The Dresden Files: Sample Chapters
The following chapters are sample chapters from the
beginning of The Dresden Files, Book One: STORM FRONT
by Jim Butcher, used with permission.
The mailman walked towards my office door, half an hour earlier than usual.
He didn't sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he
whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door and then fell
silent for a moment. Then he laughed.
Then he knocked.
I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless it's registered. I get
a really limited selection of registered mail, and it's never good news. I
got up out of my office chair and opened the door.
The new mailman looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a
sunburned, balding head, and he stood chuckling and reading the sign on the
door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb towards the office glass.
"You're kidding, right?"
I read the sign (people change it occasionally), and shook my head. "No,
I'm serious. Can I have my mail, please."
"So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?" He looked past me, as
though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad
assistants prancing around my one-room office.
I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he
held in his hand. "No, not like that. I don't do parties."
He held on to it, his head tilted curiously. "So what? Some kinda
fortuneteller? Cards and crystal balls and things?"
"No," I told him. "I'm not a psychic." I tugged at the mail.
He held onto it. "What are you, then?"
"What's the sign on the door say?"
"It says 'Harry Dresden. Wizard.'"
"That's me," I confirmed.
"An actual wizard?" he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on
the joke. "Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to
"Not so subtle." I jerked the mail out of his hand, and looked pointedly at
his clipboard. "Can I sign for my mail please."
The new mailman's grin vanished, replaced with a scowl. He passed over the
clipboard to let me sign for the mail (another late notice from my
landlord), and said, "You're a nut. That's what you are." He took his
clipboard back and said, "You have a nice day, sir."
I watched him go.
"Typical," I muttered, and shut the door.
My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own
risk. I'm a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I
know, I'm the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country.
You can find me in the yellow pages, under 'Wizards'. Believe it or not,
I'm the only one there. My ad looks like this:
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties
or Other Entertainment
You'd be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I'm serious. But
then, if you'd seen the things I'd seen, if you knew half of what I knew,
you'd wonder how anyone could not think I was serious.
The end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the new millennium had
seen something of a renaissance in the public awareness of the paranormal.
Psychics, haunts, vampires--you name it. People still didn't take them
seriously, but all the things Science had promised us in filmstrips and
black and white movies seen in grade school and junior high hadn't come to
pass. Disease was still a problem. Starvation was still a problem. Violence
and crime and war were still problems. In spite of the advance of
technology, things just hadn't changed the way everyone had hoped and
thought they would.
Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat
tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a
generation of overweight, complacent Americans who had allowed the
television to raise their children. People were looking for something--I
think they just didn't know what. And even though they were once again
starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had
been with them all the while, they still thought I must be some kind of joke.
Anyway, it had been a slow month. A slow pair of months, actually. My rent
from February didn't get paid until the tenth of March, and it was looking
like it might be even longer until I got caught up for this month.
My only job had been the previous week, when I'd gone down to Branson,
Missouri to investigate a country singer's possibly-haunted house. It
hadn't been. My client hadn't been happy with that answer, and had been
less happy when I suggested he lay off of any intoxicating substances and
try to get some exercise and sleep, and see if that didn't help things more
than an exorcism. I'd gotten travel expenses plus an hour's pay, and gone
away feeling I had done the honest, righteous, and impractical thing. I
heard later that he'd hired a shyster psychic to come in and perform a
ceremony with a lot of incense and black lights. Some people.
I finished up my paperback and tossed it into the 'done' box. There was a
pile of read and discarded paperbacks in a cardboard box on one side of my
desk, the spines bent and the pages mangled. I'm terribly hard on books. I
was eyeing the pile of unread books, considering which to start next, given
that I had no real work to do, when my phone rang.
I stared at it in a somewhat surly fashion. We wizards are terrific at
brooding. After the third ring, when I thought I wouldn't sound a little
too eager, I picked up the receiver and said, "Dresden."
"Oh. Is this, um. Harry Dresden? The, ah, wizard?" Her tone was apologetic,
as though she were terribly afraid she would be insulting me.
No, I thought. It's Harry Dresden the, ah, lizard. Harry the wizard is one
It is the prerogative of wizards to be grumpy. It is not, however, the
prerogative of freelance consultants who are late on their rent, so instead
of saying something smart, I told the woman on the phone, "Yes, ma'am. How
can I help you today?"
"I, um," she said. "I'm not sure. I've lost something, and I think maybe
you could help me."
