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Summer Knight, Page 9

Jim Butcher

Chapter Nine

  Elaine shot me a wide-eyed look and mouthed the word "Council?"

  I nodded and pointed to my staff, in the corner along with my sword cane. Elaine picked it up without a word and tossed it to me. Then she moved silently through the door of my darkened bedroom and vanished inside.

  The door rattled again. "Dresden," Morgan growled, "I know you're in there. Open the door. "

  I swung it open before he could go on. "Or you'll huff and you'll puff and so on?"

  Morgan glowered at me, tall, sour, and dour as ever. He'd traded his robes and cloak for dark slacks, a grey silk shirt, and a sport coat. He carried a golf bag on one shoulder, and most people wouldn't have noticed the hilt of a sword nestled among the golf clubs. He leaned forward, cool eyes looking past me and into my apartment. "Dresden. Am I interrupting anything?"

  "Well, I was going to settle down with a porn video and a bottle of baby oil, but I really don't have enough for two. "

  Morgan's expression twisted in revulsion, and I felt an absurd little burst of vindictive satisfaction. "You disgust me, Dresden. "

  "Yeah, I'm bad. I'm a bad, bad, bad man. I'm glad we got that settled. Good-bye, Morgan. "

  I started to shut my door in his face. He slammed his palm against it. Morgan was a lot stronger than me. The door stayed open.

  "I'm not finished, Dresden. "

  "I am. It's been one hell of a day. If you've got something to say, say it. "

  Morgan's mouth set in a hard smile. "Normally I appreciate that kind of directness. Not with you. "

  "Gee, you don't appreciate me. I'll cry myself to sleep. "

  Morgan stroked his thumb over the strap to the golf bag. "I want to know how it is, Dresden, that Mab just happened to come to you about this problem. The one thing that can preserve your status with the Council, and it just happened to fall to you. "

  "Clean living," I said. "Plus my mondo wheels and killer bachelor pad. "

  Morgan looked at me with flat eyes. "You think you're funny. "

  "Oh, I know I'm funny. Unappreciated, but funny. "

  Morgan shook his head. "Do you know what I think, Dresden?"

  "You think?" Morgan didn't smile. Like I said, unappreciated.

  "I think that you've planned all of this. I think you are in with the vampires and the Winter Court. I think this is part of a deeper scheme. "

  I just stared at him. I tried not to laugh. I really did.

  Well. Maybe I didn't try all that hard.

  The laughter must have gotten to Morgan. He balled up his fist and slammed a stiff jab into my belly that took the wind out of my sails and half dropped me to my knees.

  "No," he said. "You aren't going to laugh this off, traitor. " He stepped into my apartment. The threshold didn't make him blink. The wards I had up caught him six inches later, but they weren't designed to be too much of an impediment to human beings. Morgan grunted, spoke a harsh word in a guttural tongue, maybe Old German, and slashed his hand in front of him. The air hissed and popped with static electricity, sparks flashing from his fingertips. He shook his fingers briefly, then walked in.

  He looked around the place and shook his head again. "Dresden, you might not be a bad person, all in all. But I think that you're compromised. If you aren't working with the Red Court, then I am certain that they are using you. Either way, the threat to the Council is the same. And it's best removed by removing you. "

  I tried to suck in a breath and finally managed to say, "What the hell are you talking about?"

  "Susan Rodriguez," Morgan said. "Your lover, the vampire. "

  Anger made bright lights flash behind my eyes. "She's not a vampire," I snarled.

  "They turned her, Dresden. No one goes back. That's all there is to it. "

  "They haven't. She's not. "

  Morgan shrugged. "That's what you would say if she'd addicted you to the venom. You'd say or do just about anything for them by now. "

  I looked up at him, teeth bared. "Get the fuck out of my house. "

  He walked over to the fireplace and picked up a dust-covered gift card I'd left sitting on the mantel. He read it and snorted. Then he picked up a picture I had of Susan. "Pretty," he said. "But that's easy to come by. Odds are she was their pawn from the first day she met you. "

  I clenched my hands into fists. "You shut your mouth," I said. "You just shut your mouth about her. That's not how it was. "

  "You're a fool, Dresden. A young fool. Do you really think that a normal mortal woman would want anything to do with you or your life? You can't accept that she was just a tool. One of their whores. "

  I spun to the corner, letting go of my staff, and picked up my sword cane. I drew the blade free with a steely rasp and turned toward Morgan. He saw it coming and had already drawn the bright silver blade of the Wardens from the golf bag.

  Every tired, aching, angry bone in my body wanted to lunge at him. I'm not heavy with muscle, but I'm not slow, and I've got arms and legs miles long. My lunge is quick, and I can do it from a long way back. Morgan was a seasoned soldier, but in such close quarters it would be a question of reflexes. Advantage to the guy with the sword weighed in ounces instead of stones.

  In that moment, I was sure that I could have killed him. He might have taken me with him, but I could have done it. And I wanted to, badly. Not in any sort of intellectual sense, but in the part of the brain that does all of its thinking after the fact. My temper had frayed to bloody tatters, and I wanted to vent it on Morgan.

  But a thought snuck in past the testosterone and spoiled my rage. I stopped myself. Shaking, and with my knuckles white on my sword cane, I drew myself up straight. And I said, very quietly, "That's number three. "

  Morgan's brow furrowed, and he stared at me, his own weapon steadily extended toward me. "What are you talking about, Dresden?"

  "The third plan. The Merlin's ace in the hole. He sent you here to pick a fight with me. With my door still standing open. There's another Warden outside, listening, isn't there? A witness, so that you have a clean kill. Hand the body over to the vampires. End of problem, right?"

