I was humming the theme song to Star Wars as I pulled up into the parking space in front of my home. I grabbed the plastic bag full of supplies I’d picked up on the way home before I got out of the Blue Beetle. Yes, I - big, bad Overlord to be - drive a powder blue Volkswagen Beetle. I have other, much more expensive cars in storage but the Beetle was my daily driver. I consider the car is a variation on rule 29, since I can’t really pull off bright colors.-1
What can I say, it’s a cliché but I look good in black. And even better in black leather.
Once I was inside my home I took the stairs down to the basement. It had once been a pathetically small one bedroom apartment but when I’d purchased the building I’d converted the area into a workshop. Bob had a place of honor on the center of a large wooden table. I’d carved the table top with sigils. The sigils helped me channel power, as well as doubling as protection for Bob. If someone managed to get past my shields, Bob could activate the sigils and be hidden under a dome for up to week.
Protecting him was one of the ways that I paid for his services. Well, other than buying him mystery novels. He liked them complicated and bloody.
I absently lit the candles scattered all around the room with a word and a tiny amount of power. It took a bit more concentration to light the fireplace, but I soon had it roaring away.
“Wake up, Bob,” I commanded.
The eye sockets of Bob’s skull flickered with blue light.
“Boss,” Bob said coolly. “You seem to be in a particularly chipper mood… whom have you killed?”
I gave him a wide grin.
His cold blue eyes scanned me and widened. “What have you done?” he demanded sharply.
I set down supplies next to him without blocking his view. “What do you see?” I asked cheerfully. I shrugged out of my black leather coat.
“You‘ve given a large part of your soul away,” he said, with disapproval in his voice.
Really? I don’t think I’ve done that before. “Is that a bad thing? I don‘t feel like I’m missing parts of my soul.” If anything I felt rather good.
He stared at me. “Harry… have you gone and fallen for someone? I thought you said such feelings were a weakness.”
I waved that away. “Yeah, yeah, but this guy is worth it.”
“Who is he?” Bob asked, eying me with disapproval.
“John Marcone,” I said, with satisfaction. The permanent vivid image of his soul came up in my mind. I took a moment to admire the steel in it. “Special Agent in Charge John Marcone.”
“With the FBI,” I added, and watched with amusement as Bob’s jaw dropped.
“What are you thinking?” he yelled.
“That he‘s incredibly hot?” I answered. “And ruthless, as hell.” How likely was I to run into someone else who was such a predator they were tiger-souled?
“But an FBI agent, boss? Doesn‘t your attraction to him break one of your Evil Overlord Rules?” Bob asked, dryly.
“Well…” I admitted, “it does kind of fall under rule 26, but he isn‘t a member of any rebellion nor am I ordering him sent to my bedroom.”-2 I grinned at that delightful mental image. “Yet.”
“Okay. Now help me figure out how to make someone’s heart explode from a distance,” I added, rubbing my hands together eagerly.
“Ah,” Bob said, in a happier voice. “Something actually worthwhile.”
I rolled my eyes and got to work.
It took me all night and part of the morning to figure out how to kill someone the way that Agent Tomm and his lover had been killed. Only, it didn’t make any sense. The sheer amount of power that would be needed was just too much. And I couldn’t figure out how to pull it off. Well… not without killing ten people at once in order to channel their life-forces into the curse. And if someone was doing that kind of magic, I’d be able to sense it even in a city the size of Chicago.
The fact that I hadn’t sensed anything told me that the sorcerer behind this was using some other method. I did figure out that there was a good chance that a group of people were behind the spell. Thirteen people, to be exact.
But where was the power coming from?
Since I was too exhausted to think, and even Bob was stumped, I’d stumbled off to bed.
I was deep in sleep, enjoying the comfortable mattress of my king-sized bed, that I didn’t hear the windup alarm clock go off. It took the insistent buzz of the front door to finally wake me up.
