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Blood Rites, Page 6

Jim Butcher

Chapter 10

  Chapter Ten

  Apparently a gun held to the back of my head engenders a sense of fellowship and goodwill in the depths of my soul. I cooperated.

  I unlocked the door to the office, and the gunman followed me in. My office isn't big, but it's on the corner, and has windows on two walls. There's a table, a counter with my old coffee machine on it, some metal filing cabinets, and a table holding a display of pamphlets meant to help public relations with the normals. My desk sat in the corner between the windows, two comfy chairs for clients facing it.

  The gunman walked me to one of my comfy chairs and said, "Sit. "

  I sat. "Hey, man, look-"

  The gun pressed harder. "Hush. "

  I hushed. A second later something slapped my shoulder.

  "Take it," the gunman said. "Put it on. "

  I reached back and found a heavy cloth sleeping mask with an elastic head strap. "Why?"

  The gunman must have thumbed back the hammer of his weapon, because it clicked. I put the stupid mask on. "You might not know this, but I don't function all that well as an investigator when blinded. "

  "That's the idea," the gunman drawled. The gun left my neck. "Try not to make me feel threatened," he said through a yawn. "I'm all spooked and jittery. If you make any noise or start to get up, I'll probably twitch, and this trigger is pretty sensitive. My gun is pointed at your nose. The ensuing cause-and-effect chain could be inconvenient for you. "

  "Maybe next time you could just say 'freeze,'" I said. "No need to walk me through it step by step. "

  His tone sounded like he'd colored it with a faint smile. "Just want to make sure you understand the situation. If I blew your head off over a stupid misunderstanding, gosh, would our faces be red. " He paused, then added, "Well, mine, anyway. "

  He didn't sound jumpy to me. He sounded bored. I heard him moving around for a minute, and then there was a sudden vibration in the air. I felt as if the skin of my face had suddenly dried into leather and tightened over my cheekbones.

  "Okay," he said. "That'll do. Take it off. "

  I took the mask off and found the gunman sitting on the edge of my desk, a compact semiautomatic in his hand. He had it pointed at me in a casual way. He was a big guy, almost my own height, with dark golden hair just long enough to look a little exotic. He had grey-blue eyes that stayed steady and missed nothing. He wore casual black pants and a black sports jacket over a grey T-shirt. He was built more like a swimmer than a weight lifter, all leonine power and lazy grace taken completely for granted.

  I looked around and saw a circle of salt as wide as two of my fingers poured around the chair. A Morton's salt cylinder sat on the floor nearby. A bit of scarlet stained some of the salt circle; blood. He'd used it to power up the circle, and I could feel its energy trapping all the magic in it, including my own.

  The circle had formed a barrier that would stop magical energy cold. I'd have to physically break the circle of salt and disrupt that barrier before I could send any magic at the gunman. Which was probably the point.

  I eyed him and said, "Kincaid. I didn't expect to hear from you until tomorrow at least. "

  "Rolling stones and moss, baby," the mercenary responded. "I was going through Atlanta when I got your message. Wasn't hard to get a direct flight here. "

  "What's with the Gestapo treatment?"

  He shrugged. "You're a pretty unpredictable guy, Dresden. I don't mind making a social call, but I needed assurance that you were really you. "

  "I assure you that I'm me. "

  "That's nice. "

  "Now what?"

  He rolled one shoulder in a shrug. "Now we have a nice talk. "

  "While you point a gun at me?" I asked.

  "I just want a friendly chat without either of us getting his brain redecorated with magic. "

  "I can't do that," I said.

  He shook a finger at me in a negative gesture. "The Council will burn anyone who gets caught doing it. That's different. " He nodded at the circle. "But from in there, you literally can't. I'm here to talk business, not to die of stupidity. If you like, think of the precautions as a compliment. "

  I folded my arms. "Because nothing says flattery like a gun to the head. "

  "Ain't that God's own truth," Kincaid said. He set the gun down on my desk, put left his hand on it. "Dresden, I'm just plain folks. I'm still alive because I don't take stupid chances or walk into things blindly. "

  I tried to ditch the stubborn anger and nodded. "Okay, then. No harm, no foul. "

  "Good. " He checked a nylon-strap watch on his left wrist. "I haven't got all day. You wanted to talk to me. So talk. "

  I felt annoyed enough to start screaming, but forced myself to rein it in. "There's a scourge of vampires in town. "

  "Black Court?"

  "Yeah," I said.

  "Whose scourge?"

  "Mavra. "

  Kincaid pursed his lips. "Cagey old hag. I hear she heads up a pretty big crew. "

  "Yeah. I'm going to downsize them. "

  Kincaid's index finger tapped on his gun. "Black Court are tough to take down. "

  "Unless you get them in their coffins," I said. "I can find them. "

  "You want me to bodyguard you until then?"

  "No. I want you to go there with me and help me kill them all. "

  A smile parted his lips from white teeth. "Going on an offensive would be nice. I'm getting bored on defense. What's the play?"

