Spell Blind – Snippet 22
“I thought we’d stop here,” I said. “Maybe watch the sun go down before driving back for dinner.”
She nodded. “Sounds great.”
We sat on the stone, which was still warm. A nighthawk flew over, bobbing and weaving on narrow wings, and a yellow butterfly floated past. It occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about Claudia Deegan or the red sorcerer since driving out of the city.
“This was good for me,” I said. “Thanks for coming along.”
She was sitting cross-legged, and she had her eyes closed and her faced tipped toward the sun. “Thanks for bringing me.” After some time she turned to me, shading her face with a hand once more. “Can I ask you about your investigation? Off the record?”
“Do you think this man they arrested is the Blind Angel killer?”
“I know he’s not,” I said, without thinking.
Her eyebrows went up. “You know it?”
Trust and comfort could be dangerous at times.
“What I mean is I’m pretty sure he’s not the guy. He had his reasons for hating the Deegans, but that doesn’t explain the murders that came before Claudia. I just don’t think it’s him.”
I didn’t know if she agreed with my assessment or not, but I could tell she was curious about the certainty with which I’d answered the question. To my relief, she didn’t press the issue. Instead she asked, “Don’t you find it depressing spending so much time investigating killings like these?”
“I wouldn’t call it depressing,” I said. “There’s something sad about any crime, and killings are the worst. But when you’re investigating a murder, you don’t think about it that way. You try to figure out why and how, and who, of course. It’s a puzzle. And when I solve a case I feel like I’ve given something to the victim, and to the victim’s family.” I tried to smile, but I don’t think I succeeded. “These days, though, I mostly work for insurance companies, and corporations, and families falling apart at the seams.” I glanced at her. “This is the first time I’ve worked a murder since leaving the force.”
“Really? So then I suppose you’re sort of enjoying yourself.”
I gave a reluctant nod. “Yeah. Sick as that probably sounds, I’d rather be doing this than insurance work.”
The sun was slipping down behind the distant mountains — the Sand Tanks and the Saucedas, the Craters and the Mohawks — coloring each ridge line in successively paler shades of blue and purple, and painting the western sky orange and red.
“I draw,” I said, blurting it out. As soon as I spoke the words, I felt my face begin to color.
A small smile touched Billie’s lips. “Excuse me?”
“I said, that I draw. I’m not sure why I told you that. I was watching the sun go down and it popped into my head.”
“What do you draw?”
I shrugged. “Landscapes mostly. Desert scenes. I use colored pencils and charcoal. Sometimes I use watercolor paints, too.”
“Can I see your drawings?”
“Sure,” I said. “And I’d like to see more of your photos.”
Billie nodded, then turned back to the sunset.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which is fine until twilight rolls around, at which point it makes for somewhat plain sunsets. But Billie seemed happy, and as we walked back to the car in the deepening blues of dusk she slipped her hand into mine.
I glanced down at our hands and then at her, unable to hide my surprise.
“Do you mind?”
“Hardly,” I said.
“So where are we having dinner?”
“Your choice,” I said. “My treat.”
She grinned. “All right. I know just the place.”
“The place,” turned out to be a Mexican dive in the western part of Mesa, on a side street off of Southern. I had to hand it to her: It was one of the few Mexican restaurants in this part of the Phoenix area that I didn’t know, and it was crowded with a mix of University students and Latino families. I had no doubt that the food would be excellent
Upon returning to the city, though, I felt myself growing tense again. I made us wait for a table in the back of the restaurant, though there were a couple of open ones near the front when we arrived. And then I insisted on sitting against the back wall, so that I could watch the door and windows.
By the time we were seated and the waitress was handing us our menus, Billie was frowning at me. No half-smile either. This was all frown.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
“That bit with the table? The fact that you practically raced me over here so that you could sit in that chair?”
“I don’t like to sit with my back to the door,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. “I’m sure you’ve seen enough detective flicks to know that I’m not the first person to be like that.”
“That’s a load of crap, Fearsson. What’s this about?”
I put down the menu and met her gaze. “I really don’t like to have my back to the door. And since this case has started, I’ve had the feeling, at times, that I’m being watched, followed.” Hunted.
“Do you think you’re . . . in danger?” Her frown deepened. “I feel so weird even saying it. Now I feel like I’m in one of those movies.”
I rubbed a hand over my face. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’m scared for you, not for myself.”
Hadn’t Namid said much the same thing? Nice to know everyone was so worried about me.
“I appreciate that. I don’t know if I’m in danger or not. I haven’t been threatened or anything like that. I haven’t even seen anyone following me. It’s a feeling; nothing more.” I picked up the menu again and shook my head, eager to find some way — any way — to reassure her. “Who knows? Maybe it’s the strain of working a murder case again. I’m getting paranoid.”
She still wasn’t reading her menu. “Was that a problem for you before? Paranoia?”
“I didn’t think so. You don’t seem like the paranoid type. And you also don’t seem like the type to act this way unless you were really concerned.”
Did I mention that she was smart?
“You’re right,” I said. “That’s why I wanted to sit back here, and why I feel better having a view of the door and the street.”
“Should we leave?”
I shook my head. “No. That would be giving in to my fear, and that’s exactly what I don’t want to start doing.”
“So what’s good here?” I asked.
Billie smiled and picked up her menu. “Everything.”
As it turned out, the food was great and the place had Dos Equis amber on tap, which you don’t find in a lot of restaurants. We stayed for two hours, talking, laughing a lot. We even spent a little time just sitting, looking into each other’s eyes. I swear. I don’t think I’d ever done that with anyone.
After dinner, I drove her home. I went so far as to walk her up to the door. My dad would have been proud.
She got out her keys, but then leaned against the door frame. “What are you doing tomorrow, Fearsson?”
“Not sure yet. I have some more digging around to do, and I have to go see a band play tomorrow night.”
Her eyebrows went up. “A band?”
“It’s work, not pleasure. I need to speak with the manager of Robo’s about the guy the police have arrested, and as it happens, Randy Deegan’s band is playing there.”
“Hmmm,” she said. “I like music.”
I laughed. “I told you it was work.”
“But don’t you need a cover, someone to make it seem like you’re a regular guy going for the music?”
“You mean my girl, Friday?”
“Something like that.”
“Sure, why not? Eight o’clock?”
“It’s a date.”
Silence. Our eyes locked again.
“This was fun,” she said. “More than fun. It was . . .”
“It was the best day I’ve had in a really long time,” I said for her.
“For me, too.” She stepped forward and kissed me lightly on the lips. “Good night, Fearsson.”
I waited until she was in the house before walking back to the Z-ster. And as I approached the car I slowed, trying again to sense the red sorcerer. Once more, I felt nothing. He was out there, of course. Somewhere. But for tonight at least, he had let me be.
I peered up at the moon, which was radiant and big, shading toward full. Just seeing it made my head start to throb. I climbed into the Z-ster and closed my eyes, taking long, slow breaths.
One more night. I’d have my date with Billie at Robo’s. And then the phasing would begin.