When Reese came back to the library from taking Bear on a walk, he instantly straightened up at the sight of Finch frowning at the computer screen. The other man had the familiar distracted expression that came when the Machine contacted him.
“We have another number,” Finch said, looking up towards Reese.
Reese nodded, and unleashed Bear, who bounded over to greet Finch. He got an absent-minded pat on the head, so Bear turned and headed for the Shaw.
Shaw perked up the armchair from where she'd been cleaning her Glock. “About time we got another one, I've been wanting to shoot someone for ages.” She grinned, and enthusiastically greeted Bear, scratching him behind the ears.
Finch grimaced but otherwise ignored her. He knew that Shaw only said such thing because she got a perverse enjoyment of his reaction. The smile which flickered across her face like a knife blade opening and closing only reinforced his conclusion.
Reese leaned against a book shelf and arched his eyebrows. “So, who is it?”
Finch frowned deeply at the computer screen. “I haven't been able to discover much about our next number. He doesn't seem to have an online presence at all. And the few times his name has shown up on various social networking sites it has always come from second-hand sources.” Finch's frown deepened. “And I'm assuming this old Craiglist ad to sell him is a joke.”
“A name, Finch.”
“Our potential victim or perpetrator is named Harry Dresden, actually his full name is a quite a mouthful: Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden,” Finch said. “He's a private investigator from Chicago, whose worked with the CPD in the past.” The soft click of computer keys stopped for a second. “Interesting. He apparently a nebulous connection to the head of the local mob, although nothing's been confirmed by the police.”
“Which doesn't mean anything. We have connections to the local mob,” Reese pointed out, dryly.
“Yes, well, he also is known to be a practitioner of magic,” Finch added with an audible sneer of contempt in his voice. “Apparently he's a 'wizard'.”
Reese could practically hear the air quotes that Finch was restraining himself from making.
“Really? That's new,” Reese said.
“A wizard named Harry,” Shaw said sarcastically. “What will they think up next?”
“Regardless of his odd title, he's due to arrive in New York via an Amtrak train in two hours.”
“Well, let's go meet him,” Reese said, finally removing himself from the bookcase.
From Shaw came the noise of a magazine clip being slotted into place. Bear's ears perked up, and he looked at the humans with a doggie grin on his face.
There were only a couple of pictures of Harry Dresden available that Finch could access, one was from when Mr. Dresden was a newly orphaned child of six, the few of him as an adult came from blurry pictures shown in the tabloid, 'The Midwestern Arcane'. Finch also found a static ridden video clip from Mr. Dresden's visit to the Larry Fowler Show.
Harry Dresden was a striking man and not easily overlooked. He was six feet and nine inches tall, thin, with a brown hair and eyes. He also had a pair of scars over his right eyebrow which slid down to end at the top of his cheek, as well as another on his chin. So when Dresden walked off the Chicago train in Penn Station, he was instantly recognizable even through the densely packed crowd.
He was a dangerous man, and not just because he was carrying a walking stick that was as long as he was tall. Reese could see that Harry Dresden had had training. It was obvious from the way the man looked around, checking for enemies with various sweeps of his eyes. He was cataloging everyone and everything, noting exits and looking for anything out of place. He walked warily, as if he expected an attack but also with the confident air of someone who knew exactly how to deal with danger when it came knocking. And it wouldn't be with kid-gloves.
Harry Dresden had arrived in New York as a man expecting to be attacked or a man ready to fight at a moment's notice.
“There he is,” Reese murmured.
“I got eyes on him.” Shaw confirmed, over the communication line. “Should I shoot him?”
“No shooting,” Finch ordered at once.
Shaw's snicker was muted but audible. The corners of Reese's mouth quirked up. He turned away from the number, looking at him from the corners of his eyes as Dresden's gaze swept over him.
“Ooh, hello gorgeous,” Shaw suddenly cooed. “Look at you.”
Curious to what had triggered Shaw's uncharacteristic reaction, Reese turned back to Mr. Dresden and paused in surprise at the sight of the large dog next to him. Actually, the descriptor of large was barely adequate. The gray furred mountain of a dog looked as it broke 200 pounds, easily. The service animal vest it wore was like a handkerchief on the dog's broad back. The dog drew attention of everyone around Dresden, widening the space around him, even though the dog stayed firmly at his owner's side and wagged his tail at everyone.
Reese could hear the happy squeals of 'doggie' from several small children.
“Is that a Tibetan mastiff?” Shaw asked, excited as one of those kids. “I think it's a Tibetan mastiff. I've never seen one in real life before.”
The barely suppressed glee in Shaw's voice had Reese grinning to himself. “Maybe you should go ask him,” he said mildly.
“Hell, yes!” Shaw said, and headed for Mr. Dresden with a wide smile on her face. Bear followed at her heels.
“Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering? Is your dog a Tibetan Mastiff?” Shaw asked, her voice was very breathy and girly. As Shaw got closer and closer to Dresden, static grew and grew over the audio communications.
Dresden tensed and looked at her warily. A high-pitched noise began to built and abruptly cut out all the audio from Shaw's comm. Reese barely managed to hide a flinch. “Finch, what just happened?” he asked, his voice low. Their equipment was very expensive. It didn't just fail like that.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Reese. All electronics that Ms. Shaw was carrying have been blocked,” Finch said, his voice confused. “Even her phone. I'm trying to get around it.” The sound of Finch typing became faster.
Reese frowned and studied Dresden and Shaw. The tension in the man's lanky frame was high as his dog sniffed Shaw and Bear. When the big dog's tail began to wag, it was the signal which changed Dresden's entire body-language. A small smile appeared on his as he nodded to something Shaw asked, turning his grim demeanor into something softer. He turned downright shy as he avoided looking into her eyes and his shoulders hunched in as if to make himself smaller.
Shaw's smile actually looked pretty genuine as she stepped closer to the man's big dog and slid her fingers into the thick gray ruff around his neck. The dog's tail wagged, and Bear all but bounced in place like a puppy as he got closer too. The dogs greeted each other in a typical dog way. Bear looked as enthusiastic as if he'd just gotten a new toy as he sniffed the other dog. He even came up to Dresden and let himself be petted by the man.
Reese's eyebrows went up. Bear didn't let strangers touch him, at least not unless his handler okaying it first. Shaw had given him no such signal.
Shaw and Dresden talked for another couple of minutes, Reese only caught the occasional word from reading their lips, when Shaw said something which made Dresden's expression close down. Dresden shook his head and walked away. Bear tried to follow forcing Shaw to rein him in. Shaw looked downright sulky, before the expression slid away to reveal a cool calculating look. Then she seemed their realize her comm was down because she shot Reese an annoyed look.
Reese didn't respond to her, only drifting after Dresden letting the flow of pedestrian traffic dictate his speed. Outside Penn Station Dresden looked around before heading for a pale green Chevrolet that looked like it had been built in the 1940s but was still in mint condition. Reese signaled to Fusco who’d been waiting outside in case Dresden skipped out on walking. Fusco nodded and followed the car as it pulled away. As it passed Reese saw the driver was a middle-aged Asian female wearing what looked like a gray cloak.
“My phone's dead,” Shaw complained, as she stepped beside him. “So's my comm, my watch and my tablet,” she added annoyed.
Reese frowned. “Finch, did you hear that?”
“Yes, and I don't know how that could've happen. I've never even heard of a portable device which can kill a wide range of electronics like that.”
“Neither have I,” Reese agreed. “At least none that weren't used solely by governments and are the size of a city bus.”
“Who the hell is this guy?” Shaw asked.
“That's a good question,” Reese agreed.
Before they could exchange another word, Fusco cut in. “Aw hell, I just lost your man.”
“What?” Finch asked.
“How did you manage to accomplish that, Lionel?” Reese asked, frowning. In front of him, Shaw's made a face of silent inquiry with 'What's going on?' all but written across her forehead.
“Hell if I know,” Fusco said, annoyed and frustrated. “I was following the car easy enough. It's not exactly hard to miss even in Manhattan. Then it turns down a street, I lose sight of it for a second, and poof! It's gone like magic.”
Later, Reese would think that he really should have paid more attention to Fusco's choice of words as they would become downright prophetic.
By using the Chevrolet’s plates they were able to find the owner and the location where Dresden chose to hole up for the afternoon. The sniper which showed up two hours after Reese and Shaw set up their surveillance was taken down with ease. He clearly hadn't expected anyone else on the roof across the brownstone apartments. Shaw complained about not being able to shoot anyone until Reese promised to let her interrogate him. Then they dropped the would-be-assassin off with Fusco, as the man confessed to have been hired by a local businessman with an interest in waterfront development. He'd broken before Shaw could do more than grin at him in eager blood-lust.
She pouted about not getting to actually force the confession out of him for a good hour at least.
They all thought the threat was done and taken care of, because the police would be able to use the assassin's confession to bring down who hired him, until the Machine passed on Dresden's number to them again in the morning.
“I don't exactly have a lot of contacts with Chicago PD,” Carter said. Finch had called her when they realized that they needed more information on Dresden than what could be uncovered through his computers. “But everything I've been able to dig up seems to indicate the man is bad news. He's been connected so several fires since he set up shop in Chicago. The man was supposedly shot a few years ago and disappeared from sight for a year before he resurfaced. The police officer I talked to said that the man was a kook, and had probably been trying to dodge the FBI. He was actually on scene when the FBI's office in Chicago was attacked by terrorists a few years ago. And I'm not even mentioning the number of times that he's been seen with Gentleman John Marcone.”
