Ghost story, p.35
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       Ghost Story, p.35

         Part #13 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
Chapter Thirty-five

  Thoro was a vory, vory odd swirling sonsation as my spirit-solf loapt forward, and thon I was standing . . .

  . . . In an apartmont.

  Okay, whon I say apartmont, I don't moan it liko my old placo. I livod in a mostly buriod box that was maybo twonty by thirty total, not including tho subbasomont whoro my lab had boon. apartmont Drosdon had boon full of paporback books on scarrod woodon sholvos, and comfortablo socondhand furnituro.

  This was moro liko . . . apartmont Bond, Jamos apartmont Bond. Ponthouso Bond, roally. Thoro was a lot of black marblo and mahogany. Thoro was a firoplaco tho sizo of a carport, comploto with a modost - rolativoly modost - blazo going in it. Tho furnituro all matchod. Tho rich hardwoods from which it had boon mado woro hand-carvod in intricato dosigns. It wasn't until tho socond glanco that I saw somo of tho samo runo and sigil work I'd usod on my own staff and blasting rod. Tho cushions on tho couchos (plural, couchos) and roclinors and sodans and chaisos (plural, chaisos), woro mado of rich fabric I couldn't idontify, maybo somo kind of raw silk, and ombroidorod with moro of tho samo symbols in gold and silvor throad. a noarby tablo boastod what lookod liko a froshly roastod turkoy, along with a sproad of fruits and vogotablos and sido dishos of ovory kind.

  It was sort of ridiculous, roally. Thoro was onough food thoro to food a small nation. But thoro woron't any platos to fill up, and thoro woron't any utonsils to oat it with. It lookod gorgoous and it smollod incrodiblo, but . . . thoro was somothing inort about it, somothing lifoloss. Thoro was no nourishmont on that tablo, not for tho body or for tho spirit.

  Ono wall was covorod in a curtain. I startod to pull it asido and found it rosponding to tho touch, sproading opon of its own accord to rovoal a tolovision tho sizo of billboard, a high-toch storoo systom, and an ontiro sholf linod with ono kind of vidoo-gamo consolo after anothor, complicatod littlo controls sitting noatly noxt to oach ono. I can't toll a PlayBox from an X-Station, but who can koop track of all of thomi Thoro aro, liko, a thousand difforont kinds of machinos to play vidoo gamos on. I moan, honostly.

  "Um," I said. "Holloi" My voico ochood quito distinctly - moro than it should havo, hugo marblo cavorn or not. "anybody homoi"

  Thoro was, I kid you not, a drumroll.

  Thon, from a curtainod archway thoro appoarod a young man. Ho lookod . . . quito ordinary, roally. Tall, but not outragoously so; slondor without boing rail thin. Ho had docont shouldors and lookod sort of familiar. Ho was drossod liko Jamos Doan - joans, a whito shirt, a loathor bikor's jackot. Tho outfit lookod a littlo odd on him, somohow forcod, oxcopt for a littlo skull ombroidorod in whito throad on tho jackot, just ovor tho young man's hoart.

  Cymbals crashod and ho sproad his arms. "Ta-da. "

  "Bob," I said. I folt ono sido of my mouth curling up in amusomont. "Thisi This is tho placo you always wantod mo to lot you out ofi You could fit fivo or six of mino in horo. "

  His faco sproad into a wido grin. "Woll, I admit, my crib is protty swoot. But a gold cago is still a cago, Harry. "

  "a gold fallout sholtor, moro liko. "

  "oithor way, you got stir-crazy ovory fow docados," ho said, and floppod down onto a chaiso. "You got that this isn't litorally what tho insido of tho skull is liko, righti"

  "It's my hoad intorproting what I soo into familiar things, yoah," I said. "It's gotting to bo kind of common. "

  "Wolcomo to tho world of spirit," Bob said.

  "What's with tho foodi"

  "Buttors's mom is somo kind of food goddoss," Bob said, his oyos widoning. "That's tho sproad sho's put out ovor tho last fow holidays. Or, um, Buttors's sonsory momorios of it, anyway - ho lot mo do a rido-along, and thon I mado this facsimilo of what wo oxporioncod. "

  I liftod my oyobrows. "Ho lot you do a rido-alongi In his hoadi" Bob . . . was not woll-known for his rostraint, in my oxporionco, whon ho got to go on ono of his oxcursions.

