Chicago might not have been Greg Lestrade's first choice of holiday spot, but when it was a busman's holiday that was being paid for by someone other than himself, he most certainly wasn't going to complain, even if he did have to sit through a boring conference. The boring conference side of things had been made more bearable by the addition of a pretty, local co-attendee by the name of Murphy who had ended up seated next to him during the first lecture and had surprisingly shown no inclination to move elsewhere when given the opportunity. They'd talked over lunch and again later over drinks when the pomposity of the day was over. Greg found himself enjoying her company and they had traded increasingly ridiculous stories about work until he noticed her frowning at the pale circle of skin on the ring finger of his left hand, where his wedding ring used to sit. Damn. She probably thought he was one of those people who only took their marriage vows seriously when their other half was there to keep a close eye, which hadn't been the case, not on his part at least. He sighed.
"Another casualty of the job," he said. "She didn't like being second fiddle." To his surprise Murphy – Connie – gave him a sympathetic look.
"Yeah, I had one too. Who'd marry a cop?" She sounded more annoyed and exasperated than anything else and Greg stifled a rather inappropriate smile, until he realised she was grinning widely at him and then he let it escape. He liked Lt. Connie Murphy of the Chicago PD, but he wasn't sure he would be able to live with her, any more than he thought he'd be able to live with DI Greg Lestrade of The Met if he were someone else.
"Their loss," he said. He raised his glass to her and she clinked her own against it before drinking.
They were halfway to being friends by the time Greg called it a night and he actually found himself looking forward to the second day of the conference, though not for entirely professional reasons.
The second day proved to be even more boring than the first, and as far as Greg was concerned the only bright point was the company of one Connie Murphy. Everyone else seemed to avoid them, not that Greg was particularly bothered, as the forced socialising of conferences was one reason he hated them. Connie appeared to share the same opinion, which only endeared her more to Greg.
By the third day, they'd decided they had no option but to be friends as the others were clearly idiots and they both had to cling to the remnants of their sanity somehow.
"Oh, what I wouldn't give for a good murder," she mumbled into her drink. Never mind that she was the wrong height, wrong nationality, wrong gender and a cop besides, she sounded so much like Sherlock at that moment that Greg couldn't help the smirk that crept across his face as she complained that she was going to die of boredom. He almost found himself missing Sherlock and his annoying habit of being right, but the thought of how much a bored Sherlock would disrupt the place nearly filled Greg with as much horror as it did amusement. He glanced at Connie's bent head, her dark curls somewhat reminiscent of a certain lanky, pain-in-the-arse consulting detective, and had to smile.
"Be careful what you wish for," Greg said as he raised his own glass.
When Sherlock peremptorily announced that he was going to Chicago and that John would accompany him, John knew that any protests on his own behalf would be dismissed, in spite of their validity. Still, it was better than having to deal with Sherlock flouncing around the flat proclaiming he was bored in between episodes of trying to destroy it by various means. Next time Lestrade went anywhere, John was going to make sure that he left Sherlock a nice pile of cold cases to keep him occupied. In comparison, charging after Sherlock through Heathrow airport was positively mundane and he was sure Mrs Hudson would appreciate the break too. Needless to say, none of John's enquiries about why they were going to Chicago was met with anything he would call a decent answer, though the closest had been,
"Because we're needed, why else?"
Yeah, right. More like because Sherlock would be needed and John was useful to have around in order to translate for lesser mortals. John couldn't find it in himself to be more than mildly irritated, he was used to life with Sherlock by now and while he might feel like he was being blindsided at times, he was never, ever bored.
The fourth day of the conference, Lt Connie Murphy finally received the call she'd wanted. Greg was surprised when she invited him along. He accepted before his brain could overrule him and tell him what a stupid idea it was though he did ask her why.
"The only reason I've been called is because it's a weird one. Another set of eyes can't hurt and might mean I don't need to use my last resort." The way she said the latter two words made Greg prick up his ears, there'd been something very familiar about it.
"Yeah, a so-called consultant who just happens to pull answers out of thin air, even though how he gets them makes no sense more often than not."
Yes, very familiar indeed. God help Connie if her consultant was anything like Sherlock.
"I've got one of those," Greg sympathised. "Drives me absolutely nuts and I'd quite cheerfully throttle him myself if he didn't have such a beneficial effect on the number of my closed cases. Dreadful, isn't it?"
"Oh, absolutely," she agreed. He realised they were both trying – somewhat unsuccessfully – not to grin stupidly at each other.
Which was why, not so many minutes later, Greg found himself perched on the back of a motorbike clinging to Connie Murphy as she negotiated the busy Chicago roads the way only a copper or a maniac could, thanking his lucky stars that he'd decided to go for comfort instead of the suits he usually wore for work.
Unfortunately, Greg had no brilliant ideas to make Murphy's job easier. As he stepped back from the core of the crime scene, he dug out his phone and fired off a quick text.
- - Gatecrashed a crime scene. Bit of an odd one. You'd love it - - GL
He didn't expect a response; Sherlock would probably be in the process of driving John Watson and half of London up the wall. He glanced at Connie, who was in the middle of having a heated discussion with some of her colleagues about something or someone called Dresden, possibly the consultant for weird cases she'd mentioned before as this one certainly fit that profile.
John frowned as Sherlock's phone pinged gleefully with an incoming text alert. Sherlock glanced at it briefly, and smiled before dashing off into the press of humanity – or what passed for humanity in Chicago at least – in order to hail a cab, without a word of explanation. Situation Normal, then. John took off after him, it wouldn't do to lose Sherlock in unfamiliar surroundings, especially when he didn't have the comforting weight of his gun at his back. Luckily he caught up just as a cab pulled over, and scrambled into it on Sherlock's heels.
"So are you actually going to tell me where the hell we're going?" John demanded of the back of Sherlock's head.
"A crime scene, Sherlock. In Chicago?!"
"Lestrade texted." Sherlock waved his phone in John's direction, presumably for emphasis.
"Are you telling me that we dropped everything and came running over to Chicago on the off-chance that Lestrade would find something interesting for you? He's at a conference!"
"It wasn't on the off chance."
John shook his head in near-disbelief. "Oh don't tell me… Mycroft?"
"But you hate doing anything for Mycroft!"
"I was bored. The alternative was unthinkable. Even Mycroft can understand that, occasionally."
"You were bored. Oh God, you think I'd be used to this by now…"
The rest of the cab journey passed in silence as John leant his forehead on the window and steadfastly ignored Sherlock – not that the annoying git noticed, of course.
To the majority of people passing by the jeep, Harry Dresden would appear to be having an argument with himself. Harry thought they were the lucky ones; he would much rather be arguing with himself than the recalcitrant silver-haired ghost of whom he was nominally the custodian.
"Bob, I can't take you into the crime scene!"
"You can't leave me in the jeep either. Lord only knows who would pick up my skull or for what nefarious purposes they'd use me. What would you do without me?"
"I'd enjoy the peace and quiet."
"Harry! You wound me! What of all the…"
"I'll think of something, so will you just shut up."
Murphy had called him in when he happened to be at the precinct, signing off on another case. Not being able to use a cell made life somewhat inconvenient at times but if he wasn't at home she left a message then tried the precinct first, followed by Mac's Pub. The only problem was Bob. Harry didn't usually take him to crime scenes that were active and crowded, there were enough people already who thought he was crazy without adding to the numbers by having a typical conversation with Bob. However, the ghost proved invaluable at cold scenes, which is why he'd been out and about with Harry in the first place when the call came in.
"I'm not going back in there!" Bob protested as Harry shoved the skull into his backpack. "It smells, and there isn't anything interesting to distract me!"
"Tough. It's either the backpack or run the risk of being stolen."
"I'll take the backpack."
"Thought you might. I suppose it would be pushing my luck to ask you to keep quiet?"
"Luck has nothing to do with it."
"Hmph. Forget I asked. Now be quiet."
As Harry unfolded himself from the jeep and made his way toward the building that contained the crime scene that Murphy had called him in to examine, he noticed two people headed in the same direction. The taller of them lacked several inches of his own height, but his air of elegant imperiousness and sharp-edged intelligence more than made up for it; those cold-seeming eyes probably saw everything, even the stuff most people thought they had hidden, and that was without wizard-sight. Not so different from himself then, if a hell of a lot less scruffy. Harry scratched at his chronically unshaven jaw with a half-formed grin on his face, the other guy would probably be mortified by the comparison. His companion appeared small in contrast – about the same height as Murphy – but he wasn't someone you could discount, not with the aura of deadly competence and tenacity that he wore like armour; this was a man that Harry would be pleased to have at his side when things turned to shit. He bet in some people's opinion they were a mismatched pair, but Harry thought they complemented each other better than he and Murphy did in some ways, probably because he couldn't help but notice the trust they had in each other; it was an almost tangible thing. Despite it being obvious to him that they were on the side of the good guys Harry knew there was no way he'd want to cross either of them, especially not the Murphy-sized warrior with the deceptively calm demeanour. He shouldered the backpack that concealed Bob, quashing the smile that threatened when he heard the almost subtle and half-articulated grumble emanating from it.
The old jeep caught John's eye as it pulled up just in front of them – it wasn't the sort of vehicle to be commonly seen on the streets of Chicago, though John had seen quite a few still in use in the middle east – and he watched as a tall, dark haired man extricated himself from its confines, then leaned inside and grabbed an innocuous looking backpack before striding away. He appeared to be heading in the same direction as they were and John wondered just who the hell he was. Jeep guy looked like he had a two or three inch height advantage over Sherlock, which John found kind of amusing as it would be good to have the tables turned for a change; Sherlock used his height to unfair advantage at times. Despite the height he was almost the antithesis of Sherlock – tousled, messy and unshaven – but he walked with confidence, as if he were certain of his right to be there, exactly where they were headed in fact and not just in the same general direction. The crime scene had just become a whole lot more interesting, in John's opinion.
"So, what do you make of him, then, Sherlock?"
"Private Investigator; though that's not why he's here. Some sort of specialist consultant with a skill-set the police here need."
"Not a million miles from yourself, then," John teased. It was worth the disgusted and almost shocked glare Sherlock turned on him.
"I wouldn't deign to be seen in such an execrable excuse of a coat, even as a disguise."
