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, Things that go Bump
Chapter Length: 3430 words
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
Author's Notes: Apologies for the delay in getting this up. I blame a toothache that had my creative juices all dried up for awhile. Further apologies for the length of this chapter. It's LONG. I was going to split it in two, but I figured I might as well get it all out of the way at once. This is the necessary 'tying up of loose ends' chapter before the next bout of action starts.
I let myself collapse after I was sure Murphy was awake. Kirmani let go of me and let me collapse too. He kept looking between me and Murphy, eyes very wide. I became aware of the fact that Murphy’s monitor was letting out a shrill scream and I gave it a glare. It shut up.
The door to the antechamber burst open and Forrester raced in, followed by Nurse Myers (the guy who didn’t speak Spanish) and a resident, who was pushing a crash cart. Forrester stopped short when he saw Murphy awake and then looked down to me on the floor. The resident rammed the crash cart into his back, but he was too surprised to do anything except stumble forward a step. All three medical people were gaping.
“I heard...” Forrester started. “The alarm...” He jumped on the one thing that he could comprehend: “I thought you left.”
“I came back,” I said.
“You’re not in isolation gear,” he scolded.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Go put some on,” he ordered.
“Alright,” I said.
“Harry?” Murphy asked, sounding lost.
“Down here.” I stood up again, my legs feeling more solid beneath me. I bent over the railing of the bed so she could see me. Forrester went to the other side of the bed and started to poke at her. “Hey, Murph.”
“Where am I?” Murphy asked. She tried to sit up, but Forrester held her down with a hand on her shoulder. She frowned at him and looked around. “Sid?” Kirmani nodded. “Thought so. Can’t see your face. Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital, boss,” he told her. “You caught what Jake had.”
“What Jake...” she muttered. “Hospital?”
“Yeah, you’re in the hospital,” Kirmani repeated. “You’re okay now, though. You woke up.”
Murphy looked no less confused.
“Look at me, please, Leftenant,” Forrester requested. Murphy did so, wincing away as he flashed his little flashlight into her eyes. I was pleased to see that her pupils contracted on cue. So, it seemed, was Forrester. He unholstered something from the wall, stuck it in Murphy’s ear and a second later it beeped. “Hmmm. Normal temperature. What’s your - “ He looked to the monitor. “Nick, turn on the monitor, please?” Nurse Myers fiddled with it and got it up and running again. “Slightly elevated heart rate. Much better than before however.” Forrester shook his head and started speaking in rapid medicalese to the resident.
“Hey, Harry,” Murphy said, bringing her attention to me now that Forrester was distracted. She caught my hand, giving it a squeeze. “You get sick too?”
“Nope, I’m fine,” I assured her. I put on my best Russian accent, “I am strong like ox.”
“Mr. Dresden,” Forrester warned, interrupting his flow of jargon. “Your gear, please?”
“Be back in a second,” I told Murphy. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“...find an orderly and clean up that...what is that, salt? Who poured salt on the floor?” Forrester finished his line of instructions. I moved a little faster.
I left Murphy’s room and went to the sheeting to get doctored up. Isolation guy, holding an icepack to one of his toes, gave me a double take. I waved at him and covered my friendly smile with a mask. The resident pushed past me through the sheeting.
“That was so cool,” Jake Bloom said, enthusiastically. He had stepped out of the wall in front of me. “I was watching. It was like...you were talking to each other, but I couldn’t hear what you were saying. You’d twitch and then she’d twitch. Were you really inside her nightmare?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed.
“That is so cool,” Jake reiterated.
“Thanks,” I said. Isolation guy was really starting to be freaked out by me. I didn’t really care. I put some booties on. “Now, if I could just do it six more times exactly like that, everyone’s cured.”
“Can’t you?” Jake asked.
“Dunno,” I said. “I feel like I’ve been put through a strainer. Magic’s not in endless supply, you know, you have to let it recharge. I’m exhausted. I’ll have to give it a bit.”
“That sucks,” he said. He ran a hand through his hair and all the spikes flattened then jumped back into place again. Even after years of living with Bob, it still fascinates me what mannerisms people keep after they’re dead. Bob still goes through the motions of breathing even though it serves no purpose. He twists the rings on his fingers when he’s thinking and he paces when he’s worried. “Mr. Dresden? You’re staring at my hair.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Is there something wrong with it?” he asked, running a hand through it again.
I stifled a laugh. He was of the age where your hair looking good was important, even if you were dead. “No, it looks fine. Good…uh, ‘chic’.”
“Jade made me get it cut last week,” he said. “She threatened to do it herself while I slept if I didn’t go. Said she couldn’t see my eyes.”
