The crowd at the Kitty Kat Club was just the regular for a Saturday night, which meant that about a solid half of them were men in women's clothing and another dozen or so were women in men's clothing and the rest were all drunk socialites there to take in the sights. My magic act is pretty popular, even though I wear a coat and tails like my tailor intended; it's not as in vogue as the pansy craze, but a little hey presto and a shaker of razzle-dazzle can still get the crowd's attention. The straights were all liking it well enough-- of course, most of them were drunk as lords-- but the Kings and Queens were warm to the act. They're my crowd; I may not wear a ballgown to work, but I've got my own eccentricities, and I find that guys who wear garters three nights a week are a little more tolerant of a man's lifestyle.
But I haven't introduced myself: the name's Dresden. Harold Blackstone Mesmer Dresden-- conjure by it at your own risk-- but pals call me Mimsy. Whether I like it or not. I'm a magician (two shows Thursday and Friday, three shows Saturday) and a wizard (all the time). The wizard thing I don't make free of to the general public; there's plenty of reasons for that. One of them, for example, was sitting front row center, an older guy with an unfashionable beard and an unfashionable suit, arms crossed, glaring at me as if every ring trick was evidence of state treason and every card was loaded and ready to fire. Doom’n’Gloom Morgan doesn't smoke, drink, or do the Charleston; I think the only pleasure he takes in life is putting the screws to me. This is coincidentally the job he is paid to do, making him a luckier man than most of us.
I produced the last handkerchief out of thin air and bowed; the curtain whisked in front of me, shutting off my view of Morgan glowering sourly while the crowd clapped. I sighed in relief and plodded stage left, ready for a rest and a drink of something in the dressing room. I say the dressing room and not my dressing room because the Kitty Kat Club is a smaller joint, and we're a cozy crowd; we all make do with one room full of mirrors and dressing tables.
The door was opening as I got there; Thora, Maiden of the Snows, was heading out for her act. Thora looks like a longshoreman when he's not dragging, and he looks like a longshoreman in a dress and blond braids when he is, but he's one of the most popular acts and he's pretty swell for a Norwegian. He stepped politely past me, ruffly skirt swishing, wooden shoes clopping, enormous milk pail held with ease. "Johnson is waiting for you," he tossed over his shoulder.
"Thanks," I said, a little less than giddy to hear it. I stepped inside; good as Thora's booming word, Johnson was waiting inside. Jonathon J. Johnson--if you think that’s his real name I’ve got a bridge to sell you-- is a sharp looking man, sports conservatively combed dark hair with a trustworthy bloom of gray at the temple, fills out his suit well enough to be popular with the performers who swing to men, and when he turns his eyes on you they’re just the particular color of folding green. He has a wholesome, old fashioned face, and I think that if you took him into the street and left him wearing nothing but a burlap sack he could still walk into any bank downtown and come out with a sizeable loan. Come to think of it, he probably has. People think he's my valet, for the completely forgivable reason that I tell them he is.
"What's up?" I said, a bit sharply.
He dipped his head, polite enough to shame a politician at twenty paces. "Sir," he said, doing a perfect impression of actual good-hearted concern. "Two gentlemen are here to see you. They were quite anxious that they should be able to speak with you." He talks, of course, like he eats dictionaries for breakfast and grammar primers for lunch, but don’t let him con you for a second. It’s a bigger put-on than my rabbit in the hat gag. People who aren’t me tend to think it’s charming.
"Strangers?" I asked warily.
"One of them indicated that he knew you," Johnson said, subtly pointing out the pair.
They were waiting in the corner, watching the hubbub with varying amounts of interest. The older one looked grim about it; he was a big dignified bruiser in a black and white suit with tails perfectly starched and jet black hair severely brillantined. Looked like a prize fighter turned city judge in his middle age: all rise for the Right Honorable Judge Heavy. His eyes were dark, tracking across the room, taking in everything and disapproving of it.
The younger half of the pair was the day to his night; whip thin and fair-haired, dressed in the latest, looked happy to be a part of whatever was going on, jawing eagerly with the nearest queen. His voice was bright and clear; I could hear that he wasn't local across the room. At that, I thought I did know him.
"Hey," I said, slipping past a pair of gals who were changing out of nylons and into long trousers, sidestepping a pair of workman’s boots, and striding over. "Aren't you Bertie Wooster?"
