Wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden has interesting cases and even more interesting friends. Including Bigfoot. These three never-before-collected cases from the Dresden Files are Harry’s encounters with the big guy … and things could get hairy. Includes “B Is for Bigfoot,” “Bigfoot on Campus,” and “I Was a Teenage Bigfoot.”
Jim Butcher has written original Harry Dresden stories for two of my Blood Lite anthologies, including “I Was a Teenage Bigfoot.” When I asked him about this bundle, he told me he had other Dresden and Bigfoot stories as well, enough in fact to make up a book. I wanted to call it “Harry Dresden’s Big Feet,” but Jim overruled! – Kevin J. Anderson
WHEN PEOPLE COME to the only professional wizard in the Chicago phone book for help, they're one of two things: desperate or smart. Very rarely are they both.
The smart ones come to me because they know I can help—the desperate because they don't know anyone else who can. With a smart client, the meeting is brief and pleasant. Someone has lost the engagement ring that was a family heirloom, and has been told I'm a man who can find lost things. Such people engage my services (preferably in cash), I do the job, and everyone's happy.
Desperate clients, on the other hand, can pull all sorts of ridiculous nonsense. They lie to me about what kind of trouble they've gotten themselves into, or try to pass me a check I'm sure will bounce like a basketball. Occasionally they demand that I prove my powers by telling them what their problem is before they even shake my hand—in which case, the problem is that they're idiots.
My newest client wanted something different, though. He wanted me to meet him in the woods.
This did not make me feel optimistic that he would be one of the smart ones.
Woods being in short supply in Chicago, I had to drive all the way up to the northern half of Wisconsin to get to decent timber. That took me about six hours, given that my car, while valiant and bold, is also a Volkswagen Beetle made around the same time flower children were big. By the time I got there and had hiked a mile or two out into the woods, to the appointed location, dark was coming on.
I'm not a moron, usually. I've made enemies during my stint as a professional wizard. So when I settled down to wait for the client, I did so with my staff in one hand, my blasting rod in the other, and a .38 revolver in the pocket of my black leather duster. I blew out a small crater in the earth with an effort of will, using my staff to direct the energy, and built a modest campfire in it.
Then I stepped out of the light of the campfire, found a comfortable, shadowy spot, and waited to see who was going to show up.
The whole PI gig is mostly about patience. You have to talk to a lot of people who don't know anything to find the one who does. You have to sit around waiting a lot, watching for someone to do something before you catch them doing it. You have to do a lot of searching through useless information to get to one piece of really good information. Impatient PIs rarely conclude an investigation successfully, and never remain in the business for long. So when an hour went by without anything happening, I wasn't too worried.
By two hours, though, my legs were cramping and I had a little bit of a headache, and apparently the mosquitoes had decided to hold a convention about ten feet away because I was covered with bites. Given that I hadn't been paid a dime yet, this client was getting annoying, fast.
The fire had died down to almost nothing, so I almost didn't see the creature emerge from the forest and crouch down beside the embers.
The thing was huge. I mean, just saying that it was nine feet tall wasn't enough. It was mostly human-shaped, but it was built more heavily than any human, covered in layers and layers of ropy muscle that were visible even through a layer of long, dark brown hair or fur that covered its whole body. It had a brow ridge like a mountain crag, with dark, glittering eyes that reflected the red-orange light of the fire.
I did not move. Not even a little. If that thing wanted to hurt me, I would have one hell of a time stopping it from doing so, even with magic, and unless I got lucky, something with that much mass would find my .38 about as deadly as a pricing gun.
Then it turned its head and part of its upper body toward me and said, in a rich, mellifluous Native American accent, "You done over there? Don't mean to be rude, and I didn't want to interrupt you, wizard, but there's business to be done."
My jaw dropped open. I mean it literally dropped open.
I stood up slowly, and my muscles twitched and ached. It's hard to stretch out a cramp while you remain in a stance, prepared to run away at an instant's notice, but I tried.
"You're …," I said. "You're a …"
"Bigfoot," he said. "Sasquatch. Yowie. Yeti. Buncha names. Yep."
"And you … you called me?" I felt a little stunned. "Um … did you use a pay phone?"
I instantly imagined him trying to punch little phone buttons with those huge fingers. No, of course he hadn't done that.
