Turn Coat Chapter 13
I would like to thank Anne Sowards, my marvelous editor, my agent, Jenn Jackson, and my poor deluded beta readers. I've been facing the kinds of problems authors only dream about having, and you all have been a tremendous help to me. With luck, I'll figure out how best to repay you for the time and effort you've all given me.
And, always, for Shannon and JJ, who like me even when I vanish into my own head for days at a time.
The summer sun was busy broiling the asphalt from Chicago 's streets, the agony in my head had kept me horizontal for half a day, and some idiot was pounding on my apartment door.
I answered it and Morgan, half his face covered in blood, gasped, ’’The Wardens are coming. Hide me. Please.’’
His eyes rolled back into his skull and he collapsed.
Up until that moment, I'd been laboring under the misapprehension that the splitting pain in my skull would be the worst thing to happen to me today.
’’Hell's frickin'bells!’’ I blurted at Morgan's unconscious form. ’’You have got to be kidding me!’’ I was really, really tempted to slam the door and leave him lying there in a heap. He sure as hell deserved it.
I couldn't just stand there doing nothing, though.
’’You need to get your head examined,’’ I muttered to myself. Then I deactivated my wards-the magical security system I've got laid over my apartment-grabbed Morgan under the arms, and hauled him inside. He was a big man, over six feet, with plenty of muscle-and he was completely limp. I had a hard time moving him, even though I'm no junior petite myself.
I shut the door behind me and brought my wards back up. Then I waved a hand at my apartment in general, focused my will, and muttered, ’’Flickum bicus.’’ A dozen candles spaced around the room flickered to life as I pronounced the simple spell, and I knelt beside the unconscious Morgan, examining him for injuries.
He had half a dozen nasty cuts, oozing and ugly and probably painful, but not life-threatening. The flesh on his ribs, beneath his left arm, was blistered and burned, and his plain white shirt had been scorched away. He also had a deep wound in one leg that was clumsily wrapped in what looked like a kitchen apron. I didn't dare unwrap the thing. It could start the bleeding again, and my medical skills are nothing I'd want to bet a life on.
Even Morgan's life.
He needed a doctor.
Unfortunately, if the Wardens of the White Council were pursuing him, they probably knew he was wounded. They would, therefore, be watching hospitals. If I took him to one of the local emergency rooms, the Council would know about it within hours.
So I called a friend.
Waldo Butters studied Morgan's injuries in silence for a few moments, while I hovered. He was a wiry little guy, and his black hair stood up helter-skelter, like the fur of a frightened cat. He wore green hospital scrubs and sneakers, and his hands were swift and nimble. He had dark and very intelligent eyes behind black wire-rimmed spectacles, and looked like he hadn't slept in two weeks.
’’I'm not a doctor,’’ Butters said.
We'd done this dance several times. ’’You are the Mighty Butters,’’ I said. ’’You can do anything.’’
’’I'm a medical examiner. I cut up corpses.’’
’’If it helps, think of this as a preventative autopsy.’’
Butters gave me an even look and said, ’’Can't take him to the hospital, huh?’’
Butters shook his head. ’’Isn't this the guy who tried to kill you that one Halloween?’’
’’And a few other times before that,’’ I said.
He opened a medical kit and started rummaging through it. ’’I was never really clear on why.’’
I shrugged. ’’When I was a kid, I killed a man with magic. I was captured by the Wardens and tried by the White Council.’’
’’I guess you got off.’’
I shook my head. ’’But they figured that since I was just trying to survive the guy killing me with magic, maybe I deserved a break. Suspended sentence, sort of. Morgan was my probation officer.’’
’’Probation?’’ Butters asked.
’’If I screwed up again, he was supposed to chop my head off. He followed me around looking for a good excuse to do it.’’
Butters blinked up at me, surprised.
’’I spent the first several years of my adult life looking over my shoulder, worrying about this guy. Getting hounded and harassed by him. I had nightmares for a while, and he was in them.’’ Truth be told, I still had nightmares occasionally, about being pursued by an implacable killer in a grey cloak, holding a wicked cold sword.
Butters began to wet the bandages over the leg wound. ’’And you're helping him?’’
