Title: Desperate Measures
Characters: Karrin Murphy, Harry Dresden
Spoilers: Set pre-series. References to information that comes to light in Summer Knight and Blood Rites. Major spoilers for the short story 'Restoration of Faith'
Rating: PG (for brief mentions of nasty stuff)
Summary: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Like calling in a wizard on a murder case.
Notes: Written for dresden ficathon and lj. My prompt was 'Murphy before Storm Front'. Thanks go to Kat whose mad beta skillz are mad.
Karrin Murphy was born to be a police officer. Some kids wavered back and forth about what they wanted to be when they grew up. But Murphy never wanted to be a rockstar or a princess or a ballerina. She always wanted to be a cop.
When the neighbourhood children played pretend when she was little, she was always the cop, never the robber. She knew all the right things to say. Not only could she read rights, she knew which crimes were being committed. She listened with rapt attention at every story her father told, even though they were heavily censored to protect Karrin from some of the harsher realities of life.
After his death, she took over as enforcer in the household. She was the first to scold her siblings for bad behaviour and, later on, made sure they knew exactly how many months their drivers' licenses would be suspended if they drove drunk. When they came home past curfew, it would most likely be Karrin they found waiting up for them.
It wasn't that she was perfect. She was as much of a brat as the next kid. Sort of. She skipped school. Once. She ran off to get married at 17, which ended in disaster. She defended her younger brothers in a couple of schoolyard brawls. The first time it happened, she'd immediately turned herself to the principal, bleeding from her nose and, when asked if she would do it again, she'd replied 'if I had to'.
She used to wish to be taller, to be a more formidable presence, sure that she would be rejected due to her small stature. The force's minimum height restrictions had been dropped when she was a child, but she still stood ramrod straight each time her mother measured her, hoping for one more inch. After she started martial arts lessons, she learned that it wasn't how big you were, but how you used what you had. And Karrin had more than enough.
When it came down to it, Karrin was a cop at heart, in every inch of her small frame. Which is why this case was so annoying.
She stared down at the file in front of her and tried to make sense of it. People had died and that was simply unacceptable. What was even more unacceptable was that she had no leads. No fingerprints, no footprints, no DNA, no motive, not one suspect. It was absolutely ridiculous, and she was furious.
"I'm gonna go now, boss," one of the rookies said, sticking his head into her office. "If that's all right?"
"Yeah, go for it," Murphy said, absently.
"You gonna call it quits soon?" he asked. Rookies often underestimated Murphy's stamina and worried after her health. They soon learned that she could outlast them all.
"Soon," Murphy promised. "I'm just finishing up."
The rookie shifted on his feet in the doorway, hesitating. "'Kay," he said, eventually. "'Night."
"'Night," she said, with a dismissive gesture.
She rubbed her eyes and sighed. She hadn't been getting much sleep lately. It was hard to sleep when you knew there were someone or someones out there who had murdered and gotten away with it. Her mind roamed over details and tried to piece them together.
It was like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with only half the in Special Investigations was like that. No one really expected you to solve cases. SI only existed so that someone could be assigned to the unsolvable stuff while 'regular' cops handled the other ones. SI cases came in, were investigated and then designated 'cold'. Getting sent there was like a death sentence. People spoke about it like they spoke about going to war or moving to another country – with the expectation that whoever went wouldn't be back. SI was where cops who had fallen out of favour went to die.
At least, until Karrin Murphy had been assigned there.
It wasn't that she was so much more determined than anyone else in the department. She was just fresh blood. When you were constantly assigned unsolvable cases, you stopped trying to solve them after awhile. Every person who came into SI started out with the same fervour, to be the first to solve that impossible case, but they all ended up disillusioned in the end. The unexplainable would always be unexplainable, and SI cops learned to accept that. The only difference between them and Murphy was that she wasn't inclined to give up. Which was why she was now head of the department.
She brought up an Internet search engine and started typing. First she tried 'Celtic runes'. Then she tried 'Norse runes'. She tried 'cult symbols', 'satanic symbols', 'ritual symbols', 'gang symbols' and every other type of symbols she could think of. None of the websites she found had images of what she wanted. If the killer was trying to say something with the symbols, it wasn't anything she was going to find out on the web. Forensics had done everything they could with the photos – rearranged them, rotated them, inverted them, looked at them with a negative filter. Murphy had been to every person she knew who spoke languages with non-Arabic letters, but no one could help her.
Everyone had suggested at least once that maybe they didn't mean anything at all. She wasn't going to buy that. When you drew on the walls with the blood of your victims, it wasn't just because you could. It was a message. She just couldn't read it.
Her coffee had gotten cold, but she was only drinking it for the caffeine anyway. As she lifted her mug, a piece of paper floated down from it, where it had been stuck to the bottom. A coffee ring encircled a phone number.