"Nah," he said, and waved a huge, hairy arm to the north. "Fellas at the reservation help us make calls sometimes. They're a good bunch."
I shook myself and took a deep breath. For Pete's sake, I was a wizard. I dealt with the supernatural all the time. I shouldn't be this rattled by one little unexpected encounter. I shoved my nerves and my discomfort down and replaced them with iron professionalism—or at least the semblance of calm.
I emerged from my hidey-hole and went over to the fire. I settled down across from the Bigfoot, noting as I did that I was uncomfortably close to being within reach of his long arms. "Um … welcome. I'm Harry Dresden."
The Bigfoot nodded and looked at me expectantly. After a moment of that, he said, as if prompting a child, "This is your fire."
I blinked. Honoring the obligations of hospitality is a huge factor in the supernatural communities around the world—and as it was my campfire, I was the de facto host, and the Bigfoot my guest. I said, "Yes. I'll be right back."
I hurried back to my car and came back to the campfire with two cans of warm Coke and half a tin of salt-and-vinegar Pringles chips. I opened both cans and offered the Bigfoot one of them.
Then I opened the Pringles and divided them into two stacks, offering him his choice of either.
The Bigfoot accepted them and sipped almost delicately at the Coke, handling the comparatively tiny can with far more grace than I would have believed. The chips didn't get the careful treatment. He popped them all into his mouth and chomped down on them enthusiastically. I emulated him. I got a lot of crumbs on the front of my coat.
The Bigfoot nodded at me. "Hey, got any smokes?"
"No," I said. "Sorry. It's not a habit."
"Maybe next time," he said. "Now. You have given me your name, but I have not given you mine. I am called Strength of a River in His Shoulders, of the Three Stars Forest People. And there is a problem with my son."
"What kind of problem?" I asked.
"His mother can tell you in greater detail than I can," River Shoulders said.
"His mother?" I rubbernecked. "Is she around?"
"No," he said. "She lives in Chicago."
I blinked. "His mother …"
"Human," River Shoulders said. "The heart wants what the heart wants, yeah?"
Then I got it. "Oh. He's a scion."
That made more sense. A lot of supernatural folk can and do interbreed with humanity. The resulting children, half mortal, half supernatural, are called scions. Being a scion means different things to different children, depending on their parentage, but they rarely have an easy time of it in life.
River Shoulders nodded. "Forgive my ignorance of the issues. Your society is … not one of my areas of expertise."
I know, right? A Bigfoot saying "expertise."
I shook my head a little. "If you can't tell me anything, why did you call me here? You could have told me all of this on the phone."
"Because I wanted you to know that I thought the problem supernatural in origin, and that I would have good reason to recognize it. And because I brought your retainer." He rummaged in a buckskin pouch that he wore slung across the front of his body. It had been all but invisible amid his thick pelt. He reached a hand in and tossed something at me.
I caught it on reflex and nearly yelped as it hit my hand. It was the size of a golf ball and extraordinarily heavy. I held it closer to the fire and then whistled in surprise.
Gold. I was holding a nugget of pure gold. It must have been worth … uh … well, a lot.
"We knew all the good spots a long time before the Europeans came across the sea," River Shoulders said calmly. "There's another, just as large, when the work is done."
"What if I don't take your case?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I try to find someone else. But word is that you can be trusted. I would prefer you."
I regarded River Shoulders for a moment. He wasn't trying to intimidate me. It was a mark in his favor, because it wouldn't have been difficult. In fact, I realized, he was going out of his way to avoid that very thing.
"He's your son," I asked. "Why don't you help him?"
He gestured at himself and smiled slightly. "Maybe I would stand out a little in Chicago."
I snorted and nodded. "Maybe you would."
"So, wizard," River Shoulders asked. "Will you help my son?"
I pocketed the gold nugget and said, "One of these is enough. And yes. I will."
The next day I went to see the boy's mother at a coffee shop on the north side of town.
Dr. Helena Pounder was an impressive woman. She stood maybe six-four, and looked as though she might be able to bench-press more than I could. She wasn't really pretty, but her square, open face looked honest, and her eyes were a sparkling shade of springtime green.
When I came in, she rose to greet me and shook my hand. Her hands were an odd mix of soft skin and calluses—whatever she did for a living, she did it with tools in her hand.
