Magic In the Blood ab-2, page 15part #2 of Allie Beckstrom Series
Standing next to my bed, I took off my jeans but left my tights on. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into my bed naked and be wrapped up in the softness of my sheets, but I had to get up in a few hours to Hound. Getting undressed and comfortable would only make me sleep too deeply.
It had nothing to do with not wanting to be naked and asleep if my dad’s ghost popped in to pay me another visit. It had nothing to do with an ex-con blood magic dealer looking to break my neck.
Okay. It had everything to do with that.
The tights stayed on. I did take off my sweater but left my long-sleeved T-shirt on too. Good enough.
I crawled under the covers and remembered to set my alarm for three thirty. I closed my eyes and counted each beat of my headache until it lulled me senseless and, finally, to sleep.
Three thirty showed up far too quickly.
But even that much sleep helped shave away the edges of my price-for-using-magic headache so now it was just an uncomfortable tightness at the back of my neck and temples. That, I could deal with.
I got up, got dressed, brewed a pot of coffee, and took my time drinking half of it before calling a cab. I had plenty of time to get down to the police station and meet Stotts by five. I looked out my living room window. The winter day was fading fast and would be dark soon. I checked the sky. It wasn’t raining, but I didn’t see any blue out there either.
My gaze wandered to the street. People just getting off work or done with class for the day hurried along the sidewalks, trying to beat the rush hour crowds. A couple hearty bicyclists pumped up the hill. And there, in the shadow of an awning, two men stepped forward. They stopped at the edge of the overhang and looked up at my building, at my window.
There was just enough light left in the day for me to make out their faces. Trager’s men, two of them, from the bus.
They stared at my window, stared at me, because this building didn’t have fancy tinted windows. No, with the curtain pulled back, anyone could see into my living room. Anyone could see me.
A cab pulled up in front of the building and I let the curtain drop. If I missed my cab, I’d have to take the bus. And I was not going on another ride with those goons.
Hands shaking, I tucked my hair up in my knit hat and patted my pockets to make sure I had everything I needed. I took a deep breath and calmed myself. I was going to be fine. Let the goons watch me. Hell, let them follow me all the way to the police department; I didn’t care. All I had to do was get in the cab without letting them touch me.
Feeling a little more settled, I left my apartment and jogged down the stairs. Before I pushed through the door to the street, I looked up and down the sidewalk to be sure no one was waiting to jump me. All clear.
The wind gusted at my back as I hurried to the cab. I ducked into the backseat and glanced across the street. Trager’s men were still there, still under the awning, still watching me.
“Evening,” the cabdriver said.
“Hey.” I didn’t look over at him. “Police station, please.”
The cab slipped into traffic. I watched the goons watch me drive away and was really, really glad I’d called the cab.
Once they were out of sight, I sat back and waited for the police station to show up. I didn’t know what case Stotts wanted me to Hound. I hadn’t read a newspaper in a month, and I didn’t watch news on TV, so I wasn’t even sure what crimes had been committed lately.
Well, except that Trager was out, and I’m sure his men had been keeping busy.
Whatever Stotts wanted me to do, I planned to survive it with my head still attached, curse or no curse, Trager or no Trager.
I wondered if Davy was already following me. Unless he had a car, he was going to have a hard time keeping up with the cab. He might just be waiting for me at the station. After all, I’d said I was working for Stotts tonight. It was what I would do if I were him.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought Davy was probably a pretty smart kid. Driven. He’d have to be to Hound for a living and to be good enough to get hired on by places like the college.
But despite Pike’s assurance that Davy could take care of himself, I was going to watch out for him too. I didn’t know how far Stotts’ curse reached, and I did not want to see Davy walk off a bridge or get shot by one of Trager’s people.
The cab dropped me off in front of the station. I paid and strode up the stairs and through the door. The cavernous lobby was bustling with people. I paused inside the door, trying to remember where Stotts had wanted me to meet him. Not down their secret staircase to their secret door and their secret lair.
Maybe I should go find a receptionist to let him know I was here. Luckily I didn’t have to do anything. Detective Paul Stotts pushed through a door across the lobby, carrying two paper cups with lids.
He caught sight of me, smiled, and strolled across the lobby.
“Allie, good to see you.” He offered me one of the cups. “Nothing fancy. Black.”
“Is it from the break room?”
“Oh, God, no.” He faked shock. “You haven’t drank that, have you? You know we only use it for interrogation.”
I shook my head and smiled.
“This is from the place on the corner. The good place.”
There were two places on the corner. One, a little mom-and-pop coffee shop that really did have good coffee. The other was a big corporate joint. I’d never much liked the corporation’s coffee-they seemed incapable of roasting beans without burning them.
I accepted the cup and took a drink. It was from the mom-and-pop shop. He had good taste in coffee. Well, he and I had at least one thing in common. “Thanks,” I said. “You know your beans. You must be from around here.”
“Portland?” he asked.
He gestured toward the doors behind me, indicating we could start walking. “Seattle. Moved down to be with family when my mom lost her job. I was about sixteen. And you?”
