Turn Coat Chapter 1

 

The summer sun was busy broiling the asphalt from Chicago’s streets, the agony in my head had kept me horizontal for half a day, and some idiot was pounding on my apartment door.

I answered it and Morgan, half his face covered in blood, gasped, “The Wardens are coming. Hide me. Please.”

His eyes rolled back into his skull and he collapsed.

Oh.

Super.

Up until that moment, I’d been laboring under the misapprehension that the splitting pain in my skull would be the worst thing to happen to me today.

I’d been completely wrong.

“Hell’s frickin’ bells!” I blurted at Morgan’s unconscious form. “You have got to be kidding me!” I was really, really tempted to slam the door and leave him lying there in a heap. He sure as hell deserved it.

I couldn’t just stand there doing nothing, though.

“You need to get your head examined,” I muttered to myself. Then I deactivated my wards—the magical security system I’ve got laid over my apartment—grabbed Morgan under the arms, and hauled him inside. He was a big man, over six feet, with plenty of muscle—and he was completely limp. I had a hard time moving him, even though I’m no junior petite myself.

I shut the door behind me and brought my wards back up. Then I waved a hand at my apartment in general, focused my will, and muttered, “Flickum bicus.” A dozen candles spaced around the room flickered to life as I pronounced the simple spell, and I knelt beside the unconscious Morgan, examining him for injuries.

He had half a dozen nasty cuts, oozing and ugly and probably painful, but not life-threatening. The flesh on his ribs, beneath his left arm, was blistered and burned, and his plain white shirt had been scorched away. He also had a deep wound in one leg that was clumsily wrapped in what looked like a kitchen apron. I didn’t dare unwrap the thing. It could start the bleeding again, and my medical skills are nothing I’d want to bet a life on.

Even Morgan’s life.

He needed a doctor.

Unfortunately, if the Wardens of the White Council were pursuing him, they probably knew he was wounded. They would, therefore, be watching hospitals. If I took him to one of the local emergency rooms, the Council would know about it within hours.

So I called a friend.

* * * * *

Waldo Butters studied Morgan’s injuries in silence for a few moments, while I hovered. He was a wiry little guy, and his black hair stood up helter-skelter, like the fur of a frightened cat. He wore green hospital scrubs and sneakers, and his hands were swift and nimble. He had dark and very intelligent eyes behind black wire-rimmed spectacles, and looked like he hadn’t slept in two weeks.

“I’m not a doctor,” Butters said.

We’d done this dance several times. “You are the Mighty Butters,” I said. “You can do anything.”

“I’m a medical examiner. I cut up corpses.”

“If it helps, think of this as a preventive autopsy.”

Butters gave me an even look and said, “Can’t take him to the hospital, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Butters shook his head. “Isn’t this the guy who tried to kill you that one Halloween?”

“And a few other times before that,” I said.

He opened a medical kit and started rummaging through it. “I was never really clear on why.”

I shrugged. “When I was a kid, I killed a man with magic. I was captured by the Wardens and tried by the White Council.”

“I guess you got off.”

I shook my head. “But they figured that since I was just trying to survive the guy killing me with magic, maybe I deserved a break. Suspended sentence, sort of. Morgan was my probation officer.”

“Probation?” Butters asked.

“If I screwed up again, he was supposed to chop my head off. He followed me around looking for a good excuse to do it.”

Butters blinked up at me, surprised.

“I spent the first several years of my adult life looking over my shoulder, worrying about this guy. Getting hounded and harassed by him. I had nightmares for a while, and he was in them.” Truth be told, I still had nightmares occasionally, about being pursued by an implacable killer in a grey cloak, holding a wicked, cold sword.

Butters began to wet the bandages over the leg wound. “And you’re helping him?”

I shrugged. “He thought I was a dangerous animal and needed to be put down. He really believed it, and acted accordingly.”

Butters gave me a quick glance. “And you’re helping him?”

“He was wrong,” I said. “That doesn’t make him a villain. It just makes him an asshole. It isn’t reason enough to kill him.”

“Reconciled, eh?”

“Not especially.”

Butters lifted his eyebrows. “Then why’d he come to you for help?”

“Last place anyone would look for him be my guess.”

“Jesus Christ,” Butters muttered. He’d gotten the improvised bandage off, and found a wound maybe three inches long, but deep, its edges puckered like a little mouth. Blood began drooling from it. “It’s like a knife wound, but bigger.”

