Grave Peril

By Oscar Foster,2014-11-04 20:28
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Grave Peril

Table of Contents

    Title Page

    Copyright Page


    Chapter One

    Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-one Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three Chapter Twenty-four Chapter Twenty-five Chapter Twenty-six Chapter Twenty-seven Chapter Twenty-eight Chapter Twenty-nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-one Chapter Thirty-two Chapter Thirty-three Chapter Thirty-four Chapter Thirty-five Chapter Thirty-six Chapter Thirty-seven Chapter Thirty-eight Chapter Thirty-nine

    ? Author’s Note ALSO BY JIM BUTCHER











Copyright ? Jim Butcher, 2001

    eISBN : 978-1-440-65390-2

    All rights reserved



    Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or byany means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the priorwritten permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product ofthe author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

    The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for authoror third-party Web sites or their content.

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Chapter One

     , the mismatched VolkswagenThere are reasons I hate to drive fast. For one, the Blue Beetle

    bug that I putter around in, rattles and groans dangerously at anything above sixty miles anhour. For another, I don’t get along so well with technology. Anything manufactured afterabout World War II seems to be susceptible to abrupt malfunction when I get close to it. As arule, when I drive, I drive malfunction when I get close to it. As a rule, when I drive, Idrive very carefully and sensibly.

    Tonight was an exception to the rule.

    The Beetle’s tires screeched in protest as we rounded a corner, clearly against the NO LEFTTURN sign posted there. The old car growled gamely, as though it sensed what was at stake, andcontinued its valiant puttering, moaning, and rattling as we zoomed down the street.

    “Can we go any faster?” Michael drawled. It wasn’t a complaint. It was just a question,calmly voiced.

    “Only if the wind gets behind us or we start going down a hill,” I said. “How far to thehospital?”

    The big man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He had that kind of salt-and-pepperhair, dark against silver, that some men seem lucky enough to inherit, though his beard wasstill a solid color of dark brown, almost black. There were worry and laugh lines at thecorners of his leathery face. His broad, lined hands rested on his knees, which were scrunchedup due to the dashboard. “I don’t know for certain,” he answered me. “Two miles?”

    I squinted out the Beetle’s window at the fading light. “The sun is almost down. I hopewe’re not too late.”

    “We’re doing all we can,” Michael assured me. “If God wills it, we’ll be there in time.Are you sure of your . . .” his mouth twisted with distaste, “source?”

    “Bob is annoying, but rarely wrong,” I answered, jamming on the brakes and dodging around agarbage truck. “If he said the ghost would be there, it will be there.”

    “Lord be with us,” Michael said, and crossed himself. I felt a stirring of something;powerful, placid energy around him—the power of faith. “Harry, there’s something I’ve beenmeaning to talk to you about.”

    “Don’t ask me to Mass again,” I told him, uncomfortable. “You know I’m just going to sayno.” Someone in a red Taurus cut me off, and I had to swerve around him, into the turn lane,and then ahead of him again. A couple of the Beetle’s wheels lifted off the ground.

    “Jerk!” I howled out the driver’s window.

    “That doesn’t preclude asking,” Michael said. “But no. I wanted to know when you were goingto marry Miss Rodriguez.”

    “Hell’s Bells, Michael,” I scowled. “You and I have been chasing all over town for the pasttwo weeks, going up against every ghost and spirit that has all of a sudden reared its uglyhead. We still don’t know what’s causing the spirit world to go postal.”

    “I know that, Harry, but—”

    “At the moment,” I interrupted, “we’re going after a nasty old biddy at Cook County, whocould kill us if we aren’t focused. And you’re asking me about my love life.”

    Michael frowned at me. “You’re sleeping with her, aren’t you?” he said.

    “Not often enough,” I growled, and shifted lanes, swerving around a passenger bus.

    The knight sighed. “Do you love her?” he asked.

    “Michael,” I said. “Give me a break. Where do you get off asking questions like that?”

    “Do you love her?” he pressed.

    “I’m trying to drive, here.”

    “Harry,” he asked, smiling. “Do you love the girl or don’t you? It isn’t a difficultquestion.”

