Peace Talks Chapter 5

This summer brings not one but TWO Dresden Files novels! Peace Talks arrives July 14th, and Battle Ground hits September 29th. Preorder both through the store!

Of course it went badly,” Karrin said. “It was a fight with someone in your family. Believe me, family fights are the worst.”

“The family hasn’t even been assembled yet and there’s fights,” I complained.

“Looks pretty assembled to me, from what I’ve seen,” she said, her tone dry.

“Yeah, well. I’ve never had much opportunity to fight with family,” I said.

“I have,” she said. “Everyone cares about everyone else, so when you get mad and say something horrible, it hurts that much more. And too many things go unsaid. That’s the worst, I think. Everyone thinks they know one another better than they probably do, so you fill in the silences with things the other person never actually said. Or thought. Or thought about saying.”

I scowled and said, “Is that your professional opinion, Doctor Murphy?”

She snorted, fell silent, and squeezed my hand with hers. Her grip was small and strong and warm. We held hands a lot these days.

I’d come over to cook her some dinner. My cooking skills are modest but serviceable, and we’d both had our fill of oven‑roasted chicken and potatoes and a fresh salad. Karrin was having a hard time moving around in the kitchen, between her knee, her shoulder, and all the braces she had to wear to keep them more or less immobilized. And she’d gotten sick of the available delivery food after only a few weeks of being laid up.

I came over a couple of nights a week and cooked for her, when the Carpenter kids were available to babysit Maggie.

“Speaking of doctors,” I said, all smooth, “what did the doctor say today?”

“Round one of surgery went okay,” she said. She exhaled and laid her head against my arm. We were sitting on the couch in her living room, with her injured leg propped up on an ottoman I’d gotten for her. She was a bitty thing, five and not much, if a very muscular five and not much. Blond hair, clean but bedraggled. Hard to keep it styled when you’ve got to do everything with one hand. No makeup.

And she looked tired. Karrin Murphy found the lack of work during her recovery exhausting.

She’d collected the injuries on my behalf. They weren’t my fault, or that’s what I kept telling myself, but at the end of the day she’d put herself in a place to get hurt because I’d asked her to be there. You could argue free will and causality and personal choice all you wanted, but the fact was that if I hadn’t gotten her involved, she’d probably have been in one of her martial arts classes at this time of evening.

“Round two can start next week,” she continued, speaking in her professional voice, the detached one that didn’t have any emotion in it, used mostly when something really, really upset her. “Then it’s just three more months of casts and stupid braces and then I can start six months of therapy while they wean me off the painkillers, and after all of that is done, if it goes very, very well, he thinks I might be able to walk without  a cane. As long as I don’t have to do it very fast.”

I frowned. “What about your training?”

“There was damage,” she said, her voice becoming not so much quiet as . . . dead. “In the knee, shoulder, elbow. They’re hoping to get me back to fifty percent. Of basic function. Not athletic activity.”

I remembered her scream when Nicodemus had kicked in her knee. The ugly, wet crunching sound when he’d calmly forced her arm out of  its socket, tearing apart her rotator and hyperextending her elbow at the same time. He’d done it deliberately, inflicted as much damage, as much pain, as he could.

“I don’t get to be me anymore,” she whispered.

She’d been injured before, and she’d come back from it.

But everyone has limits. She was only human.

We sat in the silence while her old grandfather clock ticked steadily. “Is there anything that . . .” she began.

I shook my head. “When it comes to healing, magic isn’t much ahead of medicine at this point. Our people go to study from yours. Unless you want to get Faustian.”

“No,” she said firmly.

I nodded. There wasn’t much else I could say. “I’m sorry,” I said finally.

She gave her head a tiny shake. “Don’t,” she said. “I cried about it earlier. And I’ll do it again later. But right now I don’t want to think about it. Talk about something else.”

I tried to think of something. I came up empty. So instead, I kissed her.

“You are the last of the red‑hot raconteurs, Dresden,” she murmured against my mouth. But then she closed her eyes and leaned into the kiss, and everything else started going away.

Kissing was something I had to be cautious about. After about twenty seconds of feeling her breath mingling with mine, the Winter mantle started going berserk with naked lust. The damned aura of power Mab had given me let me do some incredible things, but the constant drumbeat of sex and violence it kept playing at my thoughts and emotions never went away. So at twenty seconds, I started breathing faster, and at thirty my head was besieged by impulses of Things to Do with Karrin, and by the time a minute had gone by I was forcing myself to remember that I was stronger than I realized and to be careful not to clench my hands on her and haul her bodily against me.

