Disclaimer: I don't own the Dresden Files.
A/N: I've had this idea in my head for nigh on nine months, and I finally decided to write it. Divergence is the first time Marcone offers Harry a job in Fool Moon. Familiarity with the Dresden Files is highly advised for reading this, the story will eventually contain spoilers for pretty much every book and it assumes working knowledge of canon.
Marcone was on the up and up. He was offering me a dream job, with virtually no commitment, and as much money as I could want. There was even a clause that specified that I would not be asked or expected to perform any unlawful acts.
It seemed rather uncharacteristic of him, in truth; for a man who ran his operations with an iron fist, this contract gave me an astounding amount of freedom. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought that Marcone was desperate.
Without warning, Spike's mangled features drifted through my thoughts, and my stomach roiled. In Marcone's position, I'd be desperate too.
"Fire all your hit-men and I'll consider it," I quipped, dropping the contract on the table. After a moment of silence during which Marcone stared at me, I realized he was considering my offer.
Before I could disabuse him of my sincerity, he spoke up. "Very well. I'll even do my best to discourage outside competitors in the market." He gave me a cold smile. "As long as you remain in my employ, of course."
I stared back at him. His eyes held not a little amusement in them, but no deception. Of course, with Marcone, you'd never know until you felt the knife in your back, but not for something like this. Not when he wanted to hire me, use me – he knew I'd come down on him like a ton of enraged wizard if I found out that he'd lied to me.
Anger started to rise within me, but I squashed it. I'd given him the rope, and he'd hung me with it. I knew, of course, that it wouldn't be my fault if Marcone continued to employ hit-men, and if those hit-men killed people, it wouldn't be on my head. But now I had a choice to make, a choice that I'd never had before, and with that choice came some responsibility. Marcone knew me too well, far too well, and he had placed the burden for all those not-yet-victims on my shoulders.
I glanced down at the contract and knew that he had me. The drugs, the prostitution, the gambling – all of it was evil, and it was inevitable. But none of it was wrong in the same way assassination was, they were all at least consensual, and Marcone didn't sell to kids. Now that I knew I could stop those deaths, there was no way I could not sign the contract. And... perhaps, just perhaps, I could use my position in Marcone's association to reduce the harm the rest of his business caused.
I picked it up again, ignoring the smirk Marcone didn't bother hiding, and went over the papers again, with more care and attention to detail. There wasn't much I'd missed the first time around; it wasn't a long document, and Marcone seemed to want to make my life as easy as possible while still retaining my services.
Flipping back to the first page, where my a blank line awaited my hourly wage, I grabbed a pen. The figure I wrote in made Marcone blink once, and I hid my satisfaction at surprising him. It was high, true, enough for me to survive on a minimal case load even if I only worked the minimum five hours a month for Marcone. But it was no more than a senior partner at the local law firm made, and my true cost to Marcone would come in lost revenue from dropping his hit-men. Not that he wouldn't find some way to twist it to his benefit, of course.
Standing up, Marcone handed the folder containing my new chains to Hendricks. "I can provide you nothing in writing pertaining to our secondary agreement, but I know that you have your own sources of information. And you have my good word, of course." He didn't offer me his hand. He must have known that I wouldn't have taken it. Looking around my office, Marcone frowned. "I would much prefer to do business in more secure surroundings. If you are amenable, Mr. Dresden...?"
"Fine," I replied, opening the door. Marcone exited first, with Hendricks right behind him. I had a feeling that the big man didn't trust me nearly as far as he could throw me.
Marcone's car and driver were waiting outside to take us to his base of operations. The ride passed in silence, and I tried not to relax in the comfortable interior of the car, but decided that not blowing out the engine would be wiser than not showing Marcone how much I enjoyed his car. Which, I told myself, was only a little. And only because of the heated seats.
Some inestimable time later, the car stopped and I stepped out into a jungle of glass and steel, the business district of Chicago. The building we were parked in front of us had nothing to distinguish it from the others, but I knew that even if he wasn't using all the space, Marcone almost certainly owned the entire building. And the ones surrounding it, too.
Hendricks opened the door for us this time, and I walked in before Marcone did. The receptionist frowned, then saw the bastard walk in after me and switched to a mask of polite professionalism so fast I was surprised that she didn't strain a muscle.
We walked past her without a word and the soulless gray steel and beige carpeting turned into a white-washed corridor. The first room on the right turned out to Marcone's office, or at least one of his offices.
"Would you care for a drink, Mr. Dresden?" Marcone offered. "I rather feel like celebrating."
I caught my reflexive refusal and thought about it. He was so sure that I would decline as a matter of course, the smug expression made that clear. Wouldn't do to be too predictable, I decided. "Sure."