  Morgan's eyes widened. He stammered over the first word. "I don't know what you're talking about. "

  I picked up the sheath half of the sword cane and slipped the blade back into it. "Sure, you don't. Get out, Morgan. Unless you'd prefer to stab an unarmed man who isn't offering you violence. "

  Morgan stared at me for a moment more. Then he shoved the sword back into the golf bag, swung it onto his shoulder, and headed for the door.

  He was almost out when there was a clunk from my bedroom. I shot a look at the doorway.

  Morgan stopped. He looked at me and then at my bedroom. Something ugly sparkled in his gaze. "Who is in the bedroom, Dresden? The vampire girl, perhaps?"

  "No one," I said. "Get out. "

  "We'll see," Morgan said. He turned and walked to my bedroom door, one hand still on the sword. "You and those who consort with your like will be brought to task very soon. I'm looking forward to it. "

  My heart started pounding again. If Morgan found Elaine, there were about a million things that might happen, and none of them were good. There seemed little I could do, though. I couldn't warn her, and I couldn't think of a way to get Morgan out of my apartment any faster.

  Morgan peered through the doorway and looked around, then abruptly let out a hoarse cry and jumped back. At the same time, there was a harsh feline yowl, and Mister, my bobtailed grey cat, came zooming out of the bedroom. He darted between Morgan's legs and then streaked past him, out of the apartment and up the stairs into the summer evening.

  "Gosh, Morgan," I said, "my cat might be a dangerous subversive. Maybe you'd better interrogate him. "

  Morgan straightened, his face slightly red. He coughed and then stalked to the door. "The Senior Council members wish me to tell you that they will be nearby but that they will not interfere in this Trial or aid you in any way
. " He took a business card out of his shirt pocket and let it fall to the floor. "That's the contact number for the Senior Council. Use it when you have failed the Trial. "

  "Don't let the door hit you on the brain on the way out," I responded.

  Morgan glared at me as he left. He slammed the door behind him and stomped up the stairs.

  I started trembling maybe half a minute after he left - reaction to the stress. At least I hadn't done it in front of him. I turned around, leaned back against the door with my eyes closed, and folded my arms over my chest. It was easier not to feel myself shaking that way.

  Another minute or two passed before I heard Elaine move quietly out of my bedroom. The fire popped and crackled.

  "Are they gone?" Elaine asked. Her voice was very carefully steady.

  "Yeah. Though I wouldn't put it past them to watch my place. "

  I felt her fingers touch my shoulder. "You're shaking, Harry. "

  "I'll be all right. "

  "You could have killed him," Elaine said. "When you first drew. "

  "Yeah. "

  "Was he really setting you up like you said?"

  I looked at her. Her expression was worried. "Yeah," I said.

  "God, Harry. " She shook her head. "That's way past paranoia. And you want me to give myself to those people?"

  I covered her hand with mine. "Not to them," I said. "Not everyone on the Council is like that. "

  She looked at my eyes for a moment. Then, carefully, she drew her hand out from under mine. "No. I'm not going to make myself vulnerable to men like that. Not again. "

  "Elaine," I protested.

  She shook her head. "I'm leaving, Harry. " She brushed her hair back from her face. "Are you going to tell them?"

  I took a deep breath. If the Wardens found out that Elaine was still alive and avoiding them, there would be a literal witch-hunt. The Wardens weren't exactly known for their tolerance and understanding. Morgan was walking, talking proof of that. Anyone who helped shield her from the Wardens would get the same treatment. Didn't I already have enough problems?

  "No," I said. "Of course not. "

  Elaine gave me a strained smile. "Thank you, Harry. " She lifted her staff closer to her, holding it with both hands. "Can you get the door for me?"

  "They're going to be out there watching. "

  "I'll veil. They won't see me. "

  "They're good. "

  She shrugged and said without emphasis, "I'm better. I've had practice. "

  I shook my head. "What are we going to do about the faeries?"

  "I don't know," she said. "I'll be in touch. "

  "How can I contact you?"

  She nodded toward the door. I opened it. She stepped up beside me and kissed my cheek again, her lips warm. "You're the one with the office and the answering service. I'll contact you. " Then she stepped to the door, murmuring quietly under her breath. There was a glitter of sudden silver light around her that made me blink. When I opened my eyes again, she was gone.

  I left the door open for a moment, and it was just as well that I did. Mister came padding back down the stairs a moment later and looked up at me with a plaintive meow. He prowled back into the apartment, curling around my legs and purring like a diesel engine. Mister is thirty pounds or so of tomcat. I figure one of his parents must have been a saber-toothed tiger. "Good timing, by the way," I told him, and shut the door, locking it.

  I stood in the dim, warm firelight of the room. My cheek still tingled where Elaine had kissed it. I could smell her lingering perfume, and it brought with it a pang of almost tangible memories, a flood of things I thought I had forgotten. It made me feel old, and tired, and very alone.

  I walked to the mantel and straightened the card Susan had sent me the previous Christmas. I looked at her picture, next to the card. She'd been in a park that weekend, wearing a blue tank top and cutoff shorts. Her teeth were impossibly white against her darkly tanned skin and coal-black hair. I'd taken the picture while she was laughing, and her dark eyes shone.

  I shook my head. "I am tired, Mister," I said. "I am ridiculously tired. "

  Mister meowed at me.

  "Well, resting would be the sane thing to do, but who am I to throw stones, right? I mean, I'm talking to my cat. " I scratched at my beard and nodded to myself. "Just a minute on the couch. Then to work. "

  I remember sitting down on the couch, and after that everything went blissfully black.

  Which was just as well. The next day things got complicated.