The Dresden Files:

The beginning

You want the origin story of Harry Dresden? Of course, you do—you’re the Marvel Cinematic Universe Generation.

Quoted from ‘Storm Front’:

“He had dropped the father-talking-to-son act, and spoke in a calm and patient voice. “If you don’t charge for it.” Thank God for wisecracks. I was too rattled to have said anything intelligent. Marcone almost smiled. “I think you’ll be happier if you come down with the flu for a few days. This business that Detective Murphy has asked you to look into doesn’t need to be dragged out into the light. You won’t like what you see. It’s on my side of the fence. Just let me deal with it, and it won’t ever trouble you.” “Are you threatening me?” I asked him. I didn’t think he was, but I didn’t want him to know that. It would have helped if my voice hadn’t been shaking. “No,” he said, frankly. “I have too much respect for you to resort to something like that. They say that you’re the real thing, Mister Dresden. A real magus.” “They also say I’m nutty as a fruitcake.” “I choose which ‘they’ I listen to very carefully,” Marcone said. “Think about what I’ve said, Mister Dresden. I do not think our respective lines of work need overlap often. I would as soon not make an enemy of you over this matter.” I clenched my jaw over my fear, and spat words out at him quick and hard. “You don’t want to make an enemy of me, Marcone. That wouldn’t be smart. That wouldn’t be smart at all.” He narrowed his eyes at me, lazy and relaxed. He could meet my eyes by then without fear. We had taken a measure of one another. It would not happen in such a way again. “You really should try to be more polite, Mister Dresden,” he said. “It’s good for business.” I didn’t give him an answer to that: I didn’t have one that wouldn’t sound frightened or stupidly macho. Instead, I told him, “If you ever lose your car keys, give me a call. Don’t try offering me money or threats again. Thanks for the ride.” He watched me, his expression never changing, as I got out of the car and shut the door. Hendricks pulled out and drove away, after giving me one last dirty look. I had soulgazed on several people before. It wasn’t the sort of thing you forgot. I had never run into someone like that, someone so cool and controlled—even the other practitioners I had met gazes with had not been that way. None of them had simply assessed me like a column of numbers and filed it away for reference in future equations. I stuck my hands in the pockets of my duster, and shivered as the wind hit me. I was a wizard, throwing around real magic, I reminded myself. I was not afraid of big men in big cars. I do not get rattled by corpses blasted from life by magic more intense than anything I could manage. Really. Honest.”

“Marcone was a predator. He practically smelled my fear. If he got to thinking I was weak, I had a feeling that polite smile and fatherly facade would vanish as thoroughly and as quickly as it had appeared. What a rotten first impression. Oh, well. At least I was going to be on time for my appointment.”

Chapter One

“I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn’t sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed. Then he knocked. I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless it’s registered. I get a really limited selection of registered mail, and it’s never good news. I got up out of my office chair and opened the door. The new mailman, who looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head, was chuckling at the sign on the door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb toward the sign. “You’re kidding, right?” I read the sign (people change it occasionally), and shook my head. “No, I’m serious. Can I have my mail, please?” “So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?” He looked past me, as though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad assistants prancing around my one-room office. I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he held in his hand. “No, not like that. I don’t do parties.” He held on to it, his head tilted curiously. “So what? Some kinda fortune-teller? Cards and crystal balls and things?” “No,” I told him. “I’m not a psychic.” I tugged at the mail. He held on to it. “What are you, then?” “What’s the sign on the door say?” “It says ‘Harry Dresden. Wizard.’” “That’s me,” I confirmed. “An actual wizard?” he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on the joke. “Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?” “Not so subtle.” I jerked the mail out of his hand and looked pointedly at his clipboard. “Can I sign for my mail please?” The new mailman’s grin vanished, replaced with a scowl. He passed over the clipboard to let me sign for the mail (another late notice from my landlord), and said, “You’re a nut. That’s what you are.” He took his clipboard back, and said, “You have a nice day, sir.” I watched him go. “Typical,” I muttered, and shut the door. My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there.”

