Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 30

I’d long been aware of the black market in magical goods, and I knew as well of several collectors in the Phoenix area. Strictly speaking, the market wasn’t illegal; there were no established laws governing the sale and ownership of such things. But those of us in the runecrafting community tried to keep track of these transactions for this very reason. Among the thousands of old books, carved amulets, ritual blades, and cursed or blessed gems, medallions, and baubles that filtered through this elusive marketplace, one might occasionally find items of true power, items that had no business gathering dust in someone’s collection. I had a hard time imagining that an object as powerful, important, and deadly as this knife could have been on display for all these years in the living room or study of some rich magical dilettante.

Because it probably wasn’t.

“No,” I said.

Namid swung his bright gaze to me, his watery brow creasing in surprise. “No? I do not understand.”

“I don’t think it’s with a collector. At least not the type you’re talking about. The man who’s after it didn’t go to the home of a wealthy collector in North Scottsdale or Paradise Valley. He went to a pawnshop in Glendale.”

“Do you believe he found it there?”

“I’m reasonably sure he didn’t. But this guy knows what he’s doing. He wouldn’t be wasting his time, or Saorla’s.”

Another idea came to me, not necessarily one I liked. It had already been a long day, and if I followed through on what I had in mind, I was going to be racing the sun into the evening.

“I’ll do my best to find this blade, Namid, but I might need to summon you again.”

“You have my permission to do so,” he said without hesitation. “You must tread like the fox, Ohanko. Those who would wield the Sgian-Bán will not scruple to kill any who oppose them.”

That much I knew already. Namid vanished from the truck, and I started the long, slow drive from the outskirts of Maryvale to a small park on the east side of Mesa.

The park itself wasn’t anything special. But at this time of the moon cycle, in the days leading up to the phasing, it was home to what weremystes and magical wannabes called the Moon Market, a gathering of vendors, mystes, and craftsmen who catered to runecrafters eager to ease or avoid entirely the worst effects of the full moon. Much of what was sold at the market was junk: knock-offs of Zuni fetishes, New Age books on Wicca and Shamanism, herbs that smelled great but did little else, carved and polished crystals that had been so over-processed as to rob them of any powers they might otherwise have offered. But occasionally I had found hidden in among the worthless stuff books of real value, raw crystals with palpable power, and herb sachets put together by people who knew what they were doing.

I didn’t expect to find the knife here. I was searching for a person, not a thing, and I found him where I thought I would, sitting behind a table covered with genuinely beautiful and potent gemstones. Barry Crowseye was a Navajo who owned a small gem shop in Tolleson. He was tall, with long silver-white hair that he wore tied back in a ponytail. He had skin the color of cherry wood, dark, penetrating eyes, and a chiseled face, that could have come off a coin. In other words, he was the sum of everyone’s notion of how a Native American should look. He wore jeans, a gray sweatshirt, and a leather vest.

Seeing me, he smiled and stood, extending a hand across his table of wares.

“How’s it going, Jay?” he said, his voice deep. “I haven’t seen you since you brought down the Blind Angel. Nice piece of work.”

“Thanks, Barry.”

Many in Phoenix’s runecrafting community had resented me for insisting that the Blind Angel Killings had a magical purpose, and for a while I hadn’t exactly been welcome in the market. Barry had been as skeptical as the rest, but he’d always treated me well.

He folded himself back into the canvas chair behind his table. “So what case are you working on now?”

I grinned. “You do that every time I see you.”

“Do what?”

“Assume — correctly, of course — that I’m here for information instead of something else.”

He made a vague gesture that somehow encompassed the entire market. “You don’t believe in this stuff, Jay. I can’t say as I blame you, but the fact is, you don’t think herbs and crystals are going to keep the moon from crushing your mind in a few nights. So when I see you here, I expect to be answering some questions.”

“I’ve said it before. You’d make a good PI.”

“I think I’m better off selling rocks. How can I help you?”

