Cold days, p.41
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       Cold Days, p.41

         Part #14 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
 

  “Yes,” I said.

  “And the Little Folk cleared all of them but those two?”

  “No,” I said. “They cleared almost all of them. There was one place the Little Folk couldn’t check.”

  Thomas’s eyes widened as he got it. “Boats,” he said.

  “Yeah,” I said. “Boats.”

  Chapter

  Thirty-nine

  Thomas rose, glancing around the room, and said in a quiet voice, “She needs fuel. And I’d better talk to Lara about the second site.” But his eyes had drifted over to where Justine now sat by the fire, basking in warmth after our icy dunk and staring at it with a peaceful expression on her lovely face.

  “Get moving,” I said. I lowered my voice. “You taking her with you?”

  “You kidding? Bad guys have been all over us today. That creep took her right off the street in front of our apartment. I’m not letting her out of my sight.”

  “Look, if you leave her here, the building has security that—”

  “So does my building, and Cat Sith breezed right past all of it when he came in,” Thomas said. “I’m not letting her out of my sight until this thing is settled.”

  I grimaced, but nodded. “All right. Go. We’ll be right behind you.”

  My brother arched an eyebrow. “All of you?”

  “We’ll see,” I said.

  “Did you talk to her?” Thomas asked.

  I gave him a steady look and said, “No. Maggie was out trick-or-treating.”

  “Right. She’s what? Nine years old? She might as well have vanished into the Bermuda triangle. How could you possibly be expected to find her? Magic?” He gave me a sour look. “What about the other one?”

  He meant Karrin. “We’ve both been kinda busy. Maybe later.”

  “Later. Bad habit to get into,” Thomas said. “Life’s too short.”

  “It almost sounded like you were attempting to enlighten me about bad habits.”

  “The path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” he said, and turned for the door.

  At the exact moment he moved, even though she was not looking at him, and though he said nothing to her, Justine rose from her seat by the fire and started toward the door. The pair of them met halfway there and she slipped herself beneath his arm and up close to him in a motion of familiar, unconscious intimacy. They left together.

  My brother the vampire, whose kiss was a slow death sentence, had a stable and loving relationship with a girl who was crazy about him. By contrast, I could barely talk to a woman, at least about anything pertaining to a relationship. Given that my only long-term girlfriends had faked their own death, died, and broken free of enslaving enchantments to end the relationship, the empirical evidence seemed to indicate that he knew something I didn’t.

  Keep your life tonight, Harry. Complicate it tomorrow.

  Murphy came back in with a pair of EMTs I recognized, Lamar and Simmons. They got Andi loaded up onto a stretcher, and Lamar blinked when he saw me. He didn’t look as young as he had the last time I’d seen him—a few threads of silver in his hair stood out starkly against his dark hair and skin.

  “Dresden,” he said. “That you?”

  “Mostly.”

  “I heard you were dead.”

  “Close. It didn’t take.”

  He shook his head and helped his partner secure Andi to the stretcher. They picked up the stretcher and toted her outside, with Butters hurrying along beside them, his hand on Andi’s arm.

  Once they were gone, I stood in the room with the grasshopper, Karrin, and Mac. Mouse dozed on the floor near the door, but his ears twitched now and then and I doubted he was missing anything.

  “Molly,” I said. “Would you ask Sarissa to join us, please?”

  She went off to her room, and returned a moment later with Sarissa. The slender, beautiful woman came into the room silently, and didn’t meet anyone’s eyes. Hers were focused in the middle distance, as she tried to keep track of everyone in the room through peripheral vision.

  “All right,” I said. “Things are about to hit the fan. They’re confusing as hell and I’m getting tired of feeling like I have no idea what’s going on. There are some unknown quantities here, and some of you aren’t telling me everything, but there isn’t enough time to pry it all out of each of you.” I pointed a finger at Sarissa. “Maybe you really are everything you say you are. Maybe not. But I figure there’re about two chances in three that you’re playing me somehow, and I think you’re way too good at backstabbing to leave you standing around behind me.”

