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White Night (The Dresden Files #9)(6)
Author: Jim Butcher

At the mention of his boss, Butters grimaced. "Occam's razor, to use his own spectacularly insensitive yet ironic phrasing. They're suicides. End of story."

"But your guess is that someone else was holding the knife?"

The little ME's face turned bleak, and he nodded without speaking.

"Good enough for me," I said. "What about the body today?"

"Can't say until I look," Butters said. He gave me a shrewd glance. "But you think it's another murder."

"I know it is," I replied. "But I'm the only one, until Murphy's off the clock."

"Right." Butters sighed.

I flipped past Mrs. Moskowitz's pages to the next set of ugly pictures. Also a woman. The pages named her Maria Casselli. Maria had been twenty-three when she washed down thirty Valium with a bottle of drain cleaner.

"Another hotel room," I noted quietly.

Molly glanced over my shoulder at the printout of the photo at the scene. She turned pale and took several steps away from me.

"Yeah," Butters said, concerned eyes on my apprentice. "It's a little unusual. Most suicides are at home. They usually go somewhere else only if they need to jump off a bridge or drive their car into a lake or something."

"Ms. Casselli had a family," I said. "Husband, her younger sister living with her."

"Yeah," Butters said. "You can guess what Brioche had to say."

"She walked in on her hubby and baby sister, decided to end it all?"

"Uh-huh."

"Uh," Molly said. "I think - "

"Outside," Butters provided, unlocking the door. "First door on the right."

Molly hurried from the room, down to the bathroom Butters had directed her to.

"Jesus, Harry," Butters said. "Kid's a little young for this."

I held up the picture of Maria's body. "Lot of that going around."

"She's actually a wizard? Like you?"

"Someday," I said. "If she survives." I read over the next two profiles, both of women in their twenties, both apparent suicides in hotel rooms, both of them with housemates of one sort or another.

The last profile was different. I read over it and glanced up at Butters. "What's with this one?"

"Fits the same general profile," Butters said. "Women, dead in hotel rooms."

I frowned down at the papers. "Where's the cause of death?"

"That's the thing," Butters said. "I couldn't find one."

I lifted both eyebrows at him.

He spread his hands. "Harry, I know my trade. I like figuring this stuff out. And I haven't got the foggiest why the woman is dead. Every test I ran came up negative; every theory I put together fell apart. Medically speaking, she's in good shape. It's like her whole system just... got the switch turned off. Everything at once. Never seen anything like it."

"Jessica Blanche." I checked the profiles. "Nineteen. And pretty. Or at least prettyish."

"Hard to tell with dead girls," Butters said. "But yeah, that was my take."

"But not a suicide."

"Like I said. Dead, and in hotel rooms."

"Then what's the connection to the other deaths?"

"Little things," Butters said. "Like, she had a purse with ID in it, but no clothes."

"Meaning someone had to have taken them away." I rolled up the papers into a tube and thumped them against my leg, thoughtfully. The door opened, and Molly came back in, wiping at her mouth with a paper towel. "This girl still here?"

Butters lifted his eyebrows. "Yeah. Miss Blanche. Why?"

"I think maybe Molly can help."

Molly blinked and looked up at me. "Um. What?"

"I doubt it's going to be pleasant, Molly," I told her. "But you might be able to read something."

"Off of a dead girl?" Molly asked quietly.

"You're the one who wanted to come along," I said.

She frowned, facing me, and then took a deep breath. "Yes. Um. Yes, I was. I mean, yes, I will. Try."

"Will you?" I asked. "You sure? Won't be fun. But if it gets us more information, it could save someone's life."

I watched her for a moment, until her expression set in determination and she met my eyes. She straightened and nodded once. "Yes."

"All right," I said. "Get yourself set for it. Butters, we need to give her a few minutes alone. Can we go get Miss Blanche?"

"Um," Butters said. "What's this going to entail, exactly?"

"Nothing much. I'll explain it on the way."

He chewed on his lip for a moment, and then nodded once. "This way."

He led me down the hall to the storage room. It was another exam room, like the one we'd just been in, but it also featured a wall of body-sized refrigerated storage units like morgues are supposed to have. This was the room we'd been in when a necromancer and a gaggle of zombies had put a bullet through the head of Butters's capacity to ignore the world of the supernatural.

Butters got out a gurney, consulted a record sheet on a clipboard, and wheeled it over to the fridges. "I don't like to come in here anymore. Not since Phil."

"Me either," I said.

He nodded. "Here, get that side."

I didn't want to. I am a wizard, sure, but corpses are inherently icky, even if they aren't animated and trying to kill you. But I tried to pretend we were sliding a heavy load of groceries onto a cart, and helped him draw a body, resting upon a metal tray and covered in a heavy cloth, onto the gurney.

"So," he said. "What is she going to do?"

"Look into its eyes," I said.

He gave me a somewhat skeptical look. "Trying to see the last thing impressed on her retinas or something? You know that's pretty much mythical, right?"

"Other impressions get left on a body," I said. "Final thoughts, sometimes. Emotions, sensations." I shook my head. "Technically, those kinds of impressions can get left on almost any kind of inanimate object. You've heard of object reading, right?"

"That's for real?" he asked.

"Yeah. But it's an easy sort of thing to contaminate, and it can be tricky as hell - and entirely apart from that, it's extremely difficult to do."

"Oh," Butters said. "But you think there might be something left on the corpse?"

"Maybe."

"That sounds really useful."

"Potentially."

 

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