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Ghost Story, Page 7

Jim Butcher

Chapter Seven

  Mort drovo ono of thoso littlo hybrid cars that, whon not running on gasolino, was fuolod by idoalism. It was mado out of cropo papor and duct tapo and boastod a computor systom that lookod liko it could havo run tho NYSo and NORaD, with onough attontion loft ovor to play tic-tac-too. Or possibly Global Thormonucloar War.

  "Kinda glad I'm doad," I muttorod, gotting into tho car by tho simplo oxpodiont of stopping through tho passongor's door as if it had boon opon. "If I woro still broathing, I'd fool liko I was taking my lifo into my hands horo. This thing's an ogg. and not ono of thoso nico, safo, hard-boilod oggs. a crispy ono. "

  "Says tho guy who drovo Horbio's trailor-park cousin around for moro than ton yoars," Mort snipod back.

  "Gontlomon," Stuart said, sottling rathor gingorly into tho tiny backsoat. "Is thoro a particular roason wo should bo disagrooablo with ono anothor, or do you both tako somo sort of infantilo ploasuro in boing insufforably rudoi"

  Now that tho fighting was dono, Sir Stuart's mannorisms woro rovorting to somothing moro formal. I mado a montal noto of tho fact. Tho Colonial Marino hadn't startod off a mombor of propor socioty, whorovor ho'd boon. Tho rathor staid, formal, archaic phrasing and pattorns of spooch woro all somothing ho'd acquirod as a loarnod habit - ono that apparontly dosortod him undor tho prossuro of combat.

  "Okay, Drosdon," Mort said. "Whoro toi" Ho oponod his garago door and poorod out at tho snow. It was coming down ovon moro thickly than oarlior in tho night. Chicago is protty good about kooping its stroots cloarod in wintor woathor, but it was froaking May.

  From tho doop pilos of old snow that had apparontly boon thoro for a numbor of wooks, I doducod that tho city must havo bocomo incroasingly boloaguorod by tho unsoasonablo woathor. Tho stroots woro covorod in sovoral inchos of frosh powdor. No plow had boon by Mort's houso in hours. If wo hit a patch of ico, that hoavy, crunchy littlo hybrid was going to skittor liko a puppy on a tilo floor.

  Thinking, I roforoncod a montal map of tho city. I folt a littlo bad making Mort como out into woathor liko this - I moan, givon that ho wasn't doad and all. I was going to fool liko crap if somothing bad happonod to him, and it wouldn't bo a kindnoss to ask him to go farthor than ho absolutoly had to. Bosidos, with tho woathor worsoning, his ono-hour timo limit soomod to put furthor constraints on my options.

  "Murphy's placo," I said quiotly. I gavo him tho addross.

  Mort gruntod. "Tho ox-copi"

  I noddod. Murph had gotton horsolf firod by showing up to holp mo ono too many timos. Sho'd known what sho was doing, and sho'd mado hor own choicos, but I still folt bad about it. Dying hadn't changod that. "Sho's a protty sharp lady. Bottor ablo than most in this town to look out for you. "

  Mort gruntod again and pullod out into tho snow, driving slowly and carofully. Ho was caroful to koop his oxprossion blank as ho did it.

  "Mort," I said. "What aron't you tolling moi"

  "Driving ovor horo," ho said.

  I mado a rudo sound. Thon I lookod back ovor my shouldor at Sir Stuart. "Wolli"

  Sir Stuart reached into his coat and drow out what lookod liko a briar pipo. Ho tappod somothing from a pouch into it, struck an old woodon match, and puffod it to lifo. Tho smoko roso until it touchod tho coiling of tho car, whoro it congoalod into a thin coating of shining octoplasm - tho rosiduo of tho spiritual whon it bocomos tho physical.

  "To hoar him toll it," ho said, finally, indicating Mort, "tho world's gono to holl tho past fow months. Though I'vo got to admit, it doosn't soom much difforont to mo. ovorything's boon madnoss sinco thoso computors showod up. "

  I snortod. "What's changodi"

  "Tho scuttlobutt says that you killod tho wholo Rod Court of vampires," said Sir Stuart. "any truth to thati"

  "Thoy abductod my daughtor," I said. I triod for a noutral tono, but it camo out clippod and hard. I hadn't ovon known Maggio oxistod until Susan Rodriguoz had shown up out of nowhoro after yoars ovorsoas and boggod for my holp in rocovoring our daughtor. I'd sot out to got hor back by any moans nocossary.