Snarling and cursing, I staggered out of my bed. I was ready to hit whomever as at the otherside of my door with a face full of fire when my bad mood died an instant death. Because Marcone was standing on my doorstep.
“Agent Marcone,” I said, with a blink of sleepy eyes at my watch. It was only two o‘clock. Dammit. I‘d intended to be awake at noon. “You‘re early for our date.” I squinted at Agent Spike and Agent Hendricks that hovered behind right behind Marcone. “And you brought friends.” I tilted my head and smiled slyly. “Unless we‘re double dating.”
Hendricks and Spike both scowled at me. My grin widened.
Marcone’s lips twitched up at the corners. “What my men chose to do in their own time is their business,” he said calmly, “but they are currently on duty.”
“Boss!” Hendricks and Spike both protested.
I snickered and left the door open for them without bothering to invite them in. Normally, I wouldn’t have let strangers into my home. But I didn’t want to leave Marcone on my front step, for various reasons, ranging from it being a tacky thing to do to your date to wanting to keep him out of sight.
I don’t have many enemies. Most of them are dead. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t have eyes on me. It’s a long story, but I have a Warden on my tail. Warden Morgan, is stubborn bastard who lives with the certainty that I murdered DuMorne. He was right, of course. But that didn’t make him any less a pain in my ass as he kept trying to find proof of my misdeeds. Hell, the only reason he didn’t pester me everyday was because of the restraining order keeping him at least 100 yards away.
The last thing I wanted was for Marcone to come into range of his radar.
“So, why are you so early?” I asked. “I‘m not exactly ready to go out.” I was still in my pjs, a faded black shirt that said ‘Come to the Dark Side, We have Cookies’ and sweatpants. I tilted my head at Marcone. “Of course, if you want to stay in…”
Hendricks scowl became deeper.
“You‘re not invited,” I added. Cujo growled… and that’s why I’m a cat owner.
Speaking of Mister, my cat is a large grey tom, who I swear has some bobcat or puma in him, jumped off the bookshelves in the living room as we entered. He made Spike yelp in surprise, which made me grin.
I was less happy when Spike’s hand went for his gun. “Pull that out,” I told him coldly. “And you‘re going to lose that hand.” Mister pushed his head against my shins before he sauntered off to explore the rest of his domain.
“My apologies, Mr. Dresden,” Marcone said. He too shot Spike a look that made the agent wince before lowering his hand from the holster. “I‘m afraid that we‘re not here for a social call.”
“Oh?” I asked, without surprise. No matter what I’d said, I hadn’t actually thought Marcone was here to begin our date.
“We need any information that you have ready about how Agent Tomm was killed,” he said.
I tilted my head. “Why?”
“You don’t need to know,” Spike said.
I rolled my eyes. “Am I suspect?” I asked Marcone.
“Not at the moment,” he said solemnly.
“Then tell me,” I demanded, staring at him.
Marcone’s cool green eyes considered me for a long minute. He said, “We need to know what to ask when we stop by to visit Bianca St. Claire.”
I whistled. “You‘re going to question little miss no-sunshine herself? Oh, she‘s going to love that.” Or try to kill Marcone for it. I frowned at that thought. “I‘m coming with you.”
Hendricks and Spike both protested.
“That won‘t be necessary, Mr. Dresden,” Marcone said. “All I need is the information.”
I considered him. “Do you know what she is? She can kill you without even trying.”
“I don‘t believe that she would risk the attention of the FBI,” he said.
Ha! He did know she was vampire. More and more I wanted this man.
“Maybe not,” I said, and turned to head up to my bedroom to get dressed. “I‘m coming with you anyway. I‘ve give you the info on the way.”
“You‘re not a consultant signed on with the FBI,” Marcone pointed out. “You wouldn‘t receive payment for your services.”
I tossed him a wicked grin. “So, I‘ll do it out of the goodness of my heart.” After all, I didn’t want Marcone killed before I’d even gotten a kiss out of him much less into bed.
