Turn Coat Chapter 3334

Chapter Thirty-three

Murphy looked at the Rolls and said, ’’You're kidding.’’ We'd driven down to the Sax separately, and she hadn't seen the wheels I was using. I was parked closer to the hotel, so we were about to get into the Silver Wraith together.

’’It's a loaner,’’ I said. ’’Get in.’’

’’I am not a material girl,’’ she said, running a hand over the Rolls's fender. ’’But... damn.’’

’’Can we focus, here?’’ I said. ’’The world's coming to an end.’’

Murphy shook her head and then got in the car with me. ’’Well. At least you're going out in style.’’

I got the Rolls moving. It got plenty of looks, even in the dead of night, and the other motorists out so late gave it a generous amount of room, as if intimidated by the Wraith's sheer artistry.

’’Actually,’’ I said, ’’I'm kind of finding the Rolls to be irrationally comforting.’’

Murphy glanced aside at me. ’’Why's that?’’

’’I know how I'm going to die, you know? One of these days, maybe real soon, I'm going to find out I've bitten off more than I can chew.’’ I swallowed. ’’I mean, I just can't keep from sticking my nose in places people don't want it. And I always figured it would be the Council who punched my ticket, regardless of who believed what about me. Because there's a bunch of assholes there, and I just can't let them wallow in their own bull and pretend it's an air of nobility.’’

Murphy's expression became more sober. She listened in silence.

’’Now the Council's coming. And they've got good reason to take me out. Or it looks like it to them, which is the same thing.’’ I swallowed again. My mouth felt dry. ’’But... I somehow just have the feeling that when I go out... it isn't going to be in style.’’ I gestured at the Rolls with a vague sweep of one hand. ’’This just isn't the car I drive to my death. You know?’’

Murph's mouth tucked up at one corner, though most of the smile was in her eyes. She took my hand between hers and held it. Her hands felt very warm. Maybe mine were just cold. ’’You're right, of course, Harry.’’

’’You think?’’

’’Definitely,’’ she said. ’’This car just isn't you. You'll die in some badly painted, hideously recycled piece of junk that seems to keep on running despite the laws of physics that say it should be melted scrap by now.’’

’’Whew,’’ I said. ’’I thought I might be the only one who thought that.’’

Her fingers tightened on mine for a moment, and I clung back.

The Council was coming.

And there wasn't anything I could do to fight them.

Oh sure, maybe I could poke someone in the nose and run. But they would catch up to me sooner or later. There would be more of them than me, some of them every bit as strong as I was, and all of them dangerous. It might take a day or a week or a couple of weeks, but I had to sleep sooner or later. They'd wear me down.

And that pissed me off. My sheer helplessness in the face of this whole stupid mess was infuriating.

It wasn't as if I didn't have options... Mab still held a job offer open to me, for example. And it was more than possible that Lara Raith might have the resources to shield me, or broker me a better deal than the Council was going to offer. When I thought of how unfair the whole thing was, I had more than a passing desire to grab whatever slender threads I could reach, until I could sort things out, later.

Put that way, it almost sounded reasonable. Noble, even. I would, after all, be protecting other wrongly persecuted victims of the Council who littered the theoretical landscape of the future. It didn't sound nearly so much like entering bargains that went against everything I believed so that I could forcibly impose my will over those who were against me.

I knew the truth. But just because it was true didn't make it any less tempting.

What the hell was I going to do? I had a hidey-hole planned out, but it had already been compromised. There was nowhere even a little bit safe I could take Morgan but my apartment, and the Wardens were going to find him there. And on top of all that, I still had no freaking clue as to the identity of our mysterious puppet master.

Maybe it was time to admit it.

This one was too big for me. It had been from the very start.

’’Murph,’’ I said quietly. ’’I don't know how I'm going to get out of this.’’

Silence filled the beautiful old car.

’’When's the last time you slept?’’ Murphy asked.

I had to take my hand back from hers to work the clutch. I gestured at my bandaged head. ’’I can barely remember what day of the week it is. This morning, a couple hours, I think?’’

She nodded judiciously. ’’You know what your problem is?’’

