Continuing with this finally. Sorry for the delay.
Harry doesn’t get a loan car and spends the rest of the book using taxis when he needs transportation. He contacts and tracks down Randall. She does the whole sex sex sexy sex thing, but this time when Harry notices how scared she is he backs off instead of going for the kill and then slutshaming her a bit for fun.
Randall is not kicked out of vampire prostitution because she’s a jaded whore, but chose to start transitioning to a new career because she was getting older and wanted something more stable. The Beckitt job is perfect because it lets her have official experience as a driver while still pulling down prostitution levels of cash. Harry can see how this is a good thing for her, and misinterprets her anxiety as fear of cops and not wanting to annoy her bosses.
Harry never gets a chance to tell us Mrs. Beckitt has WW2 POW eyes because he doesn’t look people in the eyes. He glances at their clothing, adds it to employing a live-in prostitute, and assumes rich professionals with no kids from that.
He then orders airport coffee and then realizes what he did when he’s told the price and kicks himself. Characters behaving in stupid ways is totally fine when it’s acknowledged, and Harry’s not poor enough to be used to paying attention to prices.
He has no idea what to do next, so he starts thinking about the other case. Dealing with a cheating husband now seems easier than this, so he starts thinking about that. He decides that since she never actually asked him to find out if her husband was cheating, all he needs to do is prove her husband is in the house, tell her, and see what she wants from there.
He decides to call up the pizza place because that seems like better evidence than that some fairies told him, and immediately realizes something more is up from the delivery guy’s reaction because detectives aren’t supposed to be complete idiots. He says he needs to know exactly what the guy saw to do damage control on it, and the guy tells him about orgy and then the photographer.
And that then throws Harry. Blackmail? Shiiiiit this is so over his head.
This would be a good point for Harry to stop and lament about the sort of things he usually does.
What sort of things does he usually do?
As I mentioned, Harry would be really good at missing persons cases in general, so the station probably calls him instead of sending out Amber Alerts. It’s not only better at finding the kid, but it means you don’t tip off a kidnapper that you’re looking. Of course, it means Harry’s probably also run into various situations where it’s one parent trying to steal the kid from their spouse, since those are the vast majority of kidnapping cases. It occurs to me that he can probably soulgaze people to find out if they’re telling the truth about this being to protect the kid vs fuck over their spouse, which would be kind of grey (it’s certainly a coerced decision there) as well as giving the police another reason to mistrust him a bit for blowing off the actual law.
They may also use him to speed up finding who the DNA on a scene comes from.
Being able to track the current location of anyone so long as you’ve got hair or skin is just so incredibly useful as a support skill. That’d probably be his main use, and maybe the money fluctuation are primarily a function of how much the police have budgetted for “psychic consultant” and how much their superiors are currently watching expenditures. It’s cliche, but you’d probably end up with a situation where all the rank and file loved him but the higher ups who weren’t dealing with vampire prostitution and heartsplosions thought this was just some sort of corruption/money laundering/etc scheme, or that Harry was one amazing con artist. (Still have the problem where it’s effortless for Harry to prove magic is real and he personally commands it with his thoughts, of course.)
He can do exorcisms, but from the sound of it there aren’t many exorcisms that need doing, so what he’s actually called for is people who decide they want an exorcism and a cool ghost story. This in turn means he probably doesn’t bother with that unless he’s out of money, so not his main thing.
He doesn’t do birthday parties despite the fact it’d be easy money and good community outreach, plus he should want to know how to handle kids when his main job is tracking down missing kids.
And he does consultations on any weird cases, which apparently show up with semi-regularity and are somehow being prosecuted by the police despite the fact that “the murderer was a zombie” does not, generally, fly in court. Knowing how Murphy got from “clearly, this was a voodoo witch” to actual convictions would help a lot in knowing what his usual role is. I mean, the obvious answer is that the police wait for him to find the guilty party then assemble the appropriate evidence to plant, but that doesn’t seem to be the route the book’s going and it’d require a lot of trust from the police, which Harry doesn’t seem to have. The book seems to think this is his main thing despite there being so little magical presence in these books – just sexy vampiress doing nothing, wizard pub that does nothing, last-minute havenots mention who ware doing nothing.
So okay: Harry’s main line of work is missing people, but it’s missing kids who don’t want to be locked in a trunk or whatever, so he really doesn’t know how to deal with a guy choosing to abandon his family who’s about to be blackmailed. In fact, he’s aware he generally has trouble dealing with adults even under good circumstances. If the guy is about to be blackmailed, that’s going to hurt his wife too, and it’s unlikely they’re going to talk out the best move what with him having already ditched her for vacation home orgies. So Plan A: tell wife I confirmed he’s at the house and hope she doesn’t want anything more from me is now out, he’s got to tell her about the orgies and the photographer and she’s going to ask what she should do and the closest thing he’d ever had to a stable relationship is Rodriguez using the fact he doesn’t think before he speaks for regular tabloid fodder so how the hell would he know?
He decides that actually, the police case is now the less stressful. He’ll tell Murphy that Bianca has no idea who did it and that this does make sense, and that she agrees it’s a witch (since she agreed it was a human magic user, and Harry continues to be certain it’s a female one). Bianca knows way more about the magical world than Harry does, so that rules out any chance this was something else obscure. (Doesn’t even have to be true, Harry just has to assume all vampires are ancient and know everything because they were around for it happening, which is extra likely if the white council is into scaremongering about their enemies, and why wouldn’t they be?) Maybe Murphy will tell him about some other lead they’ve dug up and he can work with that.
As he decides this he gets a bat to the head. There’s a split second loss of consciousness, and Harry wakes up on the ground with a piece of paper fluttering down and someone’s feet leaving. It’s those cut out letter notes saying to drop the case.
Marcone!!! rages Harry in a groggy and concussed way. He thinks about how Murphy would tell him to report this because she is a frail woman who doesn’t understand how men do this, which is why Marcone never finds out it’s happening and so does not show up five minutes after it’s filed and his agents in the force tell him to explain that christ Harry why would he do this how stupid do you think he is?
Instead Harry gets his gun, explaining that being concussed makes it hard to cast but guns works as long as you can aim them. (Harry, having not registered as a gun owner, has also never taken a gun safety class.)
I staggered to my kitchenette and fixed myself a tisane tea for the headache, then added in some aspirin. Herbal remedies are well and good, but I don’t like to take chances.
This stays verbatim because it’s hilarious. It becomes a running gag where each book Harry will say something about how nature’s great but morphine/penicillin/aloe/eucalyptus is better (remember, he can’t even watch TV) until finally he says it out loud and Murphy or Rodriquez explain that peppermint comes from a mint plant and Harry laughs at the idea of a plant growing candy canes.
He ends up down at the library reading his way through the encyclopedia. Oh my god penguins are an actual animal!!! This becomes the new running gag.
“Did you know there’s something called a koala bear but it’s not actually a bear?”
“Yes literally everyone-”
“But they look like bears and also they eat nothing but leaves. They live in Australia, which is a vast desert full of deadly snakes.”
While this only worsens his ability to interact with other adults, it helps dealing with the missing kids, although he doesn’t believe them about the feathered t-rexes. You won’t trick him, five year olds! He’s seen pictures in an encyclopedia.
Back to the current book, Harry bumbles around his apartment with his lacemaker’s lamps and other old-timey things. He explains that (he’s pretty sure) healing potions exist, but that the evil skull won’t tell him for mere porn because it knows how much he wants it. He decides to not even enter the basement because he doesn’t want to deal with its attempts to bargain with him. Sometimes it starts up about how what’s one baby, really, because Harry might die and then he won’t be around to save lots of babies, and Harry just tries to avoid the whole conversation these days.
Instead, he settles in to try to calculate the heartsplosion thing.
Harry calculates the heartsplosion thing and realizes this is a group effort. A thirteen-person group effort, to be precise.
The obvious thing to do with the thirteen cap is either each wizard adds their full power and it just doesn’t work over thirteen, or you get diminishing returns until fourteen adds nothing at all. Instead, what if it’s exponential? That’s much more magical seeming. This also helps encourage wizards, who have a lot of reasons to be solitary and rule their own little muggle fiefdoms, to work together at times. It’s probably what formed the council and kept them together in the low-magic centuries where only covens of thirteen could get anything done at all.
(Also, it’s a good move for something meant to be a series. It means that two wizards working together is completely different than just having to fight two wizards. A single extra wizard than you expected can change everything – and conversely, if you can remove a single wizard you’ve done a great deal of damage to your opponents. Good setup for wide variations in power.)
The thing is, it’s got to be thirteen + the hate modifier, as far as Harry’s calculations show. But that means that Tommy Tomm apparently fucked over thousands upon thousands of women in order to end up with thirteen witches who all hate him in exactly the same way. Tens of thousands? Harry really doesn’t know much more about witches than that they’re really rare and scary, but wizards are rare and witches are even less common. He and Morgan are the only full wizards in all of Chicago, where in the hell are thirteen witches coming in?
