Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 31


Before I could raise my weapon or ward myself, a second footstep, this one heavier than the first, made the floor creak. That was followed by the unmistakable clack of a round being chambered in a pump-action rifle.

“I think you should put your pistol on the floor and raise your hands.” A girl’s voice, with the faint lilt I was used to hearing in the speech of American Indians.

I did as she said, then straightened, my back still to the door, my eyes fixed on the shattered window that looked out over the sloping desert behind the shack. “Can I turn around?”

“Not yet. Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“I’m Jay Fearsson, and I’m a private investigator. I was hoping to speak with, Lucas Quinn. I have reason to believe he might know something about an item I’m trying to find. Who are you?”

“Who sent you here?”

“No one sent me. A man named Barry Crowseye told me how to find the place.”

“You know Barry?”

“For a long time now.”

Another growl made the hairs on my neck stand on end.

“Who’s that with you?” I asked.

“You can turn around. Very slowly. I’m feeling a little twitchy, and so is my grandmother.”

I stepped around, taking care not to make any sudden moves. The girl couldn’t have been more than eighteen. She was a bit heavy, with long black hair, dark eyes, and a face that was angelic, despite being partially obscured by the sights on her rifle. Next to her, its teeth bared, its ears lying flat, stood an enormous pale gray wolf with amber eyes.

“That’s your grandmother?” I asked.

“Yep. And you’re in her house.”

That I hadn’t expected.

“You’re a weremyste,” she said.

“If you can tell that, you’re a were.”

“That’s right. I’m a wolf like her.” She said it as “woof,” but I had no doubt as to what she meant.

“I didn’t mean to trespass. I came to talk to your grandfather. You can ask Barry if you want to.”

“My grandfather’s dead.”

Again, a deep growl rumbled through the shack.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, breathing the words. “Murdered?”

She nodded.

“By the people who destroyed this house.”

“By weremystes,” she said.

“Not by me, I promise you. But I’m sure they were interested in the same item I’m after.”

“Whatever that is, it’s not here. If they didn’t find it, it never was.”

I glanced around, noticing what I had missed before. There was nothing left in the shack of any value. Whatever remained of Lucas Quinn’s collection had been taken.

“They stole it all? Everything he had?”

For the first time, the girl hesitated. “Yes.” She said it forcefully, but I could tell she was lying.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you. You and your grandmother removed what was left, isn’t that right? But then why leave the shack this way?”

Her mouth twisted, making her appear even younger than she had. My guess of eighteen might have been too high.

“I took it all away,” she said after some time. “Grandmother hasn’t changed back from wolf since the night he died. I’m not sure she ever will.”

I grimaced. “I’m sorry.”

“I left the shack this way,” she went on, not responding in any way to my words of sympathy, “because I thought they might come back. People loot stuff all the time, so they wouldn’t wonder about that. But if I cleaned it up, they might come looking for us.”

“That was good thinking,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“I’m not sure I want to tell you that.”

“All right. Would you be willing to let me see the items they left behind? The stuff you took away?”

“I’m not sure about that either.”

I gave a self-conscious smile. “I can’t say that I blame you. Truth is, you have no reason to trust me, and I can’t make you answer any of my questions. But I’m going to ask anyway. Do you ever remember seeing, among all the things your grandfather had in his collection, a stone knife? It would have been a pale, warm beige, the color of creamed coffee, with a red streak in the blade.”

The girl frowned, and I could tell she was thinking about it, which was as much as I could ask. But it was the wolf who answered, with a sound that was half yelp and half chuff.

I regarded the wolf and then the girl, a question in my eyes.

“She says he had it.”

“You’re sure that’s what she was saying?” I asked, trying not to sound too skeptical. But grandma, with her big teeth and big claws responded by making the sound again, which was almost enough to convince me. “But you don’t have it now, do you? It wasn’t here after your grandfather died.”

“No, it was gone by then. I don’t remember seeing anything like it.”

“How long ago did all this happen? When was he killed?”

“It was early September, so it’s been more than a month.”

Something didn’t make sense. If the grandmother was to be believed, and if we were interpreting her yelps correctly, Lucas had the knife at one point. But if Silver-hair stole it weeks ago, why would he still be searching for it? Why would he have ransacked Burt Kendall’s pawn shop? Unless a different weremyste huffed and puffed and blew down Lucas’s house in order to take the blade. Too many questions, and too many fairy tales about wolves.

“Did you or your grandmother see the people who attacked the house?

“No, we were away at a pow-wow. Grandfather didn’t come.”

Had Lucas’s attackers planned it that well, or had the girl and her grandmother been lucky?

“I’m sorry for all you’ve been through,” I said. “And I’m grateful to you for answering my questions. What you’ve told me has been helpful.”

“So why do you look so confused?”

I laughed. “That’s part of being a PI. Sometimes it takes me a while to sort through everything I’ve learned. But you’ve told me a lot.”

She didn’t say anything, and I couldn’t help noticing that she still had her rifle pointed at my chest, though she was no longer sighting me and her finger was not behind the trigger.

“So are you going to let me go, or are you going to shoot me?”

Grandma yelped a third time.

The girl lowered her weapon. “I guess I’m going to let you go.”

She grinned, and so did I. I nodded to grandma. “Thank you.”

“What will you do when you find the knife?”

“I don’t know yet. I’d like to destroy it. Failing that . . .” I raised my shoulders, dropped them.

“All right.” She sounded vaguely disappointed. “You can go now.”

I glanced down at the Glock. “I’m going to pick that up. Don’t blow my head off, all right?”

“Don’t do anything stupid,” she said, which was a good answer.

I knelt, picked up the pistol by the barrel and returned it to my shoulder holster. The girl and wolf watched everything I did, and when I eased toward the broken doorway, they backed out of my way.

The sun sat balanced on the western horizon, huge and orange, its glow touching the wolf’s fur so that she appeared almost red.

“Be well,” I said, walking to the pick-up. “Again, I’m sorry for your loss.”

They watched me, but neither of them made a sound. I got in, backed the truck around, and started down the dirt road.