Under Witch Moon (Moon Shadow Series), page 11
"I can get them a message. They don't need to eat here. I don't stop them from coming in if they want, but," he looked right into my eyes and said again, "It's best to have someone who does business with them. That way your name stays out of it. That way it's just business."
He didn't say her name, but Matilda was the only person I knew who did business with them. If Tino didn't actually do business with them, what the heck was my friend Matilda thinking? I forgot to breathe again, and Tino started waving a napkin at me. When that didn't work, he reached across the bar and pounded my back.
"Ooof." The air in my lungs came out in rush when my chest hit the bar. "Geez, Tino. You trying to kill me?"
"You better not take no more messages for those kind," he advised. "You ain't looking so good."
"Yeah. I know." The thought of my childhood friend working with vamps--it was too much. I trusted her. She was my friend. But vamps. Yeesh.
I had done what I came to do and almost bolted before I thought of my other question. "Oh, one more thing. What do you know about the women being murdered?"
Tino sighed. "You have all the hard questions today, chica. Why you want to go messin' in bad stuff?"
"I don't, but one of them was my client. I didn't know about the others. Then I found out there seems to be a pattern."
He nodded. "Came down through El Lobo. Fancy pimp goes by the name Arturo. He started offering dates with, you know. Not the night creatures you just mentioned, but you know."
"You ignored him?"
"Of course. Those guys with false promises, they a dime a dozen. Maybe not even that much, maybe only worth a peso."
"Only his offer was for real," I said. "He must have had contact with a real shifter."
"More than one after he set a few women up. I hear he has two or three, maybe more, that want in on the action."
I groaned. "You're telling me that even after the deaths, business is booming?"
"He don't need to come into my places anymore. Business goes looking for him."
"You'd think the murders would have slowed things down." I would have been more incredulous if I hadn't dealt with Dolores. The woman had no sense, and the danger seemed to have driven her as much as the possibility of a date with someone "special."
"You want to stay away from that business, girl."
"I know." Good thing I had already eaten because it looked like my stomach was going to stay bottomed out for a while. Finding out that the shifters were still in business was very bad news. I couldn't help but believe that whoever was trying to track me at Tino's restaurants was doing so because of my link to one of the crime scenes. As if that weren't bad enough, I had to talk to Matilda about the vampire.
Hunted and hunters. Oh goody.
Since Matilda's shop was near the plaza, I decided to first check and see if White Feather was trying to meet me. If he wasn't, I fully intended to set up a meet and clear the air. If White Feather wasn't the one trying to find me in the bars, he might know who was doing the looking. I probably owed him a few details on the body in the mountains too.
Because I was nervous, I used items from the trunk of my car to look less like myself. I often went past the signal location without a disguise, but not right now, not with all that was going on.
The plaza was full of people, which was the best time to visit. I walked along the Palace of the Governors. The hair from my blond wig was tucked underneath a ball cap. A special pillow around my waist added a layer of fat. While the extras provided a great disguise, I was uncomfortably warm. The bright New Mexico sunshine was frying me.
Despite my discomfort, I stopped to buy a fabulous strand of silver from one of the Indian sellers. I usually bought my silver before it was set into jewelry, but some Indians imparted a unique magic when they designed items. I wasn't too proud to obtain the extra degree of quality when I came across it.
I wandered aimlessly around the cottonwoods that were part of the center park. Strolling near the fenced monument for those who fought in New Mexico's Indian wars, I avoided eye contact with an old man who was propped against the iron gate. As I neared the chains that locked the gates, he stopped nursing his brown paper bag. In one quick motion, he reached over and grabbed my pants.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Leggo." My heart beat double-time. I hadn't put the padlock on the chains yet so no one could possibly know I was the witch who met with White Feather.
The old man confirmed it. "Oh mi Dios, mi Dios?" He held out a hand, stained from dirt and tobacco.
I reached into my jeans and dropped a dime onto the ground. It was far enough from his hands that he had to release my pants to get it. Backing up, I deliberately came in contact with the gates again. White Feather hadn't left an extra padlock, so with a flick of my wrist, I left mine.
White Feather usually marked his padlocks with a colored line to indicate the church at which we would meet. I was fancier. When he removed the padlock, candle wax inside the lock was spelled to make sure the smell would remind him of San Miguel Mission.
I headed to the south end of the plaza as though the experience with the bum made me seek safer territory. As I crossed the road from the middle of the square, I looked back. To my surprise, the bum was gone.
A quick scan of the park didn't find him.
A dime wasn't enough to buy anything, but the bum was no longer sitting at the monument.
I was very tempted to go back and see if my padlock was gone. If I didn't, I'd never know if the bum was a plant. If I did, it would look suspicious to anyone watching the monument for action. Biting my cheek, I went down Washington, keeping an eye on the monument. No bum. The guy was definitely gone.
I meandered to Old Santa Fe Trail and Loretto Chapel to set a false trail before taking back alleys to my car.
No one followed me. There was no way they could have kept up with me without being obvious, but I was still bothered.
