Cold days, p.39
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       Cold Days, p.39

         Part #14 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
 
My dog, Mouse, is a temple dog of Tibet, a Foo dog of a powerful supernatural bloodline, though he could have passed for an exceptionally large Tibetan mastiff. Mouse can take on demons and monsters without batting an eye, and he checks in at about two fifty. He knocked me down as easily as a bowling ball does the first pin. And, superdog though he may be, he’s still a dog. Once I was down, he planted his front paws on either side of my head and proceeded to give me slobbery dog kisses on the face and neck and chin, making happy little sounds the whole time.

  “Ack!” I said, as I always did. “My lips touched dog lips! Get me some mouthwash! Get me some iodine!” I shoved at his chest, grinning, and managed to lever myself out from underneath him and stand.

  That didn’t diminish Mouse’s enthusiasm in the least. He cut loose with a series of joyous barks so loud that they set off a car alarm on a vehicle a hundred feet away. Then he sprinted in a tight circle, came back to my feet, and barked some more. He did that over and over for about a minute, his tail wagging so hard that it sounded like a helicopter might have been passing in the distance, whup-whup-whup-whup-whup.

  “All right,” I said. “Enough. Come on, it’s not like I died or anything, boy.”

  He quieted, his jaws parted in a canine grin, tail still wagging so hard that it pulled his hindquarters left and right with it. I knelt down and put my arms around him. If I’d been an inch or two shorter, I doubt I could have done it. Damn pooch is huge, and built like a barrel. He laid his chin on my shoulder and panted happily as I hugged him.

  “Yeah,” I said quietly. “I missed you, too, buddy.” I nodded toward the house. “Anyone home?”

  He tilted his head to one side slightly, one ear cocked at a slightly different angle from the other.

  “He says no,” Molly said.

  I blinked at her. “First Sherlock, now Dolittle?”

  She blushed slightly and looked embarrassed. “It’s just something I picked up. A dog’s thoughts and emotions are a lot more direct and less conflicted than a human’s. It’s easier to listen for them. It isn’t a big deal.”

  Mouse came over to greet Molly by walking back and forth against her legs, nearly knocking her down. He stopped and looked fondly up at her, tail wagging, and made a little woofing sound.

  “You’re welcome,” she said, and scratched his ears.

  “I need your help, boy,” I said. “Bad guys took Butters, Andi, and Justine.”

  Mouse shook his head vigorously and half sneezed.

  “Mouse thinks Andi should be locked in the garage at night, until she learns not to get abducted.”

  “Once we get her back, we’ll start calling her Danger-prone Daphne,” I promised him. “She’s even got the hair for it. You in, Scoob?”

  In answer, Mouse hurried to the street, looked both ways, then crossed it to sit down at the back door of the Munstermobile. Then he looked at me, as if asking me why I wasn’t opening it for him.

  “Of course he’s in,” Molly translated, smiling.

  “Good thing you’re here,” I said. “He’s tough to read.”

  Chapter

  Thirty-seven

  We used the spinning needle in the bowl of water like a compass, driving north to south first, to let us triangulate on our friends’ location. As tracking spells went, this one was a little clumsier than most. We had to pull over the Munstermobile and let the water settle to use it—but hey, nothing’s perfect.

  We tracked our friends, and presumably the Redcap and company, to the waterfront. The sun was setting behind us, and had briefly appeared from behind the clouds. The city’s skyline cast deep, cold shadows over us.

  “Harry,” Molly said. “You know that this—”

  “Is a trap,” I said. “Yep. The Redcap knew exactly what I would do with those bits of hair.”

  Molly looked a little relieved. “Okay. Then what’s the plan?”

  “Once we are sure where they are,” I said, “I’m going to go in the front door.”

  “That’s the plan?”

  “I’m going to be very, very noisy,” I said. “Meanwhile, you and Supermutt are going to sneak in the back, all sneaky-like, neutralize any guards that aren’t watching me, and get our crew out.”

  “Oh,” Molly said. “Are you sure you don’t want me to be the distraction?”

