Chapter 24

"How does a police detective afford a place like this?" Molly asked.

We were sitting in the Blue Beetle on a quiet residential street in Crestwood. It was late afternoon, with a heavy overcast. The houses on the street were large ones. Rudolph's place, whose address I'd gotten from Murphy, was the smallest house on the block - but it was on the block. It backed right up to the Cook County Forest Preserve, too, and between the old forest and the mature trees it gave the whole area a sheltered, pastoral quality.

"He doesn't," I said quietly.

"You mean he's dirty?" Molly asked.

"Maybe," I said. "Or maybe his family has money. Or maybe he managed to mortgage himself to the eyeballs. People get real stupid when it comes to buying homes. Pay an extra quarter of a million dollars for a place because it's in the right neighborhood. Buy houses they damned well know they can't afford to make the payments on." I shook my head. "They should make you take some kind of iota-of-common-sense quiz before you make an offer."

"Maybe it isn't stupid," Molly said. "Everybody wants home to mean something. Maybe the extra money they pay creates that additional meaning for them."

I grimaced. "I'd rather have my extra meaning come from the ancient burial ground under the swimming pool or from knowing that I built it with my own hands or something."

"Not everyone puts as low a value on the material as you do, boss," Molly said. "For them, maybe the extra material value represented by a higher price tag is significant."

I grunted. "It's still stupid."

"From your perspective," Molly said. "It's really all about perspective, isn't it."

"And from the perspective of those in need, that extra quarter of a million bucks your material person spent on the prestige addition for his house looks like an awful lot of lifesaving food and medicine that could have existed if the jerk with the big house in the suburbs hadn't blown it all to artificially inflate his sociogeographic penis."

"Heh," Molly said. "And their house is much nicer than your house."

"And that," I said.

Mouse grumbled quietly in his sleep from the backseat, and I turned to reach back and rub his ears until he settled down again.

Molly sat quietly for almost a minute before she said, "What else do we do?"

"Other than sit tight and watch?" I asked. "This is a stakeout, Molly. It's what you do on a stakeout."

"Stakeouts suck," Molly said, puffing out a breath that blew a few strands of hair out of her eyes. "How come Murphy isn't doing this part? How come we aren't doing magic stuff?"

"Murphy is keeping track of Rudolph at work," I said. "I'm watching his home. If his handler wanted him dead, this would be a logical place to bushwhack him."

"And we're not doing magic because . . . ?"

"What do you suggest we do?"

"Tracking spells for Rudolph and Maggie," she said promptly.

"You got any of Rudolph's blood? Hair? Fingernail clippings?"

"No," she said.

"So, no tracking spell for him," I said.

"But what about Maggie?" she said. "I know you don't have any hair or anything from her, but you pulled a tracking spell for me using my mother's blood, right? Couldn't you use your blood for that?"

I kept my breathing steady, and prevented the flash of frustration I felt from coming out in my voice. "First thing I tried. Right after I got off the phone with Susan when this all started."

Molly frowned. "Why didn't it work?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe it's because there's something more than simple blood relation involved. Maybe there has to be a bond, a sense of family between the parent and child, that the tracking spell uses to amplify its effects. Maybe the Red Court is using some kind of magic that conceals or jams tracking spells - God knows, they would have been forced to come up with some kind of countermeasure during the war." I shook my head wearily. "Or maybe it was simple distance. I've never tracked anything more than a couple of hundred linear miles away. I've heard of tracking spells that worked over a couple of thousand miles, but not from anyone who had actually done it. Gimme some credit, grasshopper. Of course I tried that. I wouldn't have spent half a day summoning my contacts if I hadn't."

"Oh," Molly said. She looked troubled. "Yeah. Sorry."

I sighed and tipped my head back and closed my eyes. "No problem. Sorry, kid. I'm just tense."

"Just a little," she said. "Um. Should we be sitting out here in broad daylight? I mean, we're not hiding the car or anything."

"Yeah," I said. "We want to be visible."

"Why?"

"I'm gonna close my eyes," I told her. "Just for a bit. Stay alert, okay?"

She gave me a look, but said, "Okay."

I closed my eyes, but about half a second after I had, Molly nudged me and said, "Wake up, Harry. We have company."

