Turn Coat – Jim Butcher

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. “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 preventative 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.” Chapter Two Morgan slept. My first impression of the guy had stuck with me pretty hard—tall, heavily muscled, with a lean, sunken face I’d always associated with religious ascetics and half-crazy artists. He had brown hair that was unevenly streaked with iron, and a beard that, while always kept trimmed, perpetually seemed to need a few more weeks to fill out. He had hard, steady eyes, and all the comforting, reassuring charm of a dental drill. Asleep, he looked .

old. Tired. I noticed the deep worry lines between his brows and at the corners of his mouth. His hands, which were large and blunt-fingered, showed more of his age than the rest of him. I knew he was better than a century old, which was nudging toward active maturity, for a wizard. There were scars across both of his hands—the graffiti of violence. The last two fingers of his right hand were stiff and slightly crooked, as if they’d been badly broken, and healed without being properly set. His eyes looked sunken, and the skin beneath them was dark enough to resemble bruises. Maybe Morgan had bad dreams, too. It was harder to be afraid of him when he was asleep.

Mouse, my big grey dog, rose from his usual napping post in the kitchen alcove, and shambled over to stand beside me, two hundred pounds of silent companionship. He looked soberly at Morgan and then up at me. “Do me a favor,” I told him. “Stay with him. Make sure he doesn’t try to walk on that leg. It could kill him.” Mouse nudged his head against my hip, made a quiet snorting sound, and padded over to the bed. He lay down on the floor, stretching out alongside it, and promptly went back to sleep. I pulled the door most of the way shut and sank down into the easy chair by the fireplace, where I could rub my temples and try to think. The White Council of Wizards was the governing body for the practice of magic in the world, and made up of its most powerful practitioners.

Being a member of the White Council was something akin to earning your black belt in a martial art—it meant that you could handle yourself well, that you had real skill that was recognized by your fellow wizards. The Council oversaw the use of magic among its members, according to the Seven Laws of Magic. God help the poor practitioner who broke one of the Laws. The Council would send the Wardens to administer justice, which generally took the form of ruthless pursuit, a swift trial, and a prompt execution—when the offender wasn’t killed resisting arrest. It sounds harsh, and it is—but over time I’d been forced to admit that it might well be necessary. The use of black magic corrupts the mind and the heart and the soul of the wizard employing it. It doesn’t happen instantly, and it doesn’t happen all at once—it’s a slow, festering thing that grows like a tumor, until whatever human empathy and compassion a person might have once had is consumed in the need for power. By the time a wizard has fallen to that temptation and become a warlock, people are dead, or worse than dead. It was the duty of the Wardens to make a quick end of warlocks—by any means necessary. There was more to being a Warden than that, though.

They were also the soldiers and defenders of the White Council. In our recent war with the Vampire Courts, the lion’s share of the fighting had been carried out by the Wardens, those men and women with a gift for swift, violent magic. Hell, in most of the battles, such as they were, it had been Morgan who was in the center of the fighting. I’d done my share during the war, but among my fellow Wardens, the only ones who were happy to work with me had been the newer recruits. The older ones had all seen too many lives shattered by the abuse of magic, and their experiences had marked them deeply. With one exception, they didn’t like me, they didn’t trust me, and they didn’t want anything to do with me. That generally suited me just fine. Over the past few years, the White Council had come to realize that someone on the inside was feeding information to the vampires. A lot of people died because of the traitor, but he, or she, had never been identified. Given how much the Council in general and the Wardens in particular loved me, the ensuing paranoia-fest had kept my life from getting too boring—especially after I’d been dragooned into joining the Wardens myself, as part of the war effort.

So why was Morgan here, asking for help from me? Call me crazy, but my suspicious side immediately put forward the idea that Morgan was trying to sucker me into doing something to get me into major hot water with the Council again. Hell, he’d tried to kill me that way, once, several years ago. But logic simply didn’t support that idea. If Morgan wasn’t really in trouble with the Council, then I couldn’t get into trouble for hiding him from a pursuit that didn’t exist. Besides, his injuries said more about his sincerity than any number of words could. They had not been faked. He was actually on the lam. Until I found out more about what was going on, I didn’t dare go to anyone for help. I couldn’t very well ask my fellow Wardens about Morgan without it being painfully obvious that I had seen him, which would only attract their interest. And if the Council was after Morgan, then anyone who helped him would become an accomplice to the crime, and draw heat of his own.

