Fool Moon, Page 9Jim Butcher
Marcone had eyes the color of old, faded dollar bills. His skin was weatherworn, with an outdoorsman's deep tan. Creases showed at the corners of his eyes and mouth, as though from smiling, but those smiles were rarely sincere. His suit must have cost him at least a thousand dollars. He sat at ease in my chair, my chair, mind you, and regarded me with professional calm.
From behind him, Mr. Hendricks looked like an all-star collegiate lineman who hadn't been smart enough to go into the pros. Hendricks's neck was as big around as my waist, and his hands were big enough to cover my face - and strong enough to crush it. His red hair was buzz cut, and he wore his ill-fitting suit like something that he planned to rip his way out of when he turned into the Hulk. I couldn't see his gun, but I knew he was carrying one.
I stood in the doorway and stared at Marcone for a minute, but my gaze did nothing to stir him. Marcone had met it already, and taken my measure more than I had taken his. My eyes held no more fear for him.
"Get out of my office," I said. I stepped inside and closed the door.
"Now, now, Mr. Dresden," Marcone said, a father's reproof in his tone. "Is that any way to talk to a business partner?"
I scowled. "I'm not your partner. I think you're scum. The worst criminal this city has. One of these days the cops will nail you, but until then, I don't have to put up with you here in my own office. Get out. "
"The police," Marcone said, a hint of correction in his voice, "would be best off run by private agencies, rather than public institutions. Better pay, better benefits - "
"Easier to bribe, corrupt, manipulate," I injected.
I took off my duster and dropped it over the table in front of the door, the one covered in pamphlets with titles like "Witches and You," and "Want to Do Magic? Ask Me How!" I untied my blasting rod from its thong and set it calmly on the table in front of me. I had the satisfaction of seeing Hendricks tense up when he saw the rod. He remembered what I had done to the Varsity last spring.
I glanced up. "Are you still here?"
Marcone folded his hands in front of him. "I have an offer to make you, Mr. Dresden. "
"No," I said.
Marcone chuckled. "I think you should hear me out. "
I looked him in the eyes and smiled faintly. "No. Get out. "
His fatherly manner vanished, and his eyes became cold. "I have neither the time nor the tolerance for your childishness, Mr. Dresden. People are dying. You are now working on the case. I have information for you, and I will give it to you. For a price. "
I felt my back stiffen. I stared at him for a long minute, and then said, "All right. Let's hear your price. "
Marcone held out his hand and Hendricks handed him a folder. Marcone put the folder down on the battered surface of my old wooden desk and flipped it open. "This is a contract, Mr. Dresden. It hires you as a consultant for my firm, in personal security. The terms are quite generous. You get to name your own hours, with a minimum of five per month. You can fill in your salary right now. I simply want to formalize our working relationship. "
I walked over to my desk. I saw Hendricks's weight shift, as though he were about to jump over the desk at me, but I ignored him. I picked up the folder and looked over the contract. I'm not a legal expert, but I was familiar with the forms for this kind of deal. Marcone was on the up and up. He was offering me a dream job, with virtually no commitment, and as much money as I could want. There was even a clause that specified that I would not be asked or expected to perform any unlawful acts.
With that kind of money, I could live the life I wanted. I could stop scraping for every dollar, running my legs off working for every paranoid looney who wanted to hire me to investigate his great-aunt's possessed cow. I could catch up on reading, finally, do the magical research I'd been itching to do for the past few years. I wouldn't live forever, and every hour that I wasted looking for UFOs in Joliet was one more hour I couldn't spend doing something I wanted to do.
It was a pretty damned tempting deal.
It was a very comfortable collar.
"Do you think I'm an idiot?" I said, and tossed the folder down on my desk.
Marcone's eyebrows went up, his mouth opening a little. "Is it the hours? Shall I lower the minimum to one hour per week? Per month?"
"It isn't the hours," I said.
He spread his hands. "What, then?"
"It's the company. It's the thought of a drug-dealing murderer having a claim on my loyalty. I don't like where your money comes from. It's got blood on it. "
Marcone's cold eyes narrowed again. "Think carefully, Mr. Dresden. I won't make this offer twice. "
"Let me make you an offer, John," I said. I saw the corner of his cheek twitch when I used his first name. "Tell me what you know, and I'll do my best to nail the killer before he comes for you. "
"What makes you think I'm worried, Mr. Dresden?" Marcone said. He let a fine sneer color his words.
I shrugged. "Your business partner and his pet bodyguard get gutted last month. Spike gets torn to bits last night. And then you crawl out from under your rock to dangle information in my face to help me catch the killer and try to strong-arm me into becoming your bodyguard. " I bent down and rested my elbows on the surface of the desk, then lowered my head until my eyes were a few inches from his. "Worried, John?"
