Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Fool Moon, Page 7

Jim Butcher

Chapter 8

  The police headquarters downtown consists of a sprawling collection of buildings that have sprung up over the years as the need for law enforcement has increased. They don't match, and they come from a wildly varying selection of styles and designs, but they have somehow adapted themselves into a cohesive whole - much like the force itself. Special Investigations operates out of a big, run-down old building, a huge cube that has managed to hold up solidly in spite of the years, the grime, the smog, and the graffiti sprayed on its walls. It has bars over the windows and the doors and sits hunkered amidst buildings much taller than it, like a faithful old bulldog amidst a crowd of unruly children, struggling to maintain peace and order.

  The inside of the building is plain, even dingy, but they keep it clean. The old warhorse of a desk sergeant eyed me as I entered the station, his grey mustache bristling over an impressive jaw. "Hiya, Bill," I told him, and held up the manila envelope I had under one arm. "Bringing something up to Murphy in SI. "

  "Dresden," he said warily and jerked a thumb toward the stairs behind him, giving me permission to go.

  I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, but I had showered and dressed nicely before I left the house, in neat business clothes, for once, instead of my usual western shirt and blue jeans. I kept the battered old duster, though, with my blasting rod dangling from a thong inside of it. I took the stairs two at a time and passed a few cops along the way. Several recognized me, and one or two even nodded, but I thought I could detect a sense of uneasiness from each of them. Apparently, I was carrying a distinct odor with the law at the moment.

  I wrinkled up my nose. The police had always known me as something of a nut, the crazy guy who claimed to be a wizard, but a useful nut, who could provide good information and whose apparent "psychic abilities" had helped them on a number of occasions. I was used to being seen as one of the good guys, but now the cops were giving me the neutral, professional glances that they would give to a potential criminal, rather than the casual greetings one would give to a comrade in arms. It was to be expected, maybe, since rumor had associated my name with Johnny Marcone's, but it was still disturbing.

  I was muttering to myself and deep in my own sleep-deprived thoughts when I bumped into a tall, lovely woman, dark of hair and eye, full of mouth, long of leg. She was wearing a tan skirt and jacket with a crisp white blouse. Her raven brows furrowed in consternation until she looked up at me, and then her eyes glowed with a sort of friendly avarice. "Harry," she said, her lips curving into a smile. She stood up on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek. "Fancy seeing you here. "

  I cleared my throat. "Hi, Susan," I said. "Did that syndication deal go through?"

  She shook her head. "Not yet, but I'm hoping. After those stories you gave me last spring, people started taking me a little more seriously. " She paused, drawing in a little breath. It made her chest rise and fall most attractively. "You know, Harry. If you're working with the police again, and if you should happen to be able to let me in on whatever is going on . . . "

  I shook my head and tried to scowl at her. "I thought we agreed. I won't poke into your business deals and you won't poke into mine. "

  She smiled up at me and touched a finger to my chest. "That was whenever we were out on a date, Harry. " She let her eyes wander down the length of my body, and then back up. "Or staying in on one. "

  "Susan Rodriguez, I never knew you were a lawyer as well as a journalist. "

  "Now you're getting nasty," she said, grinning. "Seriously, Harry. Another expos¬®¬¶ like last spring could make my career. "

  "Yeah, well after last spring, the city made me sign about two tons of nondisclosure agreements. I can't tell you anything about the case. "

  "So don't tell me about the case, Harry - but if you could mention, say, a nice spot in the street where I might stand and get some good pictures, I would be very," she leaned up and kissed my neck. "Very" - the kiss traveled to my earlobe - "grateful. "

  I swallowed and cleared my throat. Then took a step back down the stairs, away from her. I closed my eyes for a second and listened to the thunder of my suddenly pounding heart. "I'm sorry. I can't do that. "

  "Oh, Harry. You're no fun. " She reached out and ran a hand over my hair, then smiled to let me know that there were no hard feelings. "But let's get together soon, all right? Dinner?"

  "Sure," I said. "Hey. What are you doing down here this early?"

  She tilted her head, considering me. "Trade me? I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours. Off the record, even. "

  I snorted. "Susan, give me a break. "

  She let out a little sigh and shook her head. "I'll call you about dinner, all right?" She started down the stairs past me.