Instead of going to Matilda's, I headed home. I needed a backup plan for meeting with White Feather because the meet I had set up didn't feel safe. Normally I specified the place and White Feather unlocked the place. If it were unlocked, I knew he was there. If not, I knew he hadn't gotten the message or couldn't make it. This time, I wasn't taking any chances. I wanted a change of routine and in an area where I had more control.
"Sheep for slaughter," I muttered.
At home, I went straight into the lab to work on a spell that would dissolve paper. My biggest problem was that every spell I looked up called for pulling humidity from the air and turning the paper to sludge. New Mexico didn't have enough humidity for such a spell. I sat and rewrote the formulas to do the opposite. The spell would evaporate the moisture out of the paper within twenty-four hours, causing it to crumble to dust. If White Feather hadn't read it by then, he wouldn't be reading it.
Once the paper was properly spelled, I wrote White Feather instructions for meeting me at The Owl. I told him when to appear and what to wear. No disguises. I didn't have time for it. I needed him in a place where I had friends, and where I knew the escape routes.
The instructions done, I grabbed a couple of illusion spells, my levitation spell, and some self-defense packages. I hoped it didn't come to that.
Passing back through the plaza, the padlock was gone.
Fine, the meet was on, but instead of me, White Feather was going to get my note. In the church it would be too easy for him to arrest me. In The Owl, I could get away.
I headed to Matilda's to take care of business, but time was short. I had to place the note inside the church before closing time since I didn't plan on being there at midnight.
Worrying about the plan kept my mind busy while my feet took me to Matilda's shop. I touched the door and checked to make sure the front was empty before entering.
Matilda pranced out from the back and smiled when she saw me. "Adriel!" Her red hair was gathered into a spiked bun and held in place by long strings of beads. I did my best to avoid getti
I hugged her back, harder than usual because I was afraid. I didn't want to involve her with the vamp, even if she was already involved. "Hey. How's business?"
"Oh good. Should I close the shop for twenty so we can talk?"
She stepped back, her mouth opened to prattle, but no sound came out because she hadn't expected my answer. I never took her up on her offers to close shop except for the time my sister, Kas, went missing. Luckily Kas had eloped, and all ended well other than she became an even worse snob.
Matilda blinked heavily mascaraed eyelashes. "Okay." She flipped the sign around and hit a button that engaged automatic locks. "What's up?"
"I have a message. For a vamp. I don't know his name. He's looking for a witch, one who is capable of tracking a vampire, one that wants vampire blood."
"I didn't ask him his name," I said nervously.
"Hispanic? Wears his hair in a short ponytail? Short for a vamp?"
Most Hispanics were on the short side so I wasn't sure that part of the description counted, but I nodded. "That sounds like him." The image in my mind scared all the blood out of my face. "Look, I'm not sure I know the name of the right witch, but whoever this vamp is, he came by to check me out. I know I'm not the lady in question, so I'm throwing him--" I choked off before I could say, "a bone."
Matilda smiled. "Patrick came around asking about hiring a powerful witch. I didn't get the full story out of him."
"You sent him to me?"
"Of course not. I told him I was the best." She straightened her back proudly, ever the salesman. Truthfully, she was the best at what she did. She just didn't dabble in the same areas that I did.
"Are you sure you didn't mention my name? How else would he find me?"
She started to argue with me and then clamped her mouth shut. A long purple fingernail tapped matching purple lips. "You know, vamps can find out a lot of things. I know I didn't give him your name on purpose. But he's a vamp. They have more glamor in their pinkies than I could produce with a lifetime of spells."
The thought didn't seem to bother her. "You're telling me he may have glamored you into telling?"
"It's possible. Goes with the territory. I have nothing to hide, and neither do you. He knows that, so I don't know why he'd bother. If I found out, it would ruin a perfect working relationship." She frowned.
I didn't want to get into the logic of how she was going to pull out of a relationship where she could be glamored into cooperating. I delivered my message. "Tell him that he may want to look into a witch named Sheila. Of Los Alamos. Make sure he knows it isn't an accusation, just a person of interest." I wasn't sure I cared if Sheila turned up dead--so long as she wasn't turned into a vamp. The woman was enough of a bloodsucker without someone giving her that kind of power permanently.
"Okay," Matilda agreed easily. "She's a person of interest."
Tapping her fingernail against her mouth again, Matilda asked, "Do you really think he used glamor to get the names of witches from me?"
I shrugged. "How would I know? You're the vamp specialist."
"Hmm. Maybe I should set up some traps."
"What?" I shouted. "You aren't trapping any--"
She waved a hand at me. "Not to trap the vamp, silly. To leave evidence if one tries to glamor me. A tape recorder would work so long as the vamp wasn't suspicious. It would be better if it were more sophisticated though." She stared around her shop, assessing possibilities.
I shook my head and left her to her idea of protection. It didn't impress me much, and it probably wouldn't even set the vamp back a pace. My heart feared for her. My heart feared, period.
Unfortunately, I didn't have time to argue with her. I had to get myself to the church and leave the note for White Feather. It was almost five o'clock, which was closing time at the tourist traps.