Hendricks placed two shot glasses on the table and topped them up with what looked like very expensive bourbon. I took the one on my left and knocked it back. Just because I was going to take his drink didn't mean I was going to appreciate it.
"To business, then," said Marcone, savoring his own drink. "I have information that one Harley MacFinn may be responsible for the recent deaths. And that he is something from your side of the fence, so to speak."
"Who is he?" I asked, taking out a notepad and scratching his name on it.
Marcone frowned. "MacFinn is a... philanthropist. He runs the Northwest Passage Project, a program dedicated to buying up large quantities of land and setting it aside as wildlife reserves. I was looking at buying some of that land instead, and one of my business partners was one of those killed."
Something about the whole situation smelled off. If Marcone admitted that MacFinn was a philanthropist, then he was. And while environmental extremists existed, I had no doubt Marcone would both know about it and bring it up. "Where did you get this information? And how do you know it has something to do with magic?"
Marcone gave me a bland look. "Come now, Mr. Dresden. You can't expect me to reveal all my sources of information to you."
I shook my head in irritation. "Magical sources are rarely trustworthy, who they are and the exact wording both matter. And if you have a source like that, what did you need to hire me for?"
Marcone took another sip of his drink, considering my words for a moment. "My source for this information is the FBI team assigned to the case, actually. I am not privy to how they came across the information."
I stopped writing and looked up. Marcone's informant was Denton and his pack of goons? The man hadn't struck me as the type to believe in the supernatural – he had told me in so many words that he thought I was a fraud. "Is the lead agent named Denton?"
If Marcone was surprised that I knew the name, he didn't show it. "Yes, it is. May I ask how you know of him?"
I considered refusing for a moment, but it would be easy for Marcone to find out regardless. "I ran into him and his team when Murphy was showing me the crime scene. He thought I was a charlatan. Why would he...?" I trailed off.
Marcone frowned, picking up my train of thought. "Why would he, indeed? And do you see, Mr. Dresden? Our partnership has already revealed to us a new mystery."
I grunted in response, ignoring his evident pleasure at the thought. "I'll give MacFinn a call. Hold off on talking to Denton – if he's involved on my side of things somehow, I don't want to warn him that we've been talking."
"I am not half the fool you believe me to be, Mr. Dresden," Marcone remarked.
"Never said you were stupid, John," I shot back, standing up. "Just evil."
Marcone's henchman gave me a ride back to my apartment instead of my office. I wouldn't be taking on any more cases today. After feeding Mister, I fished out my notebook and walked over to the phone. Dialing the number I had written down, I pondered the knowledge that Bob had given to me. The most reasonable explanation for this mess was a loup-garou, given the monthly timing of the killings, and that didn't bode well for me. I had one article of inherited silver, the pentacle amulet my mother had passed onto me, and it wasn't well-suited to be used as a weapon.
"MacFinn," said a voice from the phone. "Who's this?"
I jerked, startled out of my thoughts. "This is Harry Dresden, and I'm calling about - "
"Oh, Mr. Dresden! Thank you for calling! Kim said that you'd refused to help, and I'm glad you changed your mind..."
My train of thought lurched, stumbled, and crashed. "Kim? Kim Delaney? How do you know... wait, what do you need a circle like that for?" As soon as the words left my mouth, the pieces clicked. "You have a loup-garou holed up somewhere?"
"Mr. Dresden," MacFinn hissed in panic. "This is not a matter to be spoken of over the phone. Would you mind meeting in person? My address is - "
"I have it, yeah," I interrupted. "I'll be there in thirty minutes."
I heard a crackling sigh. "Thank you. I'll see you then."
So, it seemed like MacFinn was somehow responsible for a loup-garou, and had enlisted Kim into helping him contain it. In fact, the Northwest Passage Project seemed like the exact sort of thing that Kim volunteered for. The situation gelled with the FBI warning Marcone, but from the information I had it didn't seem like MacFinn was trying to use the loup-garou as a weapon – no, he was trying to contain it. That left the question of why Denton had brushed me off, but it could wait.
Flipping open the trap door, I stumbled into my lab. "Bob!" I yelled. Then I remembered with some panic that I had sent him out to gather information for me. "Crap, crap, crap..." Muttering under my breath, I started shoveling various bottles and containers into a bag, trying to remember what the circles and signs drawn on Kim's paper had looked like. I might have been able to pull this off with Bob's help, but improvising this was just a step short of suicide. On the other hand, Kim didn't stand a chance of pulling it off by herself, and there was a possibility that I could slow the loup-garou down if I failed in containing it. I couldn't stand back and watch the slaughter if I didn't try.
