Spell Blind – Snippet 15
South central Phoenix, from the ninety-one area of the Cactus Park precinct, through the Maryvale precinct, and into Estrella Mountain includes some of the toughest beats any cop in the city has to face. This part of Phoenix comprises maybe fifteen percent of the total area of the city and is home to a similarly small percentage of the population. But its beats account for more than a third of the violent crimes committed here. Maryvale itself is tiny when compared to other precincts, but in any given year, it sees more assaults and murders than some precincts many times its size. Parts of Estrella Mountain are even worse.
I was never good at math, and I’m no expert on crime numbers, not like some of the men and women in statistics, who can quote figures and percentages off the tops of their heads. But I understand stats well enough to know that when one small area of a city sees the lion’s share of its murders and aggravated assaults, that area has a problem.
I wouldn’t want to pick the worst of Maryvale’s beats — they were all bad — but I was headed to the eight-thirteen, which was about as ugly as it got. Run-down houses broiling in the sun, storefronts that looked like they hadn’t seen business in years until you realized that they were still open, streets strewn with shattered beer bottles, kids’ playgrounds turned into havens for junkies and hangouts for gangs. I’d been down here plenty of times while I was still on the job, but I rarely drove these streets by choice.
I was hoping that Orestes Quinley would be able to tell me enough about the Blind Angel killer to make the trip worth my while.
In the last few years, after his many brushes with the law, Brother Q had made some effort to join legitimate society. He’d opened a place on Thomas Street called Brother Q’s Shop of the Occult. Not exactly a name that rolled off the tongue, but I’m not convinced that he expected the business to appeal to a large clientele. He sold stuff that any small-time sorcerer might need: used books on magic, Wicca, and shamanism; many of the same powders, herbs, and oils he’d once been accused of stealing; and various stones, jewelry, and other items that might be used for conjuring. His was the only shop in Phoenix where a person could find Tuberose and Styrax oils. His prices were outrageous, and in all my visits to his place, I had never seen another person shopping there. But Orestes didn’t seem to mind. He had his store, he lived in the apartment above it, and he was content to sit outside in his old wooden rocking chair, smoking contraband clove cigarettes and watching the world go by.
That’s what he was doing when I pulled up to his place in the Z-ster. Even in the brilliance of the Arizona sun, Orestes’s storefront glimmered faintly with the light of his magic. This was not the flat yellow gleaming of his early conjurings. It was more a golden orange, the color of the sun as it sits balanced on the desert horizon. Orestes had grown more powerful and more skilled since our first encounter. And if I could see the magic on his place now, it must have glowed like a bonfire at night. He had enough wardings in place to hold off a horde of weremystes. I had a feeling he was worried about one in particular.
Apart from developing a bit of a gut, Orestes hadn’t changed much over the years. He claimed to have been born in Haiti, and he spoke with a heavy West Indian accent. He wore his hair in thick braids, and he often had on a pair of wire-rimmed sunglasses, the lenses of which were far too small to serve any practical purpose. Today he was dressed in old khaki shorts, a pair of beat-up sandals, and a Coca Cola shirt that had been tie-dyed so many years ago that the colors had all faded to various shades of gray.
“Justis Fearsson,” he said, as I got out of the car. “Come a-callin’ over Brother Q’s way. To what does Q owe the pleasure on this fine, sunny day?”
Two things to know about Orestes. First, he was one of these people who referred to himself in the third person. Drove me up a wall. Second, on occasion, for no apparent reason, he liked to speak in verse. I used to find this annoying, too. In recent years I’d decided that it was funny, in a really weird sort of way. Still, despite his quirks, Q wasn’t a flake and I didn’t think he had started losing his mind yet, although Kona would have argued the point. He was smart enough to have survived on these streets for years, and in all the time I had been coming to him for information he had almost never steered me wrong. But he’d developed this persona, and while it might once have been a put on, at this point I wasn’t sure he could have set aside the rhymes and the way he spoke even if he’d wanted to.
“Hi there, Orestes,” I said. I walked to where he was sitting and patted his shoulder. “You staying out of trouble?”
“Always, Brother. Always.”
I smiled. “Right.”
He pulled a folding chair out from behind his own and handed it to me. I unfolded it and sat.
“You here to buy or to talk?”
“Good,” he said. “Then Brother Q don’t have to get up. Heat like this make a brother wilt. Seems they had no AC when this place was built.”
“The rhymes need a little work.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. You try it sometime. Ain’t as easy as it sounds.”
“You know why I’m here?”
“Brother Q can guess. There’s only one thing people in this town are talkin’ about these days. Brother Q ain’t never seen weremystes so scared. But why would the Deegan girl bring you to Brother Q? You know that Q wouldn’t have anythin’ to do with a killin’.”
“True, but I also know that you keep your ear to the street. If there was something going on that you didn’t like — maybe a sorcerer gathering more power than anyone ought to have — you’d tell me about it. Wouldn’t you?”
“Brother Q keeps an eye out,” he admitted, avoiding my gaze. “Purely out of curiosity.”
“Sure,” I said. “I understand. You remember me coming around to ask you about the Blind Angel case when I was still a cop?”
“Of course. Brother Q remembers everythin’.”
“Then you also remember what you told me.”
“Q told you the truth,” he said pointedly, facing me at last. “Q told you that he didn’t know anythin’ about the killin’s, which was true.”
“At the time, you mean.”
“Right. At the–” He clamped his mouth shut.
“What do you know now, Q?”
He stared out at the street, his eyes tracking a low-riding roadster with a group of Latino kids in it. He still had his lips pressed thin, and I could tell that he was angry; angry with me for tricking him, and angry with himself for letting me. Luis was right, though: Q knew something.
“Thirty-one kids now,” I said, my voice low. “Those are the ones we know about. And you can be sure that Claudia Deegan won’t be the last. If you know something you’ve got to tell me.”