  “Everything I’ve told you—” Sarissa began.

  I slashed a hand at the air. “Don’t talk. This isn’t an interrogation. It’s a public service announcement. I’m telling you how it’s going to be.”

  She pressed her lips together and looked away.

  “Mac,” I said. “Much as it pains me to level suspicion at the mastercraftsman of the best beer in town . . . you’re hiding something. That Outsider talked to you as if it knew you. And I don’t think it was an aficionado of your ale. Do you want to tell me who you really are?”

  Mac was silent for a moment. Then he said, “No. That’s mine.”

  I grunted. “Didn’t think so. I figure it’s more likely that you are an ally, or at least neutral, than it is that you’re a plant for somebody. But I’m not completely sure about you, either.”

  I looked at them both and said, “I’m not sure if you’re my friends or my enemies, but I heard something once about keeping them close and closer. So until things have shaken out, you’re both staying where I can keep track of you. And you both should be aware that I’m going to be ready to smack you down if I pick up on the least little hint of treachery.”

  “I am not—” Sarissa began.

  I stared at her.

  She bit her lip and looked away.

  I turned my eyes to Mac. He didn’t look thrilled about it, but he nodded.

  “Okay,” I said. “We’ll be on the lake. There are a couple more coats in the guest bedroom closet. Better grab one.”

  Mac nodded and beckoned Sarissa with a tilt of his head. “Miss.”

  They went to the guest bedroom, and that left me facing Murphy with the grasshopper hovering in the background. I made a little kissing noise with my puckered lips, and Mouse lifted his head from the ground.

  “You pick up anything weird about either of them?” I asked.

  Mouse sneezed, shaking his head, and laid it back down again.

  I grunted. “Guess not.” I took a deep breath. “Grasshopper, maybe it’s good time to take Mouse for a W-A-L-K?”

  Mouse’s head snapped up.

  Molly looked back and forth between Karrin and me and sighed. “Yeah, okay.”

  “Maybe take those two with you when you go? And have security bring the car around, too. We’ll leave shortly.”

  “Right,” Molly said. She collected Mac and Sarissa, now clad in badly fitting secondhand coats, and they left.

  It was just me and Karrin.

  The fire crackled.

  Karrin said, “You picked up Mouse. Did you get to see Maggie?”

  “Christ, everyone wants to know about . . .” I shook my head. “She was out.”

  She nodded. “Did you get out of the car? Or just wait at the curb?”

  I gave her a flat stare. She looked back at me with her cop face. I failed to terrify her off the subject.

  “Curb,” I said.

  She smiled faintly. “I’ve seen you walk into places that should have killed you seven, eight times? You didn’t flinch. But now you’re petrified with fear?”

  “Not fear,” I said, so quickly and with such vehemence that it became immediately clear to me that fear was exactly what I was feeling when I thought of approaching Maggie.

  “Sure it isn’t,” Karrin said.

  “Look,” I said, “we don’t have time for—”

  “My dad said that a lot,” Karrin said. “‘I can’t right n
ow. We’ll do that later.’ He was busy, too. Then he was gone.”

  “I am not going to deal with this right now.”

  Karrin nodded. “Right. Not right now. Later.”

  “Christ,” I said.

  Karrin looked down at the floor and smiled briefly, then looked back up at me. “I never liked being shrunk. Had to a couple of times. After I shot Denton. Stuff like that.”

  “So?” I said.

  “Some things can’t just sit inside you,” she said. “Not when . . .” She spread her hands. “Harry, you’re dealing with serious pressures here. With something that could . . . change who you are. I don’t blame you for being afraid.”

  “I’ve got the Winter Knight thing under control,” I said.

  “Winter Knight, Mab, whatever,” she said, as if it were an everyday annoyance. “Magic stuff, you’ll deal with it fine. I’m talking about something real. I’m talking about Maggie.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  “I figure it’ll take Thomas at least ten minutes to fuel the boat,” she said. “It’s been about five since he left. Which gives you five minutes with no city to save, no evil queens, and no monsters. No one to protect right in front of you, no apprentices to look strong for.”

