Under Witch Moon (Moon Shadow Series), page 13
Despite offering the handshake, he was wary, and I didn't blame him. Not only had I led him on a treasure hunt to meet with me, I looked like hell. Because he was taller than me by a good eight inches, he could, no doubt, see the hefty scab on the top of my head. There were still scratches on my face from when I learned to fly, and I hadn't had a full night's sleep in a while. All in all, I wasn't too surprised by his first question.
"Are you homeless?"
I blinked. "No."
"Did the witch send you?"
That one got me. Since there were no other single women around besides Angel, he had figured me for the meet, but he hadn't recognized me as Merlin. "In a manner of speaking," I hedged. I hadn't worn a disguise tonight, thinking it would set him up to distrust me, but since he didn't recognize me, I went with it.
We moved to a booth, and I had to wonder if Tino really used illusion candles. The dim light caused shadows to flicker across White Feather's features, making his face rather more gentle than it had seemed by the bar.
I forced my concentration to business. "Have you been trying to track down Merlin? Word on the street is someone is pretending to want to hire Merlin and that someone is a cop."
"Why would I track her down? I already know how to contact her. At least I did until she starting playing hide and seek."
"That's the whole point. Merlin needs to know who is looking for her and why."
He shook his head, resting back against the booth cushion. "From what I can tell, there's a lot of looking going on. Have you been in El Lobo lately? The place is full of people trying to buy witches, werewolves, you name it. How can she tell someone is trying to find her in particular?"
His question was legitimate. I still wasn't sure I was dealing with anything more than my own paranoia. "Word is that it's a cop looking for her, and you're the only cop she deals with."
Even in the half-light, I could see color flush his cheeks. "And she figures that since she gave me a map and very little else to find a woman in the woods, that it must be me." He grunted. "Maybe she feels guilty. Seems to me that she should."
My mother hadn't said "boo" about a fourth body being found. "Assuming you followed the map, why isn't it in the news?"
"Saving the details for the investigation. Do you know how many false tips come in? There's only one person who knows about--" He looked around the restaurant, but Angel was still tucked behind the bar. The other two men eating were across the room well away from us. White Feather leaned across the table anyway. "Only one person knows about that spot in the mountains. So far the loonies claiming responsibility for the other three deaths don't know about it."
"More than the killer knows," I said. "I knew, and I didn't kill her. The guy who told me knew."
"And Merlin knows." He shrugged and sat back. "Okay, so it isn't a huge secret. But at least some of the loonies don't know about it."
I could see where keeping it quiet could help him. "Why is a cop looking for Merlin?"
Instead of answering, he said, "Are we going to eat anything? Or do they only serve food in the front?"
"Sure, the food is good here. Do you want me to order for you or do you want a menu?" Angel wouldn't interrupt business unless I specifically asked her to come over. It was one of the rules of the place.
"You come here a lot?" He seemed doubtful.
"Enough." I had to be careful or he was going to guess that I was Merlin rather than a low-paid messenger.
"The burgers. It's only a question of whether you want cheese and green chiles."
"Fine. Everything. Do they serve beer?"
"Yeah." I held up two fingers to Angel. She nodded and disappeared into the kitchen to place the order.
He watched without complaining. "I don't think a cop is looking for Merlin."
Before I could reply, Angel headed our way to take our drink order. When she arrived with her trusty notepad, I said, "One foam and a diet for me." I automatically answered the plea in her eyes, because she couldn't speak normally with White Feather sitting there. "And a regular coke."
She beamed and hurried off. I really needed to stop adding to her tips this way.
I turned back to White Feather. He watched me with curious eyes, his hands resting on the table between us. "I heard a cop was looking. If it isn't you, can you find out why a cop is after her?"
"None of the cops I know are looking. The cops don't even admit we're looking for a werewolf. Come on--" he stopped. "What did you say your name was?"
"Adriel." I smiled. It would be a lot easier than answering to Merlin. "I don't think you told me yours either."
He weighed that for a moment. "I like White Feather."
"Okay," I agreed. Names were important, and I wasn't one to push on that issue.
After another moment, he added, "You can call me Jason if you want." His eyes shifted away.
"Okay. Either works."
He made eye contact again. "The cops aren't looking for Merlin."
"Are you sure?" That had me stumped. Lynx was positive a cop was searching for me. He was rarely wrong about the underground. Tino hadn't considered the possibility of a cop until I suggested it, but he thought the idea had merit.
"I can be fairly certain of it," White Feather said. "We've got our hands full tracking down this other problem. If someone is looking for Merlin, it could be any of the loonies looking for services. The word I hear is that Dolores did some injury to the werewolf who attacked her. Even Merlin told me the guy had been burned. There are a lot of people interested in getting that same protection or any protection."
"Dolores died. Doesn't seem to me the spell would be all that popular." But I could imagine a sulking Zandy complaining to his friends about how badly he had fared in the deal. Was the kid too stupid to hide the fact that he had been at the scene? Had he dared brag about it?
White Feather shrugged. "With these people it doesn't matter. A motorcycle gang has been offering a chaperon service. I heard another rumor about a shifter organization offering protection from other werewolves."
My blood chilled. "Really." I thought about what Zandy had told me, something about Lynx offering services. It seemed everyone wanted in on the new business opportunity. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Angel signal the food was ready. I ignored her.
White Feather sighed. "I'm not in the right crowd to fool anyone into thinking I'm going to date a werewolf, so no one is going to tell me much about protection."
"Most cops don't hire witches either," I said. Lynx had been adamant about whoever was looking for me being a cop, but Tino hadn't been sure. Which was it? Or was more than one person looking? Maybe the vampire had been the start of the rumor. I drummed my fingers on the table, trying to decide if there was any other information along this line that White Feather might help with.
"Look," he said, "if you're worried, why not stay away from Merlin for a while? She's obviously up to her ears in this stuff. It might do you good to keep away." He reached a hand across the table, although he didn't actually touch my arm. I could smell his cologne, a rich combination of soap, outdoors and probably shaving cream.
I signaled Angel, moving his attention from me to her as she bustled back to the kitchen for the food.
Neither of us said anything even after she brought the tray and set everything down. He took a few bites, and we studied each other while we ate. He was more handsome than I originally thought, but it could have been the candles. He had fox eyes, watchful, but with a hint of playfulness.
"You do much work for Merlin?" he asked.
I nodded. "Full-time. I'm afraid I can't walk away."
Those blue-green eyes looked, oh, so disappointed. "It might be dangerous."
"I assure you that it is."
"Are you a witch apprentice?"
I never considered myself fully-learned. "Yes."
He smiled. "You any good?"
I couldn't help but smile back. "Merlin only works with th
"Whatever protection she sold Dolores, if you don't know how to make it, have her teach you," he said with sudden seriousness. "I think it would have worked if Dolores had used it right."
"How do you know?"
"These women are playing with fire. Dolores was teasing the wolf or trying to tame him. She shouldn't have done that."
I silently agreed. "What about the others?"
"Those murders feel different, but the cops are putting them all in one basket."
"If…" I didn't think Zandy would ever come forward. "If the cub that did Dolores came forward, it wouldn't really help, would it?"
Hope kindled. "Do you know who it is?" He reached out and grabbed my wrist. With my hands halfway to my mouth, I almost dropped my burger. The shock from his touch wasn't just hormones. The silver around my neck sang, earth responding to earth.
I didn't move. He let go. "Sorry. Didn't mean to grab you so hard."
He hadn't. I let out the air that had gotten stuck in my lungs. Did he know he was a warlock? Power often sang loudly, but a direct line was rare. I'd felt it in the desert, in the wind across my arms, usually when there was lightning in the air. He was like that.
It took me a moment to catch my breath. My blood had responded automatically; like the silver, it surged towards that magic, wanting to sing too.
"Do you know who it is?" he repeated, more calmly.
I finished taking a bite. It gave me time to find my feet. "It's a kid really. I could tell you who it is, but it won't solve your problem because even if you got him, it would leave the other killer out there."
He concentrated on his food for a while. "It would solve one of my problems." When I looked up, his eyes were hooded, hiding secrets. There was anger there now.
"I have no loyalties to this particular werewolf," I assured him, "but I don't think it will do you any good at all."
"Believe me, it would. I need to know, even if it is only one murder."
"You want to arrest him, knowing he might end up keeping the police from looking for the other guy? That would leave the other murderer out there!"
"Never mind," he snapped. "This is dangerous business, Adriel. Tell Merlin that. Tell her she's better off not selling protection to young ladies looking for a good time."
"Or anyone else that comes looking for it right now." The vampire and his warning came to mind.
We finished eating. He paid for dinner. On the way out, he touched my elbow and started to say something, but then stopped.
I held my breath, but other than the very nice feeling of being close to a man and the clean smell of him, there was no heady zap.
He knew he was a warlock. Only someone who knew power could tamp it down to almost nothing.
I abhorred nightclubs, and not just the ones that attracted groupies looking for magic. I did not like body piercing, tattoos whether they were magical or not, and I hated loud booming noises that substituted for music.
Even though I could have used the cactus pot to reach Lynx, after my meeting with White Feather, the timing was right to hit the nightclub. If I were lucky, not only would I find Lynx, I might also get a handle on who was looking for me.
As soon as I walked inside El Ojo, I felt out of place. My jeans were not tight enough. Sneakers probably weren't high on the list of favored shoes either. I could have lived with being ignored, but it wasn't terribly helpful when after information.
My plan was to sit at the bar and listen to the place, maybe ask a few questions. While the earplugs I had purchased at an all-night Walgreen's cut the obvious noise in half, it was still too loud. The noise negated magic, mother earth and any intelligence required therein to work spells. I felt vulnerable.
Grumbling, I worked my way through throngs of people. A lady with fingernails as long as the beer mugs on her tray swayed by too quickly for me to grab anything. Apparently there was a signal or some sort of dance required. I watched as an over-muscled zealot bumped hips with her, grabbed a drink and managed to slither his arm up against her while he paid.
