Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 07
“Dark hair, dark eyes, most agree that she appears to be Latina. About five feet, five inches and one-hundred and twenty pounds. Witnesses say she’s attractive. And every one of them confirms that she has two little kids with her: a girl of about eight, and a boy of four or five.”
I straightened, my eyes never leaving Kona’s face. “A mom did this?”
“A magical mom, from what you’re telling me.”
“Damn.” I rubbed a hand over my face. “You called this guy John Doe. He had no ID on him?”
“None. And neither did his companion.”
I gazed down at the body again, taking in the expensive clothes and shoes, the nondescript features. “Well, this is a little weird.”
“This is nothing,” Kevin said. “Wait until you see the woman outside.”
We left the restaurant and walked to where the second body lay.
“Accounts of what happened out here are a little sketchier,” Kona said. “Apparently our magical mom brought her kids out of the restaurant and they were confronted by two people. One was young, blonde, about five-ten. The other was older — mid-sixties, maybe — silver haired with a trim beard and mustache. From what we were told, it seems he’s our second killer.”
Kona bent and pulled back the sheet covering this second corpse. The woman on the pavement was perhaps in her mid-thirties. She was heavy, with light brown curls and a wedding band on her left hand. She wore jeans and a Diamondbacks t-shirt. I could see no obvious cause of death, no marks on her face and neck, no tears or cuts in her clothing, no blood trail from a wound on her back or head. Her facial expression was as different from that of the first victim as one could imagine. Her eyes were closed, her features so composed she could have been sleeping.
One mark on her t-shirt did catch my eye: a stain on her left shoulder, about the size of a fist and located at the seam where the sleeve began. The shirt was red, so I couldn’t be certain, but it might have been dried blood. Not a lot — not enough to have killed her — but enough to draw my attention.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at the spot.
“That’s what we want to know, too,” Kona said. “It’s the only wound on her.”
“So there is a wound under there.”
She nodded. “But not like one I’ve ever found at a murder scene.”
“Can I look?”
Kona glanced at Kevin, who was already watching her. He shrugged.
“Knock yourself out,” she said. “But don’t do anything stupid to my crime scene.”
I didn’t have gloves, but I did have a pencil — the one I used to take notes when questioning clients and witnesses. I took it from my pocket and gently slipped it under the dead woman’s sleeve. Using the pencil as a lever, I lifted the sleeve and peered beneath it. I couldn’t see the entire wound this way, at least not without allowing the pencil to touch the victim’s skin. But I could see enough.
The skin hadn’t been broken, but it was discolored. At first glance I thought it nothing more than a simple contusion, darker than most, but not strange enough to draw my notice. If Kona hadn’t mentioned how unusual it was, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. But as I examined it, I saw that she was right. The skin on and around the “bruise,” for want of a better term, was raised and puckered, and the subcutaneous darkening was uneven, almost dotted, as if . . . Well, I didn’t quite know how to finish that thought.
“Witnesses?” I asked, still examining the injury.
“Several, but their accounts don’t help much. Our silver-haired perp laid a hand on the woman’s shoulder, kept it there for maybe half a minute, and then let go of her. When he did, she fell to the pavement and didn’t move again.”
I frowned. “He did this with his hand?”
“That’s what they say. I’m assuming there was magic involved,” she said, dropping her voice.
“None that I can find.”
“Say that again.”
I eased the pencil out of the sleeve and straightened once more. “There isn’t any magical residue on the woman at all. If the perp was a weremyste, he didn’t use a spell to kill her or direct any magic her way.”
“Well, damn,” Kona said, staring down at the body. “I didn’t see that coming.”
“Do you have any idea what the cause of death was?”
She shook her head. “That’s what I wanted you to tell me. Now we’re going to have to wait for the coroner’s report.”
I didn’t answer at first. I faced the restaurant and surveyed the parking lot and sidewalk, trying to reconcile what I had seen inside with the wound on this corpse lying at my feet. The restaurant grounds were as much a mess as the interior. Two large trash containers had been overturned, strewing garbage everywhere. I walked to the nearer of the containers and squatted beside it. Rust-colored magic danced along the edge of the faux-stone plastic, bleached by the afternoon sun, but obvious now that I knew to look for it. The same magic shimmered on the other container as well.
“The woman with the kids was trying to get away,” I said.
“She did get away.”
I faced Kona. “I get that. What I mean is, these other guys came after her. The dead guy inside and his friend, the silver-haired man out here. They were after her for some reason. She attacked the two inside directly. Out here . . .” I gestured at the mess. “For some reason she didn’t go after the older man and his partner in the same way.”
“You know this, or are you guessing?”
“I’m guessing,” I said. “But there’s magic on these trash cans.”
Kona’s eyebrows went up. “All right. So why wouldn’t she use the same mojo here? It worked well enough the first time.”
I considered the question. “There are a number of possible reasons. Maybe she didn’t want to hurt or kill the guys outside. Maybe she knew them, cared about them, and so she held back.”
“That’s one possibility. What’s the other?”
“I can think of two others. The first is that the casting she used inside wouldn’t work out here. It seems like she found some way to tap into the restaurant’s electrical system, and she might not have been able to replicate the spell once she was outside. But that reasoning breaks down pretty quickly. A sorcerer powerful enough to use magic like that inside would be able to come up with some other attack.”
“All right, then what about third?”
“Well,” I said, “if I found myself face-to-face with a sorcerer I knew I couldn’t beat, someone so powerful that any attack spell I tried was bound to fail, I’d go to a different sort of attack, something that a normal warding might not stop.”
“Like dropping a garbage can on him,” Kevin said.
My eyes met Kevin’s, and apparently Kona didn’t like what she saw pass between us.
“The woman killed a man,” she said. “At least that’s what my witnesses are telling me. For now at least, she’s as much a murder suspect as the guy with silver hair.”
“Even if she was protecting herself and her kids,” I said.
“Even if. And what’s more, you know I’m right. You haven’t been off the job that long.”
She was right. For the most part.
“Not that long, no. But the fact is, I don’t have a badge anymore.”
“Aside from the PPD, you don’t have a client, either.”
“The PPD isn’t a client, and you know it. I do this to help you out, and because, sick as it is, I still love working a crime scene. But I’m not bound by the same rules.”
“Justis,” she said, a warning in her tone.
I stepped closer to her. “Think about it, Kona,” I said, my voice low. “Procedure might be telling you one thing, but your head and your heart are telling you another. The woman had kids with her, little kids. She wouldn’t have gotten into a magical battle unless she had no choice.”