Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 21


The drive from my father’s place to the southern end of Phoenix took me through some of the busiest sections of the city. We were past the worst of the morning commute, but still the roads were crowded. Bumper-to-bumper traffic moving at sixty-five. NASCAR had nothing on Phoenix’s highways.

I had in mind to go south again, beyond the outskirts of the city. That was the direction Gracie had driven, and I still remembered how the afternoon before my instincts had screamed for me to keep driving past Casa Grande. But first I stopped at the Burger Royale.

The restaurant hadn’t reopened, and the parking lot had been cordoned off with bright yellow crime scene tape. I only saw two cars in the lot, both of them cruisers. Only one car had anyone in it; the police wanted to keep people away, but for now at least no one was actively working the scene.

I parked by the expanse of tape and got out of the truck, my wallet already in my hand.

The cop in the cruiser rolled down his window. “Can I help you?”

I held up my wallet, which I had opened to my PI license. “My name’s Jay Fearsson. I was here yesterday with Kona Shaw in Homicide. I’m wondering if I can take a quick look at something.”

He eyed me, squinting in the sunlight. “Fearsson. You the guy who killed the East Side Parks Killer?” That was what cops had called Etienne de Cahors before the press dubbed him the Blind Angel Killer.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“That was a nice piece of work.”

“Thank you.”

“I can’t let you go inside the restaurant. Even Elliott Ness can’t get in there. But you can walk around the lot if you want.”

“Works for me. I appreciate it.”

He raised a hand, acknowledging my thanks, but he had already turned his attention back to his smart phone.

I ducked under the tape and walked to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, where those large trash bins still lay on their sides, surrounded by garbage and, at this point, covered with swarms of flies and yellow jackets.

I hoped to catch a glimpse of Gracie’s magic, but after twenty-four hours, most of that rust-colored glow had faded. The glare of the morning sun on the bins didn’t help. I circled them, found a spot that was still in shade and bent lower to get a better view.

Magic residue still clung to the plastic, shimmering weakly, like a candle flame on the verge of burning itself out. I started to recite a spell that, at least in theory, would work as a sort of magical Geiger counter tuned to her magic in particular, so that I could track her and know when I was getting close. After only a moment of this, I stopped myself. It sounded too much like what Saorla had been doing to me. The silver-haired conjurer wouldn’t have left this place without attempting something similar. What’s more, Gracie probably knew that. In which case, either she had found a way to mask her magic, much as my dad and I had done, or Saorla’s friends already had her. I was betting on the former.

She had switched off her cell phone because she didn’t want Neil tracking her with the signal. I assumed that she had done something similar with her runecrafting. Which begged the question, how was I supposed to find her? I straightened and gazed southward, my eyes following the interstate to the horizon.

What had her mother said? Gracie had spoken of living in Tucson, and she liked to camp. With the kids with her, she could only disappear so far into the wilderness. She would need bathrooms, food, a safe place to pitch a tent. There were a few spots like that in the Tucson area, but the ones that came to mind were too obvious, too easy to find. Anything Marisol would have thought to tell me Neil would know as well.

That left another choice, one that was more remote, and offered her more possibilities if she needed to run.

I didn’t have a tent or sleeping bag with me, but that was a problem for later. I pivoted on my heel and strode back to my father’s truck.

“Thanks,” I said as I walked past the cruiser.

The cop didn’t even look up. “No problem.”

I stopped at a nearby gas station and filled the tank before getting on I-10 and heading south. Once clear of the city outskirts, traffic fell away. The truck had an AM/FM radio and a cassette player that might have worked still. But Dad kept no tapes in the car, and I couldn’t find anything worth listening to on the radio. I drove with the windows down, the desert air on my face and neck, and I tried to sift through the smells of sage and truck exhaust for the elusive scent of magic, dark or light.

Where could Gracie be headed? She had run away from her husband, and had abandoned the refuge of her parents’ home. She had escaped the dark sorcerers at the restaurant, so was strong enough to take care of herself. She had resorted to killing, so she also must have understood how much danger she and her kids were in from the people pursuing her. And after all that transpired at the restaurant, she had to know that the police would be after her as well.

If she was smart, she would leave the country, but without passports for the kids I didn’t think she would get past the border police. In her position, my next choice would have been L.A., or perhaps San Diego. Both were big enough that a Latina mother with two kids — even a woman with power like hers — could melt into some quiet, obscure neighborhood without leaving a trace. But moving to either city would require money, and unless she was carrying gobs of cash, she would have to rely on credit cards, which were easily traced.

That didn’t leave her with many options.

As I neared Casa Grande, I felt that same impulse to keep driving south. It was almost as if Tucson were calling for me. For a moment I gave serious thought to abandoning my plan and remaining on I-10.

This time, though, it occurred to me that what I’d assumed yesterday was instinct might actually be magic. I wasn’t sure how Gracie had done it, but she had left a spell on the road that was making me want to keep driving. It was clever, and yesterday it had very nearly worked. But I knew she hadn’t intended the spell for me, and though loath to admit it, I had a feeling that the silver-haired weremyste was probably too smart and too powerful to be fooled by such a conjuring.

I exited I-10 at the exchange with I-8, which cut east to west, from Casa Grande through Yuma, and, ultimately to San Diego. Once again, as I left I-10 I felt the road tugging at my head and heart, with the power of a gibbous moon. Even knowing it was magic, I had to grip the wheel until my knuckles whitened to keep from turning around.

Gracie might have thought her spell clever, but it was too strong, too obvious. Rather than putting Saorla’s weremancers off her trail, it would serve to keep them on it. I could only hope that they hadn’t found her already.

I drove west on I-8 for about an hour, watching my mirrors for any sign of dark sorcerers. During the summer I had been attacked by a weremancer in a sleek silver sedan of unknown make. And I knew every make there was.

Today, though, I didn’t see any unusual cars. Lots of semis, and a few campers, but no sedans with smoked windows and ungodly acceleration.

At Gila Bend, I took the exit for state road 85, which headed south toward Ajo and then Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I had thought that when I took this exit, I would feel that same spell-induced urge to remain on the freeway. I didn’t. I felt nothing at all.

It was enough to make me wonder if I should keep going toward San Diego. I pulled into a gas station near the exit and sat for several moments with the engine idling, wondering what to do. If Gracie’s spell at Casa Grande had been an amateurish attempt to throw sorcerers off her trail, then chances were she and the kids were headed toward the California coast. But what if she was more clever than that, more clever even than I had credited? What if that first spell had been a more subtle ruse designed to mask this second exit?

After some thought I decided that if she was on her way to San Diego, there was little more I could do for her. I would never find her there. Earlier this morning I had come up with a plan. I was going to stick with it.

I pulled back out onto the state highway and drove south. I stopped in Ajo to buy a cheap tent and sleeping bag at a sporting goods place, pick up some food, and put more gas in the truck. Compared to the Z-ster this thing gulped down gasoline, and the Z-ster wasn’t exactly a Prius.

Then I continued on to the national monument, the terrain growing more dramatic with every mile I drove. Miles to the west, in the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, the Growler range rose from the desert floor, its worn peaks stark against the azure sky, the deep folds in its mountainsides casting dark shadows across the rocky faces.