Turn Coat, Page 4Jim Butcher
The hot summer night outside Zero felt ten degrees cooler and a million times cleaner than what we'd left behind us. Thomas turned sharply to the right and walked until he'd found a spot of shadow between streetlights, and leaned one shoulder against the wall of the building. He bowed his head, and stayed that way for a minute, then two.
I waited. I didn't need to ask my brother what was wrong. The display of strength and power he'd used on Madeline had cost him energy-energy that other vampires gained by feeding on victims, as Madeline had done to that poor sap inside. He wasn't upset by what had happened in Zero. He was hungry.
Thomas's struggle against his own hunger was complicated, difficult, and maybe impossible to sustain. That never stopped him from trying, though. The rest of the Raith family thought he was insane.
But I got it.
He walked back over to me a minute later, his cool features distant and untouchable as Antarctic mountains.
He fell into pace beside me as we began walking down the street toward the lot where he'd parked his car.
"Ask you a question?" I said.
"The White Court only get burned when they try to feed on someone touched by true love, right?"
"It isn't as simple as that," Thomas said quietly. "It's got to do with how much control the hunger has over you when you touch. "
I grunted. "But when they feed, the hunger's in control. "
Thomas nodded slowly.
"So why'd Madeline try to feed on Justine? She had to know it would hurt her. "
"Same reason I do," Thomas said. "She can't help it. It's reflex. "
I frowned. "I don't get it. "
He was quiet long enough to make me think he wasn't going to say anything, before he finally spoke. "Justine and I were together for years. And she. . . means a lot to me. When I'm near her, I can't think about anything else but her. And when I touch her, everything in me wants to be nearer to her. "
"Including your hunger," I said quietly.
He nodded. "We agree on that point, my demon and I. So I can't touch Justine without it being. . . close to the surface, I suppose you could call it. "
"And it gets burned," I said.
He nodded. "Madeline is the other end of the spectrum. She thinks she should get to feed on anyone she wants, anywhere, anytime. She doesn't see other people. She just sees food. Her hunger controls her completely. " He smiled a bitter little smile. "So for her it's reflex, just like for me. "
"You're different. For her it's everyone," I said, "not only Justine. "
He shrugged. "I don't care about everyone. I care about Justine. "
"You're different," I said.
Thomas turned to face me, his expression rigid and cold. "Shut up, Harry. "
His voice dropped to a low snarl. "Shut. Up. "
It was a little scary.
He stared hard at me for a while longer, then shook his head and exhaled slowly. "I'll get the car. Wait here. "
"Sure," I said.
He walked away on silent feet, his hands in his pockets, his head bowed. Every woman he passed, and some of the men, turned their heads to watch him go by. He ignored them.
I got a lot of looks, too, but that was because I was standing on a sidewalk near a lot of Chicago's night spots on a hot summer night wearing a long leather coat and carrying a quarterstaff carved with mystic runes. Thomas's looks had all been subtitled: Yum. My looks all said: Weirdo.
Tough to believe I was coming out ahead on that one.
While I waited, my instincts nagged me again, a hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck certainty that someone was focused on me. My instincts had been on a streak, so I paid attention to them, quietly preparing my shield bracelet as I turned my head in a slow, casual look up and down the street. I didn't spot anybody, but my vision sort of flickered as it passed over an alley across the street. I focused on that point intently for a moment, concentrating, and was able to make out a vaguely human shape there.
Then the flicker was abruptly replaced with the form of Anastasia Luccio, who raised a hand and beckoned me.
I jaywalked over to her, timing my crossing in between the occasional passing car, and we took several steps back into the alley.
"Evening, Stacy," I said.
She turned to me and, in a single motion, drew a curved saber from a sheath at her hip and produced a gun in her other hand. The tip of the blade menaced my face, and I had to jerk my head back, which put me off balance, and I wound up with my shoulders pressed up against a wall.