“That’s probably because it was done with something like a knife, but bigger.”

“A sword?” Butters said. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“The Council’s old school,” I said. “Really, really, really old school.”

Butters shook his head. “Wash your hands the way I just did. Do it thorough—takes two or three minutes. Then get a pair of gloves on and get back here. I need an extra pair of hands.”

I swallowed. “Uh. Butters, I don’t know if I’m the right guy to—”

“Oh bite me, wizard boy,” Butters said, his tone annoyed. “You haven’t got a moral leg to stand on. If it’s okay that I’m not a doctor, it’s okay that you aren’t a nurse. So wash your freaking hands and help me before we lose him.”

I stared at Butters helplessly for a second. Then I got up and washed my freaking hands.

For the record, surgeries aren’t pretty. There’s a hideous sense of intimately inappropriate exposure to another human being, and it feels something like accidentally walking in on a naked parent. Only there’s more gore. Bits are exposed that just shouldn’t be out in the open, and they’re covered in blood. It’s embarrassing, disgusting, and unsettling all at the same time.

“There,” Butters said, an infinity later. “Okay, let go. Get your hands out of my way.”

“It cut the artery?” I asked.

“Oh, hell no,” Butters said. “Whoever stabbed him barely nicked it. Otherwise he’d be dead.”

“But it’s fixed, right?”

“For some definitions of ‘fixed.’ Harry, this is meatball surgery of the roughest sort, but the wound should stay closed as long as he doesn’t go walking around on it. And he should get looked at by a real doctor soonest.” He frowned in concentration. “Just give me a minute to close up here.”

“Take all the time you need.”

Butters fell silent while he worked, and didn’t speak again until after he’d finished sewing the wound closed and covered the site in bandages. Then he turned his attention to the smaller injuries, closing most of them with bandages, suturing a particularly ugly one. He also applied a topical antibiotic to the burn, and carefully covered it in a layer of gauze.

“Okay,” Butters said. “I sterilized everything as best I could, but it wouldn’t shock me to see an infection anyway. He starts running a fever, or if there’s too much swelling, you’ve got to get him to one of two places—the hospital or the morgue.”

“Got it,” I said quietly.

“We should get him onto a bed. Get him warm.”

“Okay.”

We lifted Morgan by the simple expedient of picking up the entire area rug he was lying on, and settled him down on the only bed in the place, the little twin in my closet-sized bedroom. We covered him up.

“He really ought to have a saline IV going,” Butters said. “For that matter, a unit of blood couldn’t hurt, either. And he needs antibiotics, man, but I can’t write prescriptions.”

“I’ll handle it,” I said.

Butters grimaced at me, his dark eyes concerned. He started to speak and then stopped, several times.

“Harry,” he said, finally. “You’re on the White Council, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“And you are a Warden, aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

Butters shook his head. “So, your own people are after this guy. I can’t imagine that they’ll be very happy with you if they find him here.”

I shrugged. “They’re always upset about something.”

“I’m serious. This is nothing but trouble for you. So why help him?”

I was quiet for a moment, looking down at Morgan’s slack, pale, unconscious face.

“Because Morgan wouldn’t break the Laws of Magic,” I said quietly. “Not even if it cost him his life.”

“You sound pretty sure about that.”

I nodded. “I am. I’m helping him because I know what it feels like to have the Wardens on your ass for something you haven’t done.” I rose and looked away from the unconscious man on my bed. “I know it better than anyone alive.”

Butters shook his head. “You are a rare kind of crazy, man.”

“Thanks.”

He started cleaning up everything he’d set out during the improvised surgery. “So. How are the headaches?”

They’d been a problem, the past several months—increasingly painful migraines. “Fine,” I told him.

“Yeah, right,” Butters said. “I really wish you’d try the MRI again.”

Technology and wizards don’t coexist well, and magnetic resonance imagers are right up there. “One baptism in fire-extinguishing foam per year is my limit,” I said.

“It could be something serious,” Butters said. “Anything happens in your head or neck, you don’t take chances. There’s way too much going on there.”

“They’re lightening up,” I lied.

“Hogwash,” Butters said, giving me a gimlet stare. “You’ve got a headache now, don’t you?”

I looked from Butters to Morgan’s recumbent form. “Yeah,” I said. “I sure as hell got one now.”

 Posted by at 8:40 pm