Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 05
I backed out of the spot, taking care — against my better judgment — not to run over either weremancers, and pulled out onto the street. The wolf ran after me, but I accelerated, leaving him behind. The last I saw of him in my rearview mirror, he was loping off the street, vanishing between two buildings. I exhaled and rolled down my window, my pulse pounding and my hand slick with sweat. Autumn air flooded the car and I savored the caress of the wind on my face.
One of these times, my luck would run out and Saorla’s weremancers would get the better of me. But not today.
I steered onto Interstate 10 and headed back to Chandler, where I have my office and home.
My office is on the second floor of a small shopping complex. It’s nice as offices go: wood floors, windows overlooking the street, and an espresso machine that cost way, way more than it should have. The computer, in contrast, is ancient, which I suppose says something about my priorities.
I switched it on and while I was waiting for it to start up, I also fired up the coffee machine.
When the computer was functional, I removed the memory card from the camera and downloaded the photos I’d taken. They were as clear as I would have expected from such fine equipment. I chose the best dozen or so and copied them onto three compact discs. One copy I hid in my desk. The other two I intended to take with me: one to keep at home and one to give to Helen Barr.
Once the discs were burned and I had a cup of espresso in me, I called Missus Barr and asked if I could come by. She agreed, and I left the office once more and drove up to Scottsdale, fighting traffic all the way. It wasn’t yet what I used to think of as rush hour, but in Phoenix these days “rush hour” began at dawn and continued past dusk. It took way too long, but I reached the Barr home, a Spanish Mission style mansion in the Scottsdale Ranch Park area. The front lawn was perfectly manicured and along both sides of the house were rocky gardens filled with ocotillos, prickly pears, chollas, and golden barrel cacti. A cactus wren sang from atop an ocotillo stalk, and a pair of thrashers chased each other around the base of one of the chollas.
I followed a winding flagstone path to the front door and rang the bell. Within the house, a small dog began to yap, its claws scratching on the floor on the other side of the door.
A moment later the door opened, revealing Missus Barr. I had met her in person once before. She looked younger than I remembered, perhaps because she had her hair down. She was petite and tanned, with dark blue eyes and shoulder-length blonde hair.
“Mister Fearsson,” she said, a tight smile on her face.
“Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
“Of course. Come in.” She waved me into the house and closed the door behind us. “I was about to have a glass of wine,” she said, leading me through the living room. “Can I pour one for you?”
I followed her into an enormous kitchen, complete with granite countertops, cherry cabinets, and every small appliance I could name, plus a few that I couldn’t. The kitchen alone was probably worth more than my entire house.
“Water would be fine.”
She filled a glass with ice and water from the refrigerator door and handed it to me. Then she poured herself a massive glass of white wine and led me over to a breakfast nook that offered a view of the back lawn — also flawless — and yet another rock and cactus garden.
“So, you have news for me,” she said, fixing a smile on her lips.
I pulled out one of the discs I’d burned. “I have photos.”
Her face fell. She stared at the disc for a few seconds, then got up and walked out of the room, only to return moments later with a laptop computer. She set it on the table and held out her hand for the disc, which I handed to her. She inserted it in the slot and, after a few clicks of the touchpad, began to scroll through the photos I’d taken.
“She’s pretty,” she said, after the second or third picture. “What do you know about her?”
“Her name is Amanda Wagner.” I kept my voice low, my tone devoid of inflection. And I kept my eyes on the screen, not on her. “She works for a temp agency, and was assigned to your husband’s office for a few weeks back in February.”
Missus Barr had continued to work her way through the images, but at that she glanced in my direction. “February? That’s when this started?”
“I haven’t been able to determine exactly when their affair began. The earliest date I’ve been able to confirm is in the first week of April, but it’s possible that they started meeting before then.”
“How old is she?”
I lifted a shoulder. “I’m not sure of her exact –”
“Of course you are. How old?”
I hated this part of my job. “Twenty-seven.”
Her nod was jerky. “Tom has always been a handsome man. And I suppose the money helps.”
I said nothing.
She clicked through a few more images, stopping at the shot of her husband with his hand on the young woman’s rear.
“Damn,” she whispered.
I chanced a peek at her, and regretted it right away. Tears ran down her cheeks from eyes that were red-rimmed and swollen.
“I’m sorry, Missus Barr.”
She swiped at her cheeks, the gesture impatient, angry. “It’s not your fault, it’s his. And mine. I told you to find out everything, didn’t I? I thought it wouldn’t bother me, that I’d sue the bastard for divorce, take him to the cleaners, and be happy to walk away. It’s not that easy, is it?”
“In my experience, it never is.”
A small breathless laugh escaped her. “Am I that much of a cliché, Mister Fearsson?”
I dropped my gaze, cringing on the inside. “Forgive me. That’s not what I meant.”
“It’s all right. That was an attempt at humor.” She closed out of the program she was using to view the photos and ejected the disc. “You have more copies of this?” she asked, holding it up.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s yours to keep, and if by some chance you lose it, or he finds it and destroys it, I can make a new one. And I’ll see to it that the photos are available for the divorce proceedings.”
“Good. What do I owe you?”
“I can send you a bill.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re here now. Let me pay you. Or rather, let Tom pay you. I like the irony of that, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, grinning. “But I had some expenses that I need to tally up. And I was wondering if you might want to keep me on retainer in case you should need more information.”
She hesitated. “I suppose that might be a good idea. How does that work?”
“It’s very easy. We’ve already signed an agreement, and it remains in place until we both agree to terminate it. The difference is, I’ll be taking on other clients and will only charge you for those days when I work on your case a minimum of three hours. And in the meantime, I’ll bill you for those days I’ve worked thus far.”
“Yes, all right. Thank you, that’s . . . I find it reassuring knowing that I’ll have your services if I need them.”
She led me back to the front foyer, seeming more composed than she had when looking through the pictures.
“I’m sorry to have been the bearer of bad news,” I told her as she opened the door.
“You weren’t, not really. I hired you because I suspected Tom was up to something. Now I know beyond a doubt. Thank you for that.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mister Fearsson. I’m fine. Or if not, I will be soon.”
“I’m going to call my lawyer, then I’m going to take a nice hot bath, and then I’m going to go out and get laid.”
“You didn’t expect that, did you?”
“No,” I said, and meant it.
“Tom won’t expect it either.”
My cell phone rang before I could respond. I glanced at the screen. The call was from Kona Shaw, my former partner on the Phoenix police force.
“I’m sorry, Missus Barr –”
“No apologies. Go answer your phone. And be sure to bill me soon. That’s one check I’m going to enjoy writing.”
I shook her hand and started back up the path to my car. As I walked, I flipped open my phone. Yes, I’m still the somewhat-less-than-proud owner of a flip phone; I try to keep away from gadgets that are smarter than I am, which these days is almost all of them.
“What’s up, partner?” I said. “Please tell me you have work for me.”
“Private investigating business slow these days?” Kona asked, her voice sounding paper thin through the phone. Our connection buzzed with all the noise in the background, not only the din of voices one hears at any crime scene, but also a prominent hum. It sounded like she was standing by a race track.
“Yeah, a little. Where are you?”
“Just off the interstate. Feel like eyeballing a couple of corpses, maybe telling me if you see magic on them?”
“Sick as it might sound, I can’t think of anything better right now. As long as the case has nothing to do with broken marriages or cheating spouses.”
“Sorry, Justis. Meet me at the burger place, exit 162 off of Interstate 10. I’ll explain everything.”