Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 38
Gracie didn’t respond right away. She was watching me, her mouth open in a small “o.” Her expression reminded me of one I saw on Billie’s face on those rare occasions when I managed to surprise her.
“That was you,” she said in a breathy whisper.
“What was him?” Emmy asked.
“Mister Fearsson –”
“Jay, please. I really don’t like being called Mister Fearsson.”
“That old man called you Mister Fearsson,” Zach said.
I laughed. “You’re right, Zach, he did. I don’t like him either.”
Gracie regarded me for several seconds. “All right, Jay it is. Jay here is a bit of a hero. He managed to . . . to catch a man who had been doing some terrible things to people in Phoenix.”
Emmy faced me. “What terrible things?”
I glanced past her to Gracie, wondering how much to say.
“He was killing people, sweetie,” Gracie said. “And apparently he was using magic to do it.”
Gracie’s cheeks had lost some of their color. “I had no idea.”
“The police kept that pretty quiet. Some people know.” I thought of Amaya. And Saorla. “But it’s not general knowledge.”
“So he’s in jail now?” Emmy asked.
I faced forward again, feeling a sudden need to keep my eyes on the road.
Which, of course, left it to Gracie to tell my lie. “Yes, he’s in jail.”
Emmy eyed us both before giving a little shake of her head “No, he’s not.” To me she said, “He’s dead isn’t he?”
Smart kid. Thinking about it, I realized that I should have waited until Gracie and I were alone to mention Cahors. I had a lot to learn about being around kids.
“Is he dead?” Emmy asked, sounding less certain, and more afraid.
Gracie and I exchanged another look.
“It’s all right,” she said.
“Yeah, he’s dead.”
“Did you kill him?”
“I had some help, but yes I did. And while it’s a terrible thing to kill someone, given the chance I’d do it again. He was a bad man.”
“Who else have you killed?” Zach asked.
This was not a conversation I wanted to have with anyone, much less a five year-old kid. Fortunately, his mom stepped in.
“That’s not an appropriate question, Zach.”
He frowned, but said. “Sorry.”
“That’s all right. It’s not something I like to talk about, okay?”
He nodded, and for several moments no one said a word. A dry wind blew through the windows and the crunch of gravel and squeak of my father’s truck filled the cab.
“Did you kill him with that gun?” Zach asked, breaking the silence.
“Zach!” Gracie sounded mortified.
“I was just wondering!”
“Hey, there’s a coyote.” The timing couldn’t have been better, and I didn’t even have to lie this time. I pointed out the front at a coyote slinking along the top of a low ridge, weaving among the saguaro trunks.
“Where? I don’t see it.”
Gracie spotted it right away and pointed it out to both kids. I slowed, then stopped to be sure they both saw it. I even gave those old binoculars back to Zach.
While they watched it, I checked the sky again. No sign of another chopper.
Once the coyote disappeared from view, I got us moving again. The conversation careened all over the place, which I imagine is normal where five and eight year-olds are concerned, but it steered clear of the Blind Angel Killings.
At the end of Ajo Mountain Drive, I turned onto the main park road and headed back to the campground. As we neared the campground loop, though, I saw a white and blue highway patrol SUV with its lights flashing. It was parked outside the ranger station near the campground payment kiosk.
“Bad word!” Emmy said. “You owe us a quarter, Jay. Each of us.”
I didn’t answer.
“You think they’re here for us?” Gracie asked.
“Call it a hunch. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got a tip from some anonymous concerned citizen. You are wanted, after all.”
“As if I needed the reminder. So what the –” She glanced at the kids and apparently decided she didn’t want to lose any more quarters. “What are we supposed to do?”
“I’m afraid that if we go near the campsites, we’ll be arrested.”
“We? What did you do?”
“I’m with you; they’ll assume I’ve been helping you. Which makes me an accessory after the fact.”
She blew out a breath and pushed a hand through her hair. “I hadn’t thought of that. I’m sorry.”
“I knew what I was doing when I came here.”
She dipped her chin, but I could see that her thoughts had already turned elsewhere. “All our stuff is at the site. Including the minivan.”
“They’ll impound the van. It was spotted at the scene of a crime. And they’ll probably take the rest as well.” I checked my mirrors and scanned the area for additional police cruisers or cops on foot. We didn’t need any more surprises. “Is there anything there you can’t live without?”
