Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 16
“Don’t do it, Neil!”
He hesitated, the knife blade hovering over the back of his hand. I didn’t want to see what he could do with blood magic.
“You’re not going to shoot me.”
“I will if you draw blood for a spell. I won’t have any choice, will I? And now that you’re holding that knife, I can claim it was self-defense.”
Doubt crept into his eyes.
“I used to be a cop. I know how these things work.”
Still he hesitated.
Three elements. His hand, his knife, my hand. It had been a while since I had worked on my transporting spells, but I’d pulled off a complicated one earlier in the day, and this one was as rudimentary as such a casting could be. One moment he was holding the blade, and the next minute I was. His eyes went so wide I almost laughed.
As a precaution, I warded my hand and pistol. I didn’t want him using the same spell against me.
“When was the last time you saw Gracie?” I asked him.
“Believe it or not, you and I want the same things. I haven’t met your wife or your kids, but I want to find them. I want them to be safe.”
“Her parents hate me.”
“Yeah,” I said. “They seem to. But what do you expect? You’re a gringo, and you married their baby. She goes by Gracie instead of Engracia –”
“That was her choice. Hell, I wouldn’t have minded if she had wanted to go by Trejo instead of Davett. It was all her.”
“I believe you. But they never will. Especially if you keep hurting her.”
I knew as soon as I said it that I’d made a mistake. But guys who hit women piss me off. Always have, from even before I joined the force.
Neil shut down on me, clenching his jaw, murder in his eyes. I half expected him to fire another spell at me.
“When did you see her last?” I asked again.
“Go to hell.”
I probably should have seen that coming.
“Fine.” I holstered my weapon and dropped his blade where I stood. “I’m leaving now,” I said, backing toward the Z-ster, my eyes fixed on his face. “You can try to follow me, but with that flat you’re going to ding up the wheel rim. Don’t get in my way again; next time we meet, I won’t be so easy on you.”
I opened the car door and started to ease into the driver’s seat.
“It’s been almost two weeks,” he said. “It’ll be two this coming Sunday.”
I stopped, straightened once more, one arm resting on the roof of the car.
“Where did you see her?”
“A park near my house. I had the kids for the weekend; she was picking them up.”
“Was there anything unusual about her behavior, or maybe about things the kids said while you had them? Anything at all that might explain her disappearance?”
He shook his head. “She was distant, but that’s been the case for a while. And the kids . . .” His gaze slid away. “Do you have kids?”
“Then you wouldn’t understand. I wasn’t watching for signs, I wasn’t trying to read every gesture or guess the hidden meaning behind every word. I had them with me, and that was enough. I was trying to soak up the time. Enjoy them, you know?”
“When are you supposed to have the kids again?”
“I’m supposed to have them every weekend. Those are the terms of the separation agreement. She was supposed to call last Friday to arrange the drop-off. She didn’t, and I never heard from her. I went by her parents’ house, just to see that they were okay. I saw them in the yard, so I drove off. I didn’t want to start a fight. I wanted to see my kids, that’s all. But when she didn’t call again today I got mad. I went by the hospital where she works, and she wasn’t there. I started feeling scared, worrying that they were in trouble . . . So I went to the kids’ school. They hadn’t been in, either. By then I was really scared. That’s when I started trying to track her down.”
“You were following her parents. You found me through them.”
He faltered, then shrugged. “I didn’t know what else to do. The phasing is coming up, and I want them with me for that. It’s safer.”
I frowned. “You and Gracie are both weremystes, both subject to the phasing. Why should the kids be any safer with you?”
Neil’s gaze flitted away, giving me the impression that he wished he’d kept that last remark to himself.
“Unless,” I said, “you’re using blood magic to protect yourself from the moon.”
“I want my kids back,” he said, refusing now to look my way. “And my wife. I miss my family. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
One of the insidious things about abusive relationships was that abuse and love could exist side by side. The love was twisted by violence and a desperate, almost pathological need to control, but it was there nevertheless. Neil sounded like a guy who loved and missed his wife and kids, and wanted them in his life. I could even believe that his concern for their well-being was sincere. But that didn’t mean the abuse wouldn’t start up again as soon as he and Gracie were back together.
I didn’t know what to say to him. A part of me felt sorry for the guy; another part of me wanted to kick the crap out of him. Once we started attacking each other with magic, he’d been quick to go for his knife. I thought about my conversation with Namid earlier in the evening. It seemed that Neil was used to using blood in his spells, which told me that he had more than a passing familiarity with dark magic.
“I have every intention of finding them,” I told him, feeling that I ought to say something. “And I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep them safe.”
I got in the car and drove away, watching Neil in my mirrors to make sure he didn’t do anything foolish. Once I had turned off that small lane, I made my way to the highway and headed back to Billie’s.
The house was dark when I got there. I parked out front, alarm bells going off in my head. I had my Glock in hand before I was out of the car. I opened the screen door and found that the front door was still unlocked. I turned the knob and then pushed the door open with my foot, both hands on my weapon.
Billie lay curled on the couch, a blanket around her shoulders. I could see that she was breathing. A candle sat in a shallow bowl on the coffee table beside her, cool wax pooled around its base. Everything else seemed to be in order. I started to holster my weapon.
A faint rustling, made me whirl, the pistol raised to fire, my heart in my throat.
A small owl sat on the top shelf of her bookcase, yellow eyes gleaming in the dim light cast by the moon and the streetlights. Gray and black streaking, small tufts on its head similar to those of a Great-Horned Owl. I knew it right away for a Screech Owl. But what was it doing in here?
I chanced a quick scan of the room and saw that the screen on one of the open front windows had been slashed. I even thought I saw a few wisps of down clinging to the edges of the opening the owl had created.
I took a slow step toward the bird. It watched me, but didn’t flinch or give any indication that it intended to fly. I eased closer.
When I had covered half the distance between us, I spotted the tiny roll of paper attached to the owl’s right foot.
“You’re a were,” I whispered.
It cocked its head to the side.
Weres had long been stigmatized in our culture, portrayed in movies and television shows as vicious, tortured animals that could pass their curse on to normal humans with a single bite. In truth, they had much more in common with weremystes than with monsters. On the nights of the phasing, they transformed into the animal that shared their bodies. But they wielded no magic beyond this, and they could not assume their animal forms at other times.