I shrugged. ’’He thought I was a dangerous animal and needed to be put down. He really believed it, and acted accordingly.’’
Butters gave me a quick glance. ’’And you're helping him?’’
’’He was wrong,’’ I said. ’’That doesn't make him a villain. It just makes him an asshole. It isn't reason enough to kill him.’’
Butters lifted his eyebrows. ’’Then why'd he come to you for help?’’
’’Last place anyone would look for him be my guess.’’
’’Jesus Christ,’’ Butters muttered. He'd gotten the improvised bandage off, and found a wound maybe three inches long, but deep, its edges puckered like a little mouth. Blood began drooling from it. ’’It's like a knife wound, but bigger.’’
’’That's probably because it was done with something like a knife, but bigger.’’
’’A sword?’’ Butters said. ’’You've got to be kidding me.’’
’’The Council's old school,’’ I said. ’’Really, really, really old school.’’
Butters shook his head. ’’Wash your hands the way I just did. Do it thorough-takes two or three minutes. Then get a pair of gloves on and get back here. I need an extra pair of hands.’’
I swallowed. ’’Uh. Butters, I don't know if I'm the right guy to-’’
’’Oh bite me, wizard boy,’’ Butters said, his tone annoyed. ’’You haven't got a moral leg to stand on. If it's okay that I'm not a doctor, it's okay that you aren't a nurse. So wash your freaking hands and help me before we lose him.’’
I stared at Butters helplessly for a second. Then I got up and washed my freaking hands.
For the record, surgeries aren't pretty. There's a hideous sense of intimately inappropriate exposure to another human being, and it feels something like accidentally walking in on a naked parent. Only there's more gore. Bits are exposed that just shouldn't be out in the open, and they're covered in blood. It's embarrassing, disgusting, and unsettling all at the same time.
’’There,’’ Butters said, an infinity later. ’’Okay, let go. Get your hands out of my way.’’
’’It cut the artery?’’ I asked.
’’Oh, hell no,’’ Butters said. ’’Whoever stabbed him barely nicked it. Otherwise he'd be dead.’’
’’But it's fixed, right?’’
’’For some definitions of 'fixed.'Harry, this is meatball surgery of the roughest sort, but the wound should stay closed as long as he doesn't go walking around on it. And he should get looked at by a real doctor soonest.’’ He frowned in concentration. ’’Just give me a minute to close up here.’’
’’Take all the time you need.’’
Butters fell silent while he worked, and didn't speak again until after he'd finished sewing the wound closed and covered the site in bandages. Then he turned his attention to the smaller injuries, closing most of them with bandages, suturing a particularly ugly one. He also applied a topical antibiotic to the burn, and carefully covered it in a layer of gauze.
’’Okay,’’ Butters said. ’’I sterilized everything as best I could, but it wouldn't shock me to see an infection anyway. He starts running a fever, or if there's too much swelling, you've got to get him to one of two places-the hospital or the morgue.’’
’’Got it,’’ I said quietly.
’’We should get him onto a bed. Get him warm.’’
We lifted Morgan by the simple expedient of picking up the entire area rug he was lying on, and settled him down on the only bed in the place, the little twin in my closet-sized bedroom. We covered him up.
’’He really ought to have a saline IV going,’’ Butters said. ’’For that matter, a unit of blood couldn't hurt, either. And he needs antibiotics, man, but I can't write prescriptions.’’
’’I'll handle it,’’ I said.
Butters grimaced at me, his dark eyes concerned. He started to speak and then stopped, several times.
’’Harry,’’ he said, finally. ’’You're on the White Council, aren't you?’’
’’And you are a Warden, aren't you?’’
Butters shook his head. ’’So, your own people are after this guy. I can't imagine that they'll be very happy with you if they find him here.’’
I shrugged. ’’They're always upset about something.’’
’’I'm serious. This is nothing but trouble for you. So why help him?’’
I was quiet for a moment, looking down at Morgan's slack, pale, unconscious face.
’’Because Morgan wouldn't break the Laws of Magic,’’ I said quietly. ’’Not even if it cost him his life.’’
’’You sound pretty sure about that.’’
