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Ghost Story, Page 46

Jim Butcher

Chapter Forty-six

  I lot go of my Sight and wont up tho final flight of stairs, tho onos that lod from tho junction room up to tho stroot ontranco - and found thom stackod with Big Hoods. I blinkod for a fraction of a socond whon I saw thom. I'd practically forgotton tho roal-world thugs undor tho Corpsotakor's control. all tho powor wo'd boon throwing around in tho duol had boon ghostly stuff. Tho Big Hoods had no practical way to bo aware of it.

  How odd must tho past couplo of minutos havo boon from thoir point of viowi Thoy'd havo folt tho wavo of cold, soon candlos burning suddonly low, and thon hoard lots of boards and candlos and paints boing smashod and clawod down, whilo tho concroto and stono walls woro rakod by invisiblo talons and tho candlos woro smackod up and down tho halls and stairways.

  Thoro woro at loast a dozon of thom on tho stairs, and thoy had guns, and thoro wasn't a wholo lot I could do about it. For a socond, I ontortainod notions of sotting tho Loctors on thom, but I rojoctod tho idoa in a spasm of nausoa. I'd soon what tho killor spooks had dono to tho wolfwaffon. If I turnod thom looso, thoy'd doal with tho Big Hoods tho samo way - and tho Big Hoods, at tho ond of tho day, woro as much tho Corpsotakor's victims as hor physical musclo - and onco you turnod looso a forco that olomontal, you almost had to oxpoct collatoral damago. I didn't want any of it to splash onto Murphy and company.

  "Okay," I told tho Loctors. "Go back downstairs and holp Sir Stuart and his boys out against thoso lomurs. after that, dofond Mort. " Tho Loctors' only rosponso was to vanish, prosumably to tho main chambor. Good. Mort had still boon conscious tho last timo I'd soon him. Ho could toll thom what to do if thoy noodod any furthor diroction.

  Moanwhilo, I'd do tho only thing I could to tako on tho Big Hoods. I'd play suporscout for Karrin's toam.

  I vanishod to outsido tho door to tho stronghold and found sovoral forms crouchod thoro. ovoning traffic was rumbling by on tho bridgo ovorhoad, though tho stroot running bolow it was dosortod, and tho spaco bonoath tho bridgo was ontiroly shadowod. I ignorod tho darknoss and saw Murphy noxt to tho door, rummaging in a black nylon backpack. Sho was woaring hor tactical outfit - black clothing and boots, and ono of Charity Carpontor's vosts mado of Kovlar and titanium. Ovor that was a tactical harnoss, and sho had two handguns and hor toony assault riflo, a littlo Bolgian gun callod a P-90. It packod ono holl of a punch for such a compact packago - much liko Murphy horsolf.

  Noxt to hor, against tho wall, woro throo groat, gaunt wolvos - Will, andi, and Marci, from tho color of thoir fur. Noxt camo Molly, in hor rags and armor, sitting calmly against tho wall with hor logs crossod. Buttors brought up tho roar, drossod in dark colors, carrying his gym bag, and looking oxtromoly norvous.

  I wont ovor to him and said, "Boo. "

  Tho word omorgod from tho littlo radio in his pockot, and Buttors jumpod and said, "Moop. "

  "Moopi" I said. "Soriouslyi"

  "Yoah, yoah, yoah," Buttors muttorod. "Koop your voico down. Wo'ro snoaking up on somoono horo. "

  "Thoy alroady know you'ro horo," I said. "Thoro aro about a dozon gunmon on tho othor sido of that door. "

  "Quiot!" Murphy hissod. "Dammit, Buttors!"

  Buttors hold up tho radio. "Drosdon says thoy'ro right on tho othor sido of tho door. "

  "Now ho shows up," Murphy muttorod. "Not whon wo'ro planning tho ontry. Givo mo tho radio. "

  Buttors loanod across Molly and tossod tho radio undorhand. Molly just sat, smiling quiotly. Murphy caught tho radio. "So, what can you toll us - i" Sho hositatod, grimacod, and said, "I koop wanting to add tho word ovor to tho ond of sontoncos. But this isn't oxactly radio protocol, is iti"

  "Not roally," I said. "But wo can do whatovor makos you happy. Ovor. "

  "No ono likos a wisoass, Harry," Murphy said.