Emmy peered up at her mom and pointed at Zach, shielding her hand with her body so that her brother wouldn’t see.
Gracie closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes, a couple of things. Nothing I want to name right now, but leaving without them could . . . make things unpleasant.”
I had an idea of what she meant. As a kid, I’d never been particularly attached to my blanket, but Zach had mentioned his earlier, and it seemed important to him.
“All right,” I said. “I have an idea. You know transporting spells, right?”
A smile creased Gracie’s face, the first one I’d seen that wasn’t tinged with fear or anger, weariness or irony. This was pure smile, and it transformed her face. I’d already known she was pretty; any fool could see that. But when she smiled like that, she was beautiful.
I looked away, made a point of checking the mirrors again.
“That’s brilliant,” she said. “But at this distance . . .”
“We’ll get closer, but I need for all of you to hide.”
Just like that the smile was gone, and she was all business. “All right. You hear that kids? We’re playing a little hide-and-seek.”
Zach grinned. I think Emmy knew better than to mistake this for a game.
They couldn’t all fit in the space in front of the seat, and there was no room at all behind the seat. Which meant that before this was over we were going to have to be more creative. But first we needed to find a place where they could hide for a few minutes.
I had the two kids crawl down in front of Gracie, in the passenger side foot well. Gracie put on a pair of sunglasses, poured some water into her hands and spiked up her hair, and then leaned against me as if she was my girlfriend.
Emmy didn’t like this at all; Zach giggled.
“Quiet, kiddo,” Gracie whispered. “Not a peep, okay? And Emmy, this is only for show. Promise.”
“I have a girlfriend, Emmy,” I said. “I love her very much.”
This might have mollified her a little. I couldn’t be certain, and I had bigger concerns. A uniformed cop had emerged from the ranger station. Halfway to the SUV, he spotted the pickup and halted.
“Here we go,” I whispered.
I pulled forward, slowing when I pulled even with him, but not stopping. I didn’t want him coming over to the truck. They were scouring the campground for a mom and her kids; as long as he didn’t see Emmy and Zach, we would probably be all right.
“I wasn’t sure if we could go through,” I called to him.
He took a second to study us both, but then he nodded. “Yeah, you’re fine. You have a site in there?”
If I gave him the number of my site, which was do close to Gracie’s, he would have questions for me. Instead I gave him a number that would place us at least three or four rows from the end of the campground. I wasn’t sure which was the greater risk: that I gave him a number of an unoccupied site, or one with people in it who might show up at any moment. Mostly, I hoped we’d be far from here before the lie boomeranged on me.
He nodded and waved us on.
I steered us along the outside loop past a couple of rows of RV sites and then pulled over within sight of a restroom. I checked the mirrors, looked around, peered down the row. I saw no one.
“Okay, listen up, kids,” I said. “I want you to run to that restroom over there. Each of you get in a stall and lock the door. Don’t come out until we tell you it’s all right. Got it?”
Emmy wrapped her thin brown arms around one of Gracie’s legs. “Mommy, I don’t like this.”
“I’m not sure I do either, sweetie.” Gracie said it to Emmy, but she was watching me.
“I can leave all three of you here, but I have no idea what I’m trying to find in your tent. My transporting spells won’t work.”
A horn blast made all of us jump. An RV had pulled up behind us.
“Crap,” I muttered.
I waved a hand at the guy and started forward again. He turned off a few rows later. We kept going, creeping closer to that last row, which, I felt certain, had to be crawling with cops. Four rows from the end, I spotted another restroom near the road.
“We can try this again,” I said. I checked my mirrors. They were clear. “Or, if you think you can pull off the spell from this distance, we can try that.”
Gracie’s brow creased. “This is awfully far. Can’t you drive us closer?”
“I can. But if we run into a cop, and he wants to look in the truck, we’re scr — we’re in trouble.”
“I have another idea,” Gracie said.
Before I could ask her what it was, she opened the door and hopped out of the pickup. “Turn here,” she said. “Having the kids use the bathroom is a good idea. We might have a long drive ahead of us. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
I didn’t have time to respond. She jogged off the road and onto what appeared to be a dirt trail following the perimeter of the campground.
If they caught her now, I was really in trouble.