Giving the empty skull a considering look, I tossed it into the bag after everything else. It might be possible – just barely possible – to pull Bob back into the skull. It was his home, and given that he was an incorporeal entity, would provide the strongest possible thaumaturgical link I could think of. He wouldn't even have to travel through sunlight – I could configure the spell to drag him through the Nevernever instead. It would be complicated, just on the edge of my abilities, especially with the limited time I had, but it would improve my odds of recreating the circles.
Running out of my apartment, I jumped into the Blue Beetle and took off. I pushed it as hard as I dared, and, miracle of all miracles, I made it to MacFinn's house in under twenty minutes.
Not sparing a glance for my surroundings, I ran up to the door and knocked as hard as I could while still maintaining the veneer of politeness. A brief moment later, the door opened to the expectant face of a man as tall as I was, but twice as large. "Mr. Dresden?"
I nodded. "Where is he?"
MacFinn gave me a baffled glance before understanding crossed his features. "Mr. Dresden... I am the loup-garou. What did Kim tell you?"
I stared at him for a moment before shaking my head. Take it in stride, Harry. "Nothing – she showed me the circles. M- somebody else clued me in to your condition, but they didn't actually tell me you were the loup-garou. I just assumed you were sheltering somebody. Now, if you don't mind, we don't have much time."
He nodded and stepped aside. "Come in, please."
The formal invitation allowed me to pass his threshold unmolested and I followed him down into a basement, beyond a heavy steel door, to find the ruins of the circles that had once contained him. Kim stood to the side, scratching on a notebook. She glanced up and her eyes widened. "Harry!"
I nodded but cut her off. "Later, Kim." Taking in the circles more carefully, I started picking apart the details. Rods of obsidian and steel shattered. Gems uprooted. Sigils and runes defaced. Despite the widespread destruction, some small measure of hope returned to me. My mind chugged along, made decisions, and I started giving orders. "Right. First things first, do you have the original schematics for this anywhere?" MacFinn nodded, and I continued. "Get them down here. I need to make a phone call."
MacFinn led me upstairs to a phone and went to fetch the blueprints. I pulled out a card I had palmed from Marcone's desk and punched in the number. "Hello, this is Executive Priority," a chipper voice greeted me. "How many I help you?"
"Harry Dresden for Marcone," I replied briskly. "It's urgent."
"One moment, please," the receptionist said.
I settled for tapping my foot while I waited, instead of trying to crush the phone in my hand. Some interminable time later, Marcone's voice answered. "Mr. Dresden, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?"
I didn't bother with the pleasantries. "I need five pounds of silver and five- no, say, ten pounds of obsidian at MacFinn's house as soon as possible. Within an hour, if you can. The obsidian should be solid, if possible."
There was a slight pause before Marcone replied. "I see. If I may ask, what is the urgency?"
"The full moon is in three hours," I bit off. "I need two to prepare. Hurry up." I slammed the phone down and stormed back into the basement.
Rooting around in my bag, I pulled out Bob's skull and set it on the ground. Taking a bit of chalk, I drew one circle around it and another to contain myself as well as the first circle. I grabbed a knife from my bag and made a small incision in my palm. The blood pooled and I let it drip in a rough line from one circle to the next. I smeared it with a finger so that it was an unbroken line and looked up to see Kim watching me in fascination. I gave her a dry smile. "If we survive this, I promise I'll teach you what I'm doing."
Ignoring the panic that was threatening to rise, I closed my eyes and lay a hand on Bob's skull. I felt the magic that made it a safe-house for the spirit, but more importantly, I felt the remnants of Bob's energy. Drawing it from the skull into myself, I formed my spell, created my hook, and cast it out. "Argentus, argentii, argentuum." The spell shot out of me, quicksilver and bright, and I relaxed. The first part had worked – now it just needed to bring Bob back. A second later, the bit of the spell tethered to me gave a weak tug and I tensed. Placing a finger on the outer circle, I gathered a small bit of power. As soon as I felt the spell snap back, I pushed it into the circle and felt the outer barrier snap up. The magic traveled unimpeded through the line my blood made and slung Bob into the inner circle, forming a barrier around that as well.
I opened my eyes to find a cloud of sparkling orange lights sinking into the skull. The eye sockets light up and the skull clacked its teeth together. "What the hell was that, Harry?"
"No time, Bob," I cut him off. "We've got just over two hours to build a circle to contain a loup-garou. The materials should be here soon, but I could still use your help."
Bob swiveled around to look at the broken circles. "Hmm... tough, but not impossible. The inner circle's going to be the hardest one, of course. Do you have the original design?"