I eyed her and then started laughing. Or at least making an amused, wheezing sound. I couldn't help it.

’’Problem, singular,’’ I choked out, finally. ’’No, what?’’

’’You like to come off like you're the unpredictable chaos factor in any given situation, but at the end of the day you obsess about having everything ordered the way you want it.’’

’’Have you seen my lab?’’

’’Again with the inappropriately timed come-ons,’’ Murphy said. ’’I'm serious, Harry.’’

’’I know some people who would really disagree with you. Like what's-his-face, Peabody.’’

’’He's Council?’’

’’Yeah. Says I have no place in his bastion of order.’’

She smirked. ’’The problem is that your bastion of order is sort of tough to coexist with.’’

’’I have no bastions. I am bastionless.’’

’’Hah,’’ Murphy said. ’’You like the same car, the same apartment, the same restaurant. You like not needing to answer to anyone, and doing the jobs your conscience dictates you should do, without worrying about the broader issues they involve. You hang out, fairly happy without much in the way of material wealth and follow your instincts, and be damned to anyone who tells you otherwise. That's your order.’’

I eyed her. ’’Is there some other way it should be?’’

She rolled her eyes. ’’I rest my case.’’

’’And how is this my problem?’’

’’You've never really compromised your order for someone else's, which is why you drive the Wardens nuts. They have procedures, they have forms, they have reports-and you ignore them unless someone twists your arm to make you do it. Am I right?’’

’’Still don't see how that's a problem.’’

She rolled down the passenger-side window and let one hand hang out. ’’It's a problem because you never learned how to adjust inside someone else's order,’’ she said. ’’If you had, you'd realize what an incredible force you have working on your side.’’

’’The A-Team?’’

’’Bureaucracy,’’ Murphy said.

’’I would rather have the A-Team.’’

’’Listen and learn, maverick,’’ Murphy said. ’’The Wardens are an organization, right?’’

’’Yeah.’’

’’Lots of members.’’

’’Almost three hundred and growing,’’ I said.

’’Lots of members who all have many obligations, who live in different areas, who speak different languages, but who have to communicate and work together somehow?’’

’’Yeah.’’

’’Behold,’’ Murphy said. ’’Bureaucracy. Organization to combat the entropy that naturally inhibits that kind of cooperative effort.’’

’’Is there going to be a quiz later, or...?’’

She ignored me. ’’Bureaucracies share common traits-and I think you've got more time to move in than you realize. If you weren't tired and hurting and an obnoxious fly in the ointment to anyone's order but your own, you'd see that.’’

I frowned. ’’How so?’’

’’Do you think Madeline Raith called up the White Council on her home phone, identified herself, and just told them you were helping Morgan?’’ Murphy shook her head. ’’ 'Hello, I'm the enemy. Let me help you for no good reason.'’’

I sucked thoughtfully on my lower lip. ’’The Wardens would probably assume that she was trying to divert their resources during a manpower-critical situation.’’

Murphy nodded. ’’And while they will look into it, they'll never really believe it, and it will go straight to the bottom of their priority list.’’

’’So she calls in an anonymous tip instead. So?’’

’’So how many tips do you think the Wardens have gotten?’’ Murphy asked. ’’Cops go through the same thing. Some big flashy crime goes down and we have a dozen nuts claiming credit or convinced their neighbor did it, another dozen jerks who want to get their neighbor in trouble, and three times that many well-meaning people who have no clue whatsoever and think they're helping.’’

I chewed on that thought for a moment. Murphy wasn't far off the mark. There were plenty of organizations and Lord only knew how many individuals who would want to stay on the Wardens'good side, or who would want to impress them, or who would simply want to have a real reason to interact with them. Murph was probably right. There probably were tips flooding in from all over the world.

’’They'll check the tip out,’’ Murphy said. ’’But I'm willing to bet you real money that, depending on their manpower issues, it won't happen until several hours after the tip actually makes it into the hands of the folks running the show-and with any luck, given the Council's issues with technology and communication, that will take a while as well.’’

I mulled that one over for a minute. ’’What are you saying?’’

