I was out of the city, out of my jurisdiction and nearly out of gas when the perp's car pulled to the side of the highway and stopped. I went right on by. It was pitch black out, despite the early hour, and he had to have seen my lights. I couldn't pull over without him knowing I was a tail so I drove on. Luckily there was a turnoff into a half built subdivision not too far ahead, I parked on the nearest building site drew my gun and got out of the car.
Overhead the sky was working itself up to a storm with flashes of sheet lightning illuminating boiling clouds as the wind kicked up whipping my hair all over the place. I kept clawing it out of my eyes with the hand that wasn't holding the gun as I crept carefully back towards the perp's car, flitting from the cover of a house frame to a pile of timber to a cement mixer. Then I saw him, the perp, standing in the middle of a winding dirt track that would someday be a suburban road with a cutsie name with a long stick like a wizard's staff in his hand - and I saw what was facing him:
A tall man silhouetted against the flashing sky wreathed in his very own aura of leashed lightning. It was dramatic as all hell and it was Harry Dresden. He had that hockey stick of his in his right hand and the drumstick he carries around in his left pointing at the ground. Blue-white light dripped off him in little flares and his face…
The Harry Dresden I know is a gangly, apologetic faintly worried looking guy and the worst liar in the world. I mean forget a polygraph a six year old can see right through him. This was not that Harry Dresden: His face was set like stone, the mouth a long hard line and the deep set eyes burned. I mean literally burned with that blue-white fire. This was a being – I can't say man – I did not recognize. And he was terrifying.
I think the perp agreed. They exchanged a few words, drowned out and blow away by the rising wind, and then they began to fight. The perp used hellish red fire and waves of crackling blackness flowing from his staff. Harry's weapon was the storm; thunder detonated like a bomb overhead and rain pounded down drowning the hell fire and then he hurled lightning from his hockey stick, shredding the blackness.
The perp changed tactics. He ripped holes in the night and things came through, things with too many eyes, too many teeth, and far too many writhing tentacles. Harry blasted the first to bits with lightning, tore the second apart with wind and shredded the third with the driving rain and his expression didn't change once while he did it.
The perp changed tactics again. The clouds tore overhead showing a rift of sky and suddenly the perp was shrouded in an electric aura of his own like he was trying to take control of the storm from Harry. The air sizzled with lightning bolts the thunder was a continuous roar and the wind formed a tornado-like vortex encircling the two of them.
I wanted to look away - to run away. God knows that would've been the smart thing to do but instead I stayed rooted on the spot, my glazed eyes reflecting the fireworks and the word 'Wizard' running through my head on continuous loop. Not a scam, not a gimmick. Harry was a wizard, a staff wielding wand waving wizard minus the robe and pointy hat. He was Gandalf in sneakers, Merlin with a shop front office, a grown up Harry Potter. And from what I was seeing he could've wiped the floor with all three at once without breaking into a sweat.
It was hard to see through the wind and rain and dazzle but the two wizards seemed to be fighting hand to hand, or rather hockey stick to staff. Then, suddenly, the tornado gathered itself together and went whirling up into the night leaving a single swaying figure behind. Harry crumpled to his knees then reeled forward onto his hands before collapsing with a splash right into a mud puddle. Now that was the Harry Dresden I knew! I ran to turn him over before he drowned in two inches of water. His head lolled limply and I could see he was down for the count but he was breathing. I checked him over, skull and body, nothing was broken and he seemed to be okay even if unconscious. I made sure he wasn't going to roll right back into the mud and ran for my car.
It wasn't exactly easy loading six foot three of soaking wet dead weight into my backseat but I managed it, pushing and pulling until all of him was inside, sprawled across the seat, then I got behind the wheel and tried to catch my breath. Okay, I had him. Now what was I going to do with him? And what the hell had he done with my perp? One thing for sure – this was not going in my report!
We were back in city before I heard stirring in the back seat, "Dresden?"
I took a quick look in the rearview mirror. He'd pulled himself up into a slouched sitting position and he was wearing the familiar Harry-face again, complete with that cute little frown he gets when he's confused. But his eyes were weird, black and reflective like the pupil had swallowed up the brown. I quickly looked back at the road.
