Magic In the Blood ab-2, page 18part #2 of Allie Beckstrom Series
The drone of the engine, the heat of the car made it hard to keep my eyes open.
“Please tell me what you saw.” Stotts put the recorder on a little spot between the cup holder that must have had Velcro on it to keep the recorder in place.
“Both spells at the hit sites were Glamour,” I said. “The boundary lines were consistent with those I’ve seen Martin Pike use. There was also a taint of blood magic-a mix of more than one blood. I’ve never seen or heard of Pike using blood magic.”
“Did you smell Martin Pike’s blood in the spell?”
Don’t make me do this.
“Ms. Beckstrom? Did you smell Martin Pike’s blood in the spell?”
“Yes.” I’m so sorry, Pike. “But there were other bloods involved too. And something else, something more. The spell doesn’t smell right.”
“Deterioration?” he asked.
“No. That’s another thing. The glyphs and spells should have faded within a couple days. They were as strong as if they’d been cast an hour ago. Something or someone is feeding those spells.”
“Do you think Pike would do that?”
I shook my head, rolling the back of my skull against the headrest. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. And Pike wouldn’t be that sloppy. He’s been using magic for years. Before that, he served in the military. If he wanted to make someone disappear, he wouldn’t leave a giant glowing trail behind. He wouldn’t use magic to do it. It doesn’t make sense.”
Stotts exhaled. “Hounding is hard. On the body and the brain. Maybe he’s finally hit his limit. It happens.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, because it was true. Pike was tired. Worn-out. Moving on. Maybe he just got desperate. And stupid.
But Martin Pike had never been a stupid man.
“Both girls were hurt,” I said woodenly. “I could feel the violence used against them, could feel their fear. There might have been more than one person involved. The mix of blood means there were probably more than two people involved.”
“Could you identify any of the other blood?”
“No. Only Pike’s.”
“Could you identify the caster’s signature?”
“I am not one hundred percent sure who cast that spell.”
“If you had to make a guess?”
“I don’t make guesses.”
“I appreciate that, Ms. Beckstrom. But in your educated opinion, who do you think cast those spells?”
“Martin Pike.” The words felt heavy in my throat.
Stotts reached over, the leather seat creaking as he turned off the tape recorder.
We drove awhile in silence, each caught in our own thoughts.
“Will you be all right on your own tonight?” he finally asked.
“I’m looking forward to some alone time.”
Stotts slowed as he approached my apartment building. “I want to thank you for Hounding this, Allie. I know it’s a tough thing, fingering a fellow Hound. It was hard for the others too.”
I didn’t want to think about that. Didn’t want to know which Hounds had already told Stotts that Pike was guilty of kidnapping. Didn’t want to think it might even be some of the Hounds I met today.
“You are the first Hound to identify his blood in the spell,” Stotts said. “That could be the piece we need.”
Nail in the coffin, that’s me.
I was unable to drum up any enthusiasm for ruining an old man’s life. “I’ll send you my bill.”
Stotts double-parked on the street.
“Do you want me to walk you up?”
“No. I got it.” I wasn’t kidding about that being-alone thing. I pulled on the handle of the door. Managed to get it open on the second try.
I stood up into the rain, paused.
“Is Pike your friend?”
I faced away from him. It was raining, but the wind had let off a little. I heard the train call in the distance. I closed my eyes for a moment.
No. Not anymore, I thought.
To Stotts, I said, “Hounds don’t make friends.”
I made it up the steps to my building, where I let myself in. It was warm and dry and quiet in the lobby. I stood there a moment, dripping on the floor, content in the silence and not quite ready to face the three flights of stairs I had to haul myself up.
I put my hand on the wall and my foot on the first stair. I could do this. I could climb three stories after a day of being jumped, poked at, poked through, and squeezed. Darn right. I could climb these stairs with one foot tied behind my back. On a pogo stick. Blindfolded.
I headed up, one slow step at a time.
Okay, so this was the downside to living in a building without an elevator.
By the time I made it to my floor and my door, I was sweaty and tired. I didn’t pause to listen for anyone in my apartment. I didn’t pause to cast magic. I just shoved my key in the lock and walked in.
My apartment looked and smelled the same as how I’d left it. Nobody home but me.
I kicked the door shut, locked it, and tugged off my wet hat and jacket. The red light on my answering machine blinked, but I just didn’t have it in me to listen to my messages yet. I did one circuit of my house, turning on all the lights. Then walked into the living room and sat on the arm of the couch, where I groaned my way out of my boots and wet socks.
Barefoot, I shuffled over to the window and looked out at the street below to make sure Stotts wasn’t spying on me. His car was gone.
Across the street, a flash of blue in the rain caught my eye. A man stood beneath the awning. The blue light-a cell phone screen-angled to illuminate a face, a smile.
Davy waved at me, tipped his fingers in another salute, and then palmed his cell, smothering its light and throwing his face back into shadow.
I shook my head and watched him trot down the street, long legs lending him speed. There was a bar not too far from here. I figured he’d make it just in time for happy hour.
