Driving at high speeds has never been one of my favorite things. For one, the
Blue Beetle, the mismatched and oft-repaired
Volkswagen bug that I putter around in, does not usually manage anything above
sixty miles an hour. For another, machines
make me nervous. As a wizard, I don't get along so well with technology.
Anything manufactured after about World War II
seems to be susceptible to abrupt malfunction when I get anywhere close to it.
As a rule, when I drive, I drive very carefully and
Tonight was an exception to the rule. The Beetle's tires screeched in protest as
we rounded a corner, clearly against the No Left
Turn sign posted there. The old car growled gamely, as though it sensed what was
at stake, and continued its valiant puttering.
"Can we go any faster?" Michael drawled. It wasn't a complaint--I'd never known
the man to make a complaint in his life. It
was just a question, calmly voiced.
"Only if the wind gets behind us or we start going down a hill," I said. "How
much farther to the hospital?"
The big man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He had that kind of
salt-and-pepper hair, dark against silver, that some
men seem lucky enough to inherit, though his beard was still a solid color of
dark brown, almost black. There were worry and
laugh-lines at the corners of his leathery face. His broad, lined hands rested
upon his knees, which were scrunched up due to
the dashboard, much as my own were. "I don't know, for certain," he answered me.
"Another two miles or less?"
I squinted out the Beetle's window at the fading light. "The sun is almost down.
I hope we're not too late."
"We're doing all we can," Michael assured me. "If God wills it, we'll be there
in time. Are you sure of your . . ." his mouth
twisted with distaste, "Source?"
"Bob is annoying, but rarely wrong," I answered, jamming on the brakes and
dodging around a garbage truck. "If he said the
ghost would be there, it will be there."
"Lord be with us," Michael said, and crossed himself. I felt a stirring of
something; powerful, placid energy around him--the
power of faith. "Harry, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you
"Don't ask me to Mass again," I told him, uncomfortable. "You know I'm just
going to say no." Someone in a red Taurus cut me
off, and I had to swerve around him, into the turn lane, and then ahead of him
again. "Jerk!" I howled out the driver's window.
"That doesn't preclude asking," Michael said. "But no. I wanted to know when you
were going to get married to Miss
"Hell's Bells, Michael," I scowled. "You and I have been chasing all over town
for the past two weeks, going up against every
ghost and stray spirit that has all of a sudden reared its ugly head. I should
remind you that we still don't know who's been
causing spirit world to go postal."
"I know that, Harry, but--"
"At the moment," I interrupted, "we're going after one nasty old biddy at Cook
County, who could kill us both if we aren't
focused. And here you are, asking me about Susan and my love life."
Michael frowned at me. "You're sleeping with her, aren't you," he said. It
wasn't a question.
"Not often enough," I growled, and shifted lanes, swerving around a passenger
bus. "But we're both so busy. Her job, my job."
The knight sighed. "Do you love her?" he asked.
"Michael," I said. "Give me a break. Where do you get off asking questions like
"Do you love her?" he pressed.
"I'm trying to drive, here."
"Harry," he asked, smiling again. "Do you love the girl or don't you? It isn't a
"Speaks the expert," I grumbled. I went past a blue-and-white at about twenty
miles an hour over the speed limit, and saw the
police officer behind the wheel blink and spill his coffee as he saw me go past.
I checked my cracked rear-view mirror, and
saw the blue bulbs on the police car whirl to life. "Dammit, that tears it. The
cops are going to be coming in right after us."
"Don't worry about them," Michael assured me. "I just want to know, Harry. Do
you love her?"
I was silent for a second, and then flashed Michael a glance. He was watching
me, with a face broad and honest, a strong jaw,
and flashing grey eyes. His hair was cropped close, Marine-length, on top, but
he sported a short, warrior's beard that he kept
clipped close to his face. "I suppose so," I said, after a second. "Yeah."
"Then you don't mind saying it?"
"Saying what?" I stalled.
"Harry," Michael scolded, holding on as we bounced through a dip in the street.
"Don't be a child about this, man. If you love
the woman, say so."
"Why?" I demanded.
"You haven't told her, have you. You've never said it."
I glared at him. "So what if I haven't? She knows. What's the big deal?"
"Harry Dresden," he said. "I am profoundly disappointed. You, of all people,
should know the power of a few words."
"Look, she knows," I said, tapping the breaks and then flattening the
accellerator again. "I got her a card."
"A card?" Michael asked.
He sighed. "Let me hear you say the words."
"Say the words," he demanded. "If you love the woman, why can't you say so?"
"I don't just go around saying that to people, Michael. Stars and sky, that's .
. . I just couldn't, all right?"