She put her hand on my arm and squeezed once. ’’I'm saying don't give up yet. There's still a little time.’’

I turned my head and studied Murphy's profile for a moment.

’’Really?’’ I asked her quietly.

She nodded. ’’Yeah.’’

Like ’’love,’’ ’’hope’’ is one of those ridiculously disproportional words that by all rights should be a lot longer.

I resettled my grip on the Rolls's steering wheel. ’’Murph?’’

’’Mmm?’’

’’You're one hell of a dame.’’

’’se*ist pig,’’ she said. She smiled out the windshield. ’’Don't make me hurt you.’’

’’Yeah,’’ I said. ’’It wouldn't be ladylike.’’

She shook her head as we neared my apartment. ’’If you like,’’ she said, ’’take him to my place. You can hide out there.’’

I didn't actually smile, but her words made me feel like doing it. ’’Not this time. The Wardens know where you live, remember? If they start looking hard at me...’’

’’... they'll check me out, too,’’ Murphy said. ’’But you can't keep him at your place.’’

’’I know that. I also know that I can't drag anyone else into the middle of this clust-this mess.’’

’’There's got to be somewhere,’’ she said. ’’Someplace quiet. And not well-known. And away from crowds.’’ She paused. ’’And where you can protect him from tracking magic. And where you'd have the advantage, if it did come to a fight.’’

I didn't say anything.

’’Okay,’’ Murphy said. ’’I guess maybe there aren't any places like that around here.’’

I snapped my head up straight.

’’Hell's bells!’’ I breathed. I felt a grin stretch my mouth. ’’I think maybe there is!’’

Chapter Thirty-four

I came through my apartment door, took one look around the candlelit place, and half shouted, ’’Hell's bells! What is wrong with you people!?’’

Morgan sat slumped against the wall with the fireplace, and fresh spots of blood showed through his bandages. His eyes were only partly open. His hand lay on the floor beside him, limp, the fingers half curled. A tiny little semiautomatic pistol lay on the floor beneath his hand. It wasn't mine. I have no idea where he'd been hiding it.

Molly was on the floor in front of the sofa, with Mouse literally sitting on her back. She was heaving breaths in and out, making the big dog rise and settle slightly as she did.

Luccio lay where I'd left her on the couch, flat on her back, her eyes closed, obviously still unconscious. Mouse had one of his paws resting lightly on her sternum. Given the nature of her recent injury, it seemed obvious that he would need to exert minimal pressure on her to immobilize her with pain, should she awaken.

The air smelled of cordite. Mouse's fur, all down his left foreleg, was matted and caked with blood.

When I saw that, I rounded on Morgan in a fury, and if Murphy hadn't stepped forward and grabbed my arm with both hands, I would have started kicking his head flat against my wall. I settled for kicking the gun away instead. If I got a couple of his fingers, too, it didn't bother me much at the time.

Morgan watched me with dull, hardly conscious eyes.

’’I swear,’’ I snarled. ’’I swear to God, Morgan, if you don't explain yourself I'm going to strangle you dead with my own hands and drag your corpse back to Edinburgh by the balls.’’

’’Harry!’’ Murphy shouted, and I realized that she had positioned her entire body between me and Morgan and she was leaning against me like a soldier struggling to raise a flag.

Morgan bared his teeth, more rictus than smile. ’’Your warlock,’’ he said, his voice dry and leathery, ’’was trying to enter Captain Luccio's mind against her will.’’

I surged forward, and Murphy pushed me back again. I weighed twice what she did, but she had good leverage and focus. ’’And so you shot my dog?’’ I screamed.

’’He interposed himself,’’ Morgan said. He coughed, weakly, and closed his eyes, his face turning greyer. ’’Never meant... to hit...’’

’’I swear to God,’’ I snarled, ’’that's it. That is it. Molly and I are going right to the wall for you, and this is how you repay us? I am pushing your paranoid ass out my door, leaving you there, and starting a pool on who comes for you first-the Black Council, the Wardens, or the goddamn buzzards.’’

’’H-Harry,’’ Molly said in a weak, nauseated, and... shamed voice barely more than a whisper.