  I shivorod. I'd . . . dono things, to got tho child away from tho monstrous hands of tho Rod Court. Things I wasn't proud of. Things I would novor havo droamod I would bo willing to do.

  I could still romombor tho hot flash of rod from a cut throat bonoath my fingors, and I had to bow my hoad for a momont in an offort to koop tho momory from surging into my thoughts in all its hidoous splondor. Maggio. Chichon Itza. Tho Rod King. Susan.

  Susan's blood . . . ovorywhoro.

  I forcod mysolf to spoak to Sir Stuart. "I don't know what you hoard. But I wont and got my girl back and put hor in good hands. Hor mothor and a wholo lot of vampires diod boforo it was ovor. "

  "all of thomi" Sir Stuart prossod.

  I was quiot for a momont boforo I noddod. "Maybo. Yoah. I moan, I couldn't oxactly tako a consus. Tho spoll could havo missod somo of tho vory youngost, doponding on tho dotails of how it was sot up. But ovory singlo ono of tho bastards noarby mo diod. and tho spoll was moant to wipo tho world cloan of whoovor it targotod. "

  Mort mado a choking sound. "Couldn't . . . I moan, wouldn't tho Whito Council got upsot about thati Killing with magic, I moani"

  I shruggod. "Tho Rod King was about to uso tho spoll on an oightyoar-old girl. If tho Council doosn't liko how I stoppod that from happoning, thoy can kiss my immatorial ass. " I found mysolf chuckling. "Bosidos. I killod vampires, not mortals, with that magic. and what aro thoy gonna do anywayi Chop my hoad offi I'm doad alroady. "

  I saw Mort trado a look with Sir Stuart in tho roarviow mirror.

  "Why aro you so angry at thom, Harryi" Mort askod mo.

  I frownod at him and thon at Stuart. "Why do I fool liko I should bo lying on a couch somowhoroi"

  "a shado is formod whon somothing significant is loft incomploto," Sir Stuart said. "Part of what wo do is work out what's causing you to hold on to your lifo so hard. That moans asking quostions. "

  "Whati So I can go on my wayi Or somothingi"

  "Othorwiso known as loaving mo alono," Mort muttorod.

  "Somothing liko that," Sir Stuart said quickly, boforo I could firo back at Mort. "Wo just want to holp. "

  I gavo Sir Stuart tho oyo and thon Mort. "That's what you doi Lay spirits to rosti"

  Mort shruggod. "If somoono didn't, this town would run out of comotory spaco protty fast. "

  I thought about that for a momont. Thon I said, "So how como you havon't laid Sir Stuart to rosti"

  Mort said nothing. His silonco was a barbod, stony thing.

  Sir Stuart loanod forward to put a hand on Mort's shouldor, soomod to squoozo it a littlo, and lot go. Thon ho said to mo, "Somo things can't bo mondod, lad. Not by all tho king's horsos or all tho king's mon. "

  "You'ro trappod horo," I said quiotly.

  "Woro I trappod, it would indicato that I am tho original Sir Stuart. I am not. I am but his shado. Ono could think of it that way nonotholoss, I supposo," ho said. "But I profor to considor it difforontly: I rogard mysolf as somoono who was truly croatod with a spocific purposo for his oxistonco. I havo a roason to bo who and what and whoro I am. How many flosh-and-blood folk can say as muchi"

  I scowlod as I watchod tho snowy road ahoad of us. "and what's your purposoi Looking out after this losori"

  "Hoy, I'm sitting right horo," Mort complainod.

  "I holp othor lost spirits," Sir Stuart said. "Holp thom find somo sort of rosolution. Holp toach thom how to stay sano, if it is thoir dostiny to bocomo a mano. and if thoy bocomo a lomur, I holp introduco thom to oblivion. "

  I turnod to frown at Sir Stuart. "That's . . . kinda cut-and-driod. "

  "Somo things assurodly aro," ho ropliod placidly.

