Magic In the Blood ab-2, page 5part #2 of Allie Beckstrom Series
I walked out into the brighter fluorescent-lit hall, the smells of too many people coming in out of the rain, the sounds of too many people in too small a space closing in on me. I needed fresh air. Now would be good.
“See you soon,” I said to Love and Payne.
“Be careful,” Love said.
I intended to do just that. Which meant I needed food and a decent cup of coffee to keep my strength up. I knew the perfect place to get both-Get Mugged.
I pulled my scarf closer around my nose and chin. Time to leave the secret police, magical crimes, and cursed dead Hounds behind me. At least for as long as I could.
Outside the station, I took a deep breath and got a noseful of diesel, fish cooking in hot grease, and the wet concrete and mold that pervades Portland from October through May. The wind gusted, pushing hard between buildings and bringing me nothing except the smell of rain and cold.
Daylight was making some progress against the cloud cover, washing the sky in steel gray light. In the strange half-light and rain, everyone looked a little surreal and ghostlike, their forms and features lost to the haze.
I headed down the stairs and strode toward the bus stop that would take me nearer the river and my favorite coffee shop, Get Mugged. After a morning like this, I wanted some real coffee, good coffee, dark coffee. Then I’d start looking around for Pike. I made it all the way to the curb before a man stepped up behind me.
The scent of hickory overtones and soap-not French cologne, just plain soap-rolled on the wind to me, and I knew who it was without even turning. Perfect timing.
“Morning, Pike,” I said. “Want coffee?”
Martin Pike and the guy with him stepped up beside me, and we all crossed the street together. Pike was shorter than me by at least six inches. His gray hair was shaved down to a tight buzz, and the lines etched at his eyes, cheeks, and forehead mapped all the wars he’d served in. Former Marine, I’d always assumed, and a damn good Hound who did a lot of work for the police.
The other man I’d never met. He had a head of black hair and had a pencil-thin mustache beneath a nose that had been broken more than once. He was younger and slighter than Pike, and wore a jacket that reminded me of the gangs out on the east side of town.
“No, thanks,” Pike said, his words carrying a hint of the South, where I thought he’d grown up. “This is Anthony Bell, Hound.”
“Hey,” Anthony said around a piece of gum.
I nodded. He smelled like sweet cherries-which meant blood magic and drugs. For the split second he managed to hold eye contact, I noted his pupils were pinpricks. Raging high.
That was the easiest way to spot a Hound. Nine times out of ten, a Hound was whacked out on painkillers, booze, drugs. Anything to cut the pain of using magic for a living.
“So how’s your granddaughter?” I asked Pike.
I stopped. Turned. Pike stopped too and faced me. Anthony got one step farther down the sidewalk and then glared at us. He shifted from foot to foot like holding still hurt. He swore and then shrugged the hood on his light gray jacket farther over his eyes.
“She committed suicide,” Pike said. “Couldn’t handle life after… that.” His voice was emotionless, but his eyes narrowed in anger or grief-it was hard to tell with him. Pike never let much show. And even though I thought he was a good Hound, there were moments-moments like this-when I wondered if he Hounded for the money or for the killing thrill of the hunt.
I swallowed against a knot of nausea. She had been so young. Strong. I thought she had a chance. People can shake blood magic addiction. People can pull themselves up from abuse. But Lon Trager had done more than abuse her. She’d been tortured. Raped. Broken.
“I’m sorry, Pike.” Then I did something Hounds don’t do. I reached over and touched his hand. Physical contact meant leaving some of your scent on someone else. Not a desirable thing if you didn’t want to get tracked down via the people you’d been around. Like I said, Hounds have a fierce need to keep their scents to themselves.
He nodded and pulled his hand away. But not before I noticed gauze wrapped around the edge of his wrist. Not before I smelled the slight tang of his blood.
I tipped my head toward his hand. “What’s that all about?”
Anthony stopped pacing and looked over at us, suddenly interested in our conversation.
“It’s nothing,” Pike said.
And that was a lie. Okay, fine. He didn’t want to talk about his wounds. I didn’t want to talk about mine yet either.
He said, “Lon Trager is out of jail.”
“I know.” It was still raining, and the wind was blowing so hard, I had to correct my stance every time it let up. Still, my face flushed with heat. Nausea pushed up the back of my throat and burned. “Thirty years, Pike. Trager got thirty.”
“That’s not the way the courts see it,” Pike said. “Mistrial. Contamination of evidence. He’s out, Allie. And he’s going to be looking for you.”
“About that…” I began.
Anthony homed in closer to us and stood there, staring at me, smiling now, and chewing something that was not gum. “You’re gonna be one popular lady, eh?” he said. “All his people, they’re gonna be asking around about you, looking for you. Real popular. Until he finds you.” He laughed. “Ain’t nobody gonna want you after he gets done with you.”
Pike threw him a hard look.
I glared at Anthony, who, I decided, was a prick.
“Can you and I talk alone?” I asked Pike. “Somewhere indoors?” I was freezing cold again.