    “Speaks the expert,” I grumbled. I went past a blue-and-white at about twenty miles an hourover the speed limit, and saw the police officer behind the wheel blink and spill his coffee ashe saw me go past. I checked my rearview mirror, and saw the blue bulbs on the police car whirlto life. “Dammit, that tears it. The cops are going to be coming in right after us.”

    “Don’t worry about them,” Michael assured me. “Just answer the question.”

    I flashed Michael a glance. He watched me, his face broad and honest, his jaw strong, and hisgrey eyes flashing. His hair was cropped close, Marine-length, on top, but he sported a short,warrior’s beard, which he kept clipped close to his face. “I suppose so,” I said, after asecond. “Yeah.”

    “Then you don’t mind saying it?”

    “Saying what?” I stalled.

    “Harry,” Michael scolded, holding on as we bounced through a dip in the street. “Don’t be achild about this. If you love the woman, say so.”

    “Why?” I demanded.

    “You haven’t told her, have you? You’ve never said it.”

    I glared at him. “So what if I haven’t? She knows. What’s the big deal?”

    “Harry Dresden,” he said. “You, of all people, should know the power of words.”

    “Look, she knows,” I said, tapping the brakes and then flattening the accelerator again. “Igot her a card.”

    “A card?” Michael asked.

    “A Hallmark.”

    He sighed. “Let me hear you say the words.”


    “Say the words,” he demanded. “If you love the woman, why can’t you say so?”

    saying that to people, Michael. Stars and sky, that’s . . . I just“I don’t just go around

    couldn’t, all right?”

    “You don’t love her,” Michael said. “I see.”

    “You know that’s not—”

    Say it, Harry.”

    “If it will get you off my back,” I said, and gave the Beetle every ounce of gas that I

    could. I could see the police in traffic somewhere behind me. “All right.” I flashed Michaela ferocious, wizardly scowl and snarled, “I love her. There, how’s that?”

    Michael beamed. “You see? That’s the only thing that stands between you two. You’re not thekind of person who says what they feel. Or who is very introspective, Harry. Sometimes, youjust need to look into the mirror and see what’s there.”

    “I don’t like mirrors,” I grumbled.

    “Regardless, you needed to realize that you do love the woman. After Elaine, I thought you

    might isolate yourself too much and never—”

    I felt a sudden flash of anger and vehemence. “I don’t talk about Elaine, Michael. Ever. If

    you can’t live with that, get the hell out of my car and let me work on my own.”

    Michael frowned at me, probably more for my choice of words than anything else. “I’m talkingabout Susan, Harry. If you love her, you should marry her.”

    “I’m a wizard. I don’t have time to be married.”

    “I’m a knight,” Michael responded. “And I have the time. It’s worth it. You’re alone toomuch. It’s starting to show.”

I scowled at him again. “What does that mean?”

    “You’re tense. Grumpy. And you’re isolating yourself more all the time. You need to keep uphuman contact, Harry. It would be so easy for you to start down a darker path.”

    “Michael,” I snapped, “I don’t need a lecture. I don’t need the conversion speech again. I

    Again. What Idon’t need the ‘cast aside your evil powers before they consume you’ speech. need is for you to back me up while I go take care of this thing.”

    Cook County Hospital loomed into sight and I made an illegal U-turn to get the Blue Beetle up

    into the Emergency entrance lane.

    Michael unbuckled his seat belt, even before the car had come to a stop, and reached into thebackseat to draw an enormous sword, fully five feet long in its black scabbard. He exited thecar and buckled on the sword. Then he reached back in for a white cloak with a red cross uponthe left breast, which he tossed over his shoulders in a practiced motion. He clasped it withanother cross, this one of silver, at his throat. It clashed with his flannel workman’s shirt,blue jeans, and steel-toed work boots.

    “Can’t you leave the cloak off, at least?” I complained. I opened the door and unfoldedmyself from the Beetle ’s driver’s seat, stretching my long legs, and reached into thebackseat to recover my own equipment—my new wizard’s staff and blasting rod, each of themfreshly carved and still a little green around the edges.

    Michael looked up at me, wounded. “The cloak is as much a part of what I do as the sword,Harry. Besides, it’s no more ridiculous than that coat you wear.”