"Yeah, I do." Standing up and breaking the outer circle, I grabbed the blueprints from where they lay on the ground and brought them over to Bob.
"Well," the skull said after examining them for a moment, "as I see it, your biggest problem is the broken rods."
I sighed and ground the heel of my palm into my face. "Yeah, I was going to ask you about that, actually. I got a... supplier to bring me five pounds of silver and a ten-pound chunk of obsidian, but I don't feel up to spellcrafting something to reshape them properly. Any ideas?"
"Given the time you have? Spellcrafting is probably your best bet," Bob shot back. "It's not like you're going to be able to carve them yourself." His voice cheered. "Besides, Harry, think of what that sort of spell would do to a human body!"
I shuddered at the implications. "Dammit, Bob, that's not helping. Anyways, what do you suggest?"
"The silver's going to be easy," Bob replied. "You can make the spell either heat or force based and imposing a form on the substance is going to be simple either way. Obsidian, on the other hand..." The skull went silent for a moment, thinking. "Direct separation of material is difficult, but it's also least likely to give you problems. You don't want to accidentally crack the entire block of stone, after all."
I nodded in agreement. "Yeah, well – oh, that's probably them." The doorbell rang and I bounded upstairs. Opening the door, I saw a heavy-set deliveryman holding a couple of boxes with one arm and a clipboard with the other. "Delivery for Harry Dresden?"
"That's me," I said, and reached out to take the boxes. He dropped them in my outstretched arms and I grunted at the weight. They seemed to weigh a lot more than fifteen pounds.
"Careful, they're heavy," the deliveryman warned.
"No, you think?" I wheezed out. Shutting the door with a nudge of my foot, I waddled downstairs and lowered the boxes to the floor. Opening the first one, I stared at the layered silver bars nestled within. That was a lot more than five pounds of silver, I thought, and then I remembered who I was working for. Marcone no doubt did not trust my estimates, but this was overkill. Opening the second box, I wondered how I was supposed to take out a single block of obsidian weighing perhaps fifty pounds before I remembered that the box was made of cardboard. Without delay, I stripped off the container and pushed the cardboard to the side.
Well. I could work with this. "Alright, Bob. Let's do it."
I examined the circles and wiped a faint sheen of sweat off my brow. The silver had turned out to be harder to deal with than the obsidian, contrary to my expectations. Looking back, it should have been obvious. The obsidian required a separation of elements – precise, to be sure, but simple once visualized. The silver, on the other hand, required combining multiple pieces into one and then reshaping that as well. But with Bob's coaching, I managed to do it with little trouble. Just in time, too; repainting the runes and implanting the bars had taken longer than I expected.
In any case, the circles were as ready as I could make them. MacFinn stood to the side. After a moment, he nodded. "It seems accurate."
"Good," I replied. "But before I empower the circles, I need a sample of your blood and hair."
He shot me a sharp glance. "For?"
I turned away from him. "Just in case." Not that I'd be able to kill him, according to Bob, but I could slow him down.
His look turned considering. "Your word, Mr. Dresden, that you will not use it in any other circumstances."
"Of course," I replied. "You have my word that I will only use your blood or hair in the circumstance that you escape the circles as a loup-garou."
"Good enough," MacFinn said, and picked up a cup. I handed him a knife and he made a small incision in his palm, letting the blood drip into the cup. Cutting off a lock of hair, he placed it on the table with my bloodied knife. "The full moon is in ten minutes."
He walked over to the circles and stepped inside, taking care not to disturb anything.
I sat down cross-legged in front of the circles and reached out with my magic. Ignoring the terrible violence and rage permeating the air, I felt out the shape of the containment, and pushed, flicking a drop of my blood at the inner circle. I repeated the steps for each circle, felt each barrier snap up, and relaxed.
It seemed to have worked, but I'd only know when the moon rose in a few minutes. "Kim," I said. "Maybe you'd better go." I didn't want anybody else to be around if this failed.
She shook her head and crouched down next to me. "I trust you," she whispered. "And I'm responsible for getting you involved in this mess."
I opened my mouth to contradict her, but decided it wouldn't help anything to tell her of Marcone. I didn't need to help him by spreading further rumors of my employment.
Without warning, MacFinn tensed and I felt a shift in the air, power gathering from within the circles. The transformation, when it came, was almost anticlimactic. One second MacFinn was there, a gigantic wolf-shaped thing the next. It snarled and snapped at the barrier surrounding it, but didn't seem capable of escaping. Kim slumped onto my side in relief and I let out a deep breath.
It had only taken about five hours, but damned if it wasn't one of the scariest things I'd ever done. Suddenly, I felt a lot less guilty about taking Marcone's money.