“Parking outside a designated area and unlawful use of an unregistered vehicle, judging by the noticeable lack of plates,” I heard through the ringing in my ears. “Would you say this qualified as reckless driving, too?”
“A case if I’ve ever seen one, Lieutenant.”
My toes at last found something I tentatively decided was the ground. I tried to swallow back my heart and persuade it that we were not going at a good fraction of the speed of sound anymore.
“Also, public property damage; the city green, to be precise. You think this may be a protected species, Sergeant?”
“It’s going to be, if it happens again.”
I loosened my grip on the branch and slid down the broad trunk, the rough bark scraping against my duster along the way. I was still a little shaky. Scratch it, very shaky. Half an inch more to the right, five minutes ago, and I’d be sporting an acorn in place of my right eye. The thought made me squeeze them both tight. Just in case the acorn was chasing me. Hey, in my line of work, paranoia is common sense.
Both feet firmly on what indeed turned out to be the ground still didn’t feel like enough, somehow, so I kept sliding until I was flat on the lawn. It was nice. It was soft. It didn’t move. Maybe I could marry it.
“Something about this case tells me that we also have a lack of a pilot’s license here, Sergeant.”
I cracked an eye open, the one closer to the source of the voice.
Murphy and Stallings stood just beyond the lawn's edge, coffee cups in hands. Stallings somehow managed to also be juggling a notepad and a pen along with his cup.
Cops’ coffee is versatile. It can serve as an energy drink, painkiller, booze surrogate, and even a conversation piece. Now I think for the first time I was seeing it in the role of popcorn.
I groaned and turned my head away in what I hoped came across as a disgusted manner. “Do you people have no lives? Or anything to work on, for that matter?”
“Oh, we do. A possible infringement of law occurred in the vicinity of the police station. We're investigating it,” Murphy informed me.
“A lieutenant and a sergeant? Wow, I feel flattered.” I squinted toward the SI building behind them. The windows on the wall facing us were lined with cops.
“Half of the others didn't see anything,” the lieutenant in question said and took a sip of her coffee.
“They were very firm about it,” Stallings said. “And the other half are busy taking bets.”
“On what? My speed?” I mumbled.
“We only know it was too high for anyone to whip out a LiDAR gun,” Murphy said. She looked up at Stallings. “Sergeant, did you manage?”
“Didn't have time to remember where we keep any,” Stalling said.
“There,” Murphy looked back to me. “We sort of hoped to find out from you.”
I sat up and blinked at her.
She kept looking at me expectantly.
An acorn chose this moment to bounce off my already bruised skull. Ow. See? I knew it had been waiting till I dropped my guard. I scowled at Murphy. “I'm sort of hurting here, you know. A crash casualty and all.”
“Does that mean you have no idea?” she frowned. “Stallings, add a lack of speedometer to the list.”
It dawned on me at last. I stared at them incredulously. “Hell's bells, have you taken bets on how long a ticket you can pin on me? Wait, actually, since when are you in Traffic?”
“Our professional experience told us this might fall rather under our jurisdiction.” Murphy looked down her nose at me, and dammit if she didn't use the opportunity fully. “And sometimes we're nice enough to help colleagues before they ask.”
“It never hurts to be in Traffic's good books,” Stallings nodded sagely, scribbling in his notepad, the cup nestled in the crook of his arm. He put the pen away in his breast pocket and looked up at the tree.
“Hey, Dresden, I thought modern witches used vacuum cleaners these days.” he said in the smug tone of someone who had been hoping to use that line for a long time.
“Modern wizards on the CPD payroll can’t afford vacuum cleaners,” I shot back.
He had a point, though. My nether regions were telling me I was going to remember that broomstick for days. How in hell witches had managed to make it all the way to Brocken or whatever in the old times was beyond me. Probably they never did and this was yet more bullshit vanilla mortals came up with. A vacuum would be broader and probably more maneuverable. Maybe I could attach a saddle to it…
Nonono, stop! Stop it right now! See? This is how my brain keeps plotting against me. Or whatever I had been thinking with instead of my brain, actually, when I got this idea.
Wearily, I got to my feet and made a half-hearted effort to brush off some stray twigs and leaves that had gotten caught in my clothes and hair. I looked up, peering between the branches over my head. Probably I should retrieve the wreckage. Pity to waste all that silver, for one thing…
“Happen to have any long ladders somewhere in this citadel of law of yours?” I asked in a tone that didn't sound very eager even to my own ears.
A pensive silence fell. We all stared at the tree for a long while.
“Out of curiosity, what was that blue flash at the last moment?” Murphy asked.
“I stuck a few shield foci onto the broomstick.” This sounded simpler than it had been. It had taken me a couple of weeks to rework the spell so it would detect incoming impact and react on its own. Damn, sometimes I’m good.
“Did it work?” Murphy asked in a tone of someone who keeps the conversation up, because anything is better than a desk full of waiting papers.
“Oh yeah!” I grinned. Then I coughed. “Uh, yes, it did. You can tell from how I'm still in one piece.” Granted, it might also have something to do with how I’d ended up in the tree in the first place, but she didn't need to know that. Who could have guessed the deflectors would fire up at the faintest gust of wind and every bird passing too close, and send the whole thing's already precarious balance to hell? Okay, maybe I could have...
The grin was a mistake. You do not drop such clues around a seasoned investigative detective. Especially not around one who knows you. I felt Murphy’s gaze honing in me like the spotlight of a police helicopter.
Five seconds passed. Yes, I counted.
“Stallings, remind me what you said they had been playing at that Montgomery Road drive-in last month?” she asked.
“Huh?” the sergeant blinked. “Oh, a Star Wars Night. Why?”
Murphy didn't reply, her gaze steady on me the whole time. I could swear the gleam in her eyes was positively Imperial. Where were my deflectors when I really needed them… Right, still up in the tree. Well, when under a legal assault, power up legal shields.
I coughed once more. “I’m pleading the Fifth.”