  I looked at her blankly and felt my shoulders sag. I hadn’t slept in too long. I wanted to find a nice bed somewhere and pull the covers over my head. “I don’t . . . What are you looking for, here? What do you expect from me?”

  She stepped closer and took my hand. “Talk to me. Why didn’t you go see Maggie?”

  I bowed my head and let my fingers stay limp. “I can’t. I just can’t.”

  “Why not?”

  I tried to speak and couldn’t. I shook my head.

  Karrin stepped closer to me and took my other hand in hers, too.

  “I’m right here,” she said.

  “What if . . .” I whispered. “What if . . . she remembers?”

  “Remembers what?”

  “She was there,” I said. “She was there when I cut her mother’s throat. I don’t know if she was conscious, if she saw . . . but what if she did? In my head, I’ve run this scenario about a thousand times, and if she saw me and started screaming or crying . . .” I shrugged. “That would be . . . hard.”

  “You know what’s going to be harder?” Karrin asked quietly.

  “What.”

  “Not knowing.” She shook my hands gently. “Leaving a hole in that little girl’s life. She’s your daughter, Harry. You’re the only dad she’s ever going to have.”

  “Yeah, but if I show up and she remembers me, I’m not her father. I’m her father the monstrous villain. I’m Darth Dresden.”

  “She’ll learn better,” Murphy said. “Eventually. If you try.”

  “You don’t understand,” I said. “I can’t . . . I can’t do anything that might hurt her. I just can’t. I barely know that little girl—but she’s mine. And I’d rather double-kneecap myself with a frying pan than bring her an ounce of pain.”

  “Pain passes,” Karrin said. “If you think about it—”

  “You don’t get it,” I half snarled. “She’s blood, Karrin. She’s mine. Thinking has no place in this. She’s my little girl. I can’t see her get hurt again—”

  I stopped suddenly with my mouth hanging open.

  Hell’s bells, how could I have missed what the Mothers were trying to tell me?

  I couldn’t bear to see my child in pain.

  And maybe I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t.

  “Stars and stones,” I breathed. “That’s what’s happening here.”

  Karrin blinked up at me several times. “Excuse me?”

  I kept thinking about it, following the logic. “That’s why Mab sent me to kill Maeve. She’s no different from Titania. She knew it needed to be done but . . .”

  “But what?” Karrin asked.

  “Maeve is still her little girl,” I said quietly. “Mab isn’t human, but there are . . . remnants in all the Sidhe. Mother Winter called Mab a romantic. I think this is why. Mother Summer went on and on about how humans have influenced the Sidhe. That’s what this whole thing is about.”

  “I don’t understand,” Karrin said.

  “Mab loves her daughter,” I said simply. “She won’t kill Maeve because she loves her.” I let out a bitter little laugh. “And there’s the kind of symmetry here that the faeries are crazy about. I killed the last Summer Lady. It’s only fitting that the same hand deal with the Winter Lady.”

  My brain was running along with my mouth, and I stopped talking so that I could poke at the logic of the theory that my instincts—or maybe my heart—told me was obviously true. If Mab wasn’t out to wreck the world, if she hadn’t been taken by the adversary, then someone else had been lying to me. Someone who shouldn’t have been able to lie.

  “Okay,” Karrin said. “If not Mab, then who is going to pull off this apocalypse ritual magic?”

  I kept following the lines of logic and felt myself grow abruptly cold. “Oh. Oh, God. All this time.” I turned and started for the door. “Outsiders. At the end of the day, this is all about the Outsiders. We’ve got to go. Right now.”

  “Harry,” Karrin said.

  I turned to face her.

  “Why won’t you explain . . . ?” She frowned. “You don’t trust me. So you’re going to keep me close just like the others.”

