Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 13
Which is not to say that they didn’t order me out of the car, frisk me, and take my Glock. But they did it all with smiles on their faces, and though they didn’t lay their weapons down, they also didn’t have them aimed at the back of my head.
When the guards were convinced that I was unarmed and posed no threat to Jacinto, they pointed me toward the front door. It was open already, and a burly Latino man waited for me there, his black hair pulled back in a ponytail, a smile on his lips.
“Amigo,” he said, greeting me with a handshake and a slap on the back.
“Hey, Rolon. How’s it going?”
He shrugged, ushering me into the house. “Can’t complain. Got a new car. Lowrider, like Paco’s.” He flashed a toothy grin. “But faster, you know?”
I had to smile. Rolon and Paco were Amaya’s . . . Well, I wasn’t exactly sure what they were. Henchmen? Bodyguards? Trained attack dogs? Whatever Amaya called them, they were built like NFL linebackers, and I had no doubt that they would kill their grandmothers if Amaya ordered them to. But though they worked for the devil, I couldn’t help but like them. The truth was, I liked Amaya, as well. I feared him, and I didn’t trust him, and if there was a way I could have handed him over to Kona with enough evidence to put him away for life, I would have done it in a heartbeat. He was, however, a difficult man to hate.
Rolon steered me through the foyer into a grand living room with polished wood floors, exposed beams, and a bank of windows that was incandescent with the glow of downtown Scottsdale. Oaxacan folk art covered the walls and shelves of the room and the air carried the faint, sweet smell of burning sage and cedar, as if someone in another room had lit one of the smudge sticks used by the Southwest’s Pueblo people.
A lean man with perfectly styled silver and black hair turned at the sound of our footsteps and strode in our direction, his arms spread wide. He was dressed with elegance in a light gray fitted suit, a black dress shirt, and a sapphire silk tie. I had the vague impression of an olive complexion and dark, almond-shaped eyes, a winning smile and bold features, but until my eyes adjusted, I couldn’t make out anything with confidence. The blur of magic across his face was too strong.
“Jay,” he said, gripping my shoulder with one hand and proffering the other for me to grip. “I’m glad you could make it.”
I shook his hand, hiding my amusement. He had all but ordered me to his house, and now he was treating me like an old friend. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted two other people in the room, an older couple, who had gotten to their feet when Rolon and I entered. I wanted to dismiss Amaya’s greeting as something he did for show, to impress these other guests. But he was more complicated than that. The enthusiasm of his greeting, I knew, was as genuine as the menace that had shaded his voice on the phone. They were two sides of the same honed blade.
“It’s good to see you again, Mister Amaya.”
He nodded, his hand still on my shoulder, and steered me to his other guests.
“I’d like you to meet Eduardo and Marisol Trejo. They’re friends of mine, and they need your help. Eduardo, Marisol, this is Jay Fearsson. He’s the private detective I told you about.”
My first thought upon seeing them was that Missus Trejo was a weremyste. She wasn’t nearly as strong as Amaya — the smudge of magic on her face was subtle, though unmistakable. My second impression was that they appeared even more out of place amid the luxury of Amaya’s home than I did. Mister Trejo had nut-brown skin and hair as white and soft as a cloud. He was short, barrel-chested, and he wore a rumpled brown suit that fit him poorly. His wife was thin and had probably been a beauty as a young woman. Her eyes were a rich earthy brown, and her features were as delicate as his were heavy. Her hair was steel gray, and she wore what must have been her Sunday dress. It had a floral pattern, and it looked like it had been made for a larger woman. I wondered if Missus Trejo had been ill.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” I said, shaking his hand and then hers.
Amaya sat in a leather arm chair, indicating that I should do the same. The Trejos lowered themselves onto the couch once more.
“Tell Jay what you told me.”
“It’s our daughter,” Missus Trejo said, her voice devoid of any accent and stronger than I had expected. “Engracia. She has . . .” She shrugged. “I suppose you would say, she has run off.”
“I’m sorry. This must be a difficult time for you.” I pulled my pencil and notepad from my jacket pocket.
“We’re concerned for her, as you would expect. But this is particularly worrisome because she has her children with her. No one has seen either Engracia or the children since early this morning.”
I sat forward at her mention of the kids, and I searched Marisol’s face once more, taking in that soft blur of magic.
“Is she a weremyste?” I asked.
Missus Trejo glanced back at her husband before facing me again and nodding.
“This is why I called you,” Amaya said.
“How old are the children?” I asked, ignoring him for the moment.
“Emily is eight, Zachary is five.”
Mister Trejo pulled something from within his suit jacket and held it out to me. I hesitated before taking it from him. It was a photograph. The image was grainy — it had been printed on regular paper rather than photo stock — but I could make out the three faces. Engracia, the mom, was as fine featured as her mother, with dark eyes, dark hair, and a complexion somewhere between her mother’s and father’s. The little girl was the image of Engracia, though unlike her mother she wasn’t smiling. The boy had lighter skin, paler eyes, and a grin that could have charmed a hired assassin.
Naturally, my thoughts had already pivoted to Kona’s murder scene: a mom who was a weremyste, with two kids the same age as those of the woman who killed John Doe and sent his companion to the hospital. But I had no proof that this was the same family, and every reason to be skeptical of such a coincidence.
“You say they’ve been gone since this morning?”
“Yes,” Marisol said.
I chanced a quick look at Jacinto. He watched me, something akin to a warning in his eyes.
“Please understand,” I said, facing Missus Trejo again. “I sympathize. Naturally they’re dear to you, and it probably seems that they’ve been gone a long time. But –”
“You don’t understand, Mister Fearsson. Engracia and the children live with us now. They . . . they had to leave Engracia’s husband. She left our house this morning with the children, as she always does. We thought she was taking them to school and then going to work. She’s a physical therapist at Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital, and Emmy and Zach go to Carminati Elementary. But later in the day the school called to ask why the children hadn’t come in today. And when we called Engracia at work, they told us she hadn’t been in either.”
“Are any of their belongings missing?”
Missus Trejo nodded. “Yes. After calling the hospital, I went and checked the room they’ve been staying in. Most of their things are gone.”
“Is it possible your daughter has gone back to her husband?”
We all turned to Mister Trejo, who shrank back from our gazes, his cheeks coloring. But he shook his head and said, “No,” a second time. Even from that single syllable, I could hear the heaviness of his accent. “She no go back to him,” he said, eyeing me, his expression fierce. “He . . . he beat her. He’s no good, and she know that now. Finally.”
I shared a glance with Jacinto before facing the Trejos again. “Were the children beaten, too?”
“Not that we know of,” Marisol said. “It’s possible, though.”
I nodded, saying nothing. An expectant silence settled over the room, broken only by the ticking of a nearby clock. I knew that the others were waiting for me to speak, but I tried to ignore them. How many young mothers disappeared with their children each day in the Phoenix metropolitan area? Probably more than any of us cared to know. But how many of them were weremystes? And how many of those few had a daughter and son of the exact ages given by Kona’s witnesses? I wanted this to be coincidence. I had only just met Mister and Missus Trejo, but already I didn’t want to have to tell them that their daughter was the primary suspect in a murder investigation.
“What do you think has happened to them?” I asked Marisol.
“They don’t know,” Jacinto said, his tone derisive. You’d have thought I’d asked the dumbest question he could imagine. “That’s why I called you.”
I held up a hand, hoping to silence him in a way that wouldn’t tick him off too much. But I kept my eyes on Engracia’s parents. “What are you afraid has happened? And what do you hope has happened?”