I felt my anger abruptly drain away, to be replaced by a wave of denial and a slowly dawning sense of horror. I turned, slowly, to look at Molly.

’’He was right,’’ she wheezed, not looking at me, struggling to speak over the burden of Mouse's weight. I could hear the tears reflected in her voice as they began to fall. ’’I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Harry. He was right.’’

I leaned my shoulders back against the wall and watched as Mouse looked at me with grave, pained eyes and stayed right where he was-both holding Molly down and shielding her body with his.

We got Morgan put back into bed, and then I went over to Mouse. ’’Okay,’’ I said. ’’Move.’’

Only then did Mouse remove himself from Molly's back, limping heavily to one side. I knelt down by him and examined his leg. He flattened his ears and leaned away from me. I said firmly, ’’Stop that. Hold still.’’

Mouse sighed and looked miserable, but he let me poke at his leg. I found the wound, up near his shoulder, and a hard lump under the skin.

’’Get up,’’ I said to Molly, my tone steady. ’’Go to the lab. Get the medical kit under the table. Then get the little scissors and a fresh razor from the cabinet in my bathroom.’’

She pushed herself up slowly.

’’Move,’’ I said, my voice quiet and level and unyielding.

She was obviously still recovering from being pinned to the floor. But she moved quicker, and staggered down to my lab.

Murphy knelt down next to me and ruffled Mouse's ears. He gave her a miserable look. She held up Morgan's gun. ’’Twenty-five caliber,’’ she said. ’’Big as he is, wouldn't have been easy to kill him with it, even on purpose.’’ She shook her head. ’’Or Molly, for that matter.’’

’’Meaning what?’’ I asked her.

’’Meaning maybe Morgan didn't intend the attack to be lethal. Maybe he used the smaller weapon for that reason.’’

’’He used the smaller weapon because it was the only one he had,’’ I said, my voice harsh. ’’He'd have killed Molly if he could have.’’

Murphy was quiet for a moment before she said, ’’That's attempted murder.’’

I glanced up at her for a second. Then I said, ’’You want to arrest him.’’

’’It isn't an issue of what I want,’’ she said. ’’I'm an officer of the law, Harry.’’

I thought about that for a moment. ’’The Council might-they might-respect it,’’ I said quietly. ’’In fact, I'm certain they would. It would be the Merlin's call, and he'd love nothing better than to buy more time to work out how to get Morgan out of this mess.’’

’’But others wouldn't,’’ she said.

’’Madeline and Shagnasty sure wouldn't,’’ I said. ’’And if Morgan's in jail, there's no way to force Shagnasty into a confrontation where I have a chance to take Thomas back.’’ I looked at Mouse's wound. ’’Or trade him.’’

’’You'd do that?’’ she asked.

’’Morgan? For Thomas?’’ I shook my head. ’’I... Hell's bells, it would make a mess. The Council would go berserk. But...’’

But Thomas is my brother. I didn't say it. I didn't need to. Murphy nodded.

Molly reappeared with the things I'd sent her for, plus a bowl and a pair of needle-nose pliers. Smart girl. She poured rubbing alcohol into a bowl and started sterilizing the suture needle, the thread, the scalpel, and the pliers. Her hands moved like they knew what they were doing without need for her to consciously direct them. That probably shouldn't have surprised me. Michael and Charity Carpenter's eldest daughter had probably been taught to deal with injuries since the time she was physically large enough to do so.

’’Mouse,’’ I said. ’’There's a bullet inside you. Do you know what that is? The thing that a gun shoots that hurts?’’

Mouse looked at me uncertainly. He was shaking.

I put my hand on his head and spoke steadily. ’’We've got to take it out of you or it could kill you. It's going to hurt, a lot. But I promise you that it won't take long and that you're going to be all right. I'll protect you. Okay?’’

Mouse made a very soft noise that only the ungracious would have called a whine. He leaned his head against my hand, trembled, and then very slowly licked my hand, once.

I smiled at him and leaned my head against his for a second. ’’It will be all right. Lie down, boy.’’