Unfortunately for the FBI‘s budget, I killed the sedan right outside the gates of Bianca’s mansion. The driver, an agent who I had yet to nickname, swore at the engine as it spewed out white steam. He kicked a tire and then cursed some more as sparks of electricity joined the steam flowing out.
I had to bite back a grin.
“I know a mechanic that can resurrect your car,” I said to Marcone as we walked up to the gate.
The guard eyed our approach with suspicion.
“That won’t be necessary. The FBI has their own contracted car service,” he said. We watched as Spike and Hendricks flanked the guard. Spike pulled out his FBI badge while Hendricks loomed menacingly.
Ah. So, that was a tactic they use a lot.
“Good luck with that,” I said, as the guard retreated into the guard booth to make a call. “Usually when I kill a car, it stays dead.”
A faint frown appeared on Marcone’s lips. His eyes drifted back to the car. “I see.”
I followed his gaze and saw that a fire had started in the engine. The agent was now furiously beating at it with his sport coat. I watched until the agent realized his coat was now on fire. The furious blue streak was rather impressive.
“Is killing cars part of your magus abilities?” Marcone asked with the faintest of smiles.
“Not intentionally,” I admitted ruefully. I do have other reasons for driving a Volkswagen Beetle other than the rule from the List, that they’re easy to fix is one of those reasons. “The more powerful a magus the more severe an effect he or she has on technology.”
The guard at the gate put down the phone and came out. “Unless you have a warrant only two agents are allowed to enter the premises.”
“Fine,” Marcone said. He nodded at Hendricks.
“I guess, I‘m keeping Lawrence company,” Spike said. He went back to help his fellow agent in battling the car.
I walked at Marcone’s side towards the house.
The guard caught me by the arm. “I said only two agents.”
I gave him a sharp grin. “I know. But I‘m not with the FBI.”
The guard refused to move or let me go. I stared hard at him but his eyes narrowed back at me. I put just a hint of compulsion in my voice as I said, “I‘m a consultant. I‘m going with them. Don‘t worry about it.”
The guard blinked, shook his head and his grip on me loosened. I took advantage of his confusion to slip past him and catch up with Marcone.
He gave me a raised eyebrow. My grin widened. “You just got to know how to talk to them,” I said cheerfully.
“Hmm,” he said, the corners of lips twitching up. He led the way through the front doors.
In the large entrance we met a young woman with a short haircut that led us to a library. The shelves were stacked to the ceiling with old leather books. I took one of the leather chairs and kicked back to wait.
For nearly half a freaking hour.
Marcone had on a calm expression when Bianca finally showed up but I could tell he was annoyed by the tension around his shoulders. I would’ve been annoyed too but at least I had a great eye candy to enjoy.
"Agent Marcone, I apologize for keeping you waiting,” were the first words out Bianca’s mouth. It was a very lovely mouth. She was gorgeous, in a curvy way that reminded me of actresses from the fifties. The sort that had beauty and elegance. Character and style.
I’d almost be interested, if I wasn’t fully aware of what lay behind that beautiful face. Because behind her flesh mask was a monstrous she-bat. All Red Court Vampires hid behind the façade of humanity. After all that‘s how they started off in life. Or unlife. Whatever.
“But I‘m afraid you caught me unprepared for visitors,” Bianca continued. She held out her hand to Marcone but palm down, as if she expected a kiss.
My eyes narrowed.
Marcone shook Bianca’s hand in a distant and professional way. I approved. Bianca’s dark eyes narrowed briefly before she smoothed out her face. She sat on one of the leather chairs with a politely questioning expression.
“May I ask what brings you gentlemen to my home?”
“We’re here to discuss Jennifer Stanton,” Marcone said.
Bianca’s entire body tensed. I saw her nails begin to lengthen. I straightened in my chair.
“Especially,” I added, “if you know anything about how she was killed.”