Anastasia arched an eyebrow, her soft mouth set in a hard line. "I hope for your sake that you are the true Harry Dresden, only using that abomination of a nickname to make sure that I was the true Anastasia"-she emphasized the word slightly-"Luccio. "
"Well, yes, Anastasia," I said, being careful not to move. "And by your reaction, I can tell that it really is you. "
She dropped the sword's point and lowered the gun. The tension faded from her body, and she put her hardware away. "Well, of course it's me. Who else would it be?"
I shook my head. "I've had a bad shapeshifter night. "
She arched an eyebrow. Anastasia Luccio was the captain of the Wardens of the White Council. She had a couple of centuries of experience.
"I've had those," she said, and put a hand on my arm. "Are you all right?"
We stepped into each other and hugged. I hadn't realized how stiffly I'd been holding myself until I exhaled and relaxed a little. She felt slender and warm and strong in my arms. "So far I'm not dead," I said. "I take it you used a tracking spell to run me down-since you don't seem to be worried about whether or not I'm me. "
She lifted her face to mine and planted a soft kiss on my mouth. "Honestly, Harry," she said, smiling. "Who would pretend to be you?"
"Someone who wanted to be kissed in dark alleys by seductive older women, apparently. "
Her smile widened for a second, and then faded. "I thought I was going to have to break down the door and come in after you. What were you doing in that White Court cesspit?"
I didn't think I'd done anything to cause it, but we stepped out of each other's arms. "Looking for information," I said quietly. "Something's up. And someone's cut me out of the loop. "
Anastasia pressed her lips together and looked away. Her expression was closed, touched with anger. "Yes. Orders. "
"Orders," I said. "From the Merlin, I guess. "
"From Ebenezar McCoy, actually. "
I grunted in surprise. McCoy had been my mentor when I was young. I respected him.
"I get it," I said. "He was afraid that if I heard Morgan was on the run, I'd hat up and dish out some payback. "
She glanced up at me, and then across the street at Zero. She shrugged, without quite looking me in the face. "God knows you have enough cause to do so. "
"You agreed with him," I said.
She looked up at me, her eyes a little wider. "If I did, then why am I standing here?"
I frowned at her and scratched my head. "Okay. You've got me on that one. "
"Besides," she said. "I was worried about you. "
She nodded. "Morgan's done something that is hiding him from even the Senior Council's abilities. I was afraid that he might come here. "
Poker face don't fail me now. "That's crazy," I said. "Why would he do that?"
She squared her shoulders and faced me steadily. "Maybe because he's innocent. "
"There are a number of people who have sought permission from the Senior Council to investigate and interrogate you under the presumption that you were the traitor who has been feeding information to the Red Court. " She looked away again. "Morgan has been one of the most overt agitators. "
I took a deep breath. "You're saying that Morgan knows he isn
't the traitor. And he thinks it's me. "
"And he might be moving toward you, in an attempt to prove his own innocence or, failing that. . . "
"Kill me," I said, quietly. "If he's going to go down, you think he might have decided to take out the real traitor before he gets the axe. "
And suddenly I had to wonder if Morgan had shown up at my door for the reasons he'd given me. Anastasia had been Morgan's mentor, when he was an apprentice. She'd known the man for the vast majority of his life, literally for generations.
What if her judgment of him was better than mine?
Sure, Morgan wasn't in any shape to kill me personally-but he wouldn't need to. All he had to do is call the Wardens and tell them where he was. A lot of people in the Council didn't like me much. I'd go down with Morgan, for giving aid and comfort to a traitor.
I suddenly felt naive and vulnerable and maybe a little stupid.
"He was already in custody," I said. "How did he get away?"
Luccio smiled faintly. "We aren't sure. He thought of something we didn't. And he put three Wardens in the hospital when he left. "
"But you don't think he's guilty. "
"I. . . " She frowned for a moment and then said, "I refuse to let fear turn me against a man I know and trust. But it doesn't matter what I think. There's enough evidence to kill him. "
"What evidence?" I asked.