"Finding lost articles is a specialty," I said. "What would I be looking
There was a nervous pause. "My husband," she said. She had a voice that was
a little hoarse, like a cheerleader who'd been working a long tournament,
but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult.
My eyebrows went up. "Ma'am, I'm not really a missing persons specialist.
Have you contacted the police or a private investigator?"
"No," she said, quickly. "No, they can't. That is, I haven't. Oh dear, this
is all so complicated. Not something someone can talk about on the phone.
I'm sorry to have taken up your time, Mr. Dresden."
"Hold on now," I said quickly. "I'm sorry, you didn't tell me your name."
There was that nervous pause again, as though she was checking a sheet of
written notes before answering. "Call me Monica."
People who know diddly about wizards don't like to give us their names.
They're convinced that if they give a wizard their name from their own lips
that it could be used against them. To be fair, I guess I should at least
acknowledge that they're right.
I had to be as polite and harmless as I could. She was about to hang up out
of pure indecision, and I needed the job. I could probably turn hubby up,
if I worked at it.
"Okay, Monica," I told her, trying to sound as melodious and friendly as I
could. "If you feel your situation is of a sensitive nature, maybe you
could come by my office and talk about it. If it turns out that I can help
you best, I will, and if not then I can direct you to someone I think can
help you better." I gritted my teeth, and pretended I was smiling. "No
It must have been the no charge that did it. She agreed to come right out
to the office, and told me that she would be there in an hour. That put her
arriving at about two-thirty. Plenty of time to get out and get some lunch,
then get back to the office to meet her.
The phone rang again almost the instant I put it down. It made me jump. I
peered at it. I don't trust electronics. Anything manufactured after the
forties is suspect--and doesn't seem to have much liking for me. You name
it, cars, radios, telephones, TV, VCRs--none of them seem to behave well
for me. I don't even like to use automatic pencils.
I answered the phone with the same false cheer I had summoned up for Monica
Husband-Missing. "This is Dresden, may I help you?"
"Harry, I need you at the Madison in the next ten minutes. Can you be
there?" The voice on the other end of the line was also a woman's, cool,
"Why, Lieutenant Murphy," I gushed, overflowing with saccharine, "It's good
to hear from you, too. It's been so long. Oh, they're fine, fine. And your
"Save it, Harry. I've got a couple of bodies here, and I need you to take a
I sobered immediately. Karrin Murphy was the director of Special
Investigations out of downtown Chicago, a de facto appointee of the
Commissioner to investigate any crimes dubbed 'unusual'. Vampire attacks,
troll mauraudings, and fairy abductions of children simply didn't fit in
the blanks on a police report very neatly--but at the same time, people got
attacked, infants got stolen, property was damaged or destroyed. And
someone had to look into it.
In Chicago, or pretty much anywhere in the Chicagoland, that person was
Karrin Murphy. I was her library of the supernatural on legs, a paid
consultant for the police department. Murphy sounded bad, her voice rough
and terse. Two bodies? Two deaths by means unknown? I hadn't handled
anything like that for her before.
"Where are you?" I asked her.
"Madison Hotel on Tenth, seventh floor."
"That's only a fifteen minute walk from my office," I said.
"So you can be here in fifteen minutes. Good."
"Um," I said. I looked at the clock. Monica No-Last-Name would be here in a
little more than forty five minutes. "I've sort of got an appointment."
"Dresden, I've sort of got a pair of corpses with no leads and no suspects,
and a killer walking around loose. Your appointment can wait."
My temper flared. It does that occasionally. "It can't, actually," I said.
"But I'll tell you what. I'll stroll on over and take a look around, and be
back here in time for it."
"Have you had lunch yet?" she asked.
She repeated the question.
"No," I said.
"Don't." There was a pause, and when she spoke again, there was a sort of
greenish tone to her words. "It's bad."
"How bad are we talking here, Murph?"
Her voice softened again, and that scared me more than any images of gore
or violent death could have. Murphy was the original tough girl, and she
prided herself on never showing weakness. "It's bad, Harry. Please don't
take too long. Special crimes is itching to get their fingers on this one,
and I know you don't like people to touch the scene before you can look
"I'm on the way," I told her, already standing and pulling my jacket on.
"Seventh floor," she reminded me. "See you there."
"Okay." We hung up.
I turned off the lights to my office, went out my door, and locked up
behind me, frowning. I wasn't sure how long it was going to take to
investigate Murphy's scene, and I didn't want to miss out on speaking with
Monica Ask-Me-No-Questions. So I opened the door again, got out a piece of
paper and a thumbtack, and wrote:
Out briefly. Back for appointment at 2:30. Dresden
That done, I went to the stairs and started down. I rarely use the
elevator, even though I'm on the fifth floor. Like I said, I don't trust
machines. They're always breaking down on me just when I need them.