You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious. But then, if you’d seen the things I’d seen, if you knew half of what I knew, you’d wonder how anyone could not think I was serious. The end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the new millennium had seen something of a renaissance in the public awareness of the paranormal. Psychics, haunts, vampires—you name it. People still didn’t take them seriously, but all the things Science had promised us hadn’t come to pass. Disease was still a problem. Starvation was still a problem. Violence and crime and war were still problems. In spite of the advance of technology, things just hadn’t changed the way everyone had hoped and thought they would. Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children. People were looking for something—I think they just didn’t know what. And even though they were once again starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had been with them all the while, they still thought I must be some kind of joke. Anyway, it had been a slow month. A slow pair of months, actually. My rent from February didn’t get paid until the tenth of March, and it was looking like it might be even longer until I got caught up for this month. My only job had been the previous week, when I’d gone down to Branson, Missouri, to investigate a country singer’s possibly haunted house. It hadn’t been. My client hadn’t been happy with that answer, and had been even less happy when I suggested he lay off of any intoxicating substances and try to get some exercise and sleep, and see if that didn’t help things more than an exorcism. I’d gotten travel expenses plus an hour’s pay, and gone away feeling I had done the honest, righteous, and impractical thing. I heard later that he’d hired a shyster psychic to come in and perform a ceremony with a lot of incense and black lights. Some people. I finished up my paperback and tossed it into the DONE box. There was a pile of read and discarded paperbacks in a cardboard box on one side of my desk, the spines bent and the pages mangled. I’m terribly hard on books. I was eyeing the pile of unread books, considering which to start next, given that I had no real work to do, when my phone rang. I stared at it in a somewhat surly fashion. We wizards are terrific at brooding. After the third ring, when I thought I wouldn’t sound a little too eager, I picked up the receiver and said, “Dresden.” “Oh. Is this, um, Harry Dresden? The, ah, wizard?” Her tone was apologetic, as though she were terribly afraid she would be insulting me. No, I thought. It’s Harry Dresden the, ah, lizard. Harry the wizard is one door down. It is the prerogative of wizards to be grumpy. It is not, however, the prerogative of freelance consultants who are late on their rent, so instead of saying something smart, I told the woman on the phone, “Yes, ma’am. How can I help you today?” “I, um,” she said. “I’m not sure. I’ve lost something, and I think maybe you could help me.” “Finding lost articles is a specialty,” I said. “What would I be looking for?” There was a nervous pause. “My husband,” she said. She had a voice that was a little hoarse, like that of a cheerleader who’d been working a long tournament, but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult. My eyebrows went up. “Ma’am, I’m not really a missing-persons specialist. Have you contacted the police or a private investigator?” “No,” she said, quickly. “No, they can’t. That is, I haven’t. Oh dear, this is all so complicated. Not something someone can talk about on the phone. I’m sorry to have taken up your time, Mr. Dresden.” “Hold on now,” I said quickly. “I’m sorry, you didn’t tell me your name.” There was that nervous pause again, as though she were checking a sheet of written notes before answering. “Call me Monica.” People who know diddly about wizards don’t like to give us their names. They’re convinced that if they give a wizard their name from their own lips it could be used against them. To be fair, they’re right. I had to be as polite and harmless as I could. She was about to hang up out of pure indecision, and I needed the job. I could probably turn hubby up, if I worked at it. “Okay, Monica,” I told her, trying to sound as melodious and friendly as I could. “If you feel your situation is of a sensitive nature, maybe you could come by my office and talk about it. If it turns