"Other than finding him standing over LaFortier's corpse with a literal bloody knife in his hand?"
"Yeah," I said. "Other than that. "
She raked her fingers back through her curly hair. "The information the Red Court has attained was exclusive to a very small pool of suspects, of which he was one. We have telephone records of him in frequent contact with a known operative of the Red Court. We also tracked down an offshore account belonging to him, in which several million dollars had recently been deposited. "
I snorted derisively. "Yeah, that's him. Morgan the mercenary, nothing but dollar signs in his eyes. "
"I know," she said. "That's what I mean about fear clouding people's judgment. We all know that the Red Court is going to come after us again. We know that if we don't eliminate the traitor, their first blow could be fatal. The Merlin is desperate. "
"Join the club," I muttered. I rubbed at my eyes and sighed.
She touched my arm again. "I thought you had a right to know," she said. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to get here sooner. "
I covered her hand with mine and pressed gently. "Yeah," I said. "Thanks. "
"You look awful. "
"You sweet talker, you. "
She lifted her hand to touch my face. "I've got a few hours before I need to be back on duty. I was thinking a bottle of wine and a massage might be in order. "
I only barely kept from groaning in pleasure at the very thought of one of Anastasia's massages. What she didn't know about inflicting merciless pleasure on a man's aching body hadn't been invented. But I sure as hell couldn't have her back over to the apartment. If she found out about Morgan, and if he truly intended to betray me, it would be frighteningly easy for her head to wind up on the floor next to Morgan's and mine.
"I can't," I told her. "I've got to go to the hospital. "
She frowned. "What happened?"
"A skinwalker picked up my trail earlier tonight, when I was at Billy Borden's place. Kirby's dead. Andi's in the hospital. "
She sucked in a breath, wincing in empathy. "Dio, Harry. I'm so sorry. "
I shrugged. I watched my vision blur, and realized that I wasn't only making an excuse to keep her away from my place. Kirby and I hadn't been blood brothers or anything-but he was a friend, a regular part of my life. Emphasis on the was.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked.
I shook my head. Then I said, "Actually, yeah. "
"Very well. "
"Find out whatever you can about skinwalkers. I'm going to kill this one. "
"All right," she said.
"Meanwhile," I said, "is there anything I can do for you?"
"For me?" She shook her head. "But. . . Morgan could use whatever help he can get. "
"Yeah," I said. "Like I'm gonna help Morgan. "
She lifted her hands. "I know. I know. But there's not much I can do. Everyone knows he was my apprentice. They're watching me. If I try to help him openly, they'll suspend me as captain of the Wardens, at best. "
"Don't you just love it when justice can't be bothered with petty concerns like fact?"
"Harry," she said. "What if he's innocent?"
I shrugged. "The way I was all those years? I'm too busy admiring the karma to lend a hand to the bastard. " Out on the street, Thomas's Jag cruised by the end of the alley, then pulled up to the curb and stopped.
I glanced at the car and said, "There's my ride. "
Anastasia arched an eyebrow at Thomas and his car. "The vampire?"
"He owed me a favor. "
"Mmmm," Anastasia said. Her look at Thomas did not say yum. She looked more like someone who was trying to judge by how much she would need to lead a moving target. "You're sure?"
I nodded. "The White King told him to play nice. He will. "
"Until he doesn't," she said.
"Walkers can't be choosers," I said.
"The Beetle died again?"
"Why don't you get a different car?" she asked.
"Because the Blue Beetle is my car. "
Anastasia smiled faintly up at me. "I wonder how you make something like that so endearing. "
"It's my natural good looks," I said. "I could make athlete's foot endearing, if I really had to. "
She rolled her eyes, but was still smiling. "I'll head back to Edinburgh and help coordinate the search. If there's anything I can do. . . "
I nodded. "Thank you. "
She put her hands on my cheeks. "I'm sorry about your friends. When this is over, we'll find some quiet spot and relax. "
I turned my head to one side and kissed the pulse in her wrist, then gently clasped her hands with mine. "Look, I'm not making any promises. But if I see something that might help Morgan, I'll let you know. "
"Thank you," she said quietly.
