Home > White Night (The Dresden Files #9)

White Night (The Dresden Files #9)
Author: Jim Butcher

Chapter One

Many things are not as they seem: The worst things in life never are.

I pulled my battle-scarred, multicolored old Volkswagen Beetle up in front of a run-down Chicago apartment building, not five blocks from my own rented basement apartment. Usually, by the time the cops call me, things are pretty frantic; there's at least one corpse, several cars, a lot of flashing blue lights, yellow-and-black tape, and members of the press - or at least the promise of the imminent arrival of same.

This crime scene was completely quiet. I saw no marked police cars, and only one ambulance, parked, its lights off. A young mother went by, one child in a stroller, the other toddling along holding Mommy's hand. An elderly man walked a Labrador retriever past my car. No one was standing around and gawking or otherwise doing anything at all out of the ordinary.


A creepy shiver danced over the nape of my neck, even though it was the middle of a sunny May afternoon. Normally, I didn't start getting wigged out until I'd seen at least one nightmarish thing doing something graphic and murderous.

I put it down to the paranoia of advancing age. It isn't like I'm all that old or anything, especially for a wizard, but age is always advancing and I'm fairly sure it's up to no good.

I parked the Blue Beetle and headed into the apartment building. I went up several flights of stairs that needed their old tile replaced, or at least scrubbed and shined. I left them to find a hallway carpeted in a low, grey-blue pile that had been crushed down to shiny smoothness in the middle. The apartment doors were battered, old, but made of thick oak. I found Murphy waiting for me.

At five feet and small change, a hundred and not much, she didn't exactly look like a tough Chicago cop who could face down monsters and maniacs with equal nerve. Chicks like that aren't supposed to be blond or have a cute nose. Sometimes I think Murphy became that tough cop she didn't look like purely for the sake of contrariness - no amount of sparkling blue eyes or seeming harmlessness could hide the steel in her nature. She gave me her we're-at-work nod, and a terse greeting. "Dresden."

"Lieutenant Murphy," I drawled, with an elaborate bow and flourish of one hand, deliberately at odds with her brusque demeanor. I wasn't doing it out of pure contrariness. I'm not like that. "I am dazzled by your presence once more."

I expected a snort of derision. Instead, she gave me a polite, brittle little smile and corrected me in a gentle tone: "Sergeant Murphy."

Open mouth, insert foot. Way to go, Harry. The opening credits aren't done rolling on this case, and you've already reminded Murphy of what it cost her to be your friend and ally.

Murphy had been a detective lieutenant, and in charge of Special Investigations. SI was Chicago PD's answer to problems that didn't fall within the boundaries of "normal." If a vampire slaughtered a transient, if a ghoul killed a graveyard watchman, or if a faerie cursed someone's hair to start growing in instead of out , someone had to examine it. Someone had to look into it and reassure the government and the citizenry that everything was normal. It was a thankless job, but SI handled it through sheer guts and tenacity and sneakiness and by occasionally calling in Wizard Harry Dresden to give them a hand.

Her bosses got real upset about her abandoning her duties in a time of crisis, while she helped me on a case. She'd already been exiled to professional Siberia, by being put in charge of SI. By taking away the rank and status she had worked her ass off to earn, they had humiliated her, and dealt a dreadful blow to her pride and her sense of self-worth.

"Sergeant," I said, sighing. "Sorry, Murph. I forgot."

She shrugged a shoulder. "Don't worry about it. I forget some-times, too. When I answer the phone at work, mostly."

"Still. I should be less stupid."

"We all think that, Harry," Murphy said, and thumped me lightly on the biceps with one fist. "But no one blames you."

"That's real big of you, Mini Mouse," I replied.

She snorted and rang for the elevator. On the way up, I asked her, "It's a lot quieter than most crime scenes, isn't it?"

She grimaced. "It isn't one."

"It isn't?"

"Not exactly," she said. She glanced up at me. "Not officially."

"Ah," I said. "I guess I'm not actually consulting."

"Not officially," she said. "They cut Stallings's budget pretty hard. He can keep the equipment functional and the paychecks steady, barely, but..."

I arched a brow.

"I need your opinion," she said.

"About what?"

She shook her head. "I don't want to prejudice you. Just look and tell me what you see."

"I can do that," I said.

"I'll pay you myself."

"Murph, you don't need to - "

She gave me a very hard look.

Sergeant Murphy's wounded pride wouldn't allow her to take charity. I lifted my hands in mock surrender, relenting. "Whatever you say, boss."

"Damn right."

She took me to an apartment on the seventh floor. There were a couple of doors in the hall standing slightly open, and I caught furtive looks from their residents from the corner of my eye as we walked past. At the far end of the hall stood a pair of guys who looked like medtechs - bored, grouchy medtechs. One of them was smoking, the other leaning against a wall with his arms crossed and his cap's bill down over his eyes. Murphy and the two of them ignored one another as Murphy opened the apartment door.

Murphy gestured for me to go in and planted her feet, clearly intending to wait.

I went into the apartment. It was small, worn, and shabby, but it was clean. A miniature jungle of very healthy green plants covered most of the far wall, framing the two windows. From the door, I could see a tiny television on a TV stand, an old stereo, and a futon.

The dead woman lay on the futon.

She had her hands folded over her stomach. I didn't have the experience to tell exactly how long she'd been there, but the corpse had lost all its color and its stomach looked slightly distended, so I guessed that she died at least the day before. It was hard to guess at her age, but she couldn't have been much more than thirty. She wore a pink terry-cloth bathrobe, a pair of glasses, and had her brown hair pulled up into a bun.

On the coffee table in front of the futon there was a prescription bottle, its top off, empty. A decanter of golden brown liquid, dusted for prints and covered by a layer of plastic, sat beside it, as did a tumbler that was empty but for a quarter inch of water still in its bottom, enough for a melted ice cube or two.

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