There are times when I think I've seen it all. Homicidal fairy Godmothers, zombie dinosaurs, fallen angels who can't seem to figure out if they want to kill me or have me enlist…
I lead an eventful life; you get the picture.
Which is why, when I pulled my trusty, not-so-Blue Beetle in beside Murphy's Harley, I came prepared. The rings on my unscarred hand were fully loaded, my old and battered shield bracelet was firmly attached to my wrist and my blasting rod was already in my grip as I climbed out onto the sidewalk.
"Took you long enough. What did you do? Get out and push?" Barely skating above five feet, with a pert little nose and short blonde hair, Murphy didn't exactly look the part of a hard bitten Chicago cop - until you saw the steel in her glittering, blue eyes. Today, she wore a black bikers jacket over pair of faded blue jeans and a red checked shirt. If the Harley hadn't already tipped me off, her casual clothes would have. This was off the clock.
"What did I tell you about mocking the Blue Beetle, Murph, not in front—"
"Of the engine," she intoned, her eyes flipping back into a roll even as a hint of a smile twitched her lips. "I sometimes wonder if it even has one. I'm tempted to pop the hood and check. What does it run on, elastic bands?"
"Fairy dust," I threw back at her. The fact that Murphy took a moment to gauge whether or not I was joking probably says a lot about my life.
A gently huff reminded me of my back seat passenger and I turned to eye the large wet nose pressed up against the glass. I opened the door and Mouse jumped out, surprising lithe for a dog that could easily be mistaken for a very shaggy pony in the right light.
"Hey, Mouse," Murphy murmured, scratching behind his ears as he nudged against her in greeting. "Came to make sure he doesn't get over his head, huh?"
Mouse huffed in agreement, his jaw dropping into a grin, and Murphy laughed as she scratched under his chin. Huh, so much for doggy loyalty, and If you think I'm suffering from anthropomorphic delusions, think again. He knows exactly what he's doing; something to do with him having a demigod for an ancestor. Long story.
I think I'll forgive him just this once, though. Murphy didn't laugh a lot nowadays. That, too, is a long story. "So what's this all about, Murph, or did you just call me in the hopes of getting some alone time with dog-breath here," I teased.
Murphy straightened, her expression becoming businesslike as she caught my eye. "I need you to check someone out for me, see if he's on the up and up," she said.
I raised an eyebrow at that. "I don't think you need me for that, Murph," I said. "Your gut instincts are usually right on the money when it comes to judging people."
Murphy shrugged. "Yeah, well, this guy kind of gives me mixed signals," she admitted. "I think he's trustworthy, but I can't seem to shake the feeling he's also pretty dangerous. I guess I want a second opinion."
"Say no more," I drawled. "It has all become clear."
"Oh, is that so?" Never let it be said that Murphy doesn't know when to feed me a line.
"It's one of those blind dates Stallings is always threatening to set you up with, isn't it? Has he tried to convince you to go away with him to his summerhouse in the Hampton's yet? Because if he has, he's definitely serial killer material."
"You don't say?"
"Well known fact. Typical profile behaviour; one moment you're watching the sunset with him, sipping a champagne cocktail and wishing you'd packed that silk nightie you'd been keeping for a special occasion, the next…wham! You're body parts in the freezer. My advice? Just say no."
Murphy snorted. "You're a pig, Dresden."
"Oink, oink," I said amiably. "Why am I here, Karrin?"
You'll see," she said enigmatically as she led the way down the street.
I knew that I wouldn't be able to drag any more details out of Murphy before she ready, so I snapped on Mouse's lead and fell into step beside her. Murphy turned into a narrow side alley beside a small diner and picked her way through the garbage that choked its entrance. "Uh, Murphy, if you trying to figure out whether the diner owner is the type to litter, I think I've already solved the mystery for you…"
"Nearly there," Murphy said over her shoulder.
"Nearly whe…huh, now that's not something I see every day."
It was an old British Police box, the kind that brings up images of old fashioned bobby hats and whistles. I figure most people wouldn't recognise it as easily as I did, but then most people don't have a weakness for old, Ealing comedies.
So far, so good. True, it wasn't the sort of thing you usually find at the bottom of a dark, Chicago alley. For one thing, it wasn't holding a bottle in a brown paper bag or waving a switch blade at me, but it wasn't something you'd call out the local PD for.