Mouse did, stretching slowly, carefully out on his side, the wounded shoulder up.

’’Here, Harry,’’ Molly said quietly, gesturing at the tools.

I looked at her, my face hard. ’’You're doing it.’’

She blinked at me. ’’What? But what I did... I don't even-’’

’’I? I? Mouse just took a bullet for you, Miss Carpenter,’’ I said, my words precise. ’’He wasn't thinking of himself when he did it. He was putting his life at risk to protect you. If you want to remain my apprentice, you will stop saying sentences that begin with 'I'and repay his courage by easing his pain.’’

Her face went white. ’’Harry...’’

I ignored her and moved around to kneel by Mouse's head, holding him down gently, stroking my hands over his thick fur.

My apprentice looked from me to Murphy, her expression uncertain. Sergeant Murphy stared back at her with calm cop eyes, and Molly averted her gaze hurriedly. She looked from her own hands to Mouse, and started crying.

Then she got up, went to the kitchen sink, and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. She washed her hands carefully, all the way to the elbow. Then she came back with the water, took a deep breath, and settled down beside the wounded dog, taking up the instruments.

She cut and shaved the area around the injury first, making Mouse flinch and quiver several times. I saw her cringe at each pained movement from the dog. But her hands stayed steady. She had to widen the tear in the dog's flesh with the scalpel. Mouse actually cried out when the knife cut him, and she closed her eyes tight for a long count of three before she went back to work. She slid the pliers into the shallow injury and pulled out the bullet. It was a tiny thing, smaller than the nail on the end of my pinky, a distorted, oblong bit of shiny metal. Mouse groaned as she tugged it free.

She cleaned the site of the wound again, using the boiled water and disinfectant. Mouse flinched and cried out when she did so-the most agonized sound I had ever heard him make.

’’I'm sorry,’’ Molly said, blinking tears out of the way. ’’I'm sorry.’’

The injury was big enough to need a trio of stitches. Molly did them as swiftly as she possibly could, drawing more shudders of pain from Mouse. Then she cleaned the site again and covered it with a small pad that she cut to the proper size, affixing it to the bare-shaved skin around the injury with medical tape.

’’There,’’ she said quietly. She leaned down and buried her face in the thick ruff of fur around Mouse's throat. ’’There. You'll be all right.’’

Mouse moved very gingerly, moving his head to nudge against her hand. His tail thumped several times on the floor.

’’Murph,’’ I said. ’’Give us a minute?’’

’’Sure,’’ she said quietly. ’’I need to make a call anyway.’’ She nodded to me and walked quietly to the apartment door-pointedly pausing to close the door from the living room to my small bedroom, shutting Morgan out of the conversation.

I sat with Mouse, stroking his head gently. ’’Okay,’’ I said to Molly. ’’What happened?’’

She sat up and looked at me. She looked like she wanted to throw up. Her nose was running, now.

’’I... it occurred to me, Harry, that... well, if the traitor wanted to really set the Council at one another's throats, the best way to do it would be to force one of them to do something unforgiveable. Like, maybe force Morgan to kill Wizard LaFortier.’’

’’Gee,’’ I said. ’’That never once occurred to me, though I am older and wiser than you and have been doing this for most of your life, whereas you've been in the business for just under four years.’’

She flushed. ’’Yes. Well. Then I thought that the best way to use that sort of influence wouldn't be to use it on Morgan,’’ she said. ’’But on the people who would be after him.’’

I lifted my eyebrows. ’’Okay,’’ I said. ’’At this point, I have to ask you if you know how difficult it is to manipulate the mind and will of anyone of significant age. Most wizards who are eighty or a hundred years old are generally considered more or less immune to that kind of gross manipulation.’’

’’I didn't know that,’’ Molly said humbly. ’’But... what I'm talking about wouldn't be a severe alteration to anyone. It wouldn't be obvious,’’ she said. ’’You wouldn't make someone turn into a raving lunatic and murderer. I mean, that's sort of noticeable. Instead, you make sure that you just... sort of nudge the people who are chasing after Morgan into being a little bit more like you want them to be.’’