Once upon a time, on a night Murphy had had very little sleep, she met a troll under a bridge and a man who had killed it with a very large cleaver. She had two conflicting explanations about that night. The first was that she had been very tired and stressed and that she had somehow hallucinated the whole thing. The second was 'yep, that was definitely a troll'. She liked the first one better, of course, but that didn't explain how she'd ended up with a missing little girl holding her hand.
There was a name scribbled above the phone number. Harry Dresden. The man with the cleaver, and a name she'd heard mentioned quite a few times since her arrival at SI. He apparently did things that no one else did and knew about things that no one else knew about. She hadn't met him again since the Bridge Incident, but her officers often reported him loitering around weirdness hotspots.
"I'm not that desperate," she told the phone number. "I'm not calling in some crackpot. I can figure this out myself."
She took another look at the photos and let out a frustrated half-scream. She was sick of looking at them. She was sick of not knowing what was going on. She was sick of people getting away with crap that she couldn't explain.
With a decisive motion, she picked up the phone receiver and started dialling.
It rang for a long time. 6 rings, 7 rings. Apparently there was no answering machine. Murphy always waited 10 rings, figuring that if you couldn't get to the phone by then, you probably weren't there. 10 rings and she was free, she could call it fate and forget she ever tried. 8 rings...9 rings...10 ri-
"Mra?" a voice grunted, sleepily.
She glanced at the clock on the computer and saw that it was nearly 1:30 in the morning. She winced. "Hello. Sorry to wake you up. I didn't realize the time," she said.
"Ehn," the voice grunted, noncommittally.
"Is this Harry Dresden?" she asked.
"Mmm," he agreed. There was a brief bump and grunt on his end, which sounded like he'd collided with something. "S'me."
"This is Lt. Karrin Murphy, I'm a police officer at Special Investigations," she explained.
"Uh-huh..." he said. He started to sound a bit more alert.
"We met awhile back, on the Faith Astor case?" she said.
"Troll," he muttered, knowingly.
"Yes...right," she said. Could she just pretend he hadn't said that? Denial. Population: Karrin Murphy. "Anyway, I...I'm working on a case. I understand that you...have some experience in...um..."
"Weirdness?" Dresden suggested.
"Yes," Murphy said. She looked up at the ceiling, gathering her nerve. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to come in and take a look at something? I would pay you, of course, as a consultant. Do you have a regular fee?"
"$50 an hour," he said.
"Really?" she asked. She scribbled that fact down on the coffee-stained sheet.
"Pointy hats are expensive," he said. "Move, Mister!" There came a disgruntled yowl. "Sorry. The cat thinks he owns the couch. We're negotiating visitation rights."
"No problem," she said, smiling at little into the receiver. "I'll do my best to match your 'd be considered a...psychic consultant." That earned her a small snort. "And you would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement."
"Get me some money, lady, and I'll sign an I.O.U for my soul," he said.
She shook her head in amusement. "Don't call me lady."
"Sorry, ma'am," he said.
"Don't call me ma'am, either," she said.
"What should I call you, then?" he asked.
She could almost hear the grin in his voice and she admired his ability to sound perfectly serious and like he was making fun of her at the same time.
"Lieutenant," she said. She hesitated a moment before adding, "Or just Murphy."
"Gotcha," he said. "What time should I report, Lieutenant just Murphy?"
She was smiling again. "Eight tomorrow morning?" she asked. "Or, this morning, I guess. Is that okay with you?"
"Can we make it eight-thirty? I have to see a man about a unicorn," he said, in the same half-serious, half-joking tone.
"That's fine," she said. "Thank you, Mr. Dresden."
"Don't thank me yet," he cautioned. "I may be useless. It's been known to happen, on occasion. Mostly on days ending in Y. Plus there is a good chance I will be gored by a unicorn and never show up at all."
Now she was chuckling. "I won't pay you if you're dead."
"That seems like sound financial planning," he agreed.
"I'll let you get back to bed," she said.
"Thanks," he said. "See ya."
She hung up the phone, still smiling. At least it seemed he would be entertaining, even if he wasn't helpful. She gathered together the non-disclosure and consultant forms, filling in what she could on his behalf. She wondered if she was going to able to write this off as expenses. Was there a budget for wizards?
When she was done organizing, she suddenly found herself exhausted. Her shoulders were relaxed now, and started to throb from the days they'd been held too tight. She stretched and yawned and decided to call it a day. Or night. Or morning, or whatever.
By the time she'd locked up and driven home, she was barely able to keep her eyes open. She found her way to the door through sheer instinct and it took a few tries to get her key in the lock. She managed to get her shoes off and make it to the couch before she couldn't stand up anymore. It felt like every minute of sleep she hadn't had lately was suddenly making itself known. She flopped onto her side, sinking into the familiar couch cushions with a sigh.
She didn't have trouble turning her brain off, this time. She felt like she'd made progress. Maybe now they would be able solve to the case. "Wizard," she muttered. She was too tired to laugh, though she her lips quirked in smile as she floated into dreamless, wonderful sleep. The first she'd had in weeks.