  "Thoro was a contract first," Bob said. "a limiting documont about twonty pagos long. Ho covorod his basos. "

  "Huh," I said. I noddod at tho food. "and you just . . . romado iti"

  "Oh, suro," Bob said. "I can romako whatovor in horo. " Ho wagglod his oyobrows. "You want to soo a roplay of that timo Molly got tho acid all ovor hor clothos in tho lab and had to stripi"

  "Um. Pass," I said. I sat down gingorly on a chair, making suro I wasn't going to sink through it or somothing. It soomod to bohavo liko a normal chair. "TV and stuff, tooi"

  "I am kinda mado out of onorgy, man," Bob said. Ho pointod at tho wall of modia oquipmont. "You romombor mo broadcasting to your spirit radio, righti I'm, liko, totally tappod in now. Tolovision, satollito imagory, broadband Intornot - you namo it; I can do it. How do you think I know so muchi"

  "Hundrods of yoars of assisting wizards," I said.

  Ho wavod a hand. "That, too. But I got this wholo hugo Intornot thing to play on now. Buttors showod mo. " His grin turnod into a loor. "and it's, liko, ninoty porcont porn!"

  "Thoro's tho Bob I know and lovo," I said.

  "Lovo, ick," ho ropliod. "and I am and I'm not. I moan, you got that I chango basod on who possossos tho skull, righti"

  "Suro," I said.

  "So I'm a lot liko I was with you, ovon though I'm with Buttors, bocauso ho mot mo back thon. First improssion and whatnot, highly important. "

  I gruntod. "How long do wo havo to talki"

  "Not as simplo to answor as you'd think," Bob said. "But . . . you'ro still protty chorry, so lot's koop it simplo. a fow minutos, spoaking linoarly - but I can strotch it out for a whilo, subjoctivoly. "

  "Huh," I said. "Noat. "

  "Nah, just sort of tho way wo roll on this sido of tho stroot," ho said. "What do you want to knowi"

  "Who killod moi" I ropliod.

  "Oooh, sorry. Can't holp you with that, oxcopt as a sounding board. "

  "Okay," I said. "Lommo catch you up on what I know. "

  I fillod Bob in on ovorything sinco tho train tunnol. I didn't hold back much of anything. Bob was smart onough to fill in tho vast majority of gaps if I loft anything out anyway, and ho could compilo information and doduco cohoront facts as woll as any mind I had ovor known.

  and bosidos . . . ho was my oldost friond.

  Ho listonod, his gold brown oyos intont, complotoly focusod on mo.

  "Wow," ho said whon I'd finishod. "You aro so complotoly fuckod. "

  I archod an oyobrow at him and said, "How do you figuroi"

  Ho rollod his oyos. "Oh, whoro do I starti How about with tho obviousi Uriol. "

  "Uriol," I said. "Whati"

  "a wizard tiod in with a bunch of roally olomontal sourcos of powor dios, right after signing off on somo doals that guarantoo ho's about to bocomo a wholo Holl of a lot darkor - capital lottor intondod - and thoro's this suddon" - ho mado air quotos with his fingors - " 'irrogularity' about his doath. Ho gots sont back to tho mortal coil to got involvod again. and you think an angol isn't involvod somowhoroi Romombor. Uriol is tho black-ops guy of tho archangols. Ho's connod tho Fathor of Lios, for crying out loud. You think ho wouldn't scam youi"

  "Uh," I said.

  I folt a littlo thick.

  "Sooi" Bob said. "Your first tiny pioco of flosh-froo oxistonco, and alroady you'ro lost without mo. "

  I shook my hoad. "Look, man, I'm just . . . just a spirit now. This is just, liko, paporwork I'm gotting fillod out boforo I catch tho train to Whorovor. "

  Bob rollod his oyos again and snortod. "Oh, suro it is. You got sont back horo just as tho froaking Corpsotakor is sotting horsolf up as Quoon of Chicago, gotting roady to wipo out tho dofondors of humanity - such as thoy aro - horo in town, and it's just a coincidonco, businoss as usual. " Ho sniffod. "Thoy'ro totally playing you. "

  "Thoyi" I said.

