The cellar smelled of blood. We fanned out; Rawlins, Carmichael, Sid and I, guns in one hand and flashlights in the other. The beams crossed and re-crossed a dirt floor littered with fragments of cloth some floating in puddles of a dark liquid on whose nature I preferred not to speculate. Suddenly my searching beam caught a human foot. The light tracked up revealing the huddled figure of a man naked and bleeding from dozens of wounds but alive, I could see him shivering.
"Dear God, Sid, radio for EMTs and an ambulance!" I threw myself on my knees next to the victim. "It's okay, you're safe now," I said as soothingly as I could manage.
He turned his head brown eyes opening to peer blindly at me. "Murphy, is that you?"
It was Harry Dresden.
I stood outside the door of the recovery room at Cook, hand on the knob, and took a deep breath trying to cool the fury bubbling inside of me. I don't know who I was madder at; Harry for recklessly hurling himself in harm's way yet again – or whoever had done this to him. 'Calm down, Connie.' Harry needed support not criticism, yes he had been stupid – did he even know the meaning of the words 'back up'? – but what had been done to him… oh God. I beat my head gently against the door panel then straightened my back and my jacket. Victim interviews are never fun but when it's somebody you know – okay a friend – it's worse. Heck even Sid was worked up over this and he doesn't like Harry!
I opened the door and went in. Harry had his eyes closed but I knew he wasn't asleep he looks worried when he sleeps but now he just looked peaceful.
His eyes opened; "Hi, Murph. Uh, that was you at the cellar wasn't it, I didn't just imagine you?"
"It was me." I sat down, took a deep breath and looked right into those brown puppy-dog eyes. "What happened, Harry?"
He shifted uncomfortably, avoiding my eye. "Okay, this is going to be a problem," he said half to himself. "Look, Murph, can't we just pretend you didn't find me and save us both a lot of trouble?"
"No, Harry," I answered through clenched teeth, "we can't."
"Murphy," he said, sounding a little desperate, "it's just some of my weird stuff, not a police matter –"
"Harry," I interrupted, voice louder and shriller than usual, "you were sexually assaulted! I want the bastard or bastards who did it –" I clamped my mouth closed before I could finish;'- and to tear out their gonads with my bare hands.'
Harry starred at me, slack jawed then the color rose slowly in his face. "Oh. Damn. Yeah, I guess it could've looked like that."
I closed my eyes reminding myself just how hard this had to be for Harry, or any man, to deal with. Denial was completely understandable. "Harry," I said as gently as possible, "you know you'll never forgive yourself if you let this happen to somebody else."
"It won't," he said, and he smiled looking for one moment like the Scary Harry who haunts my nightmares. "It won't." Maybe he saw my flinch because the smile went away and he reached for my hand.
"I don't want to lie to you, Murphy," he said quietly and very seriously. "But there are things I can't tell you and a lot more you don't want to hear. For example, if I told you there'd been a turf war between rival Vampire Houses you wouldn't believe me would you?"
I stared at him. Of course I wouldn't - would I?
"And if I said I agreed to surrender myself in return for some kids they took, well you wouldn't buy that either –"
"Actually," I broke in, "I would. You got a serious martyr complex, Dresden."
He grimaced. "I've been told that. Anyway even if you bought that much I'm sure you wouldn't believe that I drank a potion before handing myself over that melted the damned bloodsuckers when they tasted me."
I thought of the puncture wounds that had been all over his body – in pairs just an inch or so apart – and of those strange puddles on the dirt floor. I swallowed hard. "Nobody could possibly believe that."
"Yeah," he sighed. "That's what I'm afraid of."
Oh God. Oh God. It all hangs together. And it's so damn Dresden. Of course he'd walk open eyed into a trap to save somebody else – especially kids. And yeah, he'd find some way to turn the tables but still get beaten to a pulp doing it.
"Harry," I said into the silence. "I need a better story than that."
"I know, Murphy," he said ruefully, "I just wish I could think of one."
I got up and started to pace. "The doctors said you had some kind of drug in your system, something they couldn't identify –"
"Yeah, vampire saliva," he said, he shook his head ruefully. "Talk about highs – wait, that's it!" He beamed at me. "I was drugged, Murph, I don't remember a thing. Sorry, guess this'll have to go in the unsolved file."
I came to a full stop at the foot of his bed. "No, Harry that's not going to work. There's no way I, or the rest of the squad including Sid, will let this one rest. You're a freak, Dresden, and a weirdo but you're our freaky weirdo and we are going to get the bastard that did this to you if we have to take Chicago apart brick by brick!"