John smothered the giggle that threatened to bubble out of his chest.
"I rather like it," he said. That earned him an entirely Sherlockian frown. No-one, not even Mycroft, could manage the same sort of disdain in a glance and a twist of lips.
The crime scene looked almost crowded and Harry realised that his first instinct had been correct, there was no way he could risk taking Bob in there. He was considering his non-existent options when the sound of measured footsteps revealed another unconsidered choice; the dangerous, Murphy-sized one of the two people that were coming up right behind him. He smiled to himself; Bob would probably want to crucify him, but a wizard never discounted his gut instincts and Harry's gut was screaming at him that this guy could be trusted with his life; Bob was the next best thing to that.
As he entered the room one of the uniformed police had indicated with a disinterested wave – and the assumption that he and Sherlock were with that English guy of Murphy's, presumably Greg Lestrade – John couldn't help but notice the rumpled figure leaning against the wall; to be honest, he couldn't really miss him. Then he was abruptly confronted by an impish smile and warm, brown eyes.
"Here, look after this." The scruffy, tall guy thrust his backpack at John, who wordlessly took it off him without thinking about it, something that he didn't usually do when confronted by total strangers, except where Sherlock had been concerned all that time ago. He decided there must be some sort of instinct to it. "Don't worry," the guy said, "it's not a bomb." He strode away toward the more interesting bit of the crime scene, paused at the door and turned. "I wouldn't open it though," he said before he turned and disappeared into the gaggle of people surrounding the body.
John stared at the innocuous looking backpack in his hands, then raised his eyes to Sherlock, who was staring thoughtfully at the door.
"He's telling the truth, John; it isn't a bomb. I would say it's something precious to him, but I have no idea exactly what; that man does not conform to societal norms. Interesting. You might as well wait here, keep an eye on that, whatever it is." Sherlock indicated the backpack in John's hands.
"And where are you going?"
"There's a body in the other room, an apparently puzzling crime scene. Where do you think I'm going?"
With that Sherlock followed the taller man through the door and John couldn't help but worry about him being surrounded by unfamiliar people, despite the presumed presence of one DI Lestrade.
"Well, well, well; aren't you quite the anomaly, John Watson? A guardian, a hunter, and a healer."
John nearly dropped the backpack in surprise. It wasn't every day a backpack containing something which was not a bomb, that had been shoved at him by a rather odd American bloke, started speaking in a cultured English accent. The rational explanation was that he was having an auditory hallucination, possibly brought on by exhaustion and too much chasing after Sherlock, but sometimes the rational explanation just didn't cut it in his opinion and John went with his gut, an instinct that had saved his life more than once. He'd seen and heard of some pretty strange things out in Afghanistan, more when he'd returned home and moved in with Sherlock, and not all of them had been easy to explain away by the application of scientific method.
John did the only thing he felt he could, daft though it might seem; he answered.
"What did you say?"
"Oh, how absolutely marvellous; you can hear me. Well I never, hasn't today been a turn up for the books?"
Despite being advised not to open the backpack by its owner there was no way John was going to pay that warning any heed when the damn thing was talking to him. His fingers fumbled with the straps and laces that held it closed but he finally succeeded and peered inside. He wasn't entirely sure what he'd find, but he didn't expect to be confronted by an obviously human skull, covered in some sort of arcane engravings. That the not a bomb happened to be a skull wasn't exactly worrying – he was used to Sherlock's 'friend' who sat on the mantelpiece back at 221b after all – but the fact that its eyes were glowing slightly in muted, fiery shades was, if not worrying, then a little disconcerting at least. John frowned into the backpack, then sidled away from the majority of people and tried to make himself appear as inconspicuous and unthreatening as possible to the casual observer. However, Sherlock, and probably Greg, would most likely recognise that despite his outward demeanour, he was in truth ready for all hell to break loose. He took a deep breath and dared to take a peek into the backpack again. He could have sworn the skull all but blinked at him.
"Usually when I talk to a skull, it doesn't answer back," John said.
"Less of the 'it' if you don't mind, the correct pronoun in my case is 'he' and I do actually have a name."
"Which is?" John asked politely. Part of his brain was shrieking at him in hysterical disbelief, but as it was the part that hadn't entirely got used to Sherlock, never mind anything else slightly out of the ordinary, he ignored it.
"Hrothbert of Bainbridge."
"Bit of a mouthful, that."
"Harry calls me Bob."
"Sensible. So, er, Bob, apart from being a talking skull, just what are you? Cursed? Haunted? Figment of my imagination?"
"I am most certainly NOT a figment of your imagination, dear doctor. I doubt your good self would be damaged, twisted and deranged enough to dream up an entity such as I."
John suppressed a snort; as backhanded compliments went, that one had to be amongst the strangest he'd received. Then again, the situation didn't exactly conform to his idea of normal either. He was somewhat surprised at just how calmly he seemed to be accepting it, as by all rights he should be at least steadfastly refusing to believe his ears never mind engaging the skull in polite conversation. Maybe he'd freak out later, when he had privacy.
"Cursed or haunted, then," John said.
"Somewhat of both, though I'm sure you aren't interested in details; it was a very long time ago. Suffice it to say, I've been tied to my own skull for quite a while."
"How long? Decades? Centuries? Millennia?" John was genuinely curious, it wasn't exactly every day he had the opportunity to ask a question like that, and certainly not of a talking skull. He decided he wasn't curious about why Bob had been cursed to 'live' in his skull, some things were much better left unsaid and unknown.
"Centuries, though I suppose I do just squeak through the one millennium mark. The world was different than it is today, but certain things were made to last."
"Like your curse, obviously." John paused for a moment, mulling over the idea that had popped into his head. He decided to go for it; nothing ventured, nothing gained and he didn't think the day could get much stranger at this point. "Bob, if you're a ghost, do you actually have a… oh I don't know how you'd put this… a physical presence? Or are you…"
"Just a talking skull? Oh I assure you, I'm very definitely not just a talking skull. I have quite the presence, I'm told."
"I'd be interested in deciding that for myself," John commented and shrugged as well as he could with his arms full of skull-laden backpack. "I'm not afraid of ghosts, even cursed ones."
"No, you aren't, are you? Why is that, I wonder?"
"Maybe I carry too many of my own around with me, or perhaps I've just stared death in the face too many times?"
"Stared death in the face and defied, maybe even laughed at it, I'd say. Such determination can be admirable." The tone of Bob's voice informed John that despite the words, Bob himself wasn't convinced about the admirableness of determination, John didn't entirely disagree with him.
"You know, I'm probably just stubborn and opinionated," he said. "My sister says I was born contrary; would never allow anyone to tell me who my friends should be, how I should think, what I should do with my life, how I should react..."
"And here we are, having a somewhat… unplanned conversation."
"I can think of worse ways to pass the time." John meant every word; chatting to Bob was infinitely preferable to dealing with Sherlock in one of his moods for a start, then there was a whole slew of equally unpalatable things that he wasn't going to even think about. He smiled at the soft, disembodied chuckle that emanated from the backpack; Bob obviously shared a similar opinion.
Greg did his best to stay out of everyone's way but be as helpful as possible, which must have been at least partly successful as no-one told him to leave. Even though he wasn't able to contribute much, it was a whole heap better than being dismissed to go back to that bloody infernal conference. The grateful smile that Murphy – he found he couldn't think of her as Connie when she was in work mode – threw in his direction didn't exactly hurt either. He was almost enjoying himself.
"Freak's here," announced one of the uniformed officers near the door. Greg nearly jumped out of his skin, expecting Sherlock to walk into the room and was almost disappointed when he didn't. The guy who entered was certainly imposing physically, he looked taller than anyone else in the room by a handful of inches, but that advantage was offset by his loose-limbed amble across the room and what looked like a permanent state of measured scruffiness. While Sherlock dressed to impress, this guy did the opposite, maybe to appear less threatening. Greg wasn't sure that the looking less threatening was entirely successful.
"Dresden, over here," Murphy called out. Greg hid a smile; so this was her version of the consultant that pulled answers out of thin air. He seemed pleasant enough, no generally acerbic comments had accompanied his entrance and he hadn't insulted a single person, though the guy who had called him 'freak' seemed a bit unnerved by the glare that Dresden had landed on him as he walked through the door. Greg found himself kind of missing Sherlock's abrasiveness.
As if the thought had summoned him, Sherlock breezed through the door in the other man's wake as if he owned the place, pinning everyone who appeared as if they might challenge his presence with a gimlet stare, until his eyes alighted on Greg – who was heartily wishing the floor would swallow him up. Only bloody Sherlock Holmes could do this to him. A kind of resigned inevitability suffused Greg, displacing any shock there might have been at first. Sherlock took a step towards him.
"Body's over there," Greg said, indicating Murphy and Dresden. He was sure she'd realise just who the arrogant Englishman was, even if he had just appeared out of nowhere. He was pleased to see that Sherlock at least donned gloves before approaching them, it might endear him more to Murphy. Or maybe not, he mentally amended as he saw the death-glare she gave Sherlock.
"You must be Lestrade's consulting annoyance," she said. "Do not mess up my crime scene or I will have you removed."
"I do not 'mess up' crime scenes," Sherlock said primly. "I have far more respect for them than that."
"Hm. Well as long as you don't get in Dresden's way, I guess I can let you look." She took half a step backwards and left them to it, though she did glare at Greg in the process, as if it was his fault. She'd been listening to him moan about what precious little control he had over Sherlock for a good portion of the last two days, so he felt a bit miffed about that. He did notice that annoyed or not by the unexpected arrival, she continued her run down of the facts of the case, including the current suspect, the dead woman's brother, who had discovered the body.
It was odd to watch Dresden and Sherlock as they moved around the body in a sort of macabre dance. They didn't pay each other the slightest bit of attention but Greg could tell from the flicker of Sherlock's eyes that he wasn't just taking note of the crime scene and he presumed that Dresden was doing the same. They stepped back at the same time, dance obviously over for the present.
"Well?" Murphy demanded, arms folded as she glared at them both in turn.
"It wasn't the brother," Sherlock and Dresden replied in unison.
"Great. Now can either of you give us something to work with here, or not?" She indicated the room as a whole though Greg heard it as a more personal demand.