I narrowed my eyes. It was an interesting line of thought. ’’Such as?’’

’’Well...’’ she said. ’’If someone is naturally quick to anger and prone to fighting, you highlight that part of their personality. You give it more importance than it would have without intervention. If someone is prone to maneuvering politically to take advantage of a situation, you bring that to the forefront of their personality. If someone is nursing a grudge, you shine a spotlight on it in their thoughts, their emotions, to get them to act on it.’’

I thought about that one for a second.

’’It's how I'd do it,’’ Molly said quietly, lowering her eyes.

I looked at the young woman I'd been teaching. When I saw Molly, I always saw her smile, her sense of humor, her youth, and her joy. She was the daughter of a close friend. I knew her family and was often a guest in their home. I saw my apprentice, the effort she put into learning, her frustrations, and her triumphs.

I had never, until that very moment, thought of her as someone who might one day be a very, very scary individual.

I found myself smiling bitterly.

Who was I to throw stones?

’’Maybe,’’ I said finally. ’’It would be one hell of a difficult thing to prove.’’

She nodded. ’’But if it was going to be used, there's one person who would without doubt be a target.’’

I glanced at Luccio. Her mouth was open slightly as she slept. She was drooling a little. It was ridiculous and adorable.

’’Yeah,’’ Molly said. ’’But she would never have let me look. You know she wouldn't have.’’

’’For good reason,’’ I said.

Molly's jaw tensed up for a second. ’’I know.’’

’’So you thought you'd look while everyone was unconscious,’’ I said. ’’When you wouldn't get caught.’’

She shrugged her shoulders.

’’You told yourself that you were doing the right thing,’’ I said. ’’Just a peek, in and out.’’

She closed her eyes. ’’I was... Harry, what if she isn't being honest with you? What if all this time, she's been getting close to you because she doesn't trust you. What if she's just like Morgan-only a lot better at hiding it?’’

’’You don't know what you're talking about,’’ I said.

’’No?’’ She met my eyes. ’’Whose apprentice was he, Harry? Who taught him to be the way he is? Who did he idolize so much that he modeled himself after her?’’

I just sat there for a second.

Molly pressed the issue. ’’Do you honestly think that she never knew how Morgan treated you?’’

I took a deep breath. Then I said, ’’Yeah. I think that.’’

She shook her head. ’’You know better.’’

’’No,’’ I said. ’’I don't.’’

’’You should,’’ she said fiercely. ’’I couldn't take the chance that she would let you go down with Morgan. I had to know.’’

I stared at her for a minute. Then I said, in a very quiet voice, ’’I always know when I'm being tempted to do something very, very wrong. I start sentences with phrases like, 'I would never, ever do this-but.'Or 'I know this is wrong but.'It's the but that tips you off.’’

’’Harry,’’ Molly began.

’’You broke one of the Laws of Magic, Molly. Willfully. Even though you knew it could cost you your life. Even though you knew that it could also cost mine.’’ I shook my head and looked away from her. ’’Hell's bells, kid. I choose to trust Anastasia Luccio because that's what people do. You don't ever get to know for sure what someone thinks of you. What they really feel inside.’’

’’But I could-’’

’’No,’’ I said gently. ’’Even psychomancy doesn't give you everything. We aren't meant to know what's going on in there. That's what talking is for. That's what trust is for.’’

’’Harry, I'm sorr-’’

I lifted a hand. ’’Don't apologize. Maybe I'm the one who let you down. Maybe I should have taught you better.’’ I petted Mouse's head gently, looking away from her. ’’It doesn't matter at the moment. People have died because I've been trying to save Morgan's life. Thomas might still die. And now, if we do manage to save Morgan's crusty old ass, he's going to report that you've violated your parole. The Council will kill you. And me.’’

She stared at me helplessly. ’’I didn't mean to-’’

’’Get caught,’’ I said quietly. ’’Jesus Christ, kid. I trusted you.’’

She wept more heavily now. Her face was a mess. She bowed her head.

’’If Morgan goes down for this,’’ I said, ’’there's going to be trouble like you wouldn't believe. And even more people are going to die.’’ I stood up slowly. ’’So. I'm going to do everything in my power to save him.’’

