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Fool Moon, Page 33

Jim Butcher

Chapter 34

  I woke up.

  That surprised me, in itself.

  I woke up to see the moon still high overhead, and to feel Murphy's hand on my forehead. "Come on, Harry," she whispered. "Don't do this to me. "

  I blinked my eyes a few times and whispered, "You shot me, Murph. I can't believe you shot me. "

  She blinked her eyes at me, to hold back tears. "You stupid jerk," she said, her voice gentle. "You should have got down when I told you to. "

  "I was busy. "

  She glanced over her shoulder, at MacFinn's silent, still form. "Yeah. I saw, after. " She turned back to me, looking a little past me, focused elsewhere.

  "It's all right," I said. "I forgive you. " I thought it very generous of me, appropriate to the last moments of a man's life.

  Murphy blinked at me. And then stiffened. "You what?"

  "Forgive you, Murph. For shooting me. Your job and all, I understand. "

  Murphy's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You think . . . " she said. Her face twisted with disgust and she sputtered for a moment, and then spat to one side. She began again. "You think that I thought you were one of the bad guys, still, and I shot you because you wouldn't surrender?"

  I felt too weak and dizzy to argue. "Hey. It's understandable. Don't worry about it. " I shivered. "I'm so cold. "

  "We're all cold, moron," Murphy snapped. "A front came through about the same time they threw us in that freaking pit. It must be below forty, already, and we're wet besides. Sit up, El Cid. "

  I blinked at her. "I . . . Uh. What?"

  "Sit up, dummy," Murphy said. "Look behind you. "

  I did sit up, and it didn't hurt much worse than it had earlier this evening, surprising me again. I looked behind me.

  Denton was there. He held a fallen branch in one hand, like a club. His eyes were wide and staring and savage, his face pale with loss of blood. There was a neat hole in his forehead, right in the middle. I blinked at the body for a moment.

  "But . . . How did he . . . ?"

  "I shot him, you jerk. He came running up behind you, just as I came back from giving first aid to that naked woman. Tera West. I was shaking too hard to have a safe shot with you standing, and I didn't know the loup-garou was coming up behind me. " Murphy stood up. "I can't believe this," she said and turned to walk away. "You thought I shot you. "

  "Murph," I protested. "Murph, give me a break. I mean, I thought . . . "

  She snorted at me over her shoulder. She snorts well for someone with a cute little button of a nose. "You didn't think, Dresden," she said, flipping her hair back from her eyes. "Dramatic death scene. Noble sacrifice, right? Tragically misunderstood? Hah! I understand you, buddy. You're such a pompous, arrogant, pretentious, chauvinistic, hopelessly old-fashioned, stupidly pigheaded . . . " Murphy went on in graphic detail and at great length about me as she walked away to call the police, and an ambulance, and it was music to my ears.

  I lay back on the grass, tired but smiling. Things were all right between us.

  The police had one hell of a time sorting out the mess at Marcone's place. I made sure to collect all the wolf belts. Murphy helped me. We burned them, right there, in a stinking fire made of tree branches. It was too hard for me to throw them in. Murph did it for me. She understands things, sometimes, that I couldn't ever explain to her. Later, I went with Murph to Carmichael's funeral. She went with me to Kim Delaney's. Those are the kind of things friends do for each other.

  Mr. Hendricks, as it turns out, had worn his Kevlar under the black fatigues. They put me next to him in the ambulance that night when I finally left the scene. They'd bared his chest, and it was a solid mass of purple bruises, so that we were a matched set. He glowered at me in silence, but he breathed steadily through the oxygen mask on his face. I felt absurdly cheered when I saw him alive. All things considered, can you blame me?

  Marcone got arrested on general principles, but nothing stuck. Though everything had happened on his property, injuries on the FBI agents indicated that they had all done one another in, or been killed by an animal - except for Denton, of course. None of the peace officers there had possessed a warrant, et cetera, et cetera. I hear his lawyers had him out in less than three hours.

  Marcone called me a few days later and said, "You owe me your life, Mr. Dresden. Are you sure we can't talk business?"

  "The way I see it, John," I told him, "you owe me your life. After all, even if you'd cut yourself free, you'd have just fallen down into the pit and got eaten up with the rest of us. I figure you thought your highest chances of survival were in freeing me, the wizard who deals with this kind of thing, to handle it. "

  "Of course," Marcone said, with a note of disappointment in his voice. "I'd just hoped you hadn't realized it. Nonetheless, Harry - "

  "Don't call me Harry," I said, and hung up on him.

  Susan filmed the death of the loup-garou from less than fifty yards away with a pretty good zoom lens and special light-sensitive film. The light from my amulet illuminated the scene rather dramatically without really showing many details. You can only see my back, and it looks like I'm swinging a glow stick around, and then throwing it at the monster, which can be seen only in shadowy detail as something large and furry. At the point where I released the spell, there's a burst of static about a second long, where the magic messed up Susan's camera, even from that far away.

