Jim Butcher: Side Jobs

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Jim Butcher Side Jobs
  • Название:
    Side Jobs
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    ROC
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2010
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-1-101-46453-3
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    5 / 5
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Side Jobs

by Jim Butcher

Stories from the Dresden Files

A RESTORATION OF FAITH

Takes place beforeStorm Front

This is the first of the Dresden Files stories, chronologically, and it was the first time I tried to write short fiction for the professional market. I originally put it together as a class assignment at the University of Oklahoma’s Professional Writing program, more than two years before Storm Front found a home at Roc.

This one won’t win any awards, because it is, quite frankly, a novice effort. It was perhaps the third or fourth short story I’d ever written, if you include projects in grade school. I had barely learned to keep my feet under me as a writer, and to some degree that shows in this piece. Certainly, the editors to whom I submitted this story seemed to think it wasn’t up to par for professional publication, and I think that was a perfectly fair assessment.

Read this story for what it is—an anxious beginner’s first effort, meant to be simple, straightforward fun.

I struggled to hold on to the yowling child while fumbling a quarter into the pay phone and jamming down the buttons to dial Nick’s mobile.

“Ragged Angel Investigations,” Nick answered. His voice was tense, I thought, anxious.

“It’s Harry,” I said. “You can relax, man. I found her.”

“You did?” Nick asked. He let out a long exhalation. “Oh, Jesus, Harry.”

The kid lifted up one of her oxford shoes and mule-kicked her leg back at my shin. She connected, hard enough to make me jump. She looked like a parent’s dream at eight or nine years old, with her dimples and dark pigtails—even in her street-stained schoolgirl’s uniform. And she had strong legs.

I got a better hold on the girl and lifted her up off the ground again while she twisted and wriggled. “Ow. Hold still.”

“Let me go, beanpole,” she responded, turning to glower back at me before starting to kick again.

“Listen to me, Harry,” Nick said. “You’ve got to let the kid go right this minute and walk away.”

“What?” I said. “Nick, the Astors are going to give us twenty-five grand to return her before nine p.m.”

“I got some bad news, Harry. They aren’t going to pay us the money.”

I winced. “Ouch. Maybe I should just drop her off at the nearest precinct house, then.”

“The news gets worse. The parents reported the girl kidnapped. The police band is sending two descriptions around town to Chicago PD, and they match guess who.”

“Mickey and Donald?”

“Heh,” Nick said. I heard him flick his Bic and take a drag. “We should be so lucky.”

“I guess it’s more embarrassing for Mr. and Mrs. High-and-Mighty to have their kid run away than it is to have her kidnapped.”

“Hell. Kidnapped girl gives them something to talk about at their parties for months. Makes them look richer and more famous than their friends, too. Of course, we’ll be in jail, but what the hell?”

“They came to us,” I protested.

“That won’t be the way they tell it.”

“Dammit,” I said.

“If you get caught with her, it could be trouble for both of us. The Astors got connections. Ditch the girl and get back home. You were there all night.”

“No, Nick,” I said. “I can’t do that.”

“Let the boys in blue bring her in. That’ll clear you and me both.”

“I’m up on North Avenue, and it’s after dark. I’m not leaving a nine-year-old girl out here by herself.”

“Ten,” shouted the girl, furious. “I’m ten, you insensitive jerk!” She started kicking again, and I kept myself more or less out of the way of her feet.

“She sounds so cute. Just let her run, Harry, and let the criminal types beware.”

“Nick.”

“Aw, hell, Harry. You’re getting moral on me again.”

I smiled, but it felt tight on my mouth, and my stomach churned with anger. “Look, we’ll think of something. Just get down here and pick us up.”

“What happened to your car?”

“Broke down this afternoon.”

“Again? What about the El?”

“I’m broke. Nick, I need a ride. I can’t walk back to the office with her, and I don’t want to stand here in a public booth fighting her, either. So get down here and get us.”

“I don’t want to spend time in jail because you can’t salve your conscience, Harry.”

“What about your conscience?” I shot back. Nick was all bluster. When it came down to the wire, he couldn’t have left the girl alone in that part of town, either.

Nick growled out something that sounded vaguely obscene, then said, “Fine, whatever. But I can’t get across the river very easy, so I’ll be on the far side of the bridge. All you have to do is cross the bridge with her and stay out of sight. Police patrols in the area will be looking for you. Half an hour. If you’re not there, I’m not waiting. Bad neighborhood.”

“Have faith, man. I’ll be there.”

We hung up without saying good-bye.

“All right, kid,” I said. “Stop kicking me and let’s talk.”

“To hell with you, mister,” she shouted. “Let me go before I break your leg.”

I winced at the shrill note her voice hit and stepped away from the phone, half dragging and half carrying her with me while I looked around nervously. The last thing I needed was a bunch of good citizens running to the kid’s aid.

The streets were empty, the gathering dark rushing in quickly to fill the spaces left by the broken streetlights. There were lights in the windows, but no one came out in response to the girl’s shouting. It was the sort of neighborhood where people looked the other way and let live.

Ah, Chicago. You just gotta love big, sprawling American cities. Ain’t modern living grand? I could have been a real sicko, rather than just looking like one, and no one would have done anything.

It made me feel a little nauseated. “Look. I know you’re angry right now, but believe me, I’m doing what’s best for you.”

She stopped kicking and glared up at me. “How should you know what’s best for me?”

“I’m older than you. Wiser.”

“Then why are you wearing that coat?”

I looked down at my big black duster, with its heavy mantle and long canvas folds flapping around my rather spare frame. “What’s wrong with it?”

“It belongs on the set of El Dorado,” she snapped. “Who are you supposed to be, Ichabod Crane or the Marlboro Man?”

I snorted. “I’m a wizard.”

She gave me a look of skepticism you can really only get from children who have recently gone through the sobering trauma of discovering there is no Santa Claus. (Ironically, there is, but he can’t operate on the sort of scale that used to make everyone believe in him.)

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.

“I found you, didn’t I?”

She frowned at me. “How did you find me? I thought that spot was perfect.”

I continued walking toward the bridge. “It would have been, for another ten minutes or so. Then that Dumpster would have been full of rats looking for something to eat.”

The girl’s expression turned faintly green. “Rats?”

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