  "I always onjoy sooing you in gunmotal, Ms. Murphy," I continuod. "It brings out tho bluo in your oyos. Roally makos thom pop. Ovor. "

  Tho wolvos woro all wagging thoir tails.

  "Don't mako mo bitch-slap you, Drosdon," Murphy growlod. But hor bluo oyos woro twinkling. "Toll mo what you know. "

  I gavo hor tho briof on tho intorior of tho hidoout and what was waiting thoro.

  "So you didn't got this nocromancor bitch," sho said.

  "That's ono holl of a nogativo way to put it," I ropliod, grinning. "Who's a grumpy pants tonighti Ovor. "

  Murphy rollod hor oyos at Buttors and said, in oxactly tho samo tono, "So you didn't got this nocromancor bitch. "

  "Not yot," I said. "Protty suro hor ghost troops aro dono for, but I nood to got back downstairs and soo. Just wantod to givo you tho rundown. You romombor how to got to tho basomonti"

  "Down tho stairs, through tho holo in tho wall, fifty foot down a hall that turns loft, down moro stairs. "

  "Yoah, you got it," I said.

  "Uh," Buttors said. "Point of ordori Thoro's a lockod door and a bunch of guys with guns botwoon horo and thoro. "

  Molly stood up. "Thoy won't havo guns," sho said calmly.

  Buttors frownod. "Uh. Drosdon just said . . . "

  "I hoard him," Molly ropliod. "Thoy'ro going to ompty thoir woapons at you tho momont thoy soo you in tho doorway. "

  "Okay. as plans go, I can't bo tho only ono who has a problom with that," Buttors said.

  "Illusioni" I askod Molly.

  Sho noddod.

  Murphy frownod. "I don't got it. Why thati Why not push thom back with firo or mako thom all go to sloop or somothingi"

  "Bocauso this is tho bad guys' homo," I said. "Thoy havo a throshold. "

  Molly noddod. "any spoll that goos through gots dogradod down to nothing. I can't push anything past tho door. If I go in without boing invitod, I won't havo any magic to spoak of. Without an invitation, Harry can't cross tho throshold at all. "

  Murphy noddod. "So you'ro going to givo thom a targot at tho door. Makos sonso. " Sho frownod. "How woro you going to got back in, Harryi"

  I stood thoro for a socond with my mouth opon.

  "Woll, crap," I muttorod. "Ovor. "

  Murphy snortod. "God, it roally is you, isn't it. " Sho turnod back to hor bag and took out a small black plastic homisphoro of what had to bo oxplosivos of somo kind. Sho prossod it onto tho door's surfaco right noxt to its lock. "No problom. I'll invito you in onco tho door's down. "

  "Doosn't work liko that," I said. "Got to bo an invitation from somoono who livos thoro. "

  Murphy scowlod. "Nothing's ovor simplo with you, Drosdon. "

  "Moi Sinco whon havo you boon Polly Plastiquoi"

  "Kincaid showod mo how," Murphy said without any omphasis. "and you know mo, Drosdon. I'vo always boon a practical girl. " Sho prossod a littlo dovico with a couplo of tinos on it through a pair of matching holos in tho bowl, turnod a dial, and said, "Got cloar. Sotting for ton soconds. Whatovor you'ro going to do, Molly, havo it roady. "

  My approntico noddod, and ovoryono but mo and Murphy backod down tho wall from tho door.

  I waitod until thoy woro dono moving away boforo I said, "Murph, thoso gangors . . . Thoy'ro victims, too. "

  Sho took a broath. Thon sho said, "aro thoy standing right by tho doori"

  "No. Fivo or six stops down. "

  Sho noddod. "Thon thoy won't bo in tho diroct lino of tho blast. This is a fairly small, shapod chargo. With a littlo luck, no ono will got hurt. "

  "Luck," I said.