We reached the sidewalk and strolled against the wind up the street.
“Here,” I said. “My dad’s business kept us in the city.” Honestly, it had been years since someone asked me where I grew up. My family name was almost synonymous with the Storm Rods and the lead and glass lines that conducted magic throughout the city.
He stopped next to a dark green sedan parked along the street. “This is mine. Are you ready?”
“It would be nice to know what the job is exactly.” He pressed a button on his key chain and unlocked the doors. “Go ahead and get in. I’ll tell you.”
I slid in the passenger’s side, grateful to be out of the wind and out of the open. My cheeks and nose felt stingy-hot, windburned. With my pale skin, I probably looked like a snowman with a head cold.
Detective Stotts’ car looked and smelled brand-new, with a light leather interior and several high-tech policelike things mounted under and out from the dashboard. The only ornamentation in it was a rosary with a small charm hanging from the rearview mirror. If you judged a man by his car, Paul Stotts was neat, paid attention to detail, and did his share of praying.
Who wouldn’t in his line of work?
He put his coffee in the holder, and I kept mine in my hands for added warmth through my gloves.
“I don’t know if you keep up on the news,” he said as he started the car.
“Not much,” I said. “I got used to avoiding the media in my teen years when I was rebelling against my father.”
“Just your teen years?” He turned on the blinker and eased the car into traffic.
Well, it looked like one of us kept up on the news. I shrugged. Let him figure it out.
“Does the job have something to do with the news?” I asked.
“It does. There have been a lot of disappearances on the northeast side of town. Mostly teen girls.”
“How many girls?”
“Between six and eight.”
“You don’t know for sure?”
“A lot of the girls were involved in gangs. Some might be runaways, skipping town on their own.”
“So I’m going to Hound places they were last seen?”
“Something like that.”
Okay, so at least I wouldn’t have to Hound any dead bodies. I was happy to leave the corpse sniffing to dimpled-and-bubbly Beatrice.
“And you think there was something magical about the girls’ disappearances?”
“I’ve had a couple Hounds sniff out the sites. It’s possible magic was used to either sedate the girls, harm the girls, or transfer the girls.”
“Possible? Magic is a pretty clear yes/no thing,” I said.
Hounds were experts at seeing, tracing, and smelling the difference between every kind of spell, even when the spells decay into ash. A good Hound could tell you where the spell came from to within a few yards of the caster. An excellent Hound studied signature variables and could tell you exactly who cast the spell by the “handwriting.” I knew there were excellent Hounds who worked for the police, including Pike.
Stotts just shook his head. “We want another opinion.”
“Does this have something to do with Lon Trager?”
He glanced over at me. “So you do keep up with some news.”
“Not really. I ran into Trager on the bus this morning.”
“Is that so?” Stotts looked calm, even his breathing was still normal, but the rest of his body language screamed at me. He was worried.
“He told me he and I could live and let live if I did him a favor. He wants me to bring Martin Pike to him by tomorrow midnight.”
“And you didn’t report it?”
“That’s what I’m doing now.”
He took a breath, let it out. “Do you know why he asked you to find Pike?”
“He hates Pike. Hates me too. Mentioned he’d be willing to kill me. Since he also mentioned that he has men everywhere, I figure he has the resources to find Pike. Pike and I don’t see each other much. So if I had to guess, I’d say Trager really wants both of us in the same room at the same time for some reason.
“You don’t look surprised,” I added. “Did you already know about this?”
“Lon Trager is a person of interest. We keep an eye on him.”
“That wasn’t exactly a yes,” I said.
“No,” he said. “It wasn’t. Have you talked to Pike?”
I nodded. “Today. Told him about Trager. He’s willing to cooperate with the police.”
“Interesting,” he said like it really was. “I don’t suppose you might know where we could find him.”
“Pike? He’s helping a friend on the east side of town do some house repair. I don’t know her name, but her son’s name is Anthony Bell.”
Stotts nodded and took a sip of coffee.
“Does the job tonight have something to do with Lon Trager?” I asked again.
“I’m not going to say anything more about it,” he said. “I don’t want to influence your opinion.”
Yeah, that’s usually the way the police played it.
“So,” I said. “I’ve heard people die when they Hound for you. They say you’re cursed.”
Stotts drove for several blocks in silence. He didn’t even reach over to take another drink of his coffee. It started raining, big, intermittent drops. He flicked the windshield wipers on low.
“The cases I deal with always involve magic being used to harm others,” he said. “There are risks when anyone Hounds for me. But I think my… reputation has been exaggerated.”
“Sixteen Hounds in six years?”
“People who Hound tend to live short lives. I think it’s from using magic so much and from not buying Proxies for relief from the pain. Most people who Hound use the money for drugs instead. So if you run the facts, you see I only hire experienced Hounds, which puts one mark against them-they’ve been using magic and probably drugs for a long time. And if you run the numbers you see a national average of twice that many Hounds who work for the police dying in that same amount of time.”
“Sounds like you’ve done a lot of thinking about this.”