  It was a fair question. Molly’s One-woman Rave spell could get more attention than a crash at an airshow. “The Sidhe know all about veils,” I said. “Mine aren’t good enough to get anywhere near them. Yours are. It’s that simple.”

  “Right,” she said, and swallowed. “So we’re . . . going to depend on me for the important part. Saving people.”

  “You’ve been playing Batman for a while now, kid,” I said. “I think you’ve got this.”

  “Mostly I was the only one in danger if I screwed up,” Molly said. “Are you sure this is the right plan?”

  “If you think you can handle it,” I said. “Or if you don’t.”

  “Oh.”

  I put a hand on her shoulder. “We don’t have time to dance around on this one. So we go dirt simple. When it starts, if someone gets in your way, I want you to hit them with everything you’ve got, right in the face. Mouse will be with you as muscle.”

  “Shouldn’t he be with you? I mean, if you’re going to fight . . .”

  “I’m not going to fight,” I said. “No time to prepare, no plan, I’d lose a fight. I’m going to be a big noisy distraction.”

  “But what if you get in trouble?”

  “That’s my part. You do your part. Keep focused on your objective. Get in, get them, get out, signal. Then we all run away. Got it?”

  She nodded tightly. “Got it.”

  “Woof,” said Mouse.

  * * *

  “Huh,” I said a few moments later. We had triangulated with the tracking spell and narrowed down their location to one building, and we now lurked in an alley across the street. “I’ve actually been in there before.”

  “You have?”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Client had lost a kid or something to some half-assed wannabe warlock. He had the cheesy dialogue and everything, was gonna sacrifice the kid with this big cheap, spiky knife.”

  “How did it turn out?”

  “If I remember it right, I got beat up,” I said. “Didn’t make much money on it, either. The bad guy ran away, and the client walked out threatening a lawsuit. Except she left the kid. Turns out, she wasn’t even his mom, and his real parents tried to have me arrested. Never heard from her again. No clue what it was about. Chalk.”

  Molly reached into her bag and came out with a stick of chalk, which she passed to me. I crouched and quickly sketched a diagram of the rectangular warehouse. “Here’s the front door. Office door. Back door. There’re some windows up high, but you’d have to be a bird to get there. The rear of the warehouse actually protrudes over the water, but there’s a wooden deck around the back. That’s where you’ll go in, at the back door. Watch for trip wires. Mouse can help with that. Trust him. We’re basically blind and deaf by comparison.”

  “Right,” Molly said, nodding. “Okay.”

  “Don’t get hung up on what could happen if it goes wrong,” I said. “Focus, concentrate, just like we do for a spell. Get in. Get them. Get out.”

  “Let’s just do it,” she said, “before I throw up.”

  “I’ll give you five minutes to get into position. Don’t go in until I get noisy.”

  “Right,” Molly said. “Come on, Mouse.”

  The big dog came up beside Molly, and she didn’t even have to bend to slip the fingers of one hand through his collar. “Stay this close to me, okay?” she said to Mouse.

  He looked up at her and wagged his tail.

  She gave him a shaky smile, nodded at me, then spoke a word and vanished.

  I started counting to three hundred and briefly wondered why I kept running into repeat uses of various locations around town. This wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with t
he bad guys choosing to reuse a location different bad guys had used before them. Maybe there was a Villainous Time-share Association. Maybe my life was actually a basic-cable television show, and they couldn’t afford to spend money on new sets all the time.

  Or—and this seemed more likely—maybe there was a reason for it. Maybe the particular vibe of certain spots just felt more like home to predators. Predators like to lair in a place with multiple ways in and out, isolated from casual entry, near supplies of whatever it was they like to eat. Supernatural predators would also have some level of awareness of the nature of the Nevernever that abutted any given part of our reality, even if it was only an instinct. It would make sense that they would be more at ease in places that joined parts of the Nevernever where they would be comfortable. I mean, everyone likes to eat somewhere that feels like home.