I couldn’t ask anyone to help me. Anyone else, I corrected myself. I’d had little option but to call Butters in—and frankly, the fact that he was not at all involved in the supernatural world would afford him some insulation from any consequences that might arise from his complicity. Besides which, Butters had earned a little good credit with the White Council the night he’d helped me prevent a family-sized order of necromancers from turning one of their number into a minor god. He’d saved the life of at least one Warden—two, if you counted me—and was in far less danger than anyone attached to the community would be. Me, for example. Man, my head was killing me. Until I knew more about what was going on, I really couldn’t take any intelligent action—and I didn’t dare start asking questions for fear of attracting unwanted attention. Rushing headlong into a investigation would be a mistake, which meant that I would have to wait until Morgan could start talking to me. So I stretched out on my couch to do some thinking, and began focusing on my breathing, trying to relax the headache away and clear my thoughts.

It went so well that I stayed right there doing it for about six hours, until the late dusk of a Chicago summer had settled on the city. I didn’t fall asleep. I was meditating. You’re going to have to take my word for it. I woke up when Mouse let out a low guttural sound that wasn’t quite a bark, but was considerably shorter and more distinct than a growl. I sat up and went to my bedroom, to find Morgan awake. Mouse was standing next to the bed, leaning his broad, heavy head on Morgan’s chest. The wounded man was idly scratching Mouse’s ears. He glanced aside at me and started to sit up. Mouse leaned harder, and gently flattened Morgan to the bed again.

Morgan exhaled in obvious discomfort, and said, in a croaking, dry voice, “I take it I am undergoing mandatory bed rest.” “Yeah,” I said quietly. “You were banged up pretty bad. The doctor said that walking on that leg would be a bad idea.” Morgan’s eyes sharpened. “Doctor?” “Relax. It was off the books. I know a guy.” Morgan grunted. Then he licked cracked lips and said, “Is there anything to drink?” I got him some cold water in a sports bottle with a big straw.

He knew better than to guzzle. He sipped at it slowly. Then he took a deep breath, grimaced like a man about to intentionally put his hand in a fire, and said, “Thank y—” “Oh shut up,” I said, shuddering. “Neither of us wants that conversation.” Maybe I imagined it, but it looked like he relaxed slightly. He nodded and closed his eyes again. “Don’t go back to sleep yet,” I told him. “I still have to take your temperature. It would be awkward.” “God’s beard, yes,” Morgan said, opening his eyes.

I went and got my thermometer, one of the old- fashioned ones filled with mercury. When I came back, Morgan said, “You didn’t turn me in.” “Not yet,” I said. “I’m willing to hear you out.” Morgan nodded, accepted the thermometer, and said, “Aleron LaFortier is dead.” He stuck the thermometer in his mouth, presumably to attempt to kill me with the suspense. I fought back by thinking through the implications, instead. LaFortier was a member of the Senior Council—seven of the oldest and most capable wizards on the planet, the ones who ran the White Council and commanded the Wardens. He was—had been— skinny, bald, and a sanctimonious jerk. I’d been wearing a hood at the time, so I couldn’t be certain, but I suspected that his voice had been the first of the Senior Council to vote guilty at my trial, and had argued against clemency for my crimes.

He was a hard-line supporter of the Merlin, the head of the Council, who had been dead set against me. All in all, a swell guy. But he’d also been one of the best-protected wizards in the world. All the members of the Senior Council were not only dangerous in their own rights, but protected by details of Wardens, to boot. Attempted assassinations had been semiregular events during the war with the vampires, and the Wardens had become very, very good at keeping the Senior Council safe. I did some math from there. “It was an inside job,” I said quietly. “Like the one that killed Simon at Archangel.” Morgan nodded. “And they blamed you?” Morgan nodded and took the thermometer out of his mouth.

He glanced at it, and then passed to me. I looked. Ninety-nine and change. I met his eyes and said, “Did you do it?” “No.” I grunted. I believed him. “Why’d they finger you?”

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