Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 40
Finding another campground, as opposed to a hotel room, would have been the safer course. Paying cash for a campsite never raised eyebrows; paying cash for a hotel room, particularly so close to the Mexican border, along a route used by drug traffickers, was bound to set off alarm bells. And credit card payments were too easy to trace.
But when I mentioned all of this, once Gracie had woken up, she insisted we find an out-of-the-way hotel.
“I need a shower and a comfortable bed,” she said. “And we’d need to buy a new tent and new sleeping bags, which means using a credit card anyway. We might as well be comfortable.”
She had a point.
Another idea came to me. As I put us on state road 86, which cut across what was known on maps as the Papago Indian Reservation, home of the Tohono O’odham nation, I pulled out my cell phone and scrolled through the list of contacts.
“Mommy says people who drive and use cell phones are morons,” Zach said, talking around his saliva-soaked thumb.
“Your Mom’s right, but this is important, and it can’t wait.”
Gracie’s frown returned. “Take your thumb out of your mouth, kiddo.”
She reached for his hand, but he jerked out of her grasp with a loud, “No!”
I found the number I was after and pressed dial.
“Amaya,” said the voice on the other end.
“It’s Jay Fearsson.”
“I can see that,” he said, sounding impatient. “What news do you have for me?”
“They’re safe. They’re with me.”
“Where are you?” he asked. The impatience had fled his voice, leaving him sounding almost too eager.
I hesitated. “We’re outside the city.”
“I understand. Where?”
“I’d rather not say. I’m afraid Saorla might be keeping track of my conversations.” And I’m not entirely sure I trust you enough to answer that question. I wondered if it’d been a mistake to call Jacinto. I wanted to ask him if he would pay for a couple of hotel rooms for us, on his credit card. But now that I had him on the line, I wasn’t so certain this was a good idea. I wondered how much he knew about the Sgian-Bán?
“Yes, of course,” he said. “You’re right to be careful. Why don’t you go ahead and bring them to me. They’ll be safe here.”
Yeah, I didn’t really believe that either. I had no trouble imagining why Saorla and her cabal were after the knife and wanted to enlist Gracie and Emmy in their army of dark sorcerers. And I had already promised myself that I wouldn’t allow that to happen.
But wasn’t it possible, even probable, that the other side — the “good side” — was as desperate as Saorla to find the weapon and add the girl and her mom to their ranks? They were all prizes to be won. If Gracie was as powerful as she seemed, and Emmy fulfilled the promise she had already shown, they might not need the knife to tip the balance in this magical war. Add in the Sgian-Bán and it might be enough to turn a stalemate into a rout. I wouldn’t have been surprised if all these thoughts had crossed Jacinto’s mind; I had heard the hunger in his tone. And, I had to admit, on some level I appreciated the importance of doing everything possible to bolster the strength of whatever force was arrayed against the dark ones. Our kind weren’t supposed to use blood magic — though once again, I had just now, while battling Fitzwater — and so we needed every advantage we could find.
The problem was, while Amaya might have seen himself as fighting on the side of the angels, I knew better. There were no angels here, and I didn’t want to see this family dragged into any war, regardless of which side drafted them.
“I’m here,” I said. How did I say as much without pissing him off? It took me all of two seconds to conclude there was no way.
“You’re going to bring them to me,” he said, a command in the words. “That’s what we agreed to when I hired you.”
“That’s what you wanted me to agree to,” I said. “I told you then, it might not be possible, at least not right away.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I’ll be in touch when I know more, and when I’m sure it’s safe to bring them back to Phoenix.”
I snapped the phone shut, ending the call. But that second call of my name had been so loud, it almost sounded as though Amaya was with us in the truck. Gracie and the kids were watching me.
Zach grinned and pulled his thumb from his mouth. “Fearsson! Fearsson!” he said in a sing-song.
I mussed his hair. “Goofball.”
“Am not!” But his grin widened.
“He didn’t sound very happy,” Gracie said, appearing far less amused.
“He’ll have to get used to disappointment,” I said, quoting an old movie. She didn’t seem to catch the reference.
“Who was that?”
I had a feeling she already knew, but I didn’t flinch from her gaze as I said, “Jacinto Amaya.”
She quirked an eyebrow, reminding me of Billie. “Not a man you want to make angry.”
“No. But I’m not just going to hand you over to him.”