I opened them again and found that the grey late afternoon had settled into the murk of early evening. I looked up into the rearview mirror and spotted a white sports car coming to a halt as it parked on the street behind us. The running lights went off as the driver got out.

"Took him long enough," I muttered.

Molly frowned at me. "What do you mean?"

"Asked him to meet me here. Didn't know where to find him."

Molly peered through the back window, and even Mouse lifted his head to look around. "Oh," Molly said, understanding, as Mouse's tail thumped hesitantly against the back of my seat.

I got out of the car and walked to meet my half brother, the vampire.

Thomas and I were a study in contrasts. I was better than six and a half feet tall and built lean. He was a hair under six feet, and looked like a fitness model. My hair was a muddy brown color, generally cut very short on the sides and in back, a little longer on top. It tended to stick up any which way within a few minutes of being ordered by a comb. Thomas's hair was black, naturally wavy, and fell to touch his shoulders. I wore jeans, a T-shirt, and my big black leather duster. Thomas was wearing custom-fitted pants made from white leather, a white silk shirt, and a coarser silk jacket, also in white, decorated with elaborate brocade. He had the kind of face that belonged on billboards. Mine belonged on wanted posters.

We had the same contour of chin, and our eyes resembled each other's unmistakably in shape, if not in color. Mom gave them to us.

Thomas and I had finally met as adults. He'd been right there next to me in some of the worst places I'd ever walked. He saved my life more than once. I'd returned the favor. But that had been when he decided to fight against his Hunger, the vampiric nature native to the vampires of the White Court. He'd spent years maintaining control of his darker urges, integrating with Chicago's society, and generally trying to act like a human being. We'd had to keep our kinship a secret. The Council would have used him to get at the White Court if they knew. Ditto for the vampires getting at the Council through me.

Then something bad happened to him, and he stopped trying to be human. I might have seen him for a total of two, even three minutes since he'd been knocked off the life- force-nibbling wagon and started taking big hearty bites again.

Thomas swaggered up to me as if we'd been talking just yesterday, looked me up and down, and said, "You need an image consultant, stat, little brother."

I said, "Guess what. You're an uncle."

Thomas let his head fall back as he barked out a little laugh. "What? No, hardly, unless one of Father's by-blows actually survived. Which essentially just doesn't happen among - "

He stopped talking in midsentence and his eyes widened.

"Yeah," I said.

"Oh," he said, still wide-eyed, apparently locked into motionlessness by surprise. It was a little creepy. Human beings still look like human beings when they're standing still. Thomas's pale skin and bright blue eyes went still, like a statue. "Oh."

I nodded. "Say 'oilcan.' "

Thomas blinked. "What?"

"You get to be the Tin Woodsman."

"What?"

"Never mind, not important." I sighed. "Look, without going into too many details: I have an eight-year-old daughter. Susan never told me. Duchess Arianna of the Red Court took her."

"Um," said Thomas. "If I'd known that, maybe I would have been here sooner."

"Couldn't say anything on the phone. The FBI and the cops are involved, having been made into roadblocks to slow me down." I tilted my head down the street. "The cop who lives in that house at the end of the street has been coerced into helping whoever is trying to stop me. I'm here hoping to nab either his handler or his cleaner and grab every bit of information I can."

Thomas looked at me and said, "I'm an uncle."

I ran the palm of my hand over my face.

"Sorry," he said. "I just thought this was going to be another chat, with you all worried that the evil White Court had been abusing me. I need to take a moment."

"Make it a short moment," I said. "We're on the clock."

Thomas nodded several times and seemed to draw himself back into order. "Okay, so you're looking for . . . What's her name?"

"Maggie."

My brother paused for a couple of heartbeats, and bowed his head briefly. "That's a good name."

"Susan thought so."

"So you're looking for Maggie," he said. "And you need my help?"

"I don't know the exact date, but I know she's going to be brought to Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢. Probably tonight, tomorrow night at the latest."

"Why?" Thomas asked. He then added, "And how does this have anything to do with me?"

"They're using her in a bloodline curse," I said. "When they sacrifice her, the curse kills her brothers and sisters, then her parents, then their brothers and sisters and so on."

"Wait. Maggie has brothers and sisters? Since when have you ever gotten that busy?"

"No, dammit!" I half shouted in frustration. "That's just an illustration for how the bloodline curse works."