"You don't love her," Michael said. "I see."
"You know that's not--"
"Say it, Harry."
"If it will get you off my back," I said, and gave the Beetle every ounce of gas
that I could. I could see the police in traffic
somewhere behind me. "All right," I flashed Michael a ferocious, wizardly scowl
and snarled, "I love her. There, how's that?"
Michael beamed at me. "You see? That's the only thing that stands between you
two. You're not the kind of person who says
what you feel. Or who is very introspective, Harry. Sometimes, you just need to
look into the mirror and see what's there."
"I don't like mirrors," I grumbled.
"Regardless, you needed to realize that you do love the woman. After Elaine, I
thought you might isolate yourself too much and
I felt a sudden flash of anger and vehemence. "I don't talk about Elaine,
Michael. Ever. If you can't live with that, get the hell out
of my car and let me work on my own."
Michael frowned at me, probably more for my choice of words than anything else.
"I'm talking about Susan, Harry. If you love
her, you should marry her and make an honest woman out of her."
"Michael, I'm a wizard. I don't have time to be married."
"I'm a knight," Michael responded. "And I have the time. It's worth it. You're
alone too much. It's starting to show around the
I scowled at him again. "What does that mean?"
"You're tense. Grumpy. And you're isolating yourself more all the time. You need
to keep up human contacts, Harry. It would
be so easy for you to fall. To start down the dark path."
"Michael," I snapped, "I don't need a lecture. I don't need the conversion
speech again. I don't need the 'cast aside your evil
powers before they consume you' speech. Again. What I need is for you to back me
up while I go take care of this thing."
Cook County Hospital loomed into sight, and I made an illegal U-turn to get the
Blue Beetle up into the emergency entrance
Michael unbuckled his seatbelt, even before the car had come to a stop and
reached into the back seat to draw an enormous
sword, fully five feet long in its black scabbard, from the back seat. He exited
the car, buckled on the sword, and then reached
back in for a white cloak with a red cross upon the left breast, which he tossed
over his shoulders in a practiced motion, then
clasped with another cross, this one of silver, at his throat. It clashed with
his flannel workman's shirt, blue jeans, and steel-toed
"Fire and ice. Can't you leave the cloak off, at least?" I opened the door and
unfolded myself from the Beetle's driver seat,
stretching my long legs, and reached into the back seat to recover my own
equipment--my new wizard's staff and blasting rod,
each of them freshly carved and still a little green around the edges.
Michael looked up at me, wounded. "The cloak is as much a part of it as the
sword, Harry. Besides, it's no more ridiculous than
that coat you wear."
I looked down my lean body at my black leather duster, the one with the large
mantle that fell around my shoulders and spread
out as it went down to billow in a most heavy and satisfactory fashion around my
legs. My own black jeans and dark western
shirt were a ton and a half more stylish than Michael's costume. "What's wrong
"It belongs on the set of El Dorado," Michael said, gently. "Are you ready?"
I shot him a withering glance, to which he turned the other cheek with a smile,
and we headed towards the doors, drawing a
large number of stares. I could hear police sirens closing in behind us, maybe a
block or two away. "This is going to be close."
"Then best we hurry." He cast the white cloak back from his right arm, and put
his hand on the hilt of the great broadsword.
Then he bowed his head, crossed himself, and murmured, "Merciful Father, guide
us and protect us as we go to do battle with
the darkness." Once more, there was that thrum of energy around him, like the
vibrations of music that made no sound.
I shook my head, and fetched a leather sack, about the size of my palm, from the
pocket of my duster. I had to juggle staff,
blasting rod, and sack for a moment, and wound up with the staff in my left
hand, as was proper, the rod in my right, and the
sack dangling from my teeth. "The sun is down," I grated out. "Let's move it."
And we broke into a run, knight and wizard, through the emergency entrance of
Cook County Hospital. We drew no small
amount of stares as we entered, my duster billowing out in a black cloud behind
me, Michael's white cloak spreading like the
wings of the avenging angel who was his namesake. We pelted inside, and slid to
a halt at the first intersection of cool, sterile,
I grabbed the arm of the first orderly I saw passing by. He blinked, and then
gawked at me, from the tips of my western boots
to the dark hair atop my head. He glanced at my staff and rod rather nervously,
and at the silver pentacle amulet dangling at my
breast, and gulped. Then he looked at Michael, tall and broad, his expression
utterly serene, at odds with the white cloak and
the broadsword at his hip. The man gulped, taking a nervous step back. "M-m-may
I help you?"
I speared him into place with my most ferocious, dark-eyed smile and said,
between teeth clenched on the leather sack, "Hi.
Could you tell us where the nursery is?"