But then again, neither was the big, honking inter-dimensional portal it was hovering over. "Oh, Murphy, you know all the cool places," I said dryly.
"It's pretty hot, actually,"
I whirled about, my blasting rod already at the ready as I tried to pinpoint the source of the disembodied voice. I hoped it wasn't in my head. I'd just gotten rid of the its last uninvited guest, the last thing I needed was another squatter. Especially one with a chirpy, British accent.
Murphy gave me an amused look. "Uh, Harry?"
I followed the tilt of Murphy's head, and took a step back as a hand appeared over the edge of the portal and waved. "Hi there, you must be Harry Dresden," the voice said. "I say, could I bother you for a hand?"
I slid a glance at Murphy, who just shrugged, seemingly content to let me come to my own decision. "Depends," I ventured. "Do you mean that literally?" Just so you'll know, you're not allowed to call me paranoid until you've walked a mile in my shoes.
"Uh, no actually, already got a spare. Thanks for asking, though." the voice answered, completely unfazed by my question. Guess that kind of thing happens to him too. Sighing, I transferred my blasting rod to my burned hand and offered him my good one. Big mistake.
When Murphy asked me to check this guy out, I suspected what she really meant was that I check out if he was actually a guy. The world is full of entities that can pass for human. Some of them are benign, but a lot of them will rip your throat out for an entree without batting an eyelash.
A wizard has a few tricks that can help him separate the wolves from the sheep. One of those tricks is the second sight. Very effective, but when you use your second sight, you see things as they truly are; warts, homicidal tendencies and all. Worse still, the images stay with you for life and never fade. Which is why wizards avoid using it whenever possible and use less extreme measures.
Like, say, shaking a guy's hand.
It was like being hit a mac truck going down a freeway. This guy had power, and he had it in spades. I staggered under the weight of it, and Murphy frowned.
"Need a little help?" she asked. "I didn't think he'd be that heavy."
"'S not that," I said, through gritted teeth.
"It's okay, I'm okay, just got taken by surprise, that's all," I said tersely.
A frown developed on Murphy's forehead, but she backed off. Another hand, and a skinny leg heaved its way over the edge of the portal, and the weight eased off my arm.
"Ah, that's better," the entity said as he pulled his narrow frame onto the asphalt and rolled onto his back. "It's bloody stifling in there."
For a moment, I just stared at him as I tried to figure out how to the phrase the question. 'Excuse me, but you're not from around here, are you?' just didn't seem to cover it.
The entity, - because, whatever he was, he certainly wasn't human – didn't seem to notice my protracted silence as he dusted his clothes off. "Thanks for coming," he said breezily. "Sergeant Murphy gave me the impression you might be a little bit reluctant."
"No, really?" I asked, recovering my voice. "I wonder why?" Sarcasm, the last refuge of the wary wizard. "You got a name?"
"I'm the Doctor," the entity said.
"Doctor of what?" I asked.
The entity blinked. "Well, that makes a refreshing change," he said. "Usually people ask Doctor W—. Oh, sorry, getting off the subject." A manic grin popped up in his face, and I took a guarded step back. You'd be surprised at the amount of people who've tried to kill me after grinning at me like that. "I'm a scientist, of sorts," he blithely continued, turning his attention to the portal. "I suppose you could say I specialise in things like, well, like this."
The 'this' in question was beginning to eat up the asphalt at a slow but steady pace, it's edges making it's way towards the alley walls. "It isn't stable," I muttered.
"Weeeell," the entity – the Doctor – drew out the word as if it was entitled to a whole sentence to itself. "I wouldn't say that. It's not exactly unstable, just…growing."
"When is it going to stop?"
"Um, that's kind of the problem, actually. It's not."
An edge of worry had crept into the Doctor's voice, and I turned to glare at him. "Did you do this?" I asked grimly.
The Doctor pulled a face. "Not directly, no. More of an unforeseen side effect of a little problem I was taking care of."
"A little problem?"
"Inter-dimensional scavenger. Nasty bugger, likes to eat brains, the more sentient the better. Trouble is, when he skipped town, he left the door open after them."
"Skipped town?" I drawled, amused at his turn of phrase.
"Sorry, couldn't help myself. Don't often get the chance to hang out with a gumshoe in Chicago."
Murphy snorted. "You're a few decades too late."