His face twitched again, and I could smell him lying. "Of course not, Mr. Dresden. But you don't get where I have in life by being reckless. "
"Just by being soulless, right?"
Marcone slammed his palms down on the desktop and stood. I rose with him, enough to stand over him, and to keep my eyes on his. "I am a man of business, Mr. Dresden. Would you prefer anarchy in the streets? Wars between rival crime lords? I bring order to that chaos. "
"No. You just make the chaos more efficient and organized," I shot back. "Stick whatever pretty words you want onto it, but that doesn't change the fact that you're a thug, a fucking animal that should be in a cage. Nothing more. "
Marcone's normally passionless face went white. His jaw clenched over words of rage. I pressed him, hard, my own anger spilling out with a passion gone out of control. I poured all of my recent frustration and fear into venomous words and hurled them at him like a handful of scrap metal.
"What's out there, John? What could it possibly be? Did you see Spike? Did you see how they'd torn his face off? Did you see the way they'd ripped his guts open? I did. I could smell what he had for dinner. Can you just imagine it happening to you next, John?"
"Don't call me that," Marcone said, his voice so quiet and cold that it set my momentum back on its heels. "If we were in public, Mr. Dresden, I'd have you killed for speaking that way to me. "
"If we were in public," I told him, "you'd try. " I drew myself up and glared down my nose at him, ignoring Hendricks's looming presence. "Now. Get the hell out of my office. "
Marcone straightened his jacket and his tie. "I presume, Mr. Dresden, that you are going to continue your investigation with the police department. "
"Of course. "
Marcone walked around my desk, past me, and toward my door. Hendricks followed in his wake, huge and quiet. "Then in my own interests, I must accept your offer and aid the investigation however I might. Look up the name Harley MacFinn. Ask about the Northwest Passage Project. See where they lead you. " He opened the door.
"Why should I believe you?" I asked him.
He looked back at me. "You have seen the deepest reaches of my soul, Mr. Dresden. You know me in a way so profound and intimate that I cannot yet fathom its significance. Just as I know you. You should know that I have every reason to help you, and that the information is good. " He smiled again, wintry. "Just as you should know that it was unwise to make an enemy of me. It need not have been this way. "
I narrowed my eyes. "If you know me so well, you should know that there's no other way it could be. "
r /> He pursed his lips for a moment, and did not try to refute me. "Pity," he said. "A true pity. " And then he left. Hendricks gave me a pig-eyed little glare, and then he was gone, too. The door shut behind them.
I let out a long, shaking breath, and slumped against my desk. I covered my face with my hands, noticing as I did that they were shaking, too. I hadn't realized the depth of the disgust in me for Marcone and what he stood for. I hadn't realized how much it had sickened me to have my name associated with his. I hadn't realized how much I wanted to launch myself at the man and smash him in the nose with my fists.
I stayed that way for a few minutes, letting my heart beat hard, catching my breath. Marcone could have killed me. He could have had Hendricks tear me apart, or put a bullet in me right there - but he hadn't. That wasn't Marcone's way. He couldn't eliminate me now, not after working so hard to spread the word throughout the underworld that he and I had some sort of alliance. He would have to be more indirect, more subtle. Having Hendricks scatter my brains out on the floor wasn't the way to do it.
I thought over what he had said, and the implications of his acceptance of the deal I'd offered. He was in danger. Something had him scared, something that he didn't understand and didn't know how to fight. That was why he had wanted to hire me. As a wizard, I take the unknown and I turn it into something that can be measured. I take that cloak of terror off of things, make people able, somehow, to deal with them. Marcone wanted me to stand by him, to help him not be afraid of those things lurking in the dark.
Hell. It was only human.
I winced. I wanted to hate the man, but disgust, maybe anger, was as far as I could go. Too much of what he said was true. Marcone was a businessman. He had reduced violence in the streets - while sending the number of dollars made by criminals in this town soaring. He had protected the city's flesh while siphoning away its blood, poisoning its soul. It changed nothing, nothing at all.
But to know that the man I knew, the tiger-souled predator, the businessman killer - to know that he was frightened of what I was about to go up against. That scared the hell out of me, and added an element of intimidation to the work I was doing that hadn't been present before.
That didn't change anything, either. It's all right to be afraid. You just don't let it stop you from doing your job.
I sat down on the desk, forced thoughts of blood and fangs and agonizing death from my mind, and started looking for the name Harley MacFinn and the Northwest Passage Project.