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"Donar Vadderung," I told her.

"Whoa," Thomas said.

Molly frowned. "The . . . the security company guy?"

"CEO of Monoc Securities," I said, nodding.

"Empty night, Dresden," Thomas said. "You just demanded that he come to see you?"

"Is that bad?" Molly asked him.

"It's . . . glah," Thomas said. "Think of doing that to Donald Trump or George Soros."

Molly winced. "I'm . . . not sure I can do that."

Thomas glared at me. "You set up Lara's surveillance crew to go up against his guys?"

I smiled.

"Balls," Thomas said. "She's going to rip mine off."

"Tell her it wasn't your fault. You couldn't have stopped me. She'll get it," I said. "You guys sit down; get some food or something. This shouldn't take long."

Molly blinked, then looked at Thomas and said, "Wait a minute. . . . We're his flunkies."

"You, maybe," Thomas said, sneering. "I'm his thug. I'm way higher than a flunky."

"You are high if you think I'm taking any orders from you," Molly said tartly.

The two of them went to a far table, bickering cheerfully, and sat down, passing by the real reason we were meeting here-a modest wooden sign with simple letters burned into it: ACCORDED NEUTRAL TERRITORY.

The Unseelie Accords had supported the various supernatural political entities over the past few turbulent decades. They were a series of agreements that, at the end of the day, were basically meant to limit conflicts between the various nations to something with a definite structure. They defined the rights of those lords who held territory, as well as the infractions that could be committed against those lords by other lords. Think of them as the Geneva Conventions of the spooky side. That's kind of close.

Mac had somehow gotten his place declared neutral ground. It meant that whenever any signatory of the Accords was here, he was obligated to be a good guest, to offer no harm or violence to any other signatory, and to take any violence that might erupt outside. It was a meeting ground, where there was at least a fair chance that you might actually get to finish a meal without being murdered by someone who might otherwise be a mortal enemy.

Vadderung watched Molly and Thomas sit and then transferred his attention back to me. His single eye was an icy shade of blue, and unsettling. As I approached him, I had an instinctive impression that he could see more of me than I could of him.

"Well, well, well," he said. "Rumors of your death, et cetera."

I shrugged. "I'm sure it isn't an uncommon play among wizards," I said.

Something in his eye flashed, an amused thought that went by almost before I could see it. "Fewer try it than you might think," he said.

"I didn't try anything," I said. "It just happened."

Vadderung reached out and lazily collected a cup of coffee. He sipped it, watching me. Then he leaned forward slightly and said slowly, "Nothing that significant just happens, Dresden."

I squinted at him. Shrugged. Then I said, "Mac, can I get a beer?"

Mac had sauntered a discreet distance down the bar. He eyed me, and then a slowly ticking clock on the wall.

"I haven't had a drink in a lifetime," I said. "If I go all nutty about it, you can sign me up for AA."

Mac snorted. Then he got me a bottle of one of his microbrewed ales. They are nectar and ambrosia. He opened it and passed me the bottle (since he knew I rarely drink beer out of a glass), and I tilted it toward him before drinking some.

"Pretty early for that, isn't it?" Vadderung asked.

"I can smell the whiskey in yours from here," I said, and held up my bottle.

He smiled, lifted his coffee cup toward me in salute, and took a long sip as I put back some more ale. Then we both set our drinks down.

"What do you need?" Vadderung asked.

"Advice," I said. "If the price is right."

"And what do you think a sufficient price would be?"

"Lucy charges a nickel."

"Ah," Vadderung said. "But Lucy is a psychiatrist. You realize that you've just cast yourself as Charlie Brown."

"Augh," I said.

Vadderung smiled. "You found it lonely where you were, I see."

"Why would you say that?"

"The banter. The talk. Unnecessary companions. Many would say that now is the time for rapid, decisive action. But you have spent precious time reconnecting with your allies." He tilted his head slightly. "Therefore, if you have such a driving need for it, I can logically assume that you have spent your recent time apart from such company. Does that seem reasonable to you?"

"Arctis Tor isn't much of a vacation spot," I said.

"No? What is it?"

I narrowed my eyes. "Wait. Are you trying to shrink me?"

He sipped his coffee. "Why would you ask me that question?"

"Because you keep asking questions," I said. "Joke's on you, Lucy. I don't have a nickel." I regarded my bottle. "I've got time for banter. Just not for games."

Vadderung set his coffee down and spread his hands. "I don't work for free," he said.

"I haven't earned enough money in my entire lifetime to afford your fees," I said. "But you don't need more money."

He waited.

"I'll owe you one," I said.

That seemed to amuse the hell out of him. Wrinkled topography appeared at the corner of his eye. "Given the caliber of your talents for making enemies, I hope you'll understand if I don't consider what you offer a sound long-term value."

I smiled and sipped some beer. "But it's worth a few minutes of your time-or you wouldn't have come here in the first place."

That drew a quick flicker of an amused smile. "I will accept your offer of one favor-and a nickel."

"I told you. I don't have a nickel."

He nodded gravely. "What do you have?"

I rummaged in my pockets and came out with the jeweled cuff links from my tux. I showed them to him.

"Those aren't a nickel," he said soberly. He leaned forward again, as he had a moment before, and spoke slowly. "What do you have?"

I stared at him for a second. Then I said, "Friends."

He sat back, his blue eye all but throwing off sparks, it was so bright.

"Thomas," I called. "I need a nickel."

"What?" Thomas asked. "In cash?"


Thomas reached into a pocket and produced a bunch of plastic cards. He fanned them out and showed them to me. "What about these?"

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