Rating: A healthy PG-13
Spoilers: Heavy book references in this one, a few book characters appear later on. No plot spoilers, however. TV references: Storm Front, Birds of a Feather.
Chapter Length: 2342 words
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
Author's Notes: None.
My new shoes were very nice. The saleslady simply did not understand my joy at having them. Maybe she buys more than one pair of shoes per decade. I wore them out of the store and gave my old pair a proper burial in the garbage can outside. RIP, blue Converse sneakers. You served me well.
I got a large load of groceries, enjoying the fact that I would still have money in the bank when I was done. The bank guy didn’t understand my joy at making interest, either. People really need to check their priorities. By the time I got home and put everything away, it was nearly three and I decided a nap was in order. Between Susan and the nightmare, I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. I hadn’t thought about the nightmare until then and I couldn’t even remember what it was about. All I knew was that it had terrified me and even contemplating it made me shiver.
I was dreamless during my nap and got up when the phone rang at quarter to six. It was Susan, checking some details for her story. I dodged all the questions I couldn’t answer and answered the ones I could.
“That it?” I asked, glancing at my watch.
“Uh...yes,” she said. I could hear her rustling some papers. “Big date?”
“Dinner,” I answered. “Cooking for Murphy.”
That might have made some girls jealous, but Susan had better things to do with her time. “Spaghetti?”
“How is the lovely lieutenant?”
“Oh.” Actually it was more of an ‘oh?’. “What about?”
“No story,” I said, firmly. “I gave you front page material yesterday, you greedy wench. What more do you want from me?”
“I could make a list,” she purred. I grinned at the wall. There was a pause. “Did you just call me ‘wench’?”
“I’m taking pirate lessons. I really have to go, Suz, I’ll talk to you soon.”
“I have ways of making you talk, Dresden.”
“Looking forward to them. Bye!”
I got started on the food and Murphy arrived at five after seven, looking even more stressed than earlier. She had her hair back in a ponytail, which I always take as a sign of impending doom. Ponytails mean you don’t want your hair to get in your face while you’re performing murder.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said.
“You’re not really late,” I pointed out.
She looked at her watch. “I guess not. Seems like I am. Long day.”
“Sit down and let me ply you with cheap alcohol,” I offered.
She smiled slightly. “Deal.”
I got her a beer and returned to cooking, keeping my stance angled so I didn’t have my back to her and seem anti-social. She drank in silence for a few minutes, staring at the wall. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, just one of those ones that fall between friends who don’t have to cover awkwardness with talk.
“The funeral’s tomorrow,” she finally said. “He was Jewish, so it’s custom to bury him as soon as possible. His brother has to get here, or else it would probably have been today.”
“What about an autopsy?” I asked. “Are they gonna allow that? It goes against Jewish tradition, right?”
“You can have it ordered by law,” Murphy replied, looking surprised at my knowledge. I listen when Bob drones, sometimes. “But it’s not really a suspicious death, just weird. So, I don’t think they’re gonna do one.” I nodded and stirred the spaghetti sauce. “Do you have a religion?”
“Not that I’m aware of. Churches kinda freak me out. What about you?”
“Catholic, sort of,” she answered, with a smirk. “I haven’t been since I was a kid. My grandmother Murphy was very religious, she used to take me. I was never confirmed or anything. I think churches are comforting, though. Safe.”
“That’s because they have a threshold,” I explained. “Nothing bad can pass through the doors with its powers still intact.”
“Do you need help with any of that?” Murphy asked, changing the subject. She liked to do that when we got into the magic stuff. She listened, and then politely pretended she hadn’t heard. It was a step up from interrupting me in the middle of me saying something, though, or getting angry at me. There was hope.
“Thanks, but I think it’s ready,” I declined.
I served and we ate, moving on topics less serious than death and magic (which, by the way, will probably be the name of my autobiography). Murphy loosened up as we went along, especially once I asked about Anna and by the time we were on post-dinner coffee, she was smiling.
“They’re very nice shoes, Harry,” she told me, as I flashed my foot to her. “Aren’t they the same as your old ones, though?”
