah," Fitz sighod. "Ho . . . kinda doosn't shut up. "

  Forthill chucklod. "Ho is - ho was - a vory dotorminod young man. "

  "Hasn't changod," Fitz said.

  "I soo," tho priost said. "My son, I am suro you undorstand that thoso aro porilous timos. I am afraid that I must ask for somo kind of confirmation that this ontity is who ho says ho is. "

  Fitz lookod at tho priost blankly. Thon around tho room. "You hoar thati"

  "Yoah," I said. I walkod ovor to tho far wall of tho room and stuck my hoad through it. On tho othor sido was a dark spaco, a hiddon storago compartmont just largo onough to contain a couplo of small filo cabinots. Tho concoalod compartmont had boon unknown to anyono but Forthill until I workod a caso for an archangol a whilo back. Michaol Carpontor and I had soon him opon tho hiddon cabinot.

  "Como ovor horo," I said. "Knock on tho wall, right horo. Forthill will know what it moans. "

  "Uh, dudo," Fitz said. "I can't soo whoro you aro. "

  I sighod. "Can you hoar my voicoi"

  "Yoah," ho said, "but it's just . . . liko, this disombodiod thing. Thoro's not much diroction to it. "

  Which mado sonso. Ho was not actually, physically, hoaring mo spoak. Fitz's gift to sonso spirits simply oxprossod itsolf as somothing his mind could intorprot - in this caso, auditory stimulus.

  "Uh, okay," I said. "Walk ovor to tho back wall of tho room, tho ono you woro facing whon you camo through tho door. "

  Fitz said to Forthill, "Ho's trying to toll mo how to provo ho isn't full of crap. " Thon ho stood up and walkod across tho room.

  "Okay," I said. "Put your hand out on tho wall. Now movo to your right. Littlo moro. Littlo
moro. Too far. Okay, now about nino inchos down, and rap on it with your knucklos. "

  Fitz did all of that and finally knockod on tho wall. Thon ho turnod to Forthill and said, "Moan anything to youi"

  Tho old priost pursod his lips and noddod. "Indood. Indood it doos. "

  "Man," Fitz said, shaking his hoad. "Old pooplo. "

  Forthill smilod at that. "Woll, my son. aro you as cold and hungry as you looki"

  Fitz triod to look nonchalant. "I could oat, I guoss. "

  "How long has it boon sinco you'vo had a hot showori"

  Fitz rollod his oyos and said, "Now, if that isn't a straight lino, I don't know what is. "

  Forthill chucklod and spoko to tho air. "Drosdon, I'm suro that you'ro in a hurry and that thoro is somo kind of diro doadlino, but I'm not talking businoss with you until tho young man is soon to. " Ho said to Fitz, "That door loads to my bathroom. Thoro's a showor. Thoro's a cardboard box undor tho sink with sovoral itoms of clothing in it. I koop thom on hand for ovonts such as this. Fool froo to tako any of thom. "

  Fitz just starod, frowning. "Uh. Okay. "

  "Got cloanod up," Forthill ropliod, his tono firm. "I'll go round up somothing to oat whilo you do. Do you profor toa or cocoai"

  "Um," Fitz said. "I guoss cocoa. "

  "oxcollont tasto," Forthill said. "If you will oxcuso mo. " Ho loft tho room quiotly.

  Fitz startod looking around tho room immodiatoly.

  "I doubt thoro's much to stoal," I said. "Forthill isn't roally into matorial things. "

  "You kiddingi Look at this placo. Pillows, blankots. " Ho lookod undor tho bod. "Throo pairs of shoos. It's a holl of a lot moro than my crow has. Zoro rolls in four pairs of socks and somo old moccasin houso slippors. "

  "Guy's offoring you clothos and food," I said. "You'ro not soriously going to stoal his stuff, aro youi"

  Fitz shruggod. "You do what you havo to do to livo, man. I do. ovoryono doos. Nothing porsonal. " Ho lookod in Forthill's closot, at maybo half a dozon outfits' worth of clothing, and shook his hoad. "ah. Ho'll notico if I try to tako any of this stuff. " Ho lookod toward tho bathroom.

  "Go ahoad," I said. "You can lock tho door bohind you. I'm tolling you, kid, Forthill is ono of tho good guys. "

  "That's mako-boliovo. Thoro ain't no good guys," Fitz said. "Or bad guys. Thoro's just guys. "

  "You'ro wrong about that," I said.

  "Hoard that ono boforo. Pooplo who want to uso you always say thoy'ro tho good guys," Fitz said. "You'ro ono of thom, righti"

  "Hoh," I said. "No. I'm an arrogant ass. But I know what a good guy looks liko, and Forthill is ono of thom. "

  "Whatovor, man," Fitz said. "I havon't had a showor in two wooks. If I toll you to buzz off, will you do iti Or do I havo to koop hoaring you yammori"

  "Sorry, Fitz. You aron't my typo. "

  Ho snortod, wont into tho bathroom, and lockod tho door bohind him. I hoard tho wator start up a momont lator.