Muscle-man could have used a few more clothes. His ripped Nike t-shirt showed off his wares, but it wasn't doing a thing to catch the sweat. "Gross," I muttered again, moving on.
I wiped at my own sweat, glad I hadn't worn heavy makeup. A wig would have been the death of me. Given that the look of the day here was "bursting out," my summer knit top failed miserably as a decent disguise. "Too bad."
In due time, I managed to find the bar and crowd my way to the inside long enough to decide that ordering a club soda would only mark me as an idiot. "Lookin' for a friend," I shouted at the bartender, putting money on the table for a beer that I wouldn't drink. "Kid named Lynx. You seen him tonight?"
The bartender, a muscle-man with more clothes than the one on the dance floor, shook his head. I don't know if that was because he didn't hear me or he didn't care. "Do you know where I can find a witch?" I yelled next.
He used his chin to point towards one corner. I took the mug he deposited on the bar and pushed my way out of the crowd. In the process I tripped, spilled beer and ruined someone's bust-out blouse. The woman screeched at me, but I did what everyone else did; I ignored it and moved on.
I kept a death grip on what was left of the beer so that I didn't have to go back to the bar.
The corner where the witches were doing business was busy. One lady was reading palms in a booth partially obscured by sheer curtains. The hand she was generously interpreting was mashed between her breasts. No way she could see it well enough to read it. The paying patron didn't seem to mind. Every time the witch leaned forward to divulge information, the guy gasped and grabbed the nearest plump object for support.
To her left, two more restaurant-style booths were set up with heavier gauze curtains. A peek into booth number one revealed a woman who was having a seizure or pretending to be communicating with the dead. From her pale make-up, maybe she had even come back from the dead, who could tell?
In disgust, I tried to discern how anyone would go about looking to hire someone other than the carnival freaks. My skin positively crawled in this place of negative magic. It was my last instinct and apparently the only one left that worked in a place like this.
I set my beer mug down and pushed toward the back of the place. Tino had back rooms in his other places. Why not here? Surely that was where a conversation could take place, because the dancing bodies and front office were nothing more than a petting zoo.
The first door I found led down a hall to restrooms. The lengthy corridor was an extension of the petting zoo, only slightly quieter. As I turned to go back the way I had come, a shadow flitted back against the wall. It could have been my imagination or one of the lovers shifting with passion.
I scanned the moving bodies, but no one stood out. If someone wanted to use the bathroom, they weren't moving toward those doors.
The next door off the main looked like a game room. Business might be conducted there, but if someone wanted to hire me, why look in a place with electronic games?
My ears were ringing despite the earplugs, and though I hadn't touched the beer, I was woozy from breathing in too much smoke.
The third door I tried led to another hallway, but I was so dizzy I had to stop and lean over. There was no telling what I had breathed in. Lowering my head helped. I tried to tilt it sideways in order to watch the dim corridor around me.
Bodies came and went, mostly through the doors on the ends. Black shadowy people moved in my direction, and one went past me to a door further down the hall. Empty eyes flicked in my direction, but the guy didn't slow down.
As I turned back to face the main area, another shadow moved against the wall. I leaned over, trying to see better. My skin was still warning me. Someone was following me.
Slowly, my head still down, I shifted along the wall, feeling my way. I stayed up against it so that I could see someone approach, but there were angles
I shouldn't have come here. For some stupid reason I thought that because Tino ran the joint, it would be respectable. Bottom line, it was a bar, and it was open for business. Tino wasn't selling quiet family nights here. I wasn't sure how it affected my opinion of my friend, but I didn't have time to worry about it. The shadow at the top of the hallway detached itself and moved towards me.
I scooted around the nearest corner and realized that I had left one building for another. Joined buildings weren't uncommon in Santa Fe because most original adobes were very small. Proprietors often bought a series of adobe shops and combined them in order to have larger real estate.
I dodged into what appeared to be another main party room with more couples dancing to different music.
Running wouldn't help me blend. Walking and moving in the crowd wasn't going to help much either. I worked my way across the dance floor, weaving between couples and trying to avoid being noticed. Halfway across, an arm came out high, hitting me in the chin.
I stumbled and knocked into a lady, who promptly fell on the floor.
Ignoring the chaos, I kept going forward until I found the hallway to the next set of bathrooms. From around the side, I looked back.
There were no familiar faces, but it didn't take long to spot more than one person surveying the crowd. Bouncers? Or someone looking for me? One guy, built like a small tank, stood by an entrance or exit. Another guy doing some serious looking at the crowd was smaller than the bouncer type. He was dressed business-casual rather than tucked-in muscle shirt. He shook a hand here and there, working the room as he studied the customers. It was impossible to tell if the guy was working his way toward me or if he actually needed the restroom.
I moved backwards only to find that the hallway was a dead end.
Without being too obvious, I got behind the next guy who came out of the john and stayed very close. Once out of the hallway, I headed for the only other door in the place, a small door in the shadows near the rear of the building.
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