Under Witch Moon (Moon Shadow Series), page 21
Unfortunately, the clinic was closed. As I walked up to the door, Zandy's pager buzzed.
Like the clinic in Santa Fe, the pet adoptions were posted for only one day a week, all day Wednesday. On Saturday, according to the sign, Dr. Gonzales, provided vet services.
I had assumed since Marcella was coming up here, the place would be open, but now I understood the different address. If I had to guess, she was coming up here to meet with her falcon buddy today, and then staying to do her charity thing tomorrow.
I sighed. With the place closed, I couldn't expect to figure out whether Zandy had been inside. Just like in Tesuque, all I had was a bit of Zandy's aura around the building.
Unlike Tesuque, the building was quiet with no one to see me snooping. If Lynx had ever been inside with Zandy, his aura might be strong enough for me to pick it up, especially if it had been recent.
I wasn't sure what that would tell me, other than he had been here, but I wanted to know one way or the other. I got back in the car, drove a couple of blocks away, parked and walked back. Lucky for me, the porch was conveniently landscaped with a row of hawthorn bushes that blocked most of the view from the road.
The back door would be a safer entry, but there wasn't much traffic to worry about anyway. I sat behind the hawthorns and pulled an illusion pack from my backpack in case I needed it later. If someone spotted me before I got inside, I'd tell them I was leaving a note. I took out a piece of paper, wrote a note of thanks about my non-existent dog and folded it.
It took a few minutes to devise a spell using a magnet, some mint oil and my Swiss Army knife. The front entry lock was a single deadbolt, a remnant of the house owners. The lock was a piece of cake for my spell.
I slid inside and relocked the door. The only evidence of my tampering with the deadbolt was the lingering scent of mint oil.
The entry room still looked like a living room, although the carpeting had been pulled out, leaving concrete floors. I could feel the pager on my hip vibrating. "Okay, you've been here for sure." But why?
As I pulled out the fork linked to Lynx, I heard squeaking.
There it was again, along with a snuffling noise. Then, to my relief, I heard a small bark.
With a gulp of air, I realized there were animals here. Of course.
Hopefully the noise didn't mean there were humans.
I edged forward carefully and peeked around a corner into a hallway. Two of the doors along the hallway had been removed entirely. The first contained several cages with cats and kittens. The next one contained two small cages with puppies.
The third door was closed, but the "bathroom" sign held true when I opened it to check.
I went in, closed the door and pulled out both forks. Zandy's quivered steadily. Lynx's fork wasn't as clear, but it definitely twitched.
"Okay, you're dealing with Arturo more than you admitted, aren't you kid?"
I slipped back out. On the other side of the living room, I found the kitchen. It looked as though it had been converted into an operating room. There was a door that led to a closet containing rows and rows of supplies. Another door led outside to the back. Cages were out there too, next to the corral.
To the side of the kitchen, there was another door, but it was locked. It didn't say bathroom.
It was even easier to activate the unlock spell because I had just done it.
"Voila," I mouthed, just before the sound from within hit my brain.
Squeaking. Lots and lots of squeaking.
My hand stopped in the act of reaching for the light. Little red eyes reflected from the light spilling into the room from the kitchen. Swallowing hard, I hit the switch.
There were cages and cages of them, probably fifty rats. They were all healthy, normal looking rats.
I let out the breath I had been holding. Arturo Gonzales wasn't getting money from Sheila for charity. He was Sheila's supply chain for rats. She must have decided to make Harold pay for them, keeping her name out of the entire transaction.
Because of the mind-numbing disgust, it took several seconds for the scrape of a key at the front door to penetrate. The first sound to actually register in my brain was a heavy object hitting concrete followed by the slap of flip-flops across the living room.
My options were limited. There was the supply closet or the rats.
No way. I yanked the door to the rat room closed and hit the back door so quickly, I didn't even waste time with the illusion spell. There was no need for the unlock spell because there was only a twist doorknob lock.
Once outside, I dodged behind the cages, but there was a large dog housed in one of them. It started barking.
Illusion spell it was, not that it fooled the dog.
Zandy's pager still vibrated steadily against my hip even though I was outside.
I slithered behind the row of cages and then hopped the corral fence. I tucked myself behind a tree.
The dog calmed down slightly. I was damned lucky I hadn't walked outside into a chained link fence where dogs ran free. I stared back at the house. Nothing but windows looked at me.
I held my breath and watched.
My arm itched. I looked down. There was sunshine on my arms. I held a hand out. Warm. Not freezing. I felt no urge to run back and commit suicide by giving myself over to the witch.
Slowly I let out the air inside my lungs. Not Sheila?
Someone had to come and feed the dogs and…other animals. It probably wasn't Sheila.
Still crouched, I kept a close eye on the house while taking out the witching forks. Zandy's twitched, pointing to a walking trail straight off the corral. The signal wasn't strong, but I followed the trail anyway to get away from the clinic and whoever was inside.