There was something important in what he said, I realized. My brain waved some flags around telling me that. It was tired though and couldn’t decide exactly what was important about it. I tried to work past the mental block, but it didn’t work.
“I wish I could help,” Jake said. It took me a moment to realize he was talking about the patients and not the fact my brain wasn’t working. “I mean, I have to be good for something except talking to you. No offense.”
“None taken,” I assured him. “I wouldn’t want to have to talk to me either.”
The resident and an orderly with a gurney came back through the sheeting, pushing me into the wall again. I rolled my eyes and waited for them to pass, and then put my gloves on.
“I’m going to see what I can do,” Jake announced, and disappeared before I could answer.
The orderly emerged from Murphy’s room a minute later with Murphy on the gurney, masked, capped and gloved herself. She looked tired and pale. Forrester walked along side and Kirmani trailed behind them. Forrester looked utterly joyful. I wondered how big his smile was under his mask.
“I told you not to go anywhere,” I scolded her, lightly.
“I’m being tested,” Murphy replied. I fell into step with the procession “Apparently I’m a medical anomaly.”
“Nifty,” I told her. “Can you put that on a résumé?”
Forrester was scribbling furiously on a clipboard, shuffling papers around on it and shaking a couple of tubes of blood in his right hand when he had the chance. A few fell papers fell off and I saw that they were requisitions for different tests before Kirmani picked them up again. I was glad they were doing that. Bob had theorized that because I was becoming part of the nightmare and not trying to play tug of war with her mind, there wouldn’t be any brain damage. It was just a theory, though, and even though she was talking and coherent, I wanted to make sure I hadn’t messed her up. Forrester clipped the papers back to the board and stuck it in the holder for Murphy’s chart at the side of the gurney. He was still smiling, in his eyes.
“I want to talk to you,” he told me.
“Alright,” I said. I didn’t know what I was going to say.
There was a pattering of feet as we passed by the waiting room. Anna Murphy appeared in a blur and I caught her mid-air as she tried to jump on her mother.
“Mom!” she cried, holding out her hand. “You’re okay!”
“Why aren’t you in school?” Murphy demanded. She took her daughter’s hand through the railing and rubbed her gloved thumb over Anna’s palm.
“Duh, Mom, you’re in the hospital,” Anna pointed out.
“Right,” Murphy said, as though she’d just remembered. Maybe she had. I imagine going to bed in your own home and waking up somewhere else without any memory of getting there was probably pretty disorienting. “You should go to school. I’m fine now.” She craned her head around to Kirmani. “And you should be at work.”
“Yes ma’am,” Kirmani agreed. He was giving me a wide berth. “Sorry for caring, boss.”
Murphy swatted at him. We’d reached the elevators and were waiting for one to arrive. Murphy repeated her orders to Kirmani and Anna when it did, then the doors shut on her, the orderly and the resident. Anna leapt at me.
“You fixed her!” she cheered, throwing her arms around my neck. No mean feat, considering the height she had to cover.
“She fixed herself,” I corrected.
“You totally helped,” Anna insisted. “I know you did.”
“I may have helped a little,” I admitted.
“You’ll have to tell me about that,” Forrester said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Probably I will. Gimme a second?” Forrester nodded and went back to the nurses’ station. I set Anna back on the ground. “You should go to school, kid.”
“But - “
“School’s important,” I reminded her.
“Oh fine!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up. “I’ll go learn stuff! But if anything happens and I’m not here, I’m totally blaming you.”
“Deal,” I agreed and we shook on it. Kirmani followed her to the waiting room. I went over to Forrester. He was sticking labels to the tubes of blood and checking off boxes on a sheet. “Hey.”
“Hello,” he returned. He stuffed everything into a large plastic tube and put it in a machine on the wall. He pressed a couple of buttons, there was a sucking sound and the tube disappeared up a pipe. “Pneumatic delivery system.”
“Neat,” I said, appreciatively.
“I’ve always thought so.” He rested his back against the counter and lowered his mask. “Now. May I ask you a few questions?”
“Sure,” I said, amiably. “No guarantees I can answer them all, though.”
“Fair enough. Did you wake the leftenant up?”
“Did you put the salt on the floor of her room?”
“Are those two things related?”
“Did you use any scientific or medical means to wake her up?”
“So, there’s no chance for me to repeat the procedure on the other patients?”
“Do you think your result was permanent?”
“I hope so.”
“Are you going to be able to wake the other patients up?”
“I’m still working on that.”
