Chapter 20

"I don't like it," Molly said, scowling. "You sure you don't want me to go in there with you? He's got people."

"Definitely not," I said calmly. "I don't want you showing up on his radar."

"I'd like to see him try something," Molly said, clenching one hand into a fist and thumping the Blue Beetle's steering wheel for emphasis. "I'd eat him for breakfast."

"No, Molly," I said in a firm tone of voice. "You wouldn't. Marcone might be vanilla mortal, but he's dangerous. Most men have limits. He doesn't. Never forget that."

"If he's so dangerous, why are you talking to him?"

"Because he also has rules," I said. "And besides. I just had to see him here. Keep your eyes open for a third party interfering. I'll worry about Marcone. Okay?"

"Okay," Molly said, nodding, her eyes intent. In a spectacular bid for the Do as I Say, Not as I Do Award, she took a long pull from an energy drink in a can the size of a milk carton. "Okay."

I got out of the Blue Beetle and walked into my meeting with Gentleman Johnnie Marcone, the undisputed gang lord of Chicago.

Burger King had just opened its dining area, but it was already half-full. I ignored Marcone upon coming in and got in line. A sausage biscuit and cup of coffee later, I went to the back corner where Marcone sat and his retinue stood.

Hendricks was there, of course, in an extra-large suit and a red-haired buzz cut. Maybe he'd been working out, because he looked like he'd put on a few more pounds. If he got any bigger, he'd need a building permit. Miss Gard stood a little apart from Hendricks, covering the angles the big man couldn't. She was just as blond and athletic and Amazonian as ever, her suit and tie muting her curves without reducing her appeal.

Marcone sat in the booth as if at a boardroom table. He wore a silk suit probably worth more than my car, and sat with his elbows on the table, his fingertips pressed together into a steeple. He looked like a man in his mature prime, neat and precise from his haircut to his polished leather shoes. He watched me come over to the table and slide my plastic tray into place before me. I dumped four or five packets of sugar into my coffee and stirred it with a little stick. "You're not eating?"

He looked at his watch, and then at me. He had pale green eyes the color of old bills, but less personal. His stare was unsettling, and he met my eyes without concern. We had already taken the measure of each other's souls. It was why I knew precisely how dangerous the man sitting across the table from me could be, and why I insisted upon treating him in as cavalier a fashion as possible. One doesn't show dangerous predators weakness or fear. It makes them hungry.

I savored a bite of the biscuit, which was only a reminder of how good a real homemade biscuit and sausage was, but for the sake of my audience, I made sounds of enjoyment as I chewed and swallowed. "You sure?" I slurped some more coffee. "You're missing out on ambrosia, here."

"Dresden," Marcone said, "this is aggravating. Even for you."

"Yeah," I said, smiling, and took another bite of sausage.

Hendricks made a growling sound.

I finished chewing and said, "You sure about that, big guy?"

"Hendricks," Marcone said.

Hendricks subsided.

I nodded. Then I said, "You have information I want."

"Undoubtedly," Marcone said. "What information are you after, and what do you offer for it?"

"I'm not here to trade baseball cards with you, Marcone," I said.

"And I am not a charity organization, Dresden," he replied. "I take it this has something to do with your office building exploding." He shook his head in a gesture of faint regret.

"Right," I said. "You're all broken up over the destruction."

"I didn't order it. I made no money on it. I failed to profit financially or politically from its destruction. And you survived. It was a complete waste."

Hendricks made another growling sound that might have been gorilla for a laugh.

"Maybe it's got something to do with the building. How much do you know about its owners?"

Marcone's smile was a wintry thing. "That they are a part of the organization whose servitors have been attempting to intrude upon my business."

I lifted an eyebrow. "Someone's muscling in on your territory?"

"Briefly," Marcone said, "but incessantly."

"Then we might have a common problem."

Marcone looked at me as though I were a rather slow child. "Yes. Hence this meeting."

I grunted and finished the biscuit. "The Red Court is on the move. Trouble is being stirred up between them and the Council. My interest in the matter is an eight-year-old girl. The Reds took her from her home. I believe that they're holding her somewhere in Mexico. I need to know where."

Marcone's stare went on for several seconds before he said, "Somewhere. In Mexico. That's as specific as you can be?"

"It's as much as I know," I said.

"For what purpose was she brought there?"

"Why does it matter?"

"If she was taken to be used as a sexual object, she would be in a different place than if she was going to be used as slave labor or harvested as an organ donor."

I clenched my teeth and looked away briefly, treated to a number of delightful images by his words.

Marcone's eyes narrowed. "Who is she to you, Dresden?"

"My client's kid," I said, struggling to keep my voice level and calm. "I think they're going to use her in some sort of sacrificial ritual."

"Then that narrows things considerably," Marcone said. "As I understand the process, rituals such as the one you mention need to happen at a place of power." He glanced up at Miss Gard, who nodded and immediately left the restaurant, heading for her car. "I suspect I can narrow it down even further for you, Dresden. Let's talk price."

"I'm going to use the information to put a major hurting on the people trying to take your territory away from you, Marcone," I said. "That's more than payment enough."

"And if I do not agree?" Marcone asked.

"Then we throw down, right here, and after I toss your attack dogs over the top of the Sears building, I hurt you until you give me the information anyway."

That cold smile returned. "Is that how you think it would happen?"

I shrugged a shoulder and kept my expression bland. "I think there's only one way to find out." I leaned forward a little and pitched my voice in a conspiratorial murmur. "But just between you and me, I don't think the terrain favors you here."

He stared across his steepled fingers at me for a time. Then he said, "It certainly doesn't favor me in the manner I would prefer." He laid his hands flat on the table and leaned back slightly. "There's no sense in making a confrontation out of this. And I have never yet regretted it when I allowed you to rid me of an enemy."

"I didn't do it as a favor to you."

He shrugged. "Your motivations are immaterial. The results are what matter."

"Just remember that you're on my list, Marcone. Soon as I get done with all the other evils in this town, you won't be the lesser of them anymore."

Marcone stared at me with half-lidded eyes and said, "Eek."

"You think it's funny?"

"I am not unduly concerned by dead men, Dresden."

I bristled. "Is that a threat?"

"Hardly. One day, probably soon, you'll get yourself killed thanks to that set of irrational compulsions you call a conscience, long before my name tops your list. I needn't lift a finger." He shrugged. "Giving you information seems an excellent way to accelerate that process. It will also tax the resources of my enemies." Marcone mused for a moment, and then said, "And . . . I believe I have no objection to contributing against any organization which would victimize children so."

I glowered at him. Partly because he was probably right, and partly because he'd once again shown the flash of humanity that prevented me from lumping him in with every other evil, hungry, predatory thing lurking in the wild world. For his own reasons, Marcone would go to extreme lengths to help and protect children. In Chicago, any adult was fair game for his businesses. Any child was off-limits. Rumor had it that he had vanished every single one of his employees who had ever crossed that line.

Gard reappeared, frowning, and walked over to our table.

Marcone glanced at her. "Well?"

Gard hesitated and then said, "He won't speak of it over the line. He says that you have incurred no debt with him for asking the question. He will only speak to Dresden. Personally."

Marcone lifted his eyebrows. "Interesting."

"I thought so," Gard said.

"Ahem," I said. "Who wants to meet me?"

"My . . . employer," Gard said. "Donar Vadderung, CEO of Monoc Securities."

Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense