Spell Blind – Snippet 06

I found Doug Bass in the alley behind the club, sitting on an old, rusted metal folding chair, smoking a cigarette. He was a big African-American man with white hair and a mustache to match. He eyed me suspiciously and didn’t seem at all impressed with my PI license. When I told him Randy had recommended that I talk to him, he stared straight ahead and took a long pull on his cigarette.

“I ain’t never voted for his old man.”

I laughed. “Yeah. Me, neither.”

No response.

“I can’t make you talk to me,” I told him, pulling out my note pad and pencil. “But the police are getting ready to charge Mike Gann with the Blind Angel killings, and while I don’t think I’d want Mike for a friend, I also don’t think he killed all those kids.”

Doug studied me through squinting eyes. Then he took one last puff on his cigarette, dropped it on the street, and crushed it with his sneaker toe. I thought for sure he was going to get up and leave me there. But he didn’t.

“Mike Gann’s a fool,” he said in a deep voice. “Bigoted son of a bitch, too. But he ain’t the Blind Angel killer.”

“What makes you say that?”

“This Blind Angel fella — he’s smart. He’d have to be, the way he’s been avoiding the police for so long. Like I say, Mike’s a fool. He’d have got himself caught a long time ago.”

“Did you ever notice anything . . . weird about Mike? Stuff he did, or stuff that happened around him, that you couldn’t explain?”

“You mean like magic?”

I opened my mouth, closed it again. After a few seconds I gave a little laugh. “Yeah,” I said. “Like magic.”

“Mike talked about magic all the time. Used to tell me and anyone else who’d listen that he could do stuff. Spells, you know? Now, I believe in all that. I seen folks do it down in Mobile, where I grew up. I saw some shit on full moons that would have scared you half to death. But I never saw Mike do much more than light a match without strikin’ it. Rest was all talk.”

“Could he have been holding back? Maybe he didn’t want to show too much.”

Doug shrugged. “Then why all the talk?”

Good question. “Did you ever see him around the full moon?”

The old man shook his head. “He made himself scarce around then. Didn’t want no one to see him.”

I knew how he felt. “Was there anything else strange about him, anything that made you nervous or made you want to stay away from him?”

“Nah,” Doug said. “He was a typical poor white boy. He said some stupid stuff now and then, stuff that would have made me hit a white boy I didn’t know. But he was all right most of the time. The one thing that set him off was the Deegans. Any mention of them, and he got all quiet and intense, you know? It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out he killed that girl. But there’s no way he killed all those other kids.”

I nodded, jotted down a few last notes, and put the pad and pencil away. I started to reach for my wallet to give him a few bucks for his time, but Doug shook his head.

“No need for’ that,” he said. He stood, his body unfolding slowly. He was bigger even than I’d thought. He stood a full head taller than me and he was broad in the shoulders and chest. I would have bet good money that he’d played football in college. Maybe even in the pros, back when athletes had to work for a living after they retired.

“Thanks,” I said, holding out a hand.

He gripped it, his hand appearing to swallow mine. “No problem.”

He limped back into the club and I followed. Electric Daiquiri was working their way through another song, the music so loud it hurt. I let myself out of Robo’s without bothering to say goodbye to Randy and Tilo. Once on the street, I began walking back toward the Z-ster, my ears ringing.

I hadn’t taken three steps, though, when I felt it again. I was being watched, tracked. I imagined myself in the crosshairs of a rifle. Except this time I knew the feeling for what it was: magic. I made no effort to find the sorcerer; I didn’t even alter my gait. But I began to mumble the words to a deflection spell, which was one of the most rudimentary wardings I knew. In essence, it redirected any conjuring aimed at me toward something else, an object of my choosing, in this case an SUV parked along the curb in front of me.

But the attack never came. It almost seemed that someone — the Blind Angel killer? — was playing with me, trying to make me flinch. Or maybe he wanted to see what I was capable of doing before he tried in earnest to kill me. Whatever the explanation, I was growing tired of it. And, to be honest, I was scared. So scared, that by the time I reached the Z-ster, there was sweat on my forehead and neck.

True, I was pretty good at warding magic. But I figured any weremyste who could make his presence known to me in this way wouldn’t have had too much trouble mastering a deflection spell.

I began to relax once I was in the car. This made no sense whatsoever — it’s not as though my 280Z has some magical property that protects me from assailing spells. But sometimes the illusion of safety is enough to get a person through. I started the Z-ster up, pulled away from the curb, and drove down University toward the campus. As soon as I could, though, I doubled back and cruised the street a second time, hoping that maybe I’d catch my secret admirer unawares. But though I made two more passes down the same block, and though I saw a couple of people who shimmered with magic, none of them possessed enough power to be a threat. Either they were small-time conjurers or weremystes who were using blockers to suppress the phasings, and their abilities with them.

I was about to give up and drive over to Orestes Quinley’s place, when I spotted someone of a different sort, though no less interesting.

Billie Castle.

She was stepping into a coffee house, a thermal coffee mug in one hand and a computer case slung over the other shoulder. Alarm bells went off in my head. I knew that I should keep driving, keep as far from the woman as I could. She was a reporter, and all she had wanted from me yesterday was information. But I couldn’t deny that there was something intriguing about her. Maybe that was a fancy way of saying that I found her attractive. Intriguing, attractive, a challenge: Pick your reason. I thought about stopping to see if I might wangle a dinner date out of her.

Then I thought better of it.

Then I parked the car and made my way to the coffee house.

By the time I was inside and in line, she had her coffee and was setting up her work space at a table in the back. She didn’t notice me, which was probably a good thing. Given the way our last conversation went, I figured the element of surprise was about all I had going for me.

To my amazement, the place served Sumatran coffee. I took it as a sign.

I got my cup and walked back to her table. She had her computer out and was already engrossed in her work. Her hair was down today; it was longer than I’d remembered. She wore a beige linen sports jacket with the sleeves pushed up, and a black t-shirt underneath. Silver and malachite earrings flashed within her curls, and a matching necklace lay against the t-shirt. Tastefully stylish, as well as pretty. I admit it: I was smitten.