Bianca stared at me, taking in the high quality of my clothes. My very civilian clothes. “Who are you? You’re no FBI agent.”
We’ve never met. While I’ve been growing my power base, it had been primarily among mortals and mortal practitioners. I’ve been keeping away from the inhuman side of things. At least, that was the plan to grow my power among mortals before I challenged non-humans for power, but I still expected her to recognize my name.
I do have a certain reputation.
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I‘m Harry Dresden.”
Bianca’s eyes widened, and before I could voice a protest she launched herself at me.
I jerked backwards in the chair. And her lengthening claws missed me by less than an inch. I swore and kicked at her.
She screamed in rage, her sharp fangs glinted in the light. She swiped at my face again. This time her claws drew lines of pain across my arm. I’d thrown it up just in time, otherwise I’d have lost my eyes.
Marcone and Hendricks both pulled out their firearms, but I was in their line of fire. And since they were right behind her, Marcone was in my line of fire. Dammit. I went for the only defense I could safely use and pulled out a white handkerchief. I spilled it open. Bright sunlight blasted into Bianca with kinetic force. She smashed back into the shelves of the library, knocking down several shelves. Books landed all on her like heavy rain.
The light also had the side-effect of knocking away her flesh mask. The real Bianca crouched before me: a hideous, black, man-sized she-bat with membranous wings that stretched behind her.
Yuck. I mean, I knew what lay underneath but only in the academic sense. I hadn’t known exactly how ugly a Red Court vampire could get.
“Dammit, lady,” I swore. I pulled out my pentacle and poured my will - my belief of magic - into it. Articles of faith can hold off vampires. They don‘t have to be crosses. And to me? My magic was my faith. “We‘re only here to talk.”
“Liar,” she hissed through yellow fangs.
I poured more faith into my pentacle and Bianca cowered from the light.
“Mr. Dresden is correct,” Marcone said. But he kept his gun steadily on Bianca.
Hendricks was pale, but he mirrored his boss’ stance.
Bianca’s dark, alien eyes flickered over to Marcone. “He killed her! She was mine and he killed her!”
For crying out loud… what was it with everyone thinking I was the killer? Okay, I’m no angel but I usually have a reason for when I commit murder. I had no reason to go after Jennifer Stanton or Thomas Tomm and I was getting pretty sick and tired of getting accused of doing it.
“You’ll never leave this house alive,” Bianca continued, her eyes now glaring at me.
I glared right at her and made a mental note to add a codicil to rule 10.-3 I’m not to interrogate anyone in their inner sanctum, either. I’d hate for this to happen again.
“I didn’t kill her,” I growled. “And I sure as hell wouldn‘t be coming here with the FBI, if I had! Get a grip.” I was getting pretty sick and tired of her. I hadn’t expected Bianca to be someone who lost control so freaking easily. That thought made me frown and look at Bianca carefully. My eyebrows went up as I realized that she was actually scared… no more like terrified. She honestly believed that I was the one behind the murders.
Which meant she had no idea of who actually was responsible. Dammit.
“Look,” I told her. “If you calm down and talk to us you‘ll see that we‘re not here to attack you.”
“I don‘t believe you,” she said.
“This is a waste of time,” I told Marcone. “She doesn‘t know anything of who really killed your agent.”
“I agree,” Marcone said.
Bianca angrily eyed us both.
“We‘re not here to hurt you. We want to find out who killed them. We wouldn‘t be here otherwise,” I said, rolling my eyes. I pointedly lowered my pentacle. The cold blue light steadily faded. Bianca blinked at me and slowly straightened. I wasn’t worried she’d attack again since I had Marcone at my side. I swept my eyes towards Marcone in satisfaction. Now, this was the reason I wanted him to be mine. Well, one of the reasons. “Just answer Agent Marcone‘s questions,” I added coolly. “And we‘ll be out of your wings.”