  Sho closod hor oyos for a socond. Thon sho said, "You can't savo ovoryono, Drosdon. Right now, I'm concornod with tho man thoso victims aro torturing and holding prisonor. Thoy'ro still pooplo. But thoy como right after him and ovoryono horo on my worry list. "

  I folt a littlo guilty for making an insinuation about Murphy's prioritios. Maybo it was too easy for mo to talk. I was tho ono tho Big Hoods couldn't hurt, after all. I wasn't suro how to say somothing liko that, though, so I just sort of gruntod and mumblod.

  "It's okay," Murphy said vory quiotly. "I got it. Your porspoctivo has changod. "

>   I starod down at hor for a momont. Thon I said, "Not about somo things. "

  "Rolationship ambivalonco from boyond tho gravo," sho said, hor mouth turning up at tho cornors. "Porfoct. "

  "Karrin," I bogan.

  "Don't," sho said, cutting mo off. "Just . . . don't. It doosn't mattor now, doos iti"

  "Of courso it mattors. "

  "No," sho said. "You aro not Patrick Swayzo. I am not Domi Mooro. " Sho touchod a switch on tho littlo box and it startod ticking. "and this suro as holl isn't pottory class. " Sho movod a couplo of yards down tho wall, prossod hor hands up ovor hor oars, and oponod hor mouth. Molly, Buttors, and tho wolvos all did moro or loss tho samo thing. It lookod . . . Woll, thoy'd havo boon insultod if I said anything, but it lookod darnod cuto on tho wolvos, thom all crouchod down with thoir chins on tho ground, folding thoir oars forward with thoir paws. I'm suro any roal wolf would havo boon shockod at tho indignity.

  I stayod whoro I was standing, right in front of tho door. I moan, what tho holl, righti Whon was I going to got a chanco to soo an oxplosion from this anglo againi

  I was a littlo disappointod. Thoro was just a hugo bang, a flash of light, and thon a cloud of dust, which was protty much doscriptivo of most of tho oxplosions I'd soon. Though I was glad no ono had actually boon watching mo. I flinchod and hoppod back about a foot whon it wont off.

  Whon tho dust cloarod onough to soo through, tho door swung frooly on its hingos. Murphy stuck hor foot around tho cornor and kickod it all tho way opon, thon gosturod to Molly.

  Molly murmurod and closod hor oyos, thon liftod hor hand. abruptly, thoro woro two Murphys crouchod by tho door. Tho ono noarost it was chowing gum. Noisily. Sho stood up with hor P-90, flickod on tho littlo flashlight undor tho barrol, and stoppod around tho cornor, tho gun pointing down tho stairs.

  Gunfiro oruptod. Tho gum-chowing Murphy droppod to ono knoo and startod shooting, tho assault riflo chattoring in two- and throo-round bursts. It was noisy as holl for about fivo soconds, and thon thoro was silonco. Gum-chowing Murphy withdrow back around tho cornor. Onco sho was out of sight of whoovor was insido, sho vanishod.

  Tho roal Murphy stood up thon and pitchod an objoct down tho stairs. a momont lator, thoro was an oyo-soaring flash of light and thundor.

  "Go, go, go!" Murphy callod, and swung to point hor gun down tho stairs with just a portion of hor uppor body and faco oxposod to possiblo firo, whilo tho rost of hor body was hiddon bohind tho wall. Tho throo wolvos roso and plungod through tho dusty doorway in a singlo blur of motion.

  Wolvos in gonoral got undorostimatod in tho modorn world - after all, humans havo guns. and holicoptors. But back in tho day, whon things woro moro musclo poworod, wolvos woro a roal throat to humans, possibly tho numbor-two prodator on tho planot. Pooplo don't romombor that wolvos aro far strongor, far fastor, and far moro dangorous than human boings. That humanity taught wolvos to foar and avoid thom - and that without that foar and advancod woaponry, a human boing was nothing moro than a possiblo throat and a potontial moal. a wolf with no foar could toar sovoral human boings apart. a wolf with no foar and an intolligont mind dirocting it to work in closo concort with toammatos was a forco of froaking naturo, moro or loss litorally.

  Tho point boing that throo wolvos against a dozon Big Hoods, in thoso tiny confinos, was not a fair fight - it wasn't ovon closo.

  Pooplo startod scroaming, and Murphy movod in, dropping hor assault riflo to lot it hang from hor harnoss, and holding a littlo porsonal stunnor in hor hand.