Besides which. If I was someone in this town using magic to kill people two
at a time, and I didn't want to get caught, I'd make sure that I removed
the only practicing wizard the police department kept on retainer. I liked
my odds on the stairwell a lot better than I did in the cramped confines of
Paranoid? Probably. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that
there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face.
Karrin Murphy was waiting for me outside the Madison when I came walking
up. Karrin and I are a study in contrasts. Where I am tall and lean, she's
short and stocky. Where I have dark hair and dark eyes, she's got Shirley
Temple-blonde locks and baby blues. Where my features are all lean and
angular, with a hawkish nose and a sharp chin, hers are round and smooth,
with the kind of cute nose you'd expect on a cheerleader.
It was cool and windy, like it usually is in March, and she wore a long
coat that covered her pantsuit. Murphy never wore dresses, though I
suspected she'd have muscular, well-shaped legs, like a gymnast. She wasn't
precisely slender, but she wasn't voluptuous, either. She was built for
function, and had a pair of trophies in her office from Aikido tournaments
to prove it. Her
hair was cut at shoulder length, and whipping out wildly in the spring
wind. She wasn't wearing earrings, and her make-up was of sufficient
quality and quantity that it was tough to tell she had on any at all. She
was a fit and attractive woman in her thirties, though she looked more like
a favorite aunt or a cheerful mother than a hard-bitten homicide detective.
"Don't you have any other jackets, Dresden?" she asked as I came within
hailing distance. There were several police cars parked illegally in front
of the building. She glanced at my eyes for a half-second and then away,
quickly. I had to give her credit. It was more than most people did. It
wasn't really dangerous unless you did it for several seconds but I was
used to anyone who knew I was a wizard making it a point not to glance at
I looked down at my black canvas duster, with its heavy mantling and
waterproof lining and sleeves actually long enough for my arms. "What's
wrong with this one?"
"It belongs on the set of El Dorado."
She snorted, an indelicate sound from so small a woman, and spun on her
heel to walk towards the hotel's front doors.
I caught up to her, and walked a little ahead of her.
She sped her pace. So did I. We raced one another towards the front door,
with increasing swiftness.
My legs were longer, and I got there first. I opened the door for her, and
gallantly gestured for her to go in. It was an old contest of ours. Maybe
my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think
that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter,
weaker men with breasts. Try and convict me if I'm a bad person for
thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her,
paying for shared meals, giving flowers--all that sort of thing.
It irritates the hell out of Murphy, who had to fight and claw and play
dirty with the hairiest men in Chicago to get as far as she has. She
doesn't like to take any gift from any man. She glared up at me while I
stood there holding open the door, but there was a quality of something
that was almost reassurance about the glare, of relaxation. She took an odd
sort of comfort in our ritual, annoying as she usually found it.
Wow. How bad was it up on the seventh floor, anyway?
We rode up in the elevator in a sudden silence. We had worked together
several times, and knew one another well enough, by this time, that the
silences were not uncomfortable. I had a good sense of Murphy, an
instinctual grasp for her moods and patterns of thought which I start to
develop whenever I'm around someone for any length of time. Whether it's a
or a supernatural one I do not know.
My instincts told me that Murphy was tense, stretched as tight as piano
wire. She kept it off her face, but there was something about the set of
her shoulders and neck, the stiffness of her back, that made me aware of
it. Or maybe I was just projecting it onto her.
The confines of the elevator made me a bit nervous. I licked my lips and
looked around the interior of the car. My shadow and Murphy's fell on the
floor, and almost looked as though they were sprawled there. There was
something about it that bothered me, a nagging little instinct that I blew
off as a case of nerves. Steady, Harry.
She let out a harsh breath just as the elevator slowed, and then sucked in
another one before the doors could open, as though she was planning on
holding it for as long as we were on the floor, and breathing only when she
got back in the elevator again.