"River told me he'd hired you," Dr. Pounder said. She gestured for me to sit, and we did.
"Yeah," I said. "He's a persuasive guy."
Pounder let out a rueful chuckle and her eyes gleamed. "I suppose he is."
"Look," I said. "I don't want to get too personal, but …"
"But how did I hook up with a Bigfoot?" she asked.
I shrugged and tried to look pleasant.
"I was at a dig site in Ontario—I'm an archaeologist—and I stayed a little too long in the autumn. The snows caught me there, a series of storms that lasted for more than a month. No one could get in to rescue me, and I couldn't even call out on the radio to let them know I was still at the site." She shook her head. "I fell sick and had no food. I might have died if someone hadn't started leaving rabbits and fish in the night."
I smiled. "River Shoulders?"
She nodded. "I started watching, every night. One night the storm cleared up at just the right moment, and I saw him there." She shrugged. "We started talking. Things sort of went from there."
"So the two of you aren't actually married, or …?"
"Why does that matter?" she asked.
I spread my hands in an apologetic gesture. "He paid me. You didn't. It might have an effect on my decision process."
"Honest enough, aren't you?" Pounder said. She eyed me for a moment and then nodded in something like approval. "We aren't married. But suitors aren't exactly knocking down my door—and I never saw much use for a husband anyway. River and I are comfortable with things as they are."
"Good for you," I said. "Tell me about your son."
She reached into a messenger bag that hung on the back of her diner chair and passed me a five-by-seven photograph of a kid, maybe eight or nine years old. He wasn't pretty, either, but his features had a kind of juvenile appeal, and his grin was as real and warm as sunlight.
"His name is Irwin," Pounder said, smiling down at the picture. "My angel."
Even tough, bouncer-looking supermoms have a soft spot for their kids, I guess. I nodded. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Earlier this year," she said, "he started coming home with injuries. Nothing serious—abrasions and bruises and scratches. But I suspect that the injuries were likely worse before the boy came home. Irwin heals very rapidly, and he's never been sick: literally never, not a day in his life."
"You think someone is abusing him," I said. "What did he say about it?"
"He made excuses," Pounder said. "They were obviously fictions, but that boy is at least as stubborn as his father, and he wouldn't tell me where or how he'd been hurt."
"Ah," I said.
She frowned. "Ah?"
"It's another kid."
Pounder blinked. "How …"
"I have the advantage over you and your husband, inasmuch as I have actually been a grade-school boy before," I said. "If he snitches about it to the teachers or to you, he'll probably have to deal with retributive friction from his classmates. He won't be cool. He'll be a snitching, tattling pariah."
Pounder sat back in her seat, frowning. "I'm … hardly a master of social skills. I hadn't thought of it that way."
I shrugged. "On the other hand, you clearly aren't the sort to sit around wringing her hands, either."
Pounder snorted and gave me a brief, real smile.
"So," I went on, "when he started coming home hurt, what did you do about it?"
"I started escorting him to school and picking him up the moment class let out. That's been for the past two months—he hasn't had any more injuries. But I have to go to a conference tomorrow morning and—"
"You want someone to keep an eye on him."
"That, yes," she said. "But I also want you to find out who has been trying to hurt him."
I arched an eyebrow. "How am I supposed to do that?"
"I used River's financial advisor to pull some strings. You're expected to arrive at the school tomorrow morning to begin work as the school janitor."
I blinked. "Wait. Bigfoot has a financial advisor? Who? Like, Nessie?"
"Don't be a child," she said. "The human tribes assist the Forest People by providing an interface. River's folk give financial, medical, and educational aid in return. It works."
My imagination provided me with an image of River Shoulders standing in front of a children's music class, his huge fingers waving a baton that had been reduced to a matchstick by his enormity.
Sometimes my head is like an Etch A Sketch. I shook it a little, and the image went away.
"Right," I said. "It might be difficult to get you something actionable."
Pounder's eyes almost seemed to turn a green-tinged shade of gold, and her voice became quiet and hard. "I am not interested in courts," she said. "I only care about my son."
Bigfoot Irwin had himself one formidable mama bear. If it turned out that I was right and he was having issues with another child, that could cause problems. People can overreact to things when their kids get involved. I might have to be careful with how much truth got doled out to Dr. Pounder.
Nothing's ever simple, is it?