I got in my busted-up old Volkswagen bug, the mighty Blue Beetle, and headed for the cache of medical supplies.
The problem with hunting down the traitor in the White Council was simple: because of the specific information leaks that had occurred, there were a limited number of people who could have possessed the information. The suspect pool was damn small—just about everyone in it was a member of the Senior Council, and everyone there was beyond reproach.
The second someone threw an accusation at one of them, things were going to get busy, and fast. If an innocent was fingered, they would react the same way Morgan had. Knowing full well that the justice of the Council was blind, especially to annoying things like facts, they would have little choice but to resist.
One punky young wizard like me bucking the system was one thing, but when one of the heavyweights on the Senior Council did it, there would be a world of difference. The Senior Council members all had extensive contacts in the Council. They all had centuries of experience and skill to back up enormous amounts of raw strength. If one of them put up a fight, it would mean more than resisting arrest.
It would mean internal strife like the White Council had never seen.
It would mean civil war.
And, under the circumstances, I couldn’t imagine anything more disastrous for the White Council. The balance of power between the supernatural nations was a precarious thing—and we had barely managed to hang on throughout the war with the vampire Courts. Both sides were getting their wind back now, but the vampires could replace their losses far more quickly than we could. If the Council dissolved into infighting now, it would trigger a feeding frenzy amongst our foes.
Morgan had been right to run. I knew the Merlin well enough to know that he wouldn’t blink twice before sacrificing an innocent man if it meant holding the Council together, much less someone who might actually be guilty.
Meanwhile, the real traitor would be clapping his hands in glee. One of the Senior Council was already down, and if the Council as a whole didn’t implode in the next few days, it would become that much rifer with paranoia and distrust, following the execution of the most capable and highly accomplished combat commander in the Wardens. All the traitor would need to do was rinse and repeat, with minor variations, and sooner or later something would crack.
I would only get one shot at this. I had to find the guilty party, and I had to be right and irrefutable the very first time.
Colonel Mustard, in the den, with the lead pipe.
Now all I needed was a clue.
No pressure, Harry.
* * * * *
My half brother lived in an expensive apartment on the very edge of the Gold Coast area, which, in Chicago, is where a whole lot of people with a whole lot of money live. Thomas runs an upscale boutique, specializing in the kind of upper-crust clientele who seem to be willing to pay a couple hundred dollars for a haircut and a blow dry. He does well for himself, too, as evidenced by his expensive address.
I parked a few blocks west of his apartment, where the rates weren’t quite so Gold Coasty, and then walked in to his place and leaned on his buzzer. No one answered. I checked the clock in the lobby, then folded my arms, leaned against a wall, and waited for him to get home from work.
His car pulled into the building’s lot a few minutes later. He’d replaced the enormous Hummer that we’d managed to trash with a brand-new ridiculously expensive car—a Jaguar, with plenty of flash and gold trim. It was, needless to say, pure white. I kept on lurking, waiting for him to come around to the doors.
He did, a minute later. He was maybe a hair or three under six feet tall, dressed in midnight blue leather pants and a white silk shirt with big blousy sleeves. His hair was midnight black, presumably to complement the pants, and fell in rippling waves to just below his shoulders. He had grey eyes, teeth whiter than the robes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, and a face that had been made for fashion magazines. He had the build to go with it, too. Thomas made all those Spartans in that movie look like slackers, and he didn’t even use an airbrush.
He raised his dark brows as he saw me. ” ‘Arry,” he said in the hideously accurate French accent he used in public. “Good evening, mon ami.”
I nodded to him. “Hey. We need to talk.”
His smile faded as he took in my expression and body language, and he nodded. “But of course.”
We went on up to his apartment. It was immaculate, as always, the furnishings expensive, modern, and oh so trendy, with a lot of brushed nickel finish in evidence. I went in, leaned my quarterstaff against the frame of the front door, and slouched down onto one of the couches. I looked at it for a minute.
“How much did you pay for this?” I asked him.
He dropped the accent. “About what you did for the Beetle.”
I shook my head, and tried to find a comfortable way to sit. “That much money, you’d think they could afford more cushions. I’ve sat on fences more comfy than this.”
