By Jim Butcher
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 Codex Alera. 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,
"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
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
"No," I told him.
"I'm not a psychic." I tugged at the mail.
He held onto it. "What are
"What's the sign on the door
"It says 'Harry Dresden.
"That's me," I
"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 anger?"
"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
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:
Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Advice. Reasonable Rates.
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
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
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,
"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 door down.
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
"Finding lost articles is a
specialty," I said. "What would I be looking for?"
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
"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 charge."
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
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, brisk, businesslike.
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 family?"
"Save it, Harry. I've got a
couple of bodies here, and I need you to take a look around."
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
"Madison Hotel on Tenth,
"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
"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.
"How bad are we talking
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 around."
"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 the elevator.
Paranoid? Probably. But just
because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there isn't an invisible demon about
to eat your face.