  "All right," I said. "All right. I'm bringing a report on werewolves to Murphy. "

  "Werewolves," she said, her eyes lighting. "Is that who's behind the Lobo murders?"

  I frowned. "No comment. I thought the FBI was keeping that under wraps. "

  "You can't kill a dozen people and expect no one to notice," Susan said, her voice sly. "I keep track of the city morgues. "

  "God, you're so romantic. All right, your turn. Give. "

  "I was trying to talk to the investigator from the department's Internal Affairs. Word is that they're putting pressure on Murphy, trying to clear her out of Special Investigations. "

  I grimaced. "Yeah. I heard that, too. Why does it concern you and the Arcane?"

  "The most successful preternatural investigator the police department has gets hung out to dry? Even if people don't believe it, Murphy does a lot of good. If Murphy gets fired, and I can show how the numbers of mysterious crimes and unexplained deaths go up after she leaves, maybe I can get people to listen to papers like the Arcane. And to people like you. "

  I shook my head. "People don't want to believe in magic anymore. Or things that go bump in the dark. For the most part, they're happier not knowing. "

  "And when not knowing gets someone killed?"

  I shrugged. "That's where people like me and Murphy come in. "

  Susan eyed me doubtfully. "All I need is something solid, Harry. An eyewitness account, a photograph, something. "

  "You can't photograph anything really supernatural," I pointed out. "The energies around things like that will mess up cameras. Besides, the stuff I'm dealing with right now is too dangerous. You could get hurt. "

  "What if I shot from a long way off?" she pressed. "Used a telephoto lens?"

  I shook my head. "No, Susan. I'm not going to tell you anything. It's for your own good as much as for mine. "

  She pressed her lips together. "Fine," she said, her tone crisp, and went on down the stairs. I watched her go, dismayed. It seemed I was making a habit of excluding people from certain brands of information. Not only were my job and my freedom on the line, and Murphy's job, too - now it seemed that my love life, or what passed for it, was in danger as well.

  I took a moment to try to sort through my thoughts and feelings on Susan, and gave it up as hopeless. Susan was a reporter for the Midwestern Arcane, a tabloid circulated widely from Chicago. It usually ran headlines about Elvis and JFK singing duets in Atlantic City, or on similar topics, but once in a while Susan managed to slip in something about the real world of the supernatural, the one that people had forgotten about in favor of Science. She was damned good at her job, absolutely relentless.

  She was also charming, gorgeous, funny, and sexy as hell. Our dates often ended in long, passionate evenings at my place or hers. It was an odd relationship, and neither one of us had tried to define it. I think maybe we were worried that if we did, we would change our minds and write it off as a bad idea.

  I continued up the stairs, my mind a tired muddle of blood-spattered corpses, savage beasts, angry ex-apprentices, and sultry, dark eyes. There are times when my work is hard on my love life. But one thing I'm not is a boring date.

  The doors to the SI office swun
g open just before I reached for them, and I drew up short. Agent Denton of the FBI was there, tall and immaculate in his grey suit. He stopped, too, and looked at me, holding open the door with one arm. There were bags under his grey eyes, but they were still calculating, assessing, and the veins in his forehead bulged with hypertension.

  "Mr. Dresden," he said, and nodded to me.

  "Agent Denton," I replied, keeping my tone polite, even friendly. "Excuse me. I need to get something to Lieutenant Murphy. "

  Denton frowned a little, and then glanced at the room behind him, before coming all the way out into the hall and letting the door swing shut. "Maybe now isn't the best time for you to see her, Mr. Dresden. "

  I glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was five minutes before eight. "She wanted it early. " I stepped to one side, to go around him.

  Denton put a hand on my chest - just that. But he was strong. He might have been shorter than me, but he was carrying a lot more muscle. He didn't look at my eyes, and when he spoke, his voice was very quiet. "Look, Dresden. I know what happened last night didn't look good, but believe me when I say that I've got nothing against Lieutenant Murphy. She's a good cop, and she does her job. But she's got to follow the rules, just like everyone else. "

  "I'll keep that in mind," I told him and started to move again.