I trusted Barry. I’d known him a long time, and he had never steered me wrong, or given me any reason to doubt his word or his motives. But I couldn’t bring myself to ask him about the knife directly.

“Have you heard people around here talking about a magical weapon of some kind? Something old and seriously dark that’s only been rediscovered recently?”

He gave a slow shake of his head. “I haven’t, and it sounds like I’m glad.”

“No kidding. To be honest, I would have been surprised if folks were talking about it in the open. The people who want it aren’t exactly advertising the fact, and whoever has it is probably lying low. It was worth a shot though. The reason I came was to ask you about a person, a collector of artifacts, Pueblo culture mostly. I think you mentioned him to me once, years ago, when I was still on the force. Old guy, Akimel O’odham, I think,” I said, giving the preferred name used by the tribe formerly known as the Pima Indians.

“You’re thinking of Lucas Quinn,” he said. “He made jewelry for a while and went by Lucas Twofeather, because he thought the tourists would be more likely to remember him.” He grinned, exposing a gleaming golden tooth.

“Is he still alive?”

“As far as I know. Last I heard he was still living in the Gila River Community, a few miles north and west of Komatke. He has a place at the end of a dirt road off of Seventy-fifth. It’s not much more than a shack at the top of a small rise, but it’s his.”

He pulled out a piece of scrap paper and a pencil, and drew a rough map.

“He’s not real fond of strangers,” he said, handing me the paper. “And he doesn’t like white people. The truth is, he’s odd and a loner, and he’s not some high-powered collector, like some of the rich white people who hire you.”

I nodded. This was why I had come in the first place. “I’m not interested in talking to rich white people.”

Barry cocked an eyebrow.

“All right,” I said. “I’m not interested in talking to them about this.”

“You really think Lucas could be sitting on an ancient magical weapon?”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “It’s something that vanished a long time ago. It’s only recently resurfaced. People seem to think it’s in the Phoenix area. And I think that if it had fallen in the lap of one of those rich collectors, he or she would have been bragging about it. But if a loner had it, someone odd, someone who didn’t particularly like those other collectors . . .”

“I suppose it’s possible. Of course if somebody’s trying to find it now –”

“He could be in trouble. Thanks, Barry. I owe you one.”

I left the park, got back in the truck, and headed west, toward Komatke. Traffic had started to build on and off the highways, and the sun hung low enough in the western sky to make driving in that direction a battle. But given where I was headed, the freeways weren’t going to help me much, and sticking to the surface roads did make the drive a bit easier.

Still, it was after four when I finally turned onto Seventy-fifth Avenue in the Gila River Community. Barry’s map proved to be a lifesaver. Without it, I never would have known Lucas Quinn’s road was anything more than a track carved into the desert by dirt bikes and ATVs. Whispering an apology to my father, I steered his truck up the road, bouncing over potholes and jutting rocks, a cloud of brown dust billowing behind me.

I crested the small rise Barry had mentioned, muttered a curse, and stopped to survey the scene waiting for me there.

The shack lay in ruin, its roof caved in, its windows shattered, the wooden planks of its walls twisted and splintered. The front door hung from its bent hinges, swaying in the wind.

I eased the truck forward stopping beside a beat-up white pickup that made my dad’s truck look like a marvel of modern technology. It had probably been days, if not weeks, since the damage had been done, but that didn’t stop me from pulling out my Glock before leaving the truck. I approached what was left of the shack, my pistol held before me, my eyes sweeping over the structure and the surrounding land.

I pushed open the battered door with my foot and peered inside. The interior was in no better shape than the rest. Shards of broken plates and glasses covered the dusty wooden floor, along with a few books, their pages torn, and the broken remains of a wood table and several chairs.

I had expected to find a body, but I didn’t see or smell anything to indicate that Lucas’s corpse was here.

But with my back still to the door, I did hear a light footfall behind me, and then the menacing growl of something large and very much alive.