The most elegant way of dealing with the heartsplosion itself, I think, is that voodoo magic in particular has the backlash problem. If you’re trying to forge a sympathetic link between human and rabbit, you end up forming a secondary link between human and human, because you’ve got a lot more in common than with a rabbit. You’d need the huge group to brace from the backlash. Harry theorizes that there was one target and one collateral damage as they redirected the backlash, a trick even harder than shielding and letting the backlash splatter around. (Although it does mean the usual arcane link between caster and victim is gone, allowing for the whole mistaken identity issue – Sells’ more-murder-is-always-great philosophy turns out to have an actual benefit and make the spell look to Harry like it’s by someone who actually knows what they’re doing.)
Harry fumbles around to find the compact mirror he uses for shaving, fails, and decides it’s more important to tell Murphy what he’s learned. (Plus his hands are shaking too much to make it safe to use his manly straight razor.) There’s no way there could be thirteen spontaneous new witches in Chicago, so whoever’s doing this must have come from elsewhere. He also knows that most wizards like to live in (nineteenth century) luxury, and girls like shopping and clothes and curtains, and no magic user can use credit cards, so perhaps the police have some way of looking for a group of thirteen women who’ve just moved into the area and are throwing cash around.
Harry meets the junkie, who was skipping along having a good trip up until he sees Harry (explaining why people keep using the drug).(Also, I just think it’s ridiculous that most things would be horrible, and works much better if it follows the usual drug model of everything being awesome right until you run headfirst into it being horrible. Harry isn’t keeping his wizard vision off because he’ll probably see a scary thing, he’s keeping it off because the tiny chance of seeing something scary is counterbalanced by the fact he’ll never be able to unsee it. Maybe even make it a point that wizards who aren’t cautious don’t live long, which would be foreshadowing Sells being so dangerous in the short-term.) Harry tackles the guy, the police officers take him with thanks, and Harry compliments one for being “so articulate for a Chinamen”. While the Korean cop is trying to process that, Murphy drags him into her office and shuts the door. Never say that again, she says. In fact, never say any of those words to anyone in any context or order, ever.
Women, thinks Harry. Truly they are mysterious creatures.
He tells her he worked out the spell and that it’s got to be thirteen people, so they should look for a witch’s coven. Murphy stares at him for a minute and says he looks like shit, then goes to get him coffee. It’s in a fancy new green cup, which begins dissolving in his hands, so he begins to gulp coffee while thinking about how much his life sucks.
Also, about the three-eye, he says, it’s actually – and then he throws up on the floor and collapses.
Harry wakes up to not say objectifying things about Murphy. He slurs a bit about how fine he is and she drives him home while telling him he needs to file police reports about this stuff and also did he seriously bring a(n illegal) gun into a police station christ Harry. Harry says it’s not to shoot cops itzzz to shoot MObsteRS okay and he forgot it was in his jacket.
She then has to drag him through his dark house because he doesn’t use normal person lights or even own any matches.
She leaves prior to the phone ringing. Harry crawls out of bed and picks it up, Randall invites him on the date, then he remembers the whole “orgy and blackmail” situation and tries to call his client to warn her.
The whole “never mind I don’t want the service anymore” conversation is so fucking stupid, because she does want him to keep investigating. Instead, she keeps repeating that she’s glad everything is going so well and hopes he’ll be able to deliver the package soon and he should go get it and various similar statements that, if Harry’s brain wasn’t oozing out of his ears, he’d be able to understand. The call cuts out halfway through due to magic problems, because that needs to come up. Harry crawls back into bed. Later, the phone rings again but Harry’s too out of it to do more than halfway wake up.
Harry’s asleep as the storm starts, with all the magical energy rolling around. He dreams of a cackling witch blasting his head with lightning bolts, and then suddenly wakes up to a particularly loud thundercrack. The storm, he realizes. What if it’s a group tapping the storm?
Thirteen magic users isn’t the really hard part, it’s them all hating in unison. Tapping the storm is pretty suicidal, but there have always been suicidal newbie wizards, just not old suicidal newbie wizards. He thinks back to what he said to Bianca about it being a new person. How big of a group would you need to heartsplode if you were cheating and using storm magic for the raw energy? What’s the resonance of storm magic with murder, does it “fit” in a similar way as the emotion of hate does?
