Home > Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5)

Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5)
Author: Jim Butcher

Chapter One

Some things just aren't meant to go together. Things like oil and water. Orange juice and toothpaste.

Wizards and television.

Spotlights glared into my eyes. The heat of them threatened to make me sweat streaks through the pancake makeup some harried stagehand had slapped on me a few minutes before. Lights on top of cameras started winking on, the talk-show theme song began to play, and the studio audience began to chant, "Lah-REE, Lah-REE, Lah-REE!"

Larry Fowler, a short man in an immaculate suit, appeared from the doors at the rear of the studio and began walking to the stage, flashing his porcelain smile and shaking the hands of a dozen people seated at the ends of their rows as he passed them. The audience whistled and cheered as he did. The noise made me flinch in my seat up on the stage, and I felt a trickle of sweat slide down over my ribs, beneath my white dress shirt and my jacket. I briefly considered running away screaming.

It isn't like I have stage fright or anything, see. Because I don't. It was just really hot up there. I licked my lips and checked all the fire exits, just to be safe. No telling when you might need to make a speedy exit. The lights and noise made it a little difficult to keep up my concentration, and I felt the spell I'd woven around me wobble. I closed my eyes for a second, until I had stabilized it again.

In the chair beside me sat a dumpy, balding man in his late forties, dressed in a suit that looked a lot better than mine. Mortimer Lindquist waited calmly, a polite smile on his face, but muttered out of the corner of his mouth, "You okay?"

"I've been in house fires I liked better than this."

"You asked for this meeting, not me," Mortimer said. He frowned as Fowler lingered over shaking a young woman's hand. "Showboat."

"Think this will take long?" I asked Morty.

He glanced beside him at an empty chair, and at another beside me. "Two mystery guests. I guess this one could go for a while. They shoot extra material and edit it down to the best parts."

I sighed. I'd been on The Larry Fowler Show just after I'd gone into business as an investigator, and it had been a mistake. I'd had to fight my way uphill against the tide of infamy I'd received from association with the show. "What did you find out?" I asked.

Mort flicked a nervous glance at me and said, "Not much."

"Come on, Mort."

He opened his mouth to answer, then glanced up as Larry Fowler trotted up the stairs and onto the stage. "Not now. Wait for a commercial break."

Larry Fowler pranced up to us and pumped my hand, then Mort's with equally exaggerated enthusiasm. "Welcome to the show," he said into a handheld microphone, then turned to face the nearest camera. "Our topic for today is 'Witchcraft and Wizardry-Phony or Fabulous?' With us in order to share their views are local medium and psychic counselor Mortimer Lindquist."

The crowd applauded politely.

"And beside him, Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard."

There was a round of snickering laughter to go with the applause this time. I couldn't say I was shocked. People don't believe in the supernatural these days. Supernatural things are scary. It's much more comfortable to rest secure in the knowledge that no one can reach out with magic and quietly kill you, that vampires exist only in movies, and that demons are mere psychological dysfunctions.

Completely inaccurate but much more comfortable.

Despite the relative levels of denial, my face heated up. I hate it when people laugh at me. An old, quiet hurt mixed in with my nervousness and I struggled to maintain the suppression spell.

Yeah, I said spell. See, I really am a wizard. I do magic. I've run into vampires and demons and a lot of things in between, and I've got the scars to show for it. The problem was that technology doesn't seem to enjoy coexisting with magic. When I'm around, computers crash, lightbulbs burn out, and car alarms start screaming in warbling, drunken voices for no good reason. I'd worked out a spell to suppress the magic I carried with me, at least temporarily, so that I might at least have a chance to keep from blowing out the studio lights and cameras, or setting off the fire alarms.

It was delicate stuff by its very nature, and extremely difficult for me to hold in place. So far so good, but I saw the nearest cameraman wince and jerk his headset away from his ear. Whining feedback sounded tinnily from the headset.

I closed my eyes and reined in my discomfort and embarrassment, focusing on the spell. The feedback died away.

"Well, then," Larry said, after half a minute of happy talk. "Morty, you've been a guest on the show several times now. Would you care to tell us a little bit about what you do?"

Mortimer widened his eyes and whispered, "I see dead people."

The audience laughed.

"But seriously. Mostly I conduct seances, Larry," Mortimer said. "I do what I can to help those who have lost a loved one or who need to contact them in the beyond in order to resolve issues left undone back here on earth. I also offer a predictions service in order to help clients make decisions on upcoming issues, and to try to warn them against possible danger."

"Really," Larry said. "Could you give us a demonstration?"

Mortimer closed his eyes and rested the fingertips of his right hand on the spot between his eyes. Then in a hollow voice he said, "The spirits tell me - that two more guests will soon arrive."

The audience laughed, and Mortimer nodded at them with an easy grin. He knew how to play a crowd.

Larry gave Mortimer a tolerant smile. "And why are you here today?"

"Larry, I just want to try to raise public awareness about the realm of the psychic and paranormal. Nearly eighty percent of a recent survey of American adults stated that they believed in the existence of the spirits of the dead, in ghosts. I just want to help people understand that they do exist, and that there are other people out there who have had strange and inexplicable encounters with them."

"Thank you, Morty. And Harry-may I call you Harry?"

"Sure. It's your nickel," I responded.

Larry's smile got a shade brittle. "Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?"

"I'm a wizard," I said. "I find lost articles, investigate paranormal occurrences, and train people who find themselves struggling with a sudden development of their own abilities."

"Isn't it true that you also consult for the Special Investigations department at Chicago PD?"

"Occasionally," I said. I wanted to avoid talking about SI if I could. The last thing CPD would want was to be advertised on The Larry Fowler Show. "Many police departments across the country employ such consultants when all other leads have failed."

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