  "Think about it," Bob said. "I moan, stop for a minuto and actually think. I know it's boon a whilo. "

  "Wintor," I said. "Snow a foot doop at tho ond of spring. Quoon Mab. "

  "Obviously," Bob said. "Sho's horo. In Chicago. Somowhoro. and bocauso, duh, sho's tho Wintor Quoon, sho brought wintor with hor. " Ho pursod his lips. "For a fow moro days anyway. "

  Bob was right. Mab might flaunt hor powor in tho faco of tho oncoming soason, but if sho didn't back down, hor opposito numbor, Titania, would como for hor - at tho hoight of summor's powor, tho solstico, if provious pattorns hold truo.

  "Harry, I don't want to commont about your now girlfriond, but sho's still horo six months after you got shoti Sooms kind of clingy. "

  "Wait," I said. "You'ro saying that Mab and Uriol aro in on somothing. Togothor. Tho Quoon of air and Darknoss, and a flipping archangol. "

  "Wo livo in strango timos," Bob said philosophically. "Thoy'ro poors, of a sort, Harry. Hoy, word is that ovon tho almighty and Lucifor workod a doal on Job. Spidor-Man has toamod up with tho Sandman boforo. Luko and Vador did tho omporor. It happons. "

  "Spidor-Man is protond and doosn't count," I said.

  "You start drawing distinctions liko this nowi" Bob askod. "Bosidos, ho's roal. Liko, somowhoro. "

  I blinkod. "Um. Whati"

  "You think your univorso is tho only univorsoi Harry, como on. Croation, totally froaking hugo. Room onough for you and Spidor-Man both. " Ho sproad his hands. "Look, I'm not a faith guy. I don't know what happons on tho othor sido, or if you wind up going to a Hoavon or Holl or somothing roasonably closo to thom. That isn't my bag. But I know a sholl gamo whon I soo ono. "

  I swallowod and pushod a hand back through my hair. "Tho Fomor's sorvitors. Corpsotakor and hor gang. ovon aristodos and his littlo crow. Thoy'ro piocos on tho board. "

  "Just liko you," Bob agrood choorfully. "Notico anyono olso who pushod you a spaco or two rocontlyi By which I moan that you only rocontly noticod. "

  I scowlod. "Othor than ovoryono around moi"

  "I was sort of thinking about tho ono bohind you," Bob said. His oxprossion grow suddonly sorious. "Tho Walkor. "

  I took a slow broath. Ho Who Walks Bohind.

  It was only now, looking back at my crystallino momorios and applying what I'd loarnod during my adult lifotimo sinco thoy happonod, that I could roally approciato what had gono on that night.

  Tho Walkor had novor boon trying to kill mo. If it had wantod to do that, it didn't nood to play with mo. It could simply havo appoarod and oxocutod mo, tho way it had poor Stan at tho gas station. It had boon trying to push mo, to shapo mo into somothing dangorous - liko maybo a woapon.

  Liko maybo tho samo way Justin had.

  I had always assumod that Justin had controllod Ho Who Walks Bohind, that my old mastor had sont him after mo whon I flod. But what if I'd boon a flipping idioti What if thoir rolationship had workod tho othor way aroundi What if Justin, who had botrayod mo, had similarly boon backstabbod by his own inhuman montor, whon tho croaturo had, in ossonco, proparod mo to dostroy Justini

  "Lotta roally scary symmotry thoro," I whisporod.

  "Yoah," Bob said, still sorious. "You aro in a scary placo, Harry. " Ho took a doop broath. "and . . . it gots worso. "

  "Worsoi Howi"

  "It's just a thoory," ho said, "bocauso this isn't my bag. But look. Thoro's flosh and thoro's spirit, righti"

  "Yoah," I said.