She stood up on her toes and kissed me goodbye. Then she turned and vanished into the shadows farther down the alley.
I waited until she was gone to turn around and join my brother in the white Jag.
"Damn, that girl is fit," Thomas drawled. "Where to?"
"Stop looking," I said. "My place. "
If Morgan was going to give me the shaft, I might as well find out now.
Thomas stopped his Jag in front of the boardinghouse where my apartment was and said, "I'll have my cell phone on me. Try to call me before things start exploding. "
"Maybe this time it'll be different. Maybe I'll work everything out through reason, diplomacy, dialogue, and mutual cooperation. "
Thomas eyed me.
I tried to look wounded. "It could happen. "
He reached into his jeans pocket, pulled out a plain white business card with a phone number on it, and passed it to me. "Use this number. It's to a clone. "
I looked at him blankly.
"It's a supersecret sneaky phone," he clarified. "No one knows I have it, and if someone traces your calls and goes looking for me, they'll find someone else. "
"Oh," I said. "Right. "
"You sure you don't want to just load Morgan up and go?"
I shook my head. "Not until I give him the score. He sees me coming in with a vampire in tow, he's going to flip out. As in try to kill us both. " I got out of the Jag, glanced at the house, and shook my head. "You stay alive for a dozen decades doing what Morgan does, paranoia becomes reflex. "
Thomas grimaced. "Yeah. Give me an hour or so to get what you need. Call me when you've got him ready to go. "
I glanced at the numb
er, committed it to memory, and pocketed the card. "Thanks. I'll pay you back for the gear. "
He rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Harry. "
I snorted out a breath, and nodded my head in thanks. We rapped knuckles, and he pulled out onto the street and cruised out into the Chicago night.
I took a slow look around the familiar shapes of dark buildings where only a few lights still burned. I'd lived in this neighborhood for years. You'd think I'd be confident about spotting anything out of the ordinary fairly quickly. But, call me crazy, there were just too many players moving in this game, with God only knew what kinds of abilities to draw upon.
I didn't spot anyone out there getting set to kill me to get to Morgan. But that didn't mean that they weren't there.
"If that's not paranoid reflex," I muttered, "I don't know what is. "
I shivered and walked down the steps to my apartment. I disarmed the wards, and reminded myself, again, that I really needed to do something about the deep divots in the steel security door. The last thing I needed was for old Mrs. Spunkelcrief, my near-deaf landlady, to start asking me why my door looked like it had been shot a dozen times. I mean, I could always tell her, "because it has been," but that isn't the sort of conversation one has with one's landlady if one wants to keep one's home.
I opened the bullet-dented door, went inside, turned toward the bedroom door, and was faced with a bizarre tableau.
Morgan was off the bed, sitting on the floor with his back to it, his wounded leg stretched out in front of him. He looked awful, but his eyes were narrowed and glittered with suspicion.
Sprawled in the bedroom doorway was my apprentice, Molly Carpenter.
Molly was a tall young woman with a bunch of really well-arranged curves and shoulder-length hair that was, this month, dyed a brilliant shade of sapphire. She was wearing cutoff blue jeans and a white tank top, and her blue eyes looked exasperated.
She was sprawling on the floor because Mouse was more or less lying on top of her. He wasn't letting his full weight rest on her, because it probably would have smothered her, but it seemed obvious that she was not able to move.
"Harry!" Molly said. She started to say something else, but Mouse leaned into her a little, and suddenly all she could do was gasp for air.
"Dresden!" Morgan growled at about the same time. He shifted his weight, as if to get up.
Mouse turned his head to Morgan and gave him a steady look, his lips peeling back from his fangs.
Morgan settled down.