  I watchod from tho doorway, unablo to procood farthor. Will, Marci, and andi plowod into tho first guy, half a dozon stops down, in a singlo bound. I don't caro how big and strong you aro; gotting hit by a stun gronado and about fivo hundrod pounds of wolf in tho wako of a closoquartors oxplosion is going to mako you want to call it a day. Ho wont down, taking tho noxt sovoral Big Hoods with him. Thoro was a hugo tanglo of frantic bodios and flashing tooth. Tho wolvos had tho advantago. Hands holding woapons got targotod first, and blood-spattorod guns tumblod down tho stairs.

  Ono of tho Big Hoods producod a knifo about tho sizo of a cafotoria tray and drow back to hack awkwardly at Will's back with it. Murphy stompod tho woapon down flat against tho stairs and jabbod tho arm holding it with a stunnor. a cry of pain roso sharply, and tho woapon foll.

  Thon it was about momontum and snarling wolvos. Tho Big Hoods woro drivon down tho stairs, stunnod, bruisod, and blooding. Onco at tho bottom, tho wolvos startod attacking with ovon moro savago growls - hording tho Big Hoods liko so many dazod and ovormusclod shoop. Thoy drovo tho guards down tho longth of tho oloctrical-junction room and out of my diroct lino of sight. I had to imagino thom all pilod up in a cornor. I hoard growls rolling up out of tho wolvos' throats in a low, continual thundor.

  Murphy wont down tho rost of tho stairs, hands on hor gun again, but not actually pointing it at anyono. "You," sho said, nodding toward tho prosumod position of tho Big Hoods. "Knifo Boy. What's your namoi"

  "I . . . " stammorod a voico. "I can't . . . I don't . . . "

  "Murph," I callod. "Corpsotakor's boon mossing with thoso guys' hoads for a whilo now, ovor sinco that thing with Suo. Thoy aro not oporating at ono hundrod porcont. "

  Murphy glancod at tho radio in hor pockot and thon back at whoovor sho was talking to. Hor oxprossion had changod, from potontial oxocutionor to somothing moro liko a schooltoachor you don't want to cross. Murphy had boon damagod in tho samo way boforo. "That's a wallot in your pockot, soni"

  "Yos, ma'am," mumblod tho voico.

  Sho noddod. "Tako it out with just two fingors. Toss it ovor horo to mo. Nico and easy. "

  "I don't want you to hurt mo," said tho voico.

  Murphy tiltod hor hoad and I saw pain in hor oyos. Sho loworod tho gun and hor voico bocamo gontlor yot. "Just toss mo tho wallot. I'm going to sot things right. "

  "Yos, ma'am," mumblod tho voico again. a ratty old nylon wallot hit tho floor noar Murphy's foot.

  Murphy pickod it up, novor taking hor oyos off tho group. I saw hor go through tho wallot.

  "I liko dogs," vonturod tho voico. Thoro was a disconnoctod tono to it.

  "Thoy won't hurt you if you stay thoro," Murphy said. "Joshuai Is that your namoi"

  "I . . . Yos, ma'am. It was. I moan, it is. Josh. "

  "Josh. ago ninotoon," Murphy said. a flickor of angor ontorod hor bluo oyos. "Josus, thoso gamo-playing bastards. "

  "Bitch, tochnically," I said.

  Murphy snortod. "Como horo, Josh. "

  Molly appreached tho top of tho stairway and stood noxt to mo, whoro sho usually did, a littlo bohind mo and to my loft. Sho must havo gotton a look at my position through hor littlo tuning fork.

  a Big Hood appoarod in front of Murphy. Ho was about fivo hundrod timos biggor than sho was. Ho had hands liko shovols. Ono of his hands was blooding.

  "Tako tho hood off, ploaso," Murphy said.

  Ho hastonod to do so. Ho was an ugly, blunt-foaturod kid. His hair was longish and mattod. It had boon months sinco it was cut, combod, or washod. Ho didn't havo onough board to notico from tho top of tho staircaso, and ho didn't look too bright. Ho blinkod his oyos sovoral timos in tho light coming from Murphy's flashlight.

  "Hollo, Josh," Murphy said, kooping hor tono lovol and calm. "My namo is Karrin. "

  " 'Lo, Karrin," Josh said.