    I looked down at my black leather duster, the one with the large mantle that fell around myshoulders and spread out as it billowed in a most heavy and satisfactory fashion around mylegs. My own black jeans and dark Western shirt were a ton and a half more stylish thanMichael’s costume. “What’s wrong with it?”

    “It belongs on the set of El Dorado ,” Michael said. “Are you ready?”

    I shot him a withering glance, to which he turned the other cheek with a smile, and we headedtoward the door. I could hear police sirens closing in behind us, maybe a block or two away.“This is going to be close.”

    “Then we best hurry.” He cast the white cloak back from his right arm, and put his hand onthe hilt of the great broadsword. Then he bowed his head, crossed himself, and murmured,“Merciful Father, guide us and protect us as we go to do battle with the darkness.” Oncemore, there was that thrum of energy around him, like the vibrations of music heard through athick wall.

    I shook my head, and fetched a leather sack, about the size of my palm, from the pocket of myduster. I had to juggle staff, blasting rod, and sack for a moment, and wound up with the staffin my left hand, as was proper, the rod in my right, and the sack dangling from my teeth. “Thesun is down,” I grated out. “Let’s move it.”

    And we broke into a run, knight and wizard, through the emergency entrance of Cook CountyHospital. We drew no small amount of stares as we entered, my duster billowing out in a blackcloud behind me, Michael’s white cloak spreading like the wings of the avenging angel whosenamesake he was. We pelted inside, and slid to a halt at the first intersection of cool,sterile, bustling hallways.

    I grabbed the arm of the first orderly I saw. He blinked, and then gawked at me, from the tipsof my Western boots to the dark hair atop my head. He glanced at my staff and rod rathernervously, and at the silver pentacle amulet dangling at my breast, and gulped. Then he lookedat Michael, tall and broad, his expression utterly serene, at odds with the white cloak and thebroadsword at his hip. He took a nervous step back. “M-m-may I help you?”

    I speared him into place with my most ferocious, dark-eyed smile and said, between teethclenched on the leather sack, “Hi. Could you tell us where the nursery is?”

Chapter Two

    We took the fire stairs. Michael knows how technology reacts to me, and the last thing eitherof us wanted was to be trapped in a broken elevator while innocent lives were snuffed out.Michael led the way, one hand on the rail, one on the hilt of his sword, his legs churningsteadily.

    I followed him, huffing and puffing. Michael paused by the door and looked back at me, whitecloak swirling around his calves. It took me a couple of seconds to come gasping up behind him.“Ready?” he asked me.

    “Hrkghngh,” I answered, and nodded, still clenching my leather sack in my teeth, and fumbleda white candle from my duster pocket, along with a box of matches. I had to set my rod andstaff aside to light the candle.

    Michael wrinkled his nose at the smell of smoke, and pushed open the door. Candle in one hand,rod and staff in the other, I followed, my eyes flicking from my surroundings to the candle’sflame and back.

    All I could see was more hospital. Clean walls, clean halls, lots of tile and fluorescentlights. The long, luminescent tubes flickered feebly, as though they had all gone stale atonce, and the hall was only dimly lit. Long shadows stretched out from a wheelchair parked tothe side of one door and gathered beneath a row of uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs at anintersection of hallways.

    The fourth floor was a graveyard, bottom-of-the-well silent. There wasn’t a flicker of soundfrom a television or radio. No intercoms buzzed. No air-conditioning whirred. Nothing.

    We walked down a long hall, our steps sounding out clearly despite an effort to remain quiet. Asign on the wall, decorated with a brightly colored plastic clown, read: NURSERY/MATERNITY,and pointed down another hall.

    I stepped past Michael and looked down that hallway. It ended at a pair of swinging doors. Thishallway, too, was quiet. The nurse’s station stood empty.

    The lights weren’t just flickering here—they were altogether gone. It was entirely dark.Shadows and uncertain shapes loomed everywhere. I took a step forward, past Michael, and as Idid the flame of my candle burned down to a cold, clear pinpoint of blue light.

