Many thanks to Tigerkat for being Conan the Gramarian
Jason Gideon had never imagined this could even be a nightmare, much less reality. If it was reality. He tried to disappear down into his dark SUV as the nightmare figures stalked around it in the blinding rain, trying to break their way in. One had disabled the engine with the thrust of a two by four.
A former FBI profiler, Gideon had 'resigned' abruptly (a nicer term than 'running away') a year earlier, fearing for his soul. His work as a profiler had nearly destroyed him when he made a serious mistake that cost the lives of six fellow agents and a hostage. The subsequent 2 years at the Behavioral Analysis Unit had done nothing to restore his faith in life. After a year of meandering the cities and countryside of the US and Canada, he had come to Chicago. Now he was lost in a deserted alley facing... he wasn't sure what. He was sure several of the hideously disfigured and decomposed women were victims of one of his previous cases. They certainly looked as if they had been dead for years.
Gunfire sounded in the distance over the relentless beat he had almost stopped hearing. He winced as one of the nightmares put her fist through the passenger side door.
A uniformed police officer loomed through the driving rain and thrust his face against the driver's side window. His throat had been slit and blood soaked the front of his uniform. He was already dead, but that didn't stop him from beating his fist against the driver's side window hard enough to shatter it.
As Gideon's mind shut itself down, he thought he saw several police officers, guns drawn, firing at his ghastly attackers.
He wasn't quite sure, but he thought he saw a tall figure, looking a bit like a drowned rat, carrying – a hockey stick?
- + - + - +
Gideon drifted in and out of semi-consciousness for a while. He knew he was no longer in his own wrecked truck, but belted into another vehicle. A jeep, he thought, for no reason that he could understand. But he didn't understand much of anything right now.
Bits and pieces of an argument reached his mind. Odd snippets.
"Murphy, you can't."
"A cop is dead, Dresden."
"More will die if the PD gets involved."
"What are we supposed to do, forget it happened?"
"Leave it to me. This is from my world."
Gideon zoned out again.
The sensation of frozen icicles driving into his heart brought him fully awake. He started up, eyes wide, to see a white-haired man pulling a hand out of his chest.
Gideon gave a startled shout. "What the hell!" he sat straight off a couch. It was a comfortable old couch, in a warm room lit by candlelight.
"Please forgive me, sir," the white haired man said, backing away quickly. "We needed to discern if you've been..." he groped for words.
"Tampered with," finished a taller, dark-haired man. He looked rather wet.
Hockey stick? wondered Gideon.
"My name is Dresden," the taller man said, handing Gideon his own wallet. "Harry Dresden, Wizard. This is my associate, Hrothbert of Baimbridge. You can call him Bob."
"Tell me, Mr. Gideon, do you believe in your eternal soul? In a life after death?" Bob asked.
Gideon nodded nervously.
"Do you believe in Ghosts?" Dresden asked.
Gideon snorted slightly and shook his head.
"What you need to know about." Dresden continued with a glance at Bob, "is necromancers."
- + - + - +
Gideon's head swam. He drank more of the tea Dresden had brewed. It supposedly had "special ingredients," whatever that meant.
"You're saying those women actually were the victims of David Armsgate?" Gideon was still trying to wrap his mind around what these two were telling him.
"But he had no family, and he died in solitary confinement years ago. Who would be seeking revenge?"
"Oh, he had family," Bob put in. "The Armsgates are an old wizard family in Canada."
"David and his twin brother Daniel were outcasts," Dresden continued. "David had no magical talents at all, but his brother did."
"Unfortunately they seemed to share their evil natures," Bob said. "That was why they were cast out in the first place. But that was well over fifty years ago."
"That's not possible." Gideon snorted. "Armsgate was in his thirties. He only died five years ago. He couldn't have been more than forty at most."
Dresden grinned at him. "We don't age the same way you do."
- + - + - +
Playing chess with an opponent over phone or email was nothing new to Gideon. Playing with one who was incapable of moving the pieces, whose hand, in fact, went through the pieces, was a bit startling. Bob had a unique playing style. He was good, Gideon noted, but not that much better than he was.
They played three games while waiting for Dresden to return. He had set out to find help among the magical community and track down the 'necromancer' they claimed had made zombies to attack the FBI agent who had put David Armsgate in the prison which had killed him.
