Spoilers: Heavy book references in this one, a few book characters appear later on. No plot spoilers, however. TV references: Storm Front, Birds of a Feather, Things That Go Bump
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
I've never been very good at sleeping, even when I was a kid. Even before I found out I was a wizard. There was the excitement of staying up late to watch my dad perform and then being too wound up to sleep, or what my already over-active imagination dreamt up to be hiding under my bed. Later I learned that there really were things that hid under your bed, which did nothing to help my insomnia. My dad was always very good at getting me to sleep. He had a very soothing voice and I'd get him talking about something – Houdini or Sinatra or my mom. It calmed me down and losing it made it very hard for me to sleep for a long time. The creepy giant mansion I had moved into didn't help either.
In my adult years I've seen a lot of bad stuff. A lot of people can go to sleep to escape bad things but when I sleep, all the bad things come in. I've been told many times that I look troubled in my sleep. I feel troubled in my sleep. Those kinds of bad things love to crawl around in your dreams.
I woke up screaming. I was extremely disoriented and fought the arms trying to comfort me.
"Harry, Harry!" A woman's voice said, nervously.
I looked beside me and for a moment, I had no idea who she was. Which was ridiculous, because it was Susan and I know Susan. She wasn't some one night stand I'd picked up at a bar the night before. I relaxed and let her hold me. She stroked my cheek and made a shushing noise.
"Are you alright?" she asked. "You were thrashing around. I'm going to have bruises. Not the good kind either."
"Nightmare," I said. I was shivering.
"I don't...remember. What time is it?"
She looked past me to my clock, which I could have done myself if I'd thought about it. She had to lean across me though, and that was nice. Warmed me right up.
"4:37," she reported. She moved to sit in my lap and wrapped her arms around my neck. "I should get back and start on the article this morning. It's due tomorrow." This was broken by a few kisses here and there. I returned them on her neck. "But...I think...I could..."
She never finished the sentence and pretty soon, I'd forgotten the nightmare altogether. We woke up again at 10:30 when Susan's cellphone rang. She immediately got her 'don't bother me, I'm composing hard hitting journalism in my head' look. I saw her on her way and didn't have time to shower before my client was due to arrive. I makeshifted a bath in the sink, made sure I wasn't smelly (smelly isn't professional), got dressed, brushed my hair, which looked pretty much the same when I was done as when I started, and made it downstairs in time to let an adorable old lady into my shop.
Things had been pretty hectic the previous few days. I'd been juggling four cases at once and I was now significantly richer. My bank account was even making interest, for once. Plus, I'd had the bonus of Susan snooping around for a scoop. She's very good at getting what she wants and it's always very fun getting there.
I was glad that the final case was wrapping up that morning, though. I was ready for a few peril-free days. I let myself be kissed on both cheeks by Mrs. Delorio (the adorable old lady whose stolen wedding ring I'd found) and accepted her plate of cookies, then saw her on her way. For the record, if you ever need to hire me, I can be paid with food.
I took a handful of cookies to the lab with me to visit Bob. With the running around and the dodging and the entertaining of beautiful women, I hadn't seen him very much. He was contemplating some equation he'd written in the air, one hand under his chin and the other folded across his chest. I recognized this as his deep-thinking pose. Usually he assumed this stance while staring over my shoulder, frowning over some mistake I was making but that he wasn't going to tell me about until I was done making it.
"Don't say anything, I'm thinking," he warned, holding his arm out to me in a 'stop' motion.
I sat down at the table and munched on my cookies, waiting. After several moments, he shook his head and sighed.
"It's gone. I thought that I had the resolution for a moment, but evidently not," he said. He turned to look at me. "Is your reporter lass departed?"
"Susan," I pronounced. "Her name is Susan. She left half an hour ago."
"You realize she is merely using you to boost her writing career?"
"Yep," I said, happily. "I'm a whore."
Bob sighed and turned his back to me, regarding the equation again. I looked at it too, but it was all Greek to me. For all I knew, it could actually have been Greek. I let him ponder until he wanted to talk again, not wanting to interrupt any stroke of genius that might occur to him. I munched on my double chocolate macadamia nut cookies and debated important issues in my mind, like whether or not I should get some milk.