“Marcone?” Reese asked curiously because the name sounded familiar.
“Even NYPD has heard of Marcone. He's a big-time player. I do mean big. It's been rumored that he buys congressmen with his pocket money. The FBI has been trying to find something to book him on for over a decade and getting nowhere. Pretty much, Marcone is what Elias wants to be when he grows up,” Carter said wryly.
Reese and Finch exchanged a wary look. Someone tougher and more dangerous than Elias seemed hard to believe.
“It's also been rumored that Marcone is giving Elias help in rebuilding, although I haven't been able to confirm it. So if Dresden's connected to him, then I think he's not exactly one of the good guys,” Carter continued.
“Good,” Shaw said, making everyone turn to face her. “When we take down Dresden, I'm calling dibs on Mouse,” Shaw explained eagerly.
“Mouse?” Carter asked, raising an eyebrow.
Shaw's brown eyes lit up. “His dog. You should have see him! He's the most beautiful thing. He could bring down an elephant one bite.”
Reese looked down at Bear. “I think you're being replaced, buddy.”
Bear pressed one of his paws over his snout and whined piteously.
Following Dresden turned out to be an exercise in old fashioned tailing to Finch's mounting frustration and Reese's increasing amusement at Finch's reaction to the number's apparent technophobia. The man didn't own a cell phone. He'd apparently had never owned a cell phone or computer or even an email account. The only numbers on record which were assigned to Dresden were for a couple of landlines, a personal and a business line which weren't any help. Any tracking devices that they'd managed to plant fizzed out in seconds without a cause that any of them could find. Even the cameras of the NYC's CCTV sputtered and became filled with static when Dresden got close.
“There's no such thing as a personal EMF generator. And if the man was carrying an electromagnet big enough to produce these effect its would have to be as big as a car tire and about twice as heavy. Not exactly something he can carry in his pocket,” Finch said, frustrated.
“It's alright, Finch,” Reese said, soothingly into the comm pick-up mics. He kept the motorcycle far away from Dresden. Dresden had chosen to walk to one of the less attractive parts of the city. It was not the sort of place that tourists frequented, as it was filled with warehouses for various business, some were still in use but most had been abandoned with the downturn the economy had taken over the last few years. The empty streets meant that Reese and Shaw had to take greater care not to be noticed by the number.
Next to him on her own bike, Shaw tracked Dresden through small binoculars. “We have eyes on him. He's not going anywhere.”
That's when Dresden turned a sharp right, walking to the chain-linked fence of a dilapidated building that had been once used to store furniture for an export company. He did something to the perimeter fence which made the metal mesh shatter like glass leaving a wide gaping circle which he then walked through. His dog stayed at his side.
“Did you see that?” Shaw said.
“Yeah,” Reese said equally stunned.
They exchanged a glance, ignoring Finch as he asked them what happened.
“He's gone into a building, we're going after him.”
The warehouse burning down had not been in part of the plan. Admittedly they hadn't gone in which much of a plan, but normally forcing the local firefighters to put in a day's work was something Reese liked to avoid.
Neither of Reese nor Shaw mentioned how they thought they had seen fish-like creatures which had come pouring out of the warehouse's sewer drain to attack Dresden. Or how the man had seemed to call fire from a wooden truncheon he'd been carrying in his coat. And the way the dog had barked loud enough to shatter the every pane of glass had to be some sort of coincidence.
After all the building had been dark. That couldn't possibly had been what they'd seen.
The following day the Machine sent them his number, again.
This time, everyone (except for Finch) went in to protect Dresden.
Shaw was slumped against an alley wall, her eyes were wide with fierce, excited light. Blood trickled down her left temple from a cut hidden in her scalp. “Those... were zombies.”
“Zombies aren't real,” Fusco muttered as he wiped away a dark sludge from his forehead. It came with a scrap of gray skin. One of his eyes was sealed shut from a blow he'd taken, and his cheap suit looked like it needed to be burned. Fusco shuddered and flicked the skin away. “Zombies aren't real,” he repeated, more of chant to try to make it true than actual denial.
Carter didn't look any better. Actually, from the way she was holding her arm Reese thought it was broken. She still held her gun and scanned rooftops, even though the rising sun had chased away the things which had been attacking Dresden.
Reese didn't say anything, only turning to look at Harry Dresden who'd was the cleanest of all of them. He leaned against the staff that he'd used to fling the zombie things into the air like they were made out of paper before he's turned them into ice, leaving them to smash into pieces onto the ground. Mouse was sitting patiently beside him. The expression on the dog's face was remarkably intelligent and entirely too knowing to be normal.
“They weren't zombies,” Dresden finally said. “They were Black Court vampires.” Dresden's expression remained serious. “I thought you people were with them. Until you joined in the fight and helped me. I don't know what you were thinking. You clearly weren't expecting to have to deal with Black Court. None of you brought holy objects, garlic or wooden stakes.”