out that I can help you best, I will, and if not, then I can direct you to someone I think can help you better.” I gritted my teeth and pretended I was smiling. “No charge.” It must have been the no charge that did it. She agreed to come right out to the office, and told me that she would be there in an hour. That put her estimated arrival at about two-thirty. Plenty of time to go out and get some lunch, then get back to the office to meet her. The phone rang again almost the instant I put it down, making me jump. I peered at it. I don’t trust electronics. Anything manufactured after the forties is suspect—and doesn’t seem to have much liking for me. You name it: cars, radios, telephones, TVs, VCRs—none of them seem to behave well for me. I don’t even like to use automatic pencils. I answered the phone with the same false cheer I had summoned up for Monica Husband-Missing. “This is Dresden, may I help you?” “Harry, I need you at the Madison in the next ten minutes. Can you be there?” The voice on the other end of the line was also a woman’s, cool, brisk, businesslike. “Why, Lieutenant Murphy,” I gushed, overflowing with saccharine, “it’s good to hear from you, too. It’s been so long. Oh, they’re fine, fine. And your family?” “Save it, Harry. I’ve got a couple of bodies here, and I need you to take a look around.” I sobered immediately. Karrin Murphy was the director of Special Investigations out of downtown Chicago, a de facto appointee of the Police Commissioner to investigate any crimes dubbed unusual. Vampire attacks, troll maraudings, and faery abductions of children didn’t fit in very neatly on a police report—but at the same time, people got attacked, infants got stolen, property was damaged or destroyed. And someone had to look into it. In Chicago, or pretty much anywhere in Chicagoland, that person was Karrin Murphy. I was her library of the supernatural on legs, and a paid consultant for the police department. But two bodies? Two deaths by means unknown? I hadn’t handled anything like that for her before. “Where are you?” I asked her. “Madison Hotel on Tenth, seventh floor.” “That’s only a fifteen-minute walk from my office,” I said. “So you can be here in fifteen minutes. Good.” “Um,” I said. I looked at the clock. Monica No-Last-Name would be here in a little more than forty-five minutes. “I’ve sort of got an appointment.” “Dresden, I’ve sort of got a pair of corpses with no leads and no suspects, and a killer walking around loose. Your appointment can wait.” My temper flared. It does that occasionally. “It can’t, actually,” I said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll stroll on over and take a look around, and be back here in time for it.” “Have you had lunch yet?” she asked. “What?” She repeated the question. “No,” I said. “Don’t.” There was a pause, and when she spoke again, there was a sort of greenish tone to her words. “It’s bad.” “How bad are we talking here, Murph?” Her voice softened, and that scared me more than any images of gore or violent death could have. Murphy was the original tough girl, and she prided herself on never showing weakness. “It’s bad, Harry. Please don’t take too long. Special Crimes is itching to get their fingers on this one, and I know you don’t like people to touch the scene before you can look around.” “I’m on the way,” I told her, already standing and pulling on my jacket. “Seventh floor,” she reminded me. “See you there.” “Okay.” I turned off the lights to my office, went out the door, and locked up behind me, frowning. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take to investigate Murphy’s scene, and I didn’t want to miss out on speaking with Monica Ask-Me-No-Questions. So I opened the door again, got out a piece of paper and a thumbtack, and wrote: Out briefly. Back for appointment at 2:30. Dresden That done, I started down the stairs. I rarely use the elevator, even though I’m on the fifth floor. Like I said, I don’t trust machines. They’re always breaking down on me just when I need them. Besides which. If I were someone in this town using magic to kill people two at a time, and I didn’t want to get caught, I’d make sure that I removed the only practicing wizard the police department kept on retainer. I liked my odds on the stairwell a lot better than I did in the cramped confines of the elevator. Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.”