“These ones are green,” I said, hurt. “Those ones were blue.”
“Of course,” Murphy said. “How could I have missed that?” I grinned and she grinned back.
Then her phone rang. We both immediately sobered up and I snatched up some dishes to take to the sink, and out of her range. I listened in on her side of the conversation, using my super awesome wizardly hearing. Her face was stressed again and I silently cursed the person on the other end who had upset her.
“Who...? And it’s the same...? So, are they gonna...? Jesus,” Murphy’s side went. “The family is okay with that? No, if they can handle it, let them sit in. It’ll be a little comfort. Why are you asking me, by the way? Well, he has a phone number too. No, I don’t care if he’s eating dinner, it’s his officer. Oh, I get it. No, let him know I gave permission. Yeah, it’s my fault. Thanks, Karen.” She turned off the phone and sighed. “Two more people have arrived at Cook County with the same symptoms as Jake had. They’ve ordered an autopsy on him now. They’re worried it’s contagious.” She stood up. “We’re going to the hospital.”
“I...me?” I said, surprised. “Why?”
“I dunno,” she replied, with a frown. “But the words ‘because I said so’ come to mind. I feel like I should go and you should come with. Plus, I’ve been drinking and you haven’t.”
I nodded. “I’ll get my coat.”
I’m not too fond of hospitals, though I’ve been in them often enough. There’s just too much stuff for me to break and I have really to concentrate on not shorting out someone’s life-support as I pass by. Usually, if I’m calm, the electricity gods take pity on me, but as soon as I have any emotion, good or bad, modern technology bites me in the ass. You can imagine that when you are faced with the possibility of killing some little old lady on a ventilator, it’s hard to stay calm, too. Bob’s worked with me on a way to hold my magic close to my body, though, and I employed that technique as best I could while we traveled the halls of Cook County.
“Do I need to get out the oil can?” Murphy muttered to me. She mimicked my stiff stance. “You look like the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz. Relax, Dresden.”
“I don’t like hospitals,” I said. “Hospitals don’t like me.”
She rolled her eyes and pressed the elevator button. I held my breath all the way to the basement, where the morgue was. I didn’t want to battle with the elevator gods either.
A young Asian woman was sitting on a bench nearby the morgue entrance. Murphy murmured to me that she was Jake’s girlfriend. She was well put together – no make-up, but unruffled clothes and hair back in a slick ponytail. Her nail polish was chipped off bitten nails, one of which was in her mouth as we approached. She glanced up at us with red rimmed eyes, but we didn’t seem to be the people she was expecting and she looked down again.
Neither Murphy nor I said anything as we passed by, on into the morgue. I’ve always found condolences from strangers annoying and I try not to offer them unless courtesy demands it. I relaxed once we were in the morgue – which is weird, I know. In a morgue, though, everyone’s already dead and no matter how much I screw up the equipment, they aren’t getting anymore dead than they already are.
“Masks, caps, gowns, gloves!” The medical examiner barked at us, without looking up. She pointed with a scalpel to the boxes of medical paraphernalia. “We are in isolation here, people! Nobody watches the light!”
“Hey Candy,” Murphy greeted her. She shoved a box of gowns my way.
“Oh, hello Connie,” Candy replied, looking over. “Sorry, I thought you were one of those buzzy doctors asking me what I’ve found. I keep telling them that the more they interrupt me, the less work I get done, but they’re in a tizzy.”
Murphy and I mask, cap, gown, gloved ourselves and entered the room proper. The Beatles sang about Lady Madonna softly in the background and Candy’s foot tapped to the beat. I couldn’t see much of her, but her eyes were young and extremely sparkly. They went nuts with the reflections of the fluorescent lighting, making her hard to read.
“Candida Cuccioli, this is Harry Dresden,” Murphy introduced us, muffled by the mask she wore. “Harry, this is Candy.”
“Ah, the wizard,” Candy said. “I can’t tell if you’re cute or not. I’ve heard rumours.”
I blushed, thankfully hidden by my doctor outfit. “All lies.”