He broke off his conversation to gape at me, then grin and grab my hand in a firm shake. "Mimsy, old thing! Who else would I be?" And then it was laughing, hand shaking, a little back-pounding, the general formula for a pair of guys on fair or better terms who’ve shared a few good times in the years past.
"Jeeves," he beckoned, and Judge Heavy floated over, so I was guessing the name was attached to him. "Jeeves, this is the fellow we're here to see. Mimsy Dresden! Mimsy, this is my man Jeeves."
"Harold Blackstone Mesmer Dresden, of the Chicago Dresdens. A pleasure to meet you, sir." Jeeves looked down his nose at me, a real feat what with me having a solid half foot on him. I flinched a little at the whole name-- he didn't get it just right, not right enough to really get a grip on me, but it gave me the crawling creeps anyway.
"I say, that's not on," Bertie exclaimed. "Jeeves, he has a real horror of going by his full name. I'm sure I told you."
"A momentary lapse, sir," said Jeeves, but the chill in his eyes said he'd done it to see how I'd take it. I looked him directly in the nose and scowled. I was just shy of saying something nasty when Johnson appeared at my elbow; he was carrying a salver with a couple glasses on it, and it lightened the mood like a charm.
"Bertie, this is Johnson," I said, over drinks of the Kitty Kat Club's finest apple juice-- at least as far as any stray bulls were concerned. "Johnson, this is Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Bertie and I are old pals. We met on my tour of Europe."
"I was just out of Eton," Bertie agreed. "and you were touring with your aunt." He smiled dreamily. "I remember her. But I'm afraid I don't recall her name."
"Lea. My Aunt Lea." I said, less fondly than he did.
"That's the one! Splendid lady. Not at all what one pictures when tries to envision a member of the species, wot? Aunts, I mean. But she must be a bit older now."
"Oh, she's the same as she ever was." I changed the subject. "But you needed something?"
"Right!" Bertie's smile disappeared. "Dreadful thing. I'm engaged."
"What, still? I thought you and Pauline had tied the knot years ago."
"Pauline? What's Pauline got to do with it?" His honest face wrinkled up into a map of puzzlement.
"Last I heard," I reminded him. "You were shackled to the heiress of the Stoker's automotive fortune."
"Oh, that? Ages hence." He waved his hand, like the engagement was so much smoke he was fanning away. "She broke it off. For the best; all water under the bridge. No, I speak of an altogether more foreboding prospect. As you know, I am not against engagements out of hand. Proper ones, discussed and rings purchased and an appropriate period of pining. It's only the ones that come out of nowhere and pounce when a chap's not expecting them that give me trouble. And this is one of those, I’m afraid. I'm used to them, you know, and if it was just me Jeeves could oil me out of it. But it's my pals-- some of the fellows from my club in London are visiting. You remember the Drones Club?" I nodded; the Drones has a partnership with my drinking holes of choice, the Pumpkin Club in New York and the Red Goose in Chicago. I'm not overseas much, but it's nice to have a place to hang my top hat when I am.
"Well, Tuppy Glossop is here-- and Oofy Prosser, and Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Bingo Little. Barmy's in the metrop as well, only thankfully he was spared--"
I catalogued the names, matching them with figures from my memory. The human stomach; the wealthy tightwad; the human amphibian; and the guy who thought every woman was Mrs. Right were all in the same jam, but the guy who'd forget which way was up dodged the bullet. Check. "Spared what?"
"Haven’t you been listening, Mimsy? Spared the ball and chain, the middle aisle, the donning of the spongebag trousers," he babbled, waxing a little hysterical. "Most of my chums-- and half the Pumpkin Club to boot-- are engaged!"
"That's going to be a lot of wedding dresses," I observed, not sure why he was getting so worked up over it.
"No, no, only one." He gave me a seasick look. "We're all engaged to the same girl, you see."
"Huh," I said, sipping at my giggle-water. "Who's the lucky female?"
His smile seemed to be trying to disappear out from under him as he said, "Mavis DeWintour."
I choked on my drink.
"Mavis de--" I thought better of it and quick; some types have long ears for their names. "Mavis DeWintour," I said, in a much lower tone. "The daughter of-- you mean-- the youngest daughter--"
"Of the DeWintour family, Mister Dresden, yes," Jeeves said, too uptight to sound impatient. "The situation is complicated by her mother, who has not only allowed her daughter to propose polyandry, but requires the suitors to undergo trials of strength and skill that a hierarchy may be established among them."