"You have returned Mrs. Delorio's jewelry?" Bob asked, awhile later. He was still staring at the golden symbols in the air. "She was due to arrive at eleven."
"Done and done," I replied. "She said I was a very nice young man and that I should eat more."
"Well, you can afford to now, I suspect."
"Yeah. I think I can afford new shoes, too." My left runner had come apart along the front and my toes peeked out every time I took a step. It made running from scary monsters very difficult. Luckily, I am a trained professional with excellent skills. I also have many Band-Aids. "So...do you need anything?"
"I dunno. New book? Music? A pony?"
He looked over his shoulder at me. "I don't think you are that rich, Harry. I'm fine. You're going out then?"
"I'm taking my money to the bank, and then getting new shoes and some groceries," I confirmed. I put on my best enticing voice, "I can buy you a trashy romance novel."
He raised an eyebrow. "Are you trying to bribe me for something?"
"No. I just haven't seen you much; I wanted to make sure you were entertained."
"It may shock you to realize that I actually entertained myself quite well for several hundred years before you came along, Harry," he said, patiently. "I am fine. Furthermore, you cannot buy my approval."
"Not even with a really trashy romance novel?" I asked.
He thought about this. "Perhaps."
I grinned and finished off the last of my cookies. They made a very good breakfast. "Alright. I'll see you later then."
"I'll be waiting with baited breath."
I left him to his equation and got my shoes. I held up my runner and shook it up and down a few times. The toes flapped open.
"Hey wizard," I puppeted, in time with my shaking. I assumed an appropriately high 'sneaker' voice for my ventriloquism. "Please kill me now."
I put it on my foot instead, fastening it closed with some duct tape. By the time I had finished and gotten my other one on, plus grabbed my coat and keys and gone to the door, Murphy was on the other side of it. She lowered the hand she had ready for knocking and I opened the door.
"Hey, Murph," I said. "What's up?"
"I brought you your paycheck," she answered. "For last month's work. It finally came through all the red tape."
"Thanks," I said, adding the envelope to the rest of my funds. I gave her a look. "Why did you really come?"
"What do you mean?"
"Last I checked, there was this thing called the U.S Postal Service," I said. "Wait, stay with me, I hear they even have these things called vans to deliver the mail in. They're as powerful as one hundred horses."
Murphy was laughing. "I get it, I get it. I just..." Her expression changed to a more solemn one. "I needed to get out of there for a bit. One of the officers, a rookie, died this morning."
I pulled my foot from my mouth and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Oh, God, Murphy. I'm sorry. What happened?"
"It's so weird," she said. I hate it when she says things like that. "He fell into a coma three days ago. He just went to sleep and never woke up. His girlfriend called 911 when she couldn't wake him. He's been in the hospital and then he had a cardiac arrest this morning and died. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him. He was in perfect health. He was only twenty-seven."
"Wow," I said. "Well, sometimes...meh, I'll spare you the 'God's plan' speech."
"Thanks," she said. She scratched her head, agitated.
"Do you want to come in?" I asked.
"Nah, I have to get back," she declined. "I have tons of paperwork. Thanks, though."
"How about dinner?" I pressed. Her face was being held in that strained look she gets when she's really stressed. "I'll cook."
"You know, you really shouldn't ask a girl on a date when you still smell like the perfume of the last one," Murphy stated.
"Oh, I didn't...I wasn't..." I sputtered. "I just..."
She smiled and rolled her eyes, putting her hand on my arm to stop me. "I was joking. What are you making?"
I relaxed. "Spaghetti," I answered, promptly.
"Of course," she said. "What time to do you want me here?"
"Count me in."
"You look like you're on your way out. I'll let you go to it."
I nodded and followed her out, locking up behind me. She got into her car and gave me a wave as she left. I headed to the jeep and I noted I could probably afford to get that huge claw mark on the side fixed now. My mind wandered back to Murph as I drove to the bank. She was right, it was weird. I tried not to get paranoid about it. Sometimes weird things just happened and they weren't related to the paranormal at all.
Right. And sometimes it rains Skittles and Ancient Mai drops by to tell me how great I am.