Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 32
Questions and thoughts churned in my head the whole way back to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The sun set not long after I cleared the boundary of the Gila River Community, but its glow lingered in the sky for a long time, and soft light clung to the desert hills and saguaros and mesquite trees I passed along the way.
There is something eerie and yet calming about driving on desert roads in twilight. Distances telescope, the eyes play tricks on the mind. I saw few cars or trucks as I made my way back to the monument, but when I did see one, time seemed to slow and then accelerate. Headlights appeared on the horizon as bright and clear as the gibbous moon. But always they were farther away than I thought, so that I felt as though I was standing still. Right up until the other vehicle and my father’s truck reached each other, at which point the lights flashed by with a rush of air that shook the pickup. And then the desert was plunged into relative darkness once more, at least until the next pair of lights winked into view.
All this time I had been convinced that Saorla, Silver-hair, and their allies were after Gracie and her children because of the power they wielded or might one day wield. Jacinto Amaya had led me to believe as much, as had Gracie herself. And I had been all too willing to believe it. Emmy was manifesting abilities no eight year-old should have, and based on what I’d seen in the Burger Royale, Gracie was a skilled runecrafter. All things being equal, Saorla would want them fighting on her side in this coming war.
But I knew now that I should have questioned my assumptions long ago. As powerful as Gracie might have been, Saorla had lots of powerful weremancers at her disposal. Thinking about it, I would have guessed that Gracie escaped Silver-hair at the restaurant not because she was stronger than he, but because she was willing to do anything to get away, and he wasn’t willing to kill her. He had to have been holding back, knowing that if she got away then, he would find her again eventually.
Gracie might have been a powerful weremyste, but she wasn’t so strong as to be worth all this effort. And in the same way, all of Emmy’s value right now lay in her potential. Saorla had years to turn the girl to her purposes. Why would she be so eager to take the girl now?
Unless this wasn’t about Gracie and Emmy at all. Unless Saorla was really after the knife.
An attack on the home of an old collector in the middle of nowhere. A double murder at a pawn shop in Glendale. And a remark Kona made in passing the day before when we were arguing about Neil Davett. They had a break-in at their house not that long ago. You want me to arrest him for that, too?
Could the three incidents be related? Was that why Saorla wanted Gracie and the kids? Because she thought that Neil, or even Gracie herself had that knife? Crazy as it seemed, it made no less sense than the idea that she wanted Gracie and the girl in her army.
Just this very morning, Gracie had shed tears admitting to me that the silver-haired weremancer and his friends were after her kids. Had that been an act, or did she really believe it? Neil Davett had been quick to go for his knife the night he followed me from Amaya’s, leading me to believe that he had some dealings with dark magic. But what if he had more involvement with Saorla and the others than I thought? Was it possible that the knife had found its way into his hands? Could he be stupid enough to extort payment or favor from Saorla in exchange for the weapon? Could that have been why Gracie left him?
Too many questions.
By the time I arrived at the monument campground, night had fully fallen, and a hush had settled over the tent sites and RVs. I drove past Gracie’s site as slowly as I could, and was relieved to see the minivan still parked there. Whatever her feelings about me, she hadn’t used my absence as an opportunity to flee. Their site was completely dark, though, and I didn’t dare go near their tent. The last thing I wanted was to be crispy fried by her warding. I crawled into my own tent, set my own wards then slipped into my sleeping bag, and was dead to the world in mere moments.
My cell phone woke me in the morning. I figured it must be Kona, but when I fished the phone out of the pocket of my bomber, which I had once again used as a pillow, I saw Billie’s name and number on the screen.
I flipped it open. “Good morning.”
“You’re alive.” I heard relief in her voice, but also a rebuke. Too late it occurred to me that a good boyfriend would have taken time to contact her.
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t call. Kona brought me in on another case. I wound up driving all over, from Glendale to the Maryvale precinct, and then out to Komatke, before coming back here.”
“Wherever here is.”
“Was this another murder?”
I sighed. “I’m afraid so. A guy I knew, actually. I’m not sure I want to say more than that.”
“I understand. You okay?”
“Yeah, thanks. How are you?”
“Oh, fine,” she said, airily. “I’d tell you more, but the NSA is probably listening to my calls, and, well, you know what the blogging business is like. Nothing but intrigue and danger.”
“Well, that’s what drew me to you in the first place. I needed a little excitement in my hum-drum life.”
For a moment neither of us spoke, and I wanted nothing more than to be with her.
“How are you really?” I asked.
Not convincing. “Billie?”
“It’s just . . . It’s harder to sleep when you’re not around. And I . . . I need to shop, but I’m afraid to leave the house.”
“I’m sorry I’m not there.”
“You’re not supposed to apologize, remember?”
“I wasn’t apologizing for . . .” I swallowed the protest, not wanting to start a fight. “I wish I was there. That’s how I should have said it.”
“So when are you coming home?”
“I don’t know. Whenever this is over, I guess.”
“And that will be . . .”
“A while yet, probably. There’s a lot I haven’t figured out. I’ll try to call, but –”
“Sure. Don’t worry about it.”
It was too abrupt. She sounded angry, scared.
I started to tell her again how sorry I was, but stopped myself. “I should go,” she said. “Call when you can. And let me know what I can do.”
“I will. I love you.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
Not the most heartfelt of declarations. I snapped the phone shut, resentful of this job that had taken me away from her, determined to get some answers to all those questions I’d been asking myself the evening before. And yes, I’ll admit it: just a little annoyed with her for making me feel guilty.