I nodded. ’’I am. I'm helping him because I know what it feels like to have the Wardens on your ass for something you haven't done.’’ I rose and looked away from the unconscious man on my bed. ’’I know it better than anyone alive.’’
Butters shook his head. ’’You are a rare kind of crazy, man.’’
He started cleaning up everything he'd set out during the improvised surgery. ’’So. How are the headaches?’’
They'd been a problem, the past several months-increasingly painful migraines. ’’Fine,’’ I told him.
’’Yeah, right,’’ Butters said. ’’I really wish you'd try the MRI again.’’
Technology and wizards don't coexist well, and magnetic resonance imagers are right up there. ’’One baptism in fire-extinguishing foam per year is my limit,’’ I said.
’’It could be something serious,’’ Butters said. ’’Anything happens in your head or neck, you don't take chances. There's way too much going on there.’’
’’They're lightening up,’’ I lied.
’’Hogwash,’’ Butters said, giving me a gimlet stare. ’’You've got a headache now, don't you?’’
I looked from Butters to Morgan's recumbent form. ’’Yeah,’’ I said. ’’I sure as hell got one now.’’
Morgan slept. My first impression of the guy had stuck with me pretty hard-tall, heavily muscled, with a lean, sunken face I'd always associated with religious ascetics and half-crazy artists. He had brown hair that was unevenly streaked with iron, and a beard that, while always kept trimmed, perpetually seemed to need a few more weeks to fill out. He had hard, steady eyes, and all the comforting, reassuring charm of a dental drill.
Asleep, he looked... old. Tired. I noticed the deep worry lines between his brows and at the corners of his mouth. His hands, which were large and blunt-fingered, showed more of his age than the rest of him. I knew he was better than a century old, which was nudging toward active maturity, for a wizard. There were scars across both of his hands-the graffiti of violence. The last two fingers of his right hand were stiff and slightly crooked, as if they'd been badly broken, and healed without being properly set. His eyes looked sunken, and the skin beneath them was dark enough to resemble bruises. Maybe Morgan had bad dreams, too.
It was harder to be afraid of him when he was asleep.
Mouse, my big grey dog, rose from his usual napping post in the kitchen alcove, and shambled over to stand beside me, two hundred pounds of silent companionship. He looked soberly at Morgan and then up at me.
’’Do me a favor,’’ I told him. ’’Stay with him. Make sure he doesn't try to walk on that leg. It could kill him.’’
Mouse nudged his head against my hip, made a quiet snorting sound, and padded over to the bed. He lay down on the floor, stretching out alongside it, and promptly went back to sleep.
I pulled the door most of the way shut and sank down into the easy chair by the fireplace, where I could rub my temples and try to think.
The White Council of Wizards was the governing body for the practice of magic in the world, and made up of its most powerful practitioners. Being a member of the White Council was something akin to earning your black belt in a martial art-it meant that you could handle yourself well, that you had real skill that was recognized by your fellow wizards. The Council oversaw the use of magic among its members, according to the Seven Laws of Magic.
God help the poor practitioner who broke one of the Laws. The Council would send the Wardens to administer justice, which generally took the form of ruthless pursuit, a swift trial, and a prompt execution-when the offender wasn't killed resisting arrest.
It sounds harsh, and it is-but over time I'd been forced to admit that it might well be necessary. The use of black magic corrupts the mind and the heart and the soul of the wizard employing it. It doesn't happen instantly, and it doesn't happen all at once-it's a slow, festering thing that grows like a tumor, until whatever human empathy and compassion a person might have once had is consumed in the need for power. By the time a wizard has fallen to that temptation and become a warlock, people are dead, or worse than dead. It was the duty of the Wardens to make a quick end of warlocks-by any means necessary.
There was more to being a Warden than that, though. They were also the soldiers and defenders of the White Council. In our recent war with the Vampire Courts, the lion's share of the fighting had been carried out by the Wardens, those men and women with a gift for swift, violent magic. Hell, in most of the battles, such as they were, it had been Morgan who was in the center of the fighting.
I'd done my share during the war, but among my fellow Wardens, the only ones who were happy to work with me had been the newer recruits. The older ones had all seen too many lives shattered by the abuse of magic, and their experiences had marked them deeply. With one exception, they didn't like me, they didn't trust me, and they didn't want anything to do with me.