  If I lived through the next day or so, I needed to start keeping track of where these jokers liked to get their bloodthirsty freak on. It might give me an edge someday. Or at least a list of places that could use a nice burning down. I hadn’t burned down a building in ages.

  Two ninety-nine. Three hundred.

  “Ready or not,” I muttered, “here I come.”

  I strode out of the alley across from the warehouse, gathering my will into a shield around my left hand, and readied a lance of force in my right. Hell’s bells, I missed my equipment. Mab had forced me to learn how to do without, but that didn’t mean I could do it as well. I missed my shield bracelet. I missed my blasting rod. I missed my spell-armored coat. With that gear, this would be pretty simple. I could protect myself better from every direction and have a lot more range on my spells to make the bad guys keep their heads down. But it would take me weeks to build new ones, and I had to work with what I had—which was pretty much just me.

  My shields would be as strong, but I couldn’t sustain them for as much time, or in every direction—so I couldn’t walk in with a nice comfortable bubble of force around me. Without the bracelet or a tool like it, I could protect myself only from the front, and only for a few seconds at a time. My offensive spells would hit just as hard, but they’d have a shorter range, and they would take a few more crucial fractions of a second to enact.

  Man, I missed my toys.

  The warehouse had a little fence covered in plastic sheeting and topped with barbed wire. There was a gated area in front of the main entryway, though the gate had been blasted off its hinges by some deranged ruffian who did not look like me, no matter what the witnesses said, and apparently no one had replaced it since.

  Awful lot of open space out there. I’d be a really juicy target. Which was sort of the point: Make myself so attractively vulnerable that no one was watching the back door. It wasn’t the best idea in the world to walk out into that, but Halloween night was maybe an hour away, and there wasn’t time to be smart.

  That said, there’s a difference between being reckless and being insane. I didn’t especially like the idea of stumbling over a trip line tied to, let’s say, an antipersonnel mine, so before I went in, I flung my right arm forward in a large sweeping underhand motion, as if I were trying to throw a bowling ball at the pins two lanes over from where I was standing. I muttered, “Forzare!” as I threw the spell, focusing on shaping the force I’d released into what I needed.

  Energy rippled across the ground in a shock wave that threw up dust and bits of gravel and irregular chunks of broken asphalt. It rippled across the ground to the warehouse and landed against its front doorway with a giant, hollow boom.

  “Say, ‘Who’s there!’” I shouted at the warehouse, already walking forward rapidly, while the dust still hung in the air—it would make it more possible, if not likely, to spot any of the Redcap’s Sidhe buddies who might be hiding under a veil inside it. “I dare you! I double-dog dare you!”

  I hurled another blast of force at the big loading doors in the front of the warehouse, something meant to make a lot of noise, not to tear them down. It succeeded. A second enormous concussion made the building’s steel girders and metal walls ring like some vast, dark bell.

  “The furious wizard, that’s who!” I shouted. “You’ve got ten seconds to free my friends, unharmed, or I’m going to fucking smite every last mother’s son of you!”

  I had maybe half a second’s warning, and then a streaking black form dived down from above me and raked at my eyes with its talons. I snapped my head back out of the way, only to see a hawk beating back up out of the nadir of its dive. It rolled in the air, and as it did it shimmered, and in an instant the hawk was gone and one of the Sidhe was there in its place, arcing through the air in free fall, holding a bow and an arrow in his hands. He drew and shot in the same instant he shifted, and I barely caught the arrow on my shield. Before he could begin to fall, he completed the roll and shifted again, back into hawk form, then beat his wings and continued rising into the sky.

  Hell’s bells. That looked awesome. It took a serious mastery of shape-shifting to bring equipment and clothes and things with you when you changed form, but that guy had made it look as easy as breathing.

  I mean, say what you will about the faeries, but they’ve got style. Not so much style that I didn’t hurl another bolt of force after the flying archer, but I missed him and he winged away with a mocking shriek.

  Then I felt a small, sharp pain in my left leg.