"Hooboy," I sighed, and pushed the door shut, leaving the room in complete darkness. I locked the door, put the wards back up, and then muttered, "Flickum bicus. " I waved my hand as I spoke, and sent a minor effort of will out into the room, and half a dozen candles flickered to life.
Mouse turned to me and gave me what I could have sworn was a reproachful look. Then he got up off of Molly, padded into the alcove that served as my kitchen, and deliberately yawned at me before flopping down on the floor to sleep. The meaning was clear: now it's your problem.
"Ah," I said, glancing from Mouse to my apprentice to my guest. "Um. What happened here, exactly?"
"The warlock tried to sneak up on me while I slept," Morgan spat.
Molly quickly stood up and scowled at Morgan, her hands clenched into fists. "Oh, that's ridiculous. "
"Then explain what you're doing here this late at night," Morgan said. "What possible reason could you have to show up here, now?"
"I'm making concentration-supporting potions," she said from between clenched teeth, in a tone that suggested she'd repeated herself about a hundred times already. "The jasmine has to go in at night. Tell him, Harry. "
Crap. In all the excitement, I'd forgotten that the grasshopper was scheduled to show up and pull an all-nighter. "Um," I said. "What I meant to ask was, how is it that Mouse came to be sitting on you both?"
"The warlock summoned up her will and prepared to attack me," Morgan said frostily. "The dog intervened. "
Molly rolled her eyes and glared at him. "Oh, please. You are such an asshole. "
The air in the room seemed to tighten a little, as power gathered around the young woman.
"Molly," I said gently.
She glanced over at me, scowling. "What?"
I cleared my throat and gestured at her with one hand.
She blinked for a second, then seemed to catch on. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled it slowly. As she did, the ominous sense of stormy energy faded. Molly ducked her head a little, her cheeks flushing. "Sorry. But it wasn't like that. "
I ignored him. "Go on," I told Molly. "Talk. "
"He just. . . I just got so angry," Molly said. "He made me so upset. I couldn't help it. " She gestured to Mouse. "And then he just. . . just flattened me. And he wouldn't let me up, and he wouldn't let Morgan move, either. "
"Seems to me that the dog had better sense than you," I said. I glanced up at Morgan. "Either of you. You're supposed to stay still. You wanna kill yourself?"
"It was a reaction to her approach," Morgan said calmly. "I survived it. "
I shook my head. "And you," I said to Molly. "How many months have we spent working on your emotional control?"
"I know, I know," she said. "It's never good to use magic in anger. I know, Harry. "
"You'd better know it," I said quietly. "If it's so easy to get a rise out of you that one bitter old washed-up Warden can blow your O-ring, the first reactionary goomba to come along looking for an excuse to take you out is going to put you in a casket, claim it was self-defense, and get away with it. "
Morgan bared his teeth in an expression only remotely resembling a smile. "You'd know all about that, Dresden, wouldn't you?"
"You son of a bitch!" Molly snarled and whirled toward Morgan, seizing a candlestick and hefting it like a club. The candle on it tumbled to the floor.
Morgan sat perfectly still with that same gruesome smile on his face, never flinching.
I lurched forward and grabbed Molly's arm on her backswing, an instant before she would have brought the heavy candlestick crashing down on Morgan's skull. Molly was strong for a woman, and I had to make a pretty serious effort to hold her back, my fingers digging into her wrist, while I snagged her around the waist with my other arm and bodily hauled her away from Morgan.
"No!" I demanded. "Dammit, Molly, no!" I actually had to lift her feet off the ground to turn her away from the bedroom. I tightened my grip on her wrist and said, "Drop the candlestick, Molly. Now. "
She let out a sound full of anger and laced with a little pain, and the heavy candlestick dropped to the floor, making a dull thud as it hit the rug-covered concrete. The air around her was alive with power, buzzing against my skin like a thousand tiny sparks of static electricity in a dry winter. "He can't talk to you like that," Molly snarled.
