His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 03

I took a long breath, and then I eased around the corner, keeping my back to the building wall, and placing each step as softly as I could. Darby didn’t notice me. I sidled toward him, wondering as I did what spell I ought to try next. Mark was bigger than I had thought — maybe six foot four, and nearly as wide as he was tall. He was soft around the middle, and with his shaggy curls and thick features he bore more resemblance to a pastry chef than to a linebacker, but still he had at least six inches and sixty pounds on me.

Most times I might have been able to take him anyway. I was wiry and I kept myself in shape. But my muscles had atrophied a bit in the past few weeks. For this evening at least, I was hoping to rely on magic rather than brute force. That said, I was doing all right. My physical therapist had warned me that my leg might start to hurt if I tried to do too much, but for the moment it felt good. Too good.

Overconfidence in a sorcerer — or in an investigator for that matter — can be deadly. In this case it wasn’t that bad; it was just stupid. As I drew closer to Darby and the car, I slid my lead foot into an empty bottle that had been left by the side of the building. It fell over with a clinking sound, rolled in a circle and bumped up against the building again.

Darby spun. “Who’s there?”

He sounded scared, and his eyes were wide. But he was looking bigger by the moment, and in the time it took him to whirl in my direction, he had pulled out a .380 — in that light I couldn’t tell what brand. Not that it mattered.

He was staring at the bottle, and still had given no indication that he could see me. But I didn’t like the way he was holding his weapon; I half expected him to fire off a few rounds in my general direction, to be on the safe side.

I cast another spell, three elements this time. My fist, his jaw, and an impact that would rattle his teeth. It was a simpler conjuring, and I didn’t have time to wait for the magic to build. I cast, and an instant later, he reeled. I charged him, the leg that had been shot going from “fine” to “crap that hurts!” in about two strides. If I survived the night, my PT was going to kill me.

Darby must have heard my footsteps, even though he still couldn’t see me. He straightened, aimed his weapon — straight at my chest as dumb luck would have it. I knew I wouldn’t reach him in time. I wasn’t moving well and the distance was too great. I tried to recite that same three-part spell again, desperate to do anything I could to knock him off balance.

But I didn’t have time even for that. I saw his finger move. An image flashed through my mind: me lying on the filthy pavement, still shrouded in my camouflage spell, bleeding out because no one could see me. Until I died, at which point my casting would cease as well. Spells die with the sorcerer; it’s one of the fundamental rules of magic.

I’m a dead man.

Flame belched from the muzzle of his weapon, three times. The reports roared, echoing off the building. And in that scintilla of an instant — not even the blink of an eye — I thought I sensed a frisson of power ripple the air around me.

Then it was gone.

All three shots should have hit me. The distance between us wasn’t great, and Darby appeared to know how to handle a firearm.

But he missed. Somehow, incredibly, he missed.

He stared, not really at me, since I remained camouflaged, but at the spot where he’d been aiming. Then he glanced down at his pistol.

For a moment, I could do little more than gape myself, amazed at the mere fact that I was still upright and breathing. But he was still armed, and I didn’t feel like trusting to good fortune a second time.

I went back to the fist spell, staggering him again. And before he could recover, I closed the distance between us, hammered a real fist into his gut, and knocked him to the ground with another blow that struck high on his temple. The pistol clattered on the pavement and I kicked it beyond his reach.

He stirred, but before he could push himself up, I planted a foot in the middle of his back, forcing him back down to the ground. For good measure, I pulled out my Glock and pressed it against the nape of his neck.

“Don’t move, Mark.”

He stiffened.

“I’m feeling twitchy, and I’m a little pissed at you for taking shots at me. So I’d suggest you do exactly what I tell you to.”

“Who the hell are you?”

I pushed harder with the pistol. “Shut up.”

He gave a quick nod.

“Now, I want you to put your hands out to the sides where I can see them. Slowly.”

He stretched his arms wide. He had turned his head to the side and I could tell he was trying to get a look at me.

Casting the camouflage spell had been complicated; getting rid of it was easy. Three elements: Darby, me, and my appearance, warts and all. Not that I have warts . . . As I said, there’s nothing inherently magical about the elements themselves; more than anything, having them in my head, reciting them a few times, helps me focus my conjuring. Other conjurers might have used other techniques, but this one worked for me.

One second he couldn’t see me, the next he could.

“Whoa,” he said, breathing the word. “How’d you do that?”

“Do what? Kick your ass? It wasn’t that hard.”

“No, I mean–”

“You’re going to answer some questions for me.” I pulled a small digital recorder from the pocket of my bomber.

“The hell I am. I know my rights.”

“I’m not a cop, and you have no rights.”

“If you’re not a cop–”

“I’m a PI. I was hired by Nathan Felder to find out who’s been robbing his stores.” I switched on the recorder. “What’s your name?”

No answer. I smacked the top of his head with the butt of my pistol — just hard enough to get his attention — and then pressed the barrel against his neck again.

“What’s your name?”

“Mark Darby,” he said, his voice low enough that I wasn’t entirely confident the recorder would pick it up.

“How long have you been stealing goods from Custom Electronics?”

“I don’t know what–”

I smacked him again.

“Ow! About four months.”

That matched what Felder told me when he hired me.

“Who are you working with?”

He clamped his mouth shut.

Before I could ask him again, I heard a siren wail from not too far away. I listened for a few seconds, long enough to know that it was coming in this direction. Felder would not be happy.

“That’s your fault, Mark. If you hadn’t shot at me, no one would have called the cops.”

“I guess I have rights now, don’t I?”