  He kept up the pressure against my chest. "There's an agent from Internal Affairs in there with her right now. He's already in a bad mood from being hassled by some reporter. Do you really want to go in there and make him start asking all sorts of questions?"

  I glanced at him, frowning. He lowered his hand from my chest. I didn't go around him, yet. "You know about the investigation she's under?"

  Denton shrugged a shoulder. "It's to be expected, all things considered. Too much of what has happened in the past looks suspicious. "

  "You really don't believe, do you?" I asked him. "You don't believe that I'm a real wizard. You don't believe in the supernatural. "

  Denton straightened his tie. "What I believe doesn't matter, Mr. Dresden. What is important is that a lot of the scum out there believe in it. It affects the way they think and operate. If I could make use of your advice to solve this case, I would, the same as any other law officer. " He glanced at me and added, "Personally, I think you are either slightly unstable or a very intelligent charlatan. No offense. "

  "None taken," I said, my voice wry. I nodded to the door. "How long will Murphy be busy?"

  Denton shrugged. "If you like, I'll take the report in to her, drop it on her desk. You can go down the hall and call her. It doesn't matter to me, but I don't mind helping out a straight cop. "

  I thought it over for a second, and then passed the folder to him. "I appreciate it, Agent Denton. "

  "Phil," he said. For a second, he almost smiled, but then his face resumed its usual tense expression. "Do you mind if I take a look at it?"

  I shook my head. "But I hope you like fiction, Phil. "

  He flicked the folder open and studied the first page for a moment, expressionless. He looked up at me. "You can't possibly be serious. "

  It was my turn to shrug. "Don't knock it. I've helped Murphy out before. "

  He glanced over the rest of the report, the look of skepticism on his face growing more secure. "I'll . . . give this to Murphy for you, Mr. Dresden," he said, then nodded to me and turned to walk toward the SI office.

  "Oh, hey," I said casually. "Phil. "

  He turned to me and lifted his eyebrows.

  "We're both on the same team here, right? Both of us looking for the killer?"

  He nodded.

  I nodded back. "What is it that you're not telling me?"

  He stared for a long moment, and then blinked slowly. The lack of reaction gave him away. "I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Dresden," he said.

  "Sure you do," I told him. "You know something you can't or won't tell me, right? So why not just put it out on the table, now?"

  Denton glanced up and down the hall and repeated, in precisely the same tone of voice, "I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Dresden. Do you understand?"

  I didn't understand, but I didn't want him to know that. So I just nodded again. Denton nodded back, turned, and went into the SI office.

  I frowned, puzzling over Denton's behavior. His expression and reaction had conveyed more than his words, but I wasn't sure exactly what. Except for that one flash of insight the night before, I was having trouble reading him. Some people were just like that, very good at keeping secrets with their bodies and motions as well as with their mouths.

  I shook my head, went to the pay phone down the hall, dropped in my quarter, and dialed Murphy's number.

  "Murphy," she said.

  "Denton's dropping off my report. I didn't want to wander in on you with Internal Affairs hanging around. "

  There was a note of relief in Murphy's voice, subtle but there. "Thank you. I understand. "

  "The investigator is in your office now, isn't he?"

  "Right," Murphy said, her tone neutral, polite, professional, and disinterested. Murphy keeps a great poker face when it's necessary, too.

  "If you have any questions, I should be at my office," I said. "Hang in there, Murph. We'll nail this guy. " There was the sound of a deeper voice, Denton's, and then the slap of a folder hitting the surface of Murphy's desk. Murphy thanked Denton, and then spoke to me again.

  "Thank you very much. I'll be right on it. " Then she hung up on me.

  I hung up the phone myself, and realized that I was vaguely disappointed that I hadn't gotten to really speak to Murphy, that we hadn't had the chance to exchange our usual banter. It bothered me that I couldn't just walk into her office anymore, made me feel a little queasy and tense inside. I hate politics, but it was there, and as long as I was being held in any amount of suspicion, I could get Murphy in trouble just by being around.

  Brooding all the while, I stomped down the stairs and out the front door of the station, toward the visitor parking, where the Blue Beetle waited for me.

