His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 37
I went first to see Billie, stopping along the way to pick up an order of fajitas. She was better today, though it sounded as though she’d had a rough night.
The last of the anesthetics from her surgery had worn off during the evening, leaving her in a good deal of pain. The doctors were still trying to figure out the right dosages, but already she said that she was more comfortable. And seeing that I had brought her food improved her mood significantly.
She didn’t look happy when I told her that I couldn’t stay long, and she asked the nurses to leave us for a while. They obliged, closing the curtains and glass door as they left.
“Where did you get that bruise?” she asked, once we were alone.
“Lost a fight.”
I expected some expression of concern, but it seemed her thoughts were taking her in another direction.
“I don’t know if I imagined this or if it really happened.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper. “Did you tell me that the explosion at Solana’s was caused by magic?”
“And that’s why you weren’t hurt.”
“Damn. And so you’re leaving now because . . . ?”
“Because I’m trying to find out who did it. I have a couple of leads. Nothing solid, and there’s a lot I can’t explain right now. But I’m working on it.”
She took hold of my collar with her good hand, pulled me closer, and kissed me on the lips. “Well, be careful. If they can blow up a restaurant and keep you from getting hurt, they must be pretty good at this magic stuff.”
“I was thinking the same thing last night. I’ll try not to do anything too stupid.”
“Good.” She kissed me again, then smiled. “Thank you for my fajitas.”
“Enjoy. I’ll be back later.”
I took I-10 west through the Phoenix suburbs out to Buckeye, a middle class town that had seen unbelievable growth in the past decade and a half as the city and its satellite towns continued to sprawl across the desert. It wasn’t the most scenic town in Arizona, and most of the land around it was pretty flat, some might even say desolate. The notable exception was Skyline Regional Park to the north of the city, which was a nice place to hike.
Amaya’s friend, Gary Hacker, lived about as far from the park as a resident of Buckeye could manage, in a rundown single-wide on the southern fringe of the town. The land near his home made my father’s place seem lush by comparison. The wind had kicked up, blowing clouds of pale dust across the gravel road. Sun-bleached “no trespassing” signs were mounted on posts lining the drive, and the yard around the single-wide was littered with old tires, plumbing fixtures, empty jugs of motor oil and antifreeze, scraps of wood, and just about every other form of trash I could imagine. A beat up Dodge pick-up sat next to the single-wide.
I pulled in behind the truck and climbed out of the car, squinting against the glare and the dust. An air conditioner mounted on one end of the single-wide rattled like an old train and dripped water on the dusty ground. Yellow-jackets swarmed over the moistened dirt.
I pulled off my sunglasses and glanced around, thinking — hoping — that maybe I was in the wrong place. Before I had time to do more, the door of the mobile home banged open, revealing a tall, rangy man who held what looked like a worn Savage 110 bolt rifle at shoulder level.
“I think you’d better get back in your car, mister.”
It was like I’d fallen into a bad Western.
I put up my hands, playing my role. “I’m not looking for any trouble. Are you Gary Hacker?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Jay Fearsson. Jacinto Amaya suggested I come and talk to you.”
He’d been squinting into the sights of his rifle, prepared, I was sure, to blow my head off. But upon hearing Amaya’s name, he straightened, his eyes narrowing. “Amaya sent you?”
“Yeah. Would you mind lowering that rifle?”
“Remains to be seen. Why would he send you out here?”
“I’m a weremyste,” I said, assuming that explained everything.
“I can see that. Why’d he send you?”
I regarded the man, shading my eyes with one raised hand. Apparently Hacker could see the blur on my features, which was odd, because I saw none at all on his. Amaya had said he was a myste, too.
Or had he? He’s a were, Jacinto told me. Not a myste, or a weremyste, but a were. I knew weres lived in the Phoenix area, as they did throughout the country, but weremystes usually had little use for them. Were magic was very specific. Just as weremystes went through the phasings, weres changed form on the full moon, and on the nights before and after. But that was all. Weres couldn’t cast spells; they weren’t runecrafters, as Namid would have put it.
Hollywood portrayals notwithstanding, weres weren’t monsters; they didn’t go around biting people, infecting them with a taint that made the innocent into creatures like themselves. But they did have dual natures; they shared their bodies with a totem beast that took control during the nights of the phasing. A werewolf transformed into a wolf, a werelion turned into a mountain lion — or perhaps an African lion in that part of the world. And in their animal forms, they behaved as would any other creature of that species. If Hacker was a were, he would be able to see my magic, but since he possessed none himself, he didn’t appear to me to be anything more or less than a normal person.
“I don’t know why he sent me,” I said after some time. “Maybe you can tell me that. But he did suggest that I come out here; you can call him to confirm that if you want. I have a cell . . .”
“I don’t need your phone. This place might not look like much, but I do have a landline, and an iPhone.”
I grinned. “My mistake.”
He frowned, but after another moment or two, he lowered his weapon. “All right, come on in.” He shuffled back into the single-wide, leaving the door ajar.
The small stairway leading to his door was nothing more than piled cinder blocks, and I expected that the interior would be as trashed as the yard. Inside though, Hacker’s place was far nicer than I ever would have guessed. The carpeting was spotless, and the front room was furnished with a plush couch, a couple of upholstered chairs, and a low wooden coffee table.
Hacker stepped into the kitchen, which was about as big as a coat closet, but tidy.
“You want anythin’?” he asked, his tone conveying that he had little to offer.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
He nodded, came back out into the living room, and sat in one of the chairs, gazing up at me, with an expectant air that reminded me oddly of Namid. He had a long, crooked nose and small, dark eyes. His hair was light brown, shading to gray, and his three day beard was more white than anything else. Deep lines were etched in the skin around his eyes and mouth. Forced to guess, I would have said that he was in his late forties or early fifties, but I wouldn’t have wanted to bet money on it.
“Why are you here? Why would Jacinto send you to me?”
“How well do you know Amaya?” I asked, stalling, unsure of where to begin.
He shrugged. “Well enough, I suppose. I know about the drug stuff, if that’s what you’re askin’. And I also know that he’s a crafter.”
I glanced around the mobile home again.
“You gonna sit down?” he asked. “It’s a little weird, you standin’ and me sittin’.”
I ignored that for the moment. “I’m trying to figure out how someone like Jacinto Amaya would have ended up being friends . . .”
“With someone like me?”
“I’m sorry. That didn’t come out–”
“It’s all right. It’s a good question really. Sit down, would ya?”
I took a seat on the couch, opposite his chair.
“I met him about three years ago,” Hacker said. “I was livin’ in the streets in Phoenix.” He stared at his hands, which were thick, powerful, but incongruously short-fingered. “I was a meth addict at the time.”
“Ain’t nobody’s fault but my own.” He sat a bit straighter, still not meeting my gaze. “Anyway, I was in the streets and I heard that Jacinto was openin’ one of his new drug treatment places nearby. I went over to see the ceremony, and to ask him a question, and the police tried to shoo me away, like I didn’t belong, you know? But I belonged more than anybody.