Blood Rites, Page 7Jim Butcher
I ran up a long-distance bill while I did my digging on Genosa. I called a dozen different organizations and business entities around Los Angeles, but computers answered almost every phone, and everyone I talked to referred me to their home page on the Internet. Evidently conversation with an actual human being had become passe. Stupid Internet.
I hit some walls, slammed my head against some closed doors, got a little information, and ran out of time. I wrote down Internet addresses, picked up some food, and went to see Murphy.
Special Investigations has its office in one of the clump of mismatched buildings comprising Chicago Police Headquarters. I checked in with the desk sergeant and showed him the consultant's ID card Murphy had given me. The man made me sign in and waved me through. I marched up the stairs and came out on the level housing holding cells and Special Investigations.
I opened the door to SI and stepped inside. The main room was maybe fifty feet long and twenty wide, and desks were packed into it like sardines. The only cubicle walls in the room were around a small waiting area with a couple of worn old couches and a table with some magazines for bored adults and some toys for bored children. One of them, a plush Snoopy doll spotted with old, dark stains, lay on the floor.
The puppy stood over it, tiny teeth sunk into one of the doll's ears. He shook his head, his own torn ear flapping, and dragged Snoopy in a little circle while letting out small, squeaky growls. The puppy looked up at me. His tail wagged furiously, and he savaged the doll with even more enthusiasm.
"Hey," I told him. "Murphy's supposed to be watching you. What are you doing?"
The puppy growled and shook Snoopy harder.
"I can see that. " I sighed. "Some babysitter she is. "
A tall man, going bald by degrees and dressed in a rumpled brown suit, looked up from his desk. "Hey, there, Harry. "
"Sergeant Stallings," I responded. "Nice moves on Murphy today. The way you slammed her foot with your stomach was inspiring. "
He grinned. "I was expecting her to go for a lock. Woman is a nasty infighter. Everyone tried to tell O'Toole, but he's still young enough to think he's invincible. "
"I think she made her point," I said. "She around?"
Stallings glanced down the long room at the closed door to Murphy's cheap, tiny office. "Yeah, but you know how she is with paperwork. She's ready to tear someone's head off. "
"Don't blame her," I said, and scooped up the puppy.
"You get a dog?"
"Nah, charity case. Murphy was supposed to be keeping an eye on him. Buzz her for me?"
Stallings shook his head and turned his phone around to face me. "I plan to retire. You do it. "
I grinned and went on down to Murphy's office, nodding to a couple other guys with SI along the way. I knocked on the door.
"God dammit!" Murphy swore from the other side. "I said not now!"
"It's Harry," I said. "Just stopping by to get the dog. "
"Oh, God," she snarled. "Back away from the door. "
A second later the door opened and Murphy glared up at me, blue eyes bright and cold. "Get more away. I've been fighting this computer all day long. I swear, if you blow out my hard drive again, I'm taking it out of your ass. "
"Why would your hard drive be in my ass?" I said.
Murphy's eyes narrowed.
"Ah, hah, hah, heh. Yeah, okay. I'll be going, then. "
"Whatever," she said, and shut her office door hard.
I frowned. Murphy wasn't really a "whatever" sort of person. I tried to remember the last time I had seen Murphy that short and abrupt. When she'd been in the midst of post-traumatic stress, she'd been remote but not angry. When she was keyed up for a fight or feeling threatened, she'd be furious but she didn't draw away from her friends.
The only thing that had come close to this was when she thought I was involved in a string of supernatural killings. From where she'd been standing, it looked like I had betrayed her trust, and she had expressed her anger with a right cross that had chipped one of my teeth.
Something was upsetting her. A lot.
"Murph?" I asked through the door. "Where did the aliens hide your pod?"
She opened the door enough to scowl at me. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"No pod, huh. Maybe you're an evil twin from another dimension or something. "
The muscles along her jaw clenched, and her expression promised murder.