Bianca shuddered and slowly the flesh mask covered her body again, hiding her monstrous bat face. She was lovely again. I was glad to see that neither Marcone or Hendricks relaxed now that she looked human.
“If you hadn‘t come with them,” Bianca said to me. “I’d kill you.”
I gave her a bored look. “And what do you think I‘d be doing with my death curse? You can bet your pretty ass I‘d be dragging you into hell with me.”
Her mouth flattened then she slumped, dropping her head down. I could see the shine of two tears dripping down her cheeks.
Aw, I’d made the monster cry. I rolled my eyes again.
“Mr. Dresden, may I have your handkerchief?” Marcone asked.
I blinked but gave it to him without protest. Marcone took it and handed it to Bianca. She flinched then looked up at him with wide eyes.
“I only have a few questions for you, Ms. St. Claire,” he continued gently. “Please dry your eyes.”
She nodded cautiously, taking the handkerchief from him.
I backed off and listened with half an ear as Marcone asked her questions about Jennifer Stanton. I stood by Hendricks, and for the first time since I’ve met the man, he wasn’t scowling at me. His eyes remained fixed on Bianca.
Here was another vanilla mortal that wasn’t going to be skeptical about magic. I smirked as I turned back to keep my eyes on her which is why I noticed when she tensed and turned to stare at me.
“You‘re bleeding, Dresden,” she whispered.
I stiffened, and leaped forward to hauled Marcone away from her before she could launch another attack. Her lips drew back, and her fangs glistened.
“Leave!” she screamed.
I got us all out. The young woman who’d showed us to the library ran past us and before the door closed I saw Bianca sinking her teeth into her throat. Marcone saw it too, and tried to slow down but I continued moving him forward.
“We can‘t do anything for her,” I told him grimly.
“Mr. Dresden, she‘s going to kill her,” he said coldly.
“I know,” I said softly. “But there‘s nothing we can do. She‘ll have us all killed if we interfere. Don‘t think she won‘t. Not even your FBI badge will protect you from her in the midst of a blood frenzy.”
He considered my words and slowly nodded as we got out of the house. I didn’t exactly take his actions for acceptance. Don’t forget, that I’ve seen the man’s soul. I know exactly what he was thinking. He was adding supernatural monsters like Bianca to his list of criminals to take down. I could see it in him as clearly as if he had spoken it.
Hell‘s bells, he was going to get himself killed if he did that. He didn’t have the knowledge or the resources.
“You don‘t know enough about vampires to take her down,” I said.
“It‘s just as well that I‘ve begun the paperwork to get you hired on as an FBI consultant,” Marcone said. He steadily walked to a new sedan - grey this time - with Hendricks trailing at his heels. The FBI moved fast when it came to getting new transportation. Spike was waiting for us. Lawrence had vanished with the dead car.
“I don‘t remember agreeing to that,” I said dryly.
“Then maybe I‘ll be able to talk you around during dinner,” Marcone said calmly. I followed him into the car.
I cheered up at this reminder. We did have a date coming up didn’t we? Oh, yes. The day was looking up.
“But first, we better see to your arm,” Marcone continued.
“I‘ll take a kiss to make it feel better,” I said, but let him administer first aid to the scratches from a heavy duty first aid kit.
“I think that a disinfectant will have more of an effect.”
“Not to me,” I said, but subsided in my flirting. I hadn’t felt it initially, but Bianca’s claws had dug in pretty deep and now they were really hurting.
Marcone considered me for a moment, and then carefully pressed a kiss to the palm of my hand. I was so busy grinning that I didn’t mind the sting of the alcohol he used to clean the wounds.
This boded well for my date!
1. Rule #29. I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.
2. Rule #26. No matter how attractive certain members of the rebellion are, there is probably someone just as attractive who is not desperate to kill me. Therefore, I will think twice before ordering a prisoner sent to my bedchamber.
3. Rule #10. I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum -- a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.