Forrester sighed and thumbed his eyebrow. “I’m not accustomed to being helpless. I don’t enjoy it. I feel like I’m swinging a sword in the dark and hoping it will hit the monster.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I said, sympathetically.
“But,” he said, with a sudden smile. “I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful. I am immensely grateful.”
He looked past me, distracted, and his smile widened. I looked around to see what the source of it was. A pretty woman had stepped out of the elevator, carrying a stack of pizzas. She was part Indian it looked like, and had very nice blue eyes that stood out as especially exotic. She walked over to the nurses’ station and set the pizzas down. They were swarmed immediately by hungry staff. Forrester swooped in too, kissed her and swung her in a joyful circle.
“It’s just pizza,” she said, bewildered.
He laughed and kissed her again. I decided she was his wife. Either that or his wife should be very pissed off. Forrester led her away from the swarm of ravenous medical people, speaking quickly and excitedly to her. She looked over to me a few times, so I assumed I was being talked about. At some point, one of the nurses pushed a piece of pizza on a napkin in front of me. I thanked her and took it to the waiting room, using the distraction of Mrs. Forrester to sneak away from the doctor. I slumped into a seat to eat, rest and collect my thoughts. It was about that time I realized that – hey, Murphy was awake! I gave myself a mental pat on the back for that and let the happy feeling push out some of the exhaustion.
The waiting room only had a few people besides me in it. People had to get to work or had come to realize that they wouldn’t do any good sitting there. Catalina Hernandez’s brother was still there, as was the toddler. She skipped around with toddler energy and stumbled in front of me, grabbing onto my pant leg to keep herself upright. She looked up at me.
“Hi,” I said.
She burst into tears. I am awesome with kids. Catalina’s brother swooped in and croodled her for a moment until she calmed down. He looked about as exhausted as I felt. I gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Catalina?” he asked.
“She sleeps still,” I managed, in decent Spanish.
“Who woke up?” he asked, speaking slowly for my benefit.
“A policewoman,” I replied. “The one to whom you spoke on Tuesday.” It was textbook Spanish, that sentence. “My friend.”
He nodded. “Maybe it will help the others who are sick.”
“Maybe,” I agreed.
“Diego,” he said, pointing to himself.
“Harry,” I returned. We shook hands. The toddler gave me a wary look. I stuck my tongue out at her and she giggled in surprise.
“This is Rosario,” Diego introduced me. “My niece.”
“Hola, Rosario,” I said.
“Hola,” she returned, shyly. She looked to Diego. “Hungry!”
He gave me an apologetic smile and left me to rummage through a baby bag in the corner. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes, stretching my legs out in front of me and generally making a fire hazard of myself.
I opened up my eyes a few minutes later when Kirmani addressed me. He shoved a handful of pages ripped from his notebook at my head.
“Names and addresses of the victims,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to give them to you before you went weird on me again.”
“That was fast,” I said. I glanced down the list.
“I got skills,” he replied. “I’m going to work or else Connie’s gonna drop kick me when she gets back up here. Don’t do any else stupid. You’ve filled your stupid quotient for the day.”
“Can I borrow some stupid from tomorrow?” I asked.
“Depends on how much you want me to punch you,” he replied.
Anna skipped up to us. “Sid’s going to drop me off at school on his way back to work,” she announced. “He and my step-mom both say I gotta go too.” She sighed and then perked up. “Thanks again, Harry.”
“No problem,” I said.
She hugged me. “C’mon, Sid, if we go now, I can get back in time for art, but too late for gym.”
“Thanks,” I said to Kirmani, waving the notebook sheets around.
He nodded and fell into step with Anna, who was going on about pastels and how she couldn’t dribble a basketball. I ate my pizza. That, combined with Anna’s hug, and residual joy from having succeeded got my inner workings going again. You have to run on something. I run on happy children and rescued damsels. And pepperoni.
By the time I exited the waiting room again, all the pizza was gone. Open boxes lay willy-nilly over the nurses’ station, making it look like a dorm room. Mrs. Forrester remained, however. She patiently held a plate of pizza while Forrester talked, thrusting it at him every so often to get him to eat it in between sentences. I put my mask back up and headed back through the sheeting. Isolation guy didn’t give me a second look. I think he was trying not to make eye contact. I retrieved my stuff from Murphy’s room and found Jake in there, sitting on the bed. Well, making an effort to sit on the bed. His left hand was through mattress.
“Hey Jake,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I don’t think I can help,” he said, sounding frustrated.
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “You’ve already helped by giving me information.”
“I guess so. I just – I’m a cop. I was a cop. I’m supposed to help people. I’m just useless. Being dead sucks.”