If the kid tracked spells even half as easily as he tracked me, he really was a good Hound.
I let the curtains fall back in place and thumbed on the answering machine. Three phone calls. One from a credit card company, and one from my father’s accountant, Mr. Katz, politely reminding me that we had not yet met to go over the next round of papers to settle my father’s estate.
As Katz spoke, I tugged off my sweater. It was wet and smelled of my own sweat and fear. I threw the sweater on the floor on top of my boots, skinned out of my long-sleeved T-shirt, threw that on the pile, and was just unbuttoning my jeans when the third message clicked on.
“Ms. Beckstrom,” said a man’s voice I could not immediately place. “I am sorry to be calling your home number. This is Dr. Frank Gordon, your neighbor. We recently ran into each other at the coffee shop. I have a Hounding job I would like to hire you for. It’s… of a delicate nature. I hope you will call me so we can arrange a time to meet. Please return my call at your earliest convenience.”
Instead of hanging up, he remained on the phone, breathing. Just breathing.
After a minute or so, the call disconnected.
Standing in my living room with only my bra and jeans on, I felt a chill roll down my skin. I rubbed my hands over my arms and hissed as my palms crossed raw spots. Sure enough, I had more circles of raw burns on my left arm and shoulder and, now that I looked, on my belly too.
I shivered. There were more sores on my back, my legs. A lot more. I needed to shower again and put more antiseptic on them.
I was hungry. I was tired. And nothing was going to get done if I just stood there in my living room whining. I dragged myself into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. I didn’t care how late it was; it was never too late for hot caffeine.
But first, I wanted to be clean.
I walked into the bathroom, slicked out of my wet jeans, and turned on the sh
I steeled myself and looked in the mirror.
Lovely. I looked as horrible as I felt.
More circles mottled my skin, down my left arm, my belly, my thighs, and what I could see of my shoulders. I opened my mouth and leaned in. Raw red spots marked the inside of my cheeks and both sides of my tongue.
I looked like I’d just done three rounds with a gang of octopuses and lost.
All the wounds were weeping. I checked the older raw spots. They had not healed, not at all. If anything, they looked bigger, the red gone a ghastly white-blue, like frozen dead flesh, spread out in wider circles. They were still leaking in the center and sore in the middle, though less sore on the edges. I didn’t know if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
Fabulous. If the watercolor people got all slaphandsy again, I’d be a giant walking scab.
The bruise on my thigh from Trager’s needle was the same size, still spidery and glyphlike with a red, needlepoint center.
With my crazy color marks wrapping from my right temple to the edge of my breast, down my shoulder, arm, and hand, and with new moist red circles poxing the rest of me like a medieval plague, I looked… strange… foreign… inhuman.
Even my eyes looked darker.
My stomach clenched. That scared the hells out of me.
Time to stop staring in the mirror.
I got in the shower and scrubbed from my scalp to my soles. I wanted to be clean. Really clean. Inside and out. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want to be changed by the watercolor people. Or by anything else, for that matter.
The soap stung and burned. I adjusted the water so it was tepid and kept scrubbing. The combination of cool water and pain woke me up a little.
I got out of the shower and did what I could to apply antiseptic spray to my hurts. I left the light on and changed into the only pair of pajamas I owned: flannel with ladybugs and dragonflies. Usually I wore nothing to bed, or a slip nightgown. Tonight I was bringing out the big guns of comfort, though: flannel jammies, woolly socks, and a big mug of coffee that I wished were cocoa. Note to self: buy cocoa.
I shuffled into the living room again.
My front door knob turned. I froze, watching it. The knob turned back and then stopped. It was locked. Whoever was on the other side of the door drew on magic. The prickly discomfort of a spell ready to be cast-a big spell-poured over me like unwelcome rain.
I whispered a Disbursement-that little fever I had in store for me was now going to knock me out for a week. I traced a glyph for Shield, hoping that would keep me safe long enough to deal with my intruder.
I picked up the hammer I’d left on my bookshelf when I was hanging pictures, held it in my left hand, magic in my right, and waited.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs, as if purposely trying to be noisy, accompanied by loud, cheerful whistling.
The prickly spell unraveled. Broken before it was cast. Gone. It was hard to hear over the footsteps and whistling, but I think I heard an apartment door open and close somewhere down the hall.
What the hells? A knock made me jump. The knock rapped out again.
I thought about pouring magic into the Shield glyph but decided the hammer would probably solve my problem quicker. I let go of the glyph, switched the hammer to my right hand, and approached the door.
I looked out the peephole.
Zayvion Jones stood on the other side of the door, warped by the bend of glass. He was whistling loudly and holding something that looked like a pizza box in his hand.
He stared straight at the peephole like he knew I was looking at him and, without breaking eye contact, knocked on my door again.
I unlocked the door, opened it.
In front of me, smelling like pine and pepperoni, stood six feet plus of Zayvion Jones.