Her gaze drifted away, settled on the highway in front of us. “Thank you. But then why did you call him in the first place?”
“We need for someone to put a couple of hotel rooms on a credit card. He seemed like the logical choice, at least until I realized how eager he was to have you under his roof. It was my mistake. I’ll be more careful next time.”
“That’s not . . .” She shook her head, looked out the windshield again. “You’re doing fine. We appreciate it.”
Another idea came to me. I dug into my pocket for my wallet and handed it to Gracie. “There should be a credit card in this in the name of Leander Fearsson.”
She took the wallet but for several seconds did nothing more than stare at it. “Do you really expect me to find anything in this?”
I frowned, eyeing the wallet and seeing it as she would. It was a mess. An overstuffed, ragged, disorganized mess.
“It should be in one of the sleeves behind my driver’s license.”
She searched the wallet, a frown wrinkling the bridge of her nose. “There are receipts in here from, like, the 1950s.”
“I wasn’t alive in the ’50s.”
“Well, clearly the wino you rolled to get this wallet was.”
I laughed. Emmy eyed her mom and me, her expression cross.
“Oh, here it is. ‘Leander Fearsson,’ you said. Right?”
“This an alias?”
I laughed again. “Hardly. Leander is my father’s name. I take care of him, and sometimes I need to make purchases in his name. It’s tied to a separate account. Someone watching for charges on one of our cards might not notice a charge on his.”
“He might notice.”
I shook my head, staring straight ahead. “Not likely.”
“He a weremyste too?”
“An old one,” I said, which told her all that she needed to know. Generally speaking, an old weremyste was a crazy weremyste.
“I’m sorry. My mother took blockers, so I never had to worry about that. But Neil’s mother . . . I know what it’s like.”
I didn’t have much to say in response. I drove, and allowed the conversation to die. The reservation included some gorgeous high country, and I was content to enjoy the scenery and figure out where we might stay tonight. At Quijotoa, I cut north on a narrow two-lane that tracked toward Casa Grande. There were quicker ways to do this, more direct routes. But all of them involved spending at least some time on one of the interstates, and now that I had Gracie and the kids with me, the thought of getting on the main freeways set off warning bells in my head. I’d learned long ago to trust my instincts on such things.
“You heading someplace in particular?” Gracie asked, her voice sounding loud after such a long silence.
“Not really. But I was thinking that I want to avoid getting on the freeways if I can help it.”
She nodded. “I agree.”
“Any idea why?”
“No idea at all,” she said. “Just a feeling.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
Zach took his thumb out of his mouth. “Mommy, I’m hungry.”
“We’ll be in Casa Grande in a little while,” I said. “We can find some food there.”
I had to grin. My childhood hadn’t been the happiest, and with my mom dying and my dad drinking himself out of a job and going nuts before my eyes, my adolescence was a complete disaster. But in that moment I thought it must have been nice to be five years old and oblivious to the perils dogging us all.
“Sure. Pizza sounds good.” I glanced at the fuel gauge. “We could use gas, too.”
I wasn’t crazy about the idea of putting charges on my dad’s card. The money wasn’t the issue. I paid his bills for him, and this one I would pay out of my account rather than his. But this was just the sort of “unusual activity” that was bound to draw the attention of the credit card bank. Of course, there were ways around that. I handed my phone to Gracie, had her dial the number on the back of the card, and took the phone from her. After being on hold for a few minutes, I spoke with an agent and told her my father and I were taking a short trip and would be using the card. I answered a few questions, told her the bank could call me at this number if they needed to, and hung up.
One problem taken care of.
I only hoped I was right in thinking that neither Saorla’s friends nor Amaya would think to watch my father’s account.
Traffic built as we neared Casa Grande, and by the time we found a pizza place, the kids were starved and grumpy. We wolfed down a meal, gassed up the car, and set out again, crawling through the city and its outskirts, past strip malls and car dealerships, chain motels and bars, pawn shops and liquor stores.
Eventually we emerged from the sprawl, passed over Interstate 10, and drove back into more open country. At first, much of it was agricultural, vast tracts of dusty farmland. But at Florence, we turned north toward the dry peaks and high desert of the Superstition Wilderness. I had no intention of taking them too far off the beaten path, but I knew the area and was certain we could find some small motel along the road that would offer a bed and a shower and a hot meal.
