Jim Butcher: Odd jobs

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Jim Butcher Odd jobs
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Jim Butcher

Odd jobs


This story occurs between Small Favor and Turn Coat The first thing I thought, looking at the roomful of baby Wardens, was They all look so darned young. The close second was, My God, am I getting old?

“Okay, children,” I said, closing the door behind me. I had rented an alleged conference center in a little Chicago hotel not too far from the airport, which amounted to a couple of rooms big enough for twenty or thirty people-if they were friendly-plus several dozen chairs, and a few rickety old folding tables.

They didn’t even provide a cooler of water-just directions to their vending machines.

After me and my fellow Warden-Commander in the United States, Warden Ramirez, had gotten done learning the little Warden-kind up on their mayhem, for the sake of getting them killed in a war as quickly as possible, we thought it might be nice to give them a little instruction in other things, too. Ramirez was going to cover the course on relations with mortal authorities, which made sense-Ramirez got on just fine with the cops in LA, and hadn’t been shot by nearly as many law enforcement personnel as I had.

The kids had all come to Chicago to learn about independent investigation of supernatural threats from me-which also made sense, because I’d done more of that, relative to my tender years, than any other wizard on the planet.

“Okay, okay,” I said to the room. The young Wardens became silent and attentive at once. No shock, there-the disruptive ones who didn’t pay attention during lessons had mostly been killed and maimed in the war with the Red Court. Darwin always thought that it paid to be a quick learner. The war had simply made the penalty for not learning quite a bit steeper.

“You’re here,” I said, “to learn about investigating supernatural threats on your own. You’ll learn about finding and hunting Warlocks from Captain Luccio, whenever the Reds give us enough time for it. Warlocks, our own kind gone bad, aren’t the most common opponent you’ll find yourself facing. Far more often, you’re going to run up against other threats.”

Ilyana, a young woman with extremely pale skin and eyes of nearly white ice-blue, raised her hand and spoke in a clipped Russian accent when I nodded to her. “What kinds of threats?” she asked. “In the practical sense. What foes have you faced?”

I held up my hands and flipped up a finger for each foe. “Demons, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, fallen angels, Black Court vampires, Red Court vampires, White Court vampires, cultists, necromancers,” I paused to waggle one foot, standing with three limbs in the air, “zombies, specters, phobophages, half-blood scions, jann…” I waved my hands and foot around a bit more. “I’d need to borrow a few people to do the whole list. Get the picture?”

A few smiles had erupted at my antics, but they sobered up after a moment’s consideration.

I nodded and stuck my hands into my pockets. “Knowledge is quite literally power and will save your life. When you know what you’re facing, you can deal with it. Walk into a confrontation blind, and you’re begging to get your families added to the Wardens’ death-benefits list.” I let that sink in for a few seconds before continuing. “You can’t ever be sure what you’re going to come up against. But you can be sure about how to approach the investigation.”

I turned to the old blackboard on the wall behind me and scribbled on it with the stub of a piece of chalk. “I call it the Four As,” I said, and wrote four As down the left side of the board. “Granted, it doesn’t translate as neatly to other languages, but you can make up your own nativetongue mnemonic devices later.” I used the first A to spell “Ascertain.”

“Ascertain,” I said, firmly. “Before you can deal with the threat, you’ve got to know that it exists, and you’ve got to know who the threat’s intended target is. A lot of times, that target is going to cry out for help. Whatever city you’re based in, it’s going to be your responsibility to work out how best to hear that scream. But sometimes there’s no outcry. So keep your eyes and ears open, kids. Ascertain the threat. Become aware of the problem.”

My car didn’t make it all the way to Kansas City. It broke down about thirty miles short of town, and I had to call a wrecker. I had planned on being there before dark, but between walking eleven miles to find an increasingly rare pay phone and dumping most of my cash into a tow-truck driver’s pocket, and the collapse of an office computer network that delayed picking up a rental car for an extra hour and a half, I wound up pulling to the curb of a residential address a couple of minutes before nine in the evening.

I’d gotten the address from a contact on the Paranet-the organization made up mostly of men and women who didn’t have enough magical power to be accepted into the ranks of the White Council or to protect themselves from major predators, but who had more than enough mojo to make them juicy targets. For the past year, I and others like me had been working hard to teach them how to defend themselves-and one of the first things they were to do was notify someone upstream in the Paranet’s organization that they were in trouble.

One such call had been bucked up to me, and here I was, answering.

Before I had closed the door of the car, a spare, tense-looking man in his forties came out of the house and walked quickly toward me.

“Harry Dresden?” he called.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You’re late.”

“Car trouble,” I said. “Are you Yardly?”

He stopped across the hood of the car from me, frowning severely. He was average height, and wore most of a business suit, including the tie. His black hair was cut into a short brush. He looked like the kind of guy who solved his problems through ferocious focus and mulish determination, and who tolerated no nonsense along the way.

“I’m Yardly,” he said. “Can you show me some ID?”

I almost smiled. “You want to see my American Association of Wizards card?”

Yardly didn’t smile. “Your driver’s license will do.”

“If I was a shapeshifter,” I said, passing him the license, “this wouldn’t help.”

Yardly produced a little UV flashlight and shined it onto the license. “I’m more concerned about a simple con man.” He passed me the license back. “I’m not really into my sister’s group. Whatever they are. But she’s had it rough lately and I’m not going to see her hurt any more. Do you understand?”

“Most big brothers stop making threats about their little sisters after high school.”

“I must be remedial,” Yardly said. “If you abuse Megan in any way, you’ll answer to me.”

I felt my mouth lift up on one side. “You’re a cop.”

“Detective Lieutenant,” he said. “I asked Chicago PD for their file on you. They think you’re a fraud.”

“And you don’t?”

He grunted. “Megan doesn’t. I learned a long time ago that a smart man doesn’t discount her opinion out of hand.”

He stared at me with hard and opaque eyes and I realized, in a flash of insight, that the man was tense because he was operating on unfamiliar ground. You couldn’t read it in his face, but it was there if you knew what to look for. A certain set of the shoulders, a twitch along the jawline, as if some part of him was ready to whirl around and sink his teeth into a threat that he could feel creeping up behind him.

Yardly was afraid. Not for himself, maybe, but the man was terrified.

“Megan says shrinks can’t help with this one,” he said quietly. “She says maybe you can.”

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