Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language later on)
Spoilers: None in this chapter
Chapter Length: 2464 words
Summary: Harry's latest case is uncomfortably familiar and starts him on another quixotic crusade. The only trouble is, how do you stop a killer when you're stuck baby-sitting?
Author's Notes: Long chapter, mostly because there was a lot of exposition I needed to get out of the way. I did my best to research the legalish aspects of the story, but if anything seems wrong, just chalk it up to artistic license. :-)
"You know, Dresden, the only thing I like less than being called back to work, is when I get called back to work because of you," Lt. Constanza Murphy told me, 45 minutes later.
Cops had arrived by the dozen and corralled me in with police tape, Graylin at my side. Since she had taken my hand, she hadn't let it go and as I was talking and answering questions, I sometimes forgot she was attached to me until I tried to gesture with that hand and hers came with me. She had tiny hands and she only had a grip on my four fingers, squeezing them together tightly to fit in her grasp. She didn't say much. Her mother worked at the restaurant I'd been dining at an hour and a half earlier and she was reluctant to tell me or anyone else just what had gone on. She was silent and she clung to me, her eyes pointed straight ahead with the glossy look to them. I doubted that she was even there for most of the time.
"Why were you here?" Murphy continued. "Why are you always...here?"
I tried smiling, but she wasn't having any of it. "I was on a date here. We ate, I took her home, I thought I'd left my wallet, I came back, I heard the girl and I found..." Graylin and I gestured back towards the alley. "So, I called it in."
Okay, so it was a lie. It was a lie I had come up with while waiting for the cops to show up and it was easier than telling the truth. Murphy wouldn't believe the truth anyway and then we'd be wasting time with her trying to crack me. One day, I fully intend to sit her down and prove everything to her, but she wasn't ready for that. So, I had to lie. You would too.
"Okay, I talked to some of the staff," Kirmani interrupted us.
Murphy had been about to lay into me, I could tell from the expression on her face. So, I was unusually happy to have Kirmani there. He noticed the girl and lowered his voice, while both Murphy and I leaned in to hear him.
"Vic's Tamsin Cartwright, 21 years old, been working here about a year. Single mother, no mention of the father. She's got a deal with the boss says the kid can come to work with her as long as she's quiet. Vic and the kid went out into the alley around 8:40pm for break, like normal. They never came back in."
"Nobody wondered why?" Murphy asked.
"Everyone says things were very busy, 'specially with Cartwright gone and a couple people peeked out but didn't see either of them and they didn't have time to do a more thorough search," Kirmani continued. "The Maitre D' thought it was odd, says Cartwright is never late for anything and wouldn't skip out. Well-liked, no enemies anyone knows of, that sort of thing. One of the other waitresses thought Cartwright seemed worried lately, nobody else mentioned anything like that. They all thought she seemed normal. No unusual people hanging around the place or talking to her."
"Alright," Murphy sighed. "Not a lot to go on."
"The girl's an eye witness, right?" Kirmani asked.
"Yeah, but she's not talking yet," Murphy explained. "And I don't want to press her, but it's best to get her statement while it's still fairly fresh. I'm going to give her a bit before I question her."
"Lieutenant?" A small blonde cop I knew to be called Karen interrupted us. "Forensics wants you. For the..." She leaned in to our circle and whispered. "Body."
"Thanks, Karen," Murphy said.
She and Kirmani started down the alley. I crouched down to Graylin's level.
"Hey kiddo, I gotta go with the police for a second," I said. "And you have to stay here. But you'll be able to see me and this nice lady here is going to make sure you're safe, okay? Her name is Karen."
Graylin looked from me to Karen skeptically, clearly considering the woman insufficient for the task. "I want to stay with you," she whispered to me.
"I know," I said, feeling my heart break a little. "But this is really important and I think it'd be better if you stayed here. I'll be back as soon as I can. Listen," I pulled the pentacle necklace I always wear around my neck out from under my shirt and looped it off over my head. "I'm gonna leave this with you, okay? It's really special to me, and I'll definitely be coming back for it." I hung it around her neck, over the shield knot. The two objects thrummed with energy. "Is that alright?"