"Hell's bells!" I swore, making the fainter of heart around us go pale, a few pearls clutched to broad chests. "The DeWintours are a bad bunch to fall in with," I said darkly. "You were right to ask me about it."
"Mister Wooster did indicate that you had some experience with the Old Families," Jeeves said, disapproval a notch more frigid, if it was possible.
"Now how did you know that the DeWintours--" I started, startled.
“My great aunt Mildred was hired as a chambermaid for the family in 1850, and disappeared without a trace shortly thereafter. She reappeared in the year of 1919, seemingly having aged no more than a month in the intervening time. She mentioned that the family kept a large supply of silver and no iron appeared on the premises.”
Dreadful! But just like the Old Families to take you on a five-day cruise in May and let you off the boat next January. “Ah. I hope the shock wasn’t too much.”
“I am afraid it has been severe. The first time she saw a young lady with an Eton Crop she was entirely overtaken. She is visiting with a second cousin in Norfolk, a county which I am assured has changed in no significant detail since Mildred was a girl.” He twitched a brow about the width of a hair. “I trust nothing similar will befall Mister Wooster as a result of seeking your help.”
"Well, that's jake with me," I said easily enough. "I'm not one of the fair folk. I'm a wizard."
"Then you deny that your aunt is connected by blood to the DeWintour household?"
A-hah! Thence the cold shoulder. I waved a hand. "Not even for a second. But I'm not connected by blood to her. She was a school pal of my mother's; she promised Mom she’d look after me. If you don’t believe it, I can handle some iron if you like, or there’s the old eggshells gag. Mac might even let us at his backroom for that.” Mac, a good pal and the manager of this here den of inequity, has a backroom with a setup the feds would love to get a look at-- if they knew it about it, that is. He keeps a good stock of Canadian lager and rum behind the false backs of his cupboards, as do many in these temperate times, but nothing beats what our reticent barkeep serves up for his own tea parties.
Jeeves eyed me for another moment, and then shook his head solemnly. “That will not be necessary, Mister Dresden; I apologize for my initial suspicion, but I feel that I now understand the situation.”
“That’s one of us,” I said, with feeling. “Bertie, you’ve got to tell me how you got mixed up with the DeWintours so thoroughly.”
“It’s a longish story,” my friend said, looking a little haunted again. “The sort that might be better with a bit more of the sauce to go with it.”
“You’re in luck. Mac’s got a new batch of apple juice waiting at the bar.”
Once we were ensconced in a quieter corner, glasses of the good stuff in front of us, Bertie bared his soul, Johnson and Jeeves disappearing into the scenery of ‘very good, sir’ and ‘seeing that things were done’ out of respect for Bertie’s obvious embarrassment over the whole sorry story. Or Jeeves did at least; Johnson can’t fall back on human kindness as an excuse; he’s only ever read about it.
“The Old Families aren’t the sort of thing a chap expects to happen to him,” Bertie said. “Everyone knows them, of course. Not pop down for a visit and how’s your mother, but knows of them, of children turning up missing for months at a time and estates all overgrown with thorns and music in the night and that sort of thing. I suppose I heard the proper etiquette on my nurse’s knee, about gifts and holly and iron and not drinking, but how was I to know? Nobody knows quite who’s of eldritch extraction and who’s just a bit odd, because it’s dreadfully bad luck to say their names and they’re as secretive as monks. Wait, is it monks?” He paused long enough for me to nod. “Ah-- as I was saying, when a filly perches beside you and offers a noseful of her family’s best, it’s simply not preux to turn her down cold. And I was parched as anything. They set me at the piano and-- well, I don’t know how long I was playing. It felt like days, I can tell you.”
“You’ve lost me, pal,” I told him, but kindly, because I recalled that Bertie could be a little tender about being treated like a chump, even when exhibiting chump-like behavior. “Start from where you met Mavis at all.”
“Ah! Well. As it happened, I was going through a bit of a social drought. I’ve been cooling my heels here far from the reaches of my Aunt Agatha, toddling about the metrop and trying to do the odd good deed-- which backfired horribly, leaving my stock pretty low with my chum Corky.” I gave an understanding grimace. Whatever the details were, I could imagine the set up: Bertie’s as well-meaning as they come, but he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer-- and has all the luck of a professional mirror breaker and ladder walker-underer, at least in my experience. He continued on, blithely unaware of my character assessment. “As I’d been avoiding the bohemian circles in which I might collide with poor Corky, and the moneyed set seemed to have been oppressed by this unseasonably warm spring, the invite happened just at the right time. Funny-- I can’t recall who got the original tap on the shoulder, but half the Pumpkin Club and my chums put on a showing.”
