Last time, Harry heads to the police station, a junkie, and a lot of speculation, all while he waits to see Murphy.
Murphy arrives and gives him a sugared coffee in a styrofoam (1941) cup. Harry must live in fear of the day people switch to some modern green substitute. He doesn’t make a crack about this proving she secretly likes him and just seems grateful, so concussion Harry is an improvement.
I followed her to her office, a hastily assembled thing with cheap plywood walls and a door that wasn’t hung quite straight. The door had a paper sign taped to it, neatly lettered in black Magic Marker with LT. KARRIN MURPHY. There was a rectangle of lighter wood where a plaque had once held some other hapless policeman’s name. That the office never bothered to put up a fresh plaque was a not-so-subtle reminder of the precarious position of the Special Investigations director.
So one of the only women on the force, who Harry has already stated has faced a lot of sexism, currently has a horrible office working the job they put you on when they want to scapegoat you.
The fact one of the defenders has shown up to tell me the books improve because a few books later Murphy stops being a dick to Harry and we learn she has her own difficulties and faces sexism illustrates why I don’t believe anyone telling me the books improve.
But anyway, Murphy is female and women are homemakers, so somehow the interior is all great but she can’t get the door fixed. Probably she bought all the stuff herself because girls, you know? They like furniture to look nice.
Her college diploma, the aikido trophies, and her marksman’s awards were on the wall to one’s
immediate right as you entered the office, and sitting there right next to your face if you were standing before her desk or sitting in the chair in front of it. That was Murphy-organized, direct, determined, and just a little bit belligerent.
I would like to point out that having one’s credentials behind the desk is completely and utterly fucking standard, but Murphy’s belligerent for doing the exact same thing, because a woman, acting like she has proof of her own worth instead of letting men decide? What a ball-busting bitch.
Before Harry enters, Murphy unplugs all her electronics to protect them, so either
A) Harry’s power functions like lightning, where it affects even things that are off, despite there being very good reasons why plugged in/not plugged in would impact lightning’s ability to fry your computer and no clear reason why general magic fuckery would have anything to do with it.
B) Harry’s power does not function like lightning, but he’s too stupid to have ever realized that whether or not a device is plugged in doesn’t matter, despite the fact he lives his life seeing this.
C) Harry does know unplugging is a waste of time and just doesn’t tell her, because he’s a dick who likes to make extra work for people.
So, worldbuilding stupidity, character stupidity, character dickery. Pick one.
(This also raises the plot hole that Harry could supposedly kill a copier at range but apparently fancy new computers are more robust.)
She was dressed no less casually on a Saturday than she was on a workday-dark slacks, a dark blouse, set off by her golden hair, and bright silver necklace and earrings.
Now that we see the situation she’s in, there’s the unfortunate implication that she’s dressed nicely all the time not because this is the inherent state of woman but because she risks further trouble on the job if she doesn’t. Women tend to be judged very harshly for not keeping up a “professional” appearance. Harry, because considering the lives of other people is for other people, just whines he feels embarrassed for looking so shitty.
Harry’s finally going to explain what he found out, as well as his reasoning for why the spell should be barely able to take out a single person.
Whoever did this did it with a thaumaturgic spell. That much I’m sure of.
And by reasoning, I mean sort of, because Harry won’t actually say how he’s sure of it.
Supernatural detective stuff is difficult to write in a “fair” way, where we know what the given rules are. In this case, Harry goes on to say,
He or she used some of Tommy Tomm and Jennifer Stanton’s hair or fingernails or something to create a link to them. Then they ripped out a symbolic heart from some kind of ritual doll or sacrificial animal and used a whale of an amount of energy to make the same thing happen to the victims.”
But how is Harry sure of this? It doesn’t seem like spells actually leave a signature behind, because he has to rule out line of sight evocation on the basis that there was no sign of a third person and that said third person could’ve just used a gun. He later said that Morgan actually had motive to line-of-sight evocative the two victims since that’d frame Harry and only ruled it out on the basis Morgan wouldn’t break rules, and while I’ve been mentioning framing Harry a lot, it’s also possible the killer might be trying to trick someone else.
Like Bianca. What if this was all an attempt to bait her into killing Harry and being killed by the Council in turn? What if there’s some other wizard trying to get Marcone under his thumb by creating some fake threat, then offering his services to “protect” him from any further attacks?