That generally suited me just fine.
Over the past few years, the White Council had come to realize that someone on the inside was feeding information to the vampires. A lot of people died because of the traitor, but he, or she, had never been identified. Given how much the Council in general and the Wardens in particular loved me, the ensuing paranoia-fest had kept my life from getting too boring-especially after I'd been dragooned into joining the Wardens myself, as part of the war effort.
So why was Morgan here, asking for help from me?
Call me crazy, but my suspicious side immediately put forward the idea that Morgan was trying to sucker me into doing something to get me into major hot water with the Council again. Hell, he'd tried to kill me that way, once, several years ago. But logic simply didn't support that idea. If Morgan wasn't really in trouble with the Council, then I couldn't get into trouble for hiding him from a pursuit that didn't exist. Besides, his injuries said more about his sincerity than any number of words could. They had not been faked.
He was actually on the lam.
Until I found out more about what was going on, I didn't dare go to anyone for help. I couldn't very well ask my fellow Wardens about Morgan without it being painfully obvious that I had seen him, which would only attract their interest. And if the Council was after Morgan, then anyone who helped him would become an accomplice to the crime, and draw heat of his own. I couldn't ask anyone to help me.
Anyone else, I corrected myself. I'd had little option but to call Butters in-and frankly, the fact that he was not at all involved in the supernatural world would afford him some insulation from any consequences that might arise from his complicity. Besides which, Butters had earned a little good credit with the White Council the night he'd helped me prevent a family-sized order of necromancers from turning one of their number into a minor god. He'd saved the life of at least one Warden-two, if you counted me-and was in far less danger than anyone attached to the community would be.
Me, for example.
Man, my head was killing me.
Until I knew more about what was going on, I really couldn't take any intelligent action-and I didn't dare start asking questions for fear of attracting unwanted attention. Rushing headlong into a investigation would be a mistake, which meant that I would have to wait until Morgan could start talking to me.
So I stretched out on my couch to do some thinking, and began focusing on my breathing, trying to relax the headache away and clear my thoughts. It went so well that I stayed right there doing it for about six hours, until the late dusk of a Chicago summer had settled on the city.
I didn't fall asleep. I was meditating. You're going to have to take my word for it.
I woke up when Mouse let out a low guttural sound that wasn't quite a bark, but was considerably shorter and more distinct than a growl. I sat up and went to my bedroom, to find Morgan awake.
Mouse was standing next to the bed, leaning his broad, heavy head on Morgan's chest. The wounded man was idly scratching Mouse's ears. He glanced aside at me and started to sit up.
Mouse leaned harder, and gently flattened Morgan to the bed again.
Morgan exhaled in obvious discomfort, and said, in a croaking, dry voice, ’’I take it I am undergoing mandatory bed rest.’’
’’Yeah,’’ I said quietly. ’’You were banged up pretty bad. The doctor said that walking on that leg would be a bad idea.’’
Morgan's eyes sharpened. ’’Doctor?’’
’’Relax. It was off the books. I know a guy.’’
Morgan grunted. Then he licked cracked lips and said, ’’Is there anything to drink?’’
I got him some cold water in a sports bottle with a big straw. He knew better than to guzzle. He sipped at it slowly. Then he took a deep breath, grimaced like a man about to intentionally put his hand in a fire, and said, ’’Thank y-’’
’’Oh shut up,’’ I said, shuddering. ’’Neither of us wants that conversation.’’
Maybe I imagined it, but it looked like he relaxed slightly. He nodded and closed his eyes again.
’’Don't go back to sleep yet,’’ I told him. ’’I still have to take your temperature. It would be awkward.’’
’’God's beard, yes,’’ Morgan said, opening his eyes. I went and got my thermometer, one of the old-fashioned ones filled with mercury. When I came back, Morgan said, ’’You didn't turn me in.’’
’’Not yet,’’ I said. ’’I'm willing to hear you out.’’
Morgan nodded, accepted the thermometer, and said, ’’Aleron LaFortier is dead.’’