Blood smells a certain way, a kind of sticky, almost metallic odor, and the
air was full of it when the elevator doors opened. My stomach quailed a
little bit, but I swallowed manfully, and followed Murphy out of the
elevator and down the hall past a couple of uniform cops, who recognized me
and waved me past without asking to see the little laminated card the city
Granted, even in a big city department like Chicago P.D., they didn't
exactly call in a horde of consultants (I went down in the paperwork as a
'psychic consultant' I think), but still. Unprofessional of the boys in
Murphy preceded me into the room. The smell of blood grew thicker, but
there wasn't anything gruesome behind the door number one. The outer room
of the suite looked like some kind of sitting room done in rich tones of
red and gold, like a set from an old movie in the thirties--expensive
looking, but somehow faux, nonetheless. Dark, rich leather covered the
chairs, and my feet sank into the thick, rust-colored shag of the carpet.
The velvet velour curtains had been drawn, and though the lights were all
on, the place still seemed a little too dark, a little too sensual in its
textures and colors. It wasn't the kind of room you read a book in. Voices
came from a doorway to my right.
"Wait here a minute," Murphy told me. Then she went through the door to the
right of the entryway, and into what I supposed was the bedroom of the suite.
I wandered around the sitting room with my eyes mostly closed, noting
things. Leather couch. Two leather chairs. Stereo and television in a black
glossy entertainment center. Champagne bottle warming in a stand holding a
brimming tub of what had been ice the night before, with two empty glasses
set beside it. There was a red rose petal on the floor, clashing with the
carpeting (but then, in that room, what didn't?).
A bit to one side, under the skirt of one of the leather recliners, was a
little piece of satiny cloth. I bent at the waist and lifted the skirt with
one hand, careful not to touch anything. A pair of black satin panties, a
tiny triangle with lace coming off the points, lay there, one strap snapped
as though the thong had simply been torn off. Kinky.
The stereo system was state of the art, though not an expensive brand. I
took a pencil from my pocket, and pushed the play button with the eraser.
Gentle, sensual music filled the room, a low bass, a driving drumbeat,
wordless vocals, the heavy breathing of a woman as background.
The music continued for a few seconds more, and then it began to skip over
a section about two seconds long, repeating it over and over again.
I grimaced. I have this effect on machinery. It has something to do with
being a wizard, with working with magical forces. The more delicate and
modern the machine is, the more likely it is that something will go wrong
with it if I get close enough to it. I can kill a copier at fifty paces.
"The love suite," came a man's voice, drawing the word 'love' out into
'luuuuuuuv'. "What do you think, Mister Man?"
"Hello, Detective Carmichael," I said, without turning around. Carmichael's
rather light, nasal voice had a distinctive quality. He was Murphy's
partner and the resident skeptic, convinced that I was nothing more than a
charlatan, scamming the city out of its hard-earned money. "Were you saving
the panties to take home yourself, or did you just overlook them?" I turned
at him. He was short and overweight and balding, with beady, bloodshot eyes
and a weak chin. His jacket was rumpled, and there were food stains on his
tie, all of which served to conceal a razor intellect. He was a sharp cop,
and absolutely ruthless at tracking down killers.
He walked over to the chair and looked down. "Not bad, Sherlock," he said.
"But that's just foreplay. Wait'll you see the main attraction. I'll have a
bucket waiting for you." He turned and killed the malfunctioning CD player
with a jab from the eraser end of his own pencil.
I widened my eyes at him, to let him know how terrified I was, then walked
past him and into the bedroom. And regretted it. I looked, noted details
mechanically, and quietly shut the door on the part of my head that had
started screaming the second I entered the room.
They must have died sometime the night before. Rigor mortis had set in.
They were on the bed. She was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed
like a dancer's, the curves of her breasts making a lovely outline. He
stretched beneath her, a lean and powerfully-built man, arms reaching out
and grasping at the satin sheets, gathering them in his fists. Had it been
an erotic photograph, it would have made a striking tableau.
Except that on each of the lovers, their rib cages on the upper left side
of their torsos had expanded outward, through their skin, the ribs jabbing
out like ragged, snapped knives. Arterial blood had sprayed out of their
bodies, all the way to the mirror on the ceiling, along with pulped,
gelatinous masses of flesh that had to be what remained of their hearts.
Standing over them, I could see into the upper cavity of the body. I noted
the now greyish lining around the motionless left lungs and the edges of
the ribs which apparently were forced outward and snapped by some force
It definitely cut down on the erotic potential.
The bed was in the middle of the room, giving it a subtle emphasis. The
bedroom followed the decor of the sitting room--a lot of red, a lot of
plush fabrics, a little over the top unless viewed in candlelight. There
were candles in holders on the wall, burned down to nubs and extinguished.