Murphy rolled her eyes. “Do you know anything yet?”
Candy shook her head. “All I know is that he shouldn’t be dead. He’s in great shape. The only reason he’s dead is because he isn’t alive. I still have to examine the brain.”
I had to close my eyes and think of something happy at that point. The body on the table I could take. The fact that his chest was open I could take. The thought that Candy was going to chop up his brain I could not take. I’m very fond of my brain. It may not be the best brain, but it’s mine and I don’t want anyone chopping it up.
“If you’re going to faint, do it outside,” Candy ordered.
“I’m fine,” I said. I let out a long breath and opened my eyes. “I’m fine.”
I looked to Murphy. She had her eyes on Candy and they didn’t move down to the body. The lines at the corners of her eyes were deep and her fingers were digging at her head in an upset fashion.
“You okay?” I asked, under my breath. She nodded, stiffly. “You don’t have to stay.” She shrugged. “Murphy?”
“I’m fine,” she snapped, her voice harsh. I took a step away. She sighed and looked upwards briefly. “It’s harder when you know them. He’s in pieces.”
I didn’t know what to say and decided to leave it be. Candy was looking between us, openly curious at our hushed exchange. I offered a smile she couldn’t see under my mask and took a step closer to the table. I focused on his face and not on the organs that were peeping out of his chest. He was dead, obviously, so it wasn’t the best time to get a read on what he looked like, but he seemed to be a fairly good-looking guy. He had dark brown hair that was cut in a style meant to be gelled up, but it sort of flopped here and there without having had specific guidance. His nose looked like it’d been broken a couple of times and the lashes on his closed eyes were long and contrasted noticeably against the bloodless, white skin. He was very young looking.
“Who’s that?” Murphy asked, gesturing to the corner. I hadn’t noticed the guy who was standing there, reading a book.
“The shomer,” Candy replied. We looked at her blankly. “The guard. He stays with the body until it’s buried. Jewish thing.” She glanced over to him, approving. “Strong stomach. Hasn’t even flinched.” She winked at me. I blushed again.
“I’m going to talk to him,” Murphy said. She walked away from us.
“Do you mind if I...” I made a gesture to Candy, towards Jake’s head. “Um...”
“Do weird wizarding stuff?” She filled in. “Do you have to touch him?”
“Then go for it.”
I held out my hand, just above his chest and closed my eyes, concentrating on the forces flowing around him. It’s far easier to detect a spell on someone when he’s alive and you can feel it interfering with his own energies. Spells linger though, and he hadn’t been dead for too long, so it was possible to catch something if I looked hard enough.
“You channeling his spirit?” Candy asked, amusement in her voice.
“Something like that,” I muttered.
“You look like you should be calling on the Lord to heal this lost lamb,” she said.
“I think he’s a little past that, now. Though, I might be more inclined to believe in the Almighty if it worked.”
I felt a very faint twinge of energy, but every time I tried to get a closer read, it felt like it darted away, like that Greek myth with the guy cursed to be eternally hungry and thirsty. He’s sitting in a lake, with grapes dangling above him, but each time he tries to eat or drink, the water and grapes move out of his reach.
“What are you doing?” That was Murphy’s voice, now. I cracked an eye and she was glaring at me.
“Looking for harmful energy?” I offered.
“This is a morgue, Harry, not feng shui class,” she snapped. “Thanks for your time, Candy. Can you call me if you find anything unusual?”
“Sure thing. I’ll add you to my ever growing list of people who are just dying to talk to me.” She winced. “Ooh. No pun intended.”
Murphy’s eyes twinkled a bit. “Thanks, Candy.”
“Bye,” I said.
Murphy tugged me to the door. “Do you have to embarrass me wherever I take you?”
“It’s what I live for,” I said, seriously. Her eyes twinkled again. “Sometimes I spend whole days coming up with new ideas on how to do it.”
Murphy pulled her mask away and she was fighting a smile. “You’re such a freak, Dresden.”
I grinned. “You know you like it.”
“C’mon, smartass, we’re going upstairs,” she said.