He stuck the thermometer in his mouth, presumably to attempt to kill me with the suspense. I fought back by thinking through the implications, instead.
LaFortier was a member of the Senior Council-seven of the oldest and most capable wizards on the planet, the ones who ran the White Council and commanded the Wardens. He was-had been-skinny, bald, and a sanctimonious jerk. I'd been wearing a hood at the time, so I couldn't be certain, but I suspected that his voice had been the first of the Senior Council to vote guilty at my trial, and had argued against clemency for my crimes. He was a hard-line supporter of the Merlin, the head of the Council, who had been dead set against me.
All in all, a swell guy.
But he'd also been one of the best-protected wizards in the world. All the members of the Senior Council were not only dangerous in their own rights, but protected by details of Wardens, to boot. Attempted assassinations had been semiregular events during the war with the vampires, and the Wardens had become very, very good at keeping the Senior Council safe.
I did some math from there.
’’It was an inside job,’’ I said quietly. ’’Like the one that killed Simon at Archangel.’’
’’And they blamed you?’’
Morgan nodded and took the thermometer out of his mouth. He glanced at it, and then passed to me. I looked. Ninety-nine and change.
I met his eyes and said, ’’Did you do it?’’
I grunted. I believed him.
’’Why'd they finger you?’’
’’Because they found me standing over LaFortier's body with the murder weapon in my hand,’’ he replied. ’’They also turned up a newly created account, in my name, with several million dollars in it, and phone records that showed I was in regular contact with a known operative of the Red Court.’’
I arched an eyebrow. ’’Gosh. That was irrational of them, to jump to that conclusion.’’
Morgan's mouth turned up in a small sour smile.
’’What's your story?’’ I asked him.
’’I went to bed two nights ago. I woke up in LaFortier's private study in Edinburgh, with a lump on the back of my head and a bloody dagger in my hand. Simmons and Thorsen burst into the room maybe fifteen seconds later.’’
’’You were framed.’’
I exhaled a slow breath. ’’You got any proof? An alibi? Anything?’’
’’If I did,’’ he said, ’’I wouldn't have had to escape custody. Once I realized that someone had gone to a lot of effort to set me up to take the blame, I knew that my only chance-’’ He broke off, coughing.
’’Was to find the real killer,’’ I finished for him. I passed him the drink again, and he choked down a few sips, slowly relaxing.
A few minutes later, he turned exhausted eyes to mine. ’’Are you going to turn me in?’’
I looked at him for a silent minute, and then sighed. ’’It'd be a lot easier.’’
’’Yes,’’ Morgan said.
’’You sure you were going down for it?’’
Something in his expression became even more remote than usual. He nodded. ’’I've seen it often enough.’’
’’So I could leave you hanging out to dry.’’
’’But if I did that, we wouldn't find the traitor. And since you'd died in his place, he'd be free to continue operating. More people would get killed, and the next person he framed-’’
’’-might be you,’’ Morgan finished.
’’With my luck?’’ I said glumly. ’’No might about it.’’
The brief sour smile appeared on his face again.
’’They're using tracking spells to follow you,’’ I said. ’’I assume you've taken some kind of countermeasure, or they'd already be at the door.’’
’’How long is it going to last?’’
’’Forty-eight hours. Sixty at the most.’’
I nodded slowly, thinking. ’’You're running a fever. I've got some medical supplies stashed. I'll get them for you. Hopefully we can keep it from getting any worse.’’
He nodded again, and then his sunken eyes closed. He'd run out of gas. I watched him for a minute, then turned and started gathering up my things.
’’Keep an eye on him, boy,’’ I said to Mouse.
The big dog settled down on the floor beside the bed.
Forty-eight hours. I had about two days to find the traitor within the White Council-something no one had been able to do during the past several years. After that, Morgan would be found, tried, and killed-and his accomplice, your friendly neighborhood Harry Dresden, would be next.
Nothing motivates like a deadline.
Especially the literal kind.
Igot in my busted-up old Volkswagen bug, the mighty Blue Beetle, and headed for the cache of medical supplies.
The problem with hunting down the traitor in the White Council was simple: because of the specific information leaks that had occurred, there were a limited number of people who could have possessed the information. The suspect pool was damn small-just about everyone in it was a member of the Senior Council, and everyone there was beyond reproach.
