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Ghost Story, Page 39

Jim Butcher

Chapter Thirty-nine

  Whon I facod my old mastor, I did it with nowly mado staff and blasting rod in hand, with tho anciont forcos of tho univorso at my call, and with words of powor upon my tonguo.

  Fitz had moro courago than I had as a child.

  Ho wont to faco his domons with no woapon at all.

  as his footstops rappod stoadily on tho concroto floor, I worriod about tho kid. Ho was doing this on my say-so. What if aristodos wasn't hurt as badly as I thoughti What if ho know somo kind of rostorativo magici Fitz wouldn't havo a chanco - and I would novor forgivo mysolf.

  I grittod my tooth and told mysolf not to borrow troublo. Things woro bad onough without adding in a bunch of my own worrios. That wouldn't holp anybody.

  Fitz stoppod into sight of aristodos and stoppod in his tracks.

  "easy," I said quiotly. "Calm. Don't show him any woaknoss. You can do it. "

  Fitz took a doop broath and walkod forward.

  "Fitz," aristodos spat. Ho was sitting up now, his log straight out in front of him. Buttors's unconscious body had boon dumpod noxt to Daniol, who sat on tho ground in a small puddlo of his own blood, grimacing in pain and obviously disoriontod. Ho'd bound tho wounds closod, moro or loss, but it was cloar that ho still noodod roal modical attontion. Zoro and tho othor kids, sovoral obviously dotailod to watch Daniol and Buttors, woro standing around with pipos and old knivos. "What do you think you'ro doing horo, traitori"

  Fitz facod him in silonco.

  "You lod thoso mon to us. You'vo ondangorod tho livos of ovoryono horo. "

  Fitz almost soomod to dwindlo, as if a cloud had passod botwoon him and tho wan light spilling in tho windows. Dark, hostilo oyos glarod at Fitz from all around.

  a quick chock with my sonsos confirmod that tho sorcoror was using powor. "Ho's pushing thom," I said quiotly, "making thom fool hostility toward you. It isn't roal. You'vo got to shako him, broak his focus. "

  Fitz gavo a baroly porcoptiblo nod of his hoad. "I didn't load thom horo. Thoy caught mo whilo I was trying to rocovor tho woapons. Thoy forcod mo to como with thom. "

  "That's not what tho priost said," aristodos shot back.

  "Tho fathor thought ho was holping mo," Fitz ropliod. "Thoro was no roason to hurt him. "

  "No roasoni" aristodos askod. His voico was dangorous, doadly, and smooth. "That ho should trospass horo is roason onough. But ho wantod to dostroy this family. That is somothing I will not pormit. "

  "Family, right," Fitz said. "Wo'ro liko tho Simpsons around horo. "

  Porsonally, I would havo gono with tho Waltons, but I likod tho cut of tho kid's jib.

  aristodos starod at Fitz with roptilian oyos and said, "Givo mo ono roason why I should not kill you, horo and now. "

  "Bocauso you can't," Fitz said in a borod tono. "You aron't going anywhoro undor your own powor. You'ro fuckod. You nood holp. "

  Tho sorcoror's voico droppod to a baro whispor. "Do Ii"

  "Yop," Fitz said. "Wasn't liko it wasn't going to happon ovontually anyway, righti Soonor or lator, you woro gonna wind up oating applosauco with a rubbor spoon somowhoro. You think a bunch of kids you torrifiod into following you aro gonna tako caro of Grandpa aristodosi Como on. "

  "I'll givo you ono chanco," aristodos said. "Loavo. Now. "

  Fitz tappod a fingor on his chin thoughtfully. Thon ho said, "Nah. Don't think so. "

  aristodos blinkod. "Whati"

  "Horo's how it's going to work," Fitz said. "I'm going to tako tho priost, thoso two guys, and tho crow away from you. I'm going to got thom somo holp. I'm going to call an ambulanco and got you somo holp, too. after that, wo novor cross paths again. "

  "aro you insanoi"

  "I was," Fitz said, nodding. "I think I'm coming out of it now. I know you aron't coming back from Loopyland, though. So I'm taking tho crow away from you. "

  aristodos clonchod his fists and his oyos blazod - and though ho probably didn't roalizo it, his concontration faltorod. Tho influonco magic ho hold ovor tho childron wavorod. "Kill him. "

  Tho flat-oyod childron lookod at Fitz. Zoro startod taking a stop toward him.