Or what if the killer was just trying to confuse the police? Harry says a gun would’ve been easier, but if that was the only criteria people would never kill any other way. What if it was an evocator more afraid of getting found out by the police than of enraging a wizard council they don’t even know exists? Harry’s first guess, on looking at it, is angry irrational woman, why couldn’t there be some evil newbie witch who doesn’t know the taboo but does know that officially, magic doesn’t exist, and that means they can’t arrest you for standing in the vicinity when people’s hearts just happen to suddenly explode.
Also, Harry ballparks the energy requirements for a single heartsplosion as small-earthquake level, despite the vast differences in terms of physical matter affected, because it’s really hard to mess with “living beings”. Once again, science is here to fuck that up for you.
Consider the noble kirin, so concerned about living beings it will not even trample a blade of grass and feeds exclusively on fallen fruit. Wow! Except now we know that everything’s covered in tiny invisible creatures, and walking or eating fruit involves crushing lots of them. Even just breathing!
Now, the bacteria in the air are clearly not preventing fireballs, so it seems like it’s a function of mass. In that case the issue isn’t affecting living beings but living tissue. Does that solve our problem? NOPE. Because if the issue is that it takes X energy per cell unit area, with a modifier of, say, a few billion when it’s living issue vs nonliving (and can I point out that if magic works significantly differently on each, wizards need to go blast viruses and resolve that debate already) then the solution is to target a smaller area, and the question Harry should be asking is just “What sort of insane moron tries to blow up a whole heart?????????” for several chapters straight, until Morgan shows up and shakes him out of it by the sheer indignity of realizing all the other wizards have assumed he is the insane moron.
Our best bet for resolving this is to assume that Harry’s first definition was correct and it’s “living being” as a single unit, but that there’s also a tier system for living beings with bacteria (or viruses if they count) at the bottom and humans at the top. Clearly it’s not just that humans are unique or Harry would’ve just said humans. So, humans are objectively better (or at least more protected from heartsplosions) than bacteria. How about apes, are they marginally easier to heartsplode? Basically the same? Actually more durable? What about dogs? Are all mammals equally hard to mess with? What about birds and lizards? If there’s a difference, what about platypus? This suggests we can now use magic as a limited but completely accurate cladistics method where you try to heartsplode things to figure out how closely related they are to the main branch of mammals.
Okay, too complicated, want to make it about a nervous system? YOU FOOL. Urochordates have a proto-spinal cord for only the first half of their lives, then they attach to rocks, devour their nervous systems, and turn into things that resemble sea sponges. Do they lose their resistance as it goes? Are people with brain damage thus easier to heartsplode since they have less total nervous tissue in their body? Complex life? Define the instant a colony of organisms becomes a single entity. Are ants now wholly invulnerable, being a colonial organism made up of autonomous units of complex life? (Actually, this might explain some things about their spread.) In general, reality spits upon your desire for anything to make sense. Think of it this way: human classification is not sorting things into boxes so much as it is inventing boxes that kind of fit the pile of things we have.
Your best bet is probably to just give in and say that fuck it, yes, God gave us souls and they’re making it harder to heartsplode people okay stop asking so many questions. Failing that, we can try to get the mass problem to work by saying that living beings count as a single unit for the purposes of messing with them, but how difficult it is to do that depends on the electromagnentic field around them. You can measure that thing, so it gives you an objective standard.
(No wait, your best bet is to say that symapthetic magic means you can’t easily harm anyone of your species. The huge energy requirement for the spell is because you’re fighting an uphill battle of forcing injury on someone, forcing the injury not to mirror on you, forcing injury harder on the other person as that half of the spell tries to mimic the blocking you’re doing…and when Harry says it’d kill him to do a second person, he doesn’t mean he’d run out of energy but that he’d eventually hit the point he couldn’t stop the mirror effect and his own heart explodes. Bonus – this fits with the idea wizards can death-curse humanish enemies, because if you don’t care what it does to you, you can let the mirroring happen and pour all your energy into fucking up the other guy.)
(Also, I’ve just suddenly realized that Harry’s missed yet another possibility – he thinks it’d kill him to do two. He doesn’t say he’d fail to explode them both in the process. The murderer could be dead, especially given Harry’s said repeatedly you would have to hate these people a lot to kill them, so it’d even quite likely they’d have been willing to do this knowing the cost.)
Anyway, all of both my and Harry’s speculation turns out not to matter, because…
“You’re saying that some sort of wizard version of Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled this off?”
I shrugged. “It’s possible, I suppose. More likely, someone who’s just really good pulled it off. Raw power doesn’t determine all that you can do with magic. Focus matters, too. The better your focus is, the better you are at putting your power in one place at the same time, the more you can get done. Sort of like when you see some ancient little Chinese martial-arts master shatter a tree trunk with his hands. He couldn’t lift a puppy over his head, but he can focus what power he does have with incredible effect.”