Though, to be fair, she was reacting in almost exactly the same way and she didn’t have an aura of wicked Faerie power to blame it on.

So maybe it wasn’t the mantle at all. Maybe it was just me, which was scary.

Or maybe it was just . . . us.

Which was actually kind of an amazing thought.

Her fingers twined in my hair and gripped hard and she gasped, “Okay. You are a genius of conversation. This is exactly what I need.”

“Are you su—” I began to ask.

“God, stop talking, Harry,” she growled, and her hand got more intimate, sliding under my shirt. “I’m tired of waiting. You’re tired of waiting. We’re tired of waiting.”

I made a vague sound of agreement that sort of turned into a growl. Then her mouth found mine again and muffled the sound and my heart rate accelerated to the level of frantic teenager. So did hers. Our breaths were coming out faster, synced, and then my hand slid over her hip and she let out a sound of need that robbed me of the ability to think about anything at all.

“Now,”  she gasped. Then she made a bunch of sounds that sort of  had a consonant and a vowel as clothes got removed, or at least rearranged. I helped her a little with mine, because after all, she only had one hand to work with. She kept urging me to hurry, though without words. And then I was kneeling on the floor and she was spread beneath me on the couch, our hips aligning, and I leaned down  to  find  her  mouth again and—

—and I felt her stiffen with sudden pain, felt the catch in her breath as it hit her. Her shoulder or her leg, I couldn’t tell, but, dammit, she was supposed to be recovering, not . . . being athletic.

Her eyes opened all the way. She blinked at me a few times  and asked, “What?”

“I . . .” I mumbled. “I don’t know if . . .”

She seized my shirt in her good hand and dragged me toward her, eyes lambent. “I am not made of glass. Harry, I want this. For once in your life, would you please shut your mouth, stop thinking, and just do me.”

I looked down and said, “Um.”

Karrin looked down, and then up at me. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling for a second, and I swear to you, she must have had an even better sexual frustration face than I did. Then she sort of deflated, which made two of us, and let out her breath in a slow sigh.

“Dresden,” she said, “this chivalrous self‑identity thing you have going is often endearing. But right now, I want to kick it in the nuts.”

“I can’t hurt you,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

She rolled her eyes again and pulled me down so that she could put an arm around my neck, while I carefully kept any weight off her. She kissed my temple and said, very gently, “I know. You dear idiot.”

I put my arms around her carefully and hugged her back. And that was when someone knocked briskly at the front door.

I jumped up, en déshabillé, and tried to rearrange my clothes. Murphy sort of flopped about, trying to do the same with one hand and two largely immobile limbs. We both stopped to notice, and then to notice  the other noticing, and then burst out into absurd laughter while we continued trying to dress.

“The door,” Murphy tittered, dragging a quilted throw across her bare legs. I managed to stagger to it, glanced out the peephole and recognized the caller, and opened the door slightly while using it to hide the fact that my pants had fallen back to my knees.

The fuzz stood on the porch.

Two men were waiting there politely, with polite, neutral cop faces. I recognized one of them, though it had been a while since I’d seen him. He was on the tall side of medium height, good‑looking, with a regulation high‑and‑tight for his dark hair, although he’d added a thick mustache to his look that, admittedly, set off his blue eyes very well. He wore a suit too expensive for his pay grade and had a thick manila envelope tucked under one arm.

“Detective Rudolph,” I said as I finished pulling my pants on. In a tone of voice generally reserved for phrases like Crucify him or I’m going to cut your throat, I continued, “How nice to see you again.”

“Dresden,” Rudolph said, smirking for a moment. “Great. Two birds with one stone. Is Ms. Murphy home?”

He put a little emphasis on the title, just to remind everyone that she wasn’t a cop anymore. I wanted to smack him. I restrained myself in a manly fashion and said, “It isn’t a good time. She’s  still  recuperating from her injuries.”

“The ones from last winter,” Rudolph noted.

I arched a brow. Murphy’s injuries from our little outing with a pack of psychotic killers and sociopathic malcontents hadn’t involved gunshot wounds, and they hadn’t happened at a crime scene. The medical establishment hadn’t needed to report them to the police—which meant that the cops had gone sniffing around to find out about them. That wasn’t good.