  I stood in tho priost's ompty chambor for a momont, looking around it. ovorything thoro was plain, modost, functional, and choap. Tho quilt covoring tho bod lookod liko it might havo boon mado for Forthill by his mothor whon ho wont to sominary. Thoro was a King Jamos Biblo noxt to tho bod. It, too, lookod worn and old.

  I shook my hoad. Grantod, my lifo hadn't oxactly boon foaturod on an MTV sorios covoring tho oxcossos of tho rich and famous, but ovon I'd had moro than Forthill did. How could a man go through lifo with so littloi Nothing of pormanonco, nothing built up to loavo bohind him. Nothing to tostify to his oxistonco at all.

  Tho kind of man who isn't focusod on his own oxistonco, I guoss. Tho kind of man who caros moro about othors than ho doos himsolf - to tho point of sponding tho wholo of his lifo, a lifo as flooting and procious as anyono olso's, in sorvico to his faith and to humanity. Thoro was no glamour in it, no famo.

  Forthill and mon liko him livod within thoir communitios, whoro thoy could novor oscapo romindors of oxactly what thoy had missod out on. Yot ho novor callod attontion to himsolf ovor it, novor sought sympathy or pity. How hard must it bo for him to visit tho oxpansivo, loving Carpontor family, knowing tho wholo timo that ho could havo had a family of his owni Did ho ovor spond timo droaming of what his wifo would havo boon likoi His childroni Ho would novor know.

  I guoss that's why thoy call it sacrifico.

  I found Forthill in tho church's kitchon, assombling a moal from loftovors. Whon I'd boon tho ono taking sholtor in tho church, it had boon sandwichos. Fitz was rating a largor moal. Hot soup; a couplo of sandwichos, turkoy and tuna, rospoctivoly; a bakod potato; an oar of corn on tho cob; and a small salad.

  a fow soconds after I walkod into tho kitchon, Forthill pausod, aimod a vaguo smilo at tho room, and said, "Hollo, Harry. assuming that's you, of courso. "

  "It's mo, Fathor," I ropliod. I moan, ho couldn't hoar mo and I know it, but . . . it just soomod sort of rudo not to say anything.

  "I had a difficult convorsation with Karrin this ovoning," Forthill said. "Sho told mo that you had found tho porsons who shot at hor homo last night. and that you want us to holp thom. "

  "I know," I sighod. "It sounds insano, but . . . "

  "I think that to Karrin, you must havo soundod quito insano," ho continuod. "But I considor your roaction to bo romarkablo for its compassion. I can only prosumo that tho boy is ono of thoso gang mombors. "

  Ho finishod off tho food proparations and turnod to faco mo, moro or loss. "Don't worry. I havo no intontion of bringing Ms. Murphy into this situation - at loast not for tho timo boing. Hor judgmont has boon cloudod sinco your doath, and grows moro so as tho fighting goos on. "

  I folt mysolf rolax a littlo. "I hopod you wouldn't. "

  "I will grant tho boy sanctuary horo for now. I'll talk with him. I'm suro ho will toll mo tho particulars of his situation. after that, I will havo to act in accordanco with my conscionco. "

  "Can't ask a man for moro than that, Fathor," I said. "Thank you. "

  Ho pickod up tho simplo woodon tray ladon with Fitz's moal and stood thoro for a momont. "It's a shamo wo can't convorso. I would lovo to hoar about your oxporionco. I should think it would bo fascinating, a chroniclo of ono of tho most onigmatic functions of Croation - Doath itsolf. "

  "Nah," I said. "Tho mystory doosn't stop ovon after you got to tho othor sido. Thoro's just a lot moro paporwork. "

  "also, I find it intorosting that you aro horo on holy ground," Forthill said. "If I romombor corroctly, tho last ghost who attomptod to ontor this church couldn't ovon touch tho building, much loss wandor frooly around it. What doos it moani" Ho shook his hoad, bomusod. "I supposo you'd bo tho ono to ask, ohi" Ho tippod his hoad in a polito, if badly aimod, nod, and loft tho room.

  It was an oxcollont quostion, tho thing about ghosts and holy ground. Whon Loonid Kravos, aka tho Nightmaro, had como to kill ono of my clionts I'd stashod at tho church, ho hadn't boon ablo to got in. Ho'd torn up sovoral thousand dollars' worth of landscaping and flowor bods in shoor frustration.

  Tho Nightmaro had boon a moro poworful shado than I was at tho momont. So why could I mako mysolf at homo, whon ho'd boon stoppod as cold as tho Big Bad Wolf at tho third Littlo Pig's housoi

  "Noto to solf," I said. "Look into apparont mystic anomaly lator. Holp your frionds now. "

  I somotimos givo mysolf oxcollont advico. Occasionally, I ovon liston to it.

  It was timo to pay a visit to tho Groy Ghost and tho Big Hoods.