Spell Blind – Snippet 20
“I was thinking about a walk in the desert.”
She wrinkled her nose. “The desert?”
“You’ve never taken a walk in the desert?”
“Well, no. I mean, why would I?”
I stared at her, shaking my head. “Amazing. Why did you come to Tempe if not for the desert?”
“I came for a job,” she said. “An editing position at a publishing house. I stayed for the sunshine. But the desert . . .” She gave a shrug of her own. “I guess I’m kind of a city person. A Northeastern city person.”
“One walk in the desert will change that,” I said. “You game?”
She smiled at me, and I knew she’d say yes. “You still taking me to dinner?”
“Of course. No sense walking in the desert if you’re not going to eat afterward.”
“All right,” she said, pushing the door open so I could come in. “I need ten minutes to finish and post the piece I’m writing.”
“What’s the piece about?” I asked, stepping past her into the house. Her smile faded as she stared at me, and I knew. One question: that was all it took to put me on my guard. “It’s about the Blind Angel case, isn’t it?”
Billie nodded, as wary as I was.
“Do you mention me in it?”
“No. We’ve been off the record, and I’ve been focusing on other aspects of the story.”
“The Deegan family mostly. The Senator is getting a lot of sympathy right now, but the fact that his daughter was using drugs might come up eventually. I’m writing about the risks his opponents would be taking by raising the issue, and how he might deal with it if they do.”
“Sounds interesting,” I said, relaxing a bit.
She exhaled, her relief palpable. “Thanks. I won’t be long. Make yourself at home.”
Her computer sat on what appeared to be her dining room table, surrounded by piles of papers, several magazines, a newspaper, and a dictionary. She sat down in front of it, stared at the screen for a minute, and then began to type.
I wandered around the living room. The house was as nice inside as it had appeared from the street. Wood floors, high ceilings; she didn’t have much furniture, but all of it was tasteful. Her walls were covered with framed black and white photos of people and city scenes. None of them was signed, and I wondered if they were Billie’s. I turned toward her to ask, but she was typing furiously, her brow furrowed in concentration. I figured I’d be wise to leave her alone.
After about ten minutes she sat back. Still she frowned at the screen for another few seconds, before hitting the ‘return’ key.
“Okay,” she said, standing and grabbing her denim jacket off the back of her chair. “I’m ready.”
“Will you get lots of comments on your blog?” I asked.
She nodded. “Hundreds probably. Some of them will say that I’m brilliant; others will call me a stupid bitch. I make a point of not reading them. I get to have my say with the article. My readers can say what they want after I post it.”
“That’s a mature attitude.”
She smirked. “Don’t sound so surprised.”
We walked out to the Z-ster, with which she appeared only mildly impressed. Not a car person. That was okay. She wasn’t a desert person either, but I was about to cure her of that. I started up the car and on the spur of the moment decided to go south. I put us on Interstate Ten.
“So, where are you taking me?” she asked after we had driven for a few minutes in silence.
“Sonoran Desert National Monument. It’s between here and Gila Bend on State Two-thirty-eight.”
She nodded. “All right.” Another brief silence. Then, “Tell me what you like so much about the desert.”
“Well, I want to know what I should be looking for.”
I considered this for some time, taking the exit off the interstate and getting on the state road.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m thinking. It’s a bit like asking me why I like chocolate.”
“But that I understand.”
“The desert is uncompromising. It’s so severe and it forces everything that lives there to be the same way. It says ‘die or adapt.’ There’s no middle ground, no getting by. And yet, it’s also incredibly beautiful. Some of the beauty is harsh, austere, you know? And some of it is as delicate as a spider web.” I glanced over at her, only to find that she was watching me, her expression unreadable. I faced forward again and shrugged. “Anyway, that probably doesn’t really explain it very well.”
“Sure it does. You’ve spent a lot of time at this place we’re going to? Sonoran Monument?”
“Some. I’ve spent more time in the Superstition Wilderness, but that’s a longer drive.”
“Is that where you took the last woman you wanted to impress?”
I laughed. “Is that what you think this is about?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember the last time I took a woman anywhere.” I smiled. “At least not one who I wanted to impress.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
Because I’m a weremyste who doesn’t take blockers. Because my father’s nuts and someday I will be, too. Because my life is wrapped up in so many secrets that I can hardly tell anymore where the mask ends and where the real me begins. “It’s complicated,” was all I said, staring at the road once more.
“You’re strange. One minute you’re as open as a kid, and then bang, it seems like you shut some door somewhere inside you and I find myself staring at a wall.”
“It’s not intentional.”
See? This was the problem with getting involved with smart people. Or maybe it was the problem with getting involved at all.
“We’re still off the record, right?”
“All right,” I said, eyes fixed on the double yellow. “Then what do you want to know?”
She didn’t answer for several seconds, and I started to hope that she’d let me off the hook. No such luck.
“What’s the real reason you stopped being a cop?”
Smart. That was the sixty-four-thousand dollar question, wasn’t it? That was the one that led to every other secret in my life.
I glanced at her. “After this it’s my turn, right? I get to ask questions, too?”
She hesitated, then nodded.
“All right,” I said. Deep breath. “I left the force because I was going to be fired. The department’s Professional Standards Bureau had determined that I was incapable of fulfilling my duties as a police officer.”
“Because I was having psychological problems. Breakdowns, sort of.”
Silence. I chanced a quick glance at her, expecting that she would be gaping at me with fear and pity. But she was just sitting there, chewing her bottom lip, watching the scenery slide by.
“Are you still?” she asked, her voice very low.
There was an easy answer to this, a cheap out. And I took it, because at this stage of our relationship explaining the phasings and my choice to endure them seemed unthinkable. “Problems like that never fully vanish,” I told her. “You learn to control them, to live with them.”
Billie nodded. “Are you on medication?”
“No. The drugs I could take have . . . side effects.” They’d make my magical abilities go away. “And I’m not willing to deal with them.”
“So these problems can be dealt with through therapy?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that one. Were my training sessions with Namid a form of therapy? Were my visits with my dad? In the end I decided that they were. I wasn’t seeing a therapist, but Namid was better equipped to help me through the phasings than any psychiatrist on the planet. Again, it was a cheap way out, but I didn’t want her thinking that I was doing nothing to take care of myself. “Yes,” I said. “I have someone who helps me through the rough patches.”
“Good. Thank you.”
“For telling me the truth.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, knowing that I had cheated and gotten away with it. I felt unclean. “Do you want me to take you back? I’d understand if you did.”
“No.” She shifted in her seat, turning so that she was facing me. “Your turn.”
“Okay,” I said. “Why were you so eager to leave home? Connecticut, right?”
She blew out a breath through pursed lips and ran a hand through her curls. “Wow, Fearsson.”
I smiled in sympathy. “Now you know how it feels.”
“I guess. Why was I so eager to leave Connecticut?” She shook her head and regarded me with something akin to admiration. “How did you even know that I was eager?”
“From the way you talked about home the other day.”