She nodded a little and released her grip, transferring it to Karen's outstretched hand. I smiled at her.
"Good girl. I'll be right back."
I stood and gave Karen a smile of thanks. She's a cute, dimpled thing and her smile is enough to make your heart skip a beat. It always comes as a surprise to me when she can judo throw a man three times her size without ruining her hair style.
"Dresden?" Murphy barked.
I stopped smiling at Karen and headed down to the body of Tamsin Cartwright. I had to dodge several cop-ducks, the uniforms who follow around people who aren't in uniforms and are assigned tasks like getting the coffee or putting up the police tape. Fortunately, they are very easy to move out of the way. A forensic person who was I unfamilliar with was crouching by Tamsin's head and Kirmani and Murphy were perched on either side of her, by her knees. I closed the circle by crouching at her feet. The CSI looked expectantly at Murphy, who nodded a go ahead.
"Preliminary examination is inconclusive on the COD," he began. "She has a large goose egg on the back of her head." He lifted her head and gently twisted it to show us, indicating the area with a gloved pinky. "But it's not severe enough to be the cause of death."
"Goose egg," I repeated. "There isn't a fancy medical name for that?"
He stared blankly at me. "No."
I twitched under the looks from Murphy and Kirmani. "Sorry."
"What's with her eyes?" Kirmani demanded.
"Undecided. Cloudy eyes can be a symptom of cataracts or glaucoma, but in both cases it would have to be very advanced and her vision would be severely limited. She certainly wouldn't have been able to work," CSI-guy mused. "It could be drugs, though I've never seen anything quite like this. Still, drug use does all sorts of havoc on your system. I have to get her back to the lab and do a full autopsy before I can be much more help to you."
"Alright, thanks Guy," Murphy said.
I stared at her for a second until I realized his name was actually Guy. I managed to turn my snort of laughter in a soft cough at the last second, but Murphy glared at me anyway. I don't blame her. I'm not mature enough to be at a crime scene.
"My turn," said Lisa Fredricks.
She'd been off to the side of Guy, waiting her turn. Lisa's another CSI, a few years younger than me and has the most beautiful pair of green eyes I have ever seen. I went out with her once and she's incredibly intelligent, which is probably why we didn't date anymore. I'm not mature enough to go out with a genius either.
The cops and I uncrouched ('seriously', my knees said, 'we weren't made for this') and followed Lisa down the alley a bit. Little cop-ducks scurried around, taking pictures. The flash on the top of one of the cameras exploded as I passed it. I winced and ducked away to move my line of fire. Electric appliances flee in fear of Harry Dresden.
Lisa walked us through the evidence. There was hair and blood stuck to the brick wall, where the vic must have hit her head. Gravitational blood drops from Graylin's knee. Smushed garbage bags suggesting somebody fell on them. It didn't mean a lot to me and I couldn't get close enough to palm anything of use.
"I know you haven't had a lot of time to look around yet," Murphy said. "But is there any chance the girl could have been responsible?"
I snapped out of my half-listening state at that. "WHAT?"
Murphy held her hand out to me in the universal sign for 'stop'. "We have to consider all possibilities, Dresden."
"That's ridiculous!" I yelled. Several cop-ducks looked my way.
"Harry, shut up," Lisa said. "And let me answer."
I folded my arms and looked as brooding as possible. Lisa gestured to the pile of smushed garbage bags.
"Those were put out there at approximately 8pm," she reported. "The dent in them is consistent with an adult, most likely male. I would say there was definitely a scuffle here at some point between 8pm and the time Mr. Dresden arrived on the scene. However, I can't say when the scuffle occurred or whether it had anything to do with the victim's death. The impact with which the victim apparently hit the wall would require a good deal of force, beyond that of what a child of the witness's size could produce. I can't say for sure, but I'm very doubtful that the child had any active role in the victim's death. "
I resisted adding "so there." Murphy nodded and lowered her hand from where it was still telling me to be quiet. Kirmani relaxed too. I think that he might have been ready to club me if given permission. In fact, I think he's usually ready to club me, permission or no.
