Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 12
Back when I was on the police force, first working in Narcotics, and then later in Homicide, Jacinto Amaya was the Holy Grail. There was no one Kona and I were as eager to bust. And there was no one who frustrated us more.
As the most notorious drug kingpin in the American Southwest, Amaya bore responsibility, either directly or indirectly, for the trafficking of pot, cocaine, heroin, peyote, LSD, crack, MDMA, roofies, and just about every other illegal drug I could name. All the evidence we could find suggested that he had a financial stake in prostitution, illegal gambling, and human trafficking, and that he’d had a hand in literally dozens of murders, including more than twenty committed right here in Phoenix.
The problem was, we’d never been able to prove any of this. He was smart, ruthless, cunning, and willing to use his wealth, his power, and the threat of violence to get his way. Kona and I were convinced that he had moles in the police departments of Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, San Diego, and at least a dozen smaller cities. And he had developed close friendships with some of the most powerful politicians in the country. That was how he stayed out of jail. Or so I had thought.
He and I finally met in person during the summer, and upon entering his home and seeing the way magic blurred his handsome features, I realized that he was also a powerful weremyste.
He had sought me out not only to hire me, but also to enlist me as a potential ally in his own personal war against Phoenix’s weremancers. I soon learned that he had as much contempt for dark magic and its practitioners as did Namid. At first I was surprised by this. I had thought that a man like Amaya, who lived his entire adult life outside the law, would have been drawn to the darker side of runecrafting. But as he explained to me, with a candor that was oddly refreshing, dark conjurers needed blood for their spells, and they tended to prey on the young, the disadvantaged and disaffected: the same people who fueled his drug sales, and who kept his prostitution businesses going. He didn’t want the competition, and he didn’t want to lose his clientele to blood sacrifices. Hardly admirable, I know. But he was sincere in his desire to defeat Saorla and the weremancers working with her, and at the time I was short on allies. I had some sense now of how Roosevelt and Churchill felt when they agreed to fight alongside Stalin.
If our association had ended there, I would have chalked up the interaction to experience and gladly moved on. But it didn’t. After our fight with Saorla and the others out in Wofford, which left my father’s trailer in shambles and most of his possessions ruined, Amaya offered me $10,000.00. He presented the check as an expression of his friendship and made clear that to reject either one would be a grave misstep, pun fully intended. I had no choice but to take the money. He swore that it was a gift, one that came with no strings attached. He wanted to help with the repairs on Dad’s trailer, and he wanted to thank me for work well done. But I knew better and so did he. He had meant that ten grand to serve as a sort of permanent retainer, and he was calling now because he had something he wanted me to do.
It occurred to me that Amaya still waited for me to say something and to offer him assurances that I wasn’t as horrified to hear from him as, in truth, I was.
“I wasn’t expecting your call,” I made myself say, knowing how ridiculous I sounded. I glanced at Billie. “I’m . . . I’m with a friend right now and –”
“Ah, of course,” Amaya broke in. “How is Miss Castle?”
I hated it when he did that. It was bad enough that he knew how to contact me and that he and his men had been to my home and to my father’s trailer. But every time he mentioned Billie’s name, reminding me in no uncertain terms that he knew everything about my personal life, it felt like he had aimed a nine millimeter pistol at her heart. Too many of my magical enemies were using my love of Billie as a weapon; it was starting to piss me off.
“That’s none of your damn business,” I said, none too wisely.
“Careful, Jay,” he said, his voice silken. “No one speaks to me that way. Besides, you were the one who brought her up.”
“I assume you have business you wish to discuss with me, sir.”
I could imagine him smiling at my attempt to change the subject. “More than that. I have a client for you. Be at my home in forty-five minutes.”
He hung up before I could make an excuse or tell him to go to hell. I stared at my phone for a few seconds before snapping it shut and shoving it back into my pocket.
“Who was that?” Billie asked.
No secrets. Sometimes lying to her would have been so much easier.
“Jacinto Amaya. Apparently he has a client for me, and he wants me to meet this person tonight.”
“Your job really sucks, Fearsson.”
My laugh was as dry as dust. “So you’ve told me.”
“What isn’t his business?” she asked.
“You kind of snapped at him, which, given that it was Amaya, probably wasn’t such a great idea.”
“Right. He asked how you were doing.”
She blinked, sat back in her chair. “Great. Why are all of your friends so interested in me?”
“You mean Amaya and Saorla?”
“I’m using the word ‘friends’ loosely.”
“I’ll say.” I lifted a shoulder. “They’re trying to find ways to get at me, to control me. And they know I’m in love with you.” I said it without thinking, without hesitating. I didn’t consider exactly what I’d said until I saw the warm blush seep back into her cheeks.
We had yet to declare our love for each other. It had been there for a while now, smoldering beneath the surface. But until this moment, neither of us had spoken the words. I guess I owed Amaya a thank you.
“You’re in love with me?” she said.
“Does that surprise you?”
She shook her head. “You know I’m in love with you, too, right?”
For all my talk of how she would be safer without me, hearing those words made my heart do a little Snoopy dance. Yeah, I was totally hooked on her.
“I do now,” I said, taking her hand again.
Her smile promised a very nice end to our evening together. Unfortunately, I had an appointment at Jacinto Amaya’s house.
“I have to go.”
She canted her head to the side. “I don’t suppose you can call Amaya back and tell him to go screw himself, can you?”
“Not really, no. But I’ll be back.”
The smile deepened. “Good.”
I stood and began to clear the table. “In the meantime, don’t you dare do any of these dishes. That was an amazing dinner, and you have the rest of the evening off.”
She followed me into the kitchen, carrying plates as well, and when we both had set them on the counter, she stepped close to me, put her arms around my neck, and kissed me, her body leaning into mine, her back arching.
“What was that for?” I asked when we came up for air.
She kept her eyes closed. “To make sure you’re coming back later.”
She kissed me again.
“I think that should do the trick,” I whispered, my breath stirring her hair. “But if I don’t leave now, I’m not going to leave at all.”
I pulled away before she could kiss me a third time. She blew a raspberry at me. I strapped on my shoulder holster, knowing that Billie was watching me, trying not to look her way. She didn’t like any sort of firearm, and she really didn’t like that, working as a PI, I had no choice but to carry one. When the holster was in place, I grabbed my bomber from the chair, gave her a wink, and headed out to my car. I almost doubled back to tell her to lock her door, but I didn’t. This was a safe neighborhood; the only threat to her came from weremystes and beings like Saorla, none of whom would be stopped by a door lock. Besides, she didn’t need me scaring her by being overprotective.
Even at night, without traffic, the drive from Billie’s place in Tempe to Amaya’s mansion in the Ocotillo Winds Estates subdivision of North Scottsdale normally took close to half an hour. Amaya had given me barely enough time to say my goodbyes and get to his house; for all I knew, he had calculated the time and distance using an online map.
Ocotillo Winds was a gated community filled with new Spanish Mission-style homes, all of them huge, all of them protected by adobe walls and wrought-iron gates. Amaya’s house sat at the end of a short cul-de-sac. It might have been larger than the houses flanking it, but not by much. On the other hand, the walls surrounding the property were thicker, the paired gates blocking the driveway appeared sturdier. A guardhouse stood beside the gates and security guards armed with modified MP5s patrolled the driveway itself.
The first few times I’d come to the mansion, including one time after the explosion at Solana’s when I arrived unannounced and angry, the guards had been a bit rough with me. But I’d been to the house enough times now that they recognized the car and greeted me like an old friend.