““Hello, Detective Carmichael,” I said, without turning around. Carmichael’s rather light, nasal voice had a distinctive quality. He was Murphy’s partner and the resident skeptic, convinced that I was nothing more than a charlatan, scamming the city out of its hard-earned money. “Were you saving the panties to take home yourself, or did you just overlook them?” I turned and looked at him. He was short and overweight and balding, with beady, bloodshot eyes and a weak chin. His jacket was rumpled, and there were food stains on his tie, all of which served to conceal a razor intellect. He was a sharp cop, and absolutely ruthless at tracking down killers. He walked over to the chair and looked down. “Not bad, Sherlock,” he said. “But that’s just foreplay. Wait’ll you see the main attraction. I’ll have a bucket waiting for you.” He turned and killed the malfunctioning CD player with a jab from the eraser end of his own pencil. I widened my eyes at him, to let him know how terrified I was, then walked past him and into the bedroom. And regretted it. I looked, noted details mechanically, and quietly shut the door on the part of my head that had started screaming the second I entered the room. They must have died sometime the night before, as rigor mortis had already set in. They were on the bed; she was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed like a dancer’s, the curves of her breasts making a lovely outline. He stretched beneath her, a lean and powerfully built man, arms reaching out and grasping at the satin sheets, gathering them in his fists. Had it been an erotic photograph, it would have made a striking tableau. Except that the lovers’ rib cages on the upper left side of their torsos had expanded outward, through their skin, the ribs jabbing out like ragged, snapped knives. Arterial blood had sprayed out of their bodies, all the way to the mirror on the ceiling, along with pulped, gelatinous masses of flesh that had to be what remained of their hearts. Standing over them, I could see into the upper cavity of the bodies. I noted the now greyish lining around the motionless left lungs and the edges of the ribs, which apparently were forced outward and snapped by some force within. It definitely cut down on the erotic potential. The bed was in the middle of the room, giving it a subtle emphasis. The bedroom followed the decor of the sitting room—a lot of red, a lot of plush fabrics, a little over the top unless viewed in candlelight. There were indeed candles in holders on the wall, now burned down to the nubs and extinguished. I stepped closer to the bed and walked around it. The carpet squelched as I did. The little screaming part of my brain, safely locked up behind doors of self-control and strict training, continued gibbering. I tried to ignore it. Really I did. But if I didn’t get out of that room in a hurry, I was going to start crying like a little girl. So I took in the details fast. The woman was in her twenties, in fabulous condition. At least I thought she had been. It was hard to tell. She had hair the color of chestnuts, cut in a pageboy style, and it seemed dyed to me. Her eyes were only partly open, and I couldn’t quite guess at their color beyond not-dark. Vaguely green? The man was probably in his forties, and had the kind of fitness that comes from a lifetime of conditioning. There was a tattoo on his right biceps, a winged dagger, that the pull of the satin sheets half concealed. There were scars on his knuckles, layers deep, and across his lower abdomen was a vicious, narrow, puckered scar that I guessed must have come from a knife wound. There were discarded clothes around—a tux for him, a little sheath of a black dress and a pair of pumps for her. There were a pair of overnight bags, unopened and set neatly aside, probably by a porter. I looked up. Carmichael and Murphy were watching me in silence. I shrugged at them. “Well?” Murphy demanded. “Are we dealing with magic here, or aren’t we?” “Either that or it was really incredible sex,” I told her. Carmichael snorted. I laughed a little, too—and that was all the screaming part of my brain needed to slam open the doors I’d shut on it. My stomach revolted and heaved, and I lurched out of the room. Carmichael, true to his word, had set a stainless-steel bucket outside the room, and I fell to my knees throwing up. It only took me a few seconds to control myself again—but I didn’t want to go back in that room. I didn’t need to see what was there anymore. I didn’t want to see the two dead people, whose hearts had literally exploded out of their chests. And someone had used magic to do it. They had used magic to wreak harm on another, violating the First Law. The White Council was going to go into collective apoplexy. This hadn’t been the act of a malign spirit or a malicious entity, or the attack of one of the many creatures of the Nevernever, like vampires or trolls. This had been the premeditated, deliberate act of a sorcerer, a wizard, a human being able to tap into the fundamental energies of creation and life itself. It was worse than murder. It was twisted, wretched perversion, as though someone had bludgeoned another person to death with a Botticelli, turned something of beauty to an act of utter destruction. If you’ve never touched it, it’s hard to explain. Magic is created by life, and most of all by the awareness, intelligence, emotions of a human being. To end such a life with the same magic that was born from it was hideous, almost incestuous somehow. I sat up again and was breathing hard, shaking and tasting the bile in my mouth, when Murphy came back out of the room with Carmichael. “All right, Harry,” Murphy said. “Let’s have it. What do you see happening here?” I took a moment to collect my thoughts before answering. “They came in. They had some champagne. They danced for a while, made