By Jim Butcher
We went to O'Hare. I met Brother Wang in the chapel at the
international concourse. He was a short, wiry Asian man in sweeping
robes the color of sunset. His bald head gleamed, making his age
tough to guess, though his features were wrinkled with the marks of
someone who smiles often.
"Miss sir Dresden," he said, breaking into a wide smile as I came
in with the box of sleeping puppies. "Our little one dogs you have
given to us!"
Brother Wang's English was worse than my Latin, and that's saying
something, but his body language was unmistakable. I returned his
smile, and offered him the box with a bow of my head. "It was my
Wang took the box and set it down carefully, then started gently
sorting through its contents. I waited, looking around the little
chapel, a plain room built to be a quiet space for meditation, so
that those who believed in something would have a place to pay honor
to their faith. The airport had redecorated the room with a blue
carpet instead of a beige one. They'd repainted the walls. There was
a new podium at the front of the room, and half a dozen replacement
I guess that much blood leaves a permanent stain, no matter how
much cleaner you dump on it.
I put my foot on the spot where a gentle old man had given up his
life to save mine. It made me feel sad, but not bitter. If we had it
to do again, he and I would make the same choices. I just wished I'd
been able to know him longer than I had. It's not everyone who can
teach you something about faith without saying a word to do it.
Brother Wang frowned at the white powder all over the puppies,
and held up one dust-coated hand with an inquisitive expression.
"Oops," I said.
"Ah," Wang said, nodding. "Oops. Okay, oops." He frowned at the
"Is it that all the little one dogs are boxed in?"
I shrugged. "I got all of them that were in the building. I don't
know if anyone moved some of them before I did."
"Okay," Brother Wang said. "Less is more better than nothing." He
straightened and offered me his hand. "Much thanks from my
I shook it. "Welcome."
"Plane leaving now for home." Wang reached into his robe and
pulled out an envelope. He passed it to me, bowed once more, then
took the box of puppies and swept out of the room.
I counted the priest's money, which probably says something about
my level of cynicism. I'd racked up a fairly hefty fee on this one,
first picking up the trail of the sorcerer who had stolen the pups,
then tracking him down and snooping around long enough to know when
he went out to get some dinner. It had taken me nearly a week of
sixteen hour days to find the concealed location of the room where
the pups were held. After that, I'd had to identify the demons
guarding them, and work out a spell that would neutralize them
without, for example, burning down the building.
All in all, my pay amounted to a couple of nice, solid stacks of
Ben Franklins. I'd added on a surcharge for playing repo man. Of
course, if I'd known about the flaming poo, I'd have added more.
Some things demand overtime.
I left. Thomas was sitting on the hood of the Beetle. He hadn't
bothered moving it to the actual parking lot, instead taking up a
section of curb at the loading zone outside the concourse. A patrol
cop had evidently come over to tell him to move it, but she was a
fairly attractive woman and Thomas was Thomas. He had taken off her
hat and had it perched on his head at a rakish angle, and the cop
looked relaxed and was laughing as I came walking up.
"Hey," I said. "Let's get moving. Things to do."
"Alas," he said, taking off the hat and offering it back to the
officer with a little bow. "Unless you're about to arrest me,
"Not this time, I suppose," the cop said.
"Damn the luck." Thomas said.
She smiled at him, then frowned at me. "Aren't you Harry
The cop nodded, putting on her hat. "Thought I recognized you.
Lieutenant Murphy says you're good people."
"A lot of people don't much like Murphy."
"Aw shucks," I said. "I blush when I feel all flattered like
The cop stepped up onto the sidewalk and began moving on down it.
Thomas swung his legs off the car and pitched my keys at me. I
caught them and got in the driver's side.
"Okay," I said, when Thomas got in. "Where do I meet this guy?"
"He's holding a little soiree for his filming crew tonight in a
condo on the Gold Coast. Drinks, DJ, snacks, that kind of thing."
"Snacks," I said. "I'm in."
"Just promise me you won't fill up your pockets with peanuts or
something." Thomas gave me directions, and I got moving. "Hey Harry,
can I ask you something?"
"Did you really save the world? I mean, like the last two years
in a row?"
I shrugged. "Sort of."
"Word is you capped a faerie princess and headed off a war
between Winter and Summer," Thomas said.
"Mostly I was saving my own ass. Just happened that the world was
in the same spot."
"That image is going to give me nightmares," Thomas said. "What
about those demon Hell guys last year?"
I shook my head. "They'd have let loose a nasty plague, but it
wouldn't have lasted very long. They were hoping it would escalate
it into a nice apocalypse. They knew there wasn't much chance of it,
but they were doing it anyway."
"Like playing the Lotto," Thomas said.
"In a genocidal kind of way, I guess."
"And you stopped them."
"I helped, yeah. But there was tragedy."
"I didn't get paid for either of those cases. I make more money
from flaming demon monkey crap, and that's just wrong."
Thomas laughed a little and shook his head. "I don't get it."
"Don't get what?"
"Why you do it."
He folded his arms and slouched down with his eyes half-closed.
"The Lone Ranger impersonation. You get pounded to scrap every time
you turn around and you barely get by on the gumshoe work. You live
in that dank little cave of an apartment. Alone. You've got no
woman, no friends, and you drive this piece of crap. Your life is
kind of pathetic."
"Is that what you think?" I asked.
"Call them like I see them."
I laughed. "Why do you think I do it?"