I stepped closer to the bed, and walked around it. The carpet squelched as
I did. The little screaming part of my brain, safely locked up behind doors
of self-control and strict training, continued gibbering. I tried to ignore
it. Really I did. But if I didn't get out of that room in a hurry, I was
going to start crying like a little girl.
So I took in the details fast. The woman was in her twenties, in fabulous
condition. At least I thought she had been. It was hard to tell with the
corpse. The woman had hair the color of chestnuts, cut in a pageboy style,
and it seemed dyed to me. Her eyes were only part-open, and I couldn't
quite guess at their color beyond not-dark. Vaguely green?
The man was probably in his forties, and had the kind of fitness that comes
from a lifetime of conditioning. There was a tatoo on his right bicep, a
winged dagger, that the pull of the satin sheets half-concealed. There were
scars on his knuckles, layers deep, and across his lower abdomen was a
vicious, narrow, puckered scar that I guessed must have come from a knife
or bayonet wound.
There were discarded clothes around--a tux for him, a little sheath of a
black dress and a pair of pumps for her. There were a pair of overnight
bags, unopened and set neatly aside, probably by a porter.
I looked up, and Carmichael and Murphy were watching me in silence.
I shrugged at them.
"Well?" Murphy demanded. "Are we dealing with magic here, or aren't we?"
"Either that or it was really incredible sex," I told her.
I laughed a little, too--and that was all the screaming part of my brain
needed to slam open the doors I'd shut on it. My stomach revolted and
heaved, and I lurched out of the room. Carmichael, true to his word, had
set a stainless steel bucket outside the room, and I fell to my kneels
It only took me a few seconds to control myself again--but I didn't want to
go back in that room. I didn't need to see what was there any more. I
didn't want to see the two dead people, with arms and legs like mine, but
whose hearts had literally exploded out of their chests.
And someone had used magic to do it. They had used magic to wreak harm on
another, violating the First Law. The White Council was going to go into
collective apoplexy. This hadn't been the act of a malign spirit or a
malicious entity, the attack of one of the many creatures of the
Nevernever, like vampires or trolls. This had been the premeditated,
deliberate act of a
sorcerer, a wizard, a human being born able to tap into the fundamental
energies of creation and life itself.
It was worse than murder. It was twisted, wretched perversion, as though
someone had bludgeoned another person to death with a Botticelli, turned
something of beauty to an act of utter destruction.
If you've never touched it, then it will be hard to explain. Magic is
created by life, and most of all by the awareness, intelligence, emotions
of a human being. To end such a life with the same magic that was born from
it was hideous, almost incestuous somehow.
I sat up again, and was breathing hard, shaking and tasting the bile in my
mouth when Murphy came back out of the room, along with Carmichael.
"All right, Harry," Murphy said. "Let's have it. What do you see happening
I took a moment to collect my thoughts before answering. "They came in.
They had some champagne. They danced for a while, made out, over there by
the stereo. Then went into the bedroom. They were in there for less than an
hour. It hit them when they were getting to the high point."
"Less than an hour," Carmichael said. "How do you figure?"
"CD was only an hour and ten long. Figure a few minutes for dancing and
drinking, and then they're in the room. Was the CD playing when they found
"No," Murphy said.
"Then it hadn't been set on a loop. I figure they wanted music, just to
make things perfect, given the room and all."
Carmichael grunted, sourly. "Nothing we hadn't already figured out for
ourselves," he said to Murphy. "He'd better come up with more than this."
Murphy shot Carmichael a look that said 'shut up,' then said, softly, "I
need more, Harry."
I ran one of my hands back over my hair. "There's only two ways anyone
could have managed this. The first is by evocation. Evocation is the most
direct, spectacular and noisy form of expressed magic, or sorcery.
Explosions, fire, that sort of thing. But I doubt it was an evocator who
"Why?" Murphy demanded. I heard her pencil scritching on the notepad she
always kept with her.
"Because you have to be able to see or touch where you want your effect to
go," I told her. "Line of sight only. The man or woman would have had to be
there in the room with them. Tough to hide forensic evidence in something
like that, and anyone who was skilled enough an evocator to pull off a
spell like that would have had the sense to use a gun instead. It's easier."
"What's the other option?" Murphy asked.
"Thaumaturgy," I said. "As above, so below. Make something happen on a
small scale, and give it the energy to happen on a large scale."
Carmichael snorted. "What bullshit."
Murphy's voice sounded skeptical. "How would that work, Harry? Could it be
done from somewhere else?"
I nodded. "The killer would need to have something to connect them to the
victims. Hair, fingernails, blood samples. That sort of thing."