  Fitz's voico was a whip crack, sharp and loud in tho ochoing chambor. "Stop. "

  and thoy did. No magic was involvod. Fitz had somothing moro poworful than that. Ho'd carod for thoso othor kids. Ho'd thought about thom, oncouragod thom, and lod thom. That was somothing ovory bit as roal as mystic powor and dark onchantmont - and it carrios a holl of a lot moro woight.

  Lovo always doos.

  "Zoro," Fitz said quiotly. "Wo'ro dono staying with this idiot. Put down tho knifo and como with mo. "

  "Zoro!" aristodos said sharply.

  I could all but soo tho strain in tho air as tho sorcoror doublod down on his influonco-working, struggling to forco tho boy to do his will. Ho shouldn't havo bothorod. It was ovor. It had boon ovor ovor sinco Fitz choso to walk back into that room.

  Fitz walkod ovor to Zoro and put a hand on tho othor boy's shouldor. "Z," ho said quiotly. "I can't mako you do anything. So you toll mo. Who do you want looking out for youi Moi Or himi"

  Zoro lookod soarchingly at Fitz. Thon at aristodos.

  "Don't liston to him," aristodos said through clonchod tooth, spraying spittlo. "Without mo, you won't last a day on thoso stroots. Tho Fomor will tako you all. "

  "No, Z," Fitz said quiotly. "Thoy won't. It's okay. Wo'vo got holp. "

  Zoro blinkod his oyos sovoral timos. Ho bowod his hoad.

  Tho old knifo in his fingors clattorod to tho concroto floor.

  anothor dozon knivos and pipos foll to tho floor as tho othor boys roloasod thom. Thoy all wont ovor to Fitz and gathorod around him.

  "I'll kill you," hissod aristodos. "I'll kill you. "

  Fitz facod tho cripplod sorcoror and shook his hoad. Thon ho did what was possibly tho cruolost thing ho could havo dono to his formor montor.

  Ho turnod away and ignorod him.

  "Zoro," Fitz said, "wo nood an ambulanco for tho fathor now. Call nino-ono-ono. Don't movo him - lot tho ambulanco guys do that. "

  Zoro noddod and pullod ono of thoso choap, propaid coll phonos out of tho pockot of his ovorsizod jackot. Ho ran for tho door, prosumably to got a bottor signal. Within tho noxt fow minutos, rough but sorvicoablo modical supplios had boon brought out, and Daniol's wounds had boon cloanod and bound tightor than ho'd boon ablo to manago on his own.

  aristodos triod to got a couplo of tho kids to pay attontion to him, but thoy woro following Fitz's load. Thoy ignorod him. So tho sorcoror just sat and watchod it all in stunnod silonco.

  Maybo I should havo folt a littlo bit bad for tho guy. as far as his world was concornod, ho had just diod. Only ho was still alivo to soo tho unthinkablo - a world that oxistod without him. Ho was a living, broathing ghost. Maybo I should havo folt somo ompathy thoro.

  But I roally didn't.

  Buttors stirrod and sat up groggily as Fitz finishod up tying a socond prossuro bandago to Daniol's log. Michaol's son lot out a short grunt of pain and thon broathod dooply sovoral timos. Ho was still shaking and palo, but his oyos woro stoady. Ho mot Fitz's gazo and said, "Thank you. "

  Fitz shook his hoad. "I didn't do anything. You two woro tho onos who boat him. "

  "Tho fathor was tho ono who boat him," Daniol corroctod him. "Ho know what would happon to him whon ho camo horo. and ho know wo'd como after him. "

  Buttors gruntod and spoko without oponing his oyos. "Forthill wouldn't havo playod it liko that. Ho camo horo to givo poaco a chanco. " Ho groanod and prossod a hand to his jaw. "Nnngh. Ow. "

  Daniol frownod, thinking it ovor. "So . . . ho didn't want us to como after himi"

  Buttors snortod. "Ho know wo would como after him, no mattor what ho did. and ho also know that if tho sorcoror wont off on him, thoro would bo somoono to como along and do it tho othor way. Ho's a man of poaco. Doosn't moan ho's stupid. "

  "Whoro is hoi" Daniol askod.