“We could,” Pike ventured. “But this has been on the news. In the papers. I know you don’t keep up with those things, so I thought I’d find you. Don’t know what else we’d need to say.”
“Can’t handle the real world, can you, rich girl?” Anthony said. “And now you don’t got no rich daddy looking after you no more. Keeping you safe from dirt under your nails. Dirt like Trager.”
“Shut up, Ant,” Pike growled.
Anthony kept chewing, kept smiling, but his eyes narrowed. “Why? Rich girl ain’t never been one of us. She too good for that, right, Beckstrom?”
“I said shut up,” Pike said.
So, that quiet killing vibe Pike gave off? Right there, hot and dangerous between him and Anthony. Anthony was either too stupid or too wasted to notice it.
I resisted the desire to back up a step while they squared off. If I had to bet, I’d say Pike was going to come out on top and beat the living crap out of the kid, but Anthony had that drugged edge of crazy going for him that said he wasn’t going to feel the pain of a fight until days later.
“Side with the rich girl, white girl, gonna jump her bones, old man?” Anthony said. “Fuck her. Get a piece of rich bitch, daddy’s money, and never have to work again?”
Pike, who I thought was going to punch the kid, instead pulled back. He turned his shoulder toward him, dismissing him with body language as clearly as a fist in the face. He shook his head slowly. “That’s the blow talking, boy. If you’re gonna be a dumb ass, get out of my face and go home.”
Anthony bared his teeth. “You afraid? Think you can take me? You don’t know what I can do to you, old man. You don’t know me at all.”
“You’re making me wish that was true,” Pike said. “Go home to your mama. Tell her I won’t teach a boy who doesn’t have the brains to keep his nose clean.”
Anthony’s face burned a dark red, and he clenched his hands into fists. “Fuck you.” He growled. “I didn’t fucking ask for your fucking help.” He spun and stormed off.
“When you get your head on straight,” Pike called out over the wind and rain, “you know where to find me.”
Anthony punched both fists in the air and flipped him off. But like a dog on a chain, he did not go far. He stopped just a couple yards away, jerked as if he knew better than to walk any farther, and began pacing. If his ea
I didn’t want to talk about Trager in front of the kid. He might be a prick, but there was no need to get him mixed up in this.
Pike started walking again, slowly enough that I caught on he was waiting for me to follow. I strolled along beside him, both of us passing Anthony, who trailed behind us a couple yards back. We walked beneath the awnings of buildings as much as we could. Shield spells-the kind of thing that would keep you dry even without stretching an awning over the sidewalk-were not used here. I guess they figured it wasn’t worth the Proxy price. Oregonians were used to the wet, and since these buildings were mostly offices, not shops, old-fashioned umbrellas or hats just had to do.
“Get Mugged?” Pike asked, as though nothing had happened.
I nodded. We were headed that way, toward the bus stop a few streets down. “So,” I said after we’d been walking awhile, “I see you’ve been making new friends.”
He chuckled, a short, low sound. “Took him on for a friend on the east side. His mama thought I could keep him off the streets and out of the gangs long enough so he could finish school. She wanted me to teach him to Hound.” He glanced over at me, shook his head, and then looked back at the rain coming down so hard, I was pretty sure I’d have to wring out my underwear by the time we made it to the coffee shop.
“I told her I’d do what I could,” he said.
“I don’t think he likes you very much.”
“I don’t give a crap if he likes me or not. He’d make a decent Hound if he’d stay clean. He’s got a hell of a knack. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Ought to just haul his ass into juvenile detention. Let them take a whack at that thick skull of his.”
“How old is he?”
“Damn.” I tucked my hands in my pockets. “Maybe juvie isn’t a bad idea.”
Pike sniffed. “We’ll see if he can pull it together. Then. Maybe.”
“So, other than telling me that Lon Trager is out of jail, why are you following me?”
He was a step or so ahead of me, so he gave me a curious, sideways look.
“For the police?” I asked. “Did they hire you to follow me?”
“Not doing much Hounding lately,” he said. “Thinking about retirement. Twenty-five years is about enough pain for me.”
I never thought I’d hear Pike say that. He was the toughest Hound I knew-not that I knew a lot of Hounds. He’d not only been chasing down magical signatures for at least twenty years; he was one of the original Hounds to hire out almost exclusively with the police. I guess I’d always looked up to him for that and figured he was going to Hound until he was old and gray.
Well, older and grayer.
I wondered if he’d ever hounded for Stotts. Since he was still alive, I guessed the answer to that was no.
“Hate to see you call it quits.”
He looked a question at me.
I shrugged. “It’s like seeing a legend end.”
He chuckled again. “Well this legend’s thinking about warm beaches where pretty women wear more flowers than clothes.”
“You? Warm beaches?”
“Don’t think I’d do it?”
“Oh, I think you would,” I said. “But you’d get bored, and you’d be back.”
He stopped beneath the end of an awning. There weren’t very many people on the sidewalks-too early, too cold, too windy, too wet. The light was red anyway, so we stayed there.
Pike watched the traffic crawl past. “Every legend has an end, Allie. And a beginning.”
“How very poetic of you,” I noted.