"Like a voodoo doll?"
"Exactly the same thing, yes."
"There's fresh dye in the woman's hair," Murphy said.
I nodded. "I was going to say that. Maybe if you can find out where she got
her hair styled, you could find something out. I don't know."
"Is there anything else you could tell me that would be of use?"
"Yes. The killer knew the victims. And I'm thinking it was a woman."
Carmichael snorted. "I don't believe we got to sit here and listen to this.
Nine times out of ten the killer knows the victim."
"Shut up, Carmichael," Murphy said. "What makes you say that, Harry?"
I stood up, and rubbed at my face with my hands. "The way magic works.
Whenever you do something with it, it comes from inside of you. Everyone
has to focus on what they're trying to do, visualize it, believe in it, to
make it work. You just can't make something happen that isn't a part of
you, inside. The killer could have murdered them both and made it look like
but she did it this way. To get it done this way, she would have had to
want them dead for very personal reasons, to be willing to reach inside
them like that. Revenge, maybe. Maybe you're looking for a lover or a spouse.
"Also because of when they died--in the middle of sex. It wasn't a
coincidence. Emotions are a kind of channel for magic, a path that can be
used to get to you. She picked a time when they'd be together, and be
charged up with lust. She got samples to use as a focus, and she planned it
out in advance. You don't do that to strangers."
"Crap," Carmichael said, but this time it was more of an absentminded curse
than anything directed at me.
Murphy glared at me. "You keep saying 'she'," she challenged me. "Why the
hell do you think that?"
I gestured towards the room. "Because you just can't do something that bad
without a whole lot of hate," I said. "Women are better at hating than men.
They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain
meaner than wizards. Something like this kind of feels like feminine
vengeance of some kind to me."
"But a man could have done it," Murphy said.
"Well," I hedged.
"Christ, you are a chauvinist pig, Dresden. Is it something that only a
woman could have done?"
"Well. No. I don't think so."
"You don't think so?" Carmichael drawled. "Some expert."
I scowled at them both, angry. "I haven't really worked through the
specifics of what I'd need to do to make somebody's heart explode, Murph.
As soon as I have occasion to I'll be sure to let you know."
"When will you be able to tell me something?" Murphy asked.
"I don't know." I held up a hand, forestalling her next comment. "I can't
put a timer on this stuff, Murph. It just can't be done. I don't even know
if I can do it at all, much less how long it will take."
"At fifty bucks an hour, it better not be too long," Carmichael growled.
Murphy glanced at him. She didn't exactly agree with him with her next
grunt. She didn't exactly slap him down, either.
I took a chance to take a few longs breaths, calming myself down. I finally
looked back at them. "Okay," I asked them. "Who are they? The victims."
"You don't need to know that," Carmichael snapped.
"Ron," Murphy said. "I could really use some coffee."
Carmichael turned to her. He wasn't tall, but he all but loomed over
Murphy. "Aw, come on, Murph. This guy's jerking your chain. You don't
really think he's going to be able to tell you anything worth hearing, do
Murphy regarded her partner's sweaty, beady-eyed face with a sort of frosty
hauteur, tough to pull off on someone six inches taller than she. "No
cream, two sugars."
"Dammit," Carmichael said. He shot me a cold glance (but didn't quite look
at my eyes), and then jammed his hands into his pants pockets and stalked
out of the room.
Murphy followed him to the door, her feet silent. She shut it behind him.
The sitting room immediately became darker, closer, with the grinning ghoul
of its former chintzy intimacy dancing in the smell of the blood and the
memory of the two bodies in the next room.
"The woman's name was Jennifer Stanton. She worked for the Velvet Room."
I whistled. The Velvet Room was a high-priced escort service run by a woman
named Bianca. Bianca kept a flock of beautiful, charming and witty women,
pandering them to the richest men in the area for hundreds of dollars an
hour. Bianca sold the kind of female company that most men only see on
television and the movies. I also knew that she was a vampiress of
considerable influence in the Nevernever. She had Power with a capital 'P'.
I'd tried to explain the Nevernever to Murphy before, and she didn't really
understand about it--but she understood that Bianca was a badass vampiress
who sometimes squabbled for territory. We both knew that if one of Bianca's
girls was involved, the vampiress must have been involved too, somehow.
Murphy cut right to the point. "Was this a part of one of Bianca's
"No," I said. "Unless she's having it with a human sorcerer. A vampire,
even a vamp sorcerer, couldn't have pulled off something like this outside
of the Nevernever."