He shrugged. "All I can figure is that either you're nursing a
deep and sadistic self-hatred or else you're insane. I gave you the
benefit of the doubt and left monumental stupidity off the list."
I kept on smiling. "Thomas, you don't really know me. Not at
"I think I do. I've seen you under pressure."
I shrugged. "Yeah, but you see me what? Maybe a day or two each
year? Usually when something's been warming up to kill me by beating
the tar out of me."
"So that doesn't cover what my life is like the other three
hundred and sixty three days," I said. "You don't know everything
about me. My life isn't completely about magical mayhem and creative
pyromania in Chicago."
"Oh, that's right. I heard you went to exotic Oklahoma a few
months back. Something about a tornado and the National Severe
"I was doing the new Summer Lady a favor, running down a rogue
storm sylph. Got to go all over the place in those tornado chaser
geekmobiles. You should have seen the look on the driver's face when
he realized that the tornado was chasing us."
"It's a nice story, Harry, but what's the point?" Thomas asked.
"My point is that there's a lot of my life you haven't seen. I
"Monster hunters, werewolves and a talking skull."
I shook my head. "More than that. I like my apartment. Hell, for
that matter I like my car."
"You like this piece of junk?"
"She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts,
Thomas slouched down in his seat, his expression skeptical. "Now
you've forced me to reconsider the monumentally stupid explanation."
I shrugged. "Me and the Blue Beetle kick ass. In a four cylinder
kind of way, but it still gets kicked."
Thomas's face lost all expression. "What about Susan?"
When I get angry, I'd like to be able to pull off a great stone
face like that, but I don't do it so well. "What about her?"
"You cared about her. You got her involved in your life. She got
torn up because of you. She got attention from all kinds of nasties
and she nearly died." He kept staring ahead. "How do you live with
I started to get angry but I had a rare flash of insight and my
ire evaporated before it could fully condense. I studied Thomas'
profile at a stoplight, and saw him working hard to look distant,
like nothing was touching him.
"How's Justine?" I asked.
His features grew colder. "Turn right up here, the gate on that
lot." He passed me a white envelope. "Give that to the guard."
I took the envelope and said, "How is she, Thomas."
"I'm a vampire, Harry." He folded his arms. "She's food. That's
how she is."
He was working hard not to give anything away, so I figured he
was full of crap. But I wasn't going to push him. Most of the time,
Thomas was an annoying wiseass who tended to make everyone he met
want to kill him, and when I have that much in common with someone,
I can't help but like them a little.
It was easy for me to forget what he was, and I couldn't afford
that. He was a vampire of the White Court. They didn't drink blood.
They fed on emotions, on feelings, drawing the life energy from
their prey through them. The way I understood it, it was usually
during sex, and rumor had it that their kind could seduce a saint.
I'd seen Thomas start to feed once, and whatever it was that made
him not quite human had completely taken control of him. It left him
a cold, beautiful, marble-white being of naked hunger. It was an
acutely uncomfortable memory. The Whites weren't as physically
formidable or aggressively organized as the Red Court, and they
didn't have the raw, terrifying power of the Black Court, but they
didn't have all the usual vampire weaknesses, either. Sunlight
wasn't a problem for Thomas, and from what I'd seen, crosses and
other holy articles didn't bother him either. But just because they
weren't as inhuman as the other Courts didn't make the Whites less
dangerous. In fact, the way I saw it, it made them more of a threat
in some ways. It would be a lot easier to let down my guard for
someone nearly human.
Speaking of which, I told myself, I was agreeing to help him and
taking a job, just as though Thomas was any other client. It
probably wasn't the smartest thing I'd ever done. It had the
potential to lead to lethally unhealthy decisions.
I pulled in where Thomas told me to and leaned out of my car to
offer the envelope to the guard in the little kiosk at the entrance
of the parking lot.
A squeaky, bubbling growl erupted from directly below my seat. I
"What the hell is that?" Thomas said.
I pulled up to the guard kiosk and stopped. I reached for my
magical senses and extended them toward the source of the continuing
growl. "Crap. I think it's one of the "
A sort of greasy, nauseating cold flooded over my magical senses,
stealing my breath. A ghostly charnel-house scent came with it, the
smell of old blood and rotting meat. I froze, looking up at the
source of the sensation.
The person I'd taken to be a security guard was a vampire of the
It had been a young man. Its features looked familiar, but
dessication had left its face too gaunt for me to be sure. The
vampire wasn't tall. Death had withered it into an emaciated
caricature of a human being. Its eyes were covered with a white,
rheumy film and flakes of dead flesh fell from its decay-drawn lips
and clung to its yellowed teeth. Hair like brittle, dead grass stood
out from its head, and there was some kind of moss or mold growing
It snatched at me with inhuman speed, but my wizard's senses had
given me enough warning to keep its skeletal fingers from closing on
my wrist just barely. The vampire caught a bit of my duster's
leather sleeve with the tips of its fingers. I jerked my arm back,
but the vampire had as much strength in its fingertips as I did in
my whole upper body. I had to pull hard, twisting with my shoulders
to break free. I choked out a shout, and the sudden rush of fear
made it high and thready.
The vampire rushed me, slithering out through the guardhouse
window like a freeze-dried snake. I had a panicked instant to
realize that if the vampire closed to wrestling-range with me inside
the car, they'd be harvesting my organs out of a mound of scrap
metal and spare parts.
And I wasn't strong enough to stop it from happening.