"Thanks, Lisa," Murphy said. "Do you - "
My head whipped around at the sound of Karen's voice. She sounded odd. Not panicked, but not calm either. I couldn't see her up the alley and I jogged towards the mouth to see what was up. I caught sight of her, but not Graylin, which quickened my pace. I was nearly there when there was a streak and Graylin threw herself at me. I bent down in time to catch her and get her knee right in my stomach.
"Ooof!" I said, staggering back. Graylin wrapped her arms around my neck and pushed her face into my shoulder. She was shaking all over and I could barely keep a hold of her. "What's wrong?"
Karen shook her head at me, bewildered. "She started to freak out. I don't know what happened."
"He's here," Graylin whispered to me, terrified.
I took a quick scan of the area for anyone out of place. "Where is he?"
"I dunno," she said. "I just know he's there." She buried her face in my neck again.
"Okay, okay," I soothed. I tried reaching out with my Senses, but didn't catch anything. "It's okay. You're safe here. You're safe with me."
From then on, there was nothing anyone could do to pull Graylin away from me. I couldn't reason with her, or soothe her or anything. She just clung and screamed if anyone tried to move her. Murphy decided that she'd gone through enough trauma that night without forcibly removing her from the wizard, so I rode with her to the station. Murphy drove and Kirmani had the passenger seat.
A child welfare person was waiting for us, which is when we discovered that Graylin would bite if cornered. It became clear that Graylin would not be going anywhere with Mrs. French, no matter how sweetly she talked or how much she looked like everyone's favourite grandmother. She and Murphy eventually agreed to let me act as temporary guardian, provided I sign my name on many different papers and that Murphy would vouch for me being a responsible adult and be held at fault for anything I might do that would endanger the child. I have a feeling it wasn't entirely legal. Murphy put a lot on the line for me, I appreciated it.
Murphy put Graylin and I in a room with some markers and sheets of blank paper. Graylin started to draw a butterfly with brightly coloured wings. I drew something vaguely resembling a cat. I was brought coffee, Graylin refused milk or water or juice. She just worked on her butterfly with dedication I admired.
Turns out Murphy has some training that lets her interview child witnesses. She spoke gently, in a motherly sort of voice. I forget sometimes that she has a kid. She chatted for a while about the restaurant and what Graylin's life was like, slowly circling in on what had happened that night. I had to use my encouraging eyebrow raise so often that I eventually just kept it on full-time. Graylin seemed unsure about what she should tell. If she'd gotten the same 'ix-nay on the agic-may' speech as I did when I was a kid, I could see how she could be confused.
Here's what we got: there was a man, a man probably as tall as Mr. Dresden or a little bit shorter. He had dark hair and was wearing dark clothing. He had a knife, but he didn't use it to cut either Tamsin or Graylin. He knew Tamsin and Graylin by name. He and Tamsin argued about something (unknown something) and then he did something (unknown something) that made Tamsin hit her head. He tried to grab Graylin but Tamsin got up and did something (unknown something) that made him stop. He got very angry and did something (unknown something) that hurt Tamsin very badly and Tamsin did not wake up. The man left after that and Graylin got scared. She hid in the back of the alley until Mr. Dresden came and found her. The end.
Mrs. French intervened from the room behind the mirror after Graylin started to throw things. I couldn't really blame her. She was trying to make decisions that I, 30 years her elder, have trouble making and doing it way past her bedtime with a metric ton of emotional weight on her shoulders. If she wanted to throw a few markers, I was more than willing to let her.
"I'm sorry," she said, rubbing an eye. "I can't talk no more."
"It's okay, Graylin," Murphy assured her. "You've done a very good job. You're a very brave girl."
"I don't like it here," Graylin complained. "I wanna go home."
"I know, sweetie," Murphy said. "But you agreed to stay with Mr. Dresden, remember? You have to go home with him. Is that okay?"
She looked at me and nodded. "I guess so. Can we go now?"
I looked to Murphy questioningly.
"You wrote your statement?" she asked.
"3 pages, double spaced," I confirmed.
"Then yes, you're free to go. Let me get my stuff."
I gave her a confused look. "You're coming with us?"
She grinned at me, wickedly. "Yeah, Dresden. I'm spending the night."