Harry goes to get some ramen (because he is a bachelor who doesn’t know how to cook, doesn’t have a way to refrigerate food, and prefers to spend his food money on wizard pub food) when he sees his cat staring at the door. He creeps up to it, is startled to hear a knock, carefully looks through the peephole…and oh, it’s Rodriguez! Right. Shit. He has to explain he also has a date with a hooker that’s not an actual date but is for reasons he can’t tell her but definitely has nothing to do with the murder cases that – wait, no, there are no murder cases in the first place, I mean there’s murder cases as a general thing because murder happens but not specifically any magic heart oh god why am I still talking.
Rodriguez grins like a shark and says she’d be more than happy to share their date with Harry’s new friend. She’s got an expense account for just this kind of thing~ Harry slinks off to take a shower, thinking about how women are evil and his cat was trying to warn him.
Then he hears his cat yowl, and his blood runs even colder than the horrible cold shower he’s taking. He rushes out in time to hear something smash into the door. He can feel an explosion of magic energy, but he can also see the door splitting. Whatever’s out there is a magical creature, and it’s something strong enough to push through the threshold barrier.
Then the demon spits acid and Harry watches the door burn down with a lot of magic sparks as the threshold protections fight back. It shoves its head through the gap and spits again.
He yells at Rodriguez to go to the basement, where there’s a protective circle. She goes down only to come back up because “she didn’t want to leave him”. He runs back down with her and into the circle, ignoring Bob chuckling because he assumes it’s just Bob’s general awfulness.
Then she kisses him and he sees that the cabinet he put the potion at the back of is open, the potion bottle is on the table, and Bob is screaming with laughter.
Thus the haggling begins. Bob reminds him that he still has the escape potion upstairs in his jacket, but sadly, Bob can’t reach that far while he’s stuck in this skull. He’d just love to help out his beloved master and his soon-to-be wife (I mean, you’re not just doing to use her and dump her, are you Harry? Tut tut.) but, you know, stuck in this skull. If only someone-
“No,” says Harry. “Not again.”
They haggle. Harry eventually agrees to six hours, ominously thinking that “people could handle six hours” and that “they’d probably just rationalize it or forget it afterward”. We won’t find out what Harry means until the final chapter when Harry thinking about how he’s doing his best not to hear any details about the frat party that lasted six straight hours, but there was a heart attack. It’s a component of the whole “bittersweet ending” – he did that to be able to win, all because he fucked up in the first place and needed Bob’s help.
Once free, Bob does bring Harry the potion – he needs to keep Harry alive because there’s a very limited number of suckers desperate enough to deal with him. The regular wizard council would just lock him in a box and bury it somewhere. This doesn’t impact the protective circle because this particular circle is just defined based on human vs demon. Harry can’t throw anything out, the demon can’t throw anything in, anyone else could walk through without issue.
They drink the potion and materialize outside. Rodriguez collapses and Harry starts trying to drag her along, explaining that running water is an even stronger threshold barrier than a house and that should stop just about anything. (He hopes. The fact it looks like a toad might mean water doesn’t work. Or it might not mean anything. Harry’s knowledge of demons is limited to that you summon them with names and they’re generally bad news.) Sells’ magic hologram shows up to laugh at Harry while he’s dragging Rodriguez, and Harry loses his temper and magic-punches the hologram. He then explains to us this was an idiotic move, he should’ve kept his head and kept the other guy talking.
The demon comes and Harry, hearing the thunder, decides that it’s suicidal to try but certain death not to. Tapping the storm itself is well beyond him, but the lightning is already there, and redirecting that might be survivable. He blasts the demon.
I can’t believe that worked, thinks Harry.
Morgan shows up while Harry’s lying on the ground wondering why he’s not dead yet to accuse him of demon-summoning. Harry is righteously offended and Morgan cuts him off halfway in and says he can tell he fed his “date” a love potion before screwing up the summons and needing to use an escape potion. We get solid confirmation that the thou-shalt-not-mindrape only applies to fellow wizards, so Morgan can’t just kill Harry for that, but it shows he’s evil and was probably planning some sort of demonic orgy and sacrifice, and also Morgan really does not want to listen to some naked shithead rapist’s excuses right now about how the lust demon was a coincidence. Morgan’s summoning the council and then he’s going to cut Harry’s head off.
Harry stares up at Morgan. “That’s a lust demon?”
Morgan says yeah, you should’ve just stuck to raping human women because there’s no such thing as succubus. You know, a lot of black wizards skirt the edges a while, preying on people without technically breaking the rules, but you, you just jumped right over the line and summoned a demon because you were so goddamn stupid you thought you could fuck it. I’m even glad you somehow didn’t blow yourself up in tapping the storm all these times, because it’s much better to slice your head off and let everyone see justice be done.
Oh, and don’t try anything now with that poor woman, because the cops will be showing up any minute. Bye you evil rapist fuckhead!