He scowled and fished a card out of his pocket. “Here.” He handed it to me. “I want you to join.”
I pulled the card close to try to keep it dry and read the plain white letters set against the black background. “The Pack?”
“Call the number and they’ll let you know where we’re meeting next. We move around.”
“Who’s we, Pike? You and Anthony? What’s the Pack?”
“Hounds. Those who work with the police, and those who work against them, and any others who will join. Not all of them are as stupid as Ant.”
I heard Anthony mutter, “Fuck you.”
My ears were good too.
“You put together a support group for Hounds?” I asked. “That’s just… that’s just so…”
“Allie…” he warned.
“… sweet.” I grinned.
He gave me a level stare and I was glad he didn’t have a gun in his hand, and that he and I were, if not on the same side, not on opposing sides.
“Things are changing in this city, with magic. With everything,” he said. “We either watch each other’s backs, or we’ll be used up-used against each other. Dead. If you’re on our side, call and come to a meeting.”
“And what if I don’t want to be on any side? I like being on my side-alone.”
“Then don’t come.” The way he said it, he made it sound like a threat.
“Nice. So I don’t come,” I said, dead serious myself now, “what will you do? Hunt me down?”
“I won’t have to.” He held my gaze long enough that I knew what he meant. Someone else would find me, like Lon Trager’s men, or maybe I’d just bite it working for the cursed Detective Stotts. Hounding alone meant I’d end up dead eventually, maybe even anonymously, like the sixteen I hadn’t even known had died in the last six years. And even though I liked the idea of living on my own, having my own independence, and not being held responsible to anyone, the idea of dying alone, with no one to even know I was gone or how I’d died, made my chest hurt.
He was right. Things were changing in the city. The strange tension of something-a fight, a fire, a storm, something-hung heavy on the air. I had felt it after I saw my dad’s ghost, I had felt it at the police station, and I felt it now.
I leaned in and whispered, “I need to talk to you alone, Pike. It’s about Trager.”
He didn’t show any change of emotion. Just nodded. “Come to the meeting, and we’ll talk.”
“How about I skip the meeting and we talk anyway?”
I rubbed at my face. I didn’t care what he said. Nothing could convince me meeting up with a bunch of Hounds would make my life any kind of easy.
“Have you ever seen a ghost?” I asked.
Pike’s eyes widened. I was pretty sure this was the first time I’d ever seen him surprised. “Don’t believe in them,” he said, dead flat and poker-faced.
“That’s not what I asked.”
He looked down at his shoe, his body language turning inward, as if trying to dodge an old pain. When he straightened and squared his shoulders, he was nothing but steel cold killer again. “Can’t live as long as I have without seeing things.”
“You want to talk, call the number and come to the meeting.”
“Oh, come on,” I said. “When did you give up on talking straight?”
The light changed; traffic stopped. My bus had pulled up on the other side of the street. Passengers were getting on. I really wanted some coffee and a chance at being warm and out of the wet. I took a step, but Pike did not follow. I glanced over at him. He had already turned and was walking away, back the way we’d come.
“What? You giving up on coffee too?” I yelled.
“Call the damn number,” he yelled back without turning.
I shook my head and then jogged across the street before the light changed again. I didn’t care how many times he ordered me to do something. I wasn’t going to join his little club.
I got to the other side of the street but not soon enough. My bus pulled away from the curb, gunned the engine, and rolled through the yellow light, leaving me behind.
And all I heard was Anthony’s shrill laughter.
And I’d missed my bus.
I hated missing my bus. That, most of all, officially put me in a pissy mood.
I shoved my hands in my pockets and strode off toward Get Mugged. The coffee shop was maybe eight blocks away. Against the wind, of course.
I kept a steady pace, not worrying about getting there fast-it didn’t matter now because I couldn’t get any wetter-but instead working on getting there in one piece. I watched the people moving around me, looking for Trager’s men; breathed through my nose, smelling for Trager’s men; used all my nonmagical observation skills to stay aware of Trager’s men. But seriously? Trager’s men could be anyone, anywhere.
The few other people tromping through the crappy weather didn’t make any strange moves. No one paid any attention to me. No one even made eye contact. My teeth started chattering, so I picked up the pace, hoping faster would make for warmer.
By the time I’d made it to Get Mugged’s cross street, I was wetter and warmer, which is not as sexy as it sounds.
I turned down the street and spotted the roofline of Get Mugged. The neighborhood had gone through some heavy reconstruction. Buildings had been torn down, leaving behind dirt, concrete, and gravel. There were two buildings left standing: Get Mugged and an empty warehouse with boarded-up windows.
Get Mugged held down the corner of the block, a coffee-scented old broad wearing too much paint and plaster to cover her age but still turning over clients like a dime-store hooker. The warehouse looked like Get Mugged’s meth-mouthed sister, broken, rotting from the inside out, spongy, and frail.
For years, people had wanted to turn this area into boutique shopping. A building would go up, something would move in, and before there was time to hang curtains, the business would bankrupt. Enough of that had left the whole block looking a little like an unmade bed. Nothing seemed to survive here for long. Except Get Mugged.
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