"Of course," said Sherlock.
"But you won't like it," said Dresden.
They glanced at each other and Greg could have sworn he saw a spark of recognition pass between them, which was almost as astounding as the fact that Sherlock still hadn't called anyone an idiot, especially considering John Watson wasn't in the room to act in his usual capacity of Sherlock-filter.
"I'm used to not liking anything you tell me, Dresden, but I can't deny that you're useful," Murphy commented. Then she gave a resigned sounding sigh. "Why should this time be any different?"
Greg hoped she wouldn't regret saying that. Another look passed between Dresden and Sherlock, followed by a gesture from Dresden that obviously meant 'you first' as Sherlock turned to Murphy.
"I hope you're listening, lieutenant," he said and then launched into one of his rapid-fire crime scene deductions. As long as he lived, Greg would never tire of seeing Sherlock's incredible mind at work, it was fascinating. Even so, he still held a healthy dose of scepticism which kept him a few steps away from the wholesale admiration that John Watson usually displayed. In fact it seemed odd that John was not there as since he'd moved into Baker Street his presence had been a calming influence on Sherlock on almost every case. Greg assumed that John was probably in the other room, kept away from the crime scene as someone not essential for the investigation. Luckily, and rather oddly, Sherlock appeared to be on his best behaviour.
Murphy appeared to be riveted at the tumble of words that flowed from Sherlock, considering everything, filing it away somewhere to be looked over when she had more attention to spare. While Greg wasn't surprised at her expression of healthy disbelief, he was pleased not to see any trace of outright rejection on her face. Good for her. As Sherlock drew his deductions to a close, Dresden picked up the thread of narrative. His approach was different but he appeared to be no less certain in his own conclusions, even though the occasional thing he came out with was almost frankly unbelievable. Greg clamped down on that thought when he saw the smirk on Murphy's face – she was expecting Greg not to believe Dresden, which meant there had to be something to what he said. He frowned, and ran over in his mind what Dresden – and Sherlock, whose deductions he might not always follow, but at least trusted – had said.
"So you're saying the murderer stayed in here with the victim until the brother unlocked the door and then calmly escaped without anyone noticing?"
"Uh huh," Dresden replied with a hint of a smile on his face. Greg could hear Murphy muttering and cursing under her breath, she was obviously used to this.
"And how do you suggest that happened?"
Dresden's hint of a smile developed into a wide grin as he shrugged.
"Magic. Really. Do you expect…" Greg found himself interrupted by the sound of Sherlock clearing his throat.
"Clarke's laws, Lestrade. If you envisage what people regard as magic as merely another way of using the potential of the human brain – most people of course don't use the potential capacity of their brains – then its existence is no longer impossible."
"And once you’ve ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true," Greg parroted; he'd heard the phrase more than once.
"Exactly." It was Sherlock's turn to smirk, but as Greg was used to it he didn't find it half as annoying as he suspected Murphy might. "You've also missed something very important."
"The fingerprints on the ceiling."
"On the cei…" Greg's eyes drifted upwards, as did everyone else's in the room, including Sherlock's. There, on the ceiling – which in this place was several feet above his head – partway between the door and the light fitting above the body, were three blood-stained fingerprints. "Oh."
"Fingerprints. Great." Murphy's relieved sigh was audible. "Right, out of here. All of you. You too, Dresden." She chivvied them out of the room unceremoniously but Greg noted that not one of them protested the treatment.
Greg was pleased to see John Watson in the next room but he was a little puzzled by the suddenly guilty expression that stole over John's face when he caught sight of them… no, not of them, of Dresden, judging by the upward twitch of his eyes to a point above both Greg and Sherlock's heads. Strange. It became even stranger when Dresden gave a bark of laughter, then started babbling about – and apparently to – a person who, as far as Greg could tell, didn't exist, though after the performance in the other room he wasn't prepared to bet on it.
Harry had to admit he wasn't entirely surprised that his admonishment to not open the backpack that contained Bob had been ignored. He was surprised that his exit from the other room had apparently interrupted an in-depth conversation between Bob and his new friend – who looked almost like a kid who'd had his hand caught in the cookie jar. Bob was enthusiastically trying to introduce Harry but as he was essentially in his non-corporeal form Harry wasn't entirely certain who would hear Bob, though they would certainly hear him trying to get a word in edgeways. Eventually, he succeeded.
"Bob, will you be quiet for a minute?" Thankfully, the ghost complied. "I think we could all do with a few introductions, preferably somewhere with a bit more privacy. OK?" There was a chorus of affirmative murmurs and Harry turned to stroll away, not bothering to check to see if they followed.
They ended up in a small room that while not exactly spacious, was at least away from prying eyes and had a door that closed. Harry herded them all inside, then leaned against the door. The only other person he would consider letting in was Murphy, if she came looking.
"So, introductions?" Harry grinned at the various expressions of discomfort, wariness and outright interest on the faces that surrounded him. "I'm Harry Dresden. Wizard by nature, wizard by trade, you can even find me in the book under W, I'm the only wizard in there."
"Not a PI?" That was the interested, imperious looking one; the guy who had read the otherness of the crime scene just by observing, which was more than any other non-magical person Harry had met could have done. He was obviously an unusual man.
"Oh I'm that too, have to be, but it's my other skills that are the most useful."
"Indeed. Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective." Harry wasn't surprised that Holmes didn't offer his hand to shake or that he kept both hands firmly thrust into the pockets of his coat. Harry smiled at the assessing glances being thrown at him and the flick flick flick of the pale eyes that were obviously trying to categorise him. He was fairly confident that Sherlock Holmes hadn't met anyone quite like him before either but he would be interested in discovering what conclusions were drawn.
Harry turned his gaze to the grey haired, dark eyed man who, on the surface at least, appeared to be the most normal of the lot of them. Even if the man hadn't accompanied Murphy, Harry would have known he was with the police, his entire bearing screamed it as if he'd announced it through a megaphone.
"You were with Murphy," Harry said to him.
"That's right. Greg Lestrade, from Scotland Yard." Lestrade did hold out his hand to shake; it was a firm, confident grip but he didn't maintain the contact for any longer than the polite minimum which probably said more about him than he thought. Harry gave him a smile.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade," Holmes said. Harry didn't miss the exasperated-but-fond glance Lestrade gave Holmes over his shoulder.
"I met lieutenant Murphy at a police conference. When she was called in for this case she invited me along," added Lestrade.
Harry's smile widened. "I've heard how much Murphy enjoys conferences, so I guess you were about ready to die from boredom. I'm not surprised you accepted the offer."
Lestrade's answering chuckle was warm and hearty and lit his eyes. "Something like that, yeah," he said. Lestrade stepped away to stand next to Holmes and whispered something unintelligible to him. Harry didn't much care, he was giving the remaining occupant of the room a thorough appraisal.
He didn't flinch under Harry's stare at all, though the sandy head straightened, making his stance ramrod straight – definitely military, so Harry's initial assessment that he was potentially dangerous had been correct – but his arms continued to cradle the backpack that held Bob protectively, almost gently, as if he couldn't bear to let it fall. A soldier who cared for odd things; strange. Blue-hazel eyes met his, steely with an unspoken challenge, then they softened as the man smiled and he went from inherently dangerous to apparently unthreatening in the blink of an eye.
"I believe this is yours," he said and stepped forward with the backpack. "I'm John Watson and…"
"Doctor Watson." Holmes again. Harry was almost surprised that he didn't provide the man's military rank as well, maybe he'd decided that was too obvious. Watson didn't bother to acknowledge the correction by turning around but Harry saw his smile widen.
"And as I was saying… I try to keep him," he indicated Holmes with a jerk of his head, "out of at least some of the trouble he gets into. I'm not always successful." There was an answering snort from Lestrade; that was obviously a truth, then. Watson glanced over his shoulder with a grin, then pushed the backpack into Harry's waiting hands with a more serious expression on his face. "I think you have one more introduction to make," he said. There was a disembodied chuckle from the backpack that they all heard, judging from the stares that were now being levelled in Harry's direction.
Harry sighed; Bob always did have a flair for the dramatic. He carefully drew out Bob's skull from the backpack.
"No, that certainly isn't a bomb, is it?" Holmes commented, more to himself than anyone else.
"But just as dangerous, I'll bet," Watson said, with a sunny smile. Harry glared at him, that statement was a little too close to the truth for comfort. It wasn't a surprise that Watson cheerfully ignored the glare. Thankfully, Lestrade remained silent.
"You can come out, now, Bob," Harry said.
After Bob's declaration that he had 'quite the presence' John had been curious to see just what a thousand-years dead magical practitioner – he couldn't quite bring himself to even think the words wizard or sorcerer – looked like. The flaming spark that arose from the eye sockets of the skull at Harry Dresden's words wasn't exactly impressive but the trail of smoke that followed it gradually coalesced into a recognisably human form. John's first impression was of a tall man – about the same height as Sherlock – dark clothes, bright silver hair and eyes that were even paler than Sherlock's, which was saying something. On a second glance he realised that Bob wasn't dressed in unremitting black, there were splashes of colour – a deep, blood red – at his neck and jacket pocket from cravat and handkerchief and as Bob moved his arms John caught sight of what appeared to be rune-engraved manacles around the ghost's wrists. Cursed indeed, but he'd been right, he did have quite the presence.
"So?" Bob demanded. Dresden gave a long-suffering sort of sigh and John bit back a rather inappropriate giggle, Bob might be a ghost, but it appeared he was about as much of a trial to deal with as Sherlock.
"Guys, this is Bob. He's a ghost and this is his skull." Dresden cast a wary glance toward Greg Lestrade. "I didn't kill him, he's been this way for a hell of a long time."
"Though I'm sure if I wasn't already as dead as the proverbial dodo you'd certainly think about it at least some of the time, hmm?"
John hid a smile behind his hand, he really shouldn't find other people's discomfort amusing but there was just something about Bob and his way of interacting with the world and other people that struck a chord with him, possibly the same one that allowed him to deal with Sherlock.
"So, how does this magic thing work then?" Greg asked. John could tell he was interested despite himself; again too much time spent with Sherlock probably made him consider all sorts of things that weren't exactly thought of as normal.
"Sherlock. 'Mr Holmes' is my brother, and I am very glad that he isn't here."
"Okay then. Sherlock is essentially right – it's a talent like any other which means you can look at the world in a different way. It's kind of useful sometimes." Harry shrugged, as if it was no big deal for him.
"Obviously. Most people don't look at the world properly at the best of times, so I can see that it would give you an advantage," Sherlock said, also apparently interested, though that didn't surprise John in the slightest.
"I also probably shouldn't have been so… " Dresden paused momentarily, as if he were searching for the right words, "open about my… um… other skills, but Bob kind of took that decision out of my hands."
Bob gave a theatrical sigh. "That's right, blame me. I should be used to it by now." Despite the aggrieved tone of voice, John could see the humour sparkling in Bob's pale eyes. Judging by the smirk Dresden tried to hide, he did, too.
"It's your fault, of course I'm going to blame you," Dresden said. "At least Morgan can't kill you."
"Hmph. You see what I have to endure?" Bob said to the room in general. John mostly ignored him, his attention caught by the name Dresden mentioned.
"Who's Morgan?" John asked.
Dresden frowned. "As near as dammit, he's part of the magical police, people who are supposed to stop the rest of the world finding out about magic."
"Isn't he fighting a losing battle from that point of view if you're in the bloody phone book under 'Wizard'?" Greg chimed in with the question before John could, though he'd been wondering exactly the same thing.
"We manage to work around that, most of the time; Morgan and I have something of an… understanding, even if he doesn't entirely approve of me. Apart from the police I generally only take on clients who have nowhere else to turn; desperation allows you to overlook all sorts of things. Besides, I have a good idea who are the time wasters and sensationalists and they get nothing from me."
"Fair enough. So we aren't going to have the magical police descending on us and cursing us six ways to Sunday, then?" John asked.
"That's not how they work, but no. There was a reason I wanted us in a room with a door that closed – nothing discussed in here can be heard outside. It's a useful skill and it does reduce the chances that someone will pick up something they shouldn't know about, not that most of that lot would think anything of it; they all think I'm some sort of crazy freak anyway."
"That sounds almost familiar," John commented, and cast a glance in Greg's direction to possibly share the moment, only to discover that his friend seemed to be deep in thought and was absolutely miles away. As John watched, Greg roused himself from wherever his mind had been, though he was frowning like something hadn't quite clicked into the right position in his head.
"Pity that different way of looking at things couldn't give you a face to go with those fingerprints," Greg said. "Now that would be useful."
In John's opinion that was pretty typical of Greg, to see things in terms of how they would benefit an investigation, rather than for pure interests sake, and without freaking out.
Dresden looked rather thoughtful for a moment.
"Actually, there might be a way to do that," he said. "Now if you could all step back?"
John shuffled back as far as the confines of the room allowed, Sherlock and Greg pressed close to him. They said nothing, but John was sure the look on his face alone, never mind what showed on Sherlock and Greg's faces, expressed the question clearly enough. He hoped Dresden would take pity on him.
"The use of magic interferes with complex electronics and I'm sure you all have cell phones with you," Dresden explained. "Hopefully they'll be okay at that distance. Bob, do your thing… um, Murphy, I think."
"Very well." Tendrils of what looked like smoke wrapped around Bob and when they cleared there was no longer a six foot, silver-haired, pale eyed man standing there, but a dark haired, dark eyed woman around the same height as John, who he presumed was the previously mentioned, and absent, lieutenant Murphy. Bob held the likeness for some minutes while they all stared, though God only knew what was going on behind Sherlock's eyes. Eventually, he dissolved back into being himself.
"If we're lucky, Bob will be able to get enough information from those fingerprints on the ceiling to show us the face of our unknown suspect. There's only one catch…"
"Which is?" Greg asked.
"The inability to capture the image," Sherlock replied. "If what he said about magic and electronics holds true-to-form you would be unable to use any sort of digital camera, or complex SLR to take a photograph. I don't know if even a basic film camera would record an image of a non-corporeal being wearing someone else's face."
Dresden nodded in enthusiastic agreement.
"We managed it once with an old Box Brownie, but I wouldn't want to bet on any sort of predictable success." He shrugged. "I don't suppose any of you sketches? I can't exactly ask for a police artist for something like this."
"I might be able to help," John said into what felt like an expectant silence. "I'm a bit out of practise, but…"
"I didn't know you could draw!" Sherlock sounded vaguely insulted. John supposed he could well be, he tended to regard gaps in the information he held on a subject as personal affronts and John had found that he was no exception to that; Sherlock occasionally treated him as if he were little more than an ongoing experiment that became irritating because it didn't always demonstrate predictable results.
"I don't really, not any more. Not since… " John flexed his hand, he knew Sherlock would notice the gesture and interpret the meaning. "Back then, it was something to pass the time when there wasn't much in the way of entertainment available. If someone has a…" John trailed off as Dresden held out a flip-top pad and a pencil. "Ah. Thanks. Give me a minute…" John settled himself on the floor, knees drawn up so he had something to lean the pad against as he brought pencil to paper. He was conscious of the expectant silence but refused to acknowledge it, chewing at his lip while he thought. In the end he decided to draw Bob, hoping that he wasn't too rusty and that his sketch actually looked like the ghost. The rasp of the pencil across the paper seemed loud in his ears, far louder than the distant murmur of conversation that was going on over his head. In the end, he was quite pleased with the result; it seemed he hadn't quite lost his touch. He held the pad up, to have it snatched out of his hand by Sherlock. John scrambled upright, ignored by the others as they pressed around Sherlock and looked at the drawing of Bob. The hush was disconcerting, he wasn't entirely sure if it signified approval or disdain of his artistic efforts.
"Oh," Bob said. He sounded surprised and John raised an eyebrow in silent query. "I look… happy. I wasn't expecting that."
"It is a good likeness, though," added Sherlock.
"Which means I need to go out there and talk to Murphy," Dresden said. "I won't be long – I hope." He quirked two fingers in a gesture that John wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been watching him, presumably breaking the shell of silence around the room, then headed toward the door. Bob cleared his throat conspicuously and nodded toward his skull, which Dresden had cradled unconsciously in the crook of his arm as if he were used to it being there.
John stepped forward. "I can look after that if you want? I don't think the police would take kindly to you wandering around a crime scene with a skull."
"Murphy probably wouldn't be surprised, but you're right." John accepted both skull and backpack from Dresden, accompanied by an audible sigh of relief from Bob.
The room seemed a lot bigger without Harry Dresden in it, but Greg didn't think that was solely due to the lack of his physical presence. There was something larger than life about Dresden, he couldn't deny that, even if he was somewhat reluctant to admit that it might be because Dresden truly did have magic.
There was no way that Greg could have anticipated the turn of events when he met lieutenant Murphy at the conference, magic just didn't exist in his world and he was pretty damn certain that Murphy didn't think it had any right to exist in hers either – they dealt with reality: harsh, desperate and far too often bloody reality – but Greg was a pragmatist and he would bet that Murphy was too. Even so, he was sure he should probably be freaking out a hell of a lot more than he was about the apparent use of magic as a potential investigative tool. Maybe he was too used to Sherlock to find the odd and unexplainable freaky, because what Sherlock did almost seemed like magic to someone like him. Greg knew he was good at his job but he was quite aware he had limitations – he was only human after all – and he wasn't too proud to use anything that came his way to ensure that justice at least had a fighting chance of being done. Murphy seemed to be cut from the same cloth.
In his case, it meant using Sherlock to point him in the direction of obtaining proof when he knew instinctively that a there was more to a case than met the eye, even if he couldn't see it. He didn't care what people thought of him for using Sherlock, the number of closed cases were more than adequate vindication.
For Murphy, it was Dresden.
If Dresden was good enough for Murphy – whose opinion and instinct he had come to respect in the short time he had known her – then he would be good enough for Greg, no matter that his methods verged on the unbelievable.
"So what now?" Greg asked.
"We wait for the estimable lieutenant Murphy to agree with Harry. It might take some time, but agree she will – she's out of options otherwise," replied Bob.
"I wish I felt as confident. Lieutenant Murphy doesn't look like someone who would grasp at straws," John said. Greg wished he could offer some reassurance, but he wasn't certain himself that Dresden would be successful.
"She isn't, but neither is Lestrade and he calls me in for less."
Greg bit his lip to stop a smile escaping, it was a typically Sherlock sort of comment.
"That's different," protested John, though Greg thought it sounded a bit half-hearted.
"Is it? I observe things Lestrade doesn't. Harry Dresden observes things Murphy doesn't. The methodology may differ but the result is the same."
Greg wasn't inclined to argue the point with Sherlock and judging from the silence that greeted the statement, neither was John. He hoped the wait would be a short one.
There are references to the Dresden Files ep The Boone Identity in this chapter, no other spoilers.
Harry thought it was a good thing that Murphy was used to odd requests from him. If not for that he wasn't sure he'd stand a chance of having the crime scene emptied of all but his choice of personnel, though he was hopeful that the presence of Greg Lestrade – who was at least a policeman, if not one of her own – might mollify her somewhat. He spotted her fairly easily, talking to one of the forensics people, and approached her, nudging her arm to get her attention.
"Hey, Murph, any chance of letting me back in there before the forensics guys are let loose?"
"What for?" She asked.
"I think I might be able to come up with a likeness of whoever left the fingerprints. There's only one problem…"
"Don't tell me, none of us can be in there with you in case we disturb your concentration."
"Something like that. I don't mind if Lestrade stays, though."
"Greg Lestrade? Why him? No, don't answer that, I don't want to know. Hmph. Well, at least he's police and can stop you if you look like you're going to disturb anything." She paused and frowned for a moment – Harry recognised it as one of her thinking faces – before she sighed and nodded. "I'll see what I can do, but I expect I won't be able to get you much more than five minutes, if that."
"Hopefully we won't need long."
To Harry's relief, Murphy was – as usual – true to her word and it didn't take much time before he was able to lead his odd group, with Bob's skull safely ensconced in the backpack again, past Murphy's frown and the wary glances of the rest of her team, back into the room with the body. He knew there was no way he'd be allowed to shut the door of this room, so he was just going to have to block the view somehow. Before he could suggest anything he realised that Lestrade had chosen to stand in the ideal position to obstruct any curious gazes, his folded arms and squarely planted feet making it obvious to anyone who looked in from the other room that he at least would not be moved. Harry had to bite back a grin, as if they could see the smile on Lestrade's face, instead of his imposing back, his effectiveness as a barrier would have been reduced. Harry acknowledged him with a nod.