The San Miguel Mission was an ancient church said to have been built on even older native structures. For certain, the church had burned down at least once. The remains were sealed underneath the floor when the new foundation was laboriously rebuilt over two hundred years ago. In my mind, such rebuilding trapped the strength of the place; a sense of time and power emanated from the cool adobe walls.
Hiding inside past closing was hugely risky, but if I didn't, the note was likely to get thrown away. I had been too rushed to think of putting an avoidance spell on it for anyone other than White Feather. Besides, the church was cared for by the Christian Brothers. Setting spells against those of any holy order was risky because half the time they didn't work.
My goal was to reach the inaccessible choir loft at the back of the church. It was inaccessible because there were no stairs and hadn't been for over fifty years. No one knew what had happened to the stairs, so the loft remained, untouched and more importantly, unchecked at closing.
Unfortunately, the only way I could get there was levitation, and I wasn't that good at levitating. Even if I managed the spell, anyone could walk through the low door from the gift shop and catch me mid-flight. The good news was that the door to the church was kept closed to keep the gift shop noise out.
I entered the gift shop and did my best to look like an aimless tourist, picking through the brochures. My wig was back in place and hopefully my dark eye shadow made me look older, flattening my features, and drawing watchful eyes to my deep red lipstick.
"Can I help you?" The Hispanic lady woman behind the counter had a better disguise than mine. Like a thousand others in the area, her dark hair was threaded with gray strands. She wore enough silver and turquoise to be a walking jewelry advertisement. She could have been a mom, a grandmother, an aunt--or all three.
"Uh, just looking." I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes to close. The lady probably wanted to leave on time. I ducked into the church through the very low doorway. Empty--except for one man kneeling in the front pew.
He was probably the Christian Brother waiting to tidy up and lock the place. What would he think if he turned around and caught me halfway up to the old choir loft? I dithered for only an instant. I peeked back through the gap in the door to the gift shop. The couple who had been shopping was leaving.
I turned to the confessional, thinking to hide inside, but there were no doors or curtains because it was no longer used in its original capacity. I could kneel in it, but the Brother would see me.
If he caught me, could I get him to hear my confession? If I distracted him and then went silent…there were rules on hearing confessions, and I didn't think a Christian Brother was able to absolve sinners. Besides, the confessional was tucked under the loft. There was no way I could levitate through the boards, and if I stepped away from the confessional, I'd be in his line of sight.
The Christian Brother finished his prayers and stood, catching me staring.
"Hello." He spoke low and inclined his head.
I had a crazy moment where I thought he was White Feather. I knelt quickly at the back pew and dropped my eyes. This plan was going all to…whatever.
The Brother turned then and went into the sacristy to the right of the altar.
He had seen me. Hiding anywhere at ground level was impossible. It was now or never.
I moved out from under the loft and activated the spell. Unfortunately, I had forgotten a very important fact. Not only do spells not work well against holy orders, they weren't that great on sacred ground either. Churches were sacred ground. They had their own magic. Not that what I was doing was necessarily a sin; the spell used all natural elements, and it was for a good cause. But anytime magics mixed, so did the results.
The levitation spell hit resistance. Instead of drifting quickly upwards, I ricocheted sideways. My head connected with the white plaster wall hard enough to rattle the hanging depictions of the Stations of the Cross. "Oomph."
Before I could fall, I grabbed out, bar
This time, I snagged a handful of wood. It was the only thing that kept me from shooting even higher. My head felt as if the contact with the wall had left nothing but plaster inside my skull.
Through the dim black curtain forming around my eyes, I dragged myself down and canceled the spell. Lying flat would have been best, but my head hurt so badly, I ended up on the choir floor in a helpless ball.
The Christian Brother came out to see why the light fixtures were shaking. "Hello?"
Luckily the loft had a cloth draped around the railing. I didn't think he could see me. I know I couldn't see him or anything else other than a few shooting sparks in front of my eyes.
"Amy?" He rattled the massive wooden plank that barred the door out the back of the church. That or my head was pounding from pain.
"Amy, did you drop something?"
I couldn't hear Amy's reply. From the buzzing in my ears, I think I had a concussion.
There was no way to tell when the murmuring stopped and my head cleared. I lay in a stupor, trying to decide whether I should move.
I must have passed out because when I could see shapes clearly again, the church was very, very quiet. What time was it? If I had stayed too long, it could be midnight and all this subterfuge was for nothing. White Feather would show up and arrest me. Assuming he could get up here.
Standing was an effort. The digits on my watch were blurry. It was either quarter to six or quarter to seven. I couldn't quite tell which. Either way, I had time to leave the note and make my escape. "Hello?" I tried tentatively. "Hello?" a little louder.
No one came rushing from the gift shop or the sacristy. Good.
There was one problem. I was stranded. No way was I going to try levitating my way down. With my luck, I'd shoot myself out the bell tower. "Ooogh." I sat back down, trying to figure out which of my spells would help. But I couldn't use them. No way. I wasn't sure what had gone wrong on the way up. It could have been bad driving on my part, lack of testing or…Something Else.
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