Murphy had been helping me with a smash‑and‑grab operation. We’d robbed Hell. Or at least, a hell. The target hadn’t been anything inside Chicago PD’s jurisdiction, but we’d kind of had to get there through the basement of a bank, and it had gotten pretty thoroughly wrecked as a result. Plus there’d been the guards. And the police who had surrounded the bank. And the cops we’d gone through on the way out. We’d worked hard to make sure no one would be killed, but one of our associates had slaughtered a guard anyway.

That made us accomplices to murder at least, as far as the law was concerned. And they weren’t wrong.

“Yeah, those injuries,” I told him. “So buzz off.”

“Or what?” Rudolph asked mildly.

“Or, unless you have a warrant to enter, or some kind of believable probable cause, I imagine Murph sues your department’s ass to kingdom come.”

“Maybe I’ll insist,” Rudolph said, smiling.

“I’d love to see that,” I told him, and I meant it. The mantle was talking to me again, advising me that if I wasn’t going to vent some of my built‑up tension on a willing woman, then beating the arrogant stuffing out of Rudolph would be an appropriate substitute.

“Nah,” the second cop said in a bored, distant  voice.  “You  wouldn’t, sir.”

I eyed the other guy. He was about five feet, six inches—in all three dimensions. I seriously couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a guy built so solidly. He wore a tailored suit, because I doubted anything fit him off the rack, but it was made of neutral, plain materials, meant to blend into the background of the business world. His salt‑and‑pepper hair was buzzed short, and his face was rough with beard shadow that I suspected appeared about ten seconds after he was done shaving. Something about the way he held himself, the way his eyes were focused on nothing in particular, put me on notice that he knew what he was doing better than most.

I wasn’t familiar with the cops in Internal Affairs the way I was with Special Investigations, or the beat cops in the neighborhoods I knew. “They partnered you with Rudy, huh?” I said. “Harry Dresden.”

“Detective Bradley,” he said. “Sir, it would be in Ms. Murphy’s best interests to speak to us now.”

“Or we could do it downtown,” Rudolph said. “I don’t care which.”

“Rudolph,” I said in a pleasant voice, “do you know how long it takes to wash dried blood from a broken nose out of a mustache?”

“Harry,” Karrin said from the couch, reproof in her voice. “Dial it down a notch?” She waved an apologetic hand at me, out of sight of the men at the door. “Let’s just get it over with, huh?”

I glowered at the men and said, “I reserve the right to kick—”

“Harry,” Murphy sighed.

“—ask you to leave if it looks like she’s getting tired,” I continued smoothly. I looked past Rudolph to the older man and said, “Okay?”

“Why, you—” Rudolph said.

Bradley the human tank put a hand on Rudolph’s shoulder. His fingers squeezed slightly, and Rudolph shut his mouth and then shot him a quick, hard look.

“Sir,” Bradley said, “it’s in no one’s interests to strain an injured woman unnecessarily. We’ll be brief.”

I growled and said, “Fine. Come in.”

They did and asked to sit. Whatever. I didn’t sit down. I went and stood behind Karrin, leaning against the wall with my arms folded.

“Murphy,” Bradley said.

Karrin nodded at him warily. I knew her enough to recognize some respect in the gesture, if no affection. “Bradley. Out with it, Rudolph. What are you doing here?”

Rudolph opened the manila envelope and tugged out several pieces of paper with color prints of photos on them. He tossed them onto the coffee table. I picked them up and gave them to Karrin without taking my eyes off the cops.

She leafed through the pictures, and I felt her tension growing as she did. She passed me the pictures.

One of them was a still from a security take on a Chicago street. I didn’t recognize the location exactly, but I did recognize the blurred shot of Murphy, in her little SUV, speeding down the street in heavy winter conditions.

The others were shots from outside the bank, and from security cameras inside. There’d been enough bad weather and enough magic in the air that the shots were all blurry and distorted, but one of them was of a couple of guys coming out the bank door. One of them was average height, and the second was very tall.

It was a shot of me and a mercenary named Grey during our egress  of the heist, taken from a distance. The veil we’d been under must have flickered, or else the shot was from before it solidified and hid us from everyone. As it was, there wasn’t much but outlines. Our faces couldn’t really be made out in the distorted images. Still, there aren’t a lot of NBA‑sized guys robbing banks in Chicago. Or anywhere. All  of  the  other images were just as vague, or worse, but had the recognizable silhouette of the same tall fellow, though none of them showed my face, except the last one. In that one, I was sprinting down a sidewalk, and anyone with eyes, which is to say most people who might wind up on a jury, could recognize the image as me.