"Thank you," he said. It was always good to let anyone who was helping you know that their help was appreciated, even if the likelihood of them helping out again was practically zero.
"It's no problem – I've had plenty of practice of having to keep my own team away from a crime scene when he's working." A jerk of Lestrade's head indicated Sherlock who was examining the fingerprints on the ceiling from various positions in the room.
Harry ignored Sherlock for the moment as he checked out the ceiling for himself. In order to remain in contact with the fingerprints, Bob would need to hover mid air, which might make capturing any likeness on paper more difficult. It seemed that Watson must have had the same thought as he had settled himself on the floor near one of the walls in such a way that he could lean back to keep the ceiling in view yet continue to support the sketch pad on his knees comfortably. They were almost as ready as they'd ever be. Almost. Harry had one loose end he wanted to tie before he allowed Bob to attempt to gain a likeness of whoever had left those bloody fingerprints.
"Sherlock, I need you to stay back but I want you to watch carefully. You're the nearest thing we're going to have of a reliable method of recording of the process – you'll observe but most importantly you'll remember and I think we're gonna need that. You okay with that?"
"Naturally. Making full use of one's resources is the only appropriate course of action."
"I guess it is." Harry carefully lifted Bob's skull from the backpack and let the bag fall to the ground at his feet. "You ready, Bob?" The skull's eyes flashed orange, once, in answer. "Then let's get this show on the road."
John's eyes followed the flickering spark and smoke trail that left Bob's skull and wound its way across and around the fingerprints on the ceiling but nothing else happened for what seemed far too long considering the clock was ticking. Eventually the smoke coalesced into a vaguely human shaped outline and gradually became more substantial until a recognisable likeness was achieved. John glanced at the form Bob was holding, then over the top of the sketch pad to where the body lay.
"That's…" he didn't get any further before Bob interrupted, his deep voice sounding incongruous coming out of a pretty – and pretty dead – woman's mouth, who just happened to be hovering mid air.
"The victim's likeness. Yes. The blood on the ceiling is hers. This is only the first step – blood resonates far more strongly than anything else – and unless I can filter out her influence we'll never see who made the fingerprints. Once I recognise what is her and what isn't, then I should be able to get somewhere. Now let me concentrate."
No stranger to taking orders, despite how they might be phrased, John obligingly remained silent but watchful. He dismissed the others from his mind completely in an effort not to be distracted as he focused on Bob-yet-not-Bob. The ghost had one delicate hand pressed against the ceiling, the corresponding fingers to the prints then the hand sank into the ceiling – there was no other way to describe it – and glowed where it lay spread in and around the lurid fingerprints. There was an almost orgasmic sounding groan from Bob and then the likeness of the dead woman rippled, distorted, as if John were viewing the scene through a rain covered window, and slowly resolved into that of someone else entirely. His hand was moving the pencil across the paper in quick, sure strokes before John had even thought about it and that was just fine – he almost felt there was a direct connection between his eyes and his fingers. The specifics didn't register consciously – hair and eye colour, skin tone and physique – but John knew he would remember them and even if he didn't, Sherlock would. There was nothing to be heard in the room apart from the rasp of pencil over paper and the sound of breathing for some minutes, then Dresden broke the silence.
"Bob, can you feel anything else?"
"The man isn't a supernatural, though there is a slight echo of other but that could be due to an artefact he had on his person, something he'd swallowed or a spell cast over him before all this happened," Bob replied.
"Or something else entirely," said Sherlock, who appeared to be standing on a chair for some reason. John presumed it was in order to get a closer look at something and continued sketching until he was distracted by Sherlock waving Dresden over to join him. There wasn't a lot of room on the chair for two people but they somehow managed it without falling off. John was glad he was already on the floor.
"Bob, we need to see the back of the neck more clearly," said Dresden. John raised his head, pencil posed above the paper, curious to see just how Bob would manage that.
There was a grunt from Bob as he twisted midair while keeping in contact with the fingerprints. "I hope there is a good reason for this indignity," he grumbled.
"Oh there's a perfectly good reason, I can assure you," said Sherlock.
"One which should keep Murphy happy," added Dresden. "I just need…" There was a soft thud as Sherlock jumped off the chair followed by a faint scrabble and the sound of another pencil over paper – Dresden's coat obviously had deceptively large pockets.
"I hope you have everything you need, I can't hold this for much longer." Bob's voice held an edge of tension and John added the last few pencil strokes quickly before scrambling upright to make his way over to where Dresden, still standing on the chair, and Sherlock were peering up at not-Bob's neck. He'd only just caught sight of the unusual designs in blue on the back of the man's neck before the likeness dissolved and Bob drifted back down to the floor wearing his own face and body. John thought he looked tired, though he had no idea if such a thing was really possible for a ghost.
Bob sighed. "Don't ask me to do that again any time soon. I might be dead, but such activities are draining." Obviously it was possible for a ghost to suffer from exhaustion and John wasn't entirely sure he was thankful for the opportunity that enabled him to gain him that information or not, he could have lived without knowing quite happily. "Oh and if you really need me, I'll be in my skull. Though the world had best be ending before you disturb me, or you'll be sorry..." Bob began to fade, then seemed to think better about it and became more substantial again. "Unless there is an invasion of ghostly, beautiful and scantily clad dancing girls, in which case, please feel free to disturb me." With a disgusted sounding snort, Bob's form disintegrated into sparks and smoke which then made their way back into his skull.
"Thanks Bob," Dresden said gently. The eye sockets of skull flashed briefly and there was a vague sounding 'harumph' from the vicinity of his elbow, where he had Bob's skull cradled against him once more. Dresden hopped down off the chair and carefully placed the skull in the backpack, giving it an affectionate pat as he secured the last clip and John had to conceal another smile, this time behind the convenient sketchpad.
"Shall I take him again?" He asked, accepting the backpack with the smile still on his face when Dresden passed it over. He presumed that Dresden would do most of the talking – which was fine by him – as there was no way he'd want to try explaining to lieutenant Murphy just how they'd obtained their information of what the person responsible for leaving the fingerprints looked like.
Murphy appeared at the door as if the thought had summoned her, though she didn't attempt to peer around Greg, which surprised John but then again, he knew just how intimidating Greg's back could look when he put his mind to it, so maybe it shouldn't have.
"Time's up, Dresden. I hope you've finished and if you haven't, hard luck. We need you out of there now," she announced.
"We're done, Murphy. Even better, we've got something to show for it." Dresden held out his hand for the pad John was still clutching in one hand. He silently handed it over, keeping a firm hold of Bob in his backpack while he was at it, just in case. John made a concerted effort at trying to remain inconspicuous, something that usually wasn't too difficult when Sherlock was in the room anyway and should be even less so with the addition of Dresden, and breathed a sigh of relief when Dresden and Murphy left the room, followed closely by Sherlock and Greg. He trailed after them all, holding onto Bob's backpack tightly. Greg could deal with Sherlock, he'd managed it for years before John had moved into Baker Street after all, plus he didn't think they had realised just how important Bob was to Dresden overall, not just as a resource. John had, and was willing to take some responsibility for Bob's protection and well being – it was what he was good at – while Sherlock, Greg and the others dealt with unravelling the puzzle of the dead girl, her innocent brother and the man with the tattoo on his neck.
Once outside the room, Murphy stared at the sketch in her hand. Greg couldn't tell from the way she frowned whether she was disappointed it wasn't more detailed – though he thought John had done a pretty good job considering, even if it wasn't up to the standard of a police artist – or whether it was because she'd had to rely on Dresden to supply it.
"Do I want to know how you managed to get this?" She asked Dresden.
"Probably not," he replied with a shrug. She sighed, as if the answer was all too familiar. Greg could sympathise with that.
"It is a pretty accurate likeness though," he offered. "If you get your artists to, um, 'tidy it up a bit' at least you'll be able to use it to canvass the area."
"We might wait to see if the fingerprints are on file first, as a photo would be better." More than likely she just wanted to follow procedure, Greg thought – she had after all called Dresden her last resort.
"Fair enough, though I have a feeling that they won't be," he said. He didn't feel that he was putting that much of a downer on following the correct procedure as he was pretty damn sure she felt the same way.
"Yeah, so do I," she agreed, confirming his suspicion.
"While you do that, we can obtain more information about the tattoo, beyond it obviously being some sort of hieroglyphs," said Sherlock.
"Hieroglyphs. As in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs?" Murphy asked. Greg thought she looked uncomfortable, as if she'd heard something with particularly unpleasant associations.
"Yes," Sherlock confirmed. He hadn't seemed to notice Murphy's discomfort, nothing new there. Even Sherlock couldn't miss her reaction, though
"Goddam it!" She turned on Dresden, her face like thunder and Greg was very glad it wasn't him on the receiving end of her furious glare. "Dresden, don't you dare make the same mess as you did last time there was anything Egyptian involved."
"That wasn't entirely…" Dresden never got the chance to finish what he was saying as Murphy cut him off with a choppy gesture.
"I don't care what it wasn't. What it WAS, was a complete headache for the rest of us. Some of us more than others, if you'd forgotten. Stay away from any Egyptian shit, Dresden, or get off this case."
The silence stretched, uneasy and cloying, for what seemed like an eternity, though Greg knew it was only seconds, if that.
"Lieutenant Murphy?" Sherlock's voice broke the hushed impasse like a pebble being dropped into a pool. It would be him, but Greg was thankful for it.
"What?!" Murphy snapped.
Sherlock continued with utter equanimity as if he hadn't just been yelled at – he was probably used to it.
"I believe I may be of some assistance in this matter. I have contacts at the British Museum and utilising their skills would make a great deal of sense, don't you think? Ensuring the accuracy of information should always be paramount, and this would remove the need for dependence on less trustworthy sources."