    I spat the sack out of my mouth and fumbled it into my pocket. “Michael,” I said, my voicestrangled to hushed urgency. “It’s here.” I turned my body, so that he could see the light.

    His eyes flicked down to the candle and then back up, to the darkness beyond. “Faith, Harry.”Then he reached to his side with his broad right hand, and slowly, silently, drew Amoracchius

    from its sheath. I found it a tad more encouraging than his words. The great blade’s polishedsteel gave off a lambent glow as Michael stepped forward to stand beside me in the darkness,and the air fairly thrummed with its power—Michael’s own faith, amplified a thousandfold.

    “Where are the nurses?” he asked me in a hoarse whisper.

    “Spooked off, maybe,” I answered, as quietly. “Or maybe some sort of glamour. At leastthey’re out of the way.”

    I glanced at the sword, and at the long, slender spike of metal set into its cross guard.Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I thought I could see flecks of red still upon it.Probably rust, I reasoned. Sure, rust.

    I set the candle down upon the floor, where it continued to burn pinpoint-clear, indicating aspiritual presence. A big one. Bob hadn’t been lying when he’d said that the ghost of AgathaHagglethorn was no two-bit shade.

    “Stay back,” I told Michael. “Give me a minute.”

    “If what the spirit told you is correct, this creature is dangerous,” Michael replied. “Letme go first. It will be safer.”

    I nodded toward the glowing blade. “Trust me, a ghost would feel the sword coming before youeven got to the door. Let me see what I can do first. If I can dust the spook, this wholecontest is over before it begins.”

    I didn’t wait for Michael to answer me. Instead, I took my blasting rod and staff in my lefthand, and in my right I grasped the pouch. I untied the simple knot that held the sack closed,and slipped forward, into the dark.

    When I reached the swinging doors, I pressed one of them and it slowly opened. I remained stillfor a long moment, listening.

    I heard singing. A woman’s voice. Gentle. Lovely.

    Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

    I glanced back at Michael, and then slipped inside the door, into total darkness. I couldn’tsee—but I’m not a wizard for nothing. I thought of the pentacle upon my breast, over myheart, the silver amulet that I had inherited from my mother. It was a battered piece ofjewelry, scarred and dented from uses for which it was never intended, but I wore it still. Thefive-sided star within the circle was the symbol of my magic, of what I believed in, embodyingthe five forces of the universe working in harmony, contained inside of human control.

    I focused on it, and slid a little of my will into it, and the amulet began to glow with agentle, blue-silver light, which spread out before me in a subtle wave, showing me the shapesof a fallen chair, and a pair of nurses at a desk behind a counter, slumped forward over theirstations, breathing deeply.

    The soothing, quiet lullaby continued as I studied the nurses. Enchanted sleep. It was nothingnew. They were out, they weren’t going anywhere, and there was little sense in wasting time orenergy in trying to break the spell’s hold on them. The gentle singing droned on, and I foundmyself reaching for the fallen chair, with the intention of setting it upright so that I wouldhave a comfortable place to sit down for a little rest.

    I froze, and had to remind myself that I would be an idiot to sit down beneath the influence ofthe unearthly song, even for a few moments. Subtle magic, and strong. Even knowing what toexpect, I had barely sensed its touch in time.

    I skirted the chair and moved forward, into a room filled with dressing hooks and little pastelhospital gowns hung upon them in rows. The singing was louder, here, though it still driftedaround the room with a ghostly lack of origin. One wall was little more than a sheet ofPlexiglas, and behind it was a room that attempted to look sterile and warm at the same time.

    Row upon row of little glass cribs on wheeled stands stood in the room. Tiny occupants, withtoy-sized hospital mittens over their brand-new fingernails, and tiny hospital stocking capsover their bald heads, were sleeping and dreaming infant dreams.

    Walking among them, visible in the glow of my wizard’s light, was the source of the singing.

    Agatha Hagglethorn had not been old when she died. She wore a proper, high-necked shirt, as wasappropriate to a lady of her station in nineteenth-century Chicago, and a long, dark, no-nonsense skirt. I could see through her, to the little crib behind her, but other than that sheseemed solid, real. Her face was pretty, in a strained, bony sort of way, and she had her righthand folded over the stump at the end of her left wrist.