  I looked down at the floor. “Don’t take it hard. I don’t trust myself right now.”

  She shook her head. “This is the thanks I get.”

  “It’s Halloween,” I said. “It’s the night when everyone looks like something that they aren’t.” I turned toward the door. “But I’m about to start ripping off masks. And we’ll both see where everyone stands. Come on.”

  Chapter

  Forty

  I had a word with Toot-toot once we were outside, and by the time the Munstermobile rolled out of the lot, we had a ring of tiny, nigh-invisible escorts pacing us, making it their business to dislodge any enemy tiny observers our foes might have sent to keep tabs on us. It didn’t make me think that we would avoid the attentions of enemy Little Folk altogether, but every little thing I could conceal from the people working against me could prove to be a critical edge.

  Karrin saw the car’s paint job again, rolled her eyes, and declined my offer of a ride. She followed us on her Harley. Molly rode shotgun with me, holding her backpack on her lap. Molly was a big believer in shaping the future by way of carrying anything you might need in a backpack. Tonight it looked particularly stuffed.

  As I drove, the burn in my calf continued every time I worked the clutch or pumped the brake, getting slowly worse beneath the layers of gauze Butters had wrapped it in. The rest of my lower leg was tingling and itching, too, but at least the wound wasn’t soaking through the bandages.

  What the hell had that dart been? Why plug me with it, unless the Redcap thought it would kill me?

  “I, uh,” Molly said as I pulled the Caddy into the marina parking lot. “I got you something.”

  “Eh?” I asked.

  “I had them rush it out this morning and we got it this afternoon. I mean, you know. As long as I was using Thomas’s card anyway.”

  I blinked. “You embezzled funds from the White Court to get me a present?”

  “I like to think of it less as embezzling and more as an involuntary goodwill contribution,” she said.

  “Careful,” I told her. “You don’t want to get entangled with Lara and her crew. Even owing them money isn’t smart.”

  “I didn’t borrow it, boss. I stole it. If they weren’t cautious enough to stop me, that isn’t my problem. They should be more careful who they hand those cards to. Besides, they can afford it.”

  “The entitled younger generation, I swear,” I said. “Well-done.” I found a space big enough for the Munstermobile and parked, then set the emergency brake and killed the engine. “What is it?”

  Molly got out of the car.
Come see.”

  I started to, but she hurried impatiently around to meet me, digging into her backpack. I shut the car door behind me and she presented me with a paper-covered package tied with string.

  I opened it by tearing paper and snapping string, and a long leather garment unrolled.

  “Dunh nuh nah nah nunh,” Molly sang, singing the opening riff from “Bad to the Bone.”

  I found myself smiling and held up a long coat of heavy black leather, like one of those old cowboy dusters, except for the long mantle hanging down over its shoulders. It smelled like new leather and shone without a scuff mark to be seen. “Where the hell did you find an Inverness coat?” I asked her.

  “Internet,” she said. “Security Guy helped me shop for it.”

  “You don’t know his name?” I asked.

  “His name is Guy, and he’s building security,” Molly said. “Security Guy.”

  “And he did this for you why?” I asked.

  “Because I’m pretty and because he might have gotten a gift certificate out of the deal.”

  “Remind me to never give you one of my credit cards,” I said, and I put the coat on.

  The weight of the leather settling around me was familiar and comforting, but this coat wasn’t the same as my old coat. The sleeves were a little longer, and fit better. The shoulders were a little narrower, and actually matched up with mine. The mantle hung down a bit more. The pockets were in a slightly different place. Most significantly, it didn’t have the layers of protective enchantments that took about half a working week to lay down.

  But . . .

  Yeah, I decided. I could get used to it.

  I looked up to see my apprentice grinning widely.

  I put my hand on her shoulder for a moment, smiled, and said, “Thanks, Molls.”

  Her eyes shone.

  Mouse piled out of the car and hurried over to sniff the coat, tail wagging.

  “What do you think?” I asked him.

  “Woof,” he said seriously.