Cold Days
Page 30

 Jim Butcher

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"My finger's not on the trigger," she said. "Don't be such a baby. I'm thinking." She watched me for a moment and said, "Okay, let's assume it's really you. What are you doing here?"
"I came for the skull," I said.
"I'm invaluable!" Bob piped.
"Useful." I scowled at him. "Don't get cocky."
"I know you came for the skull," Andi said. "Why now? In the middle of the night? Why break in? Harry, all you had to do was ask."
I ground my teeth. "Andi . . . I don't have a lot of time. So I'm going to give you the short answer. Okay?"
"When I break in here and take something from Butters, he's my victim and of no particular consequence. If I come here and ask him for help, he's my accomplice, and it makes him a target for the people I'm working against."
She frowned. "What people?"
I sighed. "That's the kind of thing I'd tell an accomplice, Andi."
"Um," she said, "isn't that kind of what we are?"
"It's what you were," I said, with gentle emphasis. "Bob's right. I'm not exactly on the side of the angels right now. And I'm not taking you and Butters down the drain with me."
"Say, Harry," Bob asked, "who are you up against?"
"Not in front of the eye-stander-bey," I said.
"Just trolling for info like a good lackey," Bob said. "You understand."
"Sure," I said.
Andi frowned. "Bob isn't . . . Isn't he supposed to be yours?"
"I'm not the present owner of the skull," I said. "Whoever has the skull has Bob's loyalty."
"Services," Bob corrected me. "Don't get cocky. And right now I'm working for Butters. And you, of course, toots."
"Toots," Andi said in a flat voice. "Did you really just say that?" Her gaze shifted to me. "Bystander?"
"If you don't know anything," I said, "there's no reason for anyone to torture you to death to find it."
That made her face turn a little pale.
"These people think the Saw movies were hilarious," I said. "They'll hurt you because for them, it feels better than sex. They won't hesitate. And I'm trying to give you all the cover I can. You and Butters both." I shook my head and lowered my hands. "I need you to trust me, Andi. I'll have Bob back here before dawn."
She frowned. "Why by then?"
"Because I don't want the people I work for to get hold of him either," I said. "He's not the same thing as a human-"
"Thank you," Bob said. "I explain and explain that, butno one listens."
"-but he's still kind of a friend."
Bob made a gagging sound. "Don't get all sappy on me, Dresden."
"Andi," I said, ignoring him. "I don't have any more time. I'm gonna pick up the skull now. You gonna shoot me or what?"
Andi let out a short, frustrated breath and sagged back against the table. She lowered the gun, grimaced, and slipped one hand across her stomach to press against her ribs on the other side.
I didn't look at what that motion did to her chest, because that would have been grotesquely inappropriate, regardless of how fascinating the resulting contours may or may not have been.
I picked up the skull, an old, familiar shape and weight in my hand. There was a flitter in the flickering eyelights, and maybe a subtle change of hue in the flames.
"Awright!" Bob crowed. "Back in the saddle!"
"Pipe down," I said. "I've got backup with me. The other team might have surveillance on me that is just as invisible. I'd rather they didn't listen to every word."
"Piping down, O mighty one," Bob replied.
When I turned back to Andi, she looked horrified. "Oh, God, Harry. Your back."
I grunted, twisted a bit, and got a look at myself in the reflection in the window. My jacket was in tatters and stained with blots of blood. It hurt, but not horribly, maybe as much as a bad sunburn.
"I'm sorry," Andi said.
"I'll live," I said. I walked over to her, leaned down, and kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry about your ribs. And the computers. I'll make up the damages to you guys."
She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. Whatever, you know. Whatever we can do to help."
I sighed and said, "Yeah, about that. Um. I'm sorry about this, too."
She frowned and looked up at me. "About what?"
I was going to deck her, clip her on the chin and put her down for a few moments while I left. That would do two things. First, it would prevent her from getting all heroic and following me. Second, if I was currently being observed, it would sell the notion that I had stolen Bob from her. It was a logical, if ruthless move that would give her an extra layer of protection, however thin.
But when I told my hand to move, it wouldn't.
Winter Knight, Mab's assassin, whatever. I don't hit girls.
I sighed. "I'm sorry I can't deck you right now."
She lifted both eyebrows. "Oh. You think you'd be protecting me, I take it?"
"As screwed up as it is to think that-yeah, I would be."
"I've been protecting myself just fine for a year, Harry," Andi said. "Even without you around."