The wind started to gust again, picking at me. Some witches heard voices in the breeze, some could even bend it to their will, but all I heard was the whispers of footsteps behind me. When I turned to check there was nothing there but the wind. The gusts tossed pebbles and dust at me as it rushed through the trees. With nary a sigh, it stopped as though it saw something to devour. With a twitch of its tail it decided where to go next.
I stayed low until I was well away from the clinic. After some distance, I angled across the weeds to Highway Four where I had parked. Off to my left, I saw a hawk almost level with me flying over Pajarito Canyon.
Belatedly I remembered Marcella and her falcon friend. Marcella worked with Arturo. It would be very easy to keep an eye on things if you had a falcon that could fly overheard.
The canyon was on my left. The bird circled, riding the winds.
I felt trapped. I would have ignored the twitching of the fork in my hand except it was too strong. To my surprise it was Lynx's fork signaling. The twitch was so intense, it yanked itself free of my fingers, falling to the ground, humming.
I stared at it, following the line of sight to a dark mass under a bush.
"Lynx?" I peered closer. Maybe the fork had lost its signal. There was nobody there, just a dark mass of weeds or maybe a bunch of matted hair…like a…wig.
I gulped. A gust of wind suddenly teased the black lump, and I had a vision of a face beneath it. "Lynx?"
I raced over and crawled underneath the bush. Lynx didn't wear a wig! Sure, he never combed his hair and…I stared toward the highway, towards the Home For Pets, and looked nervously over my shoulder.
The falcon was gone.
I put the fork near the wig. It sang happily.
The dirt was scuffed. There were possible signs of a struggle, but then again, a dirt devil might have passed. I searched for broken branches, clothing or some other sign.
Nothing but desert scrub and open sky.
I looked at the wig again. "Oh Lynx, you are in big, big trouble, aren't you?"
My heart in my throat, I yanked a strand of the wig free and tied it onto the fork. The link to Lynx would now be stronger than before, but outdoors,
Had he touched the tree? Struggled against it?
Stowing the rest of the wig in my pack, I swept a large path. I circled the undergrowth, ignoring any tugs that led back towards the clinic. Near the canyon the fork was dead, giving me nothing when I walked near the edge.
I made the highway, breathing way too hard for the pace I was keeping. Looking at the fence across the highway, I tried the other side of the road, but there was nothing until I crossed back over and hit a spot where a trail ended on a turnout.
"Lynx, tell me you didn't get into a car," I moaned. What had he been doing out here at the clinic in the first place? Had he seen the rats and panicked when he realized that Arturo was involved with Sheila?
Zandy had been here too, and there was no telling what Zandy did for Arturo.
I tried the witching forks again, heading southwest, sweeping back and forth across the highway. Had they gone back to Santa Fe?
Once in a vehicle, I didn't stand a chance of tracking them.
In despair, I headed back to my car.
It was in sight when the wind grabbed at Zandy's fork.
No, Lynx's fork twitched too. Maybe. It was so slight, aiming…back across the highway towards private, fenced land. I stared at the barbed wire and the no trespassing sign.
"Oh no, bad idea." The land was none other than the Los Alamos high security area. My arm dropped. Lynx had no reason to go in there. Neither did Zandy. "Oh no."
My throat was parched. The pinched skin around my eyes stung from the wind and dust.
I crossed and hiked off the road to the barbed wire fence. There it was, strands of coyote hair caught on the fence.
My car wasn't that far. I'd need more supplies. More importantly, I'd need a way inside if I was going to follow the possible trail.
I took the hair and marked the spot before jogging back to my car.
There was only one person I knew who might be able to get a pass into Los Alamos land. It was a long shot because a local policeman wasn't likely to hold much sway.
It didn't matter. White Feather was my only option. Even if he couldn't get me into Los Alamos land, as a cop, surely he could at least put out a bulletin to help find the kid.
I had no choice but to make the long, hour plus drive back to Santa Fe. I needed supplies, White Feather's number off my answering machine, spells and a miracle.
Even if I had been hiking in the dead of winter, the dry air would have left a fine layer of salty sweat across my skin. Because it was summer, it was rather more than a fine layer and combined with the dust, my face was a chalky powdered mask.
While dialing White Feather's number, I wiped the worst of the mess off my face, drank some water and gathered myself.
He answered on the sixth ring.
"I need help finding a kid. The one I told you about who I thought could help your sister. He's disappeared."
"Have you filed a missing person report?"
"No. You see, he is homeless. I don't even know his real name, assuming he was born in a hospital where normal paperwork was filed. He's lived on the street as long as I've known him."
"You're trying to find a homeless kid?"
"It's a long story, White Feather, but he has been bragging about getting into the protection business. I told him any shifter messing with that business was going to end up dead. I thought I might be able to help keep him out of trouble if I could talk him into giving me the names of women who wanted protection, including your sister if she got involved."
White Feather growled, "Shifter? He's a werewolf? You were going to have a werewolf protect my sister?"
"No. He's not a--" I caught myself. Actually I had no proof. I was ninety-nine percent sure Lynx wasn't a werewolf. He was a shifter but…well damn. I guess it was possible.
"This is going to be complicated, isn't it?" he asked.