"When you put it like that, yes, it does make sense." Murphy took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose as she let it out with a sigh. It was an action that resonated with familiarity, Greg used it to try and instil some calm into himself when Sherlock was really getting to him; sometimes it even worked. It seemed to have done the trick for Murphy as the glance she gave Sherlock was much less wild
"Okay then, Sherlock. You can get your people working on the meaning of that tattoo, just make sure that you ignore any helpful suggestions he tries to make." She indicated Dresden.
"Such as?" Sherlock queried.
"Such as invading the privacy of people who just happen to have collections of Egyptian artefacts."
Greg saw the flicker of interest in Sherlock's eyes and decided to smother it as well as he could
"I'll do my best to make sure he doesn't tear off and chase down any hare-brained ideas… including disturbing private collections," he said.
Sherlock naturally took exception to what Greg said, but he'd been expecting that.
"My ideas are never hare-brained; you're just too pedestrian to follow them."
"Sherlock…" Greg warned.
"Though I do agree that disturbing a private collection would potentially cause some difficulty, in this case."
Greg hoped his sigh of relief wasn't too obvious and he was very glad that Dresden had kept quiet.
"Good." Murphy visibly relaxed and gave Greg a smile, smoothing away the lines of tension from her face. "Think you'll be able to keep these two loose cannons under control on your own?"
"I'm not on my own. The guy over there…" Greg nodded in John's direction "is ex-military and well used to any tricks Sherlock might pull, no matter how brilliant. I think we'll cope. Plus, with two lateral thinkers on the case, you never know just what they might discover."
"That's what I'm afraid of. Anyway, I'll see what turns up at my end, I might even strike lucky. We can meet up later, any suggestions?"
"My hotel," said Sherlock. "It's smaller and quieter than the conference hotel, which I think would be of benefit, and it isn't a great distance from your precinct either." He produced a business card from the pocket of his coat with a flourish and presented it to Murphy. She frowned at him, but accepted the card. Greg couldn't quite decide whether he wanted to laugh or hug her, maybe both; he turned away.
"Get out of here, then. All of you. I'll be in touch." Murphy headed off towards her colleagues, effectively ending any further conversation. To Greg's surprise, it was Dresden who headed out first. He nudged Sherlock, who was staring in the direction of the crime scene, and followed. They could pick up John – and Bob – on the way out.
Greg wasn't entirely surprised to discover that Sherlock's hotel had an almost British feel to it; it was in an older building and appeared to be family run. Knowing Sherlock, he had probably solved a case for the family at some time ensuring that he never had to look for somewhere to stay in Chicago.
No sooner than they were ensconced in a discreet corner of the comfortable lounge, with drinks and Bob in his backpack on the table between them, Sherlock disappeared, after waving his phone in what Greg presumed was as much of an explanation as they were likely to get. John vaguely waved back at him which implied that he at least knew what Sherlock meant, a demonstration of his ability to understand even non-verbal Sherlock speak. Greg just hoped he'd translate.
John obliged. "Chicago is 6 hours behind London," he said. "Sherlock needs to contact his people at the museum in order to still have a chance of getting some sort of response tonight, but doesn't want to risk using his mobile near Harry and Bob, just to be on the safe side."
"Oh. Do you really think they really will get back to us tonight?" Greg asked.
John shrugged. "It's Sherlock, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest. Whether we'll get an answer that makes any sense to us mere mortals is another thing altogether."
"You are joking about the mortal thing, Right?" Dresden sounded almost worried.
Bob's disgusted voice emerged from the backpack. "Of course he is, you…"
"Oh he's mortal enough," Greg interrupted, stopping Bob's potential tirade in its tracks. "John's had to patch him up too many times for him to be anything else."
Trust Dresden to pick up on what was unspoken.
"But Sherlock Holmes isn't a 'mere' anything," Greg added.
"Not even if he's just being a pain in the arse," said John. "Everything has to have style and flair."
"Dear God, I can just imagine it."
"Bob!" Dresden sounded like he was stuck halfway between amused and disgruntled.
"Well I can!" Bob protested. "And being subjected to it on a daily basis is not something a normal person would deal with easily."
"I suppose it's a good job I gave up normal a long time ago, isn't it?" John said with a cheeky grin.
Greg bit the inside of his mouth to stop himself from laughing.. many a true word and all that jazz; John was no more normal than Sherlock, no matter what front he presented to the world, he just didn't usually announce it so gleefully.
"Quite," agreed Bob. It was probably a good thing that he was non-corporeal as Greg doubted he would have been able to keep a lid on his suppressed fit of the giggles if confronted by the expression that went with the voice.
Sherlock returned to the hotel lounge far sooner than Harry had expected.
"That was quick," he said. In his experience so called experts hemmed and hawed for hours or even days before providing anything concrete, though he supposed anyone exposed to Sherlock would potentially be more amenable to providing speedy answers even if it was just to get him to stop bothering them.
"I don't have a translation yet, unfortunately."
"But you do have some information," Lestrade said. It was a statement rather than a question, he was probably used to the way Sherlock worded things even if he didn't seem to have the whole non-verbal translation thing going that John seemed to.
"Indeed." Sherlock eased into one of the chairs around their table. Harry was then subjected to one of his intimidating glances. "You have the sketch?" Harry duly extricated it from the pocket in which he'd shoved it before they left the crime scene and laid it on the table near the open end of Bob's backpack. He carefully smoothed out the creases and sat back.
"All yours," said Harry.
Sherlock pointed to the upper part of the sketch. "You'll notice the first line has significantly more detail. According to my contact, that line contains the only true hieroglyphs of this design."
"If the rest of it doesn't class as hieroglyphs, what is it?" John sounded genuinely interested as he traced out some of the patterns.
" Apparently a form of writing called Hieratic, frequently used in religious documents."
"Religious documents? You mean this could be a prayer of some sort?" John asked
"But a prayer to who? And for what? That could be pretty significant, you know." Lestrade had managed to articulate exactly what Harry was thinking, Bob too, judging by the wordless rumble of agreement from the backpack.
"Until we obtain a detailed translation, we won't know, though my contact was able to tell me one thing for certain. A name."
"Which is? This really isn't the time for dramatics, Sherlock." How John managed to metaphorically deliver a verbal slap on the wrist without sounding overly critical was beyond Harry.
"Set?" He might be ignorant of most things Egyptian, but even Harry had heard of Set and the implication of what the appearance of his name might mean in this context wasn't exactly comforting.
"Otherwise known as Sutekh, sometimes worshipped as a god of chaos and confusion," Sherlock added.
"Yes, yes. We've heard of Set," muttered Bob with his usual acerbic impatience, though in Harry's opinion it lost something without being able to see his expression. It was probably a good job they were in a dim corner. "Or maybe I should more accurately state that Harry and I have heard of Set. He's an appropriate entity to beseech for help if one wanted to remain hidden in plain sight, particularly after committing a crime."
Harry tapped his fingers against the paper on the table, he'd torn one of his fingernails without realising and he couldn't help but stare at it as an idea rapidly coalesced in his head.
"So the tattoo could be some sort of permanent veil," he mused.
"Possibly activated by a verbal trigger, yes," Bob agreed
"And the person wouldn't have to be a magic user himself…"
"Because the spell would have been cast by another. It fits." Bob sounded entirely too enthusiastic and Harry raised his eyes from the study of his fingers to find that the others were all staring at him with varying expressions of interest and bemusement.
"It also bears far too much similarity to the Boone case for Murphy to be happy," Harry said, hating to put a dampener on things but it could make things difficult, especially with Murphy.
Sherlock cleared his throat. "It strikes me that Lieutenant Murphy would very rarely be happy about a case where she had to call on your expertise," he said.
"And doesn't that seem familiar," Lestrade chimed in, sounding as resigned as Murphy ever did.
"I get results."
"Yes you do, Sherlock, but it doesn't mean I have to be happy about needing to call you in. I imagine Murphy feels much the same."
"Worse, I expect," John offered. Lestrade frowned what Harry assumed was a request to elaborate at him; the guy had a ridiculously expressive face. "At least Sherlock isn't using magic," John clarified.
"Might as well be for all the sense I can get out of him sometimes," Lestrade said.
"At least you're relatively open minded for a member of the police force and not a complete idiot all of the time." Harry decided this was a somewhat unexpected statement from Sherlock due to the almost startled looks turned on him by both John and Lestrade.
There were a few heartbeats of silence.
"Thanks. I think," Lestrade said, with what looked a smile trying to creep onto his face. Harry bit his lip so he didn't say something inappropriate and also hoped that Bob would stay quiet. He seemed to be in luck.
When Murphy eventually arrived, Greg thought she looked tired and frustrated, both things he felt with far too much regularity himself and something he understood only too well. She sighed as she sat down next to him.
"I take it that things aren't exactly going as smoothly as you'd like?" He asked carefully, noting that someone – probably John or Harry Dresden – had surreptitiously shifted Bob in his backpack off the table.
"No. Fingerprints weren't on the database and the CCTV was on the fritz so we couldn't get a visual from that either."
"Yeah. Not that it's really a surprise." Greg had to admit she was right on that one. "And at least we do have that drawing to work from; it's a whole lot better than nothing." She sighed again, then smiled gratefully as Dresden pushed a bottle of beer in her direction. She took a long pull and some of the tension seemed to flow out of her as she sagged into her seat.
Dresden leaned forward. "Hey Murph. When you say the CCTV was on the fritz, did it go off suddenly or had it been down for a while?"
"It went off fairly suddenly, why?" She tilted her head back to look up at Dresden with a suspicious looking frown on her face.
"You know how much CCTV likes me?" Dresden said with a shrug. Murphy let out a snort; it was obviously some sort of standing joke between them. "Well, maybe our perp was the same. You might not be able to track him but you could possibly track his path by the pattern of CCTV failure."
Murphy smiled tiredly. "Now that might just be a useful suggestion for a change. I'll let the team know." She pushed her chair back and wandered off to make a call.
"CCTV failure? More of that magic and electronics not mixing thing?" John asked.
Dresden nodded. "Yeah. If the guy really did have some sort of veil cast on him, it would cause even more interference than normal."
"And if the CCTV failure thing does work, it would give you an idea of how far the effect extends, which would be useful."