"Could she be at odds with a human sorcerer?" Murphy asked me.
"Possible. But it doesn't sound like her. She isn't that stupid." What I
didn't tell Murphy was that the White Council made sure that vampires who
trifled with mortal sorcerers never lived to brag about it. I don't talk to
regular people about the White Council. It just isn't done. "Besides," I
said, "If a human wanted to take a shot at Bianca by hitting her girls,
he'd be better off to kill the girl and leave the customer healthy, to let
him spread the tale and scare off business."
"Mmph," Murphy said. She wasn't convinced, but she made notes of what I had
"Who was the man?" I asked her.
Murphy looked up at me for a moment, and then said, evenly, "Tommy Tomm."
I blinked at her to let her know she hadn't revealed the mystery of the
ages to me with that phrase. "Who?"
"Tommy Tomm," she said. "Johnnie Marcone's bodyguard."
Now it made sense. "Gentleman" Johnnie Marcone had been the thug to emerge
on top of the pile after the Vargassi family had dissolved into internal
strife. The police department saw Marcone as a mixed blessing, after years
of merciless struggle and bloody exchanges with the Vargassis. Gentleman
Johnnie tolerated no excesses in his organization, and he didn't like
operating in his city. Muggers, bank robbers and drug dealers who were not
a part of his organization somehow always seemed to get ratted out and
turned in, or else simply went missing and weren't heard from again.
Marcone was a civilizing influence on crime--and where he operated, it was
more of a problem in terms of scale than ever before. An extremely shrewd
businessman, he had a battery of lawyers working for him that kept him
fenced in from the law behind a barricade of depositions and papers and
tape recordings. The cops never said it, but sometimes it seemed like they
were almost reluctant to chase him. Marcone was better than the
alternative--anarchy in the underworld.
"I remember hearing he had an enforcer," I said. "I guess he doesn't any
Murphy shrugged. "So it would seem."
"So what will you do next?"
"Run down this hair stylist angle, I guess. I'll talk to Bianca and to
Marcone, but I can already tell you what they'll tell me." She flicked her
notebook closed, and shook her head, irritated.
I watched her for a minute. She looked tired. I told her so.
"I am tired," she replied. "Tired of being looked at like I'm some sort of
nut case. Even Carmichael, my own partner, thinks I've gone over the edge
in all of this."
"The rest of the station think so too?" I asked her.
"Most of them just scowl and spin their index fingers around their temples
when they think I'm not looking, and file my reports without ever reading
them. The rest are the ones who have run into something spooky out there,
and they're scared shitless. They don't want to believe in anything they
didn't see on Mister Science when they were kids."
"How about you?"
"Me?" Murphy smiled, a curving of her lips that was a vibrantly feminine
expression, making her look entirely too pretty to be such a hardass. "The
world's falling apart at the seams, Harry. I guess I just think people are
pretty arrogant to believe we've learned everything there is to know in the
past century or so. What the hell. If no one wanted to believe in sorcerers
and whatnot, it's just like people to close their eyes and rationalize
their existence away. I can buy that we're just now starting to see the
things around us in the dark again. It appeals to the cynic in me."
"I wish everyone thought like you did," I said. "It would cut down on my
She continued to smile at me, impish. "But could you imagine a world where
all the radio stations played Abba?"
We shared a laugh. God, that room needed a laugh.
"Hey, Harry," Murphy said, grinning. But I could see the wheels spinning in
"What you said about being able to figure out how the killer did this.
About how you're not sure you can do it."
"I know it's bullshit. Why did you lie to me about it?"
I stiffened. Christ, she was good. Or maybe I'm just not much of a liar.
"Look, Murph," I said. "There's some things you just don't do."
"Sometimes I don't want to get into the head of the slime I go after,
either. But you do what needs to be done to finish the job. I know what you
"No," I said, shortly. "You don't know." And she didn't. She didn't know
about my past, or the White Council, or the sword of Damocles hanging over
my head. Most days, I could pretend I didn't know about it, either.
All the Council needed now was an excuse, just an excuse, to find me guilty
of violating one of the Seven Laws of Magic and that sword would drop. If I
started putting together a recipe for a murder-spell and they found out
about it, that might be all the excuse they needed.
"Murph," I told her. "I can't try figuring this spell out. I can't go
putting together the things I'd need to do it. You just don't understand."
She glared at me, without looking at my eyes. I hadn't ever met anyone else
who could pull that one off. "Oh, I understand. I understand that I've got
a killer loose that I can't stop and catch in the act. I understand that
you know something that can help, or you can at least find out something.
