Last time, Harry plays with mobsters.
Today, “hoarse cheerleader voice” lady is already there and about to leave.
She was a good-looking woman, in her mid-thirty-somethings. Ash blond hair that I thought must be natural, after a morbid and involuntary memory of the dead woman’s dye job. Her makeup was tasteful and well applied, and her face was fair, friendly, with enough roundness of cheek to look fresh-faced and young, enough fullness of mouth to look very feminine. She was wearing a long, full skirt of palest yellow with brown riding boots, a crisp white blouse, and an expensive-looking green cardigan over it, to ward off the chill of early spring. She had to be in good shape to pull off a color combination like that, and she did it.
So we’re slowly narrowing down the specifics of the author’s kinks.
The one thing I’d like to draw attention to is that she’s a natural blonde unlike the prostitute. This is really subtle but just a thing to keep your eyes on. In work after work, you’ll find there’s an underlying ranking system for female characters that determines how worthy they are of living – doesn’t, mind you, necessarily corrolate with survival, because in plenty of works they just all die, but it matches up with how big a deal their death is.
For example, my father was watching that show that’s a buddy cop with but it’s the future and his cop buddy is a ridiculously human robot. In it, two women have gone missing. One is black and the other is white (and has a kid). It turns out they’ve being kidnapped to harvest their skin for use in sexbots, and there’s a bunch of already skinned women being kept in comas to keep regrowing their skins and harvesting them again. (And yes, there is no possible reason why you’d only be able to use female skin, but it’s not sexy if violence is happening to men as well). Naturally, the black woman has already been skinned, also all the older skinned and therefore no longer pretty victims die when the police raid it, but the white mom lives. Also, the (fully sapient) sexbots are murdered because it’s illegal to use human DNA with them and I guess just removing the skin would’ve been too much work, because the death of prostitutes is sad, but it’s satisfyingly sad unlike the white mom’s death would be.
While I do have many, many issues with TvTropes, they’ve got a decent table on the subject.
Point is, you’ll often see prostitute characters having their appearance be “fake” in some way, which seems fair enough given that of course a prostitute’s awesome breasts and beautiful hair color are more likely to be tailored to appeal to people than the average woman, only to follow by having a non-prostitute character with the same features but this time they’re real, and the second one will have far more narrative protection because they obviously have more worth as a person. It’s particularly suspect here when he’s also keeping us up to date on precisely how tasteful the makeup is, which is the biggest red flag on fake/real girl issue.
I know there’s a couple other women who’ll show up, so let’s see how those compare.
She took my hand after a tiny pause and kept her eyes firmly focused on my chest.
At this point, I was just as glad to be dealing with someone who was too nervous to risk looking at my eyes.
And here it’s confirmed that Harry flat-out refuses to avoid eye contact with anyone and expects the rest of the world to do it instead.
Harry then drops that by the way he was out looking at a terrible thing he can’t talk about for the police. This is what NDAs are for, people.
She explains that her husband has left. He packed, so she knows he wasn’t just kidnapped, but he’s been gone a while and he didn’t say where, so she’s nervous, and she wants him to find out because her husband was into magic.
He bought some of those tarot cards.” She pronounced it like carrot. Amateurs.
Harry: totally an asshole.
This is also missing what could be an interesting twist – someone who doesn’t know the pronunciation of things is someone who’s read the words rather than heard the spoken, and you’ve got figure that self-taught wizards are a big concern. Harry probably just thinks this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, but given how much damage you can do with magic if you aren’t being careful not to blow yourself up in the process, that should be his concern, not how much better he is for pronouncing words right.
I mean, here’s what we know: a guy supposedly learning “real magic” on his own hasn’t come back home. Seems there’s a decent chance he died, possibly unleashing something unpleasant in the process.
If Harry explained that there’s basically no chance that anyone could learn magic on their own, his dismissal might make more sense, but even then, that’s so much more boring than the idea that every now and then someone stumbles on an errant magic book and ends up eaten by a kelpie.
(I guess you could argue it’s for suspense purposes, but anyone with any familiarity with stories will recognize Harry’s easy dismissal as a dramatic irony setup, plus it’s noir where the woman is always misleading and going to fuck the guy over somehow.)
Harry still isn’t clear on why she wants him and not an actual private detective, despite his skillset currently showing 100% overlap with private detectiving, and she repeats for a third goddamn time that she thinks whoever finds her husband should know about magic. Either Harry’s braincells all died from the strain of being in a car with a tiger-souled mobster or they’re busy staring at her tits, because he evidently is only making out one sentence in three here.
She then doesn’t want to give him her husband’s actual name, because names have power. She was nervous about her own earlier, and this seems more justified as an aspect of magic that’s relatively well known – it doesn’t require anywhere near the effort of constantly avoiding someone’s eyes, and you don’t have to know exactly how a wizard does anything bad with it because it could be anything, while it’s really hard to feel locking eyes could be that big of a deal. (It’s also not easy to falsify, which is an important component for superstitions being widespread. There must be fake wizards out there, and someone who tries the eye thing and finds out that nothing happens will go around saying it’s bullshit, while if you gave a fake wizard your name and nothing happens, that might just mean they didn’t do anything with it, or maybe your check engine light goes on and damn, the bastard cursed you!)