    If that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s going to buy you . . .

    She had a captivating singing voice. Literally. She lilted out her song, spun energy into theair that lulled listeners into deeper and deeper sleep. If she was allowed to continue, shecould draw both infants and nurses into a sleep from which they would never awaken, and theauthorities would blame it on carbon monoxide, or something a little more comfortably normalthan a hostile ghost.

    I crept closer. I had enough ghost dust to pin down Agatha and a dozen spooks like her, andallow Michael to dispatch her swiftly, with a minimum of mess and fuss—just as long as Ididn’t miss.

    I hunkered down, kept the little sack of dust gripped loosely in my right hand, and slippedover to the door that led into the roomful of sleeping babies. The ghost did not appear to havenoticed me—ghosts aren’t terribly observant. I guess being dead gives you a whole differentperspective on life.

    I entered the room, and Agatha Hagglethorn’s voice rolled over me like a drug, making me blinkand shudder. I had to keep focused, my thoughts on the cool power of my magic flowing throughmy pentacle and coming out in its spectral light.

    If that diamond ring don’t shine . . .

    I licked my lips and watched the ghost as it stooped over one of the rolling cradles. Shesmiled, loving-kindness in her eyes, and breathed out her song over the baby.

    The infant shuddered out a tiny breath, eyes closed in sleep, and did not inhale.

    Hush little baby . . .

    Time had run out. In a perfect world, I would have simply dumped the dust onto the ghost. Butit’s not a perfect world: Ghosts don’t have to play by the rules of reality, and until theyacknowledge that you’re there, it’s tough, very, very tough, to affect them at all.Confrontation is the only way, and even then, knowing the shade’s identity and speaking itsname aloud is the only sure way to make it face you. And, better and better, most spiritscan’t hear just anyone—it takes magic to make a direct call to the hereafter.

    I rose fully to my feet, bag gripped in my hand and shouted, forcing my will into my voice,“Agatha Hagglethorn!”

    The spirit started, as though a distant voice had come to her, and turned toward me. Her eyeswidened. The song abruptly fell silent.

    “Who are you?” she said. “What are you doing in my nursery?”

    I struggled to keep the details Bob had told me about the ghost straight. “This isn’t yournursery, Agatha Hagglethorn. It’s more than a hundred years since you died. You aren’t real.You are a ghost, and you are dead.”

    The spirit drew itself up with a sort of cold, high-society haughtiness. “I might have known.Benson sent you, didn’t he? Benson is always doing something cruel and petty like this, thencalling me a madwoman. A madwoman! He wants to take my child away.”

    “Benson Hagglethorn is long dead, Agatha Hagglethorn,” I responded, and gathered back myright hand to throw. “As is your child. As are you. These little ones are not yours to sing toor bear away.” I steeled myself to throw, began to bring my arm forward.

    The spirit looked at me with an expression of lost, lonely confusion. This was the hard partabout dealing with really substantial, dangerous ghosts. They were almost human. They appearedto be able to feel emotion, to have some degree of self-awareness. Ghosts aren’t alive, notreally—they’re a footprint in stone, a fossilized skeleton. They are shaped like theoriginal, but they aren’t it.

    But I’m a sucker for a lady in distress. I always have been. It’s a weak point in mycharacter, a streak of chivalry a mile wide and twice as deep. I saw the hurt and theloneliness on the ghost-Agatha’s face, and felt it strike a sympathetic chord in me. I let myarm go still again. Perhaps, if I was lucky, I could talk her away. Ghosts are like that.Confront them with the reality of their situation, and they dissolve.

    “I’m sorry, Agatha,” I said. “But you aren’t who you think you are. You’re a ghost. Areflection. The true Agatha Hagglethorn died more than a century ago.”

    “N-no,” she said, her voice shaking. “That’s not true.”

    “It is true,” I said. “She died on the same night as her husband and child.”

    “No,” the spirit moaned, her eyes closing. “No, no, no, no. I don’t want to hear this.”She started singing to herself again, low and desperate—no enchantment to it this time, nounconscious act of destruction. But the infant girl still hadn’t inhaled, and her lips were

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