“It’s clear the odds are against most Hounds who work for me before they begin to work for me.”
“So there is no curse?”
He picked up his coffee without looking at me. “I didn’t say that.” He turned a corner onto the bridge, and the rosary on his mirror swung in silent counterpoint.
The wind whipped up off of the river and blustered hard enough to rock Stotts’ car and throw rain that sounded like rocks against the windows. It was going to be miserable out there.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance the girls were last seen indoors?” I asked.
“One of them,” Stotts said. “They all disappeared from the same general area-about a four-block radius. There are two places that are still hot. One’s on the street; the other is in a parking garage.”
“Well, at least one’s out of the rain.” I drank my coffee, letting the warmth and caffeine bolster my confidence and clear my mind. I could do this. I could go stand out in the rain with a cursed magic cop, Hound an old hit and not lose control of magic, and keep a lookout for Trager’s thugs. Oh, and Davy.
I’m sure it was all going to go just fine. I mean, nothing weird had happened to me all day, right?
“We’ll go to the parking garage first. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get a break in the rain before you Hound the hit on the street.”
The neighborhood shifted from office buildings and fast food joints to tumbling down apartments and warehouses, mostly concrete fitted with the older, heavier iron pipes with almost no glass showing. Crouched beneath a blackened sky in the driving rain, the neighborhood gave off a dark, wary vibe. Here and there a few houses huddled amongst the industrial-looking buildings, less than half the windows lit with yellow light. Even in the rain, people moved on the street, or sat smoking beneath edges of roofs, or leaned under eves. A lot of those people seemed very interested in our car as we cruised by.
“You come out here a lot?” I asked. I didn’t think the northeast had more magic crime than anywhere else in Portland, but I might be wrong.
“Sometimes. I have family here.”
“Family, as in mob connections, or family, as in crazy uncles who drink too much?”
“There’s a difference?” He smiled. “I’m kidding you. I got Latino roots, not Italian.”
I noted that he didn’t really answer my question. “How long have you been a police officer?”
“About ten years now. Specialized in magic crimes and been part of MERC for eight. This is it.” He turned the car into a parking garage that looked like it had been built in the seventies. He did something to the tollbooth with a card, and the bar lifted and let us in.
Lights hung in cages bolted to the concrete beamed ceilings. Every other light had been busted out, creating pools of darkness and not nearly enough light. I was feeling pretty good right now about being in the company of a police officer who knew the neighborhood and carried a gun.
Magic shifted inside of me, stirring, pushing to be released. That headache that had been nothing but a tightness now shot pain along my temples and jaw. Apparently the aspirin had worn off. Great. I rubbed at my temples and wished I’d taken more painkillers before leaving my apartment.
“Here,” Paul said. “She was last seen right here.” He parked the car, the headlights shining on the elevator door.
“She was in the elevator?”
Paul took a drink of his coffee and put it back in the holder. “She was.”
Oh, holy hells. I hated small places. Hated elevators. I think that came through my body language, or maybe the oh-so-subtle look of terror on my face clued him into my phobia.
“Is that a problem?” he asked.
“No.” My voice was a little too high and that annoyed me to no end. “It’s fine. Fine.”
It would be fine, I told myself. I’d go ou
After I did this, I was going to lobby for a new law: no spell casting in small places. Ever.
“Let’s do this,” I said, trying to pep talk myself into it.
I took off my gloves because I could learn things by touching the spell, and my gloves would make that impossible.
I opened the door and stepped out into the cold air. The temperature must be near freezing. I could smell the ice in the wind. I took a deep breath and let the cold take the edge off my headache.
Paul shut the door but did not lock it. He left his coffee in the car and unzipped his coat to allow easy access to his gun.
I was beginning to like this man.
“Witnesses say they saw her there.” He pointed to the elevator. “The story breaks up as to whether or not they saw anyone on the elevator when she got in it. No one’s seen her since.”
“How long ago was that?”
I walked over to the elevator with him. It looked like every other parking garage tiny metal coffin of death. An orange number three was painted on it, big enough it would split in half when the door opened. The wall next to it was tagged. Gang symbol, not magic glyph.
“Three days. Do you mind if I record this?” he asked. He had a small tape recorder in his hand.
“That’s fine,” I said.
I heard the recorder click. He said something in it, and then he sort of faded from my awareness. I could feel the lingering weight of the old spell in the air. I whispered a mantra, set a Disbursement. This time I was going for general muscle aches and fever to Proxy my use. I hoped that wouldn’t kick in until I got rid of this headache.
I drew a glyph for Sight, Taste, and Smell and pulled it toward me. I very carefully drew upon a small amount of the magic coursing through me and poured it into the glyphs.
My senses heightened.
The parking garage shifted. Lines of burnt magic, faint and far between, threaded through the air. People rarely cast spells in parking garages. Maybe a Locator so they could find their car or a Shield to keep them dry once they stepped out into the rain, but other than that, a concrete parking garage was just a concrete parking garage. There weren’t even any lead and glass lines to channel magic through here.
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