And I understand that if you dry up on me now, I'm tearing your card out of
department Rolodex and tossing it in the trash."
Son of a bitch. My consulting for the department paid a lot of my bills.
Okay, most of my bills. I could sympathize with her, I suppose. If I was
operating in the dark like she was, I'd be nervous as hell, too. Murphy
didn't know anything about spells or rituals or talismans, but she knew
human hatred and violence forwards and back.
It wasn't as though I was actually going to be doing any black magic, I
told myself. I was just going to be figuring out how it was done. There was
a difference. I was helping the police in an investigation, nothing more.
Maybe the White Council would understand that.
Yeah, right. And maybe one of these days I'd go to an art museum and become
Murphy set the hook a second later. She looked up at me, at my eyes for a
daring second before she turned away, her face tired and honest and proud.
"I need to know everything you can tell me, Harry. Please."
Classic lady in distress. For one of those liberated, professional women,
she knew exactly how to jerk my old-fashioned chains around.
I gritted my teeth. "Fine," I said. "Fine. I'll start on it tonight." Hoo
boy. The White Council was going to love this one. I'd just have to make
sure they didn't find out about it.
Murphy nodded, and let out a breath without looking at me. Then she said,
"Let's get out of here," and walked towards the door. I didn't try to beat
her to it.
When we walked out, the uniform cops were still lazing around in the hall
outside. Carmichael was nowhere to be seen. The guys from forensics were
there, and were standing around impatiently until we came out. Then they
gathered up their plastic bags and tweezers and lights and things and filed
past us into the room.
Murphy was brushing at her windblown hair with her left hand while we
waited for the ancient elevator to take its sweet time about getting up to
the seventh floor. She was wearing a gold watch, which reminded me. "Oh,
hey," I asked her. "What time is it?"
She checked. "Two twenty-five. Why?"
I breathed out a curse, and turned for the stairs. "I'm late for my
I fairly flew down the stairs. I've had a lot of practice at them, after
all, and I hit the lobby at a jog. I managed to dodge a porter coming
through the front doors with an armload of luggage, and swung out onto the
sidewalk at a lope. I have long legs that eat a lot of ground. I was
running into the wind, and my black duster billowed out behind me.
It was several blocks to my building, on 14th Street, and after covering
half of them I slowed to a walk. I didn't want to arrive to the appointment
with Monica Missing-Man puffing like a bellows, with my hair windblown and
my face streaming with sweat.
Blame it on being out of shape due to an inactive winter season, but I was
breathing hard. It occupied enough of my attention that I didn't see the
dark blue Cadillac until it had pulled up beside me, and a rather large man
had stepped out of it onto the sidewalk in front of me. He had bright red
hair and a thick neck. His face looked like someone had smashed it flat
with a board, repeatedly, when he was a baby--except for his jutting
eyebrows. He had narrow little blue eyes that got narrower as I sized him up.
I stopped, and backed away, then turned around. Two more men, both of them
as tall as me and a good deal heavier, were slowing down from their own
jog, apparently after following me. They looked annoyed. One was limping
slightly, and the other wore a buzz cut that had been spiked up straight
with some kind of styling gel. I felt like I was in high school again,
by bullying members of the football team.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" I asked. I looked around for a cop, but they
were all over at the Madison, I supposed. Everyone likes to gawk.
"Get in the car," the one in front of me said. One of the others opened the
"I like to walk. It's good for my heart."
"You don't get in the car, it isn't going to be good for your legs," the
A voice came from inside the car. "Mister Hendricks, please. Be more
polite. Mister Dresden, would you join me for a moment, please? I'd hoped
to give you a lift back to your office, but your abrupt exit made it
somewhat problematic. Perhaps you will allow me to convey you the rest of
I squinted and leaned down, to look into the back seat. A man, of handsome
and unassuming features, dressed in a casual sports jacket and Levis
regarded me with a smile. "And you would be?" I asked him.
His smile widened, and I swear it made his eyes twinkle.
"My name is John Marcone. I would like to discuss business with you."
I stared at him for a moment. And then my eyes slid aside to the very large
and very overdeveloped Mister Hendricks. The man growled under his breath,
and it sounded like Cujo just before he jumped at the woman in the car. I
didn't feel like duking it out with Cujo and his two buddies.
So I got into the back of the Caddy with Gentleman Johnnie Marcone.
It was turning out to be very a busy day. And I was still late for my
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