Ghosts are as diverse as people. In a city like Chicago - okay, any city, but Chicago is one of the ones where you notice it, with distinctive neighborhoods crazy-quilted up next to each other - that's pretty damn diverse.

They all do their own thing, but whatever that thing is, they all do it pretty consistently. They're attached to a certain place, or set of conditions, sometimes a date or time of day.

The ghost I was concerned with on this particular rainy Tuesday had recently freaked out several employees of a coffee shop at Illinois and Dearborn. Near as I could tell from their account of things, it didn't so much haunt the coffee shop as the alley behind it. But it was enough that the assistant manager and three baristas had pooled their own money to bring me in and see if I could do anything about it. Not exactly my favorite kind of case, and I should have told the assistant manager that when she showed up at my door with it. Between the kid's earnestness and my rent being due, though, I couldn't quite bring myself to turn it down. Harry Dresden, wizard and occasional soft touch.

So here I was, in the rain, with a potion for piercing the veil, hoping to have a heart-to-heart with a restless spirit that tended to make people break down crying with overwhelming despair when they went to throw trash in a particular dumpster.

On the upside, nothing had stabbed, folded, spindled, mutilated, or tried to eat me in a nearly a month. It was practically a vacation.

The potion wasn't my most inspired, and certainly not my most appetizing ever - the base being flat Diet Coke took care of that - but there was no reason to think it wouldn't do the job. The only ingredient that really had to be specific, the one that would make or break this little interdimensional phone call, had cost me 48 hours of letting Bob out to stretch my cat Mister's legs. (If he was stretching anything else, I didn't want to know about it.) He drove a hard bargain, but he'd come up with the name, and the name was always the key.

I chugged the potion and spoke the name. "Catalina Helinski."

The answer came right away; she wanted to talk. Unfortunately for me, the answer consisted of a torrent of half-sobbed syllables that I couldn't even identify by language. Something Slavic, but beyond that I'd be guessing.

"Whoa, Catalina, I'm listening. Slow down."

To my surprise, she actually did. Not that it helped any. All it got me was a bunch of syllables going by slow enough to be sure I didn't know what any of them meant. Until the last two plaintive words: "Not guilty!"

This was going to take a while.

Written for kikibug 13 in the 2009 LiveJournal Fandom Stocking exchange.

The Dresden Files is copyright Jim Butcher. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.