"I wasn't, actually." He said it casually, but something told me he was telling the truth. For a moment, I was tempted to open my second sight to get a good look at the guy, but decided against it. The brief insight I got from his hand had been disturbing enough.
A low hum began to fill the air, and my eyes fell on the hovering police box, which had slowly begun to turn on its axis. Mouse let out a low huff, the first sound he'd made since we'd entered the alley. "Please tell me it's supposed to be doing that," I said flatly.
The Doctor gingerly leaned over the portal and patted the wooden box. "Oh yes," he said, approval glowing in his voice. "That's exactly what she's supposed to be doing."
She? Why did get the feeling he wasn't speaking metaphorically? Slowly, I turned to Murphy. I had known she'd left a few plot holes in her story, but I hadn't expected something quite so…holey. "Murph?" I prompted.
"It's called the TARDIS," she said reluctantly. "The Doctor said it's trying to slow the portal." Okay, one plot hole filled up, doesn't explain how Murphy got involved in the first place, though.
"Sergeant Murphy helped me out of a rather sticky situation last night," the Doctor said. "The scavenger managed to get it's hands on a gun and decided to 'take me out'. The sergeant here showed him the error of his ways."
Murphy shifted on her feet. "I was on my way home from my shift and saw it chasing the Doctor down this alley. It was pretty obvious it wasn't human so I thought it might be something that had climbed out of undertown looking for a bite to eat," she explained.
"Well, you got the 'bite to eat' part right," the Doctor said dryly.
Murphy snorted. "Anyway, I clipped the thing on its arm, and it went crazy; started foaming at the mouth, and screaming some gibberish at the top of his voice. Next thing I know, this small, glowing hole ripped opened in the asphalt and it jumped inside. I've seen you use portals before, so…" she shrugged.
"Unfortunately, as you can see, the portal didn't close after him," the Doctor said. "Luckily, I was able to slow it's growth but it's beginning to gather momentum, so if I don't reverse the process soon, it's going to take out a rather large chunk of Chicago…sorry."
"You can do that, close the portal?" I asked warily. The opening and closing of a portal is pretty delicate work. I can manage it, barely, but I'm clumsy at it. Less like a window into another reality, and more like a ragged ripped hole. The portal in the alley fell somewhere between those two extremes.
"With the help of the TARDIS, certainly," he said. "But Sergeant Murphy seems a little bit dubious about my intentions, which is why you're here." The Doctor looked at me expectantly and I slid a glance at Murphy, unsure as to what she wanted.
"He seems on the up and up, but I wanted to make sure this couldn't go horribly wrong before I let him go ahead," she said.
I hesitated. The truth was, it could go horribly wrong. As in catastrophically, apocalyptically wrong. But the Doctor was right, if the portal wasn't closed, downtown Chicago would soon be a crater in the ground. I wondered what would he do if I said no. Would the Doctor just say, 'righty-o then' - or whatever aliens with a British accent say when you tell them thanks, but no thanks - or would he just ignore me and do it anyway?
I also wondered what Murphy would say if I told her that the chirpy British guy was in reality an alien from outer space. She probably thought he was some kind of 'out-of-towner' wizard.
Well, at least she got the out of town part right.
"Do it," I said.
With a grin, the Doctor pulled a contraption out of his pocket. It looked like a cross between an old egg timer and a hand whisk but I kept my mouth shut. I once used a toy duck to hunt down a thief, everyone to their own tools.
Obviously, Murphy was thinking along the same lines. A grin appeared on her face. "At least it isn't play dough," she teased.
"Good stuff, play dough," the Doctor muttered absently as he twiddled with the timer. "Handy for all sorts of things. Wouldn't have any on you, would you?"
"Uh, back in the car," I muttered, scowling half-heartedly at Murphy as she barked out a laugh.
The contraption in the Doctor's hand let out a high-pitched squeal, and Mouse answered with a whine of his own. The TARDIS shuddered and began to turn counter-clockwise, quickly picking up speed. The light on top of the box began to glow, and the entire box was suddenly surrounded by a halo of orange light.
"Huron particles," the Doctor said, answering my questioning look. "Part of the TARDIS's power source."
"Huron particles?" Murphy asked.
"Fairy dust," I joked.
"Huh, wouldn't surprise me."