John might not be saying that much but everything he did say indicated to Greg that he'd been listening carefully and was very definitely trying to think outside of the box. Probably Sherlock's influence on top of the sort of instantaneous risk assessment, planning and action that a soldier – and a doctor – would be used to making on the fly. Greg envied the seemingly easy acceptance John had for things that defied rational explanation but he supposed that as he lived with Sherlock believing six impossible things before breakfast was probably quite normal, so a conversation about the whys and wherefores of magic must seem almost commonplace. There was a part of Greg that wished he could walk out on Harry Dresden, Bob the ghost and their increasingly believable – and therefore worrying – reality, but as it was the part of him that was metaphorically gibbering in a dark corner under a blanket, it was easy to ignore. He decided to just go with the flow and take his cues from the mad men around him; it seemed to be the safest thing to do under the circumstances.
"Definitely worth a try, then," Greg said.
"You don't get anywhere if you don't try," Dresden said with the determination of someone who had faced and overcome plenty of obstacles to get where he needed to be. Greg understood that and he flashed a smile in Dresden's direction to let him know it.
"True enough. So we wait for Murphy to get back to us?"
"For now," Dresden agreed.
"Time for another drink, then?" John asked. Greg could have kissed him for making what felt like the best suggestion of the day.
Harry was pleased to see a hopeful sort of smile on Murphy's face when she returned. It might have been a bit strained around the edges, but it was still a smile and he wasn't going to complain.
She slid into the seat next to Lestrade with a sigh. "I double checked that there wasn't any sort of explainable hardware failure for the CCTV other than the obvious ones which they'd already excluded; everything checked out," she said.
"And?" Harry wanted to know if he was right. Smile or not, he didn't want to make assumptions as assuming things tended to land him in trouble, especially with Murphy.
"There was a pattern, so it looks like we can track him that way."
"That must be a relief," John said.
"Yeah," Murphy replied. Harry smiled as she picked up her half-full beer bottle and saluted him with it. "Thanks Harry."
"Glad I could help," he said. He'd never thought that magic's tendency to interfere with electronics would prove so useful, not that he would tell Murphy that.
"There's one thing that still bothers me about this," she said as she ran her finger through the condensation on the bottle.
"Only one?" Lestrade asked with a snort. Harry managed to bite back the chuckle that threatened to escape; he didn't think Murphy would appreciate it.
She glared at Lestrade, though Harry noticed the smile was still hanging around at the corner of her mouth. "Okay. ONE of the things that still bothers me about this is why our perp wasn't spotted when the vic was discovered by her brother. All the evidence points to him being in the room until the brother unlocked that door. You know it was locked – had been locked with the key from the inside – and the key was still in her pocket, undisturbed. I don't known how the hell the brother did not notice him, even if he was clinging to the ceiling like some sort of ninja spider."
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence, broken by Sherlock clearing his throat.
"I would have thought that was obvious," he said. Harry didn't know if Sherlock was trying to intimidate – probably, from what evidence he'd gathered about him – but he could have told the guy it was a waste of time where Murphy was concerned; Murphy was not the easily intimidated type.
Murphy switched her glare from Lestrade to Sherlock; the smile had vanished from her face.
"Really? It isn't to me, but then I'm tired and more than a little frustrated with this case," she said. She folded her arms and tilted her head back to better meet Sherlock's gaze. "If you can bear it, Mr Obvious, how about you tell me why?"
"The brother didn't observe of course," Sherlock replied.
"No shit, Sherlock."
Harry decided to interrupt before things got nasty. "I think I know where he's going with this, Murph." The look she flashed him was one of relief.
"You do? Care to explain?"
"If you had just stepped into a room, a room which you had unlocked from the outside, to discover your sister dead in a pool of blood, would you have looked around the room, including up at the ceiling?" Harry asked.
"Probably," Murphy said, after a few moments of thought.
"As would all of us, I think," Harry agreed. "Thing is you and Lestrade are cops, John was a soldier, Sherlock is a detective who solves cases by observing and I make my living by looking at the world in a different way than most people do. None of us are your every day kind of normal people, by any stretch of the imagination."
"You can say that again," Lestrade commented.
"Your point being?" Murphy asked.
"The brother was your every day kind of normal. He was what? Some sort of office worker?" Harry glanced toward Sherlock for confirmation, certain that he would know.
Sherlock nodded. "Correct," he said.
"A fairly regular guy, then. The point is that he's a civilian, not a cop or a soldier or a detective - all of whom have to notice details in their everyday lives - and he's just discovered that his sister has been brutally murdered. His first reaction will be horror, but what is he going to actually do? That's the important thing. That's what is going to count." Harry glanced at each of his table mates in turn.
Everyone looked thoughtful in the few seconds of silence that descended, as if they were running the scenario through their heads.
"He'll freeze, possibly not for very long but he won't be able to help himself," Lestrade offered.
"Then more than likely, he's going to panic. In that state would he notice an agile man jump down behind him and run off?" John added.
"Possibly not, though I would have expected him to catch some sort of movement in his peripheral vision." Murphy still sounded sceptical, but Harry was used to that; he kind of relied on it at times.
"He might well have, but I don't think it would be a conscious thing. The guy's just had a shock, all his attention is going to be focused on whatever is right in front of him, no matter how gruesome it is." Harry tapped the table in front of him, watching as all eyes tracked the path of his fingers.
Murphy leaned back in her chair until it was balanced on two legs. "OK, that's all well and good," she said, "but how did he hang onto the ceiling in the first place?" Harry gaped at her slightly, he hadn't remembered to think of an answer to that question that didn't involve magic, or that could explain the magic away at least. Oops.
Luckily, it seemed that Sherlock had.
"Physics," Sherlock said.
"I… what?" Murphy sounded suitably puzzled. Harry made a mental note to thank Sherlock later.
"The crime scene is part of an old industrial complex," Sherlock continued.
"So, there is plentiful ironwork in the walls and ceiling, manufactured to withstand a considerable load." Sherlock waved a hand in the air that said 'obvious' to Harry without the word being articulated.
Murphy didn't seem to think it was obvious. "What the hell does ironwork have to do with it?" She demanded. Harry kept his mouth shut, Sherlock was more than capable of dealing with Murphy.
Murphy's chair landed back onto four legs with a clatter. "You're suggesting our perp attached himself to the ceiling with MAGNETS?"
"It is a rational explanation," Sherlock said with a shrug.
"Which is more than can be said about some of the things that come out of his mouth." Murphy gestured at Harry with one hand and a glare; he thought he'd best defend his honour, just in case she got suspicious if he didn't.
"Hey, I just think outside of the box!" He said.
"Way outside. I'm not even sure you can find the box sometimes."
Harry shrugged and gave Murphy a half-smile, there wasn't really an answer he could give to that. He had no problem giving Bob's backpack a surreptitious elbow though, even if he wasn't sure that anyone else had heard the ghost's disembodied chuckle.
"The use of some sort of hand held magnetic device would also explain why there are only the fingerprints from one hand on the ceiling." Sherlock said.
"Using, and removing, a steel blade would be a just a tad difficult if it was attached to your hand by a magnetic force strong enough to hold you from a ceiling. You'd have to leave one hand free to use the blade and keep the other well out of range." John demonstrated, though how he managed it while sitting down and without falling out of his chair Harry didn't know.
Murphy nodded. "Which would explain what forensics discovered. OK, lets say I'm convinced about the magnets. Where the hell would someone find magnets strong enough to support their entire body weight? I can't imagine they're something you'd be able to get at your local hardware store," she said.
"Something that small and portable would have likely been developed for industrial or military use and wouldn't be available through normal channels," John said, with a narrow eyed glare at Sherlock that Harry couldn't miss, though he didn't understand what lay behind it.
"Great. Just great," Murphy growled as she slapped a hand down onto the table, drawing everyone's attention. Harry noticed that not a single one of them had actually been startled by her outburst, they were more curious than anything else.
"What is?" John asked.
"I get handed a potential answer, and another obstacle appears." She sighed. Harry felt a bit guilty, even though it wasn't exactly his fault for a change. "What does 'not available through normal channels' mean to you, Lestrade?"
"Organised crime or the intelligence service."
"Exactly. The police in Chicago aren't exactly on the best of terms with either."
"Same in London." Lestrade threw a sideways glance at Sherlock, then continued. "Though Sherlock has resources that can occasionally be utilised."
Harry wondered whether the resources were related to intelligence or crime; his money was on both. He himself had mixed resources like that, though his intelligence wasn't always from a source that would be recognised by a person who only walked in the normal world. Still, it could be useful. He drew a breath.
"Murph," he began.
"Absolutely not." She cut him off with a choppy gesture.
"I wouldn't do anything, just put out a few feelers." Harry felt somewhat aggrieved, he knew how Murphy felt about him interfering, but he was trying to help.
"And upset what fragile balance we've got along with it?" Her attention was solely focused on him now, and Harry wasn't sure that was an improvement.
"I'm owed a favour or two," Harry said.
"I don't want to know." Murphy pushed her chair away from the table. Harry knew he was within a hairsbreadth of being told to stay out of the investigation, which could potentially mean that Sherlock and the others would be as well and he knew that would be a mistake. He would have to do some rapid fire persuasion and hope for the best.
"I can at least ask a question without ending up shot or worse. I might not get an answer, but I will be allowed to ask and even the lack of an answer might help." Not his most persuasive speech, but it was honest and Murphy would appreciate that, even if she didn't appreciate the implication.
"Jeez. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place." She stood up, rested her hands on the table and leaned over until she was almost eye to eye with Harry. He blinked at her, but didn't dare move a muscle apart from that, not even to attempt the hint of a smile. "Why do I let you do this to me, Dresden? No, don't answer that." She raised a hand and poked him in the chest. "You get yourself into trouble, I am not bailing you out."
Murphy straightened up and Harry decided it would be the appropriate time to at least chance a tiny smile.
"Understood," he said. And he did, only too well; they had an odd sort of partnership, but there were still boundaries, and not just those caused by his magic.
"I'll be careful."
"Right." She stepped back from the table with a firm nod. "I'll probably be back at the precinct if any of you need to contact me." With that, she turned on her heel and marched out.
Harry let out an explosive sigh; the confrontation could have gone a lot worse. Granted, he probably could have managed things better, but at least she hadn't felt the need to either hit him or arrest him.