My face tightened up in a frown. Mavis could be a sly doll, slippery as a snake. Or an icicle, as the case may be. “You’re saying she didn’t ever invite you?” I clarified, hoping I had the wrong end of this. “Didn’t pop in, or send a note to the club inviting everyone?”
Bertie’s eyes narrowed-- he was either trying to remember, or just trying to see me through the sideways view of his apple juice. “A pal of Mavis’ dropped by to spread the word a few days before, made sure we all knew the particulars-- keen girl, Jennifer Greene. Bingo was rather crushed in the jaws of fresh infatuation for a bit there.”
“But Mavis never actually invited you personally?”
“Afraid not,” he said. “No, never even met the girl until she offered me that drink. ...Is something wrong, Mimsy?”
“Just putting the facts in order,” I reassured him, waved a hand to urge him to continue, and hoped he couldn’t tell from my voice how wrong this something was. Bertie and his chums were well and truly caught; Mavis had lured them in, hook, line and sinker. Uninvited guests in her home, drinking her drink, probably eating her food, who knows what else. The fair folk could turn even a polite ‘thank you’ for a held door into a debt.
“It was a smashing do,” Bertie went on, “before it got to surprise finish. There was no end to the wine and spirits, the merrymaking and the carousing. In fact, thinking back, there seemed to have been a good deal more evening packed into the evening than usually fits in the space of a few hours. I remember being plunked in front of the piano at some point, like I told you, and then next thing I knew I was waking up in bed with sore feet and aching hands. The whole evening’s like a badly scrambled puzzle.
“The terrible climax of the thing was when Mavis perched behind me on the bench and mentioned, coy as you please, that the wine I’d been consuming was by way of being a family tradition, and she was pleased to accept my hand in marriage.” He sighed miserably. “It wasn’t till days later that I emerged blinking from the flat again, in desperate need of the company of friends, and found out that similar conversations had befallen every eligible man at the party. I say, it’s hardly something one is truly prepared for. Marrying into that bunch is to be regarded as a hazardous endeavor at the very best of times, and to be avoided when possible. If it were punishment by each offense, of course, Tuppy would have to marry the whole family, so there’s something,” he finished up glumly.
I winced. “That much?”
“Two bottles, an entire cold ham, and then had a nap in the foyer.”
“Slept in her house.” I groaned. “It’ll take a miracle to get him out of this one.”
"And we've got to get it all sorted out before Midsummer. An old school chum of Mavis' is going to be in town for some semi-annual do and Mavis wants to show her up with a big whiz-bang of a wedding ceremony. Mind you it's beyond me how you measure the middle of summer without knowing exactly when winter's going to start. Why, just last year, it didn't even snow until--”
"Bertie. Bertie." I held up a hand to stop him before he wandered off into the pastures of speculation. "I know when Midsummer is. It's the longest day of the year."
"Is it? Gosh. Sounds like when I had old Millington-Woolf for history at Oxford. Nearly every day was a year in itself. Is he still teaching?"
"For our purposes," I said, firmly but kindly, "it's... oh Stars and stones, Bertie! It's next week!"
This revelation put a damper on the proceedings, I don’t mind telling you. We both lapsed into a kind of quiet reverie-- him contemplating mass matrimony, me contemplating how in the world I could stop said. We imbibed freely of the good stuff, until good old Mac grunted at me in that particular tone that said I'd had too much, and started giving us pitchers of actual apple juice.
Some time after that, Bertie struck it up again, with forced cheer. "Well, you're doing well for yourself these days. When you were in Chicago, you didn't have a valet."
This did not have the cheering effect that he had intended.
I slumped. "Johnson," I said, in tones of the somber resignation, "is not my valet, and I am not doing well."
“Poor old thing, what’s wrong?” He gave me a look of concern-- cross-eyed, but touching.