The second someone threw an accusation at one of them, things were going to get busy, and fast. If an innocent was fingered, they would react the same way Morgan had. Knowing full well that the justice of the Council was blind, especially to annoying things like facts, they would have little choice but to resist.
One punky young wizard like me bucking the system was one thing, but when one of the heavyweights on the Senior Council did it, there would be a world of difference. The Senior Council members all had extensive contacts in the Council. They all had centuries of experience and skill to back up enormous amounts of raw strength. If one of them put up a fight, it would mean more than resisting arrest.
It would mean internal strife like the White Council had never seen.
It would mean civil war.
And, under the circumstances, I couldn't imagine anything more disastrous for the White Council. The balance of power between the supernatural nations was a precarious thing-and we had barely managed to hang on throughout the war with the Vampire Courts. Both sides were getting their wind back now, but the vampires could replace their losses far more quickly than we could. If the Council dissolved into infighting now, it would trigger a feeding frenzy amongst our foes.
Morgan had been right to run. I knew the Merlin well enough to know that he wouldn't blink twice before sacrificing an innocent man if it meant holding the Council together, much less someone who might actually be guilty.
Meanwhile, the real traitor would be clapping his hands in glee. One of the Senior Council was already down, and if the Council as a whole didn't implode in the next few days, it would become that much rifer with paranoia and distrust, following the execution of the most capable and highly accomplished combat commander in the Wardens. All the traitor would need to do was rinse and repeat, with minor variations, and sooner or later something would crack.
I would only get one shot at this. I had to find the guilty party, and I had to be right and irrefutable the very first time.
Colonel Mustard, in the den, with the lead pipe.
Now all I needed was a clue.
No pressure, Harry.
My half brother lived in an expensive apartment on the very edge of the Gold Coast area, which, in Chicago, is where a whole lot of people with a whole lot of money live. Thomas runs an upscale boutique, specializing in the kind of upper-crust clientele who seem to be willing to pay a couple hundred dollars for a haircut and a blow-dry. He does well for himself, too, as evidenced by his expensive address.
I parked a few blocks west of his apartment, where the rates weren't quite so Gold Coasty, and then walked in to his place and leaned on his buzzer. No one answered. I checked the clock in the lobby, then folded my arms, leaned against a wall, and waited for him to get home from work.
His car pulled into the building's lot a few minutes later. He'd replaced the enormous Hummer that we'd managed to trash with a brand-new ridiculously expensive car-a Jaguar, with plenty of flash and gold trim. It was, needless to say, pure white. I kept on lurking, waiting for him to come around to the doors.
He did, a minute later. He was maybe a hair or three under six feet tall, dressed in midnight blue leather pants and a white silk shirt with big blousy sleeves. His hair was midnight black, presumably to complement the pants, and fell in rippling waves to just below his shoulders. He had grey eyes, teeth whiter than the Ku Klux Klan, and a face that had been made for fashion magazines. He had the build to go with it, too. Thomas made all those Spartans in that movie look like slackers, and he didn't even use an airbrush.
He raised his dark brows as he saw me. ’’ 'Arry,’’ he said in the hideously accurate French accent he used in public. ’’Good evening, mon ami.’’
I nodded to him. ’’Hey. We need to talk.’’
His smile faded as he took in my expression and body language, and he nodded. ’’But of course.’’
We went on up to his apartment. It was immaculate, as always, the furnishings expensive, modern, and oh so trendy, with a lot of brushed nickel finish in evidence. I went in, leaned my quarterstaff against the frame of the front door, and slouched down onto one of the couches. I looked at it for a minute.
’’How much did you pay for this?’’ I asked him.
He dropped the accent. ’’About what you did for the Beetle.’’
I shook my head, and tried to find a comfortable way to sit. ’’That much money, you'd think they could afford more cushions. I've sat on fences more comfy than this.’’
’’That's because it isn't really meant to be sat upon,’’ Thomas replied. ’’It's meant to show people how very wealthy and fashionable one is.’’
’’I got one of my couches for thirty bucks at a garage sale. It's orange and green plaid, and it's tough not to fall asleep in it when you sit down.’’
