Grave Peril

Chapter One

There are reasons I hate to drive fast. For one, the Blue Beetle, the mismatched Volkswagen bug that I putter around in, rattles and groans dangerously at anything above sixty miles an hour. For another, I don’t get along so well with technology. Anything manufactured after about World War II seems to be susceptible to abrupt malfunction when I get close to it. As a rule, when I drive, I drive malfunction when I get close to it. As a rule, when I drive, I drive very carefully and sensibly.

Tonight was an exception to the rule.

The Beetle’s tires screeched in protest as we rounded a corner, clearly against the NO LEFT TURN sign posted there. The old car growled gamely, as though it sensed what was at stake, and continued its valiant puttering, moaning, and rattling as we zoomed down the street.

“Can we go any faster?” Michael drawled. It wasn’t a complaint. It was just a question, calmly voiced.

“Only if the wind gets behind us or we start going down a hill,” I said. “How far to the hospital?”

The big man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He had that kind of salt-and-pepper hair, dark against silver, that some men seem lucky enough to inherit, though his beard was still a solid color of dark brown, almost black. There were worry and laugh lines at the corners of his leathery face. His broad, lined hands rested on his knees, which were scrunched up due to the dashboard. “I don’t know for certain,” he answered me. “Two miles?”

I squinted out the Beetle’s window at the fading light. “The sun is almost down. I hope we’re not too late.”

“We’re doing all we can,” Michael assured me. “If God wills it, we’ll be there in time. Are you sure of your . . .” his mouth twisted with distaste, “source?”

“Bob is annoying, but rarely wrong,” I answered, jamming on the brakes and dodging around a garbage truck. “If he said the ghost would be there, it will be there.”

“Lord be with us,” Michael said, and crossed himself. I felt a stirring of something; powerful, placid energy around him—the power of faith. “Harry, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

“Don’t ask me to Mass again,” I told him, uncomfortable. “You know I’m just going to say no.” Someone in a red Taurus cut me off, and I had to swerve around him, into the turn lane, and then ahead of him again. A couple of the Beetle’s wheels lifted off the ground. “Jerk!” I howled out the driver’s window.

“That doesn’t preclude asking,” Michael said. “But no. I wanted to know when you were going to marry Miss Rodriguez.”

“Hell’s Bells, Michael,” I scowled. “You and I have been chasing all over town for the past two weeks, going up against every ghost and spirit that has all of a sudden reared its ugly head. We still don’t know what’s causing the spirit world to go postal.”

“I know that, Harry, but—”

“At the moment,” I interrupted, “we’re going after a nasty old biddy at Cook County, who could kill us if we aren’t focused. And you’re asking me about my love life.”

Michael frowned at me. “You’re sleeping with her, aren’t you?” he said.

“Not often enough,” I growled, and shifted lanes, swerving around a passenger bus.

The knight sighed. “Do you love her?” he asked.

“Michael,” I said. “Give me a break. Where do you get off asking questions like that?”

“Do you love her?” he pressed.

“I’m trying to drive, here.”

“Harry,” he asked, smiling. “Do you love the girl or don’t you? It isn’t a difficult question.”

“Speaks