“Lust demon,” repeats Harry, gears turning.
Then Rodriguez groans and Harry drops the line of thought. He crawls over and tells her she’ll be okay, mixing potions makes you feel sick but there’s no long term side effects. Also, he is so, so sorry and wasn’t planning on using the potion on her or anybody, the evil skull knows potion recipes and he needed an escape potion and it said it’d tell him if he made the love potion and he thought it was just going to try to talk him into using it like it tries to talk him into doing horrible stuff all the time and he’s not really helping his case here, is he.
“I believe you,” she says.
“Harry, I’ve been trying to sleep with you this entire time.”
“That’s why I keep saying we should go back to your place. And that we should have sex.”
“Oh,” says Harry. “I thought you were just saying that because you were drunk.”
“No one can be drunk and still remember every detail about a sewer troll infestation the next morning. Also, no one gets drunk on half a glass of wine.”
The police arrive.
(There’s an important distinction between “I believe you weren’t trying to rape me because I was willing to have sex with you” and “I believe you weren’t trying to rape me because I explicitly offered to have sex with you and you said no”. It’s quite possible for a rapist to rape a woman who would’ve said yes had he any interest in trying to obtain consent, because plenty of rapists do it not because the woman said no but because bothering to find out one way or another is a waste of their valuable raping-people time. However, a man who turns down a woman offering sex probably wouldn’t go on to feed her a potion that’d make her offer sex.
(Rodriguez is ignoring the possibility Harry planned to feed the potion to someone else, but we’ll assume she’s gleaned enough about Harry’s wizarding life to know that “it’s the evil skull’s fault” is pretty plausible, plus Bob was cackling about how now Harry would finally get laid and not how he screwed up Harry’s plan to rape some different girl.)
Harry learns Randall is dead.
“The storm,” I repeated. “You can tap storms and other natural phenomena to get things done. All natural fuel for the mojo.”
“You didn’t say anything about that before,” Murphy accused.
“I hadn’t thought of it until tonight.” “It’s not something any trained wizard would try, because there’s a good chance it’ll kill you. The murderers here don’t know or don’t care. Maybe both. They’re not formally trained. A lot of power and no finesse.”
Murphy explains that Randall called them asking for help. It seemed someone threatened her (the hologram, Sells is just an asshole like that), she’d called Harry and got no response, then tried the cops to ask for him right before dying.
Why did Randall think to call you, Harry? asks Murphy.
Why did she have your card?
“Uh,” says Harry. It has been a rough night for him.
Murphy explains the whole thing with the Beckitts. She says that Randall used to work for Bianca. She asks what Harry thinks of all this.
“Uh,” says Harry.
Murphy says that she’s never heard Harry mention his good friend Randall before. She’s also sure she told him to not fucking investigate on his own and under no circumstances talk to Bianca. She remembers saying that. Does Harry remember her saying that?
“Uh,” says Harry. “Wait. The Beckitts hired Randall as a prostitute. You’re saying they also hate Marcone.”
Murphy slams Harry into the wall and yells at him for fucking this up. Randall dies right after meeting him? It’s probably his damn fault she’s dead, and so is any chance they have of finding the killers before they kill more people!
She asks what else he knows.
We don’t need Murphy to think Harry’s the killer. She has another reason to tear apart his office, namely, he actually does have evidence linking him to the victim.
Harry does think that the police aren’t going to be able to deal with this at all and clams up, pissing Murphy off more. His reasoning for this is simply that they couldn’t help Randall and won’t be able to help themselves either if they’re targeted (and the killers seem to be trying to kill everyone who knows anything), and he only has a day or so left to find the people behind the heartsplosions himself. If the mundane police arrest some suspects and start the slow process of trying them, that’s not going to do him any good when the wizard council shows up to kill him for demon-summoning Monday morning.
And he’s starting to think he has a good idea of what’s going on.
The weirdest thing about this case has been the number of wizards needed. There’s all these bits that point to it being a newbie self-initiate, but how would several of them all pop up together?
And the thing that attacked him was a lust demon, and the magic throughout this smacks of hate, and there’s also the business with the magic drug and the war with Marcone. What if someone’s found a way to use non-wizards as backup?
Harry explains to the reader that even mundane people can access small magical effects in groups. It usually doesn’t happen because most spells out there are fakes, and there are few people who even believe enough in magic these days to bother trying. But in theory, you should be able to have wizards linking with mundanes for a boost. And if most of the power is coming from the storm itself, maybe that’d be enough. Hate is powerful and lust is abundant. Use those to channel the storm.