  I looked down to see a little wooden dart sticking out of the back of my calf. It was carved, perfectly smooth and round, and fletched with a few tiny slivers of scarlet feather. I snapped my gaze around behind me, and caught a single glimpse of the Redcap poised in a crouch atop the fence surrounding the warehouse, balancing his weight with apparent effortless ease along a strand of barbed wire that had to have been a sixteenth of an inch wide.

  His mouth was spread in a wide, manic grin. He held a short silvery tube in one hand, and as my eyes found his face, he touched two fingertips of his other hand to his lips, blew me a kiss, and plummeted back off of the fence and out of sight.

  I whirled toward him and brought up my shield, then spun around and angled it that way, then jittered about, rubbernecking everywhere at once. But that was it. Assuming the Sidhe weren’t simply undetectable to my senses, they were gone.

  A slow burning sensation began to spread from the wound in my leg.

  A cold shiver oozed down my spine. I tugged the dart out of my calf. It hadn’t done much—the slender spear of wood had penetrated maybe a quarter inch into my skin—but when I rolled up my pant leg to look, I found an inordinately large trickle of blood coming from the tiny wound.

  And that burning sensation became an almost infinitesimally greater presence with each heartbeat.

  This hadn’t been a hostage crisis at all.

  It had been an assassination. Or . . . or something.

  “Goddammit!” I snarled. “I just got played again! I am so sick and tired of this backstabby bullshit!”

  I more or less stormed into the warehouse, shoving open the office door and stalking out onto the main floor. The place was just as empty as I remembered, give or take the leavings of several apparent transients between the present and the past. Molly was at the very rear of the warehouse, near the door. She was helping Justine to sit up. Mac was there, too, and he and Butters were between them helping a wobbly-looking Andi to remain on her feet. Mouse was standing guard between the group and the front of the warehouse, and he started wagging his tail when he saw me.

  “Clear,” I called out to them, hurrying over. “Or at least clearish. What happened?”

  “They were under a sleeping enchantment,” Molly reported. “Pretty standard stuff. I woke them up.”

  “Everyone okay?”

  “Andi got hit on the head when they took her,” she said. “Other than that, I think we’re good.”

  When she spoke, Molly’s voice never quavered, but her eyes flickered uncertainly toward Mac. I took a closer look at everyone. Andi, Butters, and Justine had all been bound. Justin
e was only now getting the ropes cut off of her wrists, and as Molly sawed them away with a pocketknife, I could see the deep red marks they’d left on Justine’s slender wrists. Butters and Andi had them, too, visible even in the dimness of the warehouse.

  Mac didn’t.

  That was interesting. Why hadn’t Mac been tied up? Or if he had, how come there wasn’t a mark to show for it? Either way, that was odd.

  My first instinct was to grab him and demand answers—but the direct approach hadn’t gotten me anything but more confused as I went through this stupid day. I might have been a better thug than at any point in my life, but that wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t figure out where to apply my muscle. And I was damned tired of being sneaked up on. So it was time to get sneaky.

  I ground my teeth and pretended that Molly hadn’t clued me into anything. “All right, people,” I said. “Let’s move. I think they’re gone but they could be back.”

  “That’s it?” Molly asked. “I was expecting more trouble than th—” She broke off, staring at the floor behind me.

  My leg throbbed and burned a little more, and I glanced down at it in irritation. To my shock, I saw a long line of small smears of my blood on the tile floor. The little wound had continued bleeding, soaked through my sock and my shoe, and dribbled down onto my heel.

  “What happened?” Molly asked.

  “It was another stupid trick,” I said. “The point wasn’t to hold them for ransom. It was to get me here, under pressure, and too keyed up to defend myself from every direction.” I held up the dart. “We’d better find out what this thing is and what kind of poison is on it.”

  “Oh, my God,” Molly breathed.

  “I’ll take whatever help I can get,” I said. “Let’s g—”

  But before I could finish the sentence, there was a loud crunching whoomp of a sound, and the entire warehouse shook. I barely had time to think demolition charges before there was a deafening crack, and the floor tilted.

  And then the back twenty feet of the warehouse, including all of us, fell right off of the street and into the cold, dark water of Lake Michigan.