He stared at me and swallowed, "Thanks, Murphy. I- I really appreciate that." His face showed it, and an incredulity that cut me to the heart. Was it so hard for him to believe that we - that anybody - gave a damn about him? Maybe so, I don't think I've ever met anybody quite as alone as Harry Dresden. He looked at me helplessly. "I got nothing to give you, Murph. Nothing you can use anyway."
"How about the name of the client that got you into this?" I asked.
It took some arm twisting to get it, he only gave in and spilled when I pointed out I could hunt it down without his help and I had to promise to keep anything the kid told me off the record.
"He said he'd be all right, he said he had a plan," the boy's voice shook as he buried his face in his hands.
I took a deep breath. "His plan was letting your 'vampires' do whatever they wanted to him as long as they let your girlfriend and the others go. I don't know what you paid him, Denis, but it wasn't enough." The kid's shoulders were shaking, I lightened up. "That's the way Dresden is. Now I need whatever you can tell me to get the people who hurt him and your Evie."
Denis Brick inhaled a deep, shuddering breath and sat back on the bench, we were in Lincoln Park, then he started to talk – strictly off the record.
"We've got ourselves an occult gang with a vampire motif," I told my squad several hours later. "According to my source they take it pretty literally, they stab their victims with a two pronged claw like vampire fangs and lap up the blood. They also got access to some kind of drug, probably a derivative of Ecstasy, to incapacitate their victims. Dresden doesn't remember much after he got the kids out - thank God." A murmur of agreement came from Rawlins, Carmichael and Sid.
It was a good story, much better than the one Harry had told me. I don't mind saying I was relieved. The world made sense again. As for Harry, well he'd been drugged and delusional. But if that crazy story helped him to cope – well far be it from me to disillusion him.
"I've got an address."
The bell over Dresden's shop door dinged as I pushed it open. Harry wasn't at his desk. He was backed up against the wall being very thoroughly kissed by a slinky brunette. I cleared my throat.
The brunette stepped back and turned, it was Bianca Sinclair Chicago's most expensive Madam. She gave me a sharp toothed smile while Harry quietly gasped for air, one of her beautifully manicured hand still holding him pinned against the wall.
"Sorry to interrupt," I said. "But the sign said 'open'."
Harry was beginning to blush. Sinclair purred – literally. "I was just leaving." She removed her hand and resettled her fur coat shooting Dresden a look over her shoulder. "Thank you again, Harry,"
He managed a nod, now very red. I stepped aside to give the Madam a clear shot for the door. Another edgy smile and she was gone. I looked at Harry. I was not jealous. Okay, maybe a little. Still she'd been kissing him not him her. Not that he seemed to have minded much.
"Um." He said with his usual rapier wit.
"Client?" I asked nodding towards the door.
"Sort of," Harry made a visible effort to pull himself together. "What can I do for you, Murphy?"
"I thought you should know we got your 'vampires'. They're going away for a long time," The sick bastards.
A look of confusion crossed Dresden's face. "You found my 'vampires'" he made air quotes eyebrows rising quizzically.
"Yeah, in a townhouse near the college with about ten drugged and bloody kids in their basement."
His lips formed a 'o' then all the expressive lines of his face hardened into stone. "Damn, I didn't think of that. Good work, Murph."
"Thank you." I stepped closer to him dropping my voice to a gentler register. "They'll never hurt you or anybody else ever again, Harry."
"Uh – um, thanks," he said his expression melting into a more familiar uncertainty. I was very close, close enough for a kiss. So I reached up, pulled his head down and gave him my best - which is pretty damn good if I do say so myself.
Eventually I drew a few inches away and I swear his eyes were crossing. "How's that for a jolt?"
He blinked a couple of times then broke into one of his infectious grins. "Wow!"
"Wanna slap me?" I asked.
"No. Not in the least"
"Good." I went in for another. He returned it in kind. Have I mentioned Harry is a hell of a kisser himself? Reluctantly I stepped away. "Okay, in my professional opinion you are over your trauma."
His eyebrows bounced, "Professional judgment?"
"Okay, make that gifted amateur, Sinclair is the professional." And I had definitely gotten her taste out of his mouth. Good. I moved a few steps towards the door. If I wasn't on the clock…."Be seeing you Harry."
"Count on it," he answered.
The door swung closed behind me with another ding. God Damn but he's cute. If only he wasn't a lunatic… or a con man…if only…..