They stared at him in disbelief. Fusco changed his chant to 'Zombie-Vampires aren't real.' Reese was really tempted to join in.
“We were here to help you,” Reese finally admitted. “It came to our attention that several someones wanted you dead.”
Dresden's sharp smile was as humorless as his bitter chuckle. “It's a day that ends in 'y'. What else is new?”
Mouse snorted, and shook his large head. Dresden's eyes flickered down to him. “I think I agree with you, boy. It's just ridiculous enough explanation to actually be true.”
Reese opened his mouth to verify Dresden's conclusion only to be cut off by the sound of Finch's limping footsteps. Dresden reaction was nearly instantaneous as he raised the truncheon of wood he'd been hiding in his coat toward Finch, the tip glowing red-orange like a brand. The smell of woodsmoke filled the air.
Considering he'd seen that same truncheon turn those fish-like creatures into little more than ash piles only yesterday, Reese reacted as if he was holding a gun.
“Wait!” he shouted, moving in front of Dresden's weapon, even as Shaw tried to dive to cover Finch with her body only to flinch as her cracked ribs screamed at her.
Dresden paused, holding the truncheon in place.
Everyone froze. Then Bear gave an excited bark at the sight of Mouse and dragged Finch forward in his eagerness to greet the other dog. Mouse's ears perked up, and Bear all but danced in front of the large dog, until Mouse gave a low woof, which rattled the nearest glass windows, and actually left a crack in one of the lens of Finch's eyeglasses.
Reese's teeth vibrated for a moment and he eyed the dog warily. He'd seen what the dog could do when it barked. He didn't want a repeat at close quarters.
Bear promptly sat down in front of Mouse, radiating the same air of expectation that a soldier would have as he stood at attention before a general as he awaited orders.
Finch was very still as he stared wide-eyed into the glowing, burning end of the truncheon barely two inches from his face. The heat of it hit Reese even where he stood at Finch's back.
“He's a friend,” Reese said.
Dresden lowered his impossible truncheon as his mouth twitched with amusement. “Exactly how many of you are there?”
“This is the pretty much the whole set,” Reese admitted, suddenly certain that truth was the only way to earn the man's trust.
“And none of you know a thing about magic, do you?”
Finch opened his mouth only to cut himself off as Reese shook his head. Carter, Shaw and Fusco looked up at them with intent eyes.
Dresden took a deep breath. “Okay, if you people are going to keep throwing yourself into dangerous situations without looking, you're definitely going to need the 'Truth is Out There' speech.”
“Oh my god, are there aliens involved?” Finch asked faintly.
They never got an answer to that particular question, because Harry Dresden doubled up with laughter and it took him nearly ten minutes to even begin to stop.
Harry Dresden –a real-life wizard– finally left New York City four days later, leaving Reese the most exhausted he'd ever been in his life, and he'd run missions for the CIA which he'd only caught about 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week.
By the time Dresden left the city the team was dead tired, bloody, with multiple broken bones and with an entire new paradigm shift on what they thought was reality.
Primarily, magic was real.
Monsters, of the non-human variety, were all too real. And as terrifying and humbling as it was to learn that humans weren't the apex predators of the world and that they were actually closer to the herd prey (Fusco swore he was never leaving letting his son step out of the house again, Carter had added her agreement), they also learned that even against the scariest things out there it was possible for perfectly normal humans –who couldn't call ice or torrent of air with a word– to fight back. That there were people doing it already.
Harry Dresden was definitely one of the good guys. That was why every evil thing in the city wanted him dead.
Shaw had been the only one to be ecstatic to learn that there were real monsters out in the world, who could give her a fight, and which she could shoot without getting yelled at for killing them. She made Dresden promise to send her everything he knew about the weaknesses on vampires, the Formor, and every other thing which went bump in the night so she could learn to kill them. She also promised to visit Mouse if she was ever in Chicago.
Dresden also left them the local number to the Paranet, a local chapter of a group of magic users that weren't powerful enough to claim the title of wizard but who'd be able to help if they run into anything from the magical side of the fence, as well as the number to the Warden of New York. Dresden had been pretty clear that they were only to call the Warden when they ran into things that were out of the weight-class of the Paranet.
Pretty much if they were facing a magical apocalypse they were to call her in, or him, if they had the time.
They barely had the chance to absorb their new crazy reality, and finish putting up new defenses around the library, when the Machine sent them another number.
On camera of Chicago's CCTV a tall figure in a long leather black coat walked the street with a staff in one hand. Harry Dresden's head was encased in a glowing square, which changed colors from white to blue to red and back to white for several seconds before the square vanished completely.
When the square reappeared it was purple and labeled: Potential asset, latent threat.
The camera's video feed flickered and became covered in static.