I sighed. "You don't seem to be your usual serf. I'm not an analyst or anything, but you kinda look like something is bothering you. Just maybe. "
She waved a hand. "It's this paperwork-"
"No, it isn't," I said. "Come on, Murphy. It's me. "
"I don't want to talk about it. "
I shrugged. "Maybe you need to. You're about two steps shy of psychotic right now. "
She reached for her door again, but didn't close it. "Just a bad day. "
I didn't believe her, but I said, "Sure, okay. I'm sorry if the dog added to it. "
Her expression became tired. She leaned against the doorway. "No. No, he was great. Barely made a sound. Quiet as a mouse all day long. Even used the papers I put down. "
I nodded. "You sure you don't want to talk?"
She grimaced and glanced around the office. "Maybe not here. Walk with me. "
We left and headed down the hall to the vending machines. Murphy didn't say anything until she bought a Snickers bar. "My mom called," she said.
"Bad news?" I asked.
"Yeah. " She closed her eyes and bit off a third of the candy bar. "Sort of. Not really. "
"Oh," I said, as if her answer made some kind of sense. "What happened?"
She ate more chocolate and said, "My sister, Lisa, is engaged. "
"Oh," I said. When in doubt, be noncommittal. "I didn't know you had a sister. "
"She's my baby sister. "
"Um. My condolences?" I guessed.
She glowered at me. "She did this on purpose. With the reunion this weekend. She knew exactly what she was doing. "
"Well, it's a good thing someone knew, 'cause so far I have no freaking clue. "
Murphy finished the candy bar. "My baby sister is engaged. She's going to be showing up this weekend with her fianc§? and I am going to be there without a fianc§?or a husband. Or even a boyfriend. My mother will never let me hear the end of it. "
"Well, uh, you had a husband, right? Two of them, even. "
She glared. "The Murphys are Irish Catholic," she said. "My not one but two, count them, two divorces won't exactly wash clean the stigma. "
"Oh. Well, I'm sure whoever you're dating would show up with you, right?"
She glanced back toward the SI offices. If looks could kill, hers would have blown that section of the building into Lake Michigan. "Are you kidding? I don't have time. I haven't been on a date in two years. "
Maybe I should have gone for the ultimate inept remark, and started singing about how short people got nobody to love. I decided to sting her pride a little instead. She'd reacted well to it before. "The mighty Murphy. Slayer of various and sundry nasty monsters, vampires, and so on-"
"And trolls," Murphy said. "Two more when you were out of town last summer. "
"Uh- huh. And you're letting a little family shindig get you down like this?"
She shook her head. "Look. It's a personal thing. Between me and my mom. "
"And your mom is going to think less of you for being single? A career woman?" I regarded her skeptically. "Murphy, don't tell me you're a mama's girl under all the tough-chick persona. "
She stared at me for a moment, exasperation and sadness sharing space on her features. "I'm the oldest daughter," she said. "And. . . well, the whole time I was growing up, I just assumed that I'd be. . . her successor, I guess. That I'd follow her example. We both did. It's one of the things that made u
s close. The whole family knew it. "
"And if your baby sister is all of a sudden more like your mom than you are, what? It threatens your relationship with her?"
"No," she said, annoyance in her tone. "Not like that. Not really. And sort of. It's complicated. "
"I can see that," I said.
She slumped against the vending machine. "My mom is pretty cool," Murphy said. "But it's been hard to stay close to her the past few years. I mean, the job keeps me busy. She doesn't think I should have divorced my second husband, and that's been between us a little. And I've changed. The past couple of years have been scary. I learned more than I wanted to know. "
I winced. "Yeah. Well. I tried to warn you about that. "
"You did," she said. "I made my choice. I can handle living with it. But I can't exactly sit down and chat with her about it. So it's one more thing that I can't talk about with, my mother. Little things, you know? A lot of them. Pushing us apart. "
"So talk to her," I said. "Tell her there's stuff you can't talk about. Doesn't mean you don't want to be around her. "
"I can't do that. "
I blinked. "Why not?"