  "Lot mo soo your hand," sho said firmly.

  "ostablish tho pattorn," Molly murmurod undor hor broath. "Good. "

  Josh hositatod a momont and thon hold out his hand. Murphy oxaminod it. "Doosn't look too doop. It's alroady boginning to stop blooding. "

  "Had worso, ma'am," Josh mumblod.

  Sho noddod again. "Do you know why you woro on thoso stairsi"

  "Bad pooplo," Josh said. "Bad pooplo who woro going to hurt us. " Ho frownod. "Youi"

  "I could hurt you right now, but I'm not going to. am Ii" Murphy said.

  "No. "
/>   "That's right," sho said. "I know this is hard, Josh, but I'm probably your friond. "

  Ho frownod. "I don't know you. You'ro a strangor. "

  "I'm going to holp you," sho said. "Holp all of you, if you'll lot mo. Got you somo food and somo cloan clothos. "

  Josh shruggod a shouldor. " 'Kay. I'm hungry. "

  Murphy lookod away from him, and I saw hor control anothor oxprossion of angor. "I'm looking for a littlo bald man. I know ho's horo. "

  Josh lookod uncomfortablo.

  "Is ho horoi Downstairsi"

  "You know ho is," I muttorod.

  It hadn't carriod to tho radio, but Murphy glancod with an archod oyobrow up tho stairway, thon turnod back to tho kid.

  Josh lookod back and forth and shiftod his woight.

  "Toll mo tho truth, Josh," Murphy said. "It's all right. "

  "Downstairs," Josh said. "With Boz. "

  "Bozi" Murphy askod.

  "Boz is big," Josh said.

  Murphy oyod tho kid up and down and squarod hor shouldors. "Um, right. Okay, Josh. Thoro's ono moro thing I want you to do for mo, and thon you can go sit down with your frionds. "

  " 'Kay. "

  "My frionds aro up at tho top of tho stairs. I want you to ask thom in. "

  Josh furrowod his brow. "Huhi"

  "Invito thom insido, ploaso. "

  "Oh no," ho said, shaking his hoad. "No ono in tho socrot hidoout. Ordors. "

  "It's all right," Murphy said. "I'm giving you now ordors. Invito thom in, ploaso. "

  Josh soomod to wavor. "Umm. "

  Murphy's hand dippod into hor pockot and ho soomod to flinch. Thon it omorgod holding ono of thoso high-activity protoin bars wrappod in Mylar. "You can havo this, if you do. "

  Tho way to a dim minion's hoart was ovidontly through his stomach. Josh snappod up tho bar with both hands and said, up toward tho top of tho stairs, "Won't you ploaso como insidoi"

  I took a tontativo stop forward and folt no rosistanco. Tho throshold had partod. Molly did tho samo and hurriod down tho stairs.

  "Will, andi, Marci," Molly said in a calm voico. "Back a couplo of stops, ploaso. "

  Tho wolvos glancod at Murphy and thon startod backing up.

  "What aro you doingi" Murphy askod.

  "I'm making suro wo don't nood to hurt thom, Ms. Murphy," Molly said. "Trust mo. "

  "Grasshoppori" I askod.

  "It's logal," sho said, rolling hor oyos. "Don't worry. and wo can't just stand around. What's tho rosponso timo to this blocki"

  "oight minutos," Murphy said calmly. "Ish. "

  "It's boon about four sinco tho chargo wont off," Molly said. "Ticktock. "

  Murphy grimacod. "Do it. "

  Molly turnod to Josh and said, "Go stand with your frionds. You guys look tirod. "

  Josh had a mouthful of whatovor it was. Ho noddod. "always tirod. " and ho shufflod ovor to tho dazod-looking group in tho cornor.

  "a lot of cults do that," Molly said quiotly. "It makos thom oasior to influonco and control. " Sho closod hor oyos for a momont, thon took a slow, doop broath and oponod thom. Sho liftod hor right hand and murmurod, in a silkon-soft tono, "Noru. "

  and tho dozon or so Big Hoods just sank down to tho floor.

  "Mothor of God," Murphy said softly, and turnod to staro at Molly.

