Some days, I have to wonder whether my entire life has just been a setup to prepare me for some future disaster that no one's seen fit to fill me in on. The world gets darker every year; and every year, more and more of the fallout spills into my backyard, like a graduated series of obstacles in one of those adventure games. You know the type: you have entered a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. I may not be able to play them, but I'm very familiar with the culture of geek.
And then, some days I get thrown a curveball like this one. PLUGH.
"You've got to be kidding," I said, dog-earing my latest pulp paperback distraction and dropping it on my desk. I wouldn't bother doing that for just any ridiculous phone call-- you wouldn't believe how many prank calls I field from people taking my ad in the yellow pages as a joke-- but in this case, one way or another, I had a feeling I wouldn't be getting back my space operatic adventure any time soon. "Why would you think I'd want to do anything that would benefit the Mafia?"
Completely aside from the fact that organized crime typically operates on a mundane, not preternatural level, which takes them out of my sphere of influence both as a Warden of the White Council and as a Wizardly private investigator, I detest professional criminals and the profit they make from human misery. No one has the right to live off another's unwilling subjugation, as far as I'm concerned, and these days my concern stretches pretty damned far.
I do occasionally manage to be civil to Gentleman Johnnie Marcone, because he has carved out his own seat of power on the supernatural stage, and he's proven he can be trusted to a point during several of the aforementioned twisty passages. There are lines he refuses to cross, and sometimes the devil you know is the only tool left in the box that'll get the job done. But Marcone was Chicago-based, not New York, and I wasn't interested in doing favors for any of his even less palatable peers.
"Do you really think I'm asking on behalf of the Five Families?" the rough, masculine voice on the other end of the line replied.
I sucked my teeth for a second, considering. I hadn't thought so, particularly considering Kincaid's usual day job; there was no way the Cosa Nostra could outbid the Archive. But then again, I had reason to know the Archive wasn't allowed to take sides. So she couldn't be the one asking me to intervene.
"You know I'd do anything for Ivy," I finally said, "but it doesn't make any sense. What's her interest?"
"Officially, she doesn't have one," Kincaid replied. "Officially, she doesn't know I'm calling you. But one of her Master Archivists has chosen a very inopportune time to step out of his library."
"And he's in this ambitious guy's path," I concluded. So it was more that Kincaid was asking me to do this, so Ivy wouldn't have to fret about it. Which meant she must really like the guy, if Kincaid wanted to spend the favor I currently owed him to take out a warmongering mob boss in a city neither of us lived in.
"That's about the size of it, Dresden," he said.
Ivy didn't have many friends, that I knew of. Hells bells, she hadn't even had a name to call her own before I'd met her. She had her Hellhound, Kincaid; she had me; and I suspected, but tried not to think about the fact, that she also had a piece of Marcone after their imprisonment together at the hands of a really nasty set of demonic baddies. Most people seemed to fear that if the repository of all human knowledge developed emotions and preferences, she would become dangerous to everyone else.
Well, fuck that. I wasn't in the habit of disappointing damsels in distress. Even if the distress was only emotional, the damsel in question could kick my ass six ways from Sunday with the tiniest flick of her fingers, and she already had the deadliest gunman I'd ever met on her payroll. She couldn't ask him without violating the Archive's limitations. But he was asking me; so, I was in.
Though that was another interesting question. Why was he asking me, and not, say, Marcone? Favor or not, I'm sure the Baron of Chicago would have leapt at the opportunity to expand his power, and it's not like Kincaid would quail at the thought of letting the trash take out the trash.
"So what is it about this Elias character that makes him such a threat to five established Mafia dons-- and one, what is it that a Master Archivist does, anyway-- that requires Wardenly intervention?"
Kincaid snorted. "He does what it sounds like: collects information."
Duh. I knew that much. Knowledge is quite literally power in the Archive's case. Ivy magically knows everything that has ever been written down; no need to mail her letters, I just had to pick up a pen. But if it had already been written down somewhere, she'd already know it. "What, like a recorder of oral history?"
"Better." He sounded amused, now. "Harold invented social media."
Ah: one of modern society's more insidious tools to get people to voluntarily share information about themselves. I didn't get the appeal, myself-- but then, it was impossible for me to even be in the same room as a computer when I was in a temper without accidentally frying it. Maybe one day, if they ever invented a hex proof iTablet or something, I'd give it a try.
...Of course, if they did, Bob would probably demand one in lieu of his next bodice ripper, and that-- no. Bob's like a downsized version of the Archive, powered by an Air spirit and bound into a human skull rather than actually inhabiting a person, and 'social networking' is his absolute favorite form of entertainment. He'd be all over the gossipy, always at your fingertips version, which was reason enough for me to never so much as think about creating a profile.
"Which is something that by its nature currently excludes the White Council," I pointed out. "I reiterate the question: why ask a wizard for help?"
"Elias has a few practitioners on his payroll," Kincaid replied with a verbal shrug. "He's risen faster than your friend the Baron with a hell of a lot more collateral damage. And New York's in your territory, Commander. The Fae aren't involved, but the vampire Courts have their fingerprints all over him."
Damn. Black, Red, or White, it was a sure bet more twisty passages were involved, then-- and while I'd usually pity any idiot human who trod those toothy waters, I wasn't going to count out a man who sounded like Marcone minus the scruples. It might even be worth calling Ramirez for backup.
"All right. I know a Way into the city; I can be there tonight. Where's this Archivist holed up?"
He gave me an address, brusque now that I'd agreed, and I scribbled it down on the inside cover of my paperback-- I was out of notepaper. "Call you again when I've got the lay of the land."
"Good," he said. Then he chuckled, a distinctly ominous sound. "Be sure you announce you're on Archival matters before you say anything else, though. He's a paranoid bastard. Good with veils. And his new bodyguard has... let's just say, potential."
Before I could ask what he meant by that, the Hellhound hung up.
I sighed, muttering under my breath, and closed up my office. Knowing my luck, I was sure to find out soon enough.