I looked down at the portal and, sure enough, it had begun to shrink. The TARDIS was a blur, a spinning top of blue and orange, and I blinked to get the rising dust out of my eyes. The alley was beginning to resemble the touch point of a tornado.
"Is it going to get much faster?" Murphy asked, raising her voice to be heard over the howl of the gathering gale.
"Don't ask me, I'm just an innocent bystander."
"You were never innocent, Dresden!"
"Hey, I'm not the one who was waylaying people down a dark alley."
The garbage bags began to shudder, and I ducked on reflex as one lifted into the air and got pulled into the TARDIS's wake. The bag ripped open, and the air was suddenly full of cardboard cartons and paper cups. "Hasn't this guy heard of recycling?" I asked rhetorically as a passing milk carton clobbered me. Murphy glared at me, and I grinned as I noticed the ravioli decorating her hair. Guess they didn't clean out their cartons before they dumped them.
"Hold on," the Doctor yelled. "It's going to get a little bit bumpy."
Going to? I looked around for something to hold onto, but I couldn't make out where the drainpipes were through the garbage and dust.
"Harry, down here!" I looked down to see Murphy lying flat on the ground. I joined her. A hand clasped mine, and I tried to bite back a cry of protest as the Doctor's aura impinged on mine. The Doctor ignored my discomfort and held on tight, his other hand grimly holding onto Murphy's wrist. I wondered what he would do if we suddenly started to lift from the ground. He didn't look heavy enough to anchor down a kitten. I risked a glance over his head and spotted Mouse, his heavy weight keeping the Doctor firmly affixed to the ground.
Yeah, that would do it.
"Nice dog," the Doctor yelled. "Temple dog, isn't it?"
I lifted my eyebrows in surprise. "Yeah, how did you know?"
"I get around."
A loud, resounding thump cut through the gale's cry, and the wind's tug on my body began to ease. I bobbled my head up and winced as a plastic container hit it; gravity once more laying claim to the alley. Mouse huffed and got to his feet, shaking himself to get rid of the alley's grime. It didn't work; I saw a doggy bath in his future.
"Is it over?" Murphy asked tentatively.
"Looks like it," I said as I sat up, shaking myself loose from the Doctor's grip. The TARDIS stood quietly in the alley, bits of paper and diner food gracing its outer shell. The portal was gone.
"Empty Night," I complained, noticing the bits of egg smeared down the length of my leather coat as I stood. "You couldn't have conjured up something a less…less…windy, could you?"
Conjured?" the Doctor echoed, puzzled; which answered one very big question for me. The Doctor may get around, but he wasn't clued in. Probably for the best, really, he was dangerous enough as he was.
"Never mind," I sighed, as I held out a hand to Murphy, who glared at it for a moment before taking it. I hauled her to her feet. "Love the ravioli, Murphy, it's very you."
Murphy smirked, and suddenly I knew that my hair had something infinitely worse in it. I ran my fingers through it and pulled out something wet and gooey. Prawn cocktail, great.
The Doctor didn't look much better. Coffee stained the front of his blue, pinstriped suit, and a few soggy looking fries had made a home in his hair. The manic grin was still plastered on his face, however. "Well, problem solved," he said cheerfully. "Good thing, that, it was getting a bit dicey towards the end." He strolled over to the TARDIS, pulled out a key on a long chain from underneath his shirt, and inserted it into the box's lock. The door opened with a squeak, and the Doctor grinned at us over his shoulder. "Don't suppose I could give you two a lift?"
Murphy snorted. "You can't be serious?"
"Actually, I think he is," I said, tempted. Mouse nudged my hand, and I looked down into his enquiring eyes. "Another time," I said reluctantly.
"Ah well, have it your way," the Doctor said. My eyes rested on the phone attached to the boxes exterior and couldn't help but laugh. "What?" the Doctor asked.
"ET phone home," I said, with a grin.
His eyes followed mine. "Hah! Doesn't work, you know. It's not real."
I kind of figured that out when it was hovering over the portal."
A nod, a grin and a backwards shuffle into the TARDIS was his goodbye, and Murphy and I stood there as the door banged shut.
"ET phone home?" Murphy eventually asked, her voice strained.
A deep thrum emanated from the box, and a gently breeze floated through the alley as the TARDIS faded away.
"Explains a lot."
"He kinda reminded me of you."
I didn't know what to say to that.