  "Find 'em. Kill 'em. "

  Kincaid nodded. "Simple enough. "

  "Yeah, that's the idea. What are you going to cost me?"

  He told me.

  I choked. "Do you offer coupons or anything?"

  Kincaid rolled his eyes and stood up. "Christ. Why did you waste my time, Dresden?"

  "Wait," I said. "Look, I'll figure out a way to pay you. "

  He arched an eyebrow.

  "I'm good for it. "

  "Maybe," he said. "But it's funny how a spending a lifetime as a hired gun makes you a little cynical. "

  "Take a chance," I said. "I'll get the money to you. And I'll owe you one. "

  His eyes glittered, flickers of malice and amusement sharing space in them. "Owed a favor by the infamous Dresden. I guess it might be worth enough of my time to give you a chance. "

  "Great. "

  "Two conditions," he said.


  "I want at least one more set of eyes along," he said. "Someone good in a fight. "


  "Because if someone gets hurt, it takes two people to get him out alive. One to carry him and one to lay down cover fire. "

  "I didn't think you cared. "

  "Of course I do," he said. "The wounded guy might be me. "

  "Fine," I said. "What's the second condition?"

  "You need to understand that if you try to stiff me, I'll have to protect my interests. " He lifted a hand. "Don't get me wrong. It's just business. Nothing personal. "

  "It won't be an issue," I said. "Besides, you wouldn't want to eat my death curse, would you?"

  "No. So I'd use a rifle at a thousand yards. The bullet outruns its own sonic boom, and you'd never even hear the shot. You'd be dead before you realized what happened. "

  That scared me. I've faced more than a few gruesome or nightmarish creatures, but none of them had been that calm and practical. Kincaid believed that he could kill me, if it came to that.

  And thinking about it, I believed him too.

  He watched my face for a minute, and his smile turned a shade wolfish. "You sure you want me on board?"

  There was a pregnant half second of silence. "Yeah. "

  "All right. " Kincaid stepped forward and brushed the salt circle with his toe. The tension of the circle's barrier vanished. "But I'm on the clock. I've got to get back to Ivy's place before Sunday. "

  "Understood," I said. "How do I get in touch?"r />
  He slipped his gun into his jacket pocket and drew out a grey business card. He put the card on my desk and said, "Pager. "

  He turned to leave. I stood up and said, "Hey, Kincaid. "

  He glanced back at me. I tossed the sleep mask to him. He caught it.

  "Just plain folk?" I asked.

  "Yeah. "

  "Not supernatural?"

  "I wish," he said. "Vanilla mortal. "

  "You're a liar. "

  His features smoothed into a neutral mask. "Excuse me?"

  "I said you're a liar. I saw you during the fight at Wrigley, Kincaid. You fired a dozen shots, on the move and dodging bad guys the whole time. "

  "What's so supernatural about that?"

  "In a fight, just plain folks miss sometimes. Maybe most times. You didn't miss once. "

  "What's the point of shooting if you're just going to miss?" He smiled, made a mime-gun of his thumb and index ringer, and aimed at me. His thumb fell forward and he said, "I'm as human as you are, Dresden. I'll see you later. "

  Then he left.

  I didn't know whether to feel better or worse. On one hand, he was an experienced gunman, and absolutely deadly in a fight. Human or not, I might need someone like that with me when I confronted Mavra.

  On the other hand, I had no idea how I would be able to pay him, and I believed him when he said he'd assassinate me. The entire concept was scary as hell. The threat of a death curse that could be levied against a wizard's slayer was a major asset. It meant that anyone or anything that tried to attack a member of the White Council would hesitate, unwilling to risk the burst of destructive power a wizard could release in the last instants of his life.

  But those instants would be too slow against a high-powered sniper round fired from ambush. I could imagine it, a flash and a thump on the back of my head, a split second of surprise, and then blackness before I could even realize the need to pronounce my curse.

  Kincaid was right: It could work. The tactical doctrine of the powers-that-be in the magical communities of the world tended to run along a couple of centuries behind the rest of the planet. It was entirely possible that the seniormost wizards of the White Council had never even considered the possibility. Ditto for the vampires. But it could work.

  The future abruptly seemed like a fairly unpleasant place for professional wizards.

  I set about cleaning up the salt and settled down at my little desk, putting my thoughts in order. I had to find out more about the circumstances around the victims of the malocchio. I had to go digging for more information on Arturo Genosa's venture into the world of erotic film.

  And if that wasn't enough, while I did all of that, I also had to figure out how to get enough money to keep my own hired thug from putting holes in my skull.

  For most people it would be a desperate situation. But most people hadn't been through them as many times as I had. My worry and tension slowly grew, and as they did I took a perverse comfort in the familiar emotions. It actually felt good to feel my survival instincts put me on guard against premature mortality.

  Hell's bells. Is that insane or what?