"Because I can't," she said. "It just doesn't work like that. "
Murphy had genuine worry on her face and actual tears in her eyes, and I started feeling out of my depth. Maybe because it was a family thing. It seemed like something completely alien, and I didn't get it.
Murphy was worried about being close to her mom. Murphy should just go talk to her mom, right? Bite the bullet and clear the air. With anyone else she'd have handled the problem exactly that way.
But I've noticed that people get the most irrational whenever family was around-while simultaneously losing their ability to distinguish reason from insanity. I call it familial dementia.
I may not have understood the problem, but Murphy was my friend. She was obviously hurting, and that's all I really needed to know. "Look, Murph, maybe you're making more of it than you need to. I mean, seems to me that if your mom cares about you, she'd be as willing as you are to talk. "
"She doesn't approve of my career," Murphy said tiredly. "Or my decision to live alone, once I was divorced. We've already done all the talking on those subjects and neither one of us is going to budge. "
Now that I could understand. I'd been on the receiving end of Murphy's stubborn streak before, and I had a chipped tooth to show for it. "So you haven't shown up at the reunion, where you'd see her and have to avoid all kinds of awkward topics, for the past two years. "
"Something like that," Murphy said. "People are talking. And we're all Murphys, so sooner or later someone is going to start giving unasked-for advice, and then it will be a mess. But I don't know what to do. My sister getting engaged is going to get everyone talking about subjects I'd rather slash my wrists than discuss with my uncles and cousins. "
"So don't go," I said.
"And hurt my mom's feelings a little more," she said. "Hell, probably make people talk even more than if I was there. "
I shook my head. "Well. You're right about one thing. I don't understand it, Murph. "
"'S okay," she said.
"But I wish I did," I said. "I wish I worried about my uncle's opinions, and had problems to work out with my mom. Hell, I'd settle for knowing what her voice sounded like. " I put a hand on her shoulder. "Trite but true-you don't know what you have until it's gone. People change. The world changes. And sooner or later you lose people you care about. If you don't mind some advice from someone who doesn't know much about families, I can tell you this: Don't take yours for granted. It might feel like all of them will always be there. But they won't. "
She looked down, so that I wouldn't see a tear fall, I guess.
"Talk to her, Karrin. "
"You're probably right," she said, nodding. "So I'm not going to kill you for shoving your well-intentioned opinion down my throat in a vulnerable moment. Just this once. "
"That's decent of you," I said.
She took a deep breath, flicked a hand at her eyes, and looked up with a more businesslike face. "You're a good friend, putting up with this crap. I'll make it up to you sometime. "
"Funny you should say that," I said.
"I'm scouting out a money trail, but the information I'm after is apparently on the Internet. Could you hit a few sites for me, help me get my hands on it?"
"Gracias. " I passed her the addresses and gave her a brief rundown of what I was looking for. "I'm going to be out and about. I'll call you in an hour or two?"
She sighed and nodded. "Did you find the vampires?"
"Not yet, but I got some backup. "
"Who?" she asked.
"Guy named Kincaid. He's tough. "
"No. One of those soldier of fortune types. Pretty good vampire slayer. "
Murphy arched a brow. "Is he clean?"
"As far as I know," I said. "I should hear from our wheelman tonight. With luck, I'll find the lair and we'll hit them. "
"Hey, if it just so happens that we have to go after them on-"
"Saturday," I finished for her. "I know. "
I left, and told the pup my theory about familial dementia on the way down the stairs. "It's just a theory, mind you. But it's got the support of a ton of empirical evidence. " I felt a quiet pang of sadness as I spoke. Family troubles were something I hadn't ever had. Wouldn't ever have. Murphy's problems with family might have been complicated and unpleasant, but at least they existed.
Every time I thought I had gotten through my orphan baggage, something like this came up. Maybe I didn't want to admit how much it still hurt. Not even to myself.
I scratched the pup's notched ear as I walked out to the Beetle. "My theory is just theoretical," I told him. "Because how the hell should I know?"