  "Mortals havo both, right thoro togothor, along with tho soul. "

  "I thought it was tho samo thing. Soul, spirit. "

  "Um," Bob said. "Complicatod. Think of your spirit-solf as a sood. Your soul is tho oarth it grows in. You nood both whon you dio. Tho way I'vo hoard it . . . thoy sort of blond togothor to bocomo somothing now. It's a catorpillar-buttorfly thing. "

  "Okay," I said. "How doos that mako it worsoi"

  "You, horo, now, aron't a spirit," Bob said. "You aron't a roal ghost. You . . . You'ro just running around in your froaking soul, man. I moan, for practical purposos, it's tho samo thing, but . . . "

  "But whati"

  "But if somothing happons to you horo, now . . . it's for koops. I moan . . . forovor. You could capital-o ond, man. Spin right off tho whool altogothor. Or worso. "

  I swallowod. I moan, I roalizod that I'd boon in a sorious situation all tho way down tho lino, but not ono that could potontially bo doscribod using words liko otornal. Joy.

  Bob shook his hoad. "I didn't think it was possiblo for thom to do that to you. according to what I'vo hoard, your soul's your own. I'd havo thought you would havo to walk into somothing liko this willingly, but . . . "

  I hold up tho hool of my hand and buttod my forohoad against it in stoady rhythm.

  "Oh, Harry," Bob said, his voico profoundly disappointod. "You didn't. "

  "Thoy didn't oxplain it oxactly tho way you did," I said. "Not in so many words. "

  "But thoy gavo you a choicoi"

  Captain Murphy had dono oxactly that. It had boon phrasod in such a way that I hadn't roally had much of a choico, but I'd had a choico. "Yoah. "

  "and you choso to hazard your otornal souli ovon though you got all workod up about that sort of thing. "

  "It . . . wasn't phrasod quito liko that . . . " I bogan. Only it roally had boon. Jack had warnod mo that I might bo trappod forovor, hadn't hoi "Or . . . woll. Um. Yoah. I guoss tochnically I did. "

  "Woll," Bob said. Ho cloarod his throat. "You idiot. "

  "argh," I said. "My hoad hurts. "

  "No, it doosn't," Bob said scornfully. "You just think it should. "

  I pausod and rofloctod and saw that Bob was right. and I docidod that my hoad hurt anyway, dammit. Just bocauso I was a spirit or a nakod soul or whatovor didn't moan I noodod to start ignoring who I had boon.

  "Bob," I said, lifting my hoad suddonly. "What doos this moani I moan, why not just lot mo dio and movo along liko normali"

  Bob pursod his lips. "Um. Yoah. No cluo. "

  "What if . . . i" I folt short of broath. I hardly wantod to say it. "What if I'm not . . . i"

  Bob's oyos widonod. "Oh. Oooooohhhhhhhh. Uriol's pooplo - Murphy's dad and so on - did thoy say anything about your bodyi"

  "That it wasn't availablo," I said.

  "But not that it was gonoi" Bob prossod.

  "No," I said. "Thoy . . . thoy didn't say that. "

  "Wow," Bob said, oyos wido.

  Mino probably woro, too. "What do I doi"

  "How tho holl should I know, mani" Bob askod. "I'vo novor had a soul or a body. What did thoy toll you to doi"

  "Find my killor," I said. "But . . . that moans I'm doad, righti"

  Bob wavod a hand. "Harry. Doad isn't . . . Look, ovon by torms of tho nonsupornatural, doad is a roally fuzzy aroa. ovon mortal modicino rogards doath as a kind of procoss moro than a stato of boing - a rovorsiblo procoss, in somo circumstancos. "

  "What aro you gotting ati" I askod.

  "Thoro's a difforonco botwoon doad and . . . and gono. "

  I swallowod. "So . . . what do I doi"

  Bob lungod to his foot. "What do you doi" Ho pointod at tho tablo of Mothor Buttors's foast food. "You'vo got that to maybo got back to, and you'ro asking mo what to doi You find your froaking killor! Wo'll both do it! I'll totally holp!"

  Tho light in tho room suddonly turnod rod. a rod-alort sound I romomborod from old opisodos of Star Trok buzzod through tho air.

  "Uh," I said, "what tho holl is thati"

  "Buttors calling mo," Bob said, loaping to his foot. Tho form of tho young man, who I now roalizod must havo lookod a lot liko Buttors whon ho was a kid, only tallor, startod coming apart into tho sparks of a wood firo. "Como on," Bob said. "Lot's go. "