“As you know,” I said regally. “Chicago is my home and the loving hearth to which I return when tempers among a certain set are not high. They are currently high, Bertie. There are Ritz hotels that are not quite so high as these tempers. I was solving a bit of a case for a nice lady-- the Shadowman Affair,” I said, because if I ever write my memoirs that’s the name I was going to give it. Or The Storm Front Over Chicago; I’m not sure yet. One of Johnson’s friends knows bookbinding, he could tell me how long a title should be.
“Yes?” Bertie said expectantly, and I blinked, stepping back aboard my train of thought.
“That is to say. It was a case that went pretty well-- but pretty badly, too-- and cost me quite a bit out of pocket, not to mention leaving me in the bad graces of some local bigwigs. I fled to the Big Apple to cool my heels, but I was mostly broke, and-- well, my Aunt Lea and old Nicky Dixon got wind of it, and they both started in on me to get married.”
His brow wrinkled up. “Nicky Dixon? That domineering paper magnate? But Ashley Dixon is a lovely creature. Might even be worth a father in law like that”
“Oh, Ash is the face of temptation, Bertie. Even in the face of her father’s threatening noises about becoming a manager in one of his paper factories. But then you look in her eyes and see that you are but the inadequate clay that she’ll be moulding into an adequate spouse--”
He shuddered. “Say no more. And who does your aunt have on the line for you?”
“Mavis,” I said glumly. “She and Lady Mabel are thick as thieves and she’d like nothing better than me to marry into the family officially. Says that Mavis could take care of me and keep me fed and groomed. That, or I should move to her estate in Britain-- she keeps a big house on the Isle of Mann.”
“Would that be such a bad proposition?” Bertie said. “A visit to Brinkley Court usually has me in fine spirits-- well, generally, when unreasonable favors are not being asked of one.”
"You don't know who inhabits her estate,” I said with a shake of my head.
"Dogs. Dozens of hunting dogs, and zero nephews. After a week under her roof one starts to feel one's going to be soothed in one's distress with a loving scratch behind the ear and a juicy bone." I pulled a face. "And I can't say that in certain dire straits it hasn't been tempting. But a man's not a dog, Bertie."
"No," he agreed firmly. There was a pause. "But what does that have to do with you having a valet? Or not having one, as the case may be?"
"Ah." Well, Mac does serve the best, and it was possible I'd meandered off my subject a bit. "Well. I'm pretty much unequipped to face the threat of matrimony or auntly concern except inasmuch as I appear to be an independent gentleman of means. Jonathon Johnson is a bit of a thorn in my side who got burned in the Shadowman Affair as well. We both found ourselves at loose ends-- me staring down the barrel of a nine-to-five, him standing to lose his business concern-- I won't mince hairs, Bertie. Split words. The man'sh a rum runner, and a racketeer." Something seemed to be going amiss with my tongue, but I soldiered on. "He pretends to be my valet, and he has an alibi and I look like I’m in the black. Quite the upset from when he wanted me to work for him, but I'm not for hire to scum like him." I scowled.
"Dreadful," Bertie sighed, and we lapsed back into silence.
“Speaking of valets,” he said, after a bit, “I had no idea that Jeeves took you for one of the fair folk. I would have given him the rest of the story at once.”
“How do you know I’m not one of the Quality?” I asked, only to be argumentative, but Bertie shook his head solemnly.
“Mimsy, you dope, I’ve seen you scale a wrought iron fence with your bare hands. You remember when that policeman took after us in Chicago?”
“Do I! We were stone terrified, no idea what we’d done wrong-- turns out he thought I was messing around with his cousin.”
I drew myself up to an indignant slump. “Never! Karrin’s just a pal of mine. She was teaching me how to shoot a pistol. And was she mad when she found out that he was running off her friends. Why, she left Chicago pending an apology from the menfolk of her family and she’s been working as a bouncer since.” My tired eyes focused past Bertie’s shoulder. “And alakazam, she appears. Presto.” The lady in question was standing next to Thora, Maiden of the Snows, the both of them having appeared sometime in the last five minutes without my noticing.
“Oh,” Bertie said, eying the pretty young figure-- flaxen haired and button-nosed and five solid feet of irascible womanhood-- with a bit of chagrin. “We’ve met.”
“He asked me if I knew Pat and Mike,” Karrin Murphy said, with that certain charming brogue that clues you in to a recent family connection to the Emerald Isle, and that certain edge around her syllables that tells you she doesn’t want to hear any guff about it, either.
“He’s British, Karrin,” I pleaded on his behalf.