"I followed Sheldrake."
I heard him swallow. "You saw?"
Another gulp, "Hells bells."
"You can say that again," I said flatly making the turn onto my street. I took another look in the rearview; he was slumped back in the seat his eyes closed. "Are you all right?"
He tried to shrug but couldn't quite manage it. "I guess. That took just about everything I've got."
I pulled into my driveway. "Can you walk?"
He could, just barely. I lowered him onto the deacon's bench just inside the kitchen door and went to the laundry room for a double armload of towels. "Get out of those wet clothes," I told him dropping a pile next to him, "I'll find you something to wear." I continued up the stairs to my room and my closet.
Luckily my Dad is a big man. Even luckier he'd left a set of sweats behind in the wash after his last visit. I went back downstairs, dropped the sweats by Harry, helped him with his shoes and then went up to change myself. In slightly more time than it takes to tell we were facing each other across the kitchen table and mugs of instant coffee.
I risked a look and saw his eyes were back to normal. "God, Harry, you scared me shitless."
He shivered, cupping his mug between trembling hands. "I scared me too, Murph."
Oh, great. "So what happened to Sheldrake?"
"Dead," said a new voice by the door.
Harry was on his feet, steadying himself on the table, with that cold scary fury back in his face. "Touch her and take my Death Curse!"
The good looking, well dressed black man who'd suddenly appeared in my kitchen raised empty hands in the universal gesture for peace. "I am not here to harm either of you."
Harry's brow crinkled. "Okay. That's a switch."
"Yes." The man pulled out a chair and sat down heavily. "I found Peabody, or what's left of him. The storm tore him apart."
I decided it was time to take charge – it was my kitchen after all. "Who's Peabody and who are you?"
"This is Morgan," Harry answered, "He's a sort of colleague of yours, a wizard cop. Peabody was Sheldrake's real name. He was a wizard too – an important one."
"Cut to the chase," I interrupted, "what the hell is this all about?"
"Me," Harry said flatly. "He killed those people as bait. It was all a trap, Murphy, for me."
Suddenly the icy rage hardening his face became a whole lot more understandable and a lot less scary. "So what makes you so important?"
"Peabody was setting up Dresden to take the blame for his own crimes," the wizard called Morgan said quietly. "And I fell for it."
The fury on Harry's face softened into something like sympathy. "For what it's worth, Morgan, I really wish I'd been wrong."
The other man lowered his head rubbing his hands across his face. "So do I, Dresden, so do I."
Harry raised his mug for a sip and choked on it. "Bob! He must be going out of his mind, I gotta get home!"
My kitchen went to pieces and reformed into Harry's back room with the three of us sitting in the same positions around his table. My coffee cup had come with me and I kind of wished it contained something stronger, especially when a white haired man in a dark suit erupted through – yes through – the wall.
"Harry, my God, what happened!" then he saw me and the wizard cop and froze in his tracks, pale eyes darting between us.
"Murphy, meet my roommate Bob," Harry said calmly and explained "He's a ghost."
"I kind of figured that," I managed.
"How do you do, Leftenant Murphy," he said politely in a British accent and moved to stand behind the fourth chair frowning across at Morgan. "May I ask why the Leftenant is being involved?"
Harry blinked. "Yeah, good question. What happened to no mortals allowed, Morgan?"
"Given what she has already discovered it only makes sense to include her," he answered flatly. "It's not over, Dresden, we may need the help or at least the silence of the mortal authorities."
Harry frowned. "Why do I get the feeling I haven't heard the worst of it yet?"
"Because you haven't, the High Council has disbanded."
"What!" Harry and Bob chorused.
"I never thought I'd hear myself say it but that's bad," said Harry.
"I must agree," said Bob, pallid brow creasing. "Heaven knows I am no friend of the High Council but without them to enforce the Laws of Magic the mortal world, the very balance of the universe is threatened."
"Oh, great," I said. That wasn't going into my report either!