Neither Gracie nor Emmy had said much since lunch. Emmy had her nose buried in a book. Gracie was leaning against her door, staring out the window, the desert wind blowing through her hair. Zach had fallen asleep, his head lolling in his mother’s lap, her fingers running gently, absently through his light brown hair. I was reluctant to break the silence, and the relative peace we all seemed to be enjoying. But I had a question for her — about a dozen, really — and once they started to worm their way into my thoughts, I couldn’t ignore them.
“The day we met,” I said, drawing her gaze, “I asked you about Fitzwater. I didn’t know his name yet, but I think you did. You told me you weren’t sure if you’d ever seen him before the restaurant, and you said it didn’t matter if you had. Then you started to say something else, but you never finished the thought. I’ve been wondering what you intended to say.”
“I’m not sure I remember. A lot’s happened since then.”
“You were telling me for the second or third time that you didn’t know who he was. But then you said, ‘The rest — ‘ . . . And that was all.”
“The rest is unimportant.” She said it without hesitation, as if the words had been waiting all this time for her to give them voice. “That’s what I was going to say.”
“And by the rest you meant . . .”
“Leave it alone, all right? It doesn’t matter.”
“I think it does matter, more than you want to admit.”
“It’s not your problem!”
“Seriously?” I said. “That’s the best you can do? It’s not my problem?” I shook my head. “In case you didn’t notice, Gracie, I’m in this now. Up to my eyeballs. You might not have wanted me involved, but your parents did, and so here I am. They’re after all of us now, and if I haven’t convinced you yet that I’m on your side, I don’t know what else I can do, short of getting myself killed.”
“I know what they’re after. A friend of mine is in the medical examiner’s office because of it.”
At that she looked my way, her face blanching. I’d tried to be obscure enough not to scare Emmy, but direct enough to get Gracie’s attention. For once, it seemed, I’d gotten it right.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t your girlfriend was it?”
“Thank God, no. But still, you have to start trusting me, just a little bit.”
She glanced down at Zach, who still slept. “What do you want to know?”
“Fitzwater thinks you have . . . it. He asked about it today.”
“Did he also ask about it at the Burger Royale?”
“I can’t remember. Everything happened so fast that day –”
We both looked down at Emmy.
She remained intent on her book and for a moment I wondered if I was wrong in thinking she had spoken. But then she tipped her face up to her mom and nodded. “He said ‘What have you done with it?’ I remember.”
“Thanks, sweetie,” Gracie said.
“He also called you Engracia, which is weird.”
“Read your book”
Emmy went back to reading.
“Is that weird?” I asked.
“A little bit.”
“Who else calls you Engracia?”
“No one,” she said, her voice low. “Aside from my parents, no one has called me Engracia since high school. I hate that name; always have. I’ve been telling people to call me Gracie for as long as I can remember.”
“Apparently he didn’t get the message.”
“That’s so odd. I –” She gazed down at her daughter and shook her head. “She wouldn’t get something like that wrong.”
“I didn’t,” Emmy said, still reading.
Gracie’s smile was fleeting.
“Is Engracia still your legal name?”
She nodded. “It is. I suppose he could have gotten it through a legal search or something of the sort.”
I had more questions, but none that I wanted to ask in front of the girl. Apparently Gracie sensed this.
“Emmy, you want to listen to your music on my iPhone?”
Emmy glanced first at her mother and then at me. “Yeah, okay,” she said in a way that made it clear we weren’t fooling her for a minute.
Gracie produced the iPhone from her backpack, attached a pair of earbuds and handed them to Emmy. Emmy dutifully put them in and took the phone from her mom.
Once we could hear the thread of her music, Gracie faced me again. “What more do you want to know?” she asked, her tone about as welcoming as a briar patch.
“Do you have the knife?”
Color flooded her cheeks.
“You do, don’t you?”
“I know where it is.”
“Did Neil steal it from them? Is that what happened? Maybe he thought he could get some money out of them.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re guessing now, and you’re way off the mark.”
“Fine, then how did you get it, and where exactly is now?”
She bit back whatever she first wanted to say and stared out at the road.
“My friend isn’t the only person who died because of the knife, Gracie. There was an old man who lived up in the desert on the Gila River reservation.”
Her head whipped around. “He’s dead?” she said, appearing stricken.
“You knew him?”
She turned away again.
“Fine, then tell me more about Neil.”