“That shot of you,” Rudolph said to Karrin, “came from the same day you wound up with your injuries. Hell of a coincidence.”

“How?” she asked calmly. “Rudolph, everybody in Chicago gets on a security camera or three every day of their lives.”

“They aren’t all speeding in dangerous conditions,” Rudolph said. “Does Chicago have IA doing traffic stops?” Karrin asked. “Now that you’ve cleaned up all the corruption in town?”

“Speeding down main streets during an ice storm,” Bradley said. “Near reports of gang violence at the same time.”

“I was trying to make it home in time for my shows,” she said, her tone dry.

“Car ended up wrecked, didn’t it?”

“The follies of youthful impatience,” Karrin said, and pointed at her casts. “Been pretty clear about that.”

Bradley nodded. “Talked to your doctor. Says he hasn’t ever seen injuries like yours from a wreck. Too precise. Says they’re clearly directed violence.”

“He’s wrong,” Karrin said. “And violating HIPAA.”

“And your known associate,” Bradley continued, as though she hadn’t spoken. “We got images of him, too.”

“Beautiful picture of you, Dresden,” Rudolph said. “On the sidewalk outside a building where we found a body the next day.” He consulted a little notebook in his pocket. “One Harvey Morrison, CPA.”

Karrin gave him her cop face, and I made do with my wizard face, but it was tough. My stomach had just dropped out. Harvey Morrison had died badly, despite my efforts to save his life. Cops get a little funny about the corpses of murdered men and women, particularly when they’re squares, unconnected to the world of crime.

Failing to save someone isn’t quite the same thing as murdering them—but from the outside, the two can look almost identical.

Bradley continued. “Morrison was a frequent customer at Verity Trust Bank. Which was robbed the next day. His specific vault was opened during the robbery. During which a number of explosions and a great deal of gunfire occurred.” He nodded at the pictures. “Those other images are of a suspect between six foot eight and six foot eleven, presumably one of the bank robbers.” He looked up at me blandly. “Six . . . nine? Isn’t it, Dresden?”

“I ate all of my Wheaties every morning at breakfast,” I said.

“Wiseass,” Rudolph hissed. “Keep on cracking wise. I’ve got your ass now.”

“Cracking wise?” I asked him. I shook my head at Bradley and hooked a thumb at Rudolph. “Who talks like that?”

“He might be right,” Bradley said quietly. He looked from me to Karrin. “We’re digging. We’re good at it.”

“You are,” Karrin acknowledged.

Bradley nodded. “Your family’s done good work in this town, Murphy.  Might be a good thing for you both if you talked to us before we dig up anything more.”

Karrin didn’t look at me, and I didn’t look at her. We didn’t need to check in on this particular subject. Like most of the rest of the world, the cops didn’t have much time for the world of the supernatural. They would look at us blankly if we tried to tell them about a heist run by demon‑possessed, two‑thousand‑year‑old maniacs, and including ourselves, a shapeshifter, a Sasquatch, a one‑man army, and a pyromancer. They’d figure we were going for an insanity plea and run us in.

The capacity of humanity to deny what is right in front of it is staggering. Hell, Rudolph had seen a loup‑garou tear apart a Chicago police station with his own eyes, and he was still in denial.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Karrin said. “In that picture, I’m just trying to get home out of the storm. I don’t know anything about this accountant.”

“And I barely know anything about anything,” I said. “Except that there are maybe a thousand people in Chicagoland who are six foot eight or taller. These pictures could be of any of them. Hope you got a real big lineup room.”

“And this picture? The one of you?” Bradley asked politely.

“I think I was running to catch a train,” I said. I was trying for guileless.

Bradley clearly wasn’t buying it. He eyed us both and then nodded and let out a breath. “Yeah. Okay.”

Rudolph stood up briskly and said, “Well, we tried.”

Bradley gave Rudolph a steady look. Then he stood and said, quietly, “I’ll be right out. Wait for me.”

“I am not your fucking junior partner,” Rudolph snarled. “I am your superior officer.”

“Yes, sir,” Bradley said. “And I’ll be right out.”

Rudolph gave him a disgusted look. Then he eyed me, pointed at me with his index finger, and said, “I’m looking forward to seeing you locked up, Dresden.”

“Yeah, keep looking,” I told him.

Rudolph smirked at me. Then at Karrin.