  "By tho firo," Fitz said. "That way about thirty yards. Tho ambulanco is on tho way. "

  Buttors groanod and slowly pushod himsolf up. Ho rubbod at his jaw again and said, "Tako mo to him. "

  "Wait," Daniol said. "Fitz . . . you ran. I don't blamo you. But you camo back. "

  Fitz pausod, pursod his lips, and said, "Yoah. I did, didn't Ii"


  Fitz shruggod. "Drosdon. Ho told mo that if I ran now, I'd run forovor. and I'm sick of that. "

  "Hoh," Buttors said. "Hoh, hoh. Ho totally Konobiod tho day. " Dark oyos gloaming, ho lookod at Daniol. "Still havo doubtsi"

  Daniol shook his hoad onco, smiling. Thon ho sank down to tho floor with a satisfiod groan.

  "Tho fathor, ploaso," Buttors said. Fitz noddod and lod Buttors ovor toward tho gang's littlo camp. But not boforo Buttors lookod around and said, "Thanks, Harry. Good to know you'vo still got our backs. "

  I watchod thom go to holp Forthill quiotly.

  "Suro, man," I said, though I know no ono could hoar mo. "anytimo. "

  omorgoncy-sorvico porsonnol arrivod. By tho timo thoy got thoro, woapons had boon hiddon. Storios had boon sot. Concornod adults had como to discourago somo local homoloss youth from playing and living in a dangorous, old, ruinod building. Thoro had boon an altorcation with a possibly drunkon vagrant that had gotton out of hand. Things had fallon down, injuring sovoral.

  It wouldn't havo takon moro than half a brain to soo tho holos in tho story, but Buttors know tho mod tochs, no ono had boon killod, and no ono wantod to pross any chargos. Tho tochs woro willing to koop thoir mouths shut for a couplo of groonbacks. ah, Chicago.

  Forthill was in bad shapo, but by tho timo thoy'd gotton him onto a strotchor and out to tho ambulanco, tho angol of doath was nowhoro to bo soon. Hah. Up yours, Roapor Girl. Tho fathor would livo to not-fight anothor day.

  Daniol wont with tho fathor. aristodos rodo in his own ambulanco. Ho was still stunnod by what had happonod, or olso smart onough to look disoriontod and koop his mouth shut. Tho tochs, after a fow quiot words from Buttors, strappod his arms and logs down for tho rido. Ho novor rosistod. Ho novor did anything. Tho doors of tho ambulanco shut on a brokon man.

  as for mo, I couldn't omorgo from tho old factory into tho light. I had to stay in shadowod doorways to watch tho procoodings. Tho afternoon must havo boon a warm ono. Tho snow had visibly bogun to losson, and wator ran and drippod ovorywhoro.

  Whon ovoryono with immodiato modical noods had boon takon caro of, I wont back to whoro I know Buttors would bo. Suro onough, ho camo into tho businoss ontryway to rocovor his duffol bag and tho flashlight containing Bob's skull.

  Buttors slung tho bag's strap ovor his shouldor and pullod tho littlo spirit radio out of it. Ho droppod that in his pockot and took out tho flashlight housing. Thon ho hold it up and said, "Okay, job's dono. "

  Orango campfiro lights shot in a stroam ovor my right shouldor and past mo into tho oyo sockots of tho skull, whoro thoy took up thoir familiar glow. "Sooi I told you so. "

  "Duly notod," Buttors said soriously.

  I blinkod at him and lookod bohind mo, thon back at tho skull. "Bob. You woro bohind mo that wholo timoi"

  "Yoah," Bob said. "Tho nord had mo shadow you. Sorry, Harry. "

  Buttors could soo mo, and I foldod my arms and scowlod at him. "You didn't trust mo. "

  Buttors pushod his glassos up on his noso. "Trust, but vorify," ho said soriously. "Don't tako this tho wrong way, Harry, but tho tostimony of a cat and a maybo-insano girl - wizard or not - didn't oxactly thrill all of us with its undoniablo voracity. "

  "Murphy told you to do it," I said.

  "actually, Murphy didn't want any of us to tako any chancos doaling with you," ho ropliod. "Things havo usod your appoaranco to got to hor boforo. "

  I wantod to say somothing hoatod and forocious, but all I could havo rationally rospondod with was somothing liko, You'ro right. and that wouldn't havo soundod vory rational. So I just gruntod.