For some reason, the help he hoped to enlist seemed to make Dresden more than a little nervous. Bob too; his playing seemed to deteriorate as time dragged on.
Bob would not answer Gideon's questions, but he had plenty of his own. Gideon found himself regaling the ghost with his work as a profiler in the FBI, and then the horrors which had eventually driven him out.
Bob abruptly abandoned the game. The white-haired man – ghost, whatever – stood with his shoulders straight and his hands held behind his back as he addressed Gideon solemnly.
"You need to hear something," he began. "Something you must understand."
Gideon looked up at Bob, his expression an invitation to continue.
"What you did for the FBI is far more important than any of you ever realized."
Gideon looked down, a small wry snort his only response.
"I died many centuries ago. I was cursed, damned for all eternity. Forbidden to move on."
The ghost's voice was gentle. Gideon looked up and saw Bob gazing at him calmly.
"What is it they say these days? 'You don't know what you have until it's gone?'"
Gideon quirked a tiny smile. "Something like that," he responded.
"I never knew what it would mean. To move on after death, until I was denied it." Bob's voice wavered. His chin lifted slightly. He was silent a moment then continued.
"Every century has been an unbearable eternity, and I have only begun." Bob's eyes closed and he seemed to swallow hard. He looked down briefly, took a deep breath, then his eyes returned to meet Gideon's gaze. "I was cursed, but some curse-free souls do not, cannot move on after death. Especially souls of those murdered."
It was Gideon's turn to swallow hard.
"Remember this, Jason Gideon, what you did for those victims means more than you can possibly imagine. You didn't just help their families, or save the lives of others. You brought their murderers to justice, which was probably the single most priceless gift anyone ever gave those poor murdered souls. You enabled them to move on."
The ghost's eyes bored into Gideon's now, emotions heavy on his face. His voice became very soft, and Gideon could barely hear him.
"Believe me, sir, I know the worth of that."
Gideon gaped as the ghost dissolved into smoke and orange sparks, and disappeared into the the oddly decorated human skull sitting on the nearby bookshelf.
He was still staring thoughtfully at the skull an hour later, when Dresden returned.
Dresden had not returned alone. A young woman dressed fashionably and a tall black man in a pristine suit had entered the apartment with him. The man carried a sword. The woman carried a head.
Gideon came to his feet protesting. He subsided as the sword point poked at his throat below his left ear.
"Sit down, Agent Gideon," The woman said softly. "You have seen and heard too much tonight."
- + - + - +
The one Dresden called Ancient Mai looked at Gideon long and hard.
Gideon gulped down more of the tea, which Dresden insisted contained a forgetfulness potion.
"We will be keeping an eye on him, Dresden. If he shows any signs of remembering..." Warden Morgan began.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, he'll disappear and I'll be dead, I know," Dresden interrupted in a bored tone. "Sing me another song, Morgan."
Gideon returned the young woman's gaze with a rather empty expression.
She knows, He though. She knows Harry is lying and she approves. I won't be able to say too much. As long as Harry Dresden lives, he is her hostage.
Ancient Mai smiled brightly at Gideon in approval. He shuddered slightly. He could have sworn he saw her face... change.
She whirled suddenly and headed for the door.
"Come, Warden Morgan," she barked, and they were gone.
Dresden grinned at Gideon. "I think she likes you," he said, and laughed.
Gideon shuddered again.
- + - + - +
The classroom at the San Diego Police Academy was standing room only. Police officers, detectives and even FBI agents, some with almost twenty years on the force, had come to hear the former FBI agent lecture on "Profiling 101." His name had quietly made the rounds in the law enforcement community and he was now a popular speaker.
Jason Gideon eyed the crowded room, nodding to officers and agents he knew. He leaned closer to the microphone and said: "Justice."
The buzzing in the room died down.
"Justice," he repeated. "You won't ever find it. You can never make things right"
Gideon looked around, especially at the young cadets.
"But you can make things better."
Low murmurs spread about the room.
"How many of you believe in your eternal souls, a life after death?" he asked the crowd.
More murmurs, many raised hands.
Gideon smiled and asked softly, "How many of you believe in ghosts?"