She nodded without looking up.

’’So you've got a choice to make, grasshopper. You can come with me, knowing the cost if we succeed. Or you can go.’’

’’Go?’’ she whispered.

’’Go,’’ I said. ’’Leave now. Run, for as long as you can. Hell, it looks a lot like I'm going to get myself killed anyway. Probably Morgan, too. In that case, things will go to hell, but the Wardens will be way too busy to chase you. You'll be able to ignore what's right all you want, do whatever you like-as long as you don't get caught.’’

She pressed her arms against her stomach. She sounded like she was about to throw up, through the sobs.

I put a hand on her head and said, ’’Or you can come with me. You can do something right. Something that has meaning.’’

She looked up at me, her lovely young face discolored in anguish.

’’Everyone dies, honey,’’ I said, very quietly. ’’Everyone. There's no 'if.'There's only 'when.'’’ I let that sink in for a moment. ’’When you die, do you want to feel ashamed of what you've done with your life? Feel ashamed of what your life meant?’’

She stared at my eyes for a minute and a half of silence broken only by the sound of her muted weeping. Then her head twitched in a single tiny shake.

’’I promise that I'll be beside you,’’ I said. ’’I can't promise anything else. Only that I'll stand beside you for as long as I can.’’

’’Okay,’’ she whispered. She leaned against me.

I put my hand on her hair for a minute. Then I said gently, ’’We're out of time. The Wardens will know Morgan is in Chicago within a few hours at most. They might be on their way already.’’

’’Okay,’’ she said. ’’Wh-what are we going to do?’’

I took a deep breath. ’’Among other things, I'm going to attempt a sanctum invocation,’’ I said.

Her eyes widened. ’’But... you said that kind of thing was dangerous. That only a fool would take such a chance.’’

’’I agreed to help Donald freaking Morgan when he showed up at my door,’’ I sighed. ’’I qualify.’’

She wiped at her eyes and nose. ’’What do I do?’’

’’Get my ritual box. Put it in the car Murphy's cuddling up with outside.’’

’’Okay,’’ Molly said. She turned away but then paused and looked back over her shoulder at me. ’’Harry?’’

’’Yeah?’’

’’I know it was wrong, but...’’

I looked at her sharply and frowned.

She shook her head and held up her hands. ’’Hear me out. I know it was wrong, and I didn't get much of a look but... I swear to you. I think someone has tampered with Captain Luccio. I'd bet my life on it.’’

I ignored the little chill that danced down my spine.

’’Could be that you have,’’ I said quietly. ’’And mine, too. Go get the box.’’

Molly hurried to comply.

I waited until she was outside to look at Mouse. The big dog sat up, his eyes gravely concerned. He wasn't favoring his shoulder at all, and his movement was completely unimpaired.

Mouse got hit by the driver of a minivan once. He got back up, ran it down, and returned the favor. The Foo dog was very, very tough. I doubted he'd really needed the medical attention to recover, though I was also sure it would help speed things along. But I hadn't been completely certain the injury wasn't as serious as it looked.

In other words, the freaking dog had fooled Molly and me both.

’’You were acting?’’ I said. ’’To make it hit Molly harder?’’

His tail wagged back and forth proudly.

’’Damn,’’ I said, impressed. ’’Maybe I should have named you Denzel.’’

His jaws opened in a doggy grin.

’’Earlier tonight,’’ I said, ’’when I was trying to figure out how to find Thomas, you interrupted me. I didn't think about it before now, but you helped him track me down when Madrigal Raith was auctioning me off on eBay.’’

His tail wagged harder.

’’Could you find Thomas?’’

’’Woof,’’ he said, and his front paws bounced a couple of inches off the floor.

I nodded slowly, thinking. Then I said, ’’I've got another mission for you. One that could be more important. You game?’’

He shook his fur out and padded to the door. Then he stopped and looked back over his shoulder at me.

’’Okay,’’ I told him, walking to the door myself. ’’Listen up. Things are about to get sort of risky.’’


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