His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 21

Chapter 8

I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. “You want to hire me?”

“That’s right.”

I craned my neck to see Luis and his friends over the high back of my chair. “Luis works for you already, and he’s every bit the runecrafter I am.”

“More,” Luis said, and grinned.

I faced Amaya again. “You don’t need me.”

The crime lord’s expression had darkened in a way that made my blood turn cold. “Are you refusing to work for me?”

“No. But I don’t understand why you want me.”

“Luis is not an investigator. No one who works for me is. And you bring certain . . . unique attributes to the job: your connections within both the local magical community and the police department, not to mention your enhanced reputation.”

“You’d pay me?”

“Of course. We’re both businessmen. I believe you charge two hundred and fifty dollars a day, plus expenses.”

“That’s right, though I was thinking of charging you more.”

His eyebrows went up. “And why is that?”

“Because fairly or not, you have a reputation, too, and I’m not sure I want to associate myself with it.”

Anger flickered in his dark eyes, but after a moment he inclined his head, conceding the point. “Three hundred per day.”

“Done. Can you give me some idea of what you expect me to find?”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“Right. Forget that I asked.” I drank the rest of my beer, set it on the table by my water glass, and stood. “I take it I’m free to go?”

“Of course. Luis will see you back to your home, or wherever else you care to go.”

I nodded, but didn’t move. There was something missing, something that Amaya was holding back. We both knew it, and I think he was waiting to see if I’d let it go and leave or challenge him. If he’d known me at all, he wouldn’t have wondered: I’d always had more guts than smarts.

“There’s more to this than you’re telling me,” I said. “I’d like to know what it is.”

“With what I’m paying you, I’d have thought that you could learn what you need to on your own time.”

“Do you want to play games, Mister Amaya, or do you want me to find out what happened to flight 595?”

Amusement flitted across his handsome face, though it never touched his eyes. “What do you know about dark magic?”

“Not a lot. I know that I killed Cahors, and that he was probably the most important and most powerful dark myste this city’s seen in some time.”

“If that’s what you believe, you know next to nothing. Only someone ignorant of the breadth and reach of Phoenix’s dark magic cabal could make such a claim.”

I blinked. “You’re saying that there are other dark sorcerers in Phoenix who are as powerful as he was, as dangerous as he was?”

Amaya stared back at me.

“And you truly believe Howell was killed by dark magic?”

It made some sense, I suppose. Perhaps it explained the odd magical residue I’d seen on the body and the plane.

“I believe it’s possible,” he said, the admission seeming to come at some cost.

“There are some who would assume that a man like you, a man of your profession who’s also a weremyste, would be a practitioner of dark magic.”

“And they’d be wrong,” he said, his voice as hard and sharp as a knife blade. “Dark magic is not . . .” He broke off shaking his head. “Crime and dark sorcery are not the same thing. You judge my worst deeds — most people do. That’s fine; I can live with that. But dark magic is something else entirely. The mystes I’m talking about engage in ritual killings, they cast blood spells, and use magic to control the thoughts and actions of others. They . . .” He gave another shake of his head and pressed his lips thin. When he began again, it was in a softer voice. “And they do much, much worse. I promise you, I’m not one of them. I want no part of them. In fact, I’m hiring you because I want to find and destroy them.”

Puzzle pieces clicked into place: information from earlier in the day fitting all too well with Amaya’s words. For now, though, I kept this thought to myself. I’d have time to confirm my theory tomorrow. “If these dark mystes are all that you say they are, and if there are as many of them around here as you imply, I’m not sure I want any part of this investigation. I’m not looking to be a foot soldier in a runecrafters’ war.”

I thought he might threaten me again, remind me of that virtual gun he had pointed at my heart. But he was more circumspect than that. At least a little.

“Nobody wants this war,” he said. “I certainly don’t. It may seem like my war now, but it’s going to affect all of us who craft, and it’s going to do so sooner than you might think. You can’t avoid it forever, and we can’t rely on an all volunteer army, as it were.”

“So you’re drafting me?”

“I’m hiring you, which is a good deal more than the other side is apt to do.”

“Why am I just hearing of this war now?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps your sources within the magical world aren’t as informed as mine, or perhaps they aren’t as willing to tell you what they know.”

I was thinking of Namid, of course. I wasn’t about to reveal to Amaya that I was being trained by a runemyste. There were thirty-eight of them left in the world, and the fact that one had taken such an interest in my life and my casting marked me as a runecrafter of some importance. Admitting as much to Amaya struck me as potentially dangerous, though at that moment I couldn’t say whether I was more afraid that he might see me as a rival or as a prize to be taken.

But I didn’t believe that anyone Amaya knew could be better informed about the magical world than Namid. On the other hand, I could imagine with ease the runemyste telling me a fraction of what he knew. Abruptly, my recent conversations with the myste, including those about my Dad, took on added meaning. I needed to ask Namid some pointed questions.

“Who?” I asked Amaya. “Give me a name.”

“Are you going to work for me?”

“Yes. With most jobs I take two days’ pay up front, but you can start me off with an even thousand.”

I was starting to like Amaya’s laugh. It was the most sincere thing about him. “You’re bold, Fearsson. I like that. Will you take a check?” When I hesitated, he said, “It would be drawn on the Chofi account; my name will be on the signature line, but nobody can read my scrawl anyway.”

“Sure, a check is fine. The name?” I pulled out my spiral notepad and pen.

“Regina Witcombe,” Amaya said, dropping his voice.

“Regina Witcombe,” I repeated. “I know that name.”

“I would have been surprised if you didn’t. She’s a woman of some importance in this town.”

“No, it’s not . . .”

“She owns Witcombe Financial, which she inherited when her husband died. And she’s on the board of directors of several institutions here in Phoenix: a hospital, one of the local universities, the business roundtable, the arts council.” His mouth twitched. “She’s everything I’m not. They’ll probably make her Phoenix’s Woman of the Year. But trust me, she’s a weremyste, like you and me, and she’s up to her neck in dark crafting.”

I had heard of her, though I didn’t know as much about her as Amaya did. But I also knew that it wasn’t her financial career or her community activities that I’d been thinking of. I had encountered her name recently, within the last day.

“The plane,” I whispered. Then louder, “She was on the passenger manifest.”

“Well, of course,” Amaya said. “I told you this was all about dark magic.”

“Which means that you already know the answer to your question. You don’t need me. Regina Witcombe was the person worth saving. She’s the reason Howell is dead.”

“But why was she worth saving? And who saved her?”

“Maybe she saved herself.”

“Perhaps, in which case this will be the easiest money you’ve earned in a long time. But I think there’s more going on here than just Regina keeping herself from being blown up. I want to know what it is. I want to know why she was headed to Washington.”

It wasn’t the sort of investigation I usually took on. But I suspected that Amaya wouldn’t take kindly to my telling him as much. And truth be told, if this woman really was using dark magic, I wanted to know about it. Amaya was right: dark crafting was nothing to sneeze at. The lingering twinges of pain in my arm and leg, mementos of my confrontation with Cahors, were all the reminders I needed of that.

He cut me a check on the spot: a thousand dollars, as I’d asked. There were benefits to working for the rich and infamous. But even after he signed it, he didn’t hand it to me right away.

“You’re going to want to ask around about Regina Witcombe,” he said. “I know that. But understand this: you are strictly forbidden to tell anyone that I told you she’s a weremyste and that she has a history of using dark magic.”

I wasn’t used to being forbidden to do anything, and I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I understood what he meant.

“I have no intention of telling anyone.”