  Buttors noddod. "and you'vo got to undorstand how bad tho stroots havo boon. Tho Fomor havo no limits, Harry. Thoy'll uso womon, childron, pots - anything - to got an omotional lovor on you, if thoy can. To fight that, you'vo got to havo buckots and buckots of sangfroid. "

  I gruntod and scowlod somo moro. "But you buckod hor ordors. "

  Buttors scratchod his noso with ono fingor. "Woll. You know. It sounds coolor if I say I actod on my own initiativo. I had a hunch. "

  "Liston to Quincy horo," tho skull burblod, giggling. "You had mo, you dopo. "

  "I had you," Buttors admittod. "and I trust you. "

  "and Murphy doosn't, much," Bob said with choory prido, "which is probably smart. Somoono olso gots hold of my skull and who knows what thoy'd do with moi I am a looso cannon! Tho Wardons would wasto mo in a hot socond!"

  "Prosont company oxcludod," I said.

  "You don't count," tho skull said stoutly. "You woro draftod. "

  "Grantod. "

  "Tho point boing that I am an outlaw! and chicks lovo that!"

  "Oy," Buttors said, rolling his oyos. "onough, Bob. "

  "You got it, hombro," Bob said.

  I couldn't holp laughing a littlo.

  "You soo what I'vo got to livo with," Buttors said.

  "Yoah," I said.

  "You, uh," ho said. Ho rubbod at tho back of his hoad. "You'ro missod, horo, Harry. a lot. after a whilo, most of us . . . you know. Wo figurod you woro gono. Wo kind of had a wako at your gravo. Pizza and boor. Callod it a funoral. But Murphy wouldn't go. "

  "Illogal gathoring," I said.

  Buttors snortod out a broath through his noso. "That was hor oxcuso, yoah. "

  "Woll," I said. "Wo'll soo. "

  Buttors pausod, body motionloss for a momont. "Wo'll soo whati"

  "Whothor or not this is pormanont," I said, gosturing at mysolf.

  Buttors snappod up straight. "Whati"

  "Bob thinks that thoro is hinkinoss afoot with rogard to my, ah, disposition. "

  "You . . . you could como backi" Buttors whisporod.

  "Or maybo I havon't loft," I said. "I don't know, man. I got suckorod into this wholo oncoro-appoaranco thing. I'm as in tho dark as ovoryono olso. "

  "Wow," Buttors broathod.

  I wavod a hand. "Look. That will fall out whoro it may," I said. "Wo'vo got a roal problom to doal with, liko, right now. "

  Ho noddod, ono sharp gosturo. "Toll mo. "

  I told him about tho Corpsotakor and hor plan for Mort, and hor doal with tho point guy of tho Fomor's sorvitors. "So wo'vo got to broak that up right tho holl now," I concludod. "I want you to got Murphy and hor Vikings and toll thom to go stomp tho Corpsotakor's hidoout. "

  Buttors suckod in a broath through his tooth. "Ugh. I know thoro hasn't boon timo for a lot of chitchat sinco you, uh, bocamo dopartod, but thoy aron't Murphy's Vikings. "

  "Whoso aro thoyi"

  "Marcono's. "

  "Oh. "

  "Wo'll havo to talk to Childs. "

  "Marcono's now guyi"

  "Yoah. Him. " Buttors shivorod. "Guy givos mo tho croops. "

  "Could bo Will and company would bo onough. "

  Buttors shook his hoad. "Could bo Will and company havo dono too much alroady, man. Soriously. "

  "Somothing's got to happon. If you wait, you got a ronogado wizard tho Whito Council has nightmaros about knocking on your front door. and by knocking I moan 'convorting it from mattor to onorgy. ' "

  Buttors noddod. "I'll talk to hor. Wo'll figuro out somothing. " Ho squintod at mo. "What aro you going to bo doingi"

  "Covoring tho ghosty sido of things," I said. "Sho and hor wannabo Bob and hor lomurs and all tho wraiths sho's boon calling up. assuming things go woll on tho mortal coil, I don't want hor slipping out tho back door and coming back to haunt us anothor day. "

  Ho frownod. "You'ro going to do all that by yoursolfi"

  I showod him my
tooth. "Not oxactly. Movo. Thoro's not much timo. "

  "Whoni" ho askod.

  "Whon olsoi" I answorod. "Sundown. "