Proven Guilty Chapter 4

 

I managed to get one wild look around, and it showed me someone in a real battleship of an old Chrysler, dark grey, windows tinted, and then the car slammed into the Beetle again and nearly sent me into a deadly spin. My head snapped to one side and hit the window, and I could almost smell the smoldering of my tires as they all slid forward and sideways simultaneously. I felt the car hit the curb, and then bounced up. I wrenched at the steering wheel and the brakes, my body responding to things my stunned brain hadn’t caught up to yet. I think I kept it from becoming a total disaster, because instead of spinning off into oncoming traffic or hitting the wall at a sharp angle, I managed to slam the Beetle’s passenger-side broadside into the building beside the street. Brick grated on steel, until I came to a halt fifty feet later.

Stars swarmed over my vision and I tried to swat them away so that I could get a look at the Chrysler’s plates–but it was gone in a heartbeat. Or at least I think it was. Truth be told, my head was spinning so much that the car could have been doing interpretive dance in a lilac tutu and I might not have noticed.

Sitting there seemed like a really good idea, so I sat. After a while, I got the vague notion that I should make sure everyone was all right. I looked at me. No blood, which was positive. I looked blearily around the car. No screaming. No corpses in my rear view mirror. Nothing was on fire. There was broken safety glass everywhere from the passenger side window, but the rear window had been replaced with a sheet of translucent plastic a while back.

The Beetle, stalwart crusader against the forces of evil and alternative fuels, was still running, though its engine had acquired an odd, moaning wheeze as opposed to the usual surly wheeze. I tried my door. It didn’t open. I rolled down my window and hauled myself slowly out of the car. If I could get up the energy to slide across the hood before I got back in, I could audition for the Dukes of Hazzard.

“Here in Hazzard County,” I drawled to myself, “we don’t much cotton to hit-and-run automotive assaults.”

It took an unknown number of minutes for the first cop to arrive, a patrolman I recognized named Grayson. Grayson was an older cop, a big man with a big red nose and a comfortable gut, who looked like he could bounce angry drunks or drink them under the table, take your pick. He got out of his car and started asking me questions in a concerned tone of voice. I answered him as best as I could, but something between my brain and my mouth had shorted out, and I found him eyeing me and then looking around the inside of the Beetle for open containers before he sat me down on the ground and started routing traffic around. I got to sit down on the curb, which suited me fine. I watched the sidewalk spin around until someone touched my shoulder.

Karrin Murphy, head of Chicago PD’s Special Investigations department, looked like someone’s cute kid sister. She was maybe a rose petal over five feet tall, had blonde hair, blue eyes, a pug nose, and nearly invisible freckles. She was made all of springy muscle, a gymnast’s build that did not preclude feminine curves. She was in a white cotton shirt and blue jeans that day, a Cubs ball cap on her head, reflective sunglasses over her eyes.

“Harry?” she asked. “You okay?”

“Uncle Jesse is gonna be awful disappointed that one of Boss Hogg’s flunkies banged up the General Lee,” I told her, waving at my car.

She stared at me for a moment and then said, “Did you know you have a bruise on the side of your head?”

“Nah,” I said. I poked a finger at it. “Do I?”

Murphy sighed and gently pushed my finger down. “Harry, seriously. If you’re so loopy you can’t talk to me, I need to get you to a hospital.”

“Sorry, Murph,” I told her. “Been a long day already. I got my bells rung pretty good. I’ll be fine in a minute.”

She exhaled and then nodded and sat down on the curb with me. “Mind if I have one of the EMTs look at you? Just to be careful?”

“They’d want to take me to a hospital,” I said. “Too dangerous. I could short out someone’s life support. And the Reds are watching the hospitals, putting hits on our wounded. I could draw fire onto the patients.”

“I know that,” she said quietly. “I won’t let them take you.”

“Oh. Okay, then,” I said. An EMT checked me out. He shined a light into my eyes, for which I kicked him lightly in the shins. He muttered at me for a minute, poked me here and there, examined and measured and counted and so on. Then he shook his head and stood up. “Maybe a mild concussion. He should see a doctor to be safe, Lieutenant.”

Murphy nodded, thanked the EMT, and looked pointedly at the ambulance. He sidled away, his expression disapproving.

Murphy sat down with me again. “All right, spill. What happened?”