  In the film, the static clears and you can see Murphy shoot Denton off of my back, just before he brains me with his club. Then she spins around like Rambo, jumps out of the way of the leaping furry something-or-other, and empties the rest of her clip into the thing out of reflex.

  Murph and I both know the bullets didn't hurt it at all, that it was just a reflexive gesture on her part, but I don't need the attention. She was quite the hero according to the camera, and that was fine with me.

  Susan's film went on the morning news and was shown for about two days afterward, exclusively on WGN Channel Nine, and it impressed Chicago a lot. The film made Murphy popular enough, with voters, that a bunch of city councilmen went to bat for her, and the internal affairs investigation got called off. She carries a little bit more clout now than she did before.

  The politicians down at City Hall paid for a real name tag for her office door.

  The weird thing was that the film just vanished after two days. No one knew what happened to it, but the film technician in the room with the exclusive WGN Channel Nine videotape disappeared, too, leaving only a few scattered and low-quality copies. A couple of days later, some experts spoke up claiming that the tape had to be fake, and decrying it as a simple hoax perpetrated by a tabloid.

  Some people just can't deal with the thought of the supernatural being real. Federal government is like that, a lot. But I'm thinking that if anyone in the government did believe, they would just as soon not have had proof of the existence of werewolves and the instability of a local FBI agent showing at five, six, and ten.

  The film's disappearance didn't stop Susan from getting a promotion at the Arcane, a big raise, and a guest slot on the Larry King show, plus a few other places. She looked good doing it, too, and made people think. She's getting her column syndicated. Maybe, in a few hundred years, people might actually be willing to consider what was real in the world with an open mind.

  But I doubted it.

  I didn't call Susan for a while, after she had seen me so far gone into being a monster that I might as well have been one. She didn't pressure me, but kept her presence known. She'd send me flowers, sometimes, or have a pizza delivered to my office when I was working late. Hell of a girl.

  Tera was badly injured, but recovered thanks to her own reversion to human form, and Murphy's quick first aid. She asked me to meet her at Wolf Lake Park a few weeks later, and when I showed up, she was there, wearing just a long black cloak.

  "I wished to tell you that what you did was necessary. And I wished to tell you goo
d-bye," she said. And slipped the cloak off. She was naked, with a few new, wrinkled scars. "Good-bye. "

  "Where will you go?" I asked.

  She tilted those odd amber eyes at me. "I have family," she said. "I have not seen them in a long time. I will return to them now. "

  "Maybe you'll call, sometime?"

  Her eyes sparkled, and she smiled at me, a little sadly. "No, Harry Dresden. That is not the way of my kind. Come to the great mountains in the Northwest one winter. Perhaps I will be there. " And then she shimmered into the shape of a great timber wolf, and vanished into the sunset.

  All those people shapeshifting into wolves, and I had never once considered the possibility of a wolf shapeshifting into a person. I picked up Tera's cloak, musing, and took it home with me, as a reminder to keep my mind even more open to the realms of possibility.

  The Alphas decided that I'm about the greatest thing since sliced bread. Which isn't exactly the most thrilling thing in the world for me. They asked me to a camp out with them, which I reluctantly attended, where all dozen-odd young people swore friendship and loyalty to me, and where I spent a lot of time blinking and trying to say nothing. They're just itching for me to lead them in some meaningful crusade against evil. Hell, I have trouble just paying the bills.

  When I took some time to think about all that had happened, I couldn't help but think that the last several months had been a little too crazy for coincidence. First, a power-drunk warlock had appeared out of nowhere, and I had to duke it out with him in his own stronghold before he murdered me outright. And then, Denton and his people showed up with enchanted wolf belts and raised hell.

  I never had found out who exactly was behind the warlock who showed up the previous spring. Black wizards don't just grow up like toadstools, you know. Someone has to teach them complicated things like summoning demons, ritual magic, and clich¨¦d villain dialogue. Who had been his teacher?

  And Denton and company had shown up six months later. Someone had provided them with those belts. Someone had warned Denton that I was dangerous, that I or someone like me from the Council would go after him. And by telling him that, they had pointed him at me like a gun, determined to kill me.

  I'm not much of a believer in coincidence. Could it have been one of my enemies on the White Council? One of the beings of the Nevernever who had come to hate me? I was on the list of a number of nasty things, for one reason or another.

  "You know what?" I told Mister one night in front of the fire. "Maybe I've finally gone around the bend, but I think someone might be trying to kill me. "

  Mister looked up at me, his feline features filled with a supreme lack of concern, and rolled over so that I could rub his tummy. I did, pensive and comfortable before the fire, and thought about who it might be. And then thought that I might be getting a little stir-crazy. I hadn't gone anywhere but to work and back home for a couple of weeks. Too much work and no play makes Harry a paranoid boy.

  I reached for the phone and started spinning the dial to Susan's number. Mister batted at my hand approvingly.

  "Or maybe I'm just too stupid to get out of trouble's way, eh?"

  Mister rumbled a deep, affirmative purr in his chest. I settled back to ask Susan over, and enjoyed the warmth of the fire.