"One member of the High Council was turned," Morgan continued. "It is probable that he is not the only one. The council lost all credibility, dissolution was the only option." He looked Harry very deliberately and very steadily in the eye. "At this moment, Dresden, the only two wizards in the world that I trust are sitting in this room."
Harry returned the look, "That include Ancient Mai?"
Something like pain twisted Morgan's handsome features. "Yes."
Harry quirked an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth. "So, it's just you and me against the Legions of Hell huh?"
"Please tell me you don't mean that literally!" I begged.
"Hopefully it will not come to that, Leftenant," Bob said less than reassuringly. "The question however is whether Harry can trust you, Warden Morgan."
"I do," Harry said flatly. "You're an SOB, Morgan, but you'd die before you'd touch the Black."
A ghost of a smile crossed Morgan's face. "Thank you, Dresden, I consider that a compliment."
Harry shrugged, "Just a statement of fact."
"So," Bob's British voice dripped sarcasm. "We have the two of you –"
"And you and Murphy," Harry interrupted.
"Four then, including a mortal police officer and a damned soul," Bob amended, "against an unknown number of Council level Black sorcerers and the rest of the supernatural world."
"Yep," said Harry. He leaned back in his chair a wry look of resigned amusement on his face and wriggled his eyebrows at Morgan. "Where do we start?"
"We don't. Not tonight," Bob said flatly. "Harry, you are physically exhausted and magically drained you are going to bed. Warden Morgan, please help Harry upstairs."
Neither man argued. After they'd disappeared up the stairs to the loft Bob the ghost turned to me. "What happened tonight?"
I told him and I swear he got paler as I talked. "Harry channeled the storm, without a protective circle or ritual support?" he blurted.
"Not that I could see," I answered.
Bob looked decidedly shaken. "Incredible," he muttered. "To control elemental forces like that…I knew he was strong but…"
"He scared me," I confessed. "He didn't look human."
Bob looked kind of spooked himself. "I can imagine." He squared his shoulders. "If you will excuse me, Leftenant, I think I'd better take closer look at Harry, make sure he's all right." He vanished in a trail of smoke and orange lights that coiled up to the loft. After the events of the night I barely blinked.
A minute or so later Warden Morgan came down the stairs. "Lieutenant Murphy, I think it would be best if you stayed here tonight. We have no way of knowing what allies Peabody had and how much they know. You could be in danger."
"And Harry certainly is," I said looking upward.
Morgan nodded. "Yes. I too will be spending the night. He is in no condition to defend himself."
"Damned soul?" I asked.
He followed me. "Yes. Hrothbert of Bainbridge a necromancer and Black sorcerer under the curse of the High Council.
I considered that. "So we're talking seriously evil here, a real live – uh dead – Voldemort, who at this moment is upstairs clucking over Harry like broody hen?"
Morgan grimaced. "Yes."
"Is it because I don't understand magic that I find that incongruous?" I asked politely.
"Real chatty guy, aren't you?"
He gave a little snort that might have been a kind of laughter and for the first time seemed to relax just a bit. "Forgive me, Lieutenant, it has been a – trying night."
"I get it," I said quietly. "Your world has just fallen apart on you." It's a feeling I am all too familiar with. He nodded tightly and I went on; "And if you and Harry, and Bob and I can't find a way to fix things my world is going to follow it right down the drain."
"Most probably," he agreed.
"Okay, I can deal with that." I said firmly, trying to convince myself.
Morgan looked at me with respect, one cop to another. "I believe you can, Lieutenant."
"So what can two cops, one mortal one wizardly, a formerly evil ghost and Harry Dresden do to save the world?" I wondered.
"May I suggest we discuss that in the morning?" he answered with a ghost of a smile
It was my turn to make of snort of what wasn't quite laughter. "If I hadn't seen Harry in action I'd say the world was doomed but since I have –" I broke off at the look on Morgan's face, it sent little chills down my back. "He scares you too," I said flatly.
He nodded gravely. "Yes."
I took a deep breath. "Well, let's hope the bad guys are at least as scared of him as we are."