’’It's very you,’’ Thomas said, smiling as he crossed to the kitchen. ’’Whereas this is very much me. Or very much my persona, anyway. Beer?’’
’’Long as it's cold.’’
He returned with a couple of dark brown bottles coated in frost, and passed me one. We took the tops off, clinked, and then he sat down on the chair across from the couch as we drank.
’’Okay,’’ he said. ’’What's up?’’
’’Trouble,’’ I replied. I told him about Morgan.
Thomas scowled. ’’Empty night, Harry. Morgan? Morgan!? What's wrong with your head?’’
I shrugged. ’’I don't think he did it.’’
’’Who cares? Morgan wouldn't cross the street to piss on you if you were on fire,’’ Thomas growled. ’’He's finally getting his comeuppance. Why should you lift a finger?’’
’’Because I don't think he did it,’’ I said. ’’Besides. You haven't thought it through.’’
Thomas slouched back in the chair and regarded me with narrowed eyes as he sipped at his beer. I joined him, and let him mull it over in silence. There was nothing wrong with Thomas's brain.
’’Okay,’’ he said, grudgingly. ’’I can think of a couple of reasons you'd want to cover his homicidal ass.’’
’’I need the medical stuff I left with you.’’
He rose and went to the hall closet-which was packed to groaning with all manner of household articles that build up when you stay in one place for a while. He removed a white toolbox with a red cross painted on the side of it, and calmly caught a softball that rolled off the top shelf before it hit his head. He shut everything in again, got a cooler out of his fridge, and put it and the medical kit on the floor next to me.
’’Please don't tell me that this is all I can do,’’ he said.
’’No. There's something else.’’
He spread his hands. ’’Well?’’
’’I'd like you to find out what the Vampire Courts know about the manhunt. And I need you to stay under the radar while you do it.’’
He stared at me for a moment, and then exhaled slowly. ’’Why?’’
I shrugged. ’’I've got to know more about what's going on. I can't ask my people. And if a bunch of people know you're asking around, someone is going to connect some dots and take a harder look at Chicago.’’
My brother the vampire went completely still for a moment. It isn't something human beings can do. All of him, even the sense of his presence in the room, just... stopped. I felt like I was staring at a wax figure.
’’You're asking me to bring Justine into this,’’ he said.
Justine was the girl who had been willing to give her life for my brother. And who he'd nearly killed himself to protect. ’’Love’’ didn't begin to cover what they had. Neither did ’’broken.’’
My brother was a vampire of the White Court. For him, love hurt. Thomas and Justine couldn't ever be together.
’’She's the personal aide of the leader of the White Court,’’ I said. ’’If anyone's in a good position to find out, she is.’’
He rose, the motion a little too quick to be wholly human, and paced back and forth in agitation. ’’She's already taking enough risks, feeding information on the White Court's activities back to you when it's safe for her to do it. I don't want her taking more chances.’’
’’I get that,’’ I said. ’’But situations like this are the whole reason she went undercover in the first place. This is exactly the kind of thing she wanted to do when she went in.’’
Thomas mutely shook his head.
I sighed. ’’Look, I'm not asking her to deactivate the tractor beam, rescue the princess, and escape to the fourth moon of Yavin. I just need to know what she's heard and what she can find out without blowing her cover.’’
He paced for another half a minute or so before he stopped and stared at me hard. ’’Promise me something, first.’’
’’Promise me that you won't put her in any more danger than she already is. Promise me that you won't act on any information they could trace back to her.’’
’’Dammit, Thomas,’’ I said wearily. ’’That just isn't possible. There's no way to know exactly which information will be safe to use, and no way to know for certain which bits of data might be misinformation.’’
’’Promise me,’’ he said, emphasizing both words.
I shook my head. ’’I promise that I'll do absolutely everything in my power to keep Justine safe.’’
His jaws clenched a few times. The promise didn't satisfy him-though it was probably more accurate to say that the situation didn't satisfy him. He knew I couldn't guarantee her complete safety and he knew that I'd given him everything I could.
He took a deep, slow breath.
Then he nodded.
’’Okay,’’ he said.