"I don't think he is a werewolf," I said. "I know he isn't the one who killed Dolores Garcia. Can you help me or not? I've got to find him. He's in trouble."
"You mentioned that." He sighed. "I'll be over in twenty." He hung up.
I headed to my workroom to gather spells. My backpack wasn't big enough because I wanted every ingredient I had.
On my fifth trip to the car to load things, White Feather drove up.
He got out, stared me up and down and asked, "Are you certain you want to put out a bulletin for a homeless kid who could be hiding in a gutter somewhere? "
"I think he's been taken inside Los Alamos somewhere. I need someone official, a cop, the FBI, whatever it takes, to get in there and look."
His face turned red. There was a long silence, and then he grunted.
"Well? Don't you believe me?"
"This charade." He waved his hand. "I'm not exactly a cop."
My heart sank. "What do you mean, not exactly?"
"My brother is the cop. I'm freelance. I'm a scientist, not a detective."
The blood drained from my face. "Scientist? Do you work at Los Alamos?"
"I have before. As a contractor." He held up his hand. "Look, I got into an argument with my brother a couple of years ago about police work. About how you have to be in the subculture or have ties to it in order to get information. It's the same as science. You have to dig deep, interact with the particles you want to change and know enough about the environment to recognize when you're changing it."
"What does all this have to do with you posing as a cop?" My voice rose dangerously.
He smiled. "I never said I was a cop."
"Are you White Feather or not?"
"Of course. But White Feather isn't a cop. My brother Gordon is the cop. I offered to get information once. And then," he shrugged, "I kept providing it."
I touched the silver at my wrist, hoping for calm. "Can you help me or not?"
Instead of answering he said, "You never told me whether you are Merlin or not."
"Of course I am!"
He smiled, satisfied. "At the party the other night I suspected you, but the magic you were using wasn't yours. Then the other night, your aura was so strong, I couldn't believe you were only an apprentice. I was almost positive you were Merlin, but your disguise when we met in church was so good, I couldn't see how you could have been posing as Merlin."
"And I never suspected you could easily give Merlin a run for her money in the magical department. But I did think you were a cop." The worry escalated again.
He put a hand on my shoulder. "Where in Los Alamos?"
"I don't know." I ran down a quick description of my activity with the witching fork and where the trail ended. "I found his wig." My voice caught. "He's in trouble."
"We'll get in." He looked at his watch. "I'll meet you back here at three in the morning. That will put us in good shape to cross the fence before daybreak. We can take a look around, see if there is any sign of him or trouble. It will be a lot easier to do that than get Gordon involved officially."
I had no choice but to trust him. "White Feather--" I didn't know what to say. "I think this might be dangerous."
"We're dealing with a shifter. Of course it's going to be dangerous." He turned and walked back to his car. "Three o'clock."
I was still nodding even as dust billowed up from his tires as he drove away.
* * *
The workroom was my only comfort. I spent the evening starting spells, leaving them half finished, and trying to guess what I would need. I unpacked the trunk several times, repacked it, and then went grocery shopping. Every single grocery item I'd ever used went in the cart. It still wasn't late enough so I went back through the store and added sandwiches, Gatorade, sausage, jerky and potato chips. Buying the chips made my eyes sting. The kid loved potato chips.
Back at home, I unloaded everything, but it w
A hint of anise star and a brush of fennel were the base. The smells might remind his client of slaving over a hot stove or soothe her with happy memories. I added a touch of vanilla to help her thoughts linger on sweetness. I withheld flowers; no rose nostalgia, no smells that might remind her of a decaying funeral wreath.
Tino hadn't indicated a special, high tipping client, so she got a sea-green bottle with a transparent stopper. The antique atomizers with auras of past perfumes and lingering essences were more expensive. Magic built up over years was rare and valuable.
Sometime between one and two, I fell into a doze on the couch, but I was up and waiting when White Feather knocked.
"Do you have an extra set of car keys?" he asked, first thing.
"Yes, hang on." I grabbed them out of the kitchen drawer. "Why?"
"Never hurts to have an extra set, and I assumed from the packing you were doing, you planned on taking your car rather than mine." He took the key and put it in his pocket. "Did you leave any room for my pack?"
Since he only had a daypack across his shoulder, I rolled my eyes. "Plenty of room in the backseat."
We trooped out to my car, stashed his pack on were on our way.
As I guided the car through the quiet streets of Santa Fe, the eeriness of the three o'clock hour settled around us. The very earth was quiescent, including most animals and insects. The early hunting was over, the morning hunting yet to begin.
Once on the highway to White Rock, with the silence and peace around us, I filled White Feather in. "I'm not sure what happened to Lynx, but I know he was with Zandy. He wouldn't willingly leave his wig behind. I've known him for three years already and have never seen him without it. I didn't even know he wore a wig."
"You're sure it's his?"
I nodded. "The fork had enough of his essence. I'm not sure what he was doing up there with Zandy, but I think they were working for Arturo." I was driving so I couldn't look over at his face. "I'm not positive, but I think Arturo--Dr. Gonzales, is the person who has been setting up the werewolf dates."
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