Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 03
I sat low in the leather bucket seat of the Z-ster, my silver 1977 280Z. The driver’s side window was open, a camera balanced on the top of the car door, its lens trained on a motel room door some twenty yards away.
This wasn’t any old camera. It was the latest high-end Canon DSLR, with a twenty-plus megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor — 1.6 crop factor — mounted with a four hundred millimeter “L” class telephoto lens and a 1.4 times teleconverter. In short, this was a ridiculously nice piece of equipment with some serious magnification. There was no way I could have afforded to buy the thing; I’d rented it for a few days, at the expense of my current client.
I knew that there were professional photographers working out in the Sonoran Desert with set-ups a lot like this one, snapping amazing photos of the Southwest’s stunning wildlife.
Me? I was sweating in my car, waiting to get a shot of a cheating husband as he emerged with his mistress from the Casa del Oro Motel near Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Another day in the glamorous life of a private investigator.
In all honesty, I could hardly complain. Over the past few months, I had brought down the Blind Angel killer, the most notorious serial killer ever to haunt the streets of the Phoenix metropolitan area, and I had battled a cadre of dark sorcerers and the necromancer who led them. That was more excitement and glamor than most PIs experience in a lifetime, and I had crammed it all into one nearly-fatal summer. I should have been grateful for work that wasn’t likely to get me killed.
Instead, I was bored out of my mind, which probably makes me sound insane.
But what else is new? I sound insane on a regular basis. In fact, I am insane on a regular basis. I’m a weremyste. For three nights out of every month — the night of the full moon, and the nights immediately before and after, I lose control of my mind, even as the magic I wield is enhanced by the moon’s pull. What’s more, these phasings, as they’re called, have a cumulative effect; sooner or later — I have a strong preference for later — I’ll go permanently nuts and will suffer from the same kind of delusions, hallucinations, and neuroses that plague my father. He’s a weremyste, too.
The full moon, though, was still seven days away, and for now I had a case to work on, distasteful though it was.
I hated these kinds of jobs. Of all the work I did as a PI — which included uncovering corporate espionage, finding teen runaways, even investigating insurance claims — nothing was worse than these trashy failed-marriage cases. I’d started my business well over a year ago, after losing my job as a homicide detective with the Phoenix Police Department. And in the months since, I’d come to realize that regardless of whether I was hired by the disgruntled husband or the wronged wife, when all was said and done, I could find fault in both of them.
I like clarity in my cases. I like there to be a good guy and a bad guy. Helping one slimeball duke it out with another slimeball was not exactly my idea of the perfect job.
But as owner and president of Justis Fearsson Investigations, Incorporated, and as a guy with a mortgage, I was glad to have the work. My client, Helen Barr, was paying me well to track her tomcatting husband, whose name happened to be Thomas. The Barrs lived in one of the wealthier sections of Scottsdale and she could afford my new prices: $350 per day plus expenses. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by Tom’s choice of this motel for a tryst. It wasn’t as though he couldn’t have sprung for a room in one of the fancier downtown hotels. Then again, if the woman he was sleeping with — one Amanda Wagner — didn’t mind, who was I to complain?
Most cheating spouses are far less clever about concealing their affairs than they think, and Tom was no exception to this. He and Amanda had been smarter than others, but that really wasn’t saying much. They used more than one motel for their rendezvous, and they tended to arrive at the motels on foot, after parking some distance away.
But they met the same days of the week, at the same times. And they made no effort at all to confine their displays of affection to the privacy of their rooms. I wasn’t prone to squeamishness, but I really didn’t need to see Tom Barr sticking his tongue down the throat of a woman half his age.
I’d gotten a few pictures of them going into the room about an hour ago, and by themselves those photos were pretty incriminating. But, in the interest of being thorough, I wanted to get them coming out of the room as well. It wasn’t like I needed to protect Helen Barr’s feelings. She knew what her husband was up to. At this point she wanted the photos so that she could wring as much as possible out of him in the divorce settlement. I couldn’t blame her. And since she was paying me, and providing me with this fine camera equipment, I figured I should give her her money’s worth.
The door to their room opened and I put my eye to the viewfinder. The happy couple emerged into the desert sunlight and I depressed the shutter button. The autofocus whirred and the camera started to click away — eight frames per seconds burst rate. Returning this camera was going to be difficult.
I got a couple of good ones. One with Amanda’s hand resting on his chest; another with Tom patting her butt and grinning. As I said, Helen was no saint and I knew that neither she nor Tom was blameless in the collapse of their marriage. But Tom was a sleaze, and I’ll admit that I was enjoying myself a little bit knowing how much these pictures would cost him.
And then, with a suddenness that made my heart thump, I wasn’t enjoying myself at all.
Magic brushed my mind, dark, hostile, and too damn close.
Neither Tom nor Amanda was a weremyste. In all the time I’d been on this case, I had sensed no magic in them, and I saw no sign of the blurring around their faces, necks, and shoulders that I could usually see in other sorcerers like me. So, being a fool, I hadn’t taken the time to ward myself from magical attacks. One day being stupid was going to get me killed.
Since my battles with dark sorcerers during the summer, I had been a target of one magical assault after another. As far as I could tell, none had been meant to kill me. Saorla of Brewood, a centuries-old necromancer who commanded these so-called weremancers, had her reasons for wanting me alive, at least until she herself could savor the pleasure of killing me. But that didn’t mean the attacks were a picnic.
Now here I was, unwarded, in my car with the engine off, holding a camera and accessories worth more than I made in a given month, my Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol hidden under the driver’s seat. Stupid. I would have liked to toss the camera in the back seat, but I had a feeling the rental place would be less than pleased.
I set it down on the passenger side, while simultaneously reciting a warding spell in my head and scanning the street for the weremystes I had sensed. The warding would have to be general, which meant that it wouldn’t be as effective as a spell matched to a specific assault. But it would be a hell of a lot better than no protection at all. I conceived the spell in three elements: myself, a sheath of power surrounding me, and whatever magic my stalkers might throw my way. The words and images didn’t matter much. They were what I used to focus my conjurings. These days I was working on casting with a mere thought, without having to resort to the three elements thing. But this didn’t seem like the time to put my training to the test. On the third repetition of the spell’s components, I released the magic building within me, and felt it settle over me like an invisible cloak.
Tom and Amanda had returned their room key and were walking away from the Casa del Oro in opposite directions. I started up the car, hoping that I might manage to slip out of the parking lot without having to confront the dark sorcerers.
No such luck.
The first spell hit me in the chest — these damn dark sorcerers always went for the heart, and this guy was no different. I could tell that whatever spell my attacker tried failed to penetrate my warding. Most attack spells hurt like hell, and in recent months my heart had been crushed, cauterized, and shish kebabed by wielders of dark magic. This time the attack merely felt like I’d been kicked in the chest by a mule. I grunted a breath and winced, wondering if my sternum had been shattered. But that was something I could figure out later.
I threw the Z-ster into reverse, only to feel the car shudder, the way it would if I was driving at high speed along a windy stretch of road. It didn’t move, though, and before I could ward the vehicle itself, another car — sleek, midnight blue; I think it was the new BMW 6 coupe — pulled in behind me, blocking my escape. I saw two people sitting up front, which I suppose I should have expected. They had been coming at me in pairs and groups of three for some time now.