"Think," I told her, my voice hard but measured. "Remember the lessons. They're just words, Molly. Look for the thought behind them. He set you up for this reaction. You're allowing him to make you embarrass me. "
Molly opened her mouth on an angry retort, then forced her mouth closed and turned her face away from me. She remained rigidly tense, and after a fuming half minute, she said, her voice more calm, "I'm sorry. "
"Don't be sorry," I replied as gently as I could. "Be disciplined. You can't afford to let them rattle you. Not ever. "
She took another deep breath, exhaled, and then I felt her begin to ease down, relaxing her mental grasp on the power she'd instinctively prepared. "Okay," she said. "Okay, Harry. "
I let her go slowly. She began to rub at her right wrist with her other hand. I winced a little on her behalf. I thought I'd left bruises on her skin.
"Do me a favor," I said. "Take Mouse and grab the mail. "
"I'm fine. I don't need-" she began. Then she stopped herself, shook her head, and looked at Mouse.
he big dog heaved himself up, walked over to the basket next to the door, grasped his leather lead in his jaws, and dragged it out. Then he looked up at Molly, his head cocked to one side, his tail wagging hopefully.
Molly let out a rueful little laugh and knelt down to hug the big dog. She clipped his lead onto his collar, and the two of them left.
I turned and eyed the candle. It had spilled hot wax onto a genuine Navajo rug on the floor, but it hadn't set anything on fire. I bent down and picked up the candle, then started trying to clean up the spilled wax as best I could.
"Why?" I asked in a hard voice.
"It's one way to take a measure of a man," he said. "Looking at his students. "
"You didn't look," I said. "You needled her until she broke. "
"She's a self-proclaimed warlock, Dresden," he replied. "Guilty of one of the most hideous and self-destructive crimes a wizard can commit. Is there some reason she shouldn't be tested?"
"What you did was cruel," I said.
"Was it?" Morgan asked. "There are others she is going to meet, one day, who will be even less gracious. Are you preparing her to deal with those people?"
I glared at him.
His gaze never wavered. "You aren't doing her any favors by going easy on her, Dresden," he said, more quietly. "You aren't preparing her for exams. She doesn't receive a bad mark if she fails. "
I was quiet for a minute. Then I asked, "Did you learn shields as an apprentice?"
"Of course. One of my earliest lessons. "
"How did your master teach you?"
"She threw stones at me," he said.
I grunted, without looking at him.
"Pain is an excellent motivator," he said. "And it teaches one to control one's emotions at the same time. " He tilted his head. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," I told him. "She could have broken your head open, you know. "
He gave me that same unsettling smile. "You wouldn't have let her. "
Molly came back into the apartment, carrying a handful of mail, including one of those stupid Circuit City fliers that they just won't stop sending me. She shut the door, put the wards back up, and took Mouse's lead off. The big dog went over to the kitchen and flopped down.
Molly put the mail on the coffee table, gave Morgan a level pensive look, and then nodded at him. "So. . . what's he doing here, boss?"
I stared at Molly for a moment, and then at Morgan. "What do you think?" I asked him.
He shrugged a shoulder. "She already knows enough to implicate her. Besides, Dresden-if you go down with me, there's no one left to take responsibility for her. Her sentence will not remain suspended. "
I ground my teeth together. Molly had made a couple of bad choices a few years back, and violated one of the Laws of Magic in doing so. The White Council takes a harsh view of such things-their reactions start with beheadings, and become progressively less tolerant. I'd staked my own life on the belief that Molly wasn't rotten to the core, and that I could rehabilitate her. When I did it, I'd known that I was risking my own well-being. If Molly backslid, I'd bear the responsibility for it, and get a death sentence about twenty seconds after she did.
I hadn't really considered that it would also work the other way around.
Say for a minute that it was Morgan's intention to get caught and take me down with him. It also meant that Molly would take a fall. He'd get rid of both of the Council's former warlocks with the same move. Two birds, one stone.
"Okay," I sighed. "I guess you're in. "
"I am?" Molly looked at me with widening eyes. "Um. In what?"
I told her.