“Someone in a dark grey Chrysler tried to park in my back seat.” I waved a hand, annoyed, as she opened her mouth. “And no. I didn’t get the plates. I was too busy considering a career as a crash test dummy.”

“You’ve got the dummy part down,” she said. “You into something lately?”

“Not yet,” I complained. “I mean, Hell’s bells, Murphy. I got told half a freaking hour ago that there’s bad juju going down somewhere in Chicago. I haven’t even had time to start checking into it, and someone is already trying to make me into a commercial for seatbelts and airbags.”

“You sure it was deliberate?”

“Yeah. But whoever it was, he wasn’t a pro.”

“Why do you say that?”

“If he had been, he’d have spun me easy. No idea he was there until he’d hit me. Could have bumped me into a spin before I could have straightened out. Flipped my car a few times. Killed me pretty good.” I rubbed at the back of my neck. A nice, full-body ache was already spreading out into my muscles. “Isn’t exactly the best place for it, either.”

“Attack of opportunity,” Murphy said.

“Whassat?”

She smiled a little. “When you weren’t expecting the shot, but you see it and take it before the opportunity passes you by.”

“Oh. Yeah, probably one of those.”

Murphy shook her head. “Look, maybe I should get you to a doctor anyway.”

“No,” I said. “Really. I’m okay. But I want to get off the street soonest.”

Murphy inhaled slowly and then nodded. “I’ll take you home.”

“Thanks.”

Grayson came ambling over to us. “Wrecker’s on the way,” he said. “What do we got here?”

“Hit and run,” Murphy said.

Grayson lifted his eyebrows and eyed me. “Yeah? Looked to me like you got hit a couple of times. On purpose-like.”

“For all I know it was an honest accident,” I said.

Grayson nodded. “There’s some clothes in your back seat. Looks like they have blood on them.”

“Leftovers from last Halloween,” I said. “It’s costume stuff. A cloak and robes and such, had fake blood all over them. It looked cheesy as hell.”

Grayson snorted. “You’re worse than my kid. He’s still got some of his football jerseys in his back seat from last fall.”

“He probably has a nicer car.” I glanced up at the Beetle. It was a real mess, and I winced. It wasn’t like the Beetle was a priceless antique or anything, but it was my car. I drove it places. I liked it. “In fact, I’m sure it’s a nicer car.”

Grayson let out a wry chuckle. “I need to fill out some papers. You okay to help me fill in the blanks?”

“Sure,” I told him.

“Thanks for the call, Sergeant,” Murphy said.

De nada,” Grayson replied, touching the brim of his cap with a finger. “I’ll get those forms, Dresden, soon as the wrecker gets here.”

“Cool,” I said.

Grayson moved off, and Murphy stared at me steadily for a moment.

“What?” I asked her quietly.

“You lied to him,” she said. “About the clothes and the blood.”

I twitched one shoulder.

“And you did it well. I mean, if I didn’t know you . . .” She shook her head. “It surprises me about you. That’s all. You’ve always been a terrible liar.”

“Um,” I said. I wasn’t sure how to take that one. “Thank you?”

She let out a wry chuckle. “So what’s the real story?”

“Not here,” I said. “Let’s talk in a bit.”

Murphy studied my face for a second, and her frown deepened. “Harry? What’s wrong?”

The limp, headless body of that nameless young man filled my thoughts. It brought up too many emotions with it, and I felt my throat tighten until I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak. So I shook my head a little and shrugged.

She nodded. “You going to be all right?”

There was a peculiar gentleness in her voice. Murphy had been playing in what amounted to a boys-only league in her work with CPD, and she put off a tough-as-nails aura that made her seem almost as formidable as she actually was. That exterior almost never varied, at least out in the open, with other police officers nearby. But as she looked at me, there was a quiet, definite, and unashamed vulnerability in her voice.

We’ve had our differences in the past, but Murphy was one hell of a good friend. I gave her my best lopsided smile. “I’m always all right. More or less.”

She reached out and twitched a stray bit of hair from my forehead. “You’re a great big girl, Dresden. One little fender bender and you go all emotional and pathetic.” Her eyes flickered to the Beetle again, and suddenly burned with a cold blue fire. “Do you know who did this to you?”

“Not yet,” I growled as the wrecker arrived. “But you can bet your ass I’m going to find out.”

 Posted by at 8:15 pm