Harry tries to comfort her. His way of doing so is…interesting.
I am not out to hurt you or anyone else. What I do, I do to help people. It’s true that someone with the right skills could use your names against you, but I’m not like that.” I borrowed a line from Johnny Marcone. “It isn’t good business.”
It started so well, and then – well, he points out for me that the final line is something an evil person would say, and would make me assume “helping” meant anything more than that he believes his job means he should direct his horrible magic toward everyone who hadn’t hired him instead.
I mean, if he had to make some sort of reference, saying the reason he’s doing this and not getting rich by hexing racehorses is because he chooses to help people. There, alpha male better-than-you quota provided while putting the emphasis on how his current life proves he’s not in it for personal gain.
Speaking of, he then says to us he’ll start acting like a wizard to make her more at ease, because he’s late on rent and the police payments always take forever. (Which suggests they don’t call him much or else he should already have money in the pipeline. Or maybe we could say that the rent being late isn’t actually standard for all he tries to present himself as a beaten down noir guy and it’s just that last month they didn’t call him so he’s short.) He then follows this statement that he’s motivated by money with:
Besides. I could never resist going to the aid of a lady in distress.
This is the sort of cutesy chauvinism the author is presumably going for. The next line makes it clear that the author is a lot more sexist, and correspondingly the character is getting written as horribly sexist when we’re meant to take it as a cute thing.
Even if she wasn’t completely, one hundred percent sure that she wanted to be rescued by me.
See, there are two types of sexism. There’s the directly hateful sort (which incidentally, Harry does possess as well with his bit about witches being all around worse than wizards) and the well-meaning but oblivious.
The second part is where people start talking about unconscious privilege and such, and where you’ll end up with situations where women recoil in horror at something while men look confused.
Harry knows his intentions are good. He’s saying he’s going to help her out.
Unfortunately, what he’s also saying is he’ll do things against her will in the name of helping her. That’s not what he thinks he’s saying, but good intentions don’t prevent bad outcomes.
Harry has all the power in this situation.
He’s physically stronger than her, he’s magically stronger than her. He’d no doubt argue that neither of these factors matter because he wouldn’t harm her, but we’ll also see he loathes anyone with power over him regardless of what they’re doing with it or why, showing not only does he get why she’d be upset, but that he refuses to even consider women as having similar feelings as he does. It can be a bit unsettling knowing someone could harm you and there’s nothing you could do about it, and it gets downright unpleasant when the person is fine disregarding your opinion about what “harm” involves. When this person won’t even apply basic golden-rule level empathy to what’s best for you? You’re in danger.
Then there’s the fact that in addition, he’s male with all the power that gives him. One of the things that’s extremely hard to grasp is that even when sexism should provide benefits for women, it just somehow doesn’t. You may have heard that courts are more likely to side with the mother than the father, which seems sexist as hell based on our usual gender norms. Except that actually, no, fathers overwhelmingly win custody when they ask for it. The court’s bias is so extreme that if a woman finds out their husband is raping their children, the father will not only usually get full custody, but the woman is likely to be blamed for either lying or doing the child abuse herself instead. (Incidentally, 1% of claims of child abuse by women were found to be false upon investigation. One fourth of those claimed by men were found to be false.) Here’s a bunch more numbers. There’s similarly bizarre results with spousal abuse and murders. Treating women worse is so embedded into our society that when basic sexism would suggest treating them better, there’s promptly a backlash assuming women are cheating the system.
This is all particularly relevant here, because she’s going to turn out to be an abused wife (who also was abused as a child). Harry repeatedly comments on how nervous she is and will not once consider that maybe she has reason to be, because he’s such a great guy he chooses not to hurt women despite easily being able to.
It’s quite easy to understand why all this isn’t on the forefront of Harry’s mind. It’s the rest that adds up to trouble. Someone who’s got the advantage in a power imbalance and refuses to recognize it (in fact viewing themselves as the disadvantaged one) is dangerous, someone who has no ability to see other people’s lives are different and refuses to accept direct statements by those people to the contrary is dangerous, and someone who, despite both those things, believes he needs to decide what’s best for others? Really dangerous.
That’s why no, you should not say you’re always willing to rescue someone even if they didn’t want to be rescued. There are absolutely times when someone is in a bad situation and doesn’t realize it, but “when it strokes my boner” is never that time.
(And for the record? The fact that Harry apparently wouldn’t give a shit if it was a gay guy worried for his husband just highlights further how shitty it is to be making your decisions based on this.)