So, it’s objectively impossible to heartsplode two people, but also old guys who know martial arts can explode trees so someone could totally have done it. Interestingly, Harry has not even considered a woman being behind this ever since the speculation turned from who hates best to how very hard the spell is.
Then Harry says that also, third option, could just be a couple people working together. Harry tells us that the max you can have on a single spell is thirteen and they have to be totally in sync and that’s really hard and all and would require some sort of cult, which is interesting, but not nearly as useful as telling us how many people this particular spell would actually take, because if you can manage one but die upon attempting two, then two Harrys working together should be able to manage both.
“A cult,” Murphy said. She rubbed at her eyes. “The Arcane is going to have a field day with this one, if it gets out. So Bianca is involved in this, after all.
No, not a cult! Harry went off on a tangent there about what the max number of people could be and how such a group would work. He didn’t (and won’t) state how many people he thinks this spell actually needs.
But he is doing a bit of detective thinking, at least, explaining that he’s sure it wasn’t an attempt on Bianca because when he went to see her she was super freaked out and oh Harry, that concussion is really not helping you think.
Turns out, though, Murphy apparently already had other evidence it was an attack on Marcone, namely that there’s already a gang war kicking up.
ThreeEye suppliers versus conventional narcotics. Right?”
She stared at me for a minute. “Yeah,” Murphy said. “Yeah, it is. How did you know? We’ve been holding out details from the papers.”
To recap, ThreeEye(tm) is advertised as giving you magic powers. The police know magic exists. A gang war between the side with supposedly magic drugs and the side that doesn’t has started and then there’s an obviously magical killing involving the bodyguard of the other side’s leader. And they’ve spend almost half the book dicking around on the assumption someone might have been going after Bianca instead.
Harry goes on to say that conveniently, he just found out the drug is legit magic and could only have been made by some insanely powerful wizard, and, showing he and the police absolutely deserve each other, did not immediately think, “Wait, didn’t I just find out only an insanely powerful wizard could pull off a double heartsplosion?”
Also, for the record, there’s still no one asking the most important question: if this was really an attempt on only one of their bosses, why were both victims killed? Regardless of exactly how difficult it is to do, it’s supposed to be a lot harder than pulling a trigger twice rather than once. And the normal reason for killing an uninvolved party is to hide your identity, but Harry’s explained it was a long-distance attack so the other person wouldn’t be able to give the police any information beyond the obvious fact someone’s heart exploded in front of them. Plus he’s repeated that there is absolutely no way to even do this magic type without hating the person involved, which means the killer shouldn’t have been able to target the second person.
It all points to both of the victims being the target, which means they should be looking for the motive.
“All right, then. How many people do you know of who could manage the killing spell?”
“Christ, Murphy,” I said, “you can’t ask me to just hand you a list of names of people to drag downtown for questioning.”
The real answer is there is no one Harry can think of. Any of the White Council wizards are nowhere near and likely not even registered anywhere Murphy could find. Morgan made it clear no wizard of Harry’s class lives in Chicago. And if Harry knew any local wizards at all, he’d have talked to them at some point.
(This does, however, fit perfect with the idea Harry is bluffing as being more connected and knowledgeable than he is – better to enrage Murphy by saying he just refuses than admit he actually can’t.)
Murphy says yes, she just fucking did ask that, and she will lock him up if he decides to tell her she can’t because he just said he is deliberately refusing to give her information. Luckily, Harry’s concussion has moved from startling revelations to making him loopy. He starts rambling about how he’d tell her if it was anything useful and maybe if she let him do more, and she points out that he’s already looking half dead from getting as involved as he did so that’s obviously really, really stupid, he reminds her she’s screwed if she doesn’t get someone soon, she gets still more pissed off, and then Harry faints from concussion.
my skull got loose and shaky on my neck, and things spun around, and my chair sort of wobbled up onto its back legs and whirled about precariously. I thought it was probably safest to slide my way along to the floor, rubbery as a snake. The tiles were nice and cool underneath my cheek and felt sort of comforting. My head went boom, boom, boom, the whole time I was down there, spoiling what would have otherwise been a pleasant little nap.
To my knowledge this should involve a whole lot less continuous consciousness, but hey, awareness head injuries are serious business! The fact Harry’s concussion has been messing him up this long makes it possibly our most accurate depiction so far.