"I don't think she's very happy with you, Harry," Bob intoned. By the looks everyone cast in his direction, Harry decided Bob's comment had been perfectly audible to them all.
"When is Murphy ever happy with me on a case?" Harry commented with a sigh and rested his head in his hands for a moment. Then he realised that the sounds of muffled laughter weren't just coming from Bob's backpack. He raised his eyes to find John also had his face buried in his hands, but his shoulders almost shaking with repressed giggles while Sherlock frowned at him imperiously. Lestrade shrugged at Harry, as if to say "this lunatic has nothing to do with me" his expression both amused and resigned. Obviously, first impressions could be deceptive; there was no way anyone who looked at John Watson in the middle of a fit of the giggles would be able to describe him as the 'sensible' one in their little trio, no matter what conclusion they might have drawn from his initial appearance. Then again, none of them really fit the sensible description, not even Murphy, as in Harry's opinion, no good cop could be classed as sensible.
One of these days, John thought, his sense of humour was really going to get him into trouble. It wasn't really an issue around Sherlock or even Greg, they knew him and understood him, but for all his instincts screamed out that they were trustworthy, he didn't know Harry Dresden or Connie Murphy at all. As for where Bob was concerned, having an inappropriate fit of the giggles was probably the least of John's problems. At least he wasn't anywhere like Buckingham Palace this time. With a minimum of spluttering and wheezing, he managed to get himself back under control.
"Sorry," he said, though he was completely aware he sounded anything but apologetic. "I just…" He waved a hand somewhat helplessly, at a loss to explain. He could hear Bob chuckling softly in the confines of his backpack, but Harry and Greg were valiantly trying to look as if they weren't attempting to stop their smiles escaping. Sherlock was wearing an exasperated glare.
"Is he always like that?" Harry asked Greg, jerking his thumb in John's direction and pointedly not looking at him.
It didn't come as a surprise that Greg had given up trying not to smile. "Only when he can get away with it," he said, then added, "Unlike some people I could mention."
John tried out his best innocent look, though he knew Greg wouldn't buy it for a second, while Sherlock just frowned with his usual lofty disdain which was almost enough to set John off again. He gave himself a mental shake and a reminder to behave; they needed him to think as best he could, not giggle like some sort of maniac and distract everyone else and he could see the faint twitch of a smile still threatening at the corner of Harry's mouth, even though he was still resolutely not looking in John's direction; not that John blamed him for that, he didn't think it would take much to make Harry succumb to laughter, he seemed to have a fairly oddball sense of humour himself, probably a good thing considering the amount of time he spent in Bob's company.
"Um. Right." John cleared his throat before continuing. "Do you think there's anything we can do while we wait for Sherlock to hear back from his friend at the museum, seeing as lieutenant Murphy is chasing up on her side of things?"
Harry shook his head. "Officially? No. Murph has all those bases covered."
"And unofficially?" In for a penny, in for a pound; it was what they all wanted to know and if John was the only one who'd mention it, then so be it.
"John…" Greg warned.
"Hey, I'm only asking."
"Yeah, and I know what usually happens after you and Sherlock have asked about things 'unofficially'."
"The case is solved," Sherlock said, blithely waving a hand in the air as if it was no more than simple cause and effect. It probably was, to his mind, though to John – and most likely to Greg – nothing was ever simple where Sherlock was concerned.
"And a shit load of paperwork and legwork is generated," Greg commented with a sigh. "So, unless you really do have something to go on that would help out lieutenant Murphy, don't even think about doing anything more unofficial than we are already."
"Okay," agreed John. He nodded in Sherlock's direction. "But I can't see him not thinking just because you asked." John hastily smothered the grin that wanted out, when on cue Sherlock produced one of the most sickly sweet and patently false smiles John had ever seen on his face.
"Oh God, I'm going to hell…" Greg mumbled as he buried his head in his hands for a moment. John allowed the grin to escape for a second, just long enough to share it with Sherlock; it seemed he wasn't the only one that thought Greg had taken quite a shine to lieutenant Murphy.
"Hell's overrated," said Harry.
"I'll bear that in mind," Greg mumbled.
"If it helps, Murph is going to be doing most of the paperwork this time and there isn't really anything much those two could do that would help her, even unofficially. On the other hand, there is something John can do to help me." Harry said.
"Which is?" John was interested to know just what someone as normal as he was could do to help a self-professed wizard. From the look on Greg's face as he lifted his head, he was, too.
"Keep Bob out of trouble for me."
"I resent that!" Bob's voice exploded from the backpack. "I have been a model of good behaviour, an absolute paragon of virtue, the very epitome of righteousness…"
"I've behaved, Harry! Even in the face of the utmost indignity, I have comported myself with politesse."
"Okay, okay, point taken," Harry agreed, though John didn't think Harry looked like he actually believed Bob. "You've behaved – for a change – but I'm going to give John some of the credit for that."
Oh, now that John hadn't expected. He felt that any credit for keeping Bob out of trouble was being given under slightly false pretences; he found Bob fascinating, he hadn't consciously tried to keep him occupied.
"He's been no trouble, really," John said with a smile in Bob's direction, even though he doubted Bob would see it.
"No trouble?" Harry scoffed. "You do realise that statement implies that you are certifiably insane?"
"Yup. But I'm a doctor and you have to be at least slightly mad to want to be one, especially in this day and age. Then there was the army…"
"Plus he lives with Sherlock. At The Yard we decided he must be as mad as a hatter ages ago, despite all superficial appearances to the contrary," Greg added.
"In my defence, it has been said 'Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way'," John said, knowing Greg at least would get the reference but even if no-one else did, it was still true.
Greg snorted. "The Doctor got that one right."
Sherlock heaved a bored sounding sigh. "Now you have managed to cast aspersions on everyone's sanity, maybe Harry would condescend to inform us exactly what he is planning?"
"Me?" Harry almost squeaked, an odd sounding noise. Sherlock had that effect on people, John was glad that close contact had desensitised him somewhat.
"Yes, you. There has to be a valid reason for why you would want John to continue to 'keep Bob out of trouble' so obviously you must be planning something which you prefer to do alone."
"Ah." Harry looked almost shamefaced, as if he hadn't planned on being caught out. Maybe Murphy just ignored that side of things for her own sanity, John wouldn't blame her for that.
"Oh nothing particularly special, just lifting a few rocks and peering underneath to see what's hiding," Harry said evasively as he glanced down at his hands.
"Try not to disturb anything while you're at it, some things that live under rocks can have a nasty bite, especially if you poke them too hard," John said. It was something he knew far too well from experience and though he was certain Harry did too, a reminder didn't hurt and could potentially save someone a lot of trouble and possibly their life.
"Why do you think Bob's not going with me? Sometimes his curiosity gets the better of him"
Bob spluttered indignantly but didn't say anything intelligible.
"I think that translates as 'pot, kettle, black'," said John and this time he didn't even attempt to keep the smile from his face.
Harry shrugged. "Probably. Doesn't make what I said less true; at least I understand the world we live in better than Bob does."
"That's extremely debatable in my opinion," Bob grumbled. "I distinctly remember the time when…"
Bob was interrupted by Harry. "I don't think that's relevant right now."
"I honestly don't mind looking after Bob for you," John said. He didn't add that he would have an ideal opportunity to ask the ghost about whatever the not-relevant thing was without Harry there to protest. Maybe that was a bit unfair, but John was only human and curious himself.
"Sure? You might live to regret it."
"I might live to regret a lot of things. Doesn't stop me doing them, does it?"
"I guess not."
"Well, if I'm keeping Bob out of trouble, you might as well try and keep yourself out of trouble; I don't want an irate lieutenant Murphy in my face."
"I'll be careful. I need to take a look at the shadier edges of the magical community and find out if anyone's been working with someone with access to the physical resources that would provide the sort of items our murderer may have used. Magnets strong enough to hold the weight of a man would generally be ridiculously bulky, but with magical enhancement the likelihood of them being more portable increases. The enchantment would be relatively easy as it's a natural property that is being enhanced, the only issue being that such a thing is usually temporary. Thing is, anything like that is unlikely to be available through, as you put it, 'normal channels' and while I can't see the intelligence service or military using magically enhanced items, I know certain other… um… less than pristinely legal areas where the use of magic isn't completely discounted as make believe."
"I can see why Murphy was so annoyed with you. You're really going to do this, aren't you?" Greg didn't sound happy. John didn't blame him, but he sympathised with Harry; he knew how it felt to be the only person around who could do something about a situation, even if it wasn't exactly an officially approved action.
Harry shrugged. "I said I'd be careful, that's all I can promise. With Bob here, that's one less worry disturbing my concentration when I need it."
"That's a whole heap better than doing nothing, believe me," John said. Harry nodded in acknowledgement, unfolded himself from his chair and ambled out of the room.
"Did we really let him do that?" Greg managed to sound both guilty and incredulous. John was going to give him an answer, though he didn't think it was one Greg would like, but Sherlock beat him to it.
"There wasn't any 'let' about it. Harry Dresden does what he believes needs doing, and when. I doubt there was anything you could have done to stop him."
"I can vouch for that," said Bob from the backpack. "If it's any consolation, he's remarkably indestructible."
"Yeah, that helps." Greg chuckled. "I should probably worry that I'm being reassured by a possessed…"
"Haunted, please. Or cursed. I am not a demon, I don't do possession. We ghosts have honour and integrity, you know, cursed or otherwise. Is it too much to ask for a modicum of respect?"
"Sorry, Bob." Greg sighed. "I think I need another drink. Anyone?" John waved his beer bottle in Greg's direction but wasn't surprised when Sherlock declined with a shake of his head. The lines of tension in Greg's back were all too familiar as he made his way towards the bar.
"Be nice, Greg's my friend," John said as he patted the backpack.
"I don't do 'nice' either, though that may have escaped your notice."
"Not exactly. How about you make an exception for me?"
"Oh, very well."
"Thanks Bob." John glanced up from where his hand rested atop the backpack to find Sherlock staring at him with a puzzled frown. John shrugged, and gave Sherlock a smile, the 'you know me' type that seemed to reassure the guy whenever John had done something unexpected. Sherlock's expression relaxed and he gave John the hint of a nod. All was well; or as well as it could be when the company you kept included a long dead magical practitioner who inhabited his own skull.