His eyebrows shot up. "Oh, crap. You're saying that it's going to kill me, too."

"Yes, that is exactly what I'm freaking saying. You tool."

"Um," Thomas said, "I'm against that." His eyes widened again. "Wait. What about the other Raiths? Are they in any danger through me?"

I shook my head. "I don't know."

"Empty night," he muttered. "Okay. You know where she's going to be. You want me to saddle up and help you get Maggie back, like we did with Molly?"

"Not unless there's no other choice. I don't think we would survive a direct assault on the Red King and his retinue on their home turf."

"Well, maybe you and I couldn't, naturally. But with the Council behind y - "

"Way behind me," I interrupted, my voice harsh with anger. "So far behind me you wouldn't know they were there at all."

My brother's deep blue eyes flashed with an angry fire. "Those assholes."

"Seconded, motion carried," I agreed.

"So what do you think we should do?"

"I need information," I said. "Get me whatever you can. Any activity at Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢ or a nearby Red stronghold, sightings of a little girl surrounded by Reds, anything. There's got to be something, somewhere that will show us a chink in their armor. If we find out where they're holding her, we can hit the place. If I can learn something about the defensive magic around the site, maybe I can poke a hole in it so that we can just grab the girl and go. Otherwise . . ."

"Yeah," Thomas said. "Otherwise we have to take them on at Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢. Which would suck."

"It's a couple of miles beyond suck."

Thomas frowned. "What about asking Lara for help? She can command a lot of firepower from the other Houses of the White Court."

"Why would she help me?" I asked.

"Self-preservation. She's big on that."

I grunted. "I'm not sure if the rest of your family is in any danger."

"You aren't sure they aren't, either," Thomas said. "And anyway, if you don't know, Lara won't."

"Don't be too sure," I said. "No. If I go to her with this, she'll assume it's a ploy motivated by desperation."

Thomas folded his arms. "A lame ploy, at that. But you're missing another angle."

"Oh?"

Thomas lowered his arms and then brought them up to frame his own torso the way Vanna White presents the letters on Wheel of Fortune. "Incontestably, I'm in danger. She'll want to protect me."

I looked at him skeptically.

Thomas shrugged. "I play for the team now, Harry. And everyone knows it. If she lets something bad happen to me when I ask for her help, it's going to make a lot of people upset. And not in the helpful, 'I sure don't want to mess with her' kind of way."

"For that to work as leverage, the stakes would have to be known to the rest of the Court," I said. "They'd have to know why you were in danger from a bloodline curse aimed at me. Then they'd all know about our blood relation. Not just Lara."

Thomas frowned over that for a moment. Then he shrugged. "Still. It might be worth the effort to approach her. She's a resourceful woman, my sister." His expression smoothed over into neutrality. "Quite gifted when it comes to removing obstacles. She could probably help you."

Normally I slap down suggestions like that without a second thought. This time . . .

I had the second thought.

Lara probably knew the Red Court as well as anyone. She'd been operating arm in arm with them, to one degree or another, for years. She was the power behind the throne of the White Court, which prided itself on its skills of espionage, manipulation, and other forms of indirect strength. If anyone was likely to know something about the Reds, it was Lara Raith.

The clock just kept on ticking. Maggie was running out of time. She couldn't afford for me to be squeamish.

"I would prefer not to," I said quietly. "I need you to find out whatever you can, man."

"What happens if I can't find it?"

"If that happens . . ." I shook my head. "If I do nothing, my little girl is going to die. And so is my brother. I can't live with that."

Thomas nodded. "I'll see what I can do."

"Don't see it. Do it."

It came out harsh enough that my brother flinched, though it was a subtle motion. "Okay," he said. "Let's - "

His head whipped around toward Rudolph's house.

"What?" I asked.

He held up a hand for silence, turning to focus intently. "Breaking glass," he murmured. "A lot of it."

"Harry!" Molly called.

I turned to see the Beetle's passenger door swing open. Molly emerged, hanging on to Mouse's collar with both hands. The big dog was focused on Rudolph's house as well, and his chest bubbled with the deep, tearing snarl I'd heard only a handful of times, and always when supernatural predators were nearby.

"Someone's there for Rudolph," I said, and launched myself forward. "Let's go!"


Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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