  I had gotten in and was preparing to coax it to life when I heard footsteps. I squinted up into the morning sunshine at the skinny form and big ears of the redheaded young FBI agent from the scene in Rosemont last night. I rolled down the window as he stepped up to my car. He glanced around, his face anxious, and then knelt down beside the window so that he could not be easily observed.

  "Hi there, Agent . . . "

  "Harris," he said. "Roger Harris. "

  "Right," I said. "Can I help you, Agent Harris?"

  "I need to know, Mr. Dresden. I mean, I wanted to ask you last night, but I couldn't. But I need to ask you now. " He glanced around again, restless as a rabbit when a fox goes by, and said, "Are you for real?"

  "A lot of people ask me that, Agent Harris," I said. "I'll tell you what I tell them. Try me and see. "

  He chewed on his lip and looked at me for a minute. Then nodded a jerky little nod, his head bobbing. "All right," he said. "All right. Can I hire you?"

  My eyebrows went up in surprise. "Hire me? What for?"

  "I think . . . I think I know something. About the Lobo killings. I tried to get Denton to let us check it out, but he said that there wasn't enough evidence. We'd never be able to get a surveillance put on them. "

  "On who?" I asked, wary. The last thing I needed was to be getting involved in any more shady goings-on. On the other hand, as an independent operator, I could sometimes go poking my nose where the police couldn't. If there was a chance that I could turn up something for Murphy, or find the killer and stop him outside of legal channels entirely, I couldn't afford to pass it up.

  "There's a gang in Chicago," Harris began.

  "No kidding?" I asked, affecting puzzlement.

  It was lost on the kid. "Yeah. They call themselves the Streetwolves. They've got a really rough reputation, even for this town. A spooky reputation. Ev
en the criminals won't go near them. They say that the gang has strange powers. Streetwolf territory is down by the Forty-ninth Street Beach. " He stared at me intently.

  "Down by the university," I filled in. "And by the parks where last month's murders took place. "

  He nodded, eager as a puppy. "Yeah, right, down there. You see what I'm getting at?"

  "I see, kid, I see," I told him and rubbed at my eye. "Denton couldn't go there and look around, so he sent you down here to get me to do it. "

  The kid flushed, his skin turning bright red, until his freckles vanished. "I . . . Uh . . . "

  "Don't worry about it," I told him. "You didn't do a bad job with the act, but you've got to get up pretty early in the morning, et cetera. "

  Harris chewed on his lip and nodded. "Yeah, well. Will you do it?"

  I sighed. "I guess you can't go on record as paying my fee, can you?" It wasn't really a question.

  "Well. No. Officially, you are a suspect source, as a consultant. "

  I nodded. "I thought so. "

  "Can you do it, Mr. Dresden? Will you?"

  I was regretting it even before I spoke. "All right," I said. "I'll check it out. But in exchange, tell Denton I want any of the information that the FBI or the Chicago police has on me. "

  Harris paled. "You want us to copy your files?"

  "Yeah," I said. "I could get them through the Freedom of Information Act, anyway. I just don't want to spend the time and postage. Do we have a deal or not?"

  "Oh, God. Denton would kill me if he found out. He doesn't like it when someone bends the rules. " He chewed his lip until I thought it would fall off.

  "You mean like he's doing by sending you here to me?" I shrugged. "Suit yourself, kid. That's my price. You can find my number if you change your mind. " I coaxed the Beetle to life, and it rattled and coughed and started running.

  "All right," he said. "All right. Deal. " He offered me his hand.

  I shook it, sealing the bargain, and got an uneasy feeling as I did. Harris walked away from the Beetle as quickly as he could, still looking around nervously.

  "That was stupid, Harry," I told myself. "You shouldn't be getting yourself into anything more complicated than you already have. "

  I was right. But the potential gains made the risk worth it. I could possibly find the killers, stop them, and additionally find out why the cops had a bug up their collective ass about me. It might help me to work things out with Murphy. It might even help me get her out of the trouble she was having.

  "Cheer up, Harry," I told myself. "You're just going to go poke around a biker gang's lair. Ask them if they happen to have killed some people lately. What could possibly go wrong?"