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Home > White Night (The Dresden Files #9)(2)

White Night (The Dresden Files #9)(2)
Author: Jim Butcher

Next to the tumbler there was a handwritten note, also inside in a plastic bag, along with a gel-tip pen.

I looked at the woman. Then I went over to the futon and read the note:

I'm so tired of being afraid. There's nothing left. Forgive me. Janine.

I shuddered.

I'd seen corpses before; don't get me wrong. In fact, I'd seen crime scenes that looked like photos of Hell's slaughterhouse. I'd smelled worse, too - believe you me, an eviscerated body puts off a stench of death and rot so vile that it is almost a solid object. By comparison to some of my previous cases, this one was quite peaceful. Well organized. Tidy, even.

It looked nothing like the home of a dead woman. Maybe that's what made it feel so creepy. Except for Janine's corpse, the apartment looked like its owners had just stepped out for a bite to eat.

I prowled around, careful not to touch anything. The bathroom and one of the bedrooms were like the living room: neat, a little sparse, not rich, but obviously well cared for. I hit the kitchen next. Dishes were soaking in now-cold water in the sink. In the fridge, chicken was marinating in some kind of sauce, its glass bowl covered with Saran.

I heard a quiet step behind me, and said, "Suicides don't usually leave a meal marinating, do they? Or dishes soaking to be cleaned? Or their glasses on?"

Murphy made a noncommittal noise in her throat.

"No pictures up anywhere," I mused. "No family portraits, graduation shots, pictures of everyone at Disneyland." I added up some other things as I turned toward the second bedroom. "No hair in the sink or bathroom trash can. No computers."

I opened the door to the master bedroom and closed my eyes, reaching out with my senses to get a feel of the room. I found what I expected.

"She was a practitioner," I said quietly.

Janine had set up her temple on a low wooden table against the east wall. As I drew near it, there was a sense of gentle energy, like heat coming up from a fire that had burned down to mostly ashes. The energy around the table had never been strong, and it was fading, and had been since the woman's death. Within another sunrise, it would be completely gone.

There were a number of items on the table, carefully arranged: a bell, a thick, leather-bound book, probably a journal. There was also an old pewter chalice, very plain but free of tarnish, and a slender little mahogany wand with a crystal bound to its end with copper wire.

One thing was out of place.

An old, old knife, a slender-bladed weapon from the early Renaissance called a misericord, lay on the carpet in front of the shrine, its tip pointing at an angle toward the other side of the bedroom.

I grunted. I paced around the room to the knife. I hunkered down, thinking, then looked up the blade of the knife to its hilt. I paced back to the bedroom door and peered at the living room.

The hilt of the knife pointed at Janine's body.

I went back to the bedroom and squinted down the knife toward its tip.

It was pointed at the far wall.

I glanced back at Murphy, now standing in the doorway.

Murphy tilted her head. "What did you find?"

"Not sure yet. Hang on." I walked over to the wall and held up my hand about half an inch from its surface. I closed my eyes and focused on a very faint trace of energy left there. After several moments of concentration, I lowered my hand again. "There's something there," I said. "But it's too faint for me to make it out without using my Sight. And I'm getting sick of doing that."

"What does that mean?" Murphy asked me.

"It means I need something from my kit. Be right back." I went outside and down to my car, where I kept a fisherman's tackle box. I snagged it and went back up to the dead woman's bedroom.

"That's new," Murphy said.

I set the box on the floor and opened it. "I've been teaching my apprentice thaumaturgy. We have to go out to the country sometimes, for safety's sake." I rummaged through the box and finally drew out a plastic test tube full of metallic grains. "I just tossed things into a grocery sack for the first couple of weeks, but it was easier to put together a more permanent mobile kit."

"What's that?" Murphy asked.

"Copper filings," I said. "They conduct energy. If there's some kind of pattern here, I might be able to make it out."

"Ah. You're dusting for prints," Murphy said.

"Pretty much, yeah." I pulled a lump of chalk out of my duster's pocket and squatted to draw a very faint circle on the carpet. I willed it closed as I completed the circle, and felt it spring to life, an invisible screen of power that kept random energies away from me and focused my own magic. The spell was a delicate one, for me anyway, and trying to use it without a circle would have been like trying to light a match in a hurricane.

I closed my eyes, concentrating, and poured an ounce or two of copper filings into my right palm. I willed a whisper of energy down into the filings, enough to create a magical charge in them that would draw them toward the faint energy on the wall. When they were ready, I murmured, "Illumina magnus." Then I broke the circle with my foot, releasing the spell, and cast the filings outward.

They glittered with little blue-white sparks, crackling audibly as they struck the wall and stayed there. The scent of ozone filled the air.

I leaned forward and blew gently over the wall, clearing any stray filings that might have clung to the wall on their own. Then I stepped back.

The copper filings had fallen into definite shapes - specifically, letters:

EXODUS 22:18.

Murphy furrowed her brow and stared at it. "A Bible verse?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know that one," she said. "Do you?"

I nodded. "It's one that stuck in my head: 'Suffer not a witch to live.'"

Chapter Two

"Murder, then," Murphy said. I grunted. "Looks like."

"And the killer wanted you to know it." She came to stand beside me, frowning up at the wall. "A cop couldn't have found this."

"Yeah," I said. The empty apartment made a clicking noise, one of those settling-building, homey sounds that would have been familiar to the victim.

Murphy's tone became lighter. "So, what are we looking at here? Some kind of religious wacko? Salem Witch Trials aficionado? The Inquisitor reborn?"

"And he uses magic to leave a message?" I asked.

"Wackos can be hypocrites." She frowned. "How did the message get there? Did a practitioner have to do it?"

I shook my head. "After they killed her, they probably just dipped their finger in the water in the chalice, used it to write on the wall. Water dried up, but a residue of energy remained."

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