“Monica,” I told her. “There are powers in the universe that most people don’t even know about. Powers that we still don’t fully understand. The men and women who work with these powers see things in a different light than regular people. They come to understand things in a slightly different way. This sets them apart. Sometimes it breeds unwarranted suspicion and fear.
“We call them scientists.”
He then proceeds to namedrop the bible’s prohibition against witches and how he knows there’s a lot of fear. And by fear, what we actually mean is a lot of people (most of them women) were tortured and killed. So either they weren’t magic users (and magic users should feel guilt over that time uninvolved people were massacred out of fear of them) or they were magic users and it’s just that the fear he references only really applied to female ones. Regardless, he’s still casually referencing how lots of women died in various horrible ways throughout human history (all the way to the present day!) and making it about him and how sad it is people don’t trust him.
Guilt trip successful, he learns the man is Victor Sells and she has a good idea of where he might be.
“The lake house. We have a house down by …” She waved her hand.
She beamed at me, and I reminded myself to be patient.
She’s probably just thrilled she didn’t have to repeat herself three times like she did for “I picked you because I wanted someone who knew about magic”.
Incidentally, Harry the great detective doesn’t think there’s anything weird about a worried wife being pretty certain where her husband is yet making no effort to check it out on her own first. She doesn’t even reference calling and getting no answer.
“We’ve got quite a bit of savings, Mr. Dresden,” she told me. “I’m not worried about the money.” That seemed an odd statement from her, at the time-out of tune with her generally nervous manner.
What seems far more odd is that she said repeatedly her husband lost his job and that things are bad enough that police would assume he’d just run out on the family. The rest makes perfect sense if you assume she’s nervous about the unfamiliar territory of asking a supposed wizard to find a missing husband but familiar with the concept of paying people money for services.
She hands over money, some magical artifacts, and a picture.
The phone number was written on a plain white index card that had been neatly trimmed down to fit inside the envelope. There was no name or area code, just a seven-digit number. I got out my crosslisting directory and looked it up.
I noted that down as well. I wondered what the woman had expected to accomplish by only giving out first names, when she had been going to hand me a dozen other ways of finding out in any case.
We know that the name magic specifically requires being told it aloud. It generally requires being heard from the person’s own mouth, but repeated the same way they say it will work too. In other words, Harry has nothing to wonder about when she made it clear she knew a little about magic but not precisely how everything worked, so the most likely explanation is she doesn’t want him to hear her say any names.
It only goes to show that people are funny when they’re nervous about something. They say screwy things, make odd choices which, in retrospect, they feel amazingly foolish for making. I would have to be careful not to say anything to rub that in when I spoke to her again.
But that would get in the way of Harry explaining how superior he is, so.
The magic item is a dried scorpion, because creepy.
A lot of petty, mean spells could be focused around a little talisman like that.
Somehow, Harry holds himself back from speculating about how womanly her husband is. The fact is, this just makes me dislike it more – it highlights that it’s not that Harry has some backwards ideas about masculine/feminine, it’s just a straight double standard. When men do hateful magic, that’s just part of the normal range of magic. When women do it, it’s proof they’re inherently meaner.
He then points out that if this guy actually knows about magic, the story she told is actually a really worrying one because magic can make someone obsess over it, especially dark magic, which he’d be extra susceptible to if he’s despairing over his job, and also a common pattern is to try to isolate yourself. All of that sure sounds like the magician equivalent of a sniper rifle and clock tower, but Harry continues to not worry about anything this guy might be planning.
Or maybe it wasn’t even a true talisman. Maybe it was just a curiosity, or a souvenir from some visit to the Southwest. There wasn’t any way for me to tell if it was indeed a device used to improve the focus and direction of magical energies, short of actually using it to attempt a spell-and I really didn’t want to be using such a dubious article, for a variety of good reasons.
This level of plotting is why I quit barely into the next book. My exact thoughts were something along the lines of, I’m slogging through misogyny for this?
It’s ridiculous that magicians apparently have no reliable way of telling the difference between a magical object and a random dead animal someone picked up. Then he rejects using the only method he does have of testing it, even though it shouldn’t be a big deal to try to use it for a harmless spell and just see if there’s any magic in the thing at all.
I mean, bear in mind at this point all he knows is that the non-wizard wife thinks her husband knew “real magic”. It should be a priority to confirm that, but no, he seems to barely register that this is an issue. If this is a fake, then he knows that entire line of thought isn’t a concern.
Once I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, a twitch of motion from the dried scorpion that sat on my desk. I blinked and stared at it. It didn’t move.
Cautiously, I extended my senses toward it like an invisible hand, feeling about for any traces of enchantment or magical energy.
Nothing. It was as dry of enchantment as it was of life.
I’m pretty sure this is a full-on plot hole, because at the end of the book (and without there being much point to it) he activates his wizardy sight and can see all sorts of shit – current magic, past/future, metaphorical associations, everything.
Instead of doing that, he just plunks Chekhov’s scorpion into his desk drawer and ends the chapter.