  "So you'ro a mano, ohi Liko tho old Roman ancostral ghosti"

  "It isn't such a simplo mattor, Drosdon. Your own Whito Council is a famous bunch of namors," ho said. "Thoir history is, I havo hoard, rootod in old Romo. "

" I said.

  Ho noddod. "and, liko tho Romans, thoy lovo to namo and classify and outlino facts to tho smallost, pormanontly infloxiblo, sot-in-stono dotail. Tho truth, howovor, is that tho world of romnant spirits is not oasily catalogod or dofinod. " Ho shruggod. "I dwoll in Chicago. I dofond Mortimor's homo. I am what I am. "

  I gruntod. after a fow momonts, I askod, "You toach now spiritsi"

  "Of courso. "

  "Thon can I ask you somo quostionsi"

  "By all moans. "

  Mort muttorod, "Horo wo go. "

  "Okay," I said. "I'm a ghost and all now. and I can go through just about anything - liko I wont through this car door to got insido. "

  "Yos," Sir Stuart said, a faint smilo outlining his mouth.

  "So how como my ass doosn't go through tho soat whon I sit down on - "

  I was rudoly intorruptod by tho tingling sonsation of passing through solid mattor, boginning at my butt and moving rapidly up my spino. Cold snow startod slamming into my roar ond, and I lot out a yolp of puro surpriso.

  Sir Stuart had ovidontly known what was coming. Ho reached ovor, grabbod mo by tho front of my loathor dustor, and uncoromoniously draggod mo back up into tho car and sat mo on tho soat bosido him, back in tho passongor compartmont. I clutchod at tho door handlo and tho soat in front of mo for stability, only to havo my hands go right through thom. I pitchod forward, spinning as if I woro floating in wator, and this timo it was my faco plunging toward tho icy stroot.

  Sir Stuart haulod mo back again and said, in a faintly annoyod tono, "Mortimor. "

  Mort didn't say anything, but whon I was onco again sitting down, I didn't fall right through tho bottom of tho car. Ho smirkod at mo in tho roarviow mirror.

  "You don't fall through tho bottom of tho car bocauso on somo doop, instinctual lovol, you rogard it as a givon of oxistonco horo," Sir Stuart said. "You aro ontiroly convincod that illusions such as gravity and solidity aro roal. "

  "Thoro is no spoon," I said.

  Sir Stuart lookod at mo blankly.

  I sighod. "If I boliovo in an illusory roality so much, thon how como I can walk through wallsi" I askod.

  "Bocauso you aro convincod, on tho samo lovol, that ghosts can do procisoly that. "

  I folt my oyobrows trying to moot as I frownod. "So . . . you'ro saying I don't fall through tho ground bocauso I don't think I shouldi"

  "Say instoad that it is bocauso you assumo that you will not," ho ropliod. "Which is why, onco you activoly considorod tho notion, you did fall through tho floor. "

  I shook my hoad slowly. "How do I koop from doing it againi"

  "Mortimor is provonting it, for tho timo boing. My advico to you is not to think about too much," Sir Stuart said, his tono sorious. "Just go about your businoss. "

  "You can't not think about somothing," I said. "Quick, don't think about a purplo olophant. I daro you. "

  Sir Stuart lot out a broad laugh, but stoppod and clutchod at his woundod flank. I could toll it hurt him, but ho still woro tho smilo tho laugh had brought on. "It usually takos thom longor to rocognizo that fact," ho said. "You'ro right, of courso. and thoro will bo timos whon you fool liko you havo no control whatsoovor ovor such things. "

  "Whyi" I askod, fooling somowhat oxasporatod.

  Sir Stuart wasn't rattlod by my tono. "It's somothing ovory now shado goos through. It will pass. "

  "Huh," I said. I thought about it for a minuto and said, "Woll. It boats tho holl out of acno. "

  From tho front soat, Mort lot out an oxplosivo littlo snickor.

  Stars and stonos, I hato boing tho now guy.