By David B. Coe
While this is the first snippet of this book, you’ll notice that I’m starting with Chapter 7.
That’s because the first six chapters are currently available at http://www.baenebooks.com/p-2534-spell-blind.aspx
You can view them by clicking on View sample chapters at the above link.
Spell Blind – Snippet 01
I woke up early, not because I was so eager to see Orestes Quinley, but because after working for the PPD for eight years and getting to work first thing in the morning, I was no longer capable of sleeping late. Besides, this was Tuesday, and every Tuesday morning I drove out to the desert north of Wofford to see my dad.
I started doing this several years ago, when I was still on the job. It had become clear to me that while he could take care of most of the day to day stuff — cooking his own meals, getting an occasional load of laundry done, keeping his trailer somewhat clean — he couldn’t handle anything that involved interacting with the rest of society. The way the shifts worked after Kona and I moved to homicide, Tuesday mornings were my free time, and since Dad had no one else, I gave them to him.
I went to the market first to get his shopping done. He still received a small pension from the department, and that paid for his place and some of his food. We also had some family money — from my mom’s side. It went to my dad when she died, although ultimately I think it was meant for me. These days though, I made enough to get by, and my dad needed the money more than I did.
He liked steaks, New York strips mostly, and chicken salad, the kind that came in cans like tuna. He ate raisin bran for breakfast everyday, but only one particular brand. And, man, could he tell if you tried to slip in the wrong one. He loved ice cream at night before he went to bed, and he didn’t care much what kind, so I liked to surprise him with something different most every week. I also picked up basic supplies for him as he needed them: paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap; stuff like that. And I usually brought him a six-pack of beer. Two, if I intended to stay with him for dinner. He no longer drank the way he had in the years after my mom died — though of course he’d quit many years too late — and his doctors said an occasional beer wouldn’t hurt him, as long as he didn’t have too much. The funny thing was he never did. For a guy who’d accelerated his own psychological decline by boozing, my father was now pretty disciplined. He allowed himself one beer a night. No more.
He was funny that way, a study in contradictions. I never knew from one visit to the next what I’d find when I reached his place. Some days he was sharp as a tack; other times it seemed like his brain and his mouth weren’t connected, so that he’d be carrying on a normal conversation, except that nothing he said made any sense at all. There were times when he was jovial and talkative, and times when he acted so depressed, so withdrawn, I was afraid to leave him alone, and I’d end up spending the night curled up on his couch. And sometimes he’d have what he called his “piss and vinegar days” when he was ticked off at the world. Those days were no picnic.
The tricky thing was there were endless combinations with all of these moods. He could be pissed off and incoherent, or lucid and utterly cheerless. Each visit was a crap shoot.
For the first several years, I resented every second I spent with him, every mile I drove to get there and every mile I had to drive to get away again. He hadn’t been the best father in the world. It was tough on cops to begin with, what with overtime, schedules that were less than family-friendly, and the occasional stakeout. Add in a difficult personality and the effect of the phasings, and my dad was never a nominee for Father of the Year.
Things grew far worse after my mother’s death. I still don’t understand all that happened. I know she had an affair with another man, and eventually both of them wound up dead. Some people said my father killed them both, but I can’t imagine it. For all his faults, and despite all the damage to his mind, my father was no murderer. Most assumed that my mother and her lover killed themselves when their affair became public knowledge. Whatever the truth, there could be no denying that my father loved her. After she died, he started drinking all the time and his mind began to go. Soon he had lost his job as well as his grip on reality, and I was left effectively orphaned by the age of fifteen. Is it any wonder I hated him?
I should have ended up in foster care, and who knows where I’d be now if I had? But the cops in my dad’s unit took me in. I got passed around from family to family, from home to home, but they were all good homes and good families, and they all took care of me, got me through high school, helped me get state aid to go to college. And after I went to the academy, they made sure I got a job on the force.
It was only then, as I started to live a cop’s life and learn what it meant to be a weremyste, that I came to understand my old man. I’m not naive enough to think that I’ll ever forgive him entirely for the things I went through as a kid. Those old resentments die hard. But for better or worse, he’s my dad. And those days when I find him upbeat and clear are priceless.
I got an early start on this day and finished most of the shopping before eight in the morning. It had been a comfortable night, but I could tell that the day would be scorching hot. It was already warm and the morning sun felt like one of those heat lamps in a fast food restaurant.
A hard, hot wind blew out of the west, sweeping clouds of dust and tumbleweeds across the Phoenix-Wickenburg Highway and making the Z-ster shudder as I cruised past the pale, baked houses and gas stations of Peoria and El Mirage.
Phoenix had crept farther and farther into the desert over the years, new subdivisions and shopping malls fanning across the landscape like flame spreading across paper. But Wofford remained much the same: a small, bland little town with a gas station, a post office and not much else. A single road off U.S. Sixty cut through the town and one mile north of the town center, such as it was, you were back in the desert again, following an endless line of sun-bleached telephone poles and watching dust devils whirl above the sage.
My dad lived on a small rise a short distance off of this road, at the end of a rutted dirt track. His trailer had been nice once, but it was old now, and he didn’t do much to keep it up. A couple of years ago I’d rigged a little covered area for him outside the front door, using a sturdy tarp and a frame I built out of two-by-sixes. It flapped some in the wind, but it had made it through three winters with only a few minor repairs. He sat out there every day on an old lawn chair, sipping iced tea and staring at the desert waiting for God-knows-what. He knew his birds, and he often had a pair of old Leica binoculars at his side.
He was out there already today, his chair angled eastward, toward the New River Mountains, which were partially obscured by the brown haze hanging over north Phoenix. He was dressed in jeans and a torn white t-shirt. He’d put on his old tennis shoes, but hadn’t bothered with socks.
My dad was a little like a scrying stone. There were signs I could watch for, portents of his mood and state on a given day. No socks was never a good sign. Neither was a mess anywhere in the house. He kept things neat when he wanted to, and when he could manage to clean up after himself. If there were dirty dishes in the sink or clothes strewn about in his bedroom I knew that he’d been out of it for a day or two.
I got out of the Z-ster, grabbed the bags of groceries from the back, and pushed the door shut with my foot.
“Hey, Dad!” I called.
He didn’t answer. I could see that he was muttering to himself, his white curls stirring in the wind, his hands gripping the plastic arms of his chair. He sat slouched, long legs stretched out in front of him, his belly, once as flat as mine, gathered in folds beneath the threadbare shirt.