Well. It was good to see that my brother was doing well for himself. Though I had to wonder what he was doing that pulled down the kind of money this place would require-

The kitchen was like the living room - a lot of the same stainless steel and black in the appliances, though the walls had been painted white, as was the expensive tile floor. Everything was pristine. No dirty dishes, no half-open cupboards, no food stains, no papers lying about. Every single horizontal surface in the place was empty and sanitized. I checked the cupboards. The dishes stood in neat stacks, perfectly fitted to their storage in the cupboard.

None of which made sense. Thomas had a lot of positive qualities, but my brother was a fairly shameless slob. "I get it now. He's dead," I said aloud to Mouse. "My brother is dead, and he's been replaced with some kind of obsessive-compulsive evil clone."

I checked the fridge. I couldn't help it. It's one of those things you do when you're snooping through someone's house. It was empty, except for one of those boxes of wine, and about fifty bottles of Thomas's favorite beer, one of Mac's microbrewed ales. Mac would have killed Thomas for keeping it cold. Well. He would have scowled in disapproval, anyway. For Mac, that was tantamount to a homicidal reaction in other people.

I checked the freezer. It was packed, wall to wall, with TV meals in neat stacks. There were three different meals, stacked up in alternating order. There was room for maybe nine or ten more, and I presumed the others eaten. Thomas probably went shopping only every couple of months. That was more like him - beer, food cooked by pushing one button on a microwave. No dishes needed, and the drawer nearest the freezer yielded up a container of plastic forks and knives. Eat. Discard. No cooking or cleaning necessary.

I looked around at the rest of the kitchen, then at the fridge and freezer.

Then I went down the little hall that led to two bedrooms and a bath, and snorted in triumph. The bathroom was in total disarray, with toothbrushes and various grooming supplies tossed here and there, apparently at random. A couple of empty beer bottles sat out. The floor was carpeted with discarded clothing. Several half-used rolls of toilet paper sat around, with an empty cardboard tube still on the dispenser.

I checked in the first bedroom. It, too, was more Thomas's style. There was a king-sized bed with no head or foot, only the metal frame to support it. It had white sheets, several pillows in white cases, and a big, dark blue comforter on top. All of them were disheveled. The closet door stood open, and more clothes lay around on the floor. Two laundry baskets of fresh, neatly folded and ironed clothing (mostly empty) sat on a dresser with three of its drawers slightly open. There was a bookshelf haphazardly saturated with fiction of every description, and a clock radio. A pair of swords, one of them an old U.S. Cavalry saber, the other a more musketeer-looking weapon, were leaned against the wall, where they'd be more or less within reach of anyone in the bed.

I went back to the hall and shook my head at the rest of the apartment. "It's a disguise," I told Mouse. "The front of the apartment. He wants it to give a certain impression. He makes sure no one gets to see the rest."

Mouse tilted his head and looked at me.

"Maybe I should just leave him a note."

The phone rang, and I about jumped out of my skin. After I made sure I wasn't having a cardiac episode, I padded back out to the living room, debating whether or not to answer it. I decided not to. It was probably building security calling to check up on the stranger who had walked in with a pet woolly mammoth. If I answered and Thomas wasn't here, they might get suspicious. More suspicious. If I let them eat answering machine, they'd still be uncertain. I waited.

The answering machine beeped, and my brother's recorded voice said, "You know the drill." It beeped again.

A woman's voice poured out of the answering machine like warm honey. "Thomas," she said. She had a polyglot of a European accent, and pronounced his name "toe-moss," accent on the second syllable. "Thomas," she continued. "It is Alessandra, and I am desperate for you. Please, I need to see you tonight. I know that there are others, that there are so many others, but I can't stand it anymore, and I must have you." Her tone lowered, thick with sensuality. "There is no one, no one else who can do for me what you do. Do not disappoint me, I beg you." She left her number, and her voice made it sound like foreplay. By the time she hung up, I had begun to feel uncomfortably voyeuristic for listening.

I sighed and told Mouse, "I so need to get laid."

At least now I knew what Thomas had been feeding his Hunger. Alessandra and "so many others" must be supplying him. I felt... ambiguous about that. He could feed the demonic portion of his nature on many different victims, effectively spreading out the damage he inflicted upon them in a bid to avoid fatally overfeeding upon any one of them. Even so, it meant that there were a number of lives who had been tainted by his embrace, women who had become addicted to the sensation of being fed upon - who were now under his influence, subject to his control.

It was power, of a sort, and power tends to corrupt. Wielding such authority over others would provide a great many temptations. And Thomas had been distant of late. Very distant.

I took a deep breath and said, "Don't get carried away, Harry. He's your brother. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

"Right," I replied to myself.

I decided to leave Thomas a note. I didn't have any paper handy. The stylishly sterile kitchen and living room yielded none - nor did the bedroom. I shook my head, muttering about people who couldn't organize their way out of a paper bag, and checked in the second bedroom.

I flicked on the light, and my heart stopped.

The room looked like the office of Rambo's accountant. There was a desk and computer against one wall. Tables lined two of the other walls. One of them was dedicated to the neatly organized disassembly of a pair of weapons - submachine guns I didn't recognize right away. I did, however, recognize the kit for home-converting the weapons from legal semiautomatics to fully illegal automatics. A second table looked like a workbench, with the necessary tools to modify weapons and custom-assemble ammunition. It would not be difficult to create explosive devices, such as pipe bombs, with what he had there, if the heavy storage containers under the table contained, as I suspected, explosive compounds.

A nasty thought went through my mind: They could just as easily be used to create incendiaries.

One wall was covered with corkboard. There were papers tacked up on it. Maps. Photographs.

I walked over to the photos with heavy, reluctant feet.

Jim Butcher Books | Suspense Books | The Dresden Files Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com