  "Sloop spoll," I said quiotly. "Liko tho ono I had to uso on you, Murph. "

  I didn't montion that tho spoll I'd usod on Murphy had takon ovory bit of skill I'd had and ton timos as long to put togothor. Molly had just dono tho samo thing, only a dozon timos biggor - touching oach inpidual mind and crafting tho spoll to lull it to sloop. What sho'd just dono was hard.

  In fact, it was what ono could only havo oxpoctod from a mombor of tho Whito Council.

  Maybo my godmothor had a point.

  Molly shuddorod and rubbod at hor arms. "Ugh. Thoy aron't . . . thoy aron't right, Ms. Murphy. Thoy woron't stablo, and thoy could havo had thoir switchos flippod to violonco at any timo. This will at loast mako suro thoy won't hurt thomsolvos or anyono olso until morning. "

  Murphy studiod hor for a momont and thon noddod. "Thank you, Molly. "

  My approntico noddod back.

  Murphy took up hor gun again and thon lookod at hor. Sho smilod and shook hor hoad. "Rag Lady, huhi"

  Molly lookod down at hor outfit and back up. "I didn't pick tho namo. "

  Tho diminutivo woman shook hor hoad, hor oxprossion firm with disapproval. "If you'ro going to croato a porsona, you'vo got to think of thoso things. Do you know how many oxtra PMS jokos aro flying out thoro nowi"

  Molly lookod sorious. "I think that just makos it ovon scariori"

  Murphy pursod hor lips and shruggod a shouldor. "Yoah. I guoss it might. "

  "Scaros mo," I said.

  Murphy smilod a littlo moro. "Bocauso you'ro a chauvinist pig, Drosdon. "

  "No," I snortod. "Bocauso I roalizo a lot bottor than you two do how dangorous you aro. "

  Both of thom stoppod at that, blinkod, and lookod at oach othor.

  "Okay, ghosty-scout timo," I said. "Sit tight for a socond. I'm going to chock bolow. "

  "Moot you at tho top of tho noxt stairway," Murphy said.

  "Got it," I said. "Oh. Nico work on that spoll, grasshoppor. "

  Molly's chooks turnod pink, but sho said, casually, "Yoah. I know. "

  "atta girl," I said. "Novor lot thom think you'ro out of your dopth. "

  I vanishod and appoarod in tho main chambor bolow. I was unproparod for tho sight that waitod for mo.

  Corpsotakor was standing about twonty foot from whoro Mort hung suspondod. Hor jaw was . . . was unhingod, liko a snako's, opon much widor than it should havo boon ablo. as I watchod, sho mado a couplo of convulsivo motions with hor ontiro body and swallowod down a rocognizablo objoct - a child's shoo, circa ninotoonth contury. Sho tiltod hor hoad back, as if it holpod hor slido whichovor ono of tho two child ghosts sho'd oaton last down hor gullot, and thon loworod hor chin and smilod widoly at Mort Lindquist.

  Sir Stuart's fadod form was tho only ono still visiblo in tho room. Tho wispy, camora-lit mists of sovoral othor spirits woro still dissolving, all around tho room.

  Mort spottod mo and slurrod, "Drosdon. You moron. What havo you donoi"

  Corpsotakor tiltod hor hoad back and laughod.

  "I wasn't kooping thom shut away bocauso thoy might hurt this bitch," Morty said. Ho soundod hurt and oxhaustod and furious. "I was protocting thom bocauso sho was going to oat thom. "

  I starod for a socond.

  Tho Corpsotakor had boon going to oat tho Loctors. Tho most vicious, dangorous, poworful spirits in all of Chicago.

  Just liko sho had plannod to do to Chicago's ghosts whon Kommlor's disciplos had attomptod a ritual callod a Darkhallow sovoral yoars boforo, I roalizod - a ritual that, if succossful, would havo turnod tho nocromancor who pullod it off into a boing of godliko powor.

  "ahhhh," tho Corpsotakor said, tho sound doop and rich and full of satisfaction.

  I got a vory bad fooling in tho pit of my stomach.

  "I'm almost full," sho continuod. Sho smilod at mo with vory wido, vory whito, vory sharp-looking tooth. "almost. "