She stared at him. She’s got a good stare. Rudolph’s smirk faded and he abruptly left without another word.

“Prick,” Karrin breathed after the door closed behind him. She eyed Bradley and said, “Him? Really?”

Bradley shrugged, a tectonic shift of massive shoulders. “Job’s gotta get done. Someone’s gotta do it.”

“Yeah,” Karrin said quietly.

“Dogs are out,” he said. “Matter of time before they get a scent. You and Dresden both cut it close for a long time. This time you went over the line.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Karrin said.

“Crap,” Bradley replied. He rubbed a hand over his buzzed scalp. “Okay. That’s how you want it, we play it all the way out.”

“Do your job,” Karrin said. “You always have.”

“Yeah.” Bradley shook his head. “Rudolph let it get personal. Unprofessional. Sorry about that.”

“I don’t expect any better from him,” Karrin said. “Not your fault.”

“Hey,” I said. “Why does Internal Affairs have this one? Why not Homicide?”

He shrugged. “Murphy was one of ours, I guess. You were, too, sort of.”

Karrin stared at him intently for a moment. Then she said, “Thanks for coming by, Bradley.”

Bradley nodded politely. “Yeah. Thanks for your time. I hope you feel better soon, Ms. Murphy.”

He left, too, shutting the door carefully behind him, as if he wanted  to avoid cracking it in half by accident. Maybe it had been a problem for him before.

I let out a long breath after he left. Then I went to the door and watched them depart and nodded to Karrin once they were gone.

“What’d you get from him?” I asked. “I didn’t catch it.”

“Because I was one of theirs, he guesses,” Murphy said. “Bradley doesn’t guess about anything. He doesn’t know why IA has the case.”

I rubbed at the spot between my eyes and growled. “Someone is pulling strings behind the scenes. They got the case bumped over to one of their people. Rudolph.”

“And Marcone owns Rudolph,” Karrin said. She pursed her lips. “Or so we’ve assumed.”

I grunted. “Who else could have him? Who else has so much influence in this town?”

She shook her head. “Asking the wrong person in this room.”

“Hah,” I said. “Something else to look into. What can we expect?”

“Bradley’s like a starving dog with a bone,” she said. “He gets on a trail, he doesn’t get off it. He doesn’t sweep things under the rug. Doesn’t play the game.”

“No wonder he’s his age and still junior to Rudolph,” I said. “Fortunately, we have a little thing called fact on our side: We didn’t kill Harvey. Or the guy at the bank.”

Karrin snorted. “We were there, and we’re lying to the police about it. That would get us put away for a while all by itself. But our DNA was at the scene, and they might turn up eyewitnesses who saw us on the street or find more images from a camera somewhere. Or . . .”

“Or someone could make some more evidence happen,” I said.

She nodded. “They could make a case out of it. This could . . . wind up badly.”

“What do we do about it, then?”

She arched an eyebrow at me. “Do? What are we, the villains in Bradley’s detective novel? Should we try to warn him off the case? Destroy some evidence? Set someone else up to take the fall?”

I grunted. “Still.”

“Not much we can do,” she said quietly. “Except find out more about what’s going on. I’ve got a few channels left. I’ll check them.”

“I’ll add looking into Rudolph’s sponsor to my list,” I said.

She nodded. “Think this will interfere with the weirdness convention?”

“Might be meant to,” I said. I thought about it for a long moment and then said, “When I go, call Butters.” Karrin quirked an eyebrow at me.

“This shows every sign of becoming a sharknado,” I said. “Have him get the word out. To everyone. I mean everyone on the Paranet.”

“What word?”

“To keep their eyes open, sing out if they see anything, and to be ready,” I said. “Someone’s cooking something big. I can smell it.”

Karrin nodded, and her gaze flicked to the grandfather clock against the wall. “You’ve still got a little time before you need to be back,” she said.


She nodded. Her blue eyes were very direct. “Come here.”

I arched an eyebrow. “Um. Things haven’t really changed on that score. I’m not sure that—”

She let out a wicked little laugh. “Adapt and overcome, Harry. I’m intelligent. And you’ve at least got a decent imagination. Between the two of us, we’ll come up with something.” Her eyes narrowed. “Now. Come. Here.”

It would have been incredibly impolite to refuse a lady. So I went.

This summer brings not one but TWO Dresden Files novels! Peace Talks arrives July 14th, and Battle Ground hits September 29th. Preorder both through the store!