Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 28
I first met Orestes Quinley when Kona and I were still working in the Robbery detail of the Violent Crimes Bureau. Back then, he was a small-time criminal who wound up doing a couple of years in Eyman State Prison for burglary. He was also a weremyste of limited power — limited enough that the prison held him for a while, until he earned his parole.
In the years since then, Orestes, who also went by the name Brother Q, had gone straight and had made himself into a sorcerer of some power. He owned a small shop in the Maryvale precinct of Phoenix called Brother Q’s Shop of the Occult, which had to be one of the worst names for a business ever. In all my years of going to see Q, I had never seen an actual customer in the place. But the work kept Q out of trouble, and I hadn’t seen any evidence to suggest that the guy was starving or on the verge of being evicted.
During my time on the force, and in the year and a half since I had become a PI, Q had been a reliable informant on matters relating to magic. Kona thought he was crazy, and I suppose she had good reason. There was no denying that he was strange. He always referred to himself in the third person, and on occasion, for no reason whatsoever, he spoke in verse. He’d been doing this since the day I met him, and while I’m sure it began as an affectation, I wasn’t sure he could have stopped now if he tried.
But the truth was, I liked and trusted the guy, and I think he felt the same way about me. To this day, I was the only cop who had busted him and made the charges stick. I’ll admit that was a strange basis for a friendship, but it worked for us.
Often when I pulled up to Q’s place he was seated outside in an old lawn chair, sunglasses perched on the end of his nose. Not today. The door to his shop was shut, and a faded “Closed” sign had been placed in a window by the entrance.
I knocked on the door, waited, knocked again.
After a minute or so, I heard someone moving around inside.
I pounded on the door once more, rattling the frame. “Open up, Q.”
“It’s Jay Fearsson. Let me in, will you? I have questions for you, and I have a twenty with your name on it.”
“Yeah, all right,” he said. But I could tell he didn’t want to talk to me. He unlatched the chain and an instant later the door swung open.
Q stood before me in ragged jeans and a torn, faded Jimmy Cliff t-shirt. As always, his hair was in dreadlocks, and a gold hoop shone in his left ear. He also had a dark, angry bruise on his cheek, below his right eye.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“What?” He frowned. “Oh, that. Q had a fight with his woman.”
“She hit you?”
He nodded, turned, and walked into the shop. I closed the door behind me and followed.
“You hit her first?”
He rounded on me. “Q did no such thing! Q doesn’t hit women. Never has. Q was sorely tempted that night, let me tell you. But Q left instead. Seemed the best idea.”
“You’re back now.”
“Yeah, but she’s gone.”
“I’m sorry, Q,” I said, and meant it.
He shrugged. “Love and marriage ain’t for the faint of heart; ‘times Q think men and women be better off far apart.”
I grinned. “That was a good one.”
He led me to the back of the shop and sat in a wooden chair indicating that I should do the same. “What’chyou after, Brother J?”
“I don’t know.”
His eyebrows went up. “That’s gonna make it hard for Q to earn that twenty you mentioned.”
“What do you know about a silver-haired weremyste? Dresses well, might be from Great Britain.”
“Q needs more to go on,” he said. But he averted his gaze as he said it.
“All right. He’s into dark magic, blood spells. And here’s something that might set him apart: He doesn’t need to cut himself in order to access the blood he uses. He doesn’t need to cut anyone else for that matter. He can draw it out of people; all he has to do is touch them.” I leaned forward, staring at Q, who continued to avoid my gaze. “That ring a bell?”
“He’s bad news,” Q said, his voice low.
“I think I just said as much.”
“Q doesn’t know much more about him than you do. He’s from England like you said, an’ he’s as dark as a man can be.”
“He have a name?”
“Q’s heard people call him Fitzwater, but that might not be his real name.”
“Who’s he working for?”
Q shook his head. “A man with power like that? People work for him.”
That made sense. Chances were that silver-haired — Fitzwater — answered directly to Saorla.
“He’s looking for something, Q. A magical weapon of some sort. I don’t know more than that. He thought Burt Kendall had it, and he killed him before tearing his shop apart to find it.”
Q’s eyes found mine. “Burt’s dead?”
“Well, shit. I always liked him.”
“Do you know what this guy Fitzwater might be chasing?”
Q got up and walked to the nearest window, his hands in his jeans pockets, his shoulders hunched. Despite his quirks, he was usually jovial — that was his default mood — and I wasn’t sure what to make of this quiet, brooding version of my old friend. I couldn’t tell if he was broken up about his woman leaving, or just plain scared of Fitzwater. “Q doesn’t carry weapons,” he said, his back to me. “You know that. It’s bad mojo.”
Which wasn’t at all what I had asked.
“I didn’t suggest that you had it here. I asked you if you know what the guy’s after. And since you won’t look at me, and you won’t answer my question, I’m guessing you do.”
He shifted his stance enough to let me see the sullen cast of his features. Then he faced the window again.
“This one’s different, Brother J. You come to Q all the time with questions like these. Except none of them have been like this. Not even when you were after the Blind Angel dude. This is different.”
“So it’s going to cost me more than twenty.”
He turned at that. “Q’s not talkin’ about money,” he said, shaking his head. “This is different. You’re not askin’ for help to put away some small-time conjurer, or even t’ stop a killer. You’re askin’ Q to take sides in a war.”
“A war? What kind of weapon is this?”
Q clamped his mouth shut and glared at me, no doubt wishing he hadn’t answered my knock in the first place.
“There’s no war yet,” I said. “I’d know if there was. But if this weapon is that powerful, then I need to find it now, before the killing starts in earnest. So yeah, I guess I am asking you to take sides. Did you really think you could avoid that choice forever? Was your plan to hunker down and hope that every dark sorcerer in the city ignored you until the fighting ended?”
“How do you know Q won’t join the dark ones and help them kick your ass?”
I laughed. That probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do, given that I still needed information from him.
“Q’s stronger than you think, Jay. There’s plenty out there who’d want Q on their side. And there’s even more who don’t want Q as an enemy. You get what Q’s sayin’?”
“I’m not laughing at the idea of you kicking my ass, Q. I swear I’m not. I’m laughing because never in a million years would you join forces with dark sorcerers. That’s not your way.”
He tried to scowl at me, but wasn’t very successful. After a few seconds, a reluctant grin split his face, and the whole room seemed to get brighter. That was the Q I knew.
“That might be the best thing you’ve ever said to Q.”
I shrugged. “I meant it. I understand you not wanting to get in the middle of this. And you and I have done business long enough that you know I would never let slip where the information came from. But I have to know what I’m hunting for.”
His smile had faded, leaving his expression solemn and fearful. “It’s a knife.”
I blinked. “That must be some knife.”
“It’s old. Really old. Q’s never seen it, but he’s heard folks talk about it for a long, long time. It’s made of stone. Pale, the color o’ coffee with cream in it. ‘Cept for a streak of red in the blade, like blood.”
“In the blade or on it?”
“In it,” Q said. “Embedded in the stone.”
“You say you’ve never seen it. Do you know where it is, or who has it?”
“Q don’t know any more than he’s told you. Not who has it or where, not even where it comes from. Like Q said, it’s old. And it’s supposed to be powerful, wicked. Some people would pay a lot of money to have it. An’ others, includin’ Q, don’t want it anywhere near them.”