I opened my mouth to say something sympathetic and reassuring, but was distracted by the irritable scratching motion he was making at his head. Just like Murphy. My brain finally let me in on what I had figured out earlier.
“You got your hair cut!” I exclaimed, triumphantly. Jake nodded. His eyes darted to the side in a move I’ve come to identify as someone thinking I’m not all there. The ghost thought I was crazy. Nice to be consistent. “Murphy got her hair cut...That’s a link. If anyone else got their hair cut recently...”
“I can ask Fiona,” Jake offered.
“Fiona?” I asked.
“Fiona Jackson,” he reminded me. “She died too. This morning.”
“I didn’t know she was still around,” I said.
“Yeah, I tried to get her to come and talk to you but she’s too shy,” he explained. “I’ll be right back.”
He walked through the wall and I waited, bouncing on the balls of my feet in an effort to wake myself up some more and get my brain moving faster.
Jake returned a minute later. “She did.”
“Did she say where?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes and disappeared again. “Sapphire Salon, same place as me,” he reported when he returned. “Or maybe it’s Surefire? We couldn’t agree. It’s near the station; a lot of us go there ‘cause it’s close. And cheap. I never paid much attention to it before.”
“You didn’t notice anything weird?” I asked.
“It’s a haircut, what’s gonna be weird about it?”
“I dunno.” I massaged my forehead. “Okay. Think.” I thought. I pulled the list of victims out of my pocket and looked at it. I went over the addresses a few times in my mind, trying to place everyone. “I need a map of Chicago...”
Jake looked at the addresses too, reading upside down.. “Those are all streets on my beat,” he said. “Around the station. Except for mine.”
“That’s what I thought,” I said. “Around the hair salon too, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah. You think we got sick from being there. Or,” he corrected himself. “You think that the spell that’s making us sick started there.”
“Yeah,” I said. I stared at him blankly for a few moments, waiting for my brain to catch up to itself. Ah, there it was. That spark of hope in my stomach. “I should call Susan again.”
“There’s a phone in the room where Dr. Forrester has been sleeping,” Jake informed me.
“Thanks,” I told him. “See, you are completely not useless.” He smiled. I found the phone and called Susan again. It took a couple of rings for her to answer. She gave me a very glum hello. “No luck on that lead?”
“He called me a paparazzi!” She exclaimed.
“Bastard,” I said, fervently.
“I know.” She sighed. “I called that Joya lady. You owe her a lot of money.”
I winced. “Yeah. I forgot about that.”
“She didn’t. I paid for you.”
“I’ll pay you back,” I promised.
“You better. I may have to retire a year later than planned because of this. Either that or my children won’t have shoes. Anyway, she’s going to call me back after she looks through her records.”
“Well, while you’re waiting...” I said. “I have another favour to ask.”
“Of course you do,” she said, with a smile in her voice. “Will it cost me anything?”
“Dunno. If it does, I promise to always pay for your children’s shoes.”
She chuckled. “Deal. What do you need?”
“I need you to find a hair salon near the 27th District,” I began. “Called either Sapphire or Surefire Salon, or some variant there of, and find out if certain people have been there in the last few weeks.”
“Ah, now that’s more my style,” she declared. “Undercover work.”
“Can you do it without them getting suspicious?” I asked.
“Oh, and don’t let them cut your hair.”
“You want me to snoop around a hair salon without getting my hair cut?” she repeated.
“You’re lucky I’m so talented.”
“And beautiful and charming and kind and smart,” I filled in.
“Shut up and gimme the names.”
“Yes’m,” I checked my notes and rattled off the names. “That’s only nine...” One was missing...duh. “And Connie Murphy.” Kirmani probably assumed I’d know her info or forgot about her like I did. ‘Murphy’ and ‘victim’ aren’t two words that go together.
“Connie Murphy,” Susan repeated, her pen scratching away. “Your Murphy?”
“Hmm.” More scratching. “And I get first dibs on whatever it is you’re working on, right?” she demanded.
“You get only dibs,” I assured her.
“Alright. I’ll call you.”
“Thanks, I’ll need it.”
She hung up and I reached to put the receiver back when I heard Jake’s alarmed voice say “Mr. Dresden!”
I turned around just in time to be punched in the face by a half deveiled Morgan. I fell back against the bed, knocking my head on the frame, then to the floor on my back. Not one of my more graceful moments. Morgan’s veil dropped completely and he withdrew his warden’s sword, placing the tip of it to my neck. He reached over and calmly hung the phone up.
“Wizard Harry Dresden,” he recited. “You are under arrest for breaking the Third Law of Magic.”