“Mr. Jones,” I said, trying to think of what had really just happened. “What brings you by?”
His eyebrows hitched up while he looked me over, from my fuzzy socks and buggy pajamas to my wet, uncombed hair. His gaze lingered on the hammer.
“I brought you pizza.”
“I thought our date was tomorrow.”
“It is. This is just a late night snack. I thought you might be hungry.”
Now that he mentioned it, I was starved. The delicious scents of basil, rich cheese, and spices wafted up from the box.
My stomach growled. Loudly. Traitor. Should I trust him? Let him into my house after the day I’d had? I thought it over. Realized I didn’t care. I wanted food, and here it was, hot and delicious, on my doorstep. And Zayvion Jones wasn’t hard on the eyes either.
“Come on in.” I walked away from the door and into the kitchen, putting down the hammer, pulling out napkins, and getting a couple glasses.
Zayvion closed the door behind him.
“Just put it in the living room,” I said. “We can eat there.”
I didn’t hear him walk across the floor, but I did hear him put the pizza down and lift the box lid. I strolled out of the kitchen, napkins and two glasses of apple juice-the only beverage in the house besides water and coffee-in my hand. “All I have is apple juice. Hope that’s okay.”
He moved away from the window. He had taken off his ratty coat and black beanie, hanging the coat on the back of one of the chairs at the round table. He wore jeans and a dark gray sweater that looked like cashmere. The flex and movement of his chest and torso beneath that thin fabric made my heartbeat quicken.
I remembered him, remembered his body. An image flashed behind my eyes. He stood in a doorway, naked except for his boxers, his dark skin tiger-striped with yellow light, his eyes burning gold with passion. He had waited. Waited for me to say yes.
I blinked. And the memory was gone. A sad hunger lingered at the back of my mind and echoed through my body. I wondered if I’d said yes.
I realized Zayvion was silent, his thumbs hooked in his belt loops, watching me, waiting.
I blushed. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” he said softly. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” I sat in the coatless chair. “It was just-maybe-a memory or something. It’s gone.” I tried to keep the frustration and embarrassment out of my voice.
He sat in the chair across from me silently, even though that chair usually creaked, and turned in his seat so he could see both the front door and the window. “Was it about me?”
I fished a piece of pizza out of the box, pulled it up until the strings of cheese broke. “Yes.”
“Was I naked?”
I couldn’t help it-I laughed. “I can’t believe you asked me that. No comment.”
He smiled, laugh lines curving at the corners of his eyes. “So I was naked.”
“Shut up and eat your pizza,” I said around a mouthful. And that was the end of my side of the conversation. I wiped out two pieces of pizza before coming up for air. Zayvion paced me, piece for piece. He got up, found the apple juice, and refilled our cups.
After the fourth slice I felt like I could think again. Hounding always made me hungry; drawing on magic always made me hungry. I’d been doing a lot of both of those things on nothing but a scone, coffee, and french fries, most of which I’d lost in the parking garage.
“How did the job with Stotts go?” he asked.
I tore the crust off another piece of pizza, leaving the topping portion still in the box. “I didn’t tell you I was working for Stotts.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Were you spying on me?”
“Were you on the street watching me Hound for him?”
“No. I was… working.”
“And that involved keeping an eye on me?”
“In a roundabout way. I noticed you were with him. How did it go?”
“My Hounding jobs are between me and my clients,” I said. “And this is police business. Confidential.” I did not want to tell him about Pike. Didn’t want t
Time for a subject change.
“So what was up with that chanting and light show you put on earlier today?” I asked.
“That?” He wiped his mouth with a napkin and nodded. “That was magic.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out under the table like he was used to being comfortable around me and in my apartment.
“Genius. What kind of magic? What did you use against those things? The watercolor people things?”
He considered me for a second then. “What is the first rule of magic?”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Zayvion did not look like he was kidding. As a matter of fact, if I had to describe how Zayvion looked, I would use the word intense. Something important was riding on this conversation. Or maybe riding on my response.
“The first rule of magic is if you use magic, it uses you.”
“Yes,” he said. “There is always a price to pay for using magic. Always. And when you spend a lifetime using it, it spends a lifetime using you. It leaves its mark on you”-he motioned toward my hands-“and you leave your mark on it.”
“What do you mean, you leave a mark on magic? It’s hard enough just to touch magic. Magic isn’t solid.”
“Neither are the Veiled.”
“This doesn’t apply to the casual magic user. This doesn’t even apply to someone who uses magic once a day. But for those of… us… who use magic constantly, it is believed that our minds, our souls, our life essence, can impress upon the flow of magic. Like an image on film. Or maybe more. Some people believe that if you use magic too much, you will impress certain parts of your life into the flow of magic permanently. You can lose bits of yourself to it.”
I suddenly wasn’t hungry.
“But they’re wrong, right? Because I have magic in me. Inside me. Tell me there aren’t… parts of people’s spirits and lives in the magic. Tell me I’m not full of dead people.” It came out just as horrified as I felt.
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