“That’s because it isn’t really meant to be sat upon,” Thomas replied. “It’s meant to show people how very wealthy and fashionable one is.”
“I got one of my couches for thirty bucks at a garage sale. It’s orange and green plaid, and it’s tough not to fall asleep in it when you sit down.”
“It’s very you,” Thomas said, smiling as he crossed to the kitchen. “Whereas this is very much me. Or very much my persona, anyway. Beer?”
“Long as it’s cold.”
He returned with a couple of dark brown bottles coated in frost, and passed me one. We took the tops off, clinked, and then he sat down on the chair across from the couch as we drank.
“Okay,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Trouble,” I replied. I told him about Morgan.
Thomas scowled. “Empty night, Harry. Morgan? Morgan!? What’s wrong with your head?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think he did it.”
“Who cares? Morgan wouldn’t cross the street to piss on you if you were on fire,” Thomas growled. “He’s finally getting his comeuppance. Why should you lift a finger?”
“Because I don’t think he did it,” I said. “Besides. You haven’t thought it through.”
Thomas slouched back in the chair and regarded me with narrowed eyes as he sipped at his beer. I joined him, and let him mull it over in silence. There was nothing wrong with Thomas’s brain.
“Okay,” he said, grudgingly. “I can think of a couple of reasons you’d want to cover his homicidal ass.”
“I need the medical stuff I left with you.”
He rose and went to the hall closet—which was packed to groaning with all manner of household articles that build up when you stay in one place for a while. He removed a white toolbox with a red cross painted on the side of it, and calmly caught a softball that rolled off the top shelf before it hit his head. He shut everything in again, got a cooler out of his fridge, and put it and the medical kit on the floor next to me.
“Please don’t tell me that this is all I can do,” he said.
“No. There’s something else.”
He spread his hands. “Well?”
“I’d like you to find out what the Vampire Courts know about the manhunt. And I need you to stay under the radar while you do it.”
He stared at me for a moment, and then exhaled slowly. “Why?”
I shrugged. “I’ve got to know more about what’s going on. I can’t ask my people. And if a bunch of people know you’re asking around, someone is going to connect some dots and take a harder look at Chicago.”
My brother the vampire went completely still for a moment. It isn’t something human beings can do. All of him, even the sense of his presence in the room, just…stopped. I felt like I was staring at a wax figure.
“You’re asking me to bring Justine into this,” he said.
Justine was the girl who had been willing to give her life for my brother. And who he’d nearly killed himself to protect. “Love” didn’t begin to cover what they had. Neither did “broken.”
My brother was a vampire of the White Court. For him, love hurt. Thomas and Justine couldn’t ever be together.
“She’s the personal aide of the leader of the White Court,” I said. “If anyone’s in a good position to find out, she is.”
He rose, the motion a little too quick to be wholly human, and paced back and forth in agitation. “She’s already taking enough risks, feeding information on the White Court’s activities back to you when it’s safe for her to do it. I don’t want her taking more chances.”
“I get that,” I said. “But situations like this are the whole reason she went undercover in the first place. This is exactly the kind of thing she wanted to do when she went in.”
Thomas mutely shook his head.
I sighed. “Look, I’m not asking her to deactivate the tractor beam, rescue the princess, and escape to the fourth moon of Yavin. I just need to know what she’s heard and what she can find out without blowing her cover.”
He paced for another half a minute or so before he stopped and stared at me hard. “Promise me something, first.”
“Promise me that you won’t put her in any more danger than she already is. Promise me that you won’t act on any information they could trace back to her.”
“Dammit, Thomas,” I said wearily. “That just isn’t possible. There’s no way to know exactly which information will be safe to use, and no way to know for certain which bits of data might be misinformation.”
“Promise me,” he said, emphasizing both words.
I shook my head. “I promise that I’ll do absolutely everything in my power to keep Justine safe.”
His jaws clenched a few times. The promise didn’t satisfy him—though it was probably more accurate to say that the situation didn’t satisfy him. He knew I couldn’t guarantee her complete safety and he knew that I’d given him everything I could.
He took a deep, slow breath.
Then he nodded.
“Okay,” he said.