out, over there by the stereo. Then went into the bedroom. They were in there for less than an hour. It hit them when they were getting to the high point.” “Less than an hour,” Carmichael said. “How do you figure?” “CD was only an hour and ten long. Figure a few minutes for dancing and drinking, and then they’re in the room. Was the CD playing when they found them?” “No,” Murphy said. “Then it hadn’t been set on a loop. I figure they wanted music, just to make things perfect, given the room and all.” Carmichael grunted, sourly. “Nothing we hadn’t already figured out for ourselves,” he said to Murphy. “He’d better come up with more than this.” Murphy shot Carmichael a look that said “shut up,” then said, softly, “I need more, Harry.” I ran one of my hands back over my hair. “There’s only two ways anyone could have managed this. The first is by evocation. Evocation is the most direct, spectacular, and noisy form of expressed magic, or sorcery. Explosions, fire, that sort of thing. But I doubt it was an evocator who did this.” “Why?” Murphy demanded. I heard her pencil scritching on the notepad she always kept with her. “Because you have to be able to see or touch where you want your effect to go,” I told her. “Line of sight only. The man or woman would have had to be there in the room with them. Tough to hide forensic evidence with something like that, and anyone who was skilled enough to pull off a spell like that would have had the sense to use a gun instead. It’s easier.” “What’s the other option?” Murphy asked. “Thaumaturgy,” I said. “As above, so below. Make something happen on a small scale, and give it the energy to happen on a large scale.” Carmichael snorted. “What bullshit.” Murphy’s voice sounded skeptical. “How would that work, Harry? Could it be done from somewhere else?” I nodded. “The killer would need to have something to connect him or her to the victims. Hair, fingernails, blood samples. That sort of thing.” “Like a voodoo doll?” “Exactly the same thing, yes.” “There’s fresh dye in the woman’s hair,” Murphy said. I nodded. “Maybe if you can find out where she got her hair styled, you could find something out. I don’t know.” “Is there anything else you could tell me that would be of use?” “Yes. The killer knew the victims. And I’m thinking it was a woman.” Carmichael snorted. “I don’t believe we got to sit here and listen to this. Nine times out of ten the killer knows the victim.” “Shut up, Carmichael,” Murphy said. “What makes you say that, Harry?” I stood up, and rubbed at my face with my hands. “The way magic works. Whenever you do something with it, it comes from inside of you. Wizards have to focus on what they’re trying to do, visualize it, believe in it, to make it work. You can’t make something happen that isn’t a part of you, inside. The killer could have murdered them both and made it look like an accident, but she did it this way. To get it done this way, she would have had to want them dead for very personal reasons, to be willing to reach inside them like that. Revenge, maybe. Maybe you’re looking for a lover or a spouse. “Also because of when they died—in the middle of sex. It wasn’t a coincidence. Emotions are a kind of channel for magic, a path that can be used to get to you. She picked a time when they’d be together and be charged up with lust. She got samples to use as a focus, and she planned it out in advance. You don’t do that to strangers.” “Crap,” Carmichael said, but this time it was more of an absentminded curse than anything directed at me. Murphy glared at me. “You keep saying ‘she,’” she challenged me. “Why the hell do you think that?” I gestured toward the room. “Because you can’t do something that bad without a whole lot of hate,” I said. “Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.” “But a man could have done it,” Murphy said. “Well,” I hedged. “Christ, you are a chauvinist pig, Dresden. Is it something that only a woman could have done?” “Well. No. I don’t think so.” “You don’t think so?” Carmichael drawled. “Some expert.” I scowled at them both, angry. “I haven’t really worked through the specifics of what I’d need to do to make somebody’s heart explode, Murph. As soon as I have occasion to I’ll be sure to let you know.” “When will you be able to tell me something?” Murphy asked. “I don’t know.” I held up a hand, forestalling her next comment. “I can’t put a timer on this stuff, Murph. It just can’t be done. I don’t even know if I can do it at all, much less how long it will take.” “At fifty bucks an hour, it better not be too long,” Carmichael growled. Murphy glanced at him. She didn’t exactly agree with him, but she didn’t exactly slap him down, either. I took the opportunity to take a few long breaths, calming myself down. I finally looked back at them. “Okay,” I asked. “Who are they? The victims.” “You don’t need to know that,” Carmichael snapped. “Ron,” Murphy said. “I could really use some coffee.” Carmichael turned to her. He wasn’t tall, but he all but loomed over Murphy. “Aw, come on, Murph. This guy’s jerking your chain. You don’t really think he’s going to be able to tell you anything worth hearing, do you?” Murphy regarded her partner’s sweaty, beady-eyed face with a sort of frosty hauteur, tough to pull off on someone six inches taller than she. “No cream, two sugars.” “Dammit,” Carmichael said. He shot me a cold glance (but didn’t quite look at my eyes), then jammed his hands into his pants pockets and stalked out of the room. Murphy followed him to the door, her feet silent, and shut it behind him. The sitting room immediately became darker, closer, with the grinning ghoul of its former chintzy intimacy dancing in the smell of the blood and the memory of the two bodies in the next room. “The woman’s name was Jennifer Stanton. She worked for the Velvet Room.””


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