“Isn’t he just,” she said darkly. “Come on, Dresden. On your feet. Mac says you should be getting to bed.”
I bet he hadn’t; Mac saves complete sentences for birthdays and holidays. But I let her haul me up to lean on her sturdy shoulder, and Thora offered his higher, broader shoulder to Bertie, and we all hoofed it lightly towards the door.
We found our respective valets or semblances thereof there, in a circle of interested parties. Jeeves and Johnson had cleared a table and folded their suit jackets, the better to engage-- in rolled up shirt sleeves, no less-- in a bout of arm wrestling. It seemed to have the gravest import to it, and there was not a drop of love lost between the pair as they gladiated, straining against one another in a dead lock in the center of the table.
The look of comparative mortification on Johnson's face was a welcome sight, when he saw me and flickered from position to position, he and Bertie's man suddenly on their feet and in their jackets again-- to the great dismay of the bettors.
"Sir," said Johnson, compelled as if by magic-- hoho, but not really, and I’d know-- to escort me home; he replaced Murphy's support against me.
"Sir," said Jeeves, insinuating himself under Bertie's arm.
They sirred us away into the night, and I lost track of Bertie, and of my feet until the cab dropped me off and Johnson was extracting me from my jacket and tie and shooing me towards bed.
I was about strapped into my threadbare pajamas, and the sheets were calling my name, when Johnson knocked.
“Is it an emergency?”
“Yes,” he said, coming in without being asked. His jaw was set stubbornly, and he was brandishing a telegram.
“This was left with the doorman.” He dropped the sirs indoors, but stayed roughly valet-ish in the case of sudden company. “I’ll read it.”
“Well, I can’t stop you.”
He cleared his throat and read, in a calm tone:
Understand Mavis gathering harem.
Expect you to apply post haste.
Have wired Mabel to expect you at noon on Tuesday.
Your loving aunt
“Oh,” I said, feeling the blood drain away. From where? From everywhere.
“It would be disastrous for both of us, of course.”
“Put it that way,” I said, not meaning it but wanting to stick one to him in the worst way, “And I might have to get in the race just to spite you.”
“Sir,” he said, with a good dose of irony.
“I’m going to bed, Johnson. Don’t murder anyone too important before I wake up.”
I almost thought he had, just to spite me, when someone came pounding on the front door at five a.m.. I jerked awake like I’d overextended my tab at the Land of Nod and was being helped out the door by the management’s burliest retainers, and had just struggled from my blankets and readied my first spell for a fight-- I’ve made fewer friends than I have enemies over the years, and with an entrance like that you can’t be too careful-- when I heard the murmuring of Johnson’s valet voice, and the sound of someone’s angrier reply.
I yanked on my pants and crept cautiously from my room, shield up and ready for a spray of bullets or magic that might come my way; just because Johnson could talk civilly with anyone from to extortionists to evangelists to door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen it didn’t mean whoever was there wasn’t bringing trouble with him.
As it turned out, he just was trouble.
“Mister Morgan to see you, sir,” Johnson said when my bedroom door creaked open, the same moment Doom’n’Gloom and saw me and snapped:
“May I take your coat, Mister Morgan?” Johnson asked, with all the bland inflection of a professional gentleman’s gentleman, not a tone or hair out of place. I had no idea how he’d beaten me to the door; he seems to be able to get dressed and pressed in under two minutes. What he hadn’t said, however, was “Won’t you come in, Mister Morgan,” and without a proper invitation, Doom’n’Gloom was out of luck.
There are rules for fellows like us. Wizards, that is (full time), not magicians (part time, not that D&G is one at all)-- we belong to the same club, so to speak and I’m sorry to say, although possibly not as sorry as he is. Rules about homes and when you enter: it’s not just good manners to be invited in, it’s a requirement. At least if you want to take your magic with you, that is, and Doom’n’Gloom wasn’t the type to leave his with his coat, not when he had such a high opinion of me that earthworms could use it to scrape off their boots. How much of your magic you leave behind is dependant on how strong a home it is-- how strong the threshold is, to be precise, but they’re the same thing when it comes down to it-- and while mine wasn’t the strongest, it did have two people living here, and I’d put my own extra touch into beefing up the kick it would give you if you tried to enter unasked. It was nothing to sneeze at, in short.
Old Doom gave Johnson the stink-eye for a minute, but whatever tell he was looking for he wasn’t going to find it in Johnson’s poker face-- the man could have a Royal Flush or a seven-high and you wouldn’t know the difference, and either way he’d be just as likely to have a knife at your throat-- and he gave up, fixing his glare back on me.
“Where is it, Dresden?” he demanded
“Little more specific, Morgan old buddy.”
“The Sommerset Sword!” he snarled. “I know you have it.”
“Then you know more than me, pal,” I said, cross.
“You are a liar and thief, Dresden,” he steamed at me, puffing up like a locomotive. “Whatever perfidious heist you’re planning--”
There was a thump on the floor-- or rather my landlady’s floor which also goes around dressed as my ceiling. My landlady’s sweet as a summer day-- and just as likely to turn into a thunderstorm. I’ve gotten a few stern lectures in my time-- it’s hardly my fault excitement sort of follows me around-- and I wasn’t going to cross her one time too many and end up on the curb with the furniture following me at high speed, not when it was pretty well past the first of the month and the rent check hadn’t found its way under her door yet.
“Is all in your head,” I broke in, voice lowered to an indignant whisper, dignity badly wounded. “I wouldn’t cross the Sommersets with a mile of road between us.”
“Your association with the Leanansidhe-!” Which is pronounced roughly Lan-ON-she, if you’re pronouncing it all, which you shouldn’t be.
“Don’t bandy Lea’s name around in public,” I hissed, staring about as if the lady herself was going to pop out of a broom closet-- and if you know the Old Families, it wasn’t such a long shot that she would. “Come on, get inside before you summon the Dread Aunt from the corners of the British Isles.” Better even a Morgan in the flat than an Aunt Lea in the Big Apple, nose in my business, slinking about tutting about my diet and my wardrobe and the hours I kept and wondering pointedly when I’d give her grandnephews and grandnieces. I shivered.
He realized what he’d done and nearly looked sheepish as he bulled inside and over my threshold; kept his voice to a nearly human level as he wound up his indignation for a second go. “I knew at once--”
I cut him off with a sigh: I might not know what was going on, but I knew Morgan like a bad dime novel, back to front. “The Sommerset Sword going missing is some kind of a big deal in the Old Families, and nothing good; the DeWintours have a percentage in it somehow. You’ve cleverly deduced that it’s me, because Lea’s thick with the DeWintour bunch and also because a pin can’t drop in this city without you thinking I’ve pushed a seamstress out a window somewhere. Is that about what you had in mind, DG?”
He was taken aback. I’d stolen his thunder. “Where is the sword?” he said again, returning to certain ground to try again.
“Don’t have it.” In his eyes I saw a long, hopeless standoff. I groaned. “Morgan, even uncivilized people are sleeping by now,” I pleaded. “Search the flat if you want to, just push aside my unconscious body.”
“Tired by your larcenous exertions, no doubt!”
“Stars and stones, Morgan!” I threw up my hands, exasperated, then winced and tapped down on the magic boiling up in me when the candles all flared, lest that be taken as assault and a stand-in for a confession. I didn’t need to give Doom’n’Gloom much rope before he’d expertly tie a noose and hang me with it.
“If you wish, Mister Morgan, I could provide a full account of Mister Dresden’s were-abouts this evening,” Johnson said primly, from the corner where he’d been watching.
I could see the battle on old D&G’s face, spread out with full colors, cavalry, and a final, strategic advance to the rear. I’m the bone to his dog, but besides his obsession with Dresden-persecution, he’s a pretty fair hand, even if I have to say so myself. Does his job minding the magically inclined from here down to Boston, up past the border, and back to Chicago, making sure we all toe the line, and he does it well. He’s a cop, a shyster, and a parole officer all in one-- and sometimes the judge, jury and executioner. But he couldn’t turn down evidence offered willingly like that.
Johnson took him by the elbow, lightly, like he was touching a hot stove-- still closer than I’d ever have come to laying a hand on his august personage
“I am at your convenience for such an interview at any time of day,” he said politely, steering the sputtering Doom’n’Gloom towards the door. “Perhaps you should like my testimony at lunch tomorrow. I shall be at the flat. At eleven? Of course. Splendid. Thank you, Mister Morgan.” He shut the door lightly on Morgan’s barely-begun bellow.
He turned from the door and gave me a look. “You